On Thursdays I post excerpts from a novel I’m working on. This week Madd and Vorgell disagree about cherries, and Gillja delivers ominous news.
Thick as Ice, Chapter 4c
The first thing Vorgell noticed when Madd and Petal rejoined Gillja’s departing entourage outside the Duke’s palace was how red and delicious-looking his friend’s lips appeared to be. Rosy and stained and utterly maddening.
It didn’t help that Vorgell had spent his time watching Duke Abiddes’ wandering hands and delivering snarls whenever the Duke encroached upon too much of Gillja’s curvaceous skin. She had explained his mission ahead of time and Vorgell had embraced it with vigor. It was in his best interest to nip the Duke’s ardor in the bud; had anything overtly amorous succeeded in taking root, Vorgell suspected he might have wanted to join in, if not with Gillja and her paramour, then at the very least with one of the pretty serving boys—or perhaps the naughty statue in the alcove, which wore a most intriguing wink. Fortunately, Gillja had been as determined as he to fend off the Duke.
As they left the grounds, Madd fell into line beside Vorgell and cast him a look that asked how things had gone.
“Don’t ask,” Vorgell growled.
“Erotic statues? Any worth stealing?”
“Perhaps, but I overheard the conversation and I don’t think this Duke is a man we should provoke. He’s working in hand with wizards.”
Madd looked unimpressed. He ducked his head to the side as Petal made the leap from his shoulder to Vorgell’s. “All I learned is that the Duke has a very good cook who turns his nose up at poison because it puts off the taste of his cooking.”
Remembering the dishes he had seen, and smelled, Vorgell sighed. How he had craved to take even the smallest taste of a few of those morsels! He had even glimpsed, for but a moment, the most heavenly of all treats from his homeland, dangling like ominous rubies from the Duke’s fingers as he fed them to Gillja’s painted, eager lips. He looked down again to see Madd grinning while extending a hand filled with several round, dark red fruit.
Scurrian cherries! Larger than even the Duke had brandished and of a red so black demons would rejoice if it were their blood.
“You stole from the Duke? While we were his guests?” The accusation did nothing to prevent Vorgell’s mouth from watering.
Madd’s grin retreated. “Do you want them or not? Because I nearly ate them all, and I can still eat more. These damn things are delicious.”
Yes, they were. Vorgell was not about to waste so golden an opportunity. “I have not eaten these in years! You are… the best of friends, and I name you the most generous also. A thousand thanks!” He gathered the cherries into his hand and popped the first sweet orb into his mouth, biting through the flesh and crunching down on the pit, much to Madd’s alarm.
“Tell me you did not just break a tooth.”
Vorgell happily chewed, relishing the distinctive crunch and the heavenly sweet juices on his tongue. “Of course not.”
“Good, because a spell that can mend a broken tooth is beyond anything I can work. We’d have to go to a proper healing witch for something like that.” Madd shook his head. “Did you seriously just eat the pit?”
“The pit’s the best part, once you crack it.” Vorgell tossed a cherry into the air and as it came back down neatly caught it between his teeth. His boyhood skills were still sharp as ever!
“Which proves you’re an oaf, if you think that. Cherry pits are poison.” Madd was having none of it. Even Petal was protesting, digging in her talons and wrapping her tail around Vorgell’s neck to keep balance from his tossing and catching. “Trust me on this. It’s not magic. Even people who aren’t witches know better than to eat the damn things. People grind up those pits and add them to the muffins of folk they want to kill. Believe me, back in the kitchen I watched those cherries like a hawk.”
“A job for which Gillja chose wisely,” Vorgell affirmed. Madd was nothing if not meticulous about threats. It was also true people in Scurrian villages would die mysteriously during cherry season. Perhaps munching on pits was not the best use to which his teeth could be put. The cherries were beyond tasty without the crunch. He offered the last one in his hand to Petal, who turned up her nose. Why she would prefer mice to cherries was beyond him. He ate it and found it was even sweeter than the ones before.
He turned back to Madd, only to find the witch glaring at him. “Do you have any more?”
“Not if they’re going to kill you.”
“I promise to not bite down on the pits.”
They had passed beneath the Peacock Gate and were making their way down the Avenue of Bells. It was a merry street.
“Please, Madd,” Vorgell wheedled. By the way his friend’s hip pouch bulged, he was certain there were more of the fruits to be had.
“I wanted to make you happy, not kill you or break your teeth, all right?” The rosy stain on Madd’s lips added to their appeal along with the lovely way they moved, the flush in his cheeks and shimmer of heat in his gaze. “Slurpy noises, cherry juice in your beard… those I can live with. I should have given them to you when we were home.”
Home. Where they could be alone, and use cherries in intimate ways. Even now, if they kissed, Vorgell would taste cherries on Madd’s lips, on sweeping his tongue across those smooth, even teeth. Madd had very pretty teeth, rare for someone who had lived a life on the streets. But then witchkin had much readier access to healing magic. Just the thought of cherry nibbles and lips that left cherry-red stains, made Vorgell’s nipples harden and his cock push with interest against the stiff leather cup he wore to prevent public embarrassment.
Yes, getting Madd home, or anywhere else they could be alone, was the best idea Vorgell had heard all day. Once there, he could show Madd a proper thanks for having thought of him, even if it had involved stealing from Gillja’s suitor. In fact, Vorgell both wanted to let his heart turned to syrup and give a yell of triumph.
Cherries from Madd were worth more than rubies from anyone else.
They nearly made a clean escape upon reaching Gillja’s fine house, only for the nimble Baroness to exit quickly enough from her palanquin to stop them.
“Wait! Before you go,” she said, shaking off a bit of dust from the hem of her gown. “I have word of another job for you.”
“We don’t need a job,” Madd started to explain. Perhaps he was thinking the same things Vorgell was thinking, about cherry nibbles and kisses. It was also possible he was simply thinking the several rubies at home in their makeshift vault would last them the rest of the year.
“You need this one,” said Gillja. She looked sympathetic. “Ibeena is calling in her favor. She told me to tell you she expects to see you this day, and no later.”
Madd’s shoulders slumped. Vorgell knew how painful it was for Madd to deal with other witches, especially the powerful females of his kind.
“Do you know what this favor is?” Vorgell asked, because Madd was too despondent to do so.
“Yes, but… I think it best if Ibeena explains what she wants.”
“Sure,” said Madd. He attempted a laugh, but the result was far from convincing. “Can’t you at least give us a chance to prepare?”
Gillja shook her head. “It’s not a dangerous task. Go to her. Let her tell you.” With a pat on Madd’s arm and an encouraging smile at Vorgell, she turned and entered the door to her dwelling.
Walking away from Gillja’s no longer filled Vorgell with thoughts of a pleasant afternoon. Almost as if their feet understood the doom placed upon them, they turned not toward Thieves Wart but rounded the corner and began to trod uptown. Ibeena currently lived at the center of the aptly named Rag Market, where the city’s rag-pickers dumped and sorted and repurposed their wares.
“Whatever this is,” Madd muttered glumly, “it’s not going to be good.”
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