By Martha Wells
This is a complete novel presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Martha Wells, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 by Martha Wells.
This is Chapter Eighteen. Read Chapter Seventeen here.
It was late at night by the time Nicholas returned to the apartment off the Boulevard Panzan. The others had gone there directly from the docks while he had escorted Madele back to the Philosopher’s Cross. The old woman had been preoccupied about something but he hadn’t been able to pry it out of her. He had resolved to go over to Arisilde’s in the morning to see if she was more willing to talk then.
The river spray and the damp had gotten into his clothes and he climbed the stairs up to the apartment wearily, cold to the bone.
It was a despondent group that greeted him in the salon. “I don’t understand why Albier is persisting with this,” Halle was saying, pacing agitatedly in front of the fire. Crack leaned against the wall near the doorway, Cusard was a dour figure huddled in a chair as far away from Ronsarde and Halle as possible, and Madeline was draped across one of the couches with her hat pulled over her face.
Ronsarde was in the chair near the window, smoking his pipe, with a serpent-like intensity in his gaze. He said, “The facts of the case are becoming known. Dozens of deaths in Riverside and the Gabardin and sorcerous attacks in the city make the Prefecture look ineffectual. He wants to produce a culprit, or at least pretend to produce one, to deflect criticism while the search for the real criminal goes on.” He lifted one edge of the window curtain to look out at the dark street below. “It is nothing that has not been done before.”
Nicholas paused in the doorway, feeling a twist in his gut. “We know,” he said lightly, crossing into the room.
“Was Madele all right?” Madeline asked, sitting up on the couch and tossing her hat aside.
“Yes, only preoccupied.”
She was trying to dig something out of her pocket and eventually produced a folded letter. “Sarasate sent a messenger with this. It came to Coldcourt this morning.”
Nicholas took it from her and glanced at the address, then smiled. “Doctor Uberque.” He sat down on the couch and tore the letter open immediately.
“Is that another sorcerer?” Cusard asked suspiciously.
“No, he’s a doctor of history, at Lodun. I consulted him on Constant Macob and he was going to keep looking into the subject for me.” He spread the closely written pages on his knees. Ronsarde’s interest had been piqued at the name of the ancient necromancer and he came to stand at Nicholas’s elbow.
The information Nicholas wanted had apparently led Doctor Uberque on a merry chase through the libraries of Lodun. But the historian seemed to combine an enthusiasm for the hunt with a detectival instinct to rival Ronsarde’s, as well as an encompassing knowledge of his subject.
“He’s discovered what was in the chamber buried beneath Ventarin House,” Nicholas reported after a moment. “That’s the room we found broken into from the Duchess of Mondollot’s cellars,” he explained for Cusard and Crack’s benefit.
Cusard glanced uneasily at Ronsarde, who was frowning down intently at the letter.
Madeline drew breath to expostulate at the delay and Nicholas continued, “It was Constant Macob’s body.”
“His body?” Ronsarde’s expression was almost affronted.
“His bones, more probably, after this amount of time,” Halle commented reasonably. “Did your informant discover the reason the corpse was concealed?”
“He believes Gabard Ventarin had the body sealed in the chamber as a precaution. He relates it to the custom present at the time for burying murderers at crossroads in case their predilection for bloodshed stemmed from an arcane source.” Nicholas folded the letter and tapped it against his chin. Ronsarde captured the document and opened it to read for himself.
“I suppose that explains it,” Madeline said, though she seemed troubled. “Octave needed a relic, a lock of hair or an old possession, of the dead people he wanted to speak to. His sorcerer wanted a relic of Macob so he could speak to him. After all this time Macob’s bones must have been the best thing for it.”
“After all this time,” Ronsarde echoed. “Doctor Uberque explains that he obtained this information from a letter penned by Gabard Ventarin, who was then holding the post of Court Sorcerer. The letter was sent to the sorcerer who was at that time Master of Lodun and whose papers and books are stored in the university’s oldest archives. A difficult task, even for a historian familiar with the Lodun libraries.” He frowned. “How did Octave and our sorcerer know of the corpse’s location?”
That question had occurred to Nicholas as well. But he remembered how Arisilde had found the book he had described to him and felt wary of constructing any theory that contradicted that incontrovertible fact. “Sorcerers,” he pointed out, “can find things that have been lost for years with little difficulty. Without more information, the only conclusion we can draw is that we are facing a very powerful sorcerer. Something we already knew,” he added dryly.
