Authors: Laura R Cole
Tags: #fantasy, #magic, #dragon, #mage
Layna ducked into an alleyway to allow
herself to lick where it had dripped on her finger. The sugary
icing burst with warm, delicious flavor in her mouth. It was
difficult to stop herself from stealing a nibble, but she fought to
maintain control, and carefully carried her treasure back to the
carriage to wait for her mistress.
She chatted idly with one of the merchants
whose cart was near the roadside. “What do you have?” she asked the
wrinkled old woman.
The merchant pushed her spectacles up the
bridge of her nose and narrowed her eyes to inspect Layna before
answering. “I've got books galore,” she stated to Layna's
Reading was one of Layna’s passions, and she
silently lamented her lack of money as she would have loved dearly
to purchase some. “What kind of books?” she asked excitedly
instead, hoping that she would get a chance to buy some
“You name it, I've got it,” responded the
woman proudly in typical vendor fashion. She proceeded to list off
an impressive collection of titles, some of which Layna had heard
of, but most of which she had not. “I even have some really rare
books,” the woman said, “including this one here.” She gingerly
lifted a battered old book with a peeling red satin cover and
continued, “Which mysteriously lists no author, and it is a limited
edition! '10 copies made, none sold' it says, but I'll sell you one
today. Just don't ask how I got my hands on this book, else I'd
have to kill you.”
The woman winked at her and Layna smiled at
the old joke, regretfully declining. The vendor looked slightly
annoyed at having wasted the effort on a non-paying customer and
left Layna to try and interest someone else into buying her wares.
Layna listened absently to the woman hawking books on spells that
would make your true love find you, history books, adventure books,
and all sorts of others. It indeed seemed that the woman really did
have every book under the sun.
By the time Jezebel emerged, the tart had
cooled and Layna shivered uncontrollably while hopping back and
forth on her feet to keep them from turning numb. Jezebel snatched
the tart and took a bite. Then, wrinkling her nose in disgust, she
threw it over her shoulder into the gutter.
“I never eat these,” she declared as she
opened the door to the carriage and swept inside. Layna sighed,
sadly gazing at the tart as it was ruined by the mud of the street,
and hauled herself into the carriage after her mistress.
Jezebel laughed giddily to herself, ignoring
the confused look the girl gave her. Joining the Order had been
ridiculously easy for all their talk of great pains to protect
their anonymity. A silly little hand signal and an oath of secrecy,
and she was in. Devon had not been able to gather much more detail
from the man they had spoken with the other night - apparently he
had not been a very important figure within the society - but the
name and signal were all she had needed to make contact.
It was fortunate for her that the name she
had been given was that of Francis, with whom she already did
business. It had been easy to contrive a reason to go see him, and
she'd end up with a newly decorated room too. He had refused to
give her any other information except a time and place for a
ceremony she was to attend, and this irritated her, but she
shrugged it off. She could find out the rest as she went.
The carriage jerked roughly into motion, but
Jezebel hardly noticed she was so lost in her thoughts.
must be a lot of different levels of the Order, which I suppose is
how they think they keep their secrets. You can hardly tell what
you don't know. That would explain the lack of knowledge gleaned
from last night's entertainment. So really, all I have to do is
work myself up in rank and I'll be able to tell the lesser ones
what to do. And if I tell them to do something for me rather than
the Order, who would be the wiser? Such a convenient little
arrangement. I will be powerful behind the scenes as well as in the
open – no doubt I can manipulate their plans to include my rise in
power. That, combined with the support they will have to give me as
my brothers and sisters, will guarantee me a Council seat and
perhaps even more.
She paused a moment in reflection. This was a
project on a much greater scale than she had ever attempted before.
She would have to make sure that she kept track of it all.
certainly are circles within circles of information layered
throughout its intrigues, but I'm sure I can unravel its mysteries
and use them to my advantage
Already hundreds of possibilities were
popping into her head at a rate she found difficult to keep up
with. She poked her head out the carriage window to urge the driver
faster so she could mull over the ideas at leisure in the comfort
of her own home. Or perhaps she’d have a guest; she felt like a
little gossip after all the excitement. It could be her first test
for herself, keeping the secret of her newfound “friends” while
entertaining herself by giving the person just enough information
to entice them with curiosity while never actually telling them
anything. As she settled back against the cushioned seat once more
she let her mind wander, a smile permanently affixed to her face
and completely oblivious to the rest of the world.
Two cloaked figures stood in the shadows,
watching the carriage pull away. “Would you like me to have her
disposed of, Master?” asked the smaller of the two.
“No,” answered the other, with an
other-worldly quality to his voice. “She is under the false
impression that she will be invisible within our ranks. I will find
it interesting to see what she will do under that belief.” The
speaker watched the carriage for a moment more and then a hand
snaked out from within the folds of fabric, extending a parchment
towards the other. “Here, take this. You know where. I want you to
keep an eye on this one. She's dangerous, but she may still be
“Yes, Master,” the small one answered, taking
the paper and hurrying off into the shadows. The lone figure
watched for a moment longer before he murmured something to himself
and he disappeared.
Jonathan held tightly to the paper that he
had been given and carefully side-stepped a group of people huddled
around a small fire in a barrel in the alley. He was nervously
glancing about, making sure that no one had witnessed the exchange
or was following him, when he ran headlong into someone.
“Oof,” said a deep voice and Jonathan
scrambled to retrieve his precious parchment. The man he had run
into bent down and picked it out of a puddle, shaking it dry before
handing it back to him.
He grabbed for it, briskly thanking the man
as he tucked it safely away in the folds of his cloak and continued
down the street. Jonathan was pleased that his work had been
appreciated by his master, and already he was being given more
information and responsibility. He wanted to make sure that he
continued to impress Master as he had a request for the man. A
request that he didn’t seem to be able to get off his mind.
