Return 20

Tyrel paused in his account of their first visit to the Garden of Umako, as the door lock grated open to let someone in. Kieran, who had been lying quietly, roused instantly with a deep rumbling growl.

“That’s Demetrios,” Juro said.

Kieran, interestingly, subsided, though he stayed on alert. Tyrel wondered whether he was rational enough to accept Juro as a friend whose judgement could be trusted, or whether it was something else.

The newcomer, who had a single oil lamp in hand, closed the door firmly and set the lamp on a ledge near it before approaching. That was enough light for moonblood eyes to see him easily. Probably around Lysandra’s height, with that same raven-black hair, and the lines of his face had a cast that was unmistakably Enodian. His skin was the warm deep sepia of the islands near Enodia, rather than olive-toned, but trade between them was so common that it wasn’t at all unusual at any level of society. He was, not surprisingly, in rather understated off-white and light grey and dull blue, though the style was local.

“I had to tell conflicting lies to three different people to get in here at all. Once they put those pieces together…” He shrugged. “I cannot unlock the cages. I do not know the combination settings, only Gernot, who is in charge, and Wira who is his second, know them. And I do not think two of us will make it past that door. What help I can be is limited, but I’m open to ideas.”

“Did Narcissa get away?” Juro asked him. “The lady I was with?”

“So far. I’m looking for a way to get her outside the walls. Lirit is, without question, helping her to hide. There is so little visible light around her when she’s still that they will not see her, and a wolf, a wolverine, a lion, now a cheetah as well, and others are somehow failing all attempts at tracking her by scent.”

Kaveri chuckled. “Good girl. She did learn what you taught her, ‘Rel.”

“Lysandra?” Juro asked. “The dancer?”

“She is nowhere to be found, to Gernot’s great displeasure.”

“Good,” Tyrel said. “Giving those two forms that are hard to catch is one of the smartest things Lirit and Meyar ever did. They don’t need to fight if they’re good enough at running away.”

“Sometimes,” Demetrios said softly, crouching near the cages, “too much running away is a death in itself.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have the energy or the concentration right now to deal with Enodian metaphor and analogy. They’re physically alive, which is a basic necessity for anything further. That’s good enough for the moment.”

“True enough. Is there anything you can think of that I can do? I’ll keep trying. We haven’t even reached moonset let alone sunset, and quite a lot can change in that time. But I cannot realistically promise a miracle.”

“Over by the wall,” Tyrel said, and pointed, “there’s a lot of weapons and a few clothes. There should be two throwing knives. Very simple knives, cast all in one smooth piece with nothing that can catch on anything. If you can find them and give one to me and one to Juro, that would be a lot more help than I can really explain right now. They’ll fit through the bars.”

Demetrios straightened and crossed the room to search through the jumbled pile. “There’s one… ouch, that was sharp, are there claws on that? And there’s the other. I very much hope we can find a solution other than a fast self-inflicted death.”

“So do I. Especially since it would mean abandoning Kieran to them.”

Demetrios returned with the two knives. “My apologies for the blood. And the question. How is he different, since I think you mean something beyond currently lacking hands?” He reversed the knife, currently streaked with blood that shimmered green-gold and blue-white both, to pass it to Tyrel hilt-first through the bars. Tyrel took it with a deep sense of relief.

“He didn’t start off human. He was an amarog cub Neoma rescued and raised and considered to be her son. When she was killed, the earthborn there refused to accept her blood, and one of his spirit-creatures used it to change him. Talir chose him, even though it bends the rules. Usually he’s at least as intelligent as anyone I know, but when he’s in some kinds of emotional states, and especially during moondark or otherwise out of the moonlight at night, he has some trouble thinking human-style instead of amarog-style.”

“I see. That explains a great deal about Gernot’s behaviour.”

“How?” Juro asked. “What’s he doing?”

Demetrios reached behind Juro, presumably pressing the knife into his hand since he straightened without it.

“Gernot is not a model of sanity and sobriety under the best of conditions. He’s prone to personal grudges and believing that all things are directed at him even in the face of other evidence. That is not atypical for those who manage to achieve positions of status and authority. However, his normal behaviour would be almost rational compared to this. He is calling out all available resources to search for your friend the hare—Narcissa, you said?—and to watch for your winged friend—Lysandra? I have never heard him or any other refer to any heretic, no matter how blatant, as an abomination, but it is currently his favourite word. I was given orders to write to his superiors and inform them that he had captured a unique prize that would make amends for the error he made.”

“Oh, it couldn’t be,” Kaveri said.

“What?” Tyrel glanced towards her.

“What’s Gernot’s other form? Is he that wolverine you mentioned?”

“He is, yes,” Demetrios said.

“There have to be other wolverines,” Tyrel said. “There aren’t enough kinds of animals for them to never repeat any.”

