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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 16. Candor

Just moments before visiting the dungeons, Loras had stopped by to see Greta’s parents, Peter and Constance Florence. She had meant to visit them sooner but had kept finding excuses not to...now she felt seeing them could not be avoided. She told herself her reason for seeing them was a formality but in the back of her mind she knew it was more than that. And it was more than just showing them that the Inquisition cared, when in truth very few people in the Inquisition truly did - possessed children was nothing new in the hellscape. But the truth was Loras did care. She knew what it was like to have the life of your child threatened - and she knew what it was like to have that life extinguished. She did not want that for the Florence’s. If there was anything she could do to help, even if it was just to try and cushion the blow, she would do it.

They lived in a tenement in the Culkin District, a district that was a step above the Dirrefit District, though one would not be able to tell to look at it. With the number of refugees coming into the city everyday in need of shelter and protection, it was impossible to tell who belonged to what class and what their story was. For now everyone’s story was the same, or at least everyone was on the same page.

Unlike the rest of the city at this time of the day, a strange hush existed within the building. Loras had been told the Florences’ apartment was on the third floor; her feet had begun to ache from climbing up three flights of stairs. At last she reached the Florences’ door and knocked lightly. Part of her hoped no one was home to answer the door. She wasn’t fully prepared to see another family that had been wrecked by these hard times.

Behind the door she heard the heavy sounds of boots on the wooden floor before the door opened. A tall man, broad-shouldered man stood in the shadow of the doorway, regarding her with dark-rimmed, bloodshot eyes. She could tell from the redness in his cheeks that he had been crying, no doubt tears shed for his daughter Greta. The top of his head was mostly bald but for the bright red hair on the sides and what hair there was was sprinkled with grey. He said nothing, only regarding her with silent expectation, waiting for her to speak.

“Are you Peter Florence?” she asked.

“I am,” he said in a curt, gruff voice. “Who’s asking?”

She did not blink at the tone of his voice. Loras was not a woman who’s feathers were easily ruffled. “My name is Loras Gyrell. I’m head of the Practitioner’s Guild.”

Peter Florence’s face immediately transformed into an expression that was equal parts bafflement, reproach, and apology. He nodded his head down. “Forgive me, ma’am, I did not meant to be rude. I’m afraid our family has fallen on hard times.”

Loras smiled in hopes of communicating she was not offended. “Yes, I am aware of the misfortune that has befallen your family; unfortunately misfortune has been in abundance.” For almost the last ten years, she did not add. For some even longer. “I wanted to come by and offer you my condolences and see if you have been updated on Greta’s condition.”

“We have not received word since Pope Drajen had her transported to the Eurchurch for...for treatment. We have asked on more than one occasion for word and have received minimal information. Forgive me, I know Pope Drajen is a busy man, who has many things to attend to.” Mr. Florence looked at Loras as if she might strike him.

She smiled but felt something bristle inside her at the mention of Pope Drajen; it took all the self control she possessed to keep from rolling her eyes. “I can only imagine the gravity of your frustration, especially when it comes to wanting to know the condition of your daughter. Which is why I came by to give you an update, if you have a few minutes. I promise to make it quick.”

For a moment a look of fear crossed Florence’s face. He looked over his shoulder at a woman who knelt on the floor just within view, a bucket of soapy water at her side. She was scrubbing at the floor furiously, her face expressionless, absorbed in the task. She had been there since Florence had answered the door and showed no signs of being aware she had visitors. Now Florence called her name, his voice cracking. She looked up, a slight woman with blonde hair. Looking at her high cheekbones Loras could see Greta greatly resembled Mrs. Florence, more so than her father. Her hair was tied up in a bun. She wore a dark grey dress, the sleeves rolled up to her forearms.

“We have company, Constance,” said Peter. “The head of the Practitioner’s Guild is here. Would you mind making some tea, love?”

“Practitioner’s Guild?” Constance stood up, eyes narrowed in Loras’s direction. “What is a practitioner doing at our doorstep?”

“Just bringing news of Greta. Please, make some tea will you?”

Constance glared mistrustfully at Loras for another moment before nodding reluctantly. She set the sponge back in the bucket before rising to her feet and disappearing into the kitchen. Peter stepped back to let Loras in, gesturing for her to sit in the armchair. He perched himself on an uncomfortable threadbare carpet; there was no other furniture in the living room, no decorations. The walls were as blank and white as a piece of parchment.

“You do not have to serve me tea,” Loras said, craning her head to look at Constance then at Peter.

“How about a bit of brandy, then?” asked Mr. Florence. “I know I could use a bit myself.”

