Title: The Train: Chapter Four, Part One
Chapter Four, Part One
The lounge car was decidedly atypical, to Anton’s mind. Then again, perhaps this was always what happened when nobility moved from place to place: they rearranged, redesigned, and casually appropriated whatever space they needed for their voyage. God knew it happened often enough in England, with Anton’s more illustrious Oxford fellows commandeering whatever they felt they needed, whenever they needed it, whether that meant study space in the most private spot in the library, or the best equipment laid out for apprentice thaumaturges to use during the laboratory sessions. Admittedly, most of them had had their own valises full of equipment at that point. Anton was one of the only students to need to use the school’s stores after the majority of his father’s personal equipment had been “appropriated” by the university.
Well, apparently arrogance bred true everywhere. The lounge car had been transformed into a monument to Viscount Bonaparte’s name and title, the walls covered by heavy cloths depicting the imperial emblem and holding in the heat. As more people filed into the room, the air quickly became stale and stuffy. The pervasive scent of pipe smoke made it even worse, giving rise to a haze that stung at Anton’s eyes and made him feel as though he needed to cough. He stifled a small wheeze into his hand, and raised one eyebrow as the motion caught Camille’s eye.
“Is it always like this around the Viscount?” Anton murmured as the two of them were pressed back against the wall, making room for more people. He hadn’t even caught sight of the noble himself yet, just seen two of his personal servants, a young man and woman in matching livery, hovering over a reclining couch along the far wall.
“This particular Lord Bonaparte has always excelled at making people aware of his connections,” Camille replied. He was not looking for the viscount; his eyes roved over everyone else in the room, seeming to note who was where in an instant. “This blend of tobacco is a favorite of the Emperor,” he continued. “It’s use carries a certain cachet, and therefore all his extended family insists on smoking it as well. I personally don’t care for such a strong flavor, but each to his own.”
“Filthy habit, imbibing smoke,” Anton murmured.
Now it was Anton’s turn to cast an incredulous glance of superiority at his companion. He tried not to enjoy it too much. “Have you ever been to London? Walked through the smog there? I’ve seen the effect it has on the body, and willingly inviting such pollutants into your system is foolishness.”
“How have you seen such things?”
“I’m a forensic thaumaturge specializing in death miasmas. You think I didn’t spend plenty of time in the city morgues?”
“Most interesting,” Camille said. He looked like he wanted to continue, but at that point, Viscount Bonaparte chose to rise from his couch and address the gathered throng.
He was…well, prepossessing wasn’t exactly the word. He had the look of a man who was trying with all his might to put his rank front and center, and it had to be said that title and rank were clearly the most remarkable things about the Viscount. He was of average height, with curling, thin brown hair held back from his face by an elaborate hat. He held himself like a Bonaparte, insofar as he thrust his chest forward to better display the medals pinned across his breast, but his shoulders remained slouched as though he were still reclining. It was a feat of spinal flexion that made Anton wonder how the man actually kept on his feet. His face was sour as he puffed on his pipe, his eyes and mouth heavily lined, and Anton spared a moment to feel a bit of sorrow for the bride who was anticipating this groom.
And then he opened his mouth, and Anton felt downright mournful for her.
“So, you are the lot sent along to keep me in line, hmm?” He smiled, but there was an edge of nastiness in the expression, like he was about to spit on them. “My imperial minder’s cadre of professional henchmen. Responsible for keeping me from offending the piddling, powerless aristocracy of the ridiculous Swiss village where I’ll be spending the rest of my miserable life, so help me God.” He glared at them through the haze, and Anton found himself grateful that he was too far back for those eyes to fix on him.
“Some of you I know. Some I’ve never met before, but I don’t particularly care to deal with any of you, y’understand me? Lucerne is a rural pisspot and I won’t be told what I can and cannot say about it, not by anyone. If I want to tell my bride she stinks of cows and glistens like bluebell butter, I shall do so. I’ll be the ruler of her canton within the week, and that means that she, and all of you, shall answer to me. Lucerne is a long way from Paris.” Now his smile twisted into a grimace. “And you lot are with me for the long haul, so it’s best you learn now who your new master is. You answer to me, not the emperor. He may have sent you here, but only I can send you back. I suggest you keep that admonition close.” He waved a hand at them. “Dismissed.”
Anton was more than happy to leave at that point, although a number of advisors were pressing in and trying to ingratiate themselves better with the Viscount, or make a point with him about the seriousness of his upcoming nuptials. He didn’t appear vulnerable to either tactic, and it was a lesson in casual insults, watching the other passengers cast themselves upon the rocks of the Viscount’s disdain in an attempt to educate him. Anton nudged Camille, and nodded toward the door. Later, the other man mouthed, and so Anton left alone. As soon as he made it back into the dining car, he shut his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Are you well, sir?”
