A Bargain Between Equals
August 19th, 1867, Monday
En route to Nurnberg
1046 hrs, local time
Dionysius left the car, and stopped off at the dining car to ask that tea and sandwiches be delivered to the ladies. Making polite inquiries, he made his way to the baggage car, still looking high and low for Lord Drake. The turmoil of his thoughts distracted him, thinking of Catherine, Josephine, Rembecki. At that, he cursed himself internally. "I should be thinking of Priscilla, and the future, and arrangements. These doublings will be the death of me." The hobbit stood on tip toe to reach the handle, and opened the door to the baggage car, make a hellish racket effecting his entrance.
Ezekiel sat upon a crate in the baggage car struggling to contain his pain. His left leg had finally started to gain feeling again but at the cost of intense shooting pain from the knee down. He was taking another deep controlling breath when he heard the baggage car door rattle. Reaching for his watch, he saw he had another half of an hour before Josephine was to check in on him. His prayer had been a struggle and not nearly long enough. Considering he had already argued with two of the ladies in the party, he would not have been surprised to see Flora stride in to harangue him. But instead, upon Monsieur Beignet's entrance, he pushed on his cane and stood up, his leg screaming, but his face hiding the agony.
"Monsieur." Ezekiel managed the appropriate half bow, but only with the help of his cane . "Was it my company that you sought? If so, I hope I did not inconvenience you. I was due to return to my car in thirty minutes."
The hobbit appraised the human, and decided that his feelings for this mission had gone from excitement, to curiosity, to chagrin, and now all the way down the emotional scale to fearful trepidation. The woman who would lead is wet behind the ears, the man who would lead is a half broken cripple, and who would let a half man servant have a say? Bertie's whore seemed the most capable of the bunch. "I fear, Lord, that I inconvenience you. However, I felt a pressing need to speak in private," he spoke quietly. "Perhaps I reach above my station, but there is much that concerns me." Dion sat on a trunk, more to convince the invalid Drake to sit then for his own comfort. "Our mission has no more clarity, and the dangers mount."
Ezekiel quietly sat down on the crate behind him, letting his leg relax. It was possible...no, probable that Monsieur Beignet had seen his weakness. But even given that, he would not let it define him in front of the hobbit who meant so much to Katherine. He looked over at the faithful servant and smiled a soft half smile. "I believe, Dionysius, that you know my Chartist ways already. Given that, in private, you need not call me Lord and you need not worry about reaching above your station. We are both servants - my masters are just not mortal." He hoped he had not offended the proud hobbit by suggesting he and Ezekiel were equals. Dionysius probably considered himself better than that.
"But yes," Ezekiel agreed, "the danger level has grown and where said danger comes from seems to grow more mysterious with every passing moment. What do you suggest?"
With an air of resignation, Dion spoke his mind plainly and with little embellishment. "Mr. Drake, I think as we near the lair of those we chase, I discover more and more that we not so much chase as are baited nearer to the web of the spider." As was his wont, the hobbit counted out his conclusions on stubby fingers. "Rembecki rushed to leave England. Then she lingered in Paris for the three days it took us to catch up. Her French compatriot seems to know our Flora, as does the gargoyle I much suspect wishes Celene and Flora protection rather then harm.The street melee was a distraction that with little effort could have been used to destroy us, at least Catherine and myself." The index finger raised in the air signified that Dion considered that point well and fully covered. The child-like middle finger lifted.
"Our band consists of yourself, a mystic, chasing after a magician whose power seems enhanced by blasphemy. Flora, the memory deprived child of a cadet branch of the Dashwood clan. An eldren with red hair and a propensity to forgetfully lose herself. Madame Arceneaux and myself are the only comfortable opponents for Rembecki. She will wish us merely dead."
With hesitation, Dion pushed forward with the real reason for his seeking out Catherine's intended. "Monsieur, I wish to confide in you misgivings of a very direct, personal, and sensitive nature."
As always, Beignet cut to the chase of it and with more vision than anyone else in the group. Ezekiel knew that the hobbit had more knowledge about the forces in play than he did, most assuredly. So if he had misgivings, Ezekiel thought, it was best to listen. And carefully at that.
He leaned forward on the edge of his crate and looked firmly into Dionysius's eyes. "Sir, whatever you have to tell me shall be treated by me as if it were under the seal of the confessional. I trust in your judgment...perhaps more than my own in these matters. Please proceed."
Dion breathed deep, and clenched his eyes shut, mentally diving from the cliff of place into the whorling maelstrom of servants instructing masters, lords obeying butlers. "In Nuremburg, sir, I can perhaps obtain the formula for an enchantment that while you might not be cured, the weakening of your facilities from your ailments can be alleviated. I presume not to judge you, but to only state that my Catherine deserves the best that you can be, and our mission demands one as whole of mind and body as can be to guide us in the narrows we will navigate through the Carpathian Alps into the mad realm of infernalism I suspect Rembecki's stronghold shall prove to be." Aghast at his own daring, the hobbit cringed back, his mind given over to thoughts of the life he had waiting to build with Priscilla snapping like a twig. "Perhaps," he thought to himself, "I can put out a shingle as freelance detective. Halfling solver of petty crimes."
