CERISE brought Urow's boat alongside the Hand's second boat. A mangled corpse sprawled on the boat's deck, his chest a bloody mess of claw marks. A trail of slick bloody smudges led away from the cadaver to a small cabin.Oh no, Urow. No.Cerise jumped across the water, slid a little on the wet deck, and righted herself. William landed next to her, light on his feet like a cat. The salty metallic stench of fresh blood flooded her nostrils and coated the inside of her mouth, and for a few moments, she could smell and taste nothing else.She rushed to the cabin. The door hung crooked on its hinges. Cerise peered inside. Empty except for a corpse slumped against the cabin door."Here," William called.She circled the cabin. A woman's body lay crumpled on the deck by a pulley. Next to her Urow sagged, curled into a ball.Stupid man. Stupid, stupid man. She ran to him, grasped the shoulders, and heaved, flipping him on his back. A thick purple swelling marked his shoulder.Copper. Someone had poisoned Urow with copper. Heat washed over her. Only the family would know to do that: only Mars knew that Urow was meeting her. Someone had talked to the Hand. Cerise clenched her teeth. Why? Why would anyone do that?She probed the swollen mass of tissue with her fingers. She couldn't even find the wound."That's not normal," William said."There must've been copper shavings in the head of the bolt. It's poison to thoas. He's dying.""What can we do?"Nothing. "We must get him to his wife."She gripped his legs. William picked up Urow under his arms, grunted with effort, and lifted the body. They dragged him to the cutter."What the hell are you feeding him?" William growled."Bluebloods," she ground through her teeth.They maneuvered around the cabin and carried him to the rail. A foot of water separated them from their boat."If we drop him into the river, he'll sink," she said. "He's too heavy.""Let me have him." William knelt on one knee, and she wrestled Urow over his shoulders. William strained. Veins bulged under his skin. His face turned bright red. With a guttural snarl, William heaved and rose, Urow's massive form balanced absurdly on his back. He cleared the water in a single forceful step.She exhaled and jumped onto their boat in time to catch Urow as William lowered him gently to the deck.THE boat sliced through the dark water at a reckless speed. William held on to the rope rail. Cerise drove like mad, tearing up through the narrow streams away from the river, deeper into the swamp. The trees flew by. If they wrecked, he'd have to jump into the water. At least he'd get a soft landing.The gray man shuddered, groaning quietly. Cerise had insisted on dragging the hunter corpse on board, and looking at the two bodies, William wasn't sure who looked more dead, the hunter or her cousin.Urow's eyes snapped open. William knelt by him. The swelling had spread through the shoulder, up his chest. William touched the affected flesh. Hard as a rock. If the swelling reached Urow's neck, the man would suffocate. His own body would strangle him."Blueblood," the gray man said. "Thank you for shooting the line. One in a thousand shot.""Not a big deal," William said.Urow's lids slid closed. He trembled again and passed out.Cerise took half a second to glance at him. Her eyes were full of ghosts.William came to stand by her. Her scent washed over him and he savored it quietly.The stream had narrowed, and she couldn't maintain the break-neck speed. Even if the narrow waterway allowed it, the rolpie couldn't take it. When she surfaced to gulp a breath, her sides heaved and foam dripped from her lips. Cerise saw it, too, and eased on the reins.The gray man didn't have long. "Can we bleed the poison out?" William asked.She shook her head. "I knew this was going to happen. Urow thinks that because he can lift a small boat by himself and he looks scary, it makes him a great fighter. He has no training. He doesn't battle, he brawls. Just waves his arms back and forth and hopes he'll hit somebody.""When the shit hits the fan, brute strength doesn't cut it.""You think I haven't told him that?""Then why did you have him pick you up?"Cerise clenched her teeth. "Because I'm an idiot, that's why. He wanted to be useful. He sat there and bitched and moaned about how he never gets to do anything for the family and how if I just let him come and help this one time, he would feel that he belongs. Urow's invited to every family celebration. He's always welcome at the main house. He gets a portion of the family profits, just like everybody else. One of us goes to visit him at least once a month. How much more included can he be? I should've just said no, but he pushed all the right buttons and now he is dying and I don't have a scratch on me."William looked at her face. Her lips pressed together in a rigid line. Her skin turned pale and her features looked sharper. She seemed smaller somehow, and