Subtitled: In Which Hunter is A Gentlemanly Jerkward
Kinda. Or he’s really sweet, depending on how you think of his actions.
A quick note about my thoughts on this section. I love the raw emotion, the panic, and the confusion brought up in this segment—much of our heroine’s cool head is lost when the full realization hits that someone is dependent upon her, and she fears letting down that someone in the worst way possible. I do not like so much the beginning, because it does not transition as smoothly as I would like, but having anything before the start point would feel just as awkward, if not out of place altogether. I love even more how much of Hunter’s character this reveals, considering that he and the heroine are relative strangers at this point.
Without further ado, here is The King’s Mutt Part VI.
I woke to unnatural stillness and the moon’s waning rays dancing on the parted curtains surrounding the old queen’s bed—my new bed, now. Belle laid over my feet, her chest scarcely rising, her body tense with anticipation, ears twitching backwards. The air had the crisp, cold taste of an open window after a drizzling rain, and the musky scent of a stranger who had spent too long next to campfires in the woods. The hound casually bit my toe, and I realized that was how she had woken me up in the first place. I met her gaze, my heart thumping in my chest.
Muddled from a day’s worth of arguing with cooks, and tripping over a dog glued to my leg, my mind and body were not prepared to tangle with an assassin. I laid still, hoping that I had forgotten a window cracked open or that I was in a nightmare, or that Belle was playing with me. I could hope also that Hunter was trying to keep me on my toes, but that was far-fetched and desperate, and I knew it. My gut churned, and I knew none of those thoughts were real, that this was really happening, right here and right now there was a deadly man in our room with deadly intentions.
Taking one long, slow breath, I rolled to snare my knife stolen from the kitchen, and Belle launched into the knees of a man who seemed to have come from no where. He landed hard where I had just been laying, my hound twisting and biting deep into his calf. He sprawled, forgetting me for an instant in favor of kicking at Belle, and I struck. My knife came back with a bloody blade. I hadn’t had to stab a person before, and the weight of what I’d done wasn’t sinking in.
Then the world went in double-time, and I caught flashes of events. The moonlight hitting his knife as it arced for my chest, my arms flinging up. Pressure on my forearm. My other arm coming down again into his shoulder. The pillow that kept getting hit back and forth into our faces. Belle snarling, growling, louder than I had ever heard before, and the man swiping at her paws, kicking at her teeth. My knife landed again in his chest, and I felt bones crack, the blade wedge and stick.
Belle’s chest met his foot as she leaped for his face, and she yipped, crashing to the floor. She didn’t get up. The man’s black eyes met mine, and I palmed the knife handle jutting from his chest, wrenching it in a rocking motion, snapping ribs and making him yell and withdraw in agony.
I dove for an unmoving Belle.
I don’t remember picking her up and shoving the door open, but I must have done it. I don’t remember rounding the corner or racing down steps, but I must have. I next remember my bare feet patting on the ground, a limp dog thrown over one shoulder, her tail swishing from side to side with every step. I remember slamming open the door to the sick wing with my shoulder, the angry then shocked gape of the nun working by lamplight.
I had words for her, perfectly understandable, calm words to explain this madness efficiently. I was about to start, but then I saw the blood.
I was covered in it. If was down my sleep tunic, coated my arms, soaked her fur.
She wasn’t moving, not even when I laid her on the cot intended for me. I touched her head, saw a missing canine and shut eyes.
I was holding myself together, if only barely.
“My lord! The poor thing!” whispered the nun. During the day, I wouldn’t have heart it, but in the stillness of the night, her words rang louder than all the commotion we had just made.
I stared at the wounds coating her hide like chicken scratched in the dirt, and wondered how she could have continued to guard me after all that abuse. I wished it had been me. I was bigger. I could have taken it.
My lord. The poor thing.
My collected speech evaporated from my mind, but I tried anyway.
What came out was a wail followed closely by hysteric sobbing.
As I woke up the entire wing, a tiny voice in my head reprimanded me for becoming the very sort of weak, fragile woman that I used to comfort while rolling my eyes in annoyance. I blushed fiercely, wished that those staring eyes would stare in another direction. I reasoned with myself to lessen the embarrassment. This wasn’t a broken fingernail. This was a dead hound, a dead friend, my last friend. The more people stared, the worse I became.
Hunter found me clutching Belle to my chest and screaming nonsense at the nuns; he put one hand on her throat and one hand between my shoulder blades and whispered in my ear,
“Let her go.”
Sniffing, I put her back down and instead clung silently to Hunter, burying my head into his shoulder so I could mourn in privacy. I was starting to come out of my shock now, and was regaining my senses.
“Assassin, the queen—my quarter’s.”
“I was just there. He’s gone.”
I wasn’t sure if Hunter meant the man was dead or gone out the window, but I worked hard to keep my voice in check as I said, “So is Belle.”
Arms crushed the air out of me for a few seconds as Hunter squeezed me into a hug. “Is that what you think? She’s fine. Surface wounds aplenty, but she doesn’t have a knife in her arm.”
Reminding me of it only made my forearm throb. I wondered if it was poisoned. My head still spun with the other half of what he’d said, the half about Belle. “What?”
“The nurses are caring for her. We should remove that knife before you start swelling—and feeling pain…Here, we should clean up your tears with this rag,” he said, shoving it in my face. I was about to object he was being forceful, pressing it into my nose too hard, but he said, “And inhale deeply.”
Anger and panic roared through my veins. I struggled and gasped. The rag burned my sinuses. The world grew fuzzy and fell away. Hunter lowered me onto a cot, catching the hand I flailed at his face. My last sight was of him tucking the rag back into his pocket and reaching to shut my eyelids.