She had come out of it with a bitter, lasting fury against Bradamant, and a resolution that she would never do the same thing to someone who actually trusted her. Never. Never.
And if she tried to object now, it’d be just the same as before. She’d look as if she was trying to make excuses for something which must have been her fault if she was making excuses for it. She’d look guilty. She’d look petty . . .
She’d look like a child.
‘Yes,’ she agreed, with a smile as pleasant as Bradamant’s own. ‘All’s well that ends well.’
Kai glanced from Irene to Bradamant, then back again. ‘Of course, this is the first time I’ve worked with Miss Winters,’ he said, a fraction too quickly. ‘I was rather hoping we might be sent to fetch some poetry at some point. I have a high regard for poetry. My father and uncles always felt that it was very important for anyone who had any claim to culture.’
‘Hm!’ Singh leaned forward, looking genuinely interested. ‘The epic poem, or shorter forms?’
The conversation shifted, much to Irene’s relief, into a debate on poetry that lasted for most of the journey. She herself was mostly silent, being more used to acquiring it than reading it. Bradamant put in a word or two in favour of the Elizabethan styles, and fortunately there had been an Elizabeth on this alternate. Vale had a fondness for Persian poets, though his pronunciation of their names was bad enough that Singh twitched. Singh himself refused to consider anything shorter than an epic poem as worthy of serious study. And Kai, not too surprisingly, favoured classical Chinese modes, with a passing nod to constructions like the sestina and villanelle.
It took a moment for her to realize that she was actually enjoying herself. Even if she wasn’t contributing much to the conversation, she was taking part in it. She was speaking her mind, she was having an honest exchange of opinion, she was . . .
Among equals, the back of her mind supplied, with the unwillingness that came with the recognition of an unwanted truth. You are discussing a common interest without worrying about betrayal or about losing them, and you are enjoying it. How long is it since you did that?
She looked around at her party’s various interested expressions and felt as if she had known them for years. It was ridiculous, and yet . . . it wasn’t unwelcome.
The traffic outside had descended from merely bad to abominable, and their cab’s progress had slowed to a walking pace, with occasional jolts at the traffic lights.
‘There isn’t any risk of us being overtaken, is there?’ Irene asked nervously.
‘Very unlikely, madam,’ Singh answered. ‘For that, they would need to know where we’re going, and there are far too many places where we could be going for them to be certain.’
‘There is one thing that I’ve been wondering about,’ Kai said. ‘While I know that you have difference engines and calculating mechanisms, I have yet to see any sort of long-distance communication device. Now I – ’ He became conscious of Irene’s glare. ‘That is, hasn’t that sort of thing been investigated?’
Vale sighed. ‘Another of your alternate-world advanced pieces of technology, Mr Strongrock? There has indeed been some research into the subject, but it proved simply too prone to demonic possession. While there have been a few successes with various forms of theologically based shieldings, on the whole the area cannot be said to reward investigation. Certainly it would be unsafe to put such things in the hands of the masses.’
‘But how do zeppelin pilots communicate with the ground?’ Irene asked.
Vale sniffed, and Singh looked disgusted. ‘Fae magic,’ Vale said. ‘Another reason why Liechtenstein has so heavy an influence on the zeppelin industry. I believe they also make some machinery for submersibles, but of course the large quantity of iron reduces the magic’s efficiency.’
Irene nodded, and wished that some of this had been in the information pack which Dominic Aubrey had provided. He’d completely neglected the subject: there had been plenty of material on the current non-Fae situation, but hardly any on the Fae themselves, their political implications, and their ongoing plans for world domination – since Fae always had plans for world domination. (It was more dramatic that way, after all.) Possibly he’d thought that she would be able to avoid Fae interference – though, given Wyndham’s involvement with Silver, that would scarcely have been possible. Could someone have managed to remove part of the information pack? And if so, how and when?
She also wished that she was sitting on Kai’s side of the cab so that she could kick his ankle without it being obvious. Discussions along the lines of ‘so why haven’t you introduced this bit of technology in your alternate world’ rarely went well. Often there were perfectly good reasons why it hadn’t been introduced, and you opened a whole can of worms by just asking. And on the few occasions when it simply hadn’t been invented and you had indeed introduced the alternate to a whole new concept, you could end up with problems like cold fusion. (Not that she’d been involved in that one, but stories had got around.)
The cab jolted to a stop, and the driver leaned down to the opening. ‘I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid as how traffic’s very bad today, it’ll be another ten minutes before I could reach the steps of the museum – though you can see its wall there. If it won’t be inconveniencing you, sir, yourself and your friends might be finding it easier to walk from here.’