The homunculous must be pumped full. Durrin and Strout, who took great relish in finding appropriate prey, had poured fresh blood into the vat this morning, but since the King had agreed with A’Sing – that his probing would commence in a day and a half – their hunting time had been reduced. Just as well, Elymas reflected, for too many had already disappeared from the Nawab population.

Nawabs were contemptuously called “Dabbers” as they came from the swamps and, though living in a city of wood and stone, still preferred mud huts. They lived on the delta created by the Seektree River and worked as laborers. Summertime and harvest, they were used in the fields. A silent, ubiquitous population, pickings from their community had been easy, and doubtless, Durrin and Strout had gone too far. In the shadows this evening, he’d noticed one of their number, an angry and surprisingly clean male, who looked as though he wished to speak. Elymas had instantly known what it was about, and had signaled for one of the guards to shuffle him out the door. Let the Dabber complain next session.

In the meantime, he’d direct Durrin and Strout to other prey. Urchins were everywhere.

Also, he must send out a squad of Sacred Servants to find and kill the new earth child. Of course, Oren Whitehair had been telling the truth. That he’d missed the signs normally signaling the birth of his successor — the budding of the tree, the flare of a star, a new shoot — were concerns he’d deal with later. Now, the child must be found. He toyed with the idea of sending Durrin and Stout to find it. They were best, for they hunted not just from a sense of duty but for the pure enjoyment of capture and kill. That would, however, leave him entirely responsible for the filling of the blood vat. Better to send a different batch of Sacred Servants, and if they were clumsy and had to kill every infant child from here to the Nevers, so be it. He would not hunt for prey in hovels.

There was another matter which he meant to attend to — something to do with Durrin and Strout — but for now the matter escaped him. The more powerful effects of the Frennin White had worn off, and he was left with a pleasurable sense of well-being. Elymas felt warm inside. He had nothing left now but to sit back and enjoy the last of the wine.

Truth be told, he really wasn’t bothered that the probing would come sooner than customary, only with the fact that it had been ordered. He did not take orders. But as for the Skylls, no question they could ask him would expose him because they weren’t dealing with a real man. They were dealing with his homunculus, as they had been for well over two hundred years.

He’d hit upon the idea of a double shortly after his initial probing, a process which he’d found tedious, intrusive, and humiliating — and one at which he’d failed miserably.