The Assembler

Chapter 26 - Steamed, And Not In a Good Way

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

As promised, Nathan Ainsworth sent several guards to fetch Ned Black for dinner. He’d been provided suitable evening dress. At least, Ned thought, he’d be able to see his mother and assess how well she was holding up.

He was escorted through a perfectly elegant town house, sporting a fortune’s worth of paintings and sculptures and delivered to a yet more elegant drawing room, decorated in the latest London fashion. A liveried footman announced him.

His mother was perched on an antique chair, Nathan Ainsworth looming over her. Richard Ainsworth was in the room as well, standing near the drinks table. It was the additional man who was standing near the fireplace that shocked Ned to the core. There, glaring at him, was the one man in London he had zero desire to see, speak to or think about. The one man in London he had every reason to hate.

Charles, Lord Silver, was not a piacularly handsome man, although he dressed elegantly. His face looked lived in is about the best you could say of him. Even so, he was powerful enough, especially politically, that most people did not note, or at least were sure to ignore, the flaws in that face. Others recognized easily the hard and unforgiving expression that presaged difficulties for someone. Few had the courage, or the desire, to look more deeply.

Even Lord Silver’s eyes were cold; they were an icy blue, of a color that reminded one of empty vast wastelands where one could freeze in a matter of moments. That his reputation matched the eyes made it all the worse. It was said he had always been a cold fish, even as a boy. Rumor mongers found it hard to imagine the man even having a mistress, never mind siring a bastard on her. Although those same rumor mongers did concede that when he was younger he had been rather wild, and uncontrollable, and tended to take what he wanted damn the consequences.

Lord Silver, Ned noted, stiffened as he came into the room. He liked this no more than Ned did. Good.

Ned Black’s first concern had to be for his mother, so his reactions and speech would be constrained with that issue firmly in his mind. His eyes sought out Abigail Black the moment he could tear them away from Lord Silver. He needed to assess how she was dealing with the presence of a man who'd called her a liar, a whore and a blackmailer. And who’d once been her lover. Ned had always wondered if she’d actually cared for him. Oddly enough, he hoped she never had.

Not particularly to Ned’s surprise, Abigail Black, at least on the outside, seemed her usual serene self. Not a hair was out of place, her outfit, although perhaps dated a bit, fit her perfectly, was richly detailed and was dead black, the color relieved only by the jet beads embroidered into it which caught the light as she moved or breathed. She held herself regally upright, and as often was the case, she looked more like a queen than the real queen ever quite managed.

Most of that outward mein, Ned knew, was stage training. His mother could bury her own feelings and evoke a character she wanted to play in a matter of moments. That she’d chosen to act the part of gracious guest not the least bit bothered by a rogue on the guest list, even one who’d wronged her, he recognized immediately.

All right, if that’s the way she wanted to play it, then so would he. Although it would be hard not to find the nearest carving knife and stick it into the man’s throat, he’d play it the way she wished it.

“Such a touching scene,” Nathan Ainsworth muttered into the sudden silence, a cruel smile playing on his lips. “Such a pretty family.” That Nathan Ainsworth felt secure enough to embarrass a man with a reputation like Lord Silver’s told Ned a good deal about the man he was dealing with.

Lord Silver all but growled at Ainsworth then shot one last ‘if looks could kill’ glare aimed at Ned.

“Drink?” Richard asked Ned, as he automatically poured a stiff scotch into a clean glass and refilled his own. He crossed the frozen tableau to all but put the amber liquid into Ned’s all but frozen hand.

“My father likes drama, in case you hadn’t realized," he said for Ned’s ears alone. “Do your best not to indulge him.”

Ned tore his eyes away from the tableau in front of him and met Richard’s eyes. He gave Richard a slight nod of acknowledgement. He wasn't at all certain he could comply, but he certainly saw the wisdom in the advice.

Whatever sort of entertainment Nathan Ainsworth had hoped of the evening what he got was British stiff upper lip and cold and constant absolute courtesy.

Abigail was deeply in her character protecting herself the only way she could. Ned was determined not to create a scene if only for her sake. He did swear to himself that one day soon he’d pay both Nathan Ainsworth and Lord Silver back for that evening.

Richard was another story. He played to his father throughout the evening, picking up on obvious points, and as a result was periodically cruel. But oddly enough his comments seemed to be delivered in a way they’d be least effective.

Ned, much later, when he was calm enough to actually think though what had gone on during the evening, and the torture that had been dinner and drinks afterward,found some small comfort thinking that Richard, like him, was part of a set piece, and hadn't liked it much more than he had. In fact he found he was grateful for Richard’s subtle rebellion and felt for the first time he’d begun to understand Richard.

Exactly how Ned got through that dinner he couldn’t say. When he was taken back to his cell it was an immense relief. He lay awake for hours trying to ease the pain from the tension and fury he’d had to suppress all evening. His other thoughts, more insistent, had to do with wishing he’d had the courage to kill Lord Silver then and there. And then Nathan Ainsworth.

 

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