One Stone, Chapter 36

Few things comforted Brother Fratarelli quite like being back in his church. There were chores to do, a congregation to reassure, and many missed sermons to restore. Missing two sermons felt like agony – and it wasn’t until he’d given six more that he realised how his surroundings had settled. Like cheap flaked cereal in cardboard boxes, everything had just fallen gently into place.

Had he really, two seasons ago, sat down with Kivis and spoken to her about the proper methodology for hiring a murderer? It seemed such a strange thing to have done. On the other hand, he could remember more than once, his entire life changing based on simple changes in his perspective. Once, he had been a man who had never been involved in a crime, and now, he was a man who had an assassin living in his basement, and one of the most notorious not-quite-outlaws in the city visiting every day.

Kivis existed in a legal twilight. Officially, she had not done anything illegal, and had even enforced the law. Unofficially, she had killed nobles, and even nobles weren’t very happy with that. In spite of it, she was a free woman, and a noblewoman, and those moved by different sets of rules. She could be on her estate, but here, instead, she was sitting in his church of a Sunday, in her armour, and nobody dared comment on it.

They’d missed him, those missing weeks. Only a few weeks without their priest, only a few weeks with the doors closed on a Sunday morning. Nothing had gone terribly wrong, nobody had become lost or died or needed him in a way that couldn’t wait, but Fratarelli had been even more uncomfortable about that. If his people didn’t need him, he’d have to answer some much bigger, much more worrying questions about what he was doing with his life

Such as harbouring the seemingly consequence-free murderer of Elian Praefoco and probably the thug known as Nebrin, and the accomplice to the murders of Cameo Tully and Luke Cornell, the king of the river. These were not things that he had expected.

Rafe was a sticking point to the priest. Officially, he’d signed him out of the prison underneath his responsibility, with an eye to reforming the Worst Murderer in the city, and after a fashion, that hadn’t been a lie.

He hadn’t given Rafe permission to leave the church, but he’d also learned after the third night he didn’t really have the opportunity to keep him in. When Brother Fratarelli went down of a morning to wake him, Rafe was there, and that was a kind of control. Also, the brother fancied that waking him regularly would keep him from staying up late and doing anything reckless. After all, young men needed their sleep. Well, Brother Fratarelli needed his sleep, and he wasn’t old. Maybe ten years older than Rafe. Okay, maybe a bit more than that.

Thoughts tumbled around over one another while he ate his breakfast, cold leftover potatoes from the night before. Positively comfort food, really, with some of the cheese melted on. Only one – there was one set aside for Rafe as well – but the boy was training before he ate. It was a good idea, even if it wasn’t, technically, Rafe’s idea. Sometimes Aderyn just slipped through a window and attacked him, and then they were off.

It was like having a pair of cats.

“Kids these days,” Kivis shrugged, the visor on her helmet opened downwards, giving her a room to bring food to her mouth. “Let them murder a few people and they get all antsy of a morning.”

“Assassinate,” Aderyn corrected primly, as she slung her fist past Rafe’s face. He waved backwards, just in time.

“Whatever.”

“It’s important,” Aderyn said.

Kivis slid the plate forwards slightly, and when she tilted her head, the metal of the helm tapped against her shoulder. It was an expression that looked even more birdlike than normal. “Is it?”

“A murder,” Aderyn said, as she put her palm onto Rafe’s forehead and threw herself overhead over him in a single gymnastic sweep, “is explicitly not an assassination by law; an assassination is a killing performed by an unrelated third party for recompense, often but not always,” she ducked a slung fist, dropping to the floor, spinning her weight around on her hands and sweeping both legs up to grab Rafe’s arm, pull him downwards and throw his back onto the ground with a thud. “for political reasons.”

Rafe grunted as he hit the floor, and propped himself up even as he twisted his arm and slithered out of her grip, throwing himself away from her, attempting – perhaps vainly – to make his way to his food on the table. “Don’t really see the difference,” he groused.

“That is probably because you are not a lawyer, Rafe.”

“Thank god,” Kivis laughed.

“So that would make Tully and Praefoco assassinations, then.” Fratarelli nodded. “But Cornell-”

“Cornell was an assassination.” Aderyn cut in shortly.

