MAGIC AND MURDER
(
LETTERS OF AN ERPHERONIAN NOBLEWOMAN)

by Dalá'Valannía


"Magic and Murder" is a collection of epistles written by an Erpheronian Noblewoman to her sister, sheding light on the pleasures of the nobility in Voldar. Women's talk, gossip, you might say, but of the most entertaining kind... If you always wanted to know what's happening at Voldarian parties, here are all the details... - But wait, there is more: See behind the facade and discover how a deadly plot thickens...


LETTERS #1 TO #3

Letter #1 of the
14th of the Month of the Fallen Leaf
 

earest Brydda,

Sister, you will be glad to know that I am having a glorious time here in Voldar! I am excessively sorry it had taken me this long to write to you but I have not had a moment’s peace to myself since I arrived here. I have attended numerous parties already and it is only the first week since arriving! Imagine, if you had not had the misfortune to slip on that puddle of water and broken your leg, you would have been here in my place instead since it was you that Cousin Kyiri had invited to stay with her for a time in Voldar and not me. Was it not kind of her to extend her invitation to me once she was informed of your mishap?


Have they found out who had carelessly left a puddle of water just outside of your chambers yet? I must say it was so very odd but never mind, I shall tell you all about the wonderful things I have done and seen once I am home so you will not feel so very left out.

Cousin Kyiri is the most delightful person alive and her house is three times larger than ours and each room is furnished beautifully! My room is utterly ravishing with silk sheets for the bed and kept warm with burning stones during cold nights without the need for a fire.

Cousin Kyiri also paid a Ximax wizard for a charming spell that illuminates the entire mansion at night without need for candles. The spell was terribly dear but Kyiri tells me that it is all the rage presently among the highborns to have wizards lighting up houses during the evenings so that each one shines like a jewel.

Our cousin has over fifty servants at her bidding and she always knows the wittiest things to say. She is much prettier than you, Brydda, with an abundance of glossy dark hair, fetchingly piled up on her head to show her graceful, slender neck. She has graciously promised to send her maid to me in the morning to style my hair into an exact copy of hers. I am thrilled and almost cannot wait for the Injérà to rise tomorrow. Cousin Kyiri says my pale hair and blue eyes are very unusual and captivating. Absolutely ethereal was how she described me. I always did think I was very striking in my colouring even when you did not and on many occasions, remarked that I resembled a half-starved waif.

She has several suitors who madly adore her. Why, one even composed an entire sonnet, solely devoted to her big toe. He declared that her toe reminds him of the rarest pearl found in Baveras’s watery bosom. Is that not the most romantic thing you have ever heard?

Besides attending parties and balls, I have also made visits to see the Voldarian Public Garden, the famous statue of Queen Katya Ileri, the establishments along Dain street as well as the temples of Seyella and Baveras... and Etherus. Oh yes! The temple of the God Etherus! Are you gasping with my daring as you read this? Do not tell Father I have gone into one of His temples since you well know that he had sternly forbidden me to! I could not resist, dear Sister! Do not tell our aged Parent because if you do, I shall certainly inform him of the time when I caught you with the horsemaster in the stables.

You cannot believe how beautiful the statue of Etherus was, how handsome His face, carved in marble, was. I felt this strange heat low in my stomach as I gazed upon His magnificent features and I was quite in confusion! I had never felt anything like that before and it made me flush very fetchingly.

And, Brydda, the statue was completely nude! Everything was shown in perfect detail, everything!

I have to confess that I blushed even harder there and then and quickly averted my eyes until Cousin Kyiri told me not to be such a prude. She said I must discard my old-fashioned notions now that I am in the city and I quite agree.

I did refuse to join in one of the celebrations being held in honor of Etherus. I fear you would have been very much shocked if you had been there to witness for the celebration was held in a colorful chamber, draped in shades of delicate pink and pale orange. An inordinate number of people were in various states of undress or completely so. And not just naked, they were doing other… things as well.

Cousin Kyiri undid her dress immediately when a priest invited her into the celebration and one of participants, a very presentable man who was also divested of any stitch of garment came over to her and… I shall have to stop here, forgive me, for I ran out of the chamber like a silly country girl then. The man had very broad shoulders, I remember.

