The Story So Far:
Christabel, a serving girl working at the Orb & Claw tavern in the riverside town of Bannon’s Landing, goes with a young man named Trevin to a traveling show that has recently come to town. She meets his friends Joya (the daughter of a wealthy merchant), Giles (Joya’s fiancee), Linc (son of the captain of the town guard) and Kharsti (Linc’s half-sister).
The traveling troupe is led by a man named Rushike, and the show’s magical illuminations are provided by Arwenna Prysm, a young illusionist. The acts are performed outside of a great tent, and at the conclusion of the show some of the audience members (including Christabel and the others) pay to see the troupe’s secret main attraction, carefully guarded inside.
An iron cage dominates the interior of the tent, and soon the great secret is revealed to be a huge man-like beast called the Kushago. First, a warrior named Darion fights the beast, which is kept under control by a pain-inflicting collar. Next, the Kushago is attacked by four magically-generated wolves. The crowd is caught up in the violent spectacle, but Christabel is horrified and flees the tent. Trevin comes out to comfort her, and when the others arrive they all decide to head a nearby tavern for a drink.
The sky was beginning to darken as the group strolled back into town. Christabel walked arm-in-arm with Trevin, but barely registered his presence; she shuddered as she recalled the beast’s roars of pain, and huddled against the young man. Trevin looked over at her and caressed her hand. Christabel glanced away, embarrassed that he had noticed how upset she was.
The group stopped suddenly. Looking up, Christabel saw that they had arrived at a tavern called the White Rat. The sign hanging above the door depicted the namesake rodent floating merrily on the froth of an overflowing tankard.
“Oh please, not this dung pile!” Joya said with a pout. Linc turned and sneered at the small blond girl. “Did you think we were going to the White *Rose*?” He chuckled derisively.
“Giles, say something!” Joya said with a little stamp of her foot. Her fiancee gave a weak shrug. “It’s only for one drink, sweetest.”
“No!” Joya said firmly, her voice rising to a squeak. She fixed Giles with a dire stare; after a moment, the young man looked around imploringly at the others. Trevin gave a slight chuckle and suggested that they all go to his parents’ house instead. Everyone, including Joya, agreed.
The group hired a carriage. As they rode along, the men continued discussing the show, while Kharsti and Joya exchanged gossip about mutual friends. Christabel wondered what the two girls thought of the beast’s treatment; she had not noticed their reactions during the show, and none of the men had asked their opinions. She hoped they might be willing to help her do something about the Kushago’s situation. But precisely what — if anything! — they could do was beyond her, at least for the moment.
A little while later they disembarked in front of a small manor house located at the edge of the town’s business district. A servant met them at the door and ushered them into the great room. Since it was now dark outside, illumination was provided by candles and oil lamps set on waist-high wooden stands. Christabel looked longingly at the finely-carved wooden furniture, the lush draperies, and the silver-framed portraits that decorated the room. Trevin’s family was clearly well-off, if not actually wealthy. And if Joya’s family was even more prosperous than Trevin’s … Christabel felt a twinge of envy that called to mind a familiar daydream in which she was the wife of a rich nobleman, and lived in a lavishly furnished keep overlooking the ocean.
Her reverie was interrupted a few moments later as a fair-haired woman in a wide-sleeved white dress entered the room, followed by a short, bearded man wearing brown trousers and a muslin work shirt. Trevin took Christabel’s hand and introduced her to his parents, Alysia and Terek Dulaine.
“Ah … so this is the fair young Christabel,” Alysia said with a broad, dreamy smile. “So pleased to meet you, dear girl. My son, as you might expect, has often spoken of your sweetness and charm.” At this, Trevin gave an exaggerated cough and looked pointedly at his mother, who suppressed a laugh but said nothing more.
Trevin’s father seemed distracted as he greeted Christabel. Almost before she had straightened up from her bow, he turned to Trevin and exclaimed, “Come in to the workshop! I believe I’ve got the flavor we’ve been looking for.” He made to usher his son out of the room, but Alysia exclaimed, “Terek! We do have guests, surely you realize.”
