It was an ugly wound, but not fatal. The kind that, when it healed, would be one hell of a sexy scar. Santana grinned down at her captain.
“At least you actually got it in battle and not…I don’t know… retiling your roof or something,” she said.
“Aye, your grace,” Cynara agreed. She was still a little pale, but sitting up at this point. “Markus’ll be dead jealous when he finds out he missed the action.”
Santana chuckled and nodded. Here the blonde was, nearly eviscerated and simply happy as a clam, a school of fish, and the crocodile to have been a part of it all. “You’ve done well,” she said, squeezing the woman’s shoulder. “Rest now. I shall check in with you again soon.”
“Thank you, your grace.”
Santana followed Dave out of the small room and back downstairs. They were met by one of Dave’s Rangers.
“Your grace, my lord,” he said with a respectful nod. “We…er…found a stowaway in one of my lady’s travel bags,” he told them. It was obvious that he was trying not to smile.
“Your meaning?” Santana asked, brow furrowing in confusion.
“This way, your grace. He’s already made friends….”
They wound their way to the eastern courtyard, and Santana had to stop herself from smacking her forehead. There, getting loads of happy attention from about five guards, was Gavin.
Dave began to laugh, and all of the soldiers snapped to a sort of attention. Gavin trotted forward and sat in front of them like the proud general of the King’s Guard itself. Santana finally cracked a smile. After what these lads had been through in the past couple of days, no one could begrudge them some pet therapy.
“Baron Karofsky,” she said in a clear voice that washed over the stone court. “Please tell you men that I would be most grateful if, in the spare moments from their duties, they would continue to play with Gavin. It will spare me having to do so, and just maybe he’ll be tuckered out for the trip home.”
“Aye, your grace,” Dave said, still laughing as the the men sagged with relief. “You heard her, men. Though Harlan and Tobias, you two should go prepare for the journey to the Eastern Range. You’ll be a part of the prisoner escort.”
Santana walked over and gave Gavin a quick scratch behind the ears.
“Your grace wouldn’t perhaps care to leave the pup here?” one of the others asked with a hopeful little smile.
Santana laughed. “Someone back home would be supremely cross with me if I did. Speaking of, I have a few letters to write.”
“I’ll show you to the bird pen,” Dave said. “Lucky for the rebels, none of my beasts were harmed….”
“Lucky indeed,” Santana said, smiling back at where Gavin was now playing fetch. “I think perhaps your men need beasts of their own. Tell me…have you yet met Baron Hudson?”
The man strode down the dark corridor in only a thin jerking and shorts. A week ago, this would’ve meant frostbite, or at least a nasty cold. But now he had a feeling that his castle would never be cold again. He and his brother, a boy of sixteen, walked without torches. The light coming from the end of the stone hall was bright enough.
“You don’t have to worry,” he told the boy. “The Magi have been down here already, and they’ve made it quite safe.”
They rounded the corner and came face to face with the Wyrms. Margrave Matteo Rutherford III grinned widely as he watched the beasts. They were growing at an alarming rate, and would soon need the fresh air, rather than this warm dungeon.
His brother Christopher, a Mage in training, got up close to the barrier and looked intently at them. “They long for the sky, brother.”
“And they shall see it soon, tell them,” Matt said, nodding.
“And they call you ‘Master’. Well, er…all but that one. The black one with the silver marking across his eye. He called you something I’ll not repeat, lest Mother rises from her grave and gives me a thrashing.”
“Right. That one’s Santana’s….”
The room was warm, and the lunch was filling. Santana was getting tired, partially from the heavy food and the comfortable fire, and partially because she hadn’t slept properly. She signed the documents that would go to Blaine, and pushed them towards Dave.
“So…we’re agreed that the leaders and the rogues should be sent off to Merconton. What about the ones who followed? Do you have a sense of who has true rebel sympathies, and who just didn’t want to be beaten to death by their rebel cellmate?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“Fine then,” she said, the fury rising again. She’d tried to keep the monster at bay, but the cool burn of anger was filling her up. She hated rebellions. “Seven of the others, chosen at random. We’ll make an example of these traitors.”
