Nine and a Half Fingers
Eddie D. Moore
Lord Tybalt examined the bloody stump that used to be his finger with a sense of detachment. Blood sprayed into the air with each beat of his heart. He pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket with his left hand and then tightly wrapped what was left of his right forefinger as he spoke to the caged leopard in front of him.
“Well, Hissy, that wasn’t very nice at all.”
Hissy stared through the cage’s bars with eyes full of menace and hissed in response.
“I’ll feed you better soon enough. You’ll just have to wait until…”
“Father, won’t you come inside now?” Adeline stood in the doorway and ran her eyes over the different cages and enclosed habitats until she found her father. “He’s bound to be here any minute.”
Lord Tybalt grimaced and let out a short huff before he answered. “I’m on my way. Have someone summon Pierce, and have him bring his needle and thread. I’m going to need a few stitches. Hissy and I had a little disagreement.” As Adeline shouted instructions into the house, her father shook his head and whispered to Hissy. “I’d gladly let you have my dinner if you’d let me swap places with you.”
Adeline ran to her father’s side and glanced once at the growling leopard before her eyes settled on her father’s wrapped hand. “Oh, no! How bad is it?”
Not wanting to worry his daughter, he downplayed the severity of the wound. “It just needs a few stitches.” He covered the blood soaked wrapping with his other hand and smiled when Adeline looked deeper into his eyes. “Hissy was just complaining about her diet. It’s nothing to worry about; I’ve got nine other fingers.”
Adeline gently held to her father’s left arm and walked him toward the house. “I just caught a glimpse of Pierce at the back door. Let’s get you into the house before you pass out or something.” She glanced at the wounded hand that her father was holding just above his shoulder. “I’m so sorry father. I will send word to Boyd and let him know that dinner’s been canceled.”
A wave of panic caused Tybalt’s eyes to widen a second at the thought of all his preparations being wasted. “No. No, my dear, I may have a little difficulty eating with my left hand, but I don’t want to miss the chance of meeting this man who has so quickly caught your attention.”
Adeline gave her father a sidelong glance and a half smile. “You mean that you don’t want your pets to have gone hungry for nothing.”
Her father sputtered. “I… I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Ha! I know that you’ve only been giving them half meals the last few days. You want to make sure that they’re active and intimidating when you give Boyd the tour of the grounds.”
Adeline pushed open the door, and her father took the seat waiting for him beside a large bowl of water. Pierce handed Tybalt a small bottle and removed the handkerchief to inspect and wash the wound.
Pierce grimaced at the sight of the wound. “You’ll want to drink that; this is going to be painful.”
Tybalt eyed the small bottle in his left hand a moment before asking, “Will this steal my wits?”
“It will numb your pain and let you sleep peacefully tonight.”
Tybalt took a drink from the bottle and sat it on the table. “Then I’ll drink half to dull the pain, and I’ll drink the rest before bed. There’s still important business that demands my attention tonight.”
“I’d argue with you, but I know it’d be a waste of breath.” Pierce lifted the hand from the water, and proffered another bottle. “This is going to burn.”
Tybalt sucked in a sharp breath as liquid fire poured over the stub of his finger, and the knuckles of his left whitened as his grip on the chair arm tightened.
“You should’ve listened to me and drank the whole bottle.”
Through gritted teeth, Lord Tybalt said, “How about you shut your mouth and do your job!”
Adeline gasped. “Father! You wouldn’t tolerate such rudeness from anyone else.”
Tybalt let out a long slow breath as the burning slowly faded.
Pierce prepared a needle and thread and glanced up. “Oh, it’s quite alright my lady. I received much worse abuse treating the king’s soldiers after battles.”
As the doctor stretched the skin and tied the first stitch, Adeline’s father said between grunts, “She’s right… I apologize… for my outburst.”
“No reason to apologize, yet.” The doctor inclined his head toward the large bottle and smiled. “That will burn just as much tomorrow morning, and we’ll have to soak the wound in it until the burning stops. I’d suggest saving your apologies until that treatment’s done.”
As the doctor finished dressing the wound, a servant entered the room, and after a quick glance around the room, he turned his attention to Adeline. “Madame, Mr. Boyd is awaiting you in the sitting room.”
She looked to her father with a questioning expression, and when he nodded, she turned back to face the servant and said. “Ask Emily to prepare some tea.”
Boyd stood as Adeline and Lord Tybalt entered the sitting room. He flashed a quick smile at Adeline. The smile quickly faded as he turned and addressed her father. “Lord Tybalt, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” His eyes flicked to the bandaged hand. “It’s not serious, I hope.”
When her father shrugged, Adeline answered for him. “Yes, it’s serious. Hissy took off half his finger and he completely refused to rest until after he met with you tonight. I tried to tell him that we could do this another day, but of course, he’s too stubborn to listen.”
Some of the color drained from Boyd’s face. “I’m sorry to hear that. We really could do this some other day.”
Lord Tybalt lightly shook Boyd’s hand with an indifferent expression on his face. “Nonsense. My daughter has spoken very highly of you, and I’d like to have a private conversation with you when we’re done.” Emily entered the sitting room and placed a tea set on the table. After a nod from Lord Tybalt, she exited the room without a word. “Shall we sit?”
