Hello everyone :) I havnt written in a while but I just read Michael Pryor's newest addition to his Law's of Magic series, and felt the itch again. Having finished this oneshot I realise that I have taken certain liberties in relation to the characterisation - the words or actions probably arnt entirely true to the books. But it was fun and was only meant to be a fluffy short story anyway. If youve read the newest book youll notice that ive actually taken chunks of the book and put them in the story - im not entirely sure if this is ok, legal or whatever, but there you have it. You can tell which parts are his :) I hope you enjoy it.
Another chuckle. 'I could lie, tell you that is the totality of my need for you, and then roll out my next task, but I choose not to. I'm going to be straight forward.'
'That must be refreshing,' Caroline said acidly.
'Ah, she jokes! A witticism trips from those lovely lips! Here I was, assuming that it would be the boy who would endeavour to keep up spirits with a quip. You must be learning from him.'
'Don't be foolish,' Caroline said but Aubrey couldn't help notice that her cheeks were flaming. In other circumstances it would be a delightful sight but... he reconsidered. No, it was delightful, even in this unfortunate situation.
Dr Tremaine studied her, then he glanced at Aubrey, then back at Caroline. A smile crept to his face; the malicious smile of a man who delights in the tormenting of others. Aubrey knew what was coming, and immediately felt warmth blossom in his cheeks.
Captured by a murdering, sociopathic sorcerer, slim chances of survival, and a war raging around the continent. And I'm blushing like an idiot. Aubrey upbraided himself, adding a few sound mental kicks and one particularly satisfying slap. But all this couldn't help his mind thinking about the damage that Dr Tremaine could do to his relationship with Caroline, precarious and confusing as it was at times. He caught Tremaine's gaze and pleaded with his eyes. Don't. Please, Don't.
Tremaine let out a slow, deep throated chuckle and stroked his jaw mockingly. 'I've just had an exceedingly interesting thought... Why is it, Miss Hepworth, that whenever I run into Fitzwilliam here, you seem to be trailing not far behind him, most faithfully? It couldn't be that you are in fact partial to this strapping young lad, could it, my dear?' He smirked at Caroline, obviously enjoying whatever reaction she was giving to his goading – Aubrey didn't dare to look.
'Like a loyal little puppy, isn't she, Fitzwilliam? ' Aubrey physically winced at this and was rewarded by the sting of Tremaine's blade as it kissed his skin fleetingly. The blood that had surely turned his face a deep crimson by now pounded in his ears, drowning out his thoughts. His eyes darted to Caroline of their own accord, taking in the horrified and angry expression that clawed at her beautiful face, the forced stillness of her body that was at fundamental odds with the anger he knew she must be feeling.
Caroline looked away from Dr Tremaine's face and as if by accident caught Aubrey gaze. She looked away just as quickly, but not before Aubrey saw the crippling embarrassment – and something else? – in her stunning brown eyes, and he hated himself for it.
But Tremaine obviously wasn't finished yet.
'Drooling after the Prime Minister's son, eh Miss Hepworth?' – Aubrey felt the doubled edged blade of his words as an almost physical pain – 'Your Father would be so proud.'
At these words Caroline's head snapped back up and the full force of her loathing and contempt for the man blazed from her face, burning up any other emotion with her fury; she looked ready to kill. Tremaine merely smiled sweetly and switched his gaze to Aubrey, continuing before Caroline had the chance to speak. "Or perhaps,' he ventured in a softer, conspiratorial voice, 'I am mistaken. Perhaps the drooling should be attributed to another quarter... Come Fitzwilliam; since she has found herself fatherless, I shall, with the intention of protecting Miss Hepworth's honour, take it upon myself to inquire about your intentions towards this young lady.' He paused and waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Aubrey, who felt as if the whole factory was crashing down around his head. The expression on Dr Tremaine's face would have been comical if not for the thinly veiled cruelty in his eyes.
'Tell us how you feel about Caroline, Fitzwilliam. I'm interested to know whether you have inherited your father's predisposition towards falling in love with strong women.' Oh no, Aubrey thought, his heart having bypassed his rib cage and decided to sink its way towards his stomach. He now understood how it would feel to be a rabbit caught in headlights, blindly not knowing what to do or how it had gotten into its pitiable predicament. He dared not look at Caroline.
