Lady_Fate

CLOSED Tide and Tempest [Private]

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Tide and Tempest


 


Tough the morning was young, the sun had already risen enough to wash the bay in its golden light. The docks were already bustling with the work of the merchant vessels, each crew and captain tending to its own business. The market was coming alive with shop keepers readying their fronts, and tradesmen bartering their goods for sale. Perched atop the rising island, watching the passage of the bay across water, stood Harrington Hall


 


The glass windows glittered, catching light of the rising sun. the silhouette of the majestic structure was visible from even the lowest part of the docks. As long as a man stood where he could see the bay, he could glance out over the shallows and see the windows staring back at him. The estate was a symbol as much as it was an ornament; a constant reminder that nearly every property was owned and overseen by the master of this prestigious house. It had been so for three generations. Each son that had inherited from his father, had added to the wealth and control that the Harrington family commanded. By the time the young Marcus Harrington had come into his inheritance only one year ago, he boasted ownership of half the store front properties and an impressive fleet of merchant vessels.


 


The Harrington's weren't without competition in business, of course. Port Chatham was a small harbor in comparison to the rest of the sea-trade world, and goods and mercantile had to come from somewhere. But in Chatham, the Harrington's were as wealthy and as powerful a family you would find. They were the Aristocratic Royalty of the region.


 


 


This morning, Marcus found himself pacing the aisles of his library, haunting the hollows of a usually vacant nook. The books that hid themselves, tucked away in this corner kept mythology of the ancient Greeks, sea-lore of the distant Nordsmen, and legends of the lost Atlantis. These were stories he'd once had a fascination with, in childhood when he had dreamed himself an adventurer. but Marcus had grown up despite boy-hood fantasies. He learned, instead, to hone his skills to his fathers standards. A businessman. A gentleman. Collected. Intelligent. He should have let his fantasies remain in his childhood; and he would have, if it had not been for an unusual event the week before. A chance moment, when he'd gone to the shipyard and seen something - or someone, he supposed. An encounter that had stirred long forgotten memories and awoken a long dormant interest in sea-lore and mythology.


 


He furrowed his brow as he skimmed over the words on the page. It couldn't all be fiction. In every lie dwelt some truth, and he believed that he'd seen some of that truth with his own eyes. The most beautiful truth he could have ever hoped to behold, too. He wanted to know more. He wanted to see it again. He wanted... He wasn't sure what he wanted.


 


Marcus clapped the book closed as he turned his attention out the bright window beside him. He gazed down at the shape of the docks, the tiny figures crawling like ants over the planks of the ships and structures. But that's not what interested him. He squinted at the clear blue water that lapped against the rocks. The sloping slabs where he'd seen her green eyes. There was no shape there anymore, no figure draped on the stones in the tide to watch the workers, no lovely creature spying on them as they went about their business, oblivious. No sign of the siren he'd seen. Not since last week past. And Marcus had kept a close watch.


 


He half believed himself to be mad. He could picture her as vividly as if he'd seen it only moments ago. She had been lounging on the jut of rock beside the docks, with no shame for her nakedness, until she'd seen him gazing at her, stupefied. Then, like a dream vanishing as he woke, she'd drawn away, slipping with grace into the water, and he'd seen her shape change. He swore it. Her legs melted together, taking a new form as the water swallowed her up. And she was gone. 


 


But he'd seen her. Those green eyes were burned into his memory like a branding iron. Images of her perfection haunted his dreams. She had been real. She'd been absolute. She tormented him.


 


He would find her.


 


"Rajani," his voice echoed off the high slopes of the ceiling in the corridor as he left the library behind him. His boots fell in a swift pattern on the richly colored rug, carrying him with purpose towards the study in his own chambers.


 


He didn't call for her again. She'd come. She was reliable like that. The only person in the living world Marcus would trust with his life since his father had joined his mother in the tombs beneath the estate. And this business that needed doing, this was something he could only trust her with. Others wouldn't understand. Others would have the Gaul to judge him for it- and that would leave him with the nasty business of putting them back in their place.


 


With two hands, Marcus pushed his way through the double doors of his personal study. It was a wide, open room; one wall was lined with books that he'd prefer remain close to himself, rather than gather dust in the stacks of the empty library. The far wall was nearly entirely made of glass, draped with plum-velvet curtains and framing an exemplary view of the bay, looking west. Across from the book shelves, on the opposite wall, was a wide archway to the master bedroom, who's opening could be blocked by matching drapes that were tied aside. This wall also shared a great two-sided fire place between the study and the bedchamber, with rearing stallions carved into the stone on either side. Centered, and placed so its master could both admire the hearth as well as the view, was a grand, dark, oak desk with parchment and paper strewn abut it. There were other pieces of furniture in the study; a chaise and chairs before the fireplace, a receiving nook tucked into a corner, and a chess table silhouetted against the vast windows, but none that looked to have been in use at all, besides the desk.


