A/N: The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and all characters and settings appearing in this fic are the property of Diana Wynne Jones's estate.

Paper Lanterns

Part Three

It was a good half hour of Rosalie's firm explanations and another while Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Phillips calmed the guests (primarily with the liberal distribution of refreshments) before they were prepared to depart with their prisoner. Mordecai took a moment to make his regrets to Charlotte who had changed into a traveling dress in the interim.

"Are we free to leave now?" she asked coolly as he approached.

Mordecai smiled broadly. "Oh, certainly! We've no call to keep you."

Charlotte did not smile back. "You know David had half a mind to call you out," she said. "I talked him down, but I'd half a mind to let him. You might have said you intended to arrest a guest at my wedding."

Mordecai shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry for the trouble, but it couldn't be helped."

She pursed her lips in frustration, reminding him briefly of Rosalie. "Of course, it could!" she said. "There was no call for making a scene. What does deWitt want with Edward anyway?"

"I'm not at liberty to say," Mordecai replied, shaking his head. "But hiring a lawyer wouldn't go amiss for him." Privately he doubted how much a barrister could do for Elliot, considering the man's research had gone to aid an appalling human trafficking ring. Still, he might be able to bargain for a reduced sentence if he could offer up the leaders of the organization. Mordecai didn't like to pass judgment on most men - if his father's faith held any truth, then he had enough black marks on his own tally - but he would feel a certain satisfaction in helping to put Edward Elliot behind bars.

Charlotte regarded him meditatively. "I think I'll advise David to keep his distance," she said. "I won't have our wedding tour ruined by politics."

"Where are you traveling?" Mordecai asked. "Rome? Venice?"

"No, thank you," said Charlotte, smiling finally, but quite decided. "I don't want any uninvited guests of your sort." She looked past him.

Mordecai glanced over his shoulder to see Flavian, Elliot and a number of police officers disappear. Rosalie watched them go, holding her skirts out of the way of a pentagram drawn into the gravel of the drive. He turned back. "That's rather unkind," he said. "You can't fault a man for doing his job. David, unfortunately, picked a poor friend."

"They were very close at university, but they've hardly seen one another since," said Charlotte dismissively. She looked pointedly at him. "But you know how a wedding brings all the old hangers on out of the woodwork."

Mordecai only smiled more broadly. "Guilty as charged! It was good to see you, other circumstances aside. I'll toast to you tonight, wherever you may be."

Charlotte shook her head. "And I will pray for your lovely colleague," she said with another glance over his shoulder. "I do believe she'll need it. Good-bye, Mordecai."

She didn't wait for an au revoir, but then the commotion surrounding Elliot had delayed her departure long enough, and David was waiting rather impatiently by the carriage that would take them to the train station.

"Are you coming, Mordecai?" asked Rosalie at his elbow. "The others have gone on to the Castle. We don't have time to dawdle."

Mordecai thrust Charlotte's parting words to the back of his mind. She'd been an inveterate matchmaker in the old days, and when she had a notion in mind, it was difficult to shake it out of her. "We can stay to see the newlyweds on their way, can't we?" he asked. "It's only polite. We did rather disrupt the reception."


"It's just a moment," he said and pointed. "Look, they're starting off now."

The carriage started moving as he spoke. Further down the balcony, Mrs. Howe waved a hand and the colored lanterns that had illuminated the garden rose from the grass and into the sky, twinkling around them, lighting the couple out of sight.

Mordecai risked a glance sideways. It was difficult to judge in the twilight, but Rosalie's practicality seemed to have melted a bit. He smiled, rested his elbows on the railing of the balcony and settled in to watch as the lanterns continued to rise above the house and trees, mingling with the stars.

When they were no more than pinpricks of light in the distance, Mordecai held out his arm. "That went well, I think."

Rosalie sniffed. "Eventually," she said, threading a hand through his arm. "Thanks to Flavian."

"I helped!" said Mordecai indignantly, turning them toward the pentagram in the drive. "Not even a thank you for distracting him? Do you know what alcohol to the face does to the eyes?"

"I'm sure I don't," she said tartly, using her free hand to keep her gown from trailing through the lines of the diagram. "However, I'm not surprised that you do."

That, Mordecai felt, was uncalled for. He defied her to name a time that he hadn't played the part of a gentleman. "I'll have to put in a claim for a cleaning bill," he said, stepping into the circle. Rosalie looked at him sharply. As the view of the Howe Estate faded around them into the Great Hall of Chrestomanci Castle, he smiled mischievously at her. "Have you any idea what it takes to get red wine out of a silk shirt?"

"Aren't you glad it isn't new, then?" she said.