Chapter Thirty | Part Two

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Ranyor moved along the sunlit corridor on swift, silent feet. In his hands he held a ring of keys, which jingled musically. He was whistling a tune under his breath.

At the end of the corridor he came to a halt before a set of closed doors. With slow, leisurely care, he picked through the ring of keys. There was no need to hurry. Thesul was below, with the Reader, and that bootlicking upstart Mordel. Ranyor knew they would be a while--his lord did love to play with his prey.

Ranmyor continued to flip through the keys until he found the one he wanted, then slid it into the lock.

"I'm here, my sweet little blossom," he cooed, pushing open the door.

Inside the room was dark. The drapes had been drawn, turning sunlight to murky amber. The window must have been open, because he noticed one drape billowing slightly, as if in a breeze.

"Blossom? It's me, dearest, come to sip your sweet nectar..."

Ranyor paused for a moment, waiting for an answer and allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom. No reply came, but that didn't trouble him. Lady Levnea Quearrle was known for her habit of nearly impenetrable slumber. It was a running joke in the court that she could sleep through, well--just about anything.

And, of course, she had kept rather late last night. Thesul always kept his favorites late. But Thesul wasn't here now. Ranyor had her all to himself.

Ranyor licked his lips, smoothed back his hair and stepped over the threshold, pulling the door shut behind him.

"Blossom?" He crept forward, undoing the top buttons of his shirt as he went. When he was halfway to the great canopied bed, he slipped out of his vest, pulled his shirt open and started shimmying out of his trousers. He could see the woman's form humped motionless under the blankets. "Come now, my dear, do wake up before our beloved lord finishes with his games in the dungeons..."

One foot still in his trousers, Ranyor hopped forward and tugged at the coverlet. She didn't budge.

Ranyor scowled. He'd forgone lunch, filched the keys and climbed three flights of stairs for this?

"Levnea!" He shook her roughly, then grabbed a handful of blanket and yanked back the covers. "Wake up you useless little bi--"

A head of golden hair rolled off the pillow and thumped wetly onto the floor between Ranyor's legs.

For a moment, he simply stood and stared downward. Lady Levnea Quearrle stared back, looking nearly as shocked as he was, her pouting lips frozen in a permanent 'O' of surprise.

Ranyor blinked. Then, slowly, he turned to face the tall figure who now stood just behind him.

"Ah," he said. "It's you, is it?"

The black-skinned witch in front of him barred her pointed teeth in a savage grin. "Nice to see you looking so well, Ranyor."

Over her shoulder, he could see others standing in the deepest shadows of the chamber. They were tall and silent, implacable as statues. He swallowed. "I don't suppose you'll spare me? I could be rather useful, you know. I am close with the ki--"

Before he could finish his sentence, Shel's arm moved in a blurred arc. Ranyor's head flew from his shoulders, bounced once, and came to a halt face-down against a gilt wardrobe.

His last thought, before the last flicker of consciousness left his brain, was: I should have stayed for lunch after all.

____

Guin was caught up and thrown against the wall so hard she thought she really had broken her ribs again. She gasped, let out a strangled, gurgling shriek, then fell backward into roiling water.

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