Swords To Plowshares
August 19th, 1867, Monday
En route to Nurnberg
1030 hrs, local time
Finally kitted out as her soul craved, Josephine smoothed her hands down her sleeves and her hip to check her knives and gun, then strode down the passage to Beignet's compartment, girded for the battle ahead. What is it with you and the men of the party? You're crazy mad in lust for one and crazy mad in dislike for the other. As for Bertram, she didn't give him a second's thought. His sort was all too familiar to Josephine and therefore dismissable. She wished Flora joy with him.
Dionysius, however, was Katherine's and for her friend's sake alone was Josephine willing to mend her fences with the Belgian. Admit it. You got off on the wrong foot with the man. And since they were going to be working together for the foreseeable, as with Ezekiel, Josephine knew they needed to map their boundaries. For all that Ezekiel's fears for communication were unfounded in his case, she knew the same would not be true between her and Beignet. Face up to it, get in there, and get the job done. He's too valuable an expert to dismiss like Bertram.
The carpet underfoot was thick and muffled her booted footsteps. Her knock on the doorframe, however, was smart and decisive. She heard him respond, put her hand to the latch and walked in.
Dionysius sat up with a start, distracted from the first folio of the Dashwood family libel.
"Entre, it is unlocked." Looking up, the hobbit was very suprised to see Madame Arceneaux. Taken aback, he couldn't help visibly cringing from the woman who so seriously wished him ill.
"Madame, is some service required?" he asked in the most snidely insinuating way he could, just the way he knew she loathed it.
Josephine caught his tone and grit her teeth behind a close-mouthed smile and reminded herself why she was there. Swords to plowshares, Jo. She stepped inside and closed the door with exaggerated care, getting a grip on her irritation. She schooled her expression to professional detachment before turning to face him.
"Sir," she said quietly. "Might I have a word?"
Noting, for once, with displeasure the absence of Bertie, the small butler stood and brushed off the papers strewn across the leather bench seat. "If Madame would be seated, we can attempt once more a conversation." Frowning worriedly, Dion opened the door, checked both directions before closing it again, anxious to see if there was anyone who would complain about the soon-to-ensue verbal combat.
Inhaling deeply, he stated as calmly as possible, "What is the subject of which I can give thanks for this singular honor?"
Josephine took the seat proffered.
"It has occurred to me that our animosity toward each other is endangering our cohesiveness as a team. I have come to rectify that. I realize that we may have information exclusive of the other that we should share and I am willing for the sake of our mission to set aside our differences that we may persevere against those who would do England harm."
God, it galled her but she spoke the truth--for the sake of their cause, she would willingly take any amount of calumny the little man chose to throw upon her head.
"I will freely take upon myself all the fault of the matter, without reservation, if it would allow us to work together. What say you?"
Taken aback, Dion relaxed into a more natural stance. "Madame would have no way to know how long and how much have I longed for those very words from her," he said with a much more courteous tone. What, he wondered, had occurred to bring about this change in the woman who had so suddenly appeared and so suddenly made the mad life of keeping a free spirit safely in a gilded cage into a trial the likes of which Job himself knew not the suffering of.
"Certainly, if Madame wishes to speak in a professional manner about a professional concern, one would find it behooves with all due alacrity to return the consideration in kind.”
His response was not what she'd expected. Neither did she miss the fact that hers was likewise unexpected. The silence of shock settled over the compartment and Josephine wondered how best to take advantage of it.
"Certainement," she said smoothly. "I see you have the Dashwood book with you. Have you drawn any conclusions from it that you wish to share?"
As an opening gambit, she judged it safer ground. She wasn't entirely sanguine broaching the subject of her father's clandestine past or the agents her superiors had mentioned. Not just yet.
Dion scratched his chin thoughtfully, collecting his thoughts before stating the case as he understood it. “Rembecki is part of a magical association. This society has contacts throughout Europe. One such contact was a member of the Societie du Nord. Tragically, I misjudged the situation and attempted to waylay the gargoyle, rather than the master. I suspect, only as a hunch, that said master was the gentleman who accompanied Rembecki to the Comedie.