she smelled like a cornered animal. He wanted to grab her and clench her to him, until she looked normal again.William raked through his brain, wishing he knew the right things to say. "Let's say you're a soldier. They call a code-white mission and you volunteer. You assumed responsibility for your own safety and put yourself on the line. If you die, it's on your neck, not anybody else's. Nobody made you step forward and accept the mission. Your cousin volunteered. If he dies, it's not your weight to carry."He checked her face, but she didn't seem any better."It's like a fight," William said. "You attack or you dodge. If you hesitate, you'll die. If you make a mistake and get cut, you ignore the pain until the enemy is dead. You made a decision and took a wound. Slap a bandage on it and move on. You can feel sorry and second-guess yourself later, after you've won and you've got leave, a bottle, and a woman."Cerise stared at him for a second.He probably shouldn't have said that last bit.A powerful bellow rolled through the swamp. The hair on William's arms rose. Something ancient, huge, and brutal hid in the gloom, watching them with hungry eyes, and when it roared, it was as if the swamp itself gained voice to declare its might before swallowing them whole.Another bellow joined the first, rolling from the left. William raised his crossbow."The old gators are singing," Cerise told him.He peered at the darkness between the colossal cypresses guarding the stream, but saw nothing except twilight gloom."Thank you," she said softly. "For trying to make me feel better and for saving Urow. It wasn't your fight.""Yes, it was," he told her.Something shifted in the branches to the left. William raised his bow. Whatever the thing was, it was humanoid and fast.The shape scuttled through the branches, wearing gloom like a mantle, and leaped to the next tree. Stocky body, black hair. A second thing dashed through the branches on the right. This one within crossbow range."Don't shoot," Cerise said. "It's Urow's children."The one on the left sprinted and dived into the water off the branch. The gray body shot through water, and the boy launched himself onto the deck.They swam like fish. William made a mental note never to fight one in the water.The kid rose, dripping water. His face was young, sixteen or seventeen, but his body was thick and muscled like that of a bear. The boy glanced at the gray man's body and bared his teeth in a feral snarl."Copper poisoning," Cerise barked. "Tell your mother, Gaston."The boy dived into the water.The stream made a tight turn and opened into a pond, cradled by giant cypresses. A house perched on stilts, with a small dock. Built of logs and stone, with a roof sheathed in green moss, the house looked like it had grown from the swamp like a mushroom.A woman ran onto the dock and clutched a rail. Bright red hair fell in a braid from her shoulders. Urow's wife.Cerise snapped the reins, pulling a burst of speed from the exhausted rolpie. They docked with a bump.The woman glared at them. William had a feeling that if her eyes could shoot fire, both he and Cerise would've been burned to a crisp."Damn it, Cerise. What did you do to him?"Cerise's face clenched into a rigid mask. She turned her back to the woman. "William, can you help me lift him?""Follow me," Urow's wife snapped and took off.William grasped Urow under his arms and paused, unsure how to get four hundred pounds of deadweight onto the dock. Another of Urow's kids surfaced and pulled himself onto the boat. This one was older, layered with thick slabs of muscle like his father. He grasped his dad's legs and together they hauled him onto the pier and to the house."Hurry!" Urow's wife yelled. "On the floor here."William followed the boy through the door. They maneuvered through the cramped inside into a dimly lit room and lowered Urow on the stack of quilts.Urow's wife bent over her husband. The swelling was half an inch from his throat. "Mart! Herbs!"The boy ran into the kitchen.Urow's wife dropped on her knees, threw open a large box, and pulled out a scalpel sealed in plastic. "Cerise, tracheotomy tube, now."Cerise tore at another plastic bag.The red-haired woman crossed herself and sliced her husband's neck with the scalpel.William escaped outside.WILLIAM stood on the dock and watched hundreds of tiny worms crawl up the roots of the cypress. The worms glowed with gentle pastel colors: turquoise, lavender, pale lemon. The entire pond was bathed in the eerie glow. He once had a drink in a bar with LED glasses that lit up when you tapped the bottom. The effect was strikingly similar.He'd waited on the dock for at least two hours. At first he caught brisk orders filtering through the walls from the inside, then magic had brushed against him. Now all was quiet. He couldn't tell if the gray man had survived. William hoped he had. The gray man had children, and children