~ (Continued) Hexday, 18th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Those that had been chosen to have their fortunes told reunited with those that had stayed behind. Most of the group chatted amongst themselves, seemingly knowing each other or at least being in similar social circles. Pierre and Lizzy came out last and could not get to the door without being rude so they stood aside and waited, whispering to themselves about what had been said and what it could mean, keeping away from the rest.
“And what do you think my difficult choice that shall shape Piques be?” Elizabeth asked.
“I would presume whether you agree to be its duchesse,” Pierre replied in a whisper. The noise she made was almost a squeak and Pierre bit his lip to keep from chuckling. Lizzy took a moment to compose herself before offering her reply.
“But I do not think that a difficult choice, darling. Unless you ask improperly, of course.”
He made to retort in kind, but felt something stir in his person. Salome’s soul and through her Wolfram’s. Pluta’s panic. He took Elizabeth’s arm and lead her through the remaining guests, not caring for rudeness.
Then there was calm. Settling.
“Pierre! What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing.” He stopped awkwardly, twisting his cane, digging it into the floor as all eyes were now on them. He smiled and straightened, offering everyone a nod of his head that could be thought of as a short bow. “I apologize Elizabeth, and of course my new friends, for such a rush. I misremembered something important, but it can be dealt with tomorrow.”
“Not at all! Are you still free then, Your Grace? Come with us! The night is still young.”
“Have you had dinner yet, Your Grace?”
“Your Grace, my lady, it would be an honor to be in your company!”
“What do you think, my lady fair?” the duc asked his love. “Shall we go out to eat and discuss, make some new friends?”
“I believe that would be a splendid idea, monsieur.”
“Wonderful!” one of the men said. “Come along, then. I have reservations to the restaurant Carte Blanche, it has been booked for weeks now, though I am certain a few more chairs can be found for His Grace and Lady Eichel.”
He walked over, bowing to Pierre and Elizabeth before shaking his hand and kissing hers. The man been one of the dozen chosen by the moths and Madame Veriette had said he would meet with interesting company soon.
“I am Arnaud Michel, forgive the lack of manners. It is most pleasant to meet you tonight.”
“It seems the Madame was right,” Pierre said. “Though how interesting I am may be debatable.”
Arnaud laughed. “Your Grace, you are nothing but interesting. We have all been talking about you since you arrived, and it is truly an honor that you wish to consort with us this night.
“This was your first time with Madame Veriette, oui? It was a good choice to come out tonight. For special occasions she creates new ways to impress even her usual clients. For your own birthday celebration, Your Graceful Highness, she planted larkspur and caused it to grow until it reached higher than I stand!” He reached up into the air to show exactly how high that was. “Then the flowers fell and their arrangement and color foretold our futures.”
Larkspur was the symbol of Triumphe and the royal house. Pierre tried not to take the connection further. It would be impossible for Madame Veriette to know that he would ingest the flower as a poison a few days later.
“It is not worrisome to be told your future so often?” Lizzy asked. They began to walk out of the building, the regulars dropping money into a tin on the way out. Pierre stopped by it to read how much was asked for—a whole half-livre—and was stopped from taking his purse out when Arnaud turned around. He smiled, pulled out several bills, and dropped them in for both Pierre and Elizabeth.
“Ah, not at all!” he said, replying to Lizzy’s question and not even taking the thanks for the amount of money he had just given to strangers. “It is often very broad, giving delightful hints about what is to come. It is like being teased about a surprise.”
“And it is useful when it is specific,” another man added. “She warned me to stay away from a certain investor, though I was quite sure it would be the thing my business needed at the time. I stalled, unsure if I should believe Madame, but he was found out to have been stealing from his clients!”
“Oh thank goodness that you were warned.”
“I wonder if she ever aids the guards?”
“His Highness did not allow her testimony to be upheld in court, but perhaps His Grace?”
“I admit,” Pierre said, holding up a hand. “That she has impressed me greatly. Whether or not her word and magic can be trusted in court is another matter. I can certainly keep it in mind and discuss this with her.”
The restaurant was not far from where they had been for their fortune-telling and the group walked the night streets, now alight with gaslamps.
“And what sort of establishment is Carte Blanche?” Pierre asked Arnaud.
“Oh, it is a wonderful. I have only been once, almost a year ago. They serve food from all over Noctuina, changing their entire menu and staff every half-season to a new theme. Chefs native to their realms are asked to come so it is as authentic as possible. With Midspring so close I had hoped to get this spot as throughout the beginning of Springtime it has been Italavianian cuisine. I know it can be found in the south of Clandestina, but it is just not the same unless you are there. And one of the chefs is a dhampir! I paid extra for him to cook for us tonight.”
“A dhampir?” someone else asked.
“Do you mean a vampire?”
