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 Nine. Read Chapter Eight here.
“I never got a good look at it,” Madeline confessed. “Did you?”
“No, it was too dark.” They were a good distance from the ill-fated court, almost to the river. Reynard had told them how Crack had been thrown out the front door when the creature had first burst through the floor; the henchman had kept the others from running back down the passage, creeping slowly down it himself to retrieve Nicholas. And probably saved all our lives, Nicholas thought. If anyone had run into that room with a lamp, none of them would have had a chance. For someone who had been accused of killing several men in an unprovoked rage, Crack was awfully good at keeping his head in a crisis. It was too bad the judges at his trial hadn’t bothered to discern that fact.
Once they had crossed the river, Nicholas tapped on the ceiling for Devis to stop. They drew rein in an unoccupied side street and he stepped out of the cabriolet to consult briefly with the coachman and to tell Cusard and Lamane to break off and return to the warehouse.
He climbed back into the little vehicle, noticing for the first time he had splinters in his hands from ripping at the board-covered window.
Madeline had heard his directions to Devis and now asked, “We’re going to Arisilde?”
“Yes. We need to know how that thing found us.” We need help, Nicholas thought. He settled back into the seat as the cab jolted forward. Cusard’s wagon passed them, Lamane lifting one hand in a nervous salute as the cumbersome vehicle turned down a cross street. Nicholas had to assume everyone who had been in the house was now known to Octave’s sorcerer; they had to keep moving until he could get Arisilde’s protection for them.
“Is that worth it?” Reynard said. He had only met the sorcerer a few times in the past years, and hadn’t known Arisilde when he was at Lodun and at the height of his powers. “I mean, will it be of any use?”
“He was well enough today at Valent House when he destroyed one of Octave’s ghouls. We’ll just have to hope he hasn’t succumbed since this afternoon,” Nicholas said, but thought fond hope.
“You think that thing is going to try again?” Reynard asked, watching him.
“It’s the safest assumption to make,” Nicholas admitted.
Madeline glanced up from her contemplation of the dark street. “I think it’s the only assumption to make.”
No word of the disturbance across the river had reached the Street of Flowers and the Philosopher’s Cross, and all was as usual, colored lights lit over the market stalls and gay laughter and tinny music in the cool night air. Nicholas stepped down from the cab in the dark alley next to Arisilde’s tenement and immediately felt something was out of place. He turned to help Madeline down and she gripped his arm, her dark eyes worried. “Something’s wrong, can you feel it?” she asked.
He didn’t want to answer her. He waited until Reynard had climbed out of the coach and then started for the door.
The concierge was gone again. Nicholas took the rickety steps two and three at a time.
Arisilde’s door was in the right place and he banged on it peremptorily. He glanced back as the others reached the landing.
He heard footsteps in the apartment, then the door opened to reveal Isham, Arisilde’s Parscian servant. For an instant Nicholas felt a rush of relief, then he saw the man’s face.
Isham had always seemed ageless, like a wall-carving on one of the temples of his country, but now he looked old. The dark skin of his face seemed to sag, showing the network of wrinkles as fine gray lines and his eyes were wretched.
Nicholas said, “What’s happened?”
Isham motioned for him to follow and turned back down the little hall. Nicholas pushed past him, stopped at the door to the bedchamber.
The low-ceilinged windowless room smelled of a bizarre variety of incenses, the tiny dresser and cabinet were crammed with books and papers, the carpet dusty and the wide bed disordered. Arisilde lay on that bed, a colorfully patterned coverlet drawn up to his chest. It was almost as Nicholas had left him last night, accept that now Arisilde wasn’t breathing.
Nicholas went to stand next to the bed. He touched Arisilde’s hands, folded across the coverlet. The skin was still warm. This close he could see Arisilde was still breathing, but it was a slow, shallow respiration.
“I fear he will die soon,” Isham said bitterly. Nicholas realized he had never heard the man speak before. “The drugs he took, they make the heart weak. I think it is only his great power that keeps him alive.”
“When did it happen?” Madeline asked from the doorway.
