Tracks, Chapter Eight: The Midsummer Festival

Click here to read from the beginning, or here to read the previous chapter.
***

A few days had passed before Jonathan and Eva saw one another again. Each morning the king sent a note with his deepest regrets, stating that he had urgent business to attend to. She was happier to take breakfast in her room with Kate. The Falconer was at the palace whenever his duties spared him, and she had no wish to break her fast in his company.

Jonathan’s wounds had hardly been serious. Although quite a fuss was made over him as he was carried into the palace, it was soon deemed that his state of near-catatonia was more attributable to shock than loss of blood, and aside from wincing when he stretched his back, he was quickly back to normal. None of this made the Falconer feel well-disposed towards Eva, though, and this was reflected in the manner of her captivity – a guard stood at her door day and night now, and she was never alone except in her own chambers. She didn’t bother trying to dismiss him. She recognized the Falconer’s hand in all of this. His guard was loyal, and would be until the very end.

Three days after the catastrophe at the clerk’s office, she was invited to sit at the high table, during the Midsummer Festival.

By this time, Lord Gallow had been officially declared missing.

There were no bounties on him yet, and no criminal accusations levelled against him. Far from giving Eva hope, it only served to convince her that the Falconer looked for more evidence before he could make a formal statement.

It would be her first public appearance since the humiliating arrest. No doubt some had noticed the change of activity surrounding the Gallow mansion – the servants and masters no longer came and went, and the front yard was full of soldiers. Those same people would be watching her tonight, gauging her demeanor.

When the time came, she was dressed in a deep blue adorned with golden thread. Her skirt belled at the waist and her long sleeves draped nearly to the floor. Her bodice was cut high and her hair had been pulled up to match.

Her daughter had been dressed in a lighter blue with a softer silhouette, more fitting to her age. Her hair was curled and fell around her face in soft brown waves. Though the family jewelry was still at the Gallow home, the king had generously offered them the loan of any royal adornment they might wish. Kate wore a silver necklace and sapphires in her ears; Eva had placed golden bracelets on her wrists and a shining dark opal pin tucked into her hair.

The Falconer noticed their gems as they joined the retinue that would enter behind the king. His thin mouth tightened and when she approached he inclined his head in the barest acknowledgement of her presence.

The Midsummer Festival was supposed to be one of the grandest affairs of the year. This festival had been planned long before the attack on the station, but the excitement had been dampened by the increased security. In addition to the king’s personal guard, a company of the Falconer’s men stood outside of the palace. Their stoic expressions and tall rifles did nothing to reassure the wedding guests. And for the past three days, the magician’s wall had blazed all around the city, filling the night with an eerie green fire that kept anyone from coming or going. It made for a rather more subdued party than previous years.

As she and Kate joined the retinue they curtsied to the king. He was deep in conversation with one of his advisors and spared them no more than a brief greeting.

Eva stepped back and turned instead to Jonathan, who was speaking politely (though not very comfortably) with a young woman a year or two older than Kate. She was a stunning girl, with auburn hair and deep blue eyes, dressed all in white and gold. Her delicate features reminded Eva of Lady Hartwin, who stood a few feet away in conversation with Aldor, the doctor. Every few seconds her eyes flickered to the girl.

Eva had to stifle a laugh as Jonathan gratefully turned away from his too-charming companion and addressed her. “Good evening, my lady. I trust you have been well? Good evening, Miss Gallow,” he said to Kate, who curtsied. Eva just caught the venomous glare of Miss Hartwin before she slid away.

“Quite well, thank you,” she replied. “But it was you we had reason to fear for, Your Majesty.”

“Not at all. And I am fully recovered now – with the exception of my pride, of course. I have not been so scolded by my elder brother since I flung mud on his best shirt when we were children.”

She stepped closer. “Word from Daniel?” she asked softly.

He shook his head. “No word, no sight. I know he would have written, if he could. That paper you gave me…” He stopped and glanced around. “Perhaps this is neither the time nor place.”

