|Michael Faraday Older|
“Aubrey St. Clair?”
“Yes. The father was a diplomat under Ambassador Trevall. The oldest son has been angling for a government position.”
“If the family feels misused, a government post will appease them.”
“Yes. Yes.” Sir James wandered around the parlor, hands clasped behind this back. He peered over his shoulder at Simon. “Rumors say you might know where she is—”
The rumors originated in Kev’s blabbering mouth. Kev had ties within the Academy although Sir James would never admit that Academy students utilized such low connections.
Simon said, “The family probably sent the girl off to the country to recover from her transformation.”
“That’s the mother’s story. Richard St. Clair approached me separately. He says the girl was stolen from the family’s apartments in Sommerville while she was still a cat.”
“I was at the party. I saw her change. One of your spells, I understand.”
Simon didn’t temper his contempt. “I would never poison a punch bowl at a soiree.”
“The students meant well,” Sir James said weakly.
Simon glared. Sometimes Kev’s cruel lies were more bearable than Sir James’s self-serving ones. A point of resemblance between both men: they believed thoroughly in their own lofty purposes.
“The Academy would have protected her. We petitioned for guardianship. The family resisted—”
Despite the brother wanting a government position. Someone somewhere had a sense of honor.
“But even Minister Belemont would have seen sense eventually. Who else but the Academy could care for such a creature? Only we have the knowledge and resources—”
He droned on—the same speech he must give the ministers about the Academy’s potential contributions to society. Simon didn’t know why Sir James bothered wasting the speech on him unless Sir James sensed (and fruitlessly hoped) to conquer Simon’s disbelief.
Simon said, “The Academy would be better served supporting the new sciences.”
“Those upstarts. Stevenson’s grandfather was a mere tutor. As for Sir Prescott—”
Simon has never met Sir James’s rivals for Academy control, Mr. Brian Stevenson and Dr. Giles Prescott. He shrugged.
Sir James said, “The government has suggested razing the north side of the Palisades.”
Sir James did not usually threatened so directly. Simon frowned. The north side of Palisades had deteriorated in the last fifty years, and New Government wanted to demonstrate its right to undo the past. Renewal. Modernization.
The proposal had been challenged. Historians and preservationists, defenders of Roesia’s heritage, were supported by men like Sir James who cared nothing for buildings but cared greatly for the implications. Demolish the structures—demolish the class that built them.
Demolish Simon’s house—demolish Hannah.
Maybe. He didn’t know. He couldn’t run the risk.
He said, trying not to sound sulky—not a man of his age—“The Academy should of course pursue the matter of Aubrey St. Clair.”
“I’ll send Jacobs to keep you updated—“
Jacobs was one of Sir James’s hangers-on, not the Academy’s brightest though one of its most ambitious. Jacobs was a royalist, an odd choice for such a young man. Perhaps he viewed Sir James as a father figure. More likely he saw him as a leg up to some glory-filled future. We all use each other.
Sir James swept out, full of his good intentions. Simon stoked the fire and returned to his armchair.
“Strutting fellow,” Hannah said from the mantle.
“Were you always so absolute in your judgments?”
|Michael Faraday Younger|
“The world is not as gray as people imagine.”
“More so, I would say.”
“Gray is a fallacy. Black and white—all those combinations—create enough complications. When they meet—”
“I suppose.” She sighed.
She seemed, on occasion, incredibly young. Was she ever so young? She must have been; Simon had been rising twenty-three, a child, when they met; and they were of an age.
No longer. The few times that Simon called forth Hannah’s visible form, he saw the same unlined face, the same supple shoulders and firm breasts as forty years earlier. Absent physical change, time and experience ought to determine age. But what time had Hannah experienced? She faded, vanished, sometimes for hours.
She still asked Simon for the year. She noted his age, his physical weariness, his memory lapses. He was no longer twenty-three.
“When did you grow old?” she said once.
Simon couldn’t answer. He didn’t know. As a child, time plodded. As an adult, it rushed past, causing one to stumble and wonder, Exactly when did I start getting up at night to pee?
