She nodded. “The magician says it’s time to get them out of Palenque. Hunyadi has been waiting for the Borderkind to do that ever since their capture. There will still be loyalists who believe anything that Ty’Lis says, but already the rumors have spread that Oliver and Collette are Legend-Born. If we have them in our camp, the Lost Ones on both sides of the war will at least have to listen to what they have to say.” Captain Beck put a hand on the grip of her sword. “All I want to know is, when do we leave?”
“Shit.” Blue Jay sighed and looked at Wayland Smith. “Apparently we’re going to Palenque?”
Blue Jay laughed and shook his head. “So you’re sending us off on a suicide mission, but you won’t be able to join us. That about right?”
“More or less. Hunyadi has plans for Damia, and I have other business, but I’ll see you to Palenque safely. I have an errand to take care of first, and then we’ll depart. But before I go let’s sit a few moments—I’ll share my pipe, if you like—and we’ll talk of palaces and kings, of heroes and legends, and of the Legend-Born.”
The trickster glanced at Captain Beck a moment, then turned once more, uneasily, to Wayland Smith.
“So you believe that story, then, about the Bascombes? You think their mother was a Borderkind?”
Smith nodded solemnly, drawing a pipe out from inside his jacket.
“Of course. Melisande was their mother. And their father was a human. She loved him fiercely until the day she died. She had to give up her essence, her magic, so that she could bear children to the man she loved.”
Blue Jay crossed his arms and could not prevent the dubious look that spread across his face.
“And just how the hell do you know all of that?”
The weight of grief and the past lay heavily upon the Wayfarer, leaving no trace of mischief behind.
“How do I know?” he asked, looking up at Blue Jay and Captain Beck. “I know because I brought them together.”
Twillig’s Gorge was a river canyon, boxed on either end by sheer stone cliffs. The Sorrowful River flowed into and out of the gorge through tunnels that went right through the base of a mountain, so the settlement inside Twillig’s Gorge was well-hidden. Sentries stood guard where the river entered and exited the gorge, and many more lined the rim of the canyon. The cliffs were steep all around, and there were only a handful of safe ways to descend into the settlement, either by various ladders and footbridges that hung above the river, or by one of two sets of stairs carved from the rock face.
On either side of the river, there was a stone walkway lined with shops. There were taverns and bakeries, a florist and a butcher’s, and even several dress shops for the ladies. Grand homes had been built across the gorge, high up on the walls like arched bridges. The inn spanned the river as well. Dwellings had been built into the cliff face, excavated from the rock. Others clung like spiders to the sheer walls of the gorge, propped on support beams that seemed entirely insufficient to hold them up. Wooden stairs and walkways and swing bridges lined the sides of the gorge like scaffolding.
Over the ages, Twillig’s Gorge had become something of a legend itself. It welcomed legendary and ordinary alike. All varieties of creatures had settled there, including Borderkind and Lost Ones. It was a sanctuary for anyone who wished it. The rules were simple. Live and let live. Courtesy and peace were the principles upon which the settlement at Twillig’s Gorge had been founded.
But the war had begun to change all of that.
Many of the legendary and Borderkind had left the settlement, presumably to fight under the banner of King Hunyadi. Others remained, working with the Lost Ones in the Gorge to improve defenses and add to the armory, preparing just in case their sanctuary might be disturbed by the predations of war.
Coyote sat on a walkway above the eastern promenade, smoking a cigarette and watching the bustle of activity down in the Gorge. He drew a lungful of smoke and then blew it out, tapping the ash from the end of his cigarette.
When the Myth Hunters had been scouring Euphrasia for Borderkind, killing as many as they could find, Coyote had gone into hiding. Frost and Blue Jay and a number of others had fought back, and a lot of them had died as a result. Coyote knew most people thought of him as a coward, but he didn’t worry much about perception. It could be difficult to tell the difference between courage and stupidity. Similarly, what others considered cowardice, he thought of as mere common sense.
