The Storm Prince, Chapter 7

They brought down fowl and a few rabbits. As Glianna’s bird carried its kill back in its beak and claws, Mercund’s hound leapt up to snap at the falcon. The raptor flapped out of the dog’s reach and landed on Glianna’s glove, feathers bristling with offended hauteur. Glianna cooed soothing nothings to her bird and stroked it with her cheek until it calmed.

“Oaf!” Mercund hissed, aiming a kick at the beast. The toe of his boot connected with the dog’s ribs. It yelped and dropped, whimpering, at his feet. Beri managed not to flinch in sympathy. He had never owned a dog, but he doubted violence was the best way to train one.

“That is the most worthless cur I have ever seen,” Galen observed. “T’would be a kindness to beat its skull in with a club.”

“That hardly sounds like a kindness to me,” Beri said.

Linnit shrugged, regret lining her mouth. Perhaps she had long since given up on trying to civilize her brother. The dog pressed its belly into the dirt, tail swishing back and forth in a low arc. It whined again and lifted its muzzle to lick Mercund’s fingers.

Mercund shot Beri an irritated glare as he shook the dog off. “I should like to know what it is to live on the Isle of Avalon, where nothing needs to earn its keep,” he said. “It must be beautiful there.”

Galen added, “That animal is not a maiden’s pet. It was not meant to drink cream from a dish. Its only purpose is to hunt, and it is a failure at even that. What does Your Highness propose he should do with it?”

“Perhaps he should take a well-trained hound to the hunt, instead of beating a half-trained one to death for embarrassing him.” Beri kept his voice mild. “It seems a waste of a dog.”

Linnit yawned and stretched both of her arms above her head. “Mother’s Hair, has it gotten so late already? The sun is setting, Gli.”

“Oh! The ball will be starting!” Glianna lay her hand against Galen’s wrist. “We cannot go dressed like this. We should start back toward the palace.”

The sun still filtered through the leaves with the same quality it had possessed for most of the day, heavy and golden as honey. No one commented on Linnit’s lack of subtlety. Mercund leveled another glare at Beri and shoved through the brush away from him. The dog stood and slunk after his heels. Galen and Linnit followed.

Glianna slipped her hand into the crook of Beri’s arm. “Mercund has a map of the stars in his head,” she explained. “He can find his way from anywhere to anywhere. We should go with him.”

“Perhaps I should have held my tongue about the dog,” Beri mused.

Glianna smiled at him, dark eyes glittering with mischief. “You could have been more tactful,” she agreed. “But if I am to be honest, I thought much the same. I think it is noble to speak out in defense of those that cannot speak for themselves.”

His dead father whispered, It is the duty of the strong to defend the weak. “My father used to say something very similar.”

“Your father, the monster,” Glianna accepted his hand to step over the log from which Mercund’s dog had chased the centipede. “It is difficult to believe that such a wicked creature could have raised a son willing to start a fight over the well-being of a hound.”

Startled, Beri regarded her profile, wondering what was happening behind her shining eyes. More than she let on, certainly. Did she really believe that, or was she only saying it to find out what he really thought of his father? He looked around to ascertain whether they were alone, and saw Linnit and the others far ahead, stepping out into the sunlight at the edge of the wood. “I am surprised to hear you say so. I have heard him called a heretic more than once since I came here.”

“Perhaps.” Glianna blinked, long eyelashes fluttering. “But I never met him, and now he is gone. Only the Mother can judge him.”

“Yes,” Beri agreed. And whether Glianna was sincere or not, he silently asked the Mother to judge Thael Quintinar on his intentions instead of his son’s crimes.

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