Peino Starhand sighed as he set aside his pen. The day had required a good deal of recounting. The papery husks of two empty ink squibs lay in the desk tray, and the third was surely half-gone. Likewise in the tray, ashes of two pipe bowls next to the cooling clay pipe. Two was his limit for a night. The sweet and briny scent of his blend filled the Prince’s bedchamber, but not even its fragrance nor the taste of the smoke in his mouth could bring His Serene Highness any sense of serenity.
The normally relaxing ritual of writing the log of the day had instead filled his head with conflicts and questions. Those accursed cards. How well he remembered the voyage on which they had been acquired, the voyage that had revealed the existence of the Vortex Zone in the Sea of Lyr. Years later, Peino still had mixed emotions about that trip. It had been a fine adventure, the kind he lived for, but it had cost much — so very much and nearly more. The three had nearly become two that sunless day in that sunless place, that day of wagers and revenge.
He rolled the blotter over the last page of writing and closed the large, leather-bound book. The rain whipped over the building. It beat upon the windows just as the salt spray beat upon the hull wall of the Daughter next to his bunk. A chill was beginning to seep through the stone walls. It shivered over his skin under his shirt, the cold, damp touch of sea and wind, the wrath of Manawydden.
Yet for all this was a cursed storm, he almost desired to be out in it. To step onto the balcony and let the cold rain wash over him, feel the pounding waves, and sing a lament into the clawing wind. Even the merrows, the Folk of the Deeps, called this sort of thing “selkie weather,” and here was one selkie would be glad to let it cleanse away the thoughts that troubled him, the memory of the aura of those cards.
It was so strong, he almost thought he was still feeling their caressing allure, though they were doubly shielded by the enchanted box and warded safe. It was only memory, but a memory he did not want.
To rid himself of it, he decided on a drink since it would be foolish to go gallivanting in the rain at this hour.
In shirtsleeves and britches, not bothering with a candle, he made his way down the dark hallway towards the salon. But he did not get far before he noticed a faint light.
He stopped. He listened and looked.
The apartment door was open. That slight lessening of the darkness was the glow of the night lamp in the outer corridor, which lit the stairs. Even as he realized this, the door was closed, softly, carefully.
Peino backed into the gap between a chair and a table along the wall. Someone was coming towards him, padding stealthily on bare feet. His breath hung in his throat. His dark eyes widened in the dark. Muscles tensed, ready, as the figure neared. Small, slender. The perfume of a woman’s hair. So that’s the way of it, is it? He smiled slyly.
“Good evening,” he said. “Are you not heading in the wrong direction, Mistress O’Tulvar?”