Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers (4 page)

BOOK: Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers
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4. Miss Holt Finds the Pattern

“Agamemnon, I had the most delightful lunch with Captain Beresford. I’m all aflutter! How long is he staying?” Theodora had thrown open the door to the library and came to an abrupt stop. A line formed on her brow. “Why have you covered your room with bunting?”

A smile tugged at Mason’s mouth. He stood to the right of the door, the wooden dado rail pressing against the base of his spine. With all the chairs, small tables and lamps pushed back to the walls as far as they could go, Frost had left little room for anyone else.

The library was laced with string, pinned to the walls, fastened to the unlit gasolier, caught on the ornate frames of paintings and the backs of chairs. Clipped to the looping bows of string were newspapers. The broadsheets from the less scurrilous local newspapers fluttered beside the dramatic illustrations of the
News.
The scent of paper and ink hung heavy in the air.

Mason straightened. “It’s one of his experiments, Miss Theodora.”

Her face brightened with a smile, her dark eyes shining. “One of his puzzles? I
love
puzzles.”

“Theodora.” Frost emerged from the forest of papers, rolling down his shirt sleeves. He pinned his cuffs with sapphire solitaires and Mason offered him his coat. “Where’s Mrs. Forsythe?”

The young woman grinned and she leaned towards Frost. Her voice dropped to a soft whisper. “I believe the cook sergeant—I forget his name—and Mrs. Forsythe have an
understanding.
” She waved her fingers. “You can feel the energy swirling between them, fast and slick, almost as strongly as you and Mason there—”

“Theodora.” Frost’s voice was quick but sure. “We’ve discussed this.”

“I can have unladylike thoughts, but not an unladylike mouth.” Her fast-moving fingers jerked to the lines of newspapers. “What are these for?”

Mason let out the tight breath constricting his chest. Her observations, her ability to distil what she saw around her and blurt it out, was the reason Theodora could not yet leave the Hall.

“Are they another Valentine’s puzzle for me?”

Frost paused. Mason could almost feel the workings of his brain as he fought within himself. Theodora could see patterns. Faster than him. Possibly even faster than Frost himself. But letting the damaged young woman open her mind to her full potential was a risk. As Pandarus lurked in the back of Mason’s mind, there was a darkness still in Theodora. Her
kardax
self.

It was why Frost had requisitioned an Armstrong-Swan cage in which to contain her, in the event that her darkness overcame her thoughts. The contraption sat silent in the small cold room beside his laboratory.

Yet...Menelaus, his wife, his whole staff could be moving around the city. They no longer had time for niceties.

“A puzzle. Yes.” Frost took her hand and pressed a light kiss to her knuckles. Theodora blushed. “Something is hidden in these pages. Something curious.”

“I like curious.”

Frost’s smile was warm and indulgent. “I know.” He stepped back and slid his hands into his pockets. “So...”

Theodora approached the first line of newspapers, her fingers working, flicking against her palms in a hurried rhythm, her eyes too bright. “Predominately local newspapers. A smattering of ones from London.
The Police Illustrated News
, Agamemnon? Simply a rag at its finest hour.”

Mason shot a glance to Frost as the man stood beside him against the wall. Theodora was changing already, as her mind pushed forward with the problem. But Frost’s face was impassive, his gaze focused on the woman whose index finger chased down one tightly printed column after another. Her lips moved, too quick to read.

“Is this wise?” Mason’s voice was a hoarse whisper as he leaned in to Frost. His mouth edged too close to skin, to the curve of his ear and the warmed scent of Frost’s flesh. He swallowed, hating to think what energies Theodora would see if she turned around. He swallowed. “Sir.”

Frost’s chest lifted. In the long moment of silence, Mason didn’t know if the fierce thud of a heart was his or Frost’s.

However, when Frost finally spoke, his tone was carefully neutral. “If Menelaus is here...then how many automata, how many
kardax
would that give Pandarus? How many has he already drafted in?” He frowned. “We now know he can use us for all manner of things.”

“The Crown of Towers.”

“The Crown of Towers,” Frost agreed.

“Lord Dunstone, the Bishop of Oxford, what a strange little man.” Theodora gasped and bit her lip. She looked to Frost, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, but he met her indiscretion with a smile.

“The door is closed. It’s just us. You deserve a touch of freedom as you play.”

