The entire carriage ride out of the city, she’d been terrified of some final attempt to kill her and take Adele, but apparently, her brother had actually chosen to be decent and let them go. Adele was sleeping – just sleeping, she hoped.
The dark hour had long past when they’d emerged into the daylight. How long before someone found Adele’s tunnel. She smiled, enjoying the image of Alexandre finding out days later that his fortress had a new back door. Jeoffroi shouldn't have too much trouble closing it up.
She hated trusting the driver, but she didn’t have a choice while she waited for Adele to recover. She’d told the driver to keep driving down the road until she said so.
Now they were swaying along a rutted road passed farmland.
Adele stirred, then groaned.
Finally, her eyes opened. She smiled. “Well. I didn’t expect that from you.”
Margot opened her mouth to reply, shut it, then opened it again. “I’m sorry Adele. I couldn’t think of any other way. And I release you from all Obligations as well.”
Adele pushed herself up to sit in the cushions.
“I appreciate the gesture, but unless I’m mistaken, we’re not safe yet. So some standing Obligations to defend us would be greatly helpful.”
Margot blushed. “Right. Protect both of us, but if you have to choose, protect yourself first.”
Adele rolled her eyes. “Okay. Good enough.”
They called for the carriage to stop, and told the driver to return to the city. After the royal carriage had disappeared, they hired a ride to the next town from an old farmer with a wagon, using funds Adele had in her armory.
“I’ll have to stop using this soon,” she said, thoughtfully. “Alexandre knows where it is, physically. After siding with Lorraine, he’s not going to be welcome in Roucy, but he’ll find a way to cut me off from it eventually. Or Roucy will finally remember the walled off chamber they gave Alexandre. Now that he’ll be the crowned king of Lorraine, they won’t want him to have access.”
But for the next few days, they should be fine.
They rented a small, bare, not totally clean room in an inn they found in a small town.
The windows held about twenty years of grime, the floorboards creaked ominously, and the bed comforters were a mysterious faded grayish color. It was no palace, but it was anonymous, and it was shelter.
Margot knelt in front of the hearth, building a fire, as Adele sat on one of the hard beds. She raised a hand, which glowed purple, and the books dropped one by one into her hand. She piled them beside her on the bed.
As Margot started a small blaze, she felt a sudden desire to feed these books into the flames. To try and forget what she knew about them. To pretend she’d never found them, never knew what they held. But she’d given her word to Alexandre, and she didn’t want to spend her life running from his assassins, especially not Jeoffroi.
“Now I have to figure out how to get those to my brother. Safely,” she muttered.
Adele raised an eyebrow. “After all that? You’re not even going to keep them? Even read them?”
Margot sat back, resting against the edge of a bed as the fire took hold, dancing and crackling through the wood. She sighed. “I believed – I wanted to believe – that my mother was good and kind. Now – I think about all my memories – I think about what she’d say, and I wonder. I – I wanted to believe that – somehow – not everyone in my family was tainted by evil.” She swallowed. “So – what does that make me, then?”
“Just – you’re actually talking to me.”
Margot gave her a thin smile. “When I was little, I was taught to never ever speak to my father’s Magician. Never. I’d get a beating if I said the smallest thing. I get it – it wasn’t safe to send me away while he and maman were fighting her half brother – my – my Uncle Marceau. And Roland. And, half the Dusk. Apparently.” She shook her head. “But Jacques – he secretly taught me that I could talk to him without hurting him.”
Margot nodded. “He taught me the difference between commands and just – talking. He taught me to not fear my words. Just, respect their power.” Something painful and tight closed around her throat.
She pulled her knees up to her chest and buried her face, trying to regain control of her voice.
Finally, she looked up and met Adele’s gaze. “I – my father – we killed him.” Suddenly, she was sobbing. Great, heaving sobs, as she choked out the story as best she could. She’d failed him. And he’d chosen to die. Because she couldn't keep a promise. Because she’d been frozen.