Eva could not help smiling this time. “Indeed. We seem to have driven away your charming companion.”

“Miss Hartwin?” To his credit, he managed not to blush, though he could not look Eva in the face. “She made her debut two days ago. Of course, Aldor wouldn’t let me leave the palace so my congratulations had to wait.”

“I see,” said Eva archly.

It was a poorly-kept secret that every woman of wealth or name in Siege City hoped that her daughter would marry the king’s brother. Ever since breaking off his first (and only) engagement seventeen years before, Jonathan had shown little inclination to marry. Rumours of an illigitimate child had circulated for a while, but had come to nothing. And Jonathan had managed to stave off the advances of every mother-in-law ever since.

“But what of you?” Jonathan turned to Kate. “Your mother was married by the time she was your age.”

Kate lifted one eyebrow and gave him the well-practiced look so common to girls her age. Her large eyes seemed to ridicule him for even thinking her fit to marry one of the idiots in her social circle.

“Of course, we won’t discuss Kate’s debut without her father present,” Eva said hastily.

“Of course,” he acquiesced. He pressed his lips together to suppress amusement.

At last the doors were opened to the hall, and the king and his retinue entered.

The guests in the hall sank to their knees at once, and bowed their heads as the king passed. They were not obliged to keep them downcast once he moved on, of course, and so they were able to peek at the rest of the retinue. Not a few of them were casting glances at Eva and Kate – so they had  noticed the change of pace at the Gallow mansion.

The king’s hall was high-domed and grandly adorned and gilded. The black and white marble floor had space for a thousand guests, and a small stage in the back allowed enough room for the royal orchestra to fit in. The ceiling had been painted by some unnamed master centuries ago, and the once bright colors had faded to the barest outline of angels and saints. At the front of the hall, where the king’s table was laid, five enormous glass windows looked out over the city.

The king’s table had been set with the first course. When he at last took his seat, the rest of his retinue did the same, and the guests below stood. They had their own dining area as well, and the servants had begun to bring out bowls and platters of food for their consumption.

Though Miss Hartwin’s mother did her absolute best to place her daughter at the side of the prince, Jonathan managed to seat himself between Eva and his brother, and across from Doctor Aldor. Aldor took every opportunity to shoot Eva a suspicious glance, as though he, too, felt her responsible for Jonathan’s injury at the clerk’s office.

The festival was a strange thing. There was little dancing and more than a few glanced toward the windows with some apprehension.

Outside, the evening air took on a green caste, like the gates of some hell. Eva tried to ignore it but she saw Kate’s glance drawn more than once out the window and away from the table’s conversation.

The king ate slowly and took the time to discuss many different things with those around him. He seemed in pain whenever he swallowed, and reached often for his wine.

At last he pushed his plate aside and asked Lady Hartwin to accompany him to the floor. As they saw him stand, the orchestra began a slow waltz.

Eva found herself presented with the Falconer’s hand.

She couldn’t refuse. She took it and he pulled her out of her chair and onto the floor. With one arm around her waist he guided her between the other couples.

“I didn’t realize you danced,” she remarked.

“It is not the talent for which I am most known. But I am capable.”

“Why dance with me? You can’t possibly enjoy it.”

“You’re rather hard on yourself, my lady,” he said with a brief, sardonic smile. “But essentially correct. However, I felt this the easiest way to speak with you under the circumstances.”

“What circumstances? And what could you possibly have to say to me?” she asked.

The Falconer leaned forward until his mouth was nearly against her ear. He spoke with all the appearance of a lover to his mistress: “Jonathan’s love for his friend has made him blind to some of the possibilities before him,” he murmured. “He would ride into fire to save your lord. am still watching you – and your lovely daughter. And if you have betrayed us-”

She jerked back and her feet stilled by themselves. Two red blotches had appeared on her cheeks, both the shock of his intimacy and outrage at his intimation. She felt the furtive glances that other dancers and watchers were casting them, and kept her voice appropriately low. “You forget that you are servant and not master,” she hissed. “If the king believes the truth of my claims, then what you think means nothing.”

