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“They’ve got magic, and they’re not afraid to use it.”

“And he really seemed surprised when I turned him down,” Drago finished, concluding his narrative and a herring sausage in a bun at almost exactly the same moment.

Raegan nodded. “Not something he’s used to, I imagine.” He glanced around the bustling market place, relieved to find that none of the shoppers or stallholders surrounding them seemed to be listening. “But I’d keep watching your back for a while if I were you. At least until Gorash’s people get the message.”

Drago shrugged, his attention caught by a clothing stall, and stopped to browse through a pile of gnome-sized shirts. He’d visited a cordwainer’s shop earlier that morning, with a couple of coins from the purse Greenleaf had given him, and walked out with the new boots he’d been promising himself. They were comfortable, and dry, and made everything else he owned seem a great deal shabbier than they had before donning the new footgear. But he could afford a few new clothes now, especially with the fee Raegan had channeled through the Tradesman’s Association, so that was a problem easily solved. “I’m sure they’ll find out soon enough,” he said.

“Maybe.” Raegan seemed less sure, but then he had a lot on his mind. The city council wouldn’t be at all happy to hear that the parochial squabbles of a petty kingdom leagues up the river were spilling over onto the streets of Fairhaven, and the watch would be expected to clean up the mess. True, that would be a problem for his colleagues all over the city, but as he was the one drawing attention to it, he’d probably be expected to propose a solution too: if only for the councilors to ignore it, and come up with a less effective strategy themselves. “But I’d feel a lot happier if you’d take this.”

“Take what?” Drago paused for a moment, to debate payment with the stall holder, and exchange a few coppers for a shirt that looked as if it might fit. Raegan waited patiently for him to finish, before handing over a small leather bag, containing something about the size and shape of a plum stone. Knowing better than to open it, Drago slipped the bag into his pocket.

“You were right about the shadow-weaving charms those goblins had last night—too common to get us anywhere. But our sorcerers knocked up some counter-charms for the lads on the beat, in case they run into any more skulking about.” Raegan shrugged. “That one seems to have fallen into my pocket, and I only need one, so . . .”

“Thanks.” Drago nodded his appreciation. “But I don’t suppose I’ll come to much harm today. Other than terminal boredom.”

“We need your statement,” Raegan reminded him. “Anything you can remember that might help us work out how many troublemakers the Marches have dumped on us.”

“Fair enough.” Drago sighed, accepting the inevitable, and led the way toward the watch house.

As he’d expected, the interview was long and exhaustive, stretching well into the afternoon. Something he hadn’t expected, however, was that it took place in Raegan’s private office, away from the bustle of the main watch house where Waggoner had interviewed him before, and was conducted by the captain himself as well as his deputy. Two other people were squeezed into the relatively small space, besides Raegan and Waggoner: a corpulent goblin whose uniform and additional trappings clearly identified him as one of the magical support staff, and a human woman whose clothing marked her out as a member of the nobility, and who said very little in a manner the watchmen clearly found faintly unnerving. Drago hadn’t recognized the name she gave, but assumed it wasn’t her real one anyway; if she wasn’t actually a member of the city council she was undoubtedly there to report back to them, and he knew they preferred to maintain the polite fiction that information only reached them through official channels.

To his private amusement, his diminutive stature meant that he was the only person there who didn’t feel uncomfortable in the overcrowded room; perched on the stool someone had found for him, he was almost level with the faces of everyone else present, an interesting novelty in itself. Raegan had given up his seat behind the desk for the silent woman, who had introduced herself as Lady Selina something or other, and promptly bagged the only other chair for himself; Waggoner and Vethik, the goblin mage, were perched on slightly lower stools, though apparently less comfortably than Drago, judging by the amount of fidgeting they both did.

“You’re sure there’s nothing else you can tell us?” Waggoner asked at last, laying down his pen with an air of faint relief, and cracking his knuckles. He’d been a good deal more polite than he had while taking Drago’s statement about Fallowfield’s death; though how much of that was due to his having witnessed the fight with the goblin assassins himself, and being certain that this time at least the gnome had nothing to hide, and how much was about trying to favorably impress the agent of the council, Drago wasn’t sure. Come to that, he didn’t particularly care, either.

“Nothing springs to mind,” Drago agreed. He made a brief show of careful ratiocination, then shook his head. “Nope. That’s it.”

“It’s a shame you turned Master Greenleaf down so firmly,” Lady Selina said, her tone of mild disappointment more appropriate to the discovery of a crease in a favorite pair of gloves. “If you’d accepted his commission, you might have discovered more about his network.”

“With respect, your Ladyship, I beg to differ.” Raegan sounded distinctly uncomfortable with the formal language, used to expressing himself in a far more direct manner. “He seems to have made it pretty clear that Drago would only be dealing with him.”

“True.” Selina inclined her head. “But Master Appleroot seems admirably resourceful. I’m sure he could have picked up more information than Greenleaf intended to reveal.”

“If he didn’t just end up feeding the fish,” Waggoner said, forthright as always. “The Marchers’d top him the minute they realized he was reporting back to us.”

“Assuming Gorash’s lot didn’t get to him first,” Raegan added, his own formality beginning to slip.

