Chapter 13 of Uninvited Guests
replaced the medal then stowed the medicine vial at the bottom of his
satchel beside the Duchess' pouch of ward cubes. On impulse he shook the
cubes out into his cupped right hand to get the feel of them. He could
use them if he really had to, he decided. But the cubes irritated his
skin almost to the burning point. Like a reproach from the lady for
having taken her powers away. She didn't fully trust him and he couldn't
"But what else could I do?" Renaud whispered as if the Duchess were sitting beside him. "I had to make an opportunity to speak with you in private without making Alekseyevich suspicious."
He put the cubes away, closed up his satchel then turned his attention to the food. He tried not to mind that his breakfast was no better than scraps fed to a dog. He had not quite finished eating when he heard the door being unlocked and quickly slung his satchel over his shoulder. Two guards came in, the younger of the two pinning Renaud's arms while the older sergeant tied a wide black blindfold over his eyes.
"What--" Renaud started to ask.
"Orders, Healer," the sergeant said. "Come along."
Together the two men frog-marched Renaud up and down corridors and staircases and around more corners than a maze. By the time they shoved him into an empty room, Renaud was far too disoriented to tell what side of the keep he might be on or on what level. No one stopped him from taking off the blindfold though, and he stood very still for a moment as he stared at the tiled floor. The center was marked by a complex pattern of seven interlocked circles picked out in turquoise tiles. Renaud knelt and touched the pattern, almost weeping when he felt the tingle of a viable transfer portal under his palms. Praying he wouldn't be interrupted, he memorized the energy signature of the portal.
"It won't do you any good, you know," Alekseyevich said from behind him.
Renaud sprang to his feet in panic. Alekseyevich was plainly displeased, but not in one of his truly dangerous moods.
"I made sure you'd find it hard to find this room again, so even though you know my portal, it won't do you any good if you don't know where it is, will it?"
Renaud merely waited standing his ground.
"No matter, we're expected elsewhere," Alekseyevich said coming to join him. "Little Lady Briony's an appealing creature, isn't she? The best place for a child that young is naturally with her mother. But if I were to find out you'd conspired with the Duchess against me for any reason, I'd be forced to separate them. You wouldn't want THAT on your conscience, would you, Renaud?"
"I'm sure it wouldn't trouble *your* conscience," Renaud muttered.
"I haven't a conscience," Alekseyevich answered cheerfully. "It shriveled up and blew away years ago. I was glad to be rid of it as it was always getting in the way of my plans." Suddenly, he grabbed the front of Renaud's tunic and brought the Healer's face within inches of his own. "Remember that and tread ve-ry softly, Renaud. If you were a whit less valuable to me, I could make dog meat of you and your wife and still get a good night's sleep afterward."