17: Fear of the Light
York’s fist slammed into the table. “More lies! This is the work of Seelie and you know it — because you”—he jabbed a finger—”are a collaborator. And you always have been. That”—he took a step back and straightened his lapels—”is why you failed to investigate the Donaran conspiracy six years ago.”
But Astrid’s father did not know rage. In all her life, she had never once heard him raise his voice, never once seen his face burn red with fury, as Lord York’s now did. He simply closed his eyes for a moment, then returned to the world with devastating insight. Even Lord York, at the very height of his anger, faltered the moment those eyes fixed upon him.
“Then why,” he said, his words slow and measured, perfectly chosen, “if my treachery is so plain to see, has the Founding Father done nothing about it? Or are you suggesting he is blind while you are not?”
“N—nothing or the sort,” said York, a hint of fear entering his voice. “I suspect he has not moved because he has had no proof of your heresy. Until now, that is. Mark my words, Guirlande, I shall inform him of this. Immediately.”
At which point, Oscar could no longer restrain his smug joy and cast the most self-assured grin Astrid had ever seen her way, as if to tell her “I was the one who brought Seelie to its knees. You are nothing but a failure.”
And she feared he was right.
“Accusing us of genocide?” Lord York’s anger slipped into a rising pitch of overacted disbelief. “Sending children into the heart of Agnoia? And now planning to flee the country with them? I am sorry, Director, but this is it. This is it. Mark my words, Hierodula will not waste a moment once he hears of this. Those children,” he picked up Oscar’s cellular and tossed it aside, “will not find an easy escape awaiting them tomorrow morning — they will find Rembrandt Payne’s head on a spike. And, if they do not know their place, theirs may well be joining it.”
He turned then to Astrid with a look of jeering condemnation. First her mother, now her father. They would probably throw her to the fires, too. Astrid did her best to emulate her father’s icy stare; York snarled and turned away.
“I see,” said her father. “Apeliotes, if you would like to show Lord York and his son out? It seems I have to prepare myself for my inevitable dismissal.”
The young Donaran boy walked around the desk and gestured for the Yorks to leave, but Lord York was already halfway across the room, his son — his son! Astrid couldn’t believe her own ignorance — at his heels.
“Dismissal?” He laughed. “If our Father is feeling particularly benevolent, your head might roll with your good friend Payne’s, but I would hate to think what might happen if these revelations leave him in a bad mood—”
He stopped as the doors to the office swung open.
“Ah!” The green-haired Donaran man clasped his hands together. His teeth seemed to radiate starlight and his eyes were like the finest emeralds. “Dreadfully sorry I’m late. It’s a habit, I’m afraid!”
Astrid turned to her father for an explanation.
“While they work in Torsten, yes,” he said, “but this would put you far beyond my reach, Astrid. I cannot allow you to go. If I had a choice, I would stop all of you from going.”
“But you do have a choice,” Astrid replied. “If it’s so dangerous, you can stand up to Seelie and prevent us from ever leaving this town.”
Her father shared a brief look with Apeliotes and shook his head. Whenever his frown deepened as it did, whenever his face aged beyond his years, Astrid knew things were beyond his power. It was the same look he gave her the day her mother died.
“The choice is not mine to make,” he said. “They will simply change it until it suits their purposes. Be thankful that you are not a part of them.”
Chapter 17 End
Oh hai, Freyr!
And that’s the end of Episode Two! Well, besides next week’s interlude. I’m thinking of collecting them together in ebook format before year’s end, for people who prefer to read things that way – although, if you’re reading this, I presume you’re happy reading things on the site! I guess I could release separate chapters in ebook format, but that would require some kind of mailing list, and people’s readers would end up flooded with stuff? I dunno. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?