'Are you in love, boy?' The sorcerer sneeringly drew the point away from Aubrey's neck slightly, giving him room to speak. Clearly, Tremaine did not consider this a rhetorical question; Aubrey's heart gave one last hiccup from where it was lodged around his feet.
Aubrey closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He felt a sense of calm overcome him. Just give him what he wants, he thought suddenly. Give him what he wants, then escape and worry about everything after that. He opened his eyes and found his gaze irresistibly drawn towards Caroline. She looked beautiful, devastatingly so, and wondered in awe how she managed it even while being held captive. A thousand different expressions fought for dominance on her face – anger, hurt, embarrassment, shock, trepidation, defiance – which was carefully, deliberately angled in his direction. Her eyes shined, but held his gaze.
Time seemed to stop; Aubrey took in every detail of this brilliant, dazzling young woman – every stray hair that had fallen out of place, every well defined contour of her skin, every fleck of colour in her dark, intelligent eyes – and he knew, heart wrenchingly, that he loved her. And she was waiting. Aubrey did not dare to consider the implications of the glint of anticipation that flashed through her eyes in that moment. Aubrey felt that everything that they had been through together over the last few years had culminated in this one, gargantuan moment.
'Yes,' Aubrey answered, simply; and was immensely proud when his voice only caught slightly. 'Yes,' he repeated, almost in a whisper. He realised that this one word could create a rift between them that not even his magic could close.
He kept Caroline's gaze long enough to see her shakily release a pent up breath and shut her eyes, concealing from him whatever emotion they held. Was it pity? Embarrassment? Or could it have been happiness? Was that moisture that was glistening on her cheek? Aubrey didn't know, couldn't consider it in depth now; one look at Dr Tremaine told him he wasn't a happy trooper.
Tremaine's smug look vanished as he realised that the situation had been taken out of his hands. He thought I wouldn't admit it, Aubrey understood abruptly, and he took great pleasure in thwarting the man's efforts to sow discord between them. Tremaine's frown was like a thunderhead, dark and menacing and ready to explode.
At that moment, the door banged open and Baron von Grolman stool there. 'I have an idea,' he said. 'We can use the boy'.
Tremaine turned his head and glared at the (in Aubrey's mind) fortunate intrusion – but his sword still hovered at Aubrey's throat. 'You've interrupted me, von Grolman,' he said in a voice practically cracking with displeasure.
'Sorry, Tremaine, but I wanted to catch you before it was too late.'
That's an unspoken implication that I'm not altogether happy with, Aubrey thought. He went to speak, but Dr Tremaine moved the sword point infinitesimally.
'And what is so important that you burst in here like that?' Dr Tremaine said to the Baron.
The Baron clasped his hands together. He was sweating, beads appearing on his broad forehead. 'I've just realised what a godsend we have here, Tremaine.'
'You've just realised? Are you sure someone hasn't been in your hair? The Mattingly girl?'
To Aubrey, the barons blustering denial was as good as an admission, and from Dr Tremaine's amused expression, he thought so as well. 'Look, Tremaine,' the baron said eventually, desperately trying to wrest back the initiative, 'you understand that we have the son of the Albion Prime Minister here, don't you?'
'There is little I don't understand, von Grolman, but do go on.'
'Imagine what the effect would be on the Albion populace if he defected.'
Aubrey couldn't help himself. He blurted, 'Defected?'
The baron ignored him. 'We photograph him, shaking hands with you, inspecting Holmland troops, conferring with the generals I've brought here. It would destroy his father, for a start.'
Dr Tremaine smiled. At the sight of that smile, Aubrey immediately wanted to be on another continent, and couldn't understand why the baron wasn't running for his life. 'Von Grolman,' Dr Tremaine said, 'I like this. Its underhand and grubby, just the sort of thing I've become to expect from you. But I fail to see what you will get out of it, which makes me suspicious.'
The baron swallowed. 'Partners shouldn't be suspicious of each other, Tremaine. I'm being open.'
'Yes, you are. So just to make sure, tell me how you'll benefit from this little plan.'
'I'm a patriot. This will help us win the war.'
'Now your stating to disappoint me...'
