Lady of Angels - Part 4
Shipwrights Day – 1523
The rumours went about on wings. They burrowed into every surface, infested every nook and cranny. The brutality of New Years Day had not sated the Duke's appetite – there were more and higher level traitors out there. Rumour named Lord Tracegale as one.
“How can they think that?” Arangof cried indignantly.
Dofbin looked mildly surprised: “Why would you doubt it?”
He's her husband, connected... to that beauty... her silver web... her aura.... He could hear the madness in his racing thoughts himself. Lady Tracegale, what have you done to me? And to Dofbin: “Is there something you've heard?”
“I've heard everything. And I believe less than a tenth of it.”
“But this isn't the first time I've heard that man's name mentioned the wrong way. Most of the names mean less than nothing to me, and they've all fled the area in front of Momdorth's armies, but they say Tracegale had the wrong friends. He drank with men who were the Duke's sworn enemies, he had them staying at his house. And its known as well he was connected with the mayor, there's a cousins' marriage linking them, or such-like.”
“So what? People get married every day.”
“The mayor is in doubt now.”
“For ruling at the wrong time.”
“And for taking too long to bend his knee.”
“Yes. I know. But I have more sense than to say it above a whisper.” And his voice had shrunk, had buried itself under the market noise.
“You can't have too much care these days.”
“But it still doesn't add up to treason.”
“Why do you... Oh. Because of her?”
Arangof blushed. Out loud it was daft, and disloyal, and sort of pompous.
“You told me you had no intention.”
“I still don't.”
No intention, but an itching fear for her. He'd seen first hand what became of traitors, and in this case her sex and her station would offer no protection. He brooded on it all day, and into the night. He brushed his wife aside when she slid her arm over him. He only shook his head when her hand slid into his groin, when he felt her pressed against his back. He had a feeling that he'd hurt her,
though she said nothing, kissed him, and rolled over to sleep. And he knew he should comfort her, but his mind was so full of Lady Tracegale....
In the morning his hands were shaking and he coughed up blood.
“I'll get you arrow-wort from the gypsies.”
He shook his head wearily.
“I think you need it.”
“It won't make a difference.” He already knew what cured him.
“There's a doctor, came with the Duke, but he's no soldier, he's got no connections either. I've heard some of the neighbours saying he's good...”
Can you not understand....!? But he mastered himself. “Talk to him then.” If it would make her feel better. What did it matter?
Rumour said they would be coming for the Lady, in a timeframe of days not weeks. He brooded about that all day, desperate to find a way to help, but unable to think of one.
That changed by chance when he went to take a light dinner in one of the cities many taverns. It was a small, dark place called the Running Stag. It was old, had seen better days, but the ale was good and thick, the stew was known to be spiced, and to be well stocked with meat. So he took a bowl of that, eating it with a breadcrust and ale, watching the town drift by, everyone with some place or other to be. Behind him a group of soldiers, displaying their Sunbursts like feathers, sat eating and chattering. Arangof kept his head down, avoiding their attention. But the men didn't care who was around them, they talked freely. And one of them said “Tonight.”
'Tonight' was when the Dukes men would make a move on Lord Tracegale. When they'd arrest him and take up his family, his servants, his horses – one of the soldiers joked – for all the good treason they'd get out of that.
“His fancy wife as well?”
“I'd say so.”
“Nice one that is. Crystal. Quality. If they strip her I'd have her.” He laughed a little too raucously at his own joke.
“Strip her? They'll burn her.”
“Titles aren't enough. Blood and smoke. That's what it'll be.”
I have to warn her. And it was funny: his shaking hands calmed, and though his head still knifed him with pain, it seemed to do so from far away. He couldn't get out of his head that this was the moment his whole life had been leading him up to. But he had to be careful, he couldn't just leap up and go running. The Duke's men might or might not be too bright – of this group he suspected the
latter – but they wouldn't be dim enough to miss that. Instead he ate his dinner, every mouthful, and didn't stand up until he'd drained his cup. He walked slowly out of the common room, into the street, and only then set off at a run, making straight for the East Side.
He had no idea how he'd get in there, how he'd get to her, what he would say. If he'd be able to talk his way past a servant, if he could dare pass his message to one of them – who could be trusted for certain? But in the end, his timing was oddly perfect; a carriage was pulling up to the gate just as he ran around the corner, and he could see a footman climbing down to open it up. In the window he could see the Lady.
He reached the carriage and he pounded on the door. The footmen saw him and tackled him, dragging him away from her. One of them knocked him down.
“You don't understand,” he yelled, “she's in danger!”
“Not any more you little worm.”
“Check him, he might have a knife.”
But the lady's shadow fell on them. She said smoothly “Let him up. Let me hear what he has to say.”
Up close, and his mind already reeling, he found her electrically beautiful. She was dressed in dark red, trimmed with white furs, her jewellery all black and inky blue. She seemed to stand a head taller than her men, than him, although he knew he was as tall as most men. He swallowed his panic, and stumbled up to his feet. “Lady, please, I've come to warn you.”
“What is it?”
“The Duke. They're coming for you.”
“You've risked much.”
Everything. A rumour, a chance comment, hard questioning, and he'd join her at the stake. What had gotten into him that'd driven him to take such a risk? It was that question that seized him, that ripped unexpected words out of his mouth: “What have you done to me?”