“He’s here, in the city, you know.” She flipped up a sheet of paper and ducked under it. “Such a circuitous route, via the Continent and Ireland, all simply to come here. The Great Western train out of Oxford would have had him here in so few hours. Or by ’ship, faster still.” The rustle of more newspaper followed. “He does have someone with him. A female. A nurse, but not his nurse, perhaps the nature of their relationship is something about which a lady should not speak.”

Frost stilled. Yes, there was the harder edge to Theodora’s mind now, the darkness that could take her evident. “One puzzle solved, Theodora. There are more.”

“What next, what next?” She hummed to herself as she moved between the rows of newspapers, the slip of her gown over the deep rug softening the crackle of the paper. “Agamemnon, you should consider divesting yourself of your interests in Australia.”

“Theodora.” Her name came out on a long sigh. Amused, long-suffering, but his expression, hidden from her by the papers, was anything but. Lines creased at the corner of his eyes. His hands formed obvious fists in his pockets. “Your puzzle is local.”

“What do we have that’s local...?” Theodora’s humming streamed into little snatches of song, her voice pure and true. “Moves within moves.” She tapped her fingers against numerous sheets, the rough little raps dropping and rising as she picked out different sections. “The police, so defensive, Liverpool Corporation needing to protect its interests and prevent the moral indignation of the rate payers. Here and here and here.” She flicked the newspapers, the sound quick and sharp. “Accidental deaths. So many burnings. Fires with no obvious cause. And the gangs, the Cornermen, the Steel Street Gang, the Regents.”

Theodora dropped to silence. Only her deepened breathing came from within the lines of newspapers. Mason’s stomach knotted, his instincts flaring. She was quiet and still. Theodora was never quiet and certainly never still.

“The slice of the knife, deep and quick, so quick they don’t have the chance to cry out. Simply choking, raw gasps, the bubble of blood. But not these special ones. Not them—”

“Theodora.” Frost hauled her from the mire of papers. He gripped her upper arms, but she showed no sign of pain, or that his actions were improper. “Remember what we talked about.”

White light burned in her eyes, and her lips had pulled into a sneer. “Best you can do,
thyreos?
” The use of Frost’s Martian title edged her closer to losing all of herself. She shrugged against his hold, a brief struggle, but Mason had witnessed the strength of the
kardax.
And that wasn’t it. Something of Theodora remained. “And our interminable talks, where you flirt and tease and I blush and giggle. Why would I want to remember those?”

“Our walks by the lake, the icy grass cracking under our boots. The cold scent of the air, almost clean, touched by the hints of frost and bark. Its emptiness unwound you. You felt at peace, Theodora.”

“Peace...” Her harsh tone mocked the word. Her delicate hands clenched into fists at her side. “I wasn’t built for
peace.

She was close to the edge, pushing beyond the hold Theodora had on the darkness within her, a darkness that would forever vein her thoughts. Frost’s hands were bloodless, his shoulders stiff, his spine straining to hold her.

The young woman bristled, blood rising to her cheeks now. “Let me go,
thyreos.
You betrayed your master. There is no greater crime than to fail him.” Her voice had a fierce bite to it now, her eyes glittering with a hard white light. The
kardax
was pushing to the fore, burying Theodora. “You are nothing. You think you’ve saved
her
, this child cowering at the back of
my
mind? You’re a fool. And it’ll be the greatest pleasure for me to watch my master flay your hide.”

She wet her lips. “A thousand little cuts, each one more excruciating than the last.” Her chest lifted and Mason could almost hear the wild drum of her heart. “Until you’re screaming—”

“Where would you do this? Where would you take me?”

“The hollowed hall. An honour you do not deserve—”

“Where—?”

Theodora lashed out, a scream ripping from her. Her hands and feet were a kicking and punching blur, raining down on Frost. He met her, blow for blow, until his foot caught her full skirt, pulling her off balance. Mason leapt and pinned her to the floor. Frost jabbed a needle into her neck, yellow fluid hissing under her skin.

Theodora slumped suddenly, all fight gone from her. She lay limp like a boneless doll but Mason didn’t relax his grip. He couldn’t trust her. It would be easy to fake a reaction to whatever concoction Frost had pushed into her blood. A
kardax
wasn’t stupid.

