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Chapter Twelve!
rowan tree
Crossheart Hall
by Matt and Teresa Doyle

Chapter Twelve

Mavignel presided over the installation of his luggage with much more hands-on attention than he would have if anyone else had been present. It was true, of course, that he had Sabell carry each piece of baggage through the hallways, but once they were inside the room, there was no-one to impress.

Or rather, perhaps, there was still someone to impress, but one did not make a good impression with servants the same way that one did with the nobility, and Mavignel knew it.

"Sabell," he said slowly, pulling out the first item - a silver longcoat - and stowing it carefully in the wardrobe closest to his bed. "Tell me about Crossheart Hall. There must be all sorts of enchantments about."

"Right, milord," the boy answered. "Most of those that I can tell are quite mundane, I'm sure of little interest to a nobleman."

"Try me," he said.

"Lady Shadowcross laid a gift on Zhent's fire so that his pots never boil over," Sabell suggested lightly. "There's a window looking on the garden, on the first floor, that's glamoured to show rain or snow on a sunny day, sun when it's cloudy. The stairs and doors will never creak, and we've never needed poison or cats to keep the mice from the pantry."

"Good to know," Mav laughed. "I had taken it for a much more mysterious house. Corialuna will be so disappointed."

"Well, there are many more, for certain," Sabell said. "But for reasons of ignorance or confidence, they're not mine to share."

"Ah, of course." He finished the bag he was on and moved to help the boy with the larger case. "And what sorts of intelligences are yours to share, Sabell? What do you do in this household?"

"My first task at dawn is lighting Lady Shadowcross' fire," he answered solemnly, "and most nights this season, the last is extinguishing the candles in the lower halls. Between the two - who can say, from day to day? Some errands - like serving dinner - are predictable, and some - like moving in a new son - not so much. I do everything that those with more position haven't the time for."

"I've had that job," Mavignel confessed after a moment. "I used to be dogsbody to Baronet Overcliffs. Not as nice as here, certainly, but I'll wager the work was easier too. Besides making runs back and forth to the wine cellar, my main job was as His Lordship's barber."

Sabell's already-arched eyebrows rose further, and a smile flickered about his lips. He matched gazes with Mavignel, and Mavignel concluded reluctantly that any household secrets the other boy knew were going to remain secret, for now, at least until they knew each other better.

"I met the Baronet once," Sabell said, his tone still bright and cordial. "He came to one of the Countess's parties last autumn, when the new casks of wine and cider were being opened. He's ... very devoted in his criticism, and possessed of a generous palate." His eyes twinkled, and Mavignel relaxed a little. It wasn't going to mean trouble between them, at least, and that was good. He reflected for a moment with cheerful sourness that Sabell was a much better servant than he had been, and found that the thought didn't bother him overmuch.

After all, he'd never been meant to be a servant. Their discussion turned to more innocuous sorts of gossip, ones that told him nothing about Crossheart Hall, but they worked comfortably in tandem until the last of his things was packed away, and Sabell shook his hand before leaving, rather than bowing, and that was all right as well.

Tresselion should be returning soon, he reminded himself, and so, he had preparations to make.

He was expecting a knock on the door, and so had struck up an appropriately impressive pose in one of the luxuriously wide armchairs by the low fire, wishing he'd set a mirror on the mantle so he could examine the way that the shadows accentuated the planes of his face. What look was he intending? Dangerous? Wise? Smug?

Whatever it was, it went to waste. He'd been sitting for long enough to feel the restlessness in his limbs replaced with lethargy when a sudden and persistent pressure tugged behind his eyes. He felt its origin - he got a very clear sense of Tresselion, standing in a doorway, looking out into the same hallway. The room he had found was farther from the center than Mavignel's, and he could feel behind his eyes just how to get there.

He followed the tug with as much dignity as he could muster. Being summoned wasn't particularly attractive, but the grin on Tress' face when Mav rounded the corner into sight said both that the other boy was aware of the control he was exercising and that it didn't matter. He was excited to explore - which, in comparison to his anxious manner in Heartscore, was an improvement worth being summoned for.

