Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Reluctant Conversation, Part Three

He began to pace in the narrow chamber, back and forth down the long length of it. “You’re a lucky little witch,” he said, spinning and pointing at her as if cracking a whip. “Lucky that the damages could be restricted to only a few, lucky that Totenberg is insubordinate enough to have been there to help put the fire out. No, don’t start,” he said, as she opened her mouth to explain.

She nodded and hung her head. If he's scolding, then it's not so bad. No one ever died from a tongue-lashing. She braced for him to go on the way he did, pausing to probe for more, coming back to spit acid.

"Haven't you been taught better? Haven't you learned from the Hounds? When a door is shut, you have no way of knowing who's on the other side. That goes for all doors, physical and magical. Make sure you have an ally waiting. But no, the first chance you get, you fling openings to the bottom of the Mandelbrot set wide and shout 'Is there anybody out there?' " He stopped short of yelling the last sentence, but he had raised his voice for the third time in her memory. He stopped, grasping the bridge of his nose as if to ward off a headache.

"I didn't--"

"Quiet." They listened to the heavy brocaded silence in the chamber for a moment.

Outside in the hallway, Totenberg fished in the breast pocket of his tunic, finally coming out with his tobacco pouch and a sheaf of leathery leaves. He proceeded to roll a cigarillo there in the hallway, fingers surprisingly nimble at their task. The younger of the human guards stepped forward as if to stop him, but the other caught his sleeve and shook his head. Totenberg grinned as he caught a light off the torch in the hallway. Being a Hound had a few privileges.

Including the hearing. The old man had almost lost it for a moment there, but seemed to be regaining control. That's a good thing, he thought. He had served Spike's father, and his father before that, and his father before that, and confidently expected to serve Spike's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren before he retired. Spike was . . . interesting, though. Interesting in a way that might cut his plans short. We never know, do we?

Sascha watched the operation closely. “You ain’t done that since . . . that night at Durmstrang.”


“Think it gonna be that bad?”

Totenberg blew a long blue breath at the ceiling, ignoring the pointed glares of the guards nearby. “Dunno. We—“ he motioned to himself and Dmitri, “We can always go back to the hussars. You?” He tapped under his left eye, two quick pecks on the cheekbone. “On horseback? With a projectile or a ray? You almost as dangerous to our side as you are to the enemy.”

Sascha pulled himself up straight, out of the typical Hound’s crouch dictated by anatomy. “Can still fight!”

“Didn’t say you couldn’. Just said you couldn’ ride with us no more.”

Sascha had angled himself to be able to keep watch on both the door and his captain. Now he turned his full attention to the door. Totenberg put a hand on his shoulder.

“We wait.”

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