"Maybe Nocks is a thief. When Benedict figured it out, he chained him up. But before that he stole my necklace. And he's mentally unstable..." Henrietta told herself. "And Edward of course nearly let us die. Did. More or less."
She was pacing in her bedroom, looking in her mirror. Talking to herself looked mentally unstable by it self, but it allowed her to comb through her thoughts. And it looked more sane than Cythna, who talked to her armchair.
The pendant glinted on Henrietta's throat.
"It can't be a key... but then..." She drifted off. Dragon magic was powerful. Surely too powerful to waste on a simple protection charm.
Henrietta couldn't imagine her husband shackling anyone to their cellar. He could be calculating, of course, but so was noble life. But torture? Surely not.
She stood, rubbing her head in a vain attempt to fight off a coming headache that was the side-effect of confusion.
"There's only one thing to do to settle this whole nasty case. See Benedict." She said firmly.
By now it was night. She lit a candle, but it couldn't suppress dark thoughts.
Did I see the blood thirsty look in his eyes. When he stood over the dead man? She thought. Or was it fear? For his life, for me?
Henrietta rapped ont he door to his study. But instead of an answer, the door opened at the force of her knock.
Gas lamps lit the office dimly. No one was inside, save the painting of Lord Henry Wickes. Henrietta looked at the carpet, expecting blood-stains, but it was perfectly clean.
Like it had never happened.
Henrietta went in further, grimly avoiding the spot. She spotted a silver flash on the desk.
Unlike his wife, Benedict never used silver. Brass, gold, iron, all manner of alloys... but never silver. As Henrietta drew closer, she realized it was actually a photograph.
A photograph of her necklace.
She sank into the chair behind his desk.
I bet it's for the Temperors, so they can copy it. But... when would he have taken this? Henrietta's mind felt in a muddle. I have to figure something out.
Henrietta cautiously lifted the photograph. But she held it too delicately, and it fluttered down to the ground, lying face-down on the carpet. She bent s far as her corset would allow while sitting and blinked.
The single word was written neatly in Benedict's handwriting on the back of the photograph.
Nocks had called her necklace a key.
Pounding lump in her throat, she replaced it on the desk next to a stack of post. And of course, the envelope on top was labeled 'Key'. Curiosity, bewilderment, and horror made her grab the letter and slit the envelope open.
And she began to read.
Lord Tael, rather the late Lord Tael, has been properly tended to.
I expect payment in a fortnight. One tempered imp and 470 desks, as agreed.
Have a fine ball.
Henrietta's breath was shallow.
Maybe a wrong address. Somehow. She thought frantically. She fumbled with the letter below it, one written on Benedict's paper, in his writing.
Payment will be sent within forty eight hours. We had an incident with Nocks, so do not be surprised if it is sent by a different messenger.
I have a request of more guards. My last failed me and could have gotten Hettie killed.
Thank you for your service.
The mention of 'Hettie' normally would have warmed her heart. But all Henrietta felt was horror.
Frantically, she rifled through more letters, memos, notes, journal entires and account books. A small part of her felt guilty for meddling, but it was animalcule infraction compared to the hundreds of evils the papers attested to. It was like every time her husband stepped into this room, he was replaced with a monster.
Henrietta eventually dropped an account book and began to sob. Benedict had cheated, lied, stolen and finally arranged a death.
I'm married to a monster. She thought. A villain.
Finally, the distraught girl stood, replacing the book with shivering hands. She looked in a brass plate on the bookshelf. One side of her face was bruised from her tumble down the cellar and her eyes were swollen with crying. Her skirts were dirtied and stained from the filth on the cellar floor. Her hair was ragged and mussed.
"You are no lady." She whispered, touching her reflection. Then the face hardened.
I don't want to be a lady. Not if it means this.
* * * * *
"My lady! What'sa happened to yer face'n?" Geneve gasped.
"I fell down the cellar stairs." She said, oddly removed. "Did you know that we had a cellar, Geneve?"
"No, ma'am." Said the maid, looking confused.
"Neither did I."
Geneve helped Henrietta into an evening gown. It was a striking scarlet, reminding her of the skirt hem that had never washed out. It was Benedict's favorite color.
Now she knew why.
She put on a bit of face-paint to cover the bruise and went into the hall.
Voices were coming from downstairs. Henrietta moved to the railing, peering down the staircase.
"-ank you for coming, Tarl. I've been needing a Temperor." Benedict said. Henrietta's stomach clenched. Tarl.
"Of course, my lord." The voice was noble, laced with a Crease accent. "The key, I suppose?"
"Protection charm." Benedict corrected smoothly. "Henrietta will be down any moment."
"Quite true." Henrietta said cooly, stepping down the staircase.
"Lady Wickes." Tarl bowed at the waist. "I've heard much of you."
"And much of you, Tarl." A lie.
"You have met Tarl?" Benedict asked, tilting his head with curiosity.
Henrietta looked at her husband. He looked dignified, yet almost boyish. That's part of what attracted her to him. But now she saw blood, desks, and villainy. Not love.
"I've heard plenty about him." She answered. Tarl scowled slightly, and Benedict frowned.
"Do you feel well, love?" He asked, looking up at her. Concern was in his eyes. How could so ruthless a man be so... loving?
"No." It came out clipped. The verbal equivalence of a Queen's Stare.
"I... ah..." Benedict didn't seem certain where to go from there.
"I will wait outside, my lord." Carl said, slipping out the door. Henrietta's eyes never left Benedict's face.
"Whatever is the matter Hettie?" He asked once the door clicked shut.
She dropped a few more steps. "How?" She asked. Her voice cracked.
"How... what?" His eyes slid down to her throat. "How?" He whispered, echoing her confusion.
"How could you abuse Edward? Lie about the 'Key'?" She demanded. "You ordered the sabotage of Nark's mechanics, the the fire in the northern Crease district, Lord Tael's death."
Benedict's eyes were wide.
"The cellar door was unlocked." He said slowly. "I left my letters on the desk."
"And you were just using me as a thirty-hour protection for your key, whatever that means." Her voice was loud, and a tear streaked down her cheek.
"Oh, Hettie." Benedict said softly. "I would never use you."
"You neve reminded using Nocks! As a messenger and spy, from what I read. When he found out too much, you considered him a failure. So you chained him in the cellar."
"Because he almost failed to keep you safe!"
"You're a villian!" She hissed, now face-to-face, teeth gritted.
Benedict froze. His eyes showed pain.