“A vampire! Those are monsters!”
“A dhampir,” Arnaud corrected with some bite in his words.
“A child of a human and vampire,” Pierre added. “I believe, in Italaviana at least, during the day they are as humans and at night they become vampires.”
“So it will be a vampire at this hour!”
“Are we going to go to dinner, or will we be dinner?”
“He is a respected and well-known chef, Nina! His dishes are said to be amazing during the day and exquisite at night, so of course—”
“Of course you have to choose the very best.”
“I think this is an argument they have had before,” Elizabeth whispered to Pierre. “Do you imagine we will be safe?”
“I cannot see what harm could come to us.”
Their table was in fact the chef’s table. It was large and long, set up on a daïs so that it towered above and hid the kitchens from everyone else’s view. The seats all faced towards the kitchen where the patrons could see the preparation of the food, as well as see all the dishes as they were taken out to the main dining room. It usually sat eight, though more chairs were quickly found for the duc and lady. They would sit at the ends, able to talk to the group and still see the chefs at a glance.
The group had an even number of men and women and though not all were couples, all were friends, and each man escorted a lady to her seat. Pierre helped Elizabeth, seating her at the far right before walking over to the other side. At Pierre’s right sat Arnaud, then his lover, followed by another man, and so on until at Lizzy’s left there was a woman. He could see and hear Lizzy well enough, though that might change if there was a rush of orders.
“Oh, your shoes are a wonder!” the woman next to Lizzy said as they sat. She had been the one worried about a vampire. “It is bold of you to choose something so mismatched.”
“Thank you! They were commissioned at the cobbler’s by the square. I picked them up tonight and decided to wear them out, it is why my gown clashes a bit.”
“Oh.” The lady’s interest waned. She scooted back in her chair just far enough that it could be interpreted as she was adjusting her seat and not being impolite. “The one who is fay, yes?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth replied. She looked down at her shoes and clicked the heels together. “The work is exquisite and it was fairly priced. I even asked for charms to be put on them.”
“You asked for charms!”
The attention of the group was moving focus to Elizabeth. Pierre watched her, smiling encouragingly from across the table. If she needed his aid she would ask for it and he would of course give it, but for now he would observe with pleasure.
“Of course.” Elizabeth Anne d’Eichel straightened up in her chair and folded her napkin on her skirts precisely. “It is a great boon to have magical shoes that never wear down and are always comfortable. Whyever would I give up such things when I can both afford them and patronize a local establishment?”
“What if he jinxed the shoes?” they countered. “And you begin to dance and cannot stop until you die!”
“Well that would be quite bad for business, would it not, to kill the beloved of the duc? I have done nothing to offend him, unlike those who avoid his shop for the only reason of his bestia, so there is no need to worry.”
“Well, I have not gone there, and I will not.”
“I am not asking you to,” Lizzy replied. “You asked where I bought these, clearly interested, and only decided against them when learning of who made them. That is your decision. As was it to forgo listening to Madame Veriette when she told you to be mindful of your tongue in the future as your words may lose you an ally.”
This left the woman wide-eyed and trying to stutter an apology, but Elizabeth had already turned back to the other conversations and ignored her.
Pierre did not hide his grin.
“What sort of cræft is it that Lady Veriette uses?” she asked. The man seated closest to her was the one who had had his business saved from it. He seemed not to be involved with the lady on his right and Lizzy thought that that was good because she liked him and not her.
“I do believe it variation of noircræft. She uses it only to predict the future, not in healing or harming in any way, save for some plants and insects as we saw tonight.”
“No healing? I thought that Clandestina’s cræfts were only about the body and one’s health.”
“It seems not, though I am no mage. I have only her word that she can do no harm.”
A man came out from the kitchens and up the daïs to take their orders and the conversation was cut short. Elizabeth had never had cuisine from Italaviana and asked to be surprised, everyone else had something in mind.
It was then that the true entertainment began. After the orders were taken into the kitchen and called out there was a blur of motion. Every few moments there would be a pause and a man would appear, dark haired with pale skin that seemed almost sickly, but before too much focus could be given he would again be too fast for eyes to see. He cut, chopped, and arranged at a speed that was impossible and yet was no doubt precise. He began to pause more often as things began to cook and his speed could do nothing. It was only then that the group noted there were no other chefs or staff— this vampire was cooking all ten meals at once, still receiving orders from the main dining room, preparing those, and continuing the chef’s table.
“Magnificent!” Arnaud said.
Pierre sat up and watched with rapt attention. He knew the basics of what Italavian vampires were like, having done a little self-study while deciding to journey there before becoming duc, but it had all been books and second-hand accounts. To see this was another thing entirely.
Waiters lined up to pick up their food the moment it was finished, all ten plates being brought up at once. For a moment the chef stopped, turned to them, bowed low, and returned to making other meals.
