“A day in the life of…”

The dream always ends with a fall. Dark blue ocean and red-hued sky go end-over-end like an erratic mobius strip, twisting and turning in a descent into darkness.

There was a knock at the study door. Jaedin sighed and opened his eyes. Isobel, a small black cat, woke from her position on his chest, leapt silently to the floor, and disappeared under the desk.

“Come in.”

The door was edged open slowly, and a brown-haired boy cautiously stepped into the room, “Master Jaedin, I am sorry to disturb you…”

The vestiges of the dream lingered in Jaedin’s memory and left him feeling strangely vulnerable. It was not a state he was familiar with and it left him uneasy. “I have no doubt you are very sorry for disturbing me. I have visions of you scrubbing kitchen floors in the very near future.” The tenor in Jaedin’s words managed to keep the words soft but enough steel remained to draw blood.

And yet, you did not last long in Jaedin’s company if you were afraid of a little blood. Already well indoctrinated to Jaedin’s habit and manner, the boy ignored the threat with the armored enthusiasm of youth, “The Constable is here to see you.”

“The Constable?” Jaedin swept his feet off the top of his desk, the disquiet of his dream temporarily forgotten. “Finally, something interesting. The kitchen will have to do without your exemplary cleaning skills for a few hours yet. Tell Gerald to see the Constable into the library and then wake Kiera and tell her to pull a nice red from the wine cellar for tonight’s dinner.” On his feet now, Jaedin stretched and felt the rest of the tension from his dream slip away in the wake of burgeoning curiosity. “Oh, and Marcus – check on Evelyn as well. I’ve got her detained at the top of the lighthouse and she may be thirsty. Offer her some water to drink but do not otherwise distract her.”

There was a soft blur of brown hair as the boy nodded and then he was gone. Jaedin needed to gather his thoughts. The Constable would not be here without good reason; she had a history with Jaedin and was not in the habit of seeking his company for social reasons. He had to be prepared to deal with whatever had brought her to his doorstep. Jaedin crossed the room to stand before the study’s only window.

Tall enough to step through and a good four feet in length, the window provided an unobstructed view of the ocean. The lighthouse he lived in was built atop a cliff that jutted sharply out over the water. It was late afternoon and the setting sun was splashing orange and red across the horizon. Jaedin’s eyes drifted lower, to the shoals at the base of the cliff. They were scattered with the wooden bones of ships that had not heeded the lighthouse’s warning.

Perhaps…perhaps, Jaedin thought, the source of falling dreams could be found here, in this vision of dark blue so vast it became a sky of sorts. Jaedin closed his eyes and let the colors play out against his mind. He imagined the fall, how it would feel to step over the edge and find the freedom it offered. In this moment of release he found the stillness he needed and felt his accustomed self-control settle over him like a mantle.

He opened his eyes and turned to look back at the desk. There, interrupted by his dream, lay an unfinished letter. The last few lines remained fresh in his mind.

“…and it is here, at the cusp of necessity and desire, that I feel the danger in being too impatient. Moving too quickly or too soon and my prey is startled, or worse, indifferent.

You knew me so well. Prey and predator in one, and now, with you gone…”

Enough of that, Jaedin thought and moved to the door. There was business to attend to. The letter, and its recipient, could wait.

The Constable’s red hair whipped around as Jaedin stepped into the hallway. She had clearly been expecting a longer wait. He greeted her with a smile. “Myriel. To what do I owe the privilege of your company?”

Caught off-guard, it took her a moment to focus on him. She stared at him for a few seconds before her eyes slid away. This was not their first meeting; the first time they met she had made the mistake of meeting his gaze with the full confidence of someone who thought they had nothing to hide. She had learned rather quickly that everyone had something to hide. Since then she had, so far, managed to avoid making the same mistake twice. “A courtesy call, Master Jaedin.”

A courtesy call, Jaedin thought, but not out of any courtesy on her part. Even Constable’s have patrons, and hers was a close acquaintance of Jaedin’s; a close acquaintance who owed him several favors. Myriel avoided him like the plague; her presence here meant her patron thought there was something he should know. “Regardless of the reason, it remains a pleasure. I am told you refused the comfort of my library?” His words were light, but his gaze never wavered from her face.

