Sunday, January 22, 2012

Returning Home

The wind hissed through the teeth of the bars, promising sleet or snow in its whispers. Spike stood in front of the barred window, hair skirling in the breeze. Her fingers were numb and white on the ironwork. It was going to hurt when she finally closed the windows again, drew the shutters, and sat by the fire. She didn't care. It couldn't hurt worse than the heartbreak she felt right now.

She'd been contemplating the rocks down below, far down enough to look like nothing but crushed velvet texture. She'd hiked along them before in summer, with the spume from the ocean splashing up around her, foam flying off the jagged crags. No doubt, that's why they'd had the bars installed before she came home; in case she decided to try any flying lessons.

Not that she'd get far. She glanced over her shoulder. Her bodyguard, recently pressed into service as her jailer, lounged against the wall by the door. He looked relaxed, slouched easily and loosely, arms folded, one foot up against the wall, but his eyes missed nothing. When she'd opened the windows, he'd shivered to alertness, ears pricked forward, weight shifting forward, ready to tackle her and bring her to the floor--then he'd seen the frosty iron and relaxed again.

There was still rock dust in the craters holding the bars in place. They must have had them put in the moment they received word that she was coming home again in disgrace. She put her forehead against them, between them, as if measuring to see if her head will fit. Rule of the cat, if your head will fit, your body will fit. Totenberg must have had the same thought; she heard the sole of his boot scuff as he peeled off the wall and started across the room.

"I'm closing up," she said loudly, shutting the window and then barring the shutters back over it. She sat down by the fire, on the wooden stool with the one short leg, tucking her hands into her armpits to thaw slowly. They went from numb to tingling to burning and throbbing as she sat staring into the coals. Her whole world had been reduced to this. The fire, the window, and bed.

Her books were gone, her papers were gone. No ink, no parchment. They had even taken her wand. And she had no idea what was coming; whether she would be quietly moved off to another estate somewhere in the backwaters to learn another trade, whether she would be ensconced in the upper floors of the Tower, in one of the rooms without walls, or if all would be forgiven somehow.

She hoped it would be the last of the three options, slim though that hope was. She was only the first in line by an accident of birth, being the eldest--but a girl. The next child had been a starchild, never drawing breath, but then came her younger brother. Her grasp on the throne of bones had been tenuous but firm, and now it was all slipping away.

"It wasn't my fault," she protested out loud for what had to be the hundredth time that day. "I didn't do it on purpose, why can't they see that?" Totenberg didn't answer; he'd already said everything he had to say on that matter on the ride back to Schadelthron.

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