Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 43

“Wine?” He poured her a glass. Up close, he was older than she’d expected, probably ten years her senior. Devedas had a kind smile, but it was offset by the massive scar that crossed his face. He caught her looking and touched the white line with his fingers. “This? I received it in a duel. Needless to say, I lost.”

“I didn’t mean to stare.”

“It is kind of hard to miss. This is my little reminder that one shouldn’t try to take something that isn’t his, but that was a long time ago.”

There was no way this man could have ever stolen anything. “I’m sure you’ve won many duels since,” Rada said, and then realized how stupid that sounded.

“A few, but as a swordsman gets older he understands there are some fights he’s not meant to win…Now, your identity is safe and your visit is only known to people who I trust. Not even the strongest wizards can spy within these walls. You can speak freely here.”

Earlier it had been easy to think about lying to the Protectors about her own crimes, but with those piercing eyes looking through her, such an omission had suddenly become very difficult. “I recently provided a report to the judges concerning the legal history of the untouchables.”

“I was there that day.” His expression suggested he’d enjoyed it as much as she had.

“That’s when I saw you and knew you’d help,” she exclaimed, and wished that she hadn’t, because that sounded childish. “I mean, you were actually honest.”

“That isn’t necessarily a positive trait in the Capitol. I brought shame to my Order and discovered I lack the temperament for court. Other Protectors will be handling those duties on my behalf from now on.” Devedas shook his head, as if the whole thing was rather amusing. “What can I help you with?”

Rada’s mouth was suddenly very dry. She drank more of the wine without even tasting it. “The report…There was a problem.” For someone as devoted to the ideals of the library as Rada was, this was like admitting to the foulest deed possible. Feeding babies to demons would have been better. “The report was inaccurate.”

Devedas blinked slowly. “And?”

“On purpose. It wasn’t my fault. I was forced to leave things off. But only because I was threatened! They’d kill me if I didn’t.”

“Oh.” He sensed her hesitation. “Listen, you might have broken the Law, but I’m not going to judge you now. The Law allows leniency for crimes committed under duress. The important thing is that you’re trying to correct your mistake. You’re safe. I won’t allow anyone to hurt you.”

It was so easy to believe him that Rada told of the events in the archives.

Devedas listened intently the entire time, and his expression darkened when she spoke of the Inquisitor. When she was done he seemed to weigh his words very carefully. “That is troubling. I’ll do my best to find this man, but you have no evidence this wizard was actually from another order, let alone one as important as the Inquisition, and you can’t take a criminal at his word.”

She certainly hoped he was right about that, but the sabotage worried her. “But what of the conspiracy? The missing pages?”

“The Order of Inquisition is powerful, and frankly, currently better favored in this city than either of our orders. You can’t expect me to accuse the Inquisition of wrongdoing on just your word.”

That stung. “Then I didn’t need to dress up and make a fool of myself to come here.”

“I’m not disparaging you. It was wise to be discreet. Besides, I think you look lovely,” Devedas said, obviously trying to put her at ease, and just for a moment his smile was so damned charming that Rada could see how rumors got started. “This isn’t the first time the threat of violence has been used to sway the making of law. What is it they forced you to leave out?”

“It was some ancient history about the beginning of the castes. References to the origins of the untouchables were struck from all of our newer records.” The whole thing sounded insane to put it into words. Her father had often told her that good information was the foundation of good law, but someone was trying to sabotage that foundation. She found the whole thing incredibly offensive.

“I think those advocating for their slaughter are fools. I can reassure you that I honestly don’t think anything will change.”

“I hope you’re right.”

It was surprising how Devedas could go from charming to somber so quickly. “I don’t hope. I fight. I think about logistics. There are whole regions of Lok where the majority of the residents are casteless. Some houses depend on their labor to feed themselves. Our nation would rip itself apart. Most of the judges aren’t foolish enough to do something like that, but if they are…” Devedas shrugged.

“We can’t allow them to hurt the untouchables.”

“That isn’t our decision to make. The council will decide, laws will be written, and then we’ll follow them.”

“You don’t understand, Lord Protector. The Law only exists because of the casteless!”

Devedas laughed. “The most perfect system of governance in the history of the world exists because of the casteless?”

“I have proof.” Rada took out her glasses case and reached beneath the padding for the folded scrap of paper she’d hidden there. She regretted not wearing gloves, and as delicately as possible extracted the damaged treasure. “This was the page I was reading when I was attacked.” She wanted to be clear that she would never willingly damage a library book. “I accidentally tore it out when that man grabbed me.” She placed it on the table and steered it toward Devedas. He stared at it. “Oh, I’m sorry. Can you read?”

“All Protectors are literate…”

“I meant no offense, just that most warriors…”

“Actually, I was born into the first caste. When I’m not traveling the countryside cracking skulls like a barbarian, I enjoy books.” He read the scrap. Rada bit her lip, hoping he would believe her. She didn’t have her glasses on, but she’d memorized what it said.

The Lord Protector finished and was quiet for a very long time. “How old is this?”

“The original is from the dawn of the Age of Law. This was a copy transcribed hundreds of years after.”

“You believe this to be accurate?”

“Of course. That’s one of the duties of my Order. To preserve the words of older documents we often make new ones. Now we use the press, but this is how it was done for generations. We pride ourselves on our accuracy. I’d have more evidence, but this is exactly the sort of thing that’s been stolen. I’ve been afraid to return to the restricted collection to search for more.” She’d seen that her father had posted more guards around the library, so hopefully the saboteurs had been scared off, but she suspected their work was already done.

Devedas was deep in thought. He finished off his wine and set the cup down far too hard. “The idea of a conspiracy offends me. I will personally oversee this investigation.”

“If they find out I told you –”

“Protectors of the Law aren’t known for our discretion. We’re usually more direct in our investigations, but you have my word that I will do my best.” Devedas reached out and placed one rough hand on top of hers. Rada was surprised that she was suddenly feeling very flushed. Even with the scar the Lord Protector was perhaps the most handsome man she’d ever seen. He let go of her hand and stood up. “You’ll be safe. I’ll have my men escort you back to your estate.”

Rada surprised herself by exclaiming. “Wait!”

Devedas paused. “What?”

She didn’t want to leave yet. “My disguise, the rumors,” Rada blurted. She had no idea what she was doing, maybe Daksha was right, and it was time to have some experiences worth writing about. For once she was doing something extremely important, she actually felt pretty, and that made her bold. And on the spot Rada decided that damn it, she was going to seduce this Protector. “Maybe it would be safer if I returned to my estate in the morning instead?”

“I see.” Devedas smiled.

It turned out that some rumors were true.