CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me (7 page)

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
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She looked Rosie up and down and said, “Human,” in a noncommittal tone.

“She’s the Extant’s honored guest. Please let everybody know that an affront to her is an affront to him and a bad mark on the reputation of all of Exiled.”

“Wow,” said Dandy.

Charming gave Dandy a warning look. “You’ve been wanting help. Here she is. Whether or not you get to keep her depends on how you treat her.”

She angled her head to the side as if studying Charming for the truth of that, then said, “Okay.”

“Okay,” he repeated in confirmation.

To Rosie he said, “She’s practically family. She’ll show you around and get you situated.”

“Okay,” Rosie said, following suit like it was the word of the day.

Charming stopped at the door to toss one last smile her way. Then he was gone.

Rosie reached over to pet the gray cat, as Charming had, only instead of welcoming the attention, the cat hissed and slashed at Rosie with claws extended. Rosie pulled back in time, but was aghast that the cat meant to draw blood. When she recovered from the shock enough to focus on the cat, she could have sworn the thing smiled.

“Why you…” She was just about to send it into the Netherworld when she remembered Kellareal’s lecture. Taking control of her impulses, she reined in her temper.

Dandy glanced over. “Problem?”

“This cat tried to scratch me.”

Dandy looked at the cat. “I guess she doesn’t like humans.”

Rosie narrowed her eyes at the cat sending it the telepathic message that she wasn’t
really
human and that there was only one angel save per cat. She couldn’t do anything to the cat visibly, but she sent the sound of a snarling wolf into the cat’s mind and almost laughed when Catty Kay jumped straight up in the air with fur standing out like a cartoon. When the cat landed on the floor scanning its surroundings for the direction of the threat, Rosie smiled. It was on.

Ready to change the subject, Rosie said, “Thanks for showing me the ropes.”

“That’s a phrase you don’t use around people who were recently held captive by your kind.”

“Sorry. Dandy’s a nice name.”

“Short for Dandelion.” Her reply was also short to the point of being curt and didn’t leave a bridge for further dialogue.

Rosie tried again. “Did you choose it?”

“No. I was born here. My parents chose it. They like the yellow flowers and the indefatigable spirit.”

Rosie was impressed. You didn’t hear the word ‘indefatigable’ used in conversation every day. “So you’re practically family, Charming said?”

That made Dandy stop although she didn’t change expression. “Crave is my Promise.”

“I think I understand what a Promise is, but I don’t know Crave.”

Dandy’s eyes widened for a second. “Crave. The son in the middle? Between Carnal and Charm?”

Rosie grew serious. “I didn’t know there was another son. No one’s mentioned him.”

“Well that figures,” she said. “He was captured by the Rautt. Don’t know for sure if he’s alive or dead. If he’s alive, don’t know for sure that we wouldn’t wish he was dead.”

Dandy delivered that news in a monotone as if she was reading the newspaper.

“I’m sorry,” Rosie whispered. “I didn’t know.”

Dandy shrugged it off. “So what do you know how to do?”

Rosie looked around the bar. “Nothing.”

Dandy stared at her for an awkward few seconds. “If I take you into the kitchen and ask the same question? Will the answer be ‘nothing’?”

Rosie nodded.

Dandy barked out a laugh, but it quickly faded into mild amusement as she shook her head. “What kind of work have you done before?”

“I’ve, ah, never worked before.”

Dandy blinked slowly as if she was having trouble processing that information. “Never?”

“No.”

“Nothing?”

“I’m, um, not as old as I look.”

“Yeah. I’ll bet.” After giving Rosie another look up and down, she said, “I guess this is Free’s idea of a joke. You going to do what I tell you?”

Rosie nodded. “Within reason.”

“Let’s start here. You know how to sweep?”

“No.”

“Mop?”

“No.”

“Wipe down tables?”

“No.”

“Wash and dry glasses?”

“No.”

Dandy sighed then lifted a broom by the handle. “This is a broom.”

“Okay, well, I knew that.”

“But you don’t know what to do with it.”

“I’m a fast learner?”

Dandy nodded. “No doubt. You’re cute for a human. The boys will like that.” Under her breath, she added, “At least most of them.” Dandy cocked her head. “Do you want to work?”

“I want to feel useful.”

“That’s a start, I guess.”

Rosie spent the next two hours learning the fine art of sweeping, mopping, wiping down tables, washing glasses and drying them to a spotless shine. Oddly, she found herself smiling, feeling good that she’d mastered new tasks. There was an odd sense of satisfaction in performing manual chores. She never would have guessed that.

When the last glass was stacked, and the last mug was put on the shelf, Rosie said, “Hmmm. What’s that I smell?”

“Lunch. In about an hour, the people who are not on patrol, or in school, or not cooking for themselves will show up hungry. We’ll put fully loaded plates on the bar. They’ll carry their own food to the tables and put the empties in those sinks over there.” She pointed to a galley way between the bar and kitchen that was lined with deep sinks. “You stay behind the bar and watch me get drinks.”

Rosie looked around for a cash register. “Okay. How do they pay?”

Dandy looked confused. “Pay?”

“Yeah. Do you use credit cards or currency?”

Dandy knew what currency was. Humans used it in Farsuitwail and, if the Exiled wanted to buy something, they had to use paper the humans called money. They had money. Humans gave it to the Extant and he gave it to Exiled when they wanted it. She swept her hand out to indicate the Exiled settlement. “We don’t pay. We share.”

