Rescue Remedy by T.O. Munro (Part Two)
Maia’s address took Elise to a well-to-do, if not quite affluent, street where town houses on either side clambered three storeys high, each floor overreaching its predecessor in a bid to claim more space than the building’s ground-level footprint. That unfettered ambition shrank the twelve-foot width of the cobbled street to a sliver of sky scarcely half that distance where the roofs of the houses nearly touched.
Elise knocked at the house opposite her customer’s and found it all but unoccupied. A terse old retainer said Master Rycard and his family had left for their country residence some weeks ago. Elise twisted her fingers in a painful, intricate gesture and was rewarded with a beaming smile from the servant, all suspicion of the scarred woman evaporating like morning dew. Malchus had used the same charm to secure favourable terms in a number of dealings and it was one of the first he had taught Elise. However, it was a risky cast; failure would inflame the target with outright hostility. But the spell held, and the old man readily acquiesced to Elise’s request to view the upper floors of his master’s property.
Chintz-shrouded furniture huddled in the receiving rooms on the first floor, slivers of light filtering through the slatted shutters onto polished floors dulled by dust. A cautious glance between the slats showed Maia’s windows flung wide in a bid for relief from the late gasp of summer heat. One window opened on a plush drawing room, the other a chamber with a four-poster bed as wide as it was long.
Elise pulled up a chair and sat to wait, alone with her thoughts. They were not amicable company, so it was fortunate that the targets of her surveillance arrived quickly. She heard them before she saw them, Maia’s laugh drifting up the gaps between the buildings.
“What a coincidence, Lord Tybert, you meeting us in the plaza like that.”
“A happy one, certainly, Lady Maia. I hope your sister is enjoying her first full day in Oostport.”
Nimetu’s reply went unheard as the party went into the house, but Elise did not have long to wait before the three of them came into the receiving room. “Jemima,” Maia shouted over her shoulder. “Be quick with that tanith brew. I am sure Lord Tybert will be required back at the palace shortly.”
“My mother will be expecting me, it is true. She is at her best in the early evening. This unseasonal daytime heat does trouble her so.”
Nimetu stood through this exchange, tugging the neckline of her dress upwards. She had changed clothes during the day, but seemed less comfortable for the transformation. The gown had little fabric to it, bare shoulders and ankles and a dangerously low décolletage. What material there was clung tightly to a body not long out of childhood.
“Oh, Nimetu,” Maia cried. “Stop fidgeting like that, you will tear the material. It is silk, you know.”
“Can I change, Maia? It is too tight. I feel…”
“Nonsense,” her sister snapped. “You look marvellous. It is a magnificent dress and it cost more than your entire wardrobe back home. A little gratitude please.”
Nimetu looked down glumly. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Go, go. Change if you must.” Maia waved her away and the girl fled gratefully.
The other two watched the door until it had closed firmly behind her and then shared a long look. Maia beckoned Tybert over to join her by the window. While she might have intended not to be overheard by servant or guest in her own house, the move brought even their whispered conversation well within earshot of Elise.
“What do you think?” Maia asked. “Is she not everything I promised.”
“She is an absolute delight,” Tybert agreed. “A prize indeed, and tonight you will give her to me.”
“Ah!” The single syllable brought a strangled gasp of anguish from Tybert.
“You promised,” he said.
“It cannot be tonight. I have not yet got the sleeping draught.” Maia spoke quickly, rushing over his disappointment like a mother soothing a child. “The wizened old herbalist will not bring it to me until tomorrow.”
“Must we wait?”
“Of course we must. She will be yours, my pet, and – if the cripple’s work is as good as has been reported to me – Nimetu will never know what has happened to her. When she wakes, I will tell her merely that she has been ill. You will have to be careful to leave no marks other than those I can explain away to my poor gullible little sister.”
“I want this as private and as secret as you, my delicious love. You don’t want your mother to know you helped me debauch your sister; I don’t want my mother to hear more than she needs to of my particular tastes between the sheets.”
“I always fancied myself as the brothel madam, inducting and corrupting young girls. Perhaps I missed my vocation.”
“Not by much.” Tybert’s coarse laugh ended abruptly when Maia’s open hand hit his cheek.
“Do not presume on my good humour, Tybert. I’m not a whore. I never was.”
“Of course not, my love. No, never,” Tybert hastily apologised, stroking his jaw.
“Tomorrow night you shall have your prize, provided you can be a good boy until then.”
Elise trembled with a rage bright enough to scare away the ever-louring clouds of futility and worthlessness. This would not do; it could not be; but how could a crippled herbalist and part-time purveyor of forbidden magic prevent it? Who would even believe her if she told them?
“I cannot wait too long. The abstinence is terrible. It pains me, Maia. It pains me here.”
“Your blue balls will just have to wait, Tybert. I have told Jemima and Henry to take tomorrow evening off. We will be alone in the house. From eight at night to eight in the morning, Nimetu will be entirely at your disposal – unconscious – but then, you like that, don’t you, my love?”
Maia stepped closer to Tybert. Barely an inch separated them, each inhaling the other’s aroma. “I will try not to mark her too much,” he said thickly. “I will try.”
The couple sprang apart as a fit of coughing and a knock announced the maid’s arrival. There was still a pause before Jemima entered, weighed down with a tray of cups and tanith brew. She must have been well inducted in her mistress’s ways, making every effort to avoid walking in on anything untoward.
As they drank, Elise took her leave of maison Rycard. Her mind wrestled down the distractions of both rage and futility, fired by a determination that this creature called Maia, this parasite on the years poor Rancine should have had, would not be allowed to ruin her own sister.
END OF PART TWO