It Doesn’t Take Much to Unbalance the Illusion of Safety
“I looked like an idiot.”
“You looked dashing,” Gavin insisted.
“You looked dashing. I had a bow,” Owen grumbled. It had been really big. “Your whole plan for making everyone in the capital like me is to get them to laugh at me all the time.”
“Not really, but it’s a fun idea. Lots of people will be wearing bows, promise.”
“Not you, though.”
“No, they look stupid.” Gavin squeezed Owen’s hand as they walked away from the tailor’s shop. Owen was sure the tailor would have come to the castle, but Gavin had wanted to go for a walk in the city. Owen couldn’t say he was opposed to the idea. “On me, at least. I can’t ever convince them not to make one so huge that my head looks tiny.”
Owen snickered. “Is baby Gavin too little for big boy clothes?”
“Shut up or I’ll get the tailor to make the bow bigger.”
“Shutting up.” Gavin would, Owen knew.
“Besides, you’re only going to have to wear it for one night,” Gavin told him, looking around at the city. “Then I’ll take it off of you.”
That earned a grin from Owen. “While you were getting measured by the tailor all I could think—aside from how I’d break his hands if they went somewhere I didn’t like—was how good that outfit of yours is going to look on the floor after the banquet.”
Gavin bumped his shoulder. “You’re losing your edge. I was looking forward to seeing it in pieces after you tore it off me.”
“That can be arranged, your Highness.”
“Then I’m going to use the bow to tie your hands up.”
Gavin was silent for a moment, side-eyeing Owen. “I had that idea first.”
“Nope, I said it first, too late.”
“Fine,” Gavin said, sounding annoyed. “But only if you comport yourself properly at the banquet.”
“I’ll keep my elbows off the table.”
“I bet you can’t. If you slip up and do something dumb, I get to tie you up.”
Now Owen smirked, feeling a lot more confident as he nudged Gavin. “You really want to make bets with me? That didn’t go well for you last time.”
“That’s because you cheated,” Gavin said, kicking Owen’s boot.
“Not my fault you didn’t blow me enough times,” Owen told him, hands in his pockets. “I did my part.”
“You’re not human, I swear. Nobody has that much stamina. It’s…”
“Owen! Gavin!” They looked over—and the two castle guards following them did as well—to see Aria approaching them from another street. “Out for a walk?”
Gavin waved down the guards, nodding at Aria. “Getting Owen fitted for the banquet,” he told her as they joined her. Cleo was not far behind, Owen saw.
“Ah, yes. Should be fun, that. I had a new dress made an everything.” Aria smiled.
“A dress?” Owen couldn’t help but ask.
“Yes, it’s a garment typically worn by women at formal events,” she told him, fixing Owen with a flat look.
Owen chuckled. “Sorry. Just didn’t think you seemed like the type.”
“Well, they’re a little impractical when fighting, but otherwise…” Aria shrugged.
“Okay.” Owen smiled, then narrowed his eyes. On Gavin. “Aria knew about the banquet.”
“Well, yes. I told her.”
“You’re the worst.”
“You’d dissolve into a pile of tears without me,” Gavin told him, pinching Owen on the cheek. “What are you two ladies up to today?”
Aria and Cleo glanced at each other, and Gavin straightened. “What’s wrong?”
“Carter’s dead,” Aria told them, with a bit of a sigh.
“What?” Owen felt a chill go over him, remembering the young freerider’s face. “What happened?”
Cleo shook her head. “Some knights found his body in an alley not far from here a few days ago. His brother said they’d gone out drinking to celebrate Gabrielle renewing their contract.”
“So like a mugging or something?” Gavin asked, frowning and looking around.
“He was a pretty good fighter,” Owen shook his head. “Even drunk, I’m sure he would have…”
“He was gutted. And he still had coin in his pockets.” Aria crossed her arms.
There were moments in Owen’s life that he could pinpoint, where suddenly the world had seemed just a little bit more dangerous all at once, and this was one of them. “He was a perfectly nice guy. He put a tarp over my cage when it was storming. He didn’t need to do that.”
Gavin took Owen’s hand again, laced his fingers through Owen’s. “Do the guard know who was responsible?”
“Not yet. They’re looking for a street preacher who was ranting about the Leader right in front of the alley where Carter was found to ask if he saw anything. Nobody else they’ve spoken to knows anything.”
Gavin sighed, shaking his head. “They’re not going to find him.”
Owen looked at Gavin, then at Aria. “Is there anything we can do?”
“No, I don’t think so. Not unless you’ve seen him recently.”
Owen hadn’t, and shook his head.
Aria shook her head, giving a bit of a shrug. “Hopefully they’ll find something. A shitty way to die, murdered in an alley.”
“Most ways of dying are shitty,” Cleo said.
“We should go,” Aria told them. “A few more errands to run, sorry. We’ll see you at the banquet.”
“See you there,” Gavin said, and Owen nodded. The two women moved off. “Let’s go back to the castle.”
“Yeah. You okay?” Gavin looked angry.
Shaking his head, Gavin started walking. “No. Your friend got murdered. And…” He looked over his shoulder for a moment. “Something I haven’t told you.”
“What is it?”
“A few weeks ago in the First Church of the Blessed, someone found centipedes. Big, long, red centipedes.”
Owen felt another chill, this one reminiscent of a floating ice castle that he hoped never to see again. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Gavin said, in a whisper. “I don’t know, Owen. The capital…this is my city. It’s my home. Bad things are happening here and I don’t like it. I’ve never not felt safe here, but…”
Owen put an arm around Gavin as they walked, keeping an eye on the crowds. “Let’s figure out what we can do.”
“I don’t know that we can.”
“We can. There’s always something we can do. We’ll figure out why all these things are happening and then I’ll kill whatever is causing it.”
“I can.” Owen leaned in and kissed Gavin’s cheek. “I can, Gavin, because something is making you feel unsafe in your own home and I’m not going to let that happen. So let’s figure out what it is so I can kill it.”
Gavin gave a little laugh. “It’s probably not all one something. The world doesn’t run on conspiracies like that.”
“Then I’ll kill a lot of things,” Owen promised. “Don’t complicate this. It’s pretty straightforward.” Gavin felt threatened. Owen was going to get rid of whatever was making him feel that way. Simple.
“Yeah, okay.” Gavin smiled, leaned into Owen as they walked. “I’m sorry your friend died.”
“I am too. He was a nice person.”
“Yeah,” Gavin sighed. “Makes getting fitted for clothes seem really silly.”
“You’re still wearing the bow.”
Owen snorted. “So are you. Just later.”
Together they made it back to the castle without incident. Owen sharpened his sword that night, just because.