Poison Study Page 69

Valek pulled his gaze back to the Commander, and bumped his arm in alarm. “What’s going on?” he whispered urgently. “Where were you?”

“Just remembering a time long ago,” the Commander said in a wistful voice. “More enjoyable than listening to General Tesso’s excruciatingly detailed report on the corn harvest in MD–4.”

I studied the Commander’s features, trying to superimpose the woman from my dream. They matched, but that meant nothing. Dreams twisted reality and it was easy to envision the Commander killing a snow cat.

The rest of the meeting continued without incident, and I dozed on my stool from time to time, untroubled by strange dreams. When the Commander pounded his gavel, I was awake in an instant.

“Last item, gentlemen,” the Commander announced. “A Sitian delegation has requested a meeting.”

The room erupted with voices. Arguments sprang to life as if the Generals were picking up an old debate right where they had left off. They discussed trade treaties, and quarreled about attacking Sitia. Instead of trading for goods, why not take them? they argued. They wanted to expand their districts and gain more men and resources, ceasing all worries about Sitia attempting to attack Ixia.

The Commander sat in silence and let the flow of advice wash over him. The Generals settled enough to proclaim their beliefs about allowing the Sitians to come. The four northern Generals (Kitvivan, Chenzo, Franis and Dinno) didn’t want to meet with the delegation, while the four southern Generals (Tesso, Rasmussen, Hazal and Brazell) favored a summit with the Sitians.

The Commander shook his head. “I acknowledge your opinions about Sitia, but the southerners would rather trade with us than attack us. We have more men and metal. A fact they are well aware of. To attack Sitia we would expend many lives and large sums of money. And for what? Their luxury items aren’t worth the cost. I’m content with Ixia. We have cured the land of the King’s disease. Perhaps my successor will want more. You’ll have to wait until then.”

A murmur rippled through the Generals. Brazell nodded in agreement, with his thin lips anchored in a predator’s smile.

“I have already agreed to meet with the southern contingent,” the Commander continued. “They’re due to arrive in four days. You have until then to express your specific concerns to me before departing for your home districts. Meeting adjourned.” The bang from the Commander’s gavel echoed throughout the dead silent room.

The Commander rose and with his bodyguards and Valek close behind, he prepared to leave. Valek gestured for me to join them. I lurched to my feet. The full effect of the brandy I had consumed washed over me. Giddy, I followed the others from the room. An explosion of sound slipped through the door just before it closed behind us.

“That should stir things up a bit,” the Commander said with a wan smile.

“I would advise against vacationing in MD-8 this year,” Valek said sarcastically. “The way Dinno reacted to your announcement about the southern delegation I would expect him to pepper your beach house with sand spiders.” Valek shivered. “A horribly painful way to die.”

My skin crawled too, thinking of the lethal spiders the size of small dogs. Our procession continued in silence for a while as we headed back to the Commander’s suite. My gait was unsteady. The stone walls blurred past me, as if they were moving and I was the one standing still.

Outside the Commander’s suite, Valek said, “I’d watch out for Rasmussen too. He didn’t take the news of the change in your successor well.”

The Commander opened his door. I stole a quick glance inside his suite. The same plain utilitarian style that decorated his office and the rest of the castle was present. What had I expected? Maybe a splash of color, or something a bit more feminine? I gave my head a little shake to banish such absurd thoughts. The motion made my head spin, and I had to put a hand to the wall to keep myself from stumbling.

“I watch out for everyone, Valek. You know that,” the Commander said before shutting the door behind him.

Upon entering our suite, Valek stripped off his uniform jacket and threw it on the couch. He pointed to a chair and said, “Sit. We need to talk.”

I plopped into the chair and dangled a leg over the armrest, watching Valek pace the room in his sleeveless undershirt and formfitting black pants. Imagining my hands helping to ease the tension in the long ropy muscles of his arms almost started a giggling fit. Brandy flowed through my blood, quickening my pulse.

“Two things were very wrong tonight,” Valek said.

“Oh, come on. I just dozed for a minute,” I said in my defense.

Valek shot me a quizzical look. “No, no. You did fine. I meant about the meeting; the Generals.” He continued to pace. “First, Brazell seemed unusually happy about the change in successor and the Sitian delegation. He’s always wanted a trade treaty, but he typically exercises a more cautious approach. And second, there was a magician in the room.”

“What?” My breath locked. Had I been discovered?

“Magic. Very subtle, from a trained professional. I only felt it once, a brief touch, but I couldn’t pinpoint the source. But the magician had to be in the room, or I wouldn’t have felt it.”


“During Tesso’s long-winded dissertation about corn.” Valek’s posture had relaxed a little, as if the act of talking out a problem helped him deal with it. “About the same time your snoring could be heard halfway across the room.”

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