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 Twenty-Two. Read Chapter Twenty-One here.
Nicholas drifted back to awareness believing he was in his own bed. He rolled over under the tangle of blankets and reached out for Madeline. It was her absence that really woke him.
He sat bolt upright. The room was opulent. Heavy oak paneling inlaid with rare woods, a garden scene tapestry old enough to have been hung when Rogere was on the throne, equally antique and priceless Parscian carpets spread casually before the marble mantel as if they were rag rugs. He was in the palace, obviously.
Cursing, he slung the heavy coverlet aside and struggled out of the bed. He was dressed only in a linen nightshirt. As he looked around for his clothes he caught sight of himself in the mirror above the mantel and gave a startled exclamation, thinking it was someone else. Bruises had turned the side of his face a dull green-black and his right eye was puffy and swollen. Yes, he remembered that. This is bloody wonderful, Nicholas thought sourly, continuing the search for his clothes. It was going to make assuming a disguise damned awkward.
As he was opening and shutting the array of carved and inlaid cabinets in futile search, the door opened to allow in a very correct and disapproving upper servant, attended in turn by a very correct and expressionless footman. “Can I assist you, sir?”
Nicholas straightened up. “My clothes.”
“We had to destroy most of them, sir. They were…not salvageable.”
This was what he should have expected, but at the moment it only increased Nicholas’s fury. Making sure to enunciate each word clearly, he said, “Then I suggest you get me something to wear.”
The servant cleared his throat. He had obviously expected his charge to be somewhat more overawed by his surroundings. “The physicians felt it would not be wise–”
“Bugger the physicians.”
They brought him clothes.
Nicholas dressed hastily in the plain dark suit that mostly fit and boots that were a little too small. He wasn’t sure if the consternation of the servants was due to his refusal to accept his status as a prisoner, or that they had simply expected him to spend most of the day in bed, moaning. The place in his chest where he had been stabbed felt, and looked like, he had been kicked by a horse.
The servants didn’t try to stop him but the majordomo hovered conspicuously as Nicholas stalked through the antechamber and salon and out into a high-ceilinged, pillared corridor. He paused there, noting the presence of two palace Guards who appeared startled to see him.
This might be the King’s Bastion or possibly the Queen’s. The carved paneling on the walls was certainly old enough and the marble at the base of the columns bore cracks and discolorations from age. He started to turn to the majordomo to ask where the hell he was when he saw Reynard coming down the corridor.
Reynard looked in far better shape than Nicholas but his brow was creased in a worried frown. They must have sent for him in the hope that he could exercise some sort of restraint over Nicholas.
“Where’s Madeline?” Nicholas asked as soon as he was within earshot.
“She’s all right, I’ve had word from her.” Reynard took his arm and drew him behind a pillar where they could speak in comparative privacy, much to the consternation of the majordomo and the Guards. Lowering his voice, Reynard said, “She left before you and Arisilde were found by the Prefecture. She wasn’t sure what our status was with the palace and thought at least one of us should be on the outside.”
Nicholas nodded. “Good.” A little of the tightness in his chest eased. She’s alive and she’s well out of this. He tried to get his thoughts together. “Is Crack here as well?”
“No, I thought it better if no one in authority got too curious about him. Once he gave us the map and told us where you were, I had him hauled off to Doctor Brile’s surgery. Fortunately for the men who did the hauling, he was too exhausted to put up much of a struggle. I received word this morning that he’s patched up and recovering nicely.”
“He was well enough to sit up in bed and demand to know where we were and what had happened Brile said, so he should be all right in a few days. He’s a tough old man.” Reynard hesitated. “It’s too bad Madeline’s grandmother–”
“Yes, it is.” Nicholas looked away; he didn’t want to discuss Madele. “Did Madeline say where she would be?”
“No, but there was something else she wanted me to tell you. This note was in our code, by the way, so it’s not as if half the palace knows our business.” Reynard glanced idly around, unobtrusively noted the location of the Guards and lowered his voice a little more. “When you were down in the sewer and Ronsarde thought he wouldn’t make it out, he told her he had some papers hidden under the floor in his apartment and that she was to make sure you got them. It can’t be about Macob or he would have told us before this, surely.”
Nicholas started to reply then stopped, arrested by a sudden memory. A memory of a moment that had never taken place. The garden at the old house at Lodun, and speaking to Edouard while he listened to Macob’s scream of rage. The last thing Edouard had said was if I had known it would worry you so much I would have told you about the letter. He said, “No, I think I know what it’s about.”
“Oh.” Reynard was a little nonplussed. “Well that’s good, anyway, because she went to Ronsarde’s apartment last night to retrieve the papers and found the place had been ransacked. Whatever it was, it’s gone now.”
Of course it is. Nicholas closed his eyes briefly and swore. Montesq runs true to type, as usual. “Is Ronsarde here?”
“Yes, I was just over there, though I couldn’t get in to see him. He’s going to recover according to the physicians.”
Nicholas thought hard. An idea was beginning to form, though there were some things he had to make sure of first. He looked at the guards loitering nearby, then turned back to Reynard. “Are you free to leave or are they watching you as well?”
Reynard hesitated, his expression hard to read. “Nic, Giarde has offered me a colonel’s commission in a cavalry regiment, the Queen’s First. As a reward for sounding the alarm over Macob, I suppose.”
