Valus Donatien considered the man kneeling penitent before him. His uniform was flawlessly pressed. His swords were in perfect condition. Every line of his posture was correct. But still, there seemed an air of rebellion about him.

Or was that simply Valus’s imagination? Certainly every report he’d received on Ruan for the past few years had been glowing. His commanders held nothing but praise for him. His work in Ulek had been exceptional.

And yet.

People didn’t change. That was Valus’s belief, reinforced over and over again by experience. No matter how well Ruan tried to hide it, there was a part of him that had always been insubordinate, and that always would be.

But at the same time, Ruan was—and always had been—one of Valus’s most talented Blades. He excelled at both the physical and spiritual demands, which was rare enough, but he had a quick, perceptive mind on top of the rest. Which was what got him into trouble eight years ago, no question, but when that mind was directed towards the interests of the Brotherhood, there was no one more insightful.

Which was why Valus was inclined to approve Ruan’s request.

“How long will Lysander be in the south?”

“It’s unclear. The politics are complicated, and if he’s to be Ritalle’s voice in the determination of a new ruling family for Ulek, I suspect that will take quite a while. But my concern is the wizard traveling with him.”

“Samir of the Wing.” Valus knew the young man. Sheluna’s apprentice, he’d been at her side often in the final push of the war.

Because it was his business to know these things, Valus was aware of Samir’s history. He knew the depths of Samir’s loyalty to Sheluna. He knew that, while Sheluna had been a solid ally during the war, she was ambitious. And in the end, no wizard was to be trusted.

Ruan continued. “Darkivel has sent separate representatives to weigh in on the Ulek matter. Which means there’s only one reason for Archwizard Sheluna to be sending a wizard along.”

“To investigate Ulek,” Valus supplied. To try to dig up the poisoned, blasphemous magic of the Knights.

Ruan was correct that someone from the Brotherhood needed to be nearby, ready to step in if this wizard found things he shouldn’t. And Ruan was certainly capable. But so were many in the Light’s service. “You asked to be sent alone, without a partner. Why?”

“If this wizard knows the church is there, watching over his shoulder, he may not do anything. And then the Archwizard could send a different agent to search for secrets, one we don’t hear about. I need to be there, but I need to hidden. And two are harder to conceal than one.”

Ruan had an answer—a satisfactory answer—for everything. And his record these last few years had been excellent. Maybe he actually had learned from his mistake in the past. “Very well. I give you permission to go. Make whatever preparations you require.”

From his kneeling position, Ruan bowed forward, touching his forehead to the floor. “Thank you, High Father.”

“The Light wills and the Prophet guides. Do what you must to make certain the laws are upheld.”

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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