A shouted hail interrupted the pair dueling in Brother Fray’s book. Slamming the splayed covers shut, I smothered the leather binding in the folds of my skirts.
The similarly ragged sailor who’d bellowed “Hello?” and now wobbled upon a listing dinghy, however, didn’t seem to notice. He clung to a broken mast where the tatters of a sail hung limp and waved.
“Please, I need your help!”
I peeked over my shoulder and the driftwood lining my hiding spot. Crab grasses gave way to wind-battered shrubs but the rest of the dull gray beach and the wharf beyond remained empty. Amber rays of dusk warmed the boot prints left on the hard trodden crimp of earth coiling from the wooden planks to Reyvi’s guarded gate. The sound of merchants’ hawking, wagon wheels thumping, and craftsmen closing up their shops tumbled over the town’s stubby parapets, each telling of the end to a busy market day. Above the noises and dank walls, evergreens coated the cove’s steep hillsides, their tips soaring higher than the monastery’s squared towers and dwarfing the tiny windows overlooking every soul.
The young sailor aboard the dinghy, though, had no one to speak to but me.
Standing, I tucked the book into my belt’s pouch and neared the lapping waves. “The docks are that way.”
A weak grin crept onto his lips and his squint shifted from open air to where I pointed at the wharf. “They may be, Miss, but I have a treasure to find, and if you help me, I share it with you.”
I put my hands on what amounted to my hips and dug my bare toes into the waterline’s damp sand. “You’ve come to the wrong place for treasure.”
He leaned forward, hand grasp tight onto the mast. “Isn’t this Montange?”
“Yes,” I said, “but you’re on the edge of the kingdom, at the port of Reyvi.”
His jaw firmed and he skimmed the town behind me, searching it seemed for whatever it was he wanted. Something in his wiry frame stiffened and my heart quickened with the possibility he might be more than a drifter on a wayward quest.
“You really think there’s treasure here?”
“There has to be.” Using the mast as a brace, the young man collected a line of rope and flung the end in my direction. “Pull me in and I’ll explain.”
The line landed at my toes, the braid thicker than my ankles. Hauling in a stranger seemed better than dumping chamber pots or scrubbing the monastery’s floors, so with a rub of my hands, I hefted the end and tugged as best I could.
The current drew the young man into the shallows more than I did. He hopped out, sinking to the hem of a stained shirt, and with his shoulder added to my effort, we had the dinghy beached. Breathless, he fumbled along the pitted rail, perched on the port side, and hung his head. The winds brought his salty tang into my nose and I backed out of arms reach.
“What about this treasure?”
He snickered. “You’re a single-minded young lady.”
“I’m no lady.”
“No, I suppose not. You start with questions rather than introductions.” He wiped his hand on the thigh of his wet slacks and offered it to me. “Lionel Redvale.”
He cocked his head, his brown eyes streaked with red swimming around where I stood. “You know your history?”
“I hear a lot of stories.” I inched closer and lowered my voice. “Are you really one of the Redvales?”
“Would you believe my tale any more than the others you’ve heard?”
“I suppose not.”
He smiled. I imagined the bunch in his cheeks and stubbly frame to white teeth surpassed those of the towns’ eligible noblemen, the ones the merchants’ daughters tittered over after services. Lionel’s smell, however, kept me well clear of swooning over that kind of romantic twaddle.
“If you had proof I might reconsider.” Spreading my stance, I held out my palm.
Lionel clucked his tongue. “First I need a name.”
The monks called me Child, the townsfolk a nuisance, the girls and older boys a handful of slurs still rattling in my skull. I settled on the name I could hear cooing in the nicer of my dreams even when sea swells slopped cold, briny water onto the deck and white froth drowned everyone I remembered. “Eva.”
Catching my hand, Lionel shook as if we’d finished trading in the market square. “A pleasure to meet you, Eva.”
I squirreled free from his callous grip and stepped back out of arms reach. “Your proof?”
Tipping off the dinghy, Lionel rolled his shoulders. His back popped when he twisted at the waist, and with a grunt, he reached into the boat and slung a weather-beaten satchel across his chest. Flipping the top flap open, he rummaged and withdrew a silver amulet the size of my hand. He cupped the edge, dirty fingers surrounding the dome of crystal set at the center. Dusky light shattered in the stone’s facets, creating shards of topaz and peach.
