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Speak My Name Upon the Wind - Part One

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Tess brought all the children with her to Hellen’s room, carrying Essie tied to her back with a shawl.

The old woman was deeply indignant that Tess invaded her room with twice the childish noise and curiosity, and was extra dour and intimidating. Teddy hung back, against the wall, but Jacqui trotted up to the old woman, shamelessly covering his nose, and began to chat with her around his hand.

Tess turned away to hide her amusement from the old woman. Oh, Jacqui.

Then it was on to Emma and her brothers. They gaped at the new children for a moment, but then quickly welcomed Teddy into their circle. 

As Tess warmed the soup, Emma hovered nearby. Tess frowned, then knelt down on aching knees – carrying Essie’s extra weight – to look the girl in the eye.

“Emma? Is something wrong?”

She bit her lip, and traced a deep scrape in the wood floor with her bare toe.

“I – you put your hair into pretty braids and things. And –” she looked up, her brown eyes pleading. “Can – can ya teach me, Miss Tess?”

Emma’s father generally kept her blonde hair chopped off at her shoulders, where it hung in a dirty tangled mess. 

Tess placed a hand on her shoulder. “Oh – yes of course. Tomorrow morning, I’ll stop in, and we’ll wash your hair and put it into something pretty. I’ve got some ribbons I’ll bring. How does that sound?”

Emma’s face split into a grin. “Oh – oh yes! Please! Yes!” She bounced away to lay out dishes on the table and Tess pushed heavily to her feet again. It was amazing how heavy a baby could be when you’d been on your feet for two days. But that joy on Emma’s face was like a drug to her exhausted body.

She found herself humming as she ladled out the soup, then sat down at the foot of the bed with her own bowl. It felt so good to sit. 

The children didn’t talk for several long minutes as they soaked up every drop until the pot was empty. Then Teddy loudly announced that Jacqui’s eyes glowed.

Tess snapped out of a doze, her heart pounding. The other children were looking at him quizzically. He nodded solemnly. “I sawed it.” He turned around on his stool. “Tell em – Miss Tess – Jacqui’s eyes glow.”

Tess forced a laugh. “Don’t be silly, Teddy. Why would Jacqui’s eyes glow?” She shot her son a sharp look. He ducked his head, sucking in his lips.

Teddy pouted. “Ma didn’t laugh at me. Ma didn’t say I was silly.”

Tess took a deep breath, trying to calm her heart and the nerves screaming at her to take Jacqui and run. 

This moment. 

This very second. 

Far away. 

But she couldn’t do that. 

She couldn’t leave Alice’s children here with Emma.

She took another deep breath. “What did your ma say when you told her, then?” She felt her voice shake, and Emma shot her a confused look. Tess gave her a smile. 

Teddy wrinkled his face up, thinking. Then he shrugged. “I don’t a-member.”

One of Emma’s brothers leaned over, and demanded to see Jacqui’s eyes. Jacqui turned away, pulling back. Tess pushed to her feet. “It’s time for all of you to be in bed. It’ll be dark soon. Jacqui, would you get the pot please?”

He leapt to help. 

 

● ● ●

Twenty years ago

Two hours after parting from Percy and Jacques, Tess found herself ushered into an opulent room, still dressed herself in the dirty and torn dress she’d worn through the battle. The silks and velvet furnishings walked the balance between imposing and tasteful. Expensive woods, worked until they shone in the crescent rays. Every inch of the room spoke of a wealth beyond anything she’d ever known.

The wall across from the heavy desk was set with long, narrow windows that revealed a storm-filled sky.

The door opened, and a tall woman swept into the room. She moved with a dancer’s grace, and something about the set of her shoulders – of her mouth – spoke of someone who had power and authority, and knew how to use it.

Her dress was expertly cut to set off her figure to her best advantage. Her hair was swept up into an elaborate style, set with feathers and a single gem. Most people would be asleep, this soon after dark, but she was perfectly composed. 

She smiled warmly with perfectly painted red lips, beneath eyes that were cold and calculating. 

This was the princess. Claudette Felicity Lafarge. Tess chewed on her lip and offered an awkward curtsey. The woman nodded and waved to a chair. 

