“Since I lost my family, I’ve had to do many things I’m ashamed of,” Nevynne says. “But it was always between me and myself. Now… I don’t want you to think poorly of me.”
Stellia’s first impulse is to say how surprised she is that Nevynne should care what a simple village girl might think of her actions. But the pained look in Nevynne’s eyes stops her. “I’ve done some things I’m ashamed of, myself. I know what it means to have no choice but the one between two evils.”
“Then you’ll understand why I did this.” Nevynne holds up a small scroll. A faded ribbon clings to it, now untied.
Stellia frowns at the document. “What is that?”
“An answer,” Nevynne says. “One that your friends wouldn’t give us willingly.”
“What?” Suddenly, Stellia understands. She looks about the shadowy room, already knowing what she will see. There it is, at the foot end of the third bed: Garroth’s satchel, unbuckled, opened, rifled through. Some of its contents lie scattered on the floor.
“How could you do this?”
“The same way I did any of the shameful things I’ve done,” Nevynne says. “Because I had to.”
“You had to?” Stellia cries. “Just when they’ve come to trust you?”
“They don’t trust me. They know who I am, who my father was, and still keep their secret from me.”
“It is theirs to keep!”
“And your father’s horse was his to keep, wasn’t it? But you took it, anyway.”
The sting of that sobers Stellia. “What was there to gain by rifling through Garroth’s belongings?”
“Ever since you told me about these men, I had a suspicion, a hope. I needed to know if there was any truth to it.”
“Truth? To what?”
Nevynne thrusts the scroll at Stellia. “See for yourself.”
The scroll is made of vellum, costly and soft to the touch. It is imprinted at the top with the Cresset of Hestia, but of the jagged writing underneath that, Stellia can’t decipher a single word. At the bottom is a florid and equally illegible signature, next to a thick blotch of wax imprinted with an elaborate design that is the only thing familiar to her. “That’s the Imperial Seal.”
“So it is,” Nevynne says. “This document is a letter of passage, granting complete freedom of travel throughout the Four Realms to one Garroth of Vailmar and any person or persons accompanying him. Signed by none other than Thedric of Vulth himself.”
Stellia stares at the monumental scrawl at the bottom of the document. “They served the Emperor.”
“That is an understatement,” Nevynne says. “To have been issued such a letter, signed by Thedric in person, Garroth must have been in direct contact with the inner circles of the Imperial court, perhaps even taking his orders from the Emperor himself!”
“But the Emperor is dead! Whatever this letter once meant—”
“The Emperor is dead, yes. Why, then, do these two still seek to learn the business of the Guardian and her servants? I say they still pursue the interests of the Sacred Bloodline!”
“You don’t think—”
“Oh, no!” Stellia jumps to her feet. “Quick! We have to put it back!”
“Give me the letter.”
Only too willingly, Stellia hands over the scroll. But Nevynne merely sits down on the bed facing hers, and makes no move to put the document away.
“Are you crazy?” The footfalls are much closer now, almost at the door. “They’ll be here in an instant!”
“Good,” Nevynne says with maddening calm. “Let’s see what they have to say about this.”
Stellia wants to scream at her, but the sound of the door opening cuts her off.