* * *
Jacobs, Sir James’s leech, arrived three days later. He was less obsequious than Kev, being more clubbish. He seemed to think Simon admired him because he admired Simon. Another idiot.
“The St. Clair girl has resurfaced—at a police station in Shops.”
Jacobs had an amused, cynical way of talking: everything, everybody was not quite as intelligent or knowledgeable as Jacobs. Simon recognized the attitude; it irritated him into teeth gritting endurance.
“A run-away,” he said.
“Reports are that she escaped from a slum magician.” Jacobs raised his brows, eyes wide.
Simon ignored the invitation to confide, ignored his personal uneasiness and the sudden chill in the room.
Jacobs continued, “Sir James is applying for custody.”
“Shouldn’t she be returned to her family?”
Jacobs looked doubtful. “If a family of social climbers is capable of handling a transformation.”
“If she was transformed,” Simon said caustically, and Jacobs immediately reverted to reverential acolyte.
“Of course. Sir James is a trifle gullible.”
He threw out that remark, testing the waters, but Simon had no desire to criticize Sir James to Jacobs.
“Should she exhibit transformative abilities—?” Jacobs queried offhandedly, throwing out the lure.
Simon bit. “I would be interested, of course.”
Jacobs smoothed his hands through his hair and pressed them together. He reminded Simon of Kev.
“I gather that the potion came from you originally,” he said. “There are so few talents at the Academy. Naturally, you prefer to retain possession of your most effective formulas.”
Simon didn’t argue. He watched Jacobs through lidded eyes. The man was no potion master; most likely, he wanted to trade formulas for favors. He was the kind of man who fancied himself at the center of all negotiations—little more than a common peddler. Jacobs would hate the comparison.
He said, arms folded over an extended chest, “You could trust me to protect those formulas.”
“I have so little information about Miss St. Clair,” Simon said. “Nothing is as illuminating as physical contact.”
As far as Simon was concerned, his two statements bore no relationship to each other, but Jacobs would create one (I’ll get the formulas if I bring the girl to Lord Simon); this was the way these men communicated: innuendo, double-talk. If one took what they said literally, they felt aggrieved.
Currently, Jacobs must be feeling self-satisfied. He nodded smugly and smiled his way out the door. Hannah’s voice and presence took his place.
She said, “Is this the girl you met at Kev’s?”
“I met one of his tarts.”
“She wanted to get away?”
“I assumed she was lying.”
“What was your evidence? Did you question her? Him?”
“You know Kev lies.”
“He also steals. What did he take from this girl?”
“He says he cut her open.”
Not even the fire’s warmth could cut through the chill now. Simon huddled in his robe.
“You’ve become a pimp to Kev’s perversions.”
“I was never a good man,” Simon snapped. “I was never honorable.”
“You might have been.” Her voice was sad now, so sad that Simon pressed his hand to his heart, trembling as misery swept the room in an unending draft.
“What have I done to you?” Hannah murmured.
It was the wrong question: What have we done to each other?
* * *
Regret was pointless. It went nowhere, accomplished nothing. Time did not work backwards. Once upon a time, Simon cast a spell and locked a princess in a tower. Once upon a time, he walked into that tower and stoned himself inside. Life did not reverse itself.
The most he could hope for was to manufacture a deception.
A messenger arrived the next day from Sir James: Aubrey St. Clair had been retrieved from the police station and taken into the Academy’s care. There would be a meeting that afternoon of the Academy alumni to protect the girl.
Simon read between the lines: The alumni would interrogate her.
Sir James did not invite Simon to attend. The Academy had moved to the abandoned palace shortly after the royal family abdicated. Alumni continued to meet in the old main building; it was still Academy grounds from which Simon was still technically barred. He was too divisive a symbol in any case.
Other people’s symbol. Simon’s objectives were the furthest thing from abstract. He needed to save Hannah, if at all possible, before he died. He dispatched the messenger with a request that Miss St. Clair be brought to him once the Academy was done “helping” from her. He then mounted to the solarium, clutching the rail as he made his way slowly up the last set of steep stairs.