had to have fathers.He had no father. He'd never find him, even if he wanted to look for him, which he didn't. At Hawk's some changelings had talked about finding their parents. William saw no point in it. Why? When he was twelve, he'd broken into the archive at the academy and read the records. His father hadn't stuck around to see him born. His mother gave him up as soon as she was strong enough to walk after giving birth. That was the Adrianglian No Questions policy. If a woman had a changeling child, she could give her baby up, no questions asked. The state would assume responsibility for the kid. They would stick him into Hawk's and grow him into a monster.He'd been whipped for breaking in. It was worth it. Before he'd wondered if he had a family. Afterward he knew. Nobody wanted him. Nobody was waiting for him. He was alone.Steps approached. William straightened. The door swung open, and Urow's wife came out and leaned on the rail next to him.Up close she wasn't as pretty as the picture made her out to be. Her skin stretched too tightly over her sharp features and bony face. She reminded him of a haggard fox, driven crazy by her pups.Cerise was much prettier."I was short with you back there," she said. "I didn't mean to be.""Will your husband make it?""The worst has passed. He is sleeping now. The swelling has dropped and we took the tube out.""That's good," William said to say something.Urow's wife swallowed. "Cerise said you saved my husband. Our family owes you a debt."What was she going on about . . . The rope, William remembered. "I shot at the rope and happened to hit it. No debt."The woman straightened. A spark of pride flared in her eyes. "Yes, we do. And we always pay our debts. You're called William?""Yes.""My name is Clara. I'm going to return the favor, William. In the morning, we'll get our fastest rolpie and our best boat, and my sons will take you back to town.""I can't do that."She nodded. "Yes, Cerise said you're invited to the main house. Don't go."Now that was interesting. "Why not?"Clara sighed. "Cerise is a beautiful girl. Woman, I should say, she is twenty-four now. Striking. But you have to understand something about Cerise: she is a Mar. Mars are loyal to the family first.""You're a Mar."She nodded. "Yes. And I'm loyal to the family. They treat my husband as if he's one of them. It's not every clan that will take in a half-thoas bastard. They treat my children well, too."Her gaze flicked to the base of the tree, where one of her sons climbed out of the water to sit on the roots. "My problems with the Mars are complicated. You don't need to know them. If you go to the Rathole, there will be no turning back, William. We have our own law here in the Mire. We do a lousy job of enforcing it, but we manage better than other places in the Edge, from what I've heard. You aren't one of us. Your clothes are good, and you hold yourself like you aren't from around here. The Mire law won't shield you. You go to the Rathole, and if you step an inch out of line, Cerise or one of her cousins will cut your throat with a pretty knife and bury you in the mud. They won't lose any sleep over it. You seem like a decent man. Walk away. It's about to get real bloody down there between the Mars and the Sheeriles, and it's not your fight."She was wrong. It was his fight. Until William figured out how Cerise's parents were connected to the Hand, he had to stick to her like glue. He wouldn't leave her now anyway. Not after he'd seen the way she fought. But he wasn't about to explain that to anyone."Thanks for the warning," he told her.She shook her head. "You're a fool. Cerise will never fall for an outsider.""I don't expect her to fall," he said.Clara slumped over the rail. "Well, I've tried.""Why are you with Urow?" William asked.She looked up and he saw warmth in her eyes. "You could get shot for a question like that."With what? "I don't see any rifles.""You're an odd man, William."She didn't know the half of it."Why do you want to know?" Clara asked.He saw no point in lying. "Because he has someone and I don't."Another of Urow's kids dropped from the branches, swam across the pond, and sat next to his brother. That, plus the youngest one inside, made three. They'd all gathered around him to protect him. His own pack.Clara sighed. "I've had men before him. Some were nice, some were bastards. But when I'm with him, he treats me like I'm his world. I know that no matter what happens, he will do all he can to keep me and the kids safe. His all might not be enough, but no matter how bad it gets, he will never run off and leave me to pick up the pieces. He will never hurt me."There had to be more to it than that. "And is that enough?"She smiled. "That's more than most people have. They're alone in the world, but I'm not. When I lay in his arms at night, there is no safer place. Besides, what would that big lug do without me? I let him go away for four days by himself, and he gets himself shot."The smile drained from her face.She'd thought of something bad. William focused on her face. "What is it?""If you're bound and determined to go down to the Rathole, you need to know this: thoas aren't common to the Mire. Someone told those men my husband was meeting Cerise down by Sicktree. Someone who knew what copper does to a thoas."A traitor, William realized. She was trying to tell him there was a traitor in Cerise's family."She will go down there and start a witch hunt. Don't let yourself get caught up in it. Don't let yourself be used. Let my kids take you back to town. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose."Cerise walked out on the dock.Clara's face shut down. "Are you leaving?""Yes," Cerise said."Not while it's dark? It's pitch-black out there.""It will be fine," Cerise said.Urow's youngest son had followed her out. Gaston, William remembered."Lagar sent people out to watch the waterways." Gaston's voice was a deep guttural snarl. Trying to make himself seem older, like his father. If he were a cat, he would've arched his back and puffed out his fur. "Ry said he saw Peva out in the Mire.""The court is tomorrow," Cerise said. "If I wait, I won't make it to the hearing. I'm late enough as is." Her gaze flickered to William. He looked into her dark eyes and lost his train of thought.Want.His ears heard her speak, but his brain took a couple of seconds to break the words down to meaning."If you would rather stay ...""No." He walked down the dock and stepped into the boat. He had to figure out some way to keep her from catching him off-guard like this.Cerise hesitated. "Clara, at first light, you should come, too.""Don't be ridiculous." Clara crossed her arms."The Hand has a tracker," Cerise said. "He may follow us here.""The Hand wants you, not us.""It's not safe here."Clara raised her chin. "You may be in charge of the family, and if Urow was awake, he might listen to you, but he isn't awake and I'm not about to take orders from the likes of you in my own house. Be on your way."Cerise clenched her teeth and climbed into the boat. Anger rolled off her in waves. She touched the reins, and the rolpie took off, pulling them across the pond."Why doesn't she like you?" William asked.Cerise sighed. "Because of my grandfather. He came from the Weird. He was a very smart man. He taught me and all of my cousins. We don't have normal school here in the Mire. Some people can't even read. But our family had Grandfather. We know some things that most Edgers don't, and that makes us different.""Like what?"Cerise switched to Gaulish. "Like speaking other languages. Like knowing the basics behind the magic theories.""Anyone can learn another language," William told her in Gaulish. "It's not difficult."She peered at his face. "You're full of surprises, Lord Bill. I thought you were Adrianglian.""I am.""Your Gaulish has no accent."He overlaid a thick coastal drawl over the Gaulish words. "Is that better, mademoiselle?"She blinked those huge eyes, and he switched to a harsher Northern dialect. "I can do a fur trapper, too.""How do you do that?""I have a really good memory," he told her in refined upper-class Gaulish.She matched his accent. "I have no doubt of that."Her grandfather must've been a noble and from the East, too. She stretched her a's. William filed it away for further consideration."That's really impressive," she said.Ha! He'd broken bones, killed an altered human, carried her rhino of a cousin, and she didn't blink an eye. But the moment he said two words in another language, she decided to be impressed.Cerise dropped into Adrianglian again. "People like Clara don't like it. She thinks we 'put on airs,' as she says, as if what we can do somehow makes her less. She is right, you know. You're heading straight into the den of cut-throats. You should've taken her up on her offer and gone back to town."She'd heard their conversation. William shook his head. He had a mission to complete, and if he walked away now, he would never see her again. "I said I would come with you. If I don't, who'll protect you?"Her lips curved a little. "You saw me fight. Do you think I need protection, Lord Bill?""You're good. But the Hand is dangerous, and they have numbers on their side." He waited for her to bristle, but she didn't. "Besides, you're my ride to a safe, warm house, where it's dry and I might be given hot food. I have to take care of you, or I might never have a decent meal again."Cerise tossed her head back and laughed softly. "I'll make an Edger of you yet, before this is over."He liked the way she laughed, when her hair fell to the side and her eyes lit up. William looked away, before he did something stupid. "You have a plan about the sniper?"She nodded at the corpse. "I think we should let the dead man do the work."William glanced at the hunter and bared his teeth at the corpse.