Now, though, the situation had grown more complex. Many of his friends and kin had been brutally murdered. No doubt Ty’Lis had the support of the rulers of Atlantis, and that meant the real war hadn’t even started yet. It could still all end with King Hunyadi dead and all of the Two Kingdoms crushed beneath the boot heel of Atlantis. But at least it was going to be a fight, now. He meant to stay out of it for as long as he could, but even a coward could be driven to bravery when people he loved were dying.
Bastards, Coyote thought, taking another drag of his cigarette.
Down at the river’s edge, on the cobblestoned promenade that passed in front of the shops, Ovid Tsing rallied a group of men and women who were gathering around him. Even from above, Coyote could hear Ovid’s pleas. He wanted the people of Twillig’s Gorge to join the fight, to rise up and throw in with Hunyadi’s army, just as so many of the legendary had.
Ovid had a grim aura—all damnable seriousness, dark eyes, and prominent jaw. He was the kind of man other humans would follow. Some of the Lost Ones were listening, but others hung back, obviously wishing they could skulk away unnoticed. Coyote understood. Skulking away was a sensible option. It had always worked for him.
Coyote narrowed his gaze and twisted around on his perch to get a look at the front of the bakery that was owned and run by Ovid and his mother, Virginia Tsing.
He spotted the old woman instantly. As expected, she stood just outside the bakery door, watching her son with concern. The two had been sparring ever since Frost and Bascombe and the others had passed through the Gorge some months back.
A figure moved just behind the glass of the bakery café’s front door, a tall silhouette in a broad-brimmed hat.
Curious, Coyote tossed his cigarette down from the catwalk and raised an eyebrow. As he stood, his long cotton shirt whipped against his body in the breeze. His dark brown trousers were torn at the knees and he was barefoot. He preferred that, enjoying the feeling of padding along the rocks and cliffs.
He tilted his head back and sniffed at the air, and there it was.
With one hand on the railing of the wooden walkway, Coyote flipped over the side. He dropped twenty feet to a suspension bridge below. He’d barely alighted when he sprang again, leaping from the bridge to a rocky ledge that was a balcony of sorts for a family of trolls, currently away at the war. Like butterflies, dozens of purple and yellow pixies took flight from the darkness inside the cave, darting out over the river and south along the gorge.
A ladder had been bolted into the cliff face outside the trolls’ cave. He gripped the sides of the ladder and slid all the way down to the promenade. Agile and cunning, Coyote had a knack for not being noticed. But by now he had spent so much time in Twillig’s Gorge that even those who might normally observe him would barely take note of his actions. Even the sentries did not so much as glance at him.
Only when he walked hurriedly past the small militia that Ovid Tsing was trying to recruit did anyone pay attention to him. Ovid himself cast a wary, mistrustful glance his way. Coyote sneered at the intense young man. Arrogance ill-befitted a human in a world of legends.
Outside the door of the café, Virginia cleared teacups and plates from a table, piling them onto a tray. As he strode up, she pretended not to see him. Some of his kin seemed to have been able to shake the general mistrust that so many had for tricksters. Blue Jay had practically become respectable, and Kitsune had earned herself a part of the new legends being formed around the Bascombes.
Of course, that was only because the Lost Ones didn’t know she’d run off and left them to die in the king’s chambers in Palenque.
Coyote grinned. So much for respectability.
“Hello, Miss Tsing,” he said.
The woman might be old, but still she was beautiful; a creature of the Orient. Asian, they would have said in the ordinary world. There were other cultures in her bloodline, but Coyote didn’t care enough to discover what they were.
“Coyote,” she replied, inclining her head in the curt approximation of a bow.
“Your son will have all the Lost Ones of Euphrasia marching for the border soon,” the trickster said, his grin widening.
Virginia smiled, in spite of herself. “I doubt that. Ovid means well, and some will answer his call to arms. But it will take more than his voice to make the people rise up.”
“Legend-Born, for instance,” Coyote said merrily.
Another woman might have thought herself mocked, but Virgina only nodded. The past few weeks, her debates with her son had spilled onto the promenade, playing out for patrons of their café and anyone passing by. Virginia Tsing had assured her son a hundred times that the only way the Lost Ones who were not already part of the army would rise up would be if the invaders were marching toward their homes, or if the Legend-Born had truly come.
