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 Eleven. Read Chapter Ten here.
“It’s a lovely day not to be under a death sentence from a Sending,” Madeline said, as they came out into the morning light from the dark interior of the stables. They had driven back to Lodun, starting before dawn to reach the town in good time, and had just turned the hired horse and trap back over to the owner. Madeline was in male dress again, Madele having nothing suitable for town that she could borrow. They were both dusty, tired, and somewhat the worse for wear.
Before they left Madele’s house, Nicholas had told the sorceress about Arisilde and asked for her help. She had stood next to their pony trap while he harnessed the horse and had said, “Arisilde Damal, hmm? And he studied at Lodun? I don’t think I’ve heard of him.”
Nicholas thought that was probably just as well and didn’t comment.
After a long moment of thought, she asked, “Is Ian Vardis still Court Sorcerer?”
“No, he died years ago. Rahene Fallier has the position.”
“Ahh,” she said. “Don’t know him. That’s good.” There was another long pause and Nicholas devoted his attention to adjusting the harness. He wouldn’t beg her, if that’s what she was waiting for. Finally she asked, “Is it a spell, or just an illness?”
“We weren’t sure.”
Her brows lifted in surprise.
He hesitated, then said, “He’s an opium addict.”
Madele was now favoring him with one of Madeline’s expressions of sardonic incredulity that seemed to question his sanity. It was worse coming from her, since her thick gray brows heightened the effect. Stung, Nicholas said, “If you feel its beyond your admittedly failing skills –”
Madele rolled her eyes, annoyed. “He a thief too?”
“Yes,” Nicholas snapped.
“Then I’ll come,” she had said, smiling and showing her missing teeth. “I like thieves.”
Madele had promised to come to Vienne tomorrow, which would give her time for making various arrangements for the upkeep of the house and animals with her neighbors. Nicholas hadn’t been sure she would really come, if he could really count on her help, but after Madeline emerged from the house to have a half-hour argument with her over what train the old woman would take from Lodun, he felt she did, at least, mean to travel to Vienne.
Now, here in Lodun, he could only hope she would keep her promise. “Can you arrange the train tickets, and check at the hotel to see if there’s any word from Reynard or Isham?” Nicholas asked Madeline. He had left both with instructions to send a telegram in care of the railroad hotel if there were any new developments with Octave or with Arisilde’s condition. “I need to pursue another line of investigation.”
Madeline brushed road dust from her lapels. “Concerning how Octave became so intimately acquainted with Edouard’s work?”
Nicholas’s expression was enigmatic. “Yes, and how did you ever guess that?”
“Edouard performed most of his experiments here, didn’t he?” She leaned back against the post and tipped back her hat thoughtfully, very much in character as a young man. The street was sparsely occupied, mainly by townspeople on errands or farmers’ carts, with a few students in ragged scholar’s gowns, probably just recovering from a night spent in the cabarets, hurrying along the walk toward the university gates. “I assume you don’t suspect Wirhan Asilva, since we were going to him for help?”
“No, not Asilva.” Asilva had helped Nicholas remove the contents of Edouard’s Lodun workroom after the old philosopher’s arrest, something that could have landed Nicholas in prison and put Asilva, as a sorcerer and subject to charges of necromancy, under a death sentence. He had also fought for Edouard’s release up until the last moment, even as he had protested that Edouard’s spheres were dangerous and should never have been created. He didn’t think Asilva would betray his old friend, even years after Edouard’s death. “There’s something Arisilde said that has made me wonder about Ilamires Rohan. And if we eliminate Arisilde and Asilva, he’s the only other sorcerer familiar with the situation who is still alive now.”
“That we know of.” Madeline looked doubtful. “Rohan was Master of Lodun and Arisilde’s teacher. He could be extremely dangerous, to say the least.”
“That depends.” Nicholas took Madeline’s arm.
“On whether he merely gave the information to Octave or if he is Octave’s mad sorcerer.”
“If that’s the case, it won’t be safe to confront him. Are you sure –”
“I’m sure of one thing. That ‘safe’ is not a state of being any of us are going to experience again until this is over.”
Nicholas spoke to several old acquaintances at the cafe near the northern university gates and discovered that his quarry was not only in town, but that he would be at home later this afternoon entertaining guests. That was ideal for what Nicholas had in mind and it also gave him time to look for more information on Constant Macob.
For that the best place was the Albaran Library, currently housed in one of the oldest structures in Lodun. Standing in the foyer of that venerable building, in the smell of aged paper and dust and time, Nicholas’s student days seemed only a short while ago, as if the intervening years had meant nothing. He dismissed that thought with annoyance. The past was the past, as dead as Edouard. But on impulse, he found one of the attendants and asked for Doctor Uberque.
The attendant led him to a room in the outer wall of the bastion that had once been part of an inner defensive corridor. There were still trapdoors high in the walls and the ceiling, originally placed there so boiling oil could be poured down on anyone who broke through the outer doors. But now the corridor had been partitioned off into half a dozen high-ceilinged rooms and the walls were lined with shelves. The narrow windows that had been crossbow or musket slits were now filled with stained glass. Doctor Uberque stood in front of a large table covered with books and papers. He waved away the attendant before the man could introduce them and said, “Nicholas Valiarde. Did you come back to finish your degree?” He was a tall man with sparse white hair and a lined, good-humored face. He wore a black and purple master scholar’s gown open over his suit, as if he had just come from a tutoring session.
“No, sir.” Nicholas managed not to smile. Uberque was single-minded in the extreme and was as unlikely to be curious about Nicholas’s need for this information as if he was any other student trying to write a monograph. “I’m in town on business, but I need information about a subject I thought you could supply.”