 


Marcus seemed to ignore all the fine things around him, and rather, swept into a padded oak chair at the desk, where he plucked a pen from an ink well and began busily scrawling out instructions over the blank parchment that had been waiting for him.


 

 

 

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The early morning sunlight fell true, piercing the shelves and embalming them in golden luminescence. It washed across worn bindings, revealed titles of fiction and fact, led its light so as to uncover books that lie in wait for someone to pull them from the shelves. 

She stood, sheltered by the aisles in the great library, embraced by cool shadow that to her would always feel like a caress. These shadows hid their own, harbored those who knew them well, and concealed them from the harsh vitality of the sun. 

 

Tucked away, beside the great yawning window, lay a crook of darkness that contained nothing more than a lone shelf, long forgotten in the aisles of literature that boasted far more interesting text than what lay gathering dust upon the solitary stretch of wood. It was here, swathed in shadow, that Nila waited, fulfilling her purpose as she stood close by unknown to her master. 

She plucked a book from its shelf, its binding protesting as it’s pages separated a brittle spine. Her slender fingers searched carelessly as they traced the words of an author’s wisdom through a collection of his intellectual musings. They paused, above a particular string of words,

 

“The gods; they hold no affection for humans and do not beseech to be worshiped and adored by them. For while they never distribute their wealth nor lent mortals their power, the gods demand respect and high praise, though fail to act on the pleas of humans, as it is beneath them.†

 

Nila snapped the book shut in disdain, the volume of its contents rippling as she returned it to its resting place among the dust. Her hand lingered over the leather cover a moment, for while she scorned the words recorded in its depths, she understood the desire to believe in a higher force that would rid the wrongs that plagued the mortal world. There were no gods, of this she was sure, only superior men who held the world in an iron grasp. 

“While there are those who will answer to a god of power, I will answer to none.†This was a silent promise she kept only to herself. Herself, and one other soul. A superior man. 

“Rajani.†

 

A name, her name, the mention of which had the power to eradicate the alias she had fashioned for herself. A name with enough power to rekindle old memories, and a name that was treasured by only one. It was announced, almost conversationally, spoken simply in a tone of expectation. It was almost comical to her how much sway a name could hold. A label, a thing of convenience and necessity, a brand placed upon us when we are born into this world. A name is the only thing we truly possess, the one truth to our existence that shapes our entire being, the only thing that is left behind when our spirit leaves the world and our body has faded away. Words have meaning, but it is a name that holds power. 

Steadily, she turned from the shadows, watched her hand as it fell from the novel. Nila only spared it a moment’s hesitation before slipping back among the shelves to heed the bidding of her master. Her feet were silent upon the floor, they guided her and drew her along a path she had traveled countless times. She paused and stood only a moment in the door; he was as aware of her presence as she was of his, tethered together by an intangible bond that surpassed the connection of servant and master. In that moment, as she crossed the threshold, she was his, possessed by him in a way no other would ever understand outside the two of them. 


Nila’s eyes swept the room. She’d spent countless hours here, in the company of  man whose face was as familiar to her as her own. She saw that face now, engaged in an expression she’d witnessed so often before, gripped in the midst of passionate ambition. His fine features were sculpted to reflect the building surge of whatever wrought him, overtaken by a strange fever that was foreign to her. His fingers flew as if possessed; papers littered his desk and books spilled from its surface. Combined, these were a map, a treasure chart to whatever it was that consumed him. Nila could see from their bindings that these books were cherished, adored, searched through many times as indicated by their worn surfaces and rumpled pages. 

She said nothing, as was her way. Her feet knew their course before her mind could formulate the direction. Nila simply took her place at his side, a place she would always occupy, a place that would always serve as her purpose; her devotion to a superior man. 

Now, as she observed him, keenly bent over his parchment, she was no longer Nila. She was his Rajani, his dark one, her true self. A self she only showed to him. 

Gently, she perched upon the arm of his chair, her fingers reaching out to brush his cheek. She turned his head to face her, to bring his fevered eyes to hers, an interlocking connection between the discovery and wonder in his and the determination in the gray of hers. It was evident to her that he was bewitched by some force and consumed with dark intensity. She measured the energy that was pulsing just inside him, and from it, she accepted her mission. 