“Speaking of, I believe I see your Markus coming down the road,” Dave said, glancing out the window. “And Mercedes has sent her Airship.”
“Good, quicker than a wagon.”
The fire crackled and popped, and a moment later the shape of Ridcully’s face appeared in the flames.
“Afternoon, your grace, Archduchess,” he said, nodding to each of them. “I have…I suppose…erm, you said you wanted to be told of any occurences?”
“I’ll give you some privacy,” Dave said, stacking the scrolls and wandering out.
“What’s happened?” Santana asked her Mage.
“There was an…altercation. Between Rachel and one of the maids.”
“Ridcully, spit it out,” she growled.
“She called Rachel your 'whore of the moment’ and when Rachel took physical exception to this, she…er…attacked her.”
“I’m going to need more details than that.”
Ridcully sighed and looked absolutely tormented for a moment. “Rachel slapped her and Marie tried to throttle her in return. We, that is to say, Cordelia and I, believe that she only meant to scare her -”
“Is Rachel okay?” Santana cut in.
“Fine, save for a slight bruise to the left side of her neck. She’s shaken up, my lady. Cordelia is with her now, and is taking her into the city tomorrow. I believe she’s arranged for her to have lunch with the young lady’s sister, to raise her spirits. Do you…have instructions for me?”
“Do the maids know you’ve told me?”
“No, my lady.”
“Then do not give any sign that you have. I shall address it when I reach the manor again. Be on the lookout for an eagle from me. I shall send Rachel a message right away.”
“Very good, your grace.”
“Anything else to report?”
“No, your grace.”
“Fine then. I shall endeavor to be home the day after tomorrow. Have Cordelia prepare a welcome feast - I intend to bring Baron Karofsky back with me.”
“Yes, my lady.” With that, the flames flared into the shape of an eagle, and he was gone.
She pulled a piece of parchment to her and began to write, doing her best to convey only her concern, since Rachel was not the one she was cross with. She hated that her songbird had been hurt, but moreover she hated that Sugar (the clever brat) had been right. Something must be done. Santana was now boiling with rage, and Dave could tell as soon as she stepped out into the hall.
“Er…the Airship is ready,” he said, taking a few steps back. “We only need choose the rest of who’s going.”
They made their way out into the courtyard. The normal prisoners were huddled near a wall, and Santana wasted no time in hoisting one after another up at random, and handing them over to Markus and Bronwyn. She ignored the sounds of struggle and pleas for mercy as she sought out the last one.
At the end of the line, quite literally pissing scared, was a boy who couldn’t be older than fifteen. Sometimes young ones were sent here because lower nobles had a chip on their shoulder. Things like nicking sugar lumps or “eyeing” a man’s daughter. He probably didn’t even deserve to be here, so she couldn’t send him to Merconton. Even she wasn’t that cruel, but she was trying to make a point. She hauled him up by his handcuffs.
“How old are you, boy?” she asked.
“F-fourteen your grace,” he whimpered.
“Whatever it was you did to get here, you are now by association a traitor and villain. You deserve to go to the depths of Merconton for the crime of rebellion.”
The boy made a small noise at the back of his throat and began to weep.
One of the other prisoners stood suddenly. “No, your grace!” he said firmly.
“Sit down!” Collum barked, advancing on him.
The young man didn’t sit and didn’t take his eyes off Santana. “He’s just a boy,” he insisted. “I will go. I will take his place.”
The fury drained out of Santana as she stared at the lad. He was older than the boy, sure, but couldn’t be older than…twenty? Strong build, with sandy blonde hair. He wouldn’t last a week in Merconton, and probably knew it, and he still offered to go.
Another prisoner stood. “I would take the lad’s place as well. Please, your grace.”
Santana turned back to the boy and said, “Be seated.” She let go of his cuffs and strolled over to where Dave was watching the proceedings. “Tell the Airship Captain to go. Six is enough.”
“Touching display just then.”
Santana said nothing, but kept her eyes on the prisoners. The one who had stood up first was still staring at her. “Bring those three to me,” she said.
“Aye,” Dave said, smiling.
“I’m going to the bird pen to send a letter, but I’ll be up in a moment.” She stalked off to the western part of the compound to send her letter to Rachel.