Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 24

Chapter 14

Elizabeth Bartholdy was in a towering rage. Whip in hand she stood astride the dwarf’s recumbent body. “You fool! How could you let him escape?”

Ficzko whimpered.

“Answer me!” she shrieked. But he was beyond answering anyone. The only footman that remained cowered back against the wall. The others had all set off on foot after the horses. The remaining footman looked as if he would very much like to join them.

As abruptly as Elizabeth had lost her temper, she recovered it. She turned to the footman. “Put him in the carriage.”

Gingerly he picked the small man up.

“On the floor, not on the seat,” she said. “Then go and procure me a private chamber in that inn. I will need nine candles.” She did not explain what she would need the candles for. But then, as he had been in her service for some years, he could probably guess.

In truth, she was more furious with herself than she was with her little henchman. She had heard them playing their vile music in Buda. They masked themselves well by pretending to be gypsies, but she knew them for what they were. She should have realized that it was some kind of spell. A summoning of some sort.

Why had he been so proof against her magics? He had seemed the simplest of men, yet somehow he had resisted her. That was extremely unusual. She had not wished to use the full force of her powers on him. But next time… Next time, she would bind him. Both with physical chains and with the spells of binding, of lust, and of her other strengths, pain and blood. Now she must perform workings in order to track him.

The footman returned. “The chamber has been prepared for you, My Lady. I could only get you tallow dips. This is a poor place. It is all they had.”

She tossed the whip back inside the carriage. She was aware of watching eyes peeping around the coarse drapes. They would have watched her beat the dwarf. They would suspect what she was going to do in that chamber, and they would perhaps balk at her demand for a suitable sacrifice. She cared little for their knowledge of her activities. Such small and poor folk could do nothing to her. Yes, her activities here would feed rumor, but that already existed. She had the power and the influence to override any consequences it might cause — and the rumors also sent her recruits.

She reached into the carriage. A little blood would do for a minor working. She would just have to summon a suitable sacrifice. She drew her hand across Ficzko’s back, which came back sufficiently red. She muttered a minor cantrip. That would keep him loyal, despite the beating. The dwarf was useful to her. He was one of her oldest cohorts, entrapped by desperate feelings of inadequacy both about his size and his sexual prowess. He had been a willing and, indeed, an eager participant in her activities. He enjoyed the power. Perhaps that came from being so small.

In her other hand, she took the cushion that Vlad had been leaning on. An item of clothing would have been better, but she had to make do with what was available. Then she went inside to the low-beamed room and drew the drapes. She had no need of light to set up the circle of tallow dips, and to prepare to call the inn’s cat. She stationed the footman at the door. She could open a window for the victim.

Later, while she washed her hands in the basin she had had the footmen fetch — the little brute had scratched her — she pondered the information that she had gathered. The direction scarcely surprised her. The distance did. And so did the fleeting image of a vast gray wolf. It occurred to her then, that they too had betrayed themselves. She had hoped — indeed all of Count Mindaug’s researches had led her to believe — that Vlad would be the perfect bait for the ancient creature that she wished to entrap. If anything, the changers had proved that. Now all she had to do was to catch him and hold him. It was a game of cat — she looked at the body of the sacrificial animal — and mouse. She would enjoy that. And she might even enjoy playing with the little mouse for a while.

They were games that she had had more practice at than anyone else. She had had more time to perfect them. Her hands crooked briefly into claws. Yes, she would enjoy playing with them and she would make the game last; tease them with pain and with hope, even though they had no chance of escape. As for the lupines and their powers, she must get Count Mindaug to research the problem. He had managed to bring the greater part of his extensive library with him. Elizabeth had always disliked books, preferring to follow her researches with assistance from the bargain that she had made, but she would acknowledge that there was value hidden in those dusty tomes. She just preferred someone else to extract it.

Unlike Count Mindaug, she could think of nothing more dull than that vast repository in Alexandria although it did sound as if she would enjoy the rest of that city. One day she might even go and visit the fabled jewel of the Nile delta. Later, when she had finished this current business.