“The foyer is really too cold for conversing.” Myriel glanced towards the hallway leading out of the foyer, clearly unhappy at the idea of going any deeper into Jaedin’s home; the foyer was neutral territory – or, at least, she tried hard to convince herself that it was.

When Myriel spoke, Jaedin didn’t need to read minds to know what she was leaving unsaid. “I…cannot…” Will not. “…stay long, I have pressing business elsewhere…” Orphans to feed. Eyes to gouge out. “…but your offer is courteous, Master Jaedin.”

“Well then, to business. What great or grave news has brought you here?”

She hesitated for a moment, her head turned just slightly to the side as she regarded the brightly woven tapestries adorning the foyer walls. They gave her a place to focus her gaze while she spoke, “Master Kytrell’s kitchen caught fire yesterday evening. There is nothing left but stone and coarse kitchenware.”

“Fascinating news, but I don’t see why…”

“Master Kytrell was in the kitchen when it caught fire.”

Marcus appeared in the foyer carrying a black jacket draped over one arm. Jaedin said, “I see. That is tragic. But I still fail to see that it is any affair of mine.” He turned towards Marcus and motioned him closer. Black jacket in hand, the boy approached and handed it to Jaedin.

“Miranda Ruethette.”

Jaedin paused, one arm in the jacket. “Miranda?”

“You know her then? She is…how did you put it, an affair of yours?” Myriel wasn’t quite smiling, but her shoulders relaxed as she found some verbal ground to stand on.

Jaedin didn’t answer her right away. He finished putting on the jacket and considered the woman in front of him. “How is she related to this?”

“She set the fire.”

“Impossible.”

“I assure you, Master Jaedin, it is not impossible.” She paused, considering her next words carefully, “Now, I know you were the one who broke her, but the evidence is…”

Jaedin raised his right hand, “Let us stop there, Constable.” There was no friendliness in his demeanor now, no amusement in his eyes, or smile behind his words. “First, I do not break people, and I will ask you to refrain from using that term while in my house. Second, I did indeed train Miranda. And I can assure you, on my honor, that such training as I instilled in her remains to strong effect.”

“The facts say otherwise.” She tried to keep her tone flat, but she clearly enjoyed the fact she had thrown Jaedin slightly off step. She reached into the pocket of her black leather overcoat and drew out a folded parchment. Nimble fingers unfolded it quickly, “An eyewitness places Miranda near the kitchen at the time of the incident.”

A single arched eyebrow, “She’s the cook. That’s what cooks do. They work in kitchens.”“It was four o’clock in the morning.” She made a show of reading the parchment, but Jaedin knew she had these details memorized. This was her fourth year as Constable and there were reasons she had retained the position.

“And?“ Jaedin adjusted the cuffs of his jacket, ensuring they were perfectly straight, “Seeing as both Master Kytrell and your eyewitness were up and about at the same time, that does not appear to be so very unusual.”

The parchment crinkled under Myriel’s fingers with the slow tightening of her grip. “Be that as it may, she had no reason to be in the kitchen at that hour. Master Kytrell was known to have insomnia. Carmeled pears, a favorite of his, were kept ready in the kitchen in case he was couldn’t sleep and wanted a snack.”

“And the eyewitness? Did this person give a reason for being up so early? Does this eyewitness have a name?”

Myriel folded the parchment back up again, “She did and she does. Her name is Serena, and she was gathering firewood for the kitchen’s stoves. Breakfast started early in the Kytrell household and the stoves needed to be hot by six.” The parchment was replaced within her jacket. “Miranda, as the cook, did not start baking until six. She had no reason to be in the kitchen at four.”

Jaedin finished buttoning up his jacket, “Did Miranda give a reason for her presence?”

“No. She refuses to speak to anyone.”

“Anyone?”

“…except…perhaps, you.”

