A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.02 – Sera et Campana {Lock and Bell}

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The carriage was a good specimen of mediocrity, and that was perfect. It wasn’t one of the opulent carriages, rich and well appointed and smooth. It rocked from side to side gently as it went, the seats were a little bit worn. Cog had her moments worthy of an eye-roll, but she wasn’t stupid enough to take a Milian or even noble carriage when escaping Milia.

It wasn’t too far on the other side of the scale either, not one of the rickety contraptions that had passed many hands before making it into the disreputable driver. Those carriages tended to get a second-glance from soldiers, and a girl of seventeen summers would’ve attracted attention trying to hire one.

Just the type of carriage that a group of garzoni would hire, Tomas settled back onto the not-quite-comfortable cushions and folded his arms, and there’s very little chance that I’m focusing on the rightness of the carriage to avoid thinking about the staggering enterprise we’ve undertaken.

His fingers tapped a quiet pattern across the leather cover of the book he held, and after a few moments he was calm enough to start thinking again.

His gaze travelled across the other occupants of the carriage. Cog, Maple, and Cross had all been up late killing Lord Waldren, and the three of them were taking advantage of the carriage ride by sleeping. Even with the exhaustion, Tomas wasn’t sure how they could sleep, he was tense enough that his muscles ached.

Cog’s handmaiden “Emerald” wasn’t sleeping, she was just as alert as he was, watching him with vibrant green eyes.

“You see a lot more than you let on,” she said softly, her voice pretty even in a whisper. “I can tell from the way you look around that you’re gathering information on your surroundings.”

Tomas narrowed his eyes. “It’s a good trait to have, isn’t it? One that Elena needs in her friends right now.”

“Oh I agree,” Emerald said with a smile, “I only mention it because it’s a very telling one. You’re used to being on guard every second of every day. Used to being hunted. Would you like to talk about that?”

Tomas knew the woman was most likely trying to be friendly and make connections, it wasn’t her fault that he was wound so tight. Even so, it was hard to keep his voice even and quiet as he snapped a response.

“You left Studio DaRose to come with Elena, now you’re leaving the castle with her. You’re clearly not just Studio DaRose’s servant or Elena’s handmaid, would you like to talk about that?” he said.

Emerald glanced at the three sleeping girls for a split second.

“They’re asleep,” Tomas said.

Emerald noted that it would be better for him not to point out what he had noticed about her to any of the others.

“Makes sense,” Tomas nodded. There was no point in sowing discord in a group so small that already had such a huge task ahead of them.

The thought of the task made his stomach turn, and he went back to thinking about the carriage, brushing his fingers across the book in his lap. It had been the perfect time to take the carriage, as well, just after midday meal. Most new fugitives thought the dead of night was the best time to hire a carriage to escape the city, but it only took a little thought to see that was ill advised.

Carriage services remembered the wild-eyed person in need of a carriage in the middle of the night, even those services open at night. Guards remembered the lone carriage that left the safety of the walls and headed out into the dark beyond, and they remembered what direction they saw them going in.

Now they were lost in the crowd, just another of the hundreds of people moving along the streets, moving in and out of the city, given a several-hour head-start before anyone realized the group was missing. They were also travelling with almost no personal possessions, another good decision that would give them a little time before their absence was missed.

It was also lucky, for Tomas at least, that the decisions had been made by Cog herself, so he didn’t have to bring them up. He didn’t know if she had considered the points he knew, or if it was just happy coincidence, but it meant he hadn’t had to say anything.

He wasn’t looking forward to the day he’d have to point Cog in the right direction on some matter of hiding out of sight, and all the questions that would go with it. He was glad that day wasn’t today, that he’d have a little time to settle back into the habits of glancing over each shoulder.

Outside of the carriage, the Street of Blue Artisans passed. Tomas’ expression didn’t change as he watched the familiar buildings slide by, but Emerald must’ve seen some flicker in his face.

“This is your Studio?” she murmured, as the ugly plain walls of Studio Foscari filled the window.

“Was,” Tomas nodded, “I don’t imagine there’s a place for me in Milia, even after this is over.”

“You don’t sound sad about that.”

