Child of the Drenched: Intrigue in Faerieland - Part Six
Mara had to think fast; that had not been what she had expected Hanso to say. She wasn't sure what she was expecting to get as an answer to her question, but that Florina had told them something she wasn't supposed to have known was most certainly not it. Mara knew she had to continue her ruse and see if she could get more information out of him, or at least divert his obvious suspicions from her.
Mara put on a mask of shock and fear. "But sir, I was told that by someone at the school. Are you sure you told no one?"
Hanso's look grew even more grim. "Yeah, and Brynn is going to be furious when she finds out that key details are public knowledge. I've got to go, miss. I need to tell Brynn and we need to find out who leaked this and how much else and try to keep things from spreading around too much."
"Okay, sir. I won't tell anyone, I promise," Mara replied.
Hanso nodded and smiled at her. "Aw, don't look so scared, it's not your fault. Next time I see you I'll tell you an even better story."
Hanso left and Mara looked at Jacques who shrugged playfully at her. "What are you looking at me for? You don't need me; you've got this handled quite well."
"All joking aside, now what? Florina is the key witness against Howl and she has knowledge that according to Hanso she shouldn't have. What does that mean? Did someone slip and tell her something or..." Mara's sentence trailed off, unable to bring herself to contemplate that her uncle's friend would betray him like that.
"Florina is a suspect in this case, and we can't trust a word she says until we prove that she had nothing to do with the theft and the framing of Howl," Jacques replied.
"Shouldn't we tell Captain Brynn about what we've learned?" Mara asked.
"No, not until we have proof. We need to stay one step ahead of whoever is behind this, and they are manipulating the official investigation. No, to tell Brynn and Hanso of our suspicions at this stage would be taking a step backwards and letting whoever is behind this know we are onto them," Jacques answered.
"Okay then, what do we do next?"
Mara looked at her watch as she waited. It was waterproof, which was good considering she was sitting at the bottom of the pond beneath Florina's office window. Jacques wasn't here; he was waiting back at the hotel. He had to be there to provide an alibi for her in case anything happened. That is, so long as anything happened and she got away. Florina was working late again, the time on the watch read quarter to one in the morning. Mara was beginning to wonder if the faerie ever left the office.
Finally the lights went out in the window and the drapes were shut. A minute later Florina walked out the front doors of the academy and locked them behind her and flew off. After waiting five minutes to be sure, she emerged from the water. She pulled the water out of her clothes and hair and into a mist that slid under the window and inside. It slid up and unlocked the window and opened it. She moved the water back into the pond and climbed inside the room. She shut the window and pulled the curtains together then turned on the light.
She looked around the room and decided to start at the desk. Carefully she dug through all the papers and files, looking to see if any of them pertained to the crime. She didn't find anything suspicious and there weren't any hidden compartments either. She stood up and looked around the lush room. The bookshelves immediately caught her attention. The documents that incriminated her uncle had been placed in a book. If Florina had had anything to do with that then maybe it was because that is where she would have placed it. Mara knew where she would have hidden things if she had done it, and it wouldn't have been in a book.
She looked around at the books and selected the ones that looked most used. She hit pay-dirt. Inside one of them was a letter from someone, promising Florina a huge payment for the staff. The letter also contained detailed plans on how to frame someone for it. The plan laid out a cunning trap and it was the one that had ensnared Howl. The letter also said to pick the most reclusive or disliked teacher at the academy. Howl fit to a T; he had no family as far as Florina knew and he was rather feared by silly little faeries who had blown his fearsome nature way out of proportion.
Mara's mind raced back to the day they arrived in Faerieland as she put the letter safely in her coat and put the book back. Florina had looked very nervous and unsettled when Mara had claimed kinship with Howl. She masked it quickly and put on a good show, but it had been there. She had been wondering if Mara's arrival was likely to upset her plans, she had rather absentmindedly alluded to that when they had talked with her on the day of the crime and then turned it on Howl.
Mara turned off the light and crept out the window, the water locking it for her again. She slipped off as carefully as she could and back to the hotel. She couldn't enter the hotel through the main way, obviously, but she was prepared. She could feel the water around her and pulled it to her. It surrounded her and propelled her upward and she landed on her balcony. She evaporated the water into the air and went inside. Jacques was sitting in a chair reading a book and on the table beside him were two empty dishes that had held ice cream. He looked at her and she nodded and smiled.
He got up and went to the door. As he stepped into the hall commented, "Wow, I can't believe how late it got. I'll beat you tomorrow. Sleep well, Mara."
"No, you won't. Darigan Checkers is my game. You sleep well too, Jacques." Mara laughed after him.
Mara put the letter in a safe place and got ready for bed. She changed into her nightgown and turned out the lights and crept into bed. She didn't expect to be able to sleep a wink that night, but she was suddenly awoken by the dawn.
Mara got dressed and practiced her magic as she did every morning. She and Jacques couldn't see each other until breakfast; it was unwise to deviate from their routine in case anyone was watching. At eight o-clock on the dot, she went down to the dining room and same as yesterday Jacques was sitting there reading the paper and drinking his coffee. She sat down across the table and said good morning as she put sugar and cream in her coffee.
"How did you sleep?" Jacques asked.
"Surprisingly well, given what is going on with my uncle," Mara replied.
The waiter arrived and took their orders. Mara gently kicked Jacques under the table and held out the letter under it. He put down his paper for a moment to look at her while taking the letter.
"You don't look like you slept well," he commented.
"I said 'well under the circumstances', Jacques," Mara replied. "I'll just be happy when this vacation is over and we go back home. Faerieland isn't quite so much fun all of a sudden."
Jacques picked up his paper again, hiding the fact that he was reading the letter in his lap with the paper. "We can go back early if you would rather. The captain would be pleased to have us back early."
"No, that wouldn't be fair to you; you've been looking forward to this trip. Besides, I can still see Howl once a day and I owe him that much. He is family, even if he did do it." Mara sighed.
Jacques put the paper down again to look at her. "Then we'll go see him immediately after breakfast. Maybe we'll run into Hanso too; he promised you more stories of his bravery and adventures."
Mara grinned embarrassedly and looked out the window. While to anyone watching it was a harmless, teasing conversation, Mara knew otherwise. Jacques meant that they had found the evidence they needed and they needed to go see Hanso and Brynn to give it to them. They ate their breakfast in relative silence, only general comments, and considering the situation they were supposed to be in, it looked completely normal.
Breakfast seemed to take much too long for Mara. She was glad when they finally finished and left the hotel. Walking there at a pace that seemed normal was also a struggle. Finally they arrived at the palace. Mara told the guard that she was Howl's niece and she felt that she had some information that was pertinent to the case. A few minutes later she and Jacques were shown into Brynn's office.
To be continued...