She lacked any eastern accents, though, so I had to assume she grew up in the west. My guess was Callen, the nation Bri-sean is tenuously located in. I hoped that didn’t mean she was a local. At first blush, I thought she deserved better.
“I have to say, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Risewind.” I leaned on the balcony rail and made sure to keep eye contact with her. “It is ‘Miss’, correct?”
“Yes. It is.” Magdalene kept the eye contact, but her tone made it clear that wasn’t an invitation.
“Ah.” I decided that following up on that would get me nowhere. Instead, I turned my gaze to the moons. “I… hope this doesn’t sound egotistical, because I want your honest opinion, Miss Risewind; but what did you think of my performance?”
Magdalene’s wings drew even tighter against her back. I could almost read her mind: she didn’t have time to waste with an over paid story-spinner begging her to validate him when there were dozens of more easily excited girls inside waiting to do that and more for and/or to him.
“If you’re certain that you want honesty; I think Themea and Colthus is an over told and hackneyed story, no matter how you dress it up. And The Beast of Isador Rook is an irresponsible story to tell children and an outright insult to tell adults. You cannot tame spirit beasts and only a fool would try.”
Fair enough, I suppose. Spirit beasts were viewed by and large as self-propelled natural disasters. Normal ‘monsters’ were a threat, but spirit beasts; monsters, animals or even members of the mortal races caught in and augmented by the effects of the phenomena commonly known as ‘divinity sparks’, were known to be more aggressive, more difficult to kill, and far more intelligent. It was because of them that any village that wanted to survive more than a few years had strong walls and diverse defenses.
That The Beast of Isador Rook; a story about a town the befriended such a creature and was in turn protected from a goblin raid by it; existed at all as a story in such a climate suggested deeper truths. I knew those deeper truths for a fact, but Magdalene wouldn’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed me.
Well, I had asked for her honesty after all. “I see. I mean, I disagree –vehemently on the first count; Themea and Colthus has nearly infinite creative and exciting permutations; but I can certainly understand. After all, I did use one of the more traditional forms at the High Consul’s request.” Another carefully measured sip of my wine gave her time to respond that she didn’t take. “Do you have any criticism for the other two stories? The Song of Senderic or the Hessan Origin Myth?” I tried to catch her eye upon speaking the second title and unusual for a hailene, she avoided it.
I saw her throat tightened and it took her a great deal of self control on her not to glare. It wouldn’t do for anyone to see her being anything but at least provisionally friendly with the much loved loreman. “I found it to be wildly inaccurate in places. I suppose you would defend that as artistic embellishment?”
I gave up on catching her eye. Not catching it had already told me something important. I put my back against the rail and directed my attention to the people dancing inside. The musicians were playing a reel from back home, Rizen. Briefly, I wished I could convince her to join me for it, but by now, I knew that was a losing proposition.
Strictly speaking, it was well within my power to do so; to a certain value of ‘convince’, but I wasn’t about to abuse the Word for that and contrary to rumors, I’m not the womanizer anonymous copper-piece thriller novelists make me and every male loreman in history out to be.
“I would.” I told her. “The scripture offers three conflicting accounts of the origin in the Book of Light alone, and don’t get me started on the rest of the gods in the pantheon; there are six high holy books of Denaii among four major sects; I hope you will forgive an artist like myself for picking and choosing the more intriguing parts of each to tell. But if you wish to enlighten me; I would be most appreciative.”
It was at this juncture that she decided that the time for subtlety was over. “I don’t think I can, Mister Ridsekes. I’m to be leaving in the morning and I fear I’ve stayed later than I intended already. I bid you farewell.”
Maybe it might come as a surprise, considering I’m wealthy, not hard to look at, and gifted with a power over people’s emotions, but I’m not exactly unfamiliar with rejection. I happen to set my sights at a caliber of woman beyond someone who would idolize me for the coin in my pocket or my fame and those women tend to have their own sites above a shiftless wanderer with powers they could never wholly trust.
The rudeness was new though. So was the barely concealed desire to slap me full across the face. Sometimes it didn’t pay to be good at reading people’s unspoken cues. It activated in me a bit of the too tall, too wide little boy who threw mud balls at all the little girls in the village.
So I cocked my proverbial arm and hurled a mudball of words. “Call me Trace, please.” I raised my wine glass to her. “And I suppose I should call you Sister Magdalene?”
Not only did her wings draw closer to her back this time, but her feathers stiffened.
I felt suddenly smug as she started to shake her head and deny it. Keeping quiet tones, because if any of the Bri-sean nobility heard the truth, they would ruin their fancy clothes with her blood, I continued.
Please, don’t try and tell me I’m wrong. You hide who you are well, but I am who I am.” I ticked off the clues on one hand, “The way you avoided speaking with anyone here? Of course you wouldn’t; you feel you’ll be tainted just talking to them. Your concern over the inconsistencies in my rendition of the origin story?” This time I used ‘story’ out of reverence to her religion. I only used ‘myth’ to get the rise that I did. “Put together with a lady from an eastern tribes family like yourself raised here in the west, made your religion quite clear to anyone who thought about it. As to placing you as clergy, well, I will admit that I am curious how you planned to reach the athame in the slip-sheath strapped to your garter in an ankle length gown.”
Her face colored at this last part. Not from embarrassment, but from annoyance. That slap might just be coming and now I definitely deserved it. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking.
“Sorry.” I said with a smile, “But that isn’t the best place to hide even a small dagger. Not for a beautiful woman in a dress like that. Next time, might I suggest the small of your back?”
Magdalene’s eyes flashed and she leaned forward dangerously. From anyone else’s point of view, however, she may as well have been whispering sweet nothings in my ear. For the first time, I realized that she was a few inches taller than me. “This has nothing to do with you, Loreman Ridsekes.” She used the title as a kind of ultimatum. “I will leave now and be gone before high sun tomorrow. If I am discovered, I swear on my honor as a templar, I will die with my hands around your throat.”
Templar. I hadn’t seen that one coming. She didn’t look like the holiest of warriors, but divine strength probably made a warrior’s build redundant.
I’m a better actor than she could ever be. So when I leaned forward to whisper in her ear, the look in my eyes made her start a little, as if she feared I would plant a kiss on her neck. Instead, I whispered in her ear. “There’s not worry for that, Miss Risewind. I’ve no love for these people; only their money and acclaim. I’ll be away from here come noon myself; my engagement here is over.”
“Make certain it is.” Magdalene said, straightening with a faux giggle that I will admit would have sounded genuine if I wasn’t looking at the murder in her eyes. With that, she turned and started to walk off.
I watched her go, raising back up to my full height and smoothed my waistcoat. “Until next we meet, my dear lady.” I lifted my glass to her yet again. She didn’t respond, placing her own glass on a passing servant’s tray shortly before disappearing into the crowd.
Turning back to stare at the moons, I sipped my wine and let my mind wander. What was a Hessan Knight who didn’t look like any sort of knight at all doing at a noble soirée in Bri-sean; a city that had flat out denied the Temple a right to build a cathedral or hospice?
If there’s one thing I hate, both personally and professionally, it’s a story with lose ends. Unfortunately, I reasoned, I would probably not meet the beautiful knight ever again. After all, in the morning, I would be on an airship to Callen’s capital, Spinar for some well earned time off.
Real life rarely cleans up all the loose ends.