Chapter 6: Starry Questions With a Single Key 
Catherine awoke in the middle of the night to find the bed empty and cold. She pushed the hair out of her eyes and sighed. Vincent, restless and awake, consumed by his worries. He was still inside their house; their bond spoke of his closeness and when she listened closely, she could just barely hear the squeal of the teakettle. He often seemed to require little sleep but since Father’s absence, Vincent had slept even less than normal.
She pulled on a robe and descended the stairs; one step—the middle one—was creaky despite all the renovations, and she side-stepped it neatly, not wanting to startle him. “I know you’re there,” Vincent called softly. “I’m all right, Catherine. Truly.”
“All right” was not the most accurate description, Catherine mused; she could feel the tangled knots of his concerns as if they were her own burdens, but she smiled at the attempt at reassurance. “So that’s why you’re down here at 2am with the teapot going full blast?”
Vincent might have sighed. He put down the book Catherine knew he hadn’t been reading and turned the table lamp on—more for her benefit than his own. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“You don’t say,” Catherine replied dryly. She drew the folds of her robe closer and walked into the kitchen. “What kind of tea would you like? Chamomile or—?”
“Chamomile, please,” Vincent answered. “I don’t think I need caffeine at this hour of the night.”
“No,” Catherine agreed. “What’s troubling you? Father?”
“Yes. He should have sent a message to us hours ago. Yet Pascal reports nothing.”
Catherine bit her lip. “Joshua could be sicker than Father realized.”
The thought wasn’t a new one, she could tell. “Father would still have sent a message, or asked Quinn or Rhys to do it. We’ve heard nothing, and that’s with Zach listing on the few pipes which we think originate in the outer ring community. If there was something to hear, Zach or Pascal would have heard something.” Vincent stared down at his clenched fists. “What am I to tell Bronwyn? Or Angus?”
Catherine nodded, somewhat surprised by the linking of Quinn’s name with Angus’s. She’d had only minimal contact with Angus and barely knew Quinn but Angus’s reputation tended to precede him. Well, what do you know…Aloud she said, “You’ll tell them what you must. The truth. That you don’t know anything yet but that Pascal and Zach will let everyone know the moment you do.”
He gave a low chuff of reluctant amusement. “You make it sound so simple.”
“That’s because it is,” Catherine said, taking his hands in hers. “Vincent, nobody expects you to have all the answers, not in this kind of situation.”
“Perhaps,” he murmured as he rested his head against hers. His voice was so low she hardly heard his next words. “Father would know what to say, how to keep people calm, how to reassure Bronwyn and Angus.”
Catherine shook her head. “And you don’t? Vincent, the people Below believe in you. They trust that you know what you’re doing.” She studied him closely, sensing something…. “This isn’t just about nerves, is it? Something else is keeping you up.”
Vincent tilted his head back to stare at the muted glow of the plastered ceiling as if it might contain all his answers. “I have a sense,” he finally said, “that things are going badly with Father and the others. And….there is nothing I can do. I fear if any of us went to check on them, it would be viewed as a provocation, and the outer community is armed, as Cullen would say, to the teeth.”
Catherine nodded. “All right. Could you…send a message to Lucas, asking if Joshua is all right?”
“Yes. But I would not expect him to tell me the truth.”
Father and the others spent an uneasy night in their small chamber. Father was uncomfortably reminded of the hours he’d spent as Paracelsus’s captive, bound and gagged in a tiny recess behind an oil painting, and found it difficult to sleep as a result. Quinn and Rhys had agreed before the last light of the candle burned out that each of them would take turns keeping watch and he thought it might be Quinn’s turn now, though of course it was impossible to see anything. Then her voice spoke out of the darkness and he was obscurely comforted. “You all right, Father?”
“As all right as can be expected, yes,” he responded though it was growing chill in the room and they’d been provided with thin blankets—sheets, really.
“The others will know something’s up soon,” Quinn said by way of reassurance, though she couldn’t possibly have felt as confident as she sounded. “Rhys and I were supposed to check in hours ago.”
“As was I,” Father replied. “I’m sure everyone is quite concerned.” He looked in her general direction and smiled. “You should get some rest.”
“I will, when Rhys wakes up. But not until,” Quinn retorted. He heard the rustle of her clothing as she pulled the folds of her knitted and patched cardigan closer together. “Not the Hilton, is it?”