~ Siwenday, 19th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
“Ah, no, let me,” Pierre said. He took the small booklet that would have the prices for their meals on it out of Arnaud’s hand. “My dear Arnaud, you have been a wonderful host, and have paid for my and my dear Elizabeth’s fortunes. It is only fair I pay for this meal.”
Before there could be protest he signed the parchment that would put the meal on the château’s tab.
“And would you be so kind,” Pierre said, “to ask if the chef has a moment? I would like to thank him for this evening.”
“Oh, oui, Your Grace, I am certain he would be honored.”
Before the server was off the daïs the chef had appeared, having heard them even from far off. Pierre, who was more used to sudden appearances than most, did not flinch as the rest did.
“It was wonderful,” Pierre said to him. “Sei uno chef coi fiocchi!”
“Ah, mon signore, molte grazie!”
They spoke a few more words in Italaviani before he went down the table, exchanging a few words with every guest.
A sudden feeling of dizziness overcame Elizabeth. She shook her head to ward it off and reached out to take a drink of watered-wine. Pierre watched her from across the table in with concern. She smiled at him.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, signora Elizabeth.” The chef reached out to take her hand, he had kissed the fingers of all the women so far, but when he touched her she began to cough.
“Pardon me,” she said, turning away. Her throat felt scratchy. Was this from the new food she had had?
Pierre was at her side in a moment, and some of the other guests were looking at her with concern now as well.
“Pardon us, signore,” he said to the chef. “I do believe my lady and I shall depart early this night. It has been lovely to meet you, all of you, and I do hope to see you again.”
Pierre delivered Elizabeth to Síofra, telling his cousin that Lizzy was feeling unwell and it was very late beside, so both should go to bed and rest. The fay girl seemed to want to gossip about the evening, but hearing Lizzy’s cough had had her helping the lady d’Eichel into a nightgown right away. Pierre bid them goodnight and left for his own quarters.
Why she was unwell again? Death had clung to the chef as if it was a cloak, similar and yet different to those of Mora that he knew well. He could not be certain, but they felt similar to the sanguiosi. Was there a connection between vampires and the illness? Was this out of Mora’s hands?
He would renew their connection tomorrow. There had been no way to do it subtly tonight and if he wished to keep Elizabeth ignorant of his cræft he could not arouse suspicion. They had spoken at length about magic and cræfts, oh how he loved to talk to her about it, but the subject made him wary as well. She knew more than she dared to speak. And he in turn wished he could dare and tell her even more.
What would she think of his necrocræft?
As soon as he thought it he shook his head. It was one thing to delight in fanciful things like being told your future in a dark room, but he had committed murder in the name of his magic. He would commit it again. The punishment for practicing necrocræft was death for a very just reason, no matter your station. The first roi of Clandestina had actually been hanged himself for it.
He stopped before his chamber’s doors, two guards standing near the entrance, talking to each other in hushed tones.
“Monsieurs, is something that matter?”
“Your Grace! We do not know. There was some sort of commotion, your cat was meowing quite a bit maybe an hour ago or two ago. Then the steward came by in a bit of a hurry. He opened the door, unlocked it that is, and went in only to lock it again. He’s been there ever since.”
“Ah, thank you. You may return to your posts, I will investigate.”
“Pardon us, Your Grace, but we will go back to our posts when we know everyone is safe.”
The duc relented with a nod. He could not fault the guards for doing their job after all.
He knocked first. Vivien called out for them to enter, and Pierre felt Pluta’s contentment in his soul.
The steward was sitting on his bed, Pluta in his lap. With one hand the steward scratched his familiar behind her ears and with the other he was brushed back Wolfram’s dark hair. The boy was laying in his bed asleep. The room looked to be in a little disarray, but nothing that could be said was not just daily living.
Pierre greeted them and let the guards enter to make their own examinations. Everything seemed in place and after a quick look about both guards bid their employers a good night and left to return to their stations.
“I believe he tried to perform some cræft,” Vivien said after the door closed and the guards were out of hearing range. “It was too much for him. I was nearby and… felt certain spirits and I thought you in trouble, so I came to aid you. I did not realize you had gone out with Lady Elizabeth. Wolfram is fine, Pluta was here and I think she helped. He’s pale but he’s sleeping peacefully.”
“Thank you for rushing to my aid, and for helping Wolfram when it was apparent I was not the one in danger.”
Vivien nodded. Pluta nudged his hand and jumped off his lap. The steward stood, awkwardly waiting a moment, wishing to say something but not able to find the words. How could he explain that he had not known about what was going on in the city he was to help govern? How to defend that he had wanted to help Alise the moment he saw her, but Pierre had chosen Lizzy and Wolfram instead.
He could not.
He said goodnight, bowed, and left.