Kenneth and Thorn have infiltrated a noble’s mansion as part of their mission as Enforcers. They hope to discover more about the Iris, a group of mages who threaten to overthrow their government and abuse those without magic to do it.
What they discover at the mansion of one of the oldest and richest noble mage families is more than just promises of wealth. They will have to stay hidden and fight past twisted mind magic in order to discover the Iris’ true goals. But if they’re too late, the Iris will claim even more victims.
Thorn half dozed, supporting his lover Kenneth as the mage slept in the grass. The sun traveled overhead. Prickles of sweat beaded on Thorn’s body where Kenneth’s weight lay on his shoulder, but he made no effort to move. He wanted to relax as much as he could before their mission began.
They needed information on the Iris, on groups of talentless and mage pairs the Iris was using for who knew what. They’d investigate the Marman mansion, a mere half day’s ride away, and with any luck figure out what the Iris was doing with the talentless they employed.
Thorn hoped it wasn’t as bad as the things Alder used to do. If he could shoot the man again, he would, and twice more for what he’d done to Kenneth. He stroked Kenneth’s forehead, the breeze from the surrounding fields ruffling his hair. Blond, usually, but disguised brown for now, for their mission.
“By the aether, how can you deal with that sort of speed?” A familiar voice pulled Thorn out of his half-rest. Kenneth stirred, yawned, and sat up.
Auri appeared from behind the wagons. Thorn sighed. Auri, a mage who pretended to be a talentless. Thorn hoped he’d be useful for something. It would be foolish of them to turn down help, but Thorn wasn’t convinced Auri belonged there, especially if he could barely handle the speed spell they’d used to get this far. Not to mention that Auri knew little about either of them. He didn’t even know Thorn was truly talentless.
“Sorry,” Kenneth said, rubbing his eyes. “I should’ve given you more of a warning about the speed spell.” His eyes glinted with amusement, but he hid it as Auri thumped to the grass beside Thorn.
“No.” Auri held up a hand. “I couldn’t stomach it.”
“All right then,” Thorn said. The time to relax was over. “I suppose, as much as I’d like to keep napping here in the sun, we should figure out the plan.” There was no sign of the rolling fields of wheat Kenneth had mentioned was the source of the Marman’s wealth, but the verdant green grass spoke a lot about the fertile ground here. A dandelion puff floated past, reminding him of the fields near the Victeni mansion. If only he and Kenneth were alone...
“I can tell you that the Marmans have an incredible amount of talentless servants,” Auri said. “But, as I’ve heard, they rotate. During harvest they employ nearly a hundred, but those who work year-round are the ones we’d have to talk to in order to get real information.”
Thorn exchanged glances with Kenneth. This was his area of expertise.
“Nobles typically employ talentless to keep up their mansions,” Kenneth began, “although during the war, some noble families stopped doing that. Do you happen to know if the Marmans were one of those?”
“What’s that matter?” Auri said. “And no, I don’t think so.”
“It would give us some insight into what they think of talentless in general,” Kenneth said. “Sain told me explicitly that the Marmans do not like talentless. Believe it or not, some noble families haven’t employed talentless since the war, preferring to keep apart from them entirely. If they didn’t employ anyone during the war and now they do, that’s useful to know. But I digress.” Kenneth waved a hand. “The point is that typically a noble family will either employ talentless during the day, as housecleaners or cooks and the like, and send them home afterward, or they’ll keep them in those same positions but provide living space.”
Thorn nodded. The second was what the Victenis did.
“If they do the latter, which the Marmans must do by necessity, considering the size of their grounds and farms, they’ll arrange for payment to be sent to the families of the employees if the employee chooses. Do you know of anyone in Ottrisen who receives such money, or who would expect to receive it and hasn’t?”
Auri blinked. “No. And which noble family are you a part of, to know so much?”
Thorn winced. They hadn’t been that honest with Auri, and now wasn’t the time.
“I won’t tell you, if only for your own protection,” Kenneth said. “If something happens, it’s easier for you to claim we paid you and you know nothing of us beyond the fact we’re Enforcers with a lot of coin.”
Auri gave Thorn a sideways glance. “Fine. But to answer your questions, I have no clue. The people I tend to spend time with these days don’t cater to the Marmans. In fact”—he pulled a blade of grass out of the ground—”I would say few talentless in Ottrisen would want to work for them full-time. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are very few full-time workers there.”
Kenneth nodded. That was what Thorn had been afraid of. If rumors were swirling, people would avoid the mansion. But it might work in their favor. The Marmans might be desperate for help.
As would the Iris, looking for talentless to pair with non-nobles as lifemates.
“All right,” Thorn said, talking over the rushing of grass that began when a light breeze kicked up. “Kenneth, let’s decide now. Do we all claim to be talentless, or do you want to maintain your status as a mage?”
Kenneth dropped his gaze, following a dandelion puff as it blew past. “What benefit would my posing as a talentless give us?”