“I notice you didn’t come back last night,” the old master said with only a hint of reproach. The attic hideout, their current-temporary hideout, was warm and on the stuffy side. Her master, the one who had found her all those years ago, sat in front of a small incense burner, poking at the sticks and leaves. She had traded in the leather armor for more comfortable robes some time ago, but still had the blue neckerchief. “I don’t suppose you want to tell me where you’ve been?”
“Lamm… Lamm is dead,” Solana said. The woman looked up. Small trails of smoke curled around the incense, replacing the musty dankness of the attic’s wooden frame with the sharp, heady smell of sandalwood. It was something of a necessity here, as the master shared the single long room with a half-dozen other young men and women that she had been training.
Solana did, going through it from the very beginning. At the first mention of the phantom Harrow card, the master’s eyes narrowed, but other than that her expression was inscrutable throughout. Five random strangers, brought together by the cruelty of Gaedren Lamm. The fight and subsequent death of Lamm, the crocodile, and the other henchmen interested her less than the head of Zellara, the broken brooch, and the audience with the queen.
Solana had taken her usual position on the floor in front of the old master, folding her legs beneath her. “I don’t suppose I have to go, do I?” she asked. “I mean, it wasn’t an order. So I could just… Not go. Right?”
For years, she had trained and focused towards the goal of killing Lamm, and lately had been growing tired of the restrictions that her master placed on her. With the sudden accomplishment of that goal, she had thought to set out and continue training on her own. Not to go to work for the Queen, in a fort, with those other four people. The only thing they had in common was a shared goal, and that goal had suddenly resulted in a royal bond holding them all together. She didn’t like it, not one bit.
“You go,” her master said.
“You go,” she repeated, with a strange intensity. Solana frowned, then noticed that the master had her Harrow deck by her side, sitting in it’s case on the floor next to her.
“That thing again?” Solana said quietly. The master snorted.
“You don’t need a Harrow deck to know that grave things are at hand,” she said. “The fates conspired to put you in front of the Queen, with those four strangers. Just as they had me find you, all those years ago. Or have you forgotten?”
Solana closed her eyes, silently counting to ten. Of all the things she had had to learn from her master, tolerating her obsession with the Harrow deck was one of the most difficult. And it still was.
“No, master. I have not forgotten.”
“How many times have I told you, that to fight the fates is futile? That it will only lead to misery and ruin?”
It was an old lesson, that had been hammered into her head over and over again (though thankfully, not literally). “Many times, master.”
The master was unconvinced. “You seem unwilling to learn some old things. Shall I give you a new one? Did you know that Zellara was the woman who gave me that reading? The one that led me to you?”
Solana felt a cold twist in her stomach. “No,” she said quietly. “I did not.”
“Then maybe you’ll listen to me more when I tell you that great things are afoot, and you are destined to play a part in them.” Solana bit her tongue. She’d never considered herself fated, or destined, or anything else like that… Just determined, skilled, able, and lucky. Damned lucky, sometimes.
“The path of your life brought you here to me. Your time here, now, is over and you must move on. Do you understand? It is leading you away, whether you will it or no.”
She was about to say something else, when she caught the faint whiff of fish guts. Solana turned her head slightly, peering into the shadows. Hiding in the back, with a carefully blank face, was a pale child, a boy of no more than ten. He stared at her with an intensity that she found disquieting, and had a brief flash back to the previous night, when she had seen that same face cowering next to Hookshanks, being used as a human shield. She held his gaze for a moment, then turned back to her master.
“All right,” she said quietly. “I’ll go.”