The Witch's Circle

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Chapter 2

Douglas can’t keep himself from crying as he and the witches fly northward.

He doesn’t care that he’s flying, or that death looms on every side.

When he had thought the world had ended, when he thought that everyone he ever knew and loved was doomed, when he saw the woman he loved morph into someone . . . something else, something in his chest cleaved open.

She had lied. For months.

If it weren’t for the fact that Kelsey – Keelie – had helped in him escaping with his friends and family, he would’ve believed she was only using him.

That, and the pain and fear in her eyes when they looked to one another was just too genuine for even a witch to fake.

Still, the ache in his chest won’t go away. Something caved within him, something he knew he can never get back.

He would’ve fought her every way if she didn’t let him save his family, he’s still tempted to just for the sake of being angry; family safe or not. It infuriates him more when a part of him can understand why she kept such a secret. Yet she couldn’t find it in her heart to trust him?

With the months they spent together, and with him having witch blood of his own –

Suddenly something his him, and his heart skips a beat.

That night at the warehouse. When he and Luke went to go meet her. She tasted his blood. He had taken a blood oath to her.

What’s going to happen to him? To his family?

There are so many questions in his head that he can actually feeling himself getting light and dizzy.

Or perhaps that could be because the realization is setting in that he’s actually flying on a dragon. With only a witch keeping him from falling off.

Both exhilarating and nerve-wrecking.

He can feel Keelie rest her lips on his head and he goes still for the slightest second. He relaxes, not wanting to shake her off; more because she is the only thing keeping him in this saddle. Even if her coven members will sweep in and catch him if he were to dare fall, the idea of just free-floating, even for the smallest of seconds is enough to make him want to wet himself.

As if hearing his storm of thoughts, Kelsey – Keelie – leans close and says in his ear, “We’ll be landing in five minutes. Wouldn’t want you or your family to soil themselves.”

He doesn’t bother responding, merely a nod his head. Well, barely a dip of his chin.

He keeps his eyes on the moving sacks strapped to Raven’s dragon. Some of them are still screaming and howling, others crying and begging for their lives. He can pinpoint exactly who is saying what, but it seems both he and Keelie are in for a whirlwind of questions.

Unfortunately, it’s sunset when they land somewhere at the focal point between the borders of Tamarak, Welyria, and Brithoterra. By then they’ve cleared a distance between them and Rarenth that would take men weeks to travel with horses.

He can see the sun-bleached walls of Dead Man’s Pass in the distance to the right, and to the left is the glittering snake that is the Ykem Canal in Welirya. Keelie mumbled something in his ear about not wanting to go over Welirya’s borders due to Ebonywings sacking the city of Tundir; the one closest to Tamarak’s borders.

Douglas can still feel a chill at the remembrance of how they exterminated the king and his family, his legacy, and left his head on a spike of the castle’s front gates.

They settle in a gathering of trees, a small patch of a forest and the other coven members hurry over to Raven’s mount to untie and settle his friends and family.

As Ammerith lands, he can feel Keelie shift behind him. Scooching herself back to allow him some room to adjust and dismount. Peering over the side, Ammerith is only one size bigger than Volivia, the Charger that Douglas had tamed when he visited Tamarak for the first time. His heart sinks at the thought of that beautiful horse-like creature, with her skin that had captured the night sky, having been killed in the chaos when they left the city of Rarenth.

Swinging one leg over one side, he inches himself to the edge of the saddle and pushes himself off. He grunts, biting down the hard jar through his ankles when he lands on the grass.

Keelie’s observing and knowing eyes on him, he wills strength into his knees and makes to stretch out the ache. He can feel Keelie floating down into the grass, her feet silent. There’s only the soft huff of air from her cloak as it billows and settles.

He leaves her as he hurries over to Raven and her mount while the coven members make to untie the sacks. Despite the warning huff of breath her dragon makes, Douglas hurries his steps as he approaches the golden-eyes savior. She’s smoothing down her wind-blown hair when those eyes flick to him just as he throws his arms around her, crying into her shoulder his thanks.

She huffs a laugh and embraces him, patting his back, whispering her welcome into his ear. “What happened? Who did you get?” he asks as he pulls away.

“See for yourself.” Raven says with a jerk of her chin. He can’t help but mimic her conspirator’s grin at the constant, vulgar swearing coming from the burlap sacks. She fiddles with the plaits of her braid.