The hobbit lifted one finger followed closely by a second. “Selene Dashwood is in a state of suspended animation. Such is possible either magically or in this case I suspect medically. Her part is unwilling victim, of interest solely due to genealogy. Her presence in Moulin Rouge was certainly not of Rembecki's doing. Some agent thought to make a bit extra on the side using her as a theatrical exhibit.”
A third finger joined the grouping in the air. “Rembecki's magic seems closely tied to sacrilege and blasphemy. The church in London, the gargoyle misplaced onto an infernalists political club. I suspect in Nuremberg and Lake Bled we will also discover some irreligious overtones. Lord Drake could prove invaluable in understanding and thwarting these powers. Diplomatic and diligent appeal to local religious figures would also prove useful.”
Dion flourished his fourth finger. “The gargoyle I suspect might be the actual closest thing to remains of Lord Francis Dashwood. My reasoning his thus: his interest in Selene is protective, rather than intent to do her harm; Flora, our lost socialite, also draws his interest and despite what is laid out as fact in this book, I suspect that our Flora is a child of a cadet branch of the Dashwood family, very probably in gravest danger by that fact as a possible replacement in Rembecki's plans for Selene should her plans go awry.”
With a thumb in the air, the Belgian summed up. “Rembecki seemed to be in a hurry to leave England, and yet seemed at leisure to leave Paris. I think she toys with us like a cat with a coterie of blind mice. Careful precautions should be taken before going on to Lake Bled.”
With a shrug and a wan smile, Dion inclined his head to Madame Arceneaux. “Such are the surmises I have toyed with. I have not your experience in international intrigue, but I do have some small experience with magical societies. We chase after our prey, but with so many members of our party being tasty morsels that would be cream in the bowl for our cat-like adversary. We have a religious, eager-to-be a martyr. A red-haired eldren, sure sign of curses. A Dashwood lady. You and I stand alone as comfortable adversaries for Rembecki. She would wish us nothing worse than dead.”
Josephine listened to his presentation without comment, staring at a spot on the carpet at his feet. She let his words flow into her consciousness and gave them a moment to settle before combining them with what she knew. Thus his latter comment escaped her notice until a long moment afterward and she looked up, surprised.
"Thank you, sir, but I fear you have perhaps unintentionally exaggerated my expertise in the clandestine field. I am not the seasoned agent you appear to believe me." She dropped her gaze to the carpet again. More pride sacrificed for the common goal, the greater good. "This is, for all intents and purposes, my first unsupervised case. In truth, Sir John had sent me to Lady Katherine's in an observational capacity only. Neither he nor his augurs, apparently, could anticipate the events as they occurred and for reasons I am not aware, I was and still am the only asset Sir John has seen fit to assign to the matter. I am sorry, sir, that a mage of your calibre must be saddled with an operative such as I, but I promise you I will do not only my best but also what is necessary to succeed."
She kept her voice low and her eyes lower as she said it. Under no circumstances did she wish to reopen the animosity that had marked their relations from the beginning. Ideally, this matter should have been decisively dealt with before we left England and not until we were trapped on a train headed straight into enemy territory.
It was, she reflected, an indication of her inexperience that matters had progressed this far before being rectified. It was also an opportunity to learn from her mistake. Pray God one learned in time.
Dion cursed inwardly. Blast this woman and the easy intimacy she has achieved with Catherine based on one wild night of irresponsible escapism! he thought to himself. Anticipating her mood and demeanor was impossible, and SHE was impossible. In private, she makes me feel as if I am some penny dreadful masher or conversational rapist, but in public she holds me up for abuse and ridicule as the very embodiment of social mores I myself find as dreadful as herself. Catherine knows my heart, he assured himself. Lord Drake seems willing to take me on terms of at least valued employee. Even Bertie and his doxy seem open to acting in reasoned ways and accepting the facade of intrusive but protective caregiver. This circus girl presumes to JUDGE me based on my willingness to KNOW the rules of how Catherine's life must be arranged, and ACT in such a way that her spirit is not crushed in the effort to preserve her standing. He shook his head ruefully.