“Why do I love you?”
Her face froze, hesitated. She was looking at him intently.
“I can't live without you. You sing... you sing whole worlds into being and I don't understand it, or what I'm doing here.”
“You heard that?”
“Yes! Of course.”
“Most men don't.”
He stared at her. “It's magic.” Spells, not songs.
“I'm very sorry.”
“You bewitched me?” Dangerous words. They curled and degraded in his mouth. A rumour, a chance comment from a listening guard, hard questioning... the one word could be enough. If Momdorth wanted it to be.
“You should not have been able to hear that.”
“I did. I heard, I smelt, I saw. It was like nothing else in the world. But did you hear me, what I said? The Duke's sending men for you tonight. They'll arrest the Lord, you as well. I couldn't bear it.”
Something in her eyes let him know that she was not surprised. Maybe she was already expecting the Duke. Despite the narrowed eyes of her footmen she reached out to touch Arangof's arm. “I'm sorry. I never intended to bind you. You should go now, before things become.... complicated.”
He was rooted to the spot. He could no more have turned and left her than he could have grown wings and flown away. What is it that you've done? He was bracing himself to ask the question, to ask the follow-up: what will happen to me now? to broach the fearful subject: can it be undone? But he was never given that chance, because the quiet street erupted now in shouting, in curt threats, the ringing of drawn swords. The Duke's men were coming.
“Flee,” the Lady whispered.
He shook his head. “I'll try to hold them off” - these were words he could hardly believe he was uttering - “I'll buy what time I can.” Hold them off with what? With what weapon? With what training in how to use what weapon?
“Sweet man,” she said, “I won't forget you.”
And he would never forget her. He was as rooted in place as if his feet had truly grown roots. But she wasn't. And she walked towards the Duke's men as if she had nothing to fear from them, with her head held high, her hands clasped serenely in front of her.
“Where is your husband?” A knight said.
“This is a warrant for his arrest, and yours.” He held a scroll of parchment up for her to see. “This is sealed by the Duke himself. You may not resist.”
“I have done your Duke no wrong. Nor my Lord.”
“The court will answer that.”
“And you have your orders.”
“Madam, I have. Come with me.”
“You are but a tool. I bear you no ill will.” Beneath the velvet sadness in her tone there was steel. She waved away her men who were stepping up to defend her. She had no need of their blood. She drew a great breath and began to sing.
Arangof could not be sure in the first second if anyone but he could see what happened, but then he saw their reactions to it, saw the men's faces pale, their lips move in shock and silent plea. He saw
the footmen stumbling backwards, saw them taking shelter behind the Lady's carriage. And above all else he saw the storm that gathered around her. As she sang, the air seemed to thicken, mist seemed to pour from beneath the paving stones. Mist billowed up into the sky, and it took the form of angels, gliding down on sparkling wings. But they were angels without mercy, wielding blades made of light, made of ice - barbed, venomed; and their shrieks were pure beast, sharp teeth glaring out of pink mouths; icicles forming in their breath.
Red angel amongst white: she stood in their centre. And her voice was a gorgeous thing, it was filled with sounds that should have been too high, too delicate, for human ears to know. Her voice was rich
and layered, with warmth flowing into the gabs between ice, with light given birth amidst the notes, haloing her like soft, pale flames.
“Get back!” the knight yelled.
But a swarm of angels can outrun any man. They flew as true as arrows. And from amongst them beasts were conjured, were ignited from within the mist – dogs as big as horses, blurry and bright-white; ice-flesh crystallising over their bones, even as they gave chase.
Arangof expected to die. In the thick of that moment he didn't care. This transcended the rest of his unremarkable life. But he wasn't killed. The beast that locked eyes with him – muscled and glittering, displaying teeth that must be close in size to his head – did not attack. It regarded him sightlessly, then broke away. Then the mist became too thick to see anything. It was whipped up by a wind that had come up from nowhere. And when it was gone there was frost on the ground. The carriage was wrecked, the footmen were quivering behind it. The Duke's men were fled, or lay broken on the ground where they'd fallen. The Lady was gone. But he'd known that, he'd known she would be.
He offered a few words of comfort to the footmen, shared his amazement with them and shared theirs. “There'll be other work in the city,” he told them, to which they agreed, but it would be for lesser masters.
He knelt beside a dying knight, and found that there was something in his voice, a thrum, a deep-seated vibration. And when he let it free it transformed into words, a tiny melody of three or four notes. But the notes seemed to calm the young man – for that was all he was, not much older than twenty, no longer arrogant, just a man whose life was ending too soon and too brutally.
Arangof walked towards his home. As he walked he found that the melody grew, that he could sing to himself of the ocean, or of forests so thick and green that their soft, mossy floors had never
known sunlight. In these forests he could make flowers bloom – white and pink and violet, and they crawled the height of tall trees, growing into the canopy, multiplying into a ceiling of colour and
When he got back home to his wife, he embraced her. He whispered a snatch of song, and watched her eyes brighten, felt the shiver that ran through her arms. He kissed her more deeply than he had in so many years. “Nina, I love you. Don't you ever doubt it again.” When she slept that night he whispered lullabies, knowing that they filled her dreams with unicorns, palaces, warm fires where spiced bread was blackened in honey.
And in the summer she bore him a healthy baby daughter.