“With formalities and opening statements out of the way, I’d like to set the tone for our conversation today. Mr. Garey, we talked over the phone. For the sake of our discussion here, would you tell us if you would strenuously object if Lillian Garey was taken off the accelerated path to professorship?”
“I would not strenuously object, Professor Hayle. As matter of fact, in our prior conversations, I’ve requested it.”
“Good. Let’s give the record takers a second to finish- there. Alright. Why did you request this?”
“I’m aware of the climate, Professor, and I know my daughter. In terms of politics, in what you’ve said about the cutthroat academic world, the recent war and outfighting and the continued unrest, I feel that it would be setting her up to fail. She’s young, she’s a girl in a setting dominated by men… I notice that my wife and the stitched over there taking notes are the only women in this room… and things are uneasy everywhere. My primary concern is that she would be targeted or used as a scapegoat, a fast ascent, a faster fall.”
“And your secondary concerns, Mr. Garey?”
“Every time I talk to her or get a letter, she tells me that she’s skipping ahead. She didn’t have to take a course because she studied well. She didn’t have to write a paper because the teacher or professor told her that her practical knowledge learned in the midst of her involvement in the special project would be sufficient. She missed classes and traveled, and you pulled strings to ensure she wouldn’t be dropped from the course.”
“The ‘you’, for the records, is referring to Professor Hayle.”
“Yes. Sorry about that. I’m worried that she’s moving too fast, and she’s leaving behind the fundamentals. My daughter is leading a whirlwind life, all movement, excitement, time with friends, time with boys, rushed completion of projects or clusters of tests because she was away or preoccupied.”
“The mention of boys is one thing we can come back to in a moment,” Hayle said.
“Ahem. Yes. For the purpose of the records, this is Professor Reid now speaking. Those here should be reminded that, much as we stated at the outset of the meeting, that Lillian Garey’s grades have ranged from significantly above average to exemplary.”
“Thank you, Professor, but I think the thrust of Mr. Garey’s argument here isn’t about her grades or competence. Mr. Garey?”
“I didn’t study as an Academy student or anything of the sort. I went to an ordinary school and learned my maths, cursive writing, biology, and dry sciences. There were stretches of it that were dreary, pedantic, and mind-numbing, but that dreariness and pedantry taught me skills, patience, and ways of thinking that made me a proper adult. I won’t say that being a professor is dull, by any stretch of the imagination, but it strikes me as something ordered and quiet, disciplined and stately. I don’t think she’s had an exposure to the environments or skills she needs in order to navigate this particular environment, to sit among you and maintain her place and your respect.”
“I see what you mean now, Mr. Garey,” Reid said.
“I envision her future, and I can’t help but see her rushing down this accelerated road to one of the highest positions an Academy scientist can hope for, and finding herself unprepared, struggling to find allies in a very political and cutthroat environment, and hitting a wall of sorts. I had dinner with her tonight, and I worry about how she acted. I almost didn’t recognize her.”
“Mrs. Garey? You looked like you wanted to say something.”
“I wasn’t sure if I should speak. I liked the Lillian I saw tonight. As we had tea over dessert, I remember thinking that she really did seem like someone who could and should be a professor someday. She was assertive, quick, passionate, and focused.”
“Headstrong, narcissistic. There was something off about her mannerisms, around the eyes and the hands.”
“She’s taking after you, Jonathan, when it comes to the eyes, the hands, and her stubbornness. There was none of the self-obsession either, she clearly cared about Sylvester, and she showed interest in me. I think she is balancing schooling and life very well.”
“The manner Mr. Garey took note of may have been the result of chemicals.”
“Mind-altering drugs. Or a mind altering drug. Supplied by the boy she had dinner with.”
“Professor Hayle, do you meant to tell me-”
“Hold on. Please. As we stated at the outset of this meeting, there are certain realities and projects that we cannot elaborate on. You’re welcome to stay, and we’re happy to have you participate in the discussion and represent your daughter, but please allow me to speak. I’d like to think about my words so I may balance what you need to hear with our need to keep certain things confidential. The alternative is to have to ask you to leave.”