There was silence for several minutes before Jaedin nodded slowly, “I see.” He turned away from Myriel and spoke to Marcus, who had remained close at hand. “Tell Kiera I will be down around eight for a late dinner. I am going to spend some time with Evelyn.” Jaedin took several steps towards the archway leading to the lighthouse side of the manor and then stopped, as if remembering something. He spoke without turning around, “That will be all, Constable. Thank you for delivering the news personally. I will make time early tommorow to speak to Miranda and will let you know if anything pertinent is uncovered. I will leave it to you to arrange the appropriate access for the interview.”

Without waiting for a response, Jaedin finished his trip across the foyer and disappeared through the archway. Myriel stood staring after Jaedin. Her quiet frustration at his abrupt departure left her angry and slightly confused.

Marcus’ gentle touch at her elbow startled her, “Constable? Would you like some hot tea before you leave?”

Her eyes flickered to the boy and she gave a sharp shake of the head. She left the foyer without another word.

The top of the lighthouse was a hexagonal room of glass designed to protect both the source of the lighthouse’s powerful revolving light and the light keeper who maintained it. The glass making up five of the six walls of the room was bordered in bronze. The sixth wall was not a wall at all, but a glass door. Two inches thick, the glass was strong enough to handle the chaotic ocean weather of the cliff but remained clear enough that it did not significantly hinder the strength of the light. While the revolving lamp in the center of the room took up most the space, there remained a three-foot wide path around the perimeter.

Within this space, facing out towards the glass, a woman was held suspended by rope.

Although this room had been built for a single purpose, Jaedin had made some adjustments. Spaced every foot and a half, hooks circled the ceiling above the path bordering the lighthouse lamp; a matching set of hooks followed in precision along the ground. Four of these hooks were currently in use and had, attached to them, long strands of rope that ended in leather manacles. Positioned correctly, these manacles could be used to hold a human figure spread-eagled above the ground. A figure such as Evelyn’s, the woman currently held locked into a spread-eagled position a good foot off the ground.

Jaedin paused on the last step of the spiraling staircase. A woman’s beauty can be captured in her silhouette; the hazy borders of the female form simplified in a manner that bypasses surface desires and strikes a much deeper chord. Shading gives definition to curves of breast and hip, depth to the concave shadows at the apex of her thighs.

He watched the suspended figure take each slow breath. The rising and falling of her chest in a rhythm that was both calming and stirring. She had the well-exercised but not quite lean body of someone who was used to working outside but knew the luxuries of a good home. Her dark brown hair draped over her bare upper back; her head was lowered and her bangs hid her in a waterfall of brown that obscured the details of her face. He didn’t need to see the details to remember well the dark green of her eyes.

He thought back on the circumstances that had brought her here. The daughter of a small town’s mill owner, she was cursed with enough beauty to attract the attention of a wealthy merchant. The arranged marriage brought her father enough mercantile contacts to increase his wealth twofold, but had brought her only the grief of a loveless relationship. This proved to have some unforeseen consequences; on her wedding night, every male within three miles – including her husband, the town mayor and several prominent clergyman – experienced a quite sudden, and rather dismaying, loss of ardor. Such a blow to male pride is hard to swallow no matter how forgiving the partner. This continued for several months (coinciding with each attempted consummation of the marriage). The extent, nature and source of the problem would have gone undiscovered (being of a subject not much admitted to, much less discussed) had her husband not complained loudly to her father in one of the town’s local pub. Looks were shared, connections were made, and an ultimatum was provided: she would need to learn to control her gift or have her wedding nullified before being exiled from the town.

Her father had sent her to Jaedin with a plea and several bags filled with gold. Neither meant much to Jaedin, but the sadness in the girl’s eyes had convinced him to take her in.

Jaedin stepped into the lighthouse room and walked to Evelyn. She raised her head, green eyes meeting his. There was no fear in her. Stripped, bared, she could hold nothing back. Her vulnerability left no place for fear.

The right balance of pull along the ropes holding her aloft kept muscle strain to a minimum – but she had been there for hours. Jaedin could see her fatigue in the slight trembling along her arms. Jaedin brushed strands of brown hair away from her face, fingertips tickling her cheek. His voice, when he spoke, was soft, “Why are you here, Evelyn?”

Evelyn raised her head just a bit further. Her eyes had the clarity of molten glass. “To serve…myself.” The words slipped free without hesitation, a reflex as deep as breathing.

He nodded once, “And how best to serve yourself?” His fingers drew down against her chest, parting so that thumb and pinky each found the starting curve of a breast.

Her breathing caught, and her eyes closed as she focused on his hand, the way it continued its path lower, to her stomache, palm resting at the top of her abdomen. “By serving you, by serving you…” the words were breathed more than spoken and she shuddered as he turned his hand and slid it between her thighs, fingers curling up to feel the searing heat of her.

Jaedin spoke just a single word, but it was enough, “Yes.” She responded to it by rolling her hips forward, swaying in the ropes to press his hand deeper against her. Jaedin wrapped his free arm around her, hand coming to rest on the small of her back. He drew her into an embrace close enough for him to rest his cheek against the smooth heat of her breasts.

He listened to her heartbeat as two of his fingers slid inside of her and moved along the top, finding the slightly rough spot just a few inches inside. It did not take long, body shuddering and moving under his rhythmic touch, before she came hard into his hand, her thighs tensing and relaxing but unable to close on him. She was open, restrained, and completely at his mercy.

Jaedin remained there for a moment, fingers inside of her, listening to the music of her heartbeat, waiting for it to slow before slipping his fingers free. Taking his time, he knelt on one knee and released each of her ankles from the leather embrace of his manacles. Standing, he pressed himself fully against her and then pushed her back until he felt the weight of her body resting against him. Carefully he released each of her wrists and felt her sag into his arms.

Silently, he lifted her, cradling her naked form in his arms, and carried her down the stairs and to her room. Settling her into bed, he drew soft white sheets over her and smoothed the hair away from her face. She had not stirred since he taken her down, and he smiled to see her now turn her face towards his hand, lips brushing the palm. “Rest Evelyn. For tommorow will see your final test.”

He left her there, in the dark, with a single candle as company.

After putting Evelyn to bed, Jaedin had dinner and then retired to his study with a glass of wine – which is where Marcus found him, asleep, the next morning. With some trepidation, Marcus woke his master up – but he had little to fear, for Jaedin came awake with an almost manic energy. He jotted down a quick note, handed it to Marcus with instructions to deliver it, and then left to wash up and prepare for the day.

“What color were her eyes?”Marcus stumbled as his foot caught on the edge of grey stone that made up the path he walked. He wobbled for a moment, regained his balance, and stared up at Jaedin with a startled expression, “Eyes?” Walking down a steep incline is difficult to start with – and doing it with grace takes a certain finesse, a quality Marcus had yet to attain.

Marcus had returned from his errand with a reply letter in less than an hour, just as Jaedin was finishing up with Evelyn. Jaedin had exchanged his black jacket for a warmer grey coat and called for his carriage to be readied. He then had Marcus join him as he left the house to walk the stone pathway that led down to the carriage house. The stone path cut slow switchbacks down the hill the lighthouse was built upon. After leaving the last curve of the first switchback, Jaedin turned his head towards Marcus and smiled, “Yes, Marcus. I assume she had a pair of eyes? To see this alleged crime? Of course, it is always possible that she knew you were coming and blinded herself out of fear that you’re well-known good looks would have her falling madly in love…”

“…green! Green, Master Jaedin.” Marcus’ face flushed red and dropped his gaze.

Jaedin hid his next smile by turning his attention to the navigating the switchback they had come to, “Green. You know, Marcus, now is the time to learn how to study women. In a few years you will be a stuttering tongue-tied mess in front of them. Tell me, did you learn anything useful from her while she wrote her reply?”

“She did not…appear to be in good spirits.”

Jaedin retrieved the reply letter from his coat pocket, where he had placed it upon receiving it from Marcus, and shook it open. With practiced ease, Jaedin moved down the path, one eye on the ground and one on the letter in his hand. He read it through and then replaced it in his coat. “Interesting. Looks as if the Constable did a reasonable job of interviewing the eyewitness. Serena was kind enough to go over the events again for me and they match up with the Constable’s version.”