The rays drew me closer. “Is that part of the treasure?”
His sigh carried more annoyance than fatigue. “No.”
Lionel brought the amulet close to his face. His breath fogged the crystal, and after wiping, squinting, and tilting his hand, he snarled and slumped onto the dinghy’s edge, the amulet hidden by white knuckles. He scrubbed at his eyes, grinding so deep I worried he might pop them from his head.
I settled at the dinghy’s rounded bow. “What’s wrong?”
“I need to find someone who can read.”
“If I could see straight.” He sought me out again, his brown eyes veined with scarlet webs, then gazed at the shore, the town, the trees. “I took a blow to the head a few nights back. Since then, everything’s been blurry. Doubled.” He peered at the amulet and stroked his thumb across the crystal. The squeaking stopped and he returned to the town. “Reyvi’s Monastery has a library, doesn’t it?”
The book in my pouch felt suddenly heavy. I bit my lip and nodded before I remembered his troubled vision. “I think so.”
“You think so?”
I watched my fingernail carve into the dinghy’s rail. “I know it does.”
“Would you take me there?”
“One of the monks could read for me.”
“But I could.” My fingertip caught on a splinter. I stuffed the bleeding slice into my mouth and wished I could stem my blurt as easily.
Lionel squinted at me. “You can read?”
Even if he couldn’t see right, doubt flickered on Lionel’s face. A hot flush washed through me and I tugged out Brother Fray’s book. Opening to the first page, the one with the calligraphic title, I held the small tome up to Lionel’s nose.
“The Odyssey of Heline and the Knights of Asteria.”
He reached for the pages, but I yanked the book away before he could take it from me. Flipping to chapter three, I started reading where I’d left off.
“Roland ducked beneath Sir Purent’s strike and tumbled over the cobblestones. The slash on his arm burned as he snatched his fallen dirk and sprang to his feet. Purent sneered. “Can’t even keep your sword, can you boy?” Even from the tip, Roland recognized his father’s blade bursting through the gap between Sir Purent’s breastplate and palette. The knight’s blood sprayed, marring his white surcoat. Purent dropped to his knees, mouth gaping, eyes dulling. He fell forward, revealing Heline, the bloodied sword steady in her hands. Roland towered over the dead knight. “No one needs a sword—”
“When one has friends.” Lionel chuckled, but his laugh seemed sad.
I closed the book and even the waves quieted as his gaze drifted into the wet sand. When he spoke again, he whispered.
“We used to pretend, my brothers and I. They always made me be Uri.”
He didn’t seem much like a squire, too scrawny for all the heavy lifting and too confident to be bullied. His redden gaze wandered back to me.
“I bet you’d like to be Heline?”
“No,” I ran my stung finger around the leather cover, “I’d be Yucille.”
“Roland’s thieving little friend?” He waggled a finger at the book. “I suppose that might be more in character if that’s any indication of your skills.”
I tucked Brother Fray’s book into my pouch. “I always bring them back.”
“I’m sure you do, but never mind all that.” Pivoting from the dinghy, Lionel knelt before me and held out the amulet. The crystal snared the sunlight, the rays drawing me in again. “Inside the stone there should be an arrow, then a letter or short word, sometimes a picture.”
“The arrow’s going that way.” Without taking my eye off the gold shard with the diamond tip, I pointed into town. Beneath the arrow, copper flecks swirled. “It says circle, and there’s a mortar and pestle.”
Lionel tipped the amulet to himself, then grunted with understanding. “An apothecary.”
“Will they be able to fix your eyes?”
“My eyes will fix themselves,” he gazed the way I had pointed, “this will fix my heart.”
I scanned his face then his chest. “What’s wrong with your heart?”
“Nothing a little treasure hunting can’t fix.” He swiveled back to me, the sad smile back on his lips. “There can’t be more than one apothecary in Reyvi?”
“Just the Old Rake’s place.”
“Do you know the way?”
“Sure I do, but there’s no treasure at his shop.”
Lionel bounced the amulet in his hand. “This has guided me so far, I’ll trust it a little further.”
“You could just go to the wharf, through the gates. Whoever’s on guard could show you.”
“I’d rather keep this between us for right now.”