“Really? You haven’t, uh, given me a report…?”

“You were not my client.”

The brother blinked. Of course it stood to reason that an assassin of Aderyn’s skill would have other clients, inasmuch as anyone in this city hired an assassin to actually kill people, but, still, it was a surprise. “Oh, um. I’m sorry. Who was the client?”

“That’s confidential, Brother Fratarelli,” she said, standing with one hand on her hip, a reproachful look on her face.

“Me,” grumbled Rafe, as he sat up again on the floor from where he’d been thrown.

“You were an intermediary.” she shook her head. “The client is confidential, Rafe. Have some professionalism.”

“Do I have that?” he asked, rubbing his nose. “If I had that, wouldn’t someone have to pay me.”

“Professionals still do work pro bono.”

“That means ‘for bones,’ Rafe. Like a dog.” Kivis chipped in.

“It means for free, dunnit?” Rafe shot back.

“You know any Latin?” the brother mused, as Rafe sailed over the table. The oven shuddered.

“I know a bit,” the boy growled, as he pulled himself up off the ground, again. At least he was near the table. He swung a leg over the bench, and gestured, “I’m trying to eat breakfast!” he called over at Aderyn, who was adjusting her belt.

“And I am trying to stop you. It is good practice.” Aderyn offered crisply.

“Practice is for professionals. I haven’t been paid yet and I didn’t offer my services.” he wrinkled his nose at the priest next to him. “Pretty sure I was blackmailed, y’know.”

“You were an accomplice to Praefoco.”

“I killed Praefoco!” he growled.

“Did you kill Nebrin?” Aderyn asked, standing still for a moment in her assault on Rafe’s personal space.

“What? What kind of question is that?”

“Well, he did try to kill you.”

So are you right now.

“You know, Rafe,” the portly priest ruminated, holding his fork between his fingers and twirling it in the air, the weight of the potato on it providing momentum to the gesture. “You’ve never explained why you lied about those murders.”

“You never explained,” the arc of Aderyn’s knife over Rafe’s head cut the sentence short, but his hand hit the floor, and he rolled forwards underneath her leaping form to avoid the followup, darting under the table. When Aderyn leapt on the table to follow him, knife in her hand, Brother Fratarelli wondered when that sort of thing had stopped bothering him. The girl put all her weight behind every hit – how the hell had she put a blade through a man’s skull? “Why you think I lied.”

“Are you calling me a liar, Rafe?”

“You’re calling ME a liar!” Rafe yelled, turning his head just in time for Aderyn’s boot to hit him in the side of the head.

Kivis laughed into her breakfast, just shaking her head.

*

Vince knew, as a soldier, he would be asked to do some very challenging things in the name of his country. Travelling from the Holy Land to the cape of Hemulkar to the northern tip to catch a boat without supplies and with just what he could forage from the land was, in his mind, easy. It was just moving forwards, a little bit at a time. Being shot at also wasn’t very challenging, really, because even rocks could do that.

This, however, was terrifying and maddening.

“Come on!” Leigh yelled, from the top of the gangway, jumping up and down on the wood. It shook and shuddered underneath her, and Vince felt his stomach lurch.

Stannisfeld and Gael were on either side of the engineer, guiding his steps. The cane in his hand supported his weight well. Secretly, Vince hoped he’d been injured enough to pull him off the front line, and also, just as secretly, hoped that if he had to use the cane, that wasn’t so bad. The cane, after all, looked a little bit stylish. On the other hand, he was still off-balance; movement in his leg sent a sharp pain up his hip, into his back, and then his stomach lurched and he couldn’t think for a moment.

The gangway looked like hell. And it was too narrow for Gael or Stannisfeld to help guide him up.

“Leigh! Stop being a bi-” Gael hollered up the gangway, as a crash of the water hit the side of the boat. “Boy’s been shot.”

The boat, or was it a ship? Whatever. It was tall and narrow, with many sails, and lots of ropey bits. Vince knew he was distracting himself from the task ahead of himself by trying to take in other details, and he didn’t, frankly, care. Had Yull called it a clipper? Some variety of vessel that could claim the channel in a day, and be in Tiberan waters. They were literally within a few days of Timoritia, and within a few days of this strange, long journey being done.