“Mason.” Frost wiped the sweat and blood from his face. He pressed two fingers to the pulse in her neck. “She’s unconscious.”

“You’re sure?”

“There was enough in that needle to take down several elephants and a stray rhinoceros. Still.” He climbed to his feet and offered his hand to Mason. “We should move her to the cellars quickly.”

Frost swung her slight body up into his arms. The last time he’d held her slumped form, they’d thought her dead, thought Pandarus’s grip on her was as broken as her body. They’d known nothing then. Nothing of how the darkness could dig in, or how Pandarus could use their bodies for his own purposes.

Frost led the way down into the cellars, ignoring the gaping of the artillery men gathered at the entrance to their temporary barracks. Mason hurried to open doors, the metal of Frost’s laboratory door grinding against the floor as he shoved it back.

Frost nodded to a key on a hook beside his workbench, and Mason opened the only other door in the room. Milky-blue light deepened in its glow and threw blurred shadows around the large metal Armstrong-Swan cage that filled the cellar room. Copper wire wove around the latticework of its steel walls, a prison and the only invention that could contain the transfigured.

“The door, Mason.” Frost jerked his chin to the heavy bolt securing the cage.

A thin cushion covered the base of the cage and Frost laid her gently on it. He brushed a loose curl of her dark hair from her face. “I’m sorry, Theodora. But it had to be done.” He pushed out a long breath and stood. Closing the cage and bolting it, his palm delayed on the heavy mechanism and he let his head touch the metal latticework. “I have to risk leaving her.”

“Sir?” Mason was aware of senior men hovering at the laboratory doorway. He ached to offer something, some comfort to Frost through the slightest of touches...even as it would hurt him. “What’s our mission?”

“Captain Beresford.” Frost straightened and the tense line of his shoulders spoke of his suppressing his concern. “I have a job for you.”

A tall athletic man in the blue uniform and scarlet facing that marked him as an artilleryman stepped forward and gave a smart salute. His light gaze slipped to the supine form of Theodora and a tic jumped in his jaw. “What have you done?”

“Miss Holt has relapsed.”


Relapsed?
” Colour burned in his cheeks, and his gloved hand balled. “That is hardly a relapse, sir. Not more than half an hour ago, she was a bright and happy young lady. I demand to know what has happened here!”

“Captain, we could argue here. We could even come to blows. I would break several of your bones.” Frost’s head tilted. “We could perhaps even decide which ones now? For convenience.”

A vein jumped in Captain Beresford’s temple and his jaw was clenched. “You go too far, sir.”

“You’d be surprised how often I hear that exact complaint.” Frost settled his shoulders, easing them, deliberately fighting the tension straining the small stone-walled room. “Captain.” He took the door key from Mason and offered it to the man. “This locks
that
door.” He tilted his chin and the captain stepped back into the laboratory. “This switch—” he flicked up the metal toggle, and the spark and hiss of electricity crackled through the wires buried in the wall, “—controls the cage.”

Metal stink burned in the air. Mason stepped back from the cage, the electricity writhing around the solid frame.

The captain’s face was tight, bleak. He wanted to argue that it was unnecessary treatment of a young woman. That anger was there in the flare of his nostrils, in the bead of sweat edging his brow, but he couldn’t dispute it. He formed a part of the unit defending Station X. There were
kardax
and enemy automata imprisoned there. And he knew the danger they represented.

He took the key from Frost, his gloved hand folding tight around it. “What do you expect of me?”

“You will lock this door and watch her from here.” Frost found the control that fired up the metal screen. The Armstrong-Swan cage stood out in grey relief against the steel of the screen. “And you are not to open that door, no matter what she says.” Frost’s lips briefly pursed. “She will lie to you, Captain. The
kardax
holding her thoughts will say anything to make you turn off the power to the cage. The true Theodora will not fight her imprisonment. Understand that.”

Captain Beresford gave a curt nod. “How long will she have to remain there?”

“Until I return.” Frost strode towards the laboratory door. “Mason.”

“We’re leaving?”

Frost took to the stairs. Anger clipped his words. “I have no choice. Was that explosion truly meant for me? Even with the
aeolipile
we would have made it to Dyrford by the very skin of our teeth. Or was it Pandarus playing with our minds? Punishing us for not appearing in person?”

BOOK: Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers
12.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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