'I have access to certain shares,' the baron groped for a handkerchief in his pocket and used it to mop his brow, 'in companies that are owned by Darius Fitzwilliam. If I sell these now and then buy them back later when the price tumbles, I'll make a fortune.'
Dr Tremaine turned to Aubrey and Caroline. 'Finance. It's a magic of its own and I have little time or inclination for it.'
'It could be your undoing,' Caroline said, but Aubrey could see that her heart wasn't in it.
'I doubt it. I have a man who takes care of such things for me.'
Caroline perked up at this. 'Excellent.'
'They're the ones – after the embezzling and running off with all you money – about whom you say "But I trusted him completely".'
Dr Tremaine laughed; his good humour seemed to be restored. 'You're right, I always read that in the paper. But my man can't run off, you see. I've placed a small locomotive spell on him. He can't move outside the room I've placed him in without his heart stopping.'
The baron paled and his hand crept to his chest. 'Well, Tremaine, what do you think about my plan for the boy?'
'I have a potential problem with this scenario, delicious though it sounds. I don't think that young Fitzwilliam will cooperate.'
'Turn traitor?' Caroline said. 'I should think not!'
'Admirable, Miss Hepworth, standing behind your man like that', Tremaine offered mock respectfully. Caroline staunchly held his gaze.
'Not willingly, perhaps,' the baron said, and the colour began to return to his cheeks. 'But with the right sort of lever, much can be achieved, no?'
'No,' Caroline said.
'I will ask him. Tremaine, let him answer.'
Dr Tremaine moved the sword tip away slightly. He was immensely amused by what was going on, as if it were a divertissement arranged purely for him. 'He is yours, von Grolman.'
The baron moved until he was facing Aubrey squarely. He leaned over, hands on his knees, until his face was at Aubrey's level. 'Now, Fitzwilliam, I will make this clear. Unless you cooperate, I will kill her immediately.' Dr Tremaine chuckled in the background.
The baron straightened and pushed back his jacket. He removed an Oberndorf pistol from his waistband with a grunt of relief. He armed it and pointed it at Caroline.
Who laughed. Her eyes held only contempt, not fear, and Aubrey loved her all the more for it. 'Aubrey, don't you dare.'
It was permission. Caroline had just given him permission to stand fast, to ignore whatever they would do to her. In training, they had been warned about interrogation. The promises made, the threats, the bribes, the tactics used. Worse than physical harm, a grey haired colonel lectured, was the possibility of harm to a loved one.
The fate of someone dear versus the fate of the country.
He shrugged. 'What do you want me to do?'
Aubrey raced away as the building collapsed behind him, with Dr Tremaine inside. 'Hurry!' he cried in Holmlandish and pointing back the way he'd come. 'The ceiling collapsed! People are trapped!' The guards didn't spare him a glance as he ran past them. They hurried past, eager to do their duty.
As he ran, his thoughts flashed back to the photographs that the baron had made him participate in and his stomach twisted into painful knots. The thought of his parents looking at those images and thinking he had betrayed their family and Albion - the disappointment and embarrassment they would be forced to endure. It made him feel physically ill.
Just then the lights went out and Aubrey cheered, thanking the powers that be for giving him an utterly dependable friend like George Doyle. The thought heartened him considerably.
He paused for a moment to catch his breath, fumbling around in his pock for Caroline's ring. Again he was overwhelmed by a flashback, this time of how Caroline had reacted to his agreeing to the baron's manipulation of him. She had been shocked and angry, and had actually managed to rise from the chair, discard her bonds and land a solid kick in the barons vast belly before Tremaine had decided (tardily, Aubrey thought to himself) to subdue her. As Aubrey had been shepherded past her by the baron she had looked at him pleadingly, muffled a sob and reached out to him. He took her hand in both of his and she immediately completed the grasp with her other hand.
He didn't know what to think. It was obviously a performance with the goal of slipping Aubrey her military ring, whether for defence or to find her later. But it was a ruse, nothing more, and Aubrey could not help but think that his declaration of love had been decidedly premature, even foolish, and cringed at the thought of the awkwardness he would have to endure later.
He resolutely pushed these thoughts aside and recited the spell. Find Caroline and escape, he chanted in his head. Find Caroline and escape, deal with the rest later. The ring led him to a room in the original building, high up in one of the towers. Two guards – looking decidedly worried about the commotion in the aftermath of Aubrey's spell – were standing guard outside of four cells in the room. A quick variation of the Law of Transference and they slumped to the ground, unconscious, the air having been shifted away from their faces. He snatched their keys and used one of them to unlock the door to Caroline's cell.
