~ Qvattorday, 30th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
“Do you still want to become a suitor of death knowing what you do?” Pierre asked. He had called the boy into his quarters knowing Elizabeth would be out with Síofra, Maiolaine, and the stewardess’s children this afternoon. His advisors too were busy, away, or as of two days past, deceased.
The duc had given Wolfram some time to come to terms with the murder he had witnessed. To understand what this cræft asked for in its purest form. What Mora would ask of him. Though it was true one could start to learn and then stop at any point, even entirely, to go through with the decision was to make a mark on the soul that would not fade even if the magic did.
“Y-yes.” Wolfram looked around the room, eyes lingering on the trunk that held Salome. He took a deep breath and continued on, “I will not say I am not horrified by what you did, Your Grace, because it scares me more than I can say. But I watched you kill Salome too and you were gentle with her. And I spoke with Lady Sabine as well, she told me about the three people you helped come back because they were wrongly killed… I believe I can manage a balance between what you do and what Lord Ophion teaches.”
Brave boy. “Perhaps you can, Wolfram. I never have… Now then, do you like fish?”
Unsure about the sudden change in topic Wolfram nodded.
“Excellent. I do not,” Pierre replied. He got up from his chair and went over to the servant’s bell-ropes, pulling one to summon a butler.
“You don’t? But, Your Grace, I have seen you eat it.”
“A lie takes dedication. And I cannot let there be a pattern to the few times I do eat it, so there must be random days where it occurs.”
When the servant came to see what His Grace wished, Pierre ordered two grilled salmon for lunch with all of his usual extras—vinegar, salt, lemon juice, crushed peppercorn. With most of his retinue busy it would not be usual to have a more private meal with his student.
“And two basins of water, towels as well, so we can wash up, please.”
“Right away, Your Grace.”
The basins were brought first, one filled with hot water and the other cold, along with an empty tub that could be used for a full bath if desired. Lunch was not far behind, salmon served on a bed of rice with mixed vegetables placed on the table along with all of the additions. Pierre thanked his servants and shut the door before any more offerings of help could be made. He then walked over to the balcony and opened those doors, letting in fresh air and sunshine.
“The best way to get out bloodstains,” he began, his voice taking upon itself a certain tone that came with a lecture. “Is with cold water, mixed with vinegar, lemon juice, and scrubbed with salt, then dried in the sun. I have found the excuse that I am eating fish the best way to have all of these without suspicion. Today is also a wonderfully sunny day.”
“Blood—we are bringing back Salome?!”
“Yes,” Pierre said with a smile. “You wish to try for her to become your Familiar and so we need not waste any more time. And tomorrow is Midspring, so it works very well to say she has returned now after disappearing at Springfinding.
“As I was saying—You will eventually come to the point where you do not need much blood shed to perform cræft, and it will be both simpler to hide and to wash, but not in these first few months. A familiar can of course consume many things that are not natural, bloody clothes among them, but it is impractical to destroy everything you bleed on. The fresh air will also mask the scent of blood in the room.”
Pierre motioned to the trunk and Wolfram dashed over to unlock it, meal entirely forgotten. He picked up Salome, moving her corpse to his lord’s bed. No stiffness of death had set into her muscles and she was limp and soft as if asleep. Her dark hair splayed out in loose waves.
“As I showed you before,” Pierre said, moving to stand beside Wolfram, grabbing a knife and a towel. He took off his jacket and waited as Wolfram did the same, rolling up his sleeves as well. “A long cut on the wrist. Deep. So that it can be said you intended to take your own life.” He untied the cravat from around his neck to use for a makeshift tourniquet so the boy would not die before he could be healed. “Go on.”
Wolfram had not looked up from gazing at Salome. She was smiling and at peace, which warmed his heart. He prayed she would be well when she returned to him, if that were not the case he dreaded she would ask to die again.
He rested his arm on the towel, putting the knife Pierre handed him to his arm. He counted under his breath. On trois Wolfram cut and his arm bloomed crimson.
Pierre caught Wolfram when his knees gave way from pain, tying the tourniquet tight below his elbow. He pressed the towel to the wound. Some blood leaked and stained his covers.
“Wolfram? Wolfram, steady. Breathe.” The boy was shaking and Pierre sat him on the edge of the bed. “Stay awake Wolfram.”
Seeing him in no state to do it himself, Pierre took his hand off the towel for a moment and transferred some of the blood to Salome’s lips.
“Wolfram, listen. Feel her soul. Wave your fingers, draw her in. She wants to come back to you.”
He heard the comment, wiggling his fingers even as he leaned heavily on Pierre. This felt different than it had that first time, like he too had an anchor here in this world to keep him solid. His hand then closed around something unseen, holding another’s hand in his own, and with his whole arm he pulled. The strain was too much. Wolfram fainted as Salome breathed for the first time in weeks.