“As you wish, Professor.”
“Thank you. The substance she imbibed is one that students across the Academy take. I’ve taken it myself, as have several of my colleagues here. We strictly moderate the use of the drug, but we do provide it to students on a controlled basis. Sylvester, by virtue of his particular focus, has access to a greater supply.”
“Poisons and, what was it? The mind?”
“Yes. We can’t know how long Lillian has been taking it, or how much she has been taking, but we have good reason to believe it’s well above the dosage that other students take. This is concerning.”
“Especially,” another old man spoke, “Given a prior case, which Lillian Garey is fully aware of, where another young woman on track for a position as professor was found to be abusing the substance.”
“The less said about that, the better. It’s possible or likely that she has been abusing the substance for some time, but her use of it has escalated to the point that she’s under its influence while meeting with her own parents in a casual setting. Giving her access to the substance was a test, and it is one she appears to have failed. We have to wonder about her performance up to this point, and whether she’s equipped to handle things, as Mrs. Garey seemed to think she was.”
“If what you’re saying is true, then- I’m appalled, professor. I’m sorry to speak up.”
“Not at all, Mrs. Garey. Speaking as the person managing the program and mentoring Lillian on her accelerated path, I remain both apologetic and disappointed. Unfortunately, this is only one of the two big concerns I have about her conduct as of late.”
“There’s another?” Mr. Garey asked.
“You already raised attention to it. The boy, Sylvester.”
“You complimented him at dinner.”
“Much of what I said at dinner was accurate. Sylvester is an asset. He’s clever and resourceful. He’s also something of a knave, and I have little doubt you were able to pick up on that aspect of his personality.”
“I was able to, yes.”
“If I were to tell you the whole truth in front of your face, then he would take offense and make himself a nuisance. I’m sure you were able to pick up on that, as well?”
“I see your point, but I don’t see why you would go to that trouble to maintain a working relationship with a subordinate.”
“With the best professors, the best students, and the most promising projects, there are compromises and accommodations that must oftentimes be made,” Hayle said. “Again, this fringes on the confidential. For now, we’ll have to leave it at this: I held my tongue to keep him cooperative.”
“I’ll take your word, then, professor.”
“He’s smart, capable, and valuable to us, and Sylvester has benefited from his relationship to Lillian. Lillian’s relationship with Sylvester has had its positive elements. They collaborate well. This sums up much of what I said when I spoke to you earlier tonight?”
“Lillian’s relationship with Sylvester has its negative elements, and those elements likely outweigh the positive. That it happened in the first place and that it’s ongoing is a mark against her in her long-term prospects. The group received a lot of freedom, and they used that freedom to fraternize.”
“Fraternize? You mean-”
“I can’t say anything for certain. But questions have been raised, and the individual in charge of looking after the bulk of the group has obliquely remarked that the young adults have not always been sleeping in their own beds in the morning.”
There was a fair amount of murmuring, where nothing was said to address the room.
“I am gravely sorry for the conduct of my daughter.”
“Universally, parents seem to blame themselves when trouble arises, and take it on themselves to levy punishment. In this case, however, I don’t think it’s fair. The Academy has raised her as much as you have.”
“That’s true, but it doesn’t feel right to place the responsibility at your feet. She’s our daughter and our responsibility.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. Garey.”
“Is all of this a prelude to your dropping her from the special project?”
“Dropping her from the special project would be costly, I think. We recently added two other students to the project, and recent months have taught us just how much there is to learn. Lillian is extraordinarily capable and arguably irreplaceable. A better idea, I think, to restructure the special project.”
“This is Professor Sexton speaking. How are you thinking of restructuring the group?”