“If you are wondering,” Demetrios said, “whether Gernot was the one who hunted Neoma down, then yes, he is. I gather he was punished severely for her escape, forgiven with her death, and has recently been under some suspicion again, though I didn’t know why. I assume it was the discovery that Neoma’s death was not the end of the matter.”

Tyrel muttered multilingual profanity.

“That would explain why Kieran went berserk while he was here,” Kaveri said. “Just like that eagle, the scent’s still in his memory somewhere. And he’s in a cage. And I’ve been hurt. There is just no way we’re going to get him rational.”

Tyrel measured the dimensions of the cage by eye. Would Mirren’s narrow straight sword be long enough to reach Kieran and give him a quick death by steel? Given the extremely limited range of motion while thrusting, probably not. Even a sword-master would need a lot of luck unless Kieran cooperated. It would take a spear, or better still multiple spears, to have a reasonable chance.

“Demetrios too,” Juro said. “Narcissa tried to protect me. He’s in danger too.”

“Not much to lose,” Tyrel said with a shrug, distracted briefly from trying to work out how to kill Kieran.

“They won’t see it on me,” Kaveri said. “They might on you.” She wriggled the knife out from under her. “Come here. We don’t know if this works. Our bloodline is a little different.”

“A lot different,” Juro said.

“We don’t know if the moons will accept this. But it’s worth a try. You cut yourself on Madoc’s claws? Hold your hand against the bars.”

Demetrios glanced at Juro, who nodded, before he complied.

“There’s now blue, green, and violet blood all on your hand,” Kaveri said, as she let her arm fall. “You’d better clean that up before someone sees. The clothes by the wall, maybe. That might make you harder to kill.”

“Speaking of killing,” Tyrel said, “the biggest thing we need is a way to kill Kieran. With steel, preferably, although wood would be fine. It’s complicated, but it’s the only way we’re going to be able to save him. But he isn’t rational enough to cooperate.”

“Killing someone to save them,” Demetrios said drily, “sounds rather like the twisted rhetoric I’ve been hearing for far too long. I’ll take your word for it that your meaning is different.”

The door slammed open with no warning.

Tyrel didn’t recognize the man in the lead, but Kaveri’s breath caught in her throat audibly, and Kieran’s temporary placidity dissolved instantly. Hackles raised, snarling, the amarog threw himself at the cage so hard the bars groaned. That seemed like identification enough.

“Demetrios!” he snapped. “What are you doing here?”

“I gave him permission,” the man at his side, the bronze-skinned one, said. He sounded nervous. “He voiced some concern over whether the woman might have lost enough blood to create a risk of premature death. I told him he could check on her.”

“With Juro in here, knowing they spend far too much time together? Demetrios, get out. Stay inside the walls. I’ll deal with you later.”

That sounded ominous.

Demetrios only nodded once and got to his feet. “As you like. I see no indication of shock or excessive blood loss. She should be strong enough to endure her penance later, although I would suggest allowing water to make sure.” Outwardly quite calm, he circled around the new visitors and left.

With any luck, to help Narcissa.

Tyrel could feel the hard smooth surface of the knife under him, biting shallowly into skin but that was currently of no importance. He had a way out. Kaveri had a way out. Juro… had a chance of a way out, but a certainty at least of an escape from torture. What about Kieran?

“Get her out of the cage,” the man who must be Gernot spat.

“Don’t I get a turn to play?” Tyrel asked. Not a fun thought, but Kaveri had been through enough already.

They ignored him, the second in command and another dragging Kaveri out of her cage. The throwing knife was hard to see in the poor light, left lying in one far corner. Without time to use it, she’d been right to leave it, since they probably weren’t going to kill her and she might get another chance, but in her place Tyrel wasn’t sure he’d have had the nerve to do it.

“On her knees,” Gernot said, and spun around to stand in the doorway. “Rabbit!” he bellowed, at considerable volume. “You risked yourself foolishly for this woman. Let’s see how you feel about her screaming. Show yourself or I start removing fingers. I can think of other things if we run out of those.”

Kaveri blanched, and Tyrel saw her swallow hard, breathing accelerating, straining without success against the hands pinning her on her knees and trapping her wrists.

Tyrel felt a lot like Kieran did, who renewed his enraged efforts to break free, alternately slamming his shoulder into the cage and pawing at it. Lirit could heal it, but Kaveri wasn’t in the moonlight, and even if it healed, the pain involved… and given Narcissa’s close connection with her moon-sister, could she possibly stand to stay in hiding for long?

I’m the one who comes up with plans. I really need one now, my family need me to think of something, but unless something changes, I can’t do anything!

Kaveri took a deep breath as Gernot turned towards her, and put everything she had into shouting, “Cissa, hide! Don’t come out!”

“Gernot.” That was a female voice, unfamiliar, but it had a distinct edge of rage and a hint of a growl. “No longer anyone’s master. Once again, you trap and threaten my son. I’m here. Come face me.”

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