~ Iunday, 27th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Pierre had never plotted a murder before. He had committed them, yes, but the target had always been found by another or chosen scarce moments before the deed was done. He had practiced on the ill, the criminal, and those already in some form condemned by forces outside of his own power. To kill the brothers was to judge and execute without sufficient proof, the mark on his soul alone.
Pierre had thought to ask Elwin to not only capture the brothers but to kill them for him as well, yet that did not feel right, as much as the margrave had offered his services in assassination. They had threatened his life, and if the connection to the doctor was true, his people as well. The lord of death wanted to be the one to end them.
A letter found the duc late in the afternoon of the new moon. It was tied to the leg of black pigeon that flew straight to him, having come in through an open window somewhere on this warm day and causing a bit of a disturbance if the shrieks were anything to go by. The universal magic bred into carrier pigeons usually let them find their way to several buildings, but a more expensive sort could find people specifically if there was a tie to the receiver, usually hair. He wondered how Elwin had gotten the necessary component to reach him.
The note was short.
I have it. Midnight. Your forest.
Pierre burned it without sending a reply.
That night he met with Lord Elwin in the same spot where they had taken the fay. The margrave sat atop a white horse with a large bundle in the back. Magec stood beside his master, looking back to the tied-up man and growling, though his tail wagged in excitement for the hunt they had been on.
Elwin tossed the wriggling bag down.
“It’s the elder brother,” he said. “The younger was too smart to leave camp late in the night. I replaced Jourdain with a friend that will on the road to Eichel begin an argument and then decide to return home. He will disappear on the way back. Perhaps the fée will be blamed, or perhaps it thought him killed by a highwayman. It at least leaves Renaud to complete the task you sent. For the next hour he will be invisible, so hurry and do as you will with him.”
“Thank you, Grandpère.”
Not having Elwin’s strength, Pierre helped Jourdain to his feet and walked with him back to the château. The advisor was either gagged or bespelled, or both, for he walked without much noise or fight.
Elizabeth could not sleep. Something woke her and would not let her rest even after much tossing and turning. Deciding it impossible she got out of bed, dressing quickly and taking a lamp with her out into the corridors.
There were more guards then on other nights past, with the time being so close to Midspring. In Eichel the days would involve some celebration and festivities, and in Cœurs they would go on as normal. In Piques there was a wariness and edge to the nights near each sabbat.
A pull in her chest took her down the hall. It was not towards the library but a way that lead to the gardens and then out into the forest. As she turned a corner she saw Pierre in the candlelight. His clothes were wrinkled and, she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing, a twig rested in his hair.
“Your Grace,” she called softly, lifting her lamp to illuminate herself.
He must not have realized she was there, for he looked up surprised and then smiled.
“Lady Lizzy,” he said, changing direction and going to her. “Why are you up at this dreadful hour?”
“I could not sleep. Yourself?”
“Ah, well. I was—”
He raised a hand to run it through his hair and froze when he reached the twig. Pulling it out he made no comment about it as it dropped to the floor. “Oui, outside. I thought I would take a stroll around the forests.”
“So close to Midspring, I do hope you were careful.”
“Of course. I do believe I have nothing to fear in my own forests.”
“Perhaps you may protect me as well? I would desire to accompany you on your next midnight stroll, if at all possible.”
“Of course, my dear.” He kissed her forehead, then her lips. Just when a chaperon would have tapped their shoulders he pulled away, and Elizabeth almost reached out to bring him back.
“Goodnight,” he said, and returned to the path that would take him to his rooms.
Lizzy watched him go, but did not turn back to her quarters. She was still no less tired than before, even more so as her mind buzzed with thoughts after such a kiss. The pull in her chest was still strong and wanted her to continue. She followed it, nodding greetings to the guards, assuring them she was well and only unable to fall asleep. But then she passed by the gardens and went further into the back of the château, where even on this night guards were not stations because no one ever wandered these abandoned halls. The tug was becoming painful.
“No,” she whispered. Elizabeth held onto the wall, stepping away. A cold wind hit at her back, almost a shove.