Tomas shrugged. “Of all of them, I’m the least affected. Elena wanted to go to the courts, Frederica was practically a priestess of art, even Belloza never considered life without Studio guidance.” It was strange to say their names, when he so consistently thought of them as Cog, Maple, and Cross in his head, but he managed every time. “I’m a little worried how they’ll take it, once they really come to grips with how much this will change for them. Me, on the other hand, I’m a good craftsman with almost no reputation. I can make a living anywhere there are good locksmiths that need help, and all it’ll cost me is a new name.”

A new name, that was something he hadn’t gotten around to considering yet. He thought he would be able to spend the rest of his life as Tomas, so much so that he had started to like it even more than his given name. At seventeen he could pass for sixteen and start a new garzoni career in a different city, but Tomas, Owl, he would have to give those up.

This was assuming he survived that long. It had cost him enough to avoid the wrath of being hunted by a single Prince, did he really think the five of them was enough to not only escape, but kill all of these mysterious Twisted?

The tightness in his stomach was threatening to overwhelm him, and Tomas closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He still wasn’t ready to start thinking about it yet. One small step at a time, only the decisions he could handle.

Tomas opened his mother’s book of poems, ran his glance over the familiar script, and started thinking of good names.

***

Elena and the two girls were sleeping, and Owl didn’t seem in the mood to talk, so instead Meryl leaned back and closed her own eyes. It would’ve been nice to have someone to talk to, instead of being alone with her own thoughts right now.

It was a strange thing, finding out that she was the soul of an Echo in some hapless human’s shell, but even stranger was that it didn’t bother Meryl much. No, what bothered Meryl was how willingly she was following Elena into the life of a fugitive.

Stupid. There was no other good word for her behavior over the past year, ever since she had first winked at Ele in the street so long ago. She shouldn’t have winked at him, what rational person would appreciate a Rhetor flirting with them? But he had appreciated it, he’d been flattered, and then she’d joined them at dinner, she’d found out what Studio they worked at.

How can I have thrown away so many opportunities? How can I have made the wrong decision so many times in a row?

She didn’t escape from her Rhetorguard when the escaping Domenico offered her the chance. She didn’t flee from Milia when her Rhetorguard was later injured. She didn’t stay a servant at Studio Da Rose, and now she wasn’t fleeing on her own.

Meryl had gone to Elena to escape being hunted, and now she would be hunted all the same. Time and again, she had made the wrong decision, and yet…here she was, berating herself but at the same time making another.

It wasn’t too late to unhitch her fate from Elena’s. All she needed to do was open the carriage door and slip away, and she’d be free again. Meryl furrowed her brow, trying to decide on why. Someone slightly less cynical than her might’ve guessed it was her friendship with the girl, or her attraction to Elena’s Echo. Meryl knew better. She would help Elena if she could, but if it came down to her or the girl, it would be no contest.

No, it had to be something deeper going on to keep her so attached to Elena’s course, some subtle subconscious something. Perhaps it was the fact that, one way or another, Meryl was always escaping. If Rolf was alive, the Guardhouse knew she was at large, and she would never be safe staying in one place for too long. What was the difference between fleeing Elena’s Twisted and fleeing the Guardhouse?

Meryl tilted her head to one side, the realization hitting her slowly. The difference was the end, was in what happened after the running. Make her way on her own, and Meryl would either die, or live a relatively content but quiet life. Make her way with Elena, and she would either die, or follow Elena all the way up to the top.

Run and hide all my life, or fight now and be protected when Elena is vindicated by the Eye. Higher risk, higher potential for reward. I didn’t realize I was a gambler.

The idea only barely held together, but Meryl settled more comfortably into the corner for it. She wasn’t a sap or an innocent, she was a gambler, and that sat much better with her. The girl who rooted out an inter-city conspiracy which reached the heights of the Master of Spies itself would go far in the Florenzian courts, and as long as she remained Elena’s friend, Meryl would go far as well.

Now she just had to ensure that the girl completed her task of killing them all. Meryl wasn’t too worried. He had made a lot of mistakes of his own, getting caught up in politics when he should’ve laid low, but Domenico had at least shown her how far one could get with a Storm that no one could see coming.

She was a Rhetor, how hard could it be to kill people?

***

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3 responses

  1. Algol

    Always nice to hear from Emerald again, I’m glad she came along.

    Like

    2016-05-02 at 8:54 pm

  2. Typo:

    two long
    _______

    too

    Like

    2016-12-19 at 3:14 pm

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