Anton jumped a bit as he took in the Train Master at his side, carrying an entire tray of champagne flutes. “Oh yes, quite! Yes.”
“Is there anything I can get for you?”
“No, not at all. You look quite busy,” Anton added. “Don’t let me keep you, Monsieur Cassan.”
“If you’re sure…”
“Very well, then. Have a good night, Consul.” Cassan entered the lounge car with all the grace of a dancer, letting out a plume of smoke as he went, and Anton took the opportunity to make it back to his sleeping car before any more people decided it wasn’t worth it to try and ingratiate themselves with that atrociously-mannered blockhead.
Once he reached his room and shut the door behind him, Anton let himself relax for the first time in what felt like forever. How was it possible that he’d just boarded the train that afternoon? How was it possible that he’d only arrived in France yesterday, so full of hopeful vigor and confidence? How had he fallen into such inexplicable straits, and how on earth would he manage to maintain them all the way to his destination? Anton knew his own strengths, and protracted lying wasn’t one of them. He was to be Consul Hasler, he had to be, but every interaction he had with someone under that guise made him cringe.
“You have made your bed,” Anton told himself firmly. There was no one to pass the blame to, no convenient scapegoat to lay the burden of his troubles on. “Now you must lie on it.” In only a few short days, they would be in Zürich. He would last.
Although he might not last for long if he didn’t get this coat cleaned. The smell was worsening. Anton shrugged out of the dark jacket, checked to make sure that his shirt didn’t show any blood, and pressed the button for the porter. It only took a minute for a man to arrive. He was taller than Anton, with dark, arresting eyes and a curiously inviting expression. “How may I assist you, sir?” he asked with a smile that spoke volumes.
If Anton hadn’t felt so ill from the lounge car, he might have investigated that smile a bit more. As it was, he felt almost ready to fall over. “I need this laundered and returned to me by tomorrow morning, if possible.”
“Certainly, sir.” He took the jacket, and didn’t even wrinkle his nose at the smell. A true gentleman. “Anything else?”
“Not for now, thank you.” Anton tipped him with some of Consul Hasler’s money, then shut the door again. One problem down. The others…well, those could wait until tomorrow. Except, perhaps, the matter of the palimpsest. It was probably best to keep that little book close, in case Camille decided his status as a lumière allowed him to rummage through Anton’s things. Anton pulled it out of his holdall, along with the loup that would make it legible, changed into a sleeping shirt, and dimmed the lantern. He settled into his bunk and began to work on the spell.
There ought to be a way to transcribe a visual language difference into one he could understand, the way the Device did. The first step was identifying the language, though. Or, perhaps he might get a clue from the drawings interspersed here and there. That was…a chemical equation of some sort. Not alchemical, or at least not entirely, but the symbols were familiar. Lord, what Anton wouldn’t give for Caroline’s opinion right now.
There were more voices to be heard now in the hall, murmuring as people made their way back to their rooms. Anton’s vision blurred with fatigue, and after another minute of fruitlessly staring at the palimpsest, he set it back in his holdall, locked it with a spell, and turned out the lantern completely. He took a moment to clean his teeth and wash his face at the sink, enjoying the heat of the water, before he lay down again and resolutely shut his eyes. Anton was asleep in moments.
He didn’t wake up when Camille came in, but he did wake up in the middle of the night, his bladder urging him to action. Too much alcohol, Anton reflected as he slid from the top bunk, careful to land softly so as not to wake his companion. The dark lump that was Camille remained silent, and so Anton let himself out into the hall and walked down to the water closet at the end of the hall. He relieved himself, then went to rinse his hands, but the water that came out this time was icy cold.
“Hell,” Anton murmured, shaking his fingers out. He waited for it to warm up, but nothing happened. Perhaps they turned off the heating elements at night, to give the spells a chance to recharge. He would ask about it tomorrow.
He fell asleep again in no time, but the next time he woke it was to nothing as innocuous as a full bladder. Screams echoed throughout the train, screams that gained in force and were soon augmented with the cries and exclamations of many others.
“What the devil?” The compartment was just light enough from the sun that Anton could see that Camille was gone. Just as he got to his feet, however, the man himself entered the car. He was only partially dressed, and the look on his face was grim.
“I need you,” he said, and this was not Camille speaking now; this was Lord Lumière. “There’s been a murder.”