"Good place for a trap. So others cannot get to the ... peninsula."
"Anyone who wants to come to the house will have to walk on either this path or one other."
Ignoring her "uestions, he began shoveling. "So tell me about Carrow - "
"You really can't swim? What's your job? You look like a fireman." Her eyes lit up. "Firemen have deaf dogs." She sighed. "I want a dog."
She must have caught her breath. Malkom tried to keep up with her words, growing more alarmed by her each second. "Ruby," he said, injecting a note of sternness into his tone. "I want you to answer some "uestions about Carrow. Does she have a man?"
"Like a boyfriend? Crow's got tons of boyfriends. They're always coming around the coven."
He clenched the shovel handle, just preventing himself from rendering it to dust. I will put their heads on pikes.
"Crow's one of the most beautiful witches we've got in our coven." Getting a sly look about her, Ruby said, "You think she's pretty, too."
"She is" - beyond compare - "appealing enough," he said. "Do others think well of her?" Or was she as hated as he'd been?
"Everybody loves her because she's fun. Everybody wants to be friends with her."
Malkom knew how much fun she was. He'd seen her disrobing for hundreds of males, was certain any one of them would want to befriend her.
He stabbed the shovel down. "How long have you known her?"
"I've known Crow forever. She's always bringing me things," she said. "But she's rutterless."
"What does that mean?" he asked, astonished when water began to trickle up from the bottom of his hole. 'Twas everywhere here. Malkom was beginning to love this place of plenty.
When he was young he'd wanted three things. A home that no one could ever force him to leave. As much food and water as he could ever enjoy. To be noble and respected like Kallen.
Here he could satisfy at least two of those desires.
"It means she didn't have anything," the girl said, then added proudly, "Not until me."
Malkom began to put it together. Carrow's own parents had treated her so callously that the idea of mothering a child in need called to her. Could he hate her for this?
For that matter, could Malkom turn his back on this girl? She was seven years old. Roughly my age when I no longer had a mother, my age when fate began punishing me.
"What happens when you return home?" he asked her. "Who will provide for you?" When her brows drew together at the "uestion, he said, "How will you buy things?"
"Carrow makes a fortune off her spells."
A fortune. He'd known she'd come from money, but he hadn't wanted to acknowledge that she had wealth in her world - whereas he would not.
"We're going to get a pad."
In a singsong tone, she answered, "A house. Like a lily pad. We're going to have parties. It has a pool. She said we can invite you over."
Invite him over. The witch didn't plan to reside with him? On this island, she would be forced to. Here, he could provide for her. He had no guarantee of it in her world.
The girl had collected some insect on her hand, letting it roam as she tilted her hand this way and that. Weren't little females supposed to be scared of such creatures? He thought back, searching his memory, but he could recall only the young demonesses who'd laughed as he'd eaten from their garbage. He remembered being stung with humiliation.
He shoveled harder, wanting to lose himself in his task.
"You really come from a world with no water?" she asked. "Do you miss it?"
Without looking up, he said, "There was little water. And no, I do not miss it."
"I bet you miss your friends. I miss mine."
Digging faster. "I had no friends."
"What? You have to have friends. You don't have a gang? I have a gang of witches. We meet in the attic. Elianna - she's my nanny - she says we're going to take over the world." Ruby took a breath, then said, "Did you have a family?"
"None. I left no one behind." His pit was as deep as his chest, water now past his ankles.
Exasperated, he ceased digging. "No, Ruby, my mother was killed, and - "
"So was mine," the girl interrupted in a shocked tone. "The humans did it." She gazed away, her bottom lip trembling.
Malkom's eyes went wide; he dreaded her tears more than he would a kick to the teeth.
When Ruby stemmed her tears, wiping her nose on her sleeve, he felt abject relief - and a grudging respect for the girl.
"Did the humans kill your mom, too?"
He exhaled. "No, child, it happened long ago."
His respect for Ruby grew when she murmured, "I'm going to hurt the people who did it."
"I believe you will one day," he said honestly. And who would make sure she was prepared to exact her revenge, skilled and strong enough to punish without being harmed herself? "But you cannot go after them, unless you're ready and know you will win."
She canted her head. "How will I know?"
I could make sure. I could help you get vengeance. "I am sure your coven will teach you. Or Carrow will."
"You know, you're just like me. We both lost our moms and now we both have Crow."
Wanting to change this subject, he asked, "What are your powers?"
"I'm like Crow, in the same three castes as her." When he motioned for her to go on, she said, "Warrior, enchantress, and conjurer. But I can't do anything with this collar on." She glared down at it.
He'd already known Carrow was an enchantress, just hadn't known that was a literal power. He wished he could believe that she'd enthralled him to desire her, but what he felt for her was too consuming to be a mere spell. "Carrow's magic seems to come and go." Last night, she'd told him that her collar had been turned off in Oblivion. So why had her magic been so unpredictable?
"I guess." Ruby shrugged. "If she doesn't have a source."
"A source? Of power?"
"I'm not supposed to tell anyone."
Eking out an awkward smile, he faced her. "But 'tis only me, child."
With a suspicious expression, she said, "Why'd you tell me you were married to Crow?"
His shoulders stiffened, feigned smile gone. "I am."
"I asked her if you were."
In as unconcerned a tone as he could manage, he asked, "And what did she say?"