Yorrin was surprised when he returned to the Silver Pine and saw how much his companions had been worried for him. The Whip had apparently been ready to go out and search the whole damned city, but Aleksandr and Prudence had the wisdom to realize that was a dumb and fruitless plan.
Thank god. They would’ve had no hope of finding one small, discreet man in a city the size of Yerevan. Instead, he found them all waiting in the common room. The look of relief on Aleksandr’s face was disconcerting. Yorrin wasn’t sure anyone had ever been that happy to see him.
Yorrin only wished he had better news to give them for their trouble. Stasik was a dead end, of that he was fairly sure. Borthul, too. The old man didn’t seem to be turning on them, which meant he’d turn up eventually either with something useful, or not.
Prudence confirmed that she’d spent the whole day watching the Ruskans—they’re unattended now, I need to get over there—to no result.
Every lead was turning up empty. Yorrin accepted a drink and sat at the table with them, exchanging a few words with his friends. He reassured them that he was alright and made sure everyone knew what everyone else was getting up to.
“This could have been much worse,” Aleksandr said. “Perhaps is not a good idea for you to watch the Ruskans alone, Yorrin. Prudence or Dylan could watch with you, maybe. They—”
“No,” Yorrin said. “Sorry to interrupt, but no. The Whip would only cock things up—too tall, too noticeable. And if it’s Prudence and me, all the time, we’re wasting our talents. Better that we split our time between them and other tasks. I’ll be fine.”
Aleksandr frowned. “Unless you are not.”
“Sure,” Yorrin said, shrugging. He took a swallow from his pewter cup. It burned on the way down, a strong and smoky liquor that Bear had recommended. “But we have to take risks, especially now. If these bastards clue in to us we may never find them. We need to cover as many leads as possible, as quick as possible.”
“Yorrin’s right,” Prudence said. “Especially since we still don’t know if anyone in Giancarlo’s group is involved. Once Giancarlo unloads his wares, we’ll have a much harder time keeping him in one place. We’ve got to move fast.”
Thanks Prudence, Yorrin thought. “I know I’m right, Prudence,” he snapped. “And so does Aleksandr.”
Aleksandr sighed. “Da,” he said. “I do. Very well, Yorrin. Go, and keep an eye upon Grigor and the others. Prudence will relieve you in the morning.”
Yorrin downed the rest of the liquor in a long pull that was equal parts painful and satisfying. Warmth bloomed in his chest and belly. He stood, sweeping his cloak over his shoulders. He didn’t bother saying any goodbyes.
Olivenco was leaning near the door, waiting for him.
“Yorrin,” he said, coming off the wall.
“You’re up late,” Yorrin observed.
Olivenco smiled. “Si. Your friends, they were very worried.”
Yorrin shrugged. “They’re just not acclimated to city work. We’ve all been camped together for months. Operating on your own or fragmented like this takes some getting used to.”
“Of course,” Olivenco said. “I spent many years in a city much larger and more treacherous than this one.”
“Right,” Yorrin said. “Camarr. Some kind of Spatalian port city. You were a thief or a sellsword or somesuch.”
“A bravo,” Olivenco corrected. “A soldier for the dons and the dukes, to fight their duels and proxy battles for them.”
Isn’t that what I said? “Right. So you get it. I’ll be fine.”
“Si,” Olivenco said. “I was not worried for you. But you missed our training.”
Oh. Yorrin frowned. “I suppose so. I ran into a bit of trouble. I was unconscious for the better part of the afternoon and evening, I think. Drugged.”
“You still have much to learn, if you are to use that blade without embarrassing me,” Olivenco said.
If I do it’s your own fault for giving it to me. “I know,” Yorrin said.
He felt a twinge of resentment, but the truth was that Olivenco’s advice over the days since giving Yorrin his sword had been quite valuable. He felt much more comfortable around the artfully forged steel blade than he had when Olivenco first handed it to him.
“Tomorrow, then. You will stay up all night, and sleep in the morning, si?” At Yorrin’s nod, Olivenco continued. “An hour past noon, then. We will meet in the stables and review your forms and footwork.”
Yorrin scratched his chin. “Agreed,” he said. “See you then.”
Olivenco ducked his head in the barest of bows, and stepped aside to let Yorrin pass.