“Oh yes, of course,” Trevin’s father replied, nodding vigorously. “We’ll bring samples for everyone.” He strode out of the room; Trevin motioned to Giles and Linc, and the three of them quickly followed.
Alysia told the girls to be seated, and ordered the servant standing by the doorway to fetch them something to eat from the kitchen. Christabel tentatively sat down at one end of a plush divan that faced the fireplace; Kharsti sprawled out at the other end, and Joya sat primly between them. Alysia reclined in a padded chair set at an angle to the divan and said to Christabel, “My husband is brewing a new ale that he says will be the most popular in all of Baranur! As if his wine trade wasn’t enough.” She leaned forward. “Ah, but I’m sure you’d know nearly as much about wines and ales … what is the name of the tavern you work at? Trevin mentioned it several times. The Dragon’s Jaw?”
Joya giggled. “The Orb and Claw, Mrs. Dulaine!” The small blond girl surreptitiously made a sipping gesture to Christabel.
“Ah yes, thank you Joya,” said Alysia, casting her a look of faint amusement. “So, how have you been? And you, Kharsti? I haven’t seen you girls in quite a while.”
The tall girl snorted. “Not since Melrin’s End, which was — what, last week?” In response, Trevin’s mother gave a brittle laugh. “Sharp as a blade, as always,” she said. Just then, the servant returned with a platter of cheese and bread, already sliced. When each of them had taken what they wished, he retreated to the far wall with the platter still in hand.
Leaning back into the chair, Alysia sighed and nibbled at her cheese. “So then, my dears … tell me about this traveling troupe! Was it very entertaining?”
Kharsti and Joya took turns describing the show. They both spoke with great delight about the juggling, the acrobats, and the magic illuminations. Concerning the Kushago, Kharsti gave a detailed account of its fights with the warrior and the wolves. When she described how the beast ripped off the head of one wolf, Christabel shuddered and put her hand to her mouth. Alysia noticed this and asked, “You didn’t find that entertaining?”
Christabel swallowed and replied, “No, not at all, ma’am. It was –” she darted a glance at the other girls “– the most horrible thing I had ever seen!”
Joya wrinkled her nose. “Christabel’s very sensitive,” she told Alysia in a half-whisper.
Trevin’s mother ignored the blonde girl. “It does sound gruesome. I would have been sickened, myself … as any proper lady would have been!” This last part seemed directed to Joya and Kharsti.
Joya sniffed indignantly. “Well, if I had known about that, do you think I would have wanted to go? But Giles looked like he enjoyed it, so the *least* I could do was stay with him until it was over.” She smirked openly at Christabel as she finished.
Kharsti cleared her throat. “Where’s that ale?” she muttered. Casually flicking a crumb of bread at Joya, the tall girl stated, “Oh, it was amusing, but barely so. I mean, there wasn’t any real chance of death, what with the monster being chained up and controlled like it was! And those wolves weren’t even real.” She made a sound of derision.
Joya gave her friend a nudge in the ribs. “Oh, and perhaps if they had let you into the cage, you would have slain the monster with nothing but a brooch-pin!”
Kharsti nudged Joya back. “Yes, and even shown that warrior boy a few moves!” The girls exchanged a few more nudges, then burst out laughing.
Christabel stared at them, stunned and disappointed. She would get no help from them, it was clear; and worse yet, they seemed to care nothing about the Kushago’s obvious suffering. She imagined the two of them on a riverbank, giggling as a drowning man cried out for help.
Joya slapped Kharsti on the knee, and to avoid retaliation lunged back into Christabel. The serving girl’s restraint finally broke, and she blurted out, “It was *not* a monster!”
The girls’ laughter abruptly ceased; they looked at Christabel with surprise, while Trevin’s mother fixed her with a calm, expectant stare. A moment of awkward silence followed; Christabel felt a powerful urge to get up and flee from the house, but forced herself to speak. “Couldn’t you see? It was … more like a man than –”
Her words were cut off by Joya and Kharsti’s renewed laughter. “Oh, it had the right parts for a man,” said the tall girl, “but so do the apes of the Kaladrongo!”
