“Why her?” The Diamond Raven shifted so he was standing almost between Raizel and the Left Hand. “Why this stranger on the street?”
“Because she’s not a stranger, is she? She’s the one that everyone’s been muttering about. She’s got you, which is interesting in and of itself. She’s made it through some pretty strange things, and I just saw the two of you put off a deserter, and almost nobody has managed that. He’s been following people around and sticking to their sides like burrs. And yet he wanted you, when he wanted nobody else, and while he was there, something magical answered your question, which I’ve never seen happen before.”
“Spectral,” Raizel corrected despite herself. “It’s a spectre I did a favor for.”
“It’s a spectre she did a favor for,” he imitated, “and yet your friend – captive – here is wondering what -”
“Friend,” the Diamond Raven corrected. “I’m not a captive.”
“She has you collared in a magical golden cord. You’re her captive.”
“He’s – well, a little,” Raizel admitted.
“More than a little. You’ve bound his will, mountain girl. You’ve tied him up something good. And you wonder why I want you to get the Poison King into the vault in Federskiarl.”
“And if I don’t–?” You didn’t ask questions like that of the Tzar’s Left Hand, but Raizel was feeling tetchy. “Then what?”
“And if you don’t, then the vault can hold you – and your kitten, and your Raven – just as well. You don’t question the will of the Tzar, mountain girl. Even you don’t do that.”
“If I sit mouldering in a vault, I’ll never be able to make the lovely boy-whore at the inn a scented fox. I’ll never be able to find the fourth falcon and take it to a place of blessing for the goddess-Barmaid. I won’t be able to subjugate the Found Book for the god’s-mouth in Esteronzerai. And all of those things will distress people, and I do not wish those people to be distressed, and neither do you.” She lifted her chin. “I will not be able to complete the quest the pixie brushed on me and I will not be able to pay my taxes, and all that will be on you, Tzar’s Left Hand.”
“No,” he countered. “It’ll be on yours, because you’re being difficult. Do as you’re told, and you will be able to complete your little quests.” His eye was twitching though. “Take your whore his scented fox, get rid of your kitten-”
“You know where one of those things is, don’t you?” The Diamond Raven seemed to pounce on an opening Raizel hadn’t even seen. “Not the fox, yeah, but I guess he’s a really good whore. So is it that Found book or the fourth falcon?”
“It doesn’t matter,” the man brushed away the accusation.
“Oh, of course it does. Because if you help Raizel in her quest, if you give her something she needs, then she might be willing to help you with your desire to entomb this Poison King, without you needing to resort to threats that may very well upset two gods, a specter, a pixie, a Prince, a gardener, a boy-whore, and a wizard.”
“A wizard?” The Tzar’s hand raised his eyebrows.
“You’re all leashed up, what can you do?”
The Diamond Raven smiled grimly. “Anything she wants me to. And considering you’re threatening her life, her livelihood, and her sacred quests, I can imagine she just might want me to do anything I can think of to stop you. What say you, MIstress Raizel? Do we take the nice Tzar’s-Hand’s information and attempt to entomb a Poison King on our way to the capital? Or do we walk away and, should he follow, blast him into a million little pieces?”
She wondered if he could do that. She wondered a little more if, if she really had that much control — she’d tied up his magic, right? That’s why he was following her? — if she’d let him.
She smirked at both of them instead of saying any of that out loud. “If he can help me find the Found Book or the fourth falcon, I suppose we can attempt to entomb a king on the way to the census.”
“I don’t know what this Found Book is, or why you need to, uh, find something that’s already Found, but i do know about the falcon. The thing is. It’s in the Federskiarl vault. It’s not supposed to come out, but if you know how to destroy it —”
“And I do.” Raizel lifted her chin.
“Then here’s the combination to the vault. Get the falcon out, get the Poison King in. Easy-peasy. Oh, and the apothecary down the street has what you need for the scented fox. Here.” The Tzar pressed seven silver trei into her hand. “If he’s worth listing with the god-touched and the fae, he’s probably worth the best you can make. And, uh,” he added another two trei. “Get that wizard of yours a bath; bathhouse is next to the apothecary. He’s starting to reek.”
“We’ll do our best. Thank you.” Raizel pocketed the money. “Come on, Stinky Raven. Time for a bath and, uh, an apothecary.”