Douglas stands at the front of the group of fabrics as each individual member unties them. They step back as they wriggle the fabric off of their heads. They aren’t gagged, but they are tied at the wrists, and he can only assume feet as well. When he casts a glare towards Raven, she’s leaning against the side of her mount, picking at her iron nails. She merely shrugs her shoulders and says, “They weren’t being nice, so we had to play rough.”

Deborah is the first to reveal herself. She kicks off the sack and whirls up to her feet, two daggers gripped tightly in her white-knuckled fingers. She must’ve cut whatever bonds were holding her while they were flying, but he can see small stains across her abdomen. Probably fighting the motion sickness.

The rage that contorts her face is gone in an instant when her hard, crystal-blue eyes find Douglas’ ringed-gold ones. Completely ignoring the immortal witches around her, she throws her daggers to the ground and hurtles towards him, wrapping her arms around him. His name a sobbing whisper into his shoulder.

She runs her hands over his face, his shoulders, his hair. She’s rambling questions while her hands clarify her inspection that he’s okay. “Are you okay? We didn’t know what to think, or where you’d gone. Everything just happened so fast –”

He takes her hands in his own, holding them tight. “I’m alright. And yes, I have a lot of explaining to do, and I am so” – his voice hitches as he beholds his sister – “so sorry, Deborah. I am so sorry.”

His sister’s ever-observing eyes are darting this way and that; finally taking in the wall of immortal power that guards them.

“How in the world . . .”

His father, Tom, is next to reveal himself, and slowly the coven members back away and regroup around and behind Keelie. Always on the guard.

His father has been gagged, wrists still bound. Deborah whirls around and hurries for their father, picking up one of her daggers in the grass. She cuts away the rope cuffing his wrists and he removes the gag, spitting into the grass. His eyes find Deborah and relief immediately floods as she wraps her arms around his neck, and leans into her touch and pats her forearm with his hands. His grey-blue eyes dart to Douglas, both lined with relief and anger, possibly a challenge as well. He always thought his father’s eyes mimicked that of steel.

Derrick unveils himself next, his wrists bound, and the seat of his pants stained. Douglas bites back his snort of laughter as Deborah goes to cut him free. One by one his friends are revealed: Arin, Enhard, Garien and Gavriel. Douglas can’t stop the loud sigh of relief, his knees nearly collapsing at the sight of everyone safe.

But as he scans the faces, there are two he doesn’t see. He turns to Raven and asks, “Palore?”

Raven’s sensuous red lips flatten into a line and she sighs through her nose. “I couldn’t find him.”

“What do you mean –?”

“I scoured the whole castle, trying to follow his scent. I was looking for him before your siblings, but I just – couldn’t find him. He’s still alive, I know that. But when everything went to hell in the gardens, I can only assume he probably ran one way while I ran another. But I know he’s fine, Douglas, so there’s that.”

“How much does he know?” Luke asks from behind. Douglas turns to find the Third standing in front of Keelie, who seems to be busying herself with petting Ammerith. Her emerald green eyes look to him, sad and hurt, but still she holds herself like a pillar of steel.

“I told him everything. Minus that you were playing babysitter with me.” Douglas says with a small grin. To his reprieve, Luke grins back.

“Well, if he knows what you were doing, then maybe he can do what he can to help us.” Raven chimes.

Douglas is aware of Deborah freeing everyone from their binds; aware of their stiffening bodies as they behold the ring of witches. Beholding the powerful, lethal bodies, the wicked weapons, the dragons, and then at the devastatingly beautiful faces of them all.

“I have to get word to him.” Douglas says to Raven. “I don’t want Gregory or the king filling his head with falsehoods.”

Arms folded, she pushes off of her mount and takes casual steps towards him, swinging her feet. “Perhaps Delwyn will seek him out.”

“Delwyn?” Douglas whispers.

Raven bows her head – whether in apology or sadness he doesn’t know. “I managed to find him in the throng of chaos. I tried to convince him to come with us, to come home.” Home. As if all of those with witch blood had a home in Tamarak. Hybrids like he and Delwyn haven’t had a place there in millennials. Not since the Matrons sought to exterminate them for lack of purity. “But he said he couldn’t. Apart from wanting to keep gaining information from Greogry and his plans, he couldn’t bring himself to abandon Solamere.”

“The man is a Hunter.”

“He’s also the man who took Delwyn in when his real family was gone.” Raven gently reminds. Douglas knows he can’t argue against it. And it’s too late now to go back for him, not without getting shot on sight. “He’ll try and send us letters when he can. Hopefully we’ll be able to receive them.”

