The door swung wide before she could ask what the worst way of homecoming was, and the bonecutter stood there in front of them. He was rounder than before, if anything, and Spike was surprised to see that rather than looming above like an airship, he was actually quite small, only a little taller than she was. His moon face was still pink as if freshly scrubbed; his hands dainty, pudgy, soft paws. He had a fringe of wispy silver hair ringing an otherwise bald pate, and his blue eyes were watery behind the lenses of his glasses.
A genial appearance, harmless to the point of bumbling, until you looked into his eyes, saw the grim lines of his mouth in the goatee. No smile lines crinkling from the corners of eyes or mouth, just three grim slashes between his eyebrows where his will had raked its claws over and over again. From the corners of her eyes, Spike could see Sascha grimly concentrating on the floor, Tontenberg's clenched fists. At her back, Dmitri was a wall of obsidian, still radiating the heat that had made him, and fragile, struggling not to crack. She took a deep breath, offered a hand to the man. "Scherblocken--"
He took her hand in both his own, bowed over it. Precisely the degree owed to the heir of the manor, the person who would inherit the lands and his office, the one who would have power over him one day. The one whom he would serve by tending the riding bears, keeping them healthy and tame so that they would serve the rider's will. A careful pavane of power, of checks and balances. Blood on the snow, she thought, and pawprints leading away. She met his gaze as he stood back erect, and saw that they understood one another perfectly.
"I've come for advice," she started, and gained some satisfaction in seeing him blink, surprised. A pawn to me, only a pawn. But a piece nonetheless.
"Well, then. Do come in, and let us see how I can provide some assistance." His voice was a dry and tidy tenor.