CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me (9 page)

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
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Free turned to one of the men with Carnal and said, “Follow him. Keep him safe.” The male nodded and hurried toward the door.

Rosie moved around the end of the bar to where Charming stood motionless. She caught his shirt in both fists. “What just happened?”

Charming turned his head toward her, but didn’t seem to actually see her through glazed-over eyes. “That was my brother, Carnal. The guy he just killed was his best friend.”

She released Charming’s shirt. Her eyes scanned over the silent warriors who looked stoic but utterly defeated as they stood over the remains of their comrade. It was evident that, at the least, he’d been respected by all of them.

Free stepped forward. It was so quiet in the room that there was no need to raise his voice. He spoke softly, but was heard clearly. “Prepare Blaze for his wake. We’ll burn the body at sunset tomorrow.” Without waiting for acknowledgement or looking back, he exited the same door his oldest son had passed through minutes before.

Rosie looked at Charming. “What kind of people would do a thing like this?” She searched Charming’s face for an answer, knowing there wasn’t an answer to that question.

He looked at her like he hadn’t realized she was there before and shook his head sadly. “The Rautt. They like torture. They delight in this kind of thing.”

Rosie’s eyes drifted over Charming’s boyish features that suddenly seemed incongruent with the expression he wore. “How many times have you seen something like this?”

“Too many.”

 

Rosie moved back behind the bar, feeling numb. She sank down to the floor where she wouldn’t be seen, and sat there, replaying the macabre sounds and images in her mind, not finding the motivation to get up and leave. After some time, she knew by the silence that everyone had gone, but still she was not prompted by either body or mind to move from where she sat.

She didn’t know how much time elapsed before she heard the door creak open and closed. That was followed by the heavy footfalls of someone large. Scar appeared at the other end of the bar donning one of his king-sized aprons. He stopped when he caught sight of her.

“What’s this then?” he asked gruffly.

Rosie didn’t move, not even when Scar stood over her. “Why are you sitting there like that, Human?”

Rosie turned her head so that she was looking at the worn knees of Scar’s pants.

“Well?” he said. Her eyes traveled upward to his face. Whatever he saw there caused him to soften his tone. “Were you here when Blaze was brought in?”

Her only response was a single tear that trailed down her cheek.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get you home.” He squatted and pulled Rosie to her feet with one arm around her waist. He didn’t give her a choice about walking, but supported her weight. He grabbed her shawl and clumsily draped it over her shoulders.

Halfway to the Extant’s house, she pushed away from him and said, “I can walk.”

Scar let go of her, but accompanied her the rest of the way. He knocked on the door twice, loudly, before opening and guiding Rosie inside. Without a word, she walked straight to the stairs and began to ascend like she was having an out of body experience.

Free met him at the door.

“The world has gone mad, Free. Our own kind makes an abomination of a fine male and a human who never met Blaze weeps for him.”

Free looked back at Rosie slowly climbing the stairs before saying, “Thank you for bringing her.”

Scar nodded before starting away. “Mad, I tell you.”

Charming jogged up to the porch, looking between Free and Scar. “Is she here?” His father nodded. “Thank mercy. Where was she? She wasn’t in the Commons.”

“She was sitting behind the bar,” Scar said, “looking like the living dead.” He walked away shaking his head.

 

Rosie lay on top of her bed covers in the dark, curled into a fetal position. She heard a knock, but didn’t answer. After several tries without a response, Serene cracked the door.

“Rosie, we don’t want to intrude, but we want to be sure you’re alright.” When Rosie didn’t respond, Serene opened the door wider and glided toward the bed with the almost eerie grace of the Exiled women. She sat down on the bed next to Rosie. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“Me, too.”

Serene looked at Free, who was standing just outside the door looking on, then back at Rosie. “Have you never seen something awful before?”

“Not like that.”

Serene nodded. “I envy you.” Rosie looked at her. “All of us have seen awful things.”

Rosie sat up. “I don’t care what you promised Kellareal. You can’t let your babies go out there and face that.”

Serene gave her a motherly smile and smoothed the hair away from her face. “You think we should just tell Kellareal that we changed our minds?”

“Yes! If you don’t want to, I’ll tell him for you.” She glanced at Free. “I’ve got an even better idea. Let’s just obliterate the animals that did this.”

Serene angled her head to the side. “How do you suggest we do that?”

Rosie realized that all creatures didn’t have her options, her choices. “I don’t know,” she lied. The truth was that she could do away with the ‘Rautt’ with a thought. And after what she’d seen, she’d feel good about it.

She heard a deep and weary sigh come from Free. “All of us who were there today will wear that image on our souls forever, like a brand. But that’s exactly what the Rautt intended. They wanted to make an impression. Carnal got the worst of it. And not just because Blaze was a brother of his heart. Because he had to snuff out a life that was precious to him. He’ll always be asking himself if he
should
have done what he did. I’m proud of him. He did the harder thing because it was the right thing.”

“Nothing about that could be called right.”

“Come down and have something to eat with us,” Serene said.

“I’m not hungry,” Rosie answered.

After a few seconds, Serene said, “I’ll leave food out in case you change your mind.”

