Sun, 06 May 2012 18:40:12 GMT
Chapter eight now written. Should have two more left to write, so I'm hoping to finish by the end of June. Then it's editing and re-writing time. Current word count estimates are between fifty-five and sixty thousand words, so will need at least another twenty thousand to be eligible for the competition.
By the time Milo woke up the next day it was mid-morning; the clock on side read just after ten thirty. He groaned and stretched, before getting up. Breakfast would have finished hours ago, but hopefully he would still be able get something from the kitchen.
He was passing the door to the earl's study when he heard raised voices inside. It quickly became clear it was Felicity arguing with her father. He was struggling to resist the urge to try and listen in when the door was flung open and she stormed out. She was not paying any attention to where she was going and almost barrelled into Milo. She shot him a venomous look as he leapt out of the way.
"I wasn't listening, I promise!" he said quickly. "I was just passing through, I swear!"
She looked at him and suddenly it was as if a mask had dropped over her features. She smiled sweetly.
"I know, I'm sorry. I'm not angry with you. My father is a fool and doesn't understand that people must be punished for their transgressions or they will never change." She sighed.
"It's not important. What about you, you're up late this morning?"
"I've only just woken up. Being in a room next to someone who spent the night vomiting repeatedly did not lead to a good night's sleep."
"I see," she replied. She did not sound in the least bit concerned.
Milo decided not to push the issue. He was tired and she was clearly not having a good morning. Now was not a good time to risk getting into an argument. "Are you seeing your sisters today," he enquired.
"Possibly. Something happened yesterday that may or may not cause a problem."
Well, that was about as vague as possible, Milo thought. "Well, I hope it doesn't trouble you too much. Good day." He started to walk towards the kitchens.
"Oh, Father says you are to stay out of the city today," she called after him, but when he turned round to query her she had already left.
Milo headed to the kitchens and acquired several slices of hot buttered toast before returning to his room. When he arrived he found his brother awake.
"How are you feeling this morning?" he asked, sitting down on the end of Tobin's bed.
"Like someone's squeezed me round the middle and wrung me out," he admitted, making a wringing motion with his hands. "But also hungry. That's a good sign, right?" He looked hopefully at the plate in Milo's hands.
Reluctantly Milo took one slice of toast for himself and handed the rest over, which Tobin promptly devoured. "I guess you probably don't feel like going out for lunch today," he commented. "Just as well, as apparently the earl has forbidden us from going down to the city."
"Stuff him!" retorted Tobin cheerfully. "Why shouldn't we? What exactly is he going to do if we disobey? He cannot possibly be scarier than Father when angry, right?"
"I guess so. You're in a remarkably good mood, all things considered."
"I suppose I am." He got up and started to get dressed. "I don't think Felicity likes me."
"No, I don't think she does. Sometimes I don't think she likes me either, that she's just pretending. That's an odd thing to be cheerful about."
"I know. It's hard to explain. I guess now I'm certain, it feels like a lie has been revealed; like I don't have to tip-toe around the fact any more. I promise I'll still be civil," he added, catching his brother's expression. "Shall we go?"
If the earl had put any restriction on their travel, he had neglected to tell his staff. When they went down to the stables the coach was put at their disposal without question. Milo was beginning to think it was just something Felicity had made up, though he could not understand why.
As the coach trundled into the city center it became clear that something was wrong. The streets were always busy, but today they were almost impassable. It was mostly people on foot, rather than carts and carriages, which made the volume of people even stranger. Milo leant forward and spoke to the carriage driver.
"Is something happening today?" he enquired hopefully. "A fayre, or a festival?"
"Not that I know about," he replied. "You want to carry on or turn back?"
Milo looked across at Tobin, who shrugged. "We're here now, it seems a waste to turn back now."
"Very good then."
The coach crossed the bridge over the river and turned into the broad high street. It rolled another twenty metres before coming to a stop. Looking out the window Milo could see the street was so packed with people the coach could not travel any further. They closed in around the vehicle, cutting it off.
"What's happening?" Tobin asked nervously.
"I'm not sure." Milo watched as the crowds grew closer. They looked angry, he thought, and possibly violent. "Turn around," he urged the driver, trying to keep the note of fear out of his voice. "Take us home."