Marcus had fallen behind, his small legs not quite able to keep pace with Jaedin’s. Distracted, he paused and did a small pirouette at the edge of one of the stepping stones, showing a moment of grace as he balanced himself on one foot, “Did…did we learn nothing then, Master Jaedin?” He found the next step and hurried to keep up.

“Oh, we have learned a thing or two. The first is that Serena, while not exactly friends with Miranda, does has some affection for the girl. Her handwriting is nervous and she is careful to give all of the details she can remember without embellishing them. Which means she is likely telling the truth about what she saw. In addition, she adds a few trivial facts in the hopes some sense can be made of what happened: the caramelized pears Master Kytrell was so fond were freshly made that day and in their usual spot on a shelf near the fireplace…they were low on wood for the stove…some of the fireworks purchased earlier in the week had gone off during the fire…” Jaedin’s voice trailed off as they came to the end of the path. He turned to address Marcus only to find the boy barreling down the last steps of the path; in an effort to keep up, the boy had picked up with some momentum and was having trouble slowing down. Catching the boy before he could speed past, he shook his head, “Never rush, boy. It makes you appear impatient. And impatience implies you lack control. Come along then, we have appointments to keep.”

The carriage stood ready for them a few yards from the end of the path. After climbing inside, Jaedin lightly rapped the roof of the carraige with his walking stick and the driver snapped the hourses into action. The trip to Master Kytrell’s manor house took just over an hour.

The carriage rumbled to a stop in front of the constabulary at the edge of town. When Jaedin followed Marcus out of the carriage, it was into a town had not quite shaken the morning’s mist. Grey blurred the edges of the street.

Erenthia had never been a large or particularly busy town. Crime fell into two categories: serious and not quite so serious. The dividing line between the two was largely dependent on how interesting the crime was; the nature of the crime was of lesser importance. Caught attempting to poison a business rival but only succeed in giving his skin a decidedly orange tinge? Not so serious.

Still, most murders, even the less interesting ones, made it into the serious category.

As a result of this unspoken distinction, the punishment for not so serious crimes took the form of heavy fines, restricted access to local amenities and loss of social privileges. They weren’t punishments so much as penalties for getting caught.

Serious crimes were dealt with swiftly and the often unsightly results quickly swept under the proverbial carpet by either being thrown out of town (alive) or into the nearest open grave pit (dead). Long stays in a prison cell were unheard of.

All of which is to say that the constabulary was a small building that consisted of just three rooms: a small receiving area at the front, currently manned by a young man doing his best to look officious despite the ink smudge on his nose from having taken a nap face-first in the book in front of him, the Constable’s office taking up half of the back-end of the building, and a single closed off room that doubled as a prison cell and town library.

Leaving Marcus at the door, Jaedin approached and tapped the desk in front of the young man. “I’m Jaedin Montrose. I presume the Constable left instructions?”

Unaware of the black smudges on his nose, the young man’s attempt at putting authority into his tone came across as almost comical, “She did. You are to be given…” He glanced at a hastily scrawled note lying under the book in front of him, “…fifteen supervised minutes with the detainee.”

Shaking his head, Jaedin sighed, “Entirely out of the question. As a former student of mine, our conversations must be confidential.” Jaedin looked towards the two doors at the back of the room, “I am sure the Constable was simply in too much of a hurry to get all the details right. I know how understaffed you are – she doesn’t really expect you to leave your personal belongings unwatched just to eavesdrop on a private townsman’s conversations with an old friend.” Jaedin leaned over the desk, fingers touching the spread pages of the book the young man had fallen asleep in, “Especially when said personal belongings include a book of heretical writings on the subject of sex magic.”

Red suffused the cheeks of the young man, “Well…I…” He glanced down at the book and closed it hurriedly, “You are…no doubt correct, Master Jaedin.” The young man looked shaken and unsure. Slowly, he stood up and took a long iron key from the top desk drawer. With several glances over his shoulder at the door to the constabulary, he unlocked the wooden door marked ‘Library’. “The Constable will be back in about twenty minutes…” And the young man clearly did not want to get caught disobeying the woman who kept him employed.

