Sioned trudged through the streets towards the upper city. Again and again the scene played over in her mind. Esmond on the ground. Esmond barely breathing. Esmond dying in her arms. And then she would tell herself it was a pattern walk, that’s all, it doesn’t mean this has happened.
Somehow, without even realising it had occurred, Esmond was now a very important part of her life. Would she mourn if it was any one of her friends in a similar situation. Yes, she would. She would be devastated if any of them died in her arms. Did thoughts of them dying in such a way almost prompt her to irrational behaviours? Not as far as she could tell. She could think of two people, her father and Lara. Thoughts of them needing her and dying because she wasn’t there frightened her.
But the Pattern had picked neither of them. It had picked Esmond.
He had died in her arms and her heart had broken. She had wept and the thought of a future without him had proven a worse fear than one without her father or her best friend. In that one moment she would have given anything to save him. And that was a very dangerous thought.
“Gods damn it, it was just a Pattern walk, girl. Get a fucking hold of yourself.” She verbally chastised herself.
The sun had crested the horizon, and while most of the city was still in shadow, the light was creeping slowly through. The night had been hard and eventful.
She heard a ruckus a few streets away, and after first ignoring it, being intent of reaching Oliver and then riding for Arden; she instead stopped, shook herself sensible and went to see what the furore was.
Two streets away a group of Purple Legion soldiers were clearing a house. In the street stood a man and his son, pleading with a guardsman. The doorway of the house was barred by a stocky woman with corn coloured hair carrying a frying pan each hand and the devil in her gaze.
Seven soldiers stood armed around the doorway, all yelling at her to get out of the way.
“Please, they are just children! Please!” Whilst the father persuaded, the woman stood firm in the doorway.
The guardsman ordered his soldiers on, regardless of how he was entreatied. The seven advanced on the house, and the woman with fire in her eyes prepared to fight them off if she could.
“Stop that!” Sioned yelled out. Perhaps it was the strain of the last 72 hours, her own annoyance at herself; it could definitely come down to how tired she was right now; her words came out harsh, angry and loud.
The soldiers faltered, and all eyes turned on her. Most with surprise, at least three people with tentative relief.
“Stop that, all of you!” she stormed towards the doorway and knocked aside any weapon that was not hastily removed from her path. “What on earths do you think you are doing?”
“Who are you to ask!” demanded the guardsman, who seemed ostensibly in charge of this group. There were two members of the black poppy in the group, and one of them hastily informed the guardsman who she was, and he coloured appropriately.
“Forgive me, your highness…” He began.
“And you can stop that too!” She snapped back. “There will be no waving around of title nonsense. Now what is going on here”
“We, ah…We’re clearing the houses, your hi…um. Clearing the houses, miss.” He supplied.
“Clearing them of what? because this family don’t seem too keen on you clearing their house of anything.”
‘They’re trying to kill my children.” The man in the street said. His voice was rough and deep.
Sioned glanced over her shoulder and then raised an eyebrow at the guardsman.
“They are vampires, your…miss. We have orders.” He did have orders. Here he was on firm ground.
“They didn’t choose to be vampires! It’s not their fault!” their father yelled.
“Ok, enough.” Sioned made a cutting gesture with her hand.
“You,” she pointed to the distraught father, “Calm down.”
“You,” she pointed at the guardsman, “Stay put.”
“And you,” she turned and addressed the woman in the doorway, “Let me in.”
For a few seconds, Sioned wasn’t sure the woman would comply. But after a brief moment sizing her up, the woman stepped aside to let Sioned pass.
A hallway stretched before her, with a parlour immediately to her left opening out into a dining room and kitchen.
One one side of the darkened kitchen two children, probably no more than six or seven years old, were trussed to chairs, each with a solid dowel of wood between their teeth and secured with rope around their heads. Their eyes were mad and they strained pathetically against their bonds.
“Their mother did for them.” The blonde haired woman spoke from behind.
“You are not their mother?” Sioned asked
“No, housekeeper. Was here late with the clettering. Found her with the twins here in the kitchen.” She pointed to a pile slumped in the corner. The mother’s headless corpse.
“The head?” Sioned inquired.
“It was looking at us funny.” She nudged a covered bucket by the door. Sioned nodded, and moved on.
“What is your name?”
“Aelgertha. Although they call me Gert mostly.” She replied, and took pride in that, as if Gert was a mighty name. And perhaps, where she came from, it was.
“Very well, Gert. Do you know if anyone around here has a covered wagon, or coach.” She asked.
“The master has a covered wagon out back. Uses it to transport silks and such, has to keep the light off them.”
“Good. Tell him to go get it ready. I will take these two to Linden House.”
Gert tensed, and looked ready to argue, but Sioned held up her hands in peace.
