Sorry I'm not keeping up on the blog. There's lots of things going on, both personal and professional, so I'm behind on EVERYTHING right now. On the plus side, some exciting things are in the works for this series that hopefully (fingers crossed here), I'll be able to tell you about soon!
* * *
on my bedchamber door roused me from a nightmare concerning Samael and his
demons. I reached for Luc, but cold blankets met my outstretched fingers. The
secret passage was sealed once more. He must have left soon after I fell
turned thunderous. I dropped the wards with a word.
“What?” I shouted.
through the door as if my dream demons chased her. “I beg forgiveness, Justice.
Sister Bertrice is here, demanding that she speak with you now.”
I didn’t need to
scry to know what had crawled up her ass. Flinging blankets aside, I sat and
stretched. “Escort her to my office, and bring us both breakfast. I believe she
prefers that bean drink from one of the southern Mecas.”
The idea of
drinking something best served with ham, onions and bread turned my stomach,
but a little solicitousness would go a long way to smoothing over the
priestess’ ruffled feathers.
Relief filled my assistant’s voice. She paused at the door. “You knew she would
“I asked for a
favor from the Healers Guild.” I shed my bedclothes. “The Temple of Death
has always been the most vocal over the split. I’m surprised it took her this
“Do you want
assistance with your hair, Justice?” she said. Apparently, I wasn’t the only
one with the desire to let Sister Bertrice stew for a little bit.
For all of my
vaunted independence, that was the one thing I could never get right. Mirrors
were as useless for me as the rest of the priestesses of Balance. While Luc and
I had ridden circuit, he braided and pinned my hair for me. He insisted he
wasn’t going to ride into a town or village with a justice that looked like a
long-haired cat with mange.
When I entered my
office, Sister Bertrice had worked herself into a good froth. Traditionally,
each temple had its own color, but to me, everyone’s robes, including mine were
the same dark blue. The priestess’ pacing had turned her robes to green.
She whipped to
face me. “How dare you let those heathens mutilate one of the holy!”
The door clicked
shut behind me. I didn’t blame Sivan for escaping.
“And a pleasant
morn to you as well,” I replied as evenly as I could. “Would you care to break
your fast with me?”
violated, yes. “ I sat at the table the kitchen staff had brought to my office
and poured my tea from the little ceramic pot. “But not by the Healers Guild.
They assisted me in confirming several oddities involved in Sister Gretchen’s
My cold logic splashed
against Bertrice’s fury. She collapsed in the other chair. “Do you know who did
I shrugged. “There
are possibilities I am pursuing, but you know I can’t speculate. Any accusations
would be sheer gossip at this point.”
Bertrice glared at
me. “I’m not a fool, Justice. The sutured incisions to the throat were made
after her death.”
“You are correct.
Those were made yesterday at my behest. I wanted verification that
strangulation was the cause of her demise. The Healers Guild found the windpipe
“Why? The bruises
made that obvious.”
“What do you
scrambled eggs onto a piece of Cantish flatbread and added pepper sauce. Luc
had introduced me to the concoction years ago. “We both know there are
venoms, herbs and mushrooms that paralyze a body before death.”
Waves of horror
rolled off Bertrice. “You think she was raped with a knife while she was alive
I folded the bread
in half. “That’s part of the reason I consulted with the Guild. I’m trying to
narrow down the possibilities.” Heat seared my tongue.
picked up the ceramic pot at her place and took a suspicious sniff. “Brewed
Meca bean tea?”
I wouldn’t call the
drink tea by any stretch of the imagination, but common sense said I shouldn’t
rattle the tenuous relationship between us. “I understand you’re fond of the
She poured a cup
and sipped it. “Why would you trust the Healers Guild?”
“They have more
thorough knowledge of aspects of the human body than I do. I would support
anything that would help me perform my duties.”
“Balance in all
things.” The sneer was evident in her voice.
“For every life,
there is a death,” I shot her own temple’s motto back at her before I gentled
my tone. “We’re not on opposing sides, Sister.”
“There was a time
when temple authority was absolute.” She reached for a piece of flatbread, tore
off a chunk and popped it in her mouth.
“The last demon
war changed things. We haven’t seen the end of those consequences.” I took a
sip of tea to cool the burning in my throat from the pepper sauce. “The
situation last summer proved to me this city, this queendom, is vulnerable if
the temples, the civilians, and the nobles don’t work together.”
We ate silently
for a few minutes before she reached into her pocket and produced a scroll.