I shrugged and when he rose, took Lionel’s hand. We walked side by side along the beach, and then single file up the side trail my bare feet and foxes looking to fish had made. I veered off before we reached the path linking gate and wharf, and followed a tributary around the walls. Feather-topped reeds brushed against my arms and mud squelched through my toes.
Lionel touched my shoulder. “You’re not going to the gate?”
“I know a better way.”
He pat the top of my head, his fingertips lingering on the part of my braids like Brother Fray‘s hand on his cane. “Lead on, Yucille.”
I grinned at him, but I didn’t think he saw by the concentration on his face. Taking his hand off my head, I kept my pace slow and mouth shut, sensing the need for quiet so the fellows guarding the walls didn’t spy where we skulked.
I smelled the sewer before it came into view, and Lionel sniffed with distaste. “I should have guessed.”
“Don’t worry, there’s a ledge.”
We reached the opening and I stepped down. “Careful,” I said, guiding him onto the strip of brick lining the gulley, “and keep your head low.” Starting inward, I pinched my nose. “It’s not a long walk if you want to hold your breath.”
“As you like.”
I pretended I didn’t hear Lionel’s gag when we entered the sewer. Shadows and stench surrounded us. Brick chipped beneath his heavier tread and plunked into the sludge, but fortunately for him, the opening for the first set of drainpipes came before he retched.
A shove at the stone I’d pried loose months earlier allowed fresh air into the sewer. Lionel made my climb up the shaft easier with a boost. I hugged the outer wall of the Mead’s tailoring shop while he wiggled himself through the hole before leading to the alley’s entrance.
Lionel scooted behind me as the bells at the monastery tolled, and peered over my head although I didn’t think he could make much of the few carts passing through the back square. “Evening services?”
“More like dinner.” My stomach gurgled and I scrubbed my belly. “The Rakes should be out of their shop at least.”
Taking his hand again, I pulled Lionel through the cobbled lanes. I kept us in the shadows and away from homes where candlelight would wink on plates and cups, and roasts or pots would be warmed at hearths. Decorated signs of shops closed up for the evening swung in the growing onshore breezes, making hinges groan.
The sign for Rake’s apothecary appeared at the corner of Fountain Square, the mortar and pestle in need of a fresh coat. Like the other shops and stores, lights flickered and voices murmured in the second story but darkness filled the front windows.
Lionel bent to my ear and whispered, “Take me around back.”
I did as he asked, warning of dumps from chamber pots and rotting piles left in the alley separating the Rakes from the neighboring butcher’s pen. The apothecary’s garden pressed against the town’s outer wall, the rows of fenced greens tingeing the evening with the smell of grass, mint, and wet earth. A lift of gate’s latch let us inside, our footsteps on the flagstone path as quiet as the mice I left crumbs for in the monastery’s kitchen.
The back door, however, proved locked when I tried the knob.
After a second jiggle, Lionel nudged me aside. “Leave this to me.”
He retrieved a thin spike the length of my forearm from his satchel. A poke in the lock, thrust, and turn made something inside snap. We stilled when the voices upstairs died, but they bantered on again after a round of nervous laughter and a jibe about jumping at ghosts.
“You should stay here, Eva.”
“So you can stumble in the dark?”
With a stern look I doubted he could make out, I shoved past Lionel and into the apothecary. He followed me, closed the door behind him, and towered at my shoulder. I squinted at the gloomy shelves with their labeled bottles and tins.
“What are we looking for?”
“An oak leaf and boar.”
“The Redvale crest?”
He seemed serious and I dutifully searched the shelves I could reach, investigated the selling counter, the table where the sick could be examined, the brewing station with its signature mortars, and the hearth with its rack of cast iron pots.
Lionel wandered among the tables and chairs, guiding himself with a hand on the rounded wood, woven backrests, or the rim of stools. He seemed drawn, perhaps like the arrow in his amulet, and I traipsed after him when he made his way into the storage closets.
Stopped by a door with a barred window, he did the same trick on the lock. Creaks came again from upstairs but Lionel didn’t wait this time. He didn’t even close the door when he padded inside.
I scrunched against the doorjamb, but the stairs leading up to the second story remained empty. Behind me, Lionel grunted and shoved at crates or barrels, and I nearly leapt from my skin when he whispered my name.
“Help me move these.”