“We already split it into two groups. It’s a question of light juggling to separate Lillian from Sylvester, and to keep one group away while the other is home. They’ll maintain things in a long-distance fashion for a time, and we can observe carefully to ensure they cannot reconnect. With luck, the relationship will die on its own.”
“I would hope my daughter terminates the relationship on her own and focuses on her studies.”
“As would I, Mr. Garey. We’ll watch stocks of the drug she has been taking and perhaps test her now and again to see if she continues relying on it. She is a promising student, and the project is steadily running its course. Around the time she’s due to graduate and don her gray coat, the project should be finished. If you have no objection, if the relationship is terminated, and if she has then weaned herself off the drug while showing consistent academic progress, then I would like to return her to the accelerated path.”
“Putting an eighteen year old on that path is much different from putting a girl in her adolescent years on that path. I’m… uncomfortable having heard what I’ve heard tonight. We both are, judging by the look on my wife’s face. A part of me wants to pull her out of classes. Another part of me wants her to see success… but of the slow and steady kind. She hopes to be the youngest woman professor in the Academies, but I worry that is a star that would shine brightly and for a tragically short time. I would rather she wear the title of Doctor only and wear it for the rest of her life, or until she married.”
“I understand. I would like to suggest a compromise, then. In two years’ time, you and I will have another meeting. It won’t necessarily have to involve the other professors and her teachers. We can discuss if she should wear a black coat or a gray one.”
“I have no trouble making the trip, Professor Hayle. Can I ask you to keep me updated?”
“Do you have a telephone?”
“At my workplace.”
Professor Hayle moved some papers. I could hear them rustling. “We have that number. A phone call once every two months, then? A letter if the phone call can’t be arranged? Good. The accelerated path will become an accelerated path in name only, then. She’ll be a candidate for professorship if and when she reaches an appropriate age and meets the criteria. For now, as we’re still years too early for that point, Lillian Garey will present her special project to this room tomorrow morning, and we will turn her idea down regardless of merit. We can cite a lack of resources post-wartime. As she enters more difficult classes and faces more difficult classes, we will give her less leeway. Far less. Knowing her, she’ll be liable to blame herself.”
“I can imagine that treatment breaking a lesser student.” Sexton.
“It will be a test of character, one she might well need. Any objections, Mr. Garey?”
“No, Professor. I am far more comfortable with this proposal than I was with things as they stood. So long as my daughter gets the quality education we’re paying for and isn’t set up to fail, then I’m in agreement. I think she needs that test of character, to become what she wants to become.”
“…No objection. You’ll look after her? Keep a closer eye on her activities? With the boys, and the substance abuse?”
A pause. Pen scratches on paper.
“Then I think we’ve reached a resolution, and we’ve made good time. Mr. Garey, Mrs. Garey, thank you for coming. I hope you enjoy your time with your daughter while you’re still here. I suspect she will be distraught after the meeting tomorrow, and I’m sorry it had to come to that. Let us know if you need anything.”
“Thank you for involving us in this. I know you didn’t have to.”
“It was, I think, somewhat inevitable that this would happen. I wanted the two of you to know what we were doing and why. I’ve dealt with enough angry and indignant parents to not want to deal with any more. Cases like this are rare, where a student is raised up and doing so well, and we have to be so hard on them.”
“Thank you, professor.”
I watched as Mr. and Mrs. Garey passed through the relatively narrow slice of the room that I could make out, making their way to the door, nice shoes tapping against the floor.
The door banged as it shut.
“Will the Baron of Richmond be satisfied with only this?” Sexton asked.
“I’ll talk to him myself. If framed in the right way, I think it should be fine. It needed to be done, all the same, with how unwieldy the Lambs have been getting. This feels like a good initial step in bringing things under control.”
“I know I was very vocal about my reservations when the Lambs were in early stages, but they have proved their value, Hayle. I no longer have a project to look after, so let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“We can discuss over tea, Sexton. Tomorrow perhaps? I need more lab space, I think.”
