Poison Study Page 63

Bookshelves, a desk and a scattering of comfortable armchairs led me to believe that the room was used as a study. The woman who had let us in sat behind the desk. Odd metal statues that resembled lanterns with rings around the top graced each side. Other strange and gleaming objects had been artfully arranged on shelves and tabletops. Some even hung from the ceiling. These spun in the air stirred by our passage.

The sharp-nosed woman didn’t offer us a seat, so Margg and I stood before her desk. Most of her ruby hair was confined in a bun, but small, curly wisps had sprung free.

“The food taster,” she said with a satisfied curl to her lip. “I knew it was only a matter of time before I had you in my employ.”

“Who are you?” My bluntness informed her that I wouldn’t tolerate games.

“You can call me Captain Star.”

I looked at her innkeeper’s uniform.

“I’m not part of Ambrose’s military. I have my own. Has Margg explained how I work?”


“Good. This will be a simple exchange. This isn’t a social call; I don’t want gossip or hearsay. And don’t inquire about my business or about me. All you need to know is my name. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” Since I wanted to gain her trust, I wasn’t about to cause any trouble, at least not yet.

“Good. What do you got?” With her nose leading the way, she leaned forward in her chair.

“The Commander has changed his successor,” I said.

Star’s body stilled as she absorbed this tidbit. I glanced at Margg, who looked shocked and annoyed that I had such interesting news.

“How do you know?” Star asked.

“I overheard the Commander and Valek talking.”

“Ah, yes. Valek.” Star tilted her nose at me. “Why are you living in his apartment?”

“None of your business,” I said with a firm tone.

“So why should I trust you?”

“Because Valek would kill me if he knew I was here. You know it as well as I do. How much is my information worth?”

Star opened a black velvet purse and pulled out one gold coin. She tossed the coin to me like a master would throw a bone to a dog. I snatched it from the air, suppressing a wince. The cuts on my hands started to throb.

“Your fifteen percent.” She sent one silver and one copper coin flying at Margg, who knew Star’s ways, and caught them easily. “Anything else?” Star asked me.

“Not at this time.”

“When you have something for me, tell Margg. She’ll arrange another meeting.”

Dismissed, I followed the silent Margg out of the house and down the street. Just as she guided me into a dark alley, Valek appeared out of the shadows. Before I could wonder why, he pulled me through a doorway and into a small room.

I was surprised and confused by his sudden arrival; I had thought he would wait a while before arresting Margg. She had followed me into the room, and stood with a sneering grin on her round face. It was the closest expression to pleasure that I had ever seen from her, and the opposite of what I had anticipated when she was caught as the leak. I tilted my head at Valek, hoping to prompt an explanation.

“I was right, Valek. She sold the Commander out for a gold coin. Check her pocket,” Margg urged.

“Actually, Yelena came to me before the meeting. She believed she was going to expose you, ” Valek said to Margg.

Her gloating grin disappeared. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded.

“No time.”

“Margg’s not the leak?” I asked, still confused.

“No. Margg works for me. We’ve been feeding Star some rather unique information and hoping to find out who her other clients are. Star’s been pestering Margg to get you involved, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to test your loyalty.”

A complete understanding of Valek’s ill temper snapped into my mind. He had expected me to betray him and the Commander. How could he have believed that? I wondered. Didn’t he know me at all? Anger, disappointment and relief warred in my heart. I was unable to propel any words past my throat.

“I had hoped to send this rat back to the dungeon where she belongs,” Margg complained to Valek. “Now she’ll still be scurrying around. Still a threat.” Annoyed, she poked my arm with a meaty finger.

I moved. In a heartbeat I twisted her arm behind her back. She yelped as I raised her hand up high, forcing her to bend forward.

“I am not a rat,” I said through clenched teeth. “I’ve proved my loyalty. You will get off my back. No more nasty messages in the dust. No more prying into my things. Or the next time, I’ll break your arm.” I shoved her hard as I released my grip.

She stumbled and landed on the ground in a heap. Pinkfaced, she lurched to her feet. As she opened her mouth to protest, Valek stopped her with a glance.

“Well said, Yelena. Margg, you’re dismissed,” Valek said.

Margg’s mouth snapped closed as she spun on her heel and left the room.

“She’s not friendly,” I said.

“No. That is precisely why I like her.” He studied the door for a moment, then said, “Yelena, I’m going to show you something you’re not going to like, but I think it’s important that you know.”

“Oh yeah? Like I enjoyed your test of faith?” Sarcasm rendered my voice sharp.

“I warned you that I tested the food taster from time to time.”

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