CHAPTER THREE: Q and A

JACQUES

Stephen and I slid into the two unoccupied seats across from the man and girl. Adrian and Lucy, I recalled. I could tell that the girl was still staring at me but I was determined to remain detached. A person's eyes always give the most away.

There was a brief silence before Stephen performed the introductions. "Adrian, Miss Lucy, may I present Lord Jacques, who belongs to the Shadows. My lord, may I introduce you to my associate, Sir Adrian de Fier and Miss Lucy..."

I held back a laugh as Stephen broke off as he realized that he did not know this girl's last name. He looked at the young girl for help but, disconcertingly, she merely shrugged. "I'm just Lucy. Besides, why are names so important?" She glanced at each of us, a shrewd look in her eyes. "I'm sure we've all had our fair share of names over the years."

No emotion registered on my face but I was certainly surprised. I glanced at Stephen and he briefly caught my eye, agreeing that Lucy's behavior was indeed odd. I tilted my head as I considered the girl.

She saw me staring and raised her eyebrows. "Yeah, I'm a mature twelve year old. Get over it."

"Very well then... Lucy, was it?" I asked kindly. I glanced briefly at the barmaid as she set four mugs of mead on the table.

She snorted. "I know, such a difficult name to remember."

I sat back in my chair and switched my attention to Sir Adrian. "'Sir?' Are you a knight, Mr. Adrian?" I asked, though I already knew the answer.

The man laughed humorously. "No indeed. I am a scholar, Lord Jacques. It is merely an honorary title. I had the great privilege of assisting Her Majesty's cousin and son during the Pox two years ago. My specialty lies in medicine, you see."

"A plain working healer, then. I certainly see no magic in you." I stated, slightly impressed. This man could not have been more than thirty five yet had already risen to the top of his field.

Sir Adrian laughed again, somewhat uncomfortably. "Correct. Speaking of which..." He turned his attention to his companion, obviously determined to turn the conversation away from himself. At this, all of our eyes focused on the girl, who sat stoically in her chair, her eyes flicking between us three men.

"So," she said slowly, looking at me with her unnerving amber orbs, "our Goodfellow here says that you have some damn strong magic, with which you might be able to help me."

"That depends," I drawled just as slowly. "I believe I'll have to know a little more about this magic and perhaps yourself."

Lucy made a face of distaste at this. "Understood."

I nodded at her consent. "Well, you are twelve, you are staying with your great-aunt, your parents are not here in Paris and you and your family are friends with Sir Adrian here. This curse was placed upon you about a year ago. That's about all I know." I saw her eyes flicker to Stephen and back. "And I have already discerned that it was royal magicians who placed it upon you."

She flinched at this last remark. She obviously feared those magicians. And she should. They are ruthless bastards who do the crown's dirty work.

I kept my thoughts to myself, however, and instead asked, "What is your economic and ethnic background, Lucy?"

"My parents are rather poor. They moved out of the city to live with distant family in the countryside until they bought the house we now own. My father works on a lord's farm. I forget his name, it's hard to pronounce," she added with an air of careful bashfulness. "My mother weaves." She absentmindedly stroked the back of her caramelized hand. "Both of my parents are mixed but both of their parents lived in EspaƱa."

She glanced at me as if gauging my reaction but none appeared on my face. "I see." I did not need the slight tug of magic to tell me that the girl was lying... partially. I wonder if she's had much practice lying? She's using both fact and falsehood to create a more believable story. Had my specialties not lain in concealment, I probably could not have detected the lie. However, I let her slide, knowing I would find out one way or another.

"And how do you two know each other, if you don't mind my asking?" I inquired politely, glancing between Adrian and the girl.

"Adrian here was friends with my older brother," explained the girl, a strange hint of hesitancy in her voice.

"Ah, I see. Was he studying medicine as well?"

The girl looked down and I saw Adrian glance at her. "No. Agriculture. And he died." She looked back up at me, her gaze defiant, almost challenging. "In the Pox."

No one said anything for several moments. Stephen shifted uncomfortably in his chair and I finally said, "I am sorry for your loss, Lucy." My gaze shifted to the man on her left who was looking into the distance. "And yours, Sir Adrian."

The older man looked at me and nodded acceptance. "I met Lucy through Jean. She was always tagging along."

A rather awkward silence fell. Neither Adrian nor Lucy seemed to have anything else to say on that subject so I switched the interrogation to slightly less painful subjects. Stephen and I took turns asking thoroughly generic questions that had little to do with the girl's magical infliction. However, it was a rule among the Shadows to be as well informed as possible.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Lucy possessed the same philosophy. As soon as there was a lull in our questioning, she spoke up. "So, if you are to be supposedly helping me, which you have made no mention of, by the way, I think it would be nice to know a little about you."

I did not speak and managed to keep a rather ugly look from crossing my face. Beside me, I was sure that Stephen was surreptitiously trying to cover a smirk. It was not an unreasonable request but I was unused anyone making demands of me.

I looked Lucy over carefully. "Well... How much has 'Fellow here told you?"

She shrugged and Stephen quickly clarified, "Not much."

I was unsurprised, considering the fact that every member of the Shadows was sworn to secrecy upon induction. In reality, someone would have had to dispose of him had he told the pair anything. "I would say there is very little that I can reveal right now. My ability to actually help you isn't confirmed and I can't have you babbling secrets without an oath of any kind."

"Secrets?" she asked, her eyes alighting in curiosity.

