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Debriefing

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"You manipulated me," said Costis. "Again."

He was halfway to resigned already, but Costis's temper was always slower than his wits. He didn't really need the explanation. He didn't even need the audience, but he was here anyway in the king's private receiving room, glowering over his folded arms at the king where he lounged smugly in his chair.

"What are you going to do, Costis?" said the king. "Challenge me to a duel?"

It was as if Eugenides had thought very carefully about what would help to ease Costis's anger. And then did the opposite.

Costis scowled even more deeply. But he answered with patience.

"No, Your Majesty," he said. "At this point it would be a waste of my investment."

"Investment?" The king raised one eyebrow. "Your investment?"

"My investment," Costis said firmly. "I spent a great deal of gold, sweat, and blood on this mission." Then added for good measure: "My own and other people's."

A quizzical look flickered over the king's face, followed by something unreadable. Costis had never yet succeeded in shaming Eugenides with reminders of his personal sacrifices, partly because his sacrifices were assumed in his sacred oath, and partly because the king had almost no shame to provoke.

"Have I lost your faith, then, Costis?" said the king, with mournful mockery.

Their eyes met. The mockery was real. So was the mourning. So was the question. Costis shut his eyes and exhaled a suffering sigh. He did not uncross his arms, but the ratchet of his shoulders came down a click.

That seemed to be answer enough. "You are right about one thing," said the king, seriously. "It would only be just to acknowledge your...investment. An interesting way to put it. Your friend is rubbing off on you."

Costis opened his eyes, scowling again.

"You did everything I asked you to do." The acknowledgement was even worse than the mockery, Costis decided. "And you did it very well."

"Except," Costis grated, "that he had to be tricked into coming in the first place."

"Well, you couldn't do that part." The king flicked a reasonable gesture with his hand. "I had to make that part someone else's job. You really have no talent for lying, Costis."

"Or taste for it either, Your Majesty." Lying was a language, it seemed, that everybody could speak but him. And he didn't usually mind, except that his friend....

"Exactly," said the king. "And nobody but you could do the rest. Have you noticed yet that Ornon didn't actually succeed in bridging the gap? Tell me about this wine merchant of Kamet's."

Costis was not going to explain about Immakuk and Ennikar out loud, not with the king's attendants lurking around like barn cats with their ears swiveling. He thought about it. "Do you remember that night on the wall?"

The king's expression wasn't promising, but he straightened in his chair, subtly. "So?"

"Sometimes there was time to fill, on the trip," Costis said. "So Kamet told a number of stories. He said you'd heard at least one of them."

The king's eyes narrowed.

"The wine merchant was a big man," Costis said, as if returning to the topic from a digression. "He was missing his right eye." Then he thought about it. "So was the onion farmer who beguiled us into the town," he added, slowly. "And then there was the other one." He was silent, thinking some more.

"The other one?" Eugenides prompted.

"Don't remember that part very well." Not true; Costis remembered vividly, but couldn't be sure what was reliable. "I was running a fever at the time."

The king was picking absently at the arm of his chair with the point of his hook. It occurred to Costis that the king didn't have to wonder what it felt like to be manipulated. But he was pretty sure that if he, Costis, wanted to smash every window in the palace, he would have to do them one by one. The thought was not unsatisfying. He felt his lips twitch, imagining it.

"What," said the king, suspiciously. "What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing, Your Majesty," said Costis. "Just that window glass is expensive."

"So it is." The king sighed and rubbed his face with his hand.

Costis wasn't angry any more. He let his arms fall to his sides. And waited.

Eugenides looked up with a tired smile. "Anything else, Costis?"

Costis shook his head. "What's next, My King?"

His king relaxed again into the upholstery. "I do have a suggestion," he said.

Too late, Costis narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Will I like it?"

Eugenides smiled. "You might."

*