He stares at the places on the floor Maeve’s feet have touched. He listens for the creak of the bedsprings and the rustle of blankets in the bedroom. He tries to still the raging thoughts pelting his mind. Tiny gusts of wind lift the edge of a dishcloth, rustle the yellowed newsprint in the kindling box, rattle the edges of pictures Maeve has hung on the walls. They are pictures of her sisters that Rachel drew.
Marek stands slowly, rubs the dust from his hands along the legs of his equally dusty trousers. He closes his eyes for a moment, then crosses the empty threshold and steps into the yard. The raven peeks its head around the corner of the little house. It hops three times, stops to cock its head and stare out one shiny eye at the towering figure, then hops twice more to perch on the tip of a stone whose back was exposed by the wind.
“Talk!” the raven caws, “Talk!”
“I will release you,” Marek states quietly. “But not before you make a pact with me.”
The raven shudders, and sheds feathers. It flaps its wings, rising up off the ground. A shaft of light glints off the bird’s ebony feathers as they are shaken from its wings. Up, up it rises, pushing the air beneath its wings down to the earth. With each wing-beat, it grows, its wings elongating, feathers swirling and fluttering to the ground. Its legs elongate, its head grows thicker. The shape of the raven’s beak blurs, constricts, and contracts, shrinking while its head expands. It caws loudly, then the sound catches somewhere between a shriek and a growl.
Loki perches on a fencepost, his coat of rags flapping gently around him. His long legs are deeply bent in dusty black slacks, and he presses his fingertips together, bony elbows propped on bony knees. “A pact?” Loki asks, raising his eyebrows. “A deal?”
“A promise,” Marek whispers, flexing his jaw muscles. “You will have repaid your debt to me,” Marek begins.
Loki leaps down from the fencepost, landing lightly in the dust next to his brother. “What debt?” he hisses.
Marek stares at the horizon, leaves a long pause before he answers. “You will have repaid your *debt* to me when you have brought to this place my wife’s sisters.”
“What debt?” Loki spits, his voice the only sibilance in the still air.
“The debt you owe me. Do you deny you let her see you? Do you deny you followed her? Do you deny, worm-tongue,” Marek asks in a steely tone, “that you have meddled in my domain?”
Loki, all elbows and knees inside the flapping coat, rubs his pale temples with a pale, rickety hand. “Her sisters?”
“Her sisters. I believe you know where to find them.” Marek sets his jaw and spins in the dust, striding back to the dusty little house.
“You are released from this place, Liar. I will summon you on the next full moon. If you do not have her sisters in hand, you will be bound to me.”
“For how long?”
“As long as I want you.”