“It’s very simple,” he told her. “You have something. I want it. You don’t need it, it’s nothing to you, it’s certainly worth what I’m offering, which is plenty.”
Jacky kept her sigh and her eye-roll to herself. She took a moment, sitting there bound to the chair by spells far stronger than chains, to compose herself. Being basically tied up was a good enough excuse to go on. She looked at him, blue eyes into palest blue—Jacky, who had always been a fool for eyes—and said, “What are you offering?”
He smiled the damn smile of the man who thinks he has won, the man who has his script and sees no likelihood he will need to deviate from it. “Nothing less,” he said, “than your freedom. Your life, really.” He allowed himself a sort of snicker-titter. He was near her, but he bent closer still, not quite close enough for salivary assault. Then he turned and moved away a few steps.
The room was not large. It was featureless. She was in the only chair. There was no visible door. He had not needed a door, nor had she. He had his wand, and his ring, with its dark green gem. She had her ring, with its pale blue gem. And she had her black pants, her dark shirt, her bit of scarf tying back her black hair, her useful little black boots, not to mention what she had in the pocket of her black pants.
If she had been able to spit on him, when he was so close, he would have slapped her and then walked away chortling. That was the script.
There was no point in it. Spitting in his face would feel good, but only until he slapped her. Then she would want to slap him, and darn it, she was bound by spells far stronger than chains. So there was that: a momentary pleasure, unrewarding in the long run. Jacky had not got where she was by giving in to unrewarding urges.
But Jacky did not want to be where she was.
Or, Jacky needed to be here, because here she could get something she could get nowhere else. But she didn’t have it yet, and she didn’t want to trade for it. As far as he was concerned, she was going to give him what was in her pocket, and all she would get in return (if that) was her freedom. Oh, her life, really: he had said that. As if he had what was needed to take her life.
He was now as far from her as he could get, in this room, facing away. He was speaking again.
“Quite simple,” he said. “You will agree to terms. I will remove the charms that bind you to the chair. Then you will stand up, and you will retrieve the symbol, from whatever orifice you have hidden it in, and you will place it on the chair. When I see that you have done so, I will let you leave this place. You may even keep your time warrior ring.” He turned his head to the side as if to look over his shoulder. She could not get past the idea that he was peeing. He held up his left hand, but she still could not see his right, which was presumably still holding his wand. “You must have noticed that I already have one of those.”
Yes, Stanfort, she thought to herself, I noticed that you somehow got yourself a time warrior ring. Nice color, forest green. Ever been in a real forest? Yes, Stanfort, thank you so much for not trying to take my ring. Emphasis on try. Several other truculent sentences went unsaid. There was nothing in particular she felt she needed to say.
He turned. “Well?” he asked.
“Do you agree to terms?”
“Not as yet,” said Jacky.
“Not as yet? Not as yet? Whatever are you waiting for? The terms will not change, only your opportunity to meet them.”
She rolled her eyes for real this time: she couldn’t help herself. “All right, fine,” she said, “why don’t you spell out the threat? Or what?”
“Nothing will happen to you,” said Stanfort. “Nothing at all! Of course. I shall presently tire of this conference, and leave you, and time will pass, and perhaps, if we feel tolerant, I shall return and give you a second chance. And if you turn that down, I shall leave you for good, and we will find something to fill this room other than air. Oh, I know. Your ring gives you independence from want of air. No matter. We could fill this room with molten metal, or with frozen helium. Frozen helium! Now there is an interesting substance. Have you ever worked with it? No?” He chortled, he tittered, and then he turned and walked away again. “So, that is what ‘not as yet’ brings you.”
“Mr. Stanfort,” she said, “if I may, who is ‘we?’ Do you speak of yourself and others, or are you using the editorial we?”
“We do not need you to know who we is,” said Stanfort. He snickered, half turned, then turned away with another snicker. “We have made you an offer, and we shall make no other. It is a matter of whether you accept it or not.”
“So it’s editorial. Or royal? Is it the royal we? Just trying to clarify.” He turned and looked at her, a smile wavering on his round face. She said, “Surely it took more than just you to put me in this position.” He smiled more, but still said nothing: the only reason he would remain silent would be that he was actually thinking about something. She went on, “You’ll say I don’t need to know, I’ll just blab it to someone once you let me go, and I’ll say, don’t worry about that, I’m not going to take your offer, go ahead and submerge me in frozen helium or whatever.”
“But we would take what you have anyway,” he said. “We have a way of doing it. Do not doubt that we do.”
“Ah, the we is very persistent. You know, I think you are actually using the plural. You and—!”
No smile. He huffed, then said, “I am not playing this game, Jacqueline.”
“Not Photius. Not the Schoolmaster.” Now he almost rolled his eyes. “Not the Lady,” Jacky went on. Slight smirk on his face: but that might just be its resting position. Resting smirk face. “Someone from Laton maybe?” He started to chortle. Goddess, she could hardly wait to give him the slapping he deserved.
“Really, Jacqueline,” he said.
“Must really burn you up,” she said.
His eyes dilated by two tenths of a millimeter for three milliseconds.
“Really?” she said. “That’s it? Burners?”
He laughed out loud. “Really, Jacqueline, your fantasies are terribly entertaining! I—!”
“Would find it most diverting,” she said, “to explain all that to the Schoolmaster. To the Lady. Burners? Seriously? You’re working with the Real Burners? And—frozen helium?”
His face hardened. He turned and walked away, to the extent he could. “Jacqueline,” he said, “I fear you are non-responsive. I shall—!” He heard the chair squeak.
He whipped around, his wand in his hand, pointed at her. She was standing. “Nyk eur goth,” she got out, three syllables in half a second, her left index and middle finger pointed at him.
His wand flew from his hand: that was how far she outranked him. He rolled his eyes.
“Thank you for this most informative conversation, Stanfort,” she said. “You see? It really is quite simple. Asshole.” She smirked: there was no need for slapping. She twisted her ring and was gone.