When Toby was sure no one was looking, he ran.
It was the money’s fault. That morning, Cait gave him an envelope of crisp COS Leagues, his payment for three days of work, she informed him. Toby did the math in his head, converted to the Colony Dollar, and when all of the zeros lined up right, made a break for the docks.
He had been working on the plan for the better part of the day before, since Xiphos had left him at customs. The first step was to get money. Then he’d find a charter or a ferry to Lat. From there, it’d be easy to take a train across the continent to a port town, and then back to the Colony. The last step was to figure out what to say to his parents when he got home. He wasn’t sure they’d believe him, but being there was better than here.
The terminal was a tangled mess of blocky Linian ideograms, bright neon Traditional Lat, and wispy Standard Lat. Toby shoved his way though the crowd, looking for some hint of a ticket counter, past cigarette shops and duty-free boutiques, past dirty food stalls and Relay booths. As he neared the gateway to the docks, Toby started seeing maps of Lingguo and the Twenty-One Kingdoms, but nothing to Lat. He passed the gateway, heading to the shops on the other side, fighting through the crowd moving in and out of the bank of doors. He glanced towards the docks, and forged to the other side of the terminal before the world caught up with him and hit him like a rock to the back of the head. He back-tracked to the gateway, peering through, making sure not to get run over by the constant surge of people.
He didn’t have his passport. He hadn’t come in with a passport. The escort still had it. And if he couldn’t get in without the passport…
Toby felt dizzy. He stumbled over to the wall, holding out his hand to catch himself. His knees gave out, and he sank down to the floor, down to the grime of a million travelers and discarded cigarettes and spilled duty-free whiskey. The world moved past him, ignored the Colony boy, alone, thousands of miles away from his family, regarded him as uninteresting as the rubbish bin next to him. Tears boiled up in Toby’s eyes, and he clenched his teeth, trying to muscle back the sobs.
One of the crowd broke away, sat down next to Toby, put her arm around him. Toby didn’t look, but picked up the now-familiar scent of Nina. She spoke to him, her voice low, trying to reassure him. When he calmed himself down enough to stand, Nina helped him up off the ground.
“We have to go back,” she said. Toby didn’t respond to her, his eyes unfocused. He wiped a tear away with the back of his hand. Nina led him out of the terminal to the Dinghy. Nina sat Toby down next to her, and drove them back to the Molyneux estate.
Nina only spoke once. “I know this sucks. But it will get better, okay?” Toby let his head rest against the window of the Dinghy, his blank stare falling on the world just past the road. Nina’s ears dropped. She put her hand on his shoulder and rubbed it. She sighed, a deep exhale heavy with the knowledge that she could not change any of this. She let the engine hold the conversation between them.
Nina left Toby in the family library, a squat little building hidden behind the servants quarters. A set of guards stood at the entrance to the building, looking generally menacing, though Nina wasn’t afraid of them. Toby did his best to take their presence with ease. On her way out, Toby heard Nina say to the guards, “Toby is to stay here until someone comes to get him. In the mean time, please make sure he has everything he requires.” She spoke from behind a thousand-yard stare, and when she turned around, Toby swore he had heard her say, “This is not my job.”
The library turned out to be something of a shrine to the family’s history. Though Toby was unaware of a lot of the finer points of Molyneux history, he knew all of the major players. Everybody did. The Family Molyneux had a hand in many of the major world events in the last five hundred years. The first Molyneux, Gimble, saved the Archer Academy from invasion in the late 3480s, setting up the school as a fortress in a city under siege. With the help of her husband Berlin and a few students that stayed behind, Gimble saved the city-state of Archer. Gimble was just the beginning, and the library had rooms dedicated to all of the great Molyneux. Toby began a slow exploration of his new prison: a giant room for the collective works of Nigel the Great, who led the then divided Twenty-One Kingdoms to victory over Lat, Nigel the Second, who prevented civil war among the Kingdoms, and Nigel the Third, who united the Twenty-One Kingdoms into one nation. There was a room for the great explorer Sasha, the first person to establish contact and open relations with the Sandtribe — the Omaligo, Toby quietly corrected himself. Amalia, Cait’s grandmother, had a room close by. She had been a great explorer as well, and disappeared late in her life in Omaligo territory. There were rooms devoted to doctors and ambassadors, so many of whom Toby had never heard of. The top floor of the library was dedicated to Montreux, Gimble’s son, and his branch of the family, all of them great artists and composers, playwrights and literary figures.
And then there was Rose. Of all of the Molyneux, Rose was the most popular in the Colony. The stories of Rose’s adventures on the sea were just as deep a part of Colony culture there as anywhere else. Cait’s great, great, great, great aunt, Rose was a sailor by training and a tamer of pirates by sheer will. There were paintings of Rose, standing on the deck of her tall-ship, staring into the sea with the assured look of someone who understood on a completely different level than everyone else. There were murals of Rose standing in front of a table, pirate captains all around her, all ready to sign a document of surrender. And, off to one side, an early photograph of an elderly Rose, wearing her captain’s hat, decorated by nations from all over the world. Toby could feel her looking out of the picture as if she were looking into the future, looking at him, challenging him to do better.
