Tracks, Chapter Three: Unrequested Visitors

Click here to read from the beginning.

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The mansion of Daniel Gallow was a stately work of neo-classical architecture, commissioned by some ancestor who had seen much more in old-world charm and style than in the need to flaunt his wealth. Naturally, when a man is the friend of a king, he doesn’t have to show off much before everyone falls into whatever trend he is setting. In the case of Daniel Gallow, who had been the childhood playfellow of the royal family, imitating his lifestyle seemed to be a surefire way of keeping the style of the court. When Daniel had married his dark skinned princess seventeen years before, most of the court women dyed their hair black and adopted the looser, flowing garments of the lady’s country. More recently, the Gallows had made it fashionable to have a minimalist garden, with long stretches of grass interrupted only intermittently by some artfully placed bush or trimmed hedge.

The Falconer cared nothing for gardening, and nothing for style. He strode up the stone path towards the long mansion and his guard came behind,trampling the carefully tended grass as they fanned out to form a semicircle around him.

When he reached the front door, he picked up the heavy brass knocker clutched forever in the talons of a stone eagle. He dropped it three times in total, then waited with the affectation of a man who had all the time in the world.

When the door opened to reveal the impassive form of the butler he said, “Retrieve your master, his lady and his daughter with all haste.” The man recognized his livery, nodded and slipped away.

When the door was opened again, it was only the lady who looked out on the Falconer and his assembled men.

Eva Gallow was still dressed in her evening finery, with her hair half unbound as though she had been interrupted just as she was about to retire. Her hair fell around her face and tumbled down to her waist in a cloud of curls. She had been girlish when she first came to court, and her beauty had grown with age, despite childbirth, innumerable poxes and the stress of living in a volatile and vicious social environment. Most men were half in love with her smooth honey skin and shining black hair.

If there was one person who did not soften any cruel thoughts at the sight of her, it was the Falconer, and there was certainly no love lost between them. But princesses, even former ones, do things only with the height of courtesy. “Good evening, Lord Falconer,” she said, and curtsied perfunctorily.

He bowed in reply. “I am surprised to see you so ready to receive us, my lady. I am not interrupting any other planned engagements?”

“No,” she replied. “We returned from one not so long ago, and I simply have not yet gone to bed.”

His eyes darted behind her. “I requested your manservant to fetch your husband, and your daughter as well. Are all your servants so intolerably lazy?”

Her voice brought a chill to the summer air. “My husband is out, and my daughter not suitable for presentation in mixed company.”

“Lord Gallow is out at so late an hour?”

“He said it was urgent.”

“What was?” The Falconer’s lip twitched, as though he were suppressing a smile.

If anything her voice grew even colder. But her tone did not shift and with all the manners of an ice queen, she said, “I did not ask.”

“You did not think it strange that your husband wished to attend to business so late in the evening?” He raised his eyebrows as though to be suggestive.

“When my husband says something is urgent, I do not detain him with pointless inquiries.”

His tone became flat and hard. “What happened, exactly?” he demanded. He crossed his arms and planted his feet on either side of the path, and stared at her with his cold eyes. For a long moment she met that gaze, but at last her eyes dropped and she replied in a somewhat subdued voice.

“He received a letter, and upon reading it said he must go. He did not say where, and he did not say when he would return.”

“Did he take the letter with him?” the Falconer asked.

“I do not know,” she admitted.

“Then you won’t mind if we look.”

She unfolded her arms and placed one hand against the door frame to block his path. “I do mind, Lord Falconer. What right do you have to disrupt our peace at this hour, insult my servants and invite yourself to rummage through our personal belongings?”

“I’m glad you asked,” the Falconer replied in his silky voice. He put a hand into his pocket and drew out a square of paper. As he unfolded it and handed it to her, he said, “You are under arrest for suspected arson, destruction of the king’s property and treason. Please do not struggle.” As he spoke, his guards approached and two of them placed their hands gently but firmly on her arms.

Eva did not try to shake them off. She stared at the warrant, her wide eyes growing wider as she processed the contents of the paper before her. “You put Kate on this warrant,” she said at last. Her voice was thick and confounded.

“You may send a maid to fetch her, but I’m afraid she’ll have to be accompanied by a guard,” the Falconer replied.

Eva nodded to a maid. “Please tell my daughter to dress with all haste and get her cloak,” she said. The girl scurried away and the guards marched their unprotesting charge back down the stone pathway, to the carriage that waited.

***

Click here to read Chapter Four.

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