Friendship is strained to its breaking point in Wall Street Journal bestselling author Jeff Wheeler's fourth Harbinger novel. When the emperor is assassinated, Sera Fitzempress is the noble most eligible to inherit the empire. Her upcoming marriage to the prince would cement her position. And as a champion for peace, Sera is the only promise of hope for staving off war between the worlds of Kingfountain and Muirwood. But standing between her and her enemies is just one devastating secret. Sera's best friend, Cettie, a girl born of a lower class, has made a shattering discovery: her entire existence has been a lie. Now Cettie must give up the only life she's known and fought for and leave behind the man she loves to stop Sera's wedding. For this discovery could bring the whole of Kingfountain to ruin. As Cettie struggles to determine her true loyalties and loves, her allies fall to wicked plots, and she becomes increasingly alone on her journey to a destiny she never wanted—one that could ignite an unstoppable war.
Release date: March 5, 2019
Print pages: 342
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The young officer of Law with reddish-brown hair described grisly murders with the dispassion of one talking about the weather. Cettie couldn’t imagine what unspoken details he was concealing from her. What she was hearing was enough to give her nightmares.
“That makes, by my reckoning,” he said in his neutral tone, “another fifteen tenements at risk. The latest deaths were here and here,” he said, pointing to a detailed map of the Fells, where circles of red ink had been dabbed within a larger circle. “As you can see, all occurred within this radius.”
Cettie felt her gorge rising in her throat. “H-how many were killed?”
“A little girl . . . here,” he said pointing to one of the blots. “A young lad . . . here. No one saw them taken. All disappeared after dusk.”
Cettie swallowed and tried to calm her nerves. She was the keeper of Fog Willows, the personal estate of the prime minister of the empire. But staring at the map brought back memories of the dark childhood she’d spent in that very slum—days filled with hunger and fear and hopelessness. She steepled her forefingers, intertwining the others, and stared again at the murders marked on the map.
“And so you think the Fear Liath,” she said, looking him in the eye and pointing to the center of the ink blots, “is lurking somewhere in these tenements?” Just thinking about the creature made her muscles clench. Memories from the dark grotto, its former lair, began to intrude on her thoughts. She’d had nightmares of the beast’s jaws, its feral smell, and the aura of terror it seemed to exude.
“I do, ma’am,” said the young lieutenant crisply. “When the murders first began in the Fells, they were haphazard. There was no pattern. But over the last six months, they seem to have clustered in this area. It is the recommendation of the Ministry of Law that we begin a house-to-house investigation for the beast’s new lair, and the Ministry of Thought has suggested that Leerings be set up in these locations”—he pointed to street corners in a circumference around the circled area—“to contain the creature and prevent it from escaping us.”
A shudder went down Cettie’s back. “Is it your goal to merely contain the monster, Lieutenant? Or to kill it?”
“We’d like to destroy it. I came, per the prime minister’s request, to ask if you would help us track and trap the beast.”
“Me?” Cettie asked in shock. She’d wondered why her father had sent this man to deliver such news, but it hadn’t occurred to her that she’d be asked to do such a thing.
“Yes, ma’am. As you know, the prime minister is currently at the court of Kingfountain with Miss Fitzempress. He gave these instructions before he left. He indicated that you are especially . . . attuned to this creature. That you could possibly help us locate its lair. I also understand that Mr. Patchett of Gimmerton Sough helped you and your brother chase the Fear Liath from Dolcoath. His experience with the Fear Liath and his past service in the Ministry of War would make him a great help to us, but he has refused our overtures thus far. We were hoping, ma’am, that you might persuade him to come. I don’t mean to pry, but I’ve heard that the two of you used to be . . . close.”
If Cettie hadn’t already felt unsettled and wary, this latest request would have shoved her over the line. In the eighteen months since she had rebuffed Rand Patchett, they had hardly spoken, and she could see that his resentment was still festering. They had come into contact more than she would have liked because Cettie’s sister Anna had become close friends with Rand’s sister, Joanna. Sometimes it felt like Anna spent more time at Gimmerton Sough than at Fog Willows. The thought brought on a familiar twinge of guilt. Her friendship with Anna had become strained. Anna had wished to marry Adam Creigh, only he had asked Cettie to marry him instead. That she and the Fitzroy family were the center of such gossip made her head ache.