Ronsarde did not look satisfied.
Nicholas hesitated. Now would be a good time to bring up the subject of the sewers and what he suspected an investigation of them would reveal, and he had planned to do so. But Ronsarde’s comment on the Prefecture’s methods had awakened old, and not-so-old, suspicions. He said only, “I’m going out again,” and stood.
Crack stopped him in the hallway. “Me with you?” he asked.
Nicholas shook his head. “No, I want you to stay here. Watch the others.”
Whether Crack had received a subtle message from that, Nicholas didn’t know. He scarcely knew whether he meant it to convey one or not. But Crack made no protest, only nodded, and stepped back into the salon.
Nicholas went through the darkened bedchamber and into the dressing room, a small chamber with a table and a few chairs, a good mirror and some inadequate lamps. It currently looked like it was being used by at least half the cast of an amateur theatrical.
Madeline had followed him back to the dressing room, as he had hoped she would. But before he could say anything she kicked the door shut behind her and said, “You’re being somewhat uncommunicative.”
Her tone, honed to an edge of expression from years of training, stung more than her words. Nicholas’s patience wasn’t inexhaustible to begin with and his temper was short from long hours of work and continual frustrations. He snapped, “I haven’t anything to communicate.”
“You mean nothing definite,” Madeline corrected, folding her arms.
Nicholas turned away and dug through the chaos of clothing and disguises spilling out of the wardrobe and onto the floor, cursing under his breath. It’s my apartment and this was all my idea. You would think I could find my goddamned trousers. “All right, nothing definite to communicate.”
“You won’t discuss it with me because you’re afraid I’ll tell Ronsarde and you don’t want your thunder stolen.”
“That makes me sound like a complete fool.” He found the remnants of his cabman outfit, which had the merit of being dry, at least, and began to strip.
Madeline didn’t disagree with that statement. She eyed him narrowly, then said, “Halle asked me today if he and Ronsarde could trust you.”
“Halle asked you that?” Nicholas paused with his shirt half off.
“You’re jealous,” she said.
“On your account, I assume?” As soon as he said it he knew it was a mistake, but it was too late to snatch the words back. Idiot, he snarled at himself.
But Madeline only gestured in annoyance. “No, I’m not that much of a fool. On Ronsarde’s account. Halle’s worked with him all these years, been involved in the investigations of all these fascinating crimes, been his confidant and his partner. That’s what you would have wanted.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he snapped, slinging things out of the way as he searched for his boots in the bottom of the closet. He wasn’t sure which charge was more demeaning: the accusation of professional jealousy or her obvious belief that that was the only kind of jealousy he could possibly fall prey to.
“Is it? That’s why you won’t tell anyone what you’ve been doing. You want to impress everyone.”
Nicholas finished dressing in suppressed fury. Finally he slung his battered black coat over his shoulders and pulled on the torn fingerless gloves. He grabbed his hat from the dressing table and went to pull back the curtains and shove the window open. He turned back and saw, from Madeline’s expression, that she might regret what she had said, but it was far too late for that. He said, “I don’t know what’s worse, your inaccuracy or your patronizing attitude,” and stepped out the window onto the ledge.
The decorative stonework let him boost himself up onto the roof where he could make his way down the outside stairs into the back courtyard.
It was too early for the appointment Nicholas had to keep, so he found himself in the theater district just off the Saints Procession Boulevard. He passed the façades of the Tragedian, the Elegante, and the Arcadella, with their well-proportioned columns and statues of the Graces and the patron saints of drama and the arts. The promenades were crowded with well-dressed patrons and the vendors and flower-sellers overflowed out into the street, impeding traffic. The carriage circle of the opera was almost choked with coaches with noble crests emblazoned on their doors, and the ornamental lamps around the fountains in the center crowned the confusion with a blaze of light and moving water.
