Adolie looked up from the headband she was braiding as Hart entered with arms filled with papers.
"Is this to make a book?"
"Apparently the army investigators are as organized as a mouse." He dropped the pages on his desk. "These are all the murders from that last six years."
"Six years?" Adolie put aside her work to move closer to the desk to watch him decipher the words.
"I asked to take over the case of Jehan's mother."
Adolie was surprised. "Why?"
"Because it should be solved. Unless you care to tell me what happens to men who hurt Kylii women."
"If we knew who did it, he would be dead." Adolie admitted.
"Will you tell me the truth about something?"
"Did you take the job at the castle to search for the killer or to protect Jehan?"
"Both. Why do you ask?"
"You said you can get visions from touching personal items. Why would you take a job washing the most personal items when you dread your visions?" Hart asked.
"Because Tirra told me about a new lover she had taken who was up at the castle."
"So you sent Jehan here?"
"That wasn't my idea. His aunt decided it would be best. I thought it would be good but not until I knew it was safe." Adolie perched on the end of his bed.
"I won't mention that to anyone. They might think you were spying on the king."
"Have they chosen a new king?"
Hart grinned. "I knew it."
"A king is a hereditary title. His son, Restil, inherited the title and responsibility on Valdemar's death. With large groups it isn't possible to ask everyone's opinion and it is better to have someone trained from childhood to the role."
"Oh." Adolie leaned forward to look at the papers. "I thought that was Emperor."
"That is a man who controls many kingdoms."
"Then how do the Heralds come into it all, because I thought the Heralds were created to prevent any corrupted leaders in the future."
"We're still working it out." Hart admitted. "What did you see about this murder?"
Adolie shuddered. "I saw her body, not the murder. I saw where it was hidden under planks of wood and how she was bound by her hands and feet with white rope."
"That should help."
"Did they not know which one it was?"
"Oh, they knew, but they resent having someone come in and take over so they are making it difficult for me by losing it in a pile of others. There have only been seven murders in six years, and most have been because of two idiots drinking and getting into a fight."
"I am not surprised." Adolie muttered. "Don't mention it to Jehan. I fear he has withdrawn into himself again after the other day."
"I will have to speak to him, but not until I figure out how to question him without getting him to give me just what he thinks I want to hear."
Adolie watched as he started sorting the piles of paper. "Shield." She said suddenly.
Hart grinned and obediently shielded his mind speech again. "The king tells me Eshka is not a name but a title, but he's not certain what exactly it means."
"I am not king."
"Queen, a female king is a queen."
"So what are you? Does it mean seer?"
Adolie shook her head. "The leader, Kenelm, has a council of advisors, those are the Eshka. We are chosen by the clan and cannot deny the role. If Kenelm dies, then the next leader is chosen from among us."
"Huh, I like that idea." Hart looked up from his papers. "A council I mean. What roles do they have?"
"Normally we argue, a lot. All Eshka vote on big decisions but Kenelm can overrule us." Adolie returned to her craft. "It works for us. It might not work for a larger group. Are you having any luck?"
"They don't mention she was tied up but they did question several people."
"Not me or the rest of her family." Adolie pointed out.
"It says it was discovered by the house owner who was cleaning up the tumbled pile of wood."
"It wasn't tumbled when I saw it."
"About what time?"
"What time was it in the vision? It was probably the noon the day before she was found. I had it before dawn but I didn't find the spot until the next day, after she was found."
Hart made a note on a scrap of paper.
Adolie finished one project and started on another, this one a deer hide belt with a carved bone toggle for Jehan.
After an hour he finally sorted the last paper. The tallest stack was Tirra's murder.
"Are we going to the dining hall today or am I still in seclusion." Adolie asked when the bell tolled.
"I sent for a tray."
"He said I was not to leave your side, not to hide me in your room."
Hart cleared his throat. "If we set foot in there we are not going to get a word in edgewise."
"What's so funny?"
"I wonder if you are more concerned for your reputation than mine." Adolie said. "Your God Horses should choose a few females or the Heralds are going to be stuck with nothing but their duty to warm them."
