Chapter Eighteen: Briars (2)Mature

“No!” Fiona screamed.  “No!  Stop!”

            Alasdair was livid.  “Fiona, did you bring this thing into the castle?”

            “Yes, but—!”

            Her uncle didn’t allow her to finish.  “What were you thinking?  It’s a wild animal, for Rezyn’s sake!  What if it had attacked you instead of that man?” 

            “Raif wouldna ha’e att—!” she started to protest.

            “Oh, so you’ve named it noo?”  Alasdair was so angry, his carefully maintained, false Southlander accent was beginning to slip, allowing his native Sichtir brogue to show through.  “Yeh’ve named th’ bluidy thing?  What next, wench?  Were yeh goinae let it sleep in yer bed?”

            “Uncle—!”

            “Yeh eedjit gehrl!  D’ yeh ha’e enny idea whit yeh’ve dihn?  That thing mauled a guist o’ mah castle!”

            A guard approached him before he could elaborate.  “Sir?”

            “One minute, Wood,” the Alt-Mage snapped, straightening out his tongue.  “I’m trying to speak with my niece.”

            “But, sir—!”

            “Kill the animal and be done with it, Wood!  I’m busy.”

            The guard sighed, puffing out his cheeks.  “Sir, there’s a problem with that.”

            “What?” Alasdair demanded, turning around.  Then his shoulders slumped.  “Ach, for the love o’ Rezyn…!”

            Fiona sidestepped around him to see what was going on.

            There were four guards clustered together, all with their spears pointed to the center of their circle, where, presumably, Raif sat.  Yet something was preventing them from striking.  What that something was, Fiona could not determine.  Her view was obstructed by the crowd of onlookers gathered around them to watch the proceedings.

            “Let me through!” her uncle bellowed, and the congregation parted.  Since he was otherwise occupied, Fiona judged it to be safe to slip in quietly behind him.

            And then she saw.

            She almost laughed at the sight.  Had the situation not been so grave, she very well could have.

            Raif was not alone in the center of the ring of guards.  Lord Henry of Carvil was there, too, his arms wrapped about the creature in a protective embrace, shielding it from harm.  Color was beginning to return to his pallid face in splotches of pink, and his shoulders shook with something in between terror and fury.  His aristocratic clothing was covered in mud and grass stains.

            “What is the meaning of this?” the Alt-Mage roared.  “Have you less sense than my niece?  Get away from that thing!”

            Henry shook his head stubbornly.  “The dog saved my life, Alasdair.”

            “If I have to—!” He broke off, realizing what Henry had said.  “What?!”

            “The dog saved my life,” the young lord repeated, squeezing Raif tighter.  “The man he attacked, the one in the black cloak…he was going to kill me, sir.  He had a knife at my neck when this dog leapt at him.  It saved my life, Alasdair.”

            “’Tis true, Uncle,” Fiona piped up.

            The Alt-Mage whirled on her.  “You saw this?  Why didn’t you tell me?  Why didn’t you call for help?”

            “I did call for help,” Fiona insisted.  “No one listened, though.  No one seemed ta be able ta hear me.  As for why I did no’ tell you,” she continued sulkily, “you were no’ lettin’ me tell you anythin’.”

            Alasdair threw his hands up in defeat.  “Fine.  Bloody fine.  Now, where did he go then?”

            “Who?”

            “This would-be assassin.  Where did he go?”

           

The End

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