When Spitemorta returned to her bower in Castle Niarg just before midnight, she changed back her throat with the Heart and sent orders to the kitchen for roast duck with sour cabbage, dripping pudding and cider, even if she had to stay up until nearly sunrise to eat it. She did not mind. She could use the time to get rid of that offensive quart of sukee which reminded her of Coel, left over from her coronation. She had begun to find it odd that Demonica had not gotten in her way with her comments as she sauntered about, dangling her bottle, gloating about what she had set in motion.
She soon discovered that cider on top of the sukee nearly had her vomiting on her steaming plate of duck and pudding, so she daubed at the corners of her mouth, threw herself across the bed and slept until the middle of the afternoon. She rose, had half of a toad in the hole and a pinch of cold duck breast and sour cabbage and went back to bed until the following morning. She spent the next two days in her quarters, very busy with ordering about pages and hired help as she oversaw the clearing away of Minuet’s sheep shed and apple orchard for a jousting field and hand gonne range. She was beginning to think that she might have managed to leave Demonica behind at Oilean Gairdin. “Good! If that be the case,” she said, but she felt oddly anxious.
When she caught herself wishing that she had her grandmother to talk to, she grabbed up the empty sukee flagon and hurled it at the wall with a grating squeal. Instead, the contrary bottle went whirling out over the balcony to go bouncing end over end along the paving stones, six storeys down. When she heard no breaking glass, the rushed to the balustrade hoping to find that she had hit someone on the head. “Damn you Grandmother!” she shouted when she saw no one about. “You won’t let me have any fun…”
“Well it is nice to see you giving me the credit, dear,” said Demonica from right beside her, peering down at the bottle.
“Why did you have to show up, Grandmother? It was a relief having you gone for three days.”
“Odd that you kept seeming anxious for someone to talk to, or am I mistaken?”
“Yes you are.”
“Or am I merely the wrong party? Perhaps you were hoping for your handsome general…”
“No!” shouted Spitemorta. Suddenly she smiled. “But I do have a thing or two he needs to find out,” she said quietly. “I mean, I think my trolls are going to be right useful, ‘way more than the stupid heathens from Gwael. Don’t you?”
Mindful of how Spitemorta’s voice carried, Demonica meandered back inside and sat on the bed. “It may have been unwise to leave Oilean Gairdin without appearing before the Dyrney as you agreed, dear,“ she said. “And you probably don’t want General Coel knowing what you make of his army, either.”
Spitemorta cast her a slit-eyed stare. “Poop!” she said, taking a chair by the bed that faced away from her. “The stupid trolls won’t even notice once they’ve had an Elf roast or two. And you know as well as I do that the Gwaels have been nothing but inferior. Let’s see how they like having my brute son and his trolls wipe out both the Elves and the Beaks when they’ve utterly failed to do so after all this time. I think I’ll quite enjoy rubbing Veyfnaryr’s victories in the good general’s arrogant face.”
“If you say so.”
“I certainly do say so. Coel needs to be put in his place. A bit of humiliation is just the thing for him.”
“That does sound like fun,” said Demonica with a deep and speculative nod. “But are you quite sure that you want to risk the father of your child losing face in front of all who might enjoy his lesson?”
“What utter nonsense are you going on about?” cried Spitemorta, springing to her feet at once to begin pacing. “You know very well that Coel’s not related in any way at all to my children.”
“Well certainly not to any of your grown children…”
“Nor to any future children, believe me…”
“Too late,” said Demonica. And with that she vanished.
“Damn you!” shrieked Spitemorta, grabbing up and flinging a vase of hyacinths, soaking the corner of the bed where Demonica had been sitting.
A peal of Demonica’s laughter rose and died away in the air across the room.
Spitemorta grabbed a footstool and hove it after the sound, only to have it fly as wide as the bottle had, knocking her new marble bust of herself off its pedestal and breaking off its head. With a rasping sob, she fell to her knees and covered her face. A mourning dove called from somewhere just beyond her balcony as she rocked and shuddered.
Running footsteps tramped to a halt outside her door and threw it open. “Your Omnipotence!” cried her page when he saw her on the floor. “Are you in peril?”
“Why not at all, Pissant,” she said with all the smiling radiance of a lady getting to her feet in a sunny garden of daffodils. “Go to the kitchen, if you would, and tell old hefty
Bethan that I want hot cinnamon rolls with today’s churned butter and a nice hot pot o’ tea. And when you’re done with that, go find General Coel and send him here immediately. Then, return to the kitchen and see that my tea gets to me hot.
“And now…” she said soothingly as she unfastened the Heart from the Staff and gently passed it over his lips, erasing his mouth from his face. “This is for daring to walk in on the very empress of all the known world. You’ll have to think about it as you run your errand.” She turned him to face the mirror with his eyes of horror. “Now. If General Coel comes at once and the tea arrives hot, you may earn back the mouth you need to eat your next meal. Understood? Now go.”
Ch. 10, Doom, book six of Heart of the Staff: The Complete Series
Carol Marrrs Phipps & Tom Phipps