“I’m sure I could lead you to the place where I stole the cards,” said Lotye O’Tulvar. “That shouldn’t be too hard if I see the streets again. The men on the other hand … There’s a festival outside. Everyone is wearing masks and so did those two. They wore cloaks, too. I’m not sure if I’d be able to recognise them again. I’d have to try, I guess, I came at least pretty close to the one who bought the cards.”
“Festival,” said Lord Jeneyeru, “ah, yes, it’s the Triumvirate. I’ve been in such a rush, I barely noticed.”
“The men will be long gone by now,” said Aeto Arrowwise. “And I doubt the buyer reported his loss to the guardians.”
The wizard nodded, but his nod gradually became an equivocal tilt of the head. “One never knows. There’s nothing to say he knew he was buying stolen goods, and even that supposition supposes many more.”
“Simple enough to look into it,” said the lawyer. “I can send an inquiry around the keeps about recent theft reports, but this fortnight there may be more than we’ll know what to do with.”
The silvery mask on his knee, twirling the Staff of Ghosts between his hands, Jeneyeru thought about it. “Mistress O’Tulvar is right to point out the local masquerade. Thanks to the Sesus passion for anonymity, she never truly saw the men at all. But the transaction itself,” he cast his dark eyes upon the thief again, that strange smile, at once reassuring and off-putting playing about his lips, “that may be a more fruitful line of inquiry. There may yet be a trail to pick up.”
With a light but decisive tap of his staff on the floor, he said, “Milady Attorney, I advise you to inform the prosecutor that the matter of the cards falls under the aegis of the Guild of Wizards and Magi.”
“Does it do so?”
“If not, it soon shall. I shall require Mistress O’Tulvar to assist my inquiries. It would be most helpful if both she and the cards were released to my custody, at least temporarily.”
“That will take some talking to accomplish.”
“Ah, milady, who but you? After all, you talked a State Magus into consulting on a matter of a cut purse.” Aeto beamed, as Jeneyeru added, “In truth, the cards are my reason for visiting Sesus in the first place, though it was not these two I expected to find. Rather, two of their brothers. No matter. If this lady can put us on the trail of the one selling these cards, she will have done a service that will more than cancel out whatever put her in this cell.”
Aeto’s delighted smile spread even more. “I shall visit the prosecutor’s office immediately.”
“I shall go with you,” said Jeneyeru, rising and setting his broad, plumed hat on his head, “to help you argue the case.”
With the mask dangling by its ribbon from his wrist, and the Staff of Ghosts resting comfortably in his hand, he turned to Lotye and executed a low, graceful, courtly bow. “It is my pleasure to have met you, Mistress.” When he rose out of the bow, he regarded her with a light in his eyes and a grin like he couldn’t wait to get his hands on her.
“Now don’t you worry about a thing, Lotye,” said Aeto, “we’ll have you out of here before you can count a hare’s hairs. Milord, this way, please.”
So Lotye’s fate was decided in a consultation that had not consulted her all that much. The great guilds of law and magic were both conservative, even secretive, organizations, so she likely would never learn exactly what Aeto and Jeneyeru said to the Prosecutor General of Sesus to secure her conditional release pending the outcome of investigation. One thing she would know for certain, however, was that the next day, shortly after her breakfast of gruel and weak tea, the jailer came and unlocked her cell.
“Out,” he said, with a jerk of his chin towards the stairs.
Aeto awaited her below. She was signed out at the Registrar Marshall’s desk. A tethering bracelet was fixed to her wrist so she could be tracked if need be. Aeto then quickly ushered her out of the keep and to a waiting goat carriage, which carried them through the winding streets of Sesus, over the bridges, through the tunnels, across the squares, until they reached the Royal Quarter and the district of foreign embassies.
The urban palace of the Embassy of the Grand Navigators, a huge, luxurious building with the great canal and the sea at its back, stood cheek by jowl with all the other palaces in the waterfront row. The main entrance was hard to locate among all the doors and arches and gates, but Aeto led Lotye to the most dull of all the openings, a plain wooden door, which a guard opened for them. Then up the stairs and down a hall, to the apartment where Jeneyeru was staying.
The valet, Thimble, now in the form of a little boy, greeted them and brought both lawyer and parolee into the sitting room full of sunshine, overlooking the sea and the Royal Palace of the Floating Throne across the canal. There Jeneyeru reclined on a couch, a robe of shimmering pink and green silk flowing around him, drinking tea and reading newspapers.
“Ah, welcome, ladies,” he called as they approached.