It was well past dark outside, cold and deserted. Yorrin’s cloak hung open, which did little to shield him from the wintry chill of Yerevan’s streets. He pulled it close.
It wasn’t really any colder than it had been an hour ago, when he made his way to the Silver Pine from Stasik’s shop. But it felt so. The common room of the Silver Pine was warmed by several hearths, and he’d begun to get used to it before he left.
Careful. You’re getting soft, he told himself. Yerevan—the northern Midlands and southern Rusk in general—was colder than Nasarat, of course. No doubt their coldest blizzards would defy credulity to Yorrin’s senses. But this was little more than a nipping chill and a a light drizzle that turned to frost when it hit the cobblestones.
Yorrin heard a patter of footsteps somewhere behind him. He didn’t react immediately. He kept up his steady pace for a few steps, then faked a little stumble on the glistening frostmelt that covered the street. He went to one knee, grunted, then laboriously pulled himself back to his feet. Along the way, he stretched, casually glancing behind him.
The street was empty. He saw no obvious alleys or other easy hiding places for someone to have hurried to. Jumping at shadows? Yorrin frowned. That’s not good. Either you’re paranoid, or the shadows really are following you. Neither option was ideal.
Yorrin rolled his neck across his shoulders and went back to his walk. It was a good little hike to the Happy Trout, and by the time he arrived he was on edge. He’d passed a tiny number of folk, each of them eyeing him warily as they went about their business. Bayard Bogdanov’s men did not enforce a harsh curfew in Yerevan, but even so, not much legitimate business was done this late at night.
He’d seen no sign of anyone following him. Either he’d lost them, or they were never there to begin with. Or they’re so good you still haven’t spotted them.
Yorrin picked a spot he and Prudence had scoped out earlier. An alley across the street from the Happy Trout, with narrow walls and muddy ground cluttered with refuse. They hadn’t intended anyone to stay in the alley overnight, of course. Yorrin had planned to rent a spot on the floor of the common room and remain unobtrusive, quietly watching for anything unusual. But barging into the inn this late would be the opposite of unobtrusive. Yorrin would immediately draw attention, and potentially scare off whoever he might be looking for.
The safest thing to do was wait out here for a few hours and watch to see if anyone came or went. When the sky lit with the gray of early morning, he’d enter the inn as a patron and warm up for a couple hours until Prudence came to relieve him.
Yorrin hunkered down, drawing the cloak tight around his body. The walk had warmed him considerably, but he knew that would wear off soon enough. His cloak was well made and new-ish, bought back in Karim just before they crossed the Underpass. The layers of thick wool would keep him from freezing to death, especially since the alley was decently covered from wind and icy rain. But it wasn’t going to be pleasant.
Why the hell did I agree to take the night shift? Yorrin wondered. Just so Prudence can spend the evening getting plowed by her mercenary lover? Ugh.
He tried not to think about it. He spent the next several hours growing increasingly cold and miserable, pondering what moves he and his companions ought to make next. The more he thought about it, the more agitated he became.
This side of the equation is awful, Yorrin concluded. Defending against nefarious forces that operate in secret is so much more difficult than being the nefarious force operating in secret. We’re stuck on the defensive, only able to react to their moves, without the ability to strike first. Or even do proper recon.
The sky began to glow with gray light as the morning approached. Yorrin entered the Happy Trout before the sun had even crested the horizon. Warm air washed over him, smelling of smoke and sweat and old food. Yorrin inhaled deeply. This was his kind of inn.
He saw a few rough men sprawled out on pallets on the floor, including all three of the Ruskans. A large hairy man that Yorrin recalled was the innkeeper was puttering about at the hearth, stirring it up and hanging two copper pots over the coals.
A serving girl approached Yorrin.
“Middish?” she asked.
Yorrin nodded. “A meal and a drink, to start,” he said. “Both hot.”
“Da—yes, good,” the girl said. She smiled, gestured to a bench, and hurried over to join the innkeeper.
They hadn’t set up the trestle tables yet. The boards that would make the tables were lined against one wall. They’d likely wait for more patrons to wake up before they dragged them out. That was fine with Yorrin. He enjoyed the warmth in silence.
It didn’t take long for the girl to bring him a cup of mulled wine. Yorrin was no expert, but he knew a poor vintage when he tasted it. Some sort of sour red, but it was much improved by the spices. Not too sweet, and it warmed him down to his bones.
