Monday, April 28, 2014

A Question of Balance - Chapter 7

Sorry it's taken so long to post a new chapter. There's been a lot of things going on at home. Therefore, I won't be posting as often over the next month, possibly two. Hope everyone is having a terrific spring!


“Father, help us,” Kam swore.

I tapped my fingers against the table. “Now why would Sister Gretchen designate Lady Alessa?”

Kam stared at me. “Really, Anthea? Do I have to spell it out for you? She uses the phrase ‘my beloved soulmate’ in the naming.”

I frowned. “But the sisters of the Temple of Love don’t marry.”

His exasperated sigh revealed his annoyance with me. “That doesn’t mean they don’t fall in love.”

I leaned back in my seat. “I’m sorry. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the quiet, efficient Alessa with a priestess of Love.”

“Sometimes, true love doesn’t recognize arbitrary boundaries.” The sadness in Kam’s voice reminded me of his own forbidden affair. And Duke Marco had almost died because his mother couldn’t deal with the fact he was in love with a veterinary apprentice.

“I wonder if this is why Lady Alessa’s not married yet. The nobility gets rather prissy about such things when heirs and tradition are involved.”

He slowly shook his head. “Not according to the gossip mongers. The issue is her parents’ treason.”

I rubbed my temples. A nasty ache was developing behind my eyes. “Unfortunately, this puts an entirely different twist to Sister Gretchen’s body being found in the DiMara wine cellar.”

“Surely, you don’t believe—”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Right now, any conjectures are just that without evidence.”

The Goddess must have been looking out for me. Three separate discussions melded into one.

I leaned forward again. “Both you and Bertrice mentioned that you thought Gerd had a way to circumvent a truthspell. Yesterday, Luc said when he questioned Lady Alessa, she seemed to be fighting his spell. What if the Loves have managed to develop a counter-spell?”

“You’re mad,” Kam spluttered.

“No.” I held up an index finger. “Think about it. The order has always been privy to a great number of secrets thanks to pillow talk. What’s stopping some unscrupulous group from abducting a priestess and truthspelling her?”

Kam rubbed his chin as he considered my theory. “To protect their sisterhood, they wouldn’t inform any of the other temples. And definitely not share the information with any of the registered talents.”

“But what if one priestess shared that information with her lover—”

“Who happened to be an unregistered talent,” Kam finished. He frowned and tapped the parchment. “Not that the properties Gretchen has left Alessa are insignificant, but that DiMara holdings outstrip those named in the declaration.”

I laughed, a mirthless one. The circumstantial evidence mounted against a woman I truly liked. “Are you going senile, too? You were at the sentencing at the DiMaras’ trial last summer. All their properties went to Marco and Katarina.”

Kam’s sigh was weary. “Leaving his sisters with nothing but their brother’s obligation for their bride price should they marry.” He shook his head again. “Even if she were responsible, I can’t see Lady Alessa being foolish enough to hide the body on the family estate.”

I folded my arms over my chest. “Neither do I. And the barrel containing Gretchen’s corpse was definitely on the wagon from Pana Valley. Members of the household staff and my own rewinding of the timeline confirmed that fact.”

Kam frowned. “Do you want me to accompany you to question her again?”

“Would you mind terribly if I ask for two priests this time? One to truthspell Alessa while I question her, another to watch for the counterspell?”

The old priest laughed. “You’ll need to ask the new chief priest for that particular favor. I doubt he’ll say no to you.” He winked.

I shook my head. “You’re incorrigible.”

He inclined his head toward the declaration. “What about this?”

“Place it your safekeeping niche for now. Would you please ask Luc read it after his other business for me?”
“I’ll pass on both of your requests, my dear.”

I retrieved my heavy cloak, stalked through the main doors and down the steps. My clerk Donella would have today’s docket paperwork ready for me to proof and sign. And maybe I’d have a little time to research a possible counter to a truthspell.

The street teemed with traffic today since the rain had stopped for that last few hours. I checked for oncoming wagons and carriages before my foot descended from the last marble step onto the cobblestone. A horse and rider raced around the corner between Light and Thief. I jumped back, a stream of invectives on my tongue. Someone snagged my arm as more steeds poured out of the cross street.

I turned to my late rescuer. My polite thanks died at the telltale indigo in his hand. Sidestepping the knife aimed for my gut, I head-butted the man’s nose. Sticky warmth splashed my cheeks.

Instead of a shriek, he pivoted and swept my legs from under me. My hip landed on the corner of the marble step, and pain shot across my gut. His kick to my ribs forced any remaining air out of my lungs.

“Stupid bitch,” he hissed. “You should have been as blind as your sisters,” he hissed as drove the knife toward my throat.