“That’s a very prestigious regiment,” Nicholas said. His throat was suddenly dry. He had known Reynard had never wanted to leave the cavalry. He was a military man at heart and would still have been in the service if he hadn’t been unfairly driven out.
“Yes, service to the Crown and all that. Ronsarde apparently said some complimentary things, too.” Reynard cleared his throat.
“Have you accepted it?”
Their eyes met and Reynard’s mouth quirked in a smile. “Not yet.”
“How coy of you.” Nicholas paused, and suggested cautiously, “Before you do, can you get some messages out of the palace for me, without anyone knowing?”
“Well, I’m not a Queen’s officer yet.”
Ronsarde was ensconced in a suite of rooms in the King’s Bastion and there were a number of physicians, upper level palace servants, and officials of the Prefecture in attendance. Nicholas talked his way through the anteroom just as the inner doors opened and the Queen emerged with her train of attendants. Nicholas tried to duck behind a pedestal bearing a bust of some late bishop, but she spotted him and cornered him against a cabinet when he tried to retreat.
“You’re awake,” she said. She eyed him with that startling directness, then turned to study the china ornaments in the cabinet. “Did you know where it was?” she demanded.
Nicholas was aware he hadn’t properly bowed to her but it was impossible now as she had him backed into a corner. At least, he decided, she was armed with neither the cat nor Captain Giarde. “Did I know where what was, your majesty?”
“It was buried back in some salon, in a box no one had looked in for years.” She glanced at him to see how he was taking it, and added, “That’s odd, isn’t it?”
He deduced that she was talking about Macob’s skull and that she was not accusing him of knowing its location, but trying to impart it as an intriguing curiosity. “It wasn’t as odd as some things that happened, your majesty.”
She considered that judiciously, then nodded to herself. “Are you going to see Inspector Ronsarde?”
“Yes, I was.”
She looked up at the large and well-armed Queen’s Guard who had been standing at her elbow throughout the conversation. He turned and suddenly a path opened through the crowd to the door into the inner chambers of the suite. The Queen stepped back so Nicholas could get past and he made his escape gratefully.
It wasn’t until he walked into the bedchamber that Nicholas realized that Ronsarde had been housed in a set of state apartments. The room was about the size of a modest ballroom, with two large hearths with intricately arabesqued marble chimneypieces. The enormous bed, hung with indigo curtains, was set up on a dais and had a daybed at its foot. Ronsarde lay in it, propped up by a mass of pillows with Doctor Halle and another physician standing nearby. Halle was pale and had a large bruise on his forehead but otherwise appeared none the worse for his experience. The Inspector, however, was too red-faced for real health. “I don’t want to rest,” Ronsarde was saying in a querulous tone. “It’s ridiculous that– Ah!” He saw Nicholas and sat up straight. “There you are, my boy.”
Nicholas walked to the foot of the dais. He wondered which Kings of Ile-Rien had slept in this chamber. No recent ones, since the furnishings were too far out of date. Rogere, perhaps? With the current Queen’s sense of humor that was all too possible. He said, “If I could speak to you alone…”
Ronsarde looked at Halle, who sighed and reached for his medical bag. “I suppose it would do more harm to argue with you,” Halle said. He gestured the other doctor ahead of him and clapped Nicholas on the shoulder as he passed.
Nicholas stepped up to the bed and as the door shut behind the two physicians, he said, “Your apartment has been vandalized.”
“Yes, I know.” Ronsarde’s welcoming expression faded a little. He said, “It was discovered when Halle sent for some of my things this morning. I knew it wasn’t you, since your men would have known where to look.” He paused, worried. “Madeline did escape the sewers, did she not?”
“Yes, but she didn’t fancy palace hospitality.”
Ronsarde let out his breath. “Sit down, at least, and don’t stand there like an executioner. I can tell you what was in those documents.”
Nicholas sat down on the edge of the bed, aware of the tension in his muscles and a headache like a stabbing needle in his left temple. Ronsarde said, “I never stopped investigating the case surrounding your foster father. I say the case ‘surrounding’ him, because in some ways I now believe he was incidental to it.”
Nicholas nodded. “It was always difficult to keep sight of the fact that necromancy is a magic of divination and of the revealing of secret information.”
“Yes,” Ronsarde said, gently. “Count Rive Montesq was Edouard Viller’s patron. Count Rive Montesq has been linked, through various circumstantial reports, to blackmail and illicit financial dealings. Two fields of endeavor in which the revelation of secret information would be of great benefit.”
“And Edouard had a device, invented with Arisilde Damal, the most powerful sorcerer at Lodun at that time, that would allow a layman to perform magic.”
“That was intended to allow a layman to perform magic,” Ronsarde corrected. “As we know, and as Viller and Damal must have discovered almost immediately, the device did not function quite as anticipated and the wielder had to have some small gift of magic before it would work.”
Nicholas looked down at his hands, avoiding Ronsarde’s perceptive gaze. “Montesq must have asked Edouard to use the sphere for necromancy, to discover secrets.”
“Viller refused, not only because it was a violation of law, but because he couldn’t use it. He was not a sorcerer. Montesq, being a liar himself, did not believe Viller was telling him the truth. But Montesq wanted the power of the sphere. He is a man who craves power. It must rankle that he has to depend on hired sorcerers for magic.” Ronsarde ran his fingers along the edge of the quilt thoughtfully. “He was Viller’s patron and it would have been easy for him to obtain keys to the rooms Viller was using for his work. He entered them one night after Viller had gone and he tried to use the sphere.”