Uberque’s eyes went distant. Nicholas had seen the same effect with storytellers in the marketplaces of Parscian cities. They were usually illiterate, but held thousands of lines of poetic sagas in their memories. After a moment, Uberque said, “One of the executed sorcerers from the reign of King Rogere. A disreputable character.”
“The sorcerer or the King?” Nicholas asked, taking a seat at the table.
Uberque took the question seriously. “Either, though that is a different topic entirely. Do you want a reference on Macob?”
Doctor Uberque stepped to the shelves and paced along them thoughtfully. “Everyone remembers Macob as a necromancer and nothing more. Before him, you know, necromancy was frowned on, but it was quite legal. It was mainly concerned with methods of divination, then. Seeing ancient kings on one’s fingernail, and asking them for secret information.” Uberque smiled. “Macob went on quite as any other sorcerer for a number of years. Then his wife and several of his children died in one of the plagues.”
“It’s certain they died naturally?” Nicholas asked, one brow lifting in doubt.
“Well, he was suspected later of causing their deaths, but I don’t think he did. No, I don’t believe so. Healing magic only goes so far and the apothecaries at the time were nearly useless. I think it was after his eldest daughter died that Macob… changed.”
“He went insane?”
“It’s hard to say. Judging from his actions, he must have done. But he didn’t behave like a madman. He was more than clever, more than cunning. His work during this time period was nothing short of brilliant. He continually astounded the masters of Lodun, he was given honors by the King, and he carried on an utterly normal private life in his home in the city. And he killed people. He was caught, in the end, only by accident. The house next to his was sold and the new owners were adding a stables. A courtyard wall collapsed due to incompetence and it knocked down the wall of a wing of Macob’s house. He was away at the time. When the builders hastened to repair the damage, they found the first of the bodies.” Uberque shrugged and continued, “No one will ever know how many he killed. Gabard Ventarin read Macob’s secret journals before he burned them and discovered that Macob had been advancing the frontiers of necromancy in quite a different direction than divination. He had learned how to draw power from not only death, but pain.” Doctor Uberque paused, touching the spine of a book lightly. “‘He called the dark fay allies and conspired with everything of decadence and filth. He brought death to the innocent and concealed the traces of his passing with chaos… ‘ That’s from The Histories of Aden Cathare. You don’t want that, it doesn’t have anything helpful. The Executions of Rogere, that’s better. It’s only fifty years old and there’s half a dozen copies at least, so I can loan you one with a clear conscience.” He frowned at the shelves. “It’s not here. No, it’s not here. We’ll go and have a look for it, shall we?”
The Executions of Rogere secured at last and Doctor Uberque thanked, Nicholas left the musty dimness of the old library. He crossed the open gallery to one of the newer brick buildings that grew like mushrooms on the side of the older structures. The view between the pillars of the gallery was of the towers and courts of the medical college. The day was sunny and the breeze mild; another sign that winter was over for the year. Nicholas touched the pistol in his pocket. He doubted his next appointment would end so congenially.
Ilamires Rohan, former Master of Lodun University, still spent most of the year at his home on the university grounds. The house was four floors of tan-colored stone that took on a golden glow in the afternoon light, with small ornamental turrets along the roof line. It stood in the center of a large garden surrounded by a low stone wall. On leaving the Albaran Library Nicholas had passed through a students’ hall and picked up a reasonably presentable scholar’s gown from the pile at the bottom of a stairwell, discarded there by young students eager to escape tutoring sessions and enjoy the day. With that over his somewhat dusty suit, no one gave him a second look as he crossed the various college courts on the way to Rohan’s house.
The gardeners were preparing the flower beds for spring, and none of them gave him a second look either when Nicholas walked in the back gate and through the kitchen garden to the scullery door. It was long enough after lunch that the kitchen and pantries were deserted except for a pair of maids scrubbing pots, who acknowledged his passing with hasty head-bobs and went back to their conversation.
Nicholas left the gown on the coat rack in the butler’s sitting room and went through a baize servants’ door that led out into the front hallway. The house was lovely from the inside as well. The hall was filled with mellow light from the dozen or so narrow windows above the main door and the cabinets and console tables lining the hall were of well-polished rosewood, the rugs of an expensive weave from the hill country. But Rohan had always had exquisite taste, even when he had been a dean living in a tiny cottage behind the Apothecaries Guild Hall. His star did rise fast, didn’t it, Nicholas thought. And for all its apparent peace Lodun was a competitive world, especially for sorcerers. Nicholas investigated a few receiving rooms, finding them unoccupied, then heard voices and followed them into the large parlor at the end of the hall.
There was a group of men just coming in from the room beyond, talking amiably. They were all older, dressed either in Master Scholars’ gowns or impeccable frock coats. One of the things Nicholas had discovered in his morning reconnaissance was that Rohan was giving a luncheon for several dignitaries from the town and the university this afternoon; he was glad to see his informant had not been mistaken.
“Master Rohan,” Nicholas said lightly.
The old man turned, startled. His face, thin and ascetic, marked by harsh lines and pale from too much time in poorly lit rooms, changed when he recognized his new visitor. That change told Nicholas everything he wanted to know. Rohan said, “I didn’t realize you were here.”
The words had been almost blurted, as if from guilt at forgetting his presence, yet Rohan had to know the butler hadn’t admitted Nicholas or he would have been informed of it. Stiffening with annoyance at the display of ill-mannered impudence and demanding to know why he hadn’t come to the front door like a gentleman would have been more convincing. Nicholas smiled. “Which didn’t you realize: that I was here in town, or that I was here among the living?”
