The Dragonbone Petticoat

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Chapter 6

Meet me in the courtyard when the moon begins to fall. S.

Not that they left a note. It was scrawled on his bookmark, and to his chagrin the wet ink passed through to the page, blotting out two lines of Acapiar’s argument on the preexisting soul. He grimaced for a moment, then leaned back on his pillow to ponder the lines. If he couldn’t puzzle two missing lines by context, how could he comprehend the invisible soul, or hope to follow the abstruse thread of Acapiar’s logic? The prime mover had simply added another domino for him to overturn in his conning of philosophy.

As the inked gap was both at hand and on his mind for an hour thereafter, Caldur didn’t ponder until then the down to earth concerns of ‘how did they sneak in to scribble on his bookmark,’ and ‘why would they risk being slain by the assassin or his sister?’ While Caldur’s mind was rapaciously acquisitive for philosophy, he was so indifferent to worldly questions that he regarded them now in annoyance, while wondering if he might turn them on their head for dialectical examples.

“Caldur?” Lady Honor also sounded annoyed as she trundled through the first floor. While Caldur liked their new living space, the assassin’s family treated a house as an oversize backpack, to cram with food, drink, and novelties, while never cleaning up, and he was always stepping over half-eaten comestibles and dinged bric-a-brac. “Caldur?” she repeated, her annoyance growing strained and shrill. He groaned inwardly. Until her brother and uncle arrived, she called him ‘Love,’ and it worried him that she misplaced that nickname, no doubt in his daily disappointment of her acid-tongued brother and their uncle, whose backhanded compliments, delivered with a sagacious and condescending tone, did him even more damage in her eyes.

’I tell you, niece,” said Elgar one night, “he’s so large, strong, dependable, and loyal, that it’s better than having a dog. Dogs can’t move furniture.”

“Dogs don’t drop furniture, either,” Nine Tails snarked.

“It was a rental,” Caldur had griped, and that was the last time the assassin dignified him with scornful eye contact, for Nine Tails began to circumnavigate the boulderish boy with the passing, irked glance one gives to obnoxious furniture that persists in stubbing one’s toe. Caldur feared, then sweated, that he had dropped a few rungs from ‘future brother-in-law’ to ‘past annoyance and late corpse’ in the assassin family’s shifty eyes.

“Caldur?” As her voice was now outside the door, he marked his page and tucked Acapiar under the pillow. While she had caught him reading before, he was careful not to allow any philosophy to show. While playing the jocular overgrown boy wasn’t much of a stretch--as below the neck his rowdy flesh and blood had often carried him away into juvenile amusements and impulsive passions--he regretted that he must hide his attraction to what comprised a good chunk of Lady Honor’s education. As Brynnelmark were schooled in philosophical, religious, and scientific texts, he was hungry for not only Lady Honor’s thoughts, but where they agreed and disagreed, for right now they only discussed the weather, what they were going to eat, and their inane plans for the day, all subjects in which it is hard to get to know someone.

“Hello, my love,” said Caldur, meaning it as best as he was able. While he wished he was a heartfelt person, Caldur knew he was only as deep as a puppy. Although his puppyish heart could love just as well far or near, he could not love deeply; his unguarded, squirmy affections not only recoiled from stares and the smacks of hard words, but spread its wet glance on every woman coming into the courtyard.

When he couldn’t wrap his head around a particularly abstruse paragraph, he might stand at the window to compare the passing women with his lovely Lady Honor, although, when he was being honest to himself, he also took his fill of their charms.

Lady Honor snapped her mouth shut on what she was going to say, disrobed, and turned in and away from him, tucking the blanket under her arms, bottom and legs, so that she was entombed in her covers.

Instead of protesting his lover’s deathly frigidity, Caldur gripped his pillow (and Acapiar under it), turned his head to the foot of the bed and vice versa, and hoped that the diminishing night or the glow of dawn, striking through the skylight illuminating that section of the bed, would shine on his face, so that he would be sure to make his appointment.

As he lay there, he wondered at the poetic turn of phrase: fall of the moon, it read, not rise of the sun, or, even more prosaically, sunrise. Having skulked in by picking the lock, jimmying the window, or bribing an attendant, only to leave a coy note, was she a spy or a romantic conspirator who hung her thoughts on stargazing and reverie? Perhaps he gave her too much credit, and she was only a moonstruck lunatic, having lost her mind in escaping the assassinations that halved her friends. If she was only a daydreamer, he hoped her aims were not amorous, for he was done with being the petted project of older women. After Honor, he would indulge his own appetites.