I cannot describe to you how mortified I was later when Cousin Kyiri found me waiting outside in the carriage, she was dressed once more in a lovely green gown with a golden belt that brought out the color of her hair, and laughed at me dreadfully.

I really must get over my prudishness for the men here prefer their women without such stuffy inhibitions I have heard.

And with that thought, I end this letter for I must to bed. Tomorrow, Cousin Kyiri has promised to bring me to her personal dressmaker so that I may make a new raiment. I have been invited to the Countess Hronia's ball two days hence! I am going to make a dress of palest gold, overlaid with a thin net of silver lace so that I shall look like the spirit of Dawn personified.

Your affectionate Sister
Clissa

P.S. Cousin Kyiri told me that a paste made from grounding the petals of the Jeshanna Lily can be beneficial for clearing blemishes on the face, exactly like the blemishes you have on yours that has plagued you since young. I will send a bottle of it to you next time.
 

 

Letter #2 of the 16th of the Month of the Fallen Leaf
 

y sweet Brydda,

How is your leg? I hope it is on the mend. Once more, I cannot help but remember that it is only through an unfortunate set of events that caused me to be residing here in Voldar in Cousin Kyiri's house and having such a marvellous time while you sadly languish back home in a dreary state. I do feel so guilt-stricken when I remember! Thus I have promised myself that I shall enjoy myself all the more so as to return with a wealth of descriptions to entertain you with.

After my misadventure in the temple, Cousin Kyiri brought me to a ball held by the Countess Hronia yesterday. Do remind me to tell you all about the Countess when I return home. She is the most scandalous woman that I have laid my eyes upon! Her neckline was cut so low that her bosom almost heaved out of her dress whenever she laughed. The men around seem to like her gown though for their gaze were riveted to her ample chest.


Kyiri does not like her for she says the Countess has the coarse manners of a peasant but admits that she always gives excellent parties.

When I saw her sitting on the settee, she had two young men, not much older than our Brother Xerius, hovering around. She had one sitting at her feet like an obedient mutt while the other was feeding her sips of wine from a jeweled goblet. All the other women cut her out completely from their circles even though it was her own party! If I had been her, I would be hideously humiliated!

The Countess has at least a dozen lovers they whisper and does not care a whit what her husband thinks of her numerous liaisons. But the Count is over seventy years of age, practically doddering, while the Countess is but three and thirty. I cannot envision being married to a man who is that ancient even if he is fabulously wealthy. The thought of having his leathery hands pawing at me makes me feel quite ill.

The women were dressed in the height of fashion and I was never so glad as I was thankful that I had persuaded Father to permit me to make three new gowns before I left! I would have died of shame if I had to appear at the parties wearing last season’s dresses that are so terribly outmoded. Furthermore, I am thankful that I had asked the dressmaker to make the sleeves of my new gowns with differing slashes of ribbon silks and with raised hems to display my ankles. You know how proud I am of my ankles and several gentlemen had complimented me on them, saying how refined and elegant they are.

Cousin Kyiri's dressmaker managed to complete my latest gown, the one in pale gold and silver lace that I have told you about in my previous correspondence. I piled my hair high upon my head in an excellent imitation of Cousin Kyiri's own style, with a few artfully twisted whorls of curls dangling down my neck to finish off what was a truly charming picture. And to add a final touch, delicate cerubells added into the folds of hair for a dash of color.

I quite outshone the rest of the women at the ball except for Cousin Kyiri, resplendent herself in a gown of deepest sapphire and long sleeves that touched the floor when she glided across it. I was sorry to have outshone the others but really, I cannot help my own beauty, it is Gods given, and furthermore I am quite modest about my attributes. I certainly do not flaunt it like certain females.

I shall stop my ramblings here now for my eyes are drooping and I am running out of parchment. It has been so wonderful so far that I am very loath to return to Father’s drafty house and his incessant complains of gout when the time of the visit is up. The blot you see here on the parchment is a tear, fallen from my eye, at the thought of leaving. Have I mentioned that a certain Someone has paid a darling compliment to my eyes during the Countess Hronia's ball, saying they were starry like the blue gemstones of dwarven mines and then he kissed my hand with a passionate fervor! It was so different from the time when Deoran slobbered all over my hand during the ball we had last winter! For one thing, the certain Someone had all his teeth intact, unlike Deoran. I cannot divulge who that Someone is, only that he is a Peer of the Realm and closely related to one of the Houses of Voldar.