Isham turned to her. “He seemed well this morning. He went out, I don’t know where –”
“He was with me,” Nicholas said. He was surprised at how normal his voice sounded. He touched Arisilde’s face and then, moving like an automaton, he lifted the eyelids and felt for the pulse at the wrist. There had been times when he had wished Arisilde dead and thought it would be a welcome release from the torment the sorcerer put himself, and everyone close to him, through. But when he had stood in the doorway looking on what had seemed a lifeless body… Maybe it’s not fear for Ari, he thought, bitterly. Maybe it’s fear for yourself. Arisilde was the last vestige of his old life. If he was gone, Nicholas Valiarde, sometime scholar and only son of Edouard Viller, was gone too, and nothing would be left but Donatien. “Have you sent for a physician?”
“I sent the person who watches the downstairs door for one, but he has not yet returned.” Isham spread his hands, resigned. “It is late and he will have difficulty convincing anyone to come tonight. I would have gone myself, but I thought I would have even more difficulty.”
As a poor Parscian immigrant, Isham would be lucky to get a decent physician’s servants to even open the door to speak to him, especially at this time of night. And the concierge probably knew only the local quack healers. Even an honest hedgewitch would be better than that. Nicholas said, “Reynard… ”
“I’ll go.” Reynard was already moving toward the door. “There’s a Doctor Brile who lives not far from here. He’s not a sorcerer-healer but he’s a member of the Royal Physicians College and he owes me a favor.”
Nicholas looked down at Arisilde again as Reynard left. “Was it the drugs?” he asked roughly.
“I don’t know.” Isham shook his head. “When he came back today he seemed tired, but not sickly. He was pursuing his researches, so I went out. When I came back, I saw that he was in bed, with the lamps extinguished.” Isham rubbed the bridge of his nose, wincing. “I didn’t notice at first. I thought he was sleeping. Then I felt the spells, the wards and the little charms, start to fade and grow cold. Then I came in and lit the lamp, and saw.”
Nicholas frowned. “You’re a sorcerer too?” he asked the old man. “I didn’t realize… ”
“Not a sorcerer. I am interlerari, for which there is no proper word in Rienish. I have some gift of power and I study the gift of those greater in power than I, so I may teach. I came here from Parscia to study with him.” He looked up. “I sent a wire to you at Coldcourt but they told me it would not be delivered until later tonight. Did it reach you so soon?”
“No, we were already on our way,” Nicholas answered, and thought, How many years have you known Isham, and yet not known him at all? Had he been that single-minded?
For a while there was nothing to do but wait. Not long after Reynard left, the concierge returned empty-handed, unable to convince even one of the local quacks to come. “They know what he is,” the man explained with a shrug. He had a thick Aderassi accent and a philosophical outlook. “I tell them he’s a good wizard, only a little crazy and not in a bad way, but they’re afraid.”
Nicholas had tipped him more generously than he had originally intended for that and sent him to the nearest telegraph station with a coded message for Cusard at the warehouse. If Arisilde could no longer protect himself, Nicholas didn’t want to leave him unguarded. His own presence here was dangerous enough.
Madeline and Isham had gone into the other room and Nicholas sat alone on the edge of Arisilde’s bed until an unfamiliar footstep startled him. An older man in a dark greatcoat carrying a doctor’s bag stood in the bedchamber’s doorway, eyeing the poorly-lit room somewhat warily. Then his gaze fell on Arisilde and the wariness changed to a professional blankness. Stepping into the room, he said, “What does he take?”
“Opium, mostly, isn’t it?” Reynard said, following the doctor in and glancing at Nicholas for confirmation.
Nicholas nodded. “And ether.”
The doctor sighed in weary disgust and opened his bag.
Nicholas waited tensely through the examination, leaning on a bureau in a far corner of the room. Isham had moved quietly to assist the doctor and probably also to keep a cautious eye on what he did to Arisilde, but Nicholas could tell Brile seemed more than competent. Reynard came to stand next to him and Nicholas asked, low-voiced, “How did you get him to come here?”
“Threatened to tell his wife,” Reynard answered casually.
Nicholas regarded him with a raised brow. “Well, no, not really,” Reynard admitted. “He was attached to my regiment and caught a bullet when we were in retreat from Leisthetla, and I stopped to throw him over the back of a donkey, or something, I can’t recall, so he feels he owes me a favor. But the other makes a better story, don’t you think?”