At Lady Honor’s easy snores, and the rise and fall of her chest, he turned to count the lines in the floorboards, a pastime he found diverting, but not narcotic, so that they whiled away the wee hours, he did not pass through by restful slumber, but by an abstracted and sluggish restlessness. Seeing that there was little need of being wakened by dawn when he plowed inexorably through night to morning, he took Acapiar from his pillow and reflected upon a few moonlit lines that perfectly mirrored him at that moment:

The soul lays breathless in the darkness of dreams, a moon shining with the light of the gods. The mind is only a ripple on the surface of the soul, which encompasses a thought bolder and brighter than a waking man can imagine.

Full of admiration for the wisdom of this ancient, and delight that he not only understood, but entertained the thought like one he coined himself, Caldur could only breathe, “Acapiar.”

He loved the dead words of this long dead philosopher more than he could ever dream of loving Honor. While his strung-out, sleepless heart raced from the energy of realization and a bracing splash into this higher self, the bafflingly wise being that guided him through pratfalls and abyssmal judgment, he had the simultaneous awareness of an ineffable nothingness, as if his self-love blurred a shadowy being too monstrous to behold.

When this sublime bubble of self-recognition was popped by a crack, he turned his head to see a long scratch in the window, and then another stone rapped away from the glass.

While Honor’s head wiggled, she did not wake, but grasped Caldur’s outflung foot and rolled to her other side, so that he first had to extricate his twisted extremity from her clutches before dashing to the window. When raising it by slow degrees produced a rattling squeak, he heaved it high, and the next stone riddled his temple.

“Aaah--mfff!” If Caldur had not stifled the shout by biting his fingers, it might have stretched into a hair-raising scream interspersed with profanities. He stemmed the blood with his other hand. While it was only a trickle, the quickly swelling lump hurt worse to touch it than it did in its landing.

His waving hand preceded his head when he next leaned out the window to see Secely winding up another stone, and Haran, who grabbed her wrist and pointed to Caldur.

“You’re early!” he hissed. Cecely dropped her stone, shrugged, and smiled sheepishly, and Haran put a finger to his lips and pointed to the ground.

When Caldur picked up his boots, tiptoed to the bed, and leaned over Lady Honor, her eyelids fluttered, her nose twitched, and the back of her hand pawed those spasms unconsciously. After she rolled onto her other side, away from the window and towards the door, her face again slacked into the blank calm of sleep.

He stood in that awkward leaning position long after his shins began to shudder, until the regularity of her breaths resumed, when he slunk to the door, cracked it open, and stepped into the hallway.

One dragon down, two to go. But neither Nine Tails nor Elgar stirred in their rooms.

Slinking into the stairwell, Caldur bustled down to the next to last step, where he sat and laced his boots, then turned the doorknob so gently that at first it refused to budge. Looking over his shoulder, he then twisted the knob ever so harder, until the door jostled out with a click of the lock and a clatter of the door panes.

When quietness resumed, Caldur stepped outside and gingerly closed the door.

Although Elgar spruced up their apartment with fresh linen bedsheets and curtains; various rentals, such as the best Klyrnish beds, chests, wardrobes, shelves, and iceboxes; numerous amenities, such as clothes, books, and sundry comestibles—cold cuts and other meaty collations, nuts both shelled and in the shell, lemons, oranges, tomatoes, rice, the golden wavy potato noodles scarfed down by the Klyrnish, liquors and wines by the bottle, beer by the keg, and ice for the icebox, not to mention wood for the stove; although Elgar lavished their money on the costliest luxuries, the row house was so indistinguishable from its neighbors that if he turned his head, it might dissolve into the stones.

On a bright day, the white stone row houses were hard on the eyes, and even at night, tiny glints from crystal flecks embedded in the stone flashed slivers of moonlight. Between the moon’s reflection and the lunar light collected in the facing rows, Caldur felt that they had made a mistake, for meeting in broad daylight would not have been so dangerous.

“Caldur! Over here!” While it was reckless to call out and dumb to say something so obvious, Secely’s smile was so cozy that it collected his unwilling attraction, magnified it, and reflected it back in a broad, beaming smile of his own. As the moon was ubiquitous that night, not only in the sky, the windows, and the crescent glints of the row houses, but the splashing fountain where Secely and Haran sat, perhaps his moonstruck egotism only imagined her mooning interest; he would be careful.

