“One moment.” Crane looked as if he’d been caught by surprise. “Why her? Her vision-skills aren’t as strong as yours—”
“Thanks ever so,” Tris mumbled, pouring tea for herself.
“I can make far better use of her,” persisted Crane. “There is work to do as we await your results.”
“You cannot make better use of her,” Niko said sharply, dark eyes glittering. “I will have to do a past-visualization working at some point. For it I require her strength and stubbornness. An extra pair of eyes will not come amiss, nor her ability to control water.”
“She is a clear and accurate note-taker,” protested Crane. “She thinks about the notes she is given. I made infinitely more progress yesterday, with her and Rosethorn and the boy, than I had until then.”
Rosethorn flapped a hand as if she fanned herself. “Spare my blushes,” she murmured. Briar snorted.
“I do not begrudge the acknowledgment of credit where it is due,” replied Crane loftily. “We have a good team. Breaking it up now is most ill-advised.”
“Find another scribe,” Niko snapped. “I’ll have the duke send his, if necessary—”
“Is this what it’ll be like when I’m older and boys are fighting for the chance to kiss my hand?” Tris murmured to Sandry. The noble giggled.
“I do not want a ducal scribe; I want this girl. May I remind you—”
“I will not go into the sewers without her!” Niko barked.
Everyone stared at him. Tris turned white. “Sewers?” she squeaked.
“The disease spreads as the water level in the sewers rises and damaged pipes leak into wells. It’s plain the two are connected,” Niko said. “If we are to go there without drowning, I need Tris. If I am to have power to work the spells that reveal the past and to follow the trail to whatever mage concocted this—horror—I will need Tris. No one else will do.”
“Not the sewers,” whispered the redhead, trembling. “They’re dirty.”
“I know,” replied Niko, his voice sharp.
For a long moment, no one said a word. Finally Crane sighed. “May she return to me when you are done?”
“I don’t want to go,” complained Tris. “Can’t I stay with Crane and Rosethorn?”
“We must,” Niko retorted. “Eat your breakfast.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Then change into old clothes. We need to do this now. “
Tris walked to the stair, her feet dragging. Sandry followed her friend upstairs. “It’ll be all right,” those seated below heard her say.
“I hope so,” murmured Niko, rubbing his temples.
Just after Tris and Niko left, Frostpine arrived at Discipline. “More work for us,” he told Daja as she ate breakfast. “Protective talismans for the duke’s soldiers, to keep a rain of chamber pots and rocks from banging them on the head in the East District. I’d hoped they’d forgotten I can do such things, but someone apparently remembered.”
Crane raised her eyebrows. “How can you object to the protection of those who keep the duke’s peace?”
Frostpine sat next to Daja, plucking morsels from a muffin and popping them into his mouth. “A proper fear of such things keeps soldiers polite,” he observed. “Otherwise they might be tempted to push common folk around. Orders to enter people’s homes uninvited are a sore temptation for peacekeepers, I’ve found.”
“Have you any respect for proper order?” asked Crane.
“Depends on whose idea of order it is,” said Frostpine. “Daja, are you about done?”
She nodded, eating quickly.
Crane shook his head. “Rosethorn? Briar? We should go.”
As the others left, Sandry lay her head on the table. She was one solid ache, head to toe. A cool hand rested on her forehead; blearily she looked up at Lark. “I’m just tired,” she said. “I’m not sick.”
“We’re both tired,” replied Lark. “I really hate to do this, but—we’ve been at it for days. I think we have to rest. No work, just rest.”
“But Crane needs masks and gloves—” argued Sandry. The idea of a day without pouring her magic into a slush of herbs, oils, and powders made her giddy.
“He’s got enough for two days,” Lark said firmly. “We really must stop for a while. Go back to bed, dear one. I’m doing the same—the dishes can wait until we get up.”
Crane, Rosethorn, and Briar had just reached the spiral road when Rosethorn halted, staring at the north gate. A covered wagon like that which had taken her, Flick, and Briar to Urda’s House rolled through. It was driven by a masked and gloved soldier of the Duke’s Guard: the red spot that meant she was free of the blue pox was vivid on her forehead. When the wagon drew near, Rosethorn motioned for the driver to stop.
“Are the city hospitals full, that you bring the sick here?” she asked.
The driver shook her head. “They’re near full, but the duke’s putting up two more, one on Market Square and one on Fuller’s Circle. These are temple folk with the blue pox—they’re to be nursed here, Honored Moonstream’s orders.”
“Temple folk?” cried Rosethorn.
“Who?” demanded Crane, grabbing the bridle of the horse closest to him. “Do you know the names?”