Cettie rubbed her temples. “Things between Mr. Patchett and I have been . . . difficult . . . of late, Lieutenant.”
“I don’t know anything about that, ma’am,” he said in his all-business manner. “Yet I feel bound by duty to request you put aside your personal feelings, in the interests of the poor chaps living in the heart of the Fells. If the people knew what we know, there would be a mass panic. They believe a murderer is living among them. They have no idea that a monster is haunting their streets each night. They would leave, but they are too poor to go anywhere else.”
“I know,” Cettie answered. “Of course I will help. And I will go to Gimmerton Sough and ask Mr. Patchett to join us.” She sighed. “Still,” she could not help but add, “with all the dragoons in retirement after the war in Kingfountain, I’m surprised we cannot find an able substitute.”
The lieutenant did not respond. He was only an officer of Law doing his duty. The relationship between the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of War was always strained. Perhaps they simply did not wish to ask for any favors. Besides which, it occurred to her that this young man had been to many of the places where the victims had been found. He’d seen death in its most gruesome manifestations. If he could bear such a burden, then she could face the discomfort of a conversation with Rand.
“Is there anything else?” she asked him.
“No, ma’am. Send word once you’ve spoken to Mr. Patchett, if you please.”
“I will. Thank you, Lieutenant Fields.” Seeing him reminded her of another young lieutenant, from her childhood. That man had dragged her back to the Fells in anticipation of earning a promotion. It had been so many years she could hardly remember his name, but the memory still made her wary at times around officers of Law.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he replied with a stiff bow. He planted his officer’s hat, which had been cradled under his arm, squarely atop his auburn hair and left the sitting room. The aging butler, Mr. Kinross, was awaiting the visitor in the corridor, and he escorted the man back to his zephyr in the landing yard.
Cettie directed the nearest Leerings to reveal her mother’s location within the house, and the magic of the Control Leering showed her Lady Maren writing a letter in her room. Probably to Father.
Cettie walked down a series of corridors and then knocked on the door. Lady Maren invited her inside, and when she opened the door, her mother lowered her pen.
“Was there a visitor?” Lady Maren asked.
“It was Lieutenant Fields.”
Lady Maren’s countenance fell. “More deaths below?” she asked sadly.
Cettie nodded. “Yes, unfortunately. He came to ask my help in hunting down the Fear Liath. They have narrowed the search to a particular area. They also asked for Rand’s help.”
Lady Maren’s look darkened even more. “Did they? And I assume by your expression they asked you to approach him?”
Cettie nodded, trying not to reveal her conflicted feelings.
“Well, it’s brave of you to do this.” Lady Maren paused, then added, “Anna spent the night at Gimmerton Sough.”
Cettie’s eyebrows arched in surprise. That had never happened before.
“She wasn’t feeling well. She became sick during her visit yesterday. Joanna sent a note saying she’d sent for a doctor. I was thinking of going there myself to retrieve her, but perhaps you can see if she’s well enough to come back with you. I’d rather have her seen by a doctor here.”
“Of course,” Cettie said, feeling her worry grow. “I’ll go at once. I didn’t know she was sick.”
“I should have told you last night,” Lady Maren said, “but I was distracted. You two used to be so close. It pains me to see such conflict between my children.”
Cettie couldn’t help but purse her lips. The Fitzroys had tried for years to legally adopt her, but until the identity of her birth mother could be discovered, the request would forever be stalled in court. As the family’s fortunes had risen, so had the expectations of reward.
“I wish I were your child in truth,” Cettie whispered, looking down.
Lady Maren rose from her writing desk and swept Cettie into an embrace. “You are, despite everything that has been done to keep us apart.” She cupped Cettie’s cheek. “I may not have given birth to you, but I love you as much as my other children. You must know that your father and I will not let this rest. We’ll see to it that you’re adopted, no matter how long it takes. You’re entitled to the same rights as the others.” She caressed Cettie’s cheek. “When the time comes, the maston rites will bind our family together through the next existence. The powers of the irrevocare sigil are real, you know. And when you and Adam are married,” she said, unable to suppress a joyous smile and a squeeze of her hands, “you and he will also be bound together . . . inexorably.”