“The king is not hindered by his emotions,” the Falconer replied. They began to dance again. “He understands the necessity of remaining-”

Before he could finish, the sky outside flared bright green. Many gasped; the orchestra faltered and the waltz fell out of time. Every guest turned towards the windows. Green tendrils shot like flames through the sky, turning every face ghostly pale.

They seemed to be coming from one place in particular, a section of wall far off to the left. Without wishing it, Eva found herself turning towards the Falconer, a question in her eyes.

He caught her look and that thin mouth twitched. “Someone has tried to get in – or out,” he said. “I hope you will forgive the intolerable rudeness, but I’m afraid business calls me away.” He dropped her hands and strode from the hall, but no one noticed him leave.

After a few moments the king signaled to the orchestra, and they struck up again. Rather grudgingly many couples returned to the dance, but conversation was scattered and worried, and all eyes were turned inexorably towards the great windows and the green beacon of light.

***

Click here to read Chapter Nine.

Advertisements

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.

Tracks, Chapter Five: A Morning of Captivity

Click here to read from the beginning.

***

The next morning Eva and Kate attended the king promptly as he broke his fast. Their suite had, as promised, lacked for nothing, and the ladies were able to spend the night in physical, if not mental, comfort.

Eva could not help but notice that the king ate very little for breakfast. The sight of food seemed to appall him and he turned away dish after dish. He attempted to mask his obvious discomfort through pleasant conversation, but although he did not touch on the events of the previous night, the pleasantries were strained and awkward.

Jonathan arrived halfway through the meal, looking slightly disoriented and upset. He bid them all a good morning, though he avoided making eye contact with Eva and the smile he gave to Kate seemed a little delirious. He sat down with barely more than a salute to his brother and tore into a roll.

“Any news?” he asked Phillip during one of the more painful silences.

Phillip raised one eybrow, as though to suggest that his younger brother lacked decorum. Nevertheless, he wiped his mouth on the corner of his napkin and answered. “Nothing, for the moment. The Falconer has yet to report.”

The words had hardly left his mouth when a steward entered. Bowing to the king, he announced that the Falconer Imnir awaited his pleasure.

“Under normal circumstances, I would postpone state affairs to after breakfast, for I find it gives terrible indigestion and makes for irritated or impatient guests. But today you might wish to hear his news. Should I call him?” he asked.

“Your wish is ours, Your Majesty,” Eva replied. Her face betrayed no emotion other than polite attentiveness. Kate looked as though she wished to say something sarcastic – then rearranged her expression so that she bore the same look as her mother.

Phillip nodded to the steward. The man bowed again, then departed. A minute later, the Falconer strode in. He was dressed in the same attire he had worn the previous evening and the tangled state of his hair suggested that he had neither slept, nor stopped to make himself presentable. He walked up to the king and bowed perfunctorily, then stood with his hands folded, waiting for permission to speak. He ignored Eva and Kate completely, as though he had never spoken to them in his life, let alone arrested them not twelve hours previously. Though he had worked through the night, his eyes were still bright and fierce. He looked as though he could easily have another night with no rest.

The king was sipping a cup that looked like tea but smelled strongly of brandy. He nodded his permission and the Falconer began.

“Preliminary searches have yielded no evidence that Lord Gallow was a collaborator,” he said. “My men will continue to search the city for the responsible parties, but I would request permission to follow the Southern road. If he were apprehended on the way to respond to a call of emergency, we may still be able to find clues.”

“So you believe us now,” Kate said.

As soon as the words left her lips, she seemed to realise it had been a mistake to utter them. The Falconer appeared to notice her for the first time – his face snapped toward her and his cold gaze settled on her. She blanched, but did not – could not – tear her eyes away. After a long moment he replied. “What I believe is that preliminary searches have yielded no evidence that your father was a collaborator,” he said in his peculiar cruel tone. “I am not convinced that you are not a family of liars.” Following this statement, he turned back to the king, leaving Kate speechless and pale with fury and fear.