“It was more than that,” Christabel protested. “Didn’t you see how it fought? It seemed like it was thinking about what it was doing.”
Kharsti waved dismissively. “Clearly, it was well trained. I would bet that the warrior and the monster practice that ‘fight’ every day.”
Christabel started to reply, but stopped herself. What Kharsti said did make sense. After all, the Kushago might indeed be some undiscovered form of ape, more manlike in appearance than its jungle counterparts but just as beastly. Yet, she still couldn’t shake the sense that it was, in fact, more intelligent than it seemed.
At that moment, the men returned to the great room. Linc set a low table down in front of the divan, while Trevin and Giles placed a bench on the opposite side. Terek put a tray bearing a pitcher and several wooden cups onto the table. “A most excellent batch of ale!” he declared as he filled the cups. The servant with the cheese and bread came forward, served the men, then took his leave.
“Glad to see you saved some for us!” Kharsti exclaimed, picking up a cup and taking a long sip. Terek enjoined the women to do likewise; Christabel was not in the mood, but drank anyway out of politeness. However, the ale was smooth and not at all bitter, unlike the kind at her uncle’s tavern.
“Good, yes?” Trevin’s father asked hopefully. The women nodded and murmured their approval. Kharsti poured herself another cup, drank deeply, and pronounced it the finest ale she had ever tasted. Terek beamed, and called for a toast. “I shall name this after my wife,” he said, raising his cup to Alysia. “It will be called — Alysian Pale!”
Trevin, who had come around to Christabel’s side of the divan, leaned down and whispered to her, “Not to be confused with the Alysian Gold wine, or the Alysian mead. He’s yet to name one after me!”
“Like, Trevinian Special Brew?” Christabel suggested. Trevin paused, as if considering it. “Not bad at all!” He smiled and touched his cup to hers.
The gathering broke up after two more rounds of the new ale. Linc and Kharsti departed first, then Joya and Giles. As Trevin went outside to hail a carriage for Christabel, Alysia took the young woman aside. “I feel I must apologize for the girls,” Trevin’s mother said, holding Christabel’s hand. She explained that Kharsti was half Lashkirian, and as a girl had been a “nezisa” — an attendant to the desert warrior who performed the ritual slaying of a griffin at village festivals. “So you can understand how the sight of blood isn’t exactly new to her. And as for Joya …” Alysia tilted her head and sighed. “You may have noticed that she is a little spoiled.”
“Indeed,” Christabel murmured.
“They’re good girls, really, but I’m certain you’ll find that out for yourself, eventually. Oh yes, one other thing.” She glanced around, then continued in a low voice, “My son clearly likes you very much, and I can see that you feel the same way about him. If you wish to keep his favor, you might do well to keep any strong opinions you may have to yourself.”
Christabel’s eyebrows rose. “Pardon, but what opinions do you mean, precisely?”
Alysia’s mouth turned up in a half-smile. “Ah, well … opinions on such matters as, for instance, certain entertainments? For, as I’m sure you know, it is a woman’s duty to support her man in whatever he does and enjoys.”
Christabel blinked in surprise. It sounded as if Alysia was giving her advice on how to be the perfect wife for Trevin, even though this was the first time they had spent any time together! And was his mother always in the habit of dispensing advice to people she had just met — especially stupid advice? Christabel had never believed that a woman’s opinion was any less important than her husband’s, and was certainly not going to change that belief on the suggestion of a woman who thought otherwise.
Trevin returned a few moments later and announced that the carriage had arrived. Christabel thanked Alysia and Terek for their hospitality, then went outside with Trevin, who rode with her back to the Orb and Claw tavern.
“I hope I can see you again sometime,” the young man said as he helped Christabel down from the carriage.
“You know where you can find me,” she replied, inclining her head toward the tavern.