“Is it inexorable?” Cettie asked. “Don’t we both need to live up to our promises?”
“Of course. But can you imagine a man more faithful than Adam Creigh?” She smiled at her own question. “He was meant for you all along, Cettie. I tried to soften the blow for Anna. To her, you stole her dream away, but it was only a dream all along. She’ll fall in love again; I know she will. Then things will be better between you.”
“I hope so,” Cettie said. “Thank you, Mother.” Adam had been sent to Kingfountain over a year ago to research the cholera morbus. The separation was painful, but they kept in regular contact. She savored his letters, which always seemed to carry his scent, and they exchanged parcels whenever they could. Once he’d sent her a small brooch he’d fancied made of sea glass, something she wore whenever she needed to feel close to him. Sera had just left for Kingfountain again, and her maid, Becka, had promised to deliver a parcel Cettie had spent weeks preparing for Adam. It was to commemorate the day he had proposed to her, but it had taken Cettie longer than she’d thought to gather everything.
The pain she felt was something her mother understood all too well—the separations from Fitzroy were difficult for Lady Maren. Each letter he’d sent her sat in a stack on her bedside table, and she’d told Cettie in a quiet moment that she read them every night before retiring.
Once Adam returned, Cettie would have to move away. Perhaps her mother would write her letters at this very desk.
“I wish I never had to leave Fog Willows,” she said in a gush of words. “But I will someday. I . . . I fear returning to the Fells for good, and yet we both know Adam dreams of being a doctor there.”
“All the more reason for you to help the Ministry of Law with their problem. Will you go to Gimmerton Sough this afternoon?”
“I’ll leave right away,” Cettie said. “I can’t say I look forward to speaking with Rand, but I’ll get to see Joses while I’m there. It seems he prefers serving their household. Mr. Kinross hasn’t been able to persuade him to come back.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” her mother said. “I think Rand Patchett would be an interesting man to valet for. He did some good with Stephen after all. He’s not a bad man.”
“No, he’s not,” Cettie replied. The problem was the complicated—and conflicted—way Rand made her feel. Despite having rejected him, she was still attracted to him, and the very thought of him summoned up a good measure of guilt. Her sudden engagement to Adam had certainly upset him. Still, he was a good man. She believed he’d help her in the Fells because it was the right thing to do.
After finishing her arrangements, Cettie had Mr. Kinross prepare the tempest for the journey to Gimmerton Sough. It was a beautiful late spring day, and the air was finally warm enough that she didn’t need a cloak for the journey. Cettie climbed aboard the tempest, and it responded to her thoughts and presence by thrumming to life. At her direction, the floating tempest arced away from the landing yard. She increased the craft’s speed, savoring the sensation of soaring through the sky, hands gripping the helm, hair blown back by the wind. The beauty of the enormous clouds on the horizon never failed to move her, and the freedom she felt skimming through them made her grin despite herself. Now and again, she glanced down, taking in the sight of the small villages on the ground beneath her—little more than clusters of cottages with sheep in pens.
From the storm glass, the method she and her father had developed for predicting the weather, she knew the day would continue to be mild and calm. An occasional jolt of bad air rumbled the tempest, but the lurch it made in her stomach only added to the thrill. She was at one with the sky ship, so in tune with its abilities that it was almost an extension of her own thoughts. Time passed quickly in such a transfixed state. The craft would continue to its destination without her active attention, so Cettie allowed herself to close her eyes for a moment, enjoying the feeling of being at one with the world around her—with the tempest, the air, and the ground far, far beneath her.
And that was when the vision came.
Instantly, she was transported far away, almost as if a part of her had left her body behind. She was in a crowd of people walking along a bridge. The thunder of a massive waterfall could be heard all around, adding to the majesty of the enormous sanctuary that rose on the island opposite the bridge. These visions allowed Cettie a kind of omniscient sight—she could observe a dirty brass penny trampled on in the street, or she could rise far enough to see the entire span of the bridge that straddled the waterfall. She recognized this place, the city of Kingfountain, from a previous vision. The sanctuary, Our Lady, was one of the holiest structures in that world. The gates of the sanctuary were bedecked in flowered garlands. There was a celebration underway, she realized. Was it a festival?
