“Sir, the children are eating my pies again.”
Ettorio sighed, pushing away the paperwork on his desk. “Carpa, I’ve told you not to leave the bag within reach.”
“But they are quite good at climbing, sir.”
“I meant your reach.”
Carpa looked crestfallen, his natural state in the household. “I will endeavor to place the bag outside of my own reach, sir.”
“Good.” Ettorio looked out the window of his office at the growing dusk, then at the paperwork again. After a second, he unceremoniously shoved it all off the desk, letting it fall on the floor. “Well, that’s done. Has Bessari returned?”
“M’lady is finishing the arrangements for the arrival of your brother and sister, sir. They shall arrive in the morning.”
At that point, young Vestiri ran into the room, his face covered in blueberries. “Father! Father! I reached the top of the cabinet today!”
“Vestiri,” Ettorio said in his gravest voice, “what did I tell you about climbing on the furniture?”
Vestiri scrunched his face up in concentration and thought for a long moment. Finally, he timidly said, “To do it quietly?”
“Exactly. Now try again while Father watches Carpa pick up his paperwork. Shoo.” He gently pushed Vestiri to the door.
“Shall I get your working clothes before I reorder your paperwork again, sir?”
“No need. I don’t think the cloak likes you.”
“I have done everything I could to placate it, sir.”
Ettorio looked at his valet as if he were mad. “It tried to strangle you, Carpa.”
“I attempted to make very satisfying choking sounds, sir.”
He waved a hand at Carpa. “I’ll handle it myself tonight. I need to make a stop on the way anyhow to pick up a gift for Marvino and Virillin.”
“Of course, sir.” Carpa backed out of the room and closed the doors. Ettorio smiled to himself as he heard the thump of Carpa’s body falling to the floor. Lapetra’s pouncing skills were improving, particularly for a five-year old.
He touched the corner of the black frame around a beautiful painting of his mother, Niladae. The frame oozed off and ran down his arm, forming around his neck and shoulders. Ettorio pulled the hood up, and a shadow fell over his eyes.
“That vampire threatened my brother and sister, old friend. Shall we deal with her?”
OF COURSE, the cloak said in his mind. I AM ALWAYS YOURS TO COMMAND.
Ettorio spun a dagger around his finger, and stepped into the shadows.