Jonathan seemed on the point of speaking, but Phillip did not reproach the Falconer for his speech out of turn, nor even acknowledge that he had heard the exchange. “By all means, pursue the Southern road if you think it will bring useful information. How long do you expect to be away?”

“Not longer than the day. If Lord Gallow was abducted it could not have been so far along the road. While I am away, Gilltrin will serve as an adequate substitute for domestic matters. My other teams will, of course, continue their search within the city.”

“Go, then,” Phillip bade him. With one last bow, the Falconer turned away and left the hall as swiftly as he had come.

***

When breakfast was finished, Eva and Kate retired again to their suite. Here Eva pressed Kate to write some of the letters she was owing to several friends and acquaintances who wished to be well-remembered by their family. Kate sat down to the task with much agitation, and crumpled her first three attempts on the floor complaining of the imperfect penmanship.

“Do not be so aggrieved by the Falconer,” her mother said gently after the last outburst. “It would only please him.” Kate was silent. “He enjoys having the last word and the feeling of superiority, particularly over those who surpass him by birth. He is a common man whose uncommon talent for heartlessness has made him some degree of useful. But he has never demanded the respect that established families and estates have – he has only inspired loathing and fear.” Her speech was perhaps unfair to the Falconer, but Eva had never seen much in him to respect, and no reason to be more civil than was demanded by society. And his behavior that morning had irked her at least as much as Kate – perhaps more so, for when Kate went back to writing, with a slightly mollified air, Eva concentrated very avidly on the book she was reading, yet never turned a page.

An hour or two had passed when the personal manservant of Jonathan Lytra called on them. His master, he said, requested Lady Gallow’s presence at her earliest convenience.

Eva had half a mind to tell the footman to go away, so that she could let Jonathan wait for as long as she pleased. But it was never a good idea to get on the wrong side of princes, and she feared it might have something to do with Daniel. So she contented herself with shutting her book with a very loud snap and telling Kate that she would be back within the hour. She followed the manservant out with all the silent displeasure she could muster.

Jonathan sat in his office, an ordinarily sunny room. His writing desk sat just in front of a wall made of windows that let in all the natural light he could wish for as he worked. Unlike Phillip’s dark and comfortable office, his seemed bright, clean, austere.

Today, there was not sufficient light to read his papers without the aid of a desk lamp. Dark blue clouds roiled above the palace, heavy with rain. The first few, fat drops had already fallen into the courtyard directly outside his window.

When Eva came in he waved his manservant away and the man disappeared, shutting the door discreetly behind him. Eva sank into her customary curtsy. “Enough of that,” he said impatiently. “Come over here. I need to ask you something.”

“I am at Your Majesty’s disposal,” she said, without much sincerity.

His clear blue eyes bore into her own grey-green ones. “Was Daniel responsible for the arson at the train station?” he asked.

Two bright red spots appeared in her cheeks and her insolence was replaced by rage. “How dare you – ” she began.

“Answer!” he commanded.

“He was not, and never could be, the responsible party,” she snarled through gritted teeth.

At once, his manner seemed to change. He sat back in his chair and exhaled slowly. He seemed relieved, as though the exchange had put to rest all of his fears. “That’s good,” he said. “I’m glad to hear it.”

She stared at him for a moment. “I beg your pardon,” she said finally, “but is that the only reason you called me to your office? To ask me a simple question, the answer to which I gave you last night?”

“No,” he admitted. “But I did feel the need to ask. The Falconer never judges a man based on his character, so he will suspect your husband until indisputable proof is found that Daniel is either guilty or innocent. But I do judge character. And not only am I convinced that I can judge my friend’s character to be honest, true and loyal, but you have persuaded me that you believe what you say.”

“I suppose I am glad to hear it,” she said as she fiddled with the cuff of her gown. Her voice was still full of resentment.

