Previous Chapter: 1.10 – For the Cause
I let Ace dress me the next evening for the nobleman event. He gave me pointers on how to win over a woman’s heart. He wanted me to seduce Shannon so I could have an “in” with the DeLures. Whatever his reason was, I was pleased to have his assistance nonetheless. There had only been a handful of girls during my slave days and back then, seducing them was the last thing on my mind.
Ace picked out quite the outfit for me. I couldn’t tell if it was too ‘out there’ or if I was just so used to the drab and depressing garb of the Trading Union. I almost didn’t recognize myself in the mirror adorned with the peculiar blue tunic and a fresh haircut. But, the true game changer for the night was Ace letting me borrow his scepter. He refused to give me any instructions on how to use it and insisted it was strictly for show. His smile gave me a suspicion that he wouldn’t mind if I tried it out, though. After all, how was I supposed to keep up my wind power charade with Shannon if I didn’t at least attempt to try it?
Once outside, I saw that Shannon was waiting. I tried to walk with a regal precision down the steps until I remembered that my visual approach would be wasted on her.
“You look nice,” I said as she wrapped her arm around mine.
Her free hand reached up and felt my face, “As do you,” she smirked.
I blushed and chuckled awkwardly.
She saved me further embarrassment by changing the subject. “Do you think you can handle guiding me this evening or should we pick up Rella from my residence?”
“We should be fine, as long as I don’t drop us from the sky,” I joked. Little did she know that would be exactly what would happen if we were to fly to the nobleman event.
“I’ll figure out how you’re doing your little trick, you know?”
“Good luck,” I said as we began walking toward her carriage.
We settled in and I looked out of the crudely constructed window, watching the city pass by as we rode in silence.
“So do you have a boyfriend? Somebody lined up for your choosing day?” I asked.
“Nope,” she turned and looked at me with her blank eyes.
I paused, waiting for her to expand on her response but she didn’t. “Why not?”
“You need to guess,” she said playfully.
I thought for a moment, “Maybe you haven’t found “the one” yet?”
“Oh, I have,” she said, “I just can’t choose her.”
“Why not? What are the rules of your choosi– wait did you say her?” I asked.
“Yes, her – it’s Rella. I know my dad certainly would not approve, so I don’t even bother telling him. I have to keep putting off his choosing days under the pretense of just being picky.”
“So you taking me to this –”
“It benefits me; that is if you’re trustworthy,” she said
“Of course, of course…”
All my dreams with her had gone down the drain in a matter of seconds.
“Are you disappointed?” she asked.
“Yeah, a bit,” I admitted.
“Well, don’t be. If all goes well tonight, who knows… I might choose you,” she winked.
“You lost me,” I said.
She gave a playful groan. “Rella and I figure we can get my dad off our back if I choose someone. Someone male. Although, the guy would have to understand the situation and be discreet. It has been impossible to find someone to fit those qualities. You seem a bit eccentric but you might just do…” she smiled.
“Better than nothing,” I shrugged, thinking about how eccentric was the last thing anyone would describe me as. Why was I so Ace-like, minus the cool, around her?
The carriage began to move into the more affluent part of the city. I hadn’t been here before, so no conversation was okay with me. It was amazing how different the atmosphere was in this part of the city; there was no tension. It even looked like some homes had left their doors ajar.
“What was it like growing up like this?” I asked absentmindedly.
“Being blind or being wealthy?”
“Wealthy,” I corrected.
“I don’t have much to compare it to and I hold quite different opinions from most of the upper class, like my father, but it is comfortable – one never has to worry. We always have food or supplies. There is no danger, no one is desperate – unless we count worrying about parents arranging a good choosing or being desperate for a date to the dance. What about you? Where did you come from?”
“I don’t remember much,” I said, surprised she had returned the question. “I was a rental for six years. At least, I think so – I might’ve lost count. It was the same thing every day. I became mindless after a while.”
“Most noblemen don’t consider rentals people,” Shannon said. “My dad being one of the worst. Luckily for us, he considers Rella family. But that wouldn’t stop him from giving me off to an orange tree if it meant him getting a nice pure blooded grandson, though.”
“In that case, I hope I don’t burn the event down and let you both down in the process.”
The carriage pulled to a stop and the driver came around to let us out. I stepped down and hurried to the other side, providing an unneeded hand to help Shannon down.
“Are we supposed to have a cover story?” I asked.
“You’re from Central Settlement. I have family there who set us up.”
“Do you actually have family there?”
“Yes,” she said, “My father is actually hoping to govern that particular settlement.”
I tucked that nugget of information away for later and led Shannon up the stairs and into the building. I had never seen one adorned with such fine draperies. Every color was present, flowing in the light breeze. They must only put these up for such special occasions. The two of us made it inside and were greeted by several domestic rentals that were wearing spruced up uniforms. Shannon greeted who she could with a polite smile. I was happy to know that she did seem to humanize the rentals. Other wealthy patrons were not so kind. They would take drinks from the server as if they were taking them off a table. No point in saying thank you to a table, right?
Beyond the attendees’ lavish garments, the inside of the building had the same colors as the walls outside. I knew these fabrics would’ve had to have been extremely expensive – making color was impossible for most tailors.
We reached the main room and I let out an involuntary gasp. The decorations here were even more elaborate. “Wow,” I whispered. I saw Shannon smile in my periphery. Was she enjoying my first journey into this world?
“Hey, were you born blind?” I asked.
“I guess you’re getting pretty comfortable with these questions, mister,” she smiled. “But yes, I was – I’ve never experienced the visuals of the rich.”
“What are we supposed to do next?” I asked, noticing we were now blocking the entrance.
“We can sit at an empty table and get settled. Or a non-empty one if you see someone you’d like to chat with.”
“Yeah, maybe later,” I said as we began walking down the stairs toward the tables. “Does your father make you buy nice clothes? I mean, if you can’t see them anyway…”
“They feel nice. Although, maybe your barbaric sense of touch wouldn’t be able to discern the difference,” she joked.
I felt over my blue tunic involuntary, attempting to remember how my usual wardrobe felt.
“Are you touching your tunic now?” she asked, an amused look on her face.
“Yes,” I sighed.
We made it to an empty table. I pulled her chair and sat in the one next to her, resting my scepter against the table. We had found a table near the corner, overlooking the open floor and most of the remaining tables. I looked at the head of our table, where there were three chairs set up. They were elevated and had a view of the entire room. The chair on the far left was the only one occupied.
“There’s a man sitting at the head of the room. His posture is pretty poor and it looks like he is unable to smile. Any ideas?” I asked Shannon.
She explained that it was likely Giskant Job, technically her father’s equal but in reality, not so much. They were both likely to be on the newly formed council and no one had ever heard Giskant disagree with anything Sarkard DeLure said – he was a ‘yes man’. Shannon went on to describe the third likely member of the council, Christopher Prismolg. He was the fairest of the three, as he wasn’t supremely loyal to Rayon’s purist ideals. I wondered if Ace knew the dynamics between these three men?
“Can you get me in a conversation with any of those three?” I asked my date.
She laughed, “Can I? I doubt you’ll have a choice – my father will be thrilled to see me with a handsome man. He will leave wagon marks on the ground in his haste to talk to you. Wait… You are handsome right?”
“You’ve put your mitts all over my face, you tell me,” I responded in jest.
She shrugged, “It feels nice enough.”
“I’ll take it,” I said while scanning the room, “I’m guessing your father is making his wagon marks now. Did he know you were going to be here?”
I groaned her name through the smile I had plastered on my face as I spotted a quickly approaching nobleman. I stood and shook the hand of who I presumed to be her father, Sarkard.
“I did not expect you to be here, Shannon dear,” Sarkard said.
“Well, I thought I’d be a good daughter for once,” she said with a healthy mix of snark and humor.
Sarkard gave a chuckle and turned back to face me, releasing my hand. “No matter, I will not complain. I’m Sarkard DeLure – you have no idea how nice it is to meet you. I was beginning to think my Shannon was purposely avoiding men…”
“Ah, no, my Lord,” I said, “I believe it is my fault, I’ve been out of Ikalga for quite some time, but luckily for you and me, she is a loyal woman. You will have no scandal on your hands now that we’ve decided to make our first public appearance.” I bent down and kissed her on the cheek before sitting back in my chair.
Sarkard sat down as well. “I’m not sure why you just didn’t tell me, Shan.”
“That might be my fault, sir. I encouraged her to wait until she knew for sure if you’d approve of me.”
“I wasn’t turning down all those choosing days for no reason, daddy,” Shannon added.
Sarkard clapped and smiled. I thought he might even begin to cry from his overwhelming happiness. “What’s the catch, Shannon? He’s not a secret hybrid is he?”
“No sir,” I answered, “I’m as pure as they come.”
“Well, I am thrilled, truly,” Sarkard said. “I don’t suppose you would mind a choosing day to keep up appearances then?” He looked to Shannon. She gave no objection. Sarkard stood up and gave us both a surprisingly heartfelt goodbye before leading his entourage off for more socializing.
Shannon broke the silence with a feigned sigh, “Well, guess I’m stuck with you then.”
“I wouldn’t say so. You can always break up with me, tell him I kissed Rella or something.”
It was at that moment I discovered how unnerving Shannon’s glares could be.
“So, what’s your night form?” I asked in an attempt to change the subject.
