It would have been nice to sit there with Erramun for a while — perhaps forever, and certainly at least for a few minutes. Senga knew she was feeling a little raw about the whole mess and she imagined that Erramun was not feeling particularly better. The way he kept on reaching up to touch his neck, the way that he would look sidelong at her as if expecting something — what, she hadn’t figured out yet. Orders? Complaints? — the way he’d reacted when she’d shown him his room…
She couldn’t afford to baby him any more than she could afford to be afraid of him. But still… She waited until he had dropped his hand again and then brushed her fingertips over the marks around his neck. “I think it goes well with you. It looks like you looked the first time I met you—”
“—Which was such a long time ago,” he muttered.
Senga smirked at him. “—like you looked,” she repeated, “handsome, dangerous, and notable.”
“You make me sound like some sort of animal.”
She wanted to stay away from those references. “You look like someone named Death,” she began.
A knock at the door stopped her.
She huffed. “Chitter, you can change rooms without my permission,” she called.
“It’s not that.”
It was Chitter, which was a bit of a surprise, Chitter sounding on edge, which was less of a surprise.
“Coming.” She stood up and offered Erramun a hand. He lifted his eyebrows at her; she kept the hand exactly where it was.
“Mistress,” he muttered dryly. He put his hand in hers and stood up.
“Sennnnga.” Chitter’s voice was growing more and more distressed. “Please?”
“I’m coming.” Senga tried not to be too irritated with her friend. It was either something really important or something really trivial and she would find out which soon enough.
She opened her door to find Chitter shifting from foot to foot, looking nervous and fingering the string of beads around her neck. “There’s uh. There’s someone here. Downstairs. Someone’s. Ezer and Allayne are talking to them but they’re uh. It’s a standoff. And it’s um. Not good? Bad. Senga, you said this place was empty. Empty! This isn’t empty!”
“Chitter. Chitter, calm down. What sort of stand-off, what sort of not empty, and what sort of bad?”
Chitter wrinkled her nose. “You sound like Ezer. Um. I think you’d better come look. I mean, it’s your house. But right now, diplomatically bad with overtones of suggested violence – oh, nice ink, tall man.”
Erramun put a hand to his neck – his off hand, the one not holding her hand. “Thank you,” he rumbled. “Ah. Mistress. Do you want me to-”
“No, I think Chitter’s right, but you can come with me. That way you can scare off anyone who’s not actually trouble.” She winked at him. He looked mostly surprised by the gesture.
“Come on, Chitter.” She turned back to her friend. “Show me the problem.”
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s bad. It’s-” Chitter kept up a steady stream of discussion of that sort while they navigated the traps, headed down the stairs, and found themselves in the central ball room.
“-I mean, I’d never heard anyone scoff for real and not on TV but – see?”
Senga was startled into a cough. “Chitter. Chitter, did you come running to get me because you were scared off by the butler?” And, she had to add mentally, seven other people who were dressed as domestic staff. “Wait. Wait, is that you? Candavish?” She found herself about to run down the remaining stairs before Eramun’s hold on her hand drew her up.
“Erramun.” She smiled at him. “This is Candavish. And, let’s see. I recognize Mrs. Johnson and Miss Vacca.”
“Mrs. Collier, now.” Formerly-Miss-Vacca dropped a very tidy curtsy. “We didn’t know you were coming, Miss Senga.”
Chitter waved her hand at the domestic staff. “You know these people, Senga? You knew they were here? You knew they were – you knew they were here?”
Erramun stepped forward and down the stairs, walking up to Candavish. The older man – well, older-looking man; from what little Senga could remember, he was probably about sixty, maybe seventy now – eyed Erramun dubiously but held his posture as if undergoing an inspection.
“She didn’t know they were here, midget,” Erramun explained without taking his eyes off of Candavish. “She just knows who some of them are. So. Why didn’t she know they were here?”
This question, despite the pronoun, was clearly directed at Candavish.
Who, in turn, raised his eyebrows. “And you are?”
“Lady Senga’s Chief of Security,” he answered without missing a beat. “Her personal bodyguard, Erramun, called Death Comes Silently.”
Candavish’s eyebrows went up a fraction of a hair. Senga was buffeted by memories of this man — he’d been taller back then — holding off police, the FBI, the mob, and once, an angry wife of someone ensconced upstairs. He’d only once flinched even that much.