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Stanton Harcourt – Turn 5

STANTON RETURNED TO his town home, Basin Place, late the following morning. He was still weak and a little shaky, but the Hierarch Chirurge had ruled that further occupation of the hospital facilities would do him no more good than could be achieved at home with his own staff. Clumps too had been released, and had gone to his house in Flitwing, near the REC.

The housekeeper Arthur fussed over Stanton as though he were a mother hen. 'Now do you sit up in bed, Master Stanton, and I'll be making you a nice sup of broth, eh? That's what builds strong, healthy bones!'

'Really, Arthur, I'm virtually better now. You needn't make such a fuss!' Stanton winced as the travelling dressing was carefully unwound.

'Oh, no! They've cut away all your lovely hair on this side!'

AFTER SOME THOUGHT Stanton had chosen his butler Franklin to carry out the series of errands. The female staff and Philip the yard-boy were too small, which left only Franklin and Arthur, and Arthur would almost certainly get over-excited. Franklin was a much steadier type, and he listened impassively as his employer carefully laid out the tasks he wished him to perform.

'...And it's important that you keep the cloak wrapped around you at all times, d'you see? I know it's hot, sorry about that! Anyway, when you've done all that shopping and so forth, here's the last thing: this note. Hire an urchin - one who looks trustworthy! - to take it to Miss Shore, who's at the Roaring Donkey tavern.'

Franklin paled slightly at the mention of that ill-famed den of vice. 'Is this all to do with the matter of the break-in, sir?'

'That's right - this is all to help us find out who was responsible,' Stanton assured him, with a certain amount of truth.

THREE HOURS LATER Franklin returned, the errands all safely completed. Stanton was still sat up in bed, his mind whirring. What might Toma reveal? What sort of risk was he running? He had observed a woman detaching herself from a patch of shadow across Basin Square to follow Franklin out, but there was no sign of this person's return as yet. Perhaps she had returned to make a report to the Watch, or been relieved by another.

'Master Stanton, talking about the break-in...' Arthur stood in the door, apron on and spoon in hand.


'We did find something that was taken, in the end.' He looked shamefaced.

'You did? What was it?'

'It wasn't from the room with the collection in, sir, that's what fooled us. It was the little picture of you, Master Rory and Miss Jemima, sir, all riding ponies, that stood on top of the spinet.'

What on the Wheel could the thieves have wanted with that? It had been painted when Stanton was about fourteen, in the woods at Harcourt Towers, for his mother's fortieth birthday. Jemima had ridden her pony up the grassy mound that stood in the middle of the clearing, under the old stone, and the sun had been shining from behind her head, her hair an aureole. It wasn't even a very good painting.

A LETTER ARRIVED later that evening, from the Royal Chamberlain's Office.

Hmm, and he was supposed to be meeting with Captain Greene again that same day. Could the Watch really have influence over the bestowal of titles, as Greene had hinted {even supposing, vain as he was, that that was what it was about}? Yes, almost certainly. Perhaps he should see Greene first. Or would that be tempting the Plot?

THE FOLLOWING DAY Stanton himself set off on a series of errands. He noted the same woman as yesterday start to follow him, but he was easily able to giver her the slip in the arcaded booths of the silk market. Really, Captain Greene seemed to have little respect for him, if that was the best his agents could do.

Thinking of his imminent visit to Harcourt Towers, Stanton took the opportunity to pick up a charming watered silk headscarf, peacock blue, which would make a fine present for Jemima. Although the Dramaturge knew she was in no need of such fripperies, it always cheered her up to know that he had been thoughtful of her. And - why not? - a black silk rose for Toma, a token of thanks for her help so far. Although he would be sorely tempted to withhold it, were she not rather more forthcoming than previously.

He had instructed her to be at the big fountain in the Rose Garden, below the Legacy Palace, and was pleased to see her slender, dark form perched expectantly on one of the marble benches around it, looking rather incongruous among the frolicking children and dogs. Still, this was a good meeting-place, because it overlooked all its approaches while providing sufficient cover to remain unseen oneself. And the play of the water would cover their voices.

Toma's narrow face was as animated as ever, her eyes enlarged with kohl and glowing darkly. 'Stanton. What news?'

'You know a Captain Greene, of the City Watch? He's onto you, Toma - knows you were in Union Square that night.'

She bit her lip. 'Greene, eh? He's good. What did you tell him?' She looked sharply up at Stanton.

'Nothing - I don't know anything to tell! He asked where you went, so I guess that he doesn't know about the sewer.'

'The Owls' Tree, we call it. We hide under the Owls' Tree.' She seemed pensive, probably considering what could be done about the egregious Greene.

Stanton took her hand up in his. 'Look, Toma, I think it's time you told me the whole story. I've put my life at risk for you people, and my friends have been hurt! You can't just keep me in the dark!'

A sigh. 'It was your brother's wish, Stanton... very well, I suppose the time's now come. The fact is, your brother's been an enemy of Kirkland and the Cabal since the King's illness came on.'

'That's fifteen years! He wasn't more than a lad!'

'But very idealistic. When your parents had died, and he took over the estates - you were off exploring somewhere, I suppose - he found Kirkland had his claws into your father over something. Some sort of blackmail, I think.'

'My father?' The thought of that stern, upright man giving anyone grounds for blackmail staggered Stanton.

'I don't know the details, you'll have to ask Rory yourself!'

'So he is alive?'

'Yes, of course he is. He had to fake his death once Kirkland knew he was onto him. He's hiding in Bodger's Forest with a bunch of wood-woses - banditti and the like, not very choice company! In the meantime he contacted us -'

'Who's "us"?'

She frowned impatiently. 'My people, the Mystic Rose people. We operate in the city, and we're enemies of Kirkland too. We don't like his influence over the King any more than your brother Rory does. So, we were cooperating with him... and then Kirkland decided to drag you into the picture, hoping you'd lead him to Rory. That's why your house was burgled, I suppose. So I turned up to warn you off, to go back to the country - but you wouldn't have it, would you, had to play the hero!' She smiled, with some affection, Stanton thought. His heart lightened somewhat. Dramaturge knew the truth was frightening enough - that his brother had set himself up against the most powerful man in the kingdom - but at least it was better to know than to be kept in the dark.

'Probably the best thing you can do now, Stanton, is to return to the country and try and meet with your brother. We've got our own fight here, which you're not part of - although Greene'll probably try to make you part of it!'

'What is your fight?' Stanton was intrigued.

'No - this is "need to know" only! I've told you about your brother's end of things, but I'm not going to tell you enough to get us into trouble!'


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