~ Hexday, 20th of Juvenis, 11831 ~
It was not widely known, and she did not confirm it if asked, but Perdita of Bladeren was fay. Her father was a changeling and had no close ties with Faery save for that being the land of his birth. His magic was weak, it was thought that is why he was left in this plane, exchanged for a human child, and it being unknown until the boy’s features changed gradually over the years. Hair lightening was one thing, eyes going from brown to grey were another. But by that point his new parents loved the child, and while they mourned the baby that was taken, this was no less their son.
Perdita’s magic, unlike her father’s, was quite a bit stronger.
So now, knowing that her mistress’s husband was taken into Faery, and it being Midsummer’s Night, she donned her cloak and went out to try and find him, hoping she would have some leverage with being their kin and at this time of the year. It was a small chance, but she found often that such chances favored her.
The Duc’s Forest was known to be close to Faery and was often where the borders of Spadé were said to begin. She had walked some of the trails before but never gone very far into the woods, feeling uneasy once past a certain threshold. Now she swallowed her fear and kept walking even after the feeling of being watched made her shiver and want to run back.
Finding a smaller clearing she saw a fée ring in the center—large mushrooms growing in a circle that seemed to emit a soft glow. Wishes were said to be granted to those that entered it.
So she did. She wished to know what happened to her master, where he was, and that he be returned.
Nothing happened. Perhaps she had asked wrong? The feeling of being watched was getting unbearable and she tightened her cloak around herself and tried to leave the ring, but could not move her legs.
An offering. She would need to offer something of value. But she had brought no coin or food with her.
“Please,” she said to the air, to the fée that were hidden in the other plane that could see her, but she could not see them. “I wish to know something, to help my lady. What do you want from me for this?”
“Prove you are of Faery,” said a voice on the wind.
She knew blood was taken as payment and even better still flesh. She had a small knife in her bag that she used to cut fruit. To think about it cutting into herself with it made her feel ill. But she could not leave the ring, and old stories filled her mind of those that had died after being trapped by unseelie.
She took out her knife. She kept it on her at all times, lying that it was to cut fruit, but was in fact for her protection. Her hand was already shaking and she brought it up to her arm. She did not know where to cut, and if they wanted flesh would she have to carve herself?
Her gouge rose at the thought.
She settled the knife against a finger, took a deep breath, and cut.
Red stained the ground, the mushrooms, and even the glow seemed to pick up the hue.
Her legs no longer felt so heavy that she could not lift them and she stumbled out of the ring. Her knees grew weak and she fell on the grass right outside of it. She clutched her hand to her chest and wrapped the wound in her cloak.
A woman came from the forest. The feeling of eyes on her lessened until she felt that this woman was the only one there beside her. It should have been a comfort but it was not.
She knelt before Perdita, reaching out and gathering some of her blood from her hands. Before she could protest the fée woman had put it up to her mouth to taste.
“You are fay,” she said, savoring the blood as if it were wine, “from both lines. And so for your blood I will answer your question.”
There was fée ancestry in her mother’s side as well? That would mean her cousins were fay too. Did they know?
“Jourdain,” the woman continued, “the husband of your mistress, is not in Faery. He was taken by fée, but only transported through the plane. He is dead, killed on your soil.”
“Dead! How? Why? By whose hand?”
“That I cannot say. I can show you though.” She smiled, stood, and began to retreat into the woods. Perdita scrambled to her feet and began to run after her.
After a time she realized they had made an arc and were now returning to the château from the other side.
Sabine woke to Aranea frantically trying to get her attention with both magic and by sitting on her cheek. She carefully reached up and grabbed her Familiar, depositing her on the bedside table before propping herself up on an elbow.
“What is it, ma cherie?”
“Jourdain has been found!”
This shook off all vestiges of sleep. Sabine sat up and lit the lamp at her bedside.
“Elwin and His Grace buried him in the dungeon some days ago. Somehow Lady Perdita found her way in and dug him up! She screamed and woke me!”
This has to be contained.
“Stay here. Hide.”
She grabbed an evening robe and rushed out without even taking the still-lit lamp. She knew the way well enough to find it in darkness.
The night was still. A servant walking with water for someone; a guard at his post. No rushing or panic. Yet.