“And it didn’t work,” Nicholas said.
“The failing could not be his, of course, so he tried again. He brought a hired thug, who took a beggar woman off the street for him, and he tried the necromantic spell in Macob’s time-honored fashion. And it did not work. So he left and allowed Viller to take the blame.”
Nicholas said nothing.
Ronsarde hesitated, then added carefully, “It helps to know why something occurred, when one is reconstructing a chain of events, but it can also cloud the issue. You can’t be faulted for suspecting that your foster father had actually committed the crime he was executed for. The evidence was overwhelming and he was the only one directly associated with the situation who had a motive to use necromancy. His desire to speak to his dead wife was well documented during the trial. And he wouldn’t talk. He wouldn’t tell you what had happened. And you knew he was keeping something from you. The power of the ‘why’ obscured the ‘how,'” His mouth twisted ruefully. “It can happen to anyone. It has certainly happened to me.”
Nicholas shifted. His shoulders ached from tension. “What was in the missing documents?”
“They were sent to me a month ago. I was pursuing the matter from the only direction that was left to me: that Edouard Viller knew something detrimental to Montesq and that he did reveal this information to someone before he was executed. To that end I was tracing and contacting his correspondents. I had had no luck. Then I was sent a package of letters from Bukarin, from the daughter of a man Viller had corresponded with for some time, a doctor of philosophy at the Scholars’ Guild in Bukarin. The man had died before Viller was executed. The daughter had received my request for information that was directed to her late father and sent me all Viller’s letters that she could find among his papers. One was unopened. It had been sent only two days before the dead woman was discovered in Viller’s workroom, but had arrived after the man it was addressed to had passed away. In it Viller describes the curious incident of Count Rive Montesq’s request that Viller use his device for necromancy.”
“Why didn’t he tell me?” Nicholas said. The words sounded oddly hollow.
“Montesq must have threatened your life to insure Edouard’s silence.” Ronsarde spread his hands. “It doesn’t matter. We have all that we need. Montesq will suffer for his crime.”
“You don’t have the letters anymore.” Nicholas shook his head. “Montesq knows. He’s been preparing all this time while we were pursuing Macob.”
Ronsarde’s brows drew together.
“He sent Fallier after me and directed Lord Diero of the Prefecture to arrange your arrest,” Nicholas explained. “He has known all along. He is well prepared by now to deal with a public accusation.”
“It doesn’t matter how well he has prepared. It won’t help him.”
“Don’t be naive.”
Ronsarde glared at him, but his expression turned worried when Nicholas got to his feet and said, “I assume I’m to be detained here.”
“For your own good,” Ronsarde said, watching him carefully. “Only until Montesq is formally charged.”
Nicholas nodded. “I’m going abroad and my man Crack will be looking for a new position shortly. You need someone to watch your back, who could help with your work. Would you consider taking him on?”
“Crack would certainly be adept at frightening away any old enemies in search of revenge,” Ronsarde admitted. “I assume he was innocent of the murder charges against him?”
Nicholas smiled, a trifle ironically. So Crack’s real identity hadn’t escaped Ronsarde’s notice, either. “Any in-depth investigation of the extortion branch of Montesq’s little empire will reveal that Crack was framed for those charges.”
“All right.” Ronsarde nodded, then asked sharply, “Where are you going?”
“You’re the greatest detective in Ile-Rien,” Nicholas said. He put his hands in his pockets and strolled to the door. “Figure it out.”
His next visit was to Arisilde, who had been given a smaller suite of rooms on the same floor as Inspector Ronsarde. It was less difficult to obtain entry and Nicholas was soon sitting in the chair next to his bed. “How are you?” he asked.
“Oh, better, I suppose.” Arisilde’s long pale hands plucked anxiously at the coverlet. “Have you heard anything about Isham? No one here seems to know.”
“He’s at Doctor Brile’s house, awake and recovering.” He told Arisilde what Reynard had heard about the Parscian that morning.
“Good.” Arisilde sat back against the pillows, more at ease. “I hope he’s well soon enough that he can come and see me here. It would be terrible if we all visited the palace and he missed it.” His violet eyes turned pensive and he added, “The Queen was here. She’s very sweet, but she asked me if I wanted to be Court Sorcerer. I don’t think she’s very fond of Rahene Fallier. I told her I’d have to think about it. I’m not very reliable, you know.”
“You were there when it counted, Ari.”
“Well, yes, but… I remembered what I had been going to tell you, you know. That night I went so mad and charged all over the room.”
“What was it?”
“I’d looked at those things you brought me. The fabric with the ghost-lichen on it and the remnants of that golem. There was the mark of an unfamiliar sorcerer on them. A very powerful sorcerer. But it went right out of my head until now.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered, even at the time.” Nicholas hesitated a long moment. “I came to tell you that I’m going away for a while.”
Arisilde brightened, interested. “Really? Where?”
“Abroad. I’ll write you when I get there and let you know. If you like, you and Isham can move into Coldcourt while I’m gone.”
“Ah, yes. They told me that Macob didn’t leave much of the garret. That would be very nice. And you’d better write Isham instead of me. He’ll keep track of the letter better than I would.” Arisilde watched him a moment, his gaze sharpening. “Take care of yourself, Nicholas. I don’t think I could manage to bring you back from the dead twice.”
Nicholas stood, an ironic edge to his smile. “Ari, I hope you won’t have to.”