“Wow, um, is that something you usually talk about so freely?”
“Oh, no…” I grimaced, “Sorry.”
She leaned forward on the table and scratched the side of her nose as if deep in thought. “It’s okay,” emotion flowing back onto her face again, “I suppose I’ll have to get used to you being so forward.”
“That might be true,” I reached and placed my hand over hers, waiting for her to react.
“I suppose these are the things we must do in public now,” she said as she resigned to her fate.
“Sweetheart, just pretend I’m Rella,” I then brought my voice up a few tones, “Shannon, that boy is trouble!”
Shannon frightened me by suddenly snorting. Apparently, on occasion, that came with her laughter. Finally, she managed to control herself, “Come on, let’s dance.”
She stood up and waited for me to take her hand. I walked over to her and asked quietly whether I was supposed to leave the scepter at the table. She informed me that dancing with the scepter would be troublesome, considering I would already be guiding the blind.
We made it onto the dance floor sans-scepter without issue. We danced close enough to keep up our facade. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.
“I’m a salamander, by the way,” she whispered into my ear.
I pulled back slightly, “A what?”
“I’ll show you sometime if you’re lucky; it’s about this big,” she held her thumb and forefinger apart, “And being outside of water is painful, probably deadly… I’ve never tried it.”
I began picturing Shannon transforming at night, “Like a fish?”
“No, no, hmm… more like a tiny alligator with wet, smooth skin.”
“Okie dokie,” I replied. Good response…
“What about you?”
“A big bird. If you hold your arms out as far as you can reach, my wings are that big.”
“Sounds like you’d eat me,” she said with a grin.
“I doubt it,” I replied, “I bet Rella is something scary…”
We continued dancing and, speaking for myself, the moment was becoming increasingly pleasant, even if I knew she wished I was someone else. She continued to tell me about certain people attending the event as I described to her what they looked like. I became aware of Geray Rera’s propensity for sleeping with maids, a person who rocked a man or woman’s world sexually for money. There was also Seamus Taylor, who had been addicted to Lilypad since his bachelor days. I didn’t think there was anything I could do to affect Lord Taylor’s life that night, but if Rera’s wife didn’t know about his affection for maids, that was another story.
Once our feet and bodies were sore from dancing, we decided to take a short breather at the table before departing for the night. I left Shannon at our table, jokingly giving her “my” scepter for protection. I walked up and interrupted Sir Rera’s wife with a polite clearing of my throat. She was discussing what I assumed were important noblewoman issues but ultimately agreed to speak to me in private.
“What is so important that you drag me away from my friends, young man?”
“I apologize, Lady Rera, it is just that if I were in your shoes, I would want to know what I am about to tell you.”
Lady Rera stiffened. “Has he been gambling again? He promised to stop. Oh excuse me,” she said as she began to walk off.
“It’s not that,” I called after her. She stopped and turned around, so I continued, “I imagine it never was that.” I handed her the note I had drawn up back at the table and walked back to my new fiance. On the way back, I pondered if Geray Rera’s “gambling” was a lesser evil he had confessed to cover up his frequent visits to the maids. It would explain his sudden money loss and give him reason to be out of the house that late at night.
I reached our table and sat back down.
“His wife now knows,” I said, “One down.”
“He’s pretty friendly with the Trading Union, so that might be a decent sized blow,” Shannon responded.
“Good, good. Although, I’ll have to be a bit more subtle from now on. I wouldn’t want your husband being the rumormonger of the court.”
“That’s very true,” she said as we stood to leave.
She grabbed my arm and I led her out of my first nobleman event. I took one last look before walking out the door and leading her to the carriage. We took our seats inside as it began to make its way back to drop me off.
“So, that was nice,” I said.
“It wasn’t terrible,” she said, in a voice I could almost mistake for flirting if I didn’t know better.
“Yeah, your dad wasn’t too awful,” I said before we descended into silence.
Again, I watched the neighborhoods pass by. This time it went from the wealthy area, devoid of tension and struggle, to the slums that I knew much better.
“You know I do want to help, right?” Shannon said, breaking the silence.
“I care. This isn’t just about me covering up for me and Rella.”
“I’m surprised you care enough about my opinion that you feel the need to justify yourself.”
“Well, maybe it’s nice to have a friend,” she said, smiling gently.
Before I could respond a little black bird flew in through the window. It hit the inner wall of the carriage with a slight thud and in a few short seconds, Sledg was sitting there with a grin spread wide on his face.
“Finally!” he said, “This is the twenty-third carriage I’ve tried.”
“Oh, yeah, right,” he said, crossing his arms, “One of our informants is in trouble. Ace wants us there.”
“Well, have fun, Jochro,” Shannon said, “Stay safe.”
I smiled. “Do we hug goodbye or what?”