He wasn’t sure if rest, or reassignment was waiting for him.

Worse, he didn’t want to ask Yull for a favour, just because they’d travelled together.

“That was days ago!” the short gunner called. “Hurry it up, Princess!”

“That does it,” Stannisfeld growled, glaring up the gangway. “Gael?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you step back? Vince?”

Vince found himself off the ground, with a hand behind his back and another hand tucked under his legs. Arms, uncertain of what to do, slid around Stannisfeld’s neck, and held there, while the other boy, cushioning the impact, walked up the gangway.

When Vince passed Leigh, he poked his tongue out at her.

When Gael passed her, she knuckled her on the top of the head, to a yell of, “Hey!”

*

Lunchtime at the church was bread rolls and pasta, and an irritated Rafe glaring down at a pile of paper.

“You know I can read, right?”

“I’m aware,” Kivis said, her tone of voice totally impassive.

“Then why this shit?”

“Because I don’t know what you can read.”

Rafe’s fists bunched at the side of the paper. “And why does that matter?”

“Right now, you’re a ward of the state, Rafe. You’re under this church’s protection, and under Brother Fratarelli’s care.”

“… Until he doesn’t want me any more and I go back to Draftfane.”

“I suppose so,” she shrugged, metal clinking. “Guess you want to keep the priest happy.”

Rafe glared at her with the sort of energy he normally reserved for… for glaring. Glaring and not much else, really. The boy had such anger inside him, and he just didn’t know what to do with it. Walking around with his fists balled waiting for something to give him an excuse to commit a dreadful thing.

The helmet didn’t blink. “Or, of course, you could consider that maybe, Rafe, Brother Fratarelli likes you, and feels responsible for you.”

Rafe turned the paper over. “It’s passages from the Books. It’s just Raise Up A Child In the Way He Should Go, all that shit. It’s I Wanna Marry Daddy When I Grow Up. An’ this is…” he looked at the next paper, “Where’d you get these?”

“Around the church – some that were dumped in with the mail this morning.”

Rafe lifted up one piece of paper, and through the thin sheet, Kivis could see the expensively printed, clearly-printed letters, parsing it after a moment. The New King.

“… Rafe, where’s my boathook?”

*

Tenner Chilver wasn’t a man with a lot of presence. You had to push him past angry into enraged to see any discernable reaction – and it tended to express itself as more whiny and petulant than anything like fury. But when he slammed the paper down on the table, with his palm out, he was fairly vibrating, and the squeak in his voice betrayed every bit of that rage.

“Ligier, what the hell do you think you were doing?!”

Marko leant forwards, reaching for the paper, and pulling it out from under the furious noble’s grip. It was news to him – but these people were so disorganised.

“Me?” bellowed the tiger of a man, shoving the table with both hands, as he glared at the paper. “How dare you?!” Then a breath later, “What is it?”

“It’s a playbill!”

“It’s a newsbill,” Ulster clarified, leaning around and reading over Marko’s shoulder. “A new king… tum tum tum… oh my. Oh my.” She raised an eyebrow. “So this isn’t yours, Ligier?”

“No!” the giant hammered his fist on the table. “Why would I- I don’t even know what it is!”

“It’s…” Marko turned the paper in his hand, checking the back. Ah, nothing – probably meant to be glued on public spaces. “It’s clever.”

“It – what?” Ligier said, immediately shifting gears. “You really think so?”

That tone shift would be a surprise if Marko hadn’t dealt with Ligier for weeks now. Chances are he just wanted to position himself to benefit. “Wardell?” he asked, gesturing over his shoulder. “You see any of these when you go walking?”

“Oh yes, sir,” Wardell said, shuffling forwards with the tea tray. “Yes, I’ve seen them all up and down the street on the way to the shops of a morning.”

Marko spread the paper out, and looked around the table.

THE NEW KING

PEOPLE OF TIBER REJOICE!

The Rightful Heir to the Throne,

The Great Veteran

The Lion Of Courage

Of the House of Bachthane

Has been found!

“I wouldn’t have written it that way,” Ulster sniffed. “All that wasted space on the sides.”

“It looks fancy,” Asca said, his tone slightly defensive. “You can surrender some space for that sort of thing.”