Nicholas kept moving, skirting the busy promenades and the constables who patrolled them, ducking into the street where he had to dodge between the lumbering coaches and the faster-moving cabriolets and curricles. The crowding became even worse when he came into sight of the less expensive theaters and the music halls, an area that flirted dangerously with the edges of the Gabardin and Riverside. He paused outside the High Follies, a theater that specialized in grandiose epics with shipwrecks on fayre islands, exploding steamers in stormy seas, and volcanic explosions. As a boy he would have given, or stolen, anything for the coins to attend a show here. As an adult with freedom and money in his pocket he would have thought the tawdry magic of the place would have palled. But it was amazing how tempting the doorway, framed by an enormous pair of gold-painted palm trees hung with giant snakes, still was. He reminded himself that the shows went for hours and he didn’t have that much time to waste. You can take the boy out of Riverside, Nicholas thought ruefully, but it’s always in his blood. Which showed you what fools the people were who believed heredity and bloodlines meant everything. His blood was of the pure aristocracy of Ile-Rien which the Alsenes were still members of, even if their disgrace kept them from participating in it. This would have been a comforting thought if he hadn’t had the suspicion that his infamous ancestor, Denzil Alsene, would have got along rather well in any place of violence and cutthroat competition.
Nicholas walked on until the theaters became little hole-in-the-wall affairs and the music halls, as well as the prostitutes, became progressively smaller and dingier, and he was in Riverside proper.
There he found entertainment of a somewhat more active nature. He talked or traded insults with a wide variety of people, some of whom were old acquaintances, most of whom knew him by different names. He watched the robbery of a brandy house and ducked into an alley as the constables and the shouting owner ran past. He walked and thought and ended up sitting on what was left of the grand staircase of a ruined Great House with a street urchin, sharing a handful of hot chestnuts, when he heard the nearest clocktower ring the hour.
His goal was only a few streets up, back toward the boulevard, but the area was very different. The streetlights illuminated few passersby and most of the tall brownstone buildings were offices, closed for the night and dark. There was only one building with lit windows, a much more elaborate affair with columns and a polished stone façade. It was the office that housed the Prefect of Public Works.
Nicholas went round the back, threading his way through the alleys, until he found himself in the quiet carriage court behind it. He knocked on the door there and in a few moments the man who answered passed him a tightly folded bundle of documents, and Nicholas handed him an envelope of currency notes.
He went further up toward the Boulevard then, finding an open cafe whose lamps threw enough light onto a nearby bench and he sat there to study his prize. He stayed there long enough that the waiter decided he was an eccentric and began to include him in his circuit, so Nicholas was able to order coffee without having to disturb the arrangement of the documents.
He had been there some time when a voice behind him said, “You’re not easy to find.”
Nicholas glanced up. Madeline leaned on the back of the bench, dressed as a young man, wearing a ridiculously emphatic blue and gold waistcoat and with her hat tilted at a rakish angle. He said, dryly, “That assumes I want to be found.”
Madeline sat on the bench next to him. “Oh, I think you wanted to be found, just a little. You did leave a trail through Riverside, though I did have quite a time until I picked up on it.” She frowned at the papers in his lap. “What’s that?”
“Sewer maps from the Public Works office. I bribed a clerk to steal copies for me. Ronsarde could have got them just by asking, of course, but then it would be in the penny sheets by tomorrow. The clerks there are eminently bribable.” The dregs of the argument still lay between them but at this time of night it seemed pointless to pursue, and Nicholas was disinclined to continue it.
“Hmm.” Madeline looked like she badly wanted to ask what the maps were for, but managed, maddeningly, to restrain herself. She said, “Well, I actually had a reason for following you.”
“Oh, good. I’d hate to be deluded into the thought that you were mildly fond of me.”
Madeline’s mouth twisted wryly. “A second reason. Reynard sent a telegram to the apartment; he wants you to meet him tonight. He has something important to tell you, I gather, unless there’s something you haven’t been telling me?”
“Madeline, you can’t be jealous of Reynard; it’s passé,” Nicholas said, but he was already folding up the maps.
The first glow of dawn was lightening the sky to the east by the time they reached the Cafe Baudy. It was in the Deval Forest, a pleasure garden with wandering paths, streams, and picturesque waterfalls and grottos, always crowded in the warmer months. The cafe was built on two large firmly-anchored barges in a small lake and reached by footbridges. In the summer the water would have been cluttered with boaters and bathers, the rounded islands thick with flowers, but now it was still and dark, the banks shadowed by willows and poplars. Only the cafe was bright, colored lanterns lighting the balcony and the raucous diners crowding it, music drifting over the still black water. Nicholas noted the resemblance to a scene out of one of Vanteil’s Visions of Fayre oils.
