Location: Yorkshire countryside, England
"I always said they weren't stars, you know." Shax stared at the sharp winter sky from the balcony, watching Earth's seventy-five year visitor.
"Knew what weren't, bonehead?" Verin grunted from the room behind him where he was manhandling an oak chest from under the four-poster.
Ridiculous bed, that. It was bigger even than Shax's bed in his palace and so high off the floor that the absurd dowager it belonged to required a set of stairs to reach it. While Shax could have crawled under the bed quite easily to pick the lock, there were dust bunnies under there the size of ponies. Probably feral dust bunnies on top of that.
"The comets, Ver." Shax pointed to the bright, long-tailed visitor among the normal stars. "This is the one Mr. Halley said would come back. And here it is. Finally, the human scientists are saying it's not a star."
"Yeah? Why the fuck do I care, Shaxy? Are you opening the damn chest or not?"
Shax ambled back inside. No need to rush this job. The dowager had taken nearly her entire household to visit with her son at the family estate for Christmas, a holiday Shax resented so much that he always planned a major bit of thievery for the occasion. People with horns were no longer welcome at human midwinter celebrations in Europe and most of the Americas. Really, it was almost too much to bear.
The only person left at the dowager's house was an old housekeeper who was far too deaf to hear them. Shax had the padlock off in under twenty seconds, a matter of pride these days since Verin had acquired a pocket watch with a second hand and took far too much pleasure in timing him.
"Handkerchief, scarves, oooh, scarlet bloomers, how naughty," Shax muttered as he dug through the chest.
"Why we even here?" Verin prowled the room, pocketing a trinket here and there that caught his fancy. "All the fucking quality ladies take their jewelry boxes with them on visits, yeah?"
"Well, yes, that's often the case. But I have it from a lovely young footman that her ladyship keeps the jewelry up here that she no longer finds appropriate for her age. Which, incidentally, she hasn't given to her daughter-in-law because they hate each other. Servants' gossip is so invaluable."
"Was he good?"
"Hmm?" Shax was so deep in the chest now he feared he might have to climb in. "Was who good?"
"The footman. Good screw?"
"Oh, not bad. You know how it is with young humans. All enthusiasm. No patience. Still satisfying. Well, well, what have we here…"
Shax emerged from the pool of silk and satin to take his find—a carved rosewood box—to the window where the light was better. The little box was no better a guardian than the massive oak chest and gave up its secrets with a soft sigh.
"Delicious, delicious, so many pretties. Do you think Mum would like some new pearls?" Shax held up the long string of pink pearls for Verin to see.
Verin shrugged. "Don't know what her scariness likes. Why don't you just take the whole fucking box?"
"How crass." Shax wrinkled his nose. "I don't steal just any old thing."
He did take the pearls in their velvet pouch, certain that Mummy would like them. A blue diamond tiara and a lovely necklace of braided gold joined the pearls in his bag.
Amethysts weren't generally his favorite, but these were an unusually deep purple and in a gorgeous gold-knot setting, so he took the choker as well. The dragonfly brooch had to come, simply for the artistry of the piece. The emerald encrusted cross he left where it lay.
When he'd finished, he closed up the box, placed it back in its spot, carefully replaced the layers upon layers of scarves and unmentionables, and relocked the chest. "There we are. Please put it back, Ver."
"Put the fucking thing back yourself, your annoying highness."
When they were small, Shax would have stamped his foot and been very cross. It was a near thing. There were times when Verin made him want to stamp his foot and have a tantrum. "Are you or are you not my retainer? We leave things as they were and no one will discover the theft for months. Possibly years."
Steam curled from Verin's nostrils. "What do we care what the old bat figures out? We'll be home by then."
"It's the artistry of the thing." Shax spread his hands in a most unregal entreaty. "Please, Ver. I'm just not strong enough. That's why we're a team. I do the fiddly, fussy things and you do the big, exciting things."
"You mean the fucking drudge work."
"Didn't I let you flatten those guards in London? Wasn't that fun?"
Verin snorted but a hint of a smile tugged at his lips. "Yeah. Fine. That was fun."
Certainly, Shax could have shoved the chest under the bed himself, but that's what minions were for. Not that he ever used the word with Ver. It was one of those touchy points that could get Shax hurt. But Verin took the flattery this time, thank the pits, and put the chest back. Minion really wasn't the right word for Verin, in any case. Not anymore. Though they weren't lovers, no matter what his cousins whispered, and partners didn't seem proper either with the social divide between them.
Shax nodded to the bright ball and tail of the comet. "What do you think it's like?"
"What what's like?"
"What it's like up there. Past the firmament. Out in the stars. What would it be like to see the comet out there? Do you think it's a glorious blazing eternal fire? Where does it go when it leaves our sky and goes on its three-quarter century voyage?"
Verin stared at him for a long moment. "Your cousins are right, Shaxy. You're just a mica sliver this side of cracked. How would you get up there? Have someone shoot you out of a giant cannon? I mean, even people with wings can't do it."
"Someday. The humans are building new things all the time now. Someday they'll manage."
"They're not gonna take you with them, your lunatic highness." Verin climbed over the balcony railing for the drop down into the gardens. "C'mon, Shaxy. Stop with the crazy shit and let's go home." (Author's Note: Edmund Halley was the first person to figure out that the comet he spotted in 1682 was a returning comet, one that appeared every 75-76 years. He predicted that the comet would reappear in 1758. Though he didn't live to see it a second time, the comet, the one we now call Halley's Comet did reappear on Christmas Eve in 1758, just as he said it would.)