"Easier said than done, young man," he replied. Louder, he added: "Move aside! Move aside for the Earl's coach."
It was the wrong thing to say. The crowd surged forward, banging on the flanks of the coach, grabbing at the harness of the horses, shouting and jeering. Tobin pulled across the curtains over the coach window, then backed away from the door as far as possible, until he bumped to Milo.
"What's happening?" he demanded again. "Why are the doing this? We haven't done anything to them!"
Milo had no reply. He could hear the driver still shouting for order, until suddenly his voice cut off with a scream. The coach began rocking wildly as people outside began shoving it. Looking through Milo could see the driver's seat was empty. Suddenly the coach lurched to the right and they were thrown against the side door.
For a moment they lay in a stunned heap, feeling dazed and scared. Milo was the first to sit up and try and take stock of their situation. Looking at the angle the coach was at, he guessed the mob had tried to push the vehicle over, but it had caught and been wedged against a wall or building next it. Now the coach was on its side, the people outside seemed to have lost interest: the banging on the side had stopped, but he could still hear them all around them. He reached out and shook his brother's shoulder.
"Tobin? Are you all right?"
Tobin raised his head. There was a cut on his forehead, just above his left eye and blood was trickling down the side of his face.
"I think I'm still in one piece," he replied slowly. "What's happening? Have they gone away?"
"I think they've got bored, but they're still out there. We can't stay here though."
He pushed on the carriage door and managed to get it open far enough that there was room for them to wriggle out into the street below. Hiding in the shadow of the coach Milo looked around. He could see the street was still full of people, some shouting indistinct slogans. They seemed to be marching towards the very heart of the city, where the courts and the palace sat. Looking towards the front of the carriage, he could see the horse had fallen and was struggling to stand. Across the street and slightly further down he could see a side street that looked clear. He turned back to Tobin.
"Take your jacket off," he ordered.
"Because," Milo replied, taking off his own, "if we are going to walk away from here, we need to draw as little attention to ourselves as possible, and that looks expensive. Clean your face as well."
"I liked that jacket," Tobin muttered petulantly, but did as he was told. There was not much they could do to clean off the blood with just a dry hankerchief, so they gave up after a while. Milo pointed to the side street he had spotted.
"When I say so, we'll walk over there and cut through away from the crowds."
"What if they won't let us?" Tobin asked quietly. There was a tremor in his voice and Milo could see he was shaking slightly.
"It will be fine," he assured his brother, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt.
"Just keep going and if anyone tries to stop you, just run. Don't look back; don't wait for me, I'll catch up. It will be fine, trust me. Are you ready?"
Tobin nodded without enthusiasm. Hiding behind the coach seemed a safer, if less practical option, but it would only be a matter of time before they were discovered. On Milo's signal they stood up and slipped into the crowd. Walking quickly, heads down, they were able to get halfway across the road before anyone noticed them.
"What do we have here?" Milo looked back as someone grabbed his arm. "You picked the wrong day to take a stroll round here, little Velvet."
"Run!" Milo yelled over his shoulder at Tobin. Without waiting to see if his brother had obeyed, he turned back to his captor. The man was thick-set and meaty: while not much taller than Milo he was considerably heavier. He had Milo's wrist held too tightly to break free. Milo drew back his fist and hit the man as hard as he could in the face with his free hand. While he suspected he had hurt his own hand more than he had hurt the man, the surprise was enough to make him let go.
Milo took off before he could be caught again. He caught up with Tobin and grabbed his hand and together they managed to make it to the side street. Unsure if anyone was still following them, Milo didn't want assume they would be safe just getting off the main street. They carried on running without much heed for direction except for away from where they had been, until Tobin stumbled.
"Milo.... stop..." he gasped. "I... I can't run... any more."
Milo looked round. There was no one else about, and the sounds from the main street were comfortably far away. He stopped running and Tobin immediately doubled over, clutching at the stitch in his side. Milo stood watching guard until his brother recovered enough to stand up straight again.
"Are you all right?"
Tobin nodded. "Yeah. It's just if I knew I would be running for my life I'd have worn different shoes. What do we do now?"