Nicholas and Madeline made their way over one of the narrow bridges to the terrace of the cafe. Reynard had chosen the spot well; their unconventional dress, which would have kept them out of any of the better hotels and restaurants, was here not even acknowledged. As the waiter led them among the tables Nicholas saw that Madeline was by no means the only woman dressed as a man, or vice versa, in the crowd.
Reynard was seated at a table with its white linen littered with wine glasses and crumbs and the remains of a light meal. By the number of glasses Nicholas suspected he had had to fend off numerous friends and acquaintances while waiting for them. This impression was confirmed when he greeted them with “Where the hell have you been?”
“We were detained,” Nicholas explained unhelpfully and Madeline assumed an expression of innocence. While the waiter fussed with fresh glasses and poured more wine, she poked at the remnants of the food, finding enough pate to spread on one of the leftover rounds of toast. As soon as the man was gone, Reynard said, “You were right. It was Montesq got Ronsarde arrested.”
Nicholas leaned forward. “Money?”
“How else? I suspected he had Lord Diero in his pocket –”
“Diero, not Albier?” Madeline interrupted, pate-smeared bread forgotten in her hand.
“Not Albier,” Reynard confirmed. “My sources of information — and I’ll admit, most of them are prostitutes, either professionals or amateurs — all believe Diero to be heavily in debt to Montesq. Last week Diero was visited by Batherat, that solicitor you heard about last year –”
“Yes, the new one.” Nicholas had been witness to a meeting between Montesq and Batherat via Arisilde’s portrait at Coldcourt.
“And the next day, Diero gave a very private order to have Ronsarde’s movements checked.”
“How did you discover that?” Madeline demanded. “You have a source in the upper levels of the Prefecture?”
“One of Diero’s subordinates is a friend of a friend. It’s surprising how many people come to the same places for their entertainment. This rather vital piece of information was confided to me over a late supper at the Loggia, as though it meant nothing, and of course to the person who told me it did mean nothing. But if you know the rest….” He gestured eloquently.
“So Montesq is in league with our sorcerer,” Madeline said. “But how did that happen? We watched him so closely. How –”
Nicholas’s thoughts were going along the same path, but Reynard cleared his throat and said, “No, I don’t think he is in league with our madman. I think he was after Ronsarde for an entirely different reason.”
“What reason?” Nicholas had never forgotten that Ronsarde had advanced some suspicions of Montesq. He had wanted to follow up that tantalizing hint but had been afraid of exposing more about his own activities than Ronsarde could comfortably ignore. And there hadn’t been time.
“Ronsarde apparently never dropped the case concerning Edouard Viller.” Reynard advanced the topic cautiously, but Nicholas gestured at him to continue. As a victim of scandal himself, Reynard wasn’t one to talk of rope in the house of the hanged, either literally or figuratively, and wouldn’t mention it unless it was important. Reynard said, “This same person, Diero’s subordinate, told me that Ronsarde had finally asked formal permission of Diero to reopen the court documents and interview witnesses officially, in front of a magistrate. Your name, Nic, was on the list of persons to be questioned in court.”
The waiter arrived to pour more wine, appearing just in time to hear Madeline utter an oath that disturbed a normally impenetrable demeanor to the point that the man actually cocked an eyebrow in reaction. They waited until he had moved on, then Reynard continued, “And that of course means nothing unless you know that Montesq arranged the evidence against Edouard Viller.”
Nicholas smoothed the tablecloth, to keep his hands from knotting into fists. “Ronsarde said nothing about it.”
“He wouldn’t.” Madeline was strangling her napkin in suppressed excitement. Her voice shook with it. “He never knew who arranged his arrest. Halle tried to find out but he couldn’t discover anything. Ronsarde doesn’t know Diero is connected to Montesq. If he had he would have gone over his head, to Albier or Captain Giarde or the Queen herself, he could easily do it.”
“That’s not all,” Reynard said impatiently. “Montesq didn’t only move against Ronsarde. Batherat met with someone else last week as well, in a cabaret. The man evidently believes the lower class prostitutes that inhabit the place can’t see or hear and won’t recognize men they must see every night at the theaters, getting out of crested carriages. He met with Fallier, Nicholas, Rahene Fallier.”
“Ah.” Nicholas leaned back in his chair, and the too-warm, noisy room seemed to fade. “Of course he did.”