“They can not stay here. They did not choose to be vampires, but the hunger is in them, and they are dangerous. Linden House has supplies. And for all intents and purposes, these two are bound to the Venway now. The only life they are going to be able to have is with them.”
Gert frowned, still unconvinced.
“This is the choice you have. To let them go and likely live, or for them to die here. You can’t care for them, not safely.”
She was making her point, and the woman was almost swayed.
“The sun is rising, Gert. You need to make a decision.”
The minutes lengthened, and Sioned could see the decision sitting heavily on the woman. eventually she gave a single curt nod and strode from the kitchen.
Sioned looked around for the linen chest and found instead an entire cupboard. She took two thick quilts from within to cover the children for the short journey between doorway and cart. The twins mewled at her piteously from behind their bonds, their eyes hungering, and saliva dampening their chins and fronts of their night shirts.
There was a gasped intake of breath from behind, and she turned rapidly, Lesson in tattoo form swirling around the skin of her right hand.
Second time today this kind of thing had happened.
“They’re children.” The woman standing in the doorway was tall, mousey blonde and heavily armed.
“Yes they are. Twins. Amahla and Alexea judging by name tags in the linen.” Sioned moved herself more completely between the unknown warrior and the children.
“You are Princess Sioned.” The woman asked, once her gaze became more focussed.
“I am Sioned, yes. And you?”
“Haizea Bayle, I command the Purple Legion.”
Sioned nodded, relaxed slightly, but still Lesson played around the skin of her hand just in case.
“The blonde woman..”
“Gert.” Sioned supplied.
“Gert…says you wish to take them to Linden House.”
“I do. Princes Hagen and Emil have set up an arrangement and those in Chang and Linden House have agreed to it. Synthesised supplies will be provided, and the residents of the two houses will remain indoors for the duration.”
“Do you believe they will keep to this arrangement?” Haizea asked.
“The alternative is the extinction of House Venway. And I believe that is not an insignificant incentive.”
Haizea nodded slowly. The minutes wore on again.
“Commander…” Sioned prompted, and Haizea blinked, realising that Sioned was waiting for her to give her permission.
“You are of the blood of Amber, you don’t need my permission to do this.” That a Prince of Amber would have to ask her for permission!
“I know. But you are in command here. And I would rather do this with your blessing than without it.” Sioned held her gaze. “And there will be others, not yet reached adulthood, who can also be saved.” Haizea frowned. “How many have died already in the night? How many are yet to die?”
Again the leader of the Purple Legion nodded slowly.
“Very well. Any who have not yet reached their majority, we will transport to Linden House, if we can.”
Sioned held out her hand, free of swirling tattoo, and Haizea grasped it to seal their agreement, almost immediately discombobulated by the wide grin on the former’s face.
“Well, the sun is rising, and there is work yet to do. Can you help me here?” She threw Haizea a quilt and grabbed the other, draping it over one of the twins.
Gert reappeared to tell them the wagon was ready, already the two of them had the swaddled twins, still tied to their chairs, hoisted into their arms. They were both hurried into the wagon, past the confused and worried faces of their father and elder brother, and the surprisingly relieved faces of the Purple Legion soldiers.
As Sioned and the eldest son, Drouen, were leading the cart away apace, she could hear new orders being given and breathed a sigh of relief. She hoped Lara would approve…she hoped Hagen would.
It took a fair bit of convincing to get the children into Linden House, and a little bit of light threatening that would have proven insubstantial if they had called her bluff. But eventually they took the twins and understood they were to expect more. She let the boy take the cart back to his home, although she was unable to read his mood, other than it was unhappy.
Again she turned her steps towards the upper city and the palace stables. To find Oliver. To ride to Arden…Stop. Just stop. There was no point.
Arden was walled off, she couldn’t get in, and loitering around the edges was unlikely to be effective in any way. Esmond was perfectly capable of taking care of himself and had been doing so for his entire life before she came along. He didn’t need her to rush to his aid just because she thought he was in trouble. Besides which, Julia was also in Arden. They would all be fine.
Esmond on the ground. Esmond barely breathing. Esmond dying in her arms.
Stop it. That’s quite enough of that, thank you very much.
Erica would recover and sort herself out. No doubt there would be an interesting exchange of words between her and Julia, of which Sioned wanted no part. She would trump Esmond to make sure everything was fine, as any normal person would; and then they would all get on with figuring out how to deal with the real problem, Fiona.
For now she would go an see how Caine was doing. She liked his silly face, and would be very unhappy if he died. Also, Julia would like to know he was doing ok once the wall was down, because if he wasn’t, she would tear down the world to get to Fiona, of that Sioned had no doubt.
After that, talk to Lara. They had some plans to work out, and a redhead to sort.