They were watching him, of course.
Nicholas sent two messages, one to Madeline and one to Cusard, both in code. Reynard got them out for him easily enough under the cover of an innocuous note to Nicholas’s butler Sarasate at Coldcourt, asking him to send one of the footmen with some clothes proper for court attire.
Ronsarde demanded to see him again but Nicholas dodged the Inspector’s questions and refused to elaborate on his future plans. He had to endure a court luncheon where the others in attendance all seemed to know his Alsene antecedents and to be present only to get a look at him. It did however provide Reynard, who now had the Queen’s favor and Captain Giarde’s powerful patronage, with an opportunity to be rude to a number of highly placed courtiers.
Rahene Fallier was also there, with a dour expression somewhat at odds with his usual implacable visage.
After the luncheon, Nicholas slipped away from the men assigned to watch him and followed Fallier. The sorcerer went through the wing that held the galleries and grand ballrooms and into the main hall of the Old Palace, which adjoined the newer, open sections of the structure with the older defensive bastions. At the top of the massive stone spiral stair that led to the King’s Bastion, Fallier stopped, turned back, and said, “What do you want?”
Nicholas climbed the last few steps. Fallier’s eyes were cold and not encouraging. “We need to talk.”
“I think not.” Fallier took his gloves out of his pocket and began to pull them on.
“I know you didn’t do Rive Montesq’s bidding of your own will.”
Fallier hesitated, all motion arrested, then finished tugging on his glove. He looked at Nicholas and the expression in those opaque eyes was deadly.
Nicholas leaned one hand on the balustrade. “No, you don’t want to kill me,” he said, easily. “I have friends who wouldn’t take it kindly. Especially Arisilde Damal, who is ordinarily the mildest of creatures. But he is suffering the effects of many years overindulgence in opium and his temperament could be uncertain.”
Fallier considered that. “Damal would be a worthy opponent,” he said. “Perhaps…too worthy. What do you want?”
“I don’t care what Montesq is holding over your head. I studied at Lodun myself, at the medical college. I know many student sorcerers dabble with the harmless minor divinatory spells of necromancy. Of course, with your position at court–”
“I understand you. Go on.”
“You don’t know what Montesq will ask for next.”
“I can imagine,” Fallier said dryly.
From his tone, Nicholas suspected Fallier had already been approached to aid Montesq in eluding Ronsarde’s charges. But if he read Fallier right, that wouldn’t be a problem. He said, “Then you wouldn’t be adverse to helping me put Montesq in a position where he couldn’t act against you.”
Fallier actually unbent enough to sneer mildly and say, “If it was only a matter of giving testimony–”
“It isn’t, and we both know it.” Nicholas smiled. “I’m speaking of a way to stop Montesq from acting against anyone–permanently.”
Fallier eyed him a moment thoughtfully, and nodded. “Then I think we need to speak in private.”
With Reynard’s help, Nicholas received permission to visit Doctor Brile’s surgery to see how Crack and Isham were recovering. It was Ronsarde from whom the permission had come, he knew. He thought the Queen would have let him wander as he pleased and Captain Giarde, though always a dark horse, didn’t have anything against him. It was Ronsarde who thought he needed watching.
He was transported in one of the palace coaches and delivered to the door of Doctor Brile’s surgery. The doctor appeared bemused by the liveried Royal Guards who posted themselves on his stoop, but conducted Nicholas upstairs to where his patients were housed.
Nicholas saw Isham first, who was sitting up in bed though unable to talk for long without tiring himself. He reassured the old man as to everyone’s safety and told him that Arisilde wanted to see him as soon as possible. But as he was taking his leave, Isham gestured him back with some firmness and said, “About Madele–”
Nicholas shook his head abruptly. “I don’t want to–”
“She was not an old woman,” Isham continued, ignoring the interruption. “She was a witch, from the time when witches were warriors. She had done everything from curing plague to crawling behind the lines in border skirmishes with Bisra to assassinate their priest-magicians. She was very old and she knew she would die soon, and she preferred a death in battle. Do not look doubtfully at me. When you are my age you will know what I say is true.”
“All right, all right,” Nicholas said placatingly. Isham was looking gray about the mouth again. “I believe you.”
“No, you don’t,” Isham said stubbornly, but allowed himself to be laid back in bed. “But you will, eventually.”
Nicholas went next door to see Crack, who greeted him with an impatient demand for information. Nicholas spent more time than he meant, telling Crack what had happened in the caves and how they had defeated Macob.
He hadn’t alluded to Madeline’s current whereabouts, but Crack wasn’t fooled. He said, “She was here.”
“She was?” Nicholas tried to look mildly interested, but knew he wasn’t fooling his henchman.
“The doctor don’t know it–she climbed in through the window. Isham don’t know it either, since he was asleep and she didn’t want to wake him.”
Nicholas gave in. “What did she say?” he demanded.
“Some things,” Crack said. It would have been evasive, except Crack never was. He added, “She’s worried at you.”
Nicholas put it out of his mind firmly. He had too much to do now and he would know if she had received his message when he went to Coldcourt. “Never mind that now,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Inspector Ronsarde about you working for him while I’m gone.” He explained further.
Crack didn’t like the idea and expressed his displeasure volubly. Patiently, Nicholas said, “It would only be until I returned, then you could decide if you wanted to continue with the Inspector or come back with me. You’ll get your normal retainer from me, anyway. Sarasate will see to that.”