"And now, my brother," he said, impressing into his voice the tones he'd meant to set with his fireside demeanor, "we see to our new kingdom."

"Shall we gather our noble sister?" Tress asked, his eyebrows raised solemnly. For a moment he looked quite impressive, but before Mavignel had decided if it was worth breaking the mood to say so, Tress broke it by peering down the hall way and pushing his spectacles higher by the bridge across his nose.

"I wouldn't think of leaving her to her doubtlessly dull quarters all night," Mavignel said, although he had.

"I doubt missing our invitation would keep her in," Tress said, laughter in his voice. "She may be about already."

"In the library," Mavignel said decidedly.

"Or the remarkably doorless room at the end of the east wing," Tress reminded him. "But unless we want her to turn us into giant icicles, I don't think that should be our first stop. Let's just find her room -"

"Oh and that's going to be the easy part," he said with a roll of his eyes. "With only six bloody thousand suites in Crossheart, we can't just knock on doors - we're just as likely to stumble across Lady Shadowcross, or the threatened lordling, who heaven knows would not hesitate to make trouble for us. Why did we not think to arrange for a meeting place?"

"Or," Tress said, scratching the back of his head. Mav looked at him severely, and tried to suppress the very ugly satisfaction he got at the embarrassed blush he could so easily strike into Tresselion's face. "Er. We could just use this fancy little thing called magic to trace her."

"You can do that?" He cleared his throat and shouted ineffective retreat orders to the blood that was marching through his cheeks. "I'll have you know that's an invasion of privacy, young man."

"Well, I mean, I don't think she would mind, do you? She doesn't know where we are, and we don't know where she is, and I thought that our exploration tonight was sort of implicit, didn't you? And I guess we could just meet in the room, but it's really -"

"Let's go to the library," Mavignel interrupted. "If she's not there, we can track her from the safety of a dark, quiet room full of books. All this hallway-dwelling has got me a little on edge."

The moment they entered the dark, quiet room, however, there was the sound of several books being dropped, and the lantern beside the door flared enthusiastically to life.

"Um," Tresselion said, blinking rapidly and waving a hand as if to waft the light away from his eyes.

"I believe one of us has accurately predicted the movements of sister dearest," Mavignel said, vindicated. "Cori?"

"About time," her voice said. "Look, if we all work at it, I'm sure we can find a secret passage here somewhere. I don't think it makes sense for it to be from the other floors, so it's really just a matter of finding the most boring, useless book in the library, which is sure to be the trigger. Something no one would ever disturb." She appeared from the stacks to their left, her fingers trailing slowly across the books just above her head. "Probably high up, too. I've tried quite a few already."

"If there's anywhere we should be looking for secret passages unknown," Mav said, "it's a certain room on the east wing."

"Nonsense," she said airily, and with a significant glance behind her to assure that they were watching, yanked out what appeared to be a tome of Turan genealogy. Her expression flashed from triumph to disappointment, and she reshelved it messily. Tress joined her at the shelves, delicately straightened the insulted text, and turned so that he was facing her.

"Um," he said. "Wait, now. Why nonsense?"

"Oh boys, just think a moment," she said with patient disdain, and turned back to the shelves, muttering at the books. "Maybe the lower shelf. Much less grand, but then, no one would ever expect..."

"You don't think we should investigate?"

"Oh, investigate, sure," she said. "You said we should be looking for passages there, though, and I've got to say, I think that's the last place we're bound to be trapped since it doesn't have a door."

"Speaking of, have we mentioned that tidbit of destruction to anyone?" Tress asked. When neither of the others answered, he reached up and fiddled a moment with his spectacles, then pulled a white cloth from his pocket and polished them with fervor.

"She was there," Mav said, his voice suddenly low and hesitant. "I mean, we all saw her, didn't we? Lady Shadowcross? She must know what happened."