“Arright, that’s enough backpatting, you two. I’m tired, and the list of students gets longer every year. Next student we need to discuss is Dan Garret. No parents. We can talk among ourselves. Which one is this, again?”
“A bad sign, if we can’t quite remember. What are his grades?”
I had barely moved a muscle as I lay prostrate in the duct. I barely wanted to move, as the conversation moved on from Lillian so very easily.
My emotions were all over the place, but that ‘place’ wasn’t where my emotions ought to have been. Not in my heart, my throat, the pit of my stomach, nor my brain. My hands were trembling, my fingertips tingling and my breathing was funny. My eyes were wet, but I wasn’t crying. I could have blamed the dust and I wasn’t sure I would have been lying.
Yet, when I reached for an emotion, I couldn’t feel much of anything. I wanted to feel angry and indignant, but it was a want without any heat or muscle behind it. I wanted to be sad, or something.
I twisted myself around and began reversing course, going back through the ducts, faster and more carelessly than was necessary. A finger scraped against the side of a rusty nail that was sticking up through the floor of the duct, and it bled freely. The pain felt like it had happened to someone else. The dust on the floor of the duct clotted the wound before natural processes did.
I felt like I hadn’t had Wyvern in a while, but it hadn’t been long at all. Disconnected, unfocused, confused.
Hearing a noise, I stopped, one hand raised, ready to come down on the floor of the duct and assist me in crawling forward. It trembled where it hung in the air.
I started moving again, going through the motions. Everything I was doing involved a strange sort of effort, but it didn’t require thinking, and I couldn’t think at all. I couldn’t imagine a pristine white rectangle, that technique Hayle had taught me, because my thoughts were washed away before I was halfway to even starting.
It was so difficult to move, to remind myself to try to breathe slowly and steadily, to put one hand in front of the other, move my knees, and avoid the nails, that it seemed like I failed at one or the other. Yet somehow, I lost track of time and found myself in the chute that led up from the adjunct chamber of the boiler to the vents. I fumbled around for full minutes before I felt like my feet and hands were in the right place to let me slide down.
I brushed the worst of the dust off me, and out of my hair, my actions methodical, careful.
As if my mind and body had switched places. While my body was very much in my control, taking up all of my attention, it was as my thoughts normally were, affected by impulses and things pushing in from outside. Something that I steered to the right courses rather than something that did exactly as I wanted. My thoughts, meanwhile, were wild and unpredictable, subject to the whim and madness of my emotions. I couldn’t think at all, my head filled with a kaleidoscope of soundless noise, smoke, and poison.
Once dressed, I stepped out of the room. Moving forward was the impulse, now. Getting out of Claret Hall.
It was as though I was moving through a series of portraits hanging on a wall, not one continuous building. Moments where nothing registered or seemed to exist, then a scene, a new environment, a crowd of people I had to walk around, who were just finishing their tea. Another blank space. I covered distance and didn’t recall any of it.
In that manner, I found myself standing outside without a coat or a jacket. Snow was falling and I was surprised at the snow. I spent a long time trying to figure out where my coat was. Had I left a clue behind, in the vents or in the boiler room?
It took far too long to connect my thoughts to Lillian. She had my coat.
It was impulse more than thought, that she needed to know. That I couldn’t let her go to that meeting tomorrow and face that treatment blind.
I couldn’t let her go to that meeting.
I couldn’t let her go.
My recollection of the approach to the girl’s dormitory was just as scattered as my exit from Claret Hall. I stumbled through the snow, tripping over patches that I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t that cold, but the shakes became shivers.
I wasn’t as discreet as I needed to be, and it was sheer chance that I wasn’t spotted as I walked alongside the dormitory, circling around to the back path. With numb, uncooperative fingers, I scaled the outside. I made my way up to the window, and slid it open.
In a kind of mechanical, automatic way, I noted that Lillian had probably lubricated the trenches in the frame that the window slid up and down. It was nearly silent.
