Hilda breathed slowly until the stitch in her side settled down. She pushed against the bricks of the building to stand upright. The brick bit into the the palm of her hand and left a temporary imprint. She stretched her back and ignored the aching muscles in her back and legs. Rooso flashed a grin and then walked down the alley way, expecting her to follow him.
That little bit of fun cost her. She groan, laughed, and then followed him more slowly. She envied his smooth gait. As she kept moving the aches smoothed out and she was able to move better. The garbage strewn across the alleyway gave off a stench that she could almost taste.
She put her hand on her nose and walked faster after Rooso. It wasn’t that much farther when Rooso opened a back door into a boarding house. He put his finger to his lips that told her to be very quiet.
They took careful steps to make sure the stairs wouldn’t creak. They carefully settled their weight on the boards and finally made it to the top of the stairs without making noise. The hallway had three doors on each side. They walked as quietly to the last door. Rooso checked to see if anyone was looking, but it was only the two of them in the hallway. She could tell by his actions that he was used to hiding. An alarm bell went off in her head.
Rooso opened the door. There wasn’t even a squeak in the hinges. He motioned her into the room. It was no different than any other room in the lower levels of the city. She had seen one just like it in Delhaven. There was a bed, a small table, a chair, and a chamber pot in the corner. On the table was a bowl for washing and a pitcher filled with water.
Hilda skirted the bed and sat down on the chair. Rooso leaned against the door and looked at her. She must have given away her suspicions because Rooso sighed. She was at a disadvantage by sitting so she decided to make the first verbal attack.
“What are you doing here instead of by my sister’s side in Delhaven?”
His face went from smiles to no expression at all. Hilda looked at the change in his face and didn’t say a word. He finally spoke, “She threw me out.”
Hilda lifted an eyebrow, waiting for him to finish his explanation. He closed his mouth.
“So what did you do?” She asked him. Rooso had always been a devil-may-care creature and general troublemaker when he was drinking at her inn. He was good for a laugh and really good for a bar fight. But when she had seen the two of them together, she had had that feeling that they were bonded for life. He was the jester to Mistress Mary Rose’s serious approach to life.
His faced switched to the smiling rogue that Hilda knew well. “She just got tired of me.”
Hilda’s suspicions didn’t just knock, they roared into her mind. “What the hell did you do?”
Then Hilda looked, really looked at him and the colors swirling around him. There was a black net that covered him. The red sparks leaped through the net. He couldn’t tell her what he was doing … she would have to guess. The black net kept him from speaking the the truth so he would have to talk around it.
“I came back to talk to you, Hilda,” he said patiently. Of course he did. She was probably the only one who could help him. “Or Michael,” he continued.
Why did he have a black net restraining him? He may have been punished for his illegal activities. This man did have a high degree in deviltry and thieving. He loved to gamble, drink, and carouse. Maybe he went awry with a mage and the mage placed that net around his aura.
She looked closer. Instead of a net, it looked like his aura had punched holes in a black shield.
She shifted a little to ease her back muscles. They tended to stiffen if she sat too long. For a moment she thought longingly of that horse liniment Davi had kept in his pack. She’d have to ask him for the ingredients.
Her attention came back to Rooso, when he said with frustration, “Are you listening to me?”
“Have you been to prison?” She asked. She watched carefully for a flinch or something that would corroborate her suspicions. He smiled at her quickly—showing his teeth. That had hit, but not the way she thought. A prison that is not a prison. And then she knew.
“You’re a spy.” She looked down at her fingers and flicked them. “For who?”
When he opened his mouth, he froze and couldn’t move or speak. Only his eyes moved and expressed his fear. The black net still had power over him. She touched it with her hand. It felt black and slimy. So it was not helpful magic.
Sassy climbed on her shoulder and looked at it. “It’s black magic.” Sassy said, and then she hid under Hilda’s hair.
Hilda touched a bit of the black net over his mouth and ripped it away with her fingers. She could see it was the blackness was in and out of this world. It was holding Rooso in such a way that he would not be able to speak or move until the mage who cast the spell released him or she did.
“I’d leave you here and get Michael.” When she said that, Rooso tried to shout. “But then I am sure someone would pick you up like a parcel. You probably wouldn’t survive.”
Hilda picked at the net. She carefully settled little sparks of fire on the net until it finally found the weak points and it broke open. Where the points of fire had eaten through the net, Rooso had little burns on his face and arms.
When he could speak, he said, “We need to get out of here. Someone is coming.”
But then it was too late. Hilda could hear the footsteps of the guards as they climbed the stairs. There was only one way out. She looked out the only window They could drop down, but she would end up with a broken leg. She pulled out a knife, said a battle prayer, and prepared to die.