The Eighth Court (The Courts of the Feyre)

ONE

The fair was an assault on the nostrils. The press of bodies intermingled with the sickly scent of spun sugar over diesel fumes from the generators, cut by the ozone tang of sparking electricity from the rides, gave him indigestion, not helped by the thumping bass of the music. It had Marshdock feeling sick even before he’d found the meeting place.

One of the oldest of the travelling fairs – originally they’d been a nexus for information exchange and maintaining contacts, but these days they were merely an amusement for those who liked such things. The dark came early this time of year, and the last of the families were drifting towards the edges of the fair; kids clinging with sticky fingers to trophy bears and being rewarded with toffee-coated apples and doughnuts laden with sugar and cinnamon. Soon the families would be gone and a teenage crowd would slip in between the rides and the shooting galleries in search of a different kind of thrill.

“Scream if you want to go faster!” That was the call.

No one did business here any more. Normally he would not grace it with his presence but he’d received a tip-off that there would be something special for him, as long as he collected in person.

Information like that always carried a premium, and being the sole source would mean that he could pay off favours that were long overdue and start to build up some capital again. The last year had been lean. Nothing was said, but he had the distinct sense that someone had put the word out that he was no longer to be trusted. It had been like that ever since the girl – Blackbird – had brought him an unwanted visitor. It hung on him like a curse, and it rankled with him that he had helped them and got nothing in return. It showed weakness, and in his line of work that was a luxury you couldn’t afford. He walked past the dodgems and threaded through the crowds heading for the darker edges of the fair between the rides and the caravans.

Since the incident in Covent Garden, Carris had been a refugee. She appeared when it suited her, and where she went in the meantime no one knew. In truth, no one really cared. She would drink and curse and swear revenge against the one who had killed Fenlock, her lost love, but everyone knew she would not face his killer directly. The word these days was that Fenlock’s murderer was Warder-trained and everyone knew the Warders stuck together. No one wanted that kind of trouble, even for a price; not that Carris had anything to offer.

So the invitation to meet Carris had been intriguing. Delivered through numerous proxies to ensure that her location wasn’t discovered, it was pitched well beyond anything she could normally demand, indicating that she thought she’d stumbled on something worthwhile. His initial scepticism had been tempered by the condition that he meet her here in Nottingham, while the fair was in full swing, making Marshdock wonder if she’d been travelling with the fair all along. It would explain her erratic appearances.

There were hints in the message that she was onto something big – something that the Lords and Ladies would be interested to know, and that kind of favour was always worth cultivating. Carris couldn’t take it to them direct because that would mean dealing with the Warders, and she was understandably shy of that. Since Carris trusted no-one else to act as go-between, Marshdock could earn favour on both sides by bridging the gap.

Wrapping himself in