A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

1.05 – Extendentes Alas {Spreading Wings}

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Elena very carefully didn’t say a word, meeting the old woman’s gaze with as much steel as she could muster. She brushed aside the angry protests and denials that sprang to her lips, the “I didn’t kill Lord Waldren, how dare you”, and the “one death doesn’t mean bloodlust!” She was a little bit proud of the fact that it didn’t even occur to her to do something stupid like ask “how did you know” or to visibly react at her surprise.

That Little One had found out was worrisome, but not surprising. That she tried to poke and tease Elena about it was also not surprising, in a grim sort of way. It was the fact that she had come here in person that caught Elena off guard. Little One wasn’t the sort of person to meet face to face if there wasn’t a reasons to do so, her paranoia was too great. The pair of them had ruled Milia together for a month, and Elena hadn’t seen her in person since the Quelling.

The guards that flanked Little One didn’t give Elena a clue as to their purpose, they could just as easily be personal bodyguards or trained assassins. If she remembered correctly, Elena’s warhammer was leaning against the foot of her bed, almost within reach if she lunged for it…but that was another foolish and obvious option, and Elena didn’t even glance in that direction.

What do I say. Elena continued to meet Little One’s steady gaze. It was all very good to identify stupid courses of action, but she needed to choose a clever one soon. The cool and collected stare would only be enough for so long before it started reading as stalling for time.

Accuse Little One of killing Lord Waldren herself?

Pretend that she thought Midora killed him?

Say she killed Lord Waldren, but “lie” badly enough that Little One didn’t believe it?

No matter what course of action she thought of, Elena suspected that Little One would see right through it. The smile on the old woman’s wrinkled face was friendly, but it betrayed nothing about her reaction to Elena’s plan.

“Your spies and ears are in every room and hallway of this castle, and you’re choosing to play dumb?” it was Ele who finally broke the silence, and Elena gratefully followed his lead.

“Whoever had Lord Waldren assassinated, I’m sure you know who they are and why they did it,” she said, “so you know it wasn’t me. Now why don’t you tell us why you’re actually here, Little One.”

Little One nodded thoughtfully, moving a few steps with her guards close behind her.

“Not bad, not bad, getting better,” she said thoughtfully, “but there’s still a timbre to your voice when you lie, it’s subtle, but an experienced person can hear it. No, it was definitely you who killed him. The only thing unclear in my mind is ‘to what end’.”

How did you know? Elena desperately wanted to ask, how are you so sure, what did I miss?

“If you were really so sure, you’d have me thrown in the dungeons or executed,” she said aloud, coldly. It suddenly occurred to her that that might be the exact reason Little One was here with her two large guards, and she wished she hadn’t said anything.

“Our little Twisted Elena agreeing to let the Storm rule Italoza through a Twisted, that I believed,” Little One said, as if Elena indeed hadn’t spoken, “you trust the Twisted and have no loyalty to the King.”

Elena winced. She wanted to be the sort of person who was loyal to the King, but she couldn’t deny that assessment.

Little One continued. “I could maybe, maybe believe that you really agreed to the Storm’s plan of erasing Stormtouched for their Echoes. You love Ele, and you were promised your friends’ safety.”

“I sense a ‘however’ in this speech,” Elena tried to maintain the coldness in her voice. The longer Little One talked rather than ordered her guards to seize Elena, the more paradoxically nervous Elena became.

“However,” Little One gave a little bow of acknowledgement to Elena’s speculation, “what I do not believe is that these unlikely events are unrelated Lord Waldren’s death. The timing is too perfect, the victim too targeted. And make no mistake, child, our Fulvio doesn’t believe it either. She may make a token accusation toward me and Midora, but she suspects you enough for you to be in danger, and soon she will know.”

“Let’s say that Fulvio really does suspect me,” Elena cast a glance at the two expressionless guards who flanked Little One, but if the old woman was comfortable speaking about such secrets in front of them they were probably deaf. “How do I convince her of my innocence?”

“I’m not here to exchange lies and perform play-acting, I have a city to run.” Little One was clearly in a good mood. She made a sign with her fingers to one of the guards, and he went to Elena’s desk to fetch the old woman a chair. When she had finally settled in, she fixed Elena with a knowing smile, “I’m here to talk business, to make deals. You want to kill all of the Twisted. Kill me last and I’ll help you.”

Elena maintained a straight face, realizing too late that keeping a straight face in this context was more revealing than anything. Little One had to be trying to get a rise out of her at this point, there was no other explanation for this meeting. In the face of her stunned silence, Little One continued.

“I have affairs to put in order before I die, and some of those affairs will take weeks to put in order.”

“You’re talking about the assassination of the most politically powerful group in all of Italoza,” Elena said, “that seems rather overconfident, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it seems like the kind of thing a fool would do, doesn’t it?” Little One cackled, “yes, you are in over your head, as usual, and will almost certainly die, another reason I’ll offer you my help if you save me for last on your hit list. With any luck, you’ll take more than Waldren out before you go.”

Elena turned the proposition over in her head. It would give Little One time to plot and scheme and shore up defenses, but then Little One was already pre-warned, and didn’t have to inform her of that fact. Elena desperately wished she could have a moment alone to confer with Ele. Her Echo’s brow was furrowed in thought, but she had no idea what was going through his mind.

I can’t say ‘no’ and then later change my mind, she finally thought, but if Ele agrees, I can say ‘yes’ and potentially catch her off guard.

“I’d never hurt any of our fellow Twisted, Little One,” Elena said carefully, “you all are like a family to me. But, if I were to rank you all, you would be the last one I’d want to hurt.” There were too many unknowns for Elena to outright admit to assassinating Twisted, too many ways it could backfire on her, but she gave Little One enough.

It surprised her how easy it was for the lies to spring to her lips. Had she always been like this?

“Please,” Little One gave her an almost pitying look, “you agreed with the Storm at our little council, do you think I’m going to take you at your word? No, this isn’t me making a deal with you, agreeing to your plan. This is me informing you that you’ve been rolled into mine.”

“Your plan?” Elena raised an eyebrow, “you’ve been one of the Twisted for decades, if you had a plan to kill them do you expect me to believe you haven’t put it into motion yet?”

“You say the words ‘most politically powerful group’, but you have no idea the sorts of forces that are in motion this very instant, do you? The entire reason they must die is the vast amount of power in so few hands, by definition that makes them nigh impossible to-” Little One shook her head, restarting her sentence with less emotion and more patience, “a plan would take decades, has taken decades to have every little piece put in motion, and the fact that you don’t understand that is the biggest problem. The second you gave the order for Waldren’s death you should’ve started moving, every second wasted works against you when playing on this level.”

“You said you weren’t taking Elena at her word,” Ele cut in on Little One’s scolding, “what did you mean?”

“I mean that I’m pushing you out of the bird’s nest tonight, and we’ll see how well you fly,” Little One rose painstakingly to her feet. “As long as you’re killing Twisted anyway, each one put down makes my plans a little easier, so I’m joining the Lucciano revolution. My guards will be accompanying you to ensure that you stay awake, Elena, and tonight I will give the order for Midora Fara to be killed in her bed.”

Even though she had been prepared to end Midora’s life with her own hands the night before, Elena winced.

“It’s not particularly damning evidence, Elena’s absence from our little dream cabal during Midora’s assassination,” Little One said, “but it will be enough for Fulvio.”

“I’ll just blame you,” Elena said, “the Twisted believed me once, when it was your word against mine.”

“When the question was ‘who is hateful enough to take over Milia’, they believed you,” Little One pointed out, “when the question was ‘who is soft enough to want to save the Stormtouched of Italoza’, do you think they’ll come to the same conclusion?”

Elena’s stomach somersaulted over itself, but she didn’t have the words to respond.

“You said your piece,” Ele finally broke the silence again. “Thank you for warning us about what you’re going to do, but we still don’t trust you.”

“If you didn’t, you wouldn’t sleep in a place where I could have you killed,” Little One said without hesitation, “you do trust me. You shouldn’t, but you do. The Storm packed too much power in the tiny little package of the two of you, and you’re much too late to reach the full potential you might’ve reached. However, I can’t begrudge you doing what you can. Elena, I’d leave the city before nightfall. Fulvio’s resources will already be stirring inside this city, and when the Twisted learn of Midora’s death, Fulvio will come at you with tools you can’t imagine right now.”

Elena tried to pull her Storm out across her Milia, but she knew it was useless even before the power did. Her Storm worked on things which were hers, and trying to find agents of Fulvio would be trying to find holes in a haystack.

Little One turned and walked toward the door, and Elena clenched her fists hard enough that the fingernails dug into skin.

“I could warn Midora,” she said, just to say something.

“And sabotage your own assassination efforts? No. Besides, you’ll be busy warning others.”

Elena furrowed her brow, confused.

Little One paused, her hand on the doorknob, “do you think I’m the only one who noticed you care for your friends?” she asked, amused, “or did you think those friends had sprung from the ground? Ana Donatelli, Beatrice Vasari, the whole brood of Del Sordos? You did plan on sending messages to their cities, didn’t you? I assure you, Fulvio already has.”

The door made a soft ‘click’ behind Little One as she exited, but Elena’s mind was whirling so fast that she barely heard it.

“Belloza will be training with the soldiers in the courtyard,” Ele said.

“Owl is still asleep, Frederica is probably in the library…Ele, we have to bring them with us, they won’t be safe here in the castle.”

Elena barely stopped to grab her hammer before rushing out the door, tailed by Ele and the two deaf guards Little One had left behind.

 

***

 

It was early in the morning for message birds to be flying from the tower atop Milia castle, but few  in the waking city below paid much attention. One of the few had been watching the tower from his perch up on top of a blacksmith on the Street of Red Artisans, and he made notes on the parchment in his hand, making note of each bird’s trajectory, marking down the cities to which each message was headed.

 

Dear Mama,

I’m sorry I haven’t written you as often as I should have. As I’m sure you can guess, it’s been very busy, being here on Milia’s council, but I know that’s no excuse and I will try to do better in the future.

I’m writing now because of an emergency I’ve just discovered. Throughout my life you have taught me what it means to be a Lucciano, and I promise those lessons have sunk in. One of them was that sometimes, taking what is due to us will make enemies. I’m afraid in the course of my work on the Milian council I have recently made some very powerful enemies indeed. I’m worried that these enemies might try to hurt you to get to me, and I need for you to leave our home for somewhere safe so that that can’t happen.

I know it’s frightening, but this is a part of living like a Lucciano, now that we have the status and standing that our family deserves, we have the enemies too. I don’t want you to be unduly frightened, even though it is dangerous. This sort of thing happens to courtiers all the time, you just need to disappear for a bit while the danger is present. I promise that they’ll soon be distracted, or if not, they won’t be worried about you anymore. I love you, mama, more than anything. Please please be safe.

Your loving daughter,

-Elena

 

Dear Aunt Vasari,

Weather is nice here, bit too cold for spring though. Still working on project with the flowers, but will be taking break. As of tonight, hunted by Princes, possible danger to whole family. You and twins please leave for summer place by sea.

-Frederica

PS Lost a finger. Still carving.

 

Dear Gams,

Well you were right about my getting in trouble. I kept my nose clean, promise, but it turns out you can get into just as much trouble with a clean nose as you can guarding a border jump. Not really fair says I, I’m the one supposed to get a proper job with papers and everything, and now Rolfo’s out of jail and it’s me on the run!

Anyway, like I said, I caught some trouble and you and Lisse and probably the whole clan have to make scarce. I can’t go into detail, but it’s worse than the affair with the hounds, if that tells you anything.

My love to Lisse, and give Armand a punch in the arm from me,

‘Loza

 

Dear Ava,

It’s happening again. Run.

~T

***

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6 responses

  1. OOooOoOooo~ Fancy new banner. Fancy schmancy pansy dancy. I like it!

    I don’t like how Elena’s friends are dragged into everything and don’t seem to ever question her.

    Finally, Little One continues to puzzle me. She’s very unique.

    Like

    2016-04-19 at 11:29 pm

  2. Not really sure why she didn’t just point out to Little One that their plan is actually just evil.

    Like

    2016-04-20 at 9:05 am

  3. Martha Kuepper

    Who is T?

    Like

    2016-04-20 at 1:39 pm

    • jimhenry1973

      T is Tomas, better known as Owl.

      Liked by 1 person

      2016-07-10 at 8:07 pm

      • Tomas, Owl, Man of Mystery. Seriously that letter is ridiculously dramatic and mysterious.

        Like

        2016-09-20 at 10:43 am

  4. Oak

    thanks for the chapter

    Like

    2016-04-21 at 6:06 pm

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