"I think we should get it fixed," Tress said. "You know. Show that we're responsible and all."

"Pfft," Mav said, waving a hand, but he looked worried.

"Well, that's not exactly something we can do right now," Corialuna said firmly. "Let's go sneak about. And investigate, and - do wild magics of the darkest midnight, and such."

The room was just as they left it - the pile of ashes in the doorway, the blanket Jura had been sleeping under draped across the back of the sofa, even the lit lamp, although it was burning weakly now. Mav was the first to enter, so confident he almost forgot to step over the ashes and ended up taking an awkward leap-step over the threshold, growling, "Come on," to cover his wounded pride. Cori giggled and followed him, but Tress stayed on the outside a moment more, letting his fingers rest in the indentation made for the lock.

In a moment Cori had the lamp back to blazing, and then they were all startled by the grandfather clock's litany - eleven chimes that shivered through the room. Tress forced a laugh, and then stopped before it was finished. "This place is freaking me out now," he said. "I'm going to take a look at the doorway, feel around for enchantments."

"You didn't feel any this afternoon," Mavignel said quietly.

"Well, what else am I going to do?" he demanded, turning to put one hand on either side of the doorway. "How are we supposed to find out what happened? The door is gone, and - not that it wasn't a good idea, Cori, it was the only thing to be done, but it did pretty effectively destroy any chance we had at figuring out -"

His voice stuttered to a halt. For a moment Mavignel assumed he was just taken up with the magic, but then the boy's head turned slowly back to look at them, and his eyes were wide with realization.

"What?" Cori and Mav demanded in unison, not even bothering to glare at one another.

Wordless, Tress swept out the door and down the hallway to the next room. He flung the door opened, crossed to the opposite side and opened that one as well, and another, and another. He stopped then, turning back to face them and beckoning.

This time it was Cori, in her excitement, who stumbled over the pile of ashes, spilling it out onto the hall's wooden floor. She cursed with such eloquent violence that Mav couldn't help but pass her an admiring glance, and she stomped a few times to get the ashes off her boots before reaching Tress.

"Did you have a revelation about the marriage of doors and their doorways?" Mav teased. "Is the natural state -"

Tress cut him off, pointing back at their door. Mav looked at it, uncomprehending, but Cori sucked in a breath.

"I don't understand," she said. "Wouldn't that have made it easier for us to get out? Maybe my magic -"

"No," Tress said.

"What are we looking at?" Mav asked, irritated.

"The doorway," Tress said tersely. He looked again.

The frame was warped outwards, split into strips in the corners, as if it had been compressed. It bowed out to the sides ever so slightly, and the brass fitting of the latch had burst. Mavignel gestured at it, questioningly. “This? I mean, it does look weird- with the latch broken, shouldn't it have been easier to get out? It obviously wasn't the lock holding the door shut...”

“The whole frame,” Tresselion said. “Look how it's bent. Look at the pattern of the breaks, Mav.” He was shifting uncomfortable from foot to foot, eyes darting around them, somewhere so far beyond uncomfortable that Mavignel wasn't certain they'd invented a name for his emtional state.

"But it's an old house," Mav protested. "Surely it's just natural that the wood would have..." He realized slowly why they had moved, why Tress had opened the other doors. His eyes drifted across each of them - all solid, straight, unmarred. Good as new.

"The door expanded," he realized slowly. "That bastard! Of course we couldn't open it - it was jammed an inch deep in its own frame! He's clever. Well, I guess we're forwarned what he's capable of, then. We'll have to be careful. And I hardly think we should be responsible for fixing this, now that we have what I would call some pretty solid proof that we didn't -"

But Cori was shaking her head slowly. "Mav, you're not getting it. Don't you realize what this means?"

"Manipulating wood like that isn't sorcery," Tress said, pale-faced and shivering. "It's fey magic."

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Crossheart Hall by Matt and Teresa Doyle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

We're still looking for questions to stick in the FAQ!

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Very foreboding and portent ending. I like it a lot.

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