"We can't go back that way. I guess we could walk to the edge of the city, then walk around the outside."
Tobin's expression said plainly what he thought of that idea. "That would take hours. We'd be walking for miles."
"Do you have a better suggestion?"
"We could hide somewhere, until things quiet down."
"Sure, but where? We can't reach the hotels, or the library from here without having to do the same thing."
Tobin thought for a moment then made a decision. "I know where we can go. Follow me." He had wanted to keep things secret from Milo, at least until the entrance exam was done, but he was tired and hungry and scared and of the three options available this seemed the best. He set off at a brisk walk. Milo looked bemused but followed without question.
As he followed his brother, Milo realised that some of their surroundings seemed vaguely familiar and growing more so. He could not yet place where he was or when he had been here last, but somehow he felt nervous.
"Where are we going?" he asked Tobin.
"It's not far," he replied, cryptically.
"That's not terribly helpful. Where are we? This place looks familiar, but I can't think why I would have ever been down here."
They turned a corner and approached a large building with blacked out windows and a sign hanging above the door. As Tobin knocked frantically memories suddenly came flooding back to Milo. He stopped, then took a step back in horror.
"Here? This is... This is where, when I got shot..."
Tobin nodded, looking slightly sheepish. "That's right. They helped us out last time, they'll help us again."
"How can you be so sure?" he demanded.
"Because... because I have friends here."
"Here? You have friends here? At a brothel?"
"It's not a brothel! You mustn't call it that!" Tobin hissed. "And it's not like that. They're just nice people. My tutor lives round here too."
Before Milo could say anything else the door opened and Bryony stood in front of them. Initially, she looked annoyed, as if she'd been disturbed from something, but when she looked down and saw who was standing there her expression softened.
"Tobin! What on earth happened to you?"
"The city seems to have gone a bit mad," he replied. "Can we come in for a bit?"
"Of course." She stepped aside and let them into the bar. "Sit down, I'll get you something for that cut."
She headed off in the direction of the kitchen, leaving them alone in the bar. When she had disappeared, Milo turned on his brother angrily.
"You're a bloody idiot, you know? What were you thinking, coming to somewhere like this? Don't you remember what happened when we came here first? Or did the pretty girls mess with your head?"
"I told you it's not like that! I'm not interested in..." he waved his hand, struggling to find the right word. "In all that," he finished, lamely. "I don't what you are so angry about. You've got your new friends, I have mine."
"Yes but visiting my friends isn't likely to get me mugged or shot!"
"And given that I've been coming here for six months without an issue suggests its not likely to happen to me either. So what's the problem?"
Milo sighed. "Mostly I'm just angry with you for lying to me."
"I haven't lied about anything!" Tobin protested. "I have never said I wasn't coming here; I just didn't tell you I was. Mostly because I knew you would react like this. Look, I'm not a child; I don't need you hold my hand constantly. You've got what, six months and four inches in height on me? That isn't enough for you to treat me like this."
"Am I interrupting?" They turned suddenly to see Bryony standing over them. She handed Tobin a damp cloth. "Here, hold that against it until it stops oozing. What about you?" she asked Milo. "Are you hurt at all?"
"No, just a bit bruised," he replied.
The door to the theatre opened and Madame Black appeared.
"Dahlia? Who was at the door?" She spotted Milo and his brother and immediately stepped through the doorway and strode towards them. "What has happened?" she demanded.
Milo opened his mouth but Tobin was quicker. In a breathless rush of words tumbling out like a verbal river he narrated the tale of the attack on their coach, gesticulating wildly with one hand while he held the cloth against his head with the other.
"And then we ran here," Tobin finished. "We can't get back across the river to go home, I didn't know where else to go."
She smiled. "You're welcome to stay as long as you need." She turned to Bryony. "I don't think we should open tonight. Let the others know and tell them they should all plan on staying here as well. I don't know how long the violence will last, but no one should take the risk." Bryony nodded and headed back into the theatre.