“Marcus, whatever it is you bid me to do, I accept.â€

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Focused in the fervor of his writing, Marcus said nothing even when he had become aware of Nila's entrance. He felt her, rather than saw her, slip to his side and root herself there, playing on the edges of his peripherals until he felt the kiss of her touch, bidding him turn attention on her. His pen stopped, and his eyes shifted, falling on her face with a comfortable feeling of assurance. 

 

“Marcus, whatever it is you bid me to do, I accept." 

 

Had the interruption been any other, his wrath would have been swift. But such was the trust and faith he had in her, that hers were welcome words. He let a shadow of a grin curl on his lips, pleased as he always was by her devotion and gentle gestures. Then suddenly, He broke from her eyes and drew in a breath, "arrange for the books in the southwest corner of the library to be moved to my shelves here," he carried on as though their moment of pause had never been. His ink blossomed on the page again, putting the final flourishes on the paper before him before he began to fold it in thirds. "I want more lamplights brought to my chambers and a fresh stock of candles to keep them." Clearly he intended on staying up nights to read, "and," he turned towards her, clutching the freshly folded parchment in his hand, the other resting on the back of his chair as he gazed up at her. "I want you to see to this yourself," he held up the letter. 

 

"Find me someone willing to take the reward promised in this note without asking questions, and someone who can do this job tidily. No one we've delt with before. I want discretion." He held the paper between them, "be discrete, yourself, my dear. This job is of an unusual nature. People will gossip, and I will not have my name tarnished." 

 

He didn't need to ask her if she understood. She always did. That was why he bade her to handle such delicate affairs. Nila knew his darkest of secrets. She was his shadow, and like a shadow she was ever at his side in all things. She didn't judge, or if she did, remained silent about it, and Marcus never knew. She was his. Completely. And Marcus would trust her with his most precious affairs. Nila, his Rajani. If there was anything in the world to have faith in, so wholly, it was her, and her devotion to him. And Marcus reveled in it.

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When they stared into each other's eyes, nothing outside them existed; unspoken praise lay heavy on his lips, silent vows of devotion rested upon hers. There was a mutual understanding, it seemed unsavory to taint such feeling with mere words. For a moment, before he broke from her to return to his own lucid daydreams, there was a flicker inside his gaze that ignited some passion inside her, kindled a fire in her that she greeted with expectant ease. Whatever he hungered for she would also, and for his sake, for his bidding, she would adopt his ambition and make it her own. 

A few seconds; that was all it took for her to understand. Marcus returned to his musings, the connection between their gazes broken, the loss of his warmth against her reaching fingers a sign that she was dismissed. The quick gleam of a mischievous smile was all she spared him, gone so quickly one had to wonder if it had ever been there to begin with. Nila paused only long enough to accept the proffered parchment, trail her fingers affectionately across his shoulder, before sauntering away to fulfill her duty. She need not offer words of acceptance to the tasks he provided her, she assumed his faith in her would need no confirmation. 

As Nila strode down the hallway, she felt her sculpted mask of cold detachment fall into place, felt it settle upon her like a second skin. Her tender thoughts had been left behind in the room with her master, her mind now overrun and frantic with schemes, a calculated slyness stealing over her shoulders like a cloak. Her steps echoing in tandem to her beating heart, she relayed instructions to servants as she passed, intimidating them as she always did with the fierceness they saw lurking behind the pallor of her eyes. Nila's gaze scrutinized them as a hunter might their prey; her requests were made explicitly clear. Candles from the merchant at the docks, only the finest quality. Four lamplights to be installed in the master study, orders to purchase another two in reserve. The books she would see to herself; she trusted no one but her to complete the task. Should she return to find that her instructions had not been carried out to her satisfaction...the servants would shudder to think of the consequences. 

Finally, she reached her chambers, locking the doors behind her. Nila's fingers skimmed the harsh imprints left by Marcus' capable hand; her eyes followed his looping script. Her face she kept impenetrable, despite the lack of prying eyes. She digested her task. Read it once more. Folded it and tucked it within the folds of her shirt. Nila drew her own conclusions, reviewed what she had seen leading up to this moment. Her master's behavior had been peculiar as of late, she had seen it in the set of his shoulders, noticed how his sights had been turned from the business world and instead focused on what lay outside his window. 

He had been captivated by the sea, by whatever was concealed in a world uncontrolled and untouched by mortal man. Perhaps it was rightly so, to be entranced by something so out of reach, impervious to a man of his power, an entity that would never be tamed. Its untold secrets, buried beneath waves of effervescent cerulean, beckoned to him and whispered to him in hushed promises, as each wave met the resistance of the shore. 

It was then that a plan took shape, a scheme fell into place. As cold as she was to those outside Harrington Hall, Nila was never without connections. Networking was an asset she valued, and with confidence, Nila could boast that she had ties with all walks of life in Chatham. And with her abilities, she was sure she would find someone to suit her master's standards. In fact... 

