Chapter 18.1

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When he reached Flag Wood, Carmen was already there. They set off immediately, Grim stalking along up ahead. They were each in a rush to tell the other all that had happened over the past week.

Ward learned that Carmen's grandmere had once been Bareheep's most renowned criminal defence lawyer. That such a person could exist outside the State's baleful influence and rigged courts was a wonder in itself. She was known to boast of the number of assassination attempts made against her. Her best friend had been her bodyguard, a mercenary by the name of Randall. Carmen had known none of this until her pere told her the other day.

"Did he say anything about Nick?" Ward said.


"They were friends. Maybe your Grandmere was the one who got him -"

"Dad doesn't like to talk about it."

The archon at the door, after ignoring their attempts to strike up a conversation, begrudgingly granted them access. Its beak was clearly still burned after their last encounter.

Corvus's door was closed, but Ward could hear music from inside. It was like nothing he had ever heard: sweet and graceful, rising up onto delicate points, then dropping suddenly into lulling vales. Sometimes it sang out clear like a woman's voice; at others it chirred like a cicada on a summer's night. He didn't want it to stop, but as soon as Carmen knocked on the door it did. There were some soft footsteps and the door creaked open.

"Well come in, come in."

Ward noticed that Corvus didn't have his staff. He hobbled without it.

"I hope we're not -" Carmen began.

"Not in the least," Corvus said. "Oh you brought Grimalkin." The fel twined himself about the old man's legs and purred. Ludwig glared down from a bust of a serious-looking man on the mantelpiece.

A case was open on a side table. A peculiar musical instrument with four strings lay inside it, along with a stick with dozens of fine white hairs stretched along its length. Ward assumed it was the thing that had been making the music.

"Sorry we didn't come earlier." Carmen said.

"Young people have busy lives," Corvus said. "You would think that the old, with fewer years to spare, would be the ones rushing about." He lowered himself onto an armchair. Grim sprang up onto one of the arms and settled there, his front paws tucked beneath his body like a sphinx, his eyes almost but not quite closed. Ludwig's glare intensified. Ward and Carmen took a chair each. 

There was a blackleaf pot and three cups on a coffee table between them. It seemed he had been expecting them. He poured blackleaf into the cups. Soon there was only the sound of the crackling fire and the thoughtful tick of a tempus on the mantelpiece. Ward saw that the picture they had removed from the wall had been reinstalled; he vaguely remembered leaving it in pieces on the table when they had rushed down to the library. He wondered if the parchment was back inside it.

 He wondered if the parchment was back inside it

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Quoth the Raven: "Eat my shorts."

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