There was a disturbance happening in the street. People were carrying on about a wedding, and a few of them started to shove each other roughly. Was this a vision of Sera’s wedding to Prince Trevon of Kingfountain? If so, Cettie’s heart was glad for her friend. She had met the prince several times on his visits to court. He was warm and kind, and he and Sera seemed quite comfortable with each other. Fond even. They joked and talked with each other as dear friends do, and she’d even caught them admiring each other surreptitiously. She’d asked Sera about it on their last visit, and her friend had actually blushed, which wasn’t like Sera at all. The match may have started as a political one, but she knew it had become more for both of them.
But if the marriage was a happy occasion, as it should be, why was there such a commotion?
Then she saw a group of soldiers push through the crowd. Lord Fitzroy, the father figure of her life, was with them. He was wearing his everyday clothes, except the jacket was somewhat finer than what he normally wore. He was talking to some men who were gathered around him. She felt a thrill of pride to see the others listening to him so intently, but something about the scene worried her. His expression was guarded, intense. There were too many people around him.
She watched as he frowned at something and then hobbled a bit in place. He bent down to examine the heel of his boot.
And it was at that exact moment she heard the gunfire, an explosion of black ash that sent an iron bullet into Fitzroy and knocked him down. There were screams and instant pandemonium. Cettie saw Fitzroy lying in the street, clutching his side, his face a mask of pain. The sight of the blood seeping beneath and around him filled her with horror.
The vision pulled back, and she saw a man crouching on the roof of a nearby building, the plume of smoke still jetting from the barrel of his arquebus. Fitzroy’s attacker leaned back against the roof, hidden from the sight of those gathered on the bridge below.
She recognized the brooding man with the scar on his face.
The last time she had seen the man who claimed to be her father, she had shot him in the Fear Liath’s cave. He was supposed to be dead.
Cettie was a harbinger. It was not a gift she had asked for or even one she wanted. Her visions were glimpses of the future—events that would happen. As far as she knew, she had no ability to change them, just as she could not control when the visions came or what they entailed. Now, with the vision still vivid in her mind, she experienced the deepest anguish and conflict of her life. She couldn’t bear to see it fulfilled. Her father was in Kingfountain at that very moment—the attack could happen at any time.
Her stomach twisted with worry, but her heart stiffened with resolve. She had to try to save him. But how could she return to Fog Willows right away to tell Lady Maren? Surely she deserved to know first.
Conflict and inner turmoil heaved inside her breast, but she forced herself to think the situation through logically. Her visions were usually of the near future. There was probably time to react. She wouldn’t do anyone any good if she acted in haste. Besides, she might be able to prevent the Fear Liath from killing again if she secured Rand’s agreement to find and fight it. Her father was the one who’d asked her to handle that situation. Then there was Anna to consider . . . she didn’t like the thought of leaving her at Gimmerton Sough, especially if she was sick.
She was close enough to the other estate that she might as well finish the task.
Her decision helped calm the turbulence of her thoughts. Perhaps the injury she’d witnessed was not fatal. Adam was in Kingfountain. Surely he would try to help if he could.
The final stretch of the journey to Gimmerton Sough was spent in misery. As she finally guided the sky ship to the landing yard, she stared at the rugged stone mansion and wondered how she was going to face the Patchetts, especially Rand, with such heaviness in her heart.
Another tempest was docked in the yard with the Patchetts’ zephyrs. It didn’t surprise her to learn they had a visitor—Joanna was very popular and had many friends and visitors. Cettie’s goal wasn’t to intrude. She only wanted to talk to Rand and then take her sister home.
The thought of talking to anyone about anything was almost too much to bear. She rested her forehead on the helm, trying to gather her strength, summon her courage. She’d always trusted in the Knowing, and that trust had served her well in the past. But in this moment of blackness, she felt she’d been betrayed by the very powers she had always trusted.
Why give her such a vision if she couldn’t change it? Or was this a sign the visions had changed somehow? That her intervention was needed?
