Home > The Ippos King (Wraith Kings #3)(13)

The Ippos King (Wraith Kings #3)(13)
Author: Grace Draven

She, Weson, and two more of their escort carried Megiddo’s bier into the stable, setting it down gently alongside the stall’s back wall. She straightened the blanket in spots where their movements had dislodged the cover to reveal some of what lay beneath. A few of the stablehands had paused in their tasks to watch them pass, but their attention had been solely on Anhuset instead of what she and the others transported.

After assuring her companions that not only was she comfortable in the stall but happy to be there by herself, they left to join Serovek in the inn. The lamp remained unlit, an unnecessary convenience for her and more of a fire hazard than anything. The stablehands drifted away once their work was done, and soon the stable grew dark. Anhuset sat down not far from the bier and reclined against the wall, happy to soak in the darkness and listen to the whuffles and snorts of the horses in the adjacent stalls.

Hints of blue iridescence shimmered under the blanket covering Megiddo. Anhuset leaned over to slide back a corner of the cover for a look at his still features. Had she no knowledge of how he came to be in this predicament, she might have thought him only asleep.

She’d first met him months earlier when he had arrived at Saggara with Serovek, volunteering his sword and his soul to fight the galla. Anhuset might have said all of a dozen words to him in the very short time she’d known him, but he’d left her with an impression of ascetic dignity. Even now, his features, expressionless in soulless, ensorceled sleep, retained a certain gravitas that made her want to bow to him in a show of respect.

The murmur of voices on the other side of the stable wall reached her ears. She stood, passing along the stall’s back wall until she found an opening where one of the boards had warped enough to create a space between it and the board next to it. She glimpsed the silhouettes of three people, one tall and brawny, the other two much shorter and slight. One of the voices belonged to Serovek. The other two were feminine, full of smiles and flirtatious laughter. As their figures moved closer to the stable, their change in positions highlighted more details.

Serovek headed in the direction of the stable’s entrance, a woman on either side of him, attached to his elbows like arm ornaments. He carried a wrapped parcel in one hand and a tankard in another. His deep voice floated in the night air, amused, seductive, teasing. The women laughed, one nestling his arm into her generous cleavage while the other flipped her hair back to show the graceful line of her neck to its best advantage.

An annoying spasm in Anhuset’s right eyelid made her rub at the spot. She did her best to ignore the sharp flare of irritation, turning away from the narrow view of the trio to resume her seat next to Megiddo’s bier. It was no business of hers what the margrave of High Salure got up to or with whom. She was here only as Brishen’s representative. Nothing more. A trill of feminine laughter taunted her. She clenched her jaw and hummed a Kai drinking song to herself to drown out the sound.

She kept her seat when the smaller entrance door to the stable opened then shut. Only one set of footfalls headed toward her, barely discernible, especially for such a big man. His were the only steps, and Anhuset watched the stall entrance for his appearance with narrowed eyes, still annoyed by the unsettling pang lodged in her chest at the sight of him with the women. She declined to name the feeling though that same inner voice which called her a liar was more than happy to do so.

Jealousy, it whispered in her mind.

Anhuset growled low in her throat.

The footsteps halted. “Tell me that’s you greeting my arrival with great joy, Anhuset.”

She snorted, amused. “It’s me.”

“Damn black as the bottom of an inkwell in here,” Serovek groused. “I’m probably about to walk into a horse.”

Glad he chose not to bring his admirers with him into the stable, she repaid the kindness by reaching for the flint and steel in the small pouch belted at her waist so she could light the lamp she’d left unlit. The flare of the broad wick made her blink, eroding the finer edges of her vision with its brightness. She placed the lamp atop the stall’s midrail, scraping away the straw on the floor underneath it to create a small firebreak just in case it toppled.

Serovek entered the stall, mouth turned up in a smile. He held up the cloth-wrapped package and the tankard. “Supper, if you’re willing to brave it.” He sat down beside her and slid the parcel and tankard toward her. “I promise there’s no potato in there.”

It smelled delectable. Salt, roasted meat, the underlying sharpness of spicy peppers, and the rich dairy scent of hot butter. Despite her misgivings, her mouth watered, and she untied the cloth with eager fingers. A savory pie—one that didn’t squirm about under the crust—lay in the center of the kerchief, a spoon next to it.

Serovek chuckled at her appreciative inhalation as she closed her eyes and breathed deep. “No doubt, this will be a boring meal for you. You don’t have the battle the contents to see who’s going to eat whom.”