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Sleep had been hard to find and Rosie didn’t know how much she’d gotten at the end of a night of tossing and turning. She’d formed a habit of rising at the same time every morning. So she woke when it was time to get ready for work, whether she wanted to or not. Since she wasn’t scheduled to report at the Commons until later that morning, she closed her eyes and stayed in bed. When she gave up on going back to sleep, she headed downstairs looking and feeling worse than if she’d just risen at the usual time.

On hearing the sound of voices drifting up from below at the front door, she stopped at the head of the stairwell. Charming was saying, “He’s drinking and fucking his way through Farsuitwail. He’ll be alright.”

“Go tell your mother you know where he is so she won’t be worried,” Free’s deeper voice rumbled in reply just before the door closed after him.

In an instant Charming appeared at the foot of the stairs, looking up toward Rosie. It was evident that he knew she’d been listening, but his face didn’t indicate that he judged her harshly for it. He watched as she descended and when she reached the bottom step, he said, “On my way out. There’s food in the kitchen.”

“Okay.” She didn’t feel like trying to force a smile.

She ate breakfast cakes and went to work, but couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that, based on what Charming had said, she might have to live through something like that again. And next time it might be someone she knew.

She went straight to the galley hallway, put her shawl on a hook, and pulled an unbleached muslin apron over her head. Dandy was wiping out glasses, but she looked up when Rosie entered the other end of the bar. The gray cat was sitting at her end and gave her an ugly meowl when she walked by.

Rosie turned on the cat. “I wouldn’t if I were you. Not today.”

The cat blinked slowly, rose, turned its back showing Rosie its asshole with tail high and twitching, then settled onto its haunches. The thing tried to give the appearance of nonchalant uncaring, but had its head turned just enough to watch Rosie in its peripheral vision, with one ear lowered to horizontal position as if to advertise annoyance.

“Why is that cat always here? Who does it belong to?”

“Tough day yesterday?” Dandy said. Rosie nodded, but didn’t answer. She went straight to work with the broom. “Look. I got nuts for the bar.”

Rosie looked at the bowls Dandy was pointing to.

“There will be cat hair in those bowls if you let that thing continue to sit on the bar.” Then it dawned on her that Dandy had made an effort to initiate conversation. Nothing could be more unlike her. “You’re talking to me now? After all this time? Why? Why now?”

“Because you’re a… good human,” Dandy said softly.

Rosie cocked her hip and put one fist on it. “How would you know that, Dandelion?”

“Scar told me.”

Rosie puffed out a breath of air. “Scar,” she said, shaking her head.

After that Dandy left her alone with her own thoughts.

Around ten o’clock Free came through the door. Nodding to Dandy he said, “I need a few with Rosie. That okay?”

“You want me to leave?” asked Dandy.

“No. We’ll sit over there.” He indicated the corner. To Rosie, he said, “Could you take a break so we can talk?”

She let the broom fall to the floor unceremoniously, walked to the corner table, and sat down in mock obedience. An observer would say she was behaving like a teenager or a diva, depending on the observer’s life experiences.

Free either didn’t notice or ignored it. “For the next small while, I’m making myself available to you. I’ll answer any questions you might have. I’ve decided you’ve been here long enough and witnessed enough to deserve that.”

She held Free’s gaze. “Is there a term limit on your service to Kellareal?” she asked.

Free’s lips parted and he looked surprised, like that wasn’t the sort of question he’d been expecting, but to his credit he answered in a simple and straightforward manner. “No.”

“You made an open-ended deal?” He nodded. Rosie secretly thought that lacked foresight, at the very least. An open-ended deal with an angel? If people realized that angels and demons were first cousins they’d stop doing that shit. “Have you thought about a renegotiation?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Free looked honestly puzzled by the question. “Because that’s not the deal I made.” He paused. “And, truthfully, I’d never considered it.”

“So your people are going to be locked in a perpetual struggle with monsters. FOR ETERNITY?”

Free’s jawline hardened. “That’s the deal I made.”

“Well, it sucked.”

Free wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but he surmised it was disapproval.

“Compared to what we had before, this is paradise.”

“Paradise,” she said drily.

“It’s not one-sided. The humans give us medicines we don’t have when we need it, money if we want to buy something, healthy livestock, and fruit and vegetables they grow in the valley. Most importantly, they leave us alone. Which is exactly the way we want it.”

Rosie pressed her lips together.

“You have something to say?” Free asked.

“I don’t think Kellareal would approve of me being rude to my host.”

Free sat back and adopted a closed look, like he was preparing himself. “Say what’s on your mind.”

“Either end the conflict or renegotiate the deal with Kellareal. Sacrificing your people for a never-ending war is insanity.”

Free looked sober, but not angry. “I don’t see how either of those things is an option.”

“Why not?”

“The Rautt live on the other side of the wasteland. They can see us coming for hours. And prepare. It would be all of us against all of them and they hold a defensible position.”

Rosie felt her demon blood stirring. There was a loophole. “From what Kellareal said, the Rautt set this up on their terms, destroyed technology so that there would be no weapons with a range further than a person can throw.”

BOOK: CARNAL, The Beast Who Loved Me
9.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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