“Madame, you do not know me,” he said sonorously. “Repeatedly, you take exception to me, my statements, my desire for Catherine to APPEAR to accord herself with society's expectations.” The hobbit stepped back from the tall human woman, defensively. “These rules, these boundaries, these restrictions, even my somewhat ridiculous manner of speaking are tools.” Dion held his hands out in front of his body as if to keep her from clawing at him. “I gained my familiarity with these rules by flouting them. I was an unlettered baker's boy in Belgium, until I ran away from home and became a wizard based on a drunken bet. I was taught to use a gun to great effect, merely because Monsignor the Colonel found it so very droll to watch a child sized person struggle with a pistol larger than his own hands. You see merely a servant with presumption and a shirt front stuffed with hot air.” Dion turned away from Josephine to stare out the window of the fast moving train, but stared at her reflection in the coal smoke smudged glass. “I have not risen so far that I am dizzy from the height, but by keeping place, I have advanced, and keeping my place means keeping Catherine from falling from her place. My son will be a PROFESSIONAL. Only one, on what money I make in service, it's true. It will be hard, because I can save only for College, not private school. There will be a Beignet known for his skill with the law or with medicine, rather than for donuts or how servile they can be.”
Dion spun on his heel, and with hands at his side, stared directly at the circus woman. “From the hallway, I have seen what Catherine's life is like. On the humiliating climb up to that hall, I have seen what it looks like to be below that realm. Catherine's red hair marks her. Her running away marks her. Her martial interests in a woman marks her. Lord Drake can marry her and after that they can be 'artistic' and 'modern' to heart’s content. As a single woman, I fear Catherine can only be judged. I have befuddled and consoled enough of her moneyed neighbors to be WELL aware of what impression she could give. She is NOT what she appears. With no lust or malice, she thirsts for life. Through no fault of mine, Madame, a single LADY must sip from thimbles.”
Dion brushed at imaginary motes on his jacket sleeve. “Forgive me, Madame, I have presumed. We are not friends and I am a servant. It is not my place to offer justifications. I shall endeavor to limit my presumption upon your time to discussion of the case. I have given my reasoning, what insights do you have?”
Listening to his tirade, Josephine kept her eyes down to avoid fueling his ire and listened. He disliked directness in women and she didn't want to start off on the wrong foot. Not that it seems I've managed to avoid that. Still ... His monologue, however vehement, was instructive. Humble origins, class restrictions overcome by dint of hard work and sacrifice, and a rigid adherence to propriety painted the picture of a man with much to lose and a great fear of losing it. Allay those fears, you may have a powerful ally. Step lively, the man is waiting.
“True,” she said quietly. “We are not friends because we know very little of each other. But I do know you are not my servant and I am very sorry if I behaved as if you were. That was presumptuous of me, even if unintended, and I apologize.” She crossed her arms on her knees and leaned forward to spare Dionysius the bother of looking up at her, and raised her eyes. “As for what insights I have on this case, I am afraid I have more questions than answers and more puzzle pieces than I know where to fit. I don’t know what you are looking for and again if I give you too much information or not enough, I apologize. I do wish to form a good working relationship with you, sir, and I am afraid I have ruined my chances with our past disagreements. Pray tell me what I must to do to set matters right so that we may start over fresh with a clean slate.”
"Merely by stating you wish to have a working relationship you have allayed all my fears," Dion averred. "Past unpleasantness aside, I envy you, and I'm sure Catherine does as well. You are a free spirit who by dint of disguise and bravado care not what others might think of you. If only everyone was afforded that luxury." With a sigh, the hobbit proffered his hand towards Josephine in the upright posture one would offer a shake to a man. "Let us shake and put behind all that has passed with a view to a future of comity and good will." The proffered hand changed momentarily into a wagging finger. "One thing, however. Look at me when we speak. If you are as free a spirit as you present yourself as, do not be so shamed by my height and species differences that you treat me as so god-awfully unsightly. I am no monster, merely a child sized being of some amount of unintentional humor." Again his hand straightened in hopes of an amicable shake. "As I understand it, if you have questions, that is the best place for any detective to start."
Josephine put out her hand in response and nodded.
"Let me assure you I am not ashamed of your height, sir. In certain countries, looking down is a sign of respect for one's elders and those of senior experience. And in truth, my direct manner seemed to irritate you greatly and I only wished to avoid irritating you further."
