The shadow remained standing. Since the bed was the only seat in the room, he was not going to follow her invitation. He crossed his arms behind his back. "Thank you, but this is not my purpose today. I am here to confirm something."
The River Lady crossed her legs and leaned back until she rested on her elbows, her slender body a seductive curve of red fabric and creamy skin. In this position, one couldn't help but marvel at her voluminous chest, soft and partly uncovered. "And what would that be? What is making you so stiff and taunt?"
The way she spoke it, slowly and with a seductive smile in her voice, the words definitely had a double meaning. The shadow took a deep breath to calm himself down. On the one hand, he was annoyed to be affected, while on the other he respected her expertise. Seduction was her weapon of defense and attack at the same time, the best weapon she had. Since she knew he was an assassin once, it was her trying to get the upper hand. A good thing he wasn't here for a fight, because he didn't know if he could use knives and swords on a woman like her. Poisons, maybe. But she surely knew as much as him about those.
"Someone told me the River Lady is interested in the disappearances. I wonder if that is true?"
Though nothing in her pose changed, the shadow noticed the flash of calculation in her eyes. She looked the shadow up and down, trying to guess his reason for coming up with this sensitive topic. "Who would spread such nonsense?"
"The greedy greenhorn that tops my trade. He told me to give you greetings.", the shadow betrayed the phantom without remorse.
The River Lady took a second to understand, then she broke out in hearty laughter. Her admirable bosom trembled. "Greenhorn! He'd kill anyone that would dare to call him like that."
"He can't catch me yet.", the shadow exposed the newfound fact, not a hint of fear in his voice. That only made the River Lady laugh louder.
"They say you are as silent and cold as a blade, but nobody told me blades have humor!", she finally said and sat up, taking back a bit of her seductive aura deliberately. "Since you didn't try to kill me yet, I conclude that you aren't on 'their' side. What else could you want then?"
"A cooperation. You should have noticed that the net of the organization is too big to lift on your own. I am working for someone that might be able to save your girls. You would only need to provide the corresponding information and maybe a helping hand here and there." Though the tension between them had lessened to a certain degree, the shadow remained standing at the door, behaving like the messenger he was.
The River Lady didn't directly answer his proposal. She was a woman that didn't trust in things that came easily. The backer of the shadow had to be a powerful figure if he dared to go against the organization. Also, not just anyone could turn someone like the feared shadow into a messenger.
Twenty-six years ago, shortly before he vanished, there were rumors about the shadow having a backer in a high social position. According to the rumors, that person's death was the reason why the shadow vanished. Some went as far as to claim the shadow killed him in a bout of anger.
Looking at the calm and serious person before her, the River Lady knew they were wrong. Either the backer died in another way, or he might even be still alive, but reclusive for the last years. Anyway, the shadow appeared too controlled to act on an emotional whim.
If this transaction involved the former backer of the shadow, she had to be extra careful. Even after twenty-six years, there were no clues as to who this backer was. Favors owned to him could be just as dangerous as standing against the organization by herself.
"What kind of helping hand?", the River Lady asked.
Patiently, the shadow explained the temporary plan that would still be adjusted to changing circ.u.mstances. In the end, the River Lady slowly nodded her head. "This is acceptable. But since it is a give-and-take, I'd like to know your information about the organization first."
The shadow nodded understandingly. The River Lady was only being careful. But even though they would work together, he didn't plan to reveal everything to the other party. Some information was too dangerous to share.
"Their targets are mainly woman and children.", he began.
"Milady, I finished the book you gave me!", Hazel called out gleefully as she rushed into the room. She even forgot to knock, too excited to spread the good news. "I feel like I can read much faster now! It's amazing!"
With a bright grin, Katherine laid down her needlework and placed her hands on Hazel's shoulders. "Good work! You improved so much in a short time! I'm proud of you!"
The older girl blushed, suddenly embarrassed. "It's not such a big deal, Milady, I still can't - "
"Oh, stop undervaluing yourself!", Katherine interrupted her. Sometimes she wondered how someone could have such a low self-esteem. "You are doing great. You will learn to write faster in no time, too, you'll see."
Shyly, Hazel nodded. "I you say so, Milady."
"Yes, I say so! Now, dear, can you help me with this?" She held up the fabric she'd worked on. It was supposed to be a strap with a bracket for her only dagger. She wanted to sew it in a way it wouldn't slip down her leg if she put it there.
Since she finally got Nathaniel's approval to learn how to fight, she wanted to be somewhat prepared. Surprisingly, Nathaniel had ordered her to go find Jack for the training. She wondered if he trusted his skills more than Pete's or just wanted her to be out of the palace when she improved herself. Her guess was the latter. Tomorrow, after whatever operation they'd planned to catch one of the bigger fishes was over, she'd go over and start with the training.
Though Pete was bad at showing emotions to the extent of looking like a wooden block most of the time, Katherine was sure to have seen a glimmer of joy when he heard they would visit his silly companion. Katherine herself was happy, too. Seeing only one of the inseparable pair whenever she opened her chamber's door, had been kind of odd.
Happily, Hazel and Katherine continued to sew while she asked her a few things about the book she made her read. It was quite an easy one, filled with fables of dragons, fairies, and brave knights. Actually, it was the only book she'd unintentionally taken with her from the Dukedom of Sleipnir. Her mother liked to read it to her when she was little. A shame little Katherine didn't appreciate it enough and she never got to hear all the fables.
When her belongings were unpacked in Hymirhall, she'd noticed the book had somehow slipped into the boxes. Back then, she wasn't interested in something so childish, so she'd left it there and only remembered it when Hazel needed a reading exercise.
After answering a few questions, Hazel suddenly spoke up. "Milady, I, um, also looked into the letter at the back. It wasn't my intention, really. It was written in the same handwriting as the rest of the book and looked like a page that'd been ripped out. So... I hope you will forgive my trespassing."
Katherine's brows furrowed as her heart sped up. "Letter? What letter? Was it really in there? Show me!"
Fl.u.s.tered by her Lady's vehement reaction, Hazel stumbled over her words. "I-also- it really wasn't my intention. It is at the back of - "
Before she could end her sentence, Katherine was already on her feet and stormed off in search for the book. She never expected to find a hidden letter months after her parent's passing. Was there something her mother wanted to tell her? But how could she expect her death beforehand?