“Of course, but I meant, well …” He moved closer to her, clearly making to kiss her. Christabel waited until his face was almost touching hers, then quickly hugged him and stepped back. “Thank you again for a most pleasant evening,” she said, then turned and walked to the tavern entrance. At the door, she looked back and saw Trevin climb into the carriage. She waited until it had gone, then sighed heavily and went inside.
The tavern was empty, despite there being two more bells until the last call. Sheela looked up from wiping off the bar. “Oh, you’re back!” She hurried over to Christabel. “So? Well? Tell me everything!”
“There’s a lot to tell, believe me.” Christabel smiled faintly. “You saw what happened outside, didn’t you?”
Sheela looked at her with mock innocence. “You mean, when you avoided Trevin’s lips like a priest avoids pleasure? I saw nothing like that at all!”
Christabel grinned wanly, then started upstairs. Sheela stopped her, however, and pointed to the kitchen.
“Uncle Fergus again?” Christabel asked. Sheela nodded and said, “I’ll close up, then wait for you in our room. There’s hardly been anybody in this evening.”
With a rueful shake of her head, Christabel quietly made her way behind the bar and into the kitchen. Fergus sat sprawled out on a stool by the table: head back, mouth open, and eyes closed. Underneath the stool were a couple of empty bottles. The large man clutched another bottle in one hand, and a small pouch in the other. The smell of ale hung heavy in the room.
Christabel looked at her uncle with sadness and pity. He only drank like this when he felt particularly woeful, a condition which seemed to occur more often as time passed. If business was slow, the girls usually closed the tavern early whenever he got like that. The young woman went over to Fergus and shook him gently. It took a few moments of firmer shaking to cause the large man to stir and open his eyes.
“Er, hullo, Chrissabell,” he muttered groggily, releasing his hold on the bottle. “‘Bout time ye were home … where’s ma stick?”
Christabel retrieved his walking stick from where it had fallen, and helped her uncle to his feet. He tried to wave her off, but that only caused him to wobble. He braced himself with the walking stick, but made no further protest as Christabel guided him up to his room. As they ascended the stairs, the large man muttered, “Did ye know, Chrissabell, that me and yer mother used to see the travelin’ faire every time it came by?” He sniffled. “She truly loved the jugglers …”
“I know,” Christabel replied softly. When they reached his room, she helped him into bed, and very shortly he was snoring loudly. Before she left, Christabel took the pouch from Fergus’s unresisting fingers. It contained, she knew, a golden locket which held a snippet of her mother’s hair. With a heavy heart, she returned it to a small wooden box on the nightstand. The locket was a birthday gift her mother had given to Fergus — the last gift she had given him before she died.
Sheela listened in rapt attention as Christabel related the events of the evening. The candles on the table in their small bedroom were a thumb’s length shorter by the time she finished.
“Stevene’s grace, Chrissa!” exclaimed Sheela, shifting to a more comfortable position on her bed. “You had yourself quite a night there, it sounds like. Almost makes me wish that *I’d* winked at Trevin once or twice.” The girls laughed. They talked for a bit more about the ale-tasting at Trevin’s house, then the conversation returned to the traveling show.
“Now *that’s* something I wish I’d seen,” said Sheela. “That Kashaggy animal must’ve been a wonder!”
Christabel, sitting cross-legged on the opposite bed, shook her head emphatically. “Kushago. And you wouldn’t have liked it, either. I can’t believe that sort of — entertainment — is allowed!”
“But people do that to animals all the time, like in cockfights, for instance. And dog fights.”
Ranulf crawled out from under the bed and sprang lightly into Christabel’s lap. She looked down at the gray cat and stroked his head. “And are cat drownings just as amusing? Listen, Sheela, I believe that what they are doing to the Kushago is wrong. I think we should try to do something about it.”
The blond serving girl stared thoughtfully at the cat for several moments. Finally she said, “For truth, Chrissa, what can the pair of us do? Go in like the Royal Brigade and force them to let the animal go? It’d take nothing short of that, it seems to me.”