The other patrons eventually woke. The three Ruskans noticed Yorrin—too obviously, amateurs. Don’t look directly at me!—and sat on the far side of the room. Yorrin ate a bowl of hot porridge with the rest of the patrons. It wasn’t particularly good, but it stuck to his ribs nicely.
And then he waited.
The Ruskans proceeded to spend the morning eating, drinking, arguing, and gambling. They kept up the pretense of being flush with coin after their job, openly talked about how they’d lost most of their fellow mercs, and cursed the new priestess. In some parts of Yerevan, their talk would likely draw the attention of Bogdanov’s men. But the Happy Trout was not in a particularly good district of the city, and the folk here had more important concerns than showing appropriate deference to their bayard.
Still, Yorrin watched the crowd. Hoping against the odds that someone would notice them and take the bait.
He didn’t jump. For once, he’d seen Prudence enter. Or at least he’d been reasonably sure he had. She sat behind him.
“Nothing,” he murmured into his drink.
“Figures.” Her voice was quiet, almost bored.
They had nothing else to say to one another.
Yorrin drained the rest of his drink in a long pull, tossed down a handful of copper gir to cover what he’d bought so far, and stood. He walked out without glancing at either Prudence or the Ruskans.
Another wasted morning.
“Rapido! Faster!” Olivenco’s voice rang out.
“Working on it,” Yorrin grunted without taking his eyes off of his task.
“You hesitate! Mal. No. You must not hesitate. You must not think, Yorrin.”
Olivenco barked his advice from the far wall of the barn. Giancarlo and Alaina had paid the Silver Pine for a considerable amount of space in the barn, for their steeds and Giancarlo’s wagons. One of his wagons was out in the markets now, however, and a few of the horses were getting paced outside. That left plenty of room for Yorrin to run through Olivenco’s instructions, practicing forms and stances.
One of the Taraamites stood opposite Yorrin. Connor, the one they called “Quickblade” for reasons that had grown painfully obvious. Connor was clearly a competent swordsman, now that his injuries from the Underpass had mostly healed. He had trained under Olivenco for years, albeit as a soldier rather than a personal apprentice.
He's a damn sight better at swordplay than I am still, Yorrin admitted to himself. Wonder if he resents that Olivenco gave the sword to me instead of him.
If Connor harbored any resentment, he hid it well. He was practicing with Yorrin in calm, indifferent silence. Not so much sparring. This wasn’t an organic fight. Yorrin felt he might be able to take Connor in a proper fight, where the only thing that mattered was victory.
This was practicing. Connor executed the patterns that Olivenco instructed, and Yorrin practiced responding to them from the various positions Olivenco had shown him. Swordplay, the way Olivenco seemed to understand it, was less like a fight than it was a dance. The angle of Connor’s approach, the speed, the bloody position of Connor’s feet all had to be considered for Yorrin to respond correctly.
It was tedious and exhausting. Yorrin felt more than a little foolish. But he’d seen how effortlessly Olivenco—one-armed, recovering from injury, and armed only with a dagger—had held his enemies at the flooded bridge. He believed the stories about the Cutter of Camarr. Or at least he believed that there were grains of truth to them.
So he practiced.
The stableboys tried to gawk at them, but the old man that headed the stables mostly kept them too busy. Yorrin didn’t much care if they watched so long as they kept their mouths shut, and they were smart enough to do that at least.
By evenfall, he was exhausted. Connor had bowed out already, and the last hour had been spent with Olivenco calling out directions and Yorrin struggling to respond to nonexistent attackers.
“Enough for one day,” Olivenco said. He passed Yorrin a waterskin, and Yorrin gratefully swallowed a few gulps.
“Thanks,” he said once he’d slaked his thirst. “How was that?”
Olivenco pursed his lips in contemplation. “Better,” he said after a long pause. “You are still not much better than a niñito, of course. But… better. You will be quite good, one day.”
Yorrin rolled his eyes. “I’m going to asume a ninny toe is Spatalian for a back alley scrapper,” he said.
From the smirk on Olivenco’s face and the twinkle in his eye, Yorrin was certain his guess was wholly wrong. He chose not to care.
They heard a commotion outside the barn, and the doors swung open. A few of Giancarlo’s men led the missing wagon in with the help of one of the Silver Pine’s stableboys. Yorrin and Olivenco got out of their way.