She was ready, standing at the door, alert and ravishing in her intensity. 'Aubrey'.
'Caroline'. Despite hit best efforts, he felt his face begin to glow and found it difficult to meet her eye.
'Yes. And you?'
'I'm well, thank you.'
A short and rather awkward silence followed these pleasantries, and Aubrey groped for some way to break it without adding to his foolishness. He realised he was still clutching her ring, and held it out to her. 'It's yours. I used it to find you.' A little unnecessary, but it'll do.
Caroline paused and stared at his offering with a decidedly odd expression on her face. She looked like she was making a difficult decision; Aubrey was helpless to do anything but stand there looking foolish with his hand outstretched, waiting with bated breath for the answer to a question he had a bizarre feeling he'd already asked, without quite knowing what it was he had asked. The conundrum began to make his head spin.
After an intermittent period of time – Aubrey thought it could have been anywhere between a few seconds and several hours, which tended to happen when he became caught in a moment with Caroline Hepworth – she appeared to come to a decision. She reached out and, instead of taking the ring as Aubrey had expected her to do, she delicately took his hand in one of hers and held it there, firmly if somewhat shakily.
Caroline opened her mouth to speak, but she seemed unable to find the words, and instead swallowed with such charm that he could not help but smile. She seemed to be reassured by this and tried again.
'Aubrey... this may not be the time but... what you said, back in there with Tremaine... I just wondered...' she trailed off expectantly.
'Did I mean it?' Aubrey finished instinctively. She nodded fractionally, dropping her gaze slightly as if embarrassed.
In for a penny, Aubrey thought, and cleared his throat.
'Would you be upset, that is to say, would you be opposed to my saying, for the sake of concision, among other things, well... yes. Absolutely.' He found himself nodding vigorously and felt quite foolish, but couldn't seem to stop.
A smile blossomed on her face as Caroline stepped forwards shakily, bringing them within a foot of one another. Aubrey, through the mush that his brain had suddenly become, was acutely aware of the smell of violets, and dimly wondered how she managed to smell so good while practicing espionage in the middle of a war zone. Too terrified to look anywhere else, he kept his gaze fixed on the hand that Caroline had cocooned between hers in the space between their bodies. A rather small space, Aubrey thought, his panic rising even as he revelled in the altogether glorious sensation of Caroline's skin against his hands.
And so it was that he watched, his heart barely beating and yet hammering at the same time, as Caroline lifted his hand gently and rested it against her cheek. One of her hands covered the back of his tenderly. When she sighed and leant into his palm, Aubrey thought it was the most fascinating sounds he had ever heard. Aubrey braced himself, then moved his gaze into her eyes for the first time.
The emotion he found in her eyes made him want to weep and laugh at the same time, it was so breathtakingly open and deep. He saw there the fierce determination and natural intelligence that enchanted him daily, but also saw a strange combination of tenderness, joy and, strangest of all, fear. What on earth does the formidable Caroline Hepworth have to fear, Aubrey wondered, and felt a powerful surge of protectiveness – hazily he supposed she would find that frustratingly old fashioned. Surprised, he realised he felt the same trepidation – not because they were literally behind enemy lines and threatened with grievous bodily harm and even death, but instead because of the leap into the unknown that this relationship was becoming, Aubrey realised, for both of them. It was terrifying. And exhilarating and enchanting and a million other amazing things, but definitely terrifying.
Caroline bit her bottom lip for a second and she regarded him, and before he realised what was happening, she had placed both hands on the side of his face, leaned forward and kissed him softly, a brushing of her lips on his that sent a tingling sensation down each of his extremities. Aubrey thought that if he had lost his battle with true death and found paradise behind it, it probably wouldn't have compared with what he was experiencing now.
The kiss ended, and they smiled at each other rather foolishly for a few moments, oblivious to everything else in the world.
'Good,' Caroline said suddenly. 'I'm glad.' And she firmly linked her hand in his and led him through the cell door. 'Now would be an opportune moment to leave, don't you agree?'
Well that was fun :) let me know what you think please