“It ain’t the money,” Crack grumbled. “What about Montesq?”
Nicholas glanced at the door of the room, making sure Brile was out of earshot. “Montesq won’t be a consideration anymore.”
“He won’t?” Crack sounded hopeful.
“Then I’ll think on it.”
And that was the most he could get out of Crack. Nicholas went out to the consulting room where Doctor Brile was sitting at his desk in his shirtsleeves, writing. The physician stood and put on his coat when Nicholas came into the room. “You saw both of them?” he asked.
“Yes.” Nicholas hesitated. He had brought money to pay Brile for his services but in light of his next request, it would look unpleasantly like a bribe, and he knew the physician wouldn’t respond well to that. “Make sure they have whatever they want and send the bill to Coldcourt. I won’t be there but my butler has instructions to arrange payment.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Brile said mildly. “Are you going now?”
“Yes. Do you have a trapdoor to the roof?”
It was Brile’s turn to hesitate. Nicholas saw him considering the presence of the Royal Guards at his door, perhaps weighing it with what he had seen of Nicholas’s concern for his patients. He said finally, “There’s a back door to the court behind the house.”
“There is probably someone watching it.”
Brile sighed. “I knew it would lead to this when Morane turned up at my door in the middle of the night. Will I be arrested if I help you?”
“I doubt it, but if you are, ask to speak to Inspector Ronsarde or Doctor Halle. They know all about it.”
“Then I’ll show you the roof door.”
It was later that night, long after the streetlights were lit. Pompiene, Count Rive Montesq’s Great House, looked down on the empty street, towering over the more modest town houses that clustered around it. Its original fortress-like façade had been modernized to make it current with fashion, and a number of generous windows and a second floor terrace gave it an airy, fanciful appearance.
Across the street a figure stood in the shadows, muffled in a dark shabby coat and a hat with the brim pulled low. It wasn’t raining but a damp mist hung heavy in the air and the flickering light of the gas lamps gleamed off the slick paving stones.
He crossed the street, moving toward the arcaded carriage alley at the side of the house. He avoided the pool of light from the single oil lamp that hung over the carriage doors and went instead to an inconspicuous portal further down the alley. It was a servants’ door and though it was heavy and well-made, the inside bolts hadn’t been shot. After some moments’ work, the lock yielded to the picks.
Everything there was to know about this house, from its original floorplan to its furnishings to the habits of its servants, he already knew. The door opened into a narrow dark hall, with the servants’ stairs on one side and the entrances to the pantries and servery on the other. He slipped past these doorways, hearing muted voices from the kitchens, and out the curtained door at the end and into the main foyer of the house.
The gas sconces and the chandelier were lit, revealing the house’s main entrance, a carved set of double doors framed by multi-paned windows and a grand sweep of double staircase that led up into the public and private rooms. He took the right branch of the stairs, moved soundlessly down the carpeted gallery at the top and paused at a door that stood partway open.
It was a room made familiar by long hours of watching, spying. It was dark but a fall of light from the hallway revealed bookcases and a beautifully carved marble mantel, and glinted off the frame of the watercolor and the marble bust by Bargentere. Across the room, above the large desk of mottled gold satinwood, was the painting The Scribe by Emile Avenne, the large canvas taking up a good portion of the wall above the wainscotting. He crossed the room swiftly, stepped around the desk and began to open drawers. Locating the one where Count Montesq kept correspondence, he took a packet of letters out of an inside coat pocket and placed it within. Shutting the drawer, he paused, listening to a quiet step out in the stairwell. He smiled to himself and stepped to the other side of the desk and opened another drawer, pretending to search it.
That was how the light caught him when the library door swung fully open. Two men stood there and a voice said, “Don’t move.”
He stayed where he was, knowing at least one firearm was directed his way. A figure stepped into the room and lit the gas sconce on the wall. The light revealed a burly, rough-featured man standing in the doorway, pointing a pistol at him. Count Montesq adjusted the height of the flame in the sconce, then turned unhurriedly to light the candle lamp on the nearby table. He said, “You were foolish to come here.” His voice was warm and rich and he was smiling faintly.
The man he knew as Nicholas Valiarde said, “Not foolish.”
Montesq finished with the lamp and stepped back to take the gun from the wary guard, motioning him to step out into the hall. The Count pushed the door closed behind the man and said, “After you dropped out of sight, I thought you were dead.”
“Oh, why the pretense?” Nicholas said, showing no evidence of discomfiture at being caught. “I’m sure Rahene Fallier told you that Inspector Ronsarde had surfaced again, that he extricated me from Fallier’s clutches and used the episode as a chance to solicit Captain Giarde’s assistance.”
Montesq’s eyes narrowed. “You know about Fallier.”
“I know everything, now.”
“Not quite everything.”
“Fallier also told you that I approached him today and asked for his help to circumvent the wards on this house, so I could enter it tonight.”
The smile on the Count’s lips died. He didn’t try to deny the charge. “But you came anyway? Why? What could you possibly hope to accomplish?”
“It was the only way.”
Montesq had observed that something in the quality of his guest’s voice was not quite normal, that there was a flatness in his dark eyes. “How disappointing,” Montesq drawled, coming to the wrong conclusion. “I was hoping you weren’t mad.”
“It is a little tawdry, isn’t it?” Nicholas agreed, watching him with an odd intensity. “Ending like this. There was one thing I wanted to ask you.”
