‘Excuse me,’ Vale said, and picked up Irene’s hand where it lay limply on the arm of the chair. He slid back her cuff and checked her pulse. ‘The lady is conscious, as you can see, and seems in good enough health otherwise, so one must assume a paralytic . . .’
‘Irene, say something!’ Kai leaned forward and cupped her face in his hands, staring into her eyes. She could just barely feel the touch of his skin against her face. ‘Can you hear us?’
‘Hear . . .’ she managed to force out. ‘Cur . . . curare . . .’
‘She’s been poisoned with curare!’ Kai swung round to Vale. ‘Quick! Where can we find a doctor?’
Irene wondered sourly if dragons were particularly prone to stating the obvious at moments of crisis, or if it was just him.
‘Aha.’ Vale brightened, his eyes flashing with enthusiasm. ‘I believe we can deal with this here and now. I have a small amount of a strychnine derivative with me, which I use as a stimulant in moments of emergency – ’
Much is now explained, Irene thought, even more sourly.
– ‘and while there may be some minor side-effects, with any luck it should restore her enough to speak. Mr Strongrock, if you would be good enough to hold her shoulders steady?’
‘Of course,’ Kai said, stepping round behind her chair to grasp her shoulders. She could actually feel his fingers biting into her through the folds of clothing. Either the curare was wearing off, or that was a very firm grasp indeed.
Vale removed a small glass tube from an inner pocket of his coat. Leaning forward and turning his head away, he flipped the lid off and briefly passed it under Irene’s nose.
Irene inhaled. Her whole body jolted in an undignified convulsion, legs kicking wildly and tangling in her long skirt, the muscles in her arms clenching and contracting. Her head snapped back and without Kai’s grip on her shoulders, she would have sprawled out of the chair to thrash on the floor.
‘Miss Winter?’ Vale said, closing the glass tube and putting it back in his pocket. ‘Can you understand me?’
Irene coughed and focused on breathing for a moment, as the twitching in her limbs slowly eased. It just felt like cramps now. Really bad cramps. The sort of cramps that would ideally warrant a long, extremely slow rubdown in a hot bathhouse . . .
That must be the strychnine. She wouldn’t normally let her mind wander like that.
‘Mm, okay,’ she managed to mumble. ‘Thank – thank you. Got to – it was Bradamant, the book’s with Aubrey, not really Aubrey – ’
Vale exchanged a meaningful glance with Kai. She could guess what they were thinking: She’s still delirious.
She had to make herself understood.
Irene closed her eyes for a moment, focused, thought vicious curses down upon Bradamant’s head, and opened her eyes again. ‘Three things,’ she said distinctly. ‘First. The book was posted to Dominic Aubrey. I believe Wyndham must have wanted him to keep it safe from Silver. Second. Bradamant poisoned me. She wants to get the book first. Third. I think Alberich killed Dominic Aubrey before we arrived. Think he was posing as him when we arrived. The only reason he doesn’t have the book yet is because he hasn’t checked Aubrey’s post.’
Her leg spasmed. She leaned over awkwardly and banged it with her fist. ‘Ow,’ she said.
Vale and Kai exchanged glances again. She had the feeling that more was being communicated than she could see. Perhaps it was a manly thing. Perhaps it was a dragon thing on one side and a Great Detective thing on the other.
‘Could Bradamant be working with Alberich?’ Kai asked. ‘If she poisoned you?’
Irene shook her head and regretted it. She put her hands on the arms of her chair and struggled to push herself up to a standing position, glaring at Kai when he tried to help her. ‘Bradamant has no clue,’ she snapped. ‘Bradamant is an idiot. Bradamant ran off to get the book . . . I didn’t get to tell her about Alberich and Dominic. I’m not sure she even believed me that Alberich is here. And if he’s still around the British Library when she arrives . . .’ The thought made her throat go dry. She wanted to take some sort of painful and pointed revenge on Bradamant, but she didn’t hate her that much. ‘We have to get there first,’ she said firmly.
She took a step, and almost fell over.
Vale caught her elbow and supported her. ‘Miss Winters, you are in no condition to accompany us. You should rest here while Mr Strongrock and I go in search of your errant comrade.’
‘While I would normally agree with you,’ Kai said, ‘there are those werewolves.’
‘Didn’t you even deal with the werewolves?’ Irene snapped. She was aware that she was being just a little unfair here, but at least presumed allies hadn’t stabbed them in the back while they were trying to do their job. Or their neck. Whatever.
‘True,’ Vale said. ‘The werewolves may be a problem. We only inconvenienced them, rather than finishing them off. I have sent for the police, but they will need to reach here first. Perhaps if we—’
‘Perhaps if yer what?’ a snarling voice enquired. A ragged figure stood in the open doorway, hair sprouting from his clothes at neck and cuffs, with snarling teeth gaping in his mouth. ‘This time it’s too late for Mr bleedin’ Vale—’
Kai snatched up the inkwell from the desk, and threw it straight at the werewolf’s face. Ink splattered everywhere, on the varnished floor and the papered walls, but mostly on the werewolf. He had time for a single black-drooling look of surprise before Kai’s kick caught him in the chest and sent him stumbling back into the central hall. Kai followed it up with an elbow blow to the werewolf’s chin, another kick to the back of his knee, and a two-handed smash to the back of his neck.