Rohan’s eyes narrowed, as if he suspected mockery but wasn’t sure of the inference, but he said only, “You wanted to speak to me? I’m presently occupied.” His voice was colder. In a few moments enough of his self-control would have returned to allow him to confidently dismiss the intruder.
Nicholas strolled to the table, hands in his pockets, and met Rohan’s eyes deliberately. “I had something to ask you about Edouard’s Lodun affairs. You were doing such a marvelous job of handling them for me when I was younger, I thought surely you could assist me now.”
The old man’s gaze shifted. With a barely perceptible hesitation, he turned to the others. “You’ll excuse me, gentlemen. An obligation to an old friend… ”
The other men assured him that of course it was no trouble at all and Nicholas followed Rohan into his study without pause. He had been seen by the Master of Doire Hall, three deans of the medical college, and the Lord Mayor of Lodun, none of them Rohan’s fellow sorcerers. If Rohan wanted to kill him he wouldn’t be able to do it in his home this afternoon.
The study was spacious, the walls covered in green ribbed silk and lined with glass-fronted bookcases, interrupted only by a lacquered map cabinet and several busts of classical figures on carved pedestals. There was a landscape by Sithare over the marble mantel, a strong sign that Rohan was not having any difficulty with his finances.
Rohan moved to the desk and sat down behind it, as if Nicholas were a student called in for a dressing down. Not a very friendly gesture toward an old friend’s son. He said, “I hope this won’t take long. As you saw I am –”
“There’s only one thing I still need to know; the rest is only curiosity,” Nicholas interrupted. He let the old man wait a heartbeat. “The material you gave to Doctor Octave. Where did it come from? Did you take it from Edouard’s laboratory?”
Rohan sighed. “I didn’t steal it, if that’s what you’re implying.” He leaned on the desk and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Some of the notebooks were Edouard’s, the rest were mine.” He raised his head, wearily. “The sphere was mine. Edouard constructed it and I devised the spells.”
Nicholas didn’t allow his expression to change and kept his grip on the revolver in his pocket. This might be a trick. Readily admit what you already know you can’t conceal, and strike as soon as my guard is down. He remembered the teasingly familiar handwriting on the scraps of paper they had found at Valent House; it must have been Rohan’s. His voice deceptively mild, he said, “I didn’t realize you had worked with Edouard. You said –”
“I said I didn’t approve. I said what he did was nonsense.” Rohan slammed a hand down on the desk, then took a deep breath, reaching for calm. “I was afraid. I made it a condition when I agreed to work with him that he tell no one of my involvement. Wirhan Asilva was an old man with no ambitions, even then. He could afford to be mixed up in such things. Arisilde… ” When he spoke the name Rohan’s voice almost broke with bitterness. “Arisilde was a precocious boy. No one could touch him and he knew it. But I was Master of Lodun, and vulnerable.”
This sounded too much like the truth. Nicholas said, “He kept his word to you. He told no one. You could have testified –”
“He was a natural philosopher who wanted to talk to his dead wife and they hanged him for necromancy. I was a sorcerer in a position of power. What do you think they would have done to me?” Rohan shook his head. “I know, I know. Asilva testified and it did no good. I convinced myself that Edouard might be guilty, that he might have killed that woman for his experiment, that he might have concealed the true nature… And I was afraid. Then Edouard was dead, and then Ronsarde proved it was all a mistake, and there seemed no point in dredging it up again.” He rubbed his face tiredly, then spread his gnarled hands on the desk. “Octave wouldn’t tell me what he wanted with the sphere. I suppose he went to you for the same purpose. I knew there were things missing from Edouard’s rooms here when the Crown seized the contents and I knew you and Asilva must have taken them, but I didn’t tell Octave that. That’s not something that can be laid at my door. Did he threaten to expose you as well? Since Edouard was found innocent I don’t think it would be a crime… ”
Rohan was speaking quickly, his hands nervously touching the things on the desk. Nicholas stopped listening. There was something tawdry and anticlimactic about it, to come here expecting evil and find only weakness. He asked, “What did Octave threaten you with?”
Rohan was silent a moment. “It wasn’t the first time I had dabbled in necromancy.” He looked up and added dryly, “I see you’re not shocked. Most sorcerers of my generation have some experience with it, though few will admit it. Octave came to me here, two years ago. He knew. I don’t know how. He knew about my work with it in the past, my work with Edouard, he knew everything. I gave him what he wanted, and he went away.” Rohan winced. “I shouldn’t have, I know that. Edouard meant it to be a method of communication with the etheric plane, but it never worked quite the way he wanted.” Seeing Nicholas’s expression he added, “I can’t be more specific than that. Edouard built the thing; all I did was contribute the necessary spells. I know he wanted it to work for anyone, but it would only function for a person who had some talent for magic. It might be a small talent, just a bare awareness of it, but that was enough.”
But how did Octave know you had it? Nicholas had the feeling that if he could answer that question then all the half-glimpsed plots would unravel. “Is Octave a sorcerer then?”
Rohan shook his head. “He has a little talent, no skill. He isn’t a sorcerer. But with the sphere… I don’t know. I can’t tell you any more.” He sat up a little straighter. “If that is all you have to ask, please go.”
It might all be an act but that seemed unlikely. This was Rohan’s sole involvement with the plot, as the victim of blackmail for past crimes and disloyalties. Nicholas took his hand out of the pocket with the pistol and went to the door. He paused on the threshold, glanced back, and said, “I’m sure Arisilde would send you his regards. If he could remember who you were,” and quietly closed the door behind him.
