It was pockets Freng missed the most. Back in the Sun Empire, you wore as many layers of clothing as you could, to protect against the rain and the cold. Each layer could have many pockets. For a man like Freng, who had so many secrets to keep, several pockets, many hidden deep between the layers of clothing was very useful. Especially so considering the multitudes of thieves that lived in and around the corridors of power that ran through the heart of the Sun Empire like the mould through Glefling cheese.
He missed Glefling cheese too, come to that.
The loose diaphanous robes of the Summer Islands we no good for pockets, anything heavier than a feather would rip them apart. They were no good for concealing daggers or secrets, the two things that were essential for Freng and his work. He knew those corridors and secret passageways of the Sun City better than he knew the shapes of lines that crossed the palms of his hands.
She had held his hand in hers that last night. He could still smell the smoke from the royal apartments as Rona examined the lines of his palms. Freng didn’t believe in fortune telling, but Rona did and he saw the fear in her eyes when she tore her eyes from his palm to look up at him.
‘Go… go now,’ she said. A glance back across the damp city roofs towards the Sun Palace and the flames that were now visible, despite the rain.
‘Come with me.’
Rona shook her head. ‘I have to stay. My girls need me.’ Rona probably knew as many secrets as Freng, but she knew secrets that would keep her alive. Freng only knew secrets that would get him killed before the flames in the Sun Palace were extinguished.
He had to go and go now.
He’d escaped with only a minor wound to his arm. The sharp-pointed blade he kept in a special secret inner pocket of his waistcoat had saved him that time. He’d run for the boat, the Summer island sailors laughing to see the guards chasing him, probably laying bets on whether he’d make it to their boat before one of the crossbowmen bought him down.
That last bolt had been the closest. A few less layers of clothes and it would have taken his arm, smashing through the bone and pinning him to the hull of the Sun Island boat bobbing on the waves as the sailors readied their oars to take him to the ship.
He’d half expected to be robbed and thrown overboard between the Sun Empire and the Summer islands, but the captain owed Freng a debt. Freng had been the one to get the charges of high seas piracy dropped. As he’d said at the time to the Emperor, ‘you never know when you’ll need a fast ship and a captain who regards mere laws as a minor inconvenience to proper business.’
But now the emperor was dead… the palace burnt out. The Empress had put a price on Freng’s head. A price large enough to keep him here in the Summer Islands wishing he had more pockets and some secrets valuable enough to keep him safe, so he could go back home to the rain and to Rona.