She shook his hand with care, not so delicately as to imply fragility yet not so brusquely as to imply disdain. A firm two shakes and a release.
"Since you have given me leave, might I ask what Sir John has told you of this case? Or perhaps Monsieur Throckmorton? Perhaps they can provide me a framework for my puzzle pieces, which of course I will share."
Dion slid his hand down to his side again, and nodded curtly. "Sir John merely informed me that we were to travel to regain possession of the two citizens of England, and put stop to Rembecki's plans, whatever they may be. As for Master Throckmorton, he informed Lord Drake and myself of Selene's researches into animal breeding and cross species fertility; and identified the demon, and that it was set as a guardian and spy. Truly, what I feel I know of the case is based almost entirely on supposition." The hobbit paced the small compartment. "Perhaps, and only perhaps, we can gain further understanding of what the FACTS are in Nuremberg. Paris has led only to more questions and London provides scant clue as far as what to even look for."
"That was my feeling as well." Josephine eased back into her seat, frowning slightly as she went through what she knew in her head. "Sir John told me that Rembecki was involved in magic. Her whole group was. He said ..." Josephine closed her eyes as she'd had on the carriage ride and intoned with Sir John's inflection:
“‘It’s Rembecki. That whole group. Of course, it’s magic.’" She sighed and her voice took on an urgent tone. “‘It is imperative that you track them down, that you rescue them. It’s imperative that Rembecki is stopped. That anyone she is with is either captured or killed.’" Her tone went quiet. “‘She can't be trusted. People have trusted her in the past. Now, Rembecki, she’s headed back to Germany. Well, Bohemia. Perhaps Hungary.’"
Josephine opened her eyes and looked at Dionysius.
"Sir John then told me a very curious thing. He said, 'Now, when you get there, if you need to, track down Clockwork. Clockwork will probably know. Clockwork was always your ...,'" Josephine faltered, reluctant to share this aspect of her past. Tell him. He is known to Sir John. Perhaps he has a piece of the puzzle I seek. "'Clockwork was always your father's best agent.' I confess, I am not familiar with 'Clockwork'. Sir John also mentioned a few other names as well. Drum. Zig Zag. Fanny. Of the last, he was more forthcoming. He told me he knew Fanny. And before he'd said that, he said ...," and Josephine allowed regret to color her voice, "'You know, I knew the father. Well, the grandfather mainly. I always promised I would take care of them.'" She sighed. "'And, well, I've let him down.'
"At the time," she continued, "I did not realize just how old he was, nor did I know he knew the founder of the Hellfire Club or was alive when it was disbanded. But it seems to me that Sir John knows much about the Hellfire Club or at least some of its members than he admits." She nodded at the book Dionysius had put aside. "I have not finished that chronicle, but I cannot help but think that the Dashwoods, Sir John, Rembecki, and ... my father and his associates are somehow all interlinked."
Should she tell him of what Arthur MacEwan had divulged? You’ve come this far, why stop now?
"When you were observing the gargoyle at the Societe du Nord, I went back to Trumpshaw's and spoke to one of Sir John's men there. He was once the station chief of Bern and he told me a few things about my father and his associates." Josephine stroked the leather armrests of her seat, unable to hide her unease. She'd never spoken of her father or what he did to anyone outside William's troupe and a decade of reticence was not overcome in a mere moment. "I last saw my father outside Ravensburg, in Württemberg, the morning of 17 October, 1856. He'd been travelling all over Bayern and the surrounding region talking to people in taverns and listening to the gossip. Obviously looking for something or someone. And then he abruptly left me in the care of people he trusted and took off. The man at Trumpshaw's told me my father had been sent to Eiger to investigate something. And at the same time, his associates had been sent to two other places. Schulmann had been sent to Nurnberg and had disappeared. Drum had been dispatched to northern Italy and likewise disappeared. His last known position was Genoa. My father had already been to Switzerland and had found nothing but when he was sent to Eiger, he too disappeared. I haven't seen him since.