In the middle of the building, under a frosted glass skylight, were the newest generations of Molyneux, the twenty-third and twenty-fourth generations. This was an auspicious time for the family: Cait and her brothers and sisters were the last generation of the twenty-three generation cycle, Nina and her cousins the first of a completely new era.
Cait had her own small section of wall, adorned with framed photographs and newspaper clippings of her achievements. Cait had captained the University of Anchorhead’s sailing team. In the photos, Cait hung from schooners and sail-powered Storm Runners, posed with trophies, sprayed her teammates with champagne. She had three championships to her name, not including the second-place victory as a co-captain her freshman year. In these pictures, Cait was strong, hints of the will of Rose behind her sharp eyes.
The atmosphere of the room suddenly changed, and Toby could feel himself being watched. He turned quickly to find Xiphos behind him, looking over his shoulder at the pictures of Cait.
Toby squeaked, and tried to stammer out a few words.
Xiphos placed her hands on her hips. She exhaled sharply through her nose, glaring down at him. “Shut up,” she said. Toby could guess that Nina had gotten to her. Xiphos went back to staring over Toby’s head. After a moment, she nodded to the pictures. “She was cute, wasn’t she?”
Toby turned back to the photos on the wall, holding his hands up in front of him, playing absently with his fingers. “I wasn’t really looking at that…”
“Hmm.” Xiphos tilted her head at the pictures. “Every Molyneux is expected to be great. Can you imagine how much that must suck? I think the captain even believes that, too, you know? The Rose feels like it should be great, but…”
Toby nodded along, trying to make sure he kept up, so he wouldn’t upset Xiphos. He glanced over at her, watching her ears flick around as she studied the pictures. She didn’t break her attention.
Xiphos hesitated, and then, her voice lower, said, “I like these pictures. The captain looks proud, like she knows she can do what she wants, and no one could take that away.” She leaned closer to one of the pictures. It appeared to be a candid snapshot, college-aged Cait in a quiet corner of a party. Next to her, arm around her, was a boy. Bottles in hand, they were oblivious to the camera. Cait still looked sharp, but relaxed too. And the boy looked so comfortable with her that he either didn’t realize who she was, or he didn’t care.
“I’ve always wondered who that is,” Xiphos said. “It’s weird to think there’s someone out there who actually got close to the captain, someone could break her wall down.” She straightened up. “Anyways, come on. You’re needed.” She started towards the door. “Well, not so much needed, as the captain said you should be with the rest of us. Apparently, you’re a flight risk now.”
Xiphos took Toby into the manor. He kept pace behind Xiphos, watching the ground as he went. Servants moved quickly between rooms, preparing for the next day’s feast. Every inch of the manor was being cleaned and repainted, last minute adjustments being made to every decoration, every detail. The head of the manor appeared now and then, running off to meet the different house groups, the butlers, the chefs, the stewards. Xiphos had to squeeze her way through, dodging people as she went. Toby struggled to keep up.
Cait had managed to find the one quiet corner of the manor. She sat in a comfortable chair, a tea set in front of her, and watched the house’s heart beat. Xiphos delivered Toby, and disappeared back into the fervor of the house. Cait motioned for Toby to sit down.
Cait didn’t say anything at first. She took the time to pour Toby some tea and handed him the cup. Instantly, Toby picked up the familiar scent of Molyneux Tea. He didn’t wait for Cait to tell him to drink. It was wonderful. Molyneux tea was complex. Its flavor started strong, but blossomed into something bright, something ever expanding. The more Toby lingered on the flavor, the more the flavor grew. He sipped again, knowing he’d never be able to have this on the Continent.
“So,” Cait said, twisting her cup on the tea tray.
Toby’s ears dropped.
“Oh, Tobias, don’t do that. I am sure you have figured out by now I knew you were going to run. You are a smart enough boy to know that. I needed you to see that, right now, there is only one good way to do this. It is not ideal in any situation, but it is what we have with which to work.”
Toby looked down at his tea cup. He managed, “I’m sorry.”
“There is nothing to be sorry about. You do not know me, and each day we sail takes you farther from home. Is that a correct assumption to make?”
Cait sipped her tea. “I need you to trust me. It is imperative that you do. We will never harm you, that I promise, but I need you to trust that. I will keep you safe, Tobias, to the best of my ability.”
Toby considered this. Cait took another sip of tea. She poured more from the pot, first into Toby’s cup, then her own. Toby slumped down in his chair.
Cait placed a reassuring hand on Toby’s shoulder. “We will get things straightened out. It will take time, but we will get you home safely.”
Toby crumpled in his chair with a whimper. Cait leaned forward. “Tobias?”
“I don’t know what to do.” He forced each word out, stifling back a sob.
“Work,” Cait said. “And… Move forward. Survive. And when in doubt,” she raised her cup, “there’s always tea.”