“Please, sit, dear. May I offer you some tea?”

Tess shook her head, dumbly. 

Princess Claudette slid gracefully into a chair behind the desk. “I’m told you know where I can find my Magician.”

Tess nodded.

The princess pressed long, elegant fingertips together, her elbows resting lightly on her desk. “Please speak freely, dear. I value honesty more than a false history of loyalty.”

She took a deep breath, and told her story. All of it. Her brother’s arrest. His plan. Her meetings with Percy. Her day with Jacques. The disastrous prison assault. Her last conversation with Percy and his plan to trap Jacques’ brother.

Renn was dead, his friends were killed or captured – the truth couldn't hurt any of them now.

“He’ll kill him,” Tess added. “If he thinks you’re close to rescuing Jacques.”

Claudette leaned forward, smiling gently with her lips. “Tell me one more thing, dear. Why did you come to me?”

Tess dropped her gaze to her hands, clenched at her lap. “Your highness, I –” she hesitated. Why indeed? “I don’t want him to hurt Jacques.” She winced at way her voice cracked with emotion as she said it. 

“Yes,” the princess said. “I see. I happen to agree with you, dear. I want my Magician back alive and healthy as well. So,” in several quick movements, she pulled out paper, pen, and ink. “Since we understand each other –” 

She wrote several short, quick lines on the paper, dusted them with powder, then folded the paper and sealed it with red wax. “Can I trust you to deliver this note to your friend Percy?”

Tess stared at the proffered paper. “I – I don’t understand.”

The princess arched a shaped and colored eyebrow. “Percy is expecting your return. He will be less concerned by your approach than by any of my agents. All you need to do, is give him this note.” She smiled. “I think this will solve our problem.”

Percy was waiting in another hidden alcove when he stepped out, greeting her. 

“Did you deliver the message? He didn’t come at once – or send someone?” There was just an edge of suspicion there. 

Tess studied his face for a moment, her stomach twisting. How had she ever found him handsome?

She raised her chin, and handed him the paper. He took it, frowning. 

Then his face changed. From red, then to white. “This is Claudette’s seal.”

She nodded, her heart pounding.

“What did you do, girl?” 

“I told her everything.”

He was snarling with rage. “Everything your brother’s worked for? The miner’s march? Did you sell out Renn –?”

“Renn is dead.” Her voice surprised her with how cold and even it was. “He’s dead because you used him. You used me. You used us all.”

“You little bitch!” His hands shook as he snapped the seal. “You’ll regret – !” he broke off, reading the note. When he met her eyes again, she saw fear. Then, he spun around and stormed back through the door he’d emerged from. She followed, uncertainly.

A flight of stairs rose straight up from the door, and he was already halfway up, taking them two at a time.

Saints – what was in that note?

He was shouting for Jacques as he burst through the door at the top. She arrived a few seconds later, wide eyed and breathing hard. 

Jacques emerged from an inner room. He looked exhausted. And scared. His shoulders slumped, and he shrank back from Percy’s fury.

Through clenched teeth, Percy rescinded every Obligation except for one – Jacques was to wait two hours before trying to capture him. Then he snatched up his cloak, and dashed down the steps.

Jacques stared, bewildered. 

Tess flushed, and looked away. “I went to Princess Claudette. For help. She wrote a note. I don’t know what she said.” She bit her lip. “I’m – I’m sorry. I should have listened, and – and I was horrible to you.”

He let out a long breath. “I’m grateful. And, I’m – I’m so sorry about your brother.”

She opened her mouth, but she’d lost control of her face. Saying it – saying he was dead brought the pain in her chest crashing back into her awareness. 

Saving Jacques had kept her focused. Given her a task. 

She hugged herself, as if to keep the sobs from exploding out of her chest. 

She was shaking. 

He reached out cautiously, to place a hand on her arm. She looked up, meeting his eyes through tears. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “The truth is – I’d give anything to trade this power for a chance to stop all this death. To save lives instead of take them.”

She reacted without thinking as she unfolded her arms and reached out. Right now, she just needed someone to hold her while she fell to pieces. 

He wrapped warm arms around her, and she sobbed onto his shoulder.