She squeezed the rungs of the helm and took a steadying breath. Then she lowered the rope ladder and hastened down to the ground. Arms folded, she crossed the gravel yard to the walkway leading to the manor. She’d heard from Anna that the Patchetts had finally hired a keeper of the house, a woman named Mrs. Rosings. Cettie had never met her, but her sister had said she was a stern woman who ran a steady household. As Cettie approached the doors, they opened, and a matronly woman bustled out of them.
The woman’s hair was parted in the middle, and pins held back her dark curls. She had a sour expression on her mouth, as if she’d been interrupted in something important. Both her appearance and her demeanor instantly reminded Cettie of Mrs. Pullman, the previous keeper of Fog Willows, who had tormented her and attempted to manipulate and control the entire Fitzroy family.
“And who might you be?” said the prim woman as Cettie approached. Even her voice was hauntingly similar.
For a moment, Cettie gaped at Mrs. Rosings in surprise, feeling as if she were standing before her old enemy.
“I-I’m Cettie, keeper of Fog Willows.”
The woman’s brow furrowed. “You’re rather young to be a keeper. You can’t be more than twenty.”
“I am . . . I am almost twenty-one, Mrs. Rosings. I came to fetch my sister Anna.”
“Ah,” she said, her look darkening. “Anna is unwell. She’s not fit to go anywhere. Doctor Donaldson is still here, tending her fever. Come in.” She stood back from the door, holding it open for Cettie.
The keeper’s words filled her with unease—was Anna’s condition truly so serious?—and that feeling only heightened as she stepped into the hall. She had not been back to Gimmerton Sough after the fateful ball. That night the hall had been decorated festively with flower garlands and music, and happy voices had filled the air. Now it felt strangely empty, and despite the fact that Mr. Batewinch stood farther down the hall with someone, talking softly, everything was eerily quiet.
When the woman with Mr. Batewinch turned toward the door, Mrs. Rosings stepped to the side and gestured for Cettie to do the same. The other guest was a handsome woman in her late thirties, a plumed hat atop her dark hair. Her outfit was the pinnacle of fashion and style—frills at her throat, a tight buttoned vest with stripes, and a teal-colored jacket and skirt. Her eyes met and held Cettie’s.
Batewinch, who’d also turned, presumably to escort the guest to the door, paused upon seeing the pair of them. “Ah, Miss Cettie! Welcome back to Gimmerton Sough.”
The woman tilted her head and continued to study Cettie. Something glimmered in her eyes, a subtle look of recognition, perhaps?
“Hello, Mr. Batewinch.” Cettie dropped a short curtsy.
“This is our landlady, ahem, Lady Corinne of Pavenham Sky,” he said, smiling broadly and gesturing to his companion.
Yes, Cettie had guessed as much based on Sera’s description of the woman. There was a look of cold malice in her eyes, but her expression was carefully guarded. She was the wealthiest person in the empire, and it was said she had her sights set on the emperor. Sera herself thought it to be true.
A shudder went through Cettie’s heart, but she offered another low curtsy.
Lady Corinne gazed at her shrewdly, her dark eyes examining her, finding her wanting. “It is nice to meet you at last,” she finally said. “Miss Patchett speaks highly of you.”
Her words caught Cettie off guard. She hadn’t expected to be addressed at all, let alone civilly. After all, she’d been forbidden to communicate with Sera during her friend’s tenure in Lady Corinne’s household.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Cettie mumbled.
Lady Corinne turned back to Mr. Batewinch. “He doesn’t have enough funds to run for parliament. See that there are reserves kept aside for the rent obligation, at least three years’ worth. Let him find supporters willing to give, not lend him money. I will brook no late payments. Not a single one.”
“Of course, my lady,” Batewinch said, opening the door for her. “The lad will be disappointed, but there is wisdom in your counsel.”
“Come with me,” Mrs. Rosings said to Cettie and led her down the hall. Cettie followed, but glanced back at the door as the other two were leaving. She met the gaze of Lady Corinne, who had just looked back at her. Something in the woman’s eyes filled Cettie with a keen sense of foreboding. She looked away first.
The keeper led her down the hall, past the staircases, and then down another corridor. Cettie rubbed her temples, trying to shake the feelings of unease, but it was impossible.
“This way,” Mrs. Rosings said firmly. The corridor was strangely dark. No Leerings were lit, and the dark wood panels on the wall seemed to repel light. The trepidation in Cettie’s heart grew.
