‘My dear Irene,’ Bradamant said, raising her hands to adjust her hat and her hair, ‘I may not be able to handle a set of werewolves and an angry Fae, but I can certainly handle one museum official. Especially as he is overweight.’
Bradamant’s smirk was obvious in her voice. ‘I don’t need to be a great detective like your Vale to look at the chair you’re sitting in and see that it’s usually sat in by an extremely fat man.’
‘Oh,’ Irene said, a little stung. Just because she had her own particular tastes in fiction didn’t mean that she liked to be sneered at about them. She flipped through the pages, looking for entries dating two days ago. It arrived five days ago, then three days after that he would have sent it on . . . ‘Ah!’ she said, finding the date. ‘Mm. He’s had a lot of packages going through. Professor Betony must get a lot of mail.’ She ran her finger down the page, looking for a mention of Wyndham’s name. ‘Got it. Package from Lord Wyndham, redispatched to—’
‘To Dominic Aubrey, British Library!’ Bradamant said in shock, reading over her shoulder.
‘Of course!’ Irene slapped her hand against the desk. ‘You said it yourself, Dominic was indiscreet in what he told Wyndham! And Wyndham was afraid of Silver striking at him or trying to steal the book.’ Well, technically a cold iron safe would keep a book safe from any thieves, not just Fae ones, but Silver had known to look there for the book. ‘If Wyndham wanted to hide the book from Silver, and if he knew more or less about Dominic, or at least if he knew for certain that Dominic was an enemy of Fae in general, and Silver in particular . . . Wyndham must have sent this package before his death, once he had the copy of the book made, the one that you stole.’ She was aware that she was getting incoherent, and she took a deep breath. ‘He must have expected to get the book back from Dominic later.’ Suddenly her earlier fears about Dominic returned to her. ‘But that means—’
A bright pain knifed into the side of her neck, as sharp and vivid as a wasp’s sting. She would have exclaimed in shock, but the words were somehow fuzzy in her mouth and her lips were numb. She was sagging back into the wide seat, thoughts clear but body numb and loose, unable to form a single deliberate word.
‘But that means,’ Bradamant said, wiping the end of her hatpin on the shoulder of Irene’s coat before sliding it back into her own hat, ‘that I don’t need you any more.’
‘What’reyoudoin’?’ Irene slurred. She could barely form the words in English, let alone in the Language.
‘Making sure that this mission will be a success,’ Bradamant answered. ‘I haven’t broken my word. I promised you that if I found the book, I’d bring it to you before returning to the Library. I will still do so once I’ve collected it from Dominic Aubrey’s office. But that will be at my own convenience and in a way that I choose. In the meantime, I don’t want you interfering any longer.’
‘Stpd,’ Irene mumbled. Stupid. She needed to tell Bradamant what she suspected about Alberich, but Bradamant’s attack on her had just made that impossible.
‘Don’t worry,’ Bradamant said. She stroked a fragment of strayed hair back under her hat. ‘It’s a curare derivative. You should be back on your feet in half an hour or so. It probably won’t affect your breathing or your heart.’ She smiled maliciously. ‘Or perhaps it will. It’s not as if I’ve tested it that often, after all. Cheer up, Irene dear! Soon you’ll be free of all these annoying worries about the Library and your actual job, and you can concentrate on your friends here instead. Perhaps you’ll get another mission more commensurate with your talents. Gathering toilet paper, for example.’
Irene glared up at her, struggling to form words. You stupid idiot, don’t you realize that I was about to tell you something important?
This would have been the perfect time to develop telepathy, except that as far as she knew, it was purely fictional.
Bradamant leaned across to retrieve the ledger. ‘I’m not blind, you know,’ she said. ‘I have been aware of you watching me. Your little sneers at the fact that I enjoy nice clothing. I’ve seen you turn up your little nose at my interest in completing the mission, and my willingness to lie to get the job done. Your general . . . dislike of me? Yes, dislike is a good word. We wouldn’t call it quite scorn now, but you don’t like me at all.’
I suspect Dominic Aubrey isn’t really Dominic Aubrey, Irene tried to convey with her eyes. I think Alberich replaced him days ago. I think that the kind man who Kai and I met was actually something old and vicious wearing Dominic Aubrey’s skin. And I think the only reason he hasn’t found the book yet is that he didn’t know about Dominic Aubrey’s contacts. And, crucially, he hasn’t bothered to check Dominic Aubrey’s mail.
‘Get over it.’ Bradamant smiled down at Irene. ‘Some of us aren’t the spoiled offspring of lucky parents, who then spend the rest of their lives being treated like little angels. Some of us are grateful to be out of places worse than you can imagine.’ A shadow flickered behind her eyes. ‘We appreciate what we’ve been given. And we would do anything, anything at all, to do our job properly. You can play around with your great detective as much as you like, Irene – oh, don’t think I never worked that one out. I know who you want to be. But I know who I am. I’ll sacrifice whoever and whatever I must sacrifice to complete the mission. If you really understood, if you were really a proper Librarian, then you’d do the same. Perhaps some day you will understand that.’