“Occasionally I forget that you’re not as debauched as you’d like everyone to believe,” Nicholas murmured.
Reynard pretended to seem disturbed. “Keep it to yourself, would you?”
Brile sat back, shaking his head. “It’s not the opium. He doesn’t have the signs of it. Oh, I can tell he’s an addict and that it’s destroyed his health, but it’s not what’s causing this, or at least it isn’t directly responsible. This is some sort of seizure or catatonia.” He looked up at them. “I’ll need to send my driver to my surgery.”
Reynard nodded. “Write down what you need and I’ll take it to him.”
More waiting, that meant. Nicholas walked out, into the main room, unable to hold still for another moment.
The curtains torn down during Arisilde’s fit the other night had been replaced and a fire was burning, but the room still seemed cold and empty. Madeline was sitting in front of the hearth, near a writing desk overflowing with paper, books, pens and other trifles. She looked up as Nicholas came in. “Well?”
“He says it doesn’t appear to be the drugs, at least.”
Madeline frowned. “I’m not sure whether to be cheered by that or not. It doesn’t leave us with any comfortable options. Could it have been Octave and his sorcerer, attacking him as they did us?”
Nicholas shook his head. “I don’t think so. If Arisilde had fought a battle, we would have known it.” The entire city would have known it. No, he could see what had happened all too clearly. Arisilde had had a disturbing episode last night, then today, when he had seemed so much better, he had used his power as casually as when he had been a student at Lodun. “He hasn’t been in the best of health for years, and after everything else he’s done to himself, I’m afraid his body has just… given out.” Isham was probably right in that it was only Arisilde’s power keeping him alive.
Reynard came into the parlor and a moment later Isham followed. Nicholas asked, “Well?”
Reynard shrugged. “Brile said he’s not getting any worse, but he’s not getting any better, either. There’s no immediate danger and there’s nothing else he can do tonight.”
“Which means he doesn’t know what to do.”
Nicholas looked away. We need a sorcerer-healer, he thought. One that won’t ask difficult questions. One that isn’t afraid to tend a man who is probably far more powerful than he is and with a history of illness and instability. It was a tall order. He said, “Isham, we have good reason to believe we’re being pursued by another sorcerer. That’s why we came, but we can’t chance leading an enemy here with Arisilde in this state. I’ve set some men to watch the building and I want you to keep me informed of anything that occurs.”
“I will do this,” Isham assured him. “In what manner are you being pursued?”
Madeline had been turning over one of the books on the desk, her brows knitted in thought. “I think someone may have cast a Sending on one of us.”
Nicholas frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“I know we weren’t followed there, yet it found us so quickly. And there was just something about it… ” She glanced up and saw that he was regarding her skeptically, and glared. “It’s only a feeling. I feel it to be so. I can’t give you a hard and fast reason, all right?”
“Yes, but –”
“It is easily settled,” Isham interrupted. “I can do a throwing of salt and ash to ascertain if this is the case.”
As Isham lit two of the lamps above the mantelpiece, Reynard said, “I’m sure I don’t really want to know this, but what is a Sending and why do you think it’s after one of us?”
Madeline didn’t respond immediately, so Nicholas answered, “A Sending is a spell to cause death. A sorcerer fixes it on a specific person, and then casts it. It exists until it destroys its target, or until another sorcerer destroys the Sending.” He looked at Madeline. “I didn’t know they could take on corporeal forms. I always thought they came as diseases, or apparent accidents. And I thought the victim had to accept some sort of token from the sorcerer before he could be made a target.”
Madeline shook her head. “That’s true now. But Sendings are old magic. Hundreds of years ago, they were far more… elemental.”
“Very true,” Isham agreed, lifting an embossed metal box down from one of the shelves. “Three hundred years ago the satrap of Ilikiat in my native land had a sorcerer cast a Sending against the God-King. It was not necessary to send a token to the God-King, and indeed it would have been impossible to get such a thing to him through the defenses of his own sorcerers. The Sending destroyed the west wing of the Palace of Winds, before the great Silimirin managed to turn it back on the one who cast it. But that was three hundred years ago and sorcerers are not what they were then, for which the Infinite in its wisdom is to be thanked.”
