Chapter Thirty-two

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She spent hours waiting. Too long. Rinnet hadn't seen Grimond since he left her, guarded, in a chamber bare of all but a few low benches and tall, narrow windows. It was hardly better than a prison, and Rinnet was insulted. Here she sat, back aching against the stone wall, with locked doors and Guardsmen treading around the halls outside. As if she hadn't brought news that could change the course of the war for Coreti.

Not that it would, obviously, with her own plans in place, but Grimond didn't know that. He wanted her to wait for the northern scouts to confirm her story. Couldn't he have let her roam the courtyard in the meantime, not sit in some cell like a common criminal?

Rinnet stilled her restless hands and tried to remind herself that it didn't matter. He'd have to return eventually. And the scouts — if any had seen her — would know she'd been in Hatawa. She'd been careful not to lie about her story too much, because there was no reason to. Once Grimond saw she told the truth, he'd have to at least consider granting her an audience with the queen.

There was something else, too, something Rinnet noticed when he led her through the courtyard to the tower where she now resided. She'd looked to see how well Grimond was armed, things to watch for should something happen. He carried the usual Coretian broadsword at his hip, and a dagger as well, probably for close-range kills or general utility.

But Grimond didn't have just any dagger. It was hers.

The fourth one, the one she'd lost in Goldsriff. It sent a rush like a stiff gale through Rinnet's veins to see it tucked into a sheath on Grimond's belt. Then a dark fury simmered up until Rinnet thought she might not be able to control herself. It was all wrong, seeing the blade so close to Grimond's blunt, clumsy hands. As he walked, the Guardsman's thumb brushed the coiled leather hilt, inciting Rinnet's rage even further.

Now, sitting on one of the hard wooden benches, Rinnet yanked her cloak tightly around herself and the other three knives. He hadn't seen them. Not yet, anyway. He might not make the connection even if he did. After all, nothing much set them apart from any other old farming daggers. Not to someone as inobservant as Grimond, anyway. Rinnet could tell from a mile away it was hers from the shape of her palm, sunken into the dark leather, the blade a neat polished silver and singing its high shriek to her in a way no one else would ever hear.

Rinnet wouldn't let it distract her from her main mission, but she knew this: by the end of the day, the knife would be hers once more.

All morning and afternoon she waited, and by early evening she had paced a shiny track over the dusty stones of the floor. She refused to speak to the prowling Guardsmen, even though she caught some looking through the door's window at her with interest. One scathing look and most of them would move on without a second glance.

Finally the lock clicked and Grimond walked in. He was alone. "I ... apologize for the uncertain conditions," he said, the words rusty. Rinnet figured no one ever made him grovel, since the apology sounded so foreign in his mouth. "I talked to several of the scouts who returned from the northern border." Here he paused again, scratched the scar on his head. "It seems one of them did spot you traveling south out of Hatawan territory, many days back."

"Is the scout certain it was me?" Rinnet asked. She lit up with glee to see Grimond's half-puzzled, half-astonished expression as he fumbled around with his explanation, though outwardly she projected as much innocence as she could tolerate.

"He's been up north since Coreti conquered Hatawa," Grimond said. "Claimed he would have recognized anyone else coming and going in that area. He only followed you because he didn't know who you were. And he said..." Grimond cleared his throat. "He said at least one Tevarian scout was tracking you from the other side, at least temporarily. And now there's been some sort of disturbance in Hatawa, right where you said you were."

"A disturbance?" Rinnet tried not to betray too much of her interest. "Because of me?"

"Not so far as we can tell. It seems a Hatawan—" Grimond's eyes flicked around nervously, "—escaped. May have attacked a few Guardsmen in the process."

"Attacked? But the Hatawans are pacifists."

Grimond seemed disturbed by her quick response. "Yes," he said absently. Then he shook his head. "But it seems you were telling the truth. About your travels, at least."

"You still doubt my story about Distya." Rinnet forced her words to sound dejected, not enraged. "I don't know how else to prove it to you."

"You don't have to," Grimond said. "If the Tevarians' best rider is dead, we'll find out soon enough. For now..."

He trailed off again and looked around behind him as if confused by his surroundings. Rinnet bit back a smirk at his obvious discomfort. Was he not used to extending respect to anyone not in the Guard? He looked almost pained. Still, Rinnet's amusement had a bitter edge. She could still see her dagger in Grimond's belt. She wondered if now was the time to take it, but then Grimond cleared his throat again.

"For now, the queen wants to see you," he said.

Rinnet didn't try to stop her eyes from widening. "Now?" she asked.

Grimond shook his head. "In the morning. It's much too late already, and she will certainly have questions. But we're to move you to more ... agreeable quarters."

Rinnet could have laughed out loud. She'd sleep in a pit of thistles if it meant she could see the Coretian queen. Tonight would have been preferable, but one more day of planning couldn't hurt. "I can't believe it," she murmured, stretching her fingers.

Grimond shook his head. "Neither can I," he said.

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