“Is Rosney around?” Tobin enquired. Milo had turned his back on him, but he knew his brother was still seething. Tobin did not want to be left to the awkward silence that would inevitably come if they were alone. He also had not seen Rosney for almost a week, which was unusual; Ros was quite good at finding some errand that would lead to him ending up at Grandpa Word’s just as Tobin was finishing, so they regularly ended up having a drink together before Tobin returned home.
“He is, but he’s sleeping at the moment,” she replied. “He’s had a bad case of flu.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“He’s over the worst now, but I don’t expect he’ll be out of bed for a few days yet.”
By now, Bryony and the others had returned from the theatre. The story of the attack on the coach was told again, and Madame Black reiterated that all were to stay inside and wait out the storm.
“Rehearsals can wait for another day,” she told them. “I suggest we should all have some lunch.”
“Wasn’t quite what we were originally planning, huh?” Tobin commented, putting a hand on Milo’s shoulder, but his brother pulled away and said nothing.
Upstairs, Rosney woke suddenly. He lay in bed for a while, wondering if the voices he could here were real, or just the product of another fever dream. When he was sure he was fully awake and the voices had not changed or faded, he decided he must be correct, and resolved to get up. It felt like a year had passed since he last been even as far as the kitchen.
“Stupid flu,” he muttered, sitting up. So far, so good, he thought, standing up slowly. The room swam for a minute, then settled. Every muscle ached, and the constant dull pain in his head was getting worse, but he was up at least. The room felt cold and he started shivering so hard his teeth chattered. He grabbed the closest clothes he could find without worrying about what they were and pulled them on quickly. Then he took the blanket from the bed and made his way carefully downstairs.
As he reached the bottom he met Madame Black coming out the bar towards the kitchen. She did not seem pleased to see him.
“What on earth are you doing out of bed?” she demanded.
He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’m fine, honestly.”
She looked at him shivering under the blanket. “Yes and I’m the queen of Rhetland.”
He bowed elaborately. “Then I’m sorry for disturbing you from your watery grave, your majesty,” he replied cheekily.
Madame Black sighed. He was his mother’s son, that was for sure. Both were stubborn as mules and would never back down from what they wanted. “Fine. Do as you wish. But if you faint again, don’t expect me to help you back to bed this time.”
His expression softened. “Thank you, for looking after me. But I’m feeling much better today, I promise.”
She gave him a look that plainly said she did not believe a word of it but gestured him on and headed into the kitchen. Rosney went through into the bar and was pleased to see he had not just imagined the voices he had heard. Tobin looked round as he entered.
"Hello Ros. Aren't you supposed to be in bed?"
"Don't you start!" he snapped. "Besides, you're the one covered in blood. What on earth happened?"
"There are riots in the city. They attacked our coach and now we're stuck here because we can't get home," Milo said quickly, before Tobin could launch into another dramatic retelling. His voice was cold, almost bitter, something Rosney picked up instantly. He looked across at Tobin, who shook his head.
"Just ignore him. Is there a pack of cards around? I want something to take my mind off things."
Rosney called out to Poppy, who was pouring drinks at the bar and she threw a box of playing cards to him. Milo watched as Rosney and his brother settled down at a table and began to play. He had never seen Tobin play anything other than chess, but looking at him, he suspected the blond man was probably a worse chess player than even Milo himself.
He looked around wondering what to do with himself. He had no desire to join Tobin in the game of cards, and he did not know any one else here. He longed to turn back the clock, so he could tell the coach driver to turn back when the idea was first suggested. Or maybe turn it back even further and not get out of bed this morning.
"If you are not doing anything, perhaps you could give me a hand."
Milo turned to see Madame Black watching him from the door. Not having anything better to do he shrugged and followed her into the kitchen. Inside the room was filled with a pleasant homely scent coming from a big pot of soup on the range. It was being stirred enthusiastically by a small girl who had to stand on a chair to reach it. Madame Black pointed to a loaf of bread on the table and a knife beside it.
"Slice that for me, please," she ordered.
Obediently, Milo set to work. Slicing bread was not hard, but slicing it into even pieces was more difficult. The girl left the soup and came to sit across the table from him, watching him closely. He felt as if she were judging his efforts and felt strangely ashamed.
"Let me guess," Madame Black said, suddenly breaking the silence. "You are the older brother, am I correct? The sensible one?"