“If the Bascombes reveal themselves as Legend-Born,” the old woman said, “the Lost will stand with them against the treachery of Yucatazca or Atlantis. Men and women will rise up by the thousands to fight in their name, but not in the name of any king.”
Coyote figured she was right, but since the Bascombes were in the dungeons at Palenque, the old woman was out of luck, and so was Hunyadi.
On the other hand, Coyote had a feeling that perhaps Virginia knew more than she was letting on.
“You had a guest a few moments ago,” Coyote said.
Virginia gestured to the people dining at the café’s patio tables. “I have many guests.”
Coyote tapped the side of his nose. “Ah, but this one had a scent I recognized. A unique scent. And I caught sight of him inside. You can’t trick a trickster, old mother.”
A smile touched her lips. “Your nose is keen.”
“What did the Wayfarer come to say? When he visits, he usually brings new refugees to the Gorge. This time, he came in secret and whispered to you.”
The old woman bumped open the door to the café with her hip. She paused, halfway inside, to glance back at him.
“A squirrel perched on my shoulder this morning, Coyote. It told me that perhaps soon a story would become reality. It might be that my son will soon have far more men and women to lead into battle than he could ever imagine.”
“You’re saying the Bascombes are alive? That the Wayfarer means to free them?”
Miss Tsing raised an eyebrow. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
Coyote nodded once out of respect. “My thanks, but not just now.”
The door swung shut behind her. Coyote turned and left the patio. On the promenade he passed Ovid and his growing militia as they began a series of exercises. But he had no interest in causing mischief for Ovid Tsing at the moment.
Swiftly, he scrambled back up the ladder to the trolls’ balcony and then climbed a rope, swinging himself up onto the suspension bridge. He raced across, fleet as ever. On the other side, he moved from ladder to catwalk to the wooden struts holding up a little house that jutted out from the sheer cliff face of the western wall of the gorge.
Coyote slipped through an open window. The place had been his since shortly after he’d arrived in Twillig’s Gorge, won in a card game from an aging demigod and his satyr mate. They’d left the Gorge not long after. The blustering demigod had been an arrogant prick, and few seemed to miss him.
There were only four small rooms, including the kitchen, but at the rear of the little hanging house, Coyote had found a door, and beyond the door was a tunnel that led to a cavernous hollow that must have been excavated at the time the Gorge had first been settled. If the candles and blood spatters were any indication, it had once been used for worship. Black soot from burnt sacrifices painted the rock walls.
But that had been long ago. Now it was a den. There were new candles back there. As Coyote slipped through the door into the tunnel, he could see the flickering of yellow light on the walls. Inside the cavern, there were far more shadows than the candle flames could dispel. Darkness shimmered with the dancing light. He smelled food—the fish he’d brought the night before, most of it uneaten—and sighed.
On the floor of the cavern lay a huddled figure, sprawled on blankets and reading by candlelight. Reading was all she seemed to want to do these days. He understood that. Coyote rarely felt guilt, but on those few occasions it had been easier to slip into other worlds than to live in his own.
“You’ve got to eat,” he told her.
In the candlelight, Kitsune’s jade eyes gleamed brightly and her coppery fur flickered like fire. Her silken black hair framed her face and he caught his breath. They had never been lovers, always more like squabbling siblings. And tricksters could never trust one another when lust entered the picture. But her beauty was enough to make even his deceitful heart ache.
“I ate,” she replied without looking up.
“More than that.”
She sniffed and ignored him.
Coyote sat beside her and reached out to push the book down, forcing her to look at him. “I’ll be the last one, cousin, who ever calls you to task for hiding from things you don’t want to face. But it isn’t like you.”
Anger flared in those jade eyes. Her jaw clenched and unclenched and then she softened. Fury—at herself, at Oliver Bascombe, and at the world—smoldered until it became sorrow. “You know what I did. I betrayed them. I betrayed him.”
“You’re a trickster.”
“It’s different. I’d made a vow. A bond.”