“Keep it down,” he whispered coarsely. “I’m here.” He cursed himself for saying something so obvious, as if he had some puppyish reason to be proud of his arrival. On the contrary, when he remembered the probable reason for this early rendezvous, he felt ashamed of joining the merchants’ confederacy. A proud puppy would not be so disloyal to his friends.

“Did you bring the key?” Secely said eagerly.

“I told you I wouldn’t do that.”

“How will you get back inside?” Haran said doubtfully.

“I will go to market, return with a few delicacies, and pretend to have forgotten my key.”

“It would have been easier for us had you not forgotten it.”

While Caldur was initially happy to run into Micheren on Limara Street—unfortunately for the tanner, a literal run-in that knocked him flat on his back—the consequences of knowing both an assassin and his targets soon proved a point of friction that threatened to combust into inflamed intrigue. Wanting not only revenge for the deaths of their friends, but the elmination of their hated and feared enemy, the merchants invited Caldur to a secret party in his honor, where they begged Caldur for the key to the house.

While Nine Tails had slain Caldur’s master, Jeptero--a fact not confessed by the assassin, but by Secely and Haran--Caldur was compromised by several very good reasons that exerted a power umatched by his best, most irrational excuses: 1) he was the assassin’s sister’s lover, a series of ties that entangled Caldur’s loyalty by enslaving the spineless, brainless length of boneless muscle between his legs, for that weapon’s occasional sheath, his beloved, was belted less to him than to the aforementioned assassin; 2) he feared the assassin more than death itself; 3) he hadn’t liked Jeptero, for the baker was a bully, a miser, and a recognition hog; and, 4) as he wasn’t so sure that the merchants might not uproot the whole family tree, then trim their hedge of acquaintances for good measure, he didn’t see the advantage in betraying one who might stand between himself and the grave.

“I don’t know, Secely. We’ll search him.”

Caldur snickered. “You...search me?”

“Actually,” Haran said deferentially, clearing his throat and raising his eyes skyward, which is to say, a few inches above Caldur’s lofty head, “I was hoping Secely might do the honors.”

“I might let her search me,” said Caldur, “if there was a good reason other than easing your mind. It isn’t a matter of why should I let you, but why would you, and what do you hope to find?”

“Or,” said Secely, “why not let us? What don’t you want us to find?”

“If you’re the one searching me,” said Caldur, “I can think of at least one thing that would be embarrassing for you to find. While it might be embarrassing for Haran to find it, it might shrink when the question of a lady searching me goes away.”

Secely turned her head, smiled, and blushed. As her hair was so blonde it was nearly white, it was hard to determine her age; she could be either a platinum thirty-something or a well-preserved fifty-something. As if to enhance this inscrutability, her face was always caked by artfully layered make-up. While most would assume this concealed a woman of middle-age, Caldur had reason to wonder, for Secely was the only merchant in the cabal who inherited her business rather than building it from scratch, and he was unsure on the when of the provenance. As the capitol was a close-knit community, inquiring too eagerly after a woman was a good way to be certain she heard every question, embelished by inuendo and perfumed by presumption, so Caldur had sated his curiosity with rude conjectures, such as that Secely covered a scar, a shriveled twin clinging to her chin like a lemur, or the pale skin of a vampire. Despite the horrific tendency of these daydreams, Caldur was a young man, and his manhood was not to be counseled against a painful erection, not when there was an interested woman whose made-up allure was more provocative than nature. As Acapiar said, if beauty was an interpretation, then it was fiction. Which made his arousal, in many ways, an aesthetic response. In telling himself this, Caldur felt he was quite the sophisticate, that being drawn to the older woman proved he was made of better stuff.

“Tell me you’re not flirting,” said Haran.

“We were badgering the poor boy,” said Secely.

“Was there a reason for this meeting? I won’t ask how you snuck in, nor why you so urgently need a key when doors and windows mean nothing to you.”

“Oh that,” said Secely. “That was merely a glamour. An illusion my younger sister taught me.”

“I see.” While Caldur was dying to ask about the witch in Secely’s family, when he got excited by this revelation, it only made his fear burn hotter. As Nine Tails was an assassin and Honor a Brynnelmark, and both were professions known for rising at odd hours to inflict or tend wounds, either might awake at any moment.

Glomming onto Caldur’s sudden fluster, Secely smiled coyly, “oh, she picked it up in Ardem. As I can only send a glamour to someone who’s thinking of me, it’s of limited usefulness.”

Caldur reddened. There was no use denying he was thinking of the miller if that was a prerequisite of the spell. <

Thinking she could be lying, he peered intently over his red cheeks, and she batted her eyes, revealing eyelids painted with more eyes, golden pupils inset in bright white agleam with moonlight. While it seemed indisputable that she wished to turn his head, he reasoned that if they had access to their house, they would have no need of the key.

“While I won’t deny it in fact, your insinuations are presumptive, for I only wondered when our next assignation would take place. If my interest fueled your charm, it was only speculation.”

“I see.” Secely’s narrowing eyes drew her arched, flirtatious eyebrows into a resentful, deepening brow, pinching the furrows into a dark arrow.

“Not that my feelings matter one way or the other,” continued Caldur, “or you wouldn’t bring your partner.”

“We’re not partners,” said Haran, “we’re confederates.”

“Partners in crime, then--no doubt with another reason to beat around the bush.”

“It’s just that we’re not certain of you, Caldur.”

“Then why make this appointment? Believe me, I have no appetite for your skullduggery.”

“Look, Caldur,” said Haran, “if we could have fled back to Vanoor, we would have, as prefer not to share these borders with the assassin. Moreover, when he grew tired of Klyrn, we would have been happy to vacate Vanoor, always keeping a different nation under out feet, so long as he wasn’t actually pursuing the gypsies he made of us.”

“Then you told us he was, indeed, hunting us,” added Secely.

“I should have lied.”

“With sea serpents churning the bay and the Terrortories on the borders, we choose to throw outselves on the assassin rather than the monsters, for it is softer to fall on one human, no matter how clever, than on a wall of sharp teeth.”

“While this is more definitive than your past bellyaching, it’s nothing new. Why have you summoned me?”

“Caldur, what if you married the assassin’s sister?” asked Secely.

Caldur’s jaw dropped. If he had misjudged Secely’s attraction, then why were her piercing eyes lobbing daggers nonstop?

“What if I did? Wait--‘why would I?’ is a better question, and ‘who do you think you are?’ is best of all.”

“Why brag to me of the assassin’s fabulous wealth and lavish estate?” asked Haran. “While you are too young to know it, you want to marry into this. Moreover, it will armor you from his wrath.”

“Why would I ever risk his disfavor?” asked Caldur.

“If you don’t think he will be displeased when you tire of his sister, you’re very naive,” said Secely. “Even if he prays every day for that outcome. And if she tires of you first, he will wonder how you alienated his sister.”

Caldur had feared this himself, as whenever Nine Tails became chatty--which he was known to do over a glass of brandy—he related anecdotes about the adulterous scoundrels he slaughtered to please their slighted wives, tales told a little too pointedly for Caldur’s taste. Whenever Nine Tails came to the gruesome end, he would lean in, slap Caldur’s back, beam a humongous smile--so that Caldur must reflect his own smile if he did not want to cave into a suspiciously anxious grimace--and chortle until he was hoarse, as if murder was the best punchline.

“You make a good case for how it serves me,” said Caldur, “but how will this serve you?”

Haran said, “Of the various plots we hatched, this one promised the least risk, and if it does not solve our problem forever, it has the virtue of presenting an enormous distraction to the entire brood of assassins.”

“Once taken into their bosom,” said Secely, “you might persuade Nine Tails to let old contracts die a natural death.”

“Yes, this arrangement benefits you immensely,” said Caldur, “while nesting me with assassins.”

“If her pedigree bothered you,” said Secely, “why take up with the Brynnelmark?” While the miller’s scowl had dissolved into a more resigned expression, her bold tone so amplified this pronouncement that he fretfully looked to the moonlit windows. While empty of assassins, the deadness behind the glass was so hauntingly stale that his anxiety flopped over into full-blown suspense. If he couldn’t see them, he told himself, they lurked in the gray interior, having swept Caldur from their hearts to make room for poison and gold.

“There is one hitch to your plan,” said Caldur. “What if she says no?”

“You will be well-advised, my friend,” said Haran. “For this is no affair of love, but salesmanship.”

“Weddings aren’t bought and sold.”

“Of course they are. Having already bought her affection with your animal charms and tawdry sentiments, now you woo not the woman she knows herself to be, but the proud goddess she secretly believes herself by worshiping at the idol of her vanity. Flatter her; take her to cafes, to galleries, to look at dresses; paint a picture of not only a picaresque wedding in a foreign land, but treasured memories of the Klyrnish honeymoon. Anticipating your next objection, we chipped in to buy you this.” Reaching in his leather pouch, Haran extracted a tied silken handkerchief which he unknotted on his palm, revealing a ring that seemed a smoldering ember in the moonlight.