Nicholas found Madeline waiting at a table outside the little cafe where they had arranged to meet. She stood as he came near, saying, “There was a wire waiting at the hotel from Reynard. He says there’s been a development and we need to return immediately.”
Nicholas spotted Reynard in the crowd on the platform of the Vienne station as he and Madeline stepped off the train. Since they had no baggage to collect they avoided the congestion and were able to make their way over to him and withdraw into one of the recessed waiting areas, left empty by the arrival of the Express. It was a little room lined with upholstered benches, smelling strongly of tobacco and the steam exhaust of trains.
“What’s happened?” Nicholas demanded immediately.
Reynard was as carefully dressed as ever but he looked as if he hadn’t slept. He said, “Ronsarde’s been arrested.”
“What?” Nicholas glanced at Madeline, saw her expression was incredulous, and knew he couldn’t have misheard. “What the devil for?”
“The charge is officially burglary,” Reynard said. From his skeptical expression it was evident what he thought the likelihood of that was. “Apparently he broke into a house in pursuit of evidence and was careless enough to get caught at it. But Cusard says there’s a rumor in the streets that he was assisting a necromancer.”
The mental leap from housebreaking to necromancy was a long one, even for Vienne’s hysterical rumor-mongers. Nicholas felt a curious sense of vertigo; perhaps he was more tired than he realized. “How did that get started?”
Reynard shook his head. “I should tell you from the beginning. The morning after you left for Lodun, the Prefecture found Valent House. Ronsarde was investigating the murders yesterday when he broke into this place he’s accused of breaking into.” Anticipating the question Nicholas was trying to interrupt with, he added, “And no, I don’t know the name of the house. It wasn’t in the papers and Cusard couldn’t find out from his sources in the Prefecture, either. Which makes it sound like a noble family, doesn’t it?”
“An ignoble family, perhaps.” Nicholas was thinking of Montesq. Octave’s initial interest in Edouard Viller, his theft of the scholar’s work, his knowledge of Coldcourt, even the way he had approached Ilamires Rohan. Like footprints on wet pavement they led back to Montesq. Could he be at the root of it? Supporting Octave and his lunatic sorcerer? That would be so…convenient. Convenient and in a way disappointing. He didn’t want Montesq executed for a crime the man had actually committed. That would ruin the whole point of the thing.
“Wait,” Madeline said, exasperated. “I’ve missed something. How did the Prefecture get the idea that Ronsarde was behind the murders at Valent House?”
“They don’t have that idea, of course,” Reynard told her impatiently. “He was done for burglary and whoever managed to pull that off must be damn high up in the ranks, that’s all I can say.” He gestured helplessly. “But this rumor that he’s involved with necromancers is everywhere. There was a small riot last night in front of Valent House. Took a troop of City Guards to keep them from burning the place down.”
“And half of Riverside with it, I imagine.” Madeline’s brow creased as she looked at Nicholas.
Nicholas dragged a hand through his hair. Several women and a porter laden with baggage passed the open doorway, but no one entered. He muttered, “Oh, he must be close. He must be right on top of them.”
Reynard checked his pocket watch. “He’s due to go before the magistrate in an hour. I thought it might help to hear what goes on there.”
“Yes, we’d better go there at once.” Nicholas turned to Madeline. “I want the other spheres removed from Coldcourt. Can you do that while we’re at court?”
“Yes. You think Octave will try for them.”
“No. But I may need them as bait and I don’t want to risk going to Coldcourt again. I don’t want their attention on it. Take the spheres to the warehouse and put them in Arisilde’s safe. I wager even the real Constant Macob couldn’t find them in there.”
“I have the impression,” Reynard began, his eyes grim, “that I’m underinformed. Who the hell is Constant Macob?”
“I’ll explain on the way.”
Madeline found a hire cabriolet to take her on her mission to Coldcourt and Nicholas and Reynard went to the coach. Devis was driving and Crack was waiting on the box. Crack’s greeting was a restrained nod. Standing so as to block any curious onlooker’s view, Nicholas handed Crack back his pistol and touched his hat brim to him.
“It’s very odd,” Reynard commented, once he had seen the book and had Nicholas’s theory on their opponent explained to him, “to be rushing off to see Inspector Ronsarde arraigned before the magistrates. I always expected to be on the other side of the bench, as it were.”
“Odd is a mild word for it,” Nicholas said, his expression hard. Now that he had gotten over the initial shock, he was almost light-headed with rage at Octave and his lunatic sorcerer. They had stolen Edouard’s work, they had tried to kill himself and Madeline, and now… And now Ronsarde. He should be grateful to them for destroying the great Inspector Ronsarde, something that he had never been able to do. Except I stopped trying to destroy him years ago. He wasn’t grateful, he was homicidal. It wasn’t enough that they endanger his friends and servants, they had to attack his most valued enemy as well. “Where’s Octave?”
“The night of our little upset in Lethe Square he moved out of the Hotel Galvaz and into the Dormier, using a false name. Some of Cusard’s men are keeping an eye on him. Oh, and Lamane and I went back to that manufactory that Octave led us to. There was nothing there, just an old, empty building.”
Nicholas grimaced in annoyance. Octave’s behavior was inexplicable. He thought it would be greatly improved by a couple of hard blows to the spiritualist’s head with a crowbar. “Octave should have left the city, at least until we were taken care of.”
