“I don’t think she really wants the kitten gone,” the Diamond Raven commented, when they were out the gate and on another road. “And I don’t blame her.”
“It’s pretty cute, isn’t it?” She looked down at it, and it looked up at her and mewled. “I bet it’s terrified. All this being moved around by people bigger than it-”
“Empathizing?” the Diamond Raven chuckled. “Sounds like your life. Or, come to think about it, mine.” He touched the gold lasso around his neck lightly. “I’m pretty tossed around, too. And even in the same way. Can I hold it?”
“If you’re careful.” Raizel passed the kitten over. “We may have to hide it when we get on the train. Do they let animals like that on trains?”
“I’ve never been.” He smiled crookedly at her. “This is an adventure for both of us.”
“It’s that, all right. It was just supposed to be a boring old trip. Go down, pay the taxes, come back, get the girl and the boy.” She touched her belt lightly, where the money sat in a pouch against her skin. “I – there have been plusses.” She glanced over at him. “And I met you. And I might have gotten a kitten.”
“And a curse and the attention of the gods, a spectre answering your questions and -”
“And a boy-whore who wants me to make him a scented fox,” she finished, determinedly staring at the Diamond Raven and Ignoring The Hiss To one side of them. “It’s been an education already.”
The Raven raised his eyebrows at her but took her cue. “That is has. I’m still surprised you’re old enough for spending time with – well.” He coughed. “Clearly you’re not. And clearly you’re not too young to be out on the road by yourself, since you, well, you lassoed me and you have a kitten, you managed to get answers from a spectre,” he dropped his voice into a low rumbly imitation of her specter, “and only the gods know what else. Oh, let’s see, a ring from a Prince-”
“-a deserter following me and demanding I commit treason, that one wasn’t so much fun,” she countered. “And now I have to get you AND the kitten far away. I just want to get to the train station.”
“Do you think your troubles will end there? The train, I’ve been told, has a lot of stops and moves slowly.”
“Well, even if it does, I can handle that if my feet don’t hurt.” She looked down at her boots ruefully. “These are my best shoes, but I don’t normally walk for entire days.”
“Maybe we’ll pass a cobbler,” he offered. He was watching her very intently, perhaps to avoid looking around him at the voice.
“I don’t really have money to spare for such things. I need to save up, if I want to – well, if I ever want to start my own house.”
“Hello, I’m talking to you.”
“What, you don’t want to live with your parents forever?” The Raven smirked at her. “No, no, I remember what that was like. To be honest, it’s why I became a wizard. I had a lot of things I could do, but doing that meant I left my family home for years and wasn’t expected to go back to it ever again. And it got me out of the family business, which was bookkeeping.”
“Hello.” Someone darted out in front of them and stopped, such that Raizel and the Raven had to stop or run into this person. Raizel took a look at the shadowy figure in a deep cloak, sighed, and stepped around the person.
“I want to get out of my parents’ house because we’re…” She hesitated and frowned at him. “We live high on the mountain, you know. And the family is a good family, but it’s a big family, and there’s never anything that you can do without having an audience – oh, for crying out loud, what?” The cloaked figure was in front of them again.
“You need to do something for me! You need to do it now!”
“No.” Raizel held up her hand. “No. I need to go to the capital. I need to pay my census fee. I need to get back home to my family. And I need to do that all while keeping in mind all of the things already required on this trip. So I’m sorry, but I don’t need to do anything for you at all. I simply don’t have time.”
“Listen.” The cloaked figure stood up taller and showed, in a gloved hand, the insignia of the Tzar. “On the train, there will be one who calls himself the King. He’s the King of the bloodflower, the King of the Purloined letter, the King of the stolen truth. All of those are names he uses for himself, are you listening?”
“…I see that the Tzar’s left hand is speaking to me,” Raizel answered flatly. There were people you messed with. The Tzar’s left hand, the secret police of the realm, were not on that list. “I hear that there is something that I should do.”
“I knew you’d come around to my way of thinking. Listen, there’s going to be a stop in Federskiarl. That stop has a deep basement under the train stop. It used to be a mine. Get the Poison King down there and get him into the vault. The vault itself will take care of the rest.”