Her father arrived within a half hour, shockingly fast given that the messenger had to find him first. Sir Charles Dielle was son of the last Marquis Dielle and still called 'Lord' by everyone who wasn't a sworn royalist in spite of the King revoking his peerage. He was not a physically intimidating man. He did not quite reach six feet and his build lacked the lithe power of James' but he had a presence and a look that could set men twice his weight blubbering.
He was not using the 'I-have-conquered-kings-and-traitors' expression now, but he still had that weight which, combined with Wright's embarrassment, left the latter staring at his shoes. They were very scruffy, worn shoes. He looked at the other pair of shoes in the hall, a fine pair of leather boots, freshly polished and shinning slightly in the lamplight. The boy's spirits sunk lower.
"Doctor Leilan tells me that you propose to explain what happened to my daughter tonight," Sir Charles said slowly in that tone, that accent, that James Wright hated.
"Yes sir," he said, twisting one shoe in place on the bare boards of the upstairs hallway. A few feet behind him was the door that led to Aurelie, and a few yards behind the lord was one that lead to the stairs on which servants were undoubtedly eavesdropping.
"Your daughter and I are friends, sir," he said after a moment's cold and awkward pause. "Were, were friends."
With his eyes fixed on the noble's boots he couldn't see her father's reaction, couldn't see whatever outrage or disgust was there. And he thought it was better this way, though he knew he should face it.
"She's been," he swallowed and chanced a quick glance to the side, to make sure the door was still closed. He knew she would never forgive him for this, but that was what he wanted and what would keep her safe. "She's been visiting the poor areas of the city, hanging around with us. Just to talk!" he added quickly. As much as he wanted to keep her away from them all he did not want to damage her 'honor.' She had told him what that had done to her mother. "But still, it's no place for a lady, no place for any noble. An'-and, it's dangerous."
"So I see," the man replied and his cool tone told James nothing of his feelings. But he still could not look up to see if there were emotions on that face.
"And why are you telling me this now? Why did you not deliver my daughter and leave? You could have played the helpful bystander and would certainly have been rewarded. She is intelligent and possesses and unfortunate degree of cunning which I've been told is hereditary. I'm sure she could have come up with a convincing story."
"She's been a good friend, and now I wanted to be a good friend back, sir. I don't want her to get hurt again," James said in one long breath, somehow managing to keep his pronunciation in check. "I don't want her wandering around the bad areas anymore. A lady belongs- with the other nobles, not with poor folk."
He saw the lord shift and chanced a glance up. There was no emotion visible on Charles Dielle's face as he gazed at the door behind which his daughter was recuperating, he merely looked thoughtful.
"So tell me, Mr. Wright, what happened tonight to cause all of this? This, change of heart."
James clenched his fists to keep from shouting, to keep his emotions just as controlled as the man in front of him. "It's not a change," he said almost inaudibly. "I been trying to shoo her away for ages, but she don't listen. Today me and an old friend had a fight. Something went wrong earlier when we was working and he almost got hurt. He got drunk and came to find me, to pick a fight and it all got out of hand. He was going in," here he mimed Max brandishing his knife, "about to get me good and what does she do? She just jumps right in between us and gets stabbed 'stead of me. I-" his breath caught and he put a hand to his face. He didn't want to let this immobile man see his softness, see his weak spot, but he could not stop now. "I thought she was dead."
"The thing about my daughter is," Sir Charles turned to examine one of the paintings lining the wall, giving the young man a brief reprieve from his piercing stare, "she does what she wants or feels to be right, irregardless of the advice, opinions and orders of those who care for her."
James looked up, surprised at the softening tone of the man across from him. But in spite of the change in his voice his posture was still straight and dominating.
"I tell her to focus on her studies and instead she and her sister play with jewelry, her mother tells her to try dancing with some young man she doesn't know and instead she sneaks off to see you, you tell her to go away and she jumps into your fight. The only way to stop her is to take away her means."
"What do you mean sir?" Wright asked, his stomach dropping suddenly. The last thing he wanted was for Aurelie to be put under house arrest, unable to leave or move freely, but that was what her father was leading up to.
"How attached are you to Salano, Mr. Wright?"
James blinked but answered immediately though he was wary of the question. "I was born and grew up here, but I wouldn't call myself attached."
"So, what would you say to a change of location, Nantal perhaps?"
"I think putting you on the opposite side of the kingdom would stop my daughter's visits to you, and most likely discourage them to any other associates as well. I will pay to move you, any belongings and family you care to take with you, and can provide you with introductions for whatever trade you are a member of."
"You would do all that, sir?"
Sir Charles turned back from the paintings then. His face was set and grim and he met James' eyes with such intensity that the latter could not look away. "To protect my daughter I would do much more Mr. Wright. Be assured of that."
James understood instantly that his presence would no longer be tolerated within fifty miles of the capital or the Dielle family estate. He knew Sir Charles' look, it was one he himself had turned on men who were too forward with Aurelie and that he had once used on the ne'er-do-well that had taken to hanging around his landlady's daughter. Though unnerved by the steely eyes he was at least glad to see that underneath the courtier's frozen façade was a man who did care for his daughters.
"I have no family to move with me, sir." James continued the conversation as if no threats had been uttered, but then he was used to more graphic threats than that. "But I do live for near free with a widow and her family. Would it be possible to get a small sum so I can find rat free lodgings?"
A slice of real emotion crossed the noble's face for a moment as his surprise showed in his widening eyes. "You've no objections to leaving as soon as possible?"
"I've always wanted to live somewhere a bit warmer, but I need a bit o' time to get everything together."
"Would a fortnight be enough time?"
He was tempted to mention the money again because Dielle had completely sidestepped the issue. At the moment the lord looked thoughtful again and was running a distracted finger over his chin. From little things Aurelie had mentioned or let slip over the years he knew a month or two's rent was pocket change to the girl, and probably even less to her father. But he kept quiet, knowing that the last thing nobles liked to be reminded of was how a little sum to them meant months of income to the poor.
"What about introductions? I can have you taken in at any of the best establishments in the city."
What a chance, what an opportunity James had before him: an offer of the patronage of one of the most influential men in the kingdom. He had an opening thousands would kill for, but he had only one skill. Slowly, he shook his head and watched the surprise return to Sir Charles' face.
"Thank you, sir, but yeh-you see, my line o' work isn't exactly, well, legit."
"What does that mean, young man?"
James Wright felt real apprehension suddenly as he looked at the stern visage before him. While the daughter had been disapproving she had also accepted his choice to remain a thief. Sir Charles however, could choose to turn him over to the authorities.
"I shouldn't be bothering you with that, sir."
"I insist you tell me."
He swallowed and looked away, letting his eyes trail along the plain baseboard of the hallway. "I used t'be a pickpocket. Then I figured yeh get more going inta places, so I became a burglar. Breaking inta shops when people were asleep. But I didn't like robbing my own people, so we headed inta the rich section…" James trailed off before forcing his eyes back to the other man. He looked across at Sir Charles, at his calculating look and the jaw that betrayed no emotion, and wondered heretically if maybe the father was as capable of magic as the daughter and had just never shown it.
At length he said "I think I might have references for you after all, Mr. Wright."
And so it was that James Wright dragged himself back to the scene two weeks later. He was to leave a little after midnight on the express mail carriage and all his trunks were packed and waiting in the front room of his boarding house. He had said goodbye to his friends and foster family, left his landlady a little something to cover expenses for a while, courtesy of Sir Charles, and left her daughter with some advice on choosing better boyfriends in the future. Max was in the neighborhood jail, where he had been deposited that night and where he would remain until Wright was out of town. Since there had been no permanent injuries and she had jumped in the way her family had not alerted the authorities.
To Aurelie he had sent no word and he thought it the best way to leave her, with 'idiot' the last word she'd heard from him and 'bastard' the last word he had from her. Anything else would be tortuous and perhaps even dangerous. He had heard, through a friend whose cousin's neighbor's sister was a maid in a noble household, that Aurelie had effectively been under house arrest for that fortnight, supposedly to recuperate. James understood her father's reasons well enough, and had depended on them in the first place to separate them. He also understood that no contact from him would be tolerated by his new benefactor.
He finished his mug and paid his tab. The barman saluted and the regulars sent nods his way. A few who were more Max's friends than his sent jeers but by now he didn't care. He was off to Nantal in an hour. He would stay with a second cousin until he found his own place and the morning after his arrival he would present his letter of introduction to one of Sir Charles' 'business partners.' He hoped that would be the beginning of a long career of harassing the royalists with some burglary and a little espionage.
"Anything for a price," had always been his motto and as Sir Charles had said, it was the city's as well.
Aurelie would be far away.