I did not go to the secret chambers where Chade had first taught me the assassin’s trade. I knew he no longer lived and slept in that space as he once had. Instead I wormed my way through the narrow space behind the walls on the same level as the King’s bedchamber. I swiftly gained access to Chade’s grand bedchamber via a mirrored panel in his water closet and was a bit surprised that he had not blocked it in some way. I crept silently in, dreading that he would be waiting for me, having somehow divined my plan, but his room was empty and chill, the fire banked low on the hearth. Moving swiftly, I took a gleaming brown acorn from my pocket and left it in the center of his pillow. Then I retreated once more to the spy-labyrinth and sought his old murder laboratory.
Ah, but how it had changed since my childhood. The floors were swept and mopped clean of dirt and dust. The scarred stone table where we had conducted our experiments when I was a boy was immaculately clear of ingredients and apparatus. All was neatly stowed on shelves. The bowls and glassware had been cleaned and sorted by category. There was a specific place for each mortar and pestle, and for each spoon of wood and iron and brass. There were far fewer scroll racks than I recalled, and the ones that were there were neatly stocked. Another rack held the tools of my erstwhile trade. Small knives with grooved blades, some sheathed and some bare, rested beside neatly packaged and labeled powders and pellets, some soporific and some toxic. Gleaming needles of silver and brass were safely thrust through strips of soft leather. Coiled garrotes slumbered like deadly little snakes. Someone with a very methodical mind was in charge of this now. Not Chade. Brilliant and precise as the man was, he had never been tidy. Nor did I see signs of his ongoing scholarship; no tattered old manuscripts awaited translation or recopying. There were no scatters of spoiled pens, no open containers of ink. A sumptuous featherbed covered the old wooden bedstead, and the small fire in the neatly swept hearth burned cleanly. The bed looked as if it was for show rather than something that was regularly used. I wondered who tended these chambers now. Certainly not Thick. The simple little man was old now for one of his kind, and he had never cared for his housekeeping tasks. He would not have supplied a rack of wax tapers, standing tall and straight as ranked soldiers, ready to take their places in the candleholders. I lit two to replace the ones that had almost guttered out in the brass holders on the table.
I deduced this was Lady Rosemary’s domain now. I settled in her cushioned chair by the hearth after adding two logs to the fire. Little sweet biscuits in a covered bowl and a decanter of wine were on a small table close at hand. I helped myself and then kicked out my feet toward her fire and leaned back. I didn’t care which of them found me here. I had words for both of them. My gaze wandered over the mantel and I almost smiled to see that King Shrewd’s fruit knife was still embedded in the center of it. I wondered if Lady Rosemary knew the tale of how it had come to be there. I wondered if Chade recalled how coldly angry I had been when I drove the blade into the wood. The anger that burned in me now was colder and far more controlled. I’d have my say, and when I had finished, we would come to terms. My terms.
Chade had always been a night owl. I was resigned to a long wait before he would find my message on his pillow. The watch passed and I dozed in the chair, but lightly. But when I heard the light scuff of slippers on the steps, I knew it was not his stride. I lifted my head and turned my gaze to the concealed stairway. A heavy tapestry draped it to keep out the draft from the maze. I was only mildly surprised when it lifted to reveal the countenance of young FitzVigilant. He was dressed far more simply than the last time I had seen him, in a simple white shirt, blue vest, and black trousers. His soft low shoes whispered his approach. The large silver earrings in his ear had been replaced by two much smaller ones of gold. His tousled hair hinted that perhaps he had risen from his bed to perform his duties here.
I watched him startle at the sight of the freshly lit tapers. I was very still, and it took a moment for his eyes to pick me out. Then he gaped at the sight of a humble guardsman in such a special and secret place before he recognized me. “You!” he gasped and took a step back.
“Me,” I affirmed. “Well, I see they kept you on. But you’ve still much to learn of caution, I think.” He stared at me wordlessly. “I suspect that Lady Rosemary or Lord Chade will soon be arriving, for a late-night lesson with you. Am I correct?”
He opened his mouth to speak, then clapped it shut. So. Perhaps he had learned a bit of caution since last we had met. He assayed a sideways shift toward the weapons rack. I smiled and cautioned him with a wag of my finger. Then, a flip of my wrist and a knife sprang into my hand. Some tricks one never forgets. He gaped at it and lifted wide eyes to stare at me.