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Chapter 15...... The Count

Silas startled awake, bolting up with gasp. His throat caught and he doubled over, coughing. It sent fiery shots of pain through every muscle and his throat burned. He clenched his jaw and stopped the coughing, swallowing dryly. He smelled the increasingly familiar scent of damp basement as his heart rate slowed. Had he been having a nightmare? He looked up and saw the silent guard, Gaines, sitting across from him, fingering his pistol. Silas leaned forward and rubbed his neck and shoulders, trying to work out the angry knots.

He almost asked Gaines for news of what was going on. Had they found Faye? Was she safe? Gaines was still fingering his pistol, though, and Silas knew better than to say a word. He stifled another cough and spun around to lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

Why was he still here? The only reason they would have for detaining him was that they were still not convinced he was innocent. And that meant there was still a distinct possibility of another talk with Lord Carson. The thought made his throat tighten and he bit his tongue, shoving the fear away as best he could. It would do no good to panic now. He needed to be a man about it and stay calm.

Footsteps sounded on the floorboards above him and his whole body jumped, his heart rate spiking. The footsteps passed by into another room upstairs and went silent. He slowed his breath and laid his head back down. They wouldn’t have anything more to ask him. They knew who had given him the book, now. Surely the violinist would clear everything up.

Gaines threw a rock at the wall and Silas gave another involuntary jump. He took a slow breath. One thing he was sure of – he wasn’t going back to the study without a fight. If they were going to try to question him again, he was going to be as uncooperative as he could manage.

A short time later, someone opened the door to the basement. Light poured over the stairs as footsteps creaked down them. Silas scrambled to his feet, but it was only Mr. Waters come back for a shift of guard duty. At least that meant Gaines would leave. Silas liked him least of all.

“’Morning, Mr. Lawrence,” Waters yawned.

Silas sat down, looking away.

“They sent breakfast down with me. You hungry?”

“No,” Silas said.

Waters slid the tray under the door anyway and Silas glanced over as he set a mug of coffee on the dirt floor by the bars. Waters’ nose was pretty bruised, but it didn’t look like it had broken. After a minute, Silas limped to his feet and took the coffee, tasting it cautiously. It seemed fine, so he took another sip and sat back against the wall.

“Feel better from yesterday?” Waters asked.

Silas shot him a look.

“Alright, alright,” Waters held up his hands. “No need to get huffy. I just thought I’d ask how you were doing, is all.”

“I’m fine.”

Silas’ neck and shoulders and back were so sore he could barely move them, and he hadn’t slept more than a couple hours, and he felt as if every ounce of energy and will had been drained away from him. He wasn’t about to tell Waters, though.

“Mr. Lawrence, can I ask you something?” Water asked, going on before Silas could give him a surly ‘no’. “How come you didn’t just tell them who it was what gave you the book? If it was only someone from the Order?”

Silas gave a halfhearted shrug. “I didn’t know he was with the Order. I told you. I don’t know anything. I thought… well, if he had been Fellowship…”

“And I told you, the Fellowship’s no good.”

“Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but what in the last couple of days have you done that would make me believe you’re telling the truth?”

Waters paused, head cocked, and leaned back against the post, folding his arms. “I mean, you have a point, but you’re telling me you went through six hours of torture for someone you don’t know, and who may even be a heinous criminal?”

Six hours? That was a little hard to believe. Silas shifted and winced as the muscles in his back lit on fire. Maybe it wasn’t so hard to believe. When Waters put it that way, it did sound ridiculous to have held out for so long. Silas sighed and looked back up at the ceiling. Waters shook his head and chuckled.

“You’re a good man, Mr. Lawrence, and I hate to tell you, but you’re not going to make it far in life.”

Waters went silent for a while, playing solitaire.

“They’ve been looking everywhere for your wife,” he said abruptly, looking up. “No one’s caught sight or sound of her. Which is a pity because I think if she were here, things would go a lot faster for you.”

Well, that was a relief. At least there was one thing going right in his new, disastrous world.