That was when she heard coughing.
Mrs. Rosings stopped in front of a closed door, knocked briefly, and then opened it, revealing Anna in the midst of a coughing fit.
The extent of her illness shocked Cettie. She wore a nightdress drenched with sweat, and the upper buttons had been tugged open to reveal the maston chain at her throat. Her temples were slick with sweat, and her lips had a grayish cast to them. There were shadow smudges beneath her eyes. She’d been perfectly well the day before. How could such a thing happen?
“Cettie,” gasped Anna weakly, trying to reach out a hand.
A doctor with a white-and-blond beard and a black armband stood by the bed, next to an array of medicines on a small table. Rand stood on the other side of the bed, his arms folded, his look one of brooding and worry. He glanced at Cettie as she entered, his lips tightening into a frown.
She paid him no mind. All her attention was for Anna. She rushed to her sister’s side and took her extended hand. The skin was wet with perspiration.
“Doctor Donaldson,” said Mrs. Rosings, “this is the keeper of Fog Willows. She came to take Miss Anna back, but I told her you didn’t advise it.”
“You came,” Anna gasped.
“I heard you were ill,” Cettie answered, kissing her hand. “You look awful.”
“I feel awful,” Anna said, and then broke into another violent fit of coughs.
Doctor Donaldson sat down in a nearby chair. He looked exhausted, as if he’d been there all night and hadn’t slept himself. “I cannot recommend removing her,” he said to Cettie with conviction. “She is very weak.”
“What is it?” Cettie asked. She took a deep breath before she spoke her fear aloud. “Is it the cholera morbus?” She knew a bit about the disease from Adam’s work, and it terrified her how quickly its victims succumbed to it. Though he had made some progress in treating the disease, he still had not determined how the infection spread.
“No, I don’t think so. The symptoms aren’t remotely the same. To be honest, I don’t know what it is.” He took a small cup of water off the table and handed it to Anna, who’d finally stopped coughing. She sipped it greedily and then lay back on her damp pillows. Rand shook his head slowly, worry creasing his brow.
“I fell sick after lunch yesterday,” Anna whispered, her voice hoarse from coughing.
“If any of the food had spoiled,” Doctor Donaldson said, “then the rest of the family would be sick as well. She’s the only one. None of the servants are sick either. It doesn’t make sense to me, but as you can see, she is very ill.” He looked at Cettie again and then pulled her aside to speak more privately. “I am concerned. Her mother should be advised of the seriousness of this illness.”
“She’s the one who asked me to check on Anna,” Cettie said.
The doctor’s face turned grim. “I know. But she needs to be told that she’s getting worse. I’ve not seen such a dramatic illness before. It is unlike anything I’ve experienced.”
Cettie’s heart was already burdened with the secrets from her vision. Now this. Fear filled her heart as she took in Anna’s frailty, her flushed cheeks from the burning fever, the listlessness as she writhed on the pillow.
“Have you sent for a vicar?” Cettie asked the doctor. “To give her a Gift of Healing?”
“I’ll summon one straightaway,” Rand said. He nodded to Cettie and departed the room.
“We’ll take good care of her, Miss Cettie,” said Mrs. Rosings, putting a hand on her shoulder. The words were kind, yet they didn’t feel kind. Even the weight of the woman’s hand reminded her of Mrs. Pullman and made her want to shrink away.
“May I have a moment alone with her?” Cettie asked, looking at the doctor. Mrs. Rosings slowly lowered her hand and then nodded. As soon as she and her sister were alone, Cettie squeezed Anna’s hand.
“I’m worried about you,” she said, feeling miserable.
“I don’t know what happened,” Anna gasped. “I feel so weak. I’ve had terrible nightmares. Like when I was a child. I want to go home, but it hurts to move.”
“I want to stay with you.” Cettie bit her lip as she pressed her palm to her sister’s forehead. It was burning hot and dripping with sweat.
“I don’t want you to get sick too,” Anna said with a sigh. “I’m so hot. Every part of my skin is burning.”
Cettie questioned her about her symptoms, trying to understand what had happened, but though she had studied the Mysteries of Wind, she’d never trained as a doctor. Shortly thereafter, Doctor Donaldson returned to care for Anna, and Cettie had no choice but to give way. She felt utterly helpless in the face of her sister’s illness.
