Zephyr's delivery

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The inside of the Zephyr was feeling smaller by the day, and Roldan Stryke needed to feel solid ground beneath his feet. Taking the big cargo vessels to the glaciers was a sedate, smooth cruise compared to the bumping and swaying of the small mail ship. That he was sharing the space with Pienya Martoc was a contributing factor to his general irritation.

Roldan sat back in a chair at the end of the mess hall, eyes tilted up towards the creaking ceiling instead of focusing on the map which lay across his lap.

"Strkye! What are you doing?"

He slowly lowered his gaze to where Martoc stood over her own charts, positioned exactly as he'd first seen her when boarding the ship. He'd never deny that she was one of the best King's Eyes, especially given her age, as he'd observed her training and rise through the ranks - but she'd never been able to hold a normal conversation. Fenris had always spoken highly of her, although often couched with a cautionary glance, as if there was something that bothered him about her, regardless of her level of skill. Everyone knew she was the queen's favourite and that she answered first to her rather than the king; it was an open secret, one which Guijus had never addressed. Roldan had never understood that: the king had a responsibility to assert his authority, even if that was over his wife. Especially if it was his wife.

Sighing, he placed the map onto the table and got to his feet. "Assuming they've made their way to Bruckin," he said, "which is still not entirely confirmed, I'm trying to pinpoint their most likely route through the city."

"By staring at the ceiling?" Pienya glared at him disapprovingly. She'd never been much of a team player.

"By thinking, Pienya." He pointed at the map, which was an illustrated, oblique rendering of the city, complete with flame belching from towers and the northern peaks looming ominously. "If they've entered the city, they'll need somewhere to stay. Even if Fenris has reserves we don't know about, they're not going to be able to splash money about. That means they're on the lower levels. They're also wanted fugitives, which means keeping a low profile. That probably means staying in busy, built-up areas where they'll disappear into crowds. Perhaps in the commercial district, or near the factories."

"That hardly narrows it down."

"It's a start," he said wearily, unwilling to rise to the argument, "and we need to start somewhere. Perhaps the eyes on the ground will tell us more."

"At least we know they were coming this way," Martoc said, shuffling papers in front of her. That travelling merchant couldn't wait to tell us everything."

Roldan stifled a dismissive laugh. "That charlatan thought he could see a way to earn some extra coin. He's not reliable."

"Are you suggesting he lied to me?"

"No," Roldan said, standing and heading towards his cabin. "But we're going to need help in Bruckin. You can't go around flashing your courtly authority in Baron Lief's home town. Try being a little nicer to people."

Martoc leaned forwards on the table, closed her eyes and rubbed her temples with her fingers. "The heir to the throne is missing, we have a kingdom in crisis and tensions are building up everywhere. It's not a time to be nice, Stryke. You've gone soft in your old age."

"I like to call it wisdom," he shot back through a grim smile.

"I heard how you used to get results back in the good old days," Martoc said, raising her voice as he entered the cabin. "What happened to the Roldan Stryke from all the stories? You've spent too much time gathering ice."

Roldan slammed the door and stood for a few quiet moments in the cabin, clenching and unclenching his fists. He'd forgotten that the main attraction of being on the road was the isolation.

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