“Why not?” Reynard asked.
Isham had opened the box, taking out various glass vials. He started to clear a space on the table and Nicholas and Reynard helped him lift down the piles of books. The old man explained, “Such profligate outpourings of power can only come from bargains with etheric beings. Fay, for example. And such things have been shown to be more deadly to the bargainer than to any of his enemies.”
Isham swept the dust off the table with his hand and began to lay out a pattern of concentric circles, using ash from the fireplace and various powdered substances from the glass vials.
Quietly, not wanting to disturb the old man’s concentration, Nicholas asked Madeline, “But what makes you suspect a Sending?”
She sighed. “If I knew, I’d tell you.”
Isham finished the diagram and now took a water-smoothed pebble from the box and placed it gently in the center of the lines of ash. He motioned them to gather around the table. As Nicholas stepped forward he saw the pebble tremble. When he stood next to the table, the pebble rolled toward him, stopping at the edge.
Brows drawn together in concentration, Isham nudged the pebble back to the center of the diagram. “It seems it is a Sending, and it is focused on you.” He picked the pebble up and rolled it between his fingers. “What form did it take when it appeared to you?”
“We couldn’t really see it clearly.” Nicholas described what had happened at the house, letting Madeline tell what she had seen after Crack had gotten him out. That the Sending was attuned to him he had no trouble believing. He had been expecting it since Madeline had brought up the possibility. That might even have been the purpose behind the trap at the manufactory. He had been the only one to touch the door; the Sending might have focused on that.
“It reacted to the bullets from your revolver?” Isham was asking Madeline.
“It drew back, yes. It’s what kept it off me long enough for the others to get the boards off the window.” She frowned, twisting a length of her hair. “You think it could be something of the fay?”
“It could be. The most powerful Sendings are made from a natural or etherical force. For example, the Sending cast against the God-King was said to be made from a whirlwind that had formed on the plain below Karsat. I would think to use something of the fay would be even more complicated than that, not that I have the slightest idea how to go about it.”
“This man is a necromancer,” Nicholas said.
Isham hesitated, lost in thought. He said, “It occurs to me that there must be the remains of many dead fay buried beneath Vienne.” The old man spread his hands. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you any more than this. I am almost at the limit of my skill now.”
“We need the help of a powerful sorcerer,” Madeline said. She moved to stand in front of the hearth, the firelight casting highlights on her hair. “Who else can we go to?”
“It has to be a sorcerer we can trust,” Nicholas added. “That’s not as easily come by… It will have to be Wirhan Asilva.” Asilva had been a loyal friend to Edouard and maintained the connection with Nicholas after the trial, but he knew nothing of Nicholas’s career as Donatien. He was also a very old man by now, but he was the only other living sorcerer whose abilities came anywhere close to being comparable with Arisilde’s, and who Nicholas knew well enough to take a chance on. “He still lives at Lodun. He might be able to help Arisilde as well, or at least direct us to someone who can.”
Isham had followed the conversation with a worried frown, and now said urgently, “I don’t know much of this Sending, but I do know this. You will be in the most danger during the hours of the night. And if this is a remnant of some fay monster, cold iron will still be a protection. The iron in the buildings, the water pipes, the underground railways offers some safety. Leaving the city could be most dangerous.”
Nicholas smiled. He wasn’t beaten yet. “Not if I leave the city on the train.”
Nicholas followed the others down the hall, but as he passed Arisilde’s door, he found he had to take one last look. He stepped into the bedchamber.
The lamplight was flickering on the sorcerer’s wispy hair, his pale features. It was hard to believe this wasn’t death. Then Nicholas noticed the book lying on the patched velvet of the coverlet, not far from the sorcerer’s left hand.
It might have been instinct that made him return to the bed and pick up the book, or some latent magical talent, but it was more likely only that he knew Arisilde so well.
The volume was very old and not well-cared for, the cover mottled with damp and the pages brown. The embossed letters of the title had worn away to illegibility and Nicholas opened it at random.