He sets a hand on her shoulder, seemingly firmer than when they were in the city. “Thank you. Thank you so much, Raven.”

A genuine, gentle smile. “Thank Keelie. She made it her second priority to get your loved ones out if things went sour.”

Douglas doesn’t turn to her, even though he knows Keelie is watching them. Even though he knows the answer, it’s for his own further clarification that he asks, “What’s her first priority?”

Raven smiles understandingly and mumbles with aching softness, “You.”

“Douglas.” His father suddenly barks. All eyes jerk towards him, and Douglas finds most of his friends and family freed and standing, but their hands are awfully close to their weapons. He can sense the different sides: one of ancient power, relaxed and indifferent; the other, mortal and afraid, ready to fight like wild beasts if it meant their lives.

Stepping around Raven, Douglas takes three strides towards his family. When he gets close enough, his father starts to approach. Expecting a harsh backhand across the face, he flinches when his father approaches, but instead is met with a strong embrace, and soft sobbing into his shoulders. His father is mumbling words of relief, and tainted happiness.

“I’m so sorry, father.” Douglas says as he pats his father’s back. “It’s just, a lot happened after Marionette . . .”

Immediately her name constricts his throat. The pain is just as fresh as it had been that night in the courtyard. He had not thought of her name, had not used it, for months now. Because when he did what he had to do, he felt unworthy to say her name – not when she had been a beacon of hope for both races of this continent, and he had to extinguish it. In a way they had been ripped from one another with merciless finality.

It’s not his fault. He has to remember that. It’s Gregory’s. He had used her like a rat to test his serum.

And he will pay for it.

His father places his hand on Douglas’ shoulder and Douglas blinks away the watering in his eyes. “We have much to discuss.” His father says, still aware of the witches. A sickly feeling churns his stomach when he realizes his father is staring at Kelsey.

Keelie.

Douglas nods in agreement. “We do.”

“But not here.” Keelie chimes, and Douglas turns to find her standing, arms crossed. Her stare has turned cold – no, not cold, but guarded. He doesn’t doubt she can feel the judgment and anger emanating from his loved ones like smoke from a fire. But to her credit, she doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t back down even if their stares could kill.

She might’ve faced worse from the Matrons. From her grandmother.

“I own a manor that’s a ten-minute walk from here. We can get comfortable there.”

“Why didn’t you just land us there?” Deborah asks, her tone edged with a sharpness that makes even Douglas cringe.

Keelie simply looks down her nose at his sister. “I figured you’d like some time to stretch your legs. And perhaps adjust yourselves and your soiled clothes. There will be plenty of fresh ones at the manor.”

His sister’s snarl is nothing short of feral.

It would seem Keelie’s sweet, innocent bookstore facade was as clever a rouse as her brutal, bloodthirsty heiress of the clan.

By the gods, everything still seems too tangled, even if he tries to organize it in his mind.

Kelsey is Keelie Scarletblood.

Keelie Scarletblood is the Heir of the Scarletblood Witch-Clan, and right now, the soon-to-be Witch Queen of Tamarak.

A queen. He’d fallen for a queen of immortals . . .

Keelie is the daughter of Serana, the Goddess of the Stars, and one of the Four Goddesses in the witch pantheon. Remade into Maera, the Goddess of the Light in the human pantheon. Murdered by her grandmother, who is now the current Matron of the clan.

Perhaps if he were to write them down, it would make accepting it easier.

“Douglas, what’s going to happen to us?” Enhard asks and Douglas’ heart cracks as he watches him hide behind Arin, who is still watching the witches with a childlike awe, but also the caution of prey waiting for their predator to charge.

“I don’t know. But I’m sure that Keelie has something planned.” He says quietly to his friend.

“What is she going to do to us?” Garien asks.

“Well she’s not going to kill you, so you don’t have to worry about that.” Douglas assures, forcing a smile, and failing.

When Keelie starts walking, the rest of the coven follows in perfect formation behind her. Raven smoothly scoops up the burlap sacks, stuffing them into her mount’s saddle bag before joining.

Some of the members take to their mounts again, others casually but expertly twirling or fiddling with their weapons, ready strike anyone down at a moment that they feel Keelie’s life is threatened. Friend or family or not.

Ira and Luke take up the front, Keelie in the middle, and the rest of the coven members circling around her so there is no side of her that is left unprotected. Raven and a couple of others ride on the back of their mounts casually: reins loose in the hand, or their grip on their steering handles lazy.

