Richard's Story: The Fourth Part

Richard collapsed into a chair when Phillipa left, burying his face in his arms. He hadn’t been able to anticipate or stop his assault on Phillipa, but he could remember: the curve of her cheek, the shape of her lips, the line of her neck, every place his own lips had touched.

He rubbed at his eyes. Think about the spell. How did it happen? Bespellments don’t occur by accident. Who cast it?

Lord Simon—it had to be. Lord Simon was the only person Ric
hard had any dealings with who experimented with magic. Richard generally ignored magicians, even, especially Academy magicians; they were leftovers from previous centuries, aristocratic rabble desperately hanging on to fading privileges.

Magic was a dead end. Spells that lasted longer than a few seconds were anomalies.

Richard’s sister was one of the anomalies. And her bespellment could be traced back to Lord Simon.

Could that be the man’s motivation? Was the St. Clair family mere crude matter for his cruel tests? Or was his motive more prosaic? Richard was reluctant to declare Lord Simon’s home a historical antiquity. Was this bespelling revenge? A hope that Richard would bring scandal on himself, lose his job, be replaced?

Was the spell aimed at Phillipa? Phillipa through Richard? What did Lord Simon know?

Bastard. Bastard.

Richard slammed out of the office. He took the back stairs to avoid encountering any ministers, passing the occasional box-laden clerks. Their chatter seemed timed to the beat in his head: “Com-P. Did you hear the shellacking Minister Bertoll gave Roger? Lost the entire trade agreement. What an idiot—” Meaningless innocuous chatter.

Government might be stupid, obsessed with minutiae and ambition, but at least it didn’t alter a person’s will. People blathered about state control, but even the most conniving clerk had made himself that way.

I hate magic. In just the last month, the government had finally extended Justice’s writ; policemen could now arrest magicians who “actively and maliciously cause physical harm through non-consensual spell-making” which did not cover the real nuisances, the Academy magicians, unless and until “such spell-making results in public disturbance.”

The Academy loathed Lord Simon; he loathed them, but they would still defend him, defend their right to ponder the “meaning of truth beyond the sordid machinery of trades and politics,” as if the Academy heads never stopped to demanding government perks.

The Academy was changing. Stevenson, the new head, was more interested in medicine than metaphysics. Everything adapted, changed, improved eventually—Richard knew that about politics, about history. But he couldn’t be objective and farseeing over this, not with Phillipa’s unreadable gaze a floating image on his memory.

I’ll hurt him—before he has a chance to turn me into something.

Slow down. Richard didn’t know how he’d been bespelled. Magic was potions. Richard certainly hadn’t drunk anything at Lord Simon’s house. Except Lord Simon had developed other ways of delivering potions through other means. And the air in the mansion had been damp.

Richard reached the street; he didn’t stop to hail a hack but walked to Palisades where the old mansions covered the city’s central hill, the oldest mansions on the southern face. The Academy brooded at the top, a bloated antediluvian.

Richard was damp and chilled when he arrived at Lord Simon’s door in the darkening afternoon. He pushed pashed the noncommittal butler and mounted the stairs two at a time to the parlor.

The fire was lit, Lord Simon’s long form sunk into the armchair nearest the hearth. He didn’t rise when Richard entered but Richard felt the other man’s alert curiosity like pinpricks. Dark, fathoms-deep eyes, a curved nose, thin scornful lips: “a caricature of an aristocrat,” Aubrey called him, but that reduced Lord Simon to cliché and reducing Lord Simon to anything was a mistake.

“I know you still create potions,” Richard said.

“These days I focus on removal. Surely, your sister told you.”

A civil servant like Richard did not say, You lie to a nobleman. He wondered if Aubrey had ever said it.

“Removals are still potions.”

“Yes—but you stink of a love spell and those formulas are worlds apart from the ones I currently explore.”

Richard stilled, hands fisting in his pockets. “What does a love spell do?” he said.

Would he attack Phillipa again? Would he be forced to keep his distance, lose her to another department: his companion of the workplace, the one sane and secure part of his life?

Lord Simon was standing now, hands linked behind him, face jutted forward as he peered, amused, at Richard. “You surely know by now. Did the lady enjoy your advances?”

Richard flinched. He was not the master of the poker face; his consuming interest in his own work, in Phillipa, occasionally in his family, made him indifferent to others but not from any great self-mastery.

“No?” Lord Simon’s amusement grew. “Not a lady’s man?”

“Will it happen again?”

“Ah.” Lord Simon contemplated Richard, then turned back to his armchair, sank into its shadows where he rearranged his red brocade robe. Richard’s nerves stretched.

“No,” Lord Simon said, almost mildily. “Such spells burn off quickly. Who was the lady? Or man?”

“Was it you? Did you—infect me?”

“When do you suppose I infected you?”

“The damp air—I inspected your dump this morning—”

“Clever. If I were an Academy peon, it might trouble me that a civil servant understood potion potentiality better than his so-called intellectual superiors. No. If I mixed potions into the air, my butler would be in a singular state.”

Richard grimaced and rubbed his brow. Of course. He should have made that deduction. He was lost in memory, back in the office trying to read Phillipa’s expression: anger? resentment?

“How? When?”

“Love potions are usually drunk. Dosage and affect vary. 12 hours. 24. No more.”

“Who?” If not you.

Lord Simon didn’t respond. His long-fingered hands rested on his thighs while his face settled into stillness. He looked like an old Ennancian statue—one of those grim, stone kings that eyed the ocean from the Northern harbors. And then a smirk broke through.

“You know how much I value my home. Surely, you’ve come to appreciate its, ah, history and architecture.”

“I haven’t yet made my recommendation.”

“The most helpful recommendation would naturally earn my gratitude.”

“I’ll make the right recommendation,” Richard said tightly.

“Yes,” Lord Simon said, raising his eyes to Richard’s face. “I thought you might say that. You’re that kind of man.”

Richard turned towards the door, needing to get away from the close atmosphere, from eyes that seemed to watch him from the very walls. Lord Simon’s voice followed him like smoke from the fireplace.

“You must have been righteously appalled by your lapse. Did the recipient of your passion enjoy being the object of so much condemnation?”

He laughed—smoke made auditory—and Richard plunged out the door, suffused with self-loathing. He caught a hack on the edge of Palisades, arrived home after dinner. Gloria had come and gone—in great displeasure, Richard gathered from his butler’s raised brows.

He would have to apologize—grovel. He would be easiest to manufacture an excuse, to calm Gloria’s sense of personal trauma with deceit.

So much for ethics, for refusing Lord Simon’s implied bribe.

The cook warmed a plate and Richard sat in the dimly lit dining room, absently eating a thick and spicy Lucorey stew and not tasting it. So many people he’d hurt today. Gloria was unlikable but only in the ordinary way most people were unlikable. Whatever influence had led him to kiss Phillipa, Richard had broken faith with his fiancée. Now, he would lie to her.

What kind of man was he becoming? Gloria aside, did he really want to be that man?

As for the hurt he had caused Phillipa—Richard ached at all the possibilities. Phillipa’s expression: not anger, not resentment. Hurt? What woman wants to be told she’s a mistake? I only kissed you because I was bespelled.

Please let her be there tomorrow.