Fortitude Part 14
I made Teddy repeat our cover story several times as we picked our way through the cavern and into the tunnel under the city. We were close to the entrance back into the city. I looked at Teddy critically. We were both dirty, and there were stains on our clothes that would be hard to explain from a crawl through the city taverns.
Not that I’d ever been much of one for indulging for days, but it would explain our absence from the dining table to my parents. Parlor gossip and stilted social mores were something I avoided whenever possible, so I’d planned our trip outside the city to coincide with my parents’ week-long fete for my brother’s fifth anniversary.
I’d never gotten along with his prig of a wife anyway.
We stopped, and I grabbed an oilskin bagged I’d left tucked in a corner of the entrance chamber to the tunnel. “Here.” I handed Teddy a stack of clothing from overcoat to smallclothes. “There’s still water in the bottle. Use this handkerchief to wash yourself as best you can.”
Sneaking back into the city to investigate the nobles hadn’t even crossed my mind when I’d packed the bag. I thought I’d be returning, triumphant, with Schvesla’s Codex, and having deciphered its clues, be ready to turn the machine back on immediately.
One simply did not save the city grimy and dressed in wrinkled clothing.
Now my conceit would let us do something far more dangerous than anything I’d ever considered before. I’d wanted to be elevated to their ranks, to join the nobles in their supposed humanitarian endeavors. I thought I knew the way the world worked, and with my beta intellect and powers, I’d soon be a very important person—someone to be remembered down through the ages.
Too important for anyone to dare gainsay who I wanted to be with.
I pushed that thought aside; I had no time for that, or for what now seemed like the naïve daydreams of a sheltered youth. I turned my back to Teddy when he dropped his shirt to the ground and began changing as well.
“We had quite the adventure, didn’t we, Will?” Teddy said.
“There’s much more to come, I think.” I fastened my trousers and then slipped on my waistcoat.
Teddy sighed. “I know. I don’t like the idea. I barely survived getting our packs and escaping Anna’s house. I don’t fit in with the nobles. I barely fit in anywhere, to tell the truth. How can I possibly be of help? I’m a gamma; I don’t think nearly as fast as you do.”
For some time, I’d had theories on that. “But you come up with ideas and thoughts that no one else does. You see things in a far different way than I do. Speedy mental processes and the attention to detail are not inherently more important than following all the possible permutations of a tangent.”
His snort, the one he always used when I got too formal and ‘acting high-and-mighty’ broke the quiet after I concluded my little speech. “We’re not even back inside the city proper and you sound stilted. Such fancy words. Can’t you just say ‘I like your fresh ideas’?” Teddy asked.
“I depend on your ideas,” I said softly. “I can’t do this alone, Teddy. I need your help.”
Turning around, I found Teddy already dressed. He stepped forward and hugged me tight. “Whatever you need.”
Sneaking through the tavern district, looking over my shoulder constantly to make sure we hadn’t been noticed, was a bad idea. So we strolled, two comfortable men taking their evening leisure. “So did we lose all your money at this time slumming at the gaming tables?” Teddy asked.
“Not all of it.” I tapped my pocket, making my purse clink.
“Think your remaining coin could stretch to a few meat pies and an ale before we get to your parent’s house?”
I mulled that over. It might do us good to settle back into the bustle and noise of the city, the smells and smokes belching out of the buildings to lie in a haze over the streets. Exhaustion dragged at us both, but that just made our story more believable. “Let’s do it.”
We’d finished our first hot meal in two days, sitting at a splintery wood table just inside the door of a semi-respectable tavern, when a hand gripped Teddy by the ear, twisting hard.
He yelped and jolted to his feet.
“Where have you been, you inconsiderate wretch?”
Teddy’s father’s face was red. The man was a stern taskmaster at work, running Teddy ragged in his apprenticeship at the printing press and stifling what he termed his son’s ‘high-falutin fancies’, but on a night when he was the worse for drink, things could get ugly. And no one would stop him.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Teddy has been with me,” I said. I stood up as well, though my lean form was nothing to impress, my will was something else. I placed my hand over his shoulder. “You said you didn’t need him at the press, remember?” I stared hard into those bloodshot eyes. He let go of Teddy’s ear, and Teddy sank into his seat, white-faced.
“Oh. Uh. I-I did?” When I nodded, his confused expression grew. The fury drained from his form, and he stood with slumped shoulders. “I forgot. It has been slow, and I didn’t need Teddy to do this week’s printing.”
“That’s right. And he’ll be working with me for the full fortnight, just like we discussed.” I’d hedged my bets, like a wise man always did.
“For pay?” His eyes narrowed again. Suppressing a sigh, I pulled out several gold coins. “Good, good,” he said when he handed them over, already eyeing the barkeep and his barrels of ale. “Earn your keep,” he said to Teddy, and then he was gone.
“Thank you,” Teddy said in a shaky voice. “He didn’t mean to—”
“Yes he did, Teddy.”TBC
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