"My lord, I ask that you allow yourself to consider. Madame Arcenaeux is more tormented then I would before today have ever guessed. She cannot lead us. You must be strong, and we must all have faith that your faith and sir, yes, your ABILITIES are a match for the mission we have muddled our way into."
With head bowed, the hobbit awaited the wrath of an affronted liberal to rain ruin upon his head. Thoughts of equality are so malleable when directly called into question by one's inferiors.
An enchantment? An interesting idea and one that indicated that Dionysius knew much more about Ezekiel's disease than he would have thought. Had Josephine said something to him after observing him in the baggage car? Had Katherine said something?
"You have as much right to judge me as anyone, sir, although in the end we shall all be judged by the same source." Was this temptation or another option from the Host? The only way to know was to inquire. In a calm but firm voice, he said, "What are the benefits and risks of this magic, Dionysius? I must have more details to be able to determine where this fits in to my quest...and to my life with Katherine. If this were to shorten my life, I am uncertain whether I could give up time with her for the sake of my health. I endure now and I can endure in the future as needed. The symptoms are not always present."
"Sir, the costs are to myself, not to the subject," he responded testily. "I know little of the details of your condition. I am a thamaturge not a physician. I strongly suspect your life will be prolonged by removing the stress of movement. I am a halfling, and short lived. For as long as mademoiselle and yourself agree to retain my services, I can periodically alleviate the symptoms and prolong your life. Eventualities being what they are, I'm sure my Lord can retain the services of a much more accomplished mage to take over his care in my incapacity."
"Then the costs are even sharper!" said Ezekiel, his eyes widening. "I would not ask someone else to take on what I would not take myself. What, *exactly*, would this cost you, Dionysius? I have no problems employing your services for as long as you wish to be employed, but I will not cost you years from your life or pieces of your immortal soul." It sounded melodramatic to his ears, but he could not be sure that the hobbit would not pass over the costs to himself in order what he saw as a larger goal in service of England.
With sheer force of will, Dion kept his grimace of frustration internalized. Damnable priest of a boy! Harrumph, he thought. "The Host helps those who help themselves, I'm told. They are best served who learn a polite version of the boarding house reach." Comfortably back to feeling smugly more world wise, he carefully explained. "My development as a mage will be directed towards service. To this point, my studies have been directed toward service. With your permission and your Lady's, service shall be my long time avocation. The scientific application of magic might be tiring but it is in no way as spiritually dangerous as infernalism and with your permission, sir, overt over-religiosity." The butler stood, and proceeded to again remove the invisible motes on his jacket sleeve so common when confronted by obstinate human silliness. "I wish to serve you, Lord, and my Lady. I wish to serve England. I wish to stop Rembecki as is my charge. I will risk my life for these purposes and for the care and upbringing of my future family, but I will not sell my soul for yourself or anyone." Lost in intemperate self-righteousness, Dion became as direct with his future master as he had with that insufferable circus girl.
"Our mission is of secondary importance to me. If not for Catherine's child-like wonder at the notion of international intrigue, I would as happily gone about my life making the world comfortable within the confines of four tasteful walls. Help the Host to help you, Drake! To wait for magic to happen in this scientific age seems both nearsighted and presumptuous! Can you call upon the Host as easily as asking for more sherry? Assuredly not. But rather than waste in the wilderness waiting for the angels to bring pure water, allow me to help you STAND so you can walk to the well yourself, sir!"
"I can call but I do not call because sometimes, the Host asks us to walk the harder path...to be tested," he said quietly, but quickly waved his hand to let know Dionysius know there was no response necessary. The hobbit had so little patience for anything outside the things he judged to be worthy. Exclusive by nature, rather than the inclusiveness that Ezekiel had fallen into (or had thrust upon him). But, in the end, he wished to serve, and he wished to do what he thought would help him and Katherine. Deeds from good intent should never be judged harshly, he thought.
"I do not know what you will be able to do for my condition. It is chronic and an illness of a lifetime. But I will not deny you the chance to help me, if you so choose." The Host would let him know if he had made a poor decision. He made it not selfishly, but at the request of another. Perhaps that would be all the difference. For Dionysius, then. For Katherine.
With held tilted to the side, eyes askance, Dion eyed Catherine's intended. "Forgive me my trespass, Mr. Drake. For practical reasons, I have endeavored always to be practical. The miracles you invite are in their own way more powerful then any scientific spells in my arsenal." With a conciliatory hand extension, but not so presumptuous as to touch the Lord's arm, he spoke much more softly and soothingly. "I question not your faith or its value. Only that you consider how much of yourself you must preserve for your sake, Catherine's sake, and England's. I have discussed with the broken circus girl my thoughts thus far on the investigation. Perhaps you will allow me to assist you to the ladies' compartment that as a group we might assess all hypotheses and make plans for Nuremberg and beyond."
Ezekiel nodded as he used the cane in one hand and Dionysius's hand in the other to come back to standing. His leg was still painful, but better. "I gladly accept your assistance, sir. And I give you my thanks as well as my promise that I am not trying to be difficult to cause you trouble. But the Host has plans for me and I imagine some of them will irritate you to no end. I hope you will accept my apology in advance." He smiled and pushed his glasses up. "Now," he said, motioning to the baggage car door, "let us go and plan, as we have a long road ahead of us."
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