The majority of them seems fine, if only specks and splatters of dried blood on their clothing and faces. But none of them bother to wipe it off. As a form of intimidation, or because they really don’t care; but it certainly has everyone’s eyes.

Looking around, he pinpoints Luke, Ira, and Raven, then looks around at the rest of the coven he has to memorize. He decides on ones whom would be obvious: the tan-skinned one female with golden hair, and another female with short auburn hair and a silver ball pierced beneath her bottom lip, and then the rest of the males. One male has short silver hair, the other long and black, the third with a nasty scar trailing vertically down his right eye.

Despite their size, their dragons moved with a grace that only they can achieve with their bodies varying from massive, to the size of an overgrown hound. Their wings are tucked in tight, sometimes fluttering from a random chill or such. Ira had packed some extra layers: a few jackets and a couple of cloaks. Douglas had to snarl to Deborah to take them, both of them knowing very well they will not last long in this cold.

Even the witches wore some extra thick jackets over their riding leathers. But soon some of them begin to shrug them off and Douglas notices temperature difference within the minutes they’ve been walking. No one spoke much, his mortal friends too stunned and afraid to say anything, not with immortal ears picking up their every word.

Thankfully, they come to the house sooner than expected.

When Keelie had mentioned she had a home settled close to the border of Tamarak, he didn’t know what to expect, but a sprawling estate twined and tangled in vines brimming with colorful flowers certainly wasn’t it.

Sprawled on rolling green land, it’s veiled with roses and ivy, with patios and balconies and staircases sprouting from its alabaster sides. The grounds are encased in woods, but stretch so far that he can barely see the distant line of the forest. So much color, so much sunlight and movement and texture. This is the last place he thought a Tamarak Witch would house herself; but hopefully, so did her enemies. At this point, he’s teaching himself to read between the likes of Keelie, and try to think of ways she can use it to her advantage.

This house – with its bright colors and forested location – would seem unassuming to the eye. The only suspicion would be how close it lies to the border of Tamarak. Making a quick and easy escape for Keelie should she be summoned by her grandmother.

Two servants greet the as they walk along the gravel drive leading all the way up to the front doors. Douglas blinks at them, stunned. One of them is a young girl with curly hair; the color of bright orange. Freckles sprinkle across her nose and teal eyes blink a fan of dark lashes.

She wears a simple homespun dress, and the smile on her face isn’t full of fear, or timidity at the sight of the bloodied and battered witches or their huffing dragons. Instead it’s filled with relief as she hurries down the drive towards Keelie and her bloodied coven. Even they seem to relax as the servant girl’s hands start to inspect Keelie’s face and shoulders and uniform.

It isn’t until a cold breeze rustles her curly hair does his mouth gape at her ears.

Sharply pointed and twinkling with a piercing on her helix.

She’s an elf.

Douglas had heard vague stories of the war between the witches and the elves, because it was the reason why they had gained their alliance when it was the humans against the witches. Tamarak used to be inhabited by both witches and elves, the two races sharing the territory until the witches drove them out, slaughtering those who couldn’t flee fast enough. They sought refuge in the mortal lands, choosing to inhabit the kingdoms closest to Tamarak so not to lose their magic.

But if Keelie has one – and perhaps more – as servants at her estate . . . are they truly here on their own free will? Are they truly happy here, or are they just forcing themselves to be content because of the heinous alternatives?

The servant girl puts on a good act as she bows her head to Luke and Ira and quickly calls to the others to open the doors and ready the stables. The rest of the witches dismount and let a couple other servants lead their dragons to the stables. None of them seem afraid.

A mixture of skin tones varying from brown to pale, divide between the dragons and the witches. Two open the front doors while five more gather around the coven to collect cloaks. Some of the witches keep their jackets, but all discard their boots by the front doors.

Douglas nods his thanks to the young woman with curly red hair, still fascinated by her ears. The other servants, he saw the same pointed ears on some of them, otherwise he assumes the rest might be human.

“We’ve prepped a lunch for you, My Lady.” The curly haired servant says, shouldering the cloaks. “The rooms are prepped and ready.”

Keelie turns to her with lifted brows. “So soon?”

“We had some extra help.” The smile on the servant girl’s face is brimming with excitement.