“I don’t know what he has on Fallier,” Reynard added. “Montesq has been in the business of blackmail so long, it could be anything. Debts, youthful indiscretions –”
“Necromancy, past or present,” Madeline added.
“Your informant didn’t know what Batherat and Fallier discussed,” Nicholas said, thoughtfully.
“No,” Reynard admitted. “But I think it must have been you.”
“Yes.” Nicholas nodded. “It would explain Fallier’s sudden interest in me.”
“What do you mean?” Madeline demanded.
“Fallier may or may not have recognized my resemblance to Denzil Alsene from a Greanco portrait. In fact, I think he must have; he did know me when we came face to face in the street. But he already knew who I was and not from past researches to uncover possible usurpers to the Crown. He knew because Montesq had Batherat tell him.” Montesq could have sought information on the Valiarde family easily enough. Nicholas’s mother’s family denied her existence now, but there would be old servants or far-flung relations who would readily admit that Sylvaine Valiarde had lived, married a disgraced Alsene, left her husband’s family after his death and dropped out of sight in Vienne.
Madeline nodded. “Montesq knows you hate him, knows you believe he destroyed Edouard. Maybe he even knows you’ve been sticking your nose in his illegitimate dealings.”
“But he doesn’t know much, or he would have moved against you before now,” Reynard added. “He wanted to get Ronsarde out of the way so he had these charges trumped up, then stirred up a riot so he’d have done with him permanently. He also wanted to discredit you, so he told Fallier about your past history.”
“But I’d left Coldcourt and Fallier couldn’t find me until he was called to the contretemps outside Fontainon House.” Nicholas’s eyes narrowed as he followed that line of logic. “And our sorcerer knew Montesq’s movements and took advantage of his machinations for his own purposes.” And why had Montesq acted against Ronsarde and himself now, after all this time? Obviously he’s afraid Ronsarde has new information. Or that I have new information.
“So he is in league with Montesq?” Madeline said, with the air of being determined to settle at least one point.
“No.” Nicholas was thinking of the enspelled mirror Arisilde had found in Octave’s hotel room. “Our mad sorcerer has too many ways of finding things out. He is a necromancer, after all. But I would like to know how he knew where to look.” He let out his breath. He hadn’t wanted to discuss this with anyone, except perhaps Arisilde, who was too distanced from reality himself to find any theory far-fetched, no matter how outrageous it sounded. “I’m almost afraid that the reason he did know all this –”
A sudden shout from the doorway drew their attention. A raggedly dressed boy was at the entrance, gesturing urgently to a skeptical maitre’d. Nicholas recognized one of Cusard’s messengers and nodded to Reynard, who signaled their waiter over and said, “I believe the boy has a message for me; have them let him in, will you?”
In another moment the boy stood panting at their table, much to the consternation and amusement of the other diners. “Captain Morane!” The boy held out a smudged square of folded notepaper. “This’s for you.”
Reynard handed the note to Nicholas and dismissed the boy with some coins and a couple of pastries from the table. Nicholas scanned Cusard’s hasty and almost illegible handwriting quickly, swore, and got to his feet. “There’s trouble. We have to get there immediately.”
The cab let them off in the Philosopher’s Cross, one street over from Arisilde’s building. Without knowing what had happened, Nicholas wanted to be able to approach the place cautiously and on foot; Cusard’s note had said only that there had been a “disaster” and that they must come to Arisilde’s apartment at once.
The early morning light was gray and heavy, the air cold and damp. Nicholas was first down the alley and first to come within sight of the tenement.
He halted on the dirty paving stones of the promenade without quite knowing he had. Cusard had not exaggerated.
There was a hole in the upper stories of the old building, just where Arisilde’s apartment was. It was a ragged, gaping cavity as if from a bomb blast, and had torn a section out of the mansard roof. But there was no mark of fire and no smoke hung in the damp air, though broken stone and shingles littered the pavement.
Behind him he heard Reynard curse, then Madeline made a strangled noise and pushed past him, running across the street. Nicholas bolted after her.
There were people in the alley, pointing up and discussing it in hushed tones, milling around. There were constables and men from the fire brigade going in and out of the entrance.
Madeline pushed through a pair of constables and plunged up the stairs. Nicholas would have been right behind her but someone stepped into his way. It was Cusard, having materialized out of the crowd of spectators like a wraith. He said, “Something you got to know.”