He was looking at a woodcut and for a moment he thought it depicted a modern medical dissecting room. Then he held it closer to the lamp and saw it was the scene from Valent House: an indistinct room, a man tied to a table, with his gut opened and his entrails exposed. But in this scene the victim was still terribly alive and the Vivisectionist was still present: a strange figure, stooping and leering like a character in an old morality play, dressed in a doublet and a high-collared lace ruff, a fashion out of date for at least a century or two. The caption read The Necromancer, Constant Macob, at work before his execution. The date given was a little less than two hundred years ago.
The page was stained, just as in his childhood memory. He turned to the frontispiece and there, in faded ink and childish scrawl, was written Nicholas Valiarde.
I’m looking for a book….
How like Arisilde. He hadn’t found another copy. He had found the very one Nicholas had owned as a boy.
Nicholas closed the book and carefully tucked it into his coat pocket, looking down at Arisilde once more. No, you’re not dead yet, are you? Hold on, if you can. I’ll be back.
Vienne’s central train station was like a great cathedral of iron girders and glass. Even at this time of night it was comfortably busy, if not crowded. People in all sorts of dress from every part of Ile-Rien hurried back and forth across the vast central area. Nicholas heard the distinctive whistle and checked his pocket watch, then moved to one of the bay windows that overlooked the main platform. The Night Royal was rumbling in, a huge cloud of warm steam engulfing the track ahead of it. Grinding to a halt, it was a black monstrosity with bright-polished brass rails and only about twenty minutes late.
Madeline should be back any moment, Nicholas thought. He refused to allow himself to look at his pocket watch again. She was sending the wires that contained his instructions to the rest of the organization and he knew that right now she was safer alone than with him.
Before they had left the others, Crack had handed Nicholas his pistol and now it lay heavily in the pocket of his coat. The henchman had not been happy at being left behind, but Nicholas had refused to argue the point; he didn’t mean to get everyone he knew killed. Just Madeline? he asked himself wryly. She had been grimly insistent about accompanying him.
He moved away from the window and strolled back to the center of the main area. Sleepy families huddled on the benches against the wall, waiting for trains or for someone to meet them. There was a lounge for first class passengers on the gallery level and every so often, past the mingled voices and the dull roar of the trains he could hear the music from the string quartet that entertained there. Nicholas preferred the anonymity of the main waiting area, especially when something was trying to kill him.
His instructions had amounted to telling everyone to go to ground for the next few days. Reynard would watch Doctor Octave, but from a distance, and Cusard would do everything necessary to put off the plans for entering Count Montesq’s Great House. Nicholas had sent a wire to Coldcourt, to warn Sarasate, and he only hoped Isham was right and that the Sending would concentrate on him and leave everyone else alone.
A delegation of lower-level Parscian nobility were disembarking from the Night Royal, their servants shouting, gesturing and requiring the assistance of almost every porter on duty for the large number of heavy trunks. That would slow things down a little more. The Night Royal‘s next stop was Lodun and Nicholas intended to be on it.
It would be better for Madeline if she didn’t return in time, he thought wryly. The Sending had only turned on her when he was out of its reach, though he had to admit, Lodun was probably the safest place for both of them. But if he left without her, she would only take the next train and be considerably put out with him when she arrived.
He saw a figure coming up the concourse then and recognized her walk. No, it isn’t her walk, he realized a moment later. Madeline was walking as if she had a heavy dueling rapier slung at her hip; it was the way the character Robisais walked, from the play Robisais and Athen. It was one of Madeline’s first major roles, that of a young girl who disguised herself as a soldier to cross the border and rescue her lover from a Bisran slave camp, during the Great Bisran War. He wasn’t surprised he recognized the walk; he must’ve seen the damn play twenty times and Madeline had been the only worthwhile aspect of it. She must be very tired, to slip from her character of Young Man to Robisais. Of course, she could probably do Robisais in her sleep.
She climbed the steps and nodded to him briskly. She had borrowed a hat from Reynard and gathered her hair back up under the wig, so there was nothing to reveal her disguise. “Everyone is warned, now. I suppose that’s the best we can do,” she said. She glanced around the waiting area. “Nothing’s happened here?”
“No,” Nicholas said. At the last moment he remembered to link arms with her as he would with a man and not take her arm as he would a woman’s. “We’ll have a little time. Not much, but a little. Our sorcerous opponent shouldn’t have drawn so much attention to himself. The Crown will take notice of this. After tonight, he’ll have the court sorcerers, the Queen’s Guard, and everyone else after him.”
