12: The Fogs of Agnoia
So many questions, she thought, and so few answers. She wondered what her father would make of all this when he found out. Hopefully, between him and Seelie, they could keep the whole charade a secret. The last thing her father needed was the Hierodula finding out that Astrid had defied the Aristocracy’s orders. Her mother had done much the same thing, and the only thing left of her was a handful of trinkets and some cherished memories.
“Let’s go,” she said, dreading the return journey.
“I am pleased to see we could reach a compromise,” said Lord York as the Director rode up atop a horse as white as his armour. “Seelie were ignorant to believe we would not take advantage of this situation.”
Having spent most of his life on his father’s estate, Oscar had never seen the Director in his armour before. Its ivory sheen caught the crescent sun’s reflection, breaking its light into iridescent shards that scattered across the chiselled angles until they clashed with lines of liquid gold, while on his shoulders upswept pauldrons clasped a crimson cape in their metal claws. A crown of golden feathers and a beaked mask kept the Director’s expression locked in darkness, save for those daggers of ice, like blue fire burning in a midnight sky.
“Rembrandt Payne does not do ignorance,” said the Director, his voice echoing through his mask. “Perhaps you should consider your own.”
Lord York replied with an assured grin. There was no need for comebacks when you had already won the battle. With a snort of disgust, the Director stirred his mount forward and called to his troops. Thirty-six armoured peacekeepers fell into formation behind him, hooves a-clattering beneath the eclipsing sun.
As the host disappeared into the town streets, drawing a cloud of curiosity behind it, the various nobles who had gathered to watch them off returned to their own affairs. One of them—a balding walrus of a man in a suit a size too small—approached Oscar’s father, who introduced him as Lord Durham, lord of the industrial ruins to the west. It was the first time Lord York had ever introduced his son to any of his business associates. Their victory, thought Oscar, was assured.
“So, how many of your man did you manage to insert into our dear Director’s ranks in the end?” asked his father.
“Two dozen,” replied Lord Durham, as he stuffed smoking herbs into a pipe. “Twice as many as he has allies.”
“I do not doubt he will relegate them to guard duty if he has the chance.”
“You underestimate him, Basil. Guirlande will know how suspicious that will look.” Durham struck a match and plunged the flame into his pipe. “I expect he will try to spread them out, assign his own men to keep an eye on them.”
Oscar’s father glanced around the mansion grounds, then lowered his voice and asked, “And the witch?”
“She has a strong influence over the weak minded,” replied Durham. “She will do her duty.” Lifting his voice, he continued, “By sundown, we will have ourselves a prisoner. By week’s end, we will have ourselves a confession.”
“Excellent. I look forward to informing the Father of our success. He has been waiting for this day to arrive.”