“YOU’RE BOLD FOR a girl,” said Veris.
“What makes you think I’m a girl?”
He looked her over again, doubting himself. “You’re not a boy.”
“No, I’m not.”
“What are you then?”
“Is that your name?”
“I’m a demonfell.”
If she were a girl, he had a greater chance of scaring her. If a boy, then he would be forced into a fight. He wanted to know what the demonfell was so he knew what he should do. He realized that was lazy thinking, the kind that could get him killed. He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I know a woman more dangerous than any man and a man weaker than any woman. But you’re obviously a girl or you would try to convince me you’re a boy.”
The demonfell smiled slyly. “You’re clever. And you’re wrong. I’m neither. And that weak man you mentioned is yourself.”
The laughter that followed told Veris the demonfell was a girl. Laughter from a boy could be remedied with a smack, and he wasn’t so weak that he hadn’t managed himself with boys around the palace. But a girl’s laugh was a pain that lingered, especially when his weakness was evident to her. He felt this. He just knew.
The demonfell—the girl—slipped back into the suite’s dark interior. Veris remained on the balcony. He had many thoughts running through his mind, none of which was the need to call for help. When that thought arrived, he left the balcony, taking a torch on the way.
He found her in his mother’s bedroom. “Come to steal the silver?” he asked. “You’ll find booty a floor down. My mother doesn’t care about such things.”
Touching a finger to his lip, he said, “The Warmaster gave her something once.”
“Where is it?”
“Nothing you can sell.”
He shook his head, but his glance had given away his secret. The demonfell went to a shelf and touched everything—the two bound books, the stack of scrolls, and a piece of driftwood. She picked through a pile of seashells. His mother had told him she collected those from the beach where she grew up. She had had them since before he was born. Veris intervened, snatching a shell from the demonfell’s hand. “Stop touching everything.”
She stepped back and looked him over. “Where’s the jewelry?”
“No jewelry. You’ll find nothing you can sell here.” He turned to shout for a guard, but he stopped himself. “Why aren’t you running away? I can call a guard and you have no hope of escape.”
“I have a job to do.”
“I see. You’re working for someone else. What does he want? Has he threatened you? I can help.” The demonfell smiled. The one eye Veris could see softened with kindness. It made Veris wonder about the eyepatch again.
“You’re an unusual boy,” said the demonfell. “This isn’t about treasure. This is about death. I’m going to save your life whether you want me to or not.” Looking around, the demonfell set her hands on her narrow hips and said, “It’s not here. I don’t feel it, though I feel something else.”
Before Veris could reply, the demonfell had pushed past him and was gone. He raced from the bedroom and found himself alone. When he left the suite, two tower guards were pacing as he approached. They told him they had not seen anyone in the tower besides his mother. He asked if the guards knew where his mother had gone. They didn’t, but they confessed that she was naked.
“When you see my mother acting strangely, you’re required to notify the Warmaster.”
They glanced back and forth at each other. He felt dismissed. No doubt they had taken pleasure in watching his mother crawling through a corridor like a mindless animal. They could laugh now but they would regret it. He struggled to speak through a clenched jaw. “The Warmaster will not be pleased you disobeyed orders. I’m looking forward to what she will do to you.”
He stalked off imagining the guards’ fearful expressions as they watched him return to the suite. If his mother were hunting, she didn’t have her wrist caps and would need clothes. He gathered her things. When he passed the guards on his way out again, he didn’t offer even a glance.
His first stop would be Avestine’s suite. She might know where his mother was, or at least she would be concerned and help him find her. Distaste for his mother’s bestial side was one thing they had in common. Another was worrying about her safety.
Copyright © 2021 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.