“Not even close,” Father agreed dryly. Vincent had done well to send these two here, he thought. Quinn was rock steady and not given to panic, and Rhys was disarmingly amiable; neither of them would appear to be a threat to a community used to solving most of its problems by violence or mayhem.
He heard the creak of the thin mattress; Rhys, sitting up. “My turn now,” Rhys said through a yawn.
Dawn found Vincent deep in conversation with Pascal. “And do I remember correctly that it’s this pipe which leads directly to Lucas’s community?”
Pascal nodded, his bald head reflecting dimly in the light from the candles scattered around the room. The chiming and clanking of pipes was not yet as loud as it would become once everyone was awake, and Vincent had taken the opportunity to have a rare quiet chat with the pipe-master. “Should be,” Pascal said. “I mean, near as we can tell. You know they don’t let us get too close.”
“Probably for good reason,” Vincent replied grimly, and was startled by Pascal’s touch on his arm.
“Don’t worry too much, okay?” Pascal said with a fond smile. “I know you will, but I know you’ll find a way to get them home.”
“Then…you also don’t believe this delay is coincidental?”
“No,” Pascal said. “I don’t. I’ve been keeping my suspicions to myself, but if Father couldn’t get a message to us, Rhys and Quinn surely could. And it’s been silent since yesterday.” He gestured with the metal rods he used to tap on the pipes. “I pick up echoes, here and there. Too faint for me to hear fully, but I know they come from Lucas and his people. Since Father and the others arrived, there’s been not even that. Radio silence.”
“All right,” Vincent answered. “Do you know their pipe code?”
He was surprised by a rakish grin from the normally reticent man. “Probably better than they do, yeah. You want to send a message?”
“I do,” Vincent said. “Ask after Joshua. And when we can expect our people back home?”
Pascal turned to bang on the pipes; when the message was sent, he looked back at Vincent. “I wish we knew more about them. They’re our neighbors, after all.”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, I agree. When Winslow and I visited years ago, we were met by a committee, you might call it. We never saw the entire community.”
“Oh, I remember—you went there because of Mouse, right?”
“Yes. We thought he might have wandered away from his family somehow. Winslow was…greatly disappointed to find that wasn’t the case.”
Pascal chuckled. “Yeah, I remember that pretty well. Especially since Mouse followed you around everywhere, and you spent a lot of time with Winslow in those days.”
Vincent smiled. “Winslow used to say, ‘First time I ever saw a mouse chase a cat!’ ”
The morning was broken by a series of visitors: Angela, bringing Joshua by for an exam. The baby, Father was happy to see, was beginning to regain the weight he’d lost but he could see the worry in Angela’s eyes—the formula he’d brought with them would only last so long. “Maybe you’ll help us now that…”
Father rubbed his eyes, feeling the grit of tiredness and worry seeping into his bones. “I’m not staying here, Angela. You must realize this.”
Angela nodded. “But…you could do a lot of good here.”
Rhys opened his mouth to speak, but Father’s look silenced him. “I’m doing a lot of good where I live now. I’m their leader, Angela, and I need to go home.” He took a deep breath. “You could come with us. You all could.”
Angela smiled, but there was no real humor in it. “I don’t think Lucas would agree to that, do you?”
“There’s plenty of room,” Quinn said unexpectedly. “Or there will be. You don’t have to steal for your survival. You can come with us and…” She shook her head. “Life—your life—doesn’t have to be this hard. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have food to eat. Do you, Rhys?”
Rhys grinned. “Sure I do. When Arthur sneezed into the stew. All William had to do was make sandwiches, though.” He shrugged. “Nobody starves. We work hard, though, to keep it that way.”
Angela looked down at her son, but would not meet their eyes. “I have no skills. I…”
The door opened. A thin, taciturn man Father had never seen stood in the passage, his lean form highlighted by the flicker of candles. He presumed the man intended to guide them to Lucas but was startled when the man took his arm instead. “Your cane. Leave it here.”
Quinn found her voice first. “He’s lame. He needs it to walk.”
The unidentified man sneered. “Then I guess he won’t be walking far without it, will he?”
