“Where have you been?” she whispered furiously. “Where's your brother? Is he here?” She kept hold of his arm and crept around him to listen at the door to the garage.
“He left me in a vault, and now his fucking phone’s off. Christabel, he’s not here... why? What’s going on?”
She did not seem to be able to accept his assurances, keeping her voice low as she beckoned him toward the stairs.
“Lilian came back from town and then these idiots arrived with a truck... I have no idea who they were... she went and got a gun and she would have used it on them if your brother hadn't come home...”
“Was she high?”
“I don’t know... yes, probably! I hid up here. I heard another car come up the drive, and then I heard a fucking gun go off..."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes! I was too scared to look... when I sneaked down finally, everyone was gone and there was nothing."
William stood for a moment at the base of the stairs and collected his thoughts.
“If anyone was dead we would have tripped over them by now. Frost’s probably with Ed, so she’ll be okay. In one sense.” he sighed, climbing past her while she stared at his phlegmatic response. In the bedroom he emptied his pockets onto the quilt, dumping a folded wad of documents and notes scrawled to himself, and slumped down in the chair to kick off his boots. Taking his phone from him, she found Edward’s number and stood chewing her lip with the appliance to her ear as she was advised of the latter’s unavailability.
"Lilian's not okay... she's taking clozapine." she confessed, handing back the appliance. He pressed two fingers to his forehead and swore down at his lap. “Petrouchka said to make you tell me everything.”
“Yeah well, that’s fine for her to say. Vampyres don’t have any fucking skeletons. The people I’m talking about have more closet space than a Narnian penthouse. Christabel..." he groaned. "I’ve just spent the day at five different fucking banks arguing with the world’s scariest nitpicker over which bits of our stash we should involuntarily liquidate, because he’s just had the money he earned as an international apocalypse ripped off by someone he already wants to force through a fucking shredder... please don't give me waterboarding eyes. You will not thank me for telling you.”
She watched him slide down further into his chair and push his feet along her legs, inviting her hands to them with restless movements of his toes. Pushing them aside, Susan rolled over onto the bed and settled with her back to him, taking the magazine from beside the lamp. William sat for as long as he was able without speaking.
“Lilian’s not crazy.” he confessed. “Sometimes clarity is not your friend.” Turning over, she saw that he sat on the verge of significant disclosure. "If I tell you where all this comes from, you have to tell me what to do.”
The faces of the multitude were like bobbing sea-ice over their dirty, cattle-coloured tunics and thick stitched furs. Sachiin scanned them all, standing at the end of the cordon that divided the flagged square while the guards grouped beneath their pointed helms lost patience with the restive mass, barking and striking at them with cudgels cut for the occasion. The sky threatened snow, casting a sickly, cinereous illumination that drew in black and white and the unclean colours of their union. He glanced toward his companion; Gideon Auberjonois seemed more rueful than he had expected, the greedy, agrestic gloating of the crowd that pressed them on three sides reviled by every facet of his person.
“Why did you not tell me before now?" he muttered, shrugging his greatcoat around himself against the cold. "With your brother, we might have taken her from here.”
“She made me swear that I would not.” Sachiin confessed, Gideon's gaze upbraiding his adherence to such onerous terms. Both creatures craned their necks to catch sight of Kala'amātya, some twenty metres distant along the way cleared by the guards. He stood immobile and impassive amid the contingent drafted from Gideon's own circle, the latter flexing their wary hands and murmuring to one another as they watched the crowd around them. Before them rose the dark frame of the gallows beside a massive stave of oak rearing over the assemblage like some hungry idol. A thick skirting of bundled osier had already been laid head-high about its footing, stacked and kindled with wreaths of straw figured into crosses by the busy hands of charwomen. Alongside the stake a ditch, large enough to accommodate a tall man, had been dug and filled to its lip with freezing, opaque water.
On a lofty dais the gross figure of a catholic bishop, swathed in the complex, burnished finery of his office, sat upon a cushioned throne listening to details related by a pair of dark-garbed drudenhaus attendants. In the robes commissioned for the great occasion, he resembled some couchant and sedentary magi; behind him sat Rana in her own gilt chair, a dress of brilliant golden velvet beneath her bright red mantle, a cup of wine standing in her grasp. To the rear of her vantage roosted the wealthy burgher clans and guild men who had campaigned so long for the offender’s apprehension, cloaks drawn up about themselves as they exchanged confidences behind gloved hands.
Without fanfare the gates were prised open to admit two mounted wardens in scarred cuirasses to the square. They forced the mob backward into two thick ranks while the horses’ smoking breath and the sharp, hollow clatter of their riders' plate echoed unchallenged by jeers or shrieking catcalls, the ploughmen and mill girls standing in a dour silence nursing the stones and clods of offal they had brought to fling at the enemy who had held them subject for so long. Behind the riders and before another company of guards, pikes held upright in a bristling surmount, three women walked in single file, chained hand and foot to one another and forced to match their pace to that of the checked and stamping horses. Sachiin closed his eyes at the sight of them, his distress shared by the creature alongside him who expressed his dismay in soft gallic vowels.
The first woman wore an overgown of ravaged hellebore purple that flapped against her shoulders in the wind. Helaine's pale head had been crudely shorn and left a blistered, harrowed waste; around her throat deep-bitten wounds echoed the battered colours of her mouth, the same damp welts encircling each branded arm. Filthy linen bound each hand, preventing the remains of her fingers from disgorging enough blood to subvert the purpose of her detention. In defiance of her circumstance she displayed neither hauteur nor desolation, but walked in the direct and unfeigned manner that had always been her wont, wrists chained at her waist. Behind her, the two apprentice girls Adelle and Agathé proved less resolute, weeping and stumbling, their distress rousing a more demonstrative response from the crowd, the braver amongst them hefting the stones meant for their mistress. The hurled debris soon added its dire colours to those already staining their bloodied shifts of white linen, a vestige of their former station. The rear guard abused Agathé as she faltered at the sight of the rearing stake and the crowd pressed home the advantage, enclosing the two girls with their spitting faces and jostling limbs.
Breaking with the onlookers Sachiin stepped out into the way and helped Agathé to her feet, only to be shoved back by the pike bearers. Moving quickly along the face of the crowd, he walked at the shoulder of the senior witch and addressed her as discreetly as the tumult would permit.
“I could not persuade him to leave.” he told her, keeping his head low. She glanced at him, one eye shot red by a blow that had blackened her brow as far as her hairline, but made no reply, and was forced onward by her jailers. Gideon caught him up; they went ahead of the captive party to take their places beside Kala'amātya.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce.