I’m celebrating the holidays and the new year with my own kind of giving – 8 weeks of extra stories and scenes from the world of Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin. Each week I’ll be unveiling a deleted scene or extra story from a different character’s point of view, culminating next week on February 11 (my birthday!) with Lilano, a novella from Mati’s point of view that tells the story of what happened to him and Raisa while they were out of town during Dagger and Coin.
Some of these stories were originally parts of the books, some were writing exercises for me when I got stuck, and some I simply wrote for the fun of developing the world of the books more fully.
This week’s extra is from the point of view of Jonis ko Rikar, and it takes place during the first few chapters of Dagger and Coin, after the attack on Raisa. I love this story because it gives a close-up view of the unlikely friendship that has sprouted up between Jonis and Mati, and gives a different perspective on characters like Adin and Deshti.
After the First Assassin
IT WAS PAST seventh bell when I knocked, but I wasn’t at all surprised when Mati answered, and I saw the lamp burning on the desk in the anteroom behind him.
“You’re leaving early tomorrow. Shouldn’t you be asleep?” I said.
“Might be easier if people didn’t knock on my door in the middle of the night,” he tossed back, running a hand through his shaggy hair.
I grinned. “Knew you’d be up.” Didn’t add that anyone with eyes could see that he probably didn’t ever want to sleep again, after what had almost happened to Raisa that evening. The great love story of Mati and Raisa was easy to mock, but even I had to admit that his devotion to her was unyielding. I held up the jug of ale I’d brought from the kitchens. “Drink?”
Mati motioned me in, then crossed the room and shut the door to the bedroom, cutting off the glimpse I’d had of Raisa’s bare leg poking out from under a blanket on the bed. He turned and faced me, eyeing the jug. “Thanks, but…does that comply with Councilor Gamo’s rationing program?” His mouth quirked.
I shrugged. “You two won’t be using up any food while you’re gone. Besides, there’s got to be some advantage to my mother being head of household.” Mother hadn’t minded giving me the ale, when I’d told her what it was for. She, like me, had a soft spot for the man who had saved her daughter’s life.
I threw myself into one of the two rickety chairs. They, along with the desk and a small braided rug, were the only furniture. Made a stark contrast to the way Soraya had decorated her room across the hall, putting in all kinds of fancy, colorful things, even though most of what was available was chipped or cracked or water-stained. Like she couldn’t let go of her old Scholar life.
Mati seemed to have had no problem discarding the stuff of royalty. He wore faded brown trousers and a tunic with a hole in the sleeve, and his feet were bare. Of course, he’d probably been in bed for hours before Raisa fell asleep and he’d come out here to brood, or guard her, or whatever he’d been doing. I grimaced and pushed the thought of what went on in their bedroom out of my mind. I liked Mati more than I had ever thought I could like a Qilarite, but there were still some things I couldn’t stand to think about.
Mati laughed. “Soraya’s probably already redone the rationing chart to account for us leaving.” He sat down across from me and reached for the jug. Before I could offer to uncork it, he balanced it against his leg with his maimed right hand and pulled the cork off with his left. Then he swung it up and took a drink.
“Gah,” he sputtered. “What is that? Are you sure you’re not trying to assassinate me?”
Of course he’d make light of it; that was what he did. I hadn’t understood, when I’d first met him, that his joking exterior hid a deadly earnest man. That was why his enemies had misjudged him when he was on the throne. He was easy to underestimate, if you didn’t look beyond the surface.
“Seed whiskey,” I answered. “Never said it was any good. Blame Councilor Gamo’s rationing.” I took the jug and tilted it to my mouth, managing not to make the noises Mati had. “Think all the good stuff got traded away for grain.”
He nodded and reached for the liquor again. I watched him take a more controlled gulp. Figured he could use something strong tonight.
“How is she?” I asked, nodding toward the bedroom door.
Mati shrugged and handed me the jug. “Rattled, but not as much as she should be. She still doesn’t think that anyone would target her especially.” He shook his head.
“She never did realize how other people see her,” I muttered. When I’d first tried to recruit Raisa to the Resistance, I’d thought her hesitation had only been about fearing for her own skin; now that I knew her better, I understood that it was also about her being unable to fathom that anyone see her as a leader. Even now, when she gave off a practically ethereal glow, so that even a cynic like me had to wonder if the stories about the goddess Sotia showing her favor might be true. Or maybe it was just that she no longer had to hide who she was, that she had found a way to reconcile the parts of her past that had held her prisoner for so long.
