The Wolf King

The Wolf King by Alice Borchardt

Book: The Wolf King by Alice Borchardt Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alice Borchardt
along the paths and borders. A rose was blooming nearby, mixing its fragrance with white thyme and sage bearing soft blue flowers. Something—jasmine, perhaps— brushed her from time to time with its ravishing scent.
    A wormwood with silvery foliage and downy yellow flowers glowed pale in the first moonlight. Lucilla returned and sat down beside Dulcinia.
    “Thank you for bringing her here. This really is an important piece of information. I’m sorry I was so impatient with Silvie, but I find her histrionics maddening.”
    “Yes, but you are irritable today. I think if I had the same experience Silvie had, I’d be hysterical, too.”
    “Nonsense,” Lucilla said. “Never in all your life, not even as a child, did you behave as badly as Silvie at her best. When Regeane asked me to supervise that one’s ‘business venture,’ I was wild. But of course I didn’t show that to Regeane. I agreed. Regeane had done too much for me, for Hadrian, for everyone, for me to deny her that rather modest request. When I think of what that girl went through at the hands of her repulsive relatives, of the Lombard party, of all the squabbling factions here in Rome, it chills my blood. Tied to a stake, watching her champion fight for her life. Do you know they actually—”
    “Lit the fire,” Dulcinia finished. “Yes, I was there. So was everyone else in Rome above the age of two and below ninety. And now one of those selfsame relatives is back. Ready to cause the child more trouble.”
    “Not if I get my hands on him,” Lucilla said. “I alerted Hadrian, the papal guard, and sent my own people out to scour the city, but I don’t think we’ll find Hugo. Even that nasty little son of a bitch isn’t that stupid.
    “Moreover, someone is with Silvie, and they will watch her shop day and night. I detest Silvie sometimes, certainly. I haven’t forgiven her for speaking out against Regeane, when the girl was only trying to save Silvie’s louse-ridden hide. Regeane forgave her and then even managed to put Silvie under my protection. And anyone under my protection is to be kept safe at all costs. My reputation demands it. What I’m doing now is trying to think of some way to discredit Hugo to Desiderius.
    “Because depend on it, my love, it is to the Lombard duke that Hugo is going. No one wants to harbor the little rat any more than they want a large collection of leeches, bedbugs, or any other sort of vermin.”
    “You’re sure?” Dulcinia asked.
    “Certain. Hugo is probably destitute. They fooled us royally when they forsook Regeane and transferred their loyalties to the Lombard party here in Rome.
    “Maeniel is a good-natured man and would probably have paid them to stay away, but when they tried to get Regeane judicially murdered, it was too much for even his stomach. Regeane had tried to get me to refrain from having their throats cut, and if they had remained in the background, I might have acceded to her wishes.
    “But those bastards thought they could make a big score and get even with Regeane for crossing them. They failed. Gundabald is dead.”
    “You’re sure?”
    “Yes,” Lucilla said. “I’m sure. But none of us—not me, Hadrian, or Maeniel—could ever find hide nor hair of Hugo, and believe me, love, we all have different but highly efficient methods of searching. My guess is Gundabald told Hugo he was going to tell Maeniel what sort of wife he’d married. Maeniel knew already and the information was, shall we say, redundant.”
    “This troubles me,” said Dulcinia. “I met Regeane. I liked her. But you and Silvie sometimes speak of her as if she weren’t quite human.”
    “Yes, yes…” Lucilla answered. “But sometimes ignorance is a great deal safer than certain types of knowledge. So please don’t trouble yourself about it, my love.
    “In any case, when Gundabald didn’t return, Hugo’s guts promptly turned to water. After he got off the pot, he probably ran as fast as he could. Between

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