Willamina was dead asleep when she heard the voice.
“Hey, you. Wake up.” The accent sounded vaguely American, but the vowels were strangely broad and the words clipped.
“Ung,” she said, pulling the pillow over her head.
“Come on. That idiot brother of yours needs you.”
“Which one?” She was already drifting back off, dragged down by her exhaustion and convinced this was a dream. At least she was until she felt sharp teeth digging into her palm. She yelped, sitting up. The room was empty, except for a heavy animal scent. She pulled her robe on and went up the back stairs to knock on Mariana’s door.
“We have a problem,” she said when the other woman opened the door.
“What happened to your hand?” Mariana asked, her eyes going right to the bloody rag the girl held.
“Something bit me,” Willamina said.
“Just now, in my room. But it told me —”
Mariana interrupted her. “That’s impossible.”
Willamina cocked her head. “Really? This is where we’re going to draw the line? This is impossible?”
“Nothing should be able to enter this house. Casmin and I redid the wards and—”
“Nothing?” WIllamina asked. “Nothing at all?”
Mariana hesitated. “Well, we left a few exceptions.”
“And you’ll tell me exactly what they are later,” said Willamina. “Whatever bit me told me my brother needed me.”
“Which one?” Mariana asked.
Willamina shrugged. “Well, it said the idiot, so I’d have to assume…”
“I’ll meet you downstairs in five minutes,” Mariana said and closed the door, swearing under her breath the entire time.
They started out at the townhouse, but found it deserted. They were a good mile towards the King’s Head when it began to rain again, a steady, cold downpour.
Mariana pulled her cloak about her tightly. “Perfect.”
“You don’t have to stay, Mariana,” said Willamina. “I can go on myself.”
“For one, that’s ridiculous,” said Mariana. “For another, it’s not worth my hide to leave you alone out here. And when a god asks you to do something, you do it.”
“A what?” Willamina asked.
Just then they heard a high, laughing yip from an alleyway. Willamina turned and headed towards the sound, almost tripping over a body lying propped against the wall. It groaned, and she quickly recognized Rafe. She knelt down next to him, slapping his face: it was cold and waxy, but after a moment his eyes opened. The lids were heavy, and it took him a moment to focus on her.
“Hullo there,” he said, his voice thick.
“Oh, Rafe…” Willamina wailed.
“I was trying to make it home, but I had to sit for a minute,” Rafe said.
“In the rain?”
“Seemed the thing at the time,” he said. “You heard?”
“Edmund told me. Come on, let’s get you home. Mariana?”
The little woman got on the other side of him, and the both began to hoist him up by the armpits. “Holy mother…” she swore.
“She’s getting married, Wils,” Rafe said.
“And you’re bleeding,” said Willamina.
“It’s very bad,” Mariana said.
“What happened?” Willamina asked as they began to walk him down the street.
“There was a dispute over… something. Can’t remember what now.”
“Apparently. You’re a tremendous idiot, you know that?”
“Love you too, Wils.”
They got him into the townhouse and onto the couch in the parlor. They quickly peeled off his clothes to find a stab wound under his ribcage on the right side.
“He’s very lucky we found him,” Mariana said, looking grim. “What, were you trying to drown your liver and then found a handy stiletto to run into it instead? Ilithios… Willamina, I’ll send you back to the house for some things.”
“Check the larder here first,” Willamina said. Seeing the other woman’s look, she added, “You’ll be surprised what he keeps stocked.” She did at the girl suggested and was, indeed, surprised. “So that’s what they were talking about,” she muttered under her breath before grabbing several jars and returning to the parlor.
The two women spent the next few hours healing the worst of the internal injury before stitching the wound closed. At least, Mariana reflected, her pupil was getting some practical experience. Not the manner she would have chosen, but something was gained by it. As dawn approached, she sent Willamina home to sleep: she was still exhausted from the work of the previous morning even before the night’s adventures. Then she cleared herself a place on the other couch and sat down to wait.
It was several hours before he woke; she dozed in the meantime, and when he finally opened his eyes she was stiff, tired, and even more irascible than usual.
“How did I get home?” Rafe asked, groaning.
“What, you don’t remember?” He closed his eyes again, shaking his head. “Your sister found you, lying in the gutter and bleeding to death. Assuming the cold and shock wouldn’t have finished you off first.”
“I am blessed with better friends than I deserve,” said Rafe.
“Normally, I would be inclined to agree. But I have to say, as irritating as I find you most of the time, it’s doubly true when you’re wallowing in self pity. Which, I’d like to point out, is what got you in this trouble.”
He started to laugh, but it quickly turned into another groan. She stood up and went over to check the stitches. After she looked them over, she nodded approvingly.
“A week, at the most, and it should be healed.” He was clearly startled, and she added, “Willamina helped.”
“She’s turning quite handy, isn’t she.”
Again, the curt nod. Then, because she felt a touch guilty for being so harsh, she said, “I’m sorry about your woman.”
“She wasn’t. Edmund and Charlotte had hopes, I think, and I even thought about it.”
“What stopped you?” Mariana asked.
“She fits,” said Rafe.
“And?” said Mariana.
He snorted. “I don’t. Never have, for that matter. Why do you think Father shipped me off to the Navy? Anyway, that kind of happy fate isn’t in the cards for me.”
She rolled her eyes and stood up. “We make our places in this world. And you listen to me: I come from three thousand years’ worth of pessimists. If I believed our fate was set while we were so young, I would have slit my own throat when I was sixteen. And just think,” she said, her voice heavy with sarcasm, “I never would have met you lovely people.”
“Yes, terrible tragedy that.” He squinted at her. “You should wear your hair down more often, you know. It suits you.”
She made a disgusted sound in her throat. “You never stop, do you? I’m making you soup.” From the hallway, she called out, “And I make no promises about what I put in it, either.”
Drifting back into unconsciousness, Rafe muttered, “I was being sincere.”