The man in the large leather chair slammed his fist on the black glass table top.
“I’ve had enough excuses to last me seven life times! I want results for a change!If three children can disarm more men than my entire section could, I must have sorry solders!I respect dogs more than you. Out!Get out! Now; right now!OUT!”
The officers scrambled to obey their leader’s order. The sound of their retreat continued until the last one out slammed the door.Deathly silence hung like a sodden blanket over the room.Only a young guard looking out the window remained.Dirkorin’s attendant now turned.
“Three children?Who told you that tale to save their cursed hide?”
Dirkorin glared at the man. “A guard called Mavegor.He was thrown off a ladder, by three children.”
The man gave Dirkorin a thoughtful look. “All in that…place…must be determined; to bring their offspring out to fight...”
Dirkorin grunted. “If that were the case, then I wish we were half so dedicated.But, no, the guard said that these were not from the castle, they were foreign.You could go see, Gatord.”A sneer crept into his voice.It was a bitter joke between them.
Gatord stiffened. He turned again and looked over the man in the chair. Tall frame bending, white hair growing whiter, long boney hands, a boney face, Dirkorin’s green eyes gleamed.Even with age, he was still handsome, but there was something hidden that made him repulsive.Gatord knew him well, his tempers and moods.He answered slowly.
“If that’s what you want.”
Dirkorin laughed shrilly. His voice had never been pleasant.“I’ll remember that offer, Friend.Now, go tell that sorry cook to get me some wine.Good wine.I won’t need you before the noon meal unless something happens, say, a raid from Mordgorden.”
Gatord walked out to be joined by a guard coming from one of the many corridors. The guard nodded at the room the young attendant had left.“Dirkorin say something about the castle of Mordgorden again?”Gatord nodded.
“I’ll never go there unless it’s to destroy them. It will be the first time screams for mercy will please me.”
Jo pulled the bandage tighter. Bodangalas yanked his shoulder back and the gauze fell loose again.
“Stop doing that!” The blue bubble eyes glared at her. “You’re cutting off the blood flow; I’m going numb.Mae should know better than to let you change a bandage.”
Jo was getting furious very quickly. It seemed the only way she and Bodie could converse was in argument.Both had tempers and both used them daily, generally on each other.
“I’ve taken about all the guff for one day that I’m going to take. But why should I worry?Your pulse is likely as irregular as your schedule.”Bodangalas had the worst habits in the castle, and it was a sore point with him.
“Oh, and what about your Fher’denish mathematics? Would your pulse be as weak as that?”
“At least I’m not balloon headed, or needle necked.”
“Go gaze into the mirror, empty eyes!”
Motag glanced over at the table where Jo was helping patch people up from his position in the shade of the wall. “How long do you think they’ve been at it this time?”
Thordvall shrugged. “Does it matter?Ten minutes, an hour, it all sounds and ends the same.”
Stalker smiled thinly and adjusted his sleeves around his own bandages. He watched Jo’s face darken.She wrapped the cloth around the shoulder again, and suddenly jerked at it hard.Bodangalas yelped, and slapped her wrist with his whip-like arm.Jo dug her fists into her waist, trying to work around her limited Fher’denish vocabulary.Motag rose.
“I’d better step in, or she’ll have his scratch bleeding in earnest. Hi! Jo, cool down a bit!”
Thordvall closed his eyes, and settled back. “Thank God for peacemakers.”
Time ran quickly; Jo adopted the job of fetch and carry, finding the infirmary beyond her. Mae and Anne were suited best for it. Often, as Jo darted down halls and stairs, she would see Beth helping someone in the many and varied household chores that kept the castle operating smoothly.
The trips around Mordgorden gave Jo time for thought. She wondered what she would say when she got home, what they would think of her, whether she would be alive.The idea of popping off the story to Jay or her parents was ridiculous; the idea of keeping it from them was just as odious. Fear of being thought insane, knowing that she would be betraying one side or the other, became horrifying giants that stalked her.
Then, once, when she was going to the kitchens, a cry from the wall automatically brought her springing across the courtyard. Motag met her halfway up the wall steps.His normally placed face was set in anger and anguish.“Jo, hurry, something’s happened.”
“I know, but what?”
The look behind his eyes was strange, almost pitying. “Stalker and…”Jo pushed past him, and rushed to the circle of guards.Thordvall was supporting Stalker’s head and shoulders.He glanced up as Jo dropped to hands and knees beside them.Her sword teacher’s breathing was coming shallow and irregularly, rasping in and out.The huntsman gazed at her face distantly. “He’s unconscious.Someone hit him with a dart.It was poisoned.”
She nearly gagged on the word, “Dirkorin?” Thordvall nodded.
Motag came up then and grabbed the girl’s shoulders forcing her to look at him. “Jo, there’s something else that happened,” But she had seen that beyond this group another one stood.Three figures she knew well lay on the white marble.Even looking through the bystanders, she recognized Beth, Anne, and Mae.She jerked back, and Motag caught her before she fell.