Today, readers, I goofed. I locked the comments on the giveaway a day early. In my defense, I’ve got no idea what day it is. It’s 1 week post-baby. That’s what I know.
Anyway, comments are unlocked again until midnight (or whenever Itsy Mr. E wakes me up and I get a chance to lock them again. In the meantime, I noticed we hit 175 comments! Which means I promised you an excerpt.
This is just the teensiest bit spoilery. If you like going in cold, I’d suggest you should skip it. But you find out who Sessaca is pretty quickly after you start.
Even with the promise of good Chessentan black, Granny Sessaca did not take kindly to being roused from her seat by the fire, especially not when Dahl insisted that she go upstairs to the chilly third room where the children all slept, the only room of the little house that was abandoned this time of day. She insisted, wearily, that she had to stir the fire until her husband came home with the good haunch of venison he promised.
Bodhar winced. “She gets like that sometimes lately,” he whispered to Dahl. “Forgets things. Maybe we should wait.” He tapped his hand against his leg. “You going to tell me what’s going on?”
What was going on, Dahl thought, was that Mira was already scaling the drainpipe, letting herself in the window upstairs. And the barrier between Dahl’s Harper life and his Harran life was growing dangerously thin.
“Go get Thost,” Dahl said. “And don’t breathe a word of this to anyone.”
As much as Dahl didn’t want any more members to this conspiracy, Thost was strong enough and swift enough to scoop Granny from her chair and bring her upstairs. Bodhar carried up the rocker after him and a rug for her lap besides.
“What is this?” Sessaca demanded. “Your father will be very upset with you boys. You’ll get the switch, I’ll make sure of it.”
Dahl pursed his mouth. Barron, Sessaca’s only son, had been dead for several years now—bringing him up, forgetting the passage of time. She was upset and there was all the chance Mira was about to upset her more. Maybe Bodhar’s right, he thought.
But Mira remains, the question remained—the Zhentarim remained. They were coming one way or another and if he didn’t have an answer to hand them before then—
Thost stopped dead in the doorway at the sight of Mira. “Who in the sodden Hells is that?”
“A friend,” Dahl said, setting down the teapot. “She’s got questions for Granny.”
Sessaca looked up at Mira, adding the shriveled tea leaves to the hot water, as Thost set her carefully down in the rocking chair. “And who’s this? A little playmate? I don’t like the look of her.” She peered at Mira. “Who’re your parents, girl? I’ll not have my grandsons bringing urchins into this house.”
“The Black Network sent me, old mother,” Mira said flatly. “And I brought you tea.”
“What the sodden Hells?” Thost hissed. “Godsdamn it, Dahl, what are you doing?”
For a moment, Dahl wondered the same thing. But then Sessaca’s expression shifted—if he hadn’t trained himself to spot such things, he might never have noticed. She still watched Mira, puzzled, weary, but Dahl couldn’t deny that a certain cunning had overtaken her.
“I beg your pardon, girl? The what now?”
“Old mother, don’t play that game,” Mira said. “Maybe your grandsons will believe your mind’s not sharp, but I’ve read the records. I think I know you better.”
Sessaca leaned back in her rocking chair, silent for a moment. Weighing the odds. Dahl nearly cursed aloud. Mira was right.
“Sounds wicked,” Sessaca said, not conceding but not speaking in that trembling way she’d used before. “Sounds like a pack of rogues who might try and kill me where I sit.” She set the chair rocking, toying with the heavy gold locket she always wore. “But that hardly seems wise, girl, when I have my three strapping grandsons on guard like this. Do you think you can take all three of them on?”
“I don’t hunt people,” Mira said. “Just secrets.”
Sessaca chuckled. “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know. And I don’t break the covenant. Your masters have aught to fear from me.”
“My masters would agree. Although they’d prefer to come line your family up and make you remember with a good bit more blood on the floor, just to be certain. I need to know where the Master’s Library is. You want to keep yours safe. Can you help us both, old mother?”
Sessaca turned to Dahl. “Is this what you’ve been mixed up in? What are you bringing into this house?”
Dahl nearly laughed. There was never a border, Dahl realized in that moment, never a division between the life of secrets and the life of simplicity. He’d been born into a world where they were already blurred and blended in a thousand ways.
“She wants to know where the Master’s Library is,” he said, “because a Zhentarim agent named Sessaca Peredur was the last to see it, sixty years ago. And if there were another explanation in the planes above and below, I’d like to hear it. But it was you, wasn’t it? You were the agent. You probably never left. That’s how we always get the best prices on the rye crop, why the Burgher’s collectors would miss Grandda in lean years. You’re the same Sessaca Peredur, agent of the Black Network.”
“Sodden Hells,” Thost said.
Sessaca folded her bony hands together, looking irritated. For a long moment, she said nothing and Dahl found himself hoping beyond hope that he was wrong.
Bodhar’s eyes looked as though they might pop out of his head. “Granny?”
“Is it so hard to believe?” she asked. “I was someone before I ever came to this dale, after all, before I ever met your grandfather, gods care for his soul. Why would I throw all that away when he needed it, when we needed it? Don’t paint me a blackguard though, lambkin. I haven’t earned that.” She turned to Mira. “You, on the other hand, I still don’t like the look of. The Master’s Library is nothing but an empty tomb. What do you want there?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course, it matters. It’s something serious if you’ve managed to track me down all the way out here. If your superiors are willing to kill for the answer.”
Mira hesitated and Sessaca nodded sagely. “They’re not telling you everything, are they? Typical. But if you won’t tell me, then I’ve no way to decide if you need it.”
“Old mother, please,” Mira said. “I’m no killer, but my employers are dangerous souls. They won’t ask you nicely or bargain with tea. They’ll—”
A crash from downstairs, a startled cry. The sound of booted feet.
“Piss and hrast,” Mira said. “They caught up.”