“I think that would be a risk worth taking,” Selina said.

“Well, I don’t,” Drago put in, a little more vehemently than he’d intended. “I nearly got killed just because Greenleaf was talking to me, and I’m not about to stick my neck out any further.” The official line was that the elf had approached him with a bounty offer, like any other client, which was all the council needed to know. The trap he’d helped the watchmen to lay, with Wethers’ help, wasn’t something Lady Selina needed to hear about—although he couldn’t help suspecting that she was already pretty sure of what had really been going on.

The woman shrugged. “Too late now, in any case,” she said, with a trace of regret. “If you went back and told him you’d changed your mind, he’d be bound to suspect something.”

“I’m more worried about the Goblin faction,” Raegan said, belatedly adding “begging your pardon, ma’am,” as he remembered whom he was talking to. “They’ve got magic, and they’re not afraid to use it.”

Vethik snorted derisively, reminding everyone of his presence. “Hedge wards and cantrips,” he said dismissively. “Nothing we don’t see on the streets every day. Even your regular arm-breakers can deal with that sort of thing without too much trouble.”

“But we can’t be sure that’s all they’ve got,” Raegan said. “They’re clearly well resourced, and have some very capable people working for them.”

“They don’t sound all that capable to me,” Selina said, casting a dubious eye in Drago’s direction, “if one gnome was enough to take out three of them.”

“One very lucky gnome,” Drago corrected, “with two officers of the watch turning up in the nick of time.” True, the brawl had been over before they could get physically involved, but Raegan’s warning shout had probably distracted the markswoman with the crossbow at a critical moment, and it wouldn’t hurt to spread the credit around a bit.

“Of course.” Selina’s voice was freighted with skepticism. “How very fortunate you both happened to be passing.” The two watchmen exchanged an uneasy glance, but she let the matter go, apparently content just to have made her point. She turned to Vethik. “Could they have anything more dangerous?”

The goblin shrugged. “Of course they could, if they have the right contacts, or a mage of their own. And no, I’m not prepared to make any wild guesses as to what that might be without a shred of corroborating evidence. All I can tell you for certain is that they’ve used simple enchantments of concealment, which are widely available from any moderately disreputable sorcerer with scant regard for the city ordinances.”

Waggoner muttered something which sounded suspiciously like “Most of them, then,” before subsiding at a glare from Raegan.

“Would it be worth interviewing any of these disreputable mages?” Selina asked. “You must know who they are.”

“I can think of a few names,” Raegan admitted, “but I doubt it would do much good. If they were involved they’d just lie about it, and probably tip off their clients into the bargain. But we can shake a few trees and see what drops out.”

Waggoner nodded. “Chances are we’d get someone for something, even if it wasn’t what we were looking for,” he agreed. “I’ll get a few of the lads knocking on doors.”

“Good.” Lady Selina stood, with sudden decisiveness, and began edging out of the room, her elbow glancing from Vethik’s forehead on the way. Just as she reached the door, it swung open, held by an astonishingly large man, looking more like a shaved troll than anything human, whose livery and well-worn scabbard positively screamed “high priced bodyguard.” Selina nodded an affable farewell. “I’ll await further news with interest.” Her gaze rested on Drago an instant longer than any of the others. “If you do change your mind, Master Appleroot, you’ll find Greenleaf at the Clothiers’ Guildhall most afternoons, haggling over textiles.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” Drago lied, pretending not to be surprised that she knew that. The aristocrat swept out of the room, her minder clearing a path for her through the crowded watch house like a polite but relentless avalanche, and disappeared into the street.

Everyone in Raegan’s office suddenly relaxed.

“Right.” Raegan stood too, projecting an air of decisiveness, and nodded at his subordinates. “George, round up a few of the lads and start kicking doors down. Take a spell chucker with you, in case any of the pointy hats decide to play silly buggers. Vethik, start checking the records. Anything recent that might smell of prohibited spell use, let me know.”

The goblin scowled. “Get a clerk to do it. I didn’t spend six years studying for a doctorate in thaumaturgy to go rummaging about in filing cabinets.”

“Which is why you’re the perfect choice,” Raegan said diplomatically, while Waggoner made disparaging hand gestures behind the mage’s oblivious back. “There’s no one else this side of the university who’d know what to look for, and precious few of those with the investigative skill to recognize it even if they saw it.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Vethik nodded, a trifle smugly, before the truculence returned to his voice. “But don’t expect me to make a habit of it.”

“Perish the thought,” Raegan said, as the goblin mage disappeared through the still-open door into the swirl of activity beyond.

“Tosser,” Waggoner opined, making the appropriate gesture again.

“But at least you have the courage to admit it,” Vethik’s voice floated back, and Drago suppressed a grin.

“And what about you?” Waggoner asked, turning to the gnome.

“Me?” Drago hopped down from the stool. He’d answered all the questions anyone could think of asking, and received his fee. No reason at all to stick around so far as he could see. “I’m off to the Footpad. Have fun.”

“You too.” Raegan waved a slightly distracted farewell. “But watch your back. At least until we’re sure the dust has settled.”

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