Chapter Thirteen

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Igren stood in the doorway of the cell and allowed her eyes to adjust to the gloom. Though the dungeons of Dwoll were by and large dry, clean and well-aired, this particular section had been subject to leaks from various plumbing incidents and as a result resembled more a grotto than a man-made prison. Just as well--the murderess deserved far worse.

In the dark, Igren smelled damp hay, fresh vomit and the bright, glittering scent of fear.

The girl was curled in one corner like a feral animal in its new cage. Her eyes were wide and fixed, pinpricks of light in the dark. Igren had asked Terin why they hadn't provided a light. He'd replied that the girl would likely set herself and the straw on fire if given so much as a candle. She'd failed to kill herself once, from cowardice and panic--it was likely she wouldn't fail again, if given the opportunity.

Now, standing mere feet from Matta's murderer, Igren saw that the lieutenant was correct. The child's eyes were already half-dead with terror.

"Stand up," Igren ordered. Her voice was cold and sharp, emotionless. She wielded it like a scalpel, ready to cut away all lies to reveal the bloody, pulsing truth of this girl's treason.

Shakily, she obeyed.

Igren already knew the girl's actions following her crime. After firing the weapon at Matta, she had fled out a window and across the castle rooftops like a rat fleeing a sinking ship. Impressively, she'd evaded capture for nearly two days. In the end, however, she had been caught trying to slip out of the city gates.

What Igren wanted to know now was what had transpired before the assassination. She already had an idea of the girl's motive--but she wanted it from the little monster's own lips.

Now standing before Igren, the girl swayed on her feet like a drunkard. Her fingers clutched a ratty shawl close about her throat. She continued to stare, unblinking and unapologetic--or perhaps she was simply stunned by the sheer force of her own terror.

Igren turned slightly and called over her shoulder, "Lieutenant, light a torch. Keep it outside the bars if you wish. I need to see this daughter of a doggerel's face when she lies to me."

Terin murmured agreement. There was a shuffle, a hiss and scratch of tinder, and the dingy chamber was flooded with flickering amber light.

Igren turned back to the girl.

"Give me your name."

After a pause, the girl's dry mouth cracked open and a hoarse whisper slipped out.

"Repeat it. Louder."

A pale tongue ran over the girl's flaking lips. Again, the whisper, slightly louder this time, "Ilda. Veruld."

Igren nodded slowly. "Ilda. I remember you. One of Phelma's apprentices. You helped to clean and bind M'Lady's wound when she first fell ill--not three weeks ago."

Ilda swallowed convulsively, but made no reply.

Igren took a deliberate step forward. She was a good head taller than Ilda, who was small and slender. How had this child managed to lift the heavy metal weapon, aim and fire it with such precision? It seemed almost impossible. But then again, Igren knew, fear had a way of making the weakest person strong, if only for a moment. This girl stank of fear--and a moment was all it took.

"Do you know why you are here, in this cell, Ilda?"

After a moment of silence filled with rough, frantic breathing, the girl replied, "Yes."

Behind her, just outside the prison bars, Igren felt rather than heard Terin's body tense. She hoped he would contain whatever he was feeling, either anger or sorrow, or a tangled mess of both--at least until she had wrung the truth from Ilda. Stars knew Igren was barely managing to do so herself, even though she had learned long ago how to make her own face into a porcelain mask. She wore that mask now, to disguise her bitter rage and grief. It was necessary. She had to become the thing that Ilda Varuld feared most in the world.

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