~ Dvoday, 16th of Juvenis, 11831 ~
Every new moon there was a deposit from an unknown source to the hospital in Piques. The only marking of it was a sketched leaf in the corner. It could mean one of several things, bringing plausible deniability to whoever was asked, but it was a start.
The first thing that came to mind was the fée. Nature was often used as symbols for them. But it was already established that the fay were marked with an F. Unless of course this was payment to keep harming the fay? There was also Feuilles. The name meant Leaves, and was a reference to the suit in a deck of cards that corresponded to spades. Could the comte be involved in this himself? Spadille was, after all, in his county.
For over a week now Elwin had asked and inquired about it, but no one would tell him. Or give him their full name so he could force their tongue. He sat in the records room now and riffled through papers and notebooks, looking for anything that could tie one thing to another and avenge the fée that had been harmed in this place.
“Monsieur! I must ask that you put those down and leave at once. I will call the guards!”
Ah, so someone had finally noticed he was there. Elwin put down the sheet of paper he was reading over— another document about payments that had been given to the hospital with no indication of where they had come from.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“I am Stephan, the record-keeper for this hospital! And who may you be?”
“I am Elwin, the margrave of Spadé,” Elwin said, cursing again that he was not told both names. “Can you tell me what you know of these payments?”
“I know nothing,” Stephan replied, too quickly, and having gone pale at being told the title of the man who sat before him.
“Odd. I would think that the record-keeper would, most of all, know what payments this hospital receives. Is it charity, or a patron? It does not bear the roi’s mark.”
“I will call the guards!”
He began to move towards the open door, but Elwin whistled, and it slammed shut from the outside as Magec closed it with his front paws. His familiar would sit guard and alert them if someone else came by.
This was the closest he had gotten to a lead and he would not let something like a stubborn tongue or misguided loyalty keep the information from him.
“I did not wish to do this,” Elwin said, and he unsheathed the long dagger at his belt as he stood. “But you know something.”
He cut into his hand, hearing Stephan gasp in shock, and grabbed the other man, pressing his wound onto his lips. It was not elegant, but he was running out of patience. The man tried to scream and only ended up gagging on blood, sputtering and trying to shove Elwin back.
The fay snapped his fingers. Spirits of flesh and memory answered him, and the magia responded in a way to his nature that it would not to man.
He felt the man’s soul, and he maneuvered it gently around, searching. If one died and returned, as a ghost perhaps, then their self and memories would be just the same as they had in life. The psyche was tied to the spirit, not the flesh. He followed a gleam, a small light, until he was touching the man’s thoughts.
Tell me, Elwin said to the spirits.
This magia was harsh, as the fay themselves were. It was impossible to gather information from a man’s mind by force without ruining it, and after the spirits had told all of his secrets, Stephan sat on the floor, staring vacantly at a wall. He began to drool.
Elwin opened the door and let in Magec. His familiar had not yet had dinner.
“Feuilles was donating money to the hospital,” Elwin told Pierre. After Magec had fed and there was nothing left of Stephan, he had gone straight to the château, ignoring the blood on his sleeve. He he was not proficient enough in the cræft for his blood to be black. Yet. “Every moon, a couronne was marked down with the insignia of a leaf. And twice I found a record of two couronnes given, and they were marked with a leaf, and a letter F. One was from Aprilis.”
“He was paying them to mistreat the fay, and paying double to have one killed. Damn him.”
“That is not all.” Stephan had known more, been an informant for Feuilles and his chef, though Elwin had not gleamed who the spymaster was.
“Frederick’s desired heir is Renaud.”
“Qu’as-tu dit?” What did you say? The words slipped out in the Clandestine tongue, making them far more serious than Saiva’s universal language. It was a demand from his duc.
“Frederick’s chosen heir is Renaud,” Elwin repeated. “It was not very well known, the comte wanted his elder son unaware, but gave his younger son a mission. To oversee your death. And then he would publicly become the heir to Feuilles while Frederick himself attempted to usurp Piques.”
“Jourdain… did not agree with the policies of his father or younger brother. He had no desire to lead. He was not involved in the attempt on your life at all.”
Pierre paled. The feeling of guilt that had never gone away, the almost overwhelming desire to bring back Jourdain, had been more than just emotion. It had been a sign that he ignored.
“He’s still in the dungeon,” the duc whispered. “I killed him. I left him there to rot.” He could not think about what they had done. He would not be able to remain composed if he let himself dwell.
“It is almost Summerfinding,” Elwin said gently. “Just in time to return him to life as you did with the girl. We can even take him into Faery for a day. This can easily be manipulated away, Pierre. We can install him as your comte and have both Frederick and Renaud dealt with.” There was more evidence, there was always more evidence, and the notes and records would be enough to have them arrested until they spoke of it, or more information was found.
“Come now, show me where he is. I will help you.”
Pierre nodded and tried to stand, but found that he could not. His legs had gone numb and his hands began to shake.
