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.”
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.
“I realize that you want to protect her,” Stian said patiently, “but she is in greater danger…”
“This was an extraordinary situation, as Casmin explains it,” Edmund said.
“Yes, but it only proves…”
Edmund said, with finality, “And Stephen will take greater precautions in the future.”
Stian clenched his fists. He started to speak but Andre caught his eye, and shook his head slightly. Stephen was watching the scene miserably, while Rafe leaned against the wall and stared at the floor.
Stian took a deep breath, and continued. “There’s another matter we must discuss. We were taken off guard tonight, and I blame myself as much as anyone. But you are woefully underprepared for what you are facing here.”
Edmund began to protest, but Rafe cut him off. “He’s right, brother.”
“Your home is unguarded, your women go unarmed, and even your household wards are weak,” Stian said. “You did well with them, Stephen, for what they are, but they won’t hold up to any kind of sustained attack. And this is precisely why your sister…”
“I didn’t put them up,” Stephen interrupted.
“What?” Stian looked at Casmin, who shook his head.
“I assumed Stephen had done them. I gave him the books to study…”
“And I have them, but…” Stephen’s voice trailed off and he went back to staring at the carpet.
Stian nodded, thinking quickly. But you did what any boy your age would do. Why study something so dull when you could practice making fireballs. His mind raced through a series of possibilities, until he remembered a particularly sharp gaze. And suddenly, several questions that had been troubling him had an answer. Andre saw the comprehension flood his face, and shot him an inquiring look.
“I see,” Stian said, closing the subject. “We will discuss this further. Now, however, I have business to attend to. I will meet you back here in…” he checked the clock. “Three hours. Be ready.”
“For what?” Edmund asked.
“We’re going hunting.” He turned to go, and Casmin followed him out. He paused inside the front door.
“Do you have a pen?” he asked quietly. When Andre handed him one, he scribbled a note, folded it, and left it on the table inside the entryway before heading out into the night.
“You yielded on that too easily,” Casmin said.
“I didn’t yield,” Stian answered. “I’m changing venues.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” Casmin asked.
“A great many things.”
“But in this specific case?”
“Wait and see, Andre. Wait and see.” The young duke was almost giddy.
“You are so annoying when you get like this,” said Camsin.
When they reached the apartments the duke had occupied for the length of his visit, he turned on the lights and began moving the furniture.
“What are you doing?” Casmin asked.
“You’re going to want to see this.” He moved the couch to the back of the room and placed a large wing-backed chair directly facing the door, and moved a dining chair next to it.
He then went into the sleeping chamber and came back with a covered bird cage. Except that when he removed the cloth covering it, he revealed a tiny fairy dragon, sleeping on a perch.
“What on earth is that?” Casmin asked.
“This,” Stian said as he opened the caged and reached inside, “is Anoushka. Вставай, маленький.”
He clucked and cooed at the little bronze dragonet, and she opened bright green eyes and yawned, stretching her wings before climbing up on his hand.
“But where did you get it?” Casmin asked.
“I got her as a gift,” said Stian.
Casmin crossed his arms and looked down his nose at Stian, a feat he managed to pull off even though he was a full foot shorter. “From whom?”
“From the Mab,” Stian said. Before Casmin could raise any objections, he added, “I had to accept at least one of her gifts, and this was the least objectionable.” He set Anoushka on his shoulder and she settled back down, curling a long tail around his neck.
He looked at the clock and grinned. “Any second now…” He sat in the chair as if it were a throne, and stared at the door.
Casmin rolled his eyes, and sat next to him. After a few minutes, he said, “Are you sure…”
“Shh…” There were footsteps in the hall, and then a knock at the door. Stian suppressed a grin, and waved for Casmin to answer the door.
He opened it to reveal Rebecca Greyson standing in the hallway. He gaped, while Stian laughed and clapped his hands once.
The older woman took in Casmin’s shocked expression, and then smiled. “What, you thought they got it from their father’s side?”
“You didn’t come here alone, did you?” Casmin asked as he closed the door behind her.
“No,” she said. “Rafe is downstairs.”
“Curiouser and curioser,” he muttered under his breath.
“He doesn’t know why I’m here,” she said, “although I’m certain he suspects.”
“I find myself in the same boat,” Casmin answered, looking from her to Stian.
“I’ve come to appeal to the Magus,” said Rebecca.
