Denis stepped back from the door. The House of
Courtenay generally contained some stock of the
goods in which its owners dealt, including the fancy
weapons that were the specialty of the house. Also
there was usually a considerable supply of coin on
hand. The place was a natural target for thieves,
and for any member of the household to open any
exterior door to anyone, particularly at night, was
no trivial matter. The only thing for Denis to do
now was to rouse the household steward, Tarim,
and get his orders as to what to do next.
Crossing the workshop, Denis approached the
door to the ascending stair that led to the next
highest level of the house; Tarim slept up there,
along with most of the rest of the resident staff.
Denis opened the door-and stopped in his tracks.
Looking down at him from the top of the first
flight, holding a candle in her small, pale hand, was
one of the characters from his recent waking
dream, the Lady Sophie herself, mistress of this
house. Denis’s surprise was at seeing the lady there
at all. Family quarters were located on the upper
levels of the house, well above the noise and smoke
and smell of the shop when it was busy, and of the
daytime streets. Her tiny but shapely body was
wrapped in a thick white robe, contrasting sharply
with her straight black hair. It was hard to believe
that any faint sound at the back door could have
roused the lady from her bed.
The mistress called down: “Denis? What is it?”
He thought she sounded nervous.
Denis stood there hugging his bare chest.
“There’s someone at the back door, Mistress. I
could see only one man. Looked like he was hurt,
but I didn’t open.”
“Hurt, you say?”
It looked and sounded to Denis almost as if the
lady had been expecting someone to arrive tonight,
had been waiting around in readiness to receive
them. Denis had heard nothing in particular in the
way of business news to make him expect such a
visitor, but such a nocturnal arrival in itself would
not be very surprising. As the headquarters of a
company of traders, the house was accustomed to
the comings and goings of odd people at odd hours.
Denis answered, “Yes, Ma’am, hurt. And it looked
like he only had one arm. I was just going to arouse
Tarim . . .”
“No.” The mistress was immediately decisive.
“Just stand by there for a moment, while I go get
“Yes, Ma’am.” It was of course the only answer
Denis could give, but still it was delayed, delivered
only to the lady’s already retreating back. Denis
was puzzled, and a moment later his puzzlement
increased, for here, already fully awake and active
too, came Master Courtenay himself. Courtenay
was a moving mountain of a man, his great bulk
wrapped now in a night robe of a rich blue fabric.
With a lightness and quickness remarkable for his
size, the master came almost skipping down the
stairs, his lady just behind him.
Arriving on the ground floor, the master of the
house faced Denis directly. The two were almost of a
height, near average, though Courtenay weighed easily
twice as much as his lean employee, and was possibly
three times as massive as his small wife: Courtenay
was not yet thirty, as nearly as Denis could judge, and
very little of his bulk was fat, though in his robe he
looked that way. Nor could he be described as stupid,
as Denis had realized on his own first day here,
despite what a first glance at Courtenay’s face
suggested-of course he could hardly be unintelligent
and have prospered as he evidently had.
The master brushed back his almost colorless hair
from his uninviting face, a gesture that seemed more
one of worry than of sleepiness. In his usual mild
voice he said, “We’ll let the rest of the household go
on sleeping, Denis.” Behind the master, his lady was
already closing the door to the ascending stair. “The
three of us will manage,” Courtenay went on. “The
man’s hurt, you say?”
“Looks like it, sir.”
“Still, we’ll take no chances more than necessary.
Help yourself to a weapon, and stand by.”
“Yes sir.” In the year and a half that. he had been
at the House of Courtenay, Denis had learned that
there were stretches of time in which life here began
to seem dull. But so far those stretches had never
extended for any unbearable length of time.
Over on the far side of the shop, the mistress was
lighting a couple of oil lamps. And when she brought
her hands down from the lamp shelf and faced around
again, Denis thought that he saw something trailing
from her right hand. He caught only a glimpse of the
object before it vanished
between folds of her full robe. But, had he not been
convinced that Mistress Sophie was only a delicate
little thing who loved her luxury, he would have
thought that she was holding the leather thongs of a
hunter’s or a warrior’s sling.
The more recent years of Denis’s young life had
been generally peaceful, first as an acolyte of Ardneh
in the White Temple, then here in the House of
Courtenay as apprentice trader and general assistant.
But he had spent the longer, earlier portion of his
existence serving a different kind of apprenticeship.
That had been in the slum streets of Tashigang, and it
had left him indelibly familiar with the more
unpeaceful side of life. So now he was reasonably
calm as he moved to the display of decorative
weapons that occupied a good part of one side of the
large room. There he selected an ornate battle-
hatchet, a weapon of antique design but sharp-edged
and of a pleasantly balanced weight. With this in hand,
Denis nodded that he was ready.
Master Courtenay, already standing by the back
door, returned the nod. Then he turned to the door and
made use of the peephole and the Old World light. In
the next moment Courtenay had unbarred the door
and yanked it open. The crumpled body that had been
sitting against it on the outside came toppling softly
Denis sprang forward, quickly closed the door and
barred it up again. Meanwhile the master of the house
had stretched the unconscious man out full length on
the floor, and was examining him with the aid of the
Old World light.
The mistress, one of the more conventional lamps in
her hand, had come forward to look too. Quickly
she turned to Denis. “He’s bleeding badly. You were a
servant of Ardneh, see what you can do for him.”
Denis was not usually pleased to be asked to
administer medical treatment; he knew too well his
own great limitations in the art. But his urge to please
his mistress would not let him hesitate. And he knew
that his years in Ardneh’s service had left him almost
certainly better qualified than either of his employers.
He nodded and moved forward.
The man stretched out on the floor was not young;
his unconscious face was weatherbeaten over its
bloodless pallor, and the hair that fanned out in a wild
spread on the flat stones was gray. Standing, he would
have been tall, with a well-knit, sturdy body marred by
the old amputation.
“His right arm is gone.” That was the mistress,
speaking thoughtfully, as if she were only musing to
Denis heard her only absently; the man’s fresh
wounds were going to demand a healer’s full attention.
A lot of blood was visible, darker wetness on the
Quickly Denis began to peel back clothes. He cut
them away, when that was easier, with a keen knife
that the master handed him. He also tossed aside a
mean-looking cudgel that he found tucked into the
“I’ll need water, and bandages,” he announced over
his shoulder. There were two wounds, and both
looked bad. “And whatever medicines we have to stop
bleeding.” He paused to mumble a minor spell for that
purpose, learned in his days as Ardneh’s servitor. It
was about the best that Denis
could do in the way of magic, and it was very little.
Perhaps it brought some benefit, but it was not going
to be enough.
“I’ll bring you what I can find,” replied the mistress
of the house, and turned away with quick efficiency.
Again Denis was surprised. He had long ago fixed
her image in his mind as someone who existed to be
pampered . . . could that really have been a sling he’d
seen her holding?
But now the present task demanded his full
attention. “We ought to put him on my bed,” said
Denis. And Courtenay, strong as a loadbeast and
disdaining help, scooped up the limp heavy form as if
it had been that of a small child, and held it patiently