Canto came in, followed by Morgan with his usual foolish grin, and Roan, who looked mean and serious. They were followed by Finnian McVey, who smiled like the Cheshire Cat.
“Margueritte, dahrlin’,” The Irishman drawled. “So good to see you again.” His accent was positively honey-dripping. He took the other chair. “I am sure you would have some kind word of greeting for me as well, but I see your tongue is a little tied right now.” He thought he was so funny. She turned away from him, contempt in her eyes, but he grabbed her chin and turned her face back.
“I thought you might be interested in what has been happening at Caern Long since you’ve been away,” he said. That caught her attention. She assumed the dragon had simply gone to sleep, and that it would probably sleep for several years if not decades. “Ah. I see you are interested. Well, it is this way, if I may do the tellin’.” He took a moment to get comfortable before he went on.
“When the king refused to do anything about the beast, the people in all this part of the country got together and talked about what we could do. They had a parlay, you might say. Someone suggested it might be a good idea to simply take food to Caern Long and feed the beast. That way they might keep their homes and farms flame free, if you understand. Then someone else reminded everyone about all the missing children, and they decided that the beast must have developed a taste for such.” He shrugged.
Margueritte’s eyes got big.
“Of course, no one would give up their sons, so it has been eighteen young garls in eighteen months.” Margueritte shut her eyes tight and turned her head away, repulsed by what she heard. Sheep would have been fine, she thought. She did not want to think about it.
“Oh, I argued against it. Truly,” McVey said quickly. “But in a room full of stupid, stubborn farmers.” He shrugged again. “Most villages and towns cast lots. I suppose that is fair, but you know, Vergen has yet to make a contribution.”
Margueritte’s eyes got big again, and Finnian McVey’s countenance changed suddenly from calm and conversational to hard and cruel. “You know what I want,” he said. “But perhaps you will ask the wee folk to help you out.” He shrugged again, but Margueritte surmised he hoped she would. He undoubtedly had some plan to capture a little one and hold it prisoner. She dared not call for their help, even if she had a voice. She would never willingly put her little ones in danger.
The men left. She cried, but only a little as she thought hard about how she might escape this fate. She could think of nothing, not even when Canto came back near nightfall with some bread, soup, and cider. Roan untied her hands, rather roughly, and Morgan removed the gag and they waited outside.
“I am not sure this is wise,” Canto started right up. “I am not sure it will get us what we want. I see a penchant for self-sacrifice in you; longsuffering as Aden the Convert calls it.”
“Brian has no part in this. In fact, he has ordered us to stay out of it,” Canto said. He sat carefully on the other chair. “In truth, Brian has refused to participate in the sacrifices. Vergen would never make a contribution if it was strictly up to him.”
“No, actually, the king’s man has no idea about this, any more than the king. I doubt they even know about the sacrifices. People understand you have to keep quiet about such a thing.” Canto started being so friendly and open, Margueritte became suspicious. “Of course, my brother in wisdom would no doubt be pleased to have a good person of his own, not to harm the creature, mind you, but for purposes of study; that sort of thing. No. This is Finnian McVey’s idea, and though I don’t know how wise it may be, you know how persuasive he can be. I must also warn you. He is very determined to get what he wants. There is not much I can do to help you.”
Margueritte pushed her supper away and Canto called. She thought if she could escape the room, somehow, perhaps Chief Brian could give her sanctuary. Surely Brian was wise enough to not want the dragon on his head; but then being closest to the border he would not want the Franks on his head, either.
Morgan came in and retied her hands. He was not very gentle about it, but he had the decency to say, “Sorry, sorry,” when she complained. Then McVey came crashing into the room followed by Roan. Canto quickly got between them.
“Why did you feed her?” McVey said, rudely. “She should have gone hungry to sharpen her thinking.” Roan, meanwhile, tried to put the gag back on her, but he stopped when McVey reached out, grabbed her chin, and drew his face close to hers. “A shame to waste such prime female flesh when it hasn’t even had a chance to know what it is good for.” He looked like he might force a kiss on her, but Margueritte stared at him with such a bold hardness in her eyes, he hesitated. Canto drew the Irishman back.
“She is still a young lady,” Canto said. “Whatever else she may be.”
McVey snapped his hand from her chin, scratching her with his nails, and he appeared to turn his anger toward the druid. Margueritte, though her jaw hurt, nevertheless had a thought which made her smile.
“Good cop, bad cop,” she said, knowingly, even as Roan finally replaced her gag. She stood up, still smiling to the amazement of all present, lay down on the army blanket, turned her back on them all, and dared them to disturb her. After a moment, she heard the door close and she knew she was alone.