The Madness Project (The Madness Method) (6 page)

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
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I wouldn’t die a crow.  Not ever. 

So I walked in silence all the way through the gates and out
onto the street.  Then, soon as the guard let me go, I hobbled into the nearest
alley like a whipped dog, disappearing before Jig could see my failure.

 

 

Chapter 6 — Tarik

 

We rode in silence, even though I’d left the glass window
open since the accident.  I plastered my gaze to the passing beech trees,
chewing at my nails the way that always bothered my mother.  The skin of my
palm still tingled a bit from where the Jixy girl had touched me.  Just
thinking about it made the static prickle dance up and down my arms,
half-terror, half-curiosity. 

What was a Jixy doing on the palace grounds?  Had she
recognized that jolt the way I did?  If she had, she’d done a remarkable job of
hiding it.

The sensation wasn’t new to me, after all.  I still felt it
every time my mother touched me—my mother, whose secret matched my own.  When I
was little she’d told me it was our gifts saying
how-d’you-do
.  All
mages shared a bond of sorts, something in our blood that called to others like
us.

If the girl knew as much about that as my mother did…she
would know the Crown Prince was like her. 

A Jixy.

Gad, the scandal would be unbearable.  Or maybe the scandal
wouldn’t be so bad—it might even be exciting—but my father would be an absolute
bear about it.  I should have told the guard to arrest the girl on some
trumped-up charge.  At least then I could’ve made sure she’d keep her mouth
shut.

But she was just a street rat.  Maybe she didn’t know
anything about the magery bond.  Maybe she didn’t even know what she was,
though I rather doubted that.

Finally I leaned toward the cab.  “Zag, you’re sure you
didn’t see that kid?”

He flinched.  “No.”

“You weren’t looking somewhere else?”

“No, Your Highness.  I had my eyes on the road.  Though, I
thought I saw…”

His voice trailed off, and I gave him a semi-patient three
seconds to finish.  When he didn’t, I prodded him to keep talking.

“Nothing, Your Highness.”

“Zagger!”

I hated putting that hard edge on my voice; it reminded me
too much of my father.  Sometimes it was useful, though, especially with Zag. 
He straightened and lifted his chin, like a soldier coming to attention.

“I thought I saw a bird flying close out of the corner of my
eye,” he said.  “Then I hit the kid.”

I sighed and gnawed on the raggedy edges of my nail again.

“I told you it was nothing,” Zagger went on.  “Just my mind
playing tricks on me.”  He let out a thin breath and said, “I thought they’d
got the motorcar.”

“Me too,” I said, and slouched back.  “I think she was a
Jixy.”

Zagger jolted.  “Why?”

I dropped my head against the seat and closed my eyes, and
didn’t answer.

“Your Highness, not presuming to tell you what to do, but
shouldn’t we have held her for questioning?  Your father would want to know
that a Jixy was on the palace grounds.”

If only you knew
, I thought, hiding a bitter smile.

“She might have been an assassin, or…”  Zagger’s voice
trailed off.

“I doubt she was involved in Griff’s crash, if that’s what
you’re thinking,” I said.  “She probably just got lost.”

We rolled up to the palace steps, and a footman in a tall
hat and greatcoat came to open my door.  I stepped out into the shelter of an
umbrella, but paused to poke my head into the cab.

“It was an accident, and she was just a stray.  So forget
about it, all right?”

Zagger looked unhappy, but he gave a sharp little nod. 
After all, he couldn’t exactly argue with me.  The engine rumbled and I backed
away, watching as he guided the motorcar toward the carriage house. 

Inside the palace, I’d barely shed my wraps when the butler
accosted me, greeting me with a formal bow and a smile that made him look
rather like one of my father’s hyper spaniels.

“Afternoon, Your Highness.  Had you a pleasant outing?”

“Yes, thank you, Pont,” I said, and swallowed back the part
about getting drenched, frozen, and nearly bucked from my motorcar.

Pont seemed rather confounded by my civilized reply, but he
only said, “Her Majesty is expecting you.”