“You did realize that Edouard was telling you the truth. The spheres never worked for just anyone; they had to be wielded by a sorcerer, or someone with at least a minor magical talent.”
Montesq hesitated, but there was no harm in admitting such things to a dead man. “I realized it, after I killed the woman.”
Nicholas nodded to himself, satisfied. “I’m glad you said that.”
Montesq smiled, one brow lifted in a quizzical expression. “You don’t think I’ll shoot, do you?”
“No, I know you will,” Nicholas said, quietly. “I’m counting on it.”
They both heard the crash and a surprised shout as a downstairs door was flung open. Montesq’s head jerked involuntarily toward the sound and Nicholas leapt at him, making a wild grab for the pistol. Montesq stumbled back and as footsteps pounded up the stairs, he fired.
Two burly constables of the Prefecture were first into the room but Inspector Ronsarde was right behind them.
Ronsarde paused in the doorway, redfaced and breathing hard from the run up the stairs. The two constables had seized Montesq and taken possession of the pistol. The sight of the body on the carpet in front of the hearth broke the Inspector’s temporary paralysis and he crossed over to it. He knelt and felt for a pulse at the throat, then jerked his hand back as if he had been burned. Ronsarde looked hard at the face, then slowly stood and turned to Montesq.
Their eyes met. Montesq’s expression of bafflement turned to rage. In a grating voice, he said, “You bastard.”
One of the constables reported, “When we came in, he was standing over him with the pistol, looking down at him, sir.”
“Yes,” Ronsarde said, nodding. “I’m sure he was.”
Doctor Halle appeared in the doorway, more constables behind him. Taking in the scene, Halle swore and pushed past Ronsarde to the body. He knelt and ripped open his medical bag, then froze as he stared down at the face of the corpse.
The constables at the door made room for Lord Albier, who was trailed by his secretary Viarn and Captain Defanse. Albier summed up the situation with a swift glance and ordered Defanse to secure the house and arrest the servants.
Halle stood and turned a bewildered expression on Ronsarde. “This isn’t– This man’s been dead for–”
Ronsarde said, “Yes?” and stared hard at Halle.
After a moment, Halle cleared his throat and finished, “Moments, only. A few moments.” He picked up his bag and retreated to a corner to gather his thoughts.
Albier stepped into the room now, glancing ruefully at Ronsarde. “Well, when you’re right, you’re right,” he admitted gruffly.
Ronsarde’s lips twitched. “Or vice versa,” he murmured inaudibly.
Montesq had had a moment to recover himself. He said, “I was attacked by that man–”
“He’s unarmed,” Ronsarde interrupted. He hadn’t bothered to search the body, but he was reasonably sure of his facts.
Albier nodded to Viarn, who went over and began to go through the corpse’s pockets. “You won’t find it easy to explain this away, sir,” Albier said to Montesq with some satisfaction. “This wasn’t a burglary. It’s early evening, the lamps lit, your servants everywhere. You must have invited the man in.”
Montesq almost bared his teeth in fury. “He entered without my knowledge, with sorcery.”
Albier raised a skeptical brow. “If he was a sorcerer why did he let you shoot him? Besides, Inspector Ronsarde had information that you would have an interview with a man whom you would attempt to murder tonight.”
“I’m sure he did.” Montesq turned his cold gaze on Ronsarde and said contemptuously, “You violate your principles, sir.”
“Do I?” Ronsarde said softly. “If you hadn’t shot him, this would all have fallen to pieces. He laid the trap, but you didn’t have to step into it.”
Albier frowned. “What would have fallen to–”
“Sir!” The secretary Viarn was holding up a pocket watch with a jeweled fob. “Sir, he has several documents that should identify him but they all seem to be in different names, and he has this!” He stood and handed the watch to Albier. “Look at the inscription on the back of the setting for that opal.”
Albier squinted down at the jewel in his palm, half turning so the lamplight would fall on it. “Romele,” he breathed. “This is one of the pieces stolen in the Romele jewel robbery.” He and Viarn exchanged a significant look. “That man is Donatien.”
From his corner, Doctor Halle made a muffled noise and Ronsarde rolled his eyes in disgust. Montesq said, “Donatien…?” Slow understanding dawned in his eyes and he swore bitterly under his breath. “If I had known…”
Albier rounded on him. “If you had known? It looks a good deal like you did know, sir. That what we have here is a falling-out among thieves.”
“No, does it really?” Montesq said acidly.
“There’s something missing,” Ronsarde said, his expression thoughtful.
“What?” Albier asked, startled.
“Direct evidence of the good Count’s involvement with Donatien.” Ronsarde looked around the room appraisingly. He moved behind the desk and studied the array of drawers. All were firmly shut except one, which had been left open a hair. Ronsarde let out his breath. Since he had seen the face of the dead man, he hadn’t known whether to laugh hysterically or shout and stamp. He opened the drawer and lifted out a pack of letters. “What are the names on those documents, Viarn?”
The secretary sorted hastily through the papers he had retrieved from the body. “Ordenon, Ferrar, Ringard Alscen–”
“Ah, yes.” Ronsarde nodded to himself. “Here are letters from men of those names to Count Montesq. I’m sure this will provide the confirmation of your theory, Albier.”
Albier was surprised and a little uncomfortable. “My theory? You told me to come here, Ronsarde, and you’ve been pursuing Donatien for years. I’m sure it was your work that led to this.”