Adeline poured three cups of tea and shot her father a narrowed eyed glare for his cold treatment of Boyd as she handed him his cup. Her father suppressed a smile and listened to his daughter and Boyd laugh as they talked about the plays they had attended together. He sipped his tea and studied their faces and body language until the cup in his hand was empty. The room seemed to spin for a moment, and his cup clattered against the saucer as he put it down.
“Adeline dear, I fear that I must cut this night shorter than planned. I’d like to discuss a few things with Boyd in private.”
Adeline gave her father a concerned look and nodded. She rested her hand on Boyd’s forearm and said, “I’ll see you later,” before leaving the room.
Boyd swallowed the rising lump in his throat and opened his mouth, but Lord Tybalt spoke first. “Let’s go for a little walk. I’d like to show you my pets.”
The cool night air was refreshing as they stepped outside, and Lord Tybalt breathed easier. They heard a threatening growl and a hiss in the distance, and when Lord Tybalt saw the worry on Boyd’s face, the corners of his mouth turned up slightly. A full moon lit the path in front of them, and animals stirred ominously as they passed their enclosures.
Boyd saw the crocodiles take to the water as they passed their enclosure, and in the next enclosure, he saw the large, white teeth of lions reflecting the moonlight. They stopped beside a cage holding a large spotted leopard that squatted and shuffled his back legs as if it was preparing to pounce. The cat’s eyes were ravenous and full of unconcealed hatred. Boyd took a step back when the cat hissed and stumbled into Lord Tybalt.
Steadying Boyd with a firm left hand, Lord Tybalt held up his right hand. “Don’t worry Hissy won’t hurt you unless you get too close.”
“I… I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
“I have some hard questions to ask you, Boyd. But I fear that they must asked.”
Keeping a wary eye on the leopard, Boyd nodded.
“I’d like to know what your intentions are with my daughter. You do realize that she is well above your station in life, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir, I do, but I can assure you that I only want to make her happy.”
Lord Tybalt sighed. “Happiness is a good thing, but how would you provide for her?”
Boyd visibly steeled himself and focused his full attention on Adeline’s father. “If you give me a chance, I believe you will find that I’m a capable and reliable person. Let me work for you, and I’ll prove myself to you.”
Lord Tybalt studied the young man for several long seconds before he slowly nodded. “I’ll give you your chance, but I’ll do so with a warning. If you hurt my daughter in any way…” His eyes swept over the animal enclosures. “There will be no body or evidence to prove foul play. Do we understand each other?”
Boyd’s eyes flicked to the leopard and back. “Yes sir, I understand.”
Lord Tybalt smiled, put an arm around Boyd’s shoulders, and walked him further down the path. He stopped when they reached a large enclosure covered by thick steel bars. A dark entrance the size of a small cave could be seen on the far side of the enclosure.
Boyd studied the enclosure for a moment, and asked, “Is this one empty?”
“Yes. The enclosure was designed and built specifically to hold a dragon.”
“Aren’t dragons to large and strong for a cage?”
“Only in legend. In reality they only grow to be about twenty feet in length and it takes them decades to get that large.”
Lord Tybalt lifted a sack out of a wheelbarrow sitting just off the path. Boyd heard the jostling of coins and as the sack was handed to him, his eyes widened at the weight. Boyd hefted the sack a couple times, and his voice was full of astonishment when he spoke. “This bag must hold a small fortune.”
“I want you to find the woodsman Jarin and acquire his services in capturing a hatchling dragon for me. He is well known for his skill, so I don’t believe you’ll have any problem finding him if you ask the right people. The gold in that bag should be a sufficient motivator for him, but I suspect the test of his skills alone would be enough for him to accept the job.”
Boyd smiled. “I’m humbled by the amount of trust you are showing me; I will not let you down.”
Lord Tybalt’s eyes hardened and his eyes narrowed. “Just to be clear, this bag is also an offer for you. If you’ve set your eyes on my daughter because she is my heir, take this bag and never return. Do you understand me?”
Boyd’s face fell, but he quickly recovered and lifted his chin up. “My love for your daughter is genuine. I will return, and the woodsman, Jarin, will deliver your hatchling.”
“We shall see. You have a job to do, so get to it.”
Lord Tybalt watched Boyd until he rounded the house and vanished into the night. He turned when someone cleared their throat behind him. A shadow moved and Pierce stepped into the moonlight.
“Well do you think he’ll be back?”
Lord Tybalt grimaced. “I have no doubt about it. He loves her or at least believes he does.”
As they walked to the house, the doctor asked, “And what if he returns and discovers that he simply thought he loved her.”
Hissy growled as they passed her cage, and Lord Tybalt smiled. “Hissy and the dragon know the answer to that question.”
Eddie D. Moore travels extensively for work, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. The rest of the time is spent dreaming of stories to write and he spends the weekends writing them. His stories have been published by Jouth Webzine, The Flash Fiction Press, Every Day Fiction, Theme of Absence, Devolution Z, and Fantasia Divinity Magazine. Find more on his blog: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.