I sat on the windowsill, legs hanging inside her room, before making myself lean forward, feet touching ground. The window slid closed, almost without a noise.
Standing by the window, I watched Lillian, who sat at her desk. She was wearing a nightgown and a cardigan. Her hair was short, the entire back of her neck exposed, but the sides were longer and stuck out to either side, blocking my view of her face and ears. She was writing, pen scratching against paper, periodically looking up to check one of the four tomes that she had sitting in book holders or left open on her desk. Write, write, write, move over to another piece of paper, to make a note or write down a calculation.
Mid-sentence, she turned to look in my direction, and she jumped so much she nearly fell out of her chair.
“Sy!” she hissed the words, a raised whisper. “I nearly peed myself!”
Then she smiled. That smile she’d had on her face as she talked to her mother, which had stirred feelings of wanting inside of me, but it was a reaction to me, this time. Five times more intense, ten times. Without bounds, because things were flipped around and the checks and cautions that I normally had just weren’t there.
I couldn’t let her go.
I closed the distance between us, moving right into her personal space, until I could feel her breath on my face and she could feel my breath on hers. I kissed her like I hadn’t kissed her before. Before, it was calculated, always with thinking behind it. To leave her wanting more, to give her a taste of the deeper, more intense kiss she liked the most, without quite giving her enough of it. This time, I gave her everything she wanted. No teases, no fluttery barely-there touches of my lips to hers.
When she broke away for air, her breathing was hard, her face flushed, her eyes animated with emotion, a smile on her lips that she was fighting to keep at bay.
“Mary’s going to show up,” she said.
I kissed her again, my chest pressing against hers. She backed up a bit, to keep her balance, and ended up with her rear end pressing against the edge of the desk.
I had to lean against her more to reach past her to the desk and snuff the candles on top of it with fingers that only had the wet on them from the snow and my climb up the wall. I dimly registered that my fingertips stung, that they were sensitive to the touch of air on them, but all I really felt was Lillian. Those same sensitive, stinging fingertips ran up the small of her back, then pulled her closer to me in the now-dark room.
I couldn’t get her close enough. I wanted her closer, then even closer, until there was overlap. I wanted Lillian inside that void in my chest, my stomach, and my throat, where there was only grasping want and a kind of despairing, hopeless sort of feeling over how cute she was and how nice it was to be with her. I wanted to be inside Lillian, to reach inside her heart and throat and stomach and move thoughts and feelings around until she understood how I felt and what needed to be done.
She broke the kiss again, moving her head so her ear was near mine, her panting breaths against my shoulder. “Sy.”
She kissed the side of my neck, once, and I felt a painful, sharp sadness at just how beautiful that one little touch was. With it came a terrible, ominous feeling, like all of the emotions and sensations that I hadn’t been feeling since I heard those two different voices in the vents might come crashing back into place.
I didn’t want to feel that. Only this. My hands crept further up the small of her back, until I touched the dark green cardigan she wore. Scratchy wool, the sort that was only comfortable worn over other clothes. There were big, knobby, rounded buttons on the front, digging into my sternum and my stomach.
I took hold of the cardigan and lifted it up without unbuttoning it, over her chest and head, past her shoulders. When it was at her forearms and hands, I seized the middle in one hand, and twisted, winding it around my hand, winding it around both of her hands, trapping it there, both of her hands and wrists bound by one of mine. Her head pulled back, dark brown eyes stared into mine, barely lit by the moonlight bouncing in off the snow outside.
I waited for her to speak, to dash this moment, to mention Mary. She gave me a shy peck on the lips instead.
Using the cardigan to move her arms and move her, I pulled her in the direction of the bed, one movement to push, pull, twist her over, so she would topple, her rear end and small of her back off the bed, her upper back, shoulders and head on it. She scooted back in the same moment I crawled forward, above her, straddling her stomach. My hand, both of her hands, and her cardigan were over her head, locked into place. The shoulder of that arm was sore, throbbing in a way that suggested I would feel it tomorrow, but I barely cared.