“Except that he has an appointment for a circle at Fontainon House. I don’t think he wants to miss that.”
“Fontainon House?” Nicholas didn’t like the cold edge of prescience that simple statement gave him. Fontainon House was the home of the Queen’s maternal cousin, an older woman of few ambitions beyond social achievement, but the house itself was within sight of the palace. It might even be caught in the edge of the palace wards. The idea of Octave holding a circle at Fontainon House didn’t have the feel of another confidence game; it felt like a goal.
“Does that tell you something?” Reynard asked, watching Nicholas’s expression.
“It makes a rather unpleasant suggestion. How did you hear about it?”
“I ran into Madame Algretto at Lusaude’s. They’ve been invited. She wasn’t keen on it after what happened at Gabrill House, but then she hasn’t much choice in her engagements, from what I can tell,” Reynard answered. He watched Nicholas sharply. “This worries you, doesn’t it. Why?”
Nicholas shook his head. His suspicions were almost too nebulous to articulate. Octave had been working his way quickly up through Vienne’s social scale. The Queen’s cousin was practically at the top of that and there had been rumors for years about her odd pastimes. He said, “I never thought there was a plan. I thought Octave was out for what he could get and that this sorcerer was simply mad. But… ”
“But this makes you think differently.”
“Yes.” Nicholas drummed his fingers on the windowsill impatiently. “We need Arisilde. If I’d paid more attention the last time I spoke to him, perhaps –”
Reynard swore. “You can’t live on ifs, Nic. If I had burned the damn letter from Bran instead of keeping it in a moment of sentimental excess, if I’d become suspicious when I realized it was missing instead of shrugging it off to carelessness, the little fool would still be alive. And if I kept living those mistakes over and over again, I’d be as far gone into opium and self-pity as your sorcerer friend.”
Nicholas let out his breath and didn’t answer for a moment, knowing very well he had said something similar to Arisilde the night of the sorcerer’s last fit. For a time, when they had first met, he had wondered if Reynard had loved the young man who had killed himself over the blackmail letter. He had decided since that it was not very likely. But the young man had been a friend and Reynard had felt protective of him and responsible for his undoing. Nicholas thought most of Reynard’s excesses concealed an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. I wonder what my excesses conceal, Nicholas thought. Better not to speculate on that. Dryly, he said, “Don’t worry on that account. If I succumb to self-pity I’ll probably do something far more immediate and spectacular than a simple addiction to opium.” That sounded a deal more serious than he had meant it to, so he added, “But I’ll have to get Madeline’s permission first.”
Reynard’s mouth twisted, not in amusement, but he accepted the attempt to lighten the mood. “I’m amazed that Madeline puts up with you.”
“Madeline… has her own life and concerns.” Maybe this wasn’t such an innocuous topic after all.
“Yes, fortuitously so, since it makes her remarkably tolerant of aspects of your personality that would require me to thump your head against the nearest wall.”
“When you meet her grandmother, it will give you an inkling of how she acquired her thick skin.”
As their coach drew near the city prison, Nicholas saw no evidence of the unrest Reynard had spoken of. The streets of Vienne seemed busy as always, as calm as they ever were. He was sure the damage caused by the Sending in Lethe Square had stirred up some trouble, but Vienne had a long history and had seen far worse.
Then the coach passed the Ministry of Finance and entered the Courts Plaza.
The prison took up one side of the sweeping length of the open plaza. Its walls were of a mottled dark stone, several stories high, linking six enormous turreted towers. It had long ago been a fortification for the old city wall, and the places where the numerous gates had been filled in with newer stone were still easily visible. There were actually several entirely separate structures that made up the prison within those high walls, with a courtyard in the center, but they had all been interconnected and the court roofed over decades ago.
The last time Nicholas had been inside it was years ago, when he had first started to uncover some of Count Montesq’s criminal dealings. He had discovered that a brutal murder that was the talk of Vienne had actually been committed by two men in Montesq’s pay. The man who had been sent to prison for it had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time and been framed by the actual perpetrators. Nicholas had had no evidence and little faith in Vienne’s justice, so he had taken steps to obtain the innocent man’s release. That was how he had first made Crack’s acquaintance.
Engineering Crack’s escape from the prison had been an unqualified success, especially since as far as the prison authorities knew, there had been no escape. Officially Crack was dead and buried in one of the paupers’ fields in the city outskirts.
As their coach crossed the plaza, it passed the spot where an old gallows stood, a grim monument to Vienne’s courts of justice. It hadn’t been used for the past fifty years, since the Ministry had directed executions to take place inside the prison to prevent the gathering of huge unruly crowds. After Edouard’s death, Nicholas had come every day to this plaza to look at that gallows, to touch it if he could do so unobtrusively, to confront it and all it stood for.
Ronsarde wouldn’t be held in the prison itself, but in the offices of the Prefecture built out from the far side of the prison wall, extending halfway across the back of the plaza. The Prefecture’s headquarters was a strange appendage to the grim prison and had many windows with carving around the gables and fancy ironwork. On the other side of the plaza was the Magistrates Courts and the Law Precincts. These structures were even more ornate, from the pillared portico over the entrance to the wickedly grinning gargoyles carved on the eaves and the depictions of Lady Justice wearing the regalia of the Crown of Ile-Rien above every entrance.
There was a massive fountain in the center of the plaza, with several statues of ancient sea gods spewing water from horns and tridents, and there were usually peddlers and penny sheet vendors to cater to the constant stream of foot traffic. Nicholas frowned. Today the plaza was far more crowded than usual and the milling figures lacked the purposeful air of tradespeople or clerks moving to and from work. They were a mob and they were in an unpleasant mood.