Loras considered the offer of brandy for a moment. A touch of brandy to calm her own tightened nerves sounded appealing to her. “I’ll have some brandy - but not too much.”

After a minute of awkward silence, Constance came back into the living room with three glasses of brandy on a tray. She lowered it onto a rickety coffee table, handed one to Loras with another unmistakably scathing look, before sitting down on the couch next to her husband.

Loras took a sip of the brandy, wincing slightly at the burning taste as she swallowed. Constance and Peter did the same, preparing themselves for bad news. “I want to assure you the Inquisition is doing everything we can to help your daughter,” Loras said in her most confident voice.

“Is she alive?” Constance asked suddenly.

“Excuse me?” For some reason the question, perhaps the directness with which it was asked, caught Loras off guard.

“Ir’s been two weeks!” Constance’s voice shook with barely repressed anger. “We have not heard from anyone. My husband and I have cried for multiple days on end, not knowing if she is dead or alive! She might as well as be dead knowing what the demon has probably done to her body.” She began to weep then, great aching sobs. Her husband held her and shushed her. Loras looked away, feeling like a voyeur. It was several minutes before Constance stopped, willing herself to sit up. When she looked at Loras once more her expression was drawn and composed.

“She is not dead,” Loras said after a moment. “A cadre of healers are working around the clock, doing everything they can to help her. Unfortunately the demon possessing her is particularly powerful: Not a Casteless but a demon of the Second Caste.”

Peter’s head jerked to the side as if someone had slapped him; Constance remained composed but Loras caught the clenching of her fists.

“We have yet to discover the identity of the demon. It continues to maintain a powerful hold on her. However, again, I want to assure you we will continue to do everything we can. We will not stop until the demon has been defeated.”

Peter nodded, trying to smile; the gesture looked more like a grimce. “Thank...thank you for the update. We will continue to pray to Mercius that he will restore our daughter.”

“What’s the point in praying?” Constance demanded, earning a scolding look from her husband. “All it does is waste time and energy we don’t have. Face it, Peter, our daughter is dead!”

“Constance...”

Greta’s mother paid her husband no heed. She seemed to have eyes only for Loras, eyes full of anger, grief, and accusation. “We traveled for weeks on the Dimoniable Highway to come here for protection, all the way from the Jalacial Flatlands. We traveled through constand mud and rain, not knowing what dangers we might face from one day to the next. But we did it believing that with our face, Mercius would protect us. He would see us through to our destination safely. Then Greta fell ill when we were but three days from the city. At first we thought it was just a fever, or maybe that was what we just wanted to believe. She had all the symptoms of a fever. She had night terrors in the middle of the night, fever sweats, would vomit up everything we tried to feed her. Then she started acting differently...saying things that our beautiful Greta would never say. That was when we found the biter of the demon.”

Constance drained the rest of her brandy before slamming the glass angrily down on the tray with an angry thud. Her face had grown flushed with color; whether it was from the brandy or from emotional distress, Loras could not tell. Constance continued her tirade. “When we arrived Pope Drajen appeared personally, giving us this apartment and reassuring us he would do everything in his power to help out daughter - the way you are now. And yet we have not heard from him. Not a single word. And why should you, Loras Gyrell, give a shit about our daughter? How are you any better than the demon who stole our daughter from us? How many husbands, wives, sons, and daughters have you stolen in the past?”

Constance’s words snagged at Loras’ heart with metal hooks. They awoke an old, familiar anger that licked at her insides. The touch of it was dangerous, euphoric, and scary. It had a tendency to catch her unaware when she least expected it. I could punish this woman for her insolence and all it would take is a wave of my hand, she thought. But in the back of her mind she knew this poor woman was just acting out her grief. Their family had been through so much: They’d left their home behind, everything they had ever known, and their daughter was fighting for her very soul. Constance had every right to be angry.

“Constance, watch your tongue,” Peter Florence said in a deep, low warning tone.

Loras smiled, her teeth flashing. “That’s quite alright. I’ve always respected candor. You are absolutely right, Constance, to question my motives. Especially given my reputation. I’ll tell you why I care so much: Before I ever got into war and politics I was a mother, just the way you were before you had to flee from your town. In those days I cared nothing about war...until the war took the lives of my husband and daughter. So I know what it means to fear for the life of your child, to want to fight for them only to be powerless. I don’t want any parent to have to go what I went through…to feel the anger and loss I felt and still feel until this very day. So, that is why I care about what happens to your daughter so much.”

She knew she had to get out of there then or else she thought she might explode; it was ture what she had said about respecting candor but Constance had struck a nerve. She drained the rest of her brandy in a single gulp, said she would let them know when there was further news of their daughter, and wished the Florence’s farewell.

 

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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