It was his second day at the Duke’s court.
The first had been the formal presentation, and he was one of many. The new Magus had been installed six weeks before, and every major faction on this world (and at least three others) now sent ambassadors to swear allegiance, reaffirm treaties, or just see what this new prince looked like.
He fell primarily into this last category.
“The problem with the Mogens,” his Kyrios, James, had told him, “is that you never know what you’re going to get. You’ve heard the stories about Beorn, of course. I wish I could say they were exaggerations, but you probably haven’t even heard the half of it.” James shook his head. “The last of his bastards haven’t even been born yet.” He sipped brandy from his snifter.
God, what an arrogant prig, Casmin thought. He kept his face carefully neutral as James continued.
“Søren wasn’t bad, but Hakon before him was a raving lunatic. The good news is that Dag is said to take after his mother. But we never really know until they’re in, do we. That’s why we’re sending you, for now. You’ll meet with him, and go over a few noncontroversial points. We’ll send a permanent appointee in six months.”
In other words, Casmin realized, he was valuable and trusted enough to send, but disposable enough to be the initial visitor, with someone more senior sent when they were sure it was safe.
So here he was, waiting. The receiving room was beautiful: there was a thick Persian carpet on the floor and the walls had been gilded, reflecting the light from the tall windows that lined the south facing wall
But what held his attention now, as he leaned against the doorframe, was the skinny kid playing at the large table that took up much of the room. He had a clockwork horse and carriage that, when wound up, ran around on a little track. The boy noticed his attention suddenly, and looked up. His eyes were huge and bright, and his grin was infectious. “Isn’t it amazing? It’s completely mechanical, no magic at all.”
“Where did you get that?” Casmin asked.
“One of the Germans brought it for me,” the boy said with a shrug.
He heard a soft laugh beside him. Casmin turned his head to see the new duke. Dag Mogen was tall, with sandy hair and a full beard that he kept neatly trimmed. He was wearing a dark blue velvet jacket with a high collar that matched the shade of eyes, which were full of warmth as he watched the boy.
“Do you have children?” he asked Casmin.
“Not yet,” he answered, then grimaced. The duke had been informal first, but he was supposed to be here in an official capacity. Which meant their first conversation shouldn’t have been a personal one. But when Dag raised inquiring eyebrows at him, he was left with little choice. “I’m getting married next month,” he said by way of explanation.
“Ah, congratulations then,” said the duke. “Your bride’s name?”
“Emma,” Casmin said, and he knew he was grinning, and for a moment he didn’t care. “Her name is Emma.”
Casmin was in a truly foul mood by the time he got home. The tracking spell had been a failure, which meant he was most likely dealing with a professional. Which, in turn, meant that his fears about who was behind the burglary were more than likely correct. No one that skilled would bother to steal cheap knick-knacks.
Then he reached his door and found his wards down for the second time in one day. He paused for a moment, calculating. He called fire and held it in his hand, condensing it into a tight ball, and pushed open the door.
On later reflection, he shouldn’t have been even a little surprised to see Rafe, sitting on his couch and looking tense and miserable. Shouldn’t have been, but it felt like a kick to the gut.
“I didn’t know,”Rafe said. His voice was low and quiet.
“My god, there really were only enough brains for three in your family,” Casmin said. The fire in his hand fell to the floor as a whisper of ashes.
“I didn’t know,” Rafe said again.
Casmin slammed the door behind him. He took a moment, gathering himself, before he said in a quiet voice, “You didn’t know it was me, but you had to know you were robbing a mage. What the hell were you thinking?”
“She didn’t give me much of a choice,” Rafe said.
Casmin forced himself to move slowly, think slowly, even while his head was full of a thousand gears, turning out calculations. Rafe, bless him, sat perfectly still.
“She,” Casmin repeated, landing on the one thing he was sure of.
Rafe nodded. “She found me at the King’s Head. She flashed her ink at me, and then she threatened the twins if I didn’t take the job.”
