Rakel Magnusdottir woke to a hand on her shoulder. She had halfway unsheathed the dagger under her pillow before she heard Kajsa’s voice informing her that it was dawn and that the bath was heated.
“Have you gotten a letter from Henrik Gunnarssen?” Rakel asked, rolling over and sitting up with bad grace.
“Yes, but how—” Kajsa began.
“Was it addressed to Rakel Magnusdottir or Master Magnusdottir?”
“The first,” said Kajsa, thoroughly confused. “How did you know?”
“He’s a man of habit,” Rakel said, reluctantly getting out of bed—one of the many downsides of working alongside the army was a lack of creature comforts, and this was the first time in three months she’d had any of them. “Have you eaten? Put breakfast on, then, and I’ll tell you everything.”
“Don’t you want to read the letter?”
“Why would I want to read it when I already know what it says?” Rakel replied, straight-faced.
Kajsa blinked, shook her head, and left. Rakel smiled to herself. Kajsa was a fine conjurer, but she hadn’t yet acquired that air of unflappability which came from dealing with diviners on a regular basis.
Rakel put on a robe and left the room. She had, in years past, put her training as a conjurer to good use, and she was now one of the wealthier people in the city. That translated into a nice house with a courtyard on one side, into which she stepped from the house, and a private steam bath tucked into the courtyard’s corner, a luxury she had sorely missed during the last few months. She went inside, stripped down, threw some water on the rocks over the stove, and basked for a few minutes. When she returned to the house, she smelled breakfast.
Kajsa was already seated and eating when Rakel came to the dining room. She nodded a hello, and Rakel sat.
“Business with the Magehunters?” Kajsa ventured.
Rakel swallowed a mouthful of tea and said, “I’m afraid so. Henrik didn’t tell me anything more, but it must have been important to pull me away from the front in a year like this.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Worse. The hiisi have passed the bulwarks, and Halfdan’s Wall is hard-pressed. We’re having to send patrols out behind it.”
“We did alright in the winter, though.”
“Well, they’ve been more ferocious than usual for some reason or another.”
“And here you are anyway,” Kajsa observed.
“So it must be bad,” finished Rakel. “Much worse than a simple rogue mage unless I miss my guess, and yet not urgent, or else he wouldn’t have told me I had time for breakfast and a bath.”
“I couldn’t begin to speculate,” said Kajsa.
“Neither can I,” said Rakel. “I do not like it at all. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough, though.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Keep running the shop,” Rakel said, pushing away her plate and standing. “Keep a reserve of the useful talismans. I don’t doubt I’ll need them, and you know how it is dealing with the Guild. Don’t let the customers know I’m back. I know Henrik will want secrecy.” She paused for a moment, ticking things off on her fingers. “That’s all. None of it very specific, I know, but if I need anything more I’ll be in touch.”
“You’ll be away for a while, then?” asked Kajsa.
“I wouldn’t count on my being back,” Rakel said. “Not soon, at least.” She made a noise of frustration. “I’d never have agreed to help Henrik that first time if I’d known what it would lead to.”
Diplomatically, Kajsa refrained from comment.