This is Issue #62 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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Nixus looked stunned; she watched the Guardian’s reaction closely. When she saw him take in hand one of his knives of black glass, her own hand strayed to the sword at her hip.
She flinched, when she felt another hand on hers. She glanced over, and saw the Guardian’s famulo, his eyes dark with warning. His fingertips hovered at her wrist, and though it would normally be wildly inappropriate for a servant to behave in such a fashion, she saw the wisdom in heeding his wordless admonition, and gave the barest of nods.
Her attention returned to the Guardian, and Secta withdrew, moving to stand closer to Jules.
The Guardian took Venustus’s hand and helped her rise, saying, “Ilona is grateful for your service. Vivat Venustus.” He placed the black glass into her hand, and gently folded her fingers around it, nodding to her.
“Vivat Venustus,” the crowd agreed.
“Vivat Ilona!” Venustus’s voice rang loud and clear. She lifted her chin, proud and pleased.
And just like that, the mood of the gathering shifted from one of pretended loss to one of joy. With the Guardian’s acceptance of Venustus and her utter eradication of the mention of Aecus’s name, the grouping of people ceased their false mourning of a hated man, and instead, celebrated the rebirth of a beloved woman.
Nixus looked to Coryphaeus, her brows lifted.
He could almost hear her ask aloud. Well, Coryfrater. What now?
As servants brought in food and wine (a gathering involving the royal family could not go un-fed), more of those who had wished to bring their mourning gifts found themselves accepted into the jubilant riot that had once been a funeral.
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“What do you think of that?” Coryphaeus asked of Nixus.
“I think our mother is impossibly brilliant,” Nixus breathed.
Coryphaeus couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about his sister seemed on edge, even in the light atmosphere of the wake-turned-celebration. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone calling his name.
“Coryphaeus! Nixiana! My beloved children,” Venustus said, appearing from the throng of people to embrace and kiss them both. “There is still much to do.”
“Do?” Nixus said, looking baffled.
“Nixiana?” Coryphaeus mouthed from behind his mother, grinning teasingly at Nixus.
Nixus narrowed her eyes at her brother, pursing her lips. She mouthed her reply, her eyes glittering with indignance. “Shut it.”
“Come. There is something you must see,” Venustus said to her son. When Nixus began to follow, Venustus smiled to her warmly and touched her cheek. “My precious daughter. I ask you to remain in my stead, for the moment? We cannot all leave while the Guardian and Queen are here, but this concerns your brother, and something his father left for him. It cannot wait.”
“Father… left something. For me?” Coryphaeus looked positively baffled, and then somewhat worried, as Venustus led him away.
Nixus watched them go, feeling something she could not quite name uncoiling in the pit of her belly.
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“I had thought you would run far from here, little Krieg,” Secta said quietly. “Were you captured, then, and returned to the Legatus?”
“Not quite,” Jules said, watching Coryphaeus leave the room.
Upon seeing the searching look on her face, Secta said, “Unless he asked for you to follow him, you needn’t.”
Hearing the information, Jules allowed herself to relax, but only a little.
“You stayed voluntarily?” Secta sounded curious, but not disbelieving.
It took some time for Jules to answer, though if she had known the expression on her face was so full of longing, and so easily readable, she would have spoken sooner, and changed the topic of conversation. “I did,” she said. “I did, little Ilonan.”
“You had a chance at freedom, did you not?”
Jules tore her gaze from the door Coryphaeus had left through, and looked back to Secta, her cheeks flaming pink. “I hardly know.” Her heart throbbed dully in her chest, and for a moment, she felt dizzy. Her hands shook, and she smiled at Secta, saying. “I’m not sure any of us will ever really be free.”
Secta’s expression shifted to concern. “Little Krieg, I have seen that look before.”
“Aye,” sighed Jules. “Is there a private place around here? I’m getting more’n’a little fed up with sicking up on people.”
“Let us see if we can–“
“You’re making that face.” Nixus’s voice was a sudden interruption on Jules’s thoughts.
She turned, looking up at the Summus, and then, remembering where she was, dropped her eyes and gave a brief bow. “My apologies, Summus. I will stop making that–” For a moment, Jules tried to say the word ‘face’, but nothing would come. She worked at the word, looking down at the floor, but her mind had slowed; her thoughts felt thick and heavy.
Nixus reached out and tipped Jules’ face up toward her; she looked concerned, rather than irritated. “I meant the face that means you’re about to vomit everywhere like some kind of horrible infant,” Nixus growled. “Come.” She half-dragged Jules off down a hallway and pulled her into an empty room that looked like yet another sitting room, unused but beautiful. Setting her down in a chair, Nixus turned to Secta and said, “Watch her.”
“…where are you going?” Secta wondered, somewhat impertinent for a servant.
“To get a bucket for the sick,” Nixus said, one eyebrow quirked. Who are you to question me, little man? “Unless you know where we keep them?”
Secta blushed hotly, saying, “No, Summus, I do not. Please excuse my arrogance. I will of course remain with the Legatus’s…” His voice trailed off as he looked down at Jules, whose rumpled robes had half come undone to show skin that bore unmistakeable marks of recent cruelty, her shoulders and thighs striped with welts from a cane. He could tell what instrument made what mark; he owned more than one scar devoted to that sort of punishment, from the life before he served the Guardian. He closed his eyes, hiding the rage that welled up within him. “Property.”
“See that you do.” Nixus left, hurrying off, having no idea of the murderous thoughts playing out in Secta’s mind.
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