The Wizard Hunters
The Fall of Ile-Rien
It was nine o'clock at night and Tremaine was trying to find a way to kill herself that would bring in a verdict of natural causes in court when someone banged on the door.
"Dammit." A couple of books on poisons slid from her lap as she struggled out of the overstuffed armchair. She managed to hold on to the second volume of Medical Jurisprudence
, closing it over her finger to mark her place. The search for the elusive untraceable poison was not going well; there were too many ways sorcerer-physicians could uncover such things and she didn't want it to look as if she had been murdered. Intracranial hemorrhage seemed a good possibility, if a little difficult to arrange on one's own. But I'm a Valiarde, I should be able to figure this out,
she thought sourly. Dragging the blanket around her, she picked her way through the piles of books to the door. The library at Coldcourt was ideal for this, being large, eclectic, and packed with every book, treatise and monograph on murder and mayhem available to the civilized world.
The entry hall was dark except for a single electric bulb burning in the converted gas fixture above the sweep of the stairs. The light fell on yellowed plaster walls and rich old wood and a blue-and-gold-patterned carpet on polished stone tile. Coldcourt was aptly named and Tremaine's bare feet were half frozen by the time she made it to the front door. She had let the housekeeper have the night off and now she regretted it, but she had had no idea it would take this long to arrange things. At this rate she wouldn't be dead until next week.
The unwanted person was still banging. "Who is it?" she shouted, wondering if he could hear her. Coldcourt had been built as a country house and its walls were thick natural stone to withstand the Vienne winter. It was part of an aging neighborhood of small estates just outside the old city wall and sprawled in asymmetrical crenellated and embellished glory across its poorly kept grounds. The door was several inches thick, old oak plated with not entirely decorative embossed lead, proof against bullets and other less solid assaults. The windows above the door were heavy leaded glass threaded with silver, the blackout curtains fixed tightly. All buildings had the blackout curtains, stipulated by the Civilian Defense Board, but the other protections were peculiarly Coldcourt's. Though all its wards against sorcerous attack were no help in the current situation.
A muffled voice replied, "It's Gerard!"
"Oh, God." Tremaine leaned her forehead tiredly against the chill wood surface. As executor of her father's estate, Guilliame Gerard had been her guardian until she was twenty-one, but she had seen him only infrequently these past few years. Her first thought was that her supervisor in the Siege Aid group must have written to him.
Tremaine had joined the Aid Society because they worked in the bombed-out areas of the city searching for survivors or bringing supplies to the fire brigades and the War Department's rescue teams. It was hard, desperate work, and many of them, even experienced men like constables or fire brigade members or former soldiers, were killed by unexploded bombs or collapsing buildings. A small woman who had never been very good at games in school shouldn't have been able to last a week. Tremaine's life should have ended with no more fanfare than a line in the casualty columns of the newspapers. Anything else would surely lead to a Magistrates' investigation which might uncover even more unpleasant facts about her family's immediate past than had already been exposed; that was the last thing she needed. But Tremaine had been in the Aid Society for six months.
She probably still couldn't hit a lawn tennis ball properly, but she could climb, scramble over, under, and through rubble like a squirrel, dodge flying debris, and when a ghoul had leapt out at her from a half-collapsed cellar the instinct to beat it to pieces with a lead pipe had triumphed over the will to die.
But after six months of near-death-but-never-quite experiences, her supervisor had told her she was due a month's leave before she could enlist for another term. Tremaine had protested with a patriotic fervor that her old friends in the theater would have admired, those who were still alive anyway. But she had given in when she had seen the look in the woman's eye. The supervisor was the Duchess of Duncanny, used to managing estates on a grand scale, and she had been trained as a hospital nurse early in the war. She was too perceptive by far and Tremaine had looked into those old eyes and thought, She knows. She knows why I'm here.
It was time to leave the Aid Society and find some other way. She must have contacted Gerard.
"Shit. Shit, shit, shit." Wincing, Tremaine turned the heavy key and drew the bolts.
Gerard slipped in, by habit pushing the heavy door shut quickly so a betraying light wouldn't escape. The outskirts of Vienne were considered an unlikely target area and Tremaine hadn't heard any bomb warnings on the wireless earlier.
He was a tall man, in his early forties, with dark hair just lightly touched with gray. His tie was askew and his tweed jacket stained with dark patches. His spectacles caught the light as he stared down at her in consternation. "Tremaine, I'm sorry to burst in on you like this, but something terrible has happened." They broke the wards,
she thought, staring at him blankly. The palace is destroyed.
A bubble of hysterical laughter grew in her chest. It was over. There would be no messy inquests or embarrassing articles in the papers to avoid. The Gardier had won and she could bash her own head in with a rock and no one would think twice about it. "The palace was bombed." The Wizard Hunters
The Fall of Ile-Rien
. Copyright © by Martha Wells. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.