"Perhaps they will one day."
A soft knock announced the arrival of their meal.
"Oh, you are on the run from your father!" She said with a grin. "Your father is very upset about all this."
"You're talking to Jehan."
"Of course I am. I have not had much else to do." She sat on the floor so he could set the tray between them.
"What about those leather things? I thought you were busy making those."
"I can make these in my sleep. I make them while I am talking to others."
Hart started to laugh.
"You're talking to the other Kylii, aren't you?"
"Mostly Kenelm and the Eshka."
"Did you tell them about this investigation?"
"No, we've been too busy arguing. You see the animals are gone. Kenelm thought we should ask an animal speaker to lead them back but Shami is opposed because they will be killed for intruding on farm land."
"What is your opinion?"
Adolie hesitated. "I don't know. Shami is right, the farmers would kill anything that threatens their crops or animals. Kenelm is right, we don't have a livelihood without wild animals. Something must be done."
"Have you appealed to the king?"
From her expression he knew she hadn't.
"That's what he's for, finding balance between groups of people."
"So… how do we appeal to a king?"
"You write a formal letter to the king outlining the situation and what has been done to address the problems."
"None of us can write." Adolie pointed out. "Can Kenelm make the appeal in person?"
"You can hire a clerk."
"And not be able to confirm what he has written? We are not that daft."
Hart poured each of them some wine before answering. "Hire a clerk, I will read it to you afterwards. I can't write it for you. It would be a conflict of interests."
"You'll do that for us? Thank you." Adolie smiled at him. "How do you investigate a murder?"
Hart looked to the pile of papers. "First, I am going to go through that pile and see what they found, then I am going to make a list of witnesses I want to question. Is there anything you can add?"
"Just what I told you."
"Can you ask her sister or any other family members if they could meet me?" Hart asked.
"I will ask." Adolie promised. "They will probably say yes."
"Adolie, I need you to swear that if I discuss this investigation with you, you will not say a word to anyone about it." Hart said seriously.
Adolie started to promise then stopped. "And if it is not solved before the… monster?"
"Herald Hart, there is some people to see you, they say they have an appointment." A servant said from the door.
Adolie looked up from her work. "That would be Tirra's kin."
"I'll be right down." Hart rose from his desk, gathering paper, ink, and quills. "Do you mind staying here, Adolie?"
"I was going to go to the temple. You can find me there later." Adolie collected her satchel of work. "Unless you need me to keep the Kylii in line."
"They speak Valdemaran, right?"
"More or less, and if they have problems, you can use silent speech." Adolie pointed out.
Hart escorted her to the temple, where the God Horses could watch over her in his stead. Thankfully the temple was empty and the God Horses were not obvious about guarding her. Adolie settled on the steps and stared at the northern entrance to the Grove.
This grove had been sacred long before the intruders arrived. It was called the Seers Circle by the Kylii.
When Baron Valdemar and his people arrived they were sick, tired, and running low on resources. They had tried to go south and encountered a well-established kingdom, Karsa. They traded much of their supplies for safe passage along the river. Adolie's grandmother, a great seer, had known they were coming decades before and insisted the Kylii stock up on smoked meat and fish, enough to see the newcomers through the remainder of the winter.
When the Imperials started building their houses and cutting down every tree in sight to create the walls the Imperials cut down half the trees in the grove before Baron Valdemar stepped in. He said that the grove and all the trees in that swath were to be preserved and enclosed within the castle walls and were to be preserved into the future unless circumstances were dire.
Despite being a sacred grove, only she and her grandmother visited it before the temple was built` and then only once when she was fourteen. It had been the middle of the night, before the castle was completed, so she doubted anyone knew they'd been there.
The grove was a thirty foot, true circle with a natural entrance on the north side. Flanking the entrance was a pair of smooth granite pillars that were only five feet tall. The temple was now located in the heart of the grove with its bell tower as tall at the tree tops. However, nothing visible was what made the grove sacred.
That was buried next to the western pillar.