“Is this yours?” Marko asked, holding the paper in his hand, grinning slyly, appending in his head you great jowly bastard.

“Well,” Asca laughed, drawing himself up, holding his hands in front of his belly. “I wouldn’t want to brag. I mean, we’re all in this conspiracy together, aren’t we…?”

Marko sat back in his chair, taking his cup of tea without even looking at it. Wardell knew to put the cup near his hand. “It’s smart. Smarter than you probably think.” he said, taking a sip. Perfect. “It prepares the people for the arrival of Yull, but it also shows them that someone official is involved. Newsbills! Who can afford newsbills? Certainly scattered like this? No, this is good – and better yet, it makes it common knowledge. Nobody will want to be against it, or outside of it, if it is known. Good work, Asca.”

The big man rumbled a little, jiggling slightly with a smile on his face. “Well, I wouldn’t want to brag,”

“You said,” Ulster. “So don’t.”

Marko held up the paper. The Lion of Courage. Oh yes. He could imagine it now. Yull marching in through the gates, retinue of soldiers at his side, walking to the throne, and taking his place. The city would have a king again, and the squalling nobles would finally have to start doing things other than fight over the throne.

*

Kivis hadn’t much taste for pageantry. Her personal crest had been somewhat dramatically a few years ago, and while she could appreciate the artistry of it, a black shield with a noose on it and the words Mors In Iustitia was hardly a party piece. The last time she’d seen it, someone had artfully drawn fallen feathers underneath the banner. The change had been supposedly to her disgraced father’s symbols, but it was just as much a stain on her. More fool them – it was a symbol and motto she could be proud of. Still, it didn’t exactly pull in party invites.

On the other hand, the fabric before her on the table was positively beautiful. A bright, vibrant blue field, with a steel-grey shield laid in the centre of it, split into three sections. Green lines in stylised grass on one side; a set of scales with coins and wheat on them on the right; and in the centre, a pair of birds, the same colour as the background field. Two large rams horns curled about the side of the crest as well. It was pastoral, but the colours were, at the least, pleasant.

“Pageantry, Aderyn? Didn’t seem your style.” Kivis ruminated, tugging on the fabric.

“Well, there is an event of some formality coming.” Aderyn said, her tone considered. “A general is arriving and there seems to be some announcement on that matter.”

“Oh, yes, Bachthane?” Kivis nodded. “Ah, and of course, you’re Lleywa – you have to care about that, mm?”

“Inasmuch as is appropriate for a young lady,” Aderyn said.

“Why bluebirds?” Kivis asked, holding up the fabric, watching as it rolled down a little further.

“Ah, they’re not bluebirds.” Aderyn said, gesturing at the birds in the centre. “They’re actually meant to be holes in the shield.”

“Holes in the shield…? Oh, so that’s the colour of the field behind?”

“Yes!” Aderyn nodded.

“… Why?”

“Well, heraldry is a complicated affair-”

“If you don’t know, that’s okay.”

“I do know,” Aderyn said, and her brows briefly knit with frustration. As if that was even a thought. Emotion was rare on the girl’s face – it made that one a pleasant showing. “The birds are transparent as defers to an old incident in the DuThane family name-”

“What’s this? Oh!” And suddenly, Brother Fratarelli was walking into the kitchen, clapping his hands together and ambling towards the brilliant blue drape. Unfolding the fabric a little further, looking down at the sky blue crest and the geometric figures designed on the shield, he pointed at the ribbon banner beneath it, with its fine, artful writing. “Beati Pafici – that’s one of the beatitudes! I didn’t know your family were religious.”

“Well, insofar as is appropriate,” Aderyn said, putting on her smile.

“You know which one it is…?” Brother Fratarelli asked, with the tone of voice of someone who very much wants to explain something, but knew there was a chance it was inappropriate.

“It means-”

“Beat the peace into them.” Rafe said, slouching past the table with a cup of water in his hand.

No,” Brother Fratarelli said, turning with a raised hand to point at Rafe’s back. “It means blessed a-

are the peacemakers,” Aderyn finished, clearing her throat. “Though I do imagine my mother would quite like Rafe’s interpretation.”

Kivis shook her head. “Boys.”

“They do interrupt, don’t they?”

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