“Not a problem. This won’t take more than five. But one further question. I believe ArchDemnse Henliech is still out of town. Who will be handling the case?”

The young man returned to his desk and leafed through several sheets of parchment. “Demnse….Jacobsen is in town. He has been notified of the case and accepted responsibility for it.

Jaedin stepped around the desk and walked to the unlocked door. “I see. Thank you.” Opening the door, Jaedin stepped into the small cell and closed the door behind him.

Books; the room was filled with them. Three of the four walls were lined with shelves and each shelf was so crowded with books they became geometrical puzzles of art. The room was being barely large enough to hold two people, much less two people and several hundred books. Jaedin felt slightly uneasy in the small space.

One look at the woman sitting on a wooden bench beneath the shelves and suddenly there was little room for feeling anything but a quiet sadness. “Miranda.” Her name filled the small cell, and she looked up. Her eyes were red from weeping, but there were no tears on her cheeks now.

“Master J-jaedin.” There was the slightest quiver in her voice; Jaedin shut his eyes as if to block out the pain wound so tightly into those two words. The name was a prayer to her, a prayer, question, and answer. Two steps brought him to the bench; his fingers brushed the top of her raven black hair. With a small shudder, she leaned into his hand. “I tried, really I did. I tried so hard to do as you asked.”

“I know you did.” Jaedin slowly drew his hand away. “You did all that was asked of you. I just wish…” He paused, “that you had not been forced to endure for so long.”

And now the tears came again. Quiet tears, one after another, falling without sound onto the floor of the room. “Every night…he came to me and f-forced…f-f-forced himself…it was t-t-too much…”

Placing a hand on either side of her face, Jaedin gently raised her gaze to his, “He raped you, Miranda. He raped you in the worst possible way. What he did gives even rape a bad name.” Lips brushed her cheeks, tasting the salt of her tears. “You must be strong for a little longer yet, dearest Miranda.”

Although the next destination was only a few minutes away by carriage, Jaedin sent the carriage ahead and struck out on foot. Marcus tailed behind him wordlessly.

Half an hour later, Jaedin paused before a large stone gateway with a hanging sign that read ‘Kytrell’. Motioning Marcus to proceed ahead of him, they passed through the gateway and onto the estate’s grounds. It did not take Jaedin long to find the kitchen. Even the stones that lined the outside of the room were blackened. The door that had once provided the kitchen access to the woodpile was no longer there. Jaedin and Marcus stepped through the empty doorway and into a room filled with the faint aroma of charred pig and burnt spices. Silently, Jaedin paced along the edge of the room, careful not to disturb the wreckage of pottery shards and ash taking up much of the space.

Marcus finally broke the silence, “Are you looking for something, Master Jaedin?”

Instead of answering, Jaedin ran the edge of his walking stick through the ashes, shifting charred black pieces aside. Lowering himself, careful to keep ash from the cuffs of his stark white shirt, Jaedin lifted a small black cylindrical object from amongst the debris. Satisfied, he stood and spoke, “Come Marcus, we have one more stop to make today.” Wrapping the object in a handkerchief, Jaedin pocketed it and led the way back to the carriage.

A short carriage ride later brought Jaedin and Marcus to the front of a large inn. As if to make up for his earlier silence, Jaedin had encouraged his protege to speak up; the ride, brief as it was, had been filled with questions.

“We’re a society of leisure, Marcus. They’re not going to bestir themselves much over death by stupidity.”

Marcus’ brown eyes looked to Jaedin, “Stupidity?”

“Raping someone who has a reputation for starting deadly fires qualifies as stupidity in most anyone’s book.” Jaedin answered before climbing out of the carriage and approaching the doors to the inn.

Marcus followed, and, ever the diligent servant, held the door the inn door open, “Then why…”

“…is there a fuss at all? Because we can’t have the hired help offing the rich, even if they deserve it. If one gets away with it, others may get similar ideas of justice.” If there was sarcasm to his words, Jaedin hid them well in the tightness of his smile. He stepped past Marcus and into the inn.

