Spy Glass Page 9

I found a hidden spot to observe the entrance. Not a lot of movement either in or out. I had hoped a shift change would create a flurry of activity, but the shifts must have been staggered. Every two hours, some officers went in and three or four would leave. Even delivery wagons were few and far between.

Janco would be delighted by the challenge, but I wouldn’t ask him for help. He was in enough trouble because of me. There had to be another way inside.

Cold and stiff from my day-long surveillance, I arrived at the guards’ afternoon session with my sais and wearing my training uniform. A long-sleeved tunic tied with a belt, and a pair of loose-fitting pants. Both garments were dark brown to hide the bloodstains and dirt. I wore my softest pair of leather boots, also brown with black rubber soles.

I joined Nic and Eve, and it wasn’t long before my stamina waned. My bouts with my brother Ahir hadn’t been enough to get me back into shape. Huffing and puffing with effort, I swung and blocked Nic’s sword a few times before he unarmed me.

He tsked. “Someone hasn’t been keeping up with her training.”

“The man’s a genius,” I said between gulps of air. “What are your next words of wisdom, Oh Smart One? Water is wet?”

“Someone gets grumpy when she’s outmatched.”

I responded by triggering my switchblade.

Nic sheathed his sword, and pulled a dagger. “Street fight.” He lunged.

Not quite a fair match. His longer weapon kept me at arm’s length, but I used a few nasty moves Janco taught me. Even so, Nic disarmed me again.

At the end of the training session, my arms ached and I couldn’t lift a sword let alone defend myself. All my hard work to reach a competent level had been undone by one season of light activity.

Eve bumped my shoulder with hers. “Don’t worry. The skills are there. And you’re looking a lot better than the last time we saw you.”

“Loads better,” Nic said. “Then I could have blown you over with my breath.”

I met Eve’s gaze. He had given me the perfect opening.

“Too easy,” she said, shaking her head. “Trust me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to slam him.”

“When?” I asked her.

“Twice a day, every day as long as you’re in Fulgor.”

Nic put a sweaty arm around my shoulders. “We’ll get you into fighting shape in no time.”

“Great,” I said, and held my breath until Nic released me. “Does his brother have the same hygiene?” I asked Eve. “Is that why the place is called the Pig Pen?”

Her sly smile failed to reassure me.

My first impression of the tavern was utter disbelief. The place smelled of spiced beef and fresh-baked bread. Patrons filled all the tables and a bright fire warmed the room. Nic led us through the crowd. A bunch of people gathered in front of the bar. All the stools should have been occupied, but two remained empty.

Nic and Eve headed straight toward them. Eve slid onto hers as Nic called to the bartender. He settled in his stool, and before I could move, a ripple flowed along the bar and an empty stool appeared next to Nic. He gestured for me to claim it.

Amazed, I sat. No squawk of protest. No murmurs of complaint. Instead the room buzzed with conversation, and laughter punctuated the general hum. The dark wood of the bar gleamed with care. Clean glasses lined the shelves behind the counter.

The bartender placed steaming bowls of stew and mugs of ale in front of us, but before he could wait on another customer, Nic introduced me to his brother, Ian.

I shook his hand and studied Ian. His dark hair touched the top of his shoulders, and he was slimmer than Nic. No scars like the one Nic had along his jaw. Ian also wore fitted clothes that matched compared to Nic’s ad hoc pants and shirt. Other than those differences, the men looked identical.

“Twin brother?” I asked Nic.

He grinned, brushing a hand over the bristle on his head. “I thought the hair would throw you.”

“I used to be an artist. It takes more than a different hairstyle to fool me.”

“Good to know.” Nic dug into his stew with abandon, dripping gravy onto the bar. Ian rolled his eyes and wiped up the mess.

“Pig pen?” I asked Ian.

“Family joke. Growing up, our mother had trouble keeping track of who was who. She used certain clues to help her, and when we figured out what she was using, we would switch. For example, Nic’s half of the room was always a mess, so when Mother would come in to say good-night, she expected Nic to be in the messy bed, but I was there instead.”

“So when she comes into a tavern named Pig Pen, she expects Nic to be behind the bar because he’s still a slob, but you’re there.”

“Right.”

“Hey!” Nic wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I think I’ve been insulted.”

“Not insulted. Identified.” Ian laughed and returned to work.

“That’s it. I’m tired of being picked on,” Nic said. “I’m never coming here again.”

“Where will you go?” Eve asked. “All the other taverns will make you pay for your meal.”

“Are you calling me cheap?” Nic demanded.

“Not cheap. Spoiled.”

“That would explain the smell,” I said.

Eve choked on her ale as Nic growled.

We spent the rest of the evening catching up on news and gossip. The stew was better than my mother’s, although I wouldn’t admit it out loud. No one mentioned my real reason for coming to Fulgor until Nic and Eve walked me back to the inn despite my protests.

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