Story Excerpt Sunday: From Deeds of Men by Marie Brennan

Deeds of MenDeeds of Men

an Onyx Court novella

by Marie Brennan

   Deven was left in a deserted gallery, jaw clenched in frustration. Not the slightest shred of luck, and now he did not know what path to pursue. Henry had other friends, but none half so close as Penshaw. Who else knew him well?

“You are Sir Michael Deven.”

The words brought him up like a curb bit. The voice was so very like…Deven jerked around, half-expecting to see Henry’s ghost staring at him down this Whitehall gallery, translucent in the courtyard sunlight, asking why Deven had let him die.

It was not Henry. The jaw was too square, the nose too straight; the fingers on the hands were blunt and strong. But the voice, the hair, the eyes—they spoke a family resemblance too obvious to be missed. And on a boy young enough to deserve the name, they told Deven whom he faced.

“You must be Antony Ware,” he said, swallowing down his heart.

Henry’s younger brother stood stiff-legged, as if holding in some great emotion. Grief? Yes, but over it lay something else.

Through his teeth, Antony Ware said, “You killed my brother, sirrah.”

The words struck like a knife to the heart: not the truth, but close enough to hurt. Deven tried to remember how old Antony was. Sixteen? No, seventeen. More than old enough to take worthy offence if Deven slipped up and called him boy. “Not I,” he said, as gently as he could. “Some cutpurse—”

Three swift strides devoured the space between them, putting the young man less than a pace away. Deven almost reached for his sword, but checked the motion in time. Ware was armed, too, and angry enough to answer him in kind. “You did not wield the knife,” the young man said, his furious voice leashed so the words did not carry beyond the two of them. “But Henry’s dead because you lured him into your foul and unnatural world.”

All the blood in Deven’s body congealed, ice-cold, in his feet. “H—how did you—”

“Learn of it? He told me, and begged my forgiveness before God for his sin.” Contempt and disgust warred in Ware’s expression. “I should have chained him to the wall before I let him return to you.”

Foul and unnatural.  Deven wanted to protest the description. Though the Onyx Court harboured creatures who merited it, the court as a whole was not so. Had Henry truly deemed it a sin? Or was that merely the judgment of Antony—the younger son, the practical one, who did not seek wonder as Henry had? Whatever conclusions the young man might have drawn while his brother still lived, they had undoubtedly been poisoned still further by his death.

For which he placed the blame rightly enough.

Deven chained his guilt and forced himself to meet Ware’s eyes. “I never intended it to be so,” he said. “And had I realised the danger…” That other factions among the courtiers opposed Henry’s advancement, he knew, but not that they would go to such lengths to stop him. “All I can do now is find the one responsible for his death, and make that murderer pay.”

Ware scowled. He no longer looked like a boy; his anger befitted a man. As did his ability to control it: most young gentlemen would have called Deven out by now. But no, a duel would make their conflict too public. And it seemed Ware, thanks be to both God and the powers of Faerie, was willing to keep the secrets of the Onyx Court.

For now.

“Do you expect,” Ware spat, “that finding the murderer will absolve you of your guilt?”

“No. But I will do it—I must—and will not rest until I do. After that…” Deven’s shoulders sagged. He could not offer this young man full satisfaction; he was Prince of the Stone, and staying alive was among his obligations. A duel would be too risky. “I will absent myself from here forevermore, and go into exile.” Into the world below. He had already seen one king come and go; he lacked the will to face another. Someone else could find his successor.

The tension did not leave Ware’s body, but it abated. “How will you catch him?”

I have no idea. But it wasn’t true, and that slender thread of inspiration—and an even more slender thread of hope—made Deven say, “With your aid, if you will give it.”

He did not expect any cooperation between them to erase Ware’s hatred. It might not do any good at all. But if Deven could make even the smallest conciliation on behalf of the fae—if he could heal that wound to a scar, and lessen the chance that Ware would finish his vengeance by betraying them to the world—then he had to try.

Ware’s jaw tightened, then released. For the first time, he looked uncertain. “I do not know what I could do.”

“Follow me,” Deven said.

***********

Marie Brennan is an anthropologist and folklorist who pillages her academic fields for material. She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent. She is also the author of the doppelanger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories.

When she’s not obsessing over historical details too minute for anybody but her to care about, she practices shorin-ryu karate and pretends to be other people in role-playing games (which sometimes find their way into her writing).

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