‘This is all a terrible mistake,’ Bradamant said firmly. ‘I demand that you release me.’
Silver looked at her with dangerous sharpness, lips curling to show unnaturally white teeth. ‘Belphegor, you have no idea what you have blundered into. Give me your word to restore the book to me, and I will consider letting you go. For the moment, at least.’
‘Hst!’ Irene said loudly. ‘The police are approaching. We don’t want them to hear about this –’
Everyone twitched and turned to see the inspector in the green sash marching towards them. His demeanour fairly shouted determination, and there was something worryingly satisfied about his smile.
‘Inspector Singh,’ Vale murmured in Irene’s ear. ‘Over from the Indian Empire for the last two months, on a formal officer exchange between police forces. He didn’t like the Fae there and he doesn’t like them here. He’ll take any opportunity to pry.’
‘Do we object to that?’ Irene murmured back, just as quietly. Bradamant was trying to wrench her wrist loose from Silver, clearly not quite willing to use the Language in front of him, but he was effortlessly maintaining his grip.
‘That might depend on what we have to offer him,’ Vale said. His eyes were on Bradamant.
While Irene could think of several ways for her, Kai and Bradamant to get out of the current situation, very few of them involved keeping Vale as a reliable contact, much less Silver. Having the law hunt them as criminals would only make things more complicated. And she needed to know what Silver knew about the book, and why he wanted it. ‘If Singh doesn’t like Fae,’ she pointed out, ‘then he won’t accept Lord Silver’s identification of her as Belphegor. We may be able to get more information out of her later if we help her now.’
‘She is your friend, you said,’ Vale murmured. His gaze was cold.
‘She wasn’t supposed to be here!’ Irene nearly spat in frustration. ‘And I knew nothing about her being this criminal.’
The inspector stopped, and inclined his head slightly to Silver. It wasn’t a bow. It was very definitely not a bow. It was barely a nod. ‘Good evening, sir.’ He had a perceptible accent, but an Oxford one rather than Punjabi or any of the other Indian accents that Irene recognized. ‘I understand that you’ve had some sort of minor problem this evening.’
‘A minor problem?’ Silver hissed. He whirled to point at the dead alligators and the human corpses, still grasping Bradamant’s wrist in his other hand. ‘You call that a minor problem?’
‘To you, sir,’ Inspector Singh said coldly. ‘I am sure that it was far more serious to the unfortunate people caught up in this, and my men are handling the casualties. I would be grateful if you could inform me exactly what took place.’
As Silver filled him in, in melodramatic but fundamentally accurate detail, Irene took a silent breath of relief. He hadn’t seen who controlled the electricity that took out the alligator threat. She noticed Bradamant relaxing a fraction as well.
‘. . . That is all,’ Silver concluded. ‘You may inform me when you have any further details.’ He turned his back on the inspector.
‘Actually, sir,’ Inspector Singh said, ‘we are aware of the identity of your aggressors.’
Everyone stared at him.
‘The Iron Brotherhood.’ He turned another page in his notebook, and deliberately made a note before proceeding. ‘Of course, sir, we are most interested in why they should try to attack your party in such a way.’
‘Oh,’ Bradamant said, ‘I think I can answer that.’
Everyone looked at her.
She lowered her head demurely, batted her eyelashes, and took a cute little gasp of breath that made her bosom heave in a way that was neither cute nor little. ‘They were after a book which they thought was being kept here. In fact, I believe that this attack was a distraction—’
Silver’s eyes went wide. He flung Bradamant into Inspector Singh’s arms with a muffled curse (she bounced), and ran for the door, Johnson two paces behind him.
‘Well,’ Inspector Singh said, setting Bradamant back on her feet. ‘I’m afraid I must ask you to come down to the station with me, madam. We have a few questions.’
Bradamant rubbed the hand which Silver had mangled, the imprints of his fingers scarlet against her pale skin. ‘May I just have a word aside with my friend Irene, Inspector? If you would be so kind?’
‘Of course, madam,’ Inspector Singh said, without taking so much as one step back.
Bradamant clasped Irene’s non-bandaged hand between her own before Irene could react. Very rapidly, in the Language, but pitched low, she said, ‘I bind myself by my name, by my oath, and by my word that if I find the book I will bring it to you before returning to the Library, and that I will consult with you tomorrow morning, if I am free to do so, about what to do next.’ She dropped back to English, but kept her voice low. ‘But for the moment I need you to do something about that Fae.’
Inspector Singh stiffened, staring at the two of them from under heavy dark brows. Well, of course: to him it must have sounded as if Bradamant was talking in his native language and dialect. Irene tried to suppress an urge to feel smug about Bradamant having to explain that, along with everything else.
‘Of course,’ she said in English. ‘I will see you then. Please be careful.’
However, Bradamant had bound herself in the Language. She couldn’t break that. She might be able to evade the precise spirit of the oath. Indeed, Irene could think of several ways to get around it, the first one being that ‘bring you the book’ was not the same as ‘give you the book’. But even so, that still brought the book a lot closer than it was right now. And, to be completely frank, she was almost too exhausted to care. The oath would do for the moment.