Nicholas signaled for Devis to stop and he and Reynard stepped down from the coach. They had to keep moving to avoid being jostled and shoved by the crowd as Nicholas made his way along the edge of the plaza, trying to get closer to the end of the Justiciary closest to the prison.
The usual peddlers and food vendors were out but there was an angry group clustered around each one, debating loudly about necromancers and dark magic and taxes, and the failure of the Prefecture and the Crown to protect ordinary folk. There were a large number of beggars and idlers, but also clerks and shop-workers, women with market baskets over their arms and children in tow, house servants and workers from the manufactories just across the river. He heard mention several times of Valent House, and also of Lethe Square. He supposed their adventure there hadn’t helped the panic any. And there was no quick way to spread the word that that particular manifestation had been dealt with, except among the criminal classes.
Nicholas stopped at the steps that led down from the central fountain’s dais, unable to make his way closer to the buildings. He was nearer the Courts than the prison and could easily see through the windows of the bridge that connected them on the second floor. Reynard stepped up beside him, muttering, “I’d like to know what the devil stirred up all this so quickly.”
Nicholas shook his head, unable to answer. He had read The Executions of Rogere on the train ride, but what he thought of now was the fragment of The Histories of Aden Cathare that Doctor Uberque had quoted. He concealed the traces of his passing with chaos….
Crack was standing only a few paces away, watching the crowd around them with concentrated suspicion. Nicholas motioned for him to step closer and said, “Send Devis to tell Cusard to come here with as many of his men as he can bring. Hurry.”
Crack nodded sharply and started back toward the coach.
Reynard stroked his mustache thoughtfully. “Are we anticipating trouble, or starting it?” he asked, low-voiced.
“Both, I think,” Nicholas said. He raised a brow as uniformed constables forced some bolder curiosity seekers off the steps of the Courts. “Definitely both.”
They waited. Crack rejoined them after sending Devis for Cusard, and through sheer persistence they made their way almost to the edge of the Courts’ steps. Only one large foul-smelling individual objected to their presence: Nicholas gestured to Crack, who seized the man by the throat, yanked him down to eye level and made a low-voiced comment which caused the offender to mutter an apology and back rapidly away when he was released.
The time scheduled for Ronsarde’s hearing passed and Nicholas could tell they weren’t opening the court yet, even for people who might have a legitimate purpose there. He thought that a mistake; they should have started as soon as possible and allowed anyone who could squeeze in to have a seat in the gallery. Then there would be no reason for most of the spectators to remain and they would drift off back to their own concerns. Delaying the hearing only fed the atmosphere of strained excitement.
The sky was growing cloudy, but the morning breeze seemed to have died away completely. It was becoming warm and close in the plaza with so many bodies jammed into what was rapidly becoming a small area, which wasn’t helping anyone’s mood either. He couldn’t have chosen a better day for this, Nicholas thought, whoever “he” is. I’ll have to remember to keep the weather conditions in mind should I ever need to start a riot. He looked away from the Courts in time to see Cusard, with Lamane at his heels, making a path toward them. Reynard cursed suddenly and Nicholas snapped his gaze back.
At first he saw only a group of constables on the steps of the Prefecture. Then he swore under his breath. Ronsarde was standing in their midst. On the steps of the Prefecture, not on the overhead bridge, where felons could be conducted across to the Courts out of the reach of angry mobs.
“There he is!” someone shouted and the crowd pushed forward.
Nicholas plunged forward too, shouldering aside the men blocking him, using his elbow and his walking stick to jab ribs if they failed to give way. He and Reynard had seen Ronsarde many times before and had both recognized him easily. That the troublemakers who had pushed their way nearest to the buildings had also recognized him, when their only exposure to him should have been as a fuzzy pencil sketch in the penny sheets, was a confirmation of his worst fear. Whoever had arranged Ronsarde’s arrest was still at work and had no intention of allowing the Inspector to ever reach the magistrate’s bench.
The steps were awash in people fighting, pushing. He saw one of the constables shoved to the ground and the others were already buried under the press of bodies. Nicholas paused to get his bearings and a man dressed in a ragged working coat seized his collar and jerked him half off his feet. He slammed the knob of his walking stick into the man’s stomach, then cracked him over the head with it as his opponent released him and doubled over. Someone bumped into him from behind; Nicholas ducked, then realized it was Reynard.
More constables poured out of the Prefecture to vanish into the chaos and struggling figures pressed close around them. Everyone seemed to be shouting, screaming. Suddenly there was breathing space; Nicholas looked back and saw Reynard had drawn the blade from his sword cane.
That proves half these people are hired agitators, Nicholas thought, real Vienne anarchists wouldn’t hesitate to throw themselves on a sword. He had seen enough spontaneous riots in Riverside to know the difference. He managed to push his way up two more steps for a vantage point, Reynard close behind him. He couldn’t see Ronsarde, but the nearest exit to the Plaza was choked with people fleeing the fighting — sightseers escaping before the Crown intervened with a horse troop.
Crack tore his way out of the crowd and fetched up against them. “Can you see him?” Nicholas asked him, having to shout to be heard over the din.
Crack shook his head. “Maybe they got him inside.”
Maybe… No, this was staged too carefully. They wouldn’t have allowed the constables to save him…. Nicholas swore in frustration. “We need to get closer.”
“There!” Reynard shouted suddenly.