“Shock,” he croaked, stiffly sinking back into his chair.
Elwin went to the cabinet and pulled out a strong brandy, pouring three fingers into a glass. He glanced at Pierre’s shaky hands and instead brought the drink up to Pierre’s lips for him.
“Thank you,” the duc said with a shudder. He drained the glass and took several deep breaths. Pluta jumped up on his shoulders and began to purr loudly.
“Give it a moment,” Elwin said when Pierre tried to stand again.
“How could I have made such a mistake?”
“Easily. It was a mistake. None of us knew Frederick’s plan. I am not certain Renaud was aware of the hospital being paid off either. Given what you knew it was entirely understandable that you blamed both brothers.”
“I’d have known if I waited,” Pierre protested. “Renaud showed himself to be an arse in a number of weeks, and I did not like him from the first moment I saw him. But I liked Jourdain, and he did not even put up a fight when I tried to kill him, because he—” his throat locked up and he shut his eyes tight. Because Jourdain believed in his duc he did not even fight him in death.
“We will make this right.”
They made their way to the dungeons as soon as Pierre felt he could stand. He had a meeting, or an invitation to tea with Sabine, or something, but no matter. He would apologize and reschedule. It was not important right now.
“I asked Pluta to leave his bones. I know that parts of a body can be regrown, I have never thought or attempted an entire skeleton. But I can try. Perhaps together? Will you aid me?”
“I am yours to command, Pierre. Of course.”
Magec ran ahead of them, clearing the way, growling to those who would ask too many questions upon seeing the duc and his margrave walking to the disused dungeons.
The door unlocked under their touch.
The stench of decay enveloped them, enough to make one gag. They shut the door before the scent could alert the whole house. Pluta and Aranea had, for whatever reason, left the body and not consumed it even though it was offered to them. Perhaps they too had felt something was wrong and it was not yet the time for this man’s death?
Pierre knelt beside Jourdain’s body. There were chunks of flesh missing where vermin had come to feast on him. The ground was still stained with his blood.
“I am so sorry,” Pierre whispered. “I beg your forgiveness. I was so certain… forgive me, Jourdain.”
He pulled out his dagger and in the same motion slashed his wrist. A deep, but not deadly jagged wound opened and almost immediately the blood ran black. He poured it into Jourdain’s mouth.
He healed his flesh, the wounds from both the attack, and what he had sustained after death. Pierre grimaced as he set his arm, it had been torn from its socket when the body fell and was yanked by the chairs that had held him up.
“Oh, forgive me.”
Pierre motioned then for the soul, but the spirit that should have willingly come to him was not there. The connection felt muted now.
He opened his eyes and looked to his hand, as if he physically expected a soul in his palm. He looked up to Elwin. “Has he passed on already?” He had not been buried, or burned. His soul should be with Mora until he decayed entirely, and even then, as long as his bones stayed aboveground.
“No,” Pluta replied. She licked at the blood on Pierre’s arm and began to heal his wound. “He is in Akhlys.”
“Then why can I not feel his soul?”
“Because the spirits have decided he should remain with them.”
“No,” Pierre whispered. “I am their lord—!”
“You use necrocræft when the spirits wish to allow their lady’s concubines the pleasure,” Pluta replied. “But you are not God, or Death itself.”
The spirits did not allow him to pass into their world. He could do nothing for Jourdain. A lord without willing subjects held no command. Pierre reached out to the man that he had murdered, the innocent man who had until the last moment called him His Grace.
The duc held him and wept.
“He deserves to be buried,” Pierre said. He sat back, covered in blood, unable to tear his eyes away from Jourdain’s body. The spirits had never refused him in such a way, but in this, they did not yield. Was this a punishment? Or had it been Jourdain’s time and he would have died through accident if not Pierre’s hand?
“If he cannot be brought back, he should return to the earth and be allowed his afterlife. Can you help me hide him, take him up to the cemetery on the grounds?”
“While I can hide him, leaving his body and fresh upturned earth in the cemetery would be a fine way to be caught. The floor here is soil, I will help you bury him here.”
“That is not a proper burial, he will have no marker and no—”
“Pierre,” Elwin said softly. He knelt beside his duc, his grandson, placing a hand on his shoulder. “That will not be possible.”
“I killed him,” Pierre whispered. Fresh tears fell down his face. “Grandpère I killed him. He swore he did not do it, and he did not even fight back. I did not have enough evidence! I wanted to catch who tried to kill me but I did not think and now… now…”
He had killed before. For knowledge, out of anger, or even with pleasure. But this...
“I will bury him,” the lord of death said. He stood up and looked around the room, seeing an old shovel in the corner. He took it and began to dig.
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I write dark things that involve magic and romance. I love books and stories, and anime and gaming. I'm trying to Catch 'em All, I collect geeky pins, and listen to a lot of true crime podcasts.
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