Kara was deeply annoyed. She was flattened to the ground, hiding from grave robbers who were hiding from noises, and the long grass made her nose itch. The grass was wet, like everything else here in Cambriol, and she did not want to be arrested as part of this miserable group of grave robbers.
One of them, at least, was terrible at hiding. Another smothered his sneezes badly. Only the boy kept his head, scuttling up the tree and pulling his rope up after him. Kara wanted to kick the rest of them. She didn’t, though, because the lock on the gate rattled, and into the yard marched a little band of the funny local constables. Djaren had explained how the helmets were a symbol of the Helianth goddess of protection and justice, Damaera, but to Kara they looked like wearable bowls. They were captained by a man who led them onward, with little “hups” that neatly covered up concealed sneezes, down the length of the cemetery path and back, not straying off the gravel with their shiny boots. As the constables moved, the grave robbers wriggled about to stay out of sight. It would have been funny if Kara weren’t caught up in it.
Kara waited, as the constables hupped back out the gate and locked it. They secured the gate with an additional chain, affixed a long parchment to a new gate seal, and then hupped away.
“My heart’s about to give,” Thin bleated, once the constables were gone.
“When have the Damaeras ever patrolled this neighborhood?” Smoke grumbled.
“Let’s go have a look at what they’ve left,” Short said.
They took entirely too long to huff their way back over the wall, and Kara followed only after she’d heard them muttering over the new notice and leaving. She made her way to the front of the gate where the new parchment hung. It was full of words both big and small, dozens of them, closely spaced, and not all familiar. She cursed and, looking hard at it, sent the thought of it at Djaren with a “Stop mucking about and come look at something.”
He took a while to arrive, long enough for Kara to have worked out, “Notice: Anyone found after hours on these grounds is subject to a fine if not personnel authorized by the office of Sergeant Filetcher. Persons wishing permits for the purposes of digging or conducting services are to apply at the office on Habbacher and Riverside.”
The constables, it seemed, were actually trying.
Djaren arrived breathless and paler than usual. He seemed upset.
“Did you get mugged?” she asked him.
“No, I was rescued just in time by the charwoman.”
Kara smothered a short laugh. “I am telling Isakoa of your shame. Now translate this.”
Djaren read out the whole thing, quietly, looking off into the shadows too many times while doing so.
It was long and full of unnecessary words, and amounted to the news that patrols would be made regularly, that illegal activities would be met with harshly, and that anyone staying late on the grounds had to be cleared with the local law.
“The Bowls put this up and scared off a gang of grave robbers who were meeting to complain how the trade’s getting tougher. We may have a gang of head bashers too, going after lone foreigners. I’ll tell you about them on the way back,” Kara said. “You all right? Where did everyone else go?”
“Home like sensible students,” Djaren said. “The Craderly had some pretty awful ideas about what I was doing in this part of town.”
“And, er, I think there’s an investigator of some kind who’s been following us.”
He had noticed after all. Kara scowled.
“I don’t think he’s good to know,” Djaren said.
“What do you want to do about him?” Kara asked, carefully neutral.
“I don’t know.” Djaren said. “Avoid, obviously.”
“He’s not trying to arrest me, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Kara said. Why did that infuriating man have to ruin a pleasant night ramble through the slums?
“I know. He wants to hire you. For double what Mother’s offered.”
Kara stopped, frozen. “I told him to go away.”
“You’ve talked to him?”
“Yes, I thought he was following you. Why did you?”
“I thought he might be after you. And he is.”
“And what, you were worried I’d go work for him? Just for money?”
“No, I’m worried because I’m pretty sure two men in black robes killed the toughs who tried to mug him.”
Kara turned and met Djaren’s eyes, understanding the fear there. They’d both shared bad experiences with mysterious robed people, and whichever group of them these were, it wasn’t good.
“We’ll go home the way with the most lights, then,” Kara said, a little weakly.
“Stay in our apartments tonight,” Djaren said, when they reached the dormitory wall. “Please?”
Kara shrugged and climbed the wall with him. She’d hoped somehow that she’d lost the people following her when she was shipwrecked last year. The thought that they were back made her sick and frightened. She could run again, or—Djaren grabbed her hand, and pulled her close beside him, into a bit of shrubbery, as a school warden passed. Djaren pointed up at the bright, open windows to his rooms. Laughter filtered down, and the smell of roast fish and spices. “It looks like the Tembelakans are having a party.”
No use fleeing on an empty stomach, anyway.
Djaren didn’t let go of Kara’s hand on the stairs up, and they only separated when the door opened. A blond boy dashed past them, chased by instructions. “And bring a rasher of kippers and a proper pudding, so we can share some of our culture, Himsby!”
