Tracks, Chapter Seven: The Return

Click here to read the previous chapter.

***

“I’m fine,” Jonathan said through gritted teeth. His guard was helping him down the stairs of the office, hurrying him toward the coach while trying to aggravate his wounds as little as possible. Eva followed behind, with one guard at her side. Whether he was there to aid her or to keep her from fleeing, she did not know. Nor did she particularly care.

As they exited the office, Eva turned to look at it. It appeared almost entirely unchanged, its brick front standing exactly as it had when they first approached it. The only indication that anything had happened was the gaping hole where the window had been, with a few sticks of wood poking like broken teeth out of the frame. The guard took her arm and drew her over the broken glass towards the coach.

He handed her in, and made to follow her. She held up a hand. “Ride ahead,” she  told him. “And fetch the doctor.” He nodded.

As soon as they were both in the carriage, it set off. The jostling had an immediate effect on Jonathan, who turned pale. He leaned against the window and closed his eyes, trying to breathe deeply.

“Are you – ” Eva began.

I’m – fine – ” he repeated. The coach ran over a pothole and he gasped.

They rattled down the streets as quickly as they could, but in the middle of the day, their progress could not possibly be what they wanted. And though the soldiers shouted and cursed and threatened, few moved aside for them.

Jonathan let out a series of quick exhales that could only be laughter. “I suppose this is where it would have come in handy to travel with a full retinue. They’d have closed off the entire street for me, all day.” He cracked open one eye and glanced at her, as if to gauge her reaction.

She tried to smile. “Perhaps you should not travel so casually, Your Highness,” she replied.

Something he had said caught at the back of her mind. They’d have closed off the entire street for me. She frowned.

Then she stuck her head out of the window. “Driver!” she snapped, in her most authoritative voice.

Almost against his will, he turned round to look at her.

“Take the coach up past the train station.”

“That road has been closed off, my lady,” he said in a politely incredulous voice. “Surely you recall driving past this morning.”

“I do recall,” she replied. “The road was closed, and it was empty. There will be no one on it to hinder you.”

“But the road was closed as a matter of security,” he said.

“Isn’t this a matter of security?”

He looked down and drummed his fingers on the bench. A few moments later he turned back toward the front, flicked the reins and drove the coach off of the crowded detour-route and onto a sidestreet.

Ten minutes later, the coach stopped again. Eva could hear muffled voices, sharp in tone. Their own driver sounded urgent and angry. The man he was arguing with seemed harassed. Their voices rose until finally the driver snarled, “See for yourself!” and the door was flung open, sending a blinding brightness into the carriage. Eva flung up a hand to protect her eyes. Jonathan tried to do the same, but his hand only made it halfway before it drifted back down.

The man with whom the driver had been arguing wore the uniform of one of the Falconer’s men.

He leaned into the carriage and examined her with one raised eyebrow. She returned his look as coldly as she could. Then he turned and looked Jonathan up and down. He noted the livery of his prince and the finery of the coach. Whether he recognized the lady was not certain, but he knew the gentleman. He withdrew his head, and nodded reluctantly to the driver. “Drive slowly,” he warned. “Avoid the workers.”

The coach set off once more. And though Eva had warned Kate off peering through the curtains, she couldn’t resist taking a look at the damage that had been wrought during the night.

Only yesterday it had been the busiest location in Siege City. Now it was silent as a graveyard.

The dome of the train station had once been the largest of its kind on the entire continent. It had been made of red-gold glass that blazed like a sunset. That dome was cracked open now, like a bloody egg. The tracks that had once flowed into the station were no longer visible for the rubble that extended all the way to the road. Crews had been hard at work all morning clearing that road, but as their coach proceeded they hit numerous stones that made Jonathan wince. The front of the train station, which consisted of twelve tall marble arches, was pitted as though it had been the site of some war.

There were no trains in sight.

Every so often the coach passed some of the Falconer’s men, who made their way slowly over the ground. They seemed to be searching for something. A few glanced up to watch the coach pass. Most ignored it. They wore dust masks and protective leather – perhaps they were looking for another bomb.

When they came to the end of the barricade, the driver exchanged a short word with the man on duty. It was, of course, far easier to leave the forbidden zone than to enter it, and he waved them through after a short pause.

“Are we there yet?” Jonathan asked as they squeaked through.

“Nearly.”

And they were there, soon enough. They pulled into the crescent yard of the palace and before the coach had even stopped, the door was opening. The royal doctor, a man whom Eva had spoken to a handful of times, stepped in. “Your Highness?” he said.

“I’m fine,” Jonathan murmured.

“I’m sure you are,” the doctor replied in a brisk voice. “Help me,” he instructed a pair of assistants who lingered outside of the coach. To Eva he said nothing, but he waved her out impatiently. She hitched up her skirts and clambered down, unassisted.

She could only watch as Jonathan was carefully lifted out of the coach and placed on a stretcher. As it sped off into the side entrance, it was followed by his guard, his driver, a handful of servants and the doctor’s entire retinue, bustling through in a cloud of gossiping worry. As the yard cleared her gaze fell on the figure that remained behind.

The Falconer was watching her with something very much like loathing.

He did not bother to disguise it when he saw that she was looking. When she began to walk towards the palace entrance, he fell in just behind her.

“You blame me for this misfortune,” she said over her shoulder.

“It is possible. Why were you there? Why did he leave without retinue? Why did no one know where he was going?”

“Perhaps he thought you would try to stop him.”

“I would have stopped him. It was a singularly stupid idea from a normally responsible man. And you are not supposed to be wandering around the city.”

She turned on the steps to face him, so he could see that the hatred in his eyes was matched by her own. “I was called a guest by your own king. And though I did demand to accompany him, it was his own decision to investigate. If you think it so irresponsible, why not tell him?”

“I shall,” he replied in that soft voice of his. “And I shall certainly ensure that you never leave the palace without a full guard again. His Highness may be convinced of your innocence and ignorance. I certainly am not.” And with a deft push he turned her back around and walked her up the remaining stairs, into her prison.

***

Click here to read Chapter Eight.

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2 thoughts on “Tracks, Chapter Seven: The Return

  1. […] Chapter Eight: The Midsummer Festival Click here to read from the beginning, or here to read the previous chapter. […]

  2. […] Click here to read Chapter Seven. Inflict this on others:TwitterFacebookMoreStumbleUponLinkedInRedditDiggPinterestTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in fantasy and tagged arson, ash and smoke, court life, fiction, fire, high fantasy, intrigue, investigation, part of a larger whole, treason.Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments […]

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