~ (Continued) Hexday, 18th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
After a few moments, instead of turning into the restaurants or to the theater, Lizzy ducked into a smaller side-street. She had seen this place while out with Pierre and Síofra last time, but had not had the chance to mention it.
“Where are we going?” Pierre asked.
“She will tell our fortune,” Lizzy said, rushing ahead of him in her excitement. At her home there was a only a small town near the comte’s residence, and such nuances were not yet something she had seen much of. To be honest Pierre himself, while having heard of such from the other boys who went home for breaks, had not seen such a thing either.
“And you know this how, my lady?” he asked, catching up to her.
“I have been places other than home and the castle, you know,” she replied. “Maybe I have already been told my future before.”
He would have liked to call her out, but something about her tone made him think it was not a lie.
The building was dimly lit, one of the lamps near it flickering while the other was not lit at all. Several men and women, dressed for an evening out, were waiting. Pierre and Lizzy took their place in the group, greeting others. No one yet recognized the duc and his lady.
“Bonne nuit, monsieur, mademoiselle! I have not seen you before at Madame Veriette’s.”
“We have not yet been to one of these events,” Pierre replied.
“Ah, then you are in for a treat!”
Half an hour later, even more coming to stand and discuss with other, the door finally creaked open of its own accord. Most of the people laughed, took it as part of the fun. One suggested a string that had already been untied and pulled away, but Pierre noticed a statue by the door. It blinked.
“Welcome one and all, people of Triumphe. Tonight the Madame will be accepting the company of a dozen! Form a single file and wait to be chosen.”
There were more than twice that amount of guests in the lobby at the moment. They formed a line, trying to guess where best to stand. One couple decided to be on either end so that perhaps at least one of them may be taken in. Elizabeth and Pierre were stuck somewhere in the middle, next to each other, and she took his hand.
“Do you know what happens next?” Pierre asked. The room was lit with perhaps three candles and it was hard to see. The voice had been coming from somewhere in-front of them, but no man stood there.
“Non, I do not,” she whispered back. “When I went in Eichel it was one woman that looked at my hands and told me I was likely to be doing noble work. This is much more.”
The few candles flickered. All at once everyone hushed and Pierre felt as if he had to be quiet, even if he wished to continue talking. It was almost as if a hand was pressed to his mouth but when he reached up there was nothing there.
This was not a mere parlor trick; this was magic.
The creak of a door sounded to the right and most turned their heads in that direction. Flickers of white caught the light and someone called out that it was moths. A dozen, in fact, white and grey, flying over to those that waited. Some flew straight to a person, sitting on their shoulders or collars, others hovered for a moment trying to decide. A woman laughed hysterically, both at being chosen, and at having the insect land on her hair. Elizabeth made a similar noise and Pierre glanced down to see a moth had landed on her outstretched hand.
A light fluttering hit Pierre’s cheek and he reached up to also find a moth now clinging to his cravat.
“Those of you who were chosen, please follow your guides.”
On cue all of the moths rose into the air and back to the door they had come from. Pierre reached down to squeeze Lizzy’s hand and the two left with the other ten.
“Be careful, dear, I will wait here for you.”
Through the door, down a hall. Only every other candle was lit to keep up the appearances of a dark and sinister evening. The people crowded together, most thinking this harmless, but still wary at the chance that this was more. A single moth was still visible before them.
The hallway opened up into a great room, a large round table waiting with thirteen chairs pulled out, a dozen around the outside and one main chair at the other end. The men guided the women to seats before taking their own, an even number of each sex. Pierre sat beside Lizzy and another woman on his right, almost opposite of the thirteenth empty—
No, it was no longer empty. A woman was sitting before them all, waiting to be noticed. She wore a veil and shawl that hid much of her appearance, the darkness did the rest.
“Bonne nuit,” she said, and silence came upon those at the table. Lizzy held her fan in her hands and Pierre could not help but tighten his grip on his cane.
“I see some new faces, and some old friends,” Madame Veriette continued. “I wish to assure you all this will be perfectly safe as long as my commands are followed exactly. Tonight’s events are perhaps a little more elaborate than other nights, but it is a special occasion—the young prince Ancel’s birthday. He is not in the city currently, but up at the castle Victorieux. I wish him all the best this night and for the next year.”
A polite clapping at this.
Veriette then reached up to her hair and pulled out a pin from among her curls. With precision she pricked her middle finger and then held out her hand to the center of the table, palm facing upwards, within everyone’s view. A bead of blood grew and rested at her finger’s tip. The room became cool, a draft coming from unseen spaces and chilling everyone seated around the table. The few candles in the room were extinguished. Pierre did not feel Mora nearby, but the spirits in the room were not too unlike hers.
The only light in the room was now that of the waning moon though a small window, a stripe of moonlight landing right at the fortune-teller’s hand.
A moth, it seemed one of the dozen that had brought them in, seemed interested in this and flew twice around the palm of the madame, but did not sit. It hovered in the air, then flew between the guests.
A servant stepped out from the shadows and laid a large candle in the center. He lit it, and in the new glow one could see that the drop of offered blood had becoming a small pool. She had pricked herself quite deep. The blood, though, was red.
The moth returned, having darted around each guest, fluttering in someone’s hair, and landing for a moment on a cheek. This time it sat on the wrist of the woman, walking slowly to where the candle-light called it, and began to drink of her blood.
The moth was white and beige but now as everyone watched the wings changed in color and size, becoming that of a monarch butterfly. There were sounds of approval and interest as the wings began to change again. They were then blue and bright, and yet another form after, with great owl-eyes. When the wings had settled on those of lunar moth it flew from her hand and straight into the candle-flame. Gasps sounded in the dark as the insect caught alight, still trying to fly, but it only burned a moment before falling dead in front of Pierre.
A polite murmuring and soft applause began. Those around the table studied where it had fallen, what position it lay in, what wings it had finally decided on. Some, who seemed to come to such events often, guessed with their limited knowledge what it would mean.
“You are our new duc, oui?” the soothsayer asked him. Pierre nodded. He could not look away from the smoldering remains of the moth. He felt sick from the smell, but also curious as to the display. Could he perform this cræft? It was certainly not blancræft, which left noir and necro-. Mora had not taught this manner of future seeking, but surely he had the basic understanding if it seemed to similar to his own.
“You shall continue to have a life of knowledge and secrets.” The soothsayer was speaking to him. He looked up but decided to stay silent. She continued, “Yet it will be filled with others, confidants and loved ones, some of whom are aware of what you try to hide, but accept it.”
“Merci, Madame.” It was vague, ‘secrets’ could apply to a number of things, especially with his station, but a chill that made the hairs on his neck stand gave doubt to whether this was mere guessing.
“The wings are together and it lies sideways, facing the south,” the soothsayer continue. “Do you have business there?”
“I have come from the north,” he said. “So even now I am further south than I have been in quite a time.”
“Ah, perhaps. But I believe there is more to come.”
The dead insect was taken by a servant, and the madame wiped the blood from her hands. What stained the table was left.
The fortune telling continued, both vague enough to be dismissed by the skeptics, and yet with the occasional insight that spoke of this woman’s power. It was not as grand as the first showing, but continued to impress him. She used her blood and moths, and he could not tell from the feeling in the room whether it was necrocræft, noircræft, or a fée’s magia. Perhaps it was all of them.
Support "The Courting of Life and Death"
- Macabre Fantasy Romance
I write dark things that involve magic and romance. I love books and stories, and anime and gaming. I'm trying to Catch 'em All, I collect geeky pins, and listen to a lot of true crime podcasts.
The subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/Noctuina/