Oh! I had almost forgotten! Something rather odd did occur of which I cannot quite discard entirely from my mind since it happened. It is nothing I am sure. And yet...

When I first arrived here in Voldar and on my way to Cousin Kyiri’s house that first evening, a commotion happened on the street. A fight between two drunken louts I believe and a crowd had gathered to watch and cheer like barbarians. Truly inconsiderate of them to hold me up so in my carriage! Lazy and slothful commoners as Father would say, always thinking they are the center of Caelereth.

As I waited impatiently, I then distinctly heard someone’s voice, it was muffled so I could not tell whether it was a man or a woman’s, speaking as if he or she was in the carriage with me! But I was most obviously alone!

I looked out the window at once but not a single soul was standing near the carriage except for a mangy looking cat and only the flickering lamps of nearby buildings winked back at me.

I cannot remember precisely what that disembodied voice said but I believe it was along the lines of, “You are in terrible danger. Leave Voldar now. Return and do not come back.”

Was that not the most peculiar thing to say? Even for a ghostly voice!

Leave Voldar when I had not even attended a single party or wore one of my new gowns? Whoever or whatever the voice had been, it was wholly absurd and preposterous!

I dismissed it, of course, as an illusion of my tiredness from the long journey. It must have been for I have no other explanations for it.

And there you have it, the oddest occurrence I have had experienced since arriving here in this city. Not handsome, ensorcelled princes asking for my help or put under a spell by a rival jealous of my loveliness and only a king could free me. How disappointing.

Send my love to Father and Mother and tell Xerius if he dares to read my diary while I am away, I shall burn his hair off when he is sleeping. I pray to Nehtor every day since I have been here that your leg will mend soon. I know it is good of me to do so. Do not think anything of it, I beg you. It is only what an affectionate sibling would do.

I shall forever remain

Your loving Sister
Clissa

P.S I enclosed a bottle of grounded Jeshanna Lily petal-paste along with this parchment. I am sorry I do not have enough coins to cover the cost of the parchment and the bottle and hence the messenger will get the remaining cost from you.
 


Letter #3 of the 22nd of the Month of the Fallen Leaf
 

ister Brydda,

I think you are very unkind. Your letter to me was particularly hurtful and I cried for hours in my chamber after reading it if you must know. I am perturbed that my Sister should accuse me so when all I ever wanted was an admirable skin texture for someone who is my own Flesh and Blood.

It is not my fault. I cannot be expected to be privy to the knowledge that the paste would have caused such an unfortunate and adverse effect when in contact with your skin. The merchant, an eminently respectable man I assure you, from whom I had obtained the paste did swear to me earnestly that the ointment was suitable for all skins, even one as dry as yours and with an ill-fated tendency to freckle. I had only wished to assist you for you are perpetually moaning about the spots on your face.
 

Moreover, I do not know why you are making this gods-awful fuss over a few welts and rashes. It is not as if the rashes will not disappear in due course. As for this bright purple sheen upon your skin that will not wash away…I am reasonably optimistic that the puce-like color too will fade, given time.

Honestly, anyone would have thought you had been scarred for life the way you screeched, yes, screeched at me in your letter! I wonder if Mother knows about the extremely unladylike words you had used for I am sure she will rebuke you most diligently if she did. I have sent her a copy of your letter for her perusal. The messenger should be arriving today at Father’s house even as I write this. I trust you will believe me when I say this is for your own good.

However, I am by nature forbearing and forgiving. Hence you will be reassured to know that I shall not hold you the least responsible for your words and merely attribute them to a brief malady of the mind of which I had noticed you are often prone to.

There, we are Sisters once more and I shall not blame you anymore for you know how deep my fondness for you is.

Cousin Kyiri was exceedingly sympathetic when I told her of the letter you had sent me. She made a gift of several trinkets to me to sooth my distress. How sweet and good of her! The merest trumperies, she said and laughed. Have I ever told you about her laugh? It is truly amiable like the rest of her. I am reminded of the chiming of bells when she laughs. I shall endeavor to practice a similar laugh in the privacy of my chamber.

