“Fortunately, we already have that information. He’s bought back his old home in Manhattan, eighteenth century. We’re having a damned time getting near to it with the British occupation, though.” He let out a thoughtful hum. “I had considered using the Ironwood yearling to lure him out to more open ground. We simply don’t have the manpower for what you’re describing, though it’s an excellent strategy otherwise.”
“An excellent thought,” Winifred said, picking up her pace to keep up with their long strides. “He has never brought anything to us to merit the kindness we’ve shown him. He’s a leech.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Henry said, with a fond look at Etta.
“That was pure luck,” Winifred groused.
“Well, it was certainly fortunate,” he agreed. “What did you make of him, Etta?”
“Julian?” she clarified, brushing a leaf from her hair. “He’s…” A brat, obnoxious, high on himself, rude. “…an Ironwood.”
“Was he untoward to you at all?” Henry asked carefully. “He’s a shameless flirt, but I judged him to be fairly toothless. Many of the Thorns feel he’s outstayed his welcome, and if it wasn’t for the happy serendipity of finding you, I daresay I might agree.”
“What do you mean, Julian’s outstayed his welcome?” she asked.
“You’ve more questions than sense, child,” Winifred muttered.
“He’s no longer able to provide information about Ironwood that we don’t already know,” Henry said. “Ironwood has taken a few of our travelers prisoner over the years, and I had considered trading Julian for them.”
“That’s probably the thing he’s most afraid of,” Etta told Henry. “Ironwood might actually kill him.”
A road emerged beyond the trees ahead of them. Within an instant of its appearance, streams of headlights swept over it, and two old-fashioned black cars rolled into place in front of the trees.
“You really think so?” Henry asked. “Everything is such a joke to him, I half expected his dalliance with us to be for amusement alone. Ironwood wouldn’t kill his heir, not when he needs him.”
“The astrolabe could be used to create new heirs, if he uses it to save his wife,” she pointed out.
“That was your mother’s theory, yes,” Henry said. “And a likely one.”
“Julian could have gone back to Ironwood at any point, especially when it became difficult to survive in hiding,” she continued, working out her own thoughts on the matter. “Instead, he came to his grandfather’s most hated enemy and betrayed him to you. He needed help, but he clearly felt like he needed protection, too. So I don’t know if you should send him back to Ironwood, but you could at least use that same fear to get some last important details out of him that he might not give you otherwise.”
He nearly beamed at her. Etta, again, had to fight the ridiculous glow her heart gave in response.
“Second most hated,” Henry said. “I daresay that honor belongs to your mother, and she’d skin me for taking that from her.”
Winifred let out a loud harrumph and released her hold on her nephew’s arm, charging forward to the first of the cars. The driver barely had time to jump out and open the door for her.
“I might have a better use for him, if tonight turns out the way I imagine,” Henry said as he wisely steered them toward the second car. He nodded to that driver. “Paul, how are the boys?”
Etta missed the man’s answer as she ducked inside the car and slid across the seat. Henry joined her after a moment, removing his hat and gloves.
“All the logic of the Hemlocks, without the ruthlessness of the Lindens,” he said, as he set both on the stretch of leather between them. The car dipped as one of the guards sat in the front beside the driver. “You’ll do very well indeed.”
As she settled into the warmth of the car and let it thaw her stiff skin, she passed his coat back to him. Henry folded it in his lap and turned his gaze out his window. Etta watched his face in its reflection, how the easy humor and brightness vanished like a flame blown out. He seemed to retreat into himself, leaving a look of severe contemplation as he touched the rose she hadn’t noticed he’d tucked into his lapel.
And Etta could picture it so clearly then, how the reflection of the bridge had disappeared in the water, leaving one half to wait to see its other self again.
THE CITY DWELT IN DARKNESS. THE ROAR OF THE ENGINE swallowed every other sound from the world outside her window, those streets cloaked in the gray evening haze. Etta felt she was watching a kind of silent movie. As the car rolled down a huge main thoroughfare—“Nvesky Prospeckt,” Henry explained—Etta had the sense they were slipping into St. Petersburg on the edge of someone’s shadow: uninvited, unwanted.
The light slush covering the ground was nearly indistinguishable from the sludge of garbage that lined the street’s gutters. The car jumped as it rolled over something—Etta craned her neck back, but saw only the tattered remains of a banner and two poles that were being dragged away by men in stark military uniforms. Her gaze followed their path to a courtyard where a bonfire raged. The cloth and wood were fed into it behind a wall of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, backlit by the flames. A few men and women lingered at the fringes of its glow, but the car sped by too quickly for Etta to see what they were trying to do besides stay warm.