She glanced down at her attire; custom trousers and a white linen shirt. "Perhaps a change of clothing first," she murmured to herself, before disappearing into the depths of her wardrobe. 

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Marcus did not watch her go. Once her eyes had left him, and his orders were in her hands, Marcus turned his attention again to the blank parchments on his desk. He dipped the tip of his pen into the ink well once more and began a new letter, one of a different business, one of more mundane things. When the gentle fall of her step had disappeared, he stopped. He moved from his seat before the desk, and slid into the glass view of the window, gazing out again at the rocks in the bay. 

 

He reflected a moment. Conjuring up the vivid memory again in his mind. The burnt glaze of the sun on her damp hair, the smoldering green in her flecked eyes, and the milky smooth bare skin. She had been perfection. A vision of the female species. She was the muse of the old Greek gods, the sea itself manifested in a woman, and Marcus would have her if it ruined him. 

 

He felt a fierce desire for her surge in him, a possessive force he'd couldn't satisfy until she was his. Never had Marcus coveted something so much. He could envision it now, his life with such a creature at his disposal. How the lords would envy him, casting bitter glances at their wives and mistresses who would pale in comparison. How the ladies would wilt to know that they could never hope to achieve such beauty. How the world would stare in wonder that a man such as he had taken the sea and made it his own. For that is what she was. That siren he'd glimpsed; It was the only thing that Marcus felt was right; she was the sea. 

 

She would be his. She would stand at his side, draped in only the finest fabrics, and fitted with the most flattering styles. She would be elegant, and divine, rivaling royalty in her manner and grace. She would be perfect. He could see it. He could taste it. He could feel it. 

 

Marcus let his eyes glaze over, still gazing at the stones of the bay while the tide lapped lazily against the rock. His visions of grandeur were not, perhaps, all to the credit of his own desires; because for the first time since he'd seen her whilst down by the docks, himself, there was a shape there. A shape of a woman who haunted the hollows of the stones, tucked away, out of sight of all except the unfocused, dreaming eyes of the master of Harrington Hall. 

 

~*~ 

 

The sun felt warm on her skin, as did the dry rock that rippled under her fingertips as Shae slid a hand up to curl around the top of the stone. Slowly she pulled her body out of the sea, peering at the bustling docks with shy eyes. She felt the water rolling in droplets down her back, her flesh tingling as it adapted itself to the open air. She bit her bottom lip as she slid further up the rock, crooking her arm over the stone to hold her there, taking in everything she could of the human world. 

 

She gave a flick of her tail; the feel of water swirling around her lower half calming her nerves. Being so close to the men of the docks was unsettling, exciting, and altogether thrilling. The world of the humans was a mystery. It was farther than she dared to reach, farther than she should. The rocks that jutted out of the waves in this remote corner of the bay offered her some protection, but it was as close as she dared to get. At least for now. Just watching was enough to sustain her curiosity, but how long that would last was a mystery. 

 

Shae wouldn't dare venture closer today. Not after what had happened the previous week. She was sure shed been seen by that man- the one who seemed different from the others. The one with the salient way about him. She had slipped away as delicately as she could manage, feeling the weight of his stare long after she had known he could no longer see her. She didn't like the feeling of his notice of her. There was something dark about it. Something looming. 

 

But she was safe now. He had gone, and Shae was left to spy of the doings of the sailors in unnoticed peace. 

 

She turned her eyes upwards, towards the towering outline of the palace on the crest of the island. She had come to love the sight of it, how it glittered in the distance, out of her reach, majestic and mysterious as it was. She wondered what it was for, what manner of men it harbored. We're they as rough and untamed as the men of the seaside, or were they more like that important man? If Shae had to guess, she imagined that men like him belonged in glittering palaces like that. 

 

She frowned. 

 

Shae remembered the uneasiness his eyes had left her with, and she suddenly found herself musing that men like him didn't deserve such grand things. Perhaps it was better that men like him stayed high up in their far away palaces, where the sea was safe from them and them from the sea. She liked these bearded and tattooed sailors of the docks. Their eyes were more friendly. 

 

She felt the corners of her mouth curl upwards in a grin as she watched them a while longer. Then, as quietly as she had crept up on them, she was gone. Slipping into the water to the shelter of the waves.

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The candle light was cast low, the fire simpering and purring, entwining itself around the wick like a pet in search of affection. It was evening now, the sun lying upon the horizon in its entire golden splendor, and soon the ocean would swallow it, jealous of the sky for monopolizing it. The moon would chase its lover across the sky, as is its preordained destiny, confined to a fate it does not deserve, but would pursue for all eternity. Only embers remained in the hearth, pulsating chips of wood that throbbed like glowing hearts. The maid has long since tired of being turned away every time she approached to tend it; her master, who reclining in the window seat opposite the coals, had grown equally weary of shooing her away. 