A sphere of flawless, clear stone was called the Stone and had been part of the Kylii traditions for at least a thousand years. It allowed remarkably clear visions, sometimes. More often it drove people mad. Even the strongest seers of the past had lost themselves in the Stone. Because of this it was rare for the Stone to be consulted more than a handful of times in each generation.
Adolie knew she could use the Stone to see exactly what the monster was or who killed Tirra but her grandmother drilled into her head that only the greatest risk to a great number of people should warrant using the stone. Especially since she was the only Seer at the moment. If she went mad there would be no one to teach the next Seer how to use the Stone.
The only time she used it had been with her grandmother as support ten years earlier. There had been a confrontation between a newly minted Valdemaran and some Kylii children. A farmer accused five young Kylii of stealing from him. At the time, the penalty was death, another holdover from the Imperial rule they were used to. There was a faction of Kylii who resented the new arrivals and were using the incident as an excuse. Even the leader of the time doubted the wisdom of allying with the intruders. Adolie had been at a meeting with all the other Kylii, listening and agreeing with the dissidents until she'd been struck with a powerful vision. Adolie Saw the plan the plan, they were going to slaughter of all the domestic animals using poisons from the woods and torching the crops to force the Imperials to leave. She also saw bodies hanging in a gallows, starving children, and graves.
Her grandmother announced that the ancestors had called Adolie to use the stone, to see the consequences of their plot. Adolie had two visions that night. Each was of a time a hundred years in the future. The first the Kylii were wiped out by the Valdemaran army but the Valdemarans also suffered, with no food a famine destroyed them and there was only ruins of a settlement. The second had white horses sent from the gods and both the Kylii and Valdemarans were alive but were hemmed in by other small countries.
Now she wondered if being merely alive meant they survived.
King Restil stopped between the pillars. "I thought I was the only one who found the temple restful."
"It could use some more cushions." Adolie admitted. "Hart is with the Kylii."
"All of them?" King Restil stopped at the foot of the stairs.
"He asked to speak to Tirra's closest relatives." Adolie moved over. "Oh, I am to call you Majesty, sorry."
Restil sat next to her. "I'm not used to it yet."
Adolie regarded him thoughtfully. "I felt the same when they called me Eshka for the first few moons. I was not expecting it. As did Kenelm."
"Any advice then? Since you are an old hat at this."
Adolie considered it. "It takes time to become accustomed to a new role, but if you wait until you are comfortable to act you will find yourself stuck in the shadow of the man who came before. I replaced another seer who was respected but is cautious. Kenelm replaced a man who is very hot in the head."
Adolie nodded. "Hart told me what a king is. What does that make Kenelm? He is called an Eshron."
"Each town has one of those, yes?"
"And the headmen, do they have to send an appeal to speak to you?"
"They can bring their concerns to me, of course."
"You are going to be very busy then."
Restil chuckled humourlessly. "I already am."
Adolie resumed braiding the belt for Jehan but she kept watching the spot where the Stone was buried. Only a Seer could decide to use the Stone or not.
"This was holy for the Kylii too, is it not? Father instituted a law to protect these trees because of it."
"You are the first Kylii who has come here."
"People only come here if they must. You feel it too, it is unnatural here."
"That's one way to put it."
Adolie shifted so she was looking at him without twisting her neck. "I will tell you the story as I know it. It is very old, our Bards pass on the songs and stories. You can ask them to tell it properly.
"There was a great war; magic was burning the earth and creations we cannot imagine fought beside humans. Some fought in the air on the wing, others clawed the ground, pulling up trees with each step. Our ancestors served one of the mages involved. When he knew he was losing he sent everyone away through gates that covered great distances. Our ancestors were watchers in the dark in the enemy's camp."
"They raced for the nearest gate, a hidden one their enemy never saw. As they raced the sky burned and the gate exploded. Most were killed. Where you sit now is where the gate was. Those pillars were the entrance."
"And your people stayed?"
"They did. Some were warped in body or mind and they were too weak to be moved. The ancestors used those pillars and the base of the gate to make the first sanctuary."