I arched a brow at that, but nodded my thanks and waved him
away.  My mother would be in her study in the Long Ward at this hour, when her
tea guests had all left and the dinner guests hadn’t yet arrived.  Those were
her few precious moments of peace and solitude, and I hated the thought of her
wasting them on me.

My footsteps clashed in the empty space between
gilt-mirrored walls and marble floors, too loud in all the silence.  The
electrical lamps warmed the corridor to nighttime brightness, and servants
scurried in and out of the state rooms in last-minute preparation for the
evening’s dinner, pausing to give courtesy as I passed. 

I’d always thought the Long Ward’s name was rather an
understatement.  It took me a good ten minutes of trekking down dark-paneled
halls and up gold-carpeted steps to finally reach my mother’s apartments.  A
silent servant admitted me to her study, where I found her sitting at her desk,
probably writing a letter to the same dignitary she had just received for tea. 
She had already dressed for dinner, in blue silk and pearls.

“There you are, dear,” she said, her pen still curling
around in fluid strokes.  “Come, sit.  Finn, you may go.”

Her lady curtsied and swept from the room as I sat in front
of the mahogany desk, wishing I’d taken the time to make myself presentable
first.  I was drenched and the cuffs of my trousers hung heavy with mud, and my
hair fell in my eyes the way that always sent my valet into fits.  But it was
too late for redemption now. 

For a few moments I sat properly, then I groaned and leaned
my elbows on my knees.  

“Posture,” she said, barely glancing at me, but when I
didn’t move she laid down her pen and frowned.  “You’ve been out in the rain
all afternoon, haven’t you?  You’ll catch your death, I’m sure.”

“I’m fine.  I’m fantastic.”

“No, you’re not,” she said briskly.  “Don’t lie, Tarik.  It
isn’t becoming, and you don’t fool me.”

“Why did you want to see me?”

She pursed her mouth and leveled a narrow look at me. 
“Something’s troubling you.”

“You couldn’t have known that when you told Pont to send me
up.”

“Darling, you’ll feel better if you just tell me.”

“Griff nearly crashed his aeroplane,” I said, without any
hope of fooling her.

“He’s all right,” she said, and I nodded.  “I’m rather
surprised it didn’t happen sooner.  But I am glad he wasn’t hurt.”  Her eyes searched
mine, reading my heart like a journal.  “That isn’t what has you bothered,
though.”

I frowned at her under my eyebrows.  Then, repressing a
sigh, I reached across and touched her hand.  The pinching static charge traced
up my arm, but coming from her it was comforting.  Familiar.  A bond.

“I felt that today,” I said, pulling my hand back and
sitting on it like a schoolboy.

She stiffened, just.  “What?”

“Some Jixy kid got in front of the motorcar,” I said.  “It
was an accident.”

“Tarik!” she cried, paling.  “Darling, are you all right?  I
told your father those things are dangerous, but he’d never listen.”

I shrugged, and she didn’t even chide me for it.  “I’m
fine.  It was nothing.  We were barely moving when it happened.  But…I felt
that bond when I tried to help the kid up.”

For a few long moments the only sound was the rain pattering
the glass and the round ticking of the clock over the mantle.  My mother had
her gaze riveted on her pen, her mouth drawn up in a little line.

“Do you think she recognized what you are?” she asked.

I smiled—I hadn’t said anything about the Jixy being a
girl.  Mother always just knew those things.

“I don’t think so.  She looked stung a bit, but maybe she’s
never touched another Jixy before.”

I tried not to think about how unlikely that was.

“You know it could be disastrous if…”

“I didn’t—” I started, then clacked my jaws shut.  I’d
interrupted; I knew better.

“You know it could be disastrous if the mages in this city
learn the truth about…us.”

“Yes,” I murmured.

I knew it, though I’d always tried to ignore it.  If the
world knew my—her—secret…I couldn’t bear to imagine what would become of her. 
In some nations, being a mage was as much as a death sentence.  Things hadn’t
gotten so bad here, not that I’d ever heard anyway, but mages were still
strictly forbidden from holding positions of authority in the government, or
places of status in society.  This wasn’t just a fun bit of scandal that I
could stir up and then hide from as I always did.  This was a question of her honor.

