Lord Simon: ?
“I suppose I could rebuild,” he said.
The woman beside him laughed—he turned to study the sleek blond head. She tilted up her face and smiled at him.
“You’re free,” he said. “You’re yourself again, Hannah.”
“It only took twenty years,” she chided.
He winced, remembering experiments at the Academy, his trip to Ennance. He had nearly abandoned Hannah, remaining in sybarite luxury rather than returning to her side. Yet he had returned, her madness had calmed; they had become lovers, of a fashion. Now—
“Are you well?” he said, facing her fully. “You look as young as you ever did.”
“I was twenty-three when I went into the wall. I feel—like I’ve lived twenty years since then and yet—”
She shrugged and reached out delicate fingers to smooth the lapels of his dressing gown.
“I might have dreamt those years. I did terrible things: destroying your uncle, haunting you—” she shuddered, and Simon closed his arms about her, feeling her warmth and weight, not just her shape beneath blankets.
He said, “I’m sorry.”
She smelled like fire and something else—a sweet and strong aroma rose from her skin and hair. He brushed her forehead with one hand, and the same smell rose from his skin.
She turned her head against his chest. He felt her sigh down to his bones. He liked physical Hannah.
She said, “We have company.”
A crowd had gathered at the edge of the house’s debris. Simon saw several men pulling a fire cart. A bucket brigade was putting out the last of smoldering piles. A few men stood around a bundle of charred clothes.
In front of Simon, two couples—two men and two women, one dark-haired, one red-haired—stood on the outside stone stoop. The closest man stepped across the threshold. He neared Simon and Hannah, hands in pockets, gray eyes flickering from one to the other.
“Lord Simon. You are Lord Simon?”
“Yes. This is Hannah Tokington. I—I bespelled her—”
Hannah said cheerfully, “I’m obviously no longer infected.”
Perhaps not. But she smelled like magic and thrummed with power. She was no longer trapped. She had been changed.
The gray-eyed man—he was near thirty with a compact build and steady countenance—nodded and said, “Miss Tokington, I’m Mr. Stowe, head of the police.”
Behind Mr. Stowe, the dark-haired woman stepped carefully over ashy timbers. Simon tensed as he felt the potion wafting from her. Its base was similar to the one he’d used to transform Lady Wansaby. He watched the woman tuck her hand through Mr. Stowe’s arm. He seemed to smile although his face didn’t alter.
“Aubrey,” he said softly.
At Simon’s shoulder, Hannah said, “There are no police in Kingston.”
Mr. Stowe gave her his attention. “I’m afraid, Miss Tokington, that a number of years have passed—”
“Fifteen or twenty. Yes, I know.”
The other couple was nearing now—a tall dark-haired man and nearly as tall red-haired woman dressed in men’s clothes. They looked from Simon to Hannah, eyes wide, unnerved.
Mr. Stowe said, “I’m afraid it has been far longer.”
Simon snapped his head round.
“You haven’t left Kingston in years, Lord Simon. You haven’t left your house in months.”
The dark-haired man seemed to cavil at that, then shrugged.
“I’m Richard St. Clair,” he said, “You rarely left your house, Lord Simon. Two days ago, I agreed to give it an historical designation—” he peered around him. “Sort of pointless now,” he muttered.
“I don’t think the government will mind,” the red-haired woman murmured, and Richard St. Clair grinned.
The woman named Aubrey said, “The year is 1864, Lord Simon. You are--were--seventy years old.”
Hannah gasped. Simon’s arm tightened about her waist. He looked at the faces of the two couples, looked beyond them to the watching crowd. People stared. No one sneered or gave each other knowing glances (look at that gullible man, so easy to fool).
He said, “But I’m forty years old.”
“You look about that,” Mr. St. Clair said. “Or younger.”
“How did I lose thirty years?”
The other man shrugged.
“Maybe the house stored up your years. When it burned—when your potions burned—”
Simon shook his head. Nothing in the books explained this. Nothing in the world—
Aubrey said, “You wanted a fresh start. You wanted Miss Tokington to be happy.”
Simon looked down at Hannah. He loosened his grip until she stood free, unfettered.
He said, “I never saved you. I took your life.”
“I’m here, Simon. I’m out of the walls.”
