(chapter continued from previous post)
“Are there any animals sacred to other particularly relevant gods?” Madoc asked. “Ones they’ll probably try to bring in if they have them available?”
“The wolf is sacred to Briseis,” Evander said. “She guards the wilderness but also Enodia’s borders, which ironically enough means she’s a patron of fences and boundaries as well. She’s the personal guardian of the Diamantian line. There’s an old story that she adopted a human child and raised him as her own, and that he’s an ancestor some way back. That could work either for us, by the implication that Briseis is guarding Enodia from threats, or against us, that she’s protecting Diamantians even from other gods who might have justifiable grievances. But to twist to their purposes? Enodia has so many gods, each with their own sacred animals and attributes and teachings, that one can find a god to fit nearly any situation. Of the Twelve and One? The Great Mother has no animal, or all of them. Makarios is the other healer, the one who oversees public sanitation and food safety and surgery and the more technology-based aspects of medicine, but a goose isn’t terribly impressive as an assassin.”
“Which gods are Oreios’ teachings in conflict with?” Tyrel asked.
Somewhere downstairs, the repeated thudding of someone pounding on the sturdy street door echoed dully, with the violent clanging of the normally mellow door chimes barely audible in the intervals.
“Both of our most prominent gods of healing say to offer healing impartially,” Narcissa said, ignoring the noise. “Aithre is the handmaiden of the Great Mother, she was the First Dancer who made the Great Mother laugh with joy and she brought us mead and wine, and she is god of religious ecstasy and prophecy and of things and people that exist on and across boundaries and borders. Her teachings encourage us to embrace the infinite diversity of the world as beautiful. She is the only major god who has a specific sacred role for those who do not fit ordinary categories but there are minor gods who do as well. Scyron, god of justice, civic duty, and contract law, states that everyone must be treated as equals, regardless of wealth or sex or other extraneous detail, and that for any act to be a crime, there must be material harm done. Disapproval by itself is expressly excluded. That’s how the old laws were removed, in fact. I suppose an attack by his mule might be twisted into disapproval of our part in the trials in Orthia.”
“Specifically used in support of Oreios,” Evander said, “Tectamos, the god of engineering and craftsmanship, teaches that all things have their proper place and function and that this includes people, who should not rebel against it. It’s rather ambiguous how one interprets that, but many claim it to be in agreement with Oreios, and he hasn’t clarified it. He’s associated with several birds and insects that build structures and use tools, but generally small ones. Rhetia is the god of history and tradition and of the hearth around which stories are traditionally shared, and while she isn’t among the Twelve and One, she is highly respected. She is, in general, opposed to change of any sort. Her dog might be a danger. Again, there are any number of minor gods who fall on either side.”
“Oh well,” Madoc said philosophically. “It was worth a try. Once this speech is over, and once we get the net installed over the courtyard, I’ll be a lot happier.”
“The workmen will be here tomorrow to construct the frame.”
“We can do more weaving tonight on the net to put across it.”
“We need to discuss tomorrow evening,” Narcissa said, though she had to raise her voice to be heard.
Evander twisted to look at her, eyes wide. “It’s too risky, going out!”
“And the consequences of not doing so? The message it will send?”
“Depending on where,” Madoc said, and now he had to speak more loudly as well, “it’s not necessarily all that dangerous, with us… what the hell is with all the pounding?”
“Someone’s persistent,” Tyrel agreed, setting down his plate and rising. Kaveri knew he and Madoc both felt a lot better, being able to carry their preferred weapons openly. Madoc’s sica wasn’t all that much longer than the straight knives Hermia and her cohort wore, but the 45-degree bend midway made it a very different weapon both to use and to counter; a newer version of his old clawed glove, this one with stronger lighter armour plates with padding under them and claws on the knuckles as well as on the fingers, swung from the opposite side of his belt. Tyrel had both katari and, along with the three throwing knives and dagger always sheathed sideways at his lower back, three more throwing knives were in reach across his chest.
Mirren had taken to more in-depth fighting lessons from the brothers with enthusiasm. Kaveri had seen her hide her slender straight short sword, slung low, under a long skirt with no one the wiser, accessible via an overlapped slit, the hilt of two flattened crescents back-to-back much less bulky than many they’d seen while still a firm comfortable grip. She wore it openly now, with a matching dagger half its length on the other side. Comparatively, Kaveri with her small odd things—a similar but heavier-weighted belt tied over her purely utilitarian one, a short hardwood club with a heavy knob at one end that was actually balanced to throw if necessary—looked less intimidating, and she knew it, though she had no doubts about her ability to protect herself or Narcissa. Apparently, neither did Narcissa. The armament had impressed the two remaining bodyguards, though Hermia’s feelings seemed mixed still.
All six went downstairs. In the front hall, Hermia was arguing with a deep-voiced man through a grilled window in the door, though she looked like she’d have preferred to simply close it and ignore him. Melanippe, her hair wet and loose, her slate-blue tunic clinging damply to her body and her feet bare but her knife belt in place, waited alertly nearby.
“A problem, Hermia?” Evander asked.