It wasn't far to the drop-off and Jonathan
breathed a sigh of relief at having rid himself of his burden. That
task completed, he made his way back home to carry out his newfound
Layna watched Jezebel as the woman yelled for
the driver to hurry.
s if he could move any faster on
these crowded streets,
Layna thought disgustedly. She resisted
the urge to shake her head at the woman before spending the next
few minutes imagining what the tart would have tasted like since
Jezebel seemed content to ignore her.
Unexpectedly, Jezebel giggled to herself.
This time, Layna couldn't help but look at her strangely.
Getting new furniture can't be that exciting. She just replaced
the whole library last year
. Layna added sarcastically to
Charged to her father's account, of course
the look, the woman was still paying no attention to her whatsoever
and that was fine with Layna. Hopefully, when they arrived back at
the manor she would be able to catch up on the chores she'd missed
during this little shopping trip.
Neither of the women said a word for the
remainder of the ride home, but Jezebel never lost her smile. As
they pulled into the driveway, she turned to Layna and commanded,
“Prepare the library for entertaining. I think tea and some light
fare will do. The cook should be able to whip something right up.
You come along too; I want you there in case my guest needs
Inwardly Layna winced. It seemed that her
chores would continue to pile up, but outwardly she simply nodded.
It would be taken care of, somehow. As soon as the carriage came to
a halt, Jezebel practically leaped out in her mysteriously excited
state, and Layna followed suit, making a beeline for the kitchen.
The cook would rant at her about the short notice, but Layna
wouldn't have time to listen. There were chairs to move around, tea
to heat, and a number of other preparations to be made. Jezebel was
very particular about the arrangements when she had guests over:
One single flower in a vase on the table, her nonfunctional –
but prize winning!
– sheepdog, long past its prime, must be
lying like a statue by the foot of her chair – a feat which
oftentimes took several tries to coax him there until Layna finally
had to resort to dragging his limp form to the correct place – and
wine must always be available, no matter the time of day.
Sweat threatened to start dripping down her
face by the time that she had everything ready, and it was barely
in time. Just as she was taking her place next to the tea service
tray, a knock sounded at the door and voices echoed through the
“Jezebel, how are you?” asked a high pitched
voice, and Layna wrinkled her nose as she recognized it as
belonging to Renee. Renee was one of Jezebel's typical friends,
with absolutely no backbone and no other friends.
person for Jezebel to prey upon
. Renee's favorite pastime was
parroting Jezebel's words to anyone who would listen, even those
people who had already heard it from Jezebel herself.
The two of them swept into the room, their
billowy dresses flowing around them as they seated themselves,
pointedly ignoring Layna. She busied herself pouring them tea and
adding the exact number of sugar cubes and milk that each liked.
Jezebel didn't like to have her conversation interrupted by
questions from the help. It was better that Layna memorized the
preferences. Each took their teacup without even a look in her
direction. Layna listened absently to their chatter, watching
carefully for motions that might indicate that they wanted their
tea refilled or to be brought a cake that the cook had miraculously
baked in time.
“I couldn't quite believe,” Jezebel was
saying, “that he had the nerve to call me Jezebel, as if we were
friends or even close to the same status.”
Both women laughed, and Layna found it
difficult not to laugh incredulously at the two of them. After
initially ignoring her, Layna noticed that Renee kept glancing over
at her, and she glued her eyes to the wall to make sure she never
made eye contact. She could feel the woman's eyes scrutinizing
every inch of her, and Layna wondered what she was thinking. She
didn't have to wonder long.
The next words out of the woman's mouth were,
“What are you doing with this strumpet in your household? No
offense to you, Jezebel, but really she looks like she could be one
of the ladies down at the Golden Girls.”
Jezebel took a sip of tea before answering,
and when she did her voice was cold. “No, my dear Renee, she's not
nearly pretty enough to be one of those girls. Are you, my dear?
Nor do you have enough class.”
She directed the last to Layna who brought
her eyes to their conversation for just a moment, meeting the black
beady eyes of Renee and then the deep brown of Jezebel, which
laughed at her from beneath their depths, before she answered, “Of
course not, ma’am. A simple peasant like me could never dream of
the beauty that you ladies achieve, nor even come as close as the
Gryffon was passing the room just then and
stopped in to grab a cake. Taking a bite, he closed his eyes in
mock ecstasy, and he shook the cake in Layna's direction. “You
really will have to tell the cook how wonderful these are, simply
“Well hello, Gryffon. You know Renee, of
course,” Jezebel greeted him, paying no heed to his comment.
Renee stood and extended her hand to him. He
took it gallantly. “Of course, how are you, Renee?” he asked
She giggled as he quickly passed his lips
over her plump hand, bringing a flush to her cheeks.
He humored her with a quick smile and asked,
“And what's the gossip about today?”
Renee opened her mouth to reply, but Jezebel
cut her off, saying, “We were just discussing whether or not we
think Devon took a trip down to the Golden Girls brothel to pick up
this maid.” She gestured to Layna, narrowing her eyes, and asked,
“What do you think?”
Gryffon looked over at Layna and raised an
eyebrow, “Well, if she was at the Golden Girls, I could hardly
blame Devon for it. If she was there, that's where I'd be too.”
Layna couldn't control the quirk of her lips
into the tiniest of smiles as Gryffon winked at her, though she was
incredulous that he would make such a comment. Luckily, he blocked
her view of Jezebel and by the time he moved she had regained her
solemn look of indifference.
“Well, ta ta ladies, I'm off for the hunt.
It's prime time for those big bucks to be out and I mean to bag
myself a big rack,” he gave Renee a stiff bow and nodded to