“That’s not acceptable,” said Olivia.
“I assure you mademoiselle, your safety is my first and only concern. I have sworn an oath,” declared the Cautious Chevalier.
“How is forbidding me from writing a letter to my family keeping me safe?”
“If any such missive would be intercepted, it would prove disastrous.”
Not for the first time, Olivia wished they had assigned the Fun Chevalier as a bodyguard if such a person existed.
“Can you tell me where they are?”
“I’m afraid that-“
“It would prove dangerous? Unwise? Ill-advised?”
“All of those mademoiselle.”
“Can you at least tell me if they are safe?”
“Absolutely,” replied the Cautious Chevalier a little too quickly.
She looked at him, from his practical but well-made armor with rounded edges and the safety bond on his sword to his clean-shaven face with the tiniest drop of sweat.
“Tell me the truth.”
“Your family is secure and unharmed.”
“Don’t you all swear an oath to tell the truth?”
“Honesty is one of our virtues, yes.”
“Then tell me what is going on!”
“Technically, what I’ve told you is the truth.”
Olivia’s insides went cold.
“Your father, in exploring the place where he and your family, made an unfortunate discovery.”
“What was it? A curse, a deadly trap, a bound demon?”
“A still what?”
“For fermentation. Which he used to great effect. He and one of his guardians became… dangerously inebriated.”
Olivia took a beat and then started to laugh. She laughed so heartily she needed to sit down. After a while, she wipes the tears from her eyes and stopped. Mostly.
“Do you wish to see a chirurgeon?”
“No. My father has a talent for finding trouble. If he’s getting drunk with a Chevalier, he’s fine.”
“I see. We have taken measures that will not happen again.”
“Good luck with that.”
“There is someone else. Recently, I became involved with someone.”
“Yes, the artist Renée Gardet, the arcane artist.”
“You know far too much about me.”
“It is for your protection and that of those you are close to you.”
“Can I send a message to her or is that too dangerous?”
“If you wish, you can write a missive and it will be hand-delivered.”
“That won’t compromise security? Is she secreted away in some hidden keep?”
“Mademoiselle Gardet’s advocate has accepted the protection of Coterie du Honor but is not in hiding, She is safe.”
Olivia wondered if Renée’s Chevalier was as serious as hers and hoped not. She wrote a letter that seemed too long and yet did not say enough. It was her fault that Renée had been drawn into this madness but perhaps it was better that she no longer had the key. Safer maybe. Ending it with, ‘Stay safe and we’ll see each other when this is all over.” Then adding some Xs and Os.
Stamping it with a wax seal, she handed it to the Cautious Chevalier who summoned a squire.
“Make sure this is delivered post-haste!”
The squire nodded and sped off down the corridor just as another appeared at the door.
“Pardon me, but Mademoiselle Chercheur’s presence is requested by the Marshal.”
“Shall we go post haste?” asked Olivia.
“Not too quickly, it would not do to slip and fall.”
Soon, but not too soon, they found themselves in the study of Marshal of the Coterie du Honor. It was well-appointed if you considered the display of weapons and pennants to fashionable, which Chevalier’s clearly did. The Marshal sat behind her desk glowering at Maxi who seemed unconcerned. Frau Schlüsselherrin and Monsieur L’Horloge sat, looking respectively exasperated and uncomfortable.
“Mademoiselle Chercheur, please have a seat,” said the Marshal who switched from grimace to grin.
“Thank you,” Olivia replied while taking the last open seat while Cautious stood behind her.
“You are a finder, are you not?” asked the Marshal.
“It won’t work,” said Maxi who seemed to be enjoying the tension in the room.
A gaze that had made both foes and allies quaver rolled over Maxi like rain off a window.
“I wish to engage your services, for the Tower Cerulean.”
Olivia began to feel as though she was in a farce and everyone else was in on the joke but her.
“What do you need me to find?”
“The object that Mademoiselle Couture has hidden.”
“Me,” added Maxi.
“Oh, right. I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
The Marshal stood at her near two-meter height and said, “You refuse!”
“No, no, no, no! It’s not that I won’t it’s that I can’t!”
“Are you not a finder?”
“This is something that has been hidden, just find it!”
“My gift is finding lost things, not hidden things.”
“I fail to see the difference.”
“Lost things are forgotten, they are left behind, kicked behind cupboards, fall out pockets and so on. No one knows where these things are. Maxi, do you know where this item is?”
“But-“ began the Marshal.
“If someone remembers, my gift will not work.”
“It’s the nature of my knack, as my mother would say.”
“Your family are all finders, true?”
“No one has that particular gift, at least in this generation.”
“Sorry,” said Olivia
“Told you,” added Maxi.
This was followed with a barrage of shouts, accusations, oaths, curses, and other vehement declarations.
“I cannot allow you to saunter out of this keep without an escort!” said the Marshal.
“Because a squad of Chevaliers is the height of subtlety! Why don’t I just give up the object?”
“It is NOT safe to be alone! You cannot fight them all!”
“If things go right, no one will fight anyone!”
“The object must be protected!”
“Your record on protection is not perfect these days, is it!” said Maxi.
“She’s right,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.
“I’m so sorry-“ began Maxi.
“We continue to search-“ interrupted the Marshal.
“If Zsófia were here,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, “she’d chide us for fighting amongst ourselves and doing our enemies work for them.”
He stood and walked to the window. Outside it began to snow on the lush, green leaves that had grown the day before, replacing the dead foliage of two days previous.
“Everything is wrong but I have to believe she’s still alive because if she isn’t, none of this makes any sense at least for me. So, we need to get the Penultimate Machine. Maxi is correct, a squad of Chevaliers-“
“Banner, a group is called a Banner,” added Cautious.
“Very well, a Banner of Chevaliers will draw a lot of attention.”
“But going alone is very dangerous. If you were caught and the object taken, I don’t know what would happen. Likely it would be very bad. Which is also likely an understatement. I…I can’t lose anyone else, I’m not sure I could take it and I desperately wish I knew what to do.”
An elegiac silence took the room as each grappled with their own doubts. Until…
“Pardon me,” said Olivia, “I have a suggestion.”