“It sounds to *me* like you don’t care, either,” Christabel replied curtly.
“Stevene’s teeth, girl, I don’t mean it like that. But if people liked the show as much as you described, and if you don’t think your new friends would blink an eye to help you, then I simply don’t see what difference a pair of mousy little tavern girls like us could make!”
Frowning, Christabel shifted the cat out of her lap and went over to the candles. She turned back and looked at her friend. “So we might as well not even try, then? Perhaps we’re even *less* than mice?” She sighed and folded her arms. Doubt began creeping into her mind, along with fatigue. She blew out the candles, yawned heavily, and fell into bed without another word.
Troubling dreams visited her in the night. Roars, snarls, and screams echoed in the misty blackness. Suddenly, she saw herself standing with Trevin and his friends in a circle of light, in front of an iron fence that seemed impossibly high and endlessly long. Beyond the fence was darkness, and she felt a surge of fear and despair when she looked upon it, like she was being forced to enter a dark room that contained a dead body somewhere within.
The group began laughing and jeering; Christabel found it horribly offensive. Then they began throwing apples through the fence at the darkness. Trevin turned to her, his expression blank. A moment later, he broke into a wide grin and bit into a perfectly-formed red apple. The young man handed it to her, and gestured for her to throw it.
Christabel’s fingers closed over the bitten fruit. She stared down at it as if she had never seen an apple before. Looking up, she saw that the group was staring at her expectantly, waiting for her to throw it. She hesitated — then found herself on the other side of the fence!
Trevin and the others now wore expressions of hostility, and they jeered at her with enthusiasm. The darkness behind her was a cold, solid thing that filled her with dread and sorrow. She still held the apple, and knew she should do something with it — but what?
The next moment, Christabel saw that the five youths stood around a huge catapult, the basket of which was filled to the brim with apples. She didn’t see who pulled the release lever, but a heartbeat later the catapult arm shot forward and flung the apples toward her at a frightening speed. Christabel screamed, threw her arms up to shield herself –
And abruptly jerked awake.
Heart pounding, Christabel silently made her way down the hall. She crept past Fergus’s room, and was relieved to hear him snoring. It was early morning, and Sheela had not yet awakened either. Christabel had lain in bed for a while after waking up from the dream, and mulled over the images until she heard the town bell toll the time. Upon hearing the sound, Christabel had gotten out of bed and dressed as quietly as possible. Today she was going to act on her resolve to free the Kushago. She had no plan, but knew that if she didn’t get up and out, the inspiration would pass and she would end up doing nothing. Somehow, that thought made her feel guilty.
Each creak in the stairs seemed to sound as loud as a scream, but Christabel made it down without waking anybody. As she paused in the kitchen for a quick breakfast, an idea occurred to her. She went to a shelf near the door and got down the writing slate that an out-of-work scribe had persuaded Fergus to accept in payment of a drink debt. With a piece of thick chalk she wrote her name and the word “market” upon it, and left it on the table in plain view. Now she had a ready explanation for being gone.
Once outside the tavern, the young woman hesitated. The air was fresh with the smell of morning dew, and the sky was perfectly clear. People were already going about their daily business, and one man who passed her inquired if the tavern was open already.
Christabel shook her head, then struck off in a random direction. Just what was she going to do, anyway? Wander about and hope the whole problem would go away by itself? She silently cursed herself for her impulsive decision.
After a few menes of walking, she passed by a baker’s shop. The delicious smell of freshly-baked bread caused her to slow down and consider going inside to buy a piece. A poster on the wall by the door caught her eye; she saw that it advertised Rushike’s traveling troupe. A wave of anger rose within her and she almost ripped down the sign, but a line near the bottom stopped her: it read “His Royal Majesty, King Haralan, Commands That All Citizens Attend This Show and Be Greatly Amused.”
Christabel doubted if the King had ever seen the show, or if he would even approve of his name being used in connection with such a ruthless revelry. She wished that he would suddenly appear in front of her, so that she might persuade him to personally order Rushike to release the Kushago.