I am sure you are avidly keen to know what Kyiri gave me. I shall list them for you so that you can share my gratification. A gold necklace with a finely cut garnet stone, a pair of garnet earrings to match, a silver bracelet inset with diamonds, said to have been forged by a master dwarf-smith and needless to say, very costly indeed.  

Clissa wearing with the emerald ring

View picture in full size Picture description. Clissa wearing the emerald ring she received from her cousin.  Picture from the game Mystical Empire™, used with friendly permission. Illustration by Faugar.

Lastly, our dear cousin presented me a ring from her own collection! An emerald cut in the finest order and possessing a lustrous sheen that bespoke its faultlessness!

Cousin Kyiri insisted I wear it immediately and said it suits me very well. I was naturally reluctant to accept such a veritable treasure but it is true, emeralds always accentuated my coloring to perfection. Furthermore, I would have been insulting our cousin grievously had I not accepted her benevolence so I had no choice in the matter but to take the trinkets with a good grace.

The emerald catches the light and flashes green fire from its depth most pleasingly on my finger as I write. I hope you are not jealous but I know you are not for you have been promised Mother’s pearls as part of your dowry when and if you marry. Do not listen to the servants' idle gossip. I am confident that the pearls are not dipped despite their curious lack of shimmer.

My life in Voldar has settled to an extent of dullness that would surprise you when you hear of it. You may laugh but it is quite wearying to attend an endless repetition of parties, dinners and constantly being surrounded by a dozen admirers, telling me that I am exquisite or that I am Baveras reborn into mortal shape, rose from the seas to walk upon the lands once more.

Now, I do not like to encourage blasphemy even when it is well meant but listen, only this very morning at Aether Covan’s domicile located in a very exclusive part of the city for a light luncheon engagement, a shaft of sunlight peered through the window and illuminated exactly the spot where I was standing. I was adorned in a gown the exact shade of sea foam with ropes of pearls in my hair.

Everyone present exclaimed in fulsome admiration and remarked how much like the Goddess of the Seas I resembled. Astonishing, is it not? I myself smiled modestly, as is proper, at the compliments and took great care not to boast for it would not do to anger the Gods for the feminine Ones are especially jealous when a mortal woman’s beauty surpasses Theirs.

You may also be interested to hear that I have attended my first city performance yester evening accompanied with Lady Celladyn’s two daughters. Tiresome creatures who think only of gowns, men and themselves but they are good for appearances so I bear with their tedious chatter. A traveling troupe of surpassing reputation was performing at the Theatre of the Queens, so named in honor of Voldar’s past female sovereigns. Cousin Kyiri had a headache and thus could not attend.

My dear Brydda, the stench from the commoners below was appalling, like nothing you can hope to imagine, although I cannot fathom why you would wish to imagine something so unpleasant, as we sat down in our box. A miasma of rotten eggs and stale sweat rising up to our level on the second tier. Good Gods, have they not heard of soap or scent? I had to hold my lace kerchief near my nose, scented with drops of costly perfume made from allia blooms, throughout most of the performance.

I cannot understand why some of them and even a few of the highborns would insist that such segregation of nobility and commoners is an archaic notion and should be abolished without further ado! I have no prejudice against the peasants, no indeed! In fact, last week, I very kindly dispense some thoughtful advice to a woman that she would be better off finding a decent occupation instead of lazily lounging about near Cousin Kyiri’s house, dressed in a highly provocative manner and with heavily rouged cheeks. She seemed to be on intimate terms with several of the men passing by who robustly hailed her as ‘Leaky Peg’, although she seemed not to be dispensing spirits or any type of liquids as far as I could tell.

So, as I have said, I am all for equality of status but I do wish only the commoners would not be so equal around me without taking baths first. Dwarves to their caverns and elves to their trees, as Father always says.

The troupe bard was the last and Lady Celladyn’s daughters went into a swoon over his dark, curly hair and brown doe-like eyes and then started a quarrel over to whom the bard had directed his attentions to when he was singing the ballad, ‘Lover’s Requiem’. Silly chits. A bard is still a bard without lands or a title no matter how pretty he is or how sweetly he chirps. What is more, it was obvious to all who had eyes to see that the little bard was looking at me when he sang the lines, ‘No matter how far apart we are, I shall love and think of thee’ and not at Lady Celladyn’s daughters. Both of whom had inherited their mutual Parents' plumpness and a singularly sallow complexion.