"Yes. We were lucky. Another clan found us and they fixed the damages to us sometime later but they could not clean this grove."
"My ancestors had a similar story."
"How big that war must have been."
Restil stood. "I must return to my duties. Thank you for the story."
"Just think, one day your children's children will think back to this day."
"We are living a legend." Restil agreed. "Have Hart report to me when he is done with the interviews."
"There are another sixty or so. They all wish to say what they know."
"Why are they coming forward now and not before?"
"Now the investigator is speaking to a Kylii seer and Eshka and has a God Horse to advise him."
"Either way, he is not ordinary because of it." Adolie hesitated. "Your people may find the idea of a God Horse strange but to us it is another way the gods and ancestors have helped the people of this area and made it a Haven."
King Restil bowed to her then retreated.
Adolie closed her eyes and rested her head on the stone behind her. Her fingers flew, twisting and weaving the leather thongs. The nightmares of the vision were growing worse. She spent her nights in Hart's bed which eased the worst of it. Her days were mostly spent speaking to other Kylii and trying to trigger a vision.
She could feel the Stone like a sleeping creature in the room with her. Was this a dire enough threat to warrant using it? As far as she could tell, Kylii were not the main target.
:How many people are here?: Hart asked. :I have learned more about her lovers than I care to know.:
:They are trying to help. They have faith in you. Did you discover the name of her lover?:
:No. Only you seem to know about this last lover.:
:People tell me about their lovers to see if I will have a vision. Seers get the best gossip even without their visions.:
Hart sighed. :At least I am getting practice with mind speech. Do you mind grooming Noemi? I will be here a while.:
:Of course I don't mind.: Adolie packed everything up and hurried to the stable.
She'd never been in the wing for God Horses. The large stalls had no doors and forty stalls but only half or so had names above the doors. Now that she knew more about horses she could appreciate the beauty of the God-Horses even more. They were idealizations of what the perfect horse could be with deep blue eyes, hair as purely white as snow under a perfect winter sky and silver hooves. Noemi stepped out of her stall as Adolie approached. Her mane fluttered to her knees, more like human hair than horse. Her tail was a few inches off the ground.
At least Adolie wasn't confined to admiring her with sidelong glances.
"I'm sure you heard." She collected the brushes from a shelf next to her door and started grooming the mare. In her head she could hear the chatter of the Kylii waiting to speak to Hart. They weren't discussing the murder, they were looking for his God Horse.
"Eshka!" Jehan stared at her, scandalized. "You aren't supposed to touch the God Horses."
"I was asked to groom her as Hart is busy."
Jehan looked doubtful but trotted off. Adolie didn't need to have a vision to know he was going to get the stable master.
"This lot are quite hide bound." Adolie huffed.
As she expected, Hart's father appeared, looking like a thundercloud. He certainly didn't look upon her with favor anymore.
"Step away from her, you tart!"
Adolie considered the man silently for several moments. She didn't want to offend him further but she was not inclined to listen to a rant. "Tart? Is that not a sweet dish? I dare say no one would call me sweet. Seers of the future rarely are."
That made him stop.
"Sorry, I am being melancholy. I can't narrow down a dreadful future I saw. Hart has been far more patient with my finicky gift than I am."
Noemi brushed Adolie's hand with her nose. It was clear to any who observed it was a comforting gesture.
"Likely story." He said finally with a suspicious glare, "Do you need to spread your legs to get a vision?"
Adolie gaped at the harsh words for a second before her usually dormant temper roared to life.
"Ah, so a man who abandons his wife is better than a woman who chooses not to bind herself when she knows the bonds cannot last? You are the most abhorrent of creatures, an oath breaker, and you think yourself better than me?"
Noemi side stepped at her show of anger.
"You little—" His curse was ended by screams of rage from the horses in the other wings. He spun to see the danger and found Jehan glaring at him with his hands fisted at his side. Horses battered the doors.
Adolie temper fizzled out like an ember in a pool when she saw the pain and rage on Jehan's face. "Oh, Jay-cub. We aren't truly angry. My mood is rough."