The young woman started to continue on, but a sudden thought halted her. The King wasn’t the only one with such authority! With a renewed sense of purpose, Christabel turned her nose up at the poster and sprinted away.
Christabel made her way north. She crossed a bridge over the Laraka River, wound through the streets of the Founders’ District, and soon came in sight of the town hall of Bannon’s Landing. She had remembered that Mayor Bremis usually heard public business for a few bells each morning in his office (a practice established by previous mayors), and she was early enough that she could get an audience.
A few menes later, Christabel arrived in the square surrounding the town hall. She joined the line of people leading into the building, and soon found herself at the doorway, where a bored-looking town guardsman asked for her name and what her business was. He had asked the same question of everybody before her, so she had her response ready. “My name is Christabel Montegarde, and I wish to ask the mayor to stop the owner of the traveling troupe that is currently in Bannon’s Field from mistreating one of his performing animals.”
The guardsman nodded abstractedly, then told her how to find the mayor’s office. Christabel followed his directions, and came to a large wood-paneled chamber in which other people waited. At the entrance, a short, stern-faced man asked her the same questions the town guard had asked. She gave the same answers. The official noted down the information, then gave a sharp snort. Christabel glared at him; he stared contemptuously back at her for a moment, then motioned for her to take a seat on one of the wooden benches that lined the walls.
Several menes later, the double doors at the far end of the chamber opened, and two men — merchants, by the way they were dressed — came out. One man smiled broadly and clutched a rolled-up parchment; the other had an air of dejection about him. After the men came another town guard, a dark-haired woman this time. She ushered the merchants out of the chamber, then went over to the official minding the door. She spoke briefly with him, then accepted a sheet of parchment. She read off a name; an elderly man answered, and she motioned for him to follow her through the double doors, which no doubt led to the mayor’s office.
Christabel waited anxiously as townspeople entered and left the office. She rehearsed her request over and over in her mind, but each time it sounded more and more foolish, until her resolve began to waver. She was near the point of getting up to leave, when the doors opened and the female guard called her name. Startled, Christabel jumped to her feet and exchanged a glance with the person who had just left the mayor’s office.
“Come in, please,” the female guard said. As soon as Christabel had entered the room, the woman closed the doors behind them and stood off to one side.
The office of Mayor Bremis was small but well-furnished. Large tapestries on the walls alternated with portraits of previous mayors, and display cases to either side of the door housed a collection of small stone figurines.
The mayor himself sat behind a heavy wooden desk at the back of the room. His hair was beginning to gray at the temples, but the insightful gaze from his ice-blue eyes showed that he was in no hurry to retire.
“Christabel Montegarde?” he queried, looking up from a stack of papers. The young woman nodded, then came forward. The mayor smiled, and bade her sit in one of the chairs in front of the desk. When she had done so, he leaned back and said, “My son was at the performance last night. He told me that, without any exaggeration, it was the most exciting thing he had ever seen. The jugglers and acrobats were fine, he said, but the –” he glanced down at his desk “– Kushago beastie was the high point of the show.” The mayor leaned forward. “But you think it should be closed down?”
Mustering her courage, Christabel cleared her throat and replied, “Not closed down, sir. I was there as well, and I am only saying that the Kushago should not be attacked and tortured for sport. It is … inhumane.”
Mayor Bremis nodded slowly. “And you would like me to order the troupe master to stop exhibiting the beastie, is that correct?” Christabel answered affirmatively.
“But now that word has spread,” continued the mayor, “more people will be wanting to see this frightening creature. However, if the Kushago is no longer available to be seen, the show as a whole would certainly suffer. Which would, I’m sure you understand, be rather much the same thing as closing it down.”
“But sir,” Christabel protested, “it isn’t right what they’re doing to it. If you saw for yourself — ”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I did,” the mayor interrupted smoothly. “I saw the beastie when they first arrived in town, and I gave my approval of the exhibition.” He gave her a patronizing smile, then said, “Besides, it’s just an unthinking animal.”
