“Yes, Milord Seneschal.” He exchanged a smile with Kayla and followed her to the horses. When he lifted Toikem’s saddlebags from the ground, he proved strong. Although the tension in his jaw and a little groan revealed his difficulties. Not that strong.
When they left the stables, Aleander led the way.
“Why do people call me Gent?” Kayla asked the seneschal.
“It is the courteous way to refer to a commoner.” He sighed. “I probably should have told you this on the road. When you’ll speak to the Duke, do not call him by his title like you do with me or the reeve. His Ducal Highness is the proper way to address him.”
She chuckled. “How ridiculous is that?”
“This is once again something you shouldn’t say out loud.”
“I should keep away from speaking truths?”
Aleander scowled at her. She turned to the redhead but he kept his face as impassive as he could – there was still a hint of a smile.
“I don’t know where I’m staying, by the way,” she told him. “I’m following your seneschal.”
“You and your brother will be staying with the female staff,” Aleander indicated. They are the most welcoming party around here. Since you are commoners, you cannot live in the palace itself.”
“These stupid rules will kill people.” Kayla met Aleander’s eyes. “Yes, I know I should shut up, Seneschal. That’s not going to happen, though. And don’t worry about the nobles, Tom will do the talking.”
The female staff lived in a stone house of two stories, quite a building. The matron – a kindly woman who winked at her in the corridor – gave Kayla a key to their room. It was next to the exit, and the matron’s own bedroom she explained. She’d cleared it for them. Kayla probably would have felt bad for the gentle lady if she hadn’t thought it was preferable they could leave the building in a hurry without waking everyone up.
“Please,” the matron said. “If a girl tries to sneak out at night and you wake… Knock some sense into her, will you?”
Kayla wasn’t really one for sermons but she knew just who could do the job. “I’ll send my brother after them if I hear anything. He might just bore them back to sleep.”
The old woman probably wondered what kind of girl she’d let into her home, but she left without complaint. The redhead put the bags in the middle of the room, between the two pallets that had been installed for the travelers to sleep in.
“I’d like to be alone for a second, please,” she asked as nicely as she could. The two men allowed her some privacy and she quickly opened a bag. She took out the upper half of a cat skull and placed it under a cover, by the door. She hoped the old spell hadn’t worn off.
They headed back for the palace immediately afterwards. The building had the largest corridors Kayla had ever seen, but she still found them oppressive. Cold and harsh stone never made for a good home in her opinion. She didn’t consider the paintings hanging on the walls and other pieces of art lying around. Artificial beauty rarely appealed to her.
She soon knocked on the door her brother had locked, calling in. As he opened the door, she saw that Toikem had placed the body on the last thing standing: a large cabinet. There was dust, debris and feathers everywhere. It seemed the room was well furnished in cushions until the Duchess of Fermont’ chamber fell on it. Her brother had called it a salon. She supposed it was some kind of bedroom.
Aleander and Aedan stopped at the entrance, unsure they wanted to come in. Kayla encouraged them with a kind smile. The seneschal trusted her, and the redhead trusted the seneschal. Soon the four regrouped near the cadaver.
“The Duke wants to see us,” Kayla informed her brother.
“Good,” he replied.
“How did the boy die?” Aleander asked.
The dead servant was turned on his side, so that his back was visible. The skin had been peeled from his neck and skull. Not a blood stain on Toikem’s armor, however; only his hands were red; a wonder considering what he had done with the body.
“The insides of his neck were spilled. He did not suffer for all I know.”
The redhead coughed and placed his fist against his nostrils. “I thought this didn’t happen long ago,” he commented.
“Curses turn the milk sour and people into bones,” Kayla told him.