AN- particularly looking for thoughts on pace!
Mrs Saunders was the type of person that made Casia want to travel second class.
The old woman sat with her lacework in arthritic, ungloved hands and chattered away as she worked. “What brings you to the country my dear?”
“Business,” Casia said shortly, trying to return her gaze to the slim book between her hands.
“Dealing with the family estate?” Mr Saunders had a terrible habit of smacking her lips when she finished a sentence.
“Yes, just checking up on it. What about you?”
“Oh, just visiting.” Mrs Saunders waved her hand and momentarily concentrated fully on her work, which only confirmed Casia’s suspicions. Since her twenty-first birthday had passed two weeks before, she was no longer obliged to bring a chaperone everywhere, which meant her aunt Helena had had to find more creative ways of keeping track of Casia’s activities. If that involved employing Aliepe’s considerable widow and old maid population as spies, it wouldn’t have surprised Casia. It really wouldn’t have.
Mrs Saunders talked largely to herself as Casia closed her book to look out the window. Oh, but she did love first class. The smell of leather rising off the rich dark brown seats, the autumn sunlight from outside caught the gilt on the luggage rack. Everything was so pristine, Casia felt conspicuous, so large and imperfect. She smoothed the burgundy wool of her coat down self-consciously, a movement which only served to draw Mrs Saunders’ attention.
“I must say, that is a simply exquisite coat. I can only assume from the cut that it is new?”
The wide black buttons, the flat lines with no waist, the wide sleeves that left the leather wrists of her gloves exposed. It screamed ‘modern’, a concept of which she was sure Mrs Saunders did not know the meaning.
“Well, it’s very nice, and well-suited to your particular figure. We can’t all be built like your sister!” Mrs Saunders patted her belly and Casia was outraged. She may have been bigger than Flick on the chest and hips but she hoped she still resembled her sister more than this vile old woman.
“Thank you,” was all she said.
It did not quell Mrs Saunders. “Of course, the papers would have us believing Flick is making all the rules up herself…”
There was one thing that Casia wanted to do less than listen to Mrs Saunders talk aimlessly, and that was listen to Mrs Saunders sing Flick’s praises. Casia didn’t understand the ability of these women to talk about her so much- had none of them experienced the pain of having a younger, prettier sister? Instead of listening, she opened her book again. Or rather, Fred’s book. He had complained that she and Flick were rotting their brains by reading too many novels and had lent them books from his family’s collection. Naturally, they were all books about magic. This one, a brief history of magic’s influence on Aliepe’s culture, was as boring as dust. She’d kill Fred next time she saw him. Which, knowing Fred, would probably be later that night. He would want to hear about the sale.
Her mind began to wander to the sale, to her accounts, and she was crunching numbers as they pulled into another country station and pulled off again. A minute later, a commotion erupted in the First Class corridor.
“I won’t have your kind in my compartment! Go on, get out! Get down to third where you belong. The war’s over, you needn’t act like you own the place anymore!”
Casia jumped up and threw her compartment door open. Heads appeared from each of the neighbouring compartments to see the two men arguing. One, the one who was shouting, was an overstuffed bureaucrat, in a bowler hat and a pinstriped suit. The other’s face Casia could not see, but the back of his coat was threadbare.
“Excuse me, sir?” Both turned and Casia hid her shock as the second man did so. He had a third eye. It was milky blind, set into his right cheekbone, but it was enough to Mark him as a magician.
It was to this man that Casia addressed herself. “There is room in our compartment- Mrs Saunders, I’m sure you don’t mind?” She glanced over her shoulder at Mrs Saunders, who clearly loved gossip so much she didn’t care either way, nodded fervently.
Casia beckoned the man with a hand and she heard mutters as people recognised her from her photographs. The magician clearly did too, and approached with caution. “I know who you are,” he said, his voice shaking. “You’re Henry Salamander’s daughter.”
“Then you will know my father never approved of prejudice against magicians. Come. All are welcome with me.”
She resisted giving the suited man a glare, but could practically feel his eyes popping out of his skull as the magician followed her into the compartment.