He’d already spun an echoing barrel out of one corner. At his beckoning, I tugged the burlap bags of rye aside and cleared smaller canisters from the nook while he managed another tapped cask. He swept his foot across the exposed stone, then knelt and ran his fingers around the edges. Squatting beside him, I brushed the dust and grime away.
“What do you see, Eva?”
“A leaf,” I twisted my head, then my body about, allowing in the hallway’s dim light and putting the carving right side up, “and a boar!”
Lionel grinned and with his spike, began carving into the mortar. Like my entryway to the sewers, this stone had been meant to be removed. After a few stabs and chips, Lionel abandoned his spike for his fingers. With a hiss, he lifted the stone free and slithered into the hole.
“What are you doing in here?”
I bolted upright and hoped Lionel would have the good sense to stay in the hole he’d uncovered. When the tip of a rusted spear neared my nose, though, I wanted to hop down into the dark with him. The spear trembled in the younger Rake’s hands and he appeared far less cocky without his friends or any of the merchants’ daughters to impress.
I lifted both hands to show my empty palms. “I was just looking around.”
His father filled the doorway, a dagger drawn and at his side. “Who is it, boy?”
Young Rake set the butt of his spear onto the ground and snorted. “That orphan from the monastery.”
Old Rake jerked his son back, his fatted face flush with anger, his cheeks puffed like Brother Fray when he’d discovered a book I hadn’t returned in time. “I hear you’re a thieving little thing.”
My hands felt stained by the loaves and hot pies I’d snatched when I’d first been left behind. My rear heated with memories of being caught by matrons and servants. I lifted my chin though, knowing this time I’d done nothing wrong, and hadn’t, really, for months now.
“Maybe once, sir. But that was before the monks took me in. I don’t do that anymore.”
Old Rake huffed. “Then why are you breaking into my storage closet?”
“She’s helping me.”
I glanced at Lionel who rose out of the hole, and stood among the ring of barrels and crates. He managed to stare straight enough I didn’t think the Rakes would notice the lack of focus in his eyes.
Old Rake snorted, a gruffer mimic of his son. “And who the hell are you?”
Lionel raised his left hand. A ruby glinted on the ring now encircling his middle finger. The white coating of dust made the carved oak leaf and boar seal shine.
Old Rake blanched, then dropped to a knee and sputtered. “It can’t be.”
After a querulous glance at his father, Young Rake bowed as well.
Lionel stepped free of the clutter and I gaped at him anew. “You really are a Redvale?”
He grinned in close enough to my direction before turning to the two whose eyes clung to the floor. “Rise, please.”
“But sire.” Old Rake’s fat lips stuttered while his son helped him to his feet. Sweat dribbled down the sides of his face and he braced himself on a barrel. “What are you doing here? In my storage room.” His eyes grew wide. “Not that you’re not welcome. You can have whatever you like. If you don’t find what you need—”
Lionel held up his ringed hand, the Ruby of Redvale ceasing Old Rake’s flustered rambling. “I found what I need but I could use your help in another way.”
“Certainly sire, anything I can do. I can get the town—”
“No!” Lionel neared. “I must keep my presence here quiet. No one can know.”
“Of course, sire.” Old Rake’s nod infected his son, their assents blurring into one another as their heads bobbed.
“Good.” Lionel drew a steadier breath and lowered his voice. “Do you know something that can clear vision? Stop someone from seeing double?”
Old Rake’s face wrinkled in thought. He began murmuring while Young Rake dithered and turned the spear in his hands as if to wring water from a bit of cloth.
I kept quiet, hoping Lionel or the Rakes would forget to send me off to pots, to scrubbing floors, to the quiet consistency of the monks.
After drumming fingers on his lips, Old Rake brightened. “Yes, Yes, YES! This way.” He spun and darted from the closet, spewing orders his son dashed to fulfill.
Lionel rested against the doorjamb. “Thank you, Eva.”
I peered at my dirtied toes. “I guess you don’t need me anymore.”
“Nonsense.” He set a hand on my shoulder, the golden band cold even through the fabric of my dress. “Where would Roland have ended up without the resourceful Yucille?”
I eyed the carved ruby. “But you found your treasure.”
Lionel nudged my chin, tipping my gaze away from the telltale jewel. “The hunt, little Eva, has only just begun.”