“She give you a name?” Casmin asked.
His fists tightened of their own accord. “She sent you for the Isis.”
Rafe nodded. “What is it?”
Casmin went to the shelf and picked it up. He tossed it to Rafe. “It’s a message.”
He frowned. “I don’t understand. It’s not valuable, and Wils said—”
“The statue wasn’t the message, Rafe. You were.” He was lying about that first part, but there was no way he was going to let the thief see how badly that hurt. “Now take it to her and get out.”
Rafe swallowed hard. “Casmin, I…”
“I know this wasn’t your fault,” he said. “I know you had no choice, and I know you’re doing what you can to fix it. But that doesn’t mean I want to look at you right now.” He opened the door and held it open until Rafe had gone, then allowed himself the small release of slamming it shut.
Casmin waited a few hours before he went to find her. He had hoped it would help him calm down; instead, his anger became a hard, cold thing in the pit of his stomach and between his shoulder blades.
He found her at home. Her home: not the one they had shared. That one he had sold after he left London. He honestly could not remember what he had done with the money. He hoped he had done something worthwhile with it — or, more accurately, he hoped he had given it to Dag and told him to do something worthwhile with it — but he suspected he couldn’t remember because it had been converted into various direct means of forgetting. This house was small, expensive, and tastefully decorated.
The maid let him in and showed him to the parlor. Emma was already there, sitting at a small desk and writing. She looked up and smiled brightly at him when he entered.
“Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise?”
“Save it,” Casmin said. “You’ve got my attention. What do you want?”
“Really, Andre,” she said, shaking her head. “What makes you think I want anything?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice it was missing? Or did you just think I was too stupid to figure out who took it?”
She pursed her lips and glared up at him. She finished the paragraph she was writing, set the pen down, and capped the inkwell. “I might ask you a similar question,” she said, standing. “Did you really think that we were so stupid that we wouldn’t notice what you were up to? I just did you a favor, Andre. You’re not half so clever as you think. The Brotherhood has let you keep the illusion of independence so far because it suited them. But that won’t last.”
“Really?” His voice was thick with sarcasm.
“There’s a storm rising, Andre. You know that. And you know you need to decide where your loyalties lie.” She stood in front of him now, and she leaned into him, resting her hands on his shoulders. “Come home, Andre. You’re still well thought of. I could speak to Arthur—”
Before she could even flinch, his hand was around her throat, and he thrust her roughly against the wall.
“I’ll tell you what you can do,” he growled into her ear. “You can crawl on your belly, like the bitch that you are, back to your master. And you can tell him that if he wants trouble with me, he’s welcome to it. But if he ever dares to go through my friends again, neither one of you will live through it.” She began to laugh, but it turned into a strangled cry as the sizzle of burning flesh filled the air. “You seem to have me confused with someone you used to know. Don’t make the mistake twice.” He released her, and she sagged against the wall, gripping her throat.
With that he stormed out before she could goad him into hating himself any more. It wasn’t the first time and, he suspected, it wouldn’t be the last.
He wandered into the King’s Head at seven that night. Rafe was sitting at the bar instead of in his usual booth, and he slid onto the stool next to him.
“I didn’t expect to see you here, Casmin,” Rafe said, frowning.
“Please, Rafe. We both just got fucked by the same whore. I think you can start calling me Andre.” Seeing the younger man’s shocked expression, he scowled. “Don’t look at me like that. She’s my wife. I can call her whatever I like.” He lit a cigarette and flagged down the bartender.
“Are you drunk?” Rafe asked.
“Not nearly as drunk as I’m going to be.”
Rafe gave him a long look before saying, “Fair enough. First round’s on me.”
Casmin nodded. “At least you managed to get paid for your part in this ménage.”
Rafe winced. “True, but you’ll be pleased to know I gave most of it to my girlfriend so she could leave me.”
Casmin laughed bitterly. “Merry Christmas.”