Deuce, Chapter 11: Mush, Hush

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11
Mush, Hush

Although both children waited for Vanora to attack, no other stone guardians approached their hiding place. Ulrica tugged Aurelius and pressed his head to her shoulder. “Sleep,” she demanded. “Or you’ll be worse than useless tomorrow.”

“Aye.” After a lengthy pause, he said, “A few hours will be enough. I’ll take the dawn watch.”

Ulrica grunted noncommittally, then pinched Aurelius when he tried to get comfortable. “Squirm all night, and I’ll pin your limbs to this limb with every blade in my arsenal.”

Aurelius snorted, but he settled down. Ulrica could feel his heartbeat slow, and his breathing deepened. Tipping her head to one side, she checked his face. Is the lolling fool actually asleep? But Aurelius’s eyes were still open, his half-lidded gaze drowsy and distant.

He murmured, “I vastly prefer hunting to hauntings.”

“Aye.”

“Are there statues like that in uphill neighborhoods? Ones that can move?”

“Aye.”

After a lengthy pause, he asked, “Do you have an equally lively cradle guardian?”

“Several.”

Aurelius asked, “Would you show them to me?”

“Why should I?”

“Because I’m a poor merchant’s son with more curiosity than coin. And because I want to know the things you know.” With a sleepy smirk, he added, “And because you find me irresistible.”

She snorted.

“Good. I look forward to it.” Closing his eyes, Aurelius mumbled, “Tell me a ghost story.”

“Nay.”

“Have pity. I’ve suffered a great shock.” He slipped his hands around her wrists again and whispered, “Please, Ulrica?”

She relented, but on terms of her own making. “In days of old and yore, the White Mountain woke, knowing both her own name and her own mind. Vanora loved the sea that swirled at her feet and the stars that stirred her heart, but they were not enough.” Ulrica’s telling took on a sing-song quality as she unconsciously emulated her older brother, who always gave in to her pleas for stories. “In her loneliness, Vanora called out, her voice as sweet as a siren’s. Her song stretched far, crossing seas and touching distant shores as she searched for someone to love her.”

Aurelius wrinkled his nose. “This isn’t a ghost story. It’s mush.”

“Don’t interrupt.”

“Mush,” he repeated, lapsing into a sleepy sulk.

Ulrica continued, “Vanora’s voice reached many men from many lands, unerringly drawn to those with magic in their souls. Her plea kindled pity in some, greed in others. But one man heard and understood. Following her voice, he journeyed farther than any man ever had—over land and across seas—to reach Vanora’s shore. He found her, and he pleased her greatly.”

“You expect me to believe a mountain can talk?”

“Only the magical ones.”

“And people can hear them?”

“Only the ones with affinity.”

“Like your brother.”

She hesitated. “Frey can’t hear Vanora’s voice. But maybe that’s only for Keepers.”

“Like the man in the story.”

“Aye,” she replied, returning to her tale. “His name was Phann, and he became Vanora’s first Keeper.”

Aurelius yawned. “Lovely. Let me guess, he was one of the founders of our illustrious capital?”

“Nay, he was Basq. This was several years before the Pred invaded this continent. But they followed, intent on wresting Vanora’s power from Phann.”

Aurelius said, “Conquest is vastly better than mush. And we clearly won.”

“That is what our histories say, but on the mountain, the story is very different.” Ulrica knew how treasonous her next words would sound, yet she spoke them. “Our home represents the longest and most fruitless siege of all time. We surround the mountain, but she cannot be conquered.”

Aurelius’s shot her a wide-eyed look. “Do you realize what you’re saying?”

“Aye.” Ulrica pressed her hand over his heart, a reminder of his oath of secrecy. “There are stories no one wants to hear.”

“Are you saying that we’re a laughingstock to those on the mountain?”

“Nay. We are feared.” With a dark chuckle, Ulrica said, “Are we not Pred?”

“So unless Vanora calls a Pred Keeper, we will never have free access to the White Mountain. And she has no love for Pred.”

“Aye.”

“Except your brother.” Aurelius twisted again, trying to search her face. “What makes him different?”

Ulrica scowled. “Hush. Or were you lying about needing sleep.”

“My head aches, and my eyes burn.”

“Shall I render you unconscious?”

“Save your violence for the tree-cats,” Aurelius grumbled.

“Aye.”

Letting his head roll to the side, he said, “But save your stories for me.”

Not until he was sound asleep did Ulrica make up her mind. With a small smile, she replied, “Aye.”

Deuce's Daggers

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Author’s Note: This story is a prequel to C. J. Milbrandt’s Galleries of Stone trilogy and updates each Friday. The first two books in the trilogy—Meadowsweet and Harrow—are currently available. Rakefang is set to release on February 24, 2015. Useful information about Pred culture can be found here.

Deuce © Copyright 2015, C. J. Milbrandt, all rights reserved. If you want to receive an email whenever this story updates, subscribe to the blog. You can also watch for notifications on Twitter and “like” the series on Facebook.

Galleries of Stone Trilogy

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