That's right... back again! This week's flash was inspired by the prompt: “It’s been a very long day, very hard… and not in a good way.”
Fortitude Part 31
Teddy came out of his fugue silently, but he reached between our seats and sank his fingers into my hip. I jumped, then ducked my head, avoiding my mother’s glare. Teddy’s grip ease immediately. Hopefully that meant whatever startled him wasn’t too serious, as the music was coming to a close, but there was no way to ask him any questions until after the concert ended.
The stage curtains came down after the last arrangement ended, hiding the orchestra from view. The lamps came on, and Teddy pulled away. I leaned toward him. “Are you okay? Is your shoulder hurting?”
“No.” Teddy’s gaze flickered past my shoulder and then back to me. “I’m fine.”
Whatever he came up with, it wasn’t something he could say in front of anyone else.
“William, stop lollygagging.” My father escorted my mother down the row of seats and out into the concert hall lobby. Teddy and I followed behind them. Michael was hobnobbing, and my parents were preening at the attention paid to them.
I wanted to bathe. Maybe scour off the top layers of my skin. These people, with their fake smiles and inane pleasantries hiding their rotten cores, made me feel filthy. Finally we left.
The carriage felt way too small to hold my mother’s smug pride and my brother’s puffed out chest. Didn’t they see how transient this all was? It wouldn’t last. Couldn’t they see the noble’s intentions? People who had money and power didn’t share it if they didn’t have to; once Teddy and I had been handed over, my family would go back to their previous status.
They’d better enjoy their illusion while they had it. If I had any say in it, they’d lose us as their cash crop sooner rather than later.
“What is it, Teddy?” I asked as soon as I locked my door behind us.
“Not everyone can be in on the plot Anna told us about, right?” Teddy sank down in a chair by the fireplace. “That wouldn’t make sense.”
“No. The more people in who know about it, the more people they have to share power with. Anna said it was the king and his closest nobles. But, unless you’re one of the inner circle, it’s impossible to know who else is a part of it as well.”
“Exactly. Do you remember that procession last year? The one after that fire burned down part of that school?”
Of course; I remember thinking it was kind of the king to visit the school and talk to the teachers about what they needed. Now, I just thought about the waste of manpower and time when they should’ve working to fix the school. After all, it wasn’t like the king himself was going to order the supplies and crews to do the work. “I remember. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Did you see the handkerchief in his pocket? I remember it being odd, that it was stitched, but not with his initials. It had a small mark on it, a black tower with a jagged top.”
“A maker’s mark?” I suggested.
“No, I don’t think so. Tonight I noticed that Sir Varket had the same symbol on the uppermost button on his coat. I thought back, and I’m sure I saw the same symbol on some of the snobs who were so eager to talk to us. Always on a piece of clothing, and always the same tower with a broken spire. There were two others; that woman in the hideous blue dress and the man with the fake beauty mark who kept leaning in to speak with you.” Teddy started to run his hand through his hair and then winced, pulling his arm in close to his chest.
“Be careful; you really shouldn’t be using that arm at all.” I hurried over to him to help ease his coat and vests off. “I didn’t notice the marks, but now that I think about it, you’re right. It would make sense, that they’d form some sort of cabal and need to mark themselves.”
I leaned down and gave Teddy a short kiss. “Good job; now we have an idea of who our enemies are. That’s invaluable.”
He smiled. “It just came to me.”
The fugue state was far more useful than most people were willing to admit; that, or maybe Teddy was just different. He really was the only gamma I knew, but he was smart—he just took a bit longer to get there and sometimes his way of looking at the world was very different than most people’s.
“Are we going to go back to the theater tomorrow?”
“We have to.” Our time was running short, and the answers we sought had to be with the tunnel that ended at the dead man’s cell. “It’s been a very long day, very hard… and not in a good way.” Teddy snickered, and I caressed his sore shoulder, checking on it and enjoyed the touch of his skin. “Let’s get some sleep.”
Getting up early after the late night was a truly awful experience; Teddy was his usual bear of a self until he had some chocolate. It wasn’t raining, but a heavy mist hung over the city. Our clothes were damp, and little droplets clung to Teddy’s hair like mini crystals.
“Do you think we need to sneak in another way?” Teddy asked. “We’ve been here a lot.”
“No. There’s no one about, and we’ve come at different times each day. It should be safe.”
How wrong I was. We didn’t even get a chance to move the cogs and open the trap door before someone had me by the throat, with a knife, again.
“Did you think your little visits had gone unnoticed? Really?” said a man with a gravelly voice. He dug the knife in when Teddy moved until he froze, his gaze tracking the heated trickle down my neck. “Well?”TBC
NOW who is after them?!!! Find out more next week! But first, you have more flash updates to read. Yay!