Return 13 pt1

Kaveri, adding to her soup pot salted meat that she had diced small with some effort, watched Kieran circle the lot yet again. With only the two of them still at the camp in the dusk, he was making quite certain that any potential intruder saw him and knew he was on the alert.

That, and he was working off some of his emotional agitation. Staying here while Narcissa kept her promise of a visit, with Lysandra and Tyrel accompanying her openly and the cats keeping watch unseen, was not something he found easy to swallow. Kaveri and the others had, unanimously, forbidden him to go. His history of berserk rage when confronted with the other bloodline, though understandable, made it too dangerous.

Because the house in question was a brick-walled one where Lysandra had spotted two people glowing in the moonlight. The mistress of the house, from what Onyeka had told them, was almost certainly genuinely bored and lonely and looking for company and a new diversion, since she’d been known for that for many years. It seemed equally likely that she’d been lured into joining the other bloodline, possibly with the promise of a life of excitement. It was fortunate for her that Neoma’s bloodline had found themselves here, Kaveri thought, because once this woman’s usefulness in Ilek ended, she would have learned how little those promises were worth.

Narcissa insisted that she had to keep her side of the bargain, and it would as well potentially give them information that had been inaccessible to the scouting team. She had pointed out that she had a wealth of experience in being polite to people she loathed in order to get what she wanted, and in keeping things to herself, as did Lysandra, and she might find herself more pitying than despising this woman. As long as Tyrel could keep still and they could leave before moonrise, the chance remained of being able to do this without even giving themselves away.

If, that is, their enemies didn’t already know exactly who they were.

Though Narcissa had a point: there was no need to lure her into a trap with a pretence of friendliness. There were easier ways, when they were outnumbered and foreigners in a town where the other bloodline had a firm grip.

So off they’d gone, and Kaveri stayed behind because someone recognizable needed to be visible here, and Kieran with her… though Kaveri was growing very tired of endlessly preparing food, no matter how necessary, and would have preferred to be with her family as much as Kieran would have.

The lemur poked curiously at a basket of dried fruit with one long finger, though it had eaten only a small amount of fresh fruit and occasional scraps of what she was working on since it showed up. Since Tyrel ignored it, Narcissa had no time for it, Lysandra regarded it with distaste though she said nothing against it, and it was so scared of Kieran and the cats that they couldn’t approach without it fleeing, that meant Kaveri typically had its undivided company. That suited her. She tolerated its occasional mild mischief more easily than her family did, and found it an amusing distraction during a boring job.

With no warning, it snatched up her knife, holding it against its abdomen with one hand.

“Not funny,” Kaveri said. “I need that, and you’ll hurt yourself. Come on, give it back.” She reached for it, which usually was successful.

This time, it scampered for the stable, still holding the knife.

Kaveri went after it.

Intent on the chase, she neither saw nor heard the blow to her head that made the world go dark.

* * *

“She is, and she knows we are,” Tyrel grumbled, as Narcissa and her escort, open and otherwise, walked back to the camp.

“Yes,” Narcissa agreed. “But for either of us to admit that would have made it impossible to simply have a civilized conversation.”

“I think she’s genuinely lonely for someone to talk to,” Lysandra said. “It’s probably rare for her to meet an intelligent and educated woman who has seen things she hasn’t, and who’s willing to be friendly. I cannot say I like her, but having her support, with the terms clear that Cissa will continue to do what she does, could be useful.”

“We already have some benefit from it,” Narcissa said. “The food she sent, especially in Kaveri’s hands, is helping. And we know that there is at least one person who is near enough to potentially judge her actions and whom she fears. That person may be spying through the other reborn in her household since her body language changed depending on whether either was present. That is consistent with what we saw in Enodia. Either she is a superb actress, or she is in a low position within their organization, despite being the head of one of the wealthiest old noble families of Ilek.”

“They’re egalitarian,” Tyrel said dryly, “I have to give them that. Your birth and status in human society seems to have very little bearing on your status with them, even if that’s their entire reason for wanting you. That’s odd, I don’t see Kaveri or Kieran. One or the other should be in sight.” And with the moons rising—Talir and Meyar already clear of the horizon, Sanur just creeping into view—they should have been clearly visible anywhere on the lot other than inside tents or wagon. He could, after all, easily see both Madoc and Mirren dart ahead, each haloed in green-gold, though he knew human eyes would be unlikely to spot them. He saw them investigating the area around the fire.

Which, come to think of it, was dark, and the large pot of soup lay on its side, abandoned.

And just as he realized that much and what it meant, Madoc snarled.

Tyrel bolted for the campsite, skidded to a stop next to his brother.

Madoc, human-form, pointed wordlessly to the ground, where blood shimmered in the moonlight in multiple colours. Yellow, green-gold, aquamarine.

Mirren changed too, and ran for the wagon and the tents, calling Kaveri and Kieran’s names. By the time Narcissa and Lysandra caught up, she rejoined them.

“No sign of them. Ander and the girls are gone too. But nothing else looks like it was touched.”

“The blood?” Narcissa asked.

“Kieran’s,” Madoc said. “Not Kaveri’s.”

Lysandra scanned the area intently, then strode towards the wagon and cart and tents. It took her only a moment to yank the lemur into view.

Tyrel, following her with the others, blinked. In the moonlight, the small creature had a distinctly aquamarine luminescence.

“It’s time to choose a side,” Lysandra said grimly in the local language, lifting the small creature by the throat, despite its squeaks and pawing at her hand. “I said nothing so you could see us as we are and have a chance to learn something, just in case you’re one of the smart ones. Decide, right now, whose side you are on.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Tyrel muttered. With Madoc and Mirren’s preferred weapons in the cart and an unknown quantity at hand, he passed his dagger to Mirren, his smaller katar to Madoc since he was at least somewhat familiar with it, and drew his larger katar himself.

As aquamarine light rippled around the lemur, effectively melting out of Lysandra’s grasp, she backed up a step towards Narcissa—though she crossed her arms, regarding their spy expectantly.

(chapter continued next post!)

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