Nicholas turned. Reynard had been guarding their backs, facing out into the plaza. Searching the press of bodies behind them, he saw the purposeful knot of men with Ronsarde among them. The Inspector threw a punch and managed a few steps back toward the Prefecture, then someone struck him from behind and he disappeared into the crowd.
They were taking him toward the prison side of the plaza. Nicholas started after them. Reynard caught his arm. “What are we doing, dammit?”
Nicholas hesitated, but only briefly. He had a dozen reasons for this, but the one that currently made the most sense was that someone badly wanted Ronsarde dead, the same someone who wanted them dead, and knowing the reason could tell him a great deal. “Find Ronsarde and get him out of here.”
“I was afraid of that,” Reynard snarled and whipped his blade up, abruptly clearing a path for them.
They fought their way forward, the crowd giving way before Reynard’s weapon and their persistence. Nicholas couldn’t see Ronsarde anymore but kept his eyes on the man who had struck the Inspector: he was a big man wearing a hat with a round crown and he remained just barely in sight over the bobbing heads around them. They broke through into a clear space and Nicholas saw there were at least six others accompanying Ronsarde’s captor and that the Inspector was being dragged between two of them. They were taking him… Toward the old prison gate? Why the hell…? Nicholas felt suddenly cold. No, toward the old gallows.
A firm shove sent him staggering forward a few steps; he sensed rather than saw the passage of something heavy and metal through the air behind him. He turned in time to see the tip of Reynard’s sword cane protruding from the back of a man. The man’s weapon, a makeshift club, fell to the pavement.
Nicholas pushed forward toward the gallows, hoping that Reynard and Crack could follow. The wooden trap had fallen in years ago, so if the Inspector’s captors managed to hang him it would be slow strangulation rather than a quick snapping of the neck — that might buy Nicholas some time.
Another knot of rioters blocked his path. He plunged through them rather than taking the time to go around and found himself ducking as a wild-eyed man swung a broken broom handle at his head. The man staggered and took another swing at him and Nicholas realized he was drunk.
Nicholas dodged around the obstacle, came up from behind and seized him by the shoulders. The man obligingly kept swinging his club, apparently grateful for the temporary support. Nicholas steered his human battering ram in the right direction and the other combatants scattered out of his way.
Ronsarde’s captors were taking the time to hang him because it was the sort of murder that would be attributed to a mob; if they had simply shot him someone might have been suspicious. This wasn’t Octave or his pet sorcerer, Nicholas thought. Whoever planned this knew Vienne too well.
They broke through into another clear stretch of pavement. He aimed the man off to the side in case Reynard or Crack were making their way through behind them and gave him a push. The drunk staggered away in search of more targets and Nicholas ran.
Two of the men were hauling Ronsarde up the steps of the gallows. One of the others spotted Nicholas coming and blocked his path. Nicholas saw the man’s expression change from a malicious grin to sudden alarm. He reached into a coat pocket and Nicholas saw the glint of light on metal. He swung his walking stick, cracking the man across the forearm; the revolver he had been about to draw went skittering across the pavement.
The sight of the revolver made Nicholas realize he was somewhat unprepared for this particular undertaking and he dove for the weapon. He hit the pavement and grasped the barrel just as someone caught hold of the back of his coat. There was a strangled cry and his attacker abruptly released him. He rolled over to see Reynard withdrawing his sword cane from the man’s rib cage, Crack guarding his back. Another man charged down the gallows steps toward them; as Nicholas struggled to his feet he shouted to catch Crack’s attention, then tossed him the walking stick. Crack turned and slugged the newcomer in the stomach with the heavy wooden stick, hard enough to puncture his gut, then caught him by the collar as he staggered and slung him out of the way.
Two down, Nicholas thought, five remaining. He plunged up the steps to the platform which was creaking ominously under the weight of the men atop it. Three of them were wrestling with Ronsarde, who was still resisting despite a bloody face from repeated blows to the head. One was throwing the rope over the scaffold and the other was standing and looking on. The ringleader, obviously. Nicholas motioned for Reynard and Crack to stay back, then pointed the revolver at the leader and said, “Stop.”
They all stared at him, temporarily frozen. Ronsarde was on his knees, blinking, barely seeming conscious. His captors all had the rough clothing and heavy builds of laborers, and from the visible facial scars and the coshes they all seemed equipped with, they did precious little in the way of honest work. The very sort of men who worked for Nicholas. He smiled. “Let’s be reasonable. Release him, and you can leave.”
The ringleader took the smile for weakness. He grinned contemptuously and said, “He won’t shoot. Go on –”
Nicholas pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the man in the chest, sending him staggering back into one of the heavy piers that supported the gallows. He slumped to the platform, leaving a dark stain on the old wood.
Nicholas moved the gun slightly to point it at the man holding the rope, the next likely ringleader candidate. Still smiling, he said, “Let’s begin again. Release him, and you can leave.”
The men holding Ronsarde dropped him and backed away, without waiting for a consensus from the rest of the group. The Inspector swayed and almost collapsed, but managed to stay upright. The one with the rope put up his hands nervously. Nicholas gestured with the pistol toward the edge of the platform. “Very good. Now run away and don’t come back.”
The men scrambled to the edge of the gallows and leapt down. Nicholas put the pistol in his coat pocket and crossed to where Ronsarde had slumped against one of the piers. As he pulled him up Reynard stepped around to take the wounded man’s other arm and said, “I hope you have some idea of what we’re to do now?” His expression was skeptical. Crack, who hovered warily a few steps away, looked too nervous of Ronsarde to question Nicholas’s next course of action.
