A/N: The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and all characters and settings appearing in this fic are the property of Diana Wynne Jones's estate.
There had been no need for the Wraith to worry, Tacroy thought. With much trial and error over the last year and a half, the Felperins had managed to improve the horseless carriage to the point that his contacts in Series Seven were finally able to load it themselves. Privately, Tacroy suspected that Christopher's regular interaction with the contraption, loading, pushing, and simply willing over time, had done as much to add to its functionality, but he had no intention of sharing that opinion with the Wraith. Convincing the man that he could do (and, in fact, insisted on doing) just as well on these supply runs without the boy along had been difficult enough. The Wraith had made his displeasure harrowingly clear.
The memory of that displeasure was most likely the reason that Tacroy kept feeling as if he were being watched. The sensation of eyes on the back of his neck wasn't new. He was used to constant observation. Even if he couldn't usually feel the presence in the back of his mind, he knew the Dright or the Dright's emissaries were monitoring him - if not every moment, then reviewing his thoughts and actions soon after the fact. He hadn't yet been called to account for his actions regarding Christopher, but (he thought loudly) a man had to look after his own skin. If he'd kept working with the boy, then sooner or later he'd have been solid enough for another dragon to kill him, or Gabriel would catch on to what his ward was up to. Tacroy had already had to cry off participation with the Castle cricket team to avoid exposure.
He didn't think about how much duller these assignments were without the company. How exploring wasn't so enjoyable without a companion with whom to discover the sights or just discuss cricket. How even Mrs. Boyce's violin sounded colorless and dull these days. Tacroy could hear the droning as he approached his body, vaguely aware of the carriage drifting behind him on its magical tether.
It was the carriage that alerted him. Through the growing connection between his spirit and his physical ears, he heard the wheels thump against a thin rug rather than thick carpet. He tried to back away, delay the return to his body, but sudden alarm wasn't conducive to regaining a trance that he'd already been losing. When he tried, he was blocked, as if by a wall or a net. He practically bounced back to a body that was - still comfortably blanketed, still soothed by strains of music that sounded even more unnatural than they had before. Unreal, Mordecai thought of the sound through the headache the backlash had given him, artificial. He wasn't entirely surprised, then, to open his eyes, not on the sloping, cloth-draped garret of the house in Kensington, but on the vaulted ceiling of an equally familiar trance room in-
"The Castle," said Mordecai aloud. Might as well let whomever was guarding him know he was awake. He was caught. There was no point in delaying the inevitable. He started to push himself up out of the blankets and was immediately flanked by a pair of unsmiling footman who had clearly been chosen both for bulk and magical ability. Mordecai held up his hands in front of him. "I just want to sit up," he said, appeasingly.
They hovered near anyway, and eyed him closely as he swung his legs to the floor.. Gilbert and Philip, he thought their names were. Gilbert had been on staff since before Mordecai left for London. Philip was newer. He'd been unsuccessfully courting Sally the last time Mordecai was home for a cricket match. Neither man looked at all sympathetic. As he moved, the net he'd felt before tightened around him like a too small suit and he grimaced briefly in discomfort. They were taking no chances of his spirit escaping to warn the Wraith or plan his body's retrieval.
Not that the Wraith could be anything but aware shortly. Effie made a point of being out of the house accompanying a gentlewoman during those evenings Mordecai was at work there, so she shouldn't have been caught, but she would certainly know what had happened. Mordecai did not particularly want to think about the Wraith's reaction to losing his best remaining spirit traveler so soon after Christopher. The man did not suffer being crossed lightly, as at least two of Mordecai's predecessors had learned.
He looked to his right at a sound of activity and saw several dark-uniformed police officers, accompanied by Frederick Parkinson, Dr. Paul Simonson, and more footmen converging on the carriage. Parcels were passed around for examination. There was no sign of Gabriel or his chief assistant, although the spells on him had the distinct flavor of Dewitt's work. Chrestomanci must have been here earlier, then. No chances indeed.
"I don't suppose I can hope for a bite?" he asked the footmen. "Or a cup of tea? Spirit-traveling takes quite a bit out of a body." There was no answer, although Gilbert looked slightly pained. "Well, it was worth a try."
Mrs. Boyce was nowhere to be seen, but the strains of the violin continued in the air, sourceless, until the door opened and Rosalie entered.
Mordecai fixed a careless smile on his face, but she didn't look at him. Her eyes swept the rest of the room, instead. The only indication that she was aware of him was the color in her cheeks and the tightness of her jaw. She murmured a word, cancelling the music, and crossed to speak to Frederick and Paul. Strain as he might, Mordecai could not hear more of the conversation than, "...inform Gabriel." When it ended, she turned and left without even a disdainful glance in his direction. Most of the people in the room filed out after her.
