“My lord has done what?”
Bloodbyrn was a pillar of ruffles, tight leather, and wrath. She was easily the scariest thing in Freetrick’s office, which was no mean feat.
“I have heard the news from my spies, who infest the walls, then from my father’s chamberlain, whom I have bribed, and then from my father himself. But each time my mind rebelled, as the rational consciousness must, in the face of such an unbelievable eventuality.” She paced between a gleaming silver-and-red-crystal obelisk on one side of the door and a stuffed lizard on the other. “It could not be, I maintain, that the Soon-to-be Ultimate Fiend, even in the grip of raging insanity, to throw away his greatest political advantage, sacrifice his social standing in Clouds-Gather, and alienate the only people in this nation who would rather see him alive than dead, all in one morning!” She spun on a heel as long and pointed as her previous sentence, gulped in a lung-full of air, and aimed an orange basilisk glare at Freetrick. “How could he, my lord, by which I mean to say you, have done anything so incomprehensibly idiotic?”
From his place dangling from the ceiling, Mr. Skree gave Freetrick a look that might have been condolence.
“Wuh—” Freetrick stammered, then winced as his new pants pinched him. Bloodbyrn had arrived in his room shortly after the royal tailor, and his fiancée and new wardrobe seemed to be working in concert to squeeze the Soon-to-be Ultimate Fiend, physically and spiritually. Freetrick had had to beat the tailor over the head to make him put away the iron spikes he wanted to install on Freetrick’s knees, belt-line, and crotch, but apparently the man—male creature—stocked no pants that were not leather and nothing that wasn’t two sizes too small for whomever was unfortunate enough to wear it. That went for the shirt as well, and the boots. The only things on Freetrick that weren’t too small were his shoulder pads, in which the tailor had stored all the slack he hadn’t used on the rest of the outfit.
“He cannot answer?” Bloodbyrn made sure Freetrick was more than just physically uncomfortable, “I am once again reminded of the foolishness of my hopes with regards to the Soon-to-be Ultimate Fiend. And he is grimacing at me.”
Bloodbyrn had been to see her costumer, too. She flicked a hand through the dark curls cascading through the eye sockets of a not-quite-human skull, fetchingly strapped to the top of her head. “I had hoped, foolishly I see now, that I might have expected my lord to remain in my presence for five minutes without engaging in some sort of objectionable behavior.”
Now, with his new eye-lenses, Freetrick could see the expression on Bloodbyrn’s face with absolute fidelity. That, and her multiple piercings. “Look, Bloodbyrn, I know you’re upset—”
Bloodbyrn waved a hand at him. Sighing, she leaned against the hive-like wall of hexagonal cells that Freetrick thought might be a bookshelf. “Forgive my asperity my lord, but the situation leaves me at a loss.”
A loss for what? Not words, certainly. “Bloodbyrn, if I’m really the Ultimate Fiend like you say I am, don’t you think it’s a little dangerous to mess with me?” He sat straighter behind his desk and tried to look non-mess-with-able. There was a squeak of protesting fabric and Freetrick felt his lower eyelids convulse.
The leather-clad dark lady made an unimpressed expression. “If my lord is the Soon-to-be Ultimate Fiend, he maintains this position, as opposed to the inanimate con-dition, by convincing his supporters that he can further their interests.” Bloodbyrn glanced, sharp-eyed at Mr. Skree, and then looked back at Freetrick. “That was an observation on political philosophy, by the way, and my lord should not take it in any way as a threat.”
Oh. She said that she and her father’s party would kill him if Freetrick didn’t do what they said. That was the threat.
“And another thing.” She shook a finger at Freetrick as he tried to figure out how to respond. “Would it really be so difficult for my lord to phrase his utterances in a manner in which they might be understood? I learned to speak this cursed language properly, after all.”
Freetrick thought fast. What might stop Bloodbyrn from simply leaping across his desk and severing his jugular? “I didn’t cancel the wedding.” He tried to speak as distinctly as possible, “I postponed it.”
“Oh?” Tides of kohl rushed together as Bloodbyrn’s amber eyes narrowed. “For what reason?”
“Well, I should think it’s pretty obvious,” said Freetrick, “I don’t know you!” And what he did know wasn’t complimentary. “And anyway aren’t I supposed to be your king? So why are you even questioning me?”
Freetrick tried to remain upright in his horribly uncomfortable chair as Bloodbyrn examined him. “No.” She said, finally. “No Dark Lord could act under such idiotic impulses. No, my lord is playing a game with me.” She swayed toward him, the center of a boiling chaos of black lace. “Why does my lord reject me, really?” Bloodbyrn murmured, closing the distance between them. “Does he believe he can get a better offer than mine?” With a rustle and a hiss, Bloodbyrn seated herself on the side of his desk. “Who has risen to rival my claim upon primacy in the Fiend’s seraglio? With whom has my lord been communicating? My lord may tell me. Was it perhaps the Dark Lady Slugslime?”
“No? Then what of the Dark Lady Ashwing? That slatternly bitch. No?” Bloodbyrn leaned forward toward Freetrick, the maroon bow of her upper lip rising to display a gleam of metal canine. “Pit her or any other against me, and I swear to you, my lord, the leeches will be gorging themselves upon my rival within the hour.”
Freetrick opened his mouth to reply. Then his eyes tracked down. And she slapped him.