“But you lost your past—friends you knew, family you had—”
“So did you.”
“I never had much to lose in that area.”
Her smile was friendly, sad. “Age is age. This—” she turned, arms raising against the crisp spring breeze. “I forgot the grand simplicity of being in the world.”
Simon turned with her, following her gaze. His house stood on the south side of Palisades. Houses further down the hill had been razed—time has passed—and he could see Resurgence River and the fields to the south.
Hannah stepped forward and they all watched her cross the threshold to the street. She glanced back, smile glinting, her gaze mischievous, and she was still young and still free.
She focused on Mr. Stowe, cheeks dimpling.
She said with sweet reasonableness,“Surely, there’s no crime here.”
“You were imprisoned—”
“Not a wise decision for Simon to try to save me. It was nonetheless well-intentioned.”
Mr. Stowe didn’t frown, but his face blanked, eyes dropping. The woman at his side, Aubrey, rolled her eyes. Leaning closer, she whispered in his ear. He shook his head, then sighed.
“I’m guessing Kev started the fire,” he said. “As for Miss Tokington, I’m not sure how we would prosecute a crime committed when laws about magic didn’t exist. You should know, Miss Tokington, Lord Simon has a problematic record—”
“But nothing provable,” Hannah said. “After all these years. So many witnesses gone.”
Simon kept his face blank as Mr. Stowe's scrutiny shifted from Hannah to him. He had apparently sacrificed his life to keep Hannah company. How chivalrous. He wasn’t noble enough to hand himself over to an authority he’d forgotten existed.
“Politically hazardous,” Hannah added. “The king—”
“There is no king,” Mr. Stowe said mildily.
“Oh,” Hannah said, echoing Simon’s surprise.
Both he and Hannah glanced at St. Clair and the red-hair woman, who nodded confirmation. Time has definitely passed.
Hannah rallied, “But he’s still a Lord. Does your government encourage you to hound noble citizens?”
Behind Mr. Stowe, St. Clair grinned, mirroring Simon’s internal amusement. Hannah was always rather ruthless.
Aubrey murmured, “He’s kept himself a virtual prisoner for years, Charles.”
“Yes,” Hannah said. “I don’t want him locked up anymore.”
Mr. Stowe’s face altered, swept by a new emotion: compassion? pity?
“I understand. Lord Simon—I advise you to stay away from potion-making.”
“I will,” Simon said.
He didn’t mention that potions were running through his veins as surely as they ran through Hannah’s. He didn’t know yet what that meant, didn’t know what powers and abilities they had gained. Hannah was free. Little else mattered.
The two couples strode away. Their voices carried back to Simon, querying, joking—they evidently knew each other—while he watched Hannah watch the wide world. Endowed by grace, she could explore a thousand cities, a hundred countries. He didn’t expect her to remain. He had never expected that.
She was looking at him, calling his name. “Simon” carried from her lips along the spring breeze.
He neared the threshold.
“You no longer need to defend me, Hannah,” he said. “I’m no longer a burden for you to carry.”
“Is that how you saw our captivity? Simon—there’s nothing to be gained from regrets or might-have-beens.”
Sensible, realistic Hannah. Simon let his smile from earlier creep onto his face.
Hannah said, “Not even who or what either of us might have been. Today is our life.”
“We have time.”
She laughed. “You don’t have to stay, Simon. You can come with me.” She held out one hand, palm up, fingers spread. “Won’t you?”
Sometimes, we get more chances than we deserve.
Her hand was warm as he took it. They stood in the thoroughfare, heads pivoting as they gazed one way, then the other.
Hannah said, “Where—?”
Simon already knew the answer:
“Wherever you go,” he said. “Wherever you choose.”
“Let’s run,” she whispered. “To the edge of the world.”
* * *
Blinded by the morning sun, bystanders could never say if Lord Simon and his angelic companion disappeared over the side of the hill, heading east, or rose on wings into the cloudless sky. Wherever they went, however they got there, they returned, said the stories. They visited Roesia citizens with gifts and counsel.
The woman gave counsel. The man, said the stories, unwound jewels from her hair until she laughed. When children begged, he made birds out of sunlight and sent them flying amongst the trees. A sight to see, bragged the storytellers, and not a magic that anyone had imagined possible.