While Caldur was reluctant to touch this token of their conspiratorial mischief, he could not help admiring its beauty. Moonlight streaked the gold red and orange, like the dancing points of torchlight, and its clustered diamonds throbbed blue and violet. Caldur also could not help noticing Haran’s cracked fingernails and blackened fingertips, which he took as confirmation that the coffee merchant was dabbling in Klyrn’s bean market. If he refused the merchants’ conspiracy, that information might come in handy. If? He couldn’t believe that he was considering it.

“It’s very pretty,” he said, “but in the end, it’s for her. She gets me and the ring, you get your lives, and even the assassin gets an honorable brother-in-law by which he might front a respectable business. Let’s say I’m not as in love as you presume, and that I’m not convinced marrying Lady Honor would be a life-saving maneuver. Why should I marry? I’m still young; one day I will do better.”

“Aren’t you conceited,” said Secely.

“Haven’t I reason to be?” said Caldur scornfully. “The quiet gods know I have no reason to be vain with this face. If I draw an accurate image of my worth, I think I’m entitled. Surely you didn’t come to this meeting without thinking of my incentive, Secely. What’s in it for me?”

While Secely glowered, Haran had brightened. He very much had the look of a merchant closing in on a deal, and beginning to ‘talk terms,’ which of course they were. “We’re coming to that, Caldur. Let me begin by stressing that starting out married life with a fortune to hide from your spouse is not ideal.”

“What are you? My well-meaning uncle? My banker?”

“While I don’t mean you any ill, Caldur, I only have my own best wishes at heart. As to being your banker, you could do worse than investing in the coffee trade.”

“No thanks. Keep your assurances and expectations, and give me gold.”

“When you get older, you might appreciate the value in uniting your self-interest with another’s. Business partnerships last as long as most marriages. Sometimes longer, as self-interest is more binding than trust.”

“But then I must hear these lectures every day. Again, no thanks.”

“Why not squirrel away wisdom with your gold?”

Caldur froze. Secely and Haran stopped dead, with strangled looks and eyes like stopped clocks. Caldur followed their rigid gaze over his shoulder to the lanky frame of his lover, whose face was hardened by the furnace of her rage.

This fragile gallery of anguish melted in the Brynnelmark’s stride, which in three paces saw her fist bulging so far in Secely’s gut that it briefly lodged beside the smaller woman’s innards, like a new external organ whose sole purpose was to radiate pain.

As Secely folded over Lady Honor’s fist, Haran drew a knife, and Caldur grasped his wrist.

“Don’t stop me,” Haran growled.

“Stop you? I’m saving you. Run. It’s me she wants.”

“Want you?” Lady Honor scoffed, dumping the moaning Secely into the splashing basin of the courtyard fountain and paying no heed to the coffee merchant’s receding footfall. “How could a massive fetus like you become so conceited? I suppose I nursed that in you, didn’t I.”

“My love, why so angry? She was only making eyes while I talked shop with the Klyrnish man.”

“Making eyes? Talking shop? Can’t you do better than that? That was your chief concern a moment ago.”

“What was my chief concern?”

Doing better.”

“Oh. You heard that.” When Caldur reeled back the past few minutes, the string of events was already frayed by dread, and being uncertain how many whispers Lady Honor overheard—it was a clear, breezeless night, and he could still hear Haran’s jogging tread—he wasn’t sure whether he was only a prideful, swaggering snot in her eyes, or whether she filled in the whole conspiracy using the fact of his faithlessness as a key to trace the shape from the eavesdropped fragments.

Caldur stood stock still as his wise lover approached. If her doubt had hatched distrust, and her flirtatious scorn was now full-fledged hate, he was no less reverential of Lady Honor.

“As my ears were deafened by outrage,” she said, “it’s truer to say I felt that.”

When Caldur couldn’t meet her stare, he saw that Secely had vanished, leaving a trail of blood on the outer rim of the basin, and a puddle on the side of the fountain.

The Lady Honor asked, “What are you looking for, Caldur?” Without waiting for his answer, she continued: “I also misplaced something. While it’s good to know I can live without you, that I’m the same person I once was, if a little soiled by your puppy attentions, a profound lack wells up in the absence of love.”