"I like to think so," he replied quietly.
"I sympathise. It was the same between myself and my sister. Rose did whatever she wanted, while I was the one who thought of the consequences. I was doing the right thing as far as I could see, though. Rose was kicked out by my father while I received a reasonable dowry when I married my husband. I worried about her, of course: for all her faults she was my sister and I loved her. But what could I do?
"Rose did not come to my wedding. She came to the house the night before, and threw pebbles at the windows to wake me. I could see she was pregnant immediately. She didn't say anything about it though, just wished me well and then ran off into the dark. I didn't see her for three years until I caught a glimpse of her walking in the market-place, a little golden haired child following at her heels. I didn't see again for another six years, after my husband died.
"I thought my husband was a good man. A man gifted with little personality, it has to be confessed, but being boring is not the same as being bad. But I was wrong to think a man could live with no thrills; my husband had merely kept his love of gambling a secret from me. When he could no longer handle his debts he shot himself in his office and left me to deal with the bailiffs. They took the house and pretty much everything else we owned.
"So I went to Rose. Where else could I go? Our parents were dead and I had never had any real friends. And Rose, she took one look at me standing on the doorstep and she took me in. Into her home, her family, her life. It should not have been that way: I had always tried to do what was right but I was homeless and destitute, whereas Rose had her own house, her own business and a beautiful son she loved more than anything in the world." She had been standing with her back to him until this point, tending the soup, but now she turned away from the range to face him directly. "Don't be too hard on your brother; he's not trying to annoy you deliberately."
Milo blushed, embarrassed. "Did you overhear that then?"
"I didn't hear anything directly, no, but I could tell enough to make an educated guess."
"Your sister, Rose, she died, didn't she?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, she did. And not a day goes by that don't wonder if there was anything else that could have been done to save her. But there wasn't, and that's something I have come to accept. Sometimes terrible things happen and there is nothing you can do to change it. That's why it's best to make the most of every moment you can, while you can.”
Milo nodded slowly. He did not like what he was hearing, but could not refute any of it. The soup was finished and he helped carry the food through to the other room. He set the irregular slices of bread on a table and then wandered over to where his brother was sat. Tobin looked up as he approached.
“Do you mind dealing me in?” he asked quietly.
“Of course,” his brother replied happily. He took the cards that were currently on the table and began shuffling them into the deck.
“You'll have to explain the rules to me,” Milo added as cards were placed in front of him.
“It's easy, you'll pick it up in no time. Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about this earlier, I wasn't trying to be deceptive. I just didn't want you to worry unnecessarily.”
Of course you didn't, Milo thought, but he said nothing. The woman in the kitchen had been correct: staying angry was not worth it. He was given a quick overview of the card game, which seemed simple enough, but for a game based mostly on chance he struggled to win. One of the women left three bowls of soup near them and the little girl who had been helping to make it climbed up next to Rosney. Milo had to admit that the food was quite pleasant, but it was not the meal he had been looking forward to. Nothing about this day had been what he had been intending.
They carried on playing for another half an hour or so, and Milo became more and more convinced that someone was cheating. Tobin was winning most often, but Milo was not convinced his brother was the sort to cheat at cards. He played his hand then waited for the next player. When nothing happened he looked across at his brother and saw he had fallen asleep on the bench.
"That looks like a good idea," Rosney commented, laying his hand of cards down on the table. He stood up and sat down next to Tobin, sharing the blanket between them. Very shortly both of them were snoring.
Milo looked around the room; no one was paying them any attention. Even the little girl had wandered away. He had to admit sleep did not sound like a bad idea. While he had not suffered like Tobin the previous night, he had not slept well either. I'll just close my eyes for a minute, he thought.
He woke to the sound of the front door slamming shut. The woman who had met them when they first arrived stood in front it, taking off a long black woollen cloak and shaking her head.
“What's it like out there?” the tall red-head by the bar enquired.
“It's mad. The rioting has reached Canal street and shows no sign of slowing down. I doubt it will head this way, there's too little that's worth destroying, but who knows?”