“Believe it or not,” she said, “but I’m not always eager for a scuffle, especially when it involves my supper.” She snatched up the spoon and dug into the pie. “You have my eternal gratitude, margrave,” she told Serovek after the first piquant spoonful.

“I’m pleased you’re pleased,” he said before echoing her earlier pose to lean back against the stall divider. He closed his eyes and stretched out his long legs, crushing straw beneath him.

Anhuset ate the pie and finished off the ale he brought in silence, glad that Serovek wasn’t a man who found it necessary to carry on a conversation during a meal. She rewrapped her empty pie plate and set it aside, along with the tankard. Belly full, she shifted her position, this time to recline against the bier so that she faced her companion who appeared to have fallen asleep while she supped. She took the opportunity to look her fill.

As much as she was reluctant to admit it, only his strange, human eyes were truly repulsive to her. They darted here and there in their sockets, reminding her of mice caught in bone traps. She'd never understand how Brishen had grown used to seeing it with Ildiko. When, however, Serovek lowered his lids, hiding that particular hideousness, the beauty of his features bloomed before her. And her annoyance and fear bloomed right along with it.

"What are you staring at, sha-Anhuset?" A thread of humor wove through his question, as if he could hear what she thought and found it amusing. He didn’t bother to open his eyes.

She scowled, mortified at being caught gawking at him like some love-sick juvenile. "Your ugly face," she snapped.

He opened his eyes this time, deep water blue with black pupils like whirlpools at their centers. His lips parted in a grin, revealing white teeth, square as a horse's. So utterly different from a Kai's own sharp ivories. He gestured to the bier behind her and the still Megiddo recumbent upon it. "He's far prettier than I am."

Anhuset cocked an eyebrow. "And he's mostly dead. Doesn't say much for your looks, does it, Stallion?" She instantly regretted the harsh words. He hadn’t deserved them. He frightened her, twisted her into knots with emotions she couldn’t understand and didn’t welcome, and she’d gone on the attack.

His eyebrows arched before his eyes slitted, and he raked her with a gaze that could have sliced flesh off bone. “It seems your teeth aren’t the only sharp things in your mouth,” he shot back.

He gained his feet in one graceful motion, picked up the pie tin and tankard, and exited the stall without a word, leaving her to brood, with only the horses, a near-dead monk, and her own remorse to keep her company.

Bound to her duty as guard, she didn’t chase after him. Bound to her pride, she didn’t call out to him to return so she could apologize. Recognizing her own ineptitude with the more subtle signals of social interactions, especially with humans, she’d likely muck that up too. She stood and began to pace the stall’s confines. “What is wrong with you, Anhuset?” she admonished herself. No one answered.

She killed the lamp's flame, grateful for the returning darkness and had just settled back in her original spot when the stable door opened a second time.

“Oh for gods’ sake, not again.” Serovek’s footsteps, slower and more careful now, drew closer. “If I end up pitchforking myself because I’m fumbling about blind here, I put the blame entirely on you, Anhuset.”

She scrambled to relight the lamp when he reappeared in the stall, this time carrying a handful of mint. He gestured for her to hold out her hand and dropped a small bundle of the leaves into her palm. “That ale left a sour taste on the tongue. The mint will help get rid of it.” He popped a few leaves in his mouth and chewed before spitting the pulp into a corner of the stall. “I found it growing wild along the inn’s south wall. Even old crone Winter can’t kill the stuff.”

“Thank you,” she said, pleased beyond reason he had come back, puzzled as to why. The mint was astringent on her palate but worked as he claimed.

This time she didn’t change positions when he resumed his earlier spot, and they sat together hip to hip, her legs nearly equal in length to his. He’d be even taller if he didn’t possess the horseman’s bow. Anhuset wondered from which of his parents he’d inherited his impressive height and size. Not only was he tall, he was big, with a personality to match. No one would overlook him in a crowd.

“You’re pensive tonight,” he said. “Missing Saggara already?”

He’d given her an easy excuse, one she could embrace as a perfectly reasonable explanation for her ruminating. She might be clumsy with the interplay between them, but she wasn’t dishonest, and Saggara had only crossed her thoughts once and only in terms of what she had to do there once she returned.

She forced herself to meet his inquisitive gaze. “I owe you an apology.” His blatant astonishment might have been amusing if it weren’t so irritating. “You needn’t look so shocked,” she huffed. “I overstepped the rules of civility with my insult earlier. You did nothing to deserve it.”

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