“You misjudge me, my love.”

“Have I ever! That for months I thought of you as “love,” so that I must now relabel those memories, stamping you as “boy” in every shared moment; that I ever thought you honest, good or humble, when you were sucking up to my brother’s dirty money...”

“Do not say dishonest, love; you cannot dispute that I enjoyed your charms, and many times more...” Whatever was to follow was stopped by Lady Honor’s hand, which curled and tightened into a white-knuckled fist.

Being overgrown with muscle, Caldur had lived ignorant of injuries and fears of scrapping, for the simple reason that no one ever wanted a fight. Assumed a terror, no one tested the monster until now, and Lady Honor’s punch had the twofold impact of taking a hammer to his face and a wrecking ball to his pretensions of invulnerability. Blood jetted from his nose; a chipped tooth dragged at her fist, so that their blood mingled in his bloodied mouth; and, his courage was knocked loose to scurry underneath his cunning.

“What was that for!”

“You dare suggest I’m a whore?”

“I never said that!”

“Don’t deny it. If you begrudge a whore her fee, she has the right to take it from your skin.”

“What fee? You were a Brynnel--” If Caldur was a syllable short, it was because she bludgeoned his lip. The patter of blows flurried like raindrops, but the sprouting red welts ached like hailstones. Clearly, Honor had practiced on boulders, for her fists seemed aimed at the wall, so far did they crunch into his skin.

“Here’s your tip. Don’t be here when Nine Tails gets back.”

Now sprawling, his eyesight spinning like billiard balls, short of breath, and very much erect--for Lady Honor had held such a tight rein on her fists that she followed them on top of him, where her breasts raked him as her wild paws went for his jaw, ears, and other sensitive bits--Caldur summoned his last spark of consciousness.

“He’s na’ ’ere?” Although hoarse from his bruised neck and mumbling through swollen lips, Lady Honor saw that Caldur wished to make himself known, and spat on his face before she stood.

“You never paid attention. Get out, Caldur.”

“I weesh I hat.” Caldur’s bruised lips squished asymmetrically so that vowels whistled and consonants squeaked, rattled, and bubbled. “I weesh I hat, may lobe.”

As she half-turned in a scornful attitude, as if contemptuously banishing him, his blow struck her side, just under her ribs. While she crumpled to the ground and scrunched her eyes and mouth, he kicked her anyway. While her limbs went limp, and drool dribbled down her chin, her face was frozen in a twisted grimace, and he wasn’t sure if she had passed out.

“I ha’ hobbed ta’ pairt awn eaguil termsuh.” Despite this noble sentiment, Caldur really wished he had listened to the assassin’s itinerary, for if he knew Nine Tails was not at home, he would have fought back harder and sooner.

He circled her, wondering if he should bother unburdening himself, when a shrill cry came from above. “She’s had enough.”

A number of row house dwellers looked down from balconies or open windows. One old Klyrnish woman, in a piercing and railing tone, continued: “the guard’s been sent for.”

Already tipsy on ripples of unconsciousness, Caldur began to get drunk on fumes of rage. Surely so many observers had not opened the window only to see his blows. “Yo watchet. Yo watchet me gate pounted.”

Lady Honor lay still. While her eyes were open, they stared at the cracks in the fountain.

“Ma based teeyure broater, buh naut tat dunter ’ead, Aggar.”

It was frustrating. While he wanted to leave a better parting shot, he was as intelligible as a village idiot and couldn’t be sure she heard. Moreover, while he wanted to return a gob of spittle, he feared the backblast from the wreckage of his lips. And there was no question of more physical violence, for while he had taken her with a single sucker punch, she had taken to bullying and rebuffing him when Nine Tails arrived in Klyrn, and he was now as much in fear of her as her brother. So much so that, though it galled him to leave Acapiar under his pillow, he didn’t dare go back inside.

When Lady Honor turned the face he wanted to kick, Caldur couldn’t find the heart, and when her eyes fluttered, he ran. He dashed from the courtyard to the alley, tripped, crashed into the backstreet wall, and slumped against the living obstacle—Secely. She laid not in gentle repose, but in the unconsciousness that echoed upon her after fear roused her long enough to carry her away from danger.

If he leaned down over Secely, it was not that he cared if she breathed, but that when he struggled to all fours, his hand scrambled in a puddle, and he slid. Rising to a cringing stance, Caldur looked over his shoulder, then continued his flight.

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