“One can’t have too many enemies.”
I whistle, appreciating the news that Fae has royal blood, even if she is just a distant relative. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. “At least that explains why you are so adamant about dress codes and appearances. I was wondering why a soldier would know so much about the upper ranks of society.”
Fae looks away. “Ah, yes. I joined the military to escape that. Fifty years of putting up with high society produce rebellious thoughts in everyone.”
Alias pulls his lips into a thin line. “Fae, I would like to talk to you, alone. There are some important things which we have to discuss.”
I wave him off. “Don't worry. Fae has a very good non-disclosure contract with me. She can't tell you anything, even if she wanted to. And I've made sure that you can't turn my people with your mojo.”
The spymaster ignores me and keeps his attention on Fae. “It's not about what Fae can tell me, it's about what I can tell her. But such discussions can't be held in a public place like this one.”
Fae sighs and squeezes my hand. “I guess it can't be helped. I'll make sure to inform you of everything he told me.”
Well, damn! There goes my second shield. What did I do to deserve this. I sway my glass and gesture for her to go with Alias. “I’ll endure. Though, I am sure that he will just rant about how dangerous I am, which will be nothing new to you.” Smiling, I raise my glass and watch their departure.
If this whole thing wasn't staged, then I'll abstain for a week from drinking this addicting fruit juice. I search the crowd, expecting to find the vultures closing in on me. And indeed, a man in fancy clothes is making a beeline for me. That didn’t take long. Instead of staying put, I decide to make it harder for them.
At an opportune moment, I join a passing group of people and fight my way deeper into the crowd of guests. Prince Gregor didn't hold back in giving out invitations. There must be at least five hundred people inside this hall.
I touch the amulet on my chest and search for the energy signature of a certain person. While doing so, I cut a straight line through the ballroom. It would be surprising if Zane and his old man aren't here. Unfortunately, their absence would also mess up my plans for the evening.
Ducking, I pass under the silver platter of a servant and weave past a group of talking people. The servant performed a little miracle when he avoided colliding with me. Though, the little commotion behind me is a clear indicator that he ran into someone who was right on my heels.
There is a certain problem with blackmail and intimidation. It doesn’t work if the offender doesn’t get the chance to threaten the victim. Not that I would care about anything they have to say, but it would be troublesome to face such people on my own. I have no intention to talk to anyone without having a witness.
I am about to turn around and circle back, when I recognize the aura which I am searching for. Zane is standing on a little bridge which allows the party guests to pass over a little indoor pond. The pond is located in the far left corner of the ballroom. It looks a little displaced, but some of the amphibian beastkin seem to need the water. A mermaid is floating in a relaxed manner on the pond’s surface.
The bridge is elevated and allows Zane a good view of the ballroom. He is clearly looking for someone. I stealthily move through the crowd and step onto the bridge. Zane doesn't even care about the clicking of my heels on the dry wood as I approach him. His full attention is on the crowd. His hands are on the bridge's balustrade, so I sneak and arm beneath his armpit and link arms with him.
“Hi, handsome, are you looking for someone?”
His whole body turns rigid and I swear that he would have jumped, hadn't I held onto him. He spews out a colourful curse which I leave better unrecorded to spare future generations. “You know very well that I was looking for you. Your excesses on your office’s balcony left little doubt that you know that we have to watch you.”
I moan. “Then watch me! Men are such perverts.” And a sudden idea flashes through my mind. “Where is your Daddy?”
He slaps a hand onto his face. “Somewhere in the crowd, looking for you.”
“Too bad, I still have a free arm for him,” I pout. “You could take my right arm and the old man can have my left.”
Zane looks horrified, which is the reason why I am behaving like this. The past week gave me plenty of opportunities to judge his character. There is much to learn by observing a person in a closed environment like a ship. The way he treats his crew and – most importantly – how his crew acts towards him. Watching him was enough to tell that he is living by a strict moral code. Otherwise he wouldn’t have tried to avoid all the little treats I was offering him through his spyglass.
“Why are you doing this?” His voice is a little edgy and he tries to pull away, but I sink my fingernails into his clothes, not letting go.
“Don't worry. You are so cute and innocent, no woman would want to pop your cherry. I like women, by the way.” I pat his arm to reassure him that there will be nothing between us.
“Then why?” he asks.
“Because I was invited to this party for a reason. People want to be seen with me. Some want me dead and some want me alive. Preferably in a master-servant relationship. They will stop at nothing to get what they want and I will stop at nothing to get what I want. That's why you are my date tonight.” I lean against him and give my best to look like a woman in love.
“Hah!?” The poor man is totally out of his game.
I lean closer and whisper, “Don't you get it? You are the only one in this party who isn't supposed to make a move on me. You are the one person who is supposed to stay at a distance in order to watch me. Hence, I can create the most mayhem if everyone thinks that you hooked up with me. They will accuse you of following your own agenda. And as the stupid, low born maiden, I obviously fell for the first man who showed interest in me.”
He tries to push me away without causing too much of a commotion. “Let go. You have no idea what you are doing. Do you even know what your presence is doing to the Alliance?”
I don't let go and push my chest against his arm. “If you don't stop, I'll kiss you right here and now. Then I'll make a scene which will be worse than allowing a few rumours to spread. You'll stay with me and act as my shield against the royal dimwits who think that they can use me. If I already have a date, there isn't much they can do without losing face.”
Zane stops his struggles and pulls me closer. Instead of looking annoyed and shocked, he focuses his attention on the crowd and smiles. “You are going to pay for this. I have no idea how and when, but you are so going to pay. It will be humiliating and it will hurt.”
“I have no doubts about that.” I grin. “If you behave, I might even do this the decent way and all you will have to put up with are rumours.”