“This may help you then.” She set it on the table.
declaration?” I set down my bread and eggs before I ran my fingers over the wax
seal. The raised letters and numbers sent a chill through me.
Bertrice stared at
me. “I thought you could see.”
My laugh was
self-deprecating. “After a fashion. My vision isn’t the same as yours.” I
pointed at my eyes. “I can’t differentiate ink from parchment.”
She tapped the
scroll. “Since one of the priests from Light will have to be there when you
break the seal, he can check the inked date for you, but according to our
records, Sister Gretchen deposited her declaration with us eleven days ago.”
Which was exactly
what the imprinted code of Balance said. At the most a week before the
priestess of Love was brutally murdered and left to pickle in a wine barrel.
“You’ve spoken to your priest who took the declaration.”
“Yes. He will be
available at your convenience for official testimony.” Bertrice took another
drink of her pungent brew before she said, “Let me guess. Gerd told you
Gretchen didn’t have a declaration.”
I sighed. “You
know I can neither confirm or deny anything regarding an open investigation.”
Bertrice set her
cup down with a sharp clink. “Watch
your back with her, Anthea. If Thalia could have proven any of the things we
suspected about her, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“What do you
“You represent one
of Gerd’s few failures. She tried to murder you once. We could never figure out
how she beat the truthspell.”
“No one can defeat
a truthspell. And murder? By the Twelve, what are you—”
“She took herbs
and mushrooms to stop the pregnancy.”
I stared at Sister
Bertrice. Her words froze my soul. My mother had tried to kill me in the womb.
“It’s illegal to interfere with any child conceived during the Spring Rituals.”
That single word
spoke volumes. How deep my mother’s ambitions went. How ruthless she could
truly be. It chiseled an entirely different sculpture of her possible
culpability in regards to Gretchen’s murder.
“Why wasn’t she
“She claimed it
was the pregnancy madness.”
“And she was truthspelled.”
I pushed my plate away, my appetite destroyed.
“Like I said,
Thalia was sure she hindered it. Somehow.”
possible.” I was repeating myself, but I couldn’t seem to stop.
circumstances, I would agree.”
I sipped my tea,
attempting to find some equilibrium, before I said, “Why are you telling me
forward. “Because if Thalia or I could have proven she did it deliberately, she
would not be a problem today. Because I have a vested interest in keeping you
“I was a healer. I
burned out my power saving your life.” She relaxed back in her chair.
Her admission was
more shocking than all of her revelations put together. It explained her
animosity toward the Healers Guild. Without her gift, she would have been
thrown out on her ear.
I cleared my
throat. “Can anyone verify your story?”
“Gerd.” A smirk
floated along Bertrice’s voice, but her next name carried sadness. “Brother Kam
is the only other one alive who remembers the incident.”
Kam. He’d known me
as a child. Why hadn’t he ever said anything ? Was the knowledge buried so deep
in me that what I thought was instinctual trust was actually a memory?
Bertrice blew out
a deep breath. “I don’t suppose you could arrange an audience between Master
Healer Devin and myself.”
The abrupt change
of topic startled me. “Why do you need me to do it?”
“Because if I seek
it of my own volition, then I’m a traitor to my temple. If you force me to meet with him during the
course of your duties while investigating the murder of a priestess from
Goddess, how I
loathed politics. But Bertrice’s suggestion made sense. “Perhaps. Tomorrow
after the midday meal?”
“That would be
acceptable.” She climbed to her feet. “Thank you for your hospitality,
I stood as well.
“Thank you for bringing Sister Gretchen’s statement of her last wishes to my
After Bertrice had
departed, I picked up the statement. While I had time to summon a witness from
the Temple of Truth, my gut said whatever was in the
document would take far longer than the two candlemarks I had before court
started. I crossed my office. Laying my hand on the spot in the marble, I spoke
the words of the unlocking spell, and placed the statement inside the block.
Only a priestess of my own Temple
could access the special hiding place.
Taking the accursed
document across the street this afternoon would give me the excuse I needed to
* * *
Thank Balance, I
didn’t have any capital cases that morning. As it was, I could barely keep my
attention on the trivial matters before me. Or they seemed trivial after the
shocks Sister Bertrice had delivered to my breakfast table.
damn runaway horse that had cracked a cobbler’s sign.
Once today’s case
were heard, I gave instructions to my clerk Donella to invite the healers and
Sister Bertrice for a meeting here. She gave me an odd look but nodded before I
raced across the room to catch the young priest who’d been my truthspeller
wait a moment?” Death take me, I couldn’t keep my own staff’s names straight,
much less Luc’s.