“And they will all be looking for us, too, if we’re not careful,” she pointed out.
“They can’t trace ownership of that house, I’ve made sure of that. The driver’s body can’t be identified. We’re safe enough.” Nicholas felt the book in his pocket thump his leg as they strolled toward the platform and thought, Safety is always relative, of course.
Madeline’s brows lifted skeptically but she made no comment.
The flurry of porters around the Night Royal had calmed, indicating the train was almost ready, and in another moment the bell above the booking area rang and the conductors began to call for boarding.
They took their place with the other passengers gathering in the damp cold air on the platform. Through persistence and not being encumbered by baggage they soon managed to successfully board the train.
Nicholas found them an empty compartment and drew the curtain over the etched glass of the inner door to discourage company. Sinking down into the comfortably padded upholstery, the gaslit warmth, the familiar smell of combined dust, cigar smoke, coffee, and worn fabric, he realized he was exhausted as well.
Settling next to him, Madeline said, “I wonder if the dining car still has those cream tarts.”
Nicholas glanced at her fondly. And this woman had the audacity to suggest that he was distanced from reality. He dug the book out of the pocket of his greatcoat and handed it to her. “Don’t let this ruin your enjoyment of the trip.”
He had left the page with the woodcut of Constant Macob folded down and she stared at it, then turned to the accompanying text.
Nicholas wiped the fogged window to look out at the gradually clearing chaos on the platform. He had read the section earlier, as he had waited for Madeline in the station. It briefly, and probably inaccurately, described Constant Macob’s history as the sorcerer whose experiments with necromancy had turned it from a despised and barely tolerated branch of sorcery to a capital offense. A capital offense, if you live until the trial, Nicholas thought. In the past several sorcerers, most of them probably innocent, had been hung in the street by mobs before the accusations could even be investigated.
Madeline closed the book and laid it back in his lap. “Doctor Octave’s sorcerer friend is imitating this Constant Macob.”
“Yes, or he believes he is Constant Macob. He is practicing the worst sort of necromancy, the spells that require pain or a human death to work, as Macob did. He is taking his victims from among the poorest class, apparently in the belief that the disappearances won’t be noticed, as Macob did. And, like Macob, he can’t tell the difference between beggars and the poor working class and occasionally takes a perfectly respectable dressmaker’s assistant or some laborer’s children and gets himself into the penny sheets.” Nicholas turned away from the window. “Inspector Ronsarde must be very close to finding him.”
“Yes, he was watching Doctor Octave at Gabrill House and he sent Doctor Halle to look at that drowned boy in the Morgue. He studies historical crimes, doesn’t he? He must have looked at all the disappearances reported to the Prefecture, and recognized Macob’s methods. That means –”
“He’s only a step or two away from us. When he takes Octave — and if he realizes Octave is involved with the creature that destroyed the house in Lethe Square, he might very well take him tonight — Octave will tell them everything he knows about us.”
“And we can’t dispose of Octave while he has this pet necromancer defending him.” Madeline tapped impatient fingers on the seat.
“After what we saw tonight, I know we can’t take the chance. Not now. Not without help. This sorcerer could be using Octave and Edouard’s device to contact Macob, or at least he thinks he’s contacting Macob. But it would explain where all their knowledge of necromancy is coming from.” He shook his head. “If I can get this Sending disposed of… ”
Madeline sat back in the seat, staring in a preoccupied way at nothing. Whistles and bells sounded outside on the platform and the compartment shook as the engine built up steam. “Why didn’t you tell Reynard about this?”
“Because if the Sending follows us to Lodun and kills us, I didn’t want him trying to avenge us.”
“Then there won’t be anyone to stop them,” Madeline protested, brushing aside the idea of her own death.
“Yes, there will be. Ronsarde and Halle will stop them.
“For deadly enemies, you have a great deal of faith in Ronsarde and Halle.”
“There are deadly enemies, and there are deadly enemies,” Nicholas said. “Now let’s go and see if the dining car still has cream tarts.”
END CHAPTER NINE
Continued in Chapter Ten
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