A muscle jumped in Inspector Ronsarde’s cheek. “Oh, no,” he said. “I can’t take credit for this.”
Later, as the Prefecture moved into Count Montesq’s Great House in force, questioning servants, confiscating documents, collecting evidence, Ronsarde and Halle escaped outside. They moved across the street to where a gas lamp lit a circle of wrought iron benches with a small fountain in the center. It was a damp cold night and a mist was beginning to rise.
Doctor Halle stood with shoulders hunched and hands jammed into the pockets of his greatcoat. He said, “There’s just one thing I’d like to make certain of–”
“I will check with the authorities at the city morgue tomorrow and discover that sometime yesterday afternoon a person answering to our friend Cusard’s description claimed the body of an unidentified and recently deceased young man. That he perused all the available male corpses before making his choice, rejecting the ones that had been dead too long or been killed by some obvious means, such as stabbings or disfiguring blows to the head,” Ronsarde said. “I will wager you the price of a dinner at Lusaude’s grill room that this is so.”
“I won’t take that wager,” Halle said. After a moment, he chuckled.
“It’s not funny,” Ronsarde said stiffly.
“Of course you’re right.” Halle stopped smiling but he didn’t give the impression of suffering any sensation of guilt. He noticed that further down the street the colored lamps outside the cafe in the ground floor of the promenade were lit, signifying that it was still open for business. Halle knew Ronsarde shouldn’t be out in this weather and steered their steps toward it, the Inspector following him by habit. After a moment, Halle said, “I understand it must have been a golem constructed in some fashion out of the corpse, and when Montesq destroyed the spell by firing the pistol into it, the rest of the thing dissolved, and left only the body. But who made the golem? Was it Arisilde Damal? He’s been at the palace all day inside the wards. Could he control the creature from there?”
“It wasn’t Damal,” Ronsarde said, his mouth thinning. “It was Rahene Fallier, who had every reason to silence Montesq.”
“Good God, Fallier,” Halle said in wonder. He shook his head and chuckled again, then glanced at Ronsarde’s face. “Sorry.”
Ronsarde continued, “If the Count tries to reveal any of the information he was using to blackmail Fallier now, it will simply be more proof against him.”
“Masterful,” Halle said, admiringly. He caught Ronsarde’s glare, and said, “Oh, come now. Valiarde played you expertly.”
“Thank you for mentioning it. But he also counts on me not to expose him.”
Halle stopped in his tracks. “You wouldn’t.”
“I could,” Ronsarde said, grimly. “Damn that boy. He could have been a brilliant investigator.” Then he relented and allowed himself a slight smile. “But I won’t expose him. Did you see the look on Montesq’s face?”
“Did I? When I first walked in I thought you’d struck him, he looked so shocked.”
Laughing, the two men walked down the dark street toward the lights of the cafe.
The port city of Chaire smelled of dead fish and salt sea, or at least this portion of it did. It was long after midnight but the lower level of the old stone docks still bustled with activity when Cusard’s wagon pulled in. The shoremen and carters were hauling last minute cargos to and from the steamers preparing to leave the next morning. Nicholas jumped down from the wagon seat, dressed in work clothes and an old greatcoat, a battered leather knapsack slung over one shoulder. He usually preferred to travel light but the trunk weighing down the bed of Cusard’s wagon had to accompany him on this trip.
Cusard dropped the tail of the wagon and as they waited for the shoremen to get around to them, he sniffed and said, “You got all your papers and tickets?”
Nicholas rolled his eyes. Cusard was going to get maudlin. “Yes, poppa. I’ll remember to stay away from fallen women, too.”
“Like my own son, you was.” Cusard let out his breath in a gusty sigh. “Should of beat you more when you was a boy.”
“Probably.” Nicholas leaned back against the wagon. “For the love of God, Cusard, I’m going to Adera for a few months, not Hell.”
“Foreigners,” Cusard commented succinctly. He eyed Nicholas thoughtfully. “You’ll miss the trial.”
“That’s for the best. Montesq is going to be convicted of murdering Donatien, his partner in crime. I don’t want him to have the opportunity to prove that Donatien is alive and well and living under the name Nicholas Valiarde.”
Cusard grunted. “I’ll save the penny sheets for you.”
“Just stay away from the warehouse or any of the other places I had to give them.”
“No, I was going to walk around ’em with a sign on my back saying ‘Arrest Me.'” Cusard sighed again. “That’s like a son to me all right, leaving me to fend for myself–”
“Your share is enough to buy a villa on the March–”
“High living will do you in every time,” Cusard interrupted sententiously. Then he grinned. “Did the Count in, didn’t it? High living and being too clever by half.”
Nicholas tried to maintain a stony façade, but his lips twitched in a smile. “Yes, it did, didn’t it?”
The shoremen came for the trunk then, grunting at its unexpected weight as they lifted it down from the wagon bed.
As Nicholas was signing the bill of lading one of them, with the forthrightness characteristic of tradesmen in Ile-Rien, demanded, “What have you got in here, bricks?”
“Almost,” Nicholas said, truthfully. Small, highly valuable bricks. He added, not so truthfully, “It’s sculpture actually, busts and small figures.”
That was dull stuff for men who unloaded cargos from Parscia and Bukarin and they showed no further interest in the trunk’s contents.
“You’d better be going,” Nicholas told Cusard. “It’s a long drive back and you’re so damnably old.”