Suddenly Keelie’s eyes flick over the girl’s shoulders, sensing the presence as a door left of the grand staircase opens, and out steps a familiar red-headed woman wearing a silk nightgown of pale rose. The lace trails the top of her impressive breasts to the thin straps. The long slit up to her thighs flashes her pale legs when she walks.

“Margret?” Keelie breathes, staring at her as though she is a ghost.

The courtesan looks up from toweling her wet hair and her emerald eyes are wide enough to show white all around.

Regardless of the company, or of her wet hair, Margret squeals and drops her towel. Her scream is high enough that all the coven members cringe as she throws her arms around Keelie, both women giggling and babbling over one another. Douglas carefully meanders towards the two women.

Margret’s eyes are gleaming as she babbles. “By the gods, I tried to go to the apartment but no one was there, and then all this screaming started, a-and I saw the rest of the coven flying overhead –!”

“I’m so, so happy to see you’re okay.” Keelie interjects. “How did you get here?”

“I managed to find Luke before he and Raven went to the castle and he told me to come here. I’ve been here for a few hours. It took a couple of hours before I needed to do something.”

“You poor thing you look exhausted.” Keleie says as she pets her friend’s cheek.

Margret is about to say something, until those stunning eyes flick to Douglas and they widen. “Douglas. You made it. All of you! Thank goodness!”

She means to give him a hug, but Douglas steps back, feeling the shift of the world all over again. Margret senses this and steps back until she’s almost shielded behind Keelie.

Douglas swallows and inhales deeply. “You knew?”

Despite hiding behind Keelie, Margret lifts her chin. “Yes, I did. You must understand why I couldn’t tell you sooner. Frankly, I was waiting on her to tell you.” Keelie snarls at her for her deflect. “But neither of us knew how things would turn out for you. How things would turn out in regards to the two of you.”

Meaning neither she nor Keelie knew if anything was going to . . . progress, between him and Keelie.

The most frustrating thing is that Douglas knows fully well why Keelie couldn’t tell him what she is. He couldn’t tell anyone what he was because he was afraid. As much as he could love to give Keelie the speech about trusting him, especially when she knew what he was long in advance, he can’t. Not when he kept his own secret from his family.

Still, it does so little to quell the hurt in his heart. So little to quell the anger of being lied to, from everyone.

Stop it, he says to himself. You both lied to the ones you loved. Perhaps that makes you even.

“I do.” Douglas replies, nodding only once. His voice is hoarse, and he resists the urge to fidget as Keelie’s never-ending gaze continues to bypass his guard. Staring at his soul.

To his surprise, the tan-skinned witch speaks up, her voice sounding like honey. “Why don’t we all wash up and prepare for lunch? It has been quite a day.”

“Thank you, Eartha.” Keelie replies, showing as much appreciation as Douglas feels for breaking the palpable tension.

Margret slips out from behind Keelie and towards him, hooking at the elbows. “Douglas I’ll show you and your family to your rooms. I helped the servants decorate it, so hopefully you’ll all like it.” She pats his hand as she begins to escort him towards the staircase. She looks over her shoulder and offers a friendly smile.

Peering with her, some of his family and friends actually seem relieved to see her, as trying to avoid the revealing characteristic of her dress seems to distract all for them. Not to mention she may be the only one here who isn’t afraid of the intimidating wall of immortality behind them. She adjusts her wet hair, securing it with a clip. The other witches seem indifferent about her revealing silk gown, they only watch Douglas and his family with carefully blank faces.

Still, even when the others begin to follow, the coven follows in step behind them, a quiet, stalking presence. He doesn’t want to know what they’re thinking.

A couple of them – the tan, golden haired female, and the long, black-haired male – don’t really seem to care towards them as they smoothly pass them without so much as a glance. But Douglas could’ve sworn that the male – who seems to have an intricate tattoo etched around one eye – cocked a conspirator’s grin when Enhard and Arin flinch at his brief presence.

As the witches make a right, Margret leads them left. She must’ve visited this estate many times before.

Douglas looks down back to find Keelie leaning against one of the columns of the foyer, Luke and Ira flanking her. They whisper something that he can’t here with his mere human ears.

He bites down the irk at that fact. He’s a hybrid of witch and human blood. Why his senses haven’t been, initiated yet is still a question that he knows Keelie can answer. But there’s the conversation they’re to have in front of the crowd, and the one for just the two of them.

He’s more anticipating the second conversation. Even with everything that has happened, he still wishes to be alone with her.

To touch her skin, and caress her hair; to accept that she is real. That this is real, and she’s enduring it him. She’s still here for him.

