Chapter Four (part I)

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Eddie said we
better never
pet him, get him
bread, or bed, or
baleful gasts'll
march the March til
fires burn, pyres turn
bones black, stones crack,
hearts rend, and then,
spears high, tears dry,
they'll sing '
The King'
and mourn our dead.

(author unknown, The Northerns)

.:.

I almost ran.

I stood behind Mr. Woolsey -- Mr. E.W.! -- on the Ministry's stoop, fighting the urge to dash away and never once look back again.

I followed him through his plain little office, nodding whenever he pointed at something, thinking how easily I could still bolt for the door -- it was only five steps, only ten steps, only twelve...

I walked back to The Duke's Bed to collect my very meager possessions, absolutely certain I would stay there.

And I crawled into my new bed that night, in a frigid little room off 12 Greengeld's kitchen, imagining how I could creep out of the house ever so quietly. I could ask Bram to take me to Oakhurst, or wait and ask Frederick to take me away to Belrad, forever. I could pitch the jewel case in the river, papers and all, and simply be rid of it -- the whole business. Done. That was a very tempting thought. I considered that thought very many times that night.

But I knew, in my bones, if I ran now, I would always be running... I would always be afraid... Indeed, I would be choosing fear over truth.

And so, I rose in the dim light before dawn, lit fires and fetched water and boiled groats, telling myself all the while that I had been handed means and opportunity to learn about my father, and that my only duty, to myself, was to get the task done with, at last. I convinced myself of this much easily. The real trouble was how to go about it.

There was no question of speaking to Mr. Woolsey directly. My heart still urged me to run; I could not have brought myself to turn and poke fear in the face even if I thought it the prudent thing -- which I most fervently did not, for so many reasons. I had no doubt the most prudent thing was to run. The next most prudent thing was to be Aethelbryne Shaw and pretend I didn't know there was any such person as Freeman Brand or Darlene Roberts.

I reckoned I should have to enlist Miss Goodwin as my agent, after all -- assuming she'd still agree to it. She could tease out Mr. E.W's interest in my father, and in the meantime, perhaps I could snoop a bit here, pry a bit there... Try to learn something more than mere Let It Be Knowns...

I began my snooping and prying in my room. I could not very well go about my work with all my secrets strapped round my hips, so while the groats boiled, I searched the cold little room's every nook and cranny for a hiding spot. Alas, there were none. In the end, I stuffed the jewel case deep into the mattress with a sigh and a prayer to the Allfather.

By then, the hearth fire in the kitchen had matured into a steady blaze, bright and deliciously hot. I put on a great iron kettle and picked up rags and a broom, though I longed to just stand there and warm my bones.

I dusted and swept Mr. Woolsey's office, working quickly as I could. One thing Mr. Woolsey had made very clear was that I was to limit my intrusions into his office during business hours. I reckoned this might make it a bit hard to clean the rest of the house, but, thankfully, the house was a small one. The first storey was mostly the office and the kitchen, with my little room wedged into one corner by the kitchen door. The second storey had only Mr. Woolsey's bedroom and a study or some such adjoining it -- or so I assumed. Mr. Woolsey hadn't actually shown me the other room.

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