“Is that so?” he wondered, cocking his head to appraise her. “That’s a rare gift you have, but not all who shine are demons, Tam. I applaud your courage, but use your head. Would an intruder hang about in the open to watch the harbor? Wouldn’t an intruder have fled or attacked when you came running?”

“Answer some questions, then,” she snapped. “Who is the Great Matriarch?”


“And who played fiddle at the Samhain Feast?”

“I wasn’t here,” replied Max, “but I’d guess it was Nolan.”

“Well, what’s the name of the sad old brute who lives on Crofter’s Hill?”

“No idea.” Max shrugged. “No one was living there four months ago.”

Tam snorted dubiously, and Max grew weary of the game.

“Oh, run me through if you want,” he sighed, stepping between her and a twitchy boy with an unfortunate mustache. Desiring a better view of the xebec, Max walked down to the very edge of the cliff and retrieved a weathered spyglass. His would-be captors trailed uncertainly after him, dragging their spears and muttering to one another.

By now, the xebec was moored alongside the customhouse, and several remote figures could be seen hurrying about the pier. Despite her flurry of orders, Tam’s companions had apparently tired of playing soldier and seemed more intrigued by what Max was studying through his spyglass.

“Have you seen other ships like these?” Max asked, gesturing at the xebec.

“No,” said Jack, dropping his spear in the rough gorse and peering down. “I ain’t seen anything that big, but I haven’t been here very long. Why doesn’t she burn up from all that fire?”

“That’s witch-fire,” Max explained. “A witch is on that ship. You can see her there—that dark shape by the mainmast. The fire strengthens their weather magic.”

At the mention of a witch, several children hissed.

“I care less about the witch than who she’s working for,” said Max. “Demons hire witches as weather workers. If you’re hunting demons, Tam, I think you’ll find one on that ship.”

“But I’ve got one right here,” she insisted. “And you don’t know there’s a demon on that ship. It could just be a trader from Jakarun or Zenuvia.”

“Do you see any cargo on the deck?” inquired Max, handing her the telescope.

She scanned from stem to stern. “No”—she frowned—“but that doesn’t mean there aren’t goods stowed below. Maybe it’s a smuggler.”

“Possibly,” Max allowed. “But that would be a big ship for a smuggler. At any rate, most smugglers don’t fly royal banners from their masts.” He pointed to a plum-colored pennant and its pyramid of three gold coins. “Do you know whose standard that is?”

Tam barely glanced at it.

“No,” she muttered, passing the glass along. “I was taught only the mark of my brayma.”

The statement told Max a great deal about her. Brayma was a demon word, a title used for the lord of a fief. Some controlled vast territories and others small, but all enjoyed absolute authority over those who lived on their lands. While some braymas were indifferent to their subjects, Max knew most were tyrants whose appetites and cruelty far exceeded human norms. Tam’s brayma must have fit this description.

From the girl’s accent, Max guessed she’d lived in Dun. That was Aamon’s realm and comprised much of what had once been Russia and northern Asia. Tam was undoubtedly a runaway slave. Max had to respect anyone who had survived such a life, much less escaped and journeyed all the way to Rowan.

“You live here now,” he said gently. “You have no brayma anymore.”

“So where is that ship from?” she asked, still wary.

“It’s from Blys,” Max replied. “And it’s no merchant—that standard belongs to the king himself. The white pennon beneath is a sign of truce. Apparently, Prusias wants to talk.”

“D-do you think the king is aboard?” stuttered a boy with terrible burn scars.

“I doubt it,” said Max. “It’s not his style to slip quietly into port. If Prusias visits us again, he’ll be leading an army.”

“So war is coming here,” moaned Jack with gloomy resignation. “I thought I’d finally found someplace safe, but everyone keeps talking of war. They say Rowan broke the peace and it’s only a matter of time before the demons come for us.”

Max gazed down at Gravenmuir’s ruins, its spires littering the harbor like barrow markers.

“They may be right,” he admitted soberly. “War may come here. But keep your chin up. I’ve been traveling far and wide these past few months. Rowan’s not the only one who kicked the hornet’s nest. At the moment, the demons fear Astaroth and each other far more than they do us. So do your duty, learn to handle that spear, and pray you never need to use it.”

Stretching his tired limbs, Max gestured for the spyglass.

“And now I have to go,” he announced. “The Director probably had warning of that ship, but I need to make certain.”

“But you can’t just leave,” said Jack, grinning up at him. “You’re our prisoner. You gotta pay a ransom or something.”

With an amused grunt, Max dug into his pack and retrieved a leather pouch. “A Zenuvian kraken for each and a piece of maridian heartglass for your fearless captain.” He handed the smooth disk of pearly, translucent stone to Tam. “I won that off a smuggler in Khoreshi. He said if you hold it up to the hunter’s moon, the stone will reveal your true love.”

“Does it work?” she wondered, turning it over.

“Didn’t dare peek. But you give it a try someday and let us know.”

Flushing pink, she studied the heartglass until Jack hooted and she threatened to brain him. His captivity ended, Max turned for the Manse. The others followed along, peppering him with questions as his long strides took him past the academic buildings. He was glad to see Maggie, stout and solid, her pale gray stone peeking modestly from beneath her ivy. Beyond her was Old Tom, stately and elegant with his tall clock tower and broad sweep of marble steps. They had almost reached the Manse when Max noticed someone sitting on the edge of the fountain at its steps, watching their approach with a bemused expression. When their eyes met, the man tipped his cap.

“Back where you belong and in one piece besides,” he drawled. “Who’d have thought?”

Grinning, Max strode over to greet Rowan’s chief game warden. It was unusual to find Nolan outside the Sanctuary, but Max was glad he had. The man’s wry, weather-beaten face was as warm and welcome as a winter fire. With a laugh, Nolan popped up and embraced him.

“You know, I think you’re taller than Cooper,” he observed, sizing Max up. “Shoot, you’ll be catching Bob next.”

“He might be big, but we still took him prisoner,” Jack announced.

“I can see that, son,” quipped Nolan. “Hope you weren’t too rough. You have any idea who you’ve captured?”

“He says he’s Max McDaniels,” muttered Tam. “Whatever that means.”

Nolan scratched his graying side whiskers and cocked an eyebrow. “Well, I’ll give you a hint what that means. Take a good look around this place, young lady. Without our Max, I don’t think it’d be here. Heck, I don’t think I’d be here. So let’s show a little respect. Why, you’re just lucky Hannah didn’t hear you.”

“Who’s she?” said Tam, scuffing her boots. “His girlfriend?”

“I hope not,” Nolan chuckled. “She’s a goose. Anyway, y’all head off now and leave Max be. I need a private word with him. And curfew’s about over, so try not to assault anyone till breakfast.”

Once they’d finally shuffled out of earshot, Nolan shook his head. “Breaks my heart,” he sighed. “We’ve got hundreds of those kids showing up every day now, scared and starving. They all want to help, but mostly they just get underfoot. Anyway, we got word you’d returned when you passed by Wyndle Farm. Director asked me to keep a lookout for you.”

“Why’d she bother you?” asked Max. “Why not send an Agent?”

“They’re all busy. Been scrambling since the watchtowers caught sight of that ship. Half the Red Branch is already here. Cooper was up north, but he’s on his way. In the meantime, Richter wants you to clean up and report

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