Nicholas paused and Reynard fetched up behind them. “What?”
Cusard’s shoulders were stooped and he looked very old in the gray morning light. He said, “Ronsarde and Halle was in there too.”
Reynard said, “No,” and looked up at the rent in the building, his face aghast. Another brick fell, sending the front edge of the crowd scattering.
Nicholas’s throat was tight. “How?”
“The Parscian sent a telegram for you, saying for you to come at once, that Arisilde was going to wake up. The Inspector told me to look for you and he and the doctor went off to here.” Cusard hesitated, his face guilty. “I should’ve stopped em.”
Nicholas shook his head. If I had been there…. “Go on.”
“I had to go to the warehouse to find a boy to send, but by that time Verack — he was watchin’ here last night — come for me, to tell me what had happened.”
“They’re dead?” Reynard asked.
Cusard shook his head and gestured in frustration. “They wouldn’t let nobody in. And I didn’t want to give notice to the constables — but they ain’t carried nobody out.”
“They let Madeline in.” Reynard looked at Nicholas.
“Her grandmother was in there.” Nicholas caught Reynard’s arm when he would have pushed on toward the building. “No, stay out here.”
The constables tried to stop him but he told them that he was Madeline’s husband and they let him pass. There were frightened tenants on the stairwell, crying children and people in various states of undress, and constables trying unsuccessfully to get them out of the building or at least out of the way. Nicholas wove his way past them until he reached the landing that was just below Arisilde’s apartment. The skylight over the stairs had been shattered and part of the ceiling had come down. The concierge was standing on the landing, resisting all attempts to move him. He was arguing with a constable and an official-looking person in a frock coat.
“No,” the concierge was saying stubbornly, his Aderassi accent thickening in his distress. “Do I look drunk nor mad? There was more than that –” He saw Nicholas and winced. “Ah, sir. The old woman, they got her in there.”
Nicholas turned to the indicated doorway. It was the apartment below Arisilde’s. The door had been knocked off the hinges and stood to one side, and the floor in the hall and front parlor was littered with plaster dust and pieces of molding. A frowsy-haired woman wrapped in a dressing gown appeared and gestured him through a pile of broken crockery to a back room.
A single lamp revealed a bedroom in tumbled disorder, with old furniture and blue flowered damask. Madele had been laid out on the bed, her hands folded neatly, and Madeline sat next to her. Nicholas’s first reaction was relief. Even though he knew there hadn’t been time, he had been irrationally afraid that her body would have been used for necromancy. There wasn’t a mark on her and except for the dust in her clothes and hair, she might have died in her sleep.
Madeline’s face was utterly still.
The concierge stepped into the doorway behind Nicholas and touched his sleeve. He whispered, “Tell the lady we found her all curled up at the top of the stairs, like she was asleep. It took her so quick, whatever it was, that she didn’t feel a thing. I don’t want to say it to her now, but later, when she wants to hear it.”
“Yes, thank you.” Nicholas nodded. It would have had to take her quickly, a battle would have drawn too much attention. And there were other sorcerers who lived in the Philosopher’s Cross, though not powerful ones. If she had had a chance to fight, they might have come to help her. “Did you see it?”
“I heard it. An explosion, like a bomb, very loud, very sharp.” The man glanced warily over his shoulder. “They think it was a gas explosion, but it was nothing like one and they don’t know the wizard lives here. Wizards got enemies, everybody knows that.”
The constable and the official in the frock coat were making their way through the shattered apartment toward them. “They were all killed?” Nicholas asked the concierge, speaking in Aderassi.
“That’s just it!” The man switched to his native language automatically. “We found the old Parscian man alive, but not a sign of the others, and these bastards don’t believe –”
The official interrupted, “Excuse me, what connection do you have to this affair?” If he knew he had just been called a bastard in Aderassi he gave no sign of it.
“My wife’s grandmother was killed and I’m a friend of the tenant in that apartment,” Nicholas answered, stepping back out of the bedroom so the man would focus on him and leave Madeline alone. To the concierge he said urgently, “Where’s Isham?”