She turned around, so very tired now, returning back to her rooms and walking away from the old dungeons.
~ Dvoday, 28th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
“You must learn first and foremost that this is a magic of death,” Pierre said to Wolfram. They walked an empty hall in the back of the château, under the guise of needing time to discuss medical patients without others listening in. “The keres governed over the spirits of violent death and agony.”
Wolfram kept his eyes down, wishing to say something but unsure of how he could dare correct the princeling.
“Yes?” Pierre prompted after a few moments. Hiding his gaze had not hidden his anxious movements.
“The lord physician was adamant that this could be used as a magic of life. He said that he never took a life that he could not return. Would that not be possible for me?”
“My uncle is a skilled doctor, and in all my time in his guardianship I have never seen him take a life purposefully, though I assume he did when he was learning the magic. I have rarely seen him allow a lost life to remain lost if it would be saved—you are correct. But my uncle is not a lord of death, or of life. He rejected Mora’s teaching and cannot do as much as I, even though he is far my senior in both cræft and medicine.
“He did lose several patients recently,” Wolfram whispered. “He tried to revive them, with all he could think of, but nothing happened. At one point he was praying to Mora asking why she would not help him.”
He still hesitated. He did not want to harm, that was not in his nature. At least he did not believe it was. But he was still young, he could alter himself? But had he really gone through all of the trouble to become the student of the lord physician to throw it away?
Was it really throwing away an opportunity when what would be taking its place was to be the student of a duc, a prince?
“I would like to continue learning with you,” he said.
“Very well. Now, you must be exposed to a violent death.”
“I have seen people die before,” Wolfram offered.
“But not because of a deliberate murder.”
“… no, Your Grace.”
He waved his student forward and they walked down to the stairs that led to the dungeons. Pierre took an old unused torch from the wall and lit it against a candleflame.
“Here, hold this. There are sconces with more torches that we can light when we reach the bottom.
The door opened for him as it had before, unlocking at a touch. He came through with Wolfram, showing the boy where to light the room. The door was quickly shut.
“Who is there! Help! I have been taken!”
“Your Grace, who is that?” Wolfram asked. But he knew that voice, though he had not spoken much with the man.
Pierre took another torch and went to the first locked cell, gesturing for Wolfram to come over and see. It was one of the advisors, the one that had been on a mission for the duc with his brother.
“I have found out that he and his are the ones who poisoned my drink the day before we left the castle,” the duc said.
“This is a lie!” Jourdain shouted. He was as close to the bars as he could be while in chains, eyes wide as he strained to be nearer. Bloody wrists spoke of how he had been kept. “My Duc, your Grace, I did no such thing!”
Pierre pulled out a knife and pointed it to Jourdain’s throat until the caged man was forced to step back.
“My dear principule,” he continued to plead. “I hold nothing against—”
“Wolfram, open the door. The keys are back in the main room on the table.” The boy went to get them, his stomach twisting in knots. He had come here to witness a murder. Would Pierre kill Jourdain? Would he? Yet he did not disobey, doing as His Grace ordered him. This was for Salome.
“Now open the door and stand behind me.”
Jourdain had not moved from his spot, hands now at his side. He did not seem to notice the door opening or care that the duc and his student entered his cell. He stared past them at something in the hall, pale. He swayed on his feet. His lips began to move in silent prayer.
“Do you feel the spirits,” Pierre asked, continuing to ignore Jourdain.
“I think so,” the boy replied. “There is pain, and sickness, down here.” It felt like a sick-room. He felt sick. His hand shook and he kept his eyes to the floor. He thought he would vomit.
“But no death. Not yet.”
The lord looked over the man that had tried to have him killed. There could have been many reasons for it, from Aimé offering a promotion that Pierre would not, to just not wanting a change in who ruled. Honestly, he did not care. Even more honestly he was not entirely certain and that the advisor had done it, Pierre just had a strong inkling. There was evidence of foul play, but nothing in Jourdain’s own hand.
It was enough.