He sat in near shadow; the light from the sun casting feeble pearls of light upon his canvas, the long stretch of his fingers leaving black outlines as he sketched. Dante mouthed the words of great philosophers as he drew, illustrating with both his hands and his mouth. He lived for stories, longed to exist in constructed fantasies of his own design. Often when he closed his eyes, he could see a world of his own making, impressed upon the darkness of his closed eyelids. A dream that would never be. Pictures rested upon his fingertips, awaiting their chance to be created by the steady push of his fingers. Graphite had built up upon his palms as he worked throughout the day, black smudges marred the pads of every finger, a sign of devote dedication to his craft that he hoped to perfect. Dante liked to say that his mind thought in lines of poetry. His father liked to say his mind was filled with air.

The irritated slap of shoes against hardwood sounded just behind him, and Dante frowned. No doubt the maid prepared for another round of verbal jousting. The downward cast of his lips smirked, he had to admire the maid’s  persistence- 

“Dante.†

His name brought him back to the present and out of the comfort of his creative thoughts. His name has been uttered like a curse, feelings of stern annoyance and irrevocable authority clearly evident in the tones of his latest inquirer. It was made quite clear to him that it was no longer the maid that had grown exasperated by his antics; no, this person’s  voice he associated with  a small kernel of dread. He could feel the light of the sun finally dying behind him as he turned to face his father, whose sharp features were made bolder and all the more cruel by shadow. He was quite clearly unhappy, his arms are folded stubbornly across his chest. Abram had fallen into one of his moods, and was unlikely to emerge from it until he has gotten what he wanted. A hard man, Abram Cipriano, fair but hard. 

Carefully, under the glare of his father, Dante set aside his paper and charcoal, a dull ache carving a hollow in his chest as he separated himself from his latest project. He stood, despising the feeling of condescension as his father peered down at him. 

“Dante, need I remind you that there are guests in our home, just outside your door? Or have your senses been dulled by the prolonged exposure to darkness?†Abram swept a hand to take in Dante’s room, a place he viewed with contempt. The cave, that was what he liked to call it. “Need I steer attention to what dwells just beyond the confines of this cavern of yours? A business world that you will someday enter?†

His temper was mounting, his rants all began in a similar note. Dante did his best not to grunt in irritation. Well, best to tackle the temper in the early stages, before it had a chance to fester.

Before his father can work himself into a rage, Dante flashes his most charming smile, one he has cultivated for times such as these. “I apologize, father, for my tardiness. I simply lost track of time. My mind was elsewhere, contemplating the workings of the latest trading venture. You know drawing helps generate my better ideas.†

Dante reached around his father to gather his dinner jacket, drawing his arms through the sleeves and clipping his cuff links into place with practiced ease. His father eyed him, willing to let his son’s tardiness slide if it meant returning to his guests and appeasing them. Abram sighed, pinching his brow, before he stalked off, a warning in his eyes that indicated that they would be continuing the discussion later. 

When his father had left, relief seemed almost palpable. With a heaving sigh to discard some of the weight his father’s anger had left on his shoulders, Dante pushed his fingers into his hair, musing locks of curls that never seemed to cooperate. Perhaps it was better this way; people seem to prefer its rather unruly appearance, particularly the women. Another smirk pulled at his lips at the thought; there would be no shortage of women in attendance tonight. It was no wonder his father pushed so adamantly for his attendance. 

 

Casting one last mournful glance to his abandoned canvas, Dante strode to the door, arming himself to greet the masses and uphold the family name. 

~*~ 

The dinner party had worked its way well into the night; the guests had dwindled, but many had stayed for wine and song. Couples danced in a flurry of rich colors and feather adornments, light music skittering between moving feet and careening through the air by the fluttering of the women’s fans. Port was poured into the Cipriano’s finest crystal; business deals were discussed and agreed upon in his father’s study. 

Dante’s mood soured by the hour, his charm withered and dried when the adults became enraptured with wine rather than his company. That suited him just fine; he’d much rather watch the men swing their partners, fit stories to their mouths as they talked in whispers he himself cannot follow. He stood unnoticed in an alcove off the dance floor, content to let his eyes wander. And wander they did, until they latch to a pair of exotic eyes, beckoning to him from behind the ardent flush of a gold silk fan. She stood apart from the rest, watching him as he watched the dancers, with a wistfulness that left him rather breathless. Dante frowned, unsure of how he could have missed her; she is so unlike the rest. The gowns worn by the wives of his father’s investors were reserved though no less grand. This woman, who taunted him from behind a screen of mystery was daring, swathed in sheaths of rich glossy emerald, with a neckline that plunged to play on a man’s weakness. Her hair glowed like polished obsidian. 

She seemed like the women he wrote of in his novels, a siren sent from the devil to corrupt the minds of mortal men. She was radiant, alluring, but as somehow sinister like a demon, and with all the dark temptation of a succubus. And yet, despite his wariness of her, she fascinated him, and it is clear that her notice of him was no accident. She had a message for him, one that hid like her lips behind the cursed fan. One she seemed keen on revealing. 

It dawned on him then that he should approach her. He had a nagging suspicion that she was not in fact a guest on his father’s roster; he would recognize her if she was. Dante stepped forward, only to have his progress halted as the woman instead rose to meet him. The hairs on the back of his neck rose of their own accord, and his mistrust thickened; he could detect the faintest hint of amusement in the striations of her cold gray eyes. The fan continued to serve as a barrier between them. 

“Dante, son of Abram. My mistress bids you good evening.†Her voice was lyrical, though to Dante, it sounded hollow and devoid of real feeling. He could feel himself frowning, feel the skepticism that reflected in his own gaze grow hot. She must have felt it, for something in her face twitched; he could tell by the way her hand suddenly tightened on her playful fan. “She expects you, in the library. It is in your best interest that you attend pyÄdÄ. A select…business opportunity rests within.†

In a flash, she is gone, evaporated like smoke from an extinguished candle. Dante searched the crowd, desperate for a glance of this woman whom he almost question existed. Had he indulged too much in his brandy? “No,†he muttered to himself, a firm denial, as his eyes alit to the hallway behind him. She was much too real to be conjured from his fictional musings; he could still taste the exotic spice of her perfume on his tongue. 

Without any misgivings, Dante moved with fervor to the library. It was only when he has reached the doors that he translates the name she has called him. 

“Pawn.†

~*~ 

His fingers hesitated on the brass knob, the library waiting just beyond. He heard nothing, no indication that someone was lurking just inside, to conduct business of any sort that he would be interested in. His brow furrowed. To hell if this so called mistress has any real purpose inside his home. His curiosity burned, the novelist in him yearning to discover the truth of this shady endeavor. With prompt declaration, he shoved the door wide. 

Inside, the candles were dim, and all he could make out in the muddled darkness was a feminine figure at the window, back lit by the moon’s silent wash of silver. Inquiries gathered in his throat, though he waited for her to be the first to speak. At once, he could tell she was not the siren who had cornered him in the main hall, but another woman altogether. Her dress was far more proper, a seemingly inconspicuous pale pink. The woman’s face, though half-concealed, appeared aristocratic and plain. 

“Dante, I presume.†Her voice was cool, altogether different from the lulling croon of the girl in the emerald dress. Her tone firmly conveyed a tone of all business, no nonsense, no sugar coating nor fancily spun lies made of gossamer half truths. “I see my girl found you, as I was sure she would.†

Dante found his voice, shifting it to match the authority that lay like an undercurrent in the mystery woman's tone. "Quite obviously she did madam, otherwise I would not be standing in your company. However, I still have yet to receive an introduction. Seems to me that proper etiquette must be in short supply these days. It seems rather unfair that you know my name and I do not know yours, considering you plan to host these business negotiations in my home without invitation."

 

She laughed, though the sound held no mirth. “Feisty, how delightful. However, I doubt you will gain the introductions you seek. You see, I’m only here to deliver to you a proposition on behalf of someone powerful.†

With a casual toss of her delicate hand, an envelope slid to his feet. Shooting the shadowed woman a look of blatant contempt, Dante fisted the letter in his hand, making no attempt to read it. She had all the power, and if anything, Dante wanted to show this woman he was not her puppet to control. The woman frowned, a small purse of the lips. 

“I’ve already spoken to your father, and he has agreed upon the terms on your behalf. More information will reach you, and you will be paid handsomely for your participation.†She smirked, her tone dipped in thinly veiled supremacy. “Not only will this proposition prove advantageous for you, your father’s trading company will similarly be supported and propelled to the most prestigious of statuses. Should you fail to do as instructed, his company will be reduced to fodder, as will the legacy of the Cipriano name. And as we know sweetheart, names mean everything in this world.†

Flicking open a cream fan of lace, she concealed her face and made for the door. Despite the base urge inside him, Dante restrained himself from ripping the fan from her delicate hand and demanding to know the origins of these threats. Instead, he simply watched her, burning her with gaze, while trying to quell the curiosity that simmered inside him. 

At the door, she paused, and though she did not turn, her words floated back to him like a taunt. “The person I represent holds undisputed power my dear; I suggest you follow your instructions to the letter.†

With those parting words of farewell, she was gone, and Dante made no move to pursue her. He glanced down, the parchment grasped tightly in his fist. What secrets would it hold?

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As the bindings of folklore and legends had been retrieved from the shelves of the library below, and the pillars of the literature grew upon the empty surfaces of his personal study, Marcus had pounced. From the moment that the first yellowed pages had crossed the threshold, he had submerged himself in the words he had read before, re-reading them to solidify his beliefs. His mind had already painted the world for him, now it was simply a matter of reinforcing what he desired so fiercely to believe in. It was true. It had to be. Marcus could feel it in the core of his being.

He knew what the rest of them would think, what they would say. He had been careful; oh-so-careful. He'd used false names, decoy events, disguises. He could play a part well, but his talent for the covert affairs paled in comparison to Nila. No one else knew. No one else would ever know. At the very least, not the whole of it.

Marcus had been adamant on inventing every detail of the story that was to be told. Even as they spoke, a ship was on a return journey, bringing with it an absent passenger. The crew had been made to believe that they were transporting a young lady, a woman, who's whole life story had been invented by the minds of Nila and Marcus, together. The ship would arrive in five days. That gave him time to secure the creature. The woman, the Lady who would be making Chatham her new home, would be graciously taken in by the Harrington family. The particulars would have to be decided later, after Marcus had seen what sort of specimen he would have to work with.

His eyes read over the first-hand account of a sailor who had survived an encounter with a mermaid. his description of her perfection, her grace, her pride. She would be the crowning glory on the Harrington family. She would be the perfect ornament at his side. The lords wold want her, the Ladies would envy her. Marcus would be king in his little world.

He dove into another book, this one all conjecture, theory, and speculation about the mermaid species. he scrawled out notes on a blank parchment, crumpled it up and began a new one. His mind leapt from one idea to another, and he began scribbling on a fresh sheet.

By the end of the day, the papers of business that had meant to be completed had been shoved aside, and neglected. The books and papers that now consumed him had taken president over anything else. The lack of natural light had forced him to make use of the lamplights Nila had arranged for. Their flames burned low and steady, providing him the illumination he needed to get by. His fantasy was nearing reality, Marcus could almost taste it. He suddenly stood, sending a few papers wafting to the floor, and strode into his room to retrieve a journal he'd moved to the stand beside his bed.

It was exactly as he had left it: open to a creased page, with a fresh ink-sploch smeared over what would have been an elegant script, but was not unreadable. Marcus lowered himself to sit on the mattress, re-reading the page to himself, and slowly bringing the head of a pen up to correct what he had scratched out.

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As night claimed the sky, Nila watched on unnoticed as Dante entered the library to confront whatever lie within. Of course it had been she that led him into the viper pit, masqueraded by the flirtatious folds of a delicate gold fan. Marcus had ordered her to remain elusive, to ensure her identity could not be traced. And as he ordered, she would obey; however, how could she herself keep from the fray? She would ensure the mission pulled through, even if she had to play the supporting role. Nila felt her amusement fixate itself on her lips; she had covered her tracks well, disguised her role in the whole affair with keenly played intellect and sly intentions. Let him think she was merely a lackey, let him fit names to her frame and match stories to her person. The daydreamer would never uncover her true role in the grand scheme she had constructed, but she would relish his confusion as his infallible curiosity wreaked havoc on his mind.

Keeping her shield firmly affixed in front of her face, she departed the Cipriano manor, convinced her master's letter had reached its intended target safely. The madam she had enlisted in her plight was to be trusted; her lips would remain sealed with the promise of payment. Nila had no doubt she had played her role as mistress to perfection; she would not have hired her if she had any misgivings.

As Nila was assisted into her coach, she marveled at the complexity of her scheme. Yes, the boy she had selected was perfect. She had heard many things about Dante Cipriano, snippets and gossip that she had used to create a vivid and lucid image of the ideal candidate for her master's ambitions. His name buzzed on the tips of merchant's tongues, his academic achievements boasted of by all his previous tutors. The women of Chatham swooned at his visage, they regaled at how his charm knew no bounds and his persona placed them at ease. A child of prestigious upbringing, he would know the ways of the upper class. Nila smirked, fingers dancing around her chin as she mused. Great spills of silver moonlight trailed across her silhouette as the coach brought her to her next destination. The smell of the ocean swelled, crested over her as if it intended to sweep her into its liquid arms and pull her to its depths. The docks were eerie this time of night, the moon's vibrant rays failed to penetrate every shadowed alley. Windows glowed bright with lamplight, the smell of salt permeated the air. 

As the wheels of her coach skittered over the cobblestones, Nila found her gaze pulled to the warped planks that hovered over the water. Her cool eyes swept the rocky banks, picked at the darkness and dared them to reveal their secrets. However, it was the water that entranced her, pulled at her like the waves as they ebbed. Somehow, she knew, that something lurked beneath those crests of crushing black, be it what her master so avidly sought, or something much more sinister. She frowned, ripping her gaze away as her ride came to a stop outside a dilapidated seaside inn. Yes, there was something magical resting just beneath the cool blanket of the sea, a being that defied rationality and played on man's desire for the touch of fantasy. Yes, it was for this reason above all she had selected Dante to be her master's man; above all that she had heard of him, whispered about by idle girls or by business men, Nila had heard of his willingness to dream. 

His creativity and acceptance of the far reaches of man's imagination spurred him to seek the creatures of myth; he was of a sort that yearned for the touch of fantasy and to live in the world of fairy tales. Nila was sure he would be piloted by his curiosity for the supernatural so much so that he would agree to Marcus' terms with little resistance. He was a smart man; even if he were to consider refusing, the consequences would be made clear, and his future would be torn away with ease by her cruel hand.
She disembarked from her carriage, directing her footman to remain in his seat; this errand wouldn't take long. With no thought to her state of dress, Nila entered the establishment, intentions set on a weathered man reclining low in his seat. He sat alone, his creased clothing marking him as a man of the sea; the lines of his face carried their fair share of salt, and tales she planned on hearing. A sailor, a man comprised of sunlight and superstitions, who knew the waters and called it home. An eye patch rested high on his cheek, his sole blue eye rested not upon her, but the water–worn pages of a leather bound book; his callused fingers perused its surface as if tracing the face of a lover. A single candle illuminated his face; the flame burned in his glazed pupil. At that moment, it was the only thing about him that seemed alive. 

Nila knew what secrets the book contained; she was hungry to place her own hands upon its binding and reveal what mysteries it hid. Wordlessly, she placed a satchel of coins upon the hard planks of the table. 
For a long moment, the sailor sat wordlessly, fingers stilling as his eyes instead leapt to reach hers. His lips cracked as he opened them, he wet them as his gaze burned with the intensity of flames. “Never be fooled by what lurks in the sea,†he breathed, “for what is drawn from its depths must always find its way back. What lingers on land will wither in despair.â€

Nila said nothing, only waited impassively as the sailor's hands withdrew from the book and instead crept to the pouch. As he had before, his fingers pulled at its satin cloth, skimmed over its velvet tassels. His hold relinquished from his keep, Nila collected her new prize with hardened resolve.

“Thank you for your wisdom,†was all she said before she swept back in silken folds to her carriage.

~*~

Rajani stood once more at the threshold to the study, identified only from the shadows by the slash of light cast by the fire. The room has all but exploded in her time away. More papers lay across the floorboards like snow, the whiteness of the pages pulsing with each flash of the fire. Lamplights burn low, tempered by quick fingers and dwindling wax. The books she had thought to move before she embarked are stacked high on the desk like sentries, as if daring her to breech their defenses. 

Rajani could feel him here; perhaps he is entombed behind his research, hidden from her by the walls of literature that stand like a wall. No words greeted her; this is expected. Her master has little time to spare on her in his current state of frenzied passion. She's accustomed to standing in this spot, a vantage point as she observed a domain she herself is a part of. 

She hadn't thought to change, only to go to Marcus as soon as her objectives were completed. Her gown swept the floor in cascading pools of green, tinged black by the shadows as they attempt to engulf her from the hallway. Rajani cocks her head to the side, simply listening; if he hadn't already addressed her, it would be unwise to interrupt him.

With indifference, Rajani crept to the chaise, let her skirts drip like water around her waist as she propped her legs over the sides. She gazed into the fire, watched it dance and twist to make faces, listened as it hissed and cackled in spite. Her eyes smoldered with the flame's hatred, absorbed its hunger and reflected it out in shining chips of ember. Rajani's fingers coasted on the cover of the book in her lap, a cover of old with pages that smelt of the sea. Salt tinged its corners, sand rested between its creases. A seaman's account of sirens, a rare find hidden by rough hands and shielded from men who could not handle its secrets.

The old man's proclamations still played on her mind like a taunt. Whether she approved of her master's desires mattered not. Whether she believed in the distinction between myth and reality was irrelevant. Though she might shun an idea, a belief in mystical fiction, she would not turn away from her darling prince. 

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