The man turned back down the hall and led him to another small, disordered room, the official and the constable still trailing them. Isham lay on the bed there, blood in his hair and on his face from multiple cuts on his forehead. The woman in the dressing gown was trying to bathe the cuts but the old man was moaning, barely conscious, and trying to push her hand away. Nicholas forgot about their audience and went hastily to his side.
“Isham, it’s Nicholas,” he said. The old man’s face was badly bruised, there were other cuts and scrapes, and the colors of his Parscian robes were muted by plaster dust. “Can you hear me?”
Isham’s hand came up, grabbed his coat with surprising strength. Nicholas leaned down, his ear close to the injured man’s lips. His voice a weak rasp, Isham whispered, “Madele freed Arisilde. It was a corpse ring, hidden by a spell. I thought…there might be danger — But she removed it and nothing happened so I sent for you. But he must have known when the spell failed and he came… He came for Arisilde….”
Isham tried to manage more but he started to cough, a racking, pain-filled sound, and Nicholas said, “That’s enough, you’ve told me all I need to know.” That was anything but true, but he didn’t want the man to kill himself with the effort. He probed at one of the cuts gently, trying to determine the extent of the injury.
“Careful, there’s glass,” the woman cautioned him.
She was right. Doctor Brile’s surgery wasn’t far from here. He would have to make arrangements to have Isham moved there immediately. And he would have to claim Madele’s body so it wouldn’t be sent to the city morgue.
“Sir,” an impatient voice behind him said. Nicholas twisted around and the official took a step backward, startled and wary. Nicholas made an effort to school his features into an expression less threatening. He realized the man had been trying to get his attention for some moments. He said, “Yes?”
The official regained his composure and said, “This person,” he indicated the concierge, “Has said there were three others in the apartment but we can find no sign of them. Can you confirm this?”
No sign of them. “Yes,” Nicholas said. “This man and the woman were caring for the tenant, who was an invalid. Two of our friends were coming here early this morning.” He looked at the concierge, who was standing at the foot of the bed, his arms folded, frustrated and highly affronted at having his veracity questioned. “Did they arrive before…?”
“Yes, the two men, gray-haired, one with a doctor bag, one with a cane? Doctors come all the time lately, I hardly notice.”
“How long before?” Nicholas asked sharply, interrupting whatever pronouncement the official had been trying to make.
“Not long.” The concierge narrowed his eyes, lips pursed in thought, anticipating the demand for a more specific answer. “I heard them go up the stairs, a door open and close. Then Cesar, from the market, came to argue about rent, but that was only for a moment and boom! It knocked us both down from fear. Things fell, dust came down the stairs in a great cloud. I thought the whole place would come down on our heads.”
It was a trap, then. If Nicholas had correctly understood Isham, then the removal of whatever spell had imprisoned Arisilde had alerted their opponent, but instead of acting immediately he had waited to see who would come to Arisilde’s side. But if Arisilde was waking, why hadn’t he tried to defend himself? I have to get into that apartment.
“And what relation was the tenant to you?” the official asked.
Nicholas was glad he hadn’t brought a pistol with him; he would’ve been tempted to shoot the man. But before he could answer, Madeline shouldered the bulky constable out of the doorway and shoved into the room. She stood, breathing hard, looking down at Isham. Nicholas saw the official look askance at her coat and trousers and he told the man, in a cold voice, “She’s on the stage.”
“Ahh.” The official pretended to understand that statement and persisted, “I understand the shock of the situation but –”
Madeline lifted her gaze to Nicholas. “How is he?” she demanded.
Her eyes glittered and not from unshed tears. It was a dangerous light, uncertain and with an edge to it. Nicholas answered, “Not good. He needs to go to Doctor Brile immediately.”
The concierge abruptly remembered his duty and said, “I get you a carriage,” and pushed his way out past the constable.
Nicholas hesitated for a heartbeat, then put his faith in Madeline’s quick wits. He stood and caught her hand, saying urgently, “You look faint!”
Her expression didn’t change but she blinked and raised a suddenly trembling hand to her brow. Then she fell backwards, boneless and apparently completely unconscious, right into the arms of the surprised official. He staggered under her sudden and unexpected weight and the constable leapt forward to help support her. The woman who had been tending Isham yelped in sympathy and scrambled around the bed to help.
Nicholas shouted something about going for help and slipped past them and out the door. He reached the landing again, saw the other tenants still milling below, and hurried up the stairs.