A Rosalie too angry for a scornful look was -
"Mr. Roberts." It was an abrupt tone, as if the speaker was either repeating himself or very irritated. Most likely both, Mordecai thought, turning his smile on the police officer who had come to stand next to him. Frederick Parkinson stood behind the man. "You haven't much to smile about," the officer said sharply. "Stand up."
Mordecai stood and raised his arms. They were thorough in their search, although Mordecai didn't have a great deal on him to find: a blue silk handkerchief, a ten pound note, a scornful telegram from Rosalie with the results of the last cricket match. He was even required to remove his boots so that they could be checked for hidden compartments.
Mordecai watched Frederick expertly inspect the boots. "It was you following me, wasn't it?" he asked conversationally. "I thought I was just imagining things. More fool me." Frederick continued his inspection in silence, but his look when he returned the boots was speaking.
He turned to Gilbert and Philip. "Monsignor Dewitt wants to question him in ten minutes. You're to bring him to the Middle Drawing Room then."
The policeman looked around the green-hung trance room and shook his head.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Mordecai said to him, giving up on his former colleague. Frederick was a lost cause. "It set me back on my heels the first time I saw it, too."
The policeman glared at him as if he'd like to make a cutting comment, then nodded at the footmen. "Those spells should hold, but you're not to take any chances. Keep an eye on him."
"We play cricket together," said Mordecai. "Gilbert knows how fast I can run."
That remark didn't go over any better than the others. "I rather hope you try," said the officer before he and Parkinson left.
Mordecai opened his mouth, surprised into a coughing laugh. The officer didn't come near to approaching the Wraith or even Gabriel for ability to intimidate, but the implied threat caught him off guard. He watched the door close behind them with raised eyebrows. "Well," he said to Philip and Gilbert.
The footmen exchanged glances. Philip shifted his weight to stand more solidly. "We don't want any trouble, Mr. Roberts."
Mordecai gave another laugh, more wry than the first. "Don't worry," he said. "I've no desire to make any." Not that desires had anything to do with orders.
Ten minutes could stretch to eternity, especially with the weight of the Castle spells bearing down on one. It had been months since Mordecai had last been back, and the familiar weight had grown foreign in the interim. Or perhaps it was that the Castle no longer recognized him as a friend. The Castle's inhabitants certainly did not.
It had been made clear that this was an interrogation, not a trial, although when they brought him in and sat him down in front of everyone who had once liked and trusted him, it felt like it may as well have been. Gabriel sat in the middle of the semi-circle in the place of chief judge, looking more grim than Mordecai had seen him since they'd arrested those dream slavers five years ago. Rosalie deigned to look at him now, although through him might have been a better description. Flavian wore his best solemn civil servant's expression, although for a moment when Mordecai first entered, there was a flash of the wretched disappointment of a puppy that had been unexpectedly kicked. But those three, Gabriel, Rosalie, Flavian, at least looked recognizable. If it were not that the black-haired boy sitting beside Flavian could not have been anyone else, Mordecai almost would not have known Christopher. The cheerful enthusiasm he was used to seeing had been replaced by a haughty stare. The boy had every right to despise him, of course -
Did it ever occur to you that your uncle might be using you, too?
Yes, but that's different. I like helping. I'm doing these experiments of my own free will.
-But the open hatred still caused Mordecai's stomach to jump.
You can't say I didn't try.
So Mordecai had told himself, but he hadn't, not really. He hadn't said that he was using Christopher as much his uncle was. Of course, if he'd said that, prison would have been the least of his worries. That bordered closely on defiance. If the Wraith didn't have him killed for the betrayal, Eleven would take him apart from the inside.
"Mordecai Roberts," said the chief constable. "You are under arrest. Do you wish to have a lawyer present?"
"Not particularly." A lawyer was only useful if he intended to defend himself. "No point in a lawyer. You caught me in the act, after all." He wished they'd offered him a drink of water. His mouth felt parched already. The careless smile threatened to crack his face if he continued to hold it. It wasn't an if any longer. Mordecai hadn't betrayed Eleven and he wouldn't, but to the Wraith, he was nothing but a liability now.
Eleven wouldn't save him. Not from Gabriel, nor from the Wraith. The consequences of evil - the rewards of a traitor - were no doubt a part of the experiment. Mordecai was reaching the end of his usefulness to everyone.
"Who is the Wraith?" Gabriel asked. "You owe the government that much information, at least."
He did, Mordecai thought letting his eyes drift over the semi-circle of faces he'd betrayed. But he owed Christopher a life - three lives which had been stolen from the boy with as little choice as Mordecai's soul. Anyway, he mentally shouted to cover the previous thought. Argent would find a way to kill Mordecai if he revealed his speculation on that score (Mordecai might not be certain of the Wraith's identity, but Christopher Chant, ward and heir to Chrestomanci, only had so many uncles. He'd never tried to prove it because the attempt would be suicide, but Mordecai had been quite a good investigator once.).
"I'm afraid I can't help you."
The Wraith could hang for all Mordecai cared, but he wouldn't drag Christopher down too.