Tornmile: Part 23

Tornmile
Part XXIII: Lost & Found

Brielle sat by the window looking out over the city, her brow knitted in thought. Darian had gone out on urgent business shortly after their sword practice and had not yet returned. Konrad was with him and she had little reason to fear for his safety, yet she sat by the window watching for his return as if she had nothing better to do. She had tried doing other things: she had perused books in the library, but none had appealed to her; she had worked sword forms in the armoury; but her heart was not in it; she had tried to make herself useful but finding jobs to do around the house, but the servants had looked at her askance and hurried to take the job away from her. There was no job that they would allow her to do and in the end she gave up trying, returning to the window to look out.

The city sprawled away from the better sort of residences by the northern wall, down towards the Spire and the docks beyond. She could see the marketplace, dominated by the Spire’s great needle, and the throng of people – mostly refugees – that filled the space. From here they were like the sea – just a shifting mass of colour, changing but never retreating. She tried top pick out the inn – or the blackened timbers that remained – but she could not find it amongst the sprawl. She was unused to this view of the city and, besides, many streets were obscured by those beyond. She had written a letter for Léa, enclosing some money and explaining that the girl should look for other work, intending on taking it down into the city. She had been stopped from taking it by a stable boy, who had insisted on carrying the letter for her, and had refused to allow her to take it herself. He had pleaded with her to give him the letter, stressing that he might lose his position if he was seen to not take it. The effort of arguing with him had put her out of the mood of taking the letter, so she had relented and returned to the sitting room and the view of the city.

Her thoughts – already filled with irritation – turned to other sources of anger. Somewhere in the city, Ferrer still walked free, still operated his ‘protection’ business, and still hurt those who tried to stand up to him. She knew Darian was planning an offensive, but he had told her nothing about it. Stupid man! She would be useful to his plans; she knew the city well, certainly better than the noble who sat here on the hill with attendants for every desire. She imagined herself hurling these accusations at him, and then the feel of his skin against hers. No. I’m angry with him. His arms enclosed her, made her feel safe. His lips brushed her own. No!

In irritation, she leapt from the seat and paced the room, banishing thoughts of his eyes and lips from her mind. Fire ran through her veins and she kicked out at a chair that was in the path of her pacing. All it did was hurt her foot; the chair didn’t budge an inch. Hopping slightly, she moved to a different chair and sank into it, rubbing at her injury and giving the chair responsible a look that would have terrified it, had it been aware.

“I’ll have Darian make you into firewood,” she muttered, then cursed herself and scowled for thinking that she needed his help with that. It seemed that everything she did recently revolved around the man. He had saved her from Ferrer’s thugs, saved her from Ferrer himself, planned a war for her, and all her needs were met by his servants. Now he wasn’t around and she missed him. The thought irritated her, though she knew it was true.

“I hope you’re suffering as much as I am, or I swear I’ll…”

She cut off. What would she do? She didn’t know, but she would think of something. By the Emperor of Heaven, she would.

The door opened and she turned her scowl to a smile, but it was only Karin, one of the serving maids. She wore the hawk sigil of Darian’s father embroidered on the front of her dress, and carried a tray with tea things on it.

“I wondered if you’d like tea, my lady?” she said, her Stammish accent changing the words, so that Brielle had to listen hard to understand her.

“I’m not a lady,” she said, “but tea would be lovely, thank you.”

Karin looked at the tray in her hand at the correction, though she only hesitated for a moment before she moved across to the table and placed the tray down. As she poured the tea, Brielle crossed from the window, her spirits lifted by the smell of the dark liquid as it flowed into a cup. Several cups were laid out on the tray, and as Brielle took her tea, she asked if any of the other members of the household were at home.

“Only the Lord Astur, my la-. Only the Lord Astur, but his is busy with matters of state. I will take him some refreshment later.”

“I haven’t seen him since I came here. Is he always so busy?”

“He is very busy much of the time, but all the more so since the murder of Lord Minham.”

“The regent? He’s dead?”

“Yes, my lady. A few nights ago. They say it was his servant that killed him.”

Brielle looked out of the window towards the Spire. She had remembered Minham taking power on the council from the gossip in the inn. People liked him; he was greatly respected even amongst the lower orders. He had also been a good strategist, a good general, and a fine swordsman. She wondered what other changes she had missed in the last few days; everything since the fire had seemed a blur.

“Will that be all, my lady?” Karin asked, standing by the opposite chair. Too wrapped in her own thoughts to correct the girl, Brielle waved her away, only realising what she had done when the door closed quietly behind her. To have dismissed someone with a wave of the hand like a high born lady. She was angry with herself. Truth to tell, she was angry with the girl for going along with it, for taking her orders, for calling her ‘my lady’. Brielle put the cup down; she should be making her own tea, not having serving girls bring it to her. Was this what life would be like while she was around Darian? Perhaps she should leave, before she became too used to it. No. She couldn’t. She had to stay for the war, have her revenge and the previous night had proven that she couldn’t do that by herself. She needed Darian’s help.

