The Huntsmen: Chapter 13

When they reached the train station, Rebecca had insisted on riding with Rafe and Edmund, since “When do I ever get the chance to sit and talk to either of you for more than ten minutes at a stretch?” This of course left Willamina and Stephen riding with Stian and Casmin, and if this was by design, Rebecca gave absolutely no indication of it. Stephen and Casmin passed the first part of the journey discussing Stephen’s schedule for the coming semester, but much to the Professor’s surprise, Stian had promptly stuck his nose in a book and not come out since the train had left the station.

“I think we’re boring our companions, Stephen,” he said, smiling at Willamina.  

“Oh, that’s all right,” Willamina said. “What are you reading, your Grace?”

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The Huntsmen: Chapter 12

Arseni snarled back at the big man. It was a gesture that was simultaneously brave and pathetic, given their absolute difference in size, age and vigor.

“You come here. You sit at my table. We welcome you, Anthony, in spite of what you are, in spite of the creature within you. And in return—”

“Shut it, old man,” Anthony snarled.

“In return,” Arseni continued, “you corrupt this pack. You bring others among us. We offered you a way to live, to find peace with your infestation. Because we saw you as a cousin. But you…”

Rafe leaned over to Stian, whispering quickly as he palmed a pair of long daggers. “What is going on here?”

But before Stian could answer, Anthony threw his head back and roared, a sound that started as human rage and frustration and then transformed into something far more animalistic. Arseni was pulled back by his son as Anthony began to change.

Rafe had never seen a transformation occur. It made him glad he had skipped his dinner. Bone and sinew snapped and stretched, and Anthony’s head thrashed back and forth. Rafe stood transfixed by horror, and it wasn’t until Casmin shoved him down to his knees, yelling, “Get down!” that he realized the fight was underway.

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The Huntsmen: Chapter 11

It was after four in the morning when Casmin and Stian finally collapsed into their respective beds. So when someone pounded on the door at ten, the sound was greeted by much groaning. Casmin staggered to the door, tipped the messenger, and brought the note to Stian, who was hiding his head under a pillow.

“Can it wait?” came the muffled reply.

“Probably not,” Casmin said.

Stian tossed the pillow aside and sat up, scrubbing his eyes. He opened the note, squinted at it, and rubbed his eyes again before reading.

“Interesting,” he said.

“Please tell me that’s not another of your understatements,” said Casmin.

Stian answered, “He’s returned the challenge.”

Casmin sat down and scratched his chin. “You’ll accept?”

“Of course,” said Stian. “Especially because he told me to bring two seconds.”

Casmin was too tired to conceal his bemusement. “He what?”

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The Huntsmen: Chapter 10

It was after one in the morning when Casmin and Stian returned to the Greyson house. The night had grown sharply cold and snow was starting to fall, drifting slowly downward in fat flakes. Rafe was the last to arrive, and he walked with an obvious spring in his step. Stian, on the other hand, was projecting a far more stygian mood.

“What’s wrong, your Grace?” Rafe asked with a grin.

Stian frowned. “I find this part of my job…distasteful. It is not a good thing to hunt men. Our world has no formal authorities and few written laws.  We have tradition and precedent, and what a man has is what he is able to hold. I will do what I must because the alternatives are considerably worse. But I will not pretend that I enjoy it. Can you claim that you do?”

“Casmin’s fellows in the history department will tell you that happiness is the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence,” Rafe said, tying back his hair and covering it with a black scarf. He lit a cigarette, and continued. “We all have our final cause, our purpose. The nightingale sings, the thoroughbred runs, the lion hunts. Stephen and Casmin spend their days locked up with their books, Edmund broods and plots like a Caesar when he thinks no one is looking, you do… whatever creepy shit it is that you do, and God, in his infinite wisdom and, I might add, infinite sense of warped and twisted humor made me very, very good at killing. I don’t always enjoy the act, and I’m even less fond of the necessity, but yes, I do enjoy being excellent at what I do.”

Even Stian grinned at that. “You have unsuspected depths, Rafe.

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The Huntsmen: Chapter 9

Willamina woke in the parlor. Her hand was bandaged, and the pain was considerably dulled. Stian sat next to her reading, although he closed the book when he saw she was awake. “How long was I asleep?” she asked.

“Not long. Your hand will heal, but it may scar,” said Stian. “I am sorry.”

“What happened?”

Stian frowned. “It sometimes happens with twins,  especially when in such close proximity. Stephen is very gifted, but also very new. He was startled, and lost control of the fire.”

She blinked. “So he burned me?”

“Not quite,” Stian said. “You burned yourself.”

“That’s not possible,” Willamina said. “I can’t… I’m not. Am I?”

Stian said, “That is a more complicated question than you might imagine. And one we must sort out later. You need your rest.”

She grinned ruefully.  “I can’t believe I fainted.”

“It was the pain. It’s nature’s way of being kind. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he said, standing, “I need a word with your brother.”

He found the others in the study. Stephen jumped up when he entered. “Is she all right?”

“She’ll regain full use of the hand, I think,” he began, “but my real concern is seeing that this does not happen again. Edmund, the girl must be taught.”

“It’s out of the question,” Edmund said.

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The Huntsmen: Chapter 8

Edmund raised a skeptical eyebrow, but Stian simply said, “This is your agent, I take it?”

