The gardener in front of them cut a strange figure, her pockets wriggling.
Raizel bowed politely anyway. If she had learned anything so far on this trip it was that she might find the god-touch or even stranger things in places she was expecting nothing of the sort. “I, uh. I offer apology? We were hiding from,” she dropped her voice lower. “We were hiding from a deserter who wanted to accost us, and this was the first open gate. I didn’t mean to trespass.” She might have said We didn’t mean to trespass, but she was fairly sure the Diamond Raven had meant exactly that.
“Well, but, trespass you did. And now what will you do about it?”
“I could -” urgh. She had so little money in her pockets, and she had worked so hard or so strangely for all of it. “I could pay you a fine, for the, uh, for the insult of our presence.”
“I have a better idea.” The woman, Raizel thought, had a glint in her eye. She mistrusted that, but they had trespassed, after all.
“We are at your service, madam.” Diamond Raven was not being particularly helpful, but that deep bow was at least distracting. Raizel watched him straighten up and wondered what, exactly, had been so bad about him, that the architect had left him so firmly and so… well, no, “firmly” was a pretty good word for it.
She shook herself mentally. There were those waiting for her at home and there was a gardener in front of them with a rake. It wasn’t the time to be distracted.
“Well, then. I need you to take this, and I need yo to take it far enough away that it doesn’t find its way back here, without harming it in any way. No harm, do you understand? I just need it gone.”
She produced a small kitten, barely-weaned age, from one pocket. It gave a pitiful little mew and two of her other pockets mewed as well.
Raizel could guess at the problem. “Mother is a pure-bred sort?” she guessed. The two other kittens sticking their heads out of pockets hat the silver tips and nearly-white bodies that were popular right now. The kitten in her hand was a silver-and-black tabby. “But the father – or one of the fathers – isn’t?”
“Exactly. And if the Mayor knows that I let her prize queen out and – well. It’ll be my head, or at the very least my job. So you get little baby out of here so she doesn’t get me in trouble and I don’t have to hide any evidence, and I won’t notice that you were here and I’ll show you an exit that’ll get you away from your problem. Deserters,” she shuddered. “There’s been more and more around here, and we’re not even at war right now.”
“They seem… driven?” Raizel offered. He’d seemed more than driven, if there was a thing that was more than that.
“Well, of course. They want forgiveness, but the curse doesn’t allow that. So they keep pushing and pushing for that forgiveness. They’ll do anything they think will get them there.”
Raizel shuddered. She couldn’t imagine being pushed like that, by some sort of magical force, just to keep going on and on. “So,” she tried to get the conversation back on track, “It I take this kitten away so it can’t return and get you in trouble-” she snorted. “That seems to be the story of my life lately.”
“Hey!” The Diamond Raven glared at her. “I am not a kitten.”
“No, but I’m removing you from someplace, too. You’ll show us a back way?”
“That I will. And forgive your tresspasses.”
“Then we’ll take her.” She held out her hands and accepted the tiny kitten. “She’s weaned?”
“Yes, and a trick it was hiding her for that long. But now she can be without her mother and she needs to be. This way, you two, there’s a tradesman’s exit that will do you well.”
“I’m a tradesman, or close enough,” Raizel agreed. She cradled the kitten against her. She would need some sort of sling; she didn’t have pockets like the gardener did.
“Then here we go.” The gardener led them through the garden and out another side gate. “Safe travels, you two, and take good care of her.”