“Let’s not think on that any more,” he said gently. He was trying to make amends, though she felt he did so very poorly. “I also called you here to inform you of something.” He pulled a note from his stack of papers and, as he spoke, glanced at it for reference. “At 9:45 this morning, well after the Falconer took up his pursuit on the Southern road, a man was arrested. In his home were found several items of equipment that would have been invaluable in any endeavor of arson. This man was a clerk and an accountant. It is my thought that his papers, if searched, might provide some clue as to his compatriots and patrons. I intend to make a preliminary investigation of the property before seizing it and bringing it back here to be studied.”

“Wouldn’t the Falconer prefer to do it, or set one of his men to the task?” she asked.

“It is I who am master of him, not the other way around,” he replied with a touch of coldness. “I do command the army as part of my duties, and they will be the ones to seize the property. And while the Falconer is making his own investigations, this is not something I feel can wait. I merely thought it might relieve you to know that the investigation is moving forward and, with good fortune, your acquittal might be secured before matters get more complicated.”

Eva nodded, as though she understood the sense in everything he said. Then, “I want to come with you,” she told him.

Jonathan’s quick manner evaporated. “What?” he repeated stupidly.

“I’m as much a part of this as you are, and my future is at stake. For the sake of my husband and my daughter, I wish to go with you.”

“I…don’t think that will be possible.”

“You owe it to me,” she murmured. “You, who have always doubted the rightness of things.” That made him turn a bright red, and he looked down at the table. “I have a quick eye, you know that. I might be of some help to you.” And you owe me. Those words, cruel and cutting and undeniable, still hung in the air.

***

Click here to read Chapter Six.

Tracks, Chapter Three: Unrequested Visitors

Click here to read from the beginning.

***

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.

Tracks, Chapter One: Fire and Glass

They spun through the air like snowflakes, glinting in the light and turning over and over as they fell. All around them the fire sent ripples of light over their sharp edges and turned the glass fragments into prisms.

The blaze had become instantly uncontrollable. Whoever had planted the explosives arranged everything perfectly and when the station had erupted it bloomed like a flower – a flower with petals of glass and flame, with leaves of charcoal and a stem of twisted iron shards.

Within minutes the royal Falconer was on the scene, with a swarm of city watchmen crawling over the wrecked shell of the building with water buckets and fire charms. More watchmen had been posted outside the royal residence and still more had begun to conduct a search of the city. Another round of explosives could be anywhere.

Though it was cool for summer, the blast of fire had baked the air and the Falconer was sweating in his uniform. One thing they could thank the interminable rains for – the fire hadn’t caught on to the buildings in the area. They were too wet.

A watchman came up to him and smartly saluted. He nodded once, a sharp motion, and the man said, “We’ve checked inside, sir.” His face was red and streaked with soot.

“What did you find?” the Falconer asked in his cold, crisp tones.

“No one was inside. But…the tracks are destroyed, sir. And no one knows how to repair them.”

The Falconer rubbed his smooth chin. Destroyed. Everyone knew the trains were a relic, an unsolvable puzzle. There was no way of knowing whether they would ever be repaired. Surely the arsonist had known this. But was it his goal, or a means to an end?

“Return to the barracks. Any watchman not previously on duty is instated as of now. I consider the city in an emergency situation until the arsonist has been found. Send word to Solldyr – he is to raise the city walls immediately.” The man saluted again and departed.

They would find the arsonist. The Falconer had no doubt. But if he had any associates that might be in the city, they couldn’t be allowed to escape.

Glass powder and ash settled onto his coat. He stood with his arms folded, watching. All around his watchmen scurried, pushing gaping citizens out of the way as they smothered the remnants of the fire. At last a lackey scurried up to him and murmured something in his ear. He smiled at the news, his chilling smile that stopped men in their tracks and gave children nightmares. Then he followed the man away from the wreckage and towards the palace.

***

Click here to read Chapter 2: The Departure.