It took half an hour to get everyone settled down. When Senga managed to get Candavish and Erramun to stop sizing each other up, got Allayne to stop fussing over the staff’s uniforms, which, it appeared, had a fashion of their own, got Ezer to stop whining and acting like his head was going to explode, and got Chitter to stop looking for trap doors from which the staff could have arrived – all of this while trying to ignore her own pounding heart and the confused twist in her chest – she sat down with a thump in the Casual Lounge.
“I… Okay. Candavish, Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Collier, please come sit with us. Could, ah, someone get me some coffee? Coffee, everyone?”
Her crew were looking at her like she’d grown a second head. “Okay, Allayne will have black tea with a hint of mint, if we have it. Ezer drinks his coffee with enough cream and sugar to bring it to beige caramel. I drink mine black with one ice cube. Chitter likes soda; if you don’t have that, she’ll have water. Erramun?”
He looked surprised she was asking his opinion. “Black tea,” he managed.
“Black tea. Thank you.”
One of the younger maids – younger than her! – scurried off.
“Okay. So, we have some catching up to do I believe. I have a few questions, but the first of those is – have you been here the whole time?”
Candavish looked slightly abashed. “Yes and no, yes and no. There’s been a few times when I would wander off. There were, you see, instructions in your parents’ wills, Miss Senga, or should I say, ah, sa’…?”
“I’m still Miss Senga, thank you. But the Name is Sparrow on the Mountain of War.”
“Indeed.” His eyebrow quirked, this time in amusement. “Your Mentor had a sense of humor.”
“I’ve always thought so,” she agreed. “So. Yes and no?”
“As I said. There were things your parents wanted done in the event of their deaths. Many of them took me away from the manor, and some took me out of the country for quite some time. I had agents observing your foster-placement, of course, but there were strict instructions that you were to be left well out of the family business until you were an adult. And now-“
“And now.” Senga put her thoughts together. “Great-Aunt Mirabella is dead. We’ve both seen the body and confirmed that it was both her and definitely dead.” She gestured at Erramun. “Someone set my team up for something that was supposed to be a simple mission and was a turkey shoot, with us as the turkeys. There’s also the problem of Great-Aunt Mirabella’s more immediate family, who seem to think that I am not due my inheritances and that somehow this house – this home – belongs to them. On top of that, well, there’s what – and who – she left me.”
“Ah.” Candavish cleared his throat. “Does that happen to be why Erramun Death-Comes-Silently is marked with a tattoo that looks suspiciously like a collar?”
“That’s a lot of it. Yeah. She decided that we needed to be bullied into this. And, being herself, obviously she had no problem doing the bullying, even dead.” Senga wrinkled her nose, not feeling remotely bad about speaking ill of those who had passed.
“I do remember that about Mirabella. I remember quite a few things about her, including her penchant for traps, poison, and tricks.”
“It was definitely a trap.” Erramun’s answer was dry. “The thing is, for whom?”
“That,” Candavish informed Erramun, “is exactly what I want to know. Now, you look trapped, but I’ve heard of you, Mr. Death, even if we haven’t met before. Miss Senga’s father definitely knew of you. And that is not a point in your favor, I can tell you that.”
“I don’t think he’s a trap for me,” Senga murmured quietly, “and before you give me that look, I am not my aunt. While I find his well-chiseled abs to be very pleasant, they’re not going to distract me such that I miss things like him trying to stab me – which he hasn’t!”
Candavish raised both of his eyebrows. “You were quite young at that point.”
“I remember people talking about it. I don’t think-” Senga’s voice faltered and she let herself lean against Erramun. “…I don’t think she stopped talking about it until she died. Mom. Mom talked about it endlessly.” She scrubbed at her eyes with her sleeve. “Shit. Shit, it’s been years.”
Erramun’s arm slipped around her shoulders, pulling her a little closer to him gently. “And now you are back where it happened, back where you haven’t been since then.” She felt rather than saw his head go up, presumably looking at Candavish. “But others have been. Others have been living here all along?”
“Well,” the butler answered dryly, “It is our home. It has always been our home, just as it has been the family residence of Miss Senga and her family. And someone had to keep all the traps oiled, the monsters fed, and so on, didn’t they?”
“…Monsters?” Chitter whimpered.