“Oh,” Rosie said. “Interesting concept.”

“We’re not human. Don’t forget that about us.” She gave Rosie a ghost of a smile that almost looked mischievous. “We won’t forget that about what you are.”

Rosie wasn’t sure whether she’d just been warned or put in her place. She was sure that Dandy tolerated her well enough, but was not at all sure she was liked.

“The Rautt that took, um, Crave. They’re hybrid. Like you.”

“What’s your point?”

“I’m just saying that all species, everywhere, have it in them to be misguided.”

“Misguided.” Dandy repeated the word as if she was trying it out. “You should sit out at the fires one night and listen to the old ones’ stories about what happened to us at the hands of humans. And then we’ll see if you think their actions were merely ‘misguided’.”

The kitchen workers brought out two plates of food with stew and a roughly torn piece of brown bread like that she’d had the night before at the Extant’s house.

Dandy pushed one of the plates toward Rosie. “Eat and make it fast. Lunch crunch starts in a couple of minutes. I’m behind today because of training you.”

“Sorry.”

“Just eat.”

“Okay.”

Rosie ate in silence sitting at the bar near Dandy, who never looked up from her food until the door opened. A group of Exiled filed in bringing a wedge of sunlight and rowdy conversation. Her lunch was half eaten when Dandy swept it away and into the galley hallway sink.

After dumping dishes, Dandy grabbed two black aprons. She shoved one at Rosie and began hurriedly pulling the other over her head. “Put that on.”

Rosie had never worn an apron until Serene had put one on her the night before at dinner, but the concept was simple enough.

“Stand over there and watch unless I ask you to do something,” Dandy told her.

One of the kitchen staff, a girl who appeared to be in her late teens, ducked into the bar and began helping Dandy fill containers, some with water, some with cider.

Rosie obediently stood out of the way. She was as curious about the Exiled as they were about her. They stared openly, but said nothing.

As quickly as the kitchen staff set plates on the counter, they were claimed by happy, and apparently, hungry diners. Plate in hand, they turned to Dandy for drinks, which she was setting on the counter as fast as she could fill containers. Within a few minutes the Commons was crowded and loud with conversation.

Free didn’t come in until about half the diners had eaten and left. He nodded to Rosie, and sat down with another man who was near his own age.

Dandy picked up a plate and a glass of cider then held them out to Rosie. “Here,” she said, “take these to the Extant.”

Rosie was grateful for something to do other than watch. When she’d said she knew how to do nothing, that wasn’t entirely true. She
did
arrive knowing how to fill containers with liquid.

With plate and mug in hand, she started toward Free’s table where he was laughing at something his companions had said. She could feel all eyes on her as she made her way across the room.

When she set Free’s lunch before him, he said, “Thank you.” Then added, “They’ll get used to you after a couple days.”

Rosie nodded, thinking that she hadn’t hid her self-consciousness as well as she thought. By the time she was back at the bar, the serving line had dwindled to nothing. Twenty minutes later the only two people in the Commons rooms were Rosie and Dandy.

“Whew,” Rosie said. “That was like a whirlwind.”

“Same thing every day,” Dandy deadpanned.

“Well, I think I can help you with drinks tomorrow.”

“We’ll see.”

“Where are the women?”

“They usually eat in their own houses or at the Weavers’ Barn. They’re welcome to come. They just prefer to keep female company at lunch. The choice is theirs.” She eyed Rosie like she was trying to decide whether or not to say more. “Men and women were kept separated before we came here.”

“Oh.” Rosie didn’t know how to respond to that.

“Except for breeding, which was usually forced.”

Rosie was horrified by that insight and didn’t like the images it conjured. Dandy waited as if she expected Rosie to respond, but the best she could come up with was to whisper another, “Oh.”

“Look. I know you weren’t one of the humans that did that to us. But hard feelings live a long life.”

Rosie nodded in understanding. “I hope when you get to know me, you’ll come to believe that I don’t have it in me to treat others that way.”

Dandy suppressed a sneer. “I’m sure you believe that. But I think all humans ‘have it in them’.”

 

Rosie soon fell into a routine. She had a breakfast snack standing in the kitchen, sometimes alone, sometimes with Charming. She went to the Commons to sweep, mop, and right chairs from the activities the night before. She drew water and cider from tap for the midday meal, carried the Extant’s lunch to him, and cleaned up after to be ready for the nighttime crowd.

The cat made intermittent appearances at the bar. The thing seemed to be extraordinarily affectionate with the hybrids. All of them. But so far as Rosie was concerned, she and the cat were at a standoff. Catty Kay could sit around and glare at her all day for all Rosie cared. And frequently that’s exactly what the cat did to pass the time between scraps and pets from Newland residents.

In the evening Rosie had dinner with Free and Serene. Sometimes Charming was there. Sometimes he wasn’t.

Free would talk about the politics of dealing with human representatives from the city, the challenges of managing the common funds of the Exiled along with food supplies, structure maintenance, and scheduling crews for patrol. She learned that all of the able-bodied adult Exiled were marshalled to defend the humans in the event of an attack by Rautt, but at any given time only fifteen percent of their population served a singular purpose of full-time warrior. Most were young males in their prime. Some were female. She gathered that Carnal was one of those, but didn’t ask.

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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