Thirty-eight

They came in together in a tight bunch, a wary look in every eye.

‘Pyrgus!’ Blue squealed. She made to run to him, then stopped. Hairstreak’s vampire was standing directly behind her brother, one slim hand resting lightly on his shoulder.

Blue backed off a step. From behind her Flapwazzle gave a low, threatening growl. Henry and Kitterick were beside Pyrgus. None of them looked injured any more and there were no signs of ill-treatment.

Blue said quietly, ‘Are you all right, Henry?’

Henry’s face was expressionless. ‘Yes.’

‘Pyrgus?’

Pyrgus said, ‘We have a confidential message for you, Blue.’ He rolled his eyes in a peculiar way as if trying to signal something to her.

‘Kitterick?’

‘Never better, Madam. In the peak of my health, one might say.’

Hairstreak said, ‘Now we have the niceties out of the way, Your Majesty, perhaps your people would care to tell us why they were trespassing on my land, and what -’

‘We have a confidential message for Her Majesty,’ Pyrgus said loudly, interrupting him. ‘We were proceeding along -’

‘Shut up, Pyrgus,’ Blue said, interrupting him. She had no idea what sort of cock and bull story Pyrgus had dreamed up to explain his presence here, but the situation was far too delicate to let him come barging in with hobnailed boots on. What she needed was to take control. She needed to stop Pyrgus saying anything that might make things worse. She needed to change her uncle’s mind about questioning them. Everything was already in a bit of a mess, but she’d got what she came for. The Nighter offer was genuine and Hairstreak had the backing to make it stick. The thing now was to get back to the Purple Palace as quickly as possible and without provoking Lord Hairstreak any further. An idea occurred to her and she turned to her uncle.

‘Lord Hairstreak,’ she said formally. ‘Perhaps if we -’

Henry detached himself from the little group by the door. ‘It’s time we left, Blue,’ he said quietly, taking her arm. She stared at him in astonishment as he began to lead her from the room.

‘Pelidne,’ Hairstreak said sharply.

Pelidne stepped smoothly between them and the door. Henry moved with such superhuman speed that his arm blurred. Blue didn’t even see the blow. But as Henry stepped back she saw Pelidne staring down with horror at the wooden stake protruding from his chest. He stumbled forward, eyes wide. Blood abruptly fountained from the wound, then just as abruptly turned to clouds of choking dust. Pelidne’s handsome features wrinkled, turning in a heartbeat to those of an old, old man. His nose caved in, his lips thinned, then shrivelled over pointed, rotting teeth. Suddenly he was falling, crumbling on the inside of his clothes. A pungent smell of decay flooded the room.

‘What -?’ Blue gasped.

Henry had her arm again and was dragging her towards the door. Hairstreak looked stunned, but still produced a stiletto from a secret pocket of his jerkin. Pyrgus, mouth open, actually took a step backwards. Even Kitterick looked surprised.

Blue found her voice. ‘No, Henry!’ she shouted. This was a disaster. Her uncle’s servant had been killed. In one brief instant the potential for a treaty lay tattered on the floor. She tried to jerk her arm away, but Henry’s hand gripped her like a vice. ‘Let me go!’ she demanded.

Lord Hairstreak was already halfway across the room when Pyrgus recovered from his shock. He began to move towards Henry as well, but Kitterick was a pace ahead of him.

Then suddenly Blue and Henry were no longer there.

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