"Do you know what the Alps are like in October, sir? It might still be pleasant in the lowlands but Eiger itself would be treacherous. I cannot remember exactly the conditions that shrouded it that day of the year but it is commonly known that one does not tackle that mountain so late in the autumn on a whim. It would be very dangerous for a man to go up there alone, much less a man with a child in tow. Because of this I am not entirely certain if his disappearance can be traced to a natural occurrence such as avalanche or climbing mishap, or if he was taken by fouler, more deliberate means. I only know that he is gone. And not long thereafter, Schulmann goes missing and turns up at the British Embassy in Berlin, miles and miles from Nurnberg... in a carpet bag. In pieces. Delivered by an agent many there believed to be Clockwork. Of Clockwork, there is little more to tell. Clockwork is reputed to be a beautiful woman. It is reputed that she knew my father. It is also reputed that she disappeared soon after delivering Schulmann to the Embassy and yet, I do not think she is dead. Why else would Sir John tell me to look for her?"
Josephine shook her head and gripped her seat. She knew there was no calling her words back. The secrets that she'd kept for over a decade were now out in the open and in the hands of a man--a powerful mage--she barely knew. The fact that he was attached to Katherine and Colonel Fleming kept her from complete panic that she'd divulged too much to the wrong person, that she'd fatally erred with precious intelligence she should have taken with her to her grave. And yet, information was useless unless applied and sometimes one had to divulge it to achieve its proper application.
"I am sorry. I realize I may have given you too much information to process but I have carried so much inside my head for so long, it is a relief beyond description to finally have someone to tell it to. I apologize if I've overstepped myself. Please forgive me."
The hobbit was taken aback. Obviously at some cost to herself, Josephine had relived a part of her life that was obviously painful. "It would seem, Madame, we were not the first or only ones to cross purposes with Rembecki. If you could, contacting this Clockwork might be the insight we need to gain a leg up on Rembecki, and discover her purpose and her associations." Dion tilted his head to the side, and considered her with visible concern. "Can you, Josephine? I assuredly understand if you cannot or will not. If you wish to absolve yourself of that duty, I ask only that you give me some means to speak to the man and I will try to gain his knowledge, and keep all details unrelated to our present need confidential."
With a new insight, Dion understood more what Catherine and Ezekiel valued in this woman. Surely, the first blush of appeal was her wild, untamed nature. The rebellion came not from a predisposition to evil and errantry, it seemed, but from a pain beyond petty humiliations and self doubt. The palpable loneliness made him want to offer some comfort, but staggered him with the inappropriateness of any reply he could give to her need. "You are not so alone as you think, Madame. The friendship you have made with my Lady and her Lord is no passing thing. There is no replacement for home and hearth; friends do make the dreariness of one's thoughts less dark. Perhaps we have talked enough. Madame will allow me to fetch tea, and some light meal before she takes her rest?" Heading towards the door, he turned his head towards her as he pulled open the compartment divider. "Madame should consider our joint clues, and take her rest. I shall knock discreetly when the tray is prepared and awaiting her pleasure outside the compartment door."
Recognizing the overture of friendship wrapped in a deft dismissal, Josephine was reluctant to spurn the former even as she regretted the latter. All things in good time, Jo, but you've forgotten something. Something important. So said her father's voice in her head and in a flash, she knew what she'd neglected to mention in her briefing. She eyed the compartment door: wide open. There was no discreet, secure way she could mention it now. It would have to wait until she could talk to him again and Beignet had given her the opportunity she needed. So she rose and straightened her skirt and nodded her acquiescence.
"Please," she said. "That would be lovely. I may yet have managed to dredge up more information from memory when you return."
There being nothing for it, she left Beignet's compartment and turned her footsteps toward Katherine's. She pulled her watch and checked the time. She still owed Ezekiel a little over an hour before she was pledged to check on him. Perhaps he has already finished apologizing to Michael and the Host and will be with Katherine and Flora. When Beignet arrives, everyone will be there and I shall not have to repeat everything twice.
She sighed and resting her forehead on the doorframe of Katherine's compartment, she closed her eyes and tried not to sink to the carpet where she stood. She was tired, so incredibly tired, and she knew no small part of it was completely the fault of revealing her deepest hurt--even so tiny a part of it--to another. It's done, Jo. Chin up. Move on. Josephine put her hand to the latch and went inside to wait for the others to arrive.
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