No one seemed willing to disturb Demnse Jacobsen to notify him that his had visitors. When even the innkeeper himself refused, Jaedin lost his patience, “Room three-one?” The innkeeper nodded, looking slightly abashed.

“Right then. Marcus, with me.” Jaedin took the stairs quickly, sick of the time already wasted. On the third floor he found the right door and knocked loudly. It took several minutes of constant knocking before a servant answered the door and he and Marcus were granted admittance.

“Do you know Grace?” Jaedin was standing in front of a large desk, behind which sat a man of rather large proportions.

“Grace?” Jacobsen’s dark brows furrowed as if he was searching his memory. “No, I don’t believe I do-“

“She knows you. She runs the Crimson Room and considers her time spent with companions quite confidential – but we are old friends. Old…and close…friends.”

“What are you suggesting?” Jacobsen pushed away from his desk and stood, his large meaty hands landing atop the hard wood with the sound a large tree being felled – intimidating, if you were you were the sort to be intimidated. When Jaedin didn’t react as Jacobsen had expected (which is to say, react at all), crimson bled into his cheeks, “Do you know who I am? I am a Demnse of the church! I can have you branded a heretic. I can have you shackled and buried somewhere so deep you won’t remember your name by the time your rheumy eyes next see daylight. You will be a snack for the other prisoners and the rats they keep as pets. You are nothing! How dare you come in here with accusations and slander….” Jacobsen would have continued, but his large frame couldn’t seem to catch the breath it needed to keep him standing, much less speaking. He leaned into his desk, red-faced and heaving as Jaedin studied him.

After a few seconds, Jaedin spoke, calmly, and in soft tones polar opposite to those used by Jacobsen. “Let us be frank. You don’t have the stature needed to have a prominent citizen of this county detained, much less,” Jaedin paused as if the act of calmly recalling Jacobsen’s words took an act of considered restraint, “dragged into a dungeon and left as a snack for the vermin. The only reason you have any authority over this particular case at all is because ArchDemnse Henliech is enjoying a three week sabbatical at one of my vineyards and you were visiting a relative here in town at the time of the murder. As for your time spent with Grace – well, the other clergy might not be too shocked that you buy time with women of her nature – many of them do the same – but they may be more disturbed by your…oh, how did she put it… inclination to prance? We all have our vices, Demnse, but being mounted by a woman while wearing nothing but a saddle, bridle, and horse tail sticking out of your ass, may strain the respect of even the most liberal of your brethren.” Jaedin smiled, “Not that I have anything against such behavior. Very forward thinking, very in touch with your animalistic side. But will your peers feel the same?”

Jacobsen stared at him silence, whether still out of breath or simply without words, it was hard to tell.

Jaedin withdrew his handkerchief from his pocket and settled it on the desk. Carefully unfolding it, he revealed the small black cylindrical object he had picked up earlier: the charred remains of a firecracker. “Let us discuss this case against Miranda. There really isn’t one. All we have is an eyewitness placing her near the kitchen at the same time as the fire. Oh, and the knowledge that in the past she has exhibited some small gift for firestarting. A gift she has not used in five years. There are no reports of its’ use, by the Kytrell family or anyone else, since her training was completed. For all we know, the gift has been entirely repressed.”

“On the other hand, we have some concrete evidence, found through diligent investigation, that suggest another explanation.” Jaedin nudged the blackened side of the firecracker, rolling it across the desk. “This was found amid the debris of the scene. And we have an eyewitness that says a box of fireworks were purchased by the household in preparation for the upcoming solstice festivities. Purchased and then placed in the kitchen above the firepit. Perhaps not the safest place for it to be kept.”

“Isn’t it more likely that Master Kytrell was at fault for his own death? That he reached for a caramel pear, found a firecracker instead and his surprise caused him to knock the whole box of firecrackers into the firepit, sending flaming fireworks through-out the kitchen – an act that may have ultimately led to his demise?” Jaedin lowered his voice to a notch just above a whisper. “Why don’t you forget about Miranda, Demnse Jacobsen. Forget about her and my good friends ArchDemnse Heinlich and Grace. Decide the case as inconclusive due to reasonable doubt, and move on to better pastures.”