I touched the side of her face, and I saw her smile.
I kissed her the way she liked most, my one hand free to roam. My mind wasn’t able to hold onto things as well as the typical mind might be. I had to pick and choose what I kept and why, and I had to remind my brain regularly of things, or skills and things would slip away. A tricky balance, one that I didn’t always keep, with one skill or another swiftly rusting as I forgot about.
But Lillian… I made a point of remembering the little details, gleaned over nights we’d shared a bed, doing little else besides kissing and cuddling. I brushed her stomach, halfway between her belly button and her side, and her back arched to press into my hand, because she responded to tickling sensations not by pulling way, but moving closer. I kissed and lightly bit her collarbone, because touching it always got a surprised reaction out of her, and because my weight on her stomach was pulling the nightgown down just enough to expose it.
She squirmed, and she couldn’t move with her hands in the cardigan or my weight on her stomach. She could have freed herself if she tried, but she wasn’t trying very hard. She leaned her head forward, and kissed me on top of my head.
I bit her collarbone harder. Impulse: I couldn’t let her go.
My hand was at her side, fingers falling into the indents between ribs, fingertips digging in, and I didn’t want to move it. I pulled my head away from her collarbone, moved to the top of her nightgown, and undid the top button with my mouth. I kissed the space between button and the hole, then moved my head down, to do the same with the next button.
The buttons went all of the way down, I thought, as I undid it. My thoughts were still noise and smoke and sadness, but it was at least a warm, animal sort of noise, smoke, and sadness.
Her voice interrupted me on the third button. “Sy?”
I stopped, cloth in my teeth. My hand at her side relaxed, and I gave slack at the cardigan. Not enough to free her, but enough for her to move some, if she needed to. I looked only at the cloth. I drew in breath and smelled only her.
“Sy,” she whispered. She sounded almost afraid. “You’re crying.”
Tears were falling onto the nightgown and skin I’d bared. Blotting out into the former. Lingering on the latter.
She pulled one hand free of the cardigan without undue effort, then the other. My hand remained wound in the prickly wool. Both of her arms wrapped around my head, hugging me tight against her chest.
“What’s going on?” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”
The tears were flowing more freely now. Stupid. Boys weren’t supposed to cry.
“I-” I started, and my voice was ragged, as if I hadn’t talked in a very long time. “I’m breaking up with you.”
My head against her chest, I could feel that she was no longer breathing. I could feel her heartbeat, fast for all the wrong reasons now.
“Not funny,” she said.
It wasn’t funny at all. We were on the same page on that.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I tried to pull away and she didn’t let my head go, hugging it where it was. “I shouldn’t have done this. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
The words all came out too fast. I wasn’t sure if she understood me.
“We’re not breaking up,” she said. “That’s not your decision. It’s not my parent’s decision, it’s-”
There was only silence, the human, girly, perfumey smell of her, the pleasant sulphur smell of the extinguished candles, and then the sudden, out-of-place laugh of a student in the hallway.
“They know about us. As long as we’re together, then you can’t ever get your black coat.”
I felt the intake of breath that came with putting the pieces together. Where I’d been, what I’d heard.
“They know about you taking Wyvern and they don’t like it, but if you’re good then that won’t hold you back. But us? They’re going to tear us apart anyway. Ending this now is best.”
“That’s not your decision to make.”
“It damn well is!” I hissed the words.
Ah, there it was. The anger I’d dug for in the vents and the boiler, yet was unable to find, then.
“I’d rather be with you, Sy. I’d rather have the freedom to choose than to have a black coat.”
I can’t let you, I thought.
“Would you?” I asked. I lifted myself up. My hands found places on either side of her head, as I loomed over her, staring down into her eyes. “Would you leave the Academy? Your parents? Your friends?
“What? Sy, leave? I don’t understand.”
I tried to find the words, and I couldn’t. I just continued to stare down at her.