"Yes. As Stephen mentioned before, I belong to the Shadows." Surely this girl had heard of us.

"Ah. I see," she responded airily, as if the word Shadow simply meant darkness. Then, mire directly, "Oath?"

I smiled icily. "A necessity if we are to work together."

The girl was obviously still concerned but she recognized the finality in my tone. A slight pout distorted her delicate features and I widened my smile, ensuring her understanding of who was in control of this situation. From her expression, she was fighting the urge to stick her tongue out at me. However, her companion nudged her in the ribs and she sat back in her chair with a huff.

"Don't mind Lucy," Adrian said easily. "She isn't used to not getting what she wants." Lucy decided to stick her tongue out at him instead.

"I just don't think it's fair that you get to ask all of the questions," she complained petulantly, for once sounding like the annoying adolescent that she was.

I opened my mouth-- "And yes, I know life isn't fair."

I smirked at the tone in her voice. "Good. I'm glad you figured that out early in life."

Lucy's mouth twisted into a sneer and I immediately regretted my words. "Yes, and I had some help from the crown's thuggish charlatans."

I merely nodded in agreement, pushing away the sting of guilt. I had learned early on that an apology given to the wrong person made you extremely weak. "It is true you learn that fact quickly in this city."

She met my eyes with her amber ones, staring me down. Having always found staring contests rather boring and unproductive, I brushed my magic through her mind and body. I was adept at tracing any unnatural or artificial elements in another but alarmingly, to my senses, she appeared only as a colorless blur that, when touched, seemed to dull my own physical and cognitive abilities. I withdrew my magic and tried to shake off the slowness that was creeping through me. She either has good natural defenses, which is rare in one so young, or she has been trained in defense, I mused. But where would she have been trained?

Adrian coughed lightly and we both looked away from each other. "I don't wish to be hasty," he began politely, "but if you are willing to look into this further, then I would like to set a time and place so we can all be home for supper."

This man was obviously accustomed to giving orders; I filed this piece of information away. "I am afraid that I don't have much use for schedules so why don't I send you a time and place by messenger so the eavesdropper in the corner won't know as well."

I watched the girl and man closely. Adrian stiffened and sat up straighter, eyes flicking around the room. Lucy jerked in her seat as though she had received an electric shock and immediately turned her body and followed my gaze, which was turned towards the random loner sitting to my right. Stephen remained still by me, understanding that I was testing them.

"Please, don't worry," he reassured them. "He has not heard anything he wasn't supposed to hear."

Without giving them time to think what that statement meant, I stood and Stephen followed suit.

"Wait!" exclaimed Adrian in hushed tones. "What if the letter gets intercepted?"

"One of my assistants will ensure that the letter reaches you safely. Or, if convenient, I will send Stephen with the note. Good night, Mr. de Fier, Ms. Lucy." With that, Stephen and I quickly exited the room, leaving the two to pay for our untouched drinks.

"I believe you'll be known from now on in the medical industry as a money miser," joked Stephen after we had walked several blocks in silence.

I usually didn't give a damn of what anybody thought of me. I merely grunted, ignoring his attempt at small talk. I was never a believer in wasted words. I think I got that from growing up with the nuns. Several more minutes passed and I watched my companion surreptitiously. Stephen and I had known each other long enough that it was extremely difficult for us to hid our thoughts from the other. The slight crease between his brows and the hands stuffed into his pockets told me he was concerned but was attempting to be objective. I waited for him to collect his thoughts.

"I-- I suppose..." Stephen sighed. "This whole situation seems extremely convoluted and plain shifty. Naught but trouble for us."

"How well do you know Sir Adrian?" I asked, more as a rhetorical question, since I already knew all of my friend's business with the man.

"He is reputed as honest and hardworking but..." He trailed off and shrugged his shoulders expressively. "What is your take on the matter?"

We took a left down Gravestone place, which served as the less notable way of entry to home base. I remained silent as we slipped into the tavern through the shadowy doorway beneath the staircase. I motioned for him to follow me upstairs as I considered his question. It wasn't the girl's peculiar character that bothered me, nor was it her seemingly natural talent for deception.

"The curse," I said at last. Stephen raised his eyebrows at my vagueness. "That wasn't what the meeting was about. Granted, I wasn't expecting to perform any tests right there in the tavern. But the meeting was... was more about the exchange of information." I thought back to the conversation and realized first, how little information I had deducted and had been given and, second, how unprepared I was for Lucy's curiosity. That could get her into trouble later. Perhaps it already had.

"Isn't that what our meetings are usually about?" asked Stephen as I fitted my key into the lock on my door and uttered a command.

The swung open and we stepped inside. "Yes. Which is what concerns me. They acted exactly like all of the other spies, assassins and thieves that we deal with."

I knew that Stephen was just as pleased about this revelation as I was. As I shut the door and replaced the wards, Stephen took a seat while I fetched a decanter of liqueur. I sat and took a sip, savoring the rich, fiery flavor before I continued.

"Did you notice how quickly young Lucy jumped for any kernel of knowledge about us?"

My companion nodded, his light brown eyes thoughtful. "I wonder how much of what she told us is true," he pondered.

"Well, I would certainly like to find out. And I definitely want to know more about this Adrian of hers and what his dealings are about."

"It shall be done," he reassured me. "I'll see if I can glean something from Adrain the next time we talk business."

I nodded my consent. "I think I might do some snooping of my own. But remember, don't plunge too deep when we have no attachment."

"Yet."