That was twice in less than five minutes that she had absolutely staggered him. “How do you…” he looked at Stian. “How does she…”
“Because,” Stian answered, “while she didn’t raise her children in our ways, she knows them. It never occurred to you to wonder, did it, where such a pool of talent came from? Of course not. You were too busy gloating over the fact that you got to Stephen before the Brotherhood did. It can skip generations, but that seemed unlikely. And then there are the twins. Stephen’s talents are progressing rapidly, we know this. It’s downright uncanny. But if that’s the case, why has it only manifested now? My family may start at a ridiculously early age, but he showed no signs of magical ability until you began actively training him at nineteen. And why the anxiety about Willamina’s marriage? I do not think it will be difficult to find the girl a husband, and even I know that she has at least five years before people start to talk. Unless there’s a specific reason you’re eager, Mrs. Greyson, have her married soon. By, say, her twenty-first birthday?” She said nothing, so he continued. “Greyson doesn’t know the origin of his mother’s anxiety, but he has picked up on it. She has been hiding them from someone, and time is running out.”
His tone had been playful, enjoying his own cleverness. Now it became more serious as he added, “I am hoping she will enlighten us?”
Rebecca folded her hands in front of her, gathering herself before she began, “My own talent is small. But my sister’s was extraordinary. Willamina reminds me of her, very much. She was also very… high spirited. My father was a member of the Brotherhood, as was my grandfather. Her marriage was arranged through them.”
Casmin hissed through his teeth, but Stian said, “You will have to explain to me.”
“I alluded to it earlier, Stian,” Casmin interjected. “The Brotherhood arranges marriages within its ranks, based solely on bloodline and power. Not personal compatibility.”
“The man my sister was married to was… she was content, at first. But before long, his true nature revealed itself. You must be aware that some men thrive on the pain of others. He was one such. The fact that she was not inclined to submit only made her that much more appealing to him. She tried to leave. But the Brotherhood wouldn’t allow it. Not until she produced a child.”
The duke’s face was stormy. “What happened to her?”
“She hanged herself,” Rebecca said quietly. “My father broke with the Brotherhood then.”
“They let you go?” Casmin looked skeptical.
“Provided that we went quietly. They didn’t want the scandal to become public, and they knew my father carried enough influence to be troublesome, had he desired to be so. I had already been deemed uninteresting to them, and had been allowed to marry Richard Greyson. But I am afraid that if they realize Willamina’s potential, they will raise the issue again. For now, they think the bloodline has exhausted itself.”
“And if that changes?” Stian asked.
“I swore I would never let what happened to my sister happen to my daughter. When she and Stephen were born, my father arranged for their ability to be bound.”
“We generally frown on that, Rebecca,” Casmin said.
“We also generally frown on women being tormented to the point of suicide,” said Rebecca, and for the first time she let her anger show.
“And they call me a barbarian,” Stian said. “But there’s still one thing we don’t know.”
“What was your maiden name, Rebecca?” Casmin asked.
She licked her lips, looked down, swallowed. She looked up at them, and set her jaw. “Bertram.”
Casmin felt as though he’d been kicked in the gut. He sat down heavily. “Well,” he said, “that certainly explains a lot.”
“Indeed,” Stian added. His eyes were wide. He and Casmin exchanged glances before he continued. “You said you came to appeal to me. I must ask you to be explicit.”
Rebecca took a deep breath. “Excellency, I ask that you take my daughter under your protection and see that she is trained as befits her heritage and talent.”
“You put me in a difficult position, Lady,” Stian responded. “You know your son has expressly forbidden this.” He frowned, and looked at Casmin. “Theoretically I could claim the girl as a vassal. Her ancestry gives me the precedent. But that would, I think, not be well received.”
“That is, I think, one of your more notable feats of understatement,” Casmin said.
“Like any wise woman,” Rebecca said, “I allow my son to believe he is master of his domain. But under our law, I have final authority in all matters concerning my children.”
“Also true,” said Stian. “But equally damaging. No, this time, I think we must do it your way, Andre.”
Stian watched Rebecca and Rafe leave from his window. “We are on dangerous ground here.”
“Worried about Greyson?” Casmin asked.
Stian shook his head slowly. “No. It is most expedient, for now, to work around him. But if necessary, his mother will sway him. I’m worried about your Brotherhood.”
“My Brotherhood?” Casmin asked in an offended tone.
“You still wear their tattoo, no?” Casmin said nothing, so Stian went on, “These recent events have me concerned; this is not a good time to get into a pissing match. Even if Edmund were amenable, this would have to be managed quietly. And I can’t stay in London much longer.” He scowled and scratched Anoushka under the chin. “ I dislike feeling that I am leaving her unprotected.”
Andre raised an eyebrow at that. “I would hardly call her unprotected.”
Stian looked from the window and smiled. “I suppose you’re right. In any case, I think I might have just the person in mind.”
One thought on “The Huntsmen: Chapter 9”
Exposition fairy! I love the worldbuilding here and even the political posturing and Department of Backstory is engaging.