Surveying the chaos around them, Nicholas muttered, “Why Reynard, you sound dubious.” He couldn’t spot Cusard and Lamane among the crowd; they must have been lost in the confusion. The riot seemed to be gaining momentum. More constables had poured out into the plaza and their efforts to clear the area in front of the Courts were drawing an increasing number of previously neutral onlookers into the fray. Warders in dark brown uniform coats were streaming around the gallows to join the fighting; Nicholas looked back and saw a small iron door now stood open in the prison wall behind them. The sunlight had been completely blotted out by heavy gray clouds; if it suddenly started to pour down rain, the situation might improve, but otherwise it was sure to get worse.
They could hand Ronsarde back over to the Prefecture, under the guise of good citizens preventing a mob murder. The problem was that whoever had arranged for Ronsarde to be exposed to the crowd in the first place had worked from within; they could be turning the Inspector over to the very man who had tried to kill him. “We can’t give him back to the constables,” Nicholas decided. That was as close as he meant to come to admitting that he didn’t know what to do next, even to Reynard. “Let’s just get him out of here first.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” This was so unexpected that Nicholas almost dropped Ronsarde. The Inspector’s voice held only a little strain. His tone was as commonplace as if he were sitting in a drawing room instead of leaning on his rescuers, his face bruised and blackened and dripping blood onto their shoes. He smiled at Nicholas, and added, “I too lack confidence in our good constables at the moment.”
Nicholas tried to answer and found his throat locked. Reynard must have been able to read something in his blank expression, because he said, “That’s settled, then. Our coach is probably stuck outside the plaza. If we can just get to it –”
A sudden wind struck them sharply: if Nicholas hadn’t already been braced to support Ronsarde he would have stumbled backward. He gasped and choked on the foul taint in the air. The Inspector and Reynard coughed too. Except for the worst pockets of fighting, the crowd seemed to pause. Stepping close to Nicholas, Crack muttered, “It smells like that room.”
Not again, Nicholas thought. He said, “We have to get out of here.” Not the same Sending, it couldn’t be. It hadn’t been able to come out in daylight and he had the evidence of his own eyes, besides Madele’s word, that it was dead. This had to be something else.
He and Reynard got Ronsarde down the steps, then Crack grabbed Nicholas’s arm, pointing at the opposite side of the plaza.
A mist rolled over the pitched slate roof of the Courts. It was thin enough that even in the dying light the shapes of the gargoyles and the gables of the building could be seen through it, but there was something about its advance that was inexorable, as if it was destroying everything in its path. It rolled almost majestically down the front of the Magistrates Courts, like a wall of water off a cliff, to pool on the steps at the base.
Then Nicholas saw movement behind it. Chips of stone fell from the gables, striking the pavement below. It’s going to destroy the Courts, Nicholas thought, unable to see the purpose of it. The quicker-witted individuals in the crowd were streaming toward the street exits of the plaza, though some pockets of fighters still seemed oblivious to what was occurring. Then something far larger than a stone chip landed on the pavement at the base of the building; the solid sound of flesh striking stone was audible even at this distance. Then it scrambled awkwardly to its feet and waddled out of the mist. It was large, gray, bent over like one of the orange apes from the jungles in the farthest parts of Parscia, but vestigial wings sprouted from its back. For an instant, Nicholas thought he was seeing a goblin, like some illustration in a book come to life. Then he realized it was one of the stone gargoyles from the building’s gables, but it was stone no longer. In a heartbeat it was joined by two more, then a dozen, then another dozen.
It was too far across the plaza for them to reach the street exit, especially with Ronsarde as injured as he was. Nicholas looked around desperately, then focused on the prison wall behind them. The small door there was closed, but the guards had been running out that way only moments before. It might have been left unlocked. “Go that way.” There was no other way to go. The prison had no other entrances on this side and the Prefecture was too far away to reach in time.
“It’s obviously some sort of sorcerous attack, animating the decorative stonework,” Ronsarde said calmly, as Nicholas and Reynard half-carried him toward the door. “Who do you think it is directed toward?”
Reynard muttered, “I think I can guess.” He glanced back over his shoulder. “They’re coming this way — quickly.”
“I didn’t really want to know that.” Nicholas motioned Crack ahead toward the door. The henchman reached it and pulled on the handle, then whipped a jimmie out of his pocket and jammed it into the lock.
Nicholas cursed under his breath and looked over his shoulder. The mist and the clouds had blotted out almost all the light: it might have been twilight rather than afternoon. People were still running away up the streets, but the ungainly gray shapes in the mist all moved this way. He gritted his teeth and resisted the impulse to tell Crack to hurry; the last thing he wanted to do at the moment was break the man’s concentration.
Finally Crack stepped back, shoved the jimmie into his pocket and drew his pistol. He fired at the lock and on the fifth shot the door gave way with a whine of strained metal. Crack threw his weight on the handle, swung it wide open, and Nicholas and Reynard dragged the Inspector inside. The door wedged against the stone pavement when Crack tried to close it and he fought with it silently. Nicholas leapt to help him and together they tugged it closed, shutting out the approaching mist. Something outside howled angrily just as the door slammed shut and Reynard shoved the heavy locking bar into place.
Nicholas stepped back from the door, reflecting that if one of the prison warders had thought to bar it he and the others would be dead now. Reynard leaned against the door, looking annoyed more than anything else, and Crack wiped sweat from his forehead with his coat sleeve.
“This is a rather tense situation,” Ronsarde said, conversationally. He was supporting himself on the wall, watching them thoughtfully. “What’s our next course of action?”
END CHAPTER ELEVEN
Continued in Chapter Twelve
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