I winced.  I didn’t want to think how close I’d come to
destroying her.

She sat quietly another few moments, then she pulled her
hands to her lap and raised her eyes to mine.

“Your father is going to speak to you later.”

“Am I in trouble?”

“No, of course not.  For once,” she added, the corner of her
mouth fighting a smile.  But then she hesitated a long moment, unsettling me. 
“Things are changing, Tarik.” 

She stood abruptly and I mirrored the motion by habit,
watching her drift around the desk to stand in front of me.  Her hands reached
up to take my face, her eyes searching mine, sad and dark. 

Then she pulled my head down to kiss my brow, but when she
spoke, all she said was, “Go and dress for dinner, love.”

I bowed and took my leave. 

Another interminable walk brought me to my own apartments,
high on the third floor at the farthest north corner of the Ward.  I found
Zagger brooding in a chair by my study fire, bent over his knees and fiddling
with the cuffs of his uniform sleeves.  He didn’t move as I came in, so I just
ignored him and went on into my bed chamber. 

My valet Liman was there waiting for me with my dinner suit
already set out—charcoal grey with thin white pinstripes, and a silk waistcoat
in dark blue.  I grimaced.  That was Father’s favorite style, and I wasn’t my
father.  But I didn’t complain, just let Liman help me out of my damp clothes
and into the suit, listening to him fret about me catching ill from the cold.

He kept up a steady stream of conversation the whole time it
took him to make me presentable for dinner—smoothing out my collars, buttoning
my cuffs and fixing my pocket watch, returning my rain-murdered hair to some
semblance of order.

“I’m surprised Mother hasn’t ordered you to have my hair cut
again,” I remarked, staring blandly at my starched reflection in the armoire
mirror.

He smiled as he applied another remedial dose of groom to my
already over-slicked hair.  I made a face at him in the mirror.

“You’ll want your royal hairs trimmed before tomorrow’s
gala, I’m sure,” he said.

I could imagine away my hair and go out as bald as you if
I wanted
, I thought, and said nothing to his taunt. 

But I wondered if it was true.  I hadn’t tried Masking my
face since that day when I was five years old.  Was a magery gift something one
would forget through disuse, like a language or the steps of a dance?  Or was
it always there, dormant, but natural as breath?

I stared at my reflection again.  Some part of me—the
troublesome, rebellious part—wanted desperately to try, but not even I was
brazen enough to do it with Liman there at my shoulder, examining his
handiwork.

He kept at me for only a few more moments before he stepped
back and bowed.

I checked the time, sighed, and headed down to dinner.  The
rest of the party had already been seated when I arrived, but only just; no one
blinked when the footman announced me.  My mother smiled at me, but in the
middle of it she narrowed a pointed look at the small man seated to her right. 
Batar, Minister of the Court. 

I winked at my mother just to horrify her, because I knew
exactly what she meant:
Behave yourself.

“Sorry,” Griff said as I took my seat beside him.  “Abso-
lute
-ly
forgot that we were coming.”

“I figured as much,” I said, receiving my napkin and a bowl
of pumpkin cream soup.  I glanced at Minister Farro and whispered, “What did
your father say about the crash?”

“Ah,” Griff said, laughing faintly.  “I haven’t told him
yet.”

I tapped a finger to my lip and nodded gravely.  Across from
us, Minister Batar was launching into his regular ecstasy over the menu.


Oh!
” he exclaimed, tapping his fingertips together
as his own bowl appeared in front of him.  “Oh, how p-p-positively
shplendid

P-p-pumpkin bisque.”

Griff cocked an eyebrow at him, but Batar was too engrossed
in observing the exact orange-cream hue of the soup to notice.  The man was an insufferable
idiot, but half of Brinmark worshipped him as the final arbiter of all things
cultural and refined in Cavnal. 

BOOK: The Madness Project (The Madness Method)
8.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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