It made her smile.
“Since you know my name, it would please me to know yours,” Casia said, drawing the rattling compartment door shut behind the man.
“Saracel Boden.” He doffed his cap and Casia reached her hand out. He shook it. There was a tremble in his grasp.
“Casia Salamander,” she asserted. “And this is Mrs Elenora Saunders,” she added. Mrs Saunders did not want to shake hands, only nodding and staring some more with her pale blue eyes. Casia gestured to the bench which Mrs Saunders was sitting on, and then sat opposite Mr Boden. “What caused that trouble?” she asked. “Was he provoked?”
Mr Boden shook his head. “No, miss- of course I could lie if I wanted, but truly all I did was open the compartment door.”
Casia sighed. “I hate to sound like a snob, but he reeked of new money. Definitely made his fortune during the war. Sad, but true. You’d never catch one of the old families acting in such a way. We know too many good people who happen to be magicians.”
“Although some magicians also made their fortunes during the war.” He smiled a thin smile. He was wringing his hands over and over in his lap.
“In the field?”
He shook his head. “Munitions. I started up a company advising factory owners. Magic consultant, I called myself. After the war ended I branched out to other types of industry as well. Doing nicely, if I may say so myself.” His accent was rough, his voice quiet.
“I’m glad you’re doing well for yourself,” Casia said with genuine feeling.
“But I haven’t done any spells!” he said quickly, as if she had accused him. “Not since the laws came in. Your father was doing the right thing. I may not like it, but it was the right thing.”
“If only all magicians saw it that way.” She smiled sadly, and from the corner of her eye saw Mrs Saunders smack her lips in preparation for speaking.
“How long has it been now since your parents were taken, dear?”
“They’ve been dead three years.”
“You believe they are dead?” Mr Boden inquired.
“Mr Boden, my father was a very rich, very powerful, very well connected man. He would have been the perfect material for a kidnapping. But there has been no ransom note, no demands. He also made a lot of people angry and stood in a lot of people’s way. I believe the group known as the Flamedancers abducted and murdered my parents.”
“It doesn’t upset you?” asked Mrs Saunders.
“Of course it did. But it’s been three years. The world has kept on turning. The banks have handed over my portion of the estate to me.”
“That’s why you were in the country today, I assume,” Mr Boden said. Casia nodded, but did not reply, instead looking out the window. The harvest was finished now, the cows all in and there was nothing but empty fields, stretching like a patchwork quilt into nothing.
“When you said you knew a lot of good people who happened to be magicians, I can only assume you were talking about the Rinnermans.”
Casia gave this man in a coat older than her a look of surprise, as did Mrs Saunders.
“I did,” she said. “Alec Rinnerman was a great friend of my father’s, although their friendship isn’t common knowledge, the papers tended to focus on the politics.”
“I know Mr Rinnerman quite well. I would not consider us friends, but I am a member of his party.”
This pleased Casia in an odd way. “Of course, you and I will have radically different views then, but still I am glad. Fred Rinnerman, Alec’s eldest son, is a very dear friend of mine.”
“Just a friend, dear?” Mrs Saunders chimed in.
“Yes,” Casia said in her most curt tone.
“I’ve met Fred a few times,” said Mr Boden. “Seems like a nice lad. Very like his father.”
“Oh yes, he’s Alec but twenty years younger- what was that?”
A thump reached Casia’s ears at the same time it was felt through the leather seat. Mrs Saunders yelped, and Mr Boden jumped up, unlatched the window and stuck his head out as far as he could.
“Someone’s felled a tree on the line!” he yelled over the noise of the engine and air whistling past.
“Why aren’t we stopping?” Casia yelled back, heart in mouth. She too stuck her head out the window- it was too close-they could never stop in time-
Boden looked at her with two sorry brown eyes and one white indifferent one. “It has to be done, Miss,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He shut the brown eyes and directed his hands towards the engine. He glowed as he took the magic out and the train slowed, his old coat and thinning hair floating on the tide of incoming power.
The train ground to a halt just inches from the tree.