Hermia turned enough to see them, without her gaze entirely leaving the window. “A persistent visitor, Your Serenity, who is not willing to wait until tomorrow. He insists that Her Gracious Serenity admit him immediately and begin to close the hospitals tonight.”
Kaveri laid a hand on Narcissa’s arm, and a finger over her lips; Narcissa nodded. The window was, probably by design, too small to allow any view of the interior.
“Her Gracious Serenity,” Evander said coolly, “is not accepting visitors of any kind or on any errand currently. Today and yesterday have been, to say the least, trying. She will be speaking tomorrow in front of the hospital on the subject of yesterday’s attempt on her life and the fraudulent attempt to blame it on two of the Twelve and One. If you do not leave immediately, the city patrol will be summoned and you will face several charges. Harassment and trespass, at least, and possibly disturbing the peace.”
“I want to talk to the princess!” the man outside bellowed. “Not you, you little deviant! Oreios’ eagle should’ve killed you even if the bear missed her!”
Evander didn’t so much as twitch, but Narcissa’s face hardened, and Hermia scowled.
“You can add threats to the list of charges,” Evander said, his tone not changing. “And you are running out of time. Hermia, the patrol know you, would you please…?”
“Of course,” Hermia said, and closed the small window, which had a latch. “I’m not certain I like leaving you, though, even with Melanippe still here,” she added, too diplomatic to actually turn her gaze to the foreigner quartet as she said it.
The pounding started again within heartbeats.
“He certainly isn’t getting through that door,” Narcissa said. “But I’m not willing to let this slide. There are no circumstances in which this kind of behaviour is acceptable.”
“He isn’t at the back door himself,” Madoc said, “but it’s possible he has a friend or two lurking there. Suppose Kaveri and I come along, at least out the door, just in case? Dealing with something like that would only slow you down. And Kaveri’s good at disabling without killing.”
Hermia regarded him measuringly, then nodded abruptly. “It’s a good thought, and thank you. Melanippe, come watch the door?”
Kaveri untied and unwound her belt. In both hands, it gave her two flexible clubs, plus she’d learned a variety of interesting tricks over the years that she could do with a densely-braided rope with a chain core and a substantial lead weight on either end—and there always seemed to be more. Madoc unfastened his clawed glove, pulling it on as they followed Hermia deeper into the house. “Back soon,” he said cheerfully.
“Madoc’s becoming civilized,” Mirren murmured. “He didn’t suggest we open the front door and thump this pest.”
“I heard that, Mirren!” Madoc called back. She just grinned.
Kaveri personally wasn’t sure whether it was sharing a moon that created the kind of bonds she saw, or something to do with the reasons a given moon had for choosing them. Either way, she wondered about herself and Narcissa a decade from now.
“If they get here before he leaves,” Narcissa began grimly, to be interrupted, the last thing Kaveri heard before they were out of range, by Evander’s mild, “I’ve been called worse, Cissa.”
The cook and one of the teenaged maids came out of the kitchen to the back door, concerned. Hermia shooed them away while Melanippe quietly drew back the well-oiled bolts at the top and bottom.
“Us first,” Madoc murmured. “Don’t hang around, just go. Close the door as soon as we’re out, just in case, but we won’t let anyone past.” Kaveri shifted her grip on her weighted belt to two-handed while he drew his sica.
Hermia nodded, and looked at Melanippe, who pulled the door open.
Not two steps out, two men jumped them.
Madoc lashed out cat-quick with his gloved hand, eliciting a splatter of red blood and an unfamiliar curse, and Kaveri ducked, swinging both weighted ends at the same target from different angles. One thudded home solidly, the other struck only glancingly.
It didn’t take long. These weren’t really fighters, just troublemakers with some brawling skills. Kaveri tangled her opponent’s short club and yanked it from his hand. Madoc simply got in close and wrapped his gloved hand around the attacker’s wrist, demonstrating how the fingertip claws could bite into flesh when Madoc chose to curl them. Only a moment later, they had both subdued, and Kaveri stayed to watch them, swinging the ends of her belt idly, while Madoc went back inside for rope to bind them.
The patrol showed up promptly with Hermia, were duly deferential to Narcissa and polite to all members of her household, efficiently collected accounts of the disturbance, and departed with the slightly injured pair from the back door and the noisy man from the front.
“That was pointless and annoying,” Narcissa sighed, as Evander bolted the front door behind the last of the patrol. “Do people really think that shouting and intruding on my home and calling my beloved cousin names will make me at all inclined to do anything they wish? I thought I had made it sufficiently clear by now that I will not be bullied or provoked into going against my best judgement.”
“It’s possible,” Evander said slowly, “they were hoping to get inside and finish what they believe, or would like to believe, or could try to excuse as, what Neaira and Oreios began.”
“It might have worked,” Hermia said, “had I opened the back door alone.”
“Murdered in our own house,” Narcissa said with a shudder. “This is mad. And it has to stop.”
“Come on,” Mirren said, her voice pitched to the sort of calm reassurance Kaveri remembered her using in Galimont on traumatized victims—it had worked then, and had worked often since. “Let’s go back upstairs and have a cup of wine, and we’ll talk about your speech tomorrow and what you want to do tomorrow night. And about lessons in emergency self-defence that can buy enough time for us to reach you.”