“Father Snake,” Deline panted, “I thank you for your protection, for your aid, for your comfort and your wisdom. Father Snake, thank you.”
They had saved all but two more Governors and had killed half of the assassins — although a couple by accident, as the powers of the Father Snake were strange to Deline and she found herself casting spells she didn’t know.
Deline, Catikee, and Carrone were sitting on the floor of the last Governor’s suite, all of them panting, all of them sweaty and sprinkled in blood.
The surviving would-be assassins were bound with whatever had come to hand, and the pink and green shield around Deline and Carrone was still dripping with what looked like venom.
“That—” Deline shook her head. “In ordinary circumstances, that would have been fun.”
“You should’ve been a bounty hunter.” Carrone patted her on the shoulder affectionately.
“Bounty—” Catikee tensed.
“Easy,” Deline soothed.
Carrone, without prompting but with a sigh, held up his wrist with the Bear-stone bracelet.
“I hesitate to say this in current circumstances, but I’m defanged. She won that round.”
“I… see.” Catikee sagged. “I —” She sat back up suddenly. “Mesaruxenne! The Emperor, his Grace, the—”
“He’s safe, or he was when we left him — guarded by Claws who I can still trust and by Aucheria. And by himself, of course.”
“Claws you can still trust —” Catikee frowned.
Carrone made a noise that was almost a question. Deline reached over and, before Catikee could stop her or protest, pulled the necklace out from under the Governor’s tunic — under-tunic, as she’d been interrupted, it seemed, in the process of dressing.
“It’s a one-claw rebellion.” She made a face. “A high-ranking rich-family one-claw rebellion.”
“That sounds ridiculous.” Catikee looked at the bound assassins. “Correction. It ought to sound ridiculous. It sounds — isn’t that one Deklegion? Look at the nose, the line of the jaw. Certainly, we have people who look like that even in my district, but—”
Deline pulled up her best Deklegia insults and spent several breaths she really ought to be saving to tell the assassin that his mother was likely a worm and his father was probably a goat, but it was hard to tell, since even they had hated him and left him to die at birth.
That one didn’t even twitch, but the other one — the one they’d had to gag — did.
“She is,” Deline pointed. “Not surprising. Not sure about this guy. Carrone?”
Carrone went off in Haloran for a while — no response. He then shifted to Carruph, a language Deline knew several phrases in, none of which he was using. Then, the prisoner twitched.
“Carruph,” Deline opined. “Now that’s interesting. We’re putatively on good terms with them.” She forced herself to stand. “Nursery.” She had been trying not to think about that. If the children had been in danger, it was already too late.
One of the prisoners glared at her. “You think we’d hurt children?” she sneered.
“I think I can’t trust a damn thing you say.” She tilted her head at Carrone and Catikee. “Coming?”
They both rose to their feet. “Prisoners?”
“We’ll send some more Claw when we find them.” Deline frowned. “If we do.”
The way the prisoner laughed made her worry. But first – first, the nursery.
Deline had no children. Aucheria’s youngest child was only a year from maturity, and Ferassine had no children, either. But Aucheria’s husband Gacharre had two children, and three of Aucheria’s children with the Emperor had children of their own.
The thing about a line marriage, Mesaruxenne was fond of saying, is that there are always children. I like that. The thing about this Empire, he’d often added on, especially when Deline was feeling as if she was not doing what she should is that the Emperor need not have any specific heir of their own loins, because any one of three dozen people could inherit. The government will never rest on one old person’s failure to produce an heir.
She’d come far too close to losing Mesaruxenne today. She didn’t want to think about the risk of losing her line-children and -grandchildren. She ran.Want more?