~ (Continued) Vijfday, 10th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Lady Sabine set up tea for four. She wished to speak with her son about the duc, who she had not yet had the pleasure of formally meeting, and hoped he would join them as well. The last seat was an invitation for Mora.
After pouring herself a cup she took a sip and looked at the metal cage that sat on the table. It was small and decorative, vines and flowers making up the bars, a chain transforming it into a purse she could carry around. Within it there sat a large spider.
“Aranea,” she whispered. Her familiar looked up at her and crawled out the open door. Sabine laid out her hand and let the tarantula walk up on to her palm.
“Would you be so kind as to find my son and ask him here?”
The spider bobbed her whole body in a nod and Sabine gently let her crawl off to the floor to scurry out of the room.
A spider was not a usual familiar, but she had not questioned Mora when, after killing the exotic spider in her youth (it had traveled in from a foreign land on trade ships and hidden in the fruits of an elaborate dessert), Death had come and told her to return the creature to life. Aranea had needed the rest of the day to forgive her for her death, but had become a close companion over their many years together. Of course she could not consume evidence as well as a larger animal, but weaving a cocoon around the largest parts she could dissolve anything that might be damning to her mistress. Magic was a wonderful thing.
As she finished her cup her son knocked and entered the room. His hands were cupped together in front of him and he gently placed Aranea on the small table. The spider crawled back into her traveling-space.
“Maman, good afternoon,” Vivien said, sitting across from her and smiling to Aranea. He was fond of the spider and made sure new servants were aware to leave the animal alone. Sabine poured her son a cup of tea and added the honey and cream he liked; his tastes had not changed since childhood.
“I believe we should tell our dear duc about my cræft,” she said without preamble. “You said that you believe he is a Suitor as well?”
“His cat feels like Aranea and Magec,” her son confirmed with a grimace. She knew he could not explain it further, but understood nonetheless. He had never wanted to study the dark magic, quite disliking it in fact, but he had been born in it. There was an affiliation whether he desired it or not.
“He needs support,” Sabine said. “I do not know who his teacher is, though I have an idea, but it seems he is here all on his own save for some castle guards.”
“He brought Lady Elizabeth, and Lord Ophion’s student.”
“His student now,” she corrected, thinking that Wolfram was likely being taught magic as well as medicine. She had noticed the boy’s gloved hands and few young men of that age that were not noble kept to such strict guidelines of attire without reason. “And true, but they are both younger than he, and neither are of this land. He has aid for his politics, you chief among them, but for more than that?”
Sabine stood and walked over to a cabinet to pull out parchment, ink, and a glass pen. She wrote out a missive to the duc, asking his attendance for tea if he should so desire it, and signed the letter. A servant was summoned to take it to him.
“I do not believe it should be encouraged,” Vivien said after she sat and they were alone again.
Sabine smoothed her skirts. “It is not your place to discourage the duc of what he desires,” she said, adjusting the silver snood that held her black hair.
“It is dark magic. If he is practicing it and is caught, he will die. We will be without a true duc once again!”
It was an argument the two of them had had many times, though usually Sabine was the one that ended up dead in the scenario. That it was likely what would happen to her in the end had not stopped her before.
“Will you turn him in?”
At this her son looked scandalized. “Of course not! I have not even informed the authorities of Elwin; whyever would I do that to my own Grace? But, Maman, you know I… dislike it.”
“I know.” But she offered no assurance that she would stop or discourage Pierre Salvador from doing so.
Their conversation drifted to other topics, how her grandchildren were doing and if Vivien planned to have any more, but in a short time the door opened and the duc was announced as entering. He walked in, carrying a jeweled gentleman’s cane, and a black cat around his shoulders who perked up at seeing her. The cat then jumped down and began inspect the room. Seeing Aranea she stood up on her back feet and touched the side of the cage with her paw.
Sabine laughed. “No, it is alright. I do not think they will harm each other. Welcome, Your Grace.”
“Madame,” Pierre replied, shooting one last look at Pluta, but sitting. He accepted his tea from her and added sugar, but no milk.
“Do you practice necrocræft, Your Grace?” Vivien asked, with a bit of accusation in his voice. Sabine closed her eyes and bit back a sigh at her son’s lack of tact. The duc had not even tried he tea yet. Yes, she had brought it up with him right away, but they had been the only two in the room at the time, and privy to the same knowledge.
This was why he had never done very well as the steward—he was well meaning, but without a duc to guide him, he could be too blunt and rash.
“Whyever would you ask such a thing?” The duc smiled, but the grip on his cup tightened. If she had not been paying attention she would not have noticed the change in demeanor.
Of course even if he were not a suitor that would be a reasonable reaction. The magic was never spoken of in polite company after all.
