While Peter prepared to kidnap a hospital patient, his replacement sat alone in The Masque’s house, his long legs stretched out beneath the seats in front of him. He had been expecting Sir Hugo—or at least his voice—an hour ago and his patience was running thin. The dancer’s normally pleasant, smiling disposition was marred and stretched into tense lines. His fingers tapped restlessly against the arm of his chair until, at last, the director spoke.
“You are to stay here, Alexandre. I have reason to believe they will be returning.”
“But what good can I do here?” he protested. “I should be out hunting them down. Stopping them before they can return and lead others astray.”
Sir Hugo was quiet for a moment. “We are not partners, Alexandre. You do not make these decisions.”
The dancer frowned, biting a fingernail.
“What good would it do,” he went on with measured calm, as if speaking to a child, “for us to chase our fool and artist around the shifts while dissent festers in our home? You must stay here,” he repeated, “because when Peter does return, I want him to find a company committed to keeping him out.”
The way in which he said it was so firm, so final, that Alexandre didn’t even think to offer an opinion. Reluctantly, he nodded. Several times since he had replaced Peter, the dancer had felt that Sir Hugo was seeping into his thoughts, no matter how deeply he buried them. He felt his invisible eyes always on him and wondered if this was what had led the fool to run away. He wondered if perhaps he had gone mad with it. There was no doubt—as the smooth voice spoke just above his ear, he heard whispers of his own uncertainties being thrown back.
“I must know I have your loyalty, Alexandre,” said Sir Hugo.
“Of course, Sir, you do.”
“Be certain. These are the times that will test all bonds. There are others beyond the fool and artist who will seek to ruin what we have built.”
“Others? What others?”
“I trusted Peter once,” Sir Hugo said, glossing over the question. “I placed him at my side and as a consequence he knows much more than he should. He knows of others who might help him and I fear,” he added pointedly, “that they will somehow reach each other.”
Alexandre was beginning to wonder if he should have felt half so honored to have been made his assistant; the level of communication seemed little improved. He supposed he could blame Grey for that. He would just have to do his best to win the director’s trust. “I will do whatever needs to be done, Sir,” he said.
The voice left, just as a small troop of scene-shifters drifted onto the stage. Alexandre watched as they picked through the mess he and Peter had made during their parting struggle. They moved deftly, swiftly, not missing a single fleck of debris. He wondered whether they saw anything at all through their thick hoods, or if they were so attuned to the stage that they knew where the incorrect objects were. With a heavy sigh, he stood and stretched his limbs. If he was going to do as Sir Hugo had said and raise a proverbial army against Peter and his potential return, he might as well start now.
He would begin, he decided, with Giselle. She had been disappointed by Aidan’s abrupt abandonment of The Masque and might be ready to accept that his disappearance had been a betrayal and not some valiant act of rebellion. This Alexandre himself firmly believed. Indeed, he couldn’t help but feel a small bit of personal hurt at the scene-painter’s actions. It was one thing for Peter to betray them—he had always been unapproachable and conceited—but Alexandre had spent a great deal of time in touting the paradise The Masque had to offer to Aidan. He was rather incensed that all of his efforts had been cast away. He would speak with Giselle, she would sway the other singing lambs, and so he would make his way through the company, lynchpin by pin.
He found her in the costumes’ shop, getting fitted for a new gala dress. She seemed distracted, ignorant of the seam-makers’ attempts to position her. He greeted her with a sympathetic smile. “Are you well, ma chère?”
She nodded and managed a smile in return. “I am,” she said. Her thoughts were guarded. For as often as they had sat or talked together, she did not trust him. He resented her for it, as much as it was true that she ought not.
“When you are done, might I borrow you?”
“Of course,” she agreed with a little frown. “Is everything all right?”
“Not entirely, ma chère.”
He went to sit in the corner while the seam-makers worked and let her anxiety build. It was difficult to keep the smile from his face as he watched her glance over her shoulder at him with increasing frequency. So this was what the fool’s power felt like. To be an enigma in words and intentions was oddly freeing. He need not explain himself to anyone. Could do anything, say anything, and simply watch. This, he decided, was paradise.
At last they finished with her and she went to join him. He brought them out into the corridor and walked with her arm in arm towards the dressing rooms. “I am afraid I must talk to you about Aidan Lawrence.”
Her eyes lit up for a moment. “Is he back? Has he been found?”
“No, ma chère. But we have learned the reason for his desertion. I’m afraid he and Peter are planning an attack on our theatre.”
She stopped and withdrew her arm from his. “But that can’t be right, Alexandre. You knew him as well as I; he was gentle and not-”
“Yes,” he agreed, taking her hand instead. “He was. Gentle, and naïve, and far too new. Peter took him in with that silver tongue of his.”
Her dark eyes held his for a moment, searching for something deeper in their drowned depths. He watched her doubt wrestle against his words and fought his own battle against a triumphant grin as he saw it crumble.
“It can’t be right,” was all she said, her tone trailing with despair.
“When he returns,” Alexandre said, “we will do our best to win him back. We may save him yet, ma chère.”
She didn’t argue, and he knew he had won. They resumed their walk and he held her hand in consoling silence.
“What is it?” she said suddenly.
“Oh. Forgive me. It’s a nervous trait.”
They turned a corner, and his foot slid on something wet. He put his free hand out to grasp at the wall and only just managed not to fall. Giselle cried out and stumbled in to him, her hands delicately pressed up against his chest for support. They both looked down and found the corridor swimming in blood.
“…perhaps they are here already,” Alexandre muttered. He was not sure what this was, but let it feed her newfound distrust of Aidan Lawrence. “Perhaps we should go and see Sir-” His words were cut off in a horrible gagging sound. He gasped for breath and put his hands to his throat. He was driven to his knees by some iron will that made his insides heavy and his head light, and as his legs met the uncomfortable slickness of blood he realized in a rush of terror what was happening. It had happened once before and he had been counting on it never to happen again; he was drowning.
He arched his back, planting his palms in the blood and vomiting a stream of vile lake water. Somewhere at the back of his mind, he was baffled by Giselle’s utter lack of a reaction. She neither screamed in horror nor tried to aid him. She simply stood and watched him retch, which he did for a solid two minutes, until the blood before him was all but washed away.
It was not Giselle who spoke. He raised his eyes, trembling, to find another young woman standing over him, her ratty sneakers a mess of blood and water. Her messy bun of dark hair was familiar, as was her dirty grey dress, but it was the quill through her left eye that confirmed it; this was the poet.
“You ought,” he wheezed, “to be locked up.”
“In a way,” she said, “I am. You’re going to die now, Alexandre. You’ll find yourself back on the road, and when you do….” She knelt, her hands on her knees, her face drawing closer to his until the quill feathers almost brushed his cheek. “I suggest you pass on.”
“No,” he snarled with a cough. He looked for Giselle and found her standing against the opposite wall, her arms folded over her petite form and her eyes without pity. “Treacherous minx!”
“You should be more careful where you hold conversations with Sir Hugo,” she said. He had no time to be startled at her bravado before another fit of gagging and coughing seized him. The poet waited for it to pass and then took his blue-tinged face in her hands. She held him like a lover and whispered to him, her remaining eye growing darker than dark.
“I intend to protect those who are worth protecting in this company. Rest in peace, Alexandre. Or you will never rest again.”
As his vision faded and his brain lost all capacity for thought, he saw her features illuminated by thin shadows. They cast her as a living skull that opened its toothy maw to welcome him into a death which promised to be worse than the first.
(TCOS continues on Thursday! New social media handle: @greenherself .)