Palamedes fiddled idly with the rope in his hands. “It’s nothing, really.” He raised the recently tied cord to Sacripant’s more experienced eyes. “Is this right?”
The Marsh Erl frowned. “If you want it to fly apart, then yes. Otherwise, no.”
Palamedes nodded. “Ahh.” He looked around, his expression distracted.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” asked Sacripant.
“I’m…” Palamedes took a deep breath, and sighed. “Listen, if I tell you what’s bothering me, do you promise not to talk about it?”
“I promise Quiet won’t talk about it,” replied Sacripant, who gestured to the Ghoul. She gave a quick, short nod.
Palamedes rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Thanks for the support, guys”
“We won’t go blabbing what you tell us hither and yon, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” said Sacripant. “So--come on. Talk.”
“Well, I can’t help feel responsible for all this,” said Palamedes. “I mean, it was overhearing me that--set Her Estimable Grace… off.”
Sacripant blinked. “You’re… serious… aren’t you?” He glanced at Quiet, who was holding one blue-skinned hand before her veiled face, as if trying to hold back laughter.
Palamedes crossed his arms. “Did she--or did she not--undertake this foolish quest after hearing my hasty words of dismissal?”
“She also undertook it after walking down the stairs,” said Sacripant. “I think you’re… overestimating your effect…”
The Guards’ conversation was ended by approaching footsteps. “…tough to be sure,” said Nisrioch, as he walked out on the deck, following Mansemat, Jean Crow and Morgaine walking beside him. “I’m getting the oddest… snatches… of late…”
Mansemat glanced at his brother. “Such as…?”
Nisrioch exhaled. “As I said--snatches. What they mean remains… opaque…”
“So--is this the rescue squad?” asked Viviane, appearing suddenly, pestle in hand.
“Pretty much,” answered Morgaine with a nod.
Jean coughed. “Ummm… look--I know--I can understand if you’re angry with me…”
Viviane stepped forward and placed her hands on the younger woman’s shoulders. “Relax. I’m not angry with you--not anymore.” She gave Jean a pleasant smile. “You made an awful, terrible, awful mistake--but you’ve been punished for it, and you have tried to fix it. No, my anger is now focused on an appropriate target.”
Mansemat smiled at his wife. “I have to say, Viviane, I find all this a very thoughtful, mature course of…” And then the Dark Lord stopped speaking, as Viviane suddenly pivoted, and gave Nisrioch what looked to be an exquisitely painful knee to the crotch. Mansemat rushed to his wife’s side. “Viviane! What in the Lady’s Name are you…?”
“It’s… all right… Manny…” croaked Nisrioch weakly.
“Who RECRUITED those two, Manny?” asked Viviane. “Who placed them near MY daughter?” She leaned forward, her expression furious. “And who regularly boasts of how he sees the future?” Viviane took a deep breath. “You planned this, Nisrioch Cthonique. Admit it.”
Nisrioch glanced awkwardly at the ship’s deck. Mansemat raised an eyebrow. “Nissy?”
“I’d say ‘planned’ is a rather strong word,” he muttered quietly. “Let us say ‘foresaw this happening’ instead.”
Mansemat crossed his arms. “And said nothing. And… arguably--maneuvered to see that it would happen. Am I right?” Nisrioch shut his rainbow-colored eyes, and said nothing. “Darksome Lady, Nisrioch--why?”
“It’s the War!” spat out Viviane. “And his plan! His precious, precious plan!”
Mansemat raised his hand. “Let him answer.” He looked at his brother pointedly. “Well…?”
Nisrioch was quiet for a long time. “I never meant them any harm,” he said at last. “Unholy Darkness, Manny, I love them as if they were mine. But… I am the child of the Queen of Fear. I See things that effect the lives of millions. And sometimes, I must make… hard choices.”
Mansemat nodded. “I see.” With one rapid motion, he punched Nisrioch in the stomach. As he watched the tall Erl fall upon the ground, he took a deep, disturbed breath. “We’ll give you time to recover before setting out. Viviane and I need time to… calm down, I think.”
As the pair walked off, Jean and Morgaine stared at the prostrate Dark Lord of the Screaming Waste. “You had that coming,” noted Jean after a while.
“Do… you hear me… arguing against that?” muttered Nisrioch.
Morgaine nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. I’m debating kicking you, you know that?”
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t,” he replied. “You wear terrifying shoes, Morgaine.”
Sacripant leaned over to Palamedes. “Try to make it look like you’ve been working, and ignoring the whole thing.”
“Do you honestly think they’ll buy that?” asked Palamedes.
“No, but they’ll be polite enough to pretend to,” answered the Marsh Erl. He glanced at the Ghoul. “Quiet! You too!”
“Can’t… look… away…” she whispered.