“Because I am also a practitioner, Your Grace,” she interrupted. Pierre turned to her with a raised eyebrow.
“Madame, I could have you jailed for that sentence alone.”
“And yet you will not.”
She reached down to pet his cat, who had been watching Aranea closely the entire conversation. Pluta nudged her hand and then the familiar lay down on her back before her. Sabine stroked her belly.
“And what is your name, dear one?” she asked.
“Pluta, my lady,” the cat purred.
“A lovely name, Pluta,” she replied.
This got through to Pierre and he relaxed. A moment later he sat up, almost spilling his tea.
“I have never met a woman of Mora’s choosing! I presume you do not call yourself a suitor. May I ask your title?”
“I am actually a lady of death. But before that, and still, I was and am a confidante to Mora.”
“Is Vivien a student of yours?”
“No, he is my son, though I do have a pupil as well. Vivien, in what I assume is Fate’s amusement, practices blancræft.”
“But he knows?” A silly question, as Vivien was sitting right there with them, but Sabine nodded.
“I could not keep it a secret from him. He can feel necrocræft in a way that others cannot and asked about my magic from a young age. Became privy to it quickly.”
“That does not mean I approve.” The muttered comment was too loud to be meant privately, but it was ignored.
“So he could feel it about me,” Pierre said. “I know fée magic can be felt, but I was unaware that this could be as well.”
“Most spirits can let themselves be known, if they so choose. Why and when they do so is their choice.”
Vivien stood abruptly, excusing himself before heading out the door without being acknowledged. Pierre watched him go with a look in his eye that Sabine could not decipher.
“I am Sabine Estée, by the way, Your Grace,” she introduced herself after Vivien closed the door. Later she would scold her son, as the one who knew them both he should have performed the introduction, especially if he was leaving. “Forgive his rudeness.”
“It is forgiven, my lady. He has been nothing but a wonderful host so far. I can see that this topic upsets him.”
“I was a lady of death already when my son was born,” Sabine said. “He understands that he must not speak of it on pain of my death, but among those who are Mora’s chosen, he is quite lax. He believes he can persuade me to stop.”
“You meet many of her chosen?”
“A few. We are not as uncommon as you may believe.”
He nodded. Mora’s court would be useless if the suitors and, now confidantes he learned, were truly few. The magic was illegal and forbidden, but without someone to guide the spirits, Clandestina was prone to outbreaks of plague or other mass death. It was almost two decades ago that the last plague had taken over much of the land. He wondered for whom the magic was supposed to be now that the keres were gone and humans were not meant to wield it. Yet someone must.
Pluta jumped back up onto his lap and began to purr to Aranea. The spider took a leg and curiously poked it through her cage and touched the cat.
“Do not eat her familiar,” Pierre warned.
“I would bite her,” Aranea replied and Pluta’s ears went flat at the thought.
“You said that Vivien was born after you were a lady of death,” Pierre said.
“I did.” Sabine became quiet at this, lost in memories. “The men have it easier in some ways with this cræft. You merely do not beget a child after become a lord. I, though, could still find myself with child. They do not usually survive.” She had lost three children because of her magic, died too early to be brought back to life even by necrocræft.
“I am sorry.”
“I found a way, eventually, as you can see that I do have a child of my flesh. As a lord or lady we can negotiate with the spirits sometimes. But it was not… pleasant. Perhaps one day I may share.”
“Of course.” Presumably his own sterility was something that could be overcome then. Now that he had Elizabeth, the idea of having children with her was something he desired. He would pay the price.
“You mentioned a student. Is it perhaps Lord Elwin?”
Her smile returned and she nodded. “I see you have met Magec then?”
“I did not make the connection before, thinking it a fée quirk, but if he is a suitor then I assume the wolf is his familiar. Quite a good choice. I must ask him how he managed to kill such a beast in the first place.”
“And that is something for him to share with you if he chooses. He has never told me. And you? The boy, Wolfram, he is your pupil?”
“Yes. I found out about his interest in the magic quite by accident. He then asked for my aid and I gave it, so now he does as he believes I want, helping in all manner of things. But he does not even yet have a familiar of his own, and I have never taught this to anyone before. May I ask for your help if need be?”
“By all means.”
“If I may then immediately impose, is there any place about the château that is out of sight, or not often visited? A place where I may conduct any… projects or tests.”
“Oui. The dungeons in the cellars. They have not been used for quite some time, a new prison taking over as the main means of storing the guilty. The duc’s personal prisoners should be stored here, but your father did not keep anyone and you have been away. If you choose not to use them in that manner, then they are now overlooked and forgotten.”
“Thank you. I will keep them for myself then.”