Waters rambled on for a while. Silas didn’t contribute to the conversation, but he listened. Waters let slip a few interesting things. The name of the organization, for one: the Sovereign Order. If that didn’t sound ominous, Silas didn’t know what did. Waters also mentioned he was at the rank of “knight”, but it was hard to tell what that meant. Silas would have asked, but knew that as soon as he did, Waters would realize he was giving away secrets and stop talking altogether.

He eventually did, anyway. Apparently not even he could keep a one-sided conversation going for long. He started trimming his nails and the snipping of the clippers was irritatingly loud in the quiet. Suddenly, there was a scuffing upstairs and the sound of running footsteps. Silas’ heart leapt and he sat up halfway, listening, but after a minute it died down again. He flopped back onto the cot and resumed staring at the ceiling.

“Count Lawrence,” Waters said, shuffling.

“What are you going on about now?” Silas sighed, looking over at him.

But Waters was looking away, giving a low bow toward the stairs. Silas stood to see what he was looking at and froze, forgetting how to breathe and feeling the world go spinning. Again. He wasn’t sure how many more times he could cope with it doing that. He was going to fall apart if this kept up.

“I’ve gone mad,” he concluded. “That’s what’s happened. I’ve gone mad.”

He sat back down on the cot.

“Silas,” said the man at the stairs, taking the last two steps down and approaching the bars. “Are you hurt?”

“My brain, apparently,” Silas, laughing. “What do you suppose causes madness? Is it a predisposition that surfaces suddenly after a number of years, or is it caused by a random chain of events that sets it off? Or perhaps some combination of the two.”

“You’re not mad, son.”

Not mad? Oh, he was mad. Silas raked his tongue against his teeth and got up to stare the man – his father – in the face.

“THEN WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?” he screamed.

Mr. Lawrence jumped and turned to Waters with a concerned expression. “Is he alright?”

“He was fine a second ago, Count,” Waters said. “I mean, I’m sure it’s been a rough couple of days but… you mean to say… did he really not know?”

Mr. Lawrence’s shoulders slumped, and he looked at Silas in a way Silas had never seen him look at him before. Silas balled his fists. He’d put two and two together, now. Count Lawrence. How could he? And how could he have not told him?

“I came as soon as I knew,” Mr. Lawrence said.

“Did you? So you weren’t behind all this?” Silas gestured violently.

“How could you think that?”

“I don’t know. How could I think that you were just a normal businessman and not part of a scheming cult?”

“Silas–”

“Have I, or have I not, gone mad?” he shouted.

“I am starting to wonder myself!” Mr. Lawrence growled.

“Where is Faye?”

“I don’t know.”

Silas paced to the wall and back.

“Silas, I need to know, did you join the Fellowship? It’s alright if you did. I can still use my influence to gain your freedom, but I need to know the truth.”

Silas laughed, and sat on the cot, shaking his head. “Even you won’t believe me. Why does everyone think I’m some sort of… some sort of… mastermind?” He threw his hands up. “Mr. Lawrence, who were your companions when you caused the explosion? Mr. Lawrence, who did you arrange to give you the book? Mr. Lawrence, what do you know about Experiment… 17… 62… whichever number it was? I am so tired of all this!”

“I understand.”

“I am not part of any Fellowship!”

“Alright.”

“I swear!”

“I believe you.”

“Thank you.” Silas slumped against the wall, rubbing his forehead.

“That will influence how I proceed.” Mr. Lawrence studied Silas. “How did this happen?”

“I told them,” Silas said, “and no one believes me. I don’t see the point in telling anyone anything if they’re just going to make up a story for me regardless.”

“Be that as it may, I do need to know,” Mr. Lawrence said evenly, though his jaw was clenched.

Silas glanced over at him. “So you’re… what? You’re a count? How long have you been a count? Is your name really Gregory?”

Mr. Lawrence frowned. “Don’t be daft.”

“Oh, daft,” Silas laughed, uncontrollably. “Perhaps that’s my problem.”

“Silas, I need you to be serious.”

“Don’t tell me to be serious!” Silas jumped to his feet and paced to the bars. “How long, father?”

Mr. Lawrence paused. “My father initiated me when I was seven years old. When you were born, I’d just risen to the rank of baron, and ten years ago I became a count.”

“What about mother? And Ira?”

“Your mother knew. She knew when she married me. And Ira has known for several years now.”

“You told Ira?”

“No. When she became… involved with Mr. Oscar… well, you see, he’s a lord in the order and she learned it from him.”

“She’s part of it, too?”

“No,” Mr. Lawrence shook his head. “He has her run messages for him, but she stays out of it. I asked her to.”

“And you didn’t once think that maybe, possibly, it might be nice for me to know?”

“I had my reasons.”

“What reasons?” Silas shouted again.

“To give you a choice I never had!” Mr. Lawrence barked.

Mr. Lawrence leaned a hand against the wall and rubbed his forehead.

“Silas, when you commit to the Order, there’s no backing out. My father committed me when I was seven years old. I never had a choice of whether I wanted to be a part of it or not. I’ve been successful in it, and I have no regrets, but I didn’t want that for you. I’d planned to tell you about it when you turned eighteen, when you could make that decision for yourself, but… you seemed happy, and I delayed.”

Silas nodded and rubbed his chin, pacing to the end of the cell and back. “Where is Faye?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Lawrence said slowly, with a frown. “But she is safe, and in no danger from the Order.”

“Good,” Silas said, distantly.

Mr. Lawrence stared at him a moment, cocking his head and frowning. After a minute he turned. “I’m going to talk to Lord Carson. I’ll be back shortly.”

Silas sat down and didn’t respond. The stairs creaked as Mr. Lawrence – Count Lawrence, Silas corrected himself – walked up them. The door shut and the basement was silent again. Waters blew out a long breath he’d been holding.

“Phew,” he said. “Thought I’d be killed in the crossfire, there.”

“Have I gone mad?” Silas asked him, almost in a whisper.

“I sure hope not.”

“The world’s gone mad, then.”

“No more than it’s always been. Though it sure seems that way, sometimes, don’t it? I know how you feel. It’s not a year ago I learned my real da’s a deposed Scottish lord selling cactuses in Georgia.”

Silas burst out laughing. He couldn’t help it and while he laughed, he knew he definitely looked like he was going mad, but the whole thing was so ridiculous and overwhelming, he didn’t know what else to do and once he started, he found it difficult to stop. Waters laughed with him for a while until he stopped, gave Silas a look of both amusement and concern, and went back to his game of solitaire. Silas got himself under control and wiped the tears away with his sleeves, then stared at them with a distant expression.

A while later, Mr. Lawrence came down again, followed by another man. Silas glanced up briefly before staring at his sleeves again. Mr. Lawrence was grinding his teeth and clenching his fists.

“Waters, let Jacobs in, please,” he said, sharply. “Silas, Dr. Jacobs is going to look at your wounds.”

“Father, I’m fine,” Silas complained, his hand unconsciously going to the raw cuts left by the heretic’s fork.

Waters got up, brushed his pants off, and fiddled with the key.

“I’ll have Carson demoted for this,” Mr. Lawrence went on, ignoring Silas, and talking mostly to himself. “He’s gone too far. No, that is an understatement in the extreme. He’s gone so far beyond too far that there are no words to describe how deeply I will demote him. He’ll be scrubbing floors for the rest of his miserable existence – no, I’ll see that he’s sent to the mines and never tastes the sunlight again.”

That last thought seemed to please Mr. Lawrence and he smiled to himself as the doctor walked into the cell and leaned over Silas, pushing his head back and studying him.

“I’m afraid I’ve some bad news,” Mr. Lawrence sighed, rubbing his forehead.

“More bad news?” Silas echoed with a smile. “Well, go ahead. Not as if that stuff’s abnormal these days.”

“Your case appears to be… rather complicated.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me,” Silas said with a laugh.

The doctor dabbed something on the cuts, and it stung like a bee sting. Silas yelped and tried to shift away, but the man had the most incredible grip Silas had ever encountered.

“Stop it,” Silas tried to push the doctor’s hands away.

“Silas, I need to know your side of the story. Carson tells me you were given a book? A copy of the Text?”

The doctor let go and it seemed like he was done until he dabbed again at the cuts on his chest.

“Ouch,” Silas yelped, flicking the man’s hands away. “Would you –”

“What is your favorite color?” the doctor asked.

“What?”

The doctor’s hand darted in for one last dab.

“Ow!” Silas twisted away and scooted to the other end of the cot, pressing the skin around the stinging wounds.

The doctor held his hands up. “All done.”

“Silas,” Mr. Lawrence prodded.

“Look, I told him everything,” Silas snapped. “The violinist gave me the book, I read it a few times, it was interesting, now I’m here. That’s all I know.”

The doctor tucked the damp cloth away and poured a small cup of orange liquid from a glass bottle.

“Are you sure there’s nothing else?”

Silas laughed. “If you want there to be, you can make something up. That’s what everyone else is doing. It’s incredibly entertaining. I might try it myself.”

Mr. Lawrence ground his jaw and went on. “Because of the complications, I’m afraid we only have a few options available. You can join the Order and be initiated as a basic member. It’s fairly non-committal and would mean partaking in a few festivals and meeting with a group of other members once a month, along with a $15 dollar fee each year. No member of the Fellowship would ever consent to join our number, so if you do, it would prove you are not in league with them.”

Silas wrinkled his nose.

“The other option is to wait until further investigation. It would involve cross questioning Faye and likely–”

“No,” Silas shook his head adamantly.

“I’m sorry, son, but that’s the only other option if you don’t want to join the Order.”

“I’m not involving Faye,” Silas said, tipping his head back to look at the ceiling. “And I don’t want to join the Order. You people are all crazy, with your… secrets and torture and… magic books,” he tried to stop himself but couldn’t help laughing again.

“Here, drink this,” said the doctor, handing Silas the cup. Seeing Silas hesitate, he added, “It’s only to calm the nerves.”

Silas looked up at Waters, hiding a grin. “He thinks I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

“I kinda think you’re having a nervous breakdown, Silas,” Waters replied, “and I think you should probably drink that.”

“I think I probably should,” Silas said, taking the cup and downing the contents. “What a world.”

The doctor took the cup back and walked out of the cell while Waters locked it behind him.

“Silas, I need to go now,” said Mr. Lawrence. “Think about it, and I’ll be back in the morning. Whatever you decide, I’ll be here for you.”

“Alright,” Silas said, leaning back, his vision becoming unfocused.

He could already feel whatever drug the doctor had given him coursing through his veins and watched in a bit of a fog as his father and the doctor left. He turned to Waters, who was sitting against the post, looking at him uncomfortably.

“When did we find ourselves on a first-name basis, Mr. Waters?” he asked. “I think you are under the false impression that we are friends.”

“Sorry, Mr. Lawrence, it slipped out.”

“We are not friends,” Silas clarified.

“Course not.”

“I hate you from the depths of my soul,” Silas added, with a giggle. He laid down, eyes burning and fighting sleep as the room started to spin. “Waters?”

“What?”

“How horrible is it to be part of the Order?”

“I like it,” Waters shrugged. “Good pay, plenty of room to move up in the ranks. Contrary to what you might think, the past few days have been quite out of the ordinary. Most the time it’s just meetings and message carrying and the like. Now that the Fellowship numbers are down, there’s barely any action.”

“Have you ever had to kill someone?”

Waters shifted. “Yeah, but for very good reasons. And like your father said, if you want to, you can stay at the basic level. Those blokes do absolutely nothing but keep the rest of us paid, along with the occasional side job, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“And those… side jobs. None of those would lead to anyone’s agonizing death, would it?”

“Nah,” Waters said.

“Death, in general?”

Waters shook his head.

“Unlawful kidnapping and torture?”

“Now, Mr. Lawrence, I really am sorry about everything, but for one, like I said, Fellowship numbers are down and it’s not likely you’ll ever run into one, and for another matter, you’ve not had it all that bad. You’re perfectly fine, see?”

Silas sighed. Waters could be lying. He’d ask his father. At this point it seemed like he would be frank with him. He hoped he’d agree with Waters though, because he wasn’t keen on involving Faye. Especially because there was no telling what that “involvement” would look like. Silas closed his eyes. The room was spinning in earnest now.


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