Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times
CHAPTER ONE The Sorcerer Ever Watchful
WHEN LORCAN WALKED, He did so deliberately, slowly, as if to gauge just how deeply his fine shoes sank into the mud.
Mostly, he preferred to sit. Sitting was for those in command, walking for the commanded. It wasn’t often that he walked, but when told to, he went.
For there was only one who could give such orders, and to refuse her would be unthinkable. Unforgivable.
Right now, he was walking, not far, though far was relative. He was a long way from home and wished to be back, but the Lady wanted a boy, a son, and the Lady got her every wish.
Hard as he’d tried to delay, the inevitable time had
come. That blasted doctor’s experiments to find another solution had all failed. The cats and birds and butterflies he’d fetched to please her had grown tiresome and been set free from the palace to run rampant outside. And so Lorcan carved his way through busy streets in the wrong place, so familiar and yet so strange.
Small metal things jangled in his pockets with every step, making his long fingers twitch with desire to stop them. Instead, he stroked his mustache and watched the people rushing past. They paid him little notice on their way to and from the trains. If they marked him at all, it was for the strangeness of his dark glasses, but it was bright here, lurid and blinding with its electric lights. Billows of steam dropped soot on traveling clothes and this, at least, eased his longing to be back in his own land.
Soon, very soon. A whistle blew, high, screeching, so like a frightened birdcall that his fingers jerked toward his pocket again. This time he let them, just to check, and they caught on a half-dozen sharp edges.
Yes, still there.
Lorcan drew out a smooth, heavy golden watch on a long chain as he stopped in the middle of the station, pretending it was what he’d meant to do all along. “Patience,” whispered the filigreed hands. Not this one, but the next.
It would be so very simple. The plan was in place, and
the Lady would be pleased, pleased with Lorcan for a job well done.
Perhaps she would smile. It had been some time since she’d truly smiled, yet longer since Lorcan had been brought to her by the one who came before him, just as he’d do with the boy. The man who’d taken him was dead now, rotted to dust. Lorcan could not remember his name.
He’d been young then, and happy as boys should be. But he had aged, aged so he could be her son no more, and with every minute spent on this side of the door he grew older still.
Oh, how he wished to be home. Home, where he’d lived thousands of days and no longer aged a single one.
He felt, once again, for his pocket.
The train withdrew from the platform with a new set of passengers, headed north to where the sky was cold, stars frozen behind a shield of clouds.
“Five minutes,” teased the timepiece. Soon, yes, he could return, back to the land of comforting things. A home where he was powerful, for he had scant power here. The Lady would be amused by her new child, and the fleets needed his attention. It was unlikely they’d fallen into disrepair in his absence, but war rumbled across the ocean like thunder before a storm. The colonies wished to govern themselves and would soon need a reminder that there was only one
Empire and only one Lady to rule it. There, the objects in his pockets would settle once again into their safe, hidden place. He disliked carrying them and did so only out of fear.
A new wave of people brushed past, tickets clutched in their hands. It was easy to tell the ones who made regular journeys by their surefooted trots to the correct platforms, papers tucked under their arms, corners of leather satchels worn from use. Others were tentative, slow as they read their tickets over and over, or else looked to the uniformed station inspector for help. This, he gave, pointing meaty arms in the right direction, brass buttons gleaming and strained on his chest. His eye caught Lorcan’s and he smiled affably, seemingly assuming Lorcan was waiting to greet someone off the two-seventeen.
Which was true, in its way.
He heard it before he saw it, the chug-chug of the engine. If there’d been a normal heart in his chest, it would have changed to match the pace exactly, but he did not have a normal heart. Here, it could be said, he barely had a thing that could be termed a heart, simply a dead, useless lump in its place.
The train crawled into view, slowly swallowing the tracks as if it were tired and hungry from its long journey and, after it had eaten, could rest with its black nose nudged up to the
end of the platform. It gave a great, wheezy sigh, steam filling the station as the doors clanked open. Ghostly shapes of gentlemen helped ladies step down without turning an ankle.
He moved closer.
“Hurry up, Jack,” said a woman.
Lorcan cared nothing for what this would do to the woman, who was a fool. Sending her son away to school, fetching him only for holidays that interfered with the lavish parties she threw for trivial reasons.
Not like the Lady, who would keep the boy Jack close, spoiling him with love and trinkets and cake, for all children enjoy cake.
It was inconvenient to do it this way, but Lorcan’s feet had sunk into the mud outside the high walls of the school, toes curled in frustration that there was no way to lure the boy out. No way to tell him he would be taken to a better place, to the Lady, to be the next son of the Empire of Clouds. And this way did have some benefits.
There he was.
Jack looked like the Lady, the same dark hair and eyes, the same smooth skin, though his had a smattering of freckles across the nose, which Lorcan knew would delight her. He was slightly short for his age, but healthy otherwise, a robust pinkness to his cheeks. Suit creased in
the way of all young boys, the tail of a black- and blue-striped tie peeking from his satchel, the toes of his shoes shined to mirror-glass.
A perfect choice, and Lorcan had put in too much effort to stop now. Months, it had taken him. Months of watching, deciding, waiting, and the time he had been given was nearly up.
If Lorcan was reduced to parlor tricks and a few well-placed lies to obtain him, so be it. It was a small sacrifice, and there was none too large to please the Lady.
“Stay here while I see to your things and arrange for a hansom. Your father needed Wilson and the carriage today,” said the fool, her elegant green dress fluttering as she left him—left him!—alone. Lorcan smiled, holding his breath until she was arranging for a porter to carry those possessions the boy felt he couldn’t do without for a short time.
Well, those could be replaced. He wouldn’t need them, in any case, not where he was going.
Lorcan’s hands twitched again. Tempting, so tempting, simply to grab the boy and run, but he had not gotten this far without patience. There was always the chance he would be caught, however small, and were that to happen, he would never make it home to the Lady.
Anything for the Lady. Nothing and nobody mattered more.
He gritted his teeth. He must do this; he had no choice.
The fool returned. She and Jack followed a trolley containing two small trunks, pushed by a uniformed man thin as a fiend. Lorcan let them get ahead, but not too far.
No, not too far.
He watched them climb into a cab, the fool’s nose wrinkled, the boy’s eyes alight with this rare adventure. The driver snapped the reins against a scrubby nag, which whinnied and snorted before pulling away.
A distasteful mode of transport, to be sure, but it could not be avoided. Lorcan hailed one of his own, giving an address in Mayfair he’d known for some time now.
The great clock tower at Westminster boomed across the city, marking the half hour. Lorcan jumped. It shouldn’t—Then he remembered.
It was a beautiful tower, brown stone and iron, an enormous, lovely clock. They had a name for the bell here. Big Ben, they called it. Ridiculous. He’d stolen every detail of the tower except that one.
He patted his pockets again, leaned back against the filthy cushions, and smiled.
Oh, the Lady would be so pleased.