“You and your mouth,” Cusard said, and cuffed him on the side of the head. “Tell her ladyship to take care of herself.”
“I will,” Nicholas said, as the old man climbed back aboard the wagon and lifted the reins. At least I hope I’ll have the opportunity.
Once the trunk was loaded and the shoremen tipped, Nicholas could have boarded the ship and sought the comfort of the first class cabin he had booked. Instead he climbed the stairs to the upper level of the dock and sat down on one of the stone benches.
It was very late and in the chill night there were few people venturing to take the air. The bustle of last minute loading and passengers arriving to board the ships was all taking place on the lower dock and this broad walk seemed very isolated. Hundreds of lamps still burned in the great hotels and the amusement pavilion at the opposite end, but that was far away.
He knew Madeline had gotten his message. He had gone to Coldcourt after escaping Brile’s surgery to give Sarasate instructions to expect Arisilde and Isham. There had been a host of telegrams to send too, warnings and instructions to different parts of his organization. Sarasate had reported that Madeline had been there earlier to pack a few of her things and had told him that Nicholas would be there soon with further instructions. She hadn’t said where she was going.
Alone he had watched the scene enacted in Montesq’s library through Arisilde’s enspelled copy of The Scribe. So all the books are right, he thought, revenge is bitter. Then he smiled to himself. But I’ll get over it.
Seated on the bench, he waited long enough to get thoroughly chilled and very afraid when he saw a lone figure making its way down the promenade, moving into one of the pools of light from the wrought iron lamps.
Nicholas drew a deep breath in relief. He would recognize that walk anywhere.
It took her long enough to reach him that he had managed to school his features into a mild expression of welcome, instead of grinning at her like an idiot. Madeline sat down on the bench next to him, dropping a carpetbag near his feet. She was dressed in a conservative traveling costume under a new gray paletot. She looked at him a moment, her face bemused, then said, “I thought about making you wait and catching the pilot boat at the last minute tomorrow morning, but I couldn’t be sure you wouldn’t do something dramatic.”
This time he couldn’t help the grin. “Me? Do something dramatic?”
“Idiot,” she said, and busied herself with adjusting her hat. “Now tell me how it was done. Where did you get the body?”
Nicholas let out his breath. “This afternoon I sent Cusard to the city morgue to look for a fresh, unclaimed male corpse, of about the right age, with no obvious wounds. It didn’t even have to resemble me. Fallier would take care of that when he made the golem and afterward, well, the Prefecture knows that Donatien is– was–a master of disguise.”
“Couldn’t Montesq claim that he shot Donatien in self-defense?”
“Oh, I’m sure he will. But before he arrived the golem placed a packet of letters in Montesq’s desk. Some of them date back to the beginning of Donatien’s rather checkered career and make it clear that Montesq planned most if not all of Donatien’s activities.”
“That must have been difficult.”
She was right about that but the blow to his ego had been a sacrifice Nicholas was willing to make. “It did give me a twinge or two.” He pulled off his black leather riding glove and shoved her the brown stains on his fingers. “I was more worried by what would happen if Ronsarde saw the stains from the tea I used to age the paper for the older letters. He would have known immediately I was up to something more than a simple murder. I’m lucky correct court attire demands gloves.”
Madeline frowned. “That was terribly cruel to make poor Ronsarde think you were bent on shooting Montesq in some grand self-destructive gesture. He must have been very worried about you.”
“It will teach him not to be overconfident.” Nicholas continued, “My observations of Montesq through Arisilde’s portrait made it possible to salt the letters with realistic and verifiable details. The later ones implicate the solicitor Batherat, who is a nervous sort and will probably break down under the first questioning session and volunteer information about Montesq’s own indiscretions.”
“Well, it turned out better than I hoped, I’ll tell you that.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, Nicholas watching the way the cold breeze off the ocean lifted the loose strands of hair that had escaped from her hat. “The theater rehearsal season will be just starting when we get to Adera. You can look for a part in something.”
“A leading role, you mean,” she said, in perfect Aderassi. “And what will you do?”
He shrugged. “There’s the university in the capital. I could finish my medical degree. A letter from Doctor Uberque should help me gain admittance.”
Madeline snorted. “That’ll last a week.”
“Probably,” he said, grinning again. Sobering, he decided there was something else he needed to ask, and finally managed, “Do you blame me for Madele’s death?”
Madeline shook her head slowly. “I did, at first. But it’s more accurate, and more characteristic of me, to blame Madele for Madele’s death. She knew what she was risking. And it probably maddens her, wherever she is, that she missed the whole fight against Macob. That’s probably punishment enough.” She gave him a sideways glance. “If you’re going to get sentimental, let’s get on the damn boat before I change my mind.”
“Yes,” he said, satisfied with that answer. “Let’s go.”
Thanks to Nancy Buchanan, for reading the manuscript in bits and pieces of very rough draft and for invaluable help with the research, including locating a copy of The Lighter Side of My Official Life, out of print since the 1920s. Thanks also to Z.P. Florian, for the story of the Hungarian fighting the Turks, and to Timothy John Cowden, for the story of his aunt, Lillian Saxe, who really did write a note in a book she left to him like Edouard did in Chapter Seven. And finally, thanks to Troyce Wilson for ideas, support, and most of all, patience.
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
Buy the DRM-free ebook version of The Death of the Necromancer at any of these fine book sellers around the globe: