A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.02 – Munera {Gifts}

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“Lord Waldren, Lady Midora,” Elena continued, her heart pounding, “these are my friends from the studios, and Master Apollo.”

There was a beat.

A tiny, half-second pause, a heartbeat moment in which the entire tableau froze and no one said anything, before murmured friendly greetings filled the little room. Her friends were good actors, the moment was over almost before anyone would notice. It might have been that Elena had only noticed it because time seemed to slow down in those horrifying moments.

But noticeable or not, there had been a beat. It was within the realm of possibility that Waldren and Midora had felt it as well, although their smiling faces didn’t betray suspicion or surprise. Elena didn’t take that as an indication of anything, the Twisted would be good actors too, they would have to be to be in the positions they were in.

They’d have to be good at reading people too, to be in the positions they’re in, Elena thought.

“You wouldn’t happen to be Midora Fara of the Fabera’s Guild, would you?” Master Apollo asked.

“Why yes!” Midora’s grin seemed somehow less geneine with the face to go with it, but it still reminded Elena of a predatory animal, “very few people are aware of the Guild’s management, are you a Faberi yourself?”

“No, just very well-informed,” Master Apollo grinned.

“Well-informed and charming,” Midora laughed, eyes narrowing, “and here I thought I knew all of the men in Italoza who possessed that particular combination.”

“Please, Lady Fara,” Lord Waldren groaned, “we aren’t here to facilitate your flirting!”

“I’m surprised you were able to be here at all!” Elena said. Was that too much? Can they tell I’m scared of them?

“A happy coincidence, my dear,” Lord Waldren said, “Lady Fara and I have business with Prospero Lento here, a matter of guild recordkeeping, and we thought we’d take advantage of our closeness to you.”

“When Mia told us it was your birthday, it seemed too fortuitous an opportunity to pass up,” Lord Waldren’s Echo broke her customary silence with a smile, “even though it meant pushing our retinue to make a four-day journey in three. She told us where you were meeting your closer friends.”

Elena knew she would have some kind of reaction, but she couldn’t think of what that reaction would be. Would she grin? Blush? Look away? It was compounded by worrying about the fact that Little One knew where she would be. Granted, Elena had passed the message to meet here by servant, but it was chilling to know that a servant chosen at random had passed the message on to Little One as well.

“You didn’t have to do that just for me,” she said after what felt like ages.

“I’m beginning to agree, I’m falling asleep on my feet,” Midora lifted a gloved hand to hide a yawn, “I hope your friends don’t find us rude, Elena,” she gestured toward the other assembled Stormtouched and Echoes around the room, “but I’m afraid we’ve only stopped by to give you your gifts, and then we must depart for the castle.”

“Oh, of course, I wouldn’t want to keep you awake,” Elena said.

“Elena is very grateful that you thought of her,” Ele added, “much less thought to visit and bring gifts.”

Midora raised a hand and the door behind her immediately began to swing open. At first Elena wondered if it was some strange sort of Twisted Storm, until one of the soldiers who waited outside stepped in with two gold paper boxes in his arms.

“Mine first,” Midora grinned, taking one of the boxes and holding it in front of Elena so that she could lift the lid.

Nestled inside the box on a bed of cloth was a small metal sign, worked in silver and steel, on which was inscribed “Master Cog: Recognized by the Faberi Guild” in letters that twisted and whorled in each other.

Elena had seen these signs before, hanging above the Faberi shops in Milia, or at least the good ones, the ones that had a steady flow of business. There’s not a Faberi craftsman in Milia…in all of Italoza who doesn’t pledge loyalty to the Guild…and therefore to the Grinning Girl.

“It’s beautiful,” Elena said, a little more stiffly than she meant to.

“Your particular path probably won’t lead to a Faberi merchant shop,” Midora said hastily, clearly picking up on Elena’s discomfort, “but I thought you might find it an amusing little bauble…”

Act natural. Elena smiled, “I mean…I like it very much, thank you Midora.”

“You’re very welcome.”

“Mine is a touch less practical,” Lord Waldren said, “but then, you know me, my dear, I’m much more fond of style over substance.”

Lord Waldren let the soldier carry his box forward and open the lid, and Elena stared within, dumbfounded. A long chain lay in the box, made of links of yellow, white, and rose gold. A silver gear hung from one end of the chain, a full twist in its middle making it resemble an eight.

“You needn’t say a word,” Lord Waldren cut across Elena’s fumbling for a response, lifting the chain from the box and hanging it around her neck, “I saw something similar in Francas during my last trip there and simply knew I had to have a similar piece commissioned for you. There, isn’t that lovely?”

“Ah, and Ele, it’s your birthday too is it not?” Lord Waldren’s Echo spoke up again, saving Elena from having to answer, “at least, in Florenzia we celebrate an Echo’s birthday on the same day as their Stormtouched.”

“We never really celebrated Echoes’ birthdays in Milia or Carpi,” Ele said, “I guess I never really thought about it.”

“Well, I hope I’m not too presumptuous, but I got you a gift,” the woman smiled, almost shyly, and held out her clasped hand.

“I didn’t get you anything,” Midora’s Echo spoke for the first time, his serious face a counterpoint to Midora’s near constant smile, “I don’t get presents for Echoes, it’s…an unnecessary risk.”

“Our Stormtoucheds are such close friends, the risk seemed worth it to me,” Lord Waldren’s Echo smiled and pressed her present into Ele’s hand. Elena craned to see what the item was, and Ele held it out with an odd look on his face.

In his hand nestled a little silver pomegranate pin, half-opened with tiny seeds made of pearls.

“That’s a gorgeous piece of art,” Frederica said from beside the Echo, peering into his hand, “did you make that?”

“Something like that,” the woman smiled mysteriously.

“This is…how did you get this?” Ele asked, in awe, “the time…it must’ve been…you shouldn’t have, miss…”

“Demi,” the woman waved off Ele’s objection, “and it was my pleasure. You’ve heard the folktale of the Fabera and the pomegranate, of course?”

“I do. It’s very…apt,” Ele pinned the pomegranate to his jacket as Demi beamed.

“On that note, I really do think it’s time for us to depart,” Lord Waldren said, “Elena, I’m sure we’ll see you again before we leave Milia. For the rest of you, it was lovely to meet you all.”

The pair left to the tune of murmured goodbyes and pleasantries, and Elena furrowed her brow.

“We should leave this place as soon as we’re reasonably sure we won’t run into them,” Master Apollo rose as soon as the sound of the soldiers’ footsteps faded away, “we’ll have to discuss what just happened, and I’d prefer to do it over a long space that’s hard to follow.”

“It’s rare that I see Echoes give each other gifts,” Owl remarked matter-of-factly from his chair. Elena was used to the Echoes’ secrecy when it came to clothing and items, but the glance exchanged by Bello, Fred, and Ele was infuriating.

“What was that about? I’ve never seen an Echo with jewelry that extravagant,” Master Apollo said, “what’s the tale of the Fabera and the pomegranate?”

“A Fabera got tired of being alone, so she descended into the realm of Hades to bring one of the spirits up to accompany her,” Ele said quietly, fiddling with the pin on his chest, “she stole a pomegranate and lured a spirit out of the underworld with it. Supposedly the spirit was the first Echo.”

“Ah, just a symbol of the Echoes, then?” Master Apollo relaxed by a fraction.

“I don’t think so,” Elena said.

“It’s not,” Ele murmured. “The Echo could leave the underworld, but the Fabera couldn’t leave the underworld after stealing the pomegranate. The Echo and the Stormtouched switched places.”

Apollo blinked. “Let’s go.”

***

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***

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2 responses

  1. Oak

    thanks for the chapter

    Like

    2016-04-04 at 3:18 am

  2. xdrngy

    Well… Chances they (or at least little one) already figured out she’s working against them? 70%? Maybe more? Probably more

    Loving the tie-in from Greek mythology btw

    Liked by 1 person

    2016-04-04 at 2:57 pm

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