It had been a long time since Niclays Roos had received a visitor. He was rationing himself a little wine – a trickle of his paltry allowance – when the knock came at his door. Wine was one of his few remaining pleasures in the world, and he had been immersed in breathing in its aroma, savouring that golden moment before
the first taste.
Now an interruption. Of course. With a sigh, he uprooted himself, grumbling at the sudden throb in his ankle. Gout was back once more to vex him.
“Oh, do shut up,” he muttered.
Rain drummed on the roof as he groped for his cane. Plum rain, the Seiikinese called it at this time of the year, when the air hung thick and damp as cloud and fruit swelled on the trees. He limped across the mats, cursing under his breath, and opened the door a fraction of an inch.
Standing in the darkness outside was a woman. Dark hair fell to her waist, and she wore a robe patterned with salt flowers. Rain alone could not have made her as wet as she was.
“Good evening, learnèd Doctor Roos,” she said.
Niclays raised his eyebrows. “I strongly dislike visitors at this hour. Or any hour.” He ought to bow, but he had no reason to impress this stranger. “How do you know my name?”
“I was told it.” No further explanation was forthcoming. “I have one of your countrymen with me. He will stay with you tonight, and I will collect him tomorrow at sunset.”
“One of my countrymen.”
His visitor turned her head a little. A silhouette parted ways with a nearby tree.
“Smugglers delivered him to Seiiki,” the woman said. “I will take him to the honoured Governor tomorrow.”
When the figure came into the light from his house, Niclays turned cold.
A golden-haired man, just as drenched as the woman, was standing on his threshold. A man he had never seen in Orisima.
Twenty people lived in the trading post. He knew every one of their faces and names. And no Mentish ships would arrive with newcomers until later in the season.
Somehow, these two had entered unseen.
“No.” Niclays stared. “Saint, woman, are you trying to involve me in a smuggling operation?” He fumbled for the door. “I cannot hide a trespasser. If anyone knew – “
“One night, a year – our heads will be sliced from our shoulders regardless. Good evening.”
As he made to shut the door, the woman jammed her elbow into the gap.
“If you do this,” she said, now so close that Niclays could feel her breath, “you will be rewarded with silver. As much of it as you can carry.”
Niclays Roos hesitated.
Silver was tempting. He had played one too many drunken games of cards with the sentinels and owed them more than he was likely to make in a lifetime. So far, he had stalled their threats with the promise of jewels from the next Mentish shipment, but he knew well that, when it came, there wouldn’t be a single wretched jewel on board. Not for the likes of him.
His younger self urged him to accept the proposal, if only for the sake of excitement. Before his older, wiser self could intervene, the woman moved away.
“I will return tomorrow night,” she said.
“Do not let him be seen.”
“Wait,” he hissed after her, furious. “Who are you?”
She was already gone. With a glance down the street and a growl of frustration, Niclays dragged the frightened-looking man into his house.
This was madness. If his neighbours realised that he was harbouring a trespasser, he would be hauled before a very angry Warlord, who was not known for his mercy.
Yet here Niclays was.
He locked the door. Despite the heat, the newcomer was shivering on the mats. His olive skin was burnt across the cheeks, his blue eyes raw from salt. If only to calm himself, Niclays found a blanket he had brought from Mentendon and handed it to the man, who took it without speaking. He was right to look afraid.
“Where did you come from?” Niclays asked curtly.
“I’m sorry,” his guest whispered. “I don’t understand. Are you speaking Seiikinese?”
Inysh. That tongue was one he had not heard in some time.
“That,” Niclays answered in it, ‘was not Seiikinese. That was Mentish. I assumed you were, too.”
“No, sir. I am from Ascalon,” came the meek reply. “May I ask your name, since I have you to thank for sheltering me?”
Typical Inysh. Courtesy first. “Roos,” Niclays bit out. “Doctor Niclays Roos. Master surgeon. The person whose life you are currently endangering with your presence.”
The young man stared at him.
“Doctor – “ He swallowed. “Doctor Niclays Roos?”
“Congratulations, boy. The seawater has not impaired your ears.”
His guest drew a shuddering breath. “Doctor Roos,” he said, “this is divine providence. The fact that the Knight of Fellowship has brought me to you, of all people – “
“Me.” Niclays frowned. “Have we met?”
He strained his memory to his time in Inys, but he was sure he had never clapped eyes on this person. Unless he had been drunk at the time, of course. He had often been drunk in Inys.
“No, sir, but a friend told me your name.”
The man dabbed his face with his sleeve. “I was sure I would perish at sea, but seeing you has brought me back to life. Thank the Saint.”
“Your saint has no power here,” Niclays muttered. “Now, what name do you go by?”
“Sulyard. Master Triam Sulyard, sir, at your service. I was a squire in the household of Her Majesty, Sabran Berethnet, Queen of Inys.”
Niclays gritted his jaw. That name stoked a white-hot wrath in his gut.
“A squire.” He sat down. “Did Sabran tire of you, as she tires of all her subjects?”
Sulyard bristled. “If you insult my queen, I will – “
“What will you do?” Niclays looked at him over the rims of his eyeglasses. “Perhaps I should call you Triam Dullard. Do you have any notion of what they do to outsiders here? Did Sabran send you to die a particularly drawn-out death?”
“Her Majesty does not know I am here.”
Interesting. Niclays poured him a cup of wine. “Here,” he said grudgingly. “All of it.”
Sulyard drank it down.
“Now, Master Sulyard, this is important,” Niclays continued. “How many people have seen you?”
“They made me swim to the shore. I came to a cove first. The sand was black.” Sulyard was shivering. “A woman found me and led me into this city at knifepoint. She left me alone in a stable...then a different woman arrived and bid me follow her. She took me to the sea, and we swam together until we came to a jetty. There was a gate at the end.”
“And it was open?”
The woman must know one of the sentinels. Must have asked them to leave the landing gate open.
Sulyard rubbed his eyes. His time at sea had weathered him, but Niclays could see now that he was only young, perhaps not even twenty. “Doctor Roos,” he said, “I have come here on a mission of the utmost importance. I must speak to the – “
“I will have to stop you there, Master Sulyard,” Niclays cut in. “I have no interest in why you are here.”
“But — ”
“Whatever your reasons, you came here to do it without permission from any authority, which is folly. If the Chief Officer finds you and they drag you away for interrogation, I wish to be able to say in all honesty that I have not the faintest idea why you turned up on my doorstep in the middle of the night, thinking you would be welcome in Seiiki.”
Sulyard blinked. “Chief Officer?”
“The Seiikinese official in charge of this floating scrapyard, though he seems to think of himself as a minor god. Do you know what this place is, at least?”
“Orisima, the last Western trading post in the East. Its existence was what gave me the hope that the Warlord might see me.”
“I assure you,” Niclays said, “that under no circumstances will Pitosu Nadama receive a trespasser at his court. What he will do, should he get wind of you, is execute you.”
Sulyard said nothing.
Niclays briefly considered telling his guest that his rescuer planned to come back for him, perhaps to alert the authorities to his presence. He decided against it. Sulyard might panic and try to flee, and there was nowhere for him to run.
Tomorrow. He would be gone tomorrow.
Just then, Niclays heard voices outside. Footsteps clattered on the wooden steps of the other dwellings. He felt a quiver in his belly.
“Hide,” he said, and grasped his cane. Sulyard ducked behind a folding screen. Niclays opened the door with shaking hands.
Excerpted with permission from The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon, Bloomsbury.
Respond to this article with a post
Share your perspective on this article with a post on ScrollStack, and send it to your followers.