A violent death. He justified it in so much as Jourdain had tried to have him killed, and would have succeeded if not for the cræft that he practiced. That he now used the same cræft as a reason to kill him in return was merely poetic justice.
Pierre grabbed Jourdain’s throat and shoved him against the back wall. Wolfram shouted, moved forward, but at a look from Pierre the boy stepped back. Jourdain fought, but the lord held him until the struggling faded. The dagger then found his lungs, and any remaining movement and life in him began to drain away. His arms moved up to touch the handle and brush Pierre’s hand, but they fell back to his sides. Pierre pulled out the knife only to stab him again. And again.
In all Jourdain had five deep wounds in his front; none were yet fatal. Shock was the only thing keeping him on his feet.
The lord of death stepped aside to let Wolfram observe and the victim suffer.
After a minute, when both Wolfram and Jourdain seemed to have had enough, he quietly snapped his fingers.
The body slumped to the ground, arms still hanging some inches off the floor because of the chains. Blood pooled in a shallow corner of room before sinking into the dirt, and the stench of waste filled the air.
Pierre cleaned his knife and did not intrude as Wolfram vomited. Neither did he look up to Jourdain’s body, having gone pale himself. He was a sinful man, but not without empathy. It had been a while since he had done something so cruel. It was a small comfort that by the second wound the shock would have kept Jourdain from feeling pain.
“Come on now.” Pierre wrapped an arm around the boy’s shoulders, leading him out of the cell. He had seen enough, and wouldn’t benefit from this any longer.
“How will you get rid of the body?” Wolfram gasped.
“Pluta can consume it in its entirely in a day or two. And beside, this place is warded against those who are not suitors.” The boy shuddered.
“Is this even worth it?”
Pierre was not sure if the question was directed at him. Nor was he sure he could answer.
Wolfram excused himself and went to his room right away, unable to face anyone after witnessing the murder. Pierre did not have that luxury and stayed amid his court, keeping up appearances as long as possible, but a pale face and scattered attention was enough to concern those closest to him. After dinner Elizabeth suggested they walk the grounds together, reminding him of his promise that early morning. When he stood she took his arm. Vivien made to say something, and she held off the steward with a look.
“This is a private matter, monsieur. I believe you have taken up His Grace’s time for the evening, and he should be allowed to spend time with his beloved.” She hoped she did not impose too much, but Pierre said nothing to the contrary and Vivien obeyed.
“I shall finish the evening duties, my lady.”
“See that you do, Lord Steward.”
They held hands, walking in silence. At first it was sweet, but Lizzy noticed the tremors in his grip even through his gloves and began to worry. Without saying anything she began to take them off. He protested, weakly, but did not stop her, finally letting her hold his hand. It was rough, and new thin scars laced his palm. Even with her this close, while out alone, his attention was very far away. Something was wrong.
She sat, pulling him down beside her. His hands were both now clasped in hers, and she pressed their tangled fingers to her chest. The neckline of her dress was particularly low this evening, she had worn a shawl inside for modesty but during the walk she had moved it to around her arms.
“Sh,” she hushed. “Feel my heart.”
It beat quickly, her skin warming with his touch. If it were lighter out she was certain he would see her blushing. To distract herself from the thought that had begun to come to her she began to speak.
“Though noircræft may need to use blood, blancræft never needs spill any life to heal,” she said. Pierre nodded, knowing this was true, but still not trusting his voice. “This is not… nothing more than healing.” She drew in a sharp breath as some of his fingers found the curve of her breast.
They sat in silence, breathing in rhythm, and true to her word Pierre began to feel less ill and plagued by what he had done. Even the headache beginning deep behind his eyes from the cræft dulled.
“Have you ever done something terrible?” he asked.
Lizzy was silent, holding tightly onto his hand. “I believe perhaps everyone has.”
Oh, how he wanted to tell her everything. Confess his darkest sins, hear her judgment, her punishment. Know for certain whether she would love or scorn him after this revelations. Yet he could not speak and so he just sat and took in the night air.