Killing a man was easy. You took a knife, of Xanamwiinik steel or of good obsidian from the Coyoalco mines, and you pushed it with force and determination past skin and muscle and bone. You struck at the heart, you severed its spirit from the body, you let the precious liquid drain into gutters on stone streets very far from all you knew before, in a land where they did not know the gods or offer them sacrifice. You killed a man, then, with less ceremony than you used to kill turkeys at home, and you left him there, and you walked away.
Death was inevitable in the service. Kaab’s mother had told her so, when young Kaab had first begun to understand the implications of her destiny. Those dedicated to it had to be brave and tempered, prepared at all times to send someone’s heart-spirit to pass through the houses beneath the earth, or to take that great journey themselves. Kaab had nearly vomited when she’d seen Citlali’s body, the side of her head dimpled and purple like a rotten squash, that last horrible night in Tultenco. Her uncle Ahkitan had had to drag her away.
This time she had walked away on her own. That awful swordsman from Tremontaine House had died on her dagger’s blade, and her hands had not so much as trembled as she sheathed it and headed home. Her aunt Saabim and uncle Chuleb had commended her for efficiently eliminating the threat that the Tremontaine swordsman had represented. They were including her in discussions of what to do about the problem of the Duchess Tremontaine. Kaab should have been happy. She was beginning to redeem herself in the eyes of her family. She had a beautiful lover. The horrible weather had finally begun to warm to a bearable temperature. And she was happy. Surely she was.
But she couldn’t sleep. She lay on her mat with her eyes on the square of light that traveled across the ceiling as the waning moon traveled across the sky. She considered sneaking away through the west gate, past the guards who knew to expect cacao if they could be understanding about such things. She could wake Tess and they could make love and surely then she would be able to sleep. But she had many chores to do tomorrow, and if she stayed with Tess tonight, she would be in Riverside all morning, immoderately exhausting her head-spirit on sexual activities. No, her family came first, always. And it was of utmost importance that she continue her investigation of the Duchess Tremontaine.
It didn’t appear that Rafe had said anything to his merchant father about his and Micah’s discoveries about Kinwiinik navigation, but that didn’t mean that he hadn’t. In any case, knowing what she did about Rafe and his relationship with the Tremontaine duke, she felt quite sure that he had shared it with his lover. The Balams would need a great deal of information, a great deal of leverage, to successfully counteract any move Tremontaine might make based on their new navigational knowledge. And from what she knew of that dangerous woman, it was the duchess, not the duke, who was precisely the crack in the mortar to which they needed to apply pressure.
Not that her hunch had resulted in tangible benefits, as of yet. Which was why she had to be rested and awake with the dawn to interview the Lady Hemmynge. It was her only opportunity to speak with someone who had a first-hand connection with the duchess’s past.
She could not sacrifice that for a night with Tess, however beautiful. Perhaps, though, Tess could give her some insight about Lady Hemmynge, this dowager aunt of Tremontaine, and what questions Kaab should ask. Kaab squeezed her eyes shut and hugged her knees to her chest. The thought was too sweet. She wanted to linger on it like a calabash candy; she wanted to imagine herself with a lifetime of nights and days with Tess, telling her everything and hearing everything Tess had to say. But of course she couldn’t. Tess wasn’t part of the family, and as a woman, she could never marry into it, as Chuleb had done. Kaab simply didn’t have the freedom to share family matters with an outsider. Especially not with a foreigner.
Contemplating the hard limits of her newfound joy with Tess did not make her want to cry, of course. It was certainly not responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of her skin on the woven reed mat. The mat pricked and itched and exuded the scent of drying grass and burning mesquite, the smells of the desert where she had lain in the nights during their flight from Tultenco and stared up at the stars that would eventually guide her across the sea. The stars that Citlali had been named for.
A small shadow crossed the bar of light painting the ceiling. Something scratched the wood by the open window. Kaab jumped up and reached for her knife.
But what was crouched upon her windowsill was nothing that required a sharp edge. It was a possum, a thousand needle teeth bared and eyes like twin moons in the dark of her bedroom. Impossible—there were no possums in this foreign...