“Nothing so fancy,” Millie said. “I just keep my ears open.”

“And yet I imagine you hear everything,” Stian said.

Millie just grinned at him. It was an infectious grin: the girl’s face was taken up wholly in it, from her wide cheeks to eyes sparking with merriment.

“This isn’t a social visit, then?” she asked Rafe.

“’Fraid not,” he answered.

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The Huntsmen: Chapter 7

On Casmin’s instructions, Stian met him and the Greysons at Rafe’s the next evening. Rafe caught him at the door, and looked him up and down. “You’re terribly over-dressed. We’ll have to find you something… less.” Stian frowned down at his suit while Rafe ran upstairs. He came back down and tossed him a rough shirt, a pair of braces, and a pair of work boots. “See if these fit. The pants’ll have to do: we’ll just dust them up on the way. You can change in the back.”

“Where are we going?” Stian asked. He gave the armful of clothes a sniff before wincing.
Rafe grinned. “The King’s Head.”

The tavern was nondescript from the outside. It occupied one corner of a neighborhood that had seen better centuries. Still, the storefronts were full, and the mood among the crowds along the street was weary but amiable. Inside, it was clean and well lit, if worn. The door opened into a spacious tavern, with the bar itself running the left side of the room while the back and sides were lined with high backed booths. The upstairs overlooked the main floor, with a circling balcony that both allowed the staff to keep an eye on things below and gave the women who rented the rooms upstairs an opportunity to advertise their trade.

As they walked in, they passed a waitress, who grinned. “Your booth’s open, Rafe.”

“Thanks, Ginger. Evening, Abbie,” he called out to  another girl, whose artfully draped shawl slipped off her bare shoulders as she waved back, revealing nothing beyond a corset and chemise underneath.

“This is a… brothel?” Stian asked, awkwardly.

The five of them worked their way slowly through the evening crowd. “No,” Rafe grinned back. “Just a pub with a very friendly staff. And an extended menu. And rooms upstairs. And an absolutely amazing lamb stew. Looking lovely, Janey.” Edmund gave his younger brother a Look. “It’s not what it looks like!” Rafe protested.

A short, bountiful young woman with black hair in loose bun slapped his rear as they walked by. “Hello Millie!” He looked back sheepishly. “All right, that one was what it looked like.” By that point they had worked their way back to the corner booth, and squeezed their way into the benches while Edmund went to the bar for a round of drinks.

Casmin smirked at Rafe as they settled in. “Come here often, I take it?”

“I do a lot of business here,” Rafe said, more to Stian than to Casmin, who had joined Rafe at the Head on more than one occasion. “It’s busy, loud, and clean. And I wasn’t kidding about the stew.”

“The view’s not bad either,” Stephen said, looking around eagerly.

“Very true, little brother,” Rafe agreed. He laughed, then looked over at Stian,  who was staring fixedly at the table top. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Stian said.

Rafe laughed harder, and said, “My god, Stian, you’re blushing like a virgin.” Stephen and Casmin joined in the laughter then, but all three stopped abruptly when Stian only blushed more deeply and squirmed.

“Wait…” Rafe said.

“You’re not.” Casmin said.

“I fail to see why this is an acceptable topic of conversation.”

“How did *that* happen?” Casmin asked incredulously.

“My family puts a great deal of emphasis on discipline,” Mogen said. “You know this.”

“Yes,” Rafe interjected, “But there’s discipline, and then there’s… whatever you’re doing.”
By this point Edmund had returned with a handful of pints. He set them on the table before sitting down and asking, “What are you cackling about, Rafe?”

“Stian’s a virgin.”

The topic of conversation slumped forward, knocking his forehead on the table.

“Really? I find it quite admirable,” said Edmund.

“Thank you, Edmund,” Stian said.

“In fact,  I was a virgin once too. ” Edmund deadpanned, and the duke slumped again.

“But surely you had offers,” Rafe said to Stian.

“Well, of course,” Stian said. “ But given my position they were all… contingent.”

“Never stopped any of our dukes,” Edmund said drily.

“I doubt any of their offers came with these kinds of strings attached,” Stian said. “I do not want to lose my soul.”

“I didn’t realize you were a religious man,” Edmund said.

“He is,” Casmin said. “But I suspect he means that literally.”

“In any case, we could take care of this right now,” Rafe suggested.  “There’s a reason Abbie’s so popular.”

“I don’t know,” Casmin said casually. “I think he liked the look of the redhead by the door better.”

“Look, there has to be a reason that we’re here other than to discuss my personal life,” said Stian with a growing pitch of desperation.

“We’re doing it, actually,” said Rafe. “The first victim had this place’s address in his pocket. The man we found yesterday was a regular here. It’s not much, but it’s what we have.”

“So the plan is…”

“We sit here, drink, and see if anything comes up?” asked Stephen.

Casmin traded his empty pint glass for Stian’s full one. “Best plan we’ve had all week.”

Rafe laughed again, but shook his head. “No. We’re here to meet one of my best sources.”

“And who is he?” Edmund asked.

As if on cue, one of the barmaids danced over to them and slid lithely into the booth depositing herself in Rafe’s lap.

“Hullo, Millie,” he said. “Boys, Millie. Millie, boys.”