Short Story: Little Mouse
While writing, THE HIGH PRIESTESS, I gave Vittoria a friend named Titi. In their language, Ilese, Titi meant ‘little mouse’. He was small, fast, and one of her closest confidantes. Eventually, I had to cut him from the story, but I had this scene with him that I always loved.
This scene takes place between Mateo and Titi, when they’re locked in a sort of defensive position over Vittoria. Vittoria left the castle unbeknownst to Mateo and was caught in a mob that Titi was able to extract her from. He called for Mateo’s help in getting her out of Necce, where he thrives in the underground.
Mateo’s affection and protectiveness here (the same for Titi) always warmed my heart on his behalf. They’re both something of a bleeding heart, really.
I hope you love this sneak behind the curtains of THE HIGH PRIESTESS.
“She’s safe,” Titi said for the eighth time, the bridge of his nose hidden behind two pinched fingers. “But she is . . . shaken.”
Disguised as La Salvatorra, Mateo stalked down the streets of the city with Titi at his side. Titi jogged to keep up with the long, fast strides. The only reason Mateo hadn’t transported to Vittoria’s side immediately was Titi’s vague lack of clear directions. He’d withheld her location on purpose, but Mateo couldn’t figure out why.
His heart still thundered in his chest as he thought of what she’d just gone through. Mobs of witches pulling at her. Ripping her clothes. Chasing her. He’d be a fool not to question whether he’d made a mistake.
Whether La Principessa could actually be a safe, beloved figure in witch form. Clearly his work to have the inhabitants of the city love her had taken root.
Perhaps too quickly.
She is safe, he repeated in his mind for the hundredth time. She is safe.
“Here, La Salvatorra.”
Titi slowed at an intersection, then turned right into a thin alley that would barely allow his shoulders—even lessened under a transformation spell—access. Titi slipped through like a vapor, born to this world of mists and shadows. The distant sound of water dripping, and a shout from beyond, punctuated the air.
She is safe, Mateo repeated, but his own thoughts billowed like thunderclouds. It would be impossible to calm until he saw her.
“Who let her out of the castle?” Mateo asked.
“She’s a fool for going,” he muttered. “What was she thinking? The streets aren’t safe for her. They never were. Particularly not now!”
Titi slowed, then stopped. Mateo stared at him, then the blank stone walls surrounding them.
“Is this it?”
Titi shook his head.
Mateo let out an exasperated breath. “Then why have we stopped?”
“For you to get it together.”
“If you’re angry with Vittoria when you see her, she’ll only feel worse. You’ve put her through enough lately, I won’t let that happen.”
Mateo’s shoulders slowly relaxed. He forced his jaw to do the same with several deep, slow breaths. Finally, he looked back to Titi.
Titi’s dusty face illuminated. “Am I?”
“Unfortunately,” he muttered. “I don’t like the idea of her in danger without me there to protect her, that’s all.”
It didn’t feel . . . natural. Never mind that she’d survived over twenty years without him and he’d all but forced her into a far more violent world than the one she’d grown up in—even if the violence was a more subtle kind.
“Vittoria doesn’t need you, Mateo. You need her. It might do well for you to remember that.”
“I only want her safe.”
“You only want her safe for your purposes.”
“That’s not true!”
Titi had the gall to look annoyed. “Then prove it,” he said. “By letting her go and come back whenever she wants. Or do you not want her to be with the witches? To share her goodness with them? To . . . give to them?”
Titi gave him a pointed gaze. Mateo scowled back.
“I didn’t say that,” he muttered. “But what else can I do? The crowds will surely scare her after what she’s been through.”
Titi shrugged a small shoulder. “She wasn’t frightened.”
“She was shaken, that’s all.”
Mateo shoved a hand through his hair. “What if they threaten her? Or kill her? I didn’t bring her out of this world so it could turn around and destroy her.”
He shrugged. “Would they destroy her? Have you not done enough work to ensure their allegiance to La Principessa?”
Mateo’s astonishment exceeded his ability to speak. Titi knew his plan around La Principessa? Before Mateo could respond, Titi strolled another ten steps. Mateo caught up in three. “I know your game, La Salvatorra,” Titi sang. “Even if she doesn’t yet.”
Titi pressed into a dark shadow along the northern wall. Mateo growled and followed, his hair on edge. The darkness turned into a damp space between buildings. Titi rapped a little ditty on a door. The sound of a scraping chain followed, and light dropped into the alley from a thin slit where the door opened.
“You didn’t ask!” Titi cried.
“Silence, Titi,” came Vittoria’s voice. “I could hear you arguing in the alley.”
The sound of her voice sent relief flowing through Mateo like a cool balm, followed by a shot of nerves.
Had she heard what they said just now?
Deciding he’d deal with that later, he let out a long breath to cool the rest of his fear on her behalf. His bones had melted at the sound of her voice. Now he just wanted to see her for himself. He stepped inside behind Titi.
Vittoria stood on the other side of a small, square room. Titi was known amongst the witches for his many little mouse holes—small places to stay that he hid all over Necce. Always in the nooks and crannies like his namesake. Titi, the mouse in Ilese.
Mateo drank her in. She appeared a little tired, with shadows under her eyes, but none the worse for wear. One of her sleeves was torn off, but no bruises. Mateo forced his initial surge of protectiveness down.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
He controlled the urge to stride over there in two steps and pull her into his arms. Titi was right—he couldn’t. She wasn’t his yet. The choice had to be hers, because there was still trust to build.
She nodded, but didn’t quite meet his eyes.
“I’m fine, thank you.”
Feeling utterly helpless, he nodded. Then he let the transformative magic slip away. His shoulders grew into the small space. She relaxed slightly as the false persona disappeared. This time, she met his gaze.
“I’m glad,” he murmured. “I’ve been worried.”
Titi heaved a dramatic sigh. “This is more awkward than a teenagers first tryst. Please, get out of my hole already. Vittoria, of course, you’re welcome anytime. But please try not to get mobbed tomorrow? I have work tonight and will be sleeping all day.”
Vittoria sent him a scathing glare. Titi shrugged.
“I’m ready to return to the house, Mateo,” she murmured. “Thank you for coming.”
If she’d sounded any more formal, he would have thought she spoke to Hodei. He nodded and took her by the arm. The touch went a long way to reassure him. She swallowed hard.
“I will transport us back, the way I did the night of the betrothal ceremony,” he said. “Prepare yourself for a moment of pressure before we return.”
On Vittoria’s nod, he sent one last look to Titi, then started the magic. He heard her gasp before the pressure of transporting whisked them away, landing them seconds later in a musty cellar.
Mateo held firmly to her arm as she unwound from the magic, blinking hard. It must be the strangest feeling to a witch that had never used magic before.
Now safe on the beach and far from any eyes, he turned to her. His expression softened when she saw the ravaged emotions in her eyes. Not only had her own witches turned on her, but her own solidarity had been re-emphasized in a big way.
“Are you alright?” he asked softly.
Her face crumbled into a frown. “I don’t know,” she admitted quietly. “I . . . I’m not ready to talk about it.”
He nodded. At least she’d responded—it was better than he could have hoped for.
“Then let’s get you to bed. It’s clearly been a long day.”
I hope you enjoyed this free short story from the High Priestess. Want more deleted scenes? Be sure to check out the index of free stories right here.