And I have a cover! Let me know what you think in the comments, there is still a little time for changes.
Continuing the War council meeting in the kitchen… You will find the other snippets here.
And for the second time that night, jaws dropped around the table. He smirked, almost hidden under the voluminous beard. “I’m not always a hothead. Sometimes I leave that for the boy, here.” He gestured at me. “First, we must establish the connections. And then…” he hesitated and met my eyes squarely. This was more eye contact today than we had had in years. “Then we talk to the Huntsman.”
I nodded. Killing one Low Court royal had been enough for me. I knew he was expecting me to object, given my history with the Hunt, but this was, after all, their role Underhill. And if Dionaea had grown cunning enough to claim a throne, making those connections would be tricky enough. I looked around the table.
“We have the inkling of a plan, then. To find the thing that killed Margot, and then discover who was pulling the strings.”
They all nodded. I went on. “It is a slim possibility that her death was unconnected to High or Low Court, but the ritualistic manner of her return makes that unlikely in my mind. That was a message, to me, and through me to you.” I ended, looking at Corwin, who nodded. I made a mental note to talk to him alone, soon. He couldn’t go on blaming himself for her death. His subjects died, and if he took it this hard every time… he had never taken it this hard before. Something was going on, but I trusted that if it related to this discussion he would have spoken.
“I will go, soon, but not rushing, to speak with a source who may know what manner of creature it is that killed her. I’m not raising an army and going in with drums and pipes like the bad old days of the wars between Courts. This is going to be my way, one stubborn fool with a gun.”
Bella looked sharply at me, opening her mouth, and then closing it with a lost expression. We would talk tonight. I might wind up sleeping on the couch. But I wouldn’t risk our children, even if I were willing to risk her. And from the way she had just cut herself off, she had thought of that, too.
I squeezed her hand under the table, a silent promise. And I looked around, meeting everyone’s eyes in turn. “Suggestions, thoughts?”
My mother looked smaller, somehow, than when we’d sat down to the council. She was silent. I knew she’d want to talk to me soon, and I didn’t know that I owed her that. Corwin shook his head at me. I’d have his backing, he just didn’t want to give any input yet. No one else had anything to say, although I suspected that was partly because there was a lot of new information and everyone was still digesting it. We would talk again in the morning.
Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to be alone with Bella. We hadn’t had the chance to talk about a lot of things, and this had been a hell of a day. I stood up.
“Get some sleep, everyone. Mother, Corwin…” I nodded to them, and headed for the door.
If I stood there doing the social thing, it would be midnight before I had the chance… Bella was right on my heels. Behind us, I could hear the soft popping of transportation bubbles. There were places and times for niceties, and this wasn’t one of them. We all needed to deal with the pain before we could deal with one another in a civilized manner again.
Bella closed the bedroom door behind us, and threw herself into my arms. I’d been holding them out to her, so it wasn’t a knock-me-over throw like it could have been. She was crying. I didn’t say anything. There was nothing I could say, when the tempest breaks like this all you can do it hold on tight.
I did maneuver us to the loveseat. My bedroom, with the long illness I’d been going through when it was built, was more of a self-contained suite than just a place to sleep. There were times I really appreciated that. It didn’t take her long to get to the sniffing and hiccupping stage.
“Sorry.” She whispered into my slightly damp shoulder, hiding her face. We’d been together less than a year, but I knew this wasn’t typical of her, and she wasn’t happy about it.
“Been a rough day, darling. Had I known…? I wouldn’t have brought Margot to you. I would have waited for Alger.” I hugged her more tightly, and then let her move so we were both more comfortable.
She looked up at me. “No, I know what you were doing. That wasn’t anger, that was theatre. And you were right, the magic was fading already when you came to me. Waiting for Alger would have meant losing it.”
She put a hand on her belly, and I covered it with one of mine. There was nothing to feel, yet, but just knowing they were there made it all strange and wondrous. Bella hiccupped, then sighed. “We have so much to talk about. And you’re going to leave me alone while you go into danger.”
“I have to. I know we’re partners, but…”
She stretched up a little and kissed me, silencing what I was about to say. “I’m pregnant, not sick.”
“You’re no less capable than you were a day ago.” I agreed. “But the risks just tripled, and I’m no gambler. Not anymore.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Going to go visit someone who knows as much about Underhill flora and fauna as Alger does. Alger would never admit it, but Conrad has made a lifetime’s study of it. He’s a specialist, not a generalist.”
Bella frowned. “I need to talk to Alger about the library. I don’t understand what’s going on, there.”
“He should be in council… when do you meet in full council again?”
“Later this week. Today was a preliminary meeting to set the agenda.”
I grinned at her. “So I broke up a boring meeting. No loss.”
She made a face at me, then sobered. “Oh, Lom… poor Margot. Catch whoever did that to her. She was always so sweet and nice to me.”
“I will, dear one. I have to… even if she weren’t my sister, and thus a family obligation, I think this is the pointy edge of an attack on the kingdom.”
She nodded, and I could see the fear in her eyes. “This is… about me, isn’t it. Oh, that sounds so narcissistic.”
“Only if you weren’t Consort-Elect, and coming into your full powers with a coronation in three months. They have to move before that, or face a united Court. So it’s not about you, but it is.”
“And Dionaea.” She didn’t need to say anything more. There was a lot hanging in the air just from that name, things I hadn’t talked to her about, had hoped to never need to talk about. I’d fostered the impression most people had, if they knew I’d been married before, that I was genteelly widowed, and to bring up the idea of marriage was painful to me. Which is was, just not in the way they thought.
“I was married young, for Fae, and not for the right reasons.” I began, bending my head so I was resting my cheek on her hair. She cuddled up, and didn’t talk.
“Dionaea was my mother’s idea.” I closed my eyes and remembered the whole scene.