Sabine did not slow down. If she could get to Perdita quickly enough she could kill the girl and resurrect her. Her memory would be fuzzy enough after being brought back that Sabine could coax her to bed, imply she walked in her sleep, and stop this. The body would have to be moved and the dungeon purged and cleaned.
The closer she got to the dungeons the more activity there was. A head guard was being dragged along the hall in his sleep-wear and she noticed Tibault heading in the same direction at a fast walk. The great doors to the lower levels were open when she got to them.
She was too late.
Sabine leaned against the wall, exhausted from the rush. While her cræft helped her appear and act young it was taxing to hold it under extreme conditions.
There were men’s voices coming from below. Yelling, shouting. A woman sobbing.
And then a shout she knew, that of her son.
She ran down the steps.
There were so many people here it was almost impossible to enter, but when they realized who she was she was let pass. Guards around the entrance held back the curious and horrified servants and residents. Inside the dungeon’s main rooms stood Vivien and Charlot. His Grace was also there.
Perdita was at the side of the room, being held by a pale Lady Elizabeth.
The men were talking in harsh whispers.
“He is bloody and his clothes torn, but you see no wounds on him,” Charlot said. He had been the first in the room at hearing his fiancée was found screaming. “Something is terribly amiss here.”
“I do not disagree,” Vivien replied. “But we cannot have this conversation before the whole of the court!”
“It is a bit late to try and send them all away! You and I both see this is a place of great darkness.”
“It is dark magic!” Perdita gasped out. “I—I was told that it was necrocræft!”
The term sent a hush throughout the room. And then the accusations began. Shouts, guesses, naming everyone from Wolfram to Renaud, patients who had been in the clinic (though they would not have been here at the time of Jourdain’s disappearance), or Perdita herself (Charlot turned red in his fury at this).
But before the future duc could defend his love, another voice rang out, “It was Elwin the fay!”
And this seemed to be too much for her son, and Vivien spoke up in his defence.
That statement condemned him.
“Then perhaps it is you who are the practitioner,” the guard said, moving over and grabbing Vivien by the collar.
Pierre moved between them and separated the men, shoving both to the side.
“Enough! It is ridiculous to stand here and accuse every single person you see.”
Tibault spoke up. He moved past Sabine and was allowed in with the other advisors. “If this is indeed necrocræft then all that must be done is to bleed those suspected. I say we all take a turn in a show of good faith and to eliminate ourselves as suspects.”
Without waiting for a reply he took a small knife from his boot and cut into his finger.
This would condemn Pierre. His Grace could not refuse, not such an offer, not when given so gently. If the guard had demanded it perhaps he could have gotten out of being ordered to shed his blood, but dear Tibault had made the suggestion and gone himself.
Tibault’s blood was red, and did not darken unnaturally, or smear black. As he moved the knife over to Pierre, who reached out for it with somehow a steady hand, Vivien took it instead.
He was the steward. He would stall. He would do anything for his duc.
Vivien, who was uneven tempered. Who was born with noircræft and practiced blancræft. Who could feel spirits of death, who could be a natural Suitor if he had chosen it. Who now for the first time in his life called the spirits of death to him. She felt them crowding around him, accepting him, filling him.
“Non,” she whispered weakly. No, not Vivien. Not her son. If he cut into his arm now he would bleed black and he would be condemned.
“It was I!”
Complete and utter silence. The people moved away from her and she strode over to the group of advisors and the duc, head held up with pride. Without pause, without looking at Vivien, or Pierre, or anyone, she took the knife and with decades of practice cut into her own arm.
The first rivulet was red, but even before the first drops hit the group it had darkened to black.
Silence. Then another shriek, and Vivien calling her name. Half of the advisors stepped away, and guards pushed themselves into the group. She felt her arms being pulled back and restraints on her wrist. Duc Pierre was looking at her wide eyes and a pale face, wishing to say something, but there was no pardoning this.
He finally found his voice. “Take her to her rooms. Lock her in, do not bind her. She is a Lady of Piques and this must be investigated.”
“Investigate? She confessed, her blood runs black! She killed Jourdain!”
Pierre did not reply to Perdita. The guards listened to their duc and she was taken, with a slightly more gentle approach, back to her chambers. Her hands were untied and she was guided to her bed before they left, shutting the door and locking it behind them.
Pierre did not sleep the rest of that night. Once dawn broke it would begin the Longest Day, Summerfinding, and he felt that the day would be long for many reasons.
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/