‘Congratulations,’ Irene said, and jerked her head in the direction of the alligators. ‘You found them. Were they supposed to meet you here, or was it just a happy coincidence?’
‘You’re very insolent tonight,’ Bradamant said softly, dangerously.
‘Oh, don’t you think that I have reason?’ Irene had enough control to keep her voice down, but not enough to keep back her words. ‘If you have anything, anything to do with this piece of bloody lunacy—’
‘I’d have thought that Alberich was more important than collateral civilian casualties,’ Bradamant said. Her eyes glittered. ‘Shouldn’t you be briefing me on that rather than wasting time on those people?’
‘Did you have anything to do with this?’ Irene repeated.
‘No,’ Bradamant said. ‘If that helps you answer my question.’
Irene glanced at the dying alligators again. She didn’t trust Bradamant, but she couldn’t refuse to warn her. ‘Yesterday I was told to beware of Alberich, a direct communication from the Library. This morning Kai and I went to talk with Dominic Aubrey, at our Library entrance point. We didn’t find him there, but we found his skin rolled up in a jar of vinegar, and a chaos trap on the door to the Library itself.’
Bradamant blinked slowly. ‘Dominic Aubrey is dead? Actually dead?’
‘Yes,’ Irene said. ‘Well, probably. Given the alternatives. When did you get here? Did you see him when you came through? If we can pin down when Alberich killed him and trapped the door—’
‘Irene!’ Kai and Vale had converged on them unexpectedly. Vale had several cuts, but Kai was elegantly unruffled. He offered his hands to Irene. ‘If you’d like a hand down – and Bradamant, of course . . .’
‘Of course,’ Bradamant said in suddenly sweetened tones. She stepped past Irene, hips swinging, and placed her hands in Kai’s, letting him assist her down.
Kai threw a martyred glance over Bradamant’s shoulder at Irene. It said, more clearly than words, I couldn’t possibly leave her to fall into the remains of the herring, could I?
Irene sighed. She set her chin, sat down on the edge of the table and swung off it to stand on the floor. Her gown was already ruined, anyhow. ‘I’m glad to see that both you gentlemen are safe and well,’ she said flatly. She could feel Vale’s measuring stare on her, Kai and Bradamant, and tried to ignore it. There was no reason whatever for her to have any feelings on the subject at all.
The doors slammed open. A squad of men in vaguely military uniforms came barrelling through, rifles shouldered. They were led by a dark-skinned man with turban and moustache, his uniform differentiated by a wide green sash. They pointed their guns at the alligators, and began to riddle them with bullets, ignoring the fact that the poor reptiles were now barely moving.
‘Ah,’ Silver said from behind Irene’s shoulder, ‘the police at last. Inspector Singh is as vigorous as ever.’ He took Irene’s hand between his. ‘My dearest girl, you are wounded.’
Irene was conscious of both Kai and Vale staring at Silver in a distinctly freezing way. She wished that she could just have had even five minutes to get some answers out of them and Bradamant before Silver had turned up. ‘A scratch,’ she said quickly, gingerly trying to slide her hand out of his grasp. ‘Sir, no doubt Inspector Singh will want to speak to you . . .’
‘And you must introduce me to your beautiful friend,’ Silver said, his eyes on Bradamant, his grip on Irene’s hand painfully firm.
Irene glanced at Bradamant. Bradamant gave a small nod of agreement, her lips curling in a sweet smile.
‘Lord Silver,’ Irene said formally, ‘this is my friend Bradamant; I had no idea that she would be at this party, but of course I am delighted to see her.’ And I hope she falls over and plants her face in a dish of salmon roe. ‘Bradamant, this is Lord Silver, one of the Liechtenstein Fae, who is visiting England—’
‘ – and who would have come much sooner,’ Silver cut in smoothly, dropping Irene’s hand and stepping forward to take Bradamant’s elegant fingers in his, ‘had I known that such beauty was to be found. How could I have missed a gem like you? Sweet lady, do me the favour to say that I may have the honour of your closer acquaintance?’
Irene could recognize an opportunity when it sat up and begged in front of her. She began to quietly edge away, as Silver raised Bradamant’s hand to his lips.
Silver’s nostrils flared. He sniffed at Bradamant’s hand, eyes brightening to an utterly inhuman shade of yellow. ‘I know that smell!’ he spat. ‘Belphegor! I have you at last!’
‘What?’ Bradamant said, but her attitude was wrong. It was one of denial, not blank incomprehension.
‘What?’ Vale said, in a very different tone of voice, taking a step forward.
‘Impossible!’ Irene said, without too much hope of being believed.
‘I’d be accusing you too, little mouse,’ Silver said, ‘but you were there when we opened the safe, and I know you were as surprised as I was. You should be glad that I’ve identified one of our enemies. This woman is Belphegor. She is responsible for stealing a highly valuable book from Lord Wyndham, and maybe for his death. I recognized her scent from the card she left in his safe. Johnson! My horsewhip!’
A thin, pale-faced man in grey stepped up, and offered a coiled horsewhip to Silver.