“Hold a moment there,” a voice called to them as they walked away. Yorrin hesitated, glancing over his shoulder.
The man that had spoken was the red-haired Highlander, Cameron. He climbed down off the wagon, and Yorrin realized he recognized the two men that had brought it in with him. One of them, the terse and sour man they called Levin, was still getting the horses untethered from the wagon. The other, talking to the stableboy, was the round-faced midwife’s son. Orson. The one that had helped tend to Alaina on the road.
The three of them seemed to be friends. And of all of Giancarlo’s mercs, Orson and Cam had made the greatest effort to befriend the Taraamites and Yorrin’s traveling companions. But none of them had spoken much with Yorrin specifically.
He’d liked it that way.
“What is it?” Yorrin asked.
Cam grimaced. “We were hopin’ to speak to ye, Yorrin,” he said. He eyed Olivenco warily. “Uh. Privately, I expect.”
Yorrin made eye contact with Olivenco, who shrugged. “It is up to you,” he said to Yorrin.
Yorrin glanced back at Cam, and the others. Orson nodded to the stableboy, who scampered off, then he moved to join the rest of them. Levin finished letting loose the horses, and he swaggered over to stand behind Cam and Orson. He crossed his arms over his chest.
They look nervous, but not threatening, Yorrin thought. “It’s fine, Olivenco,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Si, as you like,” the Spatalian smiled. He nodded to the three men, standing in their stiff poses. “Caballeros,” he said. Back to Yorrin, he added: “I will wait for you inside. Ah, a few minutes, si?”
And then they were alone, just the four of them.
“Alright then. What is it?” Yorrin asked. “You look constipated.”
Orson snorted a laugh.
“Och, no, not exactly,” Cam said, wincing. “Wish that we were, lad, if I’m honest.”
“Well, what then? Spit it out.”
Cam and Orson exchanged a nervous look. It was plain to Yorrin that each man was hoping the other would be the one to step up and explain what they wanted.
Finally, behind them, Levin rolled his eyes. He cleared his throat.
Yorrin met the lean, scowling man’s eyes. “Got something to say for once?”
Levin jerked a thumb behind him, pointing to the wagon they’d been caretaking. One of Giancarlo’s wagons full of expensive wares. “Secret box,” he said. “Poison.”
Yorrin’s body was clammy with sweat, and he felt a sudden chill run through him. He swallowed. “What?” he said, and felt his voice crack. He cleared his throat, and looked to Orson. “What exactly is he saying?”
Orson sighed. “Just as it sounds,” he said. “We… found something. In the wagon. Something I don’t think Signore Rossi expected us to find.”
“Poison,” Yorrin said. His voice came out flat, calm. Inside, he felt considerably more upset.
“A hidden compartment,” Orson said, nodding. “And inside it… yes. A few things, but among them is a quantity of—of arsenic. That’s consistent with what Alaina went through.”
Yorrin frowned. “I see,” he said. “And you just discovered this today.”
“Aye, lad,” Cam said. “We don’t want no part of that business. The Priestess, she seems a good woman. We—”
Yorrin held up a hand, and Cam fell silent.
“Have you told anyone else?” Yorrin asked.
Orson shook his head, and Cam followed suit. Levin just watched Yorrin with heavy-lidded eyes and a blank expression.
“Good,” Yorrin said. “Giancarlo, he’s back here with you? Inside the Silver Pine?”
“Reckon so,” Cam said.
Yorrin’s mind was racing. “Alright,” he said. “Stay here, then. I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”
“We won’t,” Orson said. “But… where are you going?”
“To get Aleksandr,” Yorrin said.
He saw the way the three men squirmed at Aleksandr’s name. Perhaps they were lying, but something told him it wasn’t that. It was shame. Admitting that they were dupes, that they were in some way complicit, was easier said to a man like Yorrin. If they had to admit it to Aleksandr, they’d face the knight’s disappointment.
Yorrin didn’t feel a shred of sympathy. “You’re going to tell him exactly what you told me,” he said. “And answer any questions he may have. But more importantly, you’re going to do exactly what we say. You’re going to set this right.”
The three men exchanged another look, and then one by one they nodded.
“Alright,” Orson said. “Yeah. We’re in.”