Yes, I’d spent a lot of time thinking about it—far more than I should have spent thinking about someone else’s wife. Not that Mati had any reason to worry; Raisa had made it very clear how she felt about me when I had kissed her at the tombs. And she’d never wavered in her support of Mati, even after the news had come about him sending the raider ship to the Nath Tarin. She’d believed in him so hard that it had made other people believe in him too.
And if I’d ever had a chance with her, it had disappeared forever when, believing she’d betrayed the Resistance plans to attack during the royal wedding, I had tried to kill her.
From the look Mati gave me, I suspected he knew all this. But it was one of those things we never mentioned, in the interest of trying to make the new Ruling Council work, trying to set an example for peace. Things like him sending guards after Patic and Ris, and me giving the order to assassinate his father.
Well, most of the time we didn’t mention those things. Funny how an assassination attempt had brought out those old suspicions so readily tonight. I frowned, thinking of what he’d said before and wondering if it had been a joke.
But then, he’d drunk the whiskey.
“Getting Raisa out of the city will help,” I said, “but she’s likely to be a target in Lilano too.”
Mati nodded. “I know. But I won’t let anything happen to her.” His voice was steely, and I didn’t doubt that he meant it. He inclined his head at the bedroom door. “First time I’ve been glad for the bars on those windows. At least I know no one’s getting in there.” The room he and Raisa shared had been Mati’s room when he was younger, and the windows still bore the bars his father had installed on them after he’d been caught sneaking out to see her. With all the other repairs in progress, removing the bars had been a low priority item.
We passed the whiskey back and forth in silence for a few minutes, then Mati said, “Look out for Soraya, will you? She’ll hate being stuck in bed. Make sure she listens to the doctor.”
“Oh, I’ll keep an eye on her,” I said, thinking of the key in my pocket. I’d already taken an impression of it and would be slipping it back into her room before she slept off the medicine. Then there was a smith down in the Web I’d be paying a visit to tomorrow. If Lady Gamo wanted to keep her room locked, fine. But I wasn’t going to take the chance that she was hiding evidence of betrayal. Raisa might trust her, but I didn’t. Of course, the same could once have been said of Mati, and Raisa had been right about him…
Mati frowned at my tone. “Not what I meant. You two have got to find a way to work together.”
Didn’t mean to roll my eyes, but I couldn’t help it. He sounded so much like Raisa when she’d been lecturing us like children.
Not that I had rolled my eyes when Raisa had said it.
Mati shook his head. “You’re wasting your energy on the wrong things. Soraya was a victim of her father’s plans, too.”
Maybe that was true. But he hadn’t had to listen to Miss High and Mighty wax on about his questionable parentage and the myriad ways her father was going to gut him. I’d held Soraya Gamo captive for fifteen days, and it had been a job to keep the others from killing her—she knew how to rile a room.
And she still did. There was something so slippery about her—always more going on behind those pretty dark eyes than she let on. Raisa was like daylight, open and trusting and unable to hide her reactions. Soraya was the opposite, a veiled night full of secrets. The only genuine emotion I had ever sensed from her was irritation. That one I recognized, because it was the reaction I got from her most often.
“Doesn’t exactly try to make friends, though, does she?” I muttered, taking the jug back from Mati. I shook it a bit before taking a small sip, and grinned. Most of the liquor was gone, and I’d made sure that Mati had gotten the larger share. Only felt a little twinge as I handed it back to him and realized that most Qilarites, even now, would probably have died of thirst before sharing a jug with an Arnath like this.
Mati sighed. “She’s scared, though she’d jump in the Aqorin during flood season before she’d admit it. She’s still trying to find her place. Remember, she lost her father and her sister.” He started to lift the jug to his lips, then, seeming to notice how little was left, he offered it to me. Always the gentleman. I indicated that he should finish it off, and he tipped his head back and drained the jug.
I studied him, wondering if he had mentioned her sister’s death to make me feel guilty—after all, he was the reason my own sister was still alive. I’d had many reasons to hate him, but he had obliterated all of them in the moment he stepped between Jera and Rale’s fire-stick.
No, I decided, as he lowered the jug and I saw the unfocused look in his eyes. He wasn’t being manipulative, just being earnest, as usual.
Mati sagged back in the chair a little; the liquor had driven the stiffness from his shoulders. I grinned. It was time.
“Once you’ve met with the southern vizier, what will you do?” I asked.
“Meet with Commander Gage and get the South Company on our side. Same with the Lilano Resistance.” His eyes slid closed, and he sighed contentedly.
“I see,” I said casually. “No other Scholars you’re planning to bring in?”
Mati frowned, his eyes snapping open. “Is that what this was about? Trying to get me drunk and make sure I’m not betraying the council?”
Read the rest of the story here: After the First Assassin by Kathy MacMillan