I’m going to be making some promotional postings over the weekend, so I decided this episode should go out today. I actually wanted to put out this and the next episode together to stop it feeling as if we’re balancing on the cliff edge for too long, but there are not enough hours in the day.
If you’ve seen my Facebook page or the Bite Back one, you’ll know that the immensely positive critical reaction to my daughter’s role in Iron Fist has been the dominant news of the week. 🙂 The only other thing I have to report is that Angel Stakes audiobook has been delayed again by studio problems. I should have something to check by next week. If not, I can only keep you posted.
I need to rework this blog page to make the episodes easier to access!
St Jude’s, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
They walk back along the aisle together, Panethus House and Basilikos Diakon.
Julius’ thoughts are torn in every direction. He has to protect Livia. He has to protect the Long Island Athanate. And he has to protect his parishioners –who will the diocese put in charge here at St. Jude’s?
But something else is worrying him. Something about Gracchus here and now doesn’t ring true. He and Livia’s Diakon have never liked each other, but there’s more going on today.
Has Gracchus just lied to him?
None of it will matter to him if he’s going to be executed this morning.
Julius slips through the door, leaving the church.
For the last time?
It’s snowing more heavily. Brooklyn has become monochromatic. Snow shrouds the streets, muffles sound, and steals the brightness from the day.
Julius blinks. His heart skips a beat. In that time, he and Gracchus are surrounded by black clad figures, like wraiths in the soft light.
Athanate, Julius realizes, his heart in his mouth. Altau security.
An execution here? In the street?
He tenses, but their leader is not immediately interested in him.
“Diakon Gracchus,” she says.
Her voice is very soft, in keeping with the steel-in-silk manner of Altau.
Gracchus draws himself up. He’s an intimidating man. Huge, powerful, rough-hewn. Lethal.
The Altau are not intimidated.
Julius can see an emotion pass across the man’s face. One he never thought he would associate with Gracchus: a sense of resignation, of hopelessness.
A van pulls up and three Altau herd Gracchus into the back.
Another slips inside the church behind Julius.
The van door bangs shut and it pulls away.
Now it’s Julius’ turn to be surrounded.
“What’s happening?” he says. “What are you doing?”
The leader of the Altau team stands in front of him.
She’s the same height as him, a short-haired brunette with brown eyes. Her face is pretty, but it might as well have been carved from ice, and her body gives off the sense of a coiled spring.
She doesn’t answer him directly. Instead, she brings her hand up and ostentatiously checks her wristwatch.
“The sidewalks are becoming icy, House di Firenze,” she says in Athanate. “The going may be treacherous. You’d best be careful, or you’ll be late for your meeting.”
He’s sure she means more than she’s saying on the surface, but he’s not sure what.
There is no give in this Altau team staring at him. The silk is off and only steel remains. Whatever has happened, there’s nothing he can do for Gracchus. He needs to concentrate on what he might be able to do for Livia.
He backs away. The meeting with Skylur is south of Prospect Park. He turns in that direction and walks as quickly as he can.
South Prospect, Brooklyn
The snow increases.
His breathing seems loud in the quiet. It’s not silent. There is the hum of the city, like an unsleeping beast, but it seems far away.
Visibility is coming down all the time; the snow hides the beginning and end of the street. It’s empty as far as he can see.
And then, just before he reaches the house where they’re due to meet Skylur, there’s Livia.
“They’ve taken Gracchus—” he says, as she closes the distance between them.
She kisses him deeply.
He breaks it, holds her away, dizzy.
“We could still run,” he says. “Maybe it’s what Skylur really wants. Look.” He gestures up and down the empty street. “No-one. He’s offering us a way out.”
“Maybe he is,” Livia says. “But just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not here, Ruben. I’ve come to realize how much Altau is not like the Warders. It seems there’s nothing we say or do he doesn’t know about.”
She pulls him back into her embrace and kisses his forehead, hard.
She’s wearing lipstick, and he guesses he’s now displaying an image of her lips for all to see.
He doesn’t care.
She leads him on toward the house, holding his hand.
“For example, I believe Gracchus thought he could trick Altau,” she says. “I gather that’s not worked.”
“Trick him? How?”
“I don’t know. I guess I should have found out, but I wanted to see what Altau would do.”
She seems not to care about it.
This is her House we’re talking about!
He wants to shake her out of this mood; wake her up.
“His security kidnapped your Diakon, right outside the church.” Julius’ foot slips on an icy patch. “Then they were very careful to warn me: the going may be treacherous, they said. Do you know what they mean?”
She huffs a breath out, and it clouds in the freezing air.
“No. Have you done anything that could be construed as treachery?”
Julius slips again. “I phoned all the Houses,” he says. “If they don’t hear from me, I’ve advised them to run.”
Livia frowns. “Not really treachery,” she says. “Especially as you believe it’s what Altau really wants; an excuse not to execute people.”
“You think he knows I did it?”
She laughs and stops walking. “Call one of them, Ruben. Call one now.”
He takes his cellphone out. Dials.
He’s having trouble breathing.
“He’s moving already. We’re dead if we go to the meeting.” He grabs her wrist. “I’ll get us a cab.”
He’s already bringing up the app when she stops him.
“Ruben, this isn’t the Warders, this is Altau. If he didn’t know every House yesterday, I’ll wager he knew them all by the time you finished calling them. And if you call a cab now, maybe a cab would come. Maybe Altau’s security team would pull up. Yes, we can run, but only if he wants us to be able to run.”
She tugs his hand, gets him moving again.
“I don’t want to run,” she says. “I want to find out what he really wants.”
“Even if that means we’re dead?”
“If he wants us dead, we’re already dead. Don’t fool yourself.”
There’s a fatalistic logic to her argument.
“Then at least tone down your attitude,” he says. “You provoke him—”
“I should say something agreeable and maybe flattering?” She laughs again. “Altau won’t be deceived by what I say. All the time we speak, he’s hearing what we feel as much as what we say. I’ve always been honest, Ruben, and I’d rather stay that way.”
They’ve reached the Warder’s house. There are no lights on, no welcome.
No Altau security either.
Why does Skylur want to meet us here?
The house itself is large. Built in original Georgian colonial style; all stone and brick and symmetry. Regular, matching windows are deep-set and curtained. A wide southern porch has been added later, with charcoal black steps down to the narrow garden. Between the deep porch and the bare trees which crowd the front, the house looks dark and secret. Almost abandoned.
They mount the steps and their heels make clacking sounds on the slate stone floor of the porch.
There is no sound, no movement inside.
For a moment, it seems Livia loses her nerve and pauses.
But it’s not a lack of courage about what’s facing them inside. She turns to him.
“I’ve always been honest, but that’s not the same thing as being open, or saying everything I think. I don’t know what’s going to happen inside, so…” she pulls him close and her voice drops to a whisper. “I love you. I always have.”
She tries the handle. The door is unlocked and they go in.