Christabel was momentarily speechless. Was everybody in this town so heartless? “The Kushago is *not* just another animal to be used for sport!” she half-shouted, almost rising from her chair. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the female guard start to move forward. The mayor gave a slight shake of his head, and the woman relaxed.
“Miss Montegarde,” said the mayor, “I have no intention of stopping the troupe master from showing the Kushago. It means good business for the town, not that I expect you to understand why. So, if that’s all you came to say …” His look plainly indicated that he expected her to leave.
Christabel’s heart sank, but she did not get up. “Please, Mayor Bremis, you can’t allow this to continue! Don’t you have –”
“Lieutenant, please send in the next person. Pleasant day, Miss Montegarde.” The mayor looked down at his papers.
Once back in the waiting chamber, Christabel was at a loss as to what to do next. The mayor had not taken her seriously, and there was no one left to appeal to. Maybe Sheela was right, after all.
Sighing, she walked out of the chamber and into the hallway. Someone called her name; she looked up and saw that it was Trevin.
“Christabel! I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said. “Are you waiting for someone?”
“Oh, um, no, I’m by myself,” the young woman replied guardedly, desperately trying to think up a reason for being at the town hall. To gain time, she said, “I’m sorry if I seemed a little … not myself, last night.”
“I understand, don’t worry,” said Trevin. “I do hope that you’re feeling better.”
Christabel nodded. “Well, I have to get home now. Thank you again for taking me out last night.” She started to leave, but Trevin asked her to wait a moment. “I was going to tell you that my father was so excited about his new ale that he’s planning to have a party tomorrow night to introduce it. He’s inviting the mayor –” Trevin held up a sealed envelope “– and my mother said that I could invite you as well. It’s going to be at Joya’s house. Would you like to go?”
“Oh,” Christabel murmured. She glanced down and tugged at her ear, unsure how to reply. On the one hand, attending the party meant that she would finally receive the increase in social standing that an association with Joya’s family always conferred. But could she really associate with them now, knowing how little they valued the lives of animals — and by extension, anything they considered beneath them?
“Christabel?” Trevin queried, lightly touching her cheek. The young woman flashed him an apologetic grin, then took a deep breath before replying, “Yes. I would like that, very much.”
As Trevin smiled and expressed his delight at the young woman’s acceptance, part of Christabel’s mind screamed at her for making that decision. She silenced her self-criticism by reasoning that if she were accepted into Trevin’s social circle, she would do whatever was possible to influence their way of thinking.
“Let me just deliver this invitation,” said Trevin, “and I’ll take you home.” Christabel nodded and followed him back to the mayor’s waiting chamber, relieved that he hadn’t yet asked about her business at the town hall.
The stern-faced official grumbled under his breath, but accepted the invitation and promised to deliver it to the mayor. Upon catching sight of Christabel, the man pointed his quill at her and asked, “Are you a friend of the beast lover?”
“Beast lover?” Trevin looked at Christabel with a slight frown. The official told him about her audience with the mayor, then added, “I’ve yet to see the creature myself, and she wants the whole show closed down!”
“Is this true?” Trevin asked, guiding her out of the official’s hearing. Reluctantly, Christabel admitted that she had in fact been in to see the mayor, but only to persuade him to stop the Kushago exhibition.
“But why?” The young man looked at her in bewilderment. “I know that you were upset by what you saw, but why see the mayor about it?”
“Because it’s so *wrong* for it to be used as entertainment! Why can’t you understand that?”
Trevin exhaled loudly. “What I can’t understand,” he said slowly, “is what makes *you* think you have the right to determine what is and is not entertainment.” He paused and fixed her with a hard stare. “Now, my father and I are going to see the show tonight. He’s very excited about it, and I don’t want him to be disappointed. Will you promise me that you won’t try to stir up any trouble?”
On the verge of tears, Christabel could barely nod. Trevin’s expression softened, and he reached out to put his hand on her shoulder. She flinched away from his touch, then ran out of the building, sobbing angrily.