Pierre took the boy’s weight, shifting him into his arms and laying him down beside Salome. The doctor pressed a finger to his student’s throat to feel for a pulse. It was still strong given the amount of blood he had lost. Before he could spill his own and heal Wolfram, though, Salome woke.
“Where—” She looked around at the unknown surroundings, gasping when she laid eyes on her beloved. She grabbed his arm, kissing the wound from elbow to wrist. Blood smeared over her face and her attire but the gash began to knit close. Kissing him still, once more up his arm, the tear scarred over.
The new familiar placed Wolfram’s arm back at his side and raised her own hands to her face. She touched the blood on her cheeks, and licked the blood from her lips. She felt a humming in her body that linked her to Wolfram.
“Mademoiselle,” Pierre said softly. He took her hands and tilted her head so that she looked at him. Her eyes were wide and she stared without seeing. “Mademoiselle Salome, do you know who I am?”
He placed a hand over her eye and then away to check her pupils. They reacted to the light.
“Yes, Your Grace. Duc de Piques, Lord of Death. You killed me.”
“I did,” Pierre confirmed gently with a nod. He held up a finger and asked her to follow it with only her eyes. “And you have been dead for a little over a month. I take it you were in the mists?”
“Yes. Lady Mora was very kind to me,” Salome said. She did as Pierre instructed, focusing on a scar on his fingertip. “She said that I would not stay long, but that being there was healing to my spirit and my body.”
“Good. I am glad she knew our plans. I know you are frightened, but tell me how else you feel. Are you in pain?”
“No.” She looked down at her body as she moved experimentally. “The aches in my bones, my head, they stopped. Not even a twinge. Before I could barely leave my bed, and have not been able to take the form of a swan in months. Now I feel as if it were all behind me.”
“Your illness did not survive your return then, which is what was intended by us. And you seem well in all ways of the mind. But, my dear, you were brought back by special means, so there are rules you must abide by.”
“I see no rules, Your Grace, only more freedoms. I am well, I can be with Wolfram now in this life, and help him with his cræft… Mora explained some of what will be expected of me, and some of it I feel, like the knowledge was placed in my head.”
“Good, I am glad you understand,” Pierre said. “Come now, there is hot water and soap, let us get you cleaned up.”
“Your Grace, I could not—”
“Obey a direct order? Mademoiselle, I do believe you must do just that.”
Pierre brought out a wooden set of panels, arranging them around the basins to separate them from the rest of the room before turning aside to let Salome disrobe. The nightgown would not be washed, either Pluta could eat it, or more disturbingly Salome now could. He would need to speak with Wolfram and Salome about this— while she would still need to eat the usual food, some flesh and blood would need to sustain her.
“Your Grace, do you have any spare clothes for me?”
“I do not…” Pierre had no reason to have a young women’s clothes here. Salome would be in need of a full wardrobe. Perhaps she could go into town with Lizzy and Síofra? For now though, “Lady Elizabeth is about your size, I can—”
“Non, that is not needed.”
A moment later a swan came out from the barrier. She was large and her feathers shone with a silver tint, a patch of pink here and there where there was still leftover blood. She shook herself, nibbled at a wing, and then hopped onto the bed. She nudged Wolfram.
“Mademoiselle Salome?” he asked. The bird looked to him, bobbed her head, and returned to trying to wake her own suitor. He did not respond and she laid down beside him, placing her head on his chest.
“If I may ask you to say something,” Pierre said, watching her with interest, “Suitors can speak with familiars if they are beasts, I believe you can speak to Wolfram and myself as an animal as well.” Eglė, who was his uncle’s familiar and took the form of a snake as well as a woman, said she could speak with him as an animal, though Pierre rarely saw her in that form and had not himself heard her.
“Can you understand this,” she asked. Her beak had moved, the words likely a hiss or quack to those that were not suitors or confidantes of Death.
“Oui, I can.”
Wolfram began to stir. He opened his eyes and noticed the animal at his side. Sitting up too quickly he hugged Salome, not caring that her form was that of a bird, he recognized her just the same. His head swam but he held onto her.
“Salome! Dear, you are well! I have so missed you. How do you feel? Can we even speak like this—”
“We can,” she said. “I thought we would not be able to until we wed.” Cygnati, in their animal form, usually were only understood by family and no one outside of that. She wondered if this magical language was different than her other speech. Perhaps in her own land she could speak to Wolfram without anyone overhearing.
“It seems all has worked out well. Now, we must clean all of this,” Pierre said, indicating the blood and general mess of the room. Perhaps this should have been done in the dungeon, but that felt cruel. He did not wish to compare that murder with this. These spirits were almost welcoming, joyous. This was a return to life, a rebirth, and in that the blood was not so horrifying.
Salome was asked to leave though a window and wait for Wolfram. The boy and Pierre would clean the suite of blood. After that she would return to the château, tying up their lie and informing everyone that she had come from Faery and had been returned.
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