Adele stared into the fire for a long time after Margot ran out of things to say.
Finally, she spoke. “You – as a Nobleman – you have no idea – no concept of what it feels like to be compelled to do something, when every fiber of you is equally horrified by the action. When something inside is screaming no, while you follow the order like some mindless dog. And papa had a line he determined he wouldn't cross. No matter what you did, Lafarge – your father – would’ve found a way to use mama to hurt my papa.” She clenched her hands into fists. “It wasn’t your fault. That was why Lafarge held mama there. A constant threat – a way he could hurt and control papa without ever risking damage to his precious Magician.”
“I’m sorry,” Margot whispered. “You’re right. I don’t know.”
“But,” Adele added quietly. “When I look into your eyes, I know you’re seeing more than a tool or a dog to whistle for. When you talk about my papa, I can see you adored him. As a human, not a favorite pet. And he must have cared about you, too.”
“He – he did?”
“He had no other reason to risk talking with you.” She stared at her hands, her voice dropping to just over a whisper. “You probably knew him better than I did. For me, my papa was a dream who came infrequently in the dark hour, or at unexpected moments. Mama tried to explain the Obligation to me. But I didn’t really understand. When papa showed up one day with Lafarge, and my life turned upside down, I – I hated him. I blamed him. I willingly betrayed him to Alexandre when I got his message. And when I finally understood, he was dead.”
“I’m sorry.” What else could Margot say?
They sat, gazing into the softly crackling fire for several long minutes. At some point, Adele had started to cry, quiet tears sliding down her cheeks.
She finally spoke again. “You wanted to know what the truth about your mother means for you. I don’t think it makes any difference to who you are. I don’t think she taught you empathy or to care. I think that was my papa.” She rubbed a shaking hand across her cheek, brushing away tears. “I had my mama. But you had no one. I’ll bet he wasn’t willing to leave you like that – to grow up cold and hard and cruel like your brother.”
Margot frowned. It was Jacques who’d been there. Who held her when she cried. Who deflected papa’s rages from her. Who’d taught her to ride. To swim. To play. Saints – she’d forgotten how much fun she’d had, playing with him.
“Speaking of mama,” Adele asked in a halting voice. “There’s one question you haven’t answered. How did she die?”
Margot frowned. “I – I don’t know. I know several of papa’s staff died when Roland’s people attacked us, but, I –”
Adele lurched forward. “Wait. Lafarge didn’t kill her?”
“What?” Margot shook her head, thinking. “No, no he didn’t.”
“And you never saw her dead.”
“I – no.”
“So she could still be alive?”
Margot nodded. “I – yes. She could.”
They gaped at each other. Adele always talked about Tess as if she was dead, but, that was because Alexandre had said so. And what did he know? He wasn’t there.
Margot grinned. “You need to find her.”
Adele raised an eyebrow. “I do, but magic would make it a bloody lot easier. And I need a Nobleman’s commands to do anything. Care to join me?”
“You – want me? But – you’re free.”
Adele sat beside her on the floor. “Margot – dear. Freedom’s pretty lame without magic. I mean, most people live happily without it, but magic sure makes life easier, and I’d miss that aspect. Gale, I’ve been living without magic for some time, and I tell you – I’m really tired of wiping tables for coin.” Her voice dropped, and she added, quietly, “I think papa would want us to be friends – you know?”
Margot grinned. “Yeah, I think he would.”
Adele reached up and snagged a book, weighing it thoughtfully in her hand. “But first, you’ve got to keep your promise to Alexandre.”
Margot took the book from her. “And we need to rescue Jeoffroi. I have no intention of leaving him in my brother’s control without a fight. And while we figure that out, we’ll trace Tess. And.” She grinned. “I still owe you a pile of stolen gems. Now – if you’re not picky, I’m sure there’s other Noblemen out there who could stand to lose a few.”
Adele smiled back. “Sounds good.”