“Of course,” the mage said, blessing Gemma with a soft smile.
“And I’m afraid I have done you a great discourtesy, but I am afraid I might also offend you, so if you would prefer not to answer, please don’t.”
“What is your name?”
The mage’s soft smile cracked into a grin so pleased and handsome Gemma had to briefly shield her eyes from the sight. “You can call me Stil,” he said.
“Then, craftmage Stil,” Gemma said. “Thank you, for saving my life,” she said, curtseying.
Stil returned the gesture with a deep bow. “It has been my pleasure.”
Gemma could only nod and self-consciously fix her hair band.
Stil left, and Gemma had just enough time to secure the wad of gold flax fibers in the sleeve of her dress before the door clanked open.
King Torgen brutishly pushed his way in, almost knocking over one of his guards to do so. He claimed the spindle of gold thread and held it above his head so it glowed in the morning light.
“Gemma Kielland,” he said when he was finished gazing at it. “You are a treasure.”
Although the words sounded nice, the look on the king’s face made Gemma shift uncomfortably. His eyes were no longer lit by mild greed, but by a ravenous appetite. His smile was more of a snarl. He looked as if he wanted to eat Gemma—or at least roast her alive.
“Take her back to her cell!” King Torgen snapped at the guards before he returned his attention to the gold thread.
“Come, Miss,” the captain of Gemma’s guards said, grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her out of the room as quickly as possible. She barely had time to bow to Prince Toril, who was kicking up his heels in the hallway, before her guards hurried her away at a trot. They slowed only when they reached the stairs.
“What was that for?” Gemma asked.
“It is not wise to place you near the King when he is in such a mood,” a guard said.
Gemma glanced at her escort. “What mood would that be?”
“Madness,” another guard grimly said.
They were silent until they reached the dungeons. Gemma thought they would lock her in her cell without anything further to say, so she was surprised when the guards stopped some feet away from her cell.
“Yes?” she said when she realized they were all staring at her.
“We never thanked you, Miss Kielland, for coming back,” the captain said, snapping a salute at Gemma—his men mimicked him.
“Oh,” Gemma said, awkwardly clasping her hands together. “You’re welcome.”
“Is there anything at all we can do to repay you for your kindness?” the captain—and apparently the spokesperson said.
“No,” Gemma said, somewhat bemusedly. All the strange and uneven deals she had been involved in the past few days were increasing. She couldn’t give Stil anything of worth; the guards couldn’t do anything to help her, and Gemma’s only useful skill was sewing. “Unless,” Gemma said, brushing her skirt to feel the pack of sewing needles from Grandmother Guri bump her skin. “There is something,” she said, pulling the puff of gold fibers out of her sleeve. “If I give you this, could you have someone purchase fabric for me?”
The captain took the golden flax with wide eyes. “This is from—,” he started before breaking off and shaking his head.
“We could melt it down,” the guard Gemma recognized as Foss said. “I have a brother-in-law who is a goldsmith. He’ll keep his mouth shut so the King doesn’t hear about it.”
“We could trade for the fabric if it wasn’t so recognizable,” another soldier said.
“What did you have in mind?” the captain asked.
Gemma’s forehead furrowed as fabrics and patterns flipped through her mind. “I will need silver thread—black thread too. A lot of it. And I think…black wool and dark blue silk.”
Lady Linnea snored and rolled over in her sleep. It was dawn. Usually she was up by now, practicing sword techniques with the fireplace poker. But last night she stayed awake much longer than she meant to, fretting about Gemma.
How was Gemma getting the gold thread? Could she really get it a second time? How could she be smuggled out? These thoughts tormented Lady Linnea into the wee hours of the morning.
So it was to Lady Linnea’s great chagrin that she didn’t wake up until something tapped the glass pane of her window.
Lady Linnea, about as picturesque as a ruined soufflé, picked her head off her goose-feather pillow. “What?” she said, smacking her lips several times. When she noticed the dark shape crouched by her window, she had a dagger in her hands in an instant.