The trip home had been a distinct and painful contrast to the trip away. Spike could see the carriage of horn in the embers, imagine it riding up the mountain on which Schadelthron perched, talons sunk deep into the rock. If I lean in and look closely enough, she wondered, will I see me in the carriage, Dmitri driving and Sascha next to him? Totenberg facing the rear with me, making sure I don't call for a stop and then run?
It had been a warm and sunny fall afternoon, riding out, the leaves crisp in the blue tinted air, the sun a lemon drop. Sweet with remembered summer, sour with the tang of winter to come. Everything new--new books, fresh parchment, ink stoppered in clean glass bottles like liquid jewels of crimson, sapphire, and jade. And black, lots of matte fuligin for the final drafts. Bone black. New made clothes with the family crest discreetly displayed on the left breast. A rainbow of new livery for her batsmen in brown and silver, purple and gold, black on black on black for best. All of it folded with thyme and rosemary to keep it fresh and sweet until it was worn.
She had been so excited. Accepted to Durmstrang, the school that swum, changing locations from day to day. Never rooted, unlike Schadelthron which had been carved out of the mountain's very bones, with its back against the river. Nunquam verto, the motto of her family. Hard to retreat with the cliff at your back and the river far below. Nunquam trado, it should have been. Except Great-great-great however many greats grandfather hadn't been much of a one for Latin. Just because he had a dim view of the Caesar clan.
And then the ride back. There hadn't actually been shouting peasants with torches and pitchforks, but she felt the ignominy of having to flee, and knowing that she was fleeing from one bad situation to the next. It didn't help that she was returning home; home wasn't any safer than the wide world. But where else could she have gone? An untrained witch was a danger to herself as much as to others, and even if she and her bodyguards had gone rogue and preyed off the land and the folk who scrabbled a hard living from it, they wouldn't have lasted long before being hunted back down.
That would have been something to see, the Hounds going from hunter to hunted. Preferably from far enough away that her own tender hide wasn't involved in the process. Totenberg laid one hand across her shoulders. "What you thinking?"
“What do you think?”
“Think you shouldn’t answer a question with a question.” Spike scowled at the fire, she could hear the grin in his voice. Her batman, her sideboy, one of the three who had watched over her since; well, since forever, as far as she was concerned. She had never been afraid of the dark because the worst possible thing, the boogeyman that other parents used to scare their children with was there in the dark with her, keeping watch as she slept.