“Rakayl? What’s a girl like you doing in a nice place like this?” It was not, of course, actually a nice place. The Cat’s Corpse was the seediest tavern in Port Endra; exactly my sort of place.
“Nice to see you too, Zyre.”
“Let me guess, you’re recruiting for some absolutely harebrained scheme at ill-gaining impossible riches.”
“Who, me?” I asked in my most innocent sounding voice. “All I want is to enjoy my freedom and my drink.”
Zyre looked at me disbelievingly. “It’s been a long time, but I can’t believe you changed that much.”
I had, but if anything I was more trouble now, not less. I didn’t answer him.
“Come on, Rakayl, what are you up to?”
“I’m not up to anything.” I paused. “The thing is, I owe Vak a favor…”
“Ha! He’s as bad as you.”
“And you’re as bad as either of us. So, are you in?”
“I should ask what I’m getting into first, but what the hell, we both know I’ll agree, whatever it is. I’m in. What am I in?”
“Um, emptying out the king’s treasury? Stealing an artifact from the Magiary? Assassinating a nobleman? Kidnapping the queen of Inzeth?”
“Well, not that I’d say no to any of those, but this is Vak’s hare-brained scheme, not mine. So it’s not nearly so interesting. Just a simple little highway robbery.”
“Right. Just like all you want is to enjoy your drink. I said I’m in, Rakayl, tell me the whole of it.”
“Vak’ll tell you, he’s waiting for us now.” We left and walked down to our camp on the beach. Vak was sitting in front of the fire, sharpening his knives.
“So what’s this about?” Zyre asked. “Just tell me straight out, Rakayl gave me all the build-up and I’ve already agreed. So what are we doing?”
“Well, see, Rakayl owes me, did she tell you that part? She promised me the Talisman and couldn’t deliver.”
“I actually only promised to tell him where it is.”
“True, but you couldn’t deliver on that, either, since it isn’t any more. Anyhow, I mean to make up for it. You ever heard of the Mirror of… erm, some prophet or other with a ridiculous name?”
“Nope. Let me guess. A prophet’s mirror prophecies?”
“Exactly. Right now it happens to be in the hands of a rather silly young woman who knows nothing of its true power, and happens to be traveling to Dowheld for her marriage.”
“So this really is just a simple bit of highway robbery?” Zyre asked suspiciously. “Stand and deliver, and all that?”
“More or less.”
Zyre glared at me. “More or less,” he repeated.
“The girl doesn’t know what she has. The same can’t be said for her father or her future husband, both of whom have sent guards with her.”
“Ah. So, a rather more complicated highway robbery. Just the three of us, or are you hoping to increase your numbers?”
“We should be able to do all right,” Vak said.
I don’t think Zyre agreed, but he only shrugged. “Where and when?”
“There’s a deserted stretch of the road a little way into the woods by Dowheld. We can wait there and take them by surprise. They should pass through there, in, oh, three hours?”
Zyre slapped his hands to his face. “I should have known you’d wait until the last minute. If we can get some horses, we should be able to get there in time, assuming you’re right about the timing and we aren’t delayed any.”
“We have the horses,” I told him. We got up and went to where they were tethered, hidden a little by the curve of the cliff. “And we’d expected the party to rest for the night before entering the forest,” I continued as we began to ride.
“And you know they aren’t because...?”
Vak wiggled his fingers and gave them a slight glow.
“Ah. Why do you even need the damn mirror?”
“I know a little magic, enough to do a sort-of muddled scrying spell. If I had more training, I’d be able to do it better. Some of the greatest mages alive can scry anything they like, as easy as looking into a window, and maybe have a few glimpses of the future every once in a while, if they’re lucky. The mirror shows the future, or the future that’ll come about if things stay on the path they’re on.”
“Very useful for gambling, I’m sure.”
Vak grinned. “True. And also for knowing if you’re about to get caged up, or killed. Or if something interesting is about to happen. Or for knowing which horse will win, of course.”
I enjoyed the ride; I’d missed this kind of friendly companionship, as well as the jittery anticipation before a job like this. We made it to the forest in plenty of time, and when the coach rode up we were hidden in the trees, faces covered by masks.
At the sight of the coach, Vak jumped out first, and we followed him. “Stand and deliver,” he demanded, sword drawn.
There were guards in the coach, as well as the young woman, but for some reason they offered no resistance. One, in fact, advised the young woman, “Just give them your money, Mayracelia, and everything will be fine.” He told us, with an apologetic shrug, “The young lady will certainly turn over her purse, as would we, but we’re merely her guards and have no coin.” The woman emptied her pockets and removed her elaborate jewelery with trembling hands. She handed them to the guard, who gave them to Vak.
He studied the loot carefully. “You have nothing else?” he demanded. “No other… trinket?”
“Just-“ the girl began, but was interrupted by the guard. “That’s all she has. Is it not enough for you?”
Ignoring him, Vak asked the girl gently, “Just what?”
“My mirror. It’s not real silver or anything.” She held it out, but the guard snatched it before Vak could.
“Hand it over,” I demanded. And they attacked.
There were five guards, as well as the girl and the driver, neither of whom seemed inclined to fight. Or so I thought, until two of the guards were upon me, and Vak and Zyre each occupied fighting one. They were well trained, better trained than guards of some minor noble should be. I could have taken one of them, with a fight, as Vak and Zyre surely would, but against both of them, I was as good as dead.
Then they froze. Not as if they’d been shocked by something, but as if they’d been turned to stone. I glanced at Vak, surprised that he was capable of such a thing, but he looked just as surprised as I was at the five unmoving guards.
The girl in the carriage spoke. “They should stay like that for a few minutes,” she sounded shy, and scared, and even younger than she was. “Take me with you,” she begged.
We stared at her in surprise. “Why?” I asked.
She held out the mirror. “You can have it, if you take me with you. I know what it is. I’m not as stupid as they think. He just wants it, he doesn’t want me at all, and I don’t want to marry him either.”
Vak and I exchanged a look. “Why not?” I said.
So Vak took the mirror and gave Mayracelia her money and jewelry back. We took one of the horses from the coach, and the four of us rode off. Vak stared obsessively into the mirror, saying things like, “Look, that looks like we’ll be having a good time,” and “Well, we can always make sure it doesn’t happen—Rakayl, when you meet a man with dark hair and blue eyes and a silver earring, don’t slap him; really, really, don’t slap him,” and, “Ooh, that’ll surprise him,” and, “Who needs a mirror to know that?” After about twenty minutes of this, he nearly fell off his horse, and I managed to convince him to put it away until later.
We ended up back at the Cat’s Corpse. Thanks to Vak’s warning, rather than slapping the dark haired man with the silver earring, I told him that I’d love to do what he suggested, and I probably wasn’t too contagious. He hastily backed away and moved on; it was Mayracelia who slapped him. Nobody got killed in the brawl, though.
I waited until we’d all had a few drinks in celebration, Mayracelia was standing on a table trying to sing, and Zyre was trying to talk her down, before suggesting to Vak, “Now that we’re even, I have some debts to someone else. You want to help me get payback?”
“Sounds like fun,” he agreed.