A face leaned forwards towards a flickering flame. "Yes."

A puff of breath, and the candle was smothered, which was a pity, because the three plotters might have noticed the dark, oily creature that pulled out of the shadows, shaking the head it extended out for that exact purpose.

"Bad bad..." it said disapprovingly.

What one Darking knew, all others did too, but which humans were they to tell? Aly had informed them that she was to know everything important. Would she find this important?

What about Dove? Would she be happy to leave the audience she was holding, to listen to them?

"Chenaol should look after knives better," her Darking told her.


"One missing."

Chenaol looked where it prodded a tendril, and cursed.

The Darking who made it habit to roam down the corridors, and alternately play with and terrify three-year-old nobles who'd wandered from their parents, received this information immediately.

"Bad bad..." It returned to the shadows, narrowly missing being seen by a gaggle of children who were poking in the corner for, as they put it, the squishy friend. Then, once it was out of earshot: "Fun fun."

Aly woke the instant Trick nudged her. "News?"

"A plot," Trick's high voice told her.

"How long?" she asked, all business, slipping out from her husband's arm.

"Since this morning." Before Aly could ask why she had not been informed, Trick said, "Triplets out of bed."

Terror seized her for an instant.

"Outside. They are safe," Trick said quickly, touching her neck consolingly. "Bad bad."

They were indeed outside. Outside Queen Dove's window, two of them trying to balance as the third stood on their shoulders, a knife in one hand, and a thorny plant known to be horribly noxious in the other.

Aly nearly had a heart attack when she saw how precarious their perch was, and Trick's assurance that other Darkings were helping them balance did not make it any easier, nor did the reminder that crow children had better balance than she could ever hope to.

"Bad plot," Trick said, disapprovingly, as one - Aly recognized it as the one with a bit of leaf, who roamed the corridors - waved a tendril in her direction.

"Terrible," Aly answered, burying her face in her hands so she could compose herself.

"Scold them?"

"You can count on it," the spymaster groaned.

Fortunately, the guards came at the first instant the knife touched the window. If she'd had to deal with lax guards, too, Aly did not know how she might have reacted.

At least Dove found this hilarious, and assured the triplets that they could not have given her a better birthday present than a security check and a story that made her laugh. Aly made a note to write and ask Maude just how she had dealt with raising three hell-raisers. Looking at their pleased faces, and the happy purrs of the younger Darkings...

"Is this why you waited so long to tell me?" she asked Trick, who bounced instead of answering.