Captain Fenton Meriwether moved down the stairs to the cells beneath the castle, his steel shod boots echoing back against the stone. After a moment, he heard a second set of footfalls and slowed, curious.
A flash of midnight blue wool and an immense ruby announced his companion before Gray finished rounding the corner.
“You think I need a chaperone?” Fenton demanded testily.
Gray glared at him. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d captured one of them?”
Fenton stared at him, not feeling particularly friendly. “Two, actually,” he admitted.
“The second one did not survive.”
“What?” The color faded from the mage’s face.
“Not anything we did. What do you take me for?” Fenton snapped. “She was killed in the conflict.”
“Harpies and Council, actually,” Fenton answered shortly and started walking down the stairs again.
“Fenton…” Gray groaned, sounding exasperated.
Fenton whirled at the mage and nearly pinned him to the wall they were standing so close to one another. “It’s Kilasha,” he grated.
Gray blinked. “Fenton…” He seemed less intense suddenly. “Fenton, I’m sorry.”
Fenton wanted to shout, or rage at him, but instead turned and started walking again. After a moment, the mage followed, a silent shadow at his back.
The stairs opened onto a low stone room. Four iron-banded doors spaced evenly around the circular wall stood open; the fifth was closed. A torch flickered inside, casting odd shadows through its iron cage – protection for the guards, in case the prisoners decided to try to use it as an impromptu weapon. They’d never had anyone try.
The cell’s occupant lay on her side on the pallet, face pale and drawn. Her waist-length brown hair hung lank, bits of twigs peppering the wrist-thick braid. Her silks, once bright and comely, were spattered with mud and worse. The two guards straightened when he walked in and one bent to unlock the cell door.
“Get two chairs,” he ordered briefly.
“Yes, Captain,” the taller one said and all but ran to do as he was bid.
Kilasha stirred and her eyes cracked open, a line of bright blue. Fenton watch awareness return slowly as she blinked at him. By the time the guard had returned with the chairs for him and the mage, she was actually looking at him.
“Where am I?” she asked, her voice weak.
“You’re safe, Kilasha,” Fenton told her gently, driven in spite of himself to some measure of kindness.
“Fenton,” she murmured. “I should have known.”
Gray shifted in his seat but said nothing. Kilasha struggled back against the wall and moved by painful inches into a sitting position, grimacing at the state of her clothing. She fingered her braid but gave up with what Fenton knew was frustration.
“Your companion is dead,” Fenton said then.
Looking right at her, he saw the flash of pain in her eyes, the slight tightening of her lips. She said nothing in response, just watched him.
He retrieved a knife from his belt and she watched his every movement with it, as he reached into a belt pouch and pulled out a dry sausage. He carved a small slice and offered it laconically to Gray, who took it with a slightly perplexed expression. Kilasha watched as Fenton carved another slice and put it in his mouth.
“Who was she?” Fenton asked.
“Setira,” Kilasha answered promptly.
“Who used the magics on that mountain?” Gray asked suddenly.
Fenton winced. Kilasha transferred her blue, blue eyes to the mage and stared, hostility making her face harsher. “What magics do you speak of, Mage?” She said the title like it tasted bad.
Fenton raised a hand before Gray could dig himself in further, trying to interrogate a Seer. “It was clear that someone did. The cottage was obliterated.”
Something like guilt slid through her eyes and was gone. Fenton was surprised; he hadn’t known she was capable of slaughter on that scale. He digested that silently, slicing another bite of sausage. He reached into his pouch and, crossing one leg to make a sort of table, set out a small yellow cheese and one of Cook’s heavy black loaves. He caught the sudden intensity in Kilasha’s eyes, gone when she blinked. But he’d seen it.
“The Order says that such Power is forbidden,” Fenton went on in the same bored tone. “They don’t admit that anyone outside the Order is even capable of it, much less a woman.”
He was rewarded by a sudden flash of hatred in her eyes, then she looked down at her lap. A slight flush colored her cheeks.
“I’ve told them they’re mistaken, but no one believes a humble Captain,” Fenton noted softly.
Her mouth quirked up in appreciation of his humor and she peeked at the cheese. Obligingly, he shaved a small bite and put it in his mouth, her eyes watching him intently.
Fenton was sure she would have spoken, but a sudden commotion on the stairway disturbed them.
“Why wasn’t I told of this?” the Abbot’s voice rang out. A welter of voices responded to that as several blue-robed men crowded around the blinding white robe of Abbot Katzn.
Fenton scrambled out of his chair to stand at attention, followed a moment later by Gray.
“Captain! I see you’ve captured one alive! Excellent work!” the Abbot boomed. “You may go, I’ll take it from here.”
Fenton knew better than to argue. He ducked his head in the ritual bow and walked out of the room, wishing he could have allowed the cheese at least to fall into Kilasha’s hands. He strode up the stairs, seething.