A Gram of Silence

I saw her eyes, just the once: when she pulled me from Father’s house, her blindfold had come undone.

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3. Our House (3)

Dawn was creeping through the windows by the time I got back to the lobby, but she was still standing outside James’ office, which meant that they were still not done. My lovely ironvine sandals were kicked under the couch, and the twenty-three half-opened boxes piled around the door stared me in the face and laughed.

Tomorrow – later today, more like – the deliveries will need to be put away, the rug steamed, the lobby restored to some semblance of cleanliness, the gold sent to the bank, deal with the morticians, the walk-ins, the three clients on the waiting list, the thirteen hundred on the waiting list of the waiting list, and the chronic shortage of tea.

The clock read four-thirty. Enough time for a doze.

‘Good night Lucia.’ I shuffled past her to the landing. She stood still and said nothing.

My room was on the second floor, opposite the archives. In the beginning it had nothing but a broken mirror and an ancient-looking baby’s cot, but James was generous with new furnishings, in his own way. Stainless steel was good for the lab, but as a bed it looked and slept terrible, as a cabinet it resembled an upright coffin, and as a lady’s dresser…

Having used the incinerator earlier meant hot water in the pipes, and the old tub was blessedly porcelain and nicely snug. The water was perfect, so perfect that I dozed off for a while. From the window came the pleasant chatter of morning birds, and whether it was they who gave me the nice dream I could not say, but their song did weave their way into…something pleasant.

I was in a treehouse – not a child’s plaything, but a proper house with golden rafters and windows that opened to the floor, all nestled in a great big willow tree with green branches gathered in the corners, dangling. How sweet it all smelled; the bark, the leaves, the bundles of dry lavender hanging above the kitchenette, everywhere the scent of the earth. How strange that I felt at peace here, when all my life I’ve lived in a city without green. Didn’t seem a safe idea to build a house in a willow – they swayed an awful lot, even though the wind was still for the moment – but I couldn’t bring myself to complain, for the sun was warm on my face, and the rafters filled with birdsong.

Someone was coming. I looked up from my soft rocking chair and saw him climb atop the rope ladder with a harness full of bottles and satchels and herbs. It wasn’t easy, having to carry all that stuff up and down twice a day, but his clients would rather we do the travelling than coming all the way out here. In fact, they refused to even know where we lived; they liked an alchemist who was mysterious, aloof, always at a distance yet easy to contact, professional, good-looking, and affordable. Too affordable. The money was nothing compared to what he was making before, but…but it was for the best, I think, since –

The knock at my door was a thunderbolt. The dream could only have lasted seconds yet when I opened my eyes the washroom was glowing yellow in thick hazy sun – almost noon.

‘Who…?’

James spoke quietly, his words muffled. ‘I need you. Get dressed.’

Words drooped out one at a time. ‘But…appointments…the Minister’s –’

‘I’m sure the Minister will be at the Lodge. Prepare the travel kit. We leave in thirty minutes.’ His heavy footsteps promptly went away, leaving no time for my questions. The Seneschal was shouting something from the street below, but loud as he was the walls of the House calmly swallowed his rage, leaving only an impotent annoyance.

I sat for a while in the tepid water, staring at the wall. All was quiet now, and warm. Not the bath. The bath was freezing. 

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