There were jars of potions on every shelf: potions to transform a person to an animal; potions to levitate a human; potions to locate lost objects or to identify where an object had been; potions to attract lovers; potions of invisibility.
On the central table stood the latest, six months in the making: a potion of removal and forgetfulness. Simon did not dare try it on himself.
Age is age. The past cannot be changed. But perhaps a person could leave it behind, go forward into a new life shorn of unhappy memories.
Simon poured out a cup. Hesitating, he added a few drops of the Ennancian priest’s sweat. He had used it only once before to wipe down his bedroom walls, eradicating the last of his uncle’s aura.
The mixture completed, he siphoned a thumbnail’s worth into a hollow needle, capped both ends and placed the needle in his pocket.
Hannah’s presence met him on the stairs. She no longer went into the solarium, arguing that potions were a waste of time. She hated false hope.
“Kev is here,” Hannah hissed from the walls. “He came in through the areaway.”
Simon frowned. The fabricated butler trod a limited path of vigilance. Simon might need to hire watchmen from Manderley & Sons, especially if the name “Lord Simon” no longer kept trespassers at bay.
A greater fear than Lord Simon had motivated Kev, who huddled behind the scullery counters, peering out through the dirt-encrusted windows.
“The police are after me,” he gabbled as soon as Simon stepped through the kitchen door. “The St. Clair girl got to them. You have to protect me.”
“Get up,” Simon barked. “I don’t want you here.”
“If they catch me, I’ll talk. I’ll tell them that you met her in my home.”
“So much for loyalty.”
Kev spit his spite: “You told them about my warehouse.”
Lord Simon stepped back, sensing Hannah’s revulsion as well as his own. Kev reverted to pleading cajolery:
“The police persecute magicians. They care nothing for rank—”
Kev was using the same line of reasoning employed by Sir James: if the police could arrest magicians, they could arrest Simon or at least dismantle his workshop.
Simon didn’t’ care about the workshop, but he didn’t care about the ramifications: dismantle Simon’s workshop, reduce his reputation and influence: his symbolic value. Reduce his value, reduce his ability to protect his house from New Government regulations.
He snapped, “I’m not going to talk to you here—” in a dank, cold room of shadows and dirt.
Should the police arrive and gain admittance, they would search the scullery and basement. Simon couldn’t put Kev in the solarium: he would never allow Kev access to his potions. The only room that locked was his bedroom. Simon led Kev there, ignoring the flow of whiny excuses until they were inside.
“I’ll help you get out of Kingston,” he told Kev. “Don’t leave this room.”
He slammed and locked the door behind him. Hannah rushed towards him along the banister.
She said, “Let the police have him.”
“They won’t touch you—an aristocrat!”
“The world is not quite as hierarchically organized as you remember.”
“They would never put you in jail.”
They might force Simon into exile. Where I can’t take you.
In the hall below, the butler intoned, “Mr. Jacobs is on the front step.”
“Send him up,” Simon said and made his way into the parlor.
He collapsed into his armchair, breathing hard. Luckily, Jacobs was full of news; Simon had time to catch his breath:
“Miss St. Clair transformed.” Jacobs said. “Again.”
“I saw it. And she retains remnants—claws, fangs. I saw them.”
Jacobs was a realist, not a self-indulgent fantasist like Kev or self-believing visionary like Sir James. So Aubrey St. Clair had transformed. At will? By accident? Through fear?
“She was running from you,” Simon guessed.
“The girl is confused.”
“We have people looking. Sir James will involve the police. They can find her faster than we.”
“They might keep her this time.”
“Not a chance. Sir James has government support.”
New Government liked to mull things over: one step back, two steps forward.
Jacobs waved a hand. “The masses might like the idea of magicians being arrested. They will change their tune when we protect trade routes through military might.”
The reference to “masses” meant the press was involved.
“What do the newspapers say?”
Jacobs curled his lip. “Sentimental garbage about damsels in distress. The girl is a nothing. It’s the potion that matters.”
“The girl is the potion,” Simon said, and Jacobs stared him blankly, then shrugged and turned to the fire.
“Do you want me to annoy him?” Hannah murmured in Simon’s ear.
“Why not?” Simon murmured back.