At long last, Anna stopped coughing and then fell into a fitful sleep.
Cettie retreated from the room. Not knowing what else to do, she stood in the silent corridor, her back to the wall, her emotions wrecked. After a few moments, she heard the sound of two people approaching. When she opened her eyes, she saw it was Rand and Joses.
It was a relief seeing her childhood friend again, although he looked nothing like the street urchin he had once been. He was a man grown now and wore the uniform of a valet. He gave her an eager smile, but his eyes looked worried.
“Hello, Cettie,” Joses said.
“It’s good to see you,” she answered with a smile. That smile faded as she turned to Rand.
“I’ve sent word for a vicar,” Rand said, coming up to Cettie. “I should have thought of that sooner. Her illness came on so suddenly, we all began to panic.”
“Thank you for caring for my sister,” she said.
Rand seemed to be struggling with what to say next. She saw him flex his fists. “It’s difficult to be patient when patience is probably the best remedy of all. I would hate it if . . . anything happened to her. She’s a dear friend now. To both Joanna and me.”
Cettie nodded, feeling the awkwardness yawning between them. She was determined to bridge it. “I came for another reason, Rand.”
His eyebrows lifted in surprise. “And what is that?” Joses shot her a surprised look too. He knew about the awkwardness between them, and the reason for it.
“Earlier this afternoon, I met with a lieutenant from the Ministry of Law. They think they know where the Fear Liath is skulking in the Fells. It’s killed again.”
Rand’s face turned hard. “And?”
Cettie didn’t let his expression daunt her. “They need help hunting it down, Rand. I’m going to help them find it and set some Leerings to prevent it from escaping. But they could use a good dragoon . . . to see this thing destroyed.”
“We should go!” Joses said excitedly.
Rand smirked. “Hunting things with antlers isn’t enough for you now, is it? A Fear Liath is a very different beast.”
“I know,” Joses said without a trace of fear, “but we can’t let the Law have all the glory, can we? They’re sniveling cowards. They need us!”
“They are not cowards,” Cettie said, trying to rein him in with a glare. “They asked for you, Rand. And I told them I’d deliver the message myself.”
There was a conflicted look in Rand’s eyes, but at least he hadn’t rejected the request offhand. “We’re very busy. I don’t know.”
“We are not busy!” Joses interjected.
Rand shot him a warning look. “Anna?” he reminded him.
Joses’s countenance fell. “Yes. That. Well, you’re busy, sir. I’ve been rather idle since yesterday. But you do have a sister who could watch over Anna . . .”
Rand sighed as he shifted his gaze back to Cettie. “I don’t know why I ever let you convince me to take him on. He’s been nothing but a bother since the day he came.” He tempered the insult with a teasing grin. “I do feel rather useless here. I’m no doctor. All I can do is twiddle my thumbs and worry. Where in the Fells did they find it?”
“I saw the map,” Cettie said. “But I no longer know the area like I did.”
“I do,” Joses said proudly. “If I saw the map, I could tell you. So we’re going?”
Cettie looked at Rand hopefully.
“With both of you needling me, the odds are stacked against me, I’m afraid,” Rand said, holding up his hands. “I’m uncomfortable leaving Anna so sick, but I don’t know what else I can do. Doctor Donaldson is capable. And if a vicar can’t heal her, then we can only cling to hope. I assume the good lieutenant wanted to handle this matter immediately? We’d need to get ready.”
“I can handle the preparations, sir,” Joses promised.
“Can I persuade you to stay the night?” Rand asked Cettie.
The thought of the delay filled her with dread. She needed to speak with Lady Maren at once, both about Fitzroy and about Anna. “I have to get back. I can send a zephyr for you in the morning if you like.”
Rand shook his head. “I think Joses is overeager enough to gather our things quickly. Perhaps we can go back to Fog Willows . . . with you?”
His request made her slightly uneasy, but there was no rational reason to refuse it.
She nodded to him, and Joses grinned and hurried away.
“Well, at least something good has come from this misfortune,” Rand said, his eyes looking intently into hers. “We’re talking again.”
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