Rhys stood up, all traces of his usual genial manner gone. He reminded Father in that instant of the street-fighter he’d once been, the man who’d once fled Below with a price on his head because he’d refused to throw a fight. “Some man you are, taking a cane from a cripple.”
Violence crackled in the air; Father held up a hand. “Rhys, that’s enough. I won’t have blood spilled on my account.” He placed the cane against the wall and took an experimental step forward, feeling the pain shoot up his hip. “Where are we going?”
“Lucas wants to see you,” the man said. “And so’s you don’t get any funny ideas…”
“That’s not right, Gordon,” Angela said, shifting Joshua to her shoulder. “Father saved his life and you’re going to make him walk all that distance to our chamber without his cane?”
The man Gordon cracked a toothy, ominous smile. “It’s what Lucas wants. And what he wants, he gets. You should know that.”
Vincent retreated to the commons after leaving the Pipe Chamber, the combination of an early morning and a sleepless night leaving him craving coffee. And breakfast too, his mind reminded him in Catherine’s voice, and he smiled. Catherine, who had wanted to come Below with him, despite the early court appearance she had scheduled. They’d argued—amiably, but still, it was an argument—that she needed to be rested and prepared for the first round of motions hearings on the Avery case. In the end, he had prevailed but he could sense the warm threads of her concern through their bond, even as she left for work and her own set of challenges.
Bronwyn and Angus were sitting together at one table, Sioned and Jeanne on either side of their mother. Valerie, Cullen and Leah were there as well, along with Marisol and Olivia. The commons was normally nearly deserted at this hour, but there were large clumps of people milling about—worried, Vincent realized, as the sharp, jagged waves of their emotions buffeted him. A good many of the faces turned to him, expecting some answer, some news. He took a deep breath. “We’ve sent a message asking after Father and the others. As soon as there’s anything to tell, I’ll let you know.”
The words were simple and Vincent was startled to see that even that statement—said with an assurance and calm he was a very long way from feeling—settled them somewhat. He poured a cup of coffee and sat down across from Bronwyn. She eyed him carefully—she was eternally cautious, the opposite of Rhys’s unguarded nature—and spoke quietly. “I know you will.”
“Of course,” Valerie said brightly, as she rubbed Leah’s back in her carrier. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for why we haven’t heard anything from them.”
Cullen nodded, though the dark look he shot Vincent over Bronwyn’s bowed head spoke volumes. “She’s right,” he said. “Father’s a doctor; any number of things could be delaying him.”
“Mmmm,” Bronwyn murmured. “I’ve never known a situation where Rhys could be kept from speaking, though.” She rested a hand on Sioned’s head. “I need to get these two ready for school. Vincent, you’ll keep us posted?”
He nodded. “Of course. And Bronwyn?”
She turned back at the exit, her black hair glinting in the torchlight. “Yes?”
“If you…need to talk, please, let me know.”
Bronwyn smiled, a sad, faded little smile; she kept her own counsel much of the time, Vincent knew, and yet…she shouldn’t feel so alone, not here, not now. “Thank you,” she murmured, and left.
“That was a mighty good act you put on,” Angus said.
Cullen shot him an angry look. “What act? Vincent doesn’t know anything.”
Angus met the glare with one of his own. “Doesn’t he?”
“ ‘He’ is right here,” Vincent retorted, beginning to feel the strain of keeping his own emotions under control under the barrage of outside feelings. “And…speculation isn’t going to help Father and the others come home any sooner.”
Angus barked a short, harsh laugh and Vincent fought an instinctive recoil against the shards of his emotions. “Sure, of course. You just let them go and now you’re telling me they’re perfectly safe?”
Valerie shook her head. “Angus, don’t be an ass. Nobody could have kept Father here, and as for Quinn and Rhys, they agreed to go. It was their choice. They knew the risks.”
Angus stood up. “Sure. Tell me you’d be saying that if it was Cullen.”
Vincent breathed out. Quinn’s potential loss echoed strongly with Angus, coupled as it was with the memory of his wife’s loss many years before. “Angus,” he said quietly. “Let’s…take this outside and talk, shall we?”
Angus folded his arms. “You taking me out to the woodshed?” he asked dryly.
“No,” Vincent answered. “But we do need to talk.”
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 “Tie Your Heart at Night to Mine, Love,” by Pablo Neruda