Later that night, she stood with Shy in a library. Count Jonsen held a book in his hand. He was tall, dark-haired, well-dressed, and well-groomed. Everything a count should be. He wore a heavy cloak—the room was cold with the autumn evening—and purple velvets. He set the book down, took a breath, then sat. He looked at them.

“All dead?” he asked.

Tamyn nodded. “Yes, sir.” Her hair was matted and her clothes torn. The scar on her face was no longer bleeding but had turned an awful red color. Her elven blood was working on it. She had not bothered to change. Shy stood beside her in the same condition.

He turned and sat down at a small table. He lifted a silver cover and looked at the meal beneath it. Lamb, steamed vegetables, bread. He began carving the lamb. “And you think it was a trap?”

“I know it was a trap, sir,” she told him.

He finished with the knife and picked up his fork, pausing before he ate. “How do you know?”

She felt the scar on her cheek burn. Shy stitched it well enough, but the pain was still sharp. “Sir,” she told him, “no one knew which way we were traveling. From which way we were to approach the forest.”

“The bandits did,” Count Jonsen said. He nodded, slowly understanding.

She nodded. “Yes. Exactly.”

He took a bite of the lamb and smiled. Then, he said, “That indicates someone in this household overheard my orders and your plans.” He shook his head. “Household intrigue. I don’t like it.”

Tamyn felt her stomach grumble. Watching Jonsen eat after days of dried fruit and meat. She heard a sound come from Shy’s belly.

“Oh, forgive me,” Jonsen said. “You must be famished.” He turned to a servant. “Please, fetch two more plates.”

The servant nodded and turned away. Jonsen picked up a goblet of wine. “Now,” he said. “How will we unveil this… spy in my household?”

“Fire the servants,” Tamyn said.

Jonsen made a sour face. “All of them?”

She nodded. “All of them.”

He shook his head. “Nonsense,” he said. “Surely, there is a way to do this that doesn’t involve such drastic measures.”

“If I may, sir?” Shy asked.

The count nodded and Shy continued.

“Tamyn and I have seen this before. Your brothers want your title. And if they’re willing to kill twelve men to get at you, they’re willing to kill you.”

The count laughed. “Nonsense,” he said. “Killing hired mercenaries is one thing, but my brothers would never…”

He saw the looks on Tamyn and Shy’s faces.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Tamyn nodded. “Yes, sir. We are.”

The count thought about that while he sipped his wine. He made a face, looking at the cup. “Bitter,” he said. He looked at a servant. “Fetch me another bottle. This one has gone bad.”

Tamyn looked at Shy. There was panic in his eyes. Both of them rushed forward. Shy knocked the glass from the count’s hand. Tamyn screamed at the servant.

“Water!” she said. “Fetch water! Now!”

The servant’s eyes grew wide and confused.

“Now!” she shouted again.

The servant rushed out.

“What is going…” the count tried to speak, but Tamyn held his jaw.

“Stay still!” she said. Then, she looked at Shy. “Hold him!”

Shy grabbed the count’s hands and held them down to the chair. “I’m sorry, sir.”

The count looked at her. “What treason is this?” he shouted.

“Shut up,” she said. Then, she pulled off her muddy gloves and shoved two fingers down the count’s throat.

He choked an objection. Tamyn kept his jaws apart with her left hand, reaching with her right. Then, she heard the sound she was reaching for. The count’s body buckled and she withdrew her fingers.

The count vomited on the table, his body wrenching. Both Tamyn and Shy held him. Then, when he was finally still, they eased their grip.

“What…” the count started. “What…”

Shy sniffed the bottle, then nodded at Tamyn.

“Arsenic,” she told the count. “In your wine.”

The count shook his head. His body was still trembling as he sat in the chair. His hands shaking. “Madness,” he said. “Complete and utter madness.”

The servant returned then, holding a pitcher of water. Shy took it and gave it to the count. “Drink this,” he said. “All of it.”

The count looked at Shy like he was mad. “Water?”

Tamyn nodded. “All of it.”

He looked at the pitcher, then at them. He drank. He drank until the pitcher was empty. Then, he put the pitcher on the library table.

“Someone is trying to kill me,” he said.

Tamyn nodded. “Yes. They used the bandits to draw us away, then tried to poison you.”

The count stood up for a moment, swaying. Tamyn and Shy held him. He shook them off.

“This is enough,” he said. “I am retiring my chair in the Senate.” He stepped over to a bookshelf, barely able to hold himself up. “Retiring. I will give my title to one of my brothers.”

Tamyn shook her head. “No, sir. You cannot do that. This is what they want you to…”

The count held up his hand. “The two of you will be well compensated, but I have no further need of you.” He waved at them. “Go see my clerk. He will pay you for your service to me.”

Tamyn looked at Shy. He grinned, slightly. She looked back at the count, knowing there was no convincing him.

“Thank you for saving my life,” the count said. “But your services are no longer needed.”

The count looked at the servant. “Show them out.”

The servant stepped forward, gesturing toward the library door. Tamyn and Shy walked out.

Once they were out the door and in the corridor, she told Shy, “He will be dead in a week.”

Shy shook his head. “A silver says less.”

The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Part 1, Chapter 2