In the tent he shared with the Healer and the three male warriors, Tam sat up in the dark, with his bedroll tugged over his legs for warmth. If he tried to do his listening exercises while lying down he always just fell asleep. He didn’t want to disturb anyone, though, so he blew out the lamp.
The sounds of the men in the tent with him, their little flickery sleepy notes, drifted off softer and softer until they were just the slightest of hums. In the quiet, Tam reached out his thoughts and found the next tent over, the sleepy buzz of Tava, and then a bit further, all the tents in the clan, with their inhabitants in various states of waking and dozing. Hashta’s drums, too, were softer than they had been before, and Tam, still irritated at him, chose to ignore him for now.
In the clan hall, Teo was bright and alert, probably watching over the sick, most of whom hummed fretfully. A bit further, and he found the wakeful scouts at the edge of camp. Then came the hard part. Tam squeezed his eyes shut and listened harder, reaching further and further out into the dark. At first there wasn’t much of anything to follow, just snatches of scattered song whirling in confusion past his ears, the trill of a flute here, the wail of a pipe there, or an unsteady beat like the clatter of feet. He felt lost, but it wasn’t as frightening a feeling as it had been when the Queen first showed him how to do this. He knew he could always just open his eyes and wake up back in the tent, and he knew, too, that every bit of music, however strange, was a Shandorian and therefore, potentially, a friend.
For the first part of their journey north it had been easy to find Jon’s familiar fluty notes, even though he was back in Markerry and miles away. It was getting harder to pinpoint him, though, the further Tam travelled. He still had the sense, unshakeable, that Jon was well and safe, and that he’d know if anything happened to him. But finding him, now, across this distance . . . Tam turned his thought toward the one person he knew he couldn’t miss. A great warm chord, like all the stringed instruments in the world all playing at once, called to him from the north, across distances that shrank as he reached. The music swelled, enveloped him, and he forgot about the bit of root that was digging into his backside, and the effort it took to keep his eyes squeezed shut.
“How are you this evening, Tam?” the Queen of Shandor said to him. “I’m pleased to hear from you.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t report to you yesterday, ma’am,” he said. “We’ve had a busy time of it, with all this investigating.”
“Do tell me all about it.”
He did, trying to get all the details right—the names of the Germhacht men and their company, and the different substances that were being mined and distilled and might or might not be poisonous. Mind-words were just as hard as any other sorts of words, when talking about complicated things like this, but the Queen was patient and didn’t interrupt, except sometimes with questions that actually helped him explain better.
The sound of the Queen’s chords, swirling all around him, changed as he spoke. Most people’s notes, Tam had found, changed with their emotions as much or more than the tone of their voice did. If he listened in both ways, inside and out, while people were speaking he could usually tell what they were feeling but not saying, and if their words were true or just polite. Like with Hural. But the Queen was different, harder for him to guess about. Maybe because she was so many notes all rolled together? Or because she’d been doing this mind-talking thing for so long that she was very good at keeping her feelings private?
“Did I do wrongly?” he asked her. “I’m not very good at all of this. Even the talking to people bits are hard.”
“I’m not angry at you, Tam.” As usual, she guessed what he meant without him precisely having to say it. “And I don’t regret having set you this task. But a foreign company having such a foothold in Shandor is very disturbing. My advisors certainly need to look at this contract.”
Tam sighed. “I’m copying it out as best I can.”
“Thank you, dear. I know it’s hard,” she wrapped him about with soothing chords, “but unfortunately, paperwork is necessary. Do make sure, also, that you are keeping a detailed report about each day’s investigations.”
“A written report?” He’d thought this sort of report was good enough.
“Have someone help you with the writing, if you need. I have secretaries, and I’d never manage without them. But even so it’s important to be able to read treaties yourself, and write letters to foreign dignitaries in your own hand, and so on. And in this case, we might need written testimony if we end up in a scrap with Germhacht.”
“There wouldn’t be a war, surely, over this?”
“Keeping such things from breaking out is another part of my job, and one I take very seriously. But you were quite right, Tam, in thinking that the Amryn and I should have been made aware of this company’s actions long ago. I am sure the Amryn will want to have words with Hural about this, and I will probably have to write to our ambassador in Germhacht.”
“Oh, the Amryn.” Tam had completely forgotten to tell the Queen about meeting Hashta, even though by rights that should have been the first thing in his report. He told her now, and described Hashta’s odd ways and strange greetings, and how rude he’d been. “But he feels like an Amryn ought, I think. If you know what I mean.”
“Constantly in motion?” The Queen’s notes sounded as if she were smiling fondly. “Everywhere and nowhere at once? Impossible to miss, but impossible to find?”
“Exactly like that.” She’d put it just right. “Did you know about him?”
Now it seemed that she sighed. “Yes. Bren found his heir a bit later than I found you, because the boy was living far to the north. Evidently by the time Bren introduced himself, Hashta knew perfectly well that he was an Amryn, and was already travelling about speaking to the Land. So they’ve been working together, off and on, for a few years now. Bren says that the young Amryn is talented and a hard worker, though perhaps a bit over-zealous.”
Tam wasn’t quite sure about that word, but the Queen explained. “Too devoted to what he believes, and not able to see other points of view.”
That sounded like Hashta. “But being devoted to the Land is a good thing for an Amryn, isn’t it?”
“Mmm.” The Queen was leaving something out, but Tam couldn’t figure what it was. “Well, I’m glad the two of you have met, and are getting on, more or less. Weigh his insights with the rest of your evidence. And perhaps he can travel with you and the Healer up to Council of Chieftains. Bren was making some noises about declaring his heir at the council this year.”
If one of them was getting declared publicly . . .“You won’t–”
“Not yet, Tam, not until you’re ready. You know I won’t spring anything on you unexpected.”
“Yes, thank you, ma’am.”
They talked a bit longer, and then the Queen began to fluster at him about getting proper sleep, so he said his farewells and promised to keep good notes about the investigation. The Queen wrapped him warm one last time. It felt like a kiss on his forehead. Then he felt the chilly air of the mountain-summer night, and pulled his blanket up around his shoulders, and opened his eyes.