The horses calmed to just snorting and fidgeting and Jehan rushed to her.
"Father! I told you it is none of your business." Hart said in a commanding voice as he strode into the stable. He set a hand on Adolie's shoulder. "I shouldn't have asked you to come face this."
"Nonsense." Adolie kissed his cheek, making him blush. "I'm sorry you were called away from the interviews."
"I was adjourning for a couple hours anyways. Jehan, did you wish to see your aunt?"
"My aunt?" Jehan released Adolie. :Why is she here?:
:I didn't tell him in case we discover nothing.: Adolie explained.
"I am searching for your mother's killer. I can't promise I will find them, but I will try." Hart explained.
Hart handed him a handkerchief.
"I can't believe you sent her here." His father snapped. "You're serving the king now, you don't consort with the likes of her."
"You had no problem with her before we became lovers." Hart snapped.
Adolie muttered a curse. "I spoke to the King earlier, he had no problems with this. God Horse Noemi approves."
"I approve too." An older man clad in white emerged from a stall. "He certainly can't visit a camp follower and taking a wife would be foolish."
"My lord." The stable master bowed.
:That is King Valdemar's Herald, Beltran.: Hart explained.
:But he is not King Restil's?: Adolie was confused.
:We are… sorting that out still.:
"My dear." Beltran kissed her hand gallantly. "I knew your grandmother."
"She mentioned you; sadly I was young and stupid and didn't pay much attention to her dealings with you."
"Yes, she said you were rather put out with us 'intruders'. Not as much of a problem now."
"Not with most." Adolie hedged.
"Come my dear, we can let them deal with their family squabble." Herald Beltran offered her is arm. Jehan clung to one hand as they left. "I am curious about these lessons you have given to Hart."
Once they were out of the building Hart turned to his father. "I just spent all afternoon dealing with her family and while some heartily dislike us 'intruders', not one was so ill mannered to me."
"Did you hear what she said?"
"That you abandoned mother? Yes. To their way of thinking, you did. But they would be just as hard on mother if she came without you." Hart stroked Noemi's neck.
"It's none of their business what goes on between a man and wife."
Hart shook his head. His father was still too indignant to reason with. "I must go see to my duties."
Beltran, Adolie, and Jehan were a good distance from the stable and they seemed to be amused.
"Let's try it again." Beltran said. "Maya cour Eshka."
Jehan giggled and Adolie smiled. "Mawya cour Eshka."
"Hart, perhaps you can wrap your tongue around this." Beltran greeted him. "They are trying to teach me good day in Kylian."
"Mawya means greetings cour is to you. Mawya cour Hart." Adolie was grinning which relieved him.
"Maya cor Adolie." Hart echoed carefully.
Jehan giggled again.
"Alright, what did I say?" Hart asked.
"Mayacor means tree. You called me a tree." Adolie explained.
Jehan was holding his sides he was laughing so hard. "Old tree!"
"Why do I get the feeling those words are often misspoken." Beltran asked.
"They are." Adolie admitted. "Normally way just say Ayla. That means good wishes. Hello, good bye, passing in the street… it is good for everything."
"Ayla? I like that." Beltran said. "Well, I should get back to Kyrith. Ayla, Eshka."
"Ayla, King's Herald."
Jehan recovered his breath. "Ayla."He bolted back to the stable.
"He plans to avoid your father now. I'm sorry for this debacle." Adolie said, ringing her hands. "I'm just so… frustrated."
"We all are. Noemi is more philosophical about it than me. She thinks we should appreciate the time together."
"Oh, I do." Adolie sighed. "I should have kept my mouth shut. I didn't mean to offend your father. I should apologize."
"Give him time. I think you both need it. I should get back to your family. They are far too eager to leave alone."
"They are hoping to see a God Horse." Adolie explained.
"Ah. Noemi? Are you coming?" He called with both his voice and mind.
"I am going back to your room. May as well stay out of sight." Adolie ran her fingers through her hair. "Perhaps… never mind. I am just being moody."
"I'll see you later." Hart promised.
Adolie watched him leave with a heart that grew heavier with each step.