Hall’s tone was cool. “We couldn’t get a perfectly clear look at her; the Mort cavalry is too thick. But I have a man named Llew who has the vision of a hawk. He’s fairly confident that the Queen no longer wears either of the Tear sapphires.”
“What is her condition?” Pen broke in.
Spots of color darkened Hall’s cheeks, and he turned to the Mace. “Maybe we should discuss—”
“You discuss it right now.” Pen’s voice had sunk very low. “Is she wounded?”
Hall looked helplessly at the Mace, who nodded.
“Yes. Her face is bruised up; even I could see it through the spyglass. She’s been beaten.”
Pen sank back into his chair. Aisa couldn’t see his face, but she didn’t need to. The slump of his shoulders said everything. The entire table sat in silence for a moment.
“She was upright in the wagon, at least,” Hall finally ventured. “Healthy enough to stand. I don’t think she has any broken bones.”
“Where is this wagon?” the Mace asked.
“Right in the center of the Mort cavalry.”
“No chance of a direct attack?”
“None. Even if my army weren’t reduced to a fraction, the Mort are taking no chances. At least a hundred feet of heavy horse surround her on all sides. They’re hustling her along the Mort Road, outdistancing the infantry. I can only assume they’re making straight for Demesne.”
“The Palais dungeons.” Pen rested his forehead on one hand. “How the hell do we get her out of there?”
“The Mort rebellion is poised to move down to Demesne,” the Mace reminded him. “Levieux’s people will be useful.”
“How do you know you can trust him?”
Aisa raised her eyebrows. She hadn’t thought much of Levieux, who had left the Keep more than a week earlier. He was handsome, but good looks meant nothing in a scrap. His man Alain did know good card tricks, but they weren’t a patch on Bradshaw’s. A magician might be able to get into the dungeons of the Mort Palais, but the Mace didn’t trust magicians.
“The Red Queen will surely face a problem on her right flank now,” Arliss mused. “There’s no plunder . . . no gold, no women. I don’t know how she got her army to walk away, but they won’t be happy.”
“So much Levieux has surmised. Unpaid soldiers make wonderful rebels. He expects to be able to recruit heavily when the army gets home.”
“And what is that to us,” Pen demanded, “if we don’t have the Queen?”
“We’ll discuss it later, Pen,” the Mace admonished. “Be soft now.”
Aisa frowned. The Mace kept coddling Pen, trying to talk him out of his foul moods, ignoring it when Pen was insubordinate. Aisa would have given Pen a long stretch of suspension and, failing that, a sharp slap to the face.
“Continue to send me reports about the withdrawal,” Mace told Hall, “but your focus is the Queen. Pick two of your best to follow her into Mortmesne. Make sure we don’t lose sight of her. Dismissed.”
Hall and Blaser stood and bowed, then headed for the doors.
“We need to talk about the Arvath,” said Arliss.
“What about it?”
Arliss gathered his papers and put them aside. “A mob did some damage in the city this morning. They seem to have gathered in the Circus and gone from there, all the way to Bethyn’s Close.”
“There are always mobs.”
“This one was special. Their main point of contention seemed to be the lack of morality in the Queen’s government.”
The Mace frowned, and so did Aisa. Even as the problem of the Mort rapidly receded, another had sprung up to take its place: the Holy Father. The very day the Queen left the city, the Arvath had publicly announced its refusal to pay property tax, as well as intent to absolve any layman who refused to do the same.
“What connects this mob to the Arvath?” Coryn asked.
“Nothing,” Arliss replied. “The mob disbanded long before the city constables could get near, and there’s no army to deal with civil unrest anymore. But they broke into a house on the edge of the close and brutalized the two women who lived there. Immoral lifestyle.”
A muscle had begun to twitch in the Mace’s cheek. “The Holy Father thinks if he pushes me hard enough, I won’t collect the Queen’s taxes. He’s wrong.”
“The nobles still refuse to pay their taxes, except for Meadows and Gillon. The Creche will take the bulk of the Treasury. We’ve lost the income from the toll gates on the bridge. In a few months, we’re going to be in real trouble.”
“They’ll pay.” The Mace grinned, such a cheerful, murderous grin that Aisa recoiled, but a moment later his face sobered. “Any word on the two priests?”
“Not a peep. They’ve vanished. But the Arvath has heard that we’re keeping up with their bounty.” Arliss dug through his stack of papers again. “Yesterday’s message from the Holy Father demands that we retract our own reward for Father Tyler, in hope of heaven.”