“You’re going to ruin all our digestions, Lory, and we shall rise up and curse your name, patriots and foreigners together,” another voice crowed, with the same Arienish accent.
“Hello,” said Djaren, looking around a crowded room. “Is that the heir to the Arienish throne?”
Seilu handed a skewered, spiced fish to the round-faced mousy-haired boy Djaren was staring at. The boy looked a little alarmed to have been identified.
“We are all princes here, and bodyguards.” Isakoa gestured Kara in, and moved Djaren into a chair.
“I’m not a prince. We don’t have nobles in Shandor,” Djaren objected.
Nahaka handed Seilu some coins, and Isakoa laughed. “What did he tell you would be the first thing Djaren said? This is Djaren Blackfeather, of Shandor. His family has a fortune, lives within the castle of Shandor next door to the Queen, holds powerful government positions, and gallivant as archeologists. More than that is Shandor’s state secret. Djaren’s is the brightest mind in Cambriol, he can speak a dozen languages, and he carries dictionaries in his head. This is his bodyguard, Kara. She was a world famous thief until turning over a new leaf working for the Shandorian secret service. I’ve seen her fight, and it’s a rare man who can face her with any weapon.”
Kara stood, stunned, as they all stared at her. The Tembelakan tradition of introducing people with a bragging account of their position and deeds had never been used before on her. She was suddenly very visible, staring boldly back at the crown prince of Arien, whose full name she didn’t even remember. Djaren looked only a little less stunned than she felt.
“This is lovely,” the boy prince, Lory, applauded. “You must have had so many adventures. I want to hear about all of them!”
“We went fishing! Right in the moat, by moonlight!” another Arienish boy told them happily.
“Do you have anything culturally significant to add to the table?” another boy, red-haired and freckled, asked, gesturing to a sideboard crammed with roast fish, crisps, wine, fruit, cheese, pickled shrimp and tea. “Himbly’s gone to beg the cook for some particularly Arienish things. But not the bland ones.”
“I might at that,” Djaren said. “There was a package from mother this morning. Let me go look.” He looked at Kara with a silent question. “Is this all right?”
She sat in his chair, sat down among princes and guards, and set one foot over her knee. She put on a grin borrowed from Rades. Two of the standing Arienish boys backed up a pace.
Nahaka whooped. “Now it is a party.”
They practically begged her for stories from her days as a tomb thief, and encouraged by Isakoa’s nod, she agreed. She found herself with a fascinated audience, including Djaren, who had returned with a pack of Shandorian sugared ginger, venison jerky, and maple candies. She told reordered and embellished versions of a few jobs, changing names and only hinting at locations and treasures, and cheerfully relating the misadventures of less competent competitors. “And you’re the only ones who will hear these,” she told them, with a grim hush like Corestemarian storytellers used at the end of exciting tales, “because in most of the world, being a tomb thief is a hanging offense.”
“Even here,” Isakoa said, nodding again at Kara, as if in thanks, “a man can be hung for stealing jewelry or gilt details from a grave, but if he wants instead to steal, say, the corpse, he is only modestly fined. I am always amazed by foreign laws.”
“That can’t be right!” Lory exclaimed, wide-eyed.
“I’m afraid it’s true,” Djaren said, catching the hint of what Isakoa was doing with all this. He detailed his trip to the mourners, and what he’d learned from them.
Kara picked up with her story of the grave robbers, their tricks and rumors, and the measures of the local constabulary.
“You really do have the most remarkable adventures!” Lory said. “Don’t they, Grey?”
“More than I believe half of,” Grey, the freckled boy, said.
“Don’t spoil it, Grey.” Lory frowned. “This is more fun than I’ve had in weeks. And I think I learned more law too, than in a month of boring lectures.”
“So who changes laws, once they’re proved useless or corrupt?” Djaren asked.
“Usually someone important has to be affected for anything to change,” Isakoa said. “So unless bodies of dukes are disappearing from Abbeyrose, the law makers won’t stir.”
“What if they are, though?” Djaren said. “We could investigate.”
Lory’s eyes grew wide. “What, sneak into the crypts by night?”
“If you had the stones for it,” Kara said, “and could get past all the guard.”
“The kippers are here!” the returning Himsby announced.
“We could try stuffing the fish with kippers, and the kippers with caviar,” one Arienish boy theorized.
“We’re going to be so ill after this,” Grey sighed, proceeding to do just that.
“Dip it in the curry sauce,” Seilu encouraged.
“Yes, do it.” Kara grinned.
“You first,” Grey said.
“Done,” Kara agreed.
“Our bodyguards appear to be trying to kill one another,” Lory told Djaren gleefully. “Look, are you serious about sneaking into Abbeyrose? Because that sounds marvelous.”