The doorframe in Arisilde’s apartment was cracked and splintered and the door hung on its hinges, revealing the familiar hall choked with rubble and debris. He stepped through it carefully, making his way into the long parlor at the back of the apartment. The hole was between the two windows that had looked down into the alley, the edges ragged with broken stone and shattered wood. The floor was buried under plaster from the ceiling and broken glass from the windows and the skylights, and the remnants of the curtains were stirring gently in the cool breeze. Nicholas moved around the room, noting the familiar objects strewn about, the furniture broken or overturned, the scattered books and smashed plant pots.
A gas explosion, Nicholas thought in contempt. Whoever came to that conclusion was delusional. From the look of it all, it was immediately obvious that whatever had burst through the wall had done it from the outside coming in.
He left the wreck of the parlor and searched the rest of the apartment swiftly. The other rooms were not as badly disturbed, except for objects knocked off the walls and the cracks in the plaster. There was no sign of Ronsarde or Halle, no sign that anyone had been here.
Arisilde’s bedroom was oddly undisturbed, as if it had been at the still center of a violent and destructive storm. The coverlet on the bed was thrown back and the impression in the soft mattress where Arisilde had lain was still visible.
He heard voices from below and knew he had run out of time. He moved quickly toward the door but a glint of white wedged into the bottom of the splintered doorframe caught his eye. He knelt and worked it free.
It was a piece of ivory, carved into the shape of a Parscian hunting cat’s head. It was the ornament from atop the ebony cane Reynard had loaned to Inspector Ronsarde.
The concierge had found a carriage to take Isham to Doctor Brile’s surgery and Nicholas used that confusion to get down the stairs to the lower landing without anyone noticing. In the ensuing effort to get the injured man down the stairs without hurting him further, Nicholas managed to give some coins to the woman who had let her rooms be used as hospital and morgue, and to ask the concierge to send for an undertaker to take charge of Madele’s body. He escaped into the street without further interrogation by constables or anyone else.
As he gave the coachman instructions and a note for Doctor Brile, he saw Madeline waiting across the street with Reynard and Cusard. He checked that Isham was settled as comfortably as possible, then sent the coach off and joined the others.
“Are you all right?” he asked Madeline.
“Of course,” she snapped.
“Do we know anything of what happened?” Reynard asked, as if he didn’t have much hope of an answer.
Nicholas shook his head. “From what Isham was able to tell me, Madele discovered what was wrong with Arisilde. It was a spell, not drugs or illness. But when she removed it, it somehow alerted the sorcerer. He waited long enough to draw a few of us into the trap.” He stopped, compressing his lips, then looked at Madeline. “Why didn’t she tell me she had discovered what was wrong with Arisilde?”
“She never told anyone anything. She probably didn’t want to get your hopes up if she was wrong.” Madeline knotted her fists and paced angrily. “Damn stupid old woman.”
Reynard looked up at the ruin of the tenement’s top floor. He said softly, “Now what?”
That wasn’t a question Nicholas wanted to answer at the moment, even though he knew exactly what he had to do now. He looked around, struck by the sudden notion that he was missing something important. “Wait. Where’s Crack?”
Reynard turned back and Madeline looked up. Cusard blanched and said, “He was with Ronsarde and Halle when I left….”
Nicholas cursed and started back down the alley toward their coach. He would check the apartment but he knew he would find no one there. He had told Crack to “watch the others,” and Crack would not have let Ronsarde and Halle leave the apartment alone.
END CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Continued in Chapter Nineteen
Martha Wells is the author of fourteen novels, including The Cloud Roads, The Wizard Hunters, and the Nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer. The Siren Depths was published in December 2012 by Night Shade Books, and is the third in the Books of the Raksura series. Her YA fantasy, Emilie and the Hollow World, was published by Angry Robot in April 2013.
She has had short stories in Black Gate, Realms of Fantasy, and Stargate Magazine, and in the anthologies Elemental, The Year’s Best Fantasy #7, Tales of the Emerald Serpent and The Other Half of the Sky. She has essays in the nonfiction anthologies Farscape Forever, Mapping the World of Harry Potter and Chicks Unravel Time.
She has also written media-tie-in novels, Stargate Atlantis: Reliquary and Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement, and has a Star Wars novel, Empire and Rebellion: Razor’s Edge, due out in October 2013.
Her web site is www.marthawells.com
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