And she didn’t want to leave him yet. That was irritating to admit, however much it filled her thoughts. She couldn’t wake away from him. Moving back to the window, she peered down to the street that ran up to the house, hoping to see Darian’s curricle rolling towards her. It was not there.

There were three figures there, however, walking slowly in the direction of the house. One was short, no more than a child, and behind him was a girl with brown hair and a man who was looking down at the ground. The girl appeared to be in conversation with the boy, but from this vantage point Brielle could not see who they were. Then, the boy pointed to the house and the girl looked up, almost directly at the window. Léa. It was very definitely her. The boy would be the stable boy she had sent with the letter, but why would he have brought her back with him and who was the man she was with?

Finding a shawl to wrap around her shoulders, and pulling the fencing boots on over her stockinged feet, Brielle hurried from the room and down the stairs. She rushed along the corridors and into the entrance hall, hurrying down the central staircase towards the front door. She nearly collided with a servant with light grey hair whose name she didn’t know. He frowned at her until he saw her properly, and then he stood aside and waited for her to pass. She opened the door and stepped out.

“Léa, what are you doing here?” she asked, as the brown haired girl reached the shadow of the house.

“Looking for you,” she said, “this boy brought me a letter from you. We thought you were dead.”

“We?”

“Me and your father, of course.”

Brielle realised who the man with the bowed head was. She ran forwards, lifting his chin and her father’s eyes met her own. His were watery and bloodshot, but there was more life in them than she had seen in a long time.

“Brielle,” he said, “is that you?”

“It’s me,” she said, her own eyes watery now. It had been an age since he had addressed her by her name.

“Oh, my Brielle, I’m sorry. I thought you were dead. The inn was gone; a smoking ruin. I thought you had gone with it, gone to be with your mother and brother.”

“I found him in the middle of the inn – what was left of it anyway,” Léa said, “just sat there on the floor amongst the ash.”

“And you took him in?”

“I couldn’t just leave him, could I? Mama was all right with it when she knew who he was. He sat by the fire for most of the time, saying nothing, just staring into the flames. Then the boy came with your letter and we had to come.”

Brielle flung herself at the brown haired girl, nearly knocking her to the floor, smothering her in an intense hug.

“Thank you, Léa. Thank you for my father.”

“I just found him,” the girl said in puzzlement when Brielle had relinquished her hold, “it was Mama that kept him from the drink. She wouldn’t let him have a drop, not that he ever asked.”

“I didn’t want any. I thought I’d lost you like I lost Caiden,” he said, grabbing Brielle’s arm, “like I lost your mother. I spent so long grieving for them; I should have been helping you, loving you. Forgive me.”

“I forgive you.”

She pulled him into a long hug, enjoying the smell of clean linen on him, rather than the haze of drink that had clung to him before.

“Come inside, the both of you. There’s fresh tea.”

“I ought to get back to Mama really,” Léa began, but she was cut off by the sound of approaching hooves. Darian’s curricle was coming towards them at a slow trot and he sat holding the reins, a wide smile on his face. He jumped down and handed the reins to the boy.

“Now then, Mattew, how are you?” he asked, placing a coin in the boy’s palm, “is your mother recovering well?”

“She’s much better, thank you, my lord,” Mattew said, taking the reins and pocketing the coins with a wide grin.

“Good,” Darian said, “Give her my best wishes, won’t you?”

“I will, my lord. Thank you.”

The boy started to lead the horses off to the stable and Darian watched him with concern on his face until the curricle had disappeared from view. Then he turned to the rest of them, a small frown appearing at his brow as his eyes reached Brielle’s tear streaked face. She smiled at him.

“Darian, this is my father and Léa. Léa used to work for me at the inn; she found my father and took him in.”

“Konrad won’t be pleased,” Darian said, smiling, “he’s been searching high and low and he hates it when others do his job for him. But we owe you a great deal, Léa.”

He offered her his hand, which she took eagerly, flicking her long hair over her shoulders and thrusting her chest forward. A broad smile lit up her face and she looked at him through her eyelashes. Brielle tried to stop herself from scowling, and failed.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, my lord,” she said, emphasising the word ‘pleasure’, which caused Brielle’s scowl to deepen.

“The pleasure’s mine,” he said, and Brielle hoped that it was merely politeness.

Once Léa had broken away from Darian, he turned to Brielle’s father and shook him by the hand as well.

“I’m pleased to find you safe and sound, sir,” he said, “we’ve been looking everywhere for you. But let’s talk more in the warmth of the house, where it’s more comfortable.”

He started off for the house, Léa giving Brielle a mischievous smile and then hurrying to catch up with him. Taking her father’s arm, Brielle followed, but she looked daggers at Léa’s back and the way she was swinging her hips. Hands off, girl. He’s mine.

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