The junior priest
paused in collecting his things. “Yes, Lady Justice?”
“I have a
declaration of last wishes.”
“I’d be happy to
witness, m’lady.” Goddess help the boy, he actually sounded happy. And when did
I start thinking of the juniors as green children?”
“Trust me, you
don’t want this one sitting on your shoulders. Is Brother Luc available?” I
knew damn well he wasn’t. He’d said he wouldn’t be able to get to the tracking
spell research until after the midday meal.
“No, m’lady. Are
you sure I can’t help? I assure you I’m fully versed in the protocols.”
I pulled him away
from the crowd still filing out of the courtroom. “Is Brother Kam available?
This regards the priestess that was murdered. If what I suspect is in the
declaration, there are going to be some very unhappy people. I’m not allowing
you to ruin your career at your temple over a potential political mess.”
“I see.” A little
relief mixed with his disappointment. “Yes, I believe Brother Kam is available.
May I escort you to the Temple of Light, or shall I
bring him here?”
I laughed. “Are
you seriously suggesting that Brother Kam interrupt his midday meal?”
“What was I
thinking?” the junior priest said, his voice rueful.
It took me a
moment to retrieve the declaration. It took me more than a moment to convince
Little Bear I didn’t need a warden to accompany us. If I didn’t know better, I
would think we were all seeing conspiracies under every slab and cobblestone of
The young brother
led me to the private dining room, where sure enough Kam was plowing through a
chicken pie. He insisted that I be brought a chicken pie as well.
Kam dabbed his
mouth as my escort rushed off. “Now, what can I possibly do for you today, my
I pulled the
scroll from my pocket and laid it on the table. “Sister Gretchen’s
He reached for his
goblet and took a long swallow of wine. “So you're painting a target on the old
I smiled despite
my own anxiety. “No. I want a seat to be my witness. Gretchen made a point of
leaving this with the Temple
of Death instead of her
own. Since Luc’s unavailable…”
He glared at me.
Kam actually glared at me. “I’m no longer considered an active priest.”
“Why are you so
afraid of Gerd? I’m the one she tried to kill in the womb.”
There was no sound.
No movement. For a brief instant, I wondered if Kam had died in his seat.
He released the
breath he’d been holding. “Who told you?” He waved a hand. “Never mind. That
was a foolish question.”
I folded my hands
and leaned my elbows on the table. “You and Bertrice seem to think she’ll try
to finish what she started. Something that happened thirty years ago.”
Anthea. Stay away from her.”
I’d heard Kam
worried, jovial, and falling down drunk, but raw terror was in his voice now.
“Unless she’s been consorting with demons, she’s still human, therefore
We fell silent
when the young Light priest who had accompanied me entered with my food. Once
the door shut behind him, Kam staggered to his feet. His age was very apparent
in the way he trembled as he warded the room.
He dropped into
his chair as if all his energy had been spent in that little act of magic. “She
didn’t have pregnancy madness. We could see it in her eyes. We knew, but we
couldn’t prove it.” He slammed the flat of his hand on the table’s surface. The
dishes shivered at the release of his anger.
I folded my hand
over his. The skin so wrinkled, dry as a dead leaf. His age sunk into my heart.
“Do you believe Gerd could have killed and violated Gretchen?”
Like Bertrice this
morning, the single affirmation said everything.
didn’t fit. I couldn’t see what Gerd would gain from the manner of Gretchen’s
death. The money and property interests were too obvious.
It wasn’t any
daughterly affection that colored my viewpoint. If there was one thing about my
mother, it was her ruthless efficiency. She’d learned from her first attempt at
murder. If she wanted Gretchen dead, the priestess would never have been found.
I tapped the
scroll against the hardwood. “If she is behind this perversity, the contents of
the declaration may force her hand.”
“You don’t think
Gretchen left her property to the Temple
I chuckled. “Of
course not. Otherwise, Gerd would have been pounding on the doors of my temple,
demanding that the seal be cracked and its contents confirmed last night.” I
squeezed his hand. “Why didn’t you ever tell me you knew me from my childhood?”
His other hand
patted mine. “I had hoped, prayed, that you didn’t remember Orrin. And that you
never found out what your mother had done to you. Bertrice nearly killed
herself saving you, and she always felt guilty that she condemned you to the Temple of Balance.”
I shook my head in
confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Her power burned out before she could fully restore
your health. By the time we could get another healer it was too late. The
poison had destroyed your sight.”