The reek of the unwashed peasants was unbearable by then and I had to excuse myself for air outside the hallway.

As I stood fanning myself outside, you will never guess who I saw coming from towards me!

Countess Hronia!

She was wearing a gown so tight that I was astounded she could walk in it, let alone breathe. Brydda, I cannot accentuate this to you enough times for I have discerned with much apprehension that you have the same propensity. But a woman who has red hair should never ever, under any circumstances, wear pink! Heed me well!

It was truly an awful sight, a quivering mass of pink, topped with red hair and dripping with ostentatious jewelry everywhere gilding towards me. I was wearing a stylish combination of pale blue and white lace with Cousin Kyiri’s emerald ring on my hand that had garnered sighs of envy from Lady Celladyn’s daughters when they saw it. A very elegantly understated and yet modish ensemble if I do say so myself.

She had another one of her lovers beside her, behaving in a shockingly outrageous manner as he leaned over and whispered something into her ear. As I watched…I do not know if the following occurrence which I am about to relate to you will be overly excessive for your delicate sensibilities but I feel I must tell you in order for you to comprehend the true extent of the Countess’s depravity!

The man, young enough to be a son, kissed her on the mouth and as they did, one of his hands went up to fondle her bosom! And she permitted this obscene familiarity and even giggled wantonly! For shame! I was quite discomfited to be belonging to the same sex as her then.

Nonetheless, I am more worldly by now, having been in the city for a spell, so I did not faint at this disgusting spectacle but merely coughed a little in contempt to enlighten the couple that they were not alone.

The Countess’s…companion did not stop his groping but they did stop kissing for which I was grateful. What a repulsive woman. I do not wonder that Cousin Kyiri dislikes her so!

The Countess Hronia turned to look at me and she has the strangest eyes… they are, well, almost colorless. Her irises were a pale, pale gray and a thin band of darker gray surrounding them. It was extraordinarily disconcerting to have her stare at me so. I could not think why I felt so except perhaps for the peculiar colour of her eyes. Otherwise she was another Voldarian noblewoman bored with her husband and seeks out hedonistic pleasure in the arms of younger men to alleviate that tedium.

Is that not what she is? Dearest Sister, I had thought so when I first laid my eyes upon her figure at that party but as she continued to stare at me, I became perplexingly hesitant.

“So you would be Kyiri’s latest,” the Countess said to me in a superior manner that I definitely did not care for.

“I am the Lady Kyiri’s cousin, your Ladyship,” I corrected her with what I hoped was a cutting tone of voice. How rude of her! Calling me Kyiri’s latest, latest… whatever she meant, I am convinced it was not meant to be an accolade.

She laughed odiously as if I had said something terribly amusing, which I had not.

Loathsome female.

“Indeed you are,” she replied and with her groping companion in tow, she brushed past me as I squashed against the side of the hall, wanting to be as far away from the two as I could manage. She would probably give me warts if I had touched her!

“A word of caution, little chick. There are forces at work that you cannot possibly understand and you would do well to leave. If you are wise,” she said to me as she turned a corner, a swath of revolting pink.

Detestable, draconian woman!

And the man with her… my hand falters as I continue to write, that is how overwrought I had been and still feel the effects even now. The lapdog had the audacity to wink at me as the two entered into their own box to continue gods-know-what degenerative debauchery there.

Are you breathless with indignity on my behalf yet as you read? I am sure you are for I was never as insulted as I was then! How dare that woman talk to me like that?!

When next I see her, I shall be sure to accidentally spill a glass of wine onto her person, right at that stuffed bosom of hers.

As for the things she said, I pay them no attention. Forces at work indeed! What sheer gothic drivel. Words of a woman whose vapid head is filled with gratuitous dissipation even as the signs of her age begin to exhibit themselves. If you had been standing next to me there, you would have seen the early stages of a second chin on her face. I found that to be exceptionally gratifying.

I hope she chokes on a bone.

Your fuming Sibling
Clissa

P.S I have had a thought. Mayhap the rashes would disappear swifter if you would abstain in your truly prodigious appetite for Thyslan spice cakes. And it would certainly help in reducing your girth. Voldarian men do not approve of a ponderous heaviness in their women.
 

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