One Last Quest, Part Two

Continuing from last week!


At dawn, he rose with Cathal’s help. He brushed his own hair, could still do that much for himself, missing fingers notwithstanding. From the dark wardrobe, they chose his best forest-colored broadcloth coat, the brown brocade waistcoat, a shirt as crisp as autumn morning. Cathal knelt before Lachlan’s chair to pin up the legs of his dead-leaf breeches, neat and precise as always, folding them just so.

After breakfast—the cooks would send him pap and poached eggs, no matter that he requested something, anything, else—Lachlan wheeled himself through the Palace with Cathal at his side. The ice-green corridors were deserted at this time of morning but for Movanar servants scuttling on their business. All the Revanar slumbered in their beds, or the beds of others. As they neared the heart of the building, the corridors ended. Marble staircases with delicate brass balusters spiraled into the open space of King Muirrach’s atrium.

It was a beautiful place. Before Lachlan had left to wander the world, he hadn’t realized how breathtakingly expensive the construction must have been. The railings shone, all the exquisite figures of brass, animals—foxes, bears, elk, hares—climbing the newels and icicles dripping from the handrails. From the landing Lachlan could see the gleaming floor, whiter than a field of snow, inlaid in the center with a great Circle of brass. They must have done some rite here the previous evening. Tall green candles stood half-melted around the Circle; one had fallen on its side, spilling wax on the floor. A hint of rich opiate smell hung in the air, even so far above. He wondered that no one had yet come to clean up.

“Come, Lord,” said Cathal, lifting him from the chair in small, powerful arms. Movanar were so often stronger. As Cathal bore him down the winding staircase, he looked up over his valet’s shoulder, watching the peaked top of his chair disappear above the steps. Cathal left him at the bottom to fetch down the chair, and Lachlan sat rubbing his prickling stumps. Two servants came out of a concealed door at the back and crossed on soft boots to clean the Circle. Their supply cart made next to no sound, not a squeak of wheel or a clank of contents.

They whispered to one another, throwing glances like darts to stick in Lachlan’s flesh. He put on his blankest, most dismissive look, which must have been all the more terrifying delivered by a High One with a triangular, bifurcated pit for a nose. They fell quiet to focus unnecessarily on the task of scraping wax from the stone.

Back into the chair. Lachlan could do that himself, once Cathal brought it down. They repeated the process outside, on the long white flights leading down the mountain into the city.

Four ladies of the Court came rushing down, a cluster of footmen trailing after them. One of them nearly knocked poor Cathal off his feet with the surge of her fur and velvet train. Lachlan remembered her—remembered all of them—from the days before he’d left home. When he was younger, and popular, and oh, so achingly beautiful. They had all wanted him then, and he, fool that he was, had done his level best to accommodate each and every one.

They were all vipers, and Devnet, his long-ago betrothed, the worst of the lot. He’d thought he loved her, but it hadn’t taken half a year out on his own before he’d decided he would never marry such a venomous snake as she. When she saw Lachlan on the fifth landing her lip curled. “What do you here, Lachlan Vistridir?”

“Taking the air,” he said, as lightly as he could. He looked into her pale perfect face, at her thin arched eyebrows and elaborately painted eyes, at her lips stained redder than blood. “Am I interrupting your view, Lady Devnet?”

“In a word, you are.”

“No words could possibly convey my utter apathy, milady.”

“You have apartments for a reason,” she hissed.

“Apartments,” he said. “Not a cell, last I knew. You might visit me sometime.”

Her crimson lip curled over perfect teeth.

“You did so love to visit me.” Soft, soft. “I could still make you—”

Oh!” she cried, and whirled away.

He smirked after her, calling, “Another time, perhaps.”

“You are disgusting!” She threw it over her shoulder at him, all edged with spite, that he dared to remind her he’d seen her unclothed.

“I’m not the one with the purple dolphin tattooed on his arse,” he said to twist the knife.

“Oh my God,” the others whispered to each other. “Oh my God.” They covered their giggling mouths and swapped glances. Devnet stormed down the steps, flying two hot-red flags on her cheeks. Her train washed a frothy wake behind her.

“Is it true, Dev?” asked one of them—Mairead, he thought she was called.

Oh my God,” said Devnet.

“It’s true,” said Leandra as she swished down with the rest. “I see it once a week at the minimum. Don’t fret, darling, it’s really quite a fetching piece, and you…” She trailed off, with increasing distance, into incomprehensible noise. Lachlan laughed to himself as a storm of footmen surged past in a colorful wave, their various livery brilliant in the late-morning light. When Cathal reached him, they grinned slyly at each other, no words. Damn, but he’d been taking his valet for granted all these years! Cathal wouldn’t have grown a sense of humor overnight.

