"No, Urska!" – and Borysko dove as if he meant to save Khoreia, bending aside under his body Urska's great head and all her slavering fangs – “Please, Urska! She's rightly mine to kill!"
"No touch – You no touch me!"
Urska, the she-bear, might simply have swatted aside the weakened big man. She didn't. Still, her growling annoyance plain enough that Drakon, remorseful for his part, circled the tableau cautiously.
"Ah...Great Borysko, you are looking well. Come...my love – drink your fill – here's my kiss – so we might now be best friends!"
"I kill! –“
"No, Urska! –“
"She has no silver. She cannot change." said the pacing brown dog, Calla, whom Madame de Silva trusted.
One comfort: this witch, whose spells decorated her skin, plain as daggers, could not now effect her extraordinary escape. Urska straddling her, holding her in the dirt, another comfort.
Still, from meanness the witch baited Calla, tilting her head after him: "Should you not be with your Madame? And why is she not here to gloat? Perhaps she builds another school...for the forest folk under their trees. Or, slaughters my lost soldiers, perhaps? Some obscure political expedient all the world someday will thank her and her puppet king for!"
Calla snarled back fiercely: "In my robes, I would turn your pretty nose under my fist. You comprehend the interrogators will do that little."
"Urska do that little!"
"Wait, Urska! – Don't...spend me...fighting you! – We...we can kill her together, Yes?"
"No no, she little – You fierce – Urska get only dead little thing!"
Khoreia turned her face, closed her eyes, held her mouth in a strained small smile, like a bow.
Calla instantly interceded, standing one muddy paw on her bared neck: "We should kill her, but she is party to some convoluted conspiracy, and the King will want answers –“
"Ah, interrogation –“
"Ugghh! – Talk no more!"
Suddenly staring at Drakon, the prisoner called aloud, "And what says the Princeling?"
"Drakon, she has only poison in her – What use can the King have in that?"
"No king stop Urska!"
The words came to Drakon, and too easily: "Because you only say lies, then you might not even be of use to my father...and I can see no reason that you should not...here die."
Tears again blurred, as they had come when he last felt himself too young, only the day and two nights past, when his reasoning and soldiers who would follow it had put to death a spy whose high crime was to hate his royal father. Drakon turned his back, started away. Sunlight flashed down through the trees, blazing uncountable paths his feet might step.
"Ahhh...so here's my end!" – behind him, the beautiful conspirator's voice crackling – “No matter a clumsy mageling might compel me to tumble words like a traitor. Perhaps somewhere my darling Borysko might find his cure. But leaving me murdered in the forest be my end, is it? –“
Drakon flew back, stooped by the crowded woman, and Borysko and Urska huffing together, struggling over her. And Calla, and his muddy paw on her throat.
"Talk too much talk!"
"Tell it then – There is a cure – Where?"
The woman's eyes wide: Drakon sensed she might now at least try a small string of truth. Even the smallest hope still was a hope.
"Oh...young king, a summer camp –“
"I caution you – Do not try this thing you do! –“
"This only...natural attraction. I do no trick here –“
Borysko panted, "Vagari...summer villages...hunting mountaindeer."
"Villages, you call them, Darling. Near enough right. The difference never concerning the King's census taker. For Vagari are simple as wandering animals. Dumb tramplers of the King's border. Moving with the high sun north to the beech woods below familiar mountains, where we graze until chased away by autumn chill, or mighty King Alastor's soldiers."
"The cure there?"
“My vagabond people have many cures, Dear Prince. Why not for a kiss I brewed in my kettle?”
“Is what you need green in the ground – quick to find, then, in any kettle? I caution you not to take us round and round –“
“No, Boy – She only Liar! –“
Calla’s green green eyes flashed – “Hope here then, Prince Drakon.”
“And there, beautiful Drakon – the dog wags his tail and says a Hope here! Not all lost then for sad Borysko –“
The man lunged, hung his face above hers. Fixed her stare. Mouth close to mouth, as if he might kiss her. Perhaps daring her to kiss him. Drakon trembled, hearing this man, his friend, this moment suddenly not like his friend, hissing – “You wanted Drakon, you wanted Urska, you wanted me dead! I would…wound you – only for the meanness. Such a thing only a monster could do! You’ve made me your murderer! –“
Drakon saw the blade, dull in Borysko’s hand. Comprehending it, that this should not have been a moment he might stop, boy put his hand on the big man’s. Borysko waited for him to hold him back from this.
“Keep hold my hand…little brother. I’ve not killed ever from my heart burning with hate!”
“No fair knife.”
“I’m…lost, Drakon. She’s an engine of chaos. Lies – her fuel.”
“So the King must have her, Prince Drakon.”
“We cannot trust her – but cannot say no to the smallest hope – because I must see the end, must protect You, and Urska – from Her!”
“We will seek the smallest hope together, then…my big brother. See the end, together –“
Khoreia dared her littlest calculated smile, which Drakon saw into instantly.
“You live, today, only because I want Borysko to live.”
“And I wish to live, I do –“
“Take us to your people. Bring Borysko his cure.”
“For my life, I do! – And Thanks! –“
“You mark this. Trick us, and you die.” And Drakon’s young heart trembled at his own words, which were not his, but his father’s: “For between the horror of a man and a bear tearing you, there’ll be nothing of you remaining for your people to mourn.”
Something genuine faintly crossed her dirty face.
Urska suddenly shook her great shaggy head.
“No! NO! NO! –“