Silence. Seconds stretched into minutes as the two men stood staring at each other. Finally, Jacobsen spoke, “Get…out.” The words were forced past clenched teeth and the knuckles on Jacobsen’s hands turned white as his fingers curled against the desk. “Get out, or I will have you thrown out.”

Jaedin shook his head slowly, “No. I don’t think so. Not until I know you are going to do the right thing and let past actions stay in the past.” Just whose past he was referring to was left unsaid.

“Oh, you will have your writ.” The table shuddered under Jacobsen’s weight as he drew himself to his full height, “But I warn you, should our paths ever cross again, outside of this shitty little province you call Erenthia, you will not find yourself a happy man.”

“Happiness is fleeting, Demnse Jacobsen, and the path to it strewn with misguided hopes. I walk a different path.” Jaedin turned and motioned for Marcus to follow him out of the room.

They left the inn in silence. Demnse Jacobsen’s voice must have carried as the servants on the third floor all stared at Jaedin as he led Marcus down the hallway and stairs and out of the building.

Outside, Jaedin paused to draw on his leather gloves and took the opportunity to instruct Marcus. “Pay attention. You cannot always know which way the deer will bolt. But you can make some damn good guesses and make sure the bush they run through are ones you planted beforehand.”

Marcus digested this and then said, “M’lord…I’ve been thinking about those fireworks. I think…pardon me for saying so…that it is highly unlikely that they could have caused the immolation we saw in the kitchen.”

Jaedin inclined his head slightly, “Highly unlikely? No, not highly unlikely. Impossible.”

The boy blinked, “Impossible? But -”

“Remember, for the last six months Miranda has been beaten and raped regularly by M. Leindrich.”The boy fell silent and no further words were spoken until they reached the corner of the road, rounding it, “But if you knew…why didn’t you….”

“Stop it? I won’t coddle them, Marcus. If I had stepped in and put an end to what is a disappointingly common set of circumstances, I would have spared her this pain at the expense of a future filled with it. She is not under my care and I cannot always protect her. That she needed me to step in would signal to all the other predators that she is easy enough prey. Now….well, no matter what the findings of the court, people will wonder about exactly what happened. And she will be left alone.”

Stumbling, Marcus paused in his walking. “The court! If they should make the connections -”

“They won’t.” Jaedin tapped the boy on the rump with his cane to start him moving again, “They’ve already been publicly embarrassed over this. They won’t want to revisit the issue. Even should they suspect, they are more then likely to sweep it under the rug. What is the fate of one cook or the vengeance of a man known for his brutality compared to their illustrious careers? No, Marcus, this case has been closed.”

The boy appeared lost in thought for the rest of the walk to where the carriage was waiting for them, “The firecrackers…don’t you have an interest in them as well? The old man who comes around every other fortnight with his cart?”

Jaedin gave a thin smile, “Perhaps. Let us say that I dislike leaving things to chance. And arranging for the fireworks vendor to stop by their house early last week is a small price to pay for peace of mind.”

Marcus shook his head, “The whole time you were investigating, you knew exactly what had happened. But how? How…did you know she would do it?

“She is imperfect, like the rest of us. I did not lie to the Constable, Marcus. This was not an involuntary act or accident of any sort. It was the deliberate act of a human being pushed too far. Yes, I did train the girl. But despite public opinion, my job is not to break them apart. It is to break them down and then give them the tools to rebuild. In that process they gain the strength and knowledge to control their abilities. They are not inhuman, and we all have our limits. M. Leindrich found hers, and though her training made it possible for her to control her gift when angered, it did not have stop her from it’s deliberate and calculated use for the oldest of reasons. Cold hatred. I more than knew what would happen, Marcus.” He paused, “I made it happen.”

Marcus fell quiet for the rest of the walk and only spoke again upon reaching the carriage, “I think I understand, Master Jaedin.” He hesitated and then followed this up with, “Does that mean we all…have a breaking point? Even you, Master Jaedin?”

“Don’t be impertinent boy.” With only the barest hint of a smile he helped the boy into the carriage. The journey home was uneventful.