They’d begun an hour after dawn. The sun shifted over the city below, playing shadow across white-marble domes, green slates, and golden thatch. The bolt-train slithered through on its track of magic, a silver, flashing ribbon. Cobbled streets, still at this height like thin brown snakes, crawled between buildings and around the mountain. It was noon before they won those streets: steep and slanting, all curves and corners. Lachlan needed Cathal’s help to navigate; the stones and inclines made it nigh-on impossible to steer, though Lachlan did what he could, braking to keep the chair from careering out of Cathal’s control.

If he’d had any magic, his life would have been easier—but Yehoram had taken that from him, too, destroying his aura with his legs. He tried not to think of levitating himself down the steps and turned his mind to soaking in the atmosphere of Green Glaciers as he hadn’t in long decades. No, his apartments weren’t technically a prison, but he’d always gotten the feeling many would prefer it thus. He hadn’t been out of the gardens in an age, no farther than that clearing by the south wall.

Now, though. His bones rattled with the chair, and his arms cramped from pushing back on the wheels. His hands, callused though they were, began to ache and burn under the strain. He didn’t care. Behind walls for so long, he’d nearly forgotten what the world felt like. He remembered the look of it, but not the feel. The layers of sound. The outside air on his skin. The smells, still tickling at what was left of his nose with mouthwatering smoked-pork richness.

After pap and poached eggs, and all the blandest, even what little Lachlan perceived of the scent was wildly delicious, flooding his mouth with saliva. “Wait,” he said, braking harder. “Do you smell that?”

Cathal obediently stopped. “How could I not?” His voice came right into Lachlan’s good ear, the one the White Worm hadn’t frozen off. “Want to eat?”

Lachlan glanced over his shoulder at him. “Are you honestly asking me?”

Cathal laughed and helped steer the chair to the source of the smell: a little smokehouse set some way back from the street, with a stand in front. There a slightly rounded Movanar woman with cheeks bright as apples sold shredded pork with deep red sauce, stuffed into wheat rolls. Alongside came paper cups of cabbage slaw.

They laid the sandwiches in Lachlan’s lap and found a nearby bench to eat. Lachlan wasn’t given to melodrama, but he thought he might expire on the spot after his first bite. It had been so long. Even his diminished sense of taste couldn’t fail to wake, and the textures were more than enough to make up for the lack. The crust of the roll crisped away to soft inside, slightly soggy from the thick sauce. Meat between his teeth again. The heat of the food itself and the warmth of the spice on his tongue. He had gone to Paradise. The slaw crunched, cool and creamy in his mouth, with a sting of black pepper and horseradish.

Afterward, while Cathal disposed of the trash from their meal, he spread his arms on the back of the bench and tilted his head back. Relaxed. Forgetting, for the blink of an eye, what he had become, what he looked like. Then he let a sigh through the cavity of his nose and remembered. All the noise of the street eddied around him, around a bubble of space engendered by his presence. No one dared come too close; no one dared speak to him. Riven as he was, still no one could mistake him for anything but Revanar, anything but noble. No Movanar wore hair like Lachlan’s, snow white and like a living thing, falling around his hips. At the very least, down here in the city he had the protection of his station. He wondered why he had stayed so long in his apartments.

It hardly mattered. Soon there would be Adeon to chat with, and he could come down here whenever he pleased, really. He wasn’t required to stay in his rooms. He didn’t have to rot away at the back of the Palace. The thought put a smile on his face. He might even visit Adeon again after this, and that thought widened his smile further.

Cathal cleared his throat.

“How long have you been standing there?” Lachlan asked, opening his eyes.

“Oh, long enough,” Cathal said. “You know where this place is, I’m assuming.”

He sounded like he assumed no such thing, but Adeon had told Lachlan a thousand times where to find the little stationery shop, and he felt certain he could. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

To his credit, Cathal managed, mostly, not to look surprised. “And how do we get there?”

“It’s on the Boulevard of Bolealt,” said Lachlan, and when Cathal started to protest, he held up a hand. “I know it’s a bit far.”

“Let me get us a cab. I’ll never get you home again if we go all that way.”

Grimacing, Lachlan agreed. He’d sooner not be pent up in a carriage, but he allowed Cathal to hail one regardless, and once within the maroon-velvet confines he was secretly glad of it. He relaxed into the seat, rubbing at his left stump, the longer one. His leg hadn’t prickled like this in years.

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