The man no longer seemed dangerous as he watched Danny with sad grey eyes, waiting for Danny to say more. Danny was astonished at his own power. He could feel the right words forming along his tongue, knowing exactly what to say and how the old man would react.
“Your daughter is ashamed of your actions,” Danny said, trying to make his voice as gentle as possible. “That is why she ran away. But don’t worry, Sir Raymond, she has not left the city and she will learn that you have saved me. I can help you more, but send away these people. They cannot help you and the sacrifice is over.”
The swordsman checked Danny for weapons, removing the small bone-handled knife tucked in his shoe, then helped Danny to his feet.
“We will go to my chambers,” he announced and the masked figures dispersed as quietly as leaves parting from a tree in autumn. “Follow me,” Sir Raymond said. Then he turned. “And remember, I could kill you at any moment.”
Sarah sat against the wall of room, half asleep. The torch was still burning, but it was fainter than when she had first entered and its acrid smell filled the room. Sarah suspected that it would go out soon, leaving her to the cold stones and the darkness. She had begun to shiver, observing sleepily that the dampness had crept through her dress and skin, sinking into her veins and coursing through her bones. The only part of her that was warm was somewhere just beneath the base of the throat. A strange feeling had burrowed there and was gradually growing stronger. At first all that Sarah noticed was the warmth, but as it grew Sarah realized that the feeling was much like expectation, and even power. In the cold, dim room, it was comforting.
A noise at the door startled Sarah fully awake. She scrambled into a crouch as the door swung open quietly and a figure entered, holding a torch in one hand, a sword in the other and some kind of bag slung over the shoulders. The torch illuminated a narrow face and sharp grey eyes.
“Stand up,” the voice was familiarly gruff and low, but still just a little strange. She stood slowly, feeling the heat begin to rise quickly up her throat. The heat stifled her, almost crackling from her hair as she reached forward. The air rippled as her familiar blue fabric streaked past Sarah’s captor and into Sarah’s hand. Surprise and understanding lasted less than a second as Sarah flung the fabric about the sword, wrenching it to the floor. With another flick, the fabric was wrapped about her captor, who stumbled, sending them both crashing to the floor. The torch went out as it fell, rolling into the hallway. The torch on the wall began to splutter.
Sarah sprang to her feet, grabbed the sword and held it over the body entangled on the floor. Her face felt as if it were on fire and her eyes burned so much that she almost didn’t notice her pounding heart and ragged breath.
“Don’t move,” Sarah said. “I have your sword.”
“Wait,” said a quiet voice. “I’m trying to help you. I brought food.”
“You’re a girl!” Sarah exclaimed, realizing what had been strange about the voice.
The captor struggled out of the blue silk, which Sarah now noticed was damp and torn in many places from its long flight. The girl’s hair fell out of its braid, curling about her neck and cheeks.
“I never meant to hurt you,” she said, looking at Sarah. “But this place is dangerous. You shouldn’t be here.”
“What have you done with Danny?” Sarah asked, keeping the sword pointed toward the girl. It trembled in her hands.
Confusion passed across the girl’s face. “Who?”
“I was with him when you kidnapped me.”
“I didn’t see anyone else, only you. I wanted to get you out of the sacrifice chamber. If he saw you after the fight, there would have been two offerings for the Lady.”
Sarah’s heart sank. Danny had left her again, abandoning her among masked strangers and blades flickering with torchlight. He had left her to be captured. Nothing had changed then. She was alone, and the only way to help herself was to learn as much she could.
“Who?” asked Sarah. “I mean, who’s the Lady, and who’s ‘he’ and who are you?”
“My name is Aster. The Lady… well, I have a lot to explain. And he….” For the first time Aster looked away, unwilling to meet Sarah’s eyes. “He is the Lady’s First Swordsman, the second most important man in the city and – I wish I could change it – he is my father.”