Margret shows everyone to their rooms on the second floor, taking into consideration everyone’s needs. She even gives Garien and Gavriel a suite of connecting rooms. All of them having views of the forest, the river, and the distant mountains beyond.

When she finally leads him to his rooms, her hair is mostly dry, and fiddles with the ends after opening the white double doors. The bedroom is smaller than his suites at the castle, but he never really used that extra space anyway.

In fact, his room is . . . a dream.

The soft carpet immediately warms his feet as he steps through the doors. Its walls are a pale grey – an offset white, really, the vaulted ceiling delicately sketched with patterns of silver over a crystal chandelier, the moldings a dark wood. The windows are open, and sheer teal curtains flutter in the soft breeze. The gigantic bed is a white and navy-blue concoction, with pillows and blankets and throws for days, made more cozy with the curtains hanging from the towering headboard.

An armoire and dressing table occupy a wall, framed by windows. A fireplace sits empty before the bed. Two steps through an archway and he’s in a den set with two comfy armchairs, more windows showing his balcony and then the forest setting. The balcony holds more dark furniture overlooking the sparkling river. Thankfully his bathroom doesn’t have a window, but instead, it has a large porcelain bath two steps down to the bottom, done entirely in white and ivory from the tiles to the crystal sconces flanking the mirror.

With its vaulted ceiling, large but gorgeous chandelier, silks, velvets, and elegant details, only an emperor can afford this.

Standing in his stained clothes, his weapons seemingly too, ruined for this room, he almost feels self-conscious.

Margret is leaning against the threshold as Douglas rotates in the middle of the room.

So open, airy, plush and . . . calm.

When he looks to her again, her beaming smile has turned sad. Yet, a form of understanding lies beneath it. Douglas has to fight back the snarl on his lips. “I don’t need your pity.”

“I know you don’t.” She says softly, her voice flitted with that lover’s tone. “But I feel like you need . . . something. But perhaps that’s for Keelie to figure out.”

Douglas immediately begins to discard his dirtied clothes, his stained weapons. “How did you get here so fast? Even if I last saw you at the apartment, it still would’ve taken you days to get here; weeks at the worst.” As he speaks, he doesn’t look to her.

He can sense her shrugging her slim shoulders. “I shifted into the fastest bird in knew and flew across the winds.”

His blood turns to ice when he whirls around to face the courtesan. She has a small smirk across her full lips, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Bullshit.” He breathes.

Her smirk stretches wider, but more validity seems to fill it as pushes off of the threshold.

A sift flash of light, a ripple of color, and a black cat is sitting in the middle of the door, it’s tail slowly waving back and forth. Douglas scans the runner carpet of the wooden hallway floor. No sign of her nightgown. It had barely taken more than a few heartbeats.

Sure, he has been aware of Luke’s ability, but he never saw more of it than that ripple of light. Even still, the light she had is different compared to Luke’s. Almost dimmer, less charged with power.

She gives a soft meow before another ripple of light and there she stands once again. Blinking those full lashes at him.

“Luke has been teaching me since I first met Keelie.”

She hums a low laugh at Douglas’ astonishment.

“Lunch will be ready in thirty minutes. You can take a pic from the clothes in the armoire or dresser.”

“Is there enough?”

Margret nods. “Keelie spent the past few weeks preparing this place. Not to mention she always keeps some clothes here for any member of her coven who wishes to stay here whenever they wish.”

Though not too keen on wearing the clothes of the coven members, anything is better than the ones he’s wearing now.

“Some servants may come for your weapons; if only to clean them off. Just so you’re aware.” Margret says, signaling her finality.

Douglas barely gives a dip of his chin. “Thank you.”

She does him the favor of closing the door behind her, leaving him to his room. As if they too heard the doors finally close, some servants appear from the bathroom and motion him inside. Thankfully they let him bathe alone, and he scrubs himself raw, and his skin tingling. But at least he did feel clean again.

Opening the dresser drawer, he finds some pants that have a close-fit to them. Odd, especially when he knew they are made for a man – or, perhaps males. But the fitted style still allowed some appropriate room to move; made for looks and for fighting. Ingenious.

Opening the armoire doors, he finds some fine tunics hanging, the bottom set with multiple pairs of boots.

But as he turns back, he finds an outfit already laid out for him. He can only assume the servants took it upon themselves while he was bathing.

With a nervous sigh, Douglas dresses and prepares himself for the most awkward dinner he’ll ever have to endure.

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