“Hiding in their hole I imagine. I certainly saw no sign of them. I expect the sorceresses will be sent out if it looks like the mob is in danger of damaging anything or anyone important.”
Milo shivered The idea of sorceresses turning against the citizens seemed abhorrent: they were supposed to be the force that kept the country safe. At the same time, he did not know what else could be done. He was not surprised the police were staying out of sight.
“We're not going to be able to go home, are we?”
Milo turned to see Tobin stirring; Rosney had obviously woken earlier and had returned to his original seat. He wondered which home his brother was referring to: the earl's house or Blackwater Hall.
“Don't worry,” Rosney reassured him. “You'll be perfectly safe here. It will be fun, promise.”
“Rosney's right,” Bryony agreed. “Just let them try anything if they come here. There are seven of us and we're all more capable in a fight than people tend to realise.” She turned and Milo noticed for the first time the toned definition of the muscles on her arms. He did not believe anyone short of a sorceress would be able to stop the rioters if they did come this way, but he was happy to accept she could give someone quite a shock if they made assumptions about her. Bryony felt a tug at her skirt and looked down to see Katja, who was shaking her fist and making a fierce face. “Sorry Kat. There are eight of us, of course.”
"How long do you think this will go on for," he enquired.
She shrugged. "Who knows? Until they get bored or get put down I'd guess. I wouldn't count on getting out of here tonight though, and I wouldn't count on this being the last set of riots, either. Look, there's no sense in worrying about it; there's nothing we can do to change anything now. Have a drink and try to relax."
Easier said than done, Milo thought, but he accepted the glass he was offered.
More drinks were poured and people settled down. Bryony and another joined in the card game, while another couple stuck up an acapella duet together. Milo did not understand all the words, but he knew enough to guess it was all innuendo. Katja had found some ribbons and was busy putting them in the hair of anyone who would sit still long enough. She was momentarily confused by Milo, who had the shortest hair in the room, so she decided to tie the ribbon round his wrist.
She was just standing back to admire her handiwork when there was a sudden loud crash from outside that sounded horribly close. Katja gave a squeak and dived under Milo's chair, where she huddled shivering, all previous bravery evaporated. Rosney extracted her from her hiding place and carried her back to the table.
"The city isn't a good place for a little girl at the moment," Madam Black commented. "But where else could she go?"
Milo thought for a moment. "She could stay at our house," he suggested.
"I don't think the earl would agree with that," Tobin replied quietly.
"Not that house, you dolt! I mean home, at Blackwater. I'm sure Father won't mind."
"Oh. No, you're right, he probably won't mind. But won't he try and make us come home if he thinks its dangerous here?"
"We don't need to tell him exactly what happened. I'm sure if we put our heads together we can think of a suitable story."
"Are you sure your father will be happy with that?" Rosney asked. "She can be a handful at times."
"I think he would appreciate having more people in the house," Tobin replied.
"She cannot travel on her own," Madam Black pointed out. "Someone will need to go with her."
Most of the room who were paying attention to this conversation turned to look at Rosney, who looked uncomfortable.
"I can't. There are things I need to do here."
Bryony laughed. "I hope you are not thinking that we are relying on you to protect us?" To her surprise, he refused to meet her eye and said nothing. She looked around. "Anyone else? What about you, Lily? You were just saying you wanted to get out of the city."
From near the bar, Lily looked at the sound of her name.
"No, Percy is going take me to his house in the country. I'm expecting him any day."
This time it was Bryony's turn to look uncomfortable. "I don't think he is going to be coming."
She frowned. "I'm sure you don't."
"No, I'm serious. I didn't want to say anything, but I saw Percy at the train station, last week. With Lady Sandleford."
"I don't believe you," she said flatly.
Bryony turned to Rosney. "Help me out, here," she begged. "You were there."
He sighed. "You said you weren't going to involve me." He turned to Lily. "She is right. They didn't look like they were just going away for the weekend."
About half a dozen emotions flashed across Lily's face in a matter of seconds, then they all disappeared. "Fine," she said, her voice empty. "Fine I'll take her."
"I'm sorry. I didn't want you to find out this way."
Lily said nothing but left the room, leaving the rest of the bar in an uncomfortable silence.