“You can’t make me make that choice,” she said. “Especially not if you won’t explain.”
She was crying, now. The light from one of the windows gleamed as it caught the track one tear had left on the side of her face. It wasn’t the sort of reaction I liked provoking from her.
“The Baron wants revenge on me, and Hayle is trying to sell him this. Us. So long as I’m here, there will be no happiness for the Lambs. I’m going to go kill that noble, but with the tools and weapons they have, they will have my scent. I can draw the Crown’s focus and ire. I can cover my tracks and I think I can protect any Lambs who don’t come, protect you. But I would much rather if everyone would come with me.”
“Sy, you can’t. My parents-”
“Your parents care. But they want to stifle you. They asked Hayle to postpone your black coat. Your dad would rather you never got one, I think. Hayle agreed. If you stay, that is what you’re staying for. You might still get a black coat, and you could even get a black coat early, if the stars align right and the Baron dies. But you cannot have the black coat and have me.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but only a squeak came out. She was crying, and it was a messy, beautiful sort of crying, with tears streaming out. Her hands went to her face, trying to wipe at her eyes, but the tears came at a rate that blinded her.
I spoke around the lump in my throat. “I can’t stay anyway, Lil. Jamie, the old Jamie, broke when the memories and burdens got to be too much. Only an empty shell left. I’m just about at that point. I can’t keep doing this. I can’t be their puppet. I can’t see another Lamb die.”
“No,” she said, her voice too high. The heels of each palm pressed into her eyes.
“If I stay, and if we stay together, I will see you fade away the same way Jamie did. The body will still be there, the eyes, the hair, the voice… but you and I both know it’ll be an empty shell. You without the passion or ambition is… not you.”
“No,” she said, in that same, high, awful voice.
But she nodded as she said it.
“Yes,” she said, her words now in accord with her actions.
I pulled my weight off the bed without jarring it, climbed off of her without too much movement, stepped back and away. She remained where she was, hands at her eyes.
I wanted to hug her, and to make this alright, to console and kiss the tears away.
“I broke up with you. Or you broke up with me, when I asked you to leave. That’s better than the first one,” I said, finding myself unable to look at her. “I was acting irrational. I scared you. You tried to get me to stay. I didn’t. You have no idea where I went, or why. But a lot of things I said in the last few days suddenly make sense.”
I found my coat and pulled it on. I opened the window, without a sound.
Lillian spoke, her volume such that it seemed like she thought I was still there, just in front of her. As it was, I barely heard her.
“Now?” she asked.
I climbed through the window and closed it behind me.
Now, I thought. I couldn’t stay, not like this. Too much would be given away.
I didn’t stumble as I walked through the snow. My path was clear, and my mind turned to the prescient. The next few steps were too important.
When I passed through the gate and saw Mary there, getting her bag of belongings, it felt as though I’d expected to see her. I hadn’t, but I’d been wondering where she was, considering her as a factor, and it was a fine line between seeming fitting as a thing and seeming to fit in the bigger picture.
“Sy,” she said. She smiled as she saw me, and the smile dropped away as I got closer and she saw my face.
I was angry.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Follow, I gestured.
She gave the man at the gate a second glance as I walked past her. I was halfway to Lambsbridge before she caught up with me.
“We’re going,” I said. “The train should arrive within thirty minutes. Not sure where it goes, but it gets us out of here. That’s the most important thing.”
The one-word question stung.
Contingencies needed covering. “We need to get a message to Jamie. I’ll handle that, I promised, and he needs to help Lil. You buy a ticket, separate from me. I’ll find my own way on. We make our way to Warrick.”
“What happened to Lillian? I’m going to need an explanation.”
“You’ll get it. I promise. But for now, can we please, –please– just focus on getting to where we need to be, so the Baron can die like the maggot he is?”
It was like a switch had flicked in Mary’s voice, her tone of voice and degree of conviction changing. No more questions or confusion. Only a hungry, “Yes.”