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...


LETTER #6

Letter #6 of the 3rd
of the Month of Passing Clouds
 

rydda,

Now my dearest Sister, but can you scarce believe it? It is been nigh to three weeks since I have arrived in Voldar! So many things have happened betwixt this time that my mind is still rather befuddled with the wonder and excitement of it all.

Although I have written to you but a few days ago, I will give you the indulgence of another letter so soon for I am sure you are afired with much agitation to know of my fate after the little skirmish with a Dark Captor, who, most unfortunately, turned out to be a Craven Coward of the first order. To make matters worse, I confess to recognition, and pray do believe me when I say that I would rather not have this recognition, of this CC who so rudely accosted me on the way home.
 

Oh yes! Before it slips my memory, please do remember to pay the messenger upon delivery of this letter for I must conserve my store of coins and cannot be expected to spend it all upon missives to you. I happened upon the most adorable little hat in a quaintest little shop the other day. It is a gorgeous confection of ribbons and feathers and I must have it or die unfulfilled! Hence, you understand my need to be careful with my money for Father was ever so mean with his purse when I was coming here to Voldar.

Now, where did I end before? Oh yes, I believe it went something like this, ‘“You!” I exclaimed with righteous wrath at the craven coward as I pointed one finger at him and clutched my heaving Bosom with the other hand.'

Heaving bosoms not withstanding, I think I comported myself with utmost courage and grace in the face of relentless danger! Do you not think so as well? A lesser chit would have shrieked and ran off as my silly maid did. A pox on her I would wish for abandoning me to my fate when everyone knows it should be the servants to die first in the face of any dangers faced by their masters or mistresses in this case.

“Be quiet! Do you want to bring the city guards upon us? I swear, your screech would wake the dead,” my Craven Coward hissed at me.

The gall of this man! Not only did he ruin my second-best gown by dragging me through mud and goodness knows what manner of liquids spat out by the inferior creatures of this city, he is a rude scion of a _______ as well. Even drunk dwarves have better manners than him!

But I should have expected it. What exquisite manners would I expect from a... a plaything of Countess Hronia to have? Oh? Have I not told you yet of his identity? My sincerest apologies for this grievous oversight. Yes! You might gasp in disbelief as you read these lines but my sharp eyes deceived me not! The man who grabbed me was also a groper! And not just your ordinary peasant groper but THE groper that I saw groping Countess Hronia at the theatre the other day! Groping without ignominy, the brazen gropers! I tell you with deepest disgust that such grabbing gropers are overrunning Voldar. For shame!

I reiterate here to your sympathetic ear (or eye as you no doubt will be reading this letter for how does one hear a letter? I have often questioned over this little conundrum late at night I confess) that I most definitely do not screech! As a matter of fact, many have told me that my voice is as sweet as a night bird’s song.

“Unhand me, you insufferable knave! How dare you lay hands upon my body and sully me thus?” I told him in my coldest, haughtiest voice possible and you know how haughty I can be.

“You will hang for this, I swear by the last toe of Baveras’s left foot. I shall have you know that I am on very good terms with a friend of a friend who is a direct counselor to the lady-in-waiting of the Sovereign’s wife. The Sovereign will have your fingernails ripped out one by one until you beg for mercy for this outrage I assure you.”

To my dismay, he started laughing, albeit in a low tone and hardly seemed moved by my threat at all. Does the man have no sense of self-preservation whatsoever?

“You sound like one of those twits from a really bad story, you know that?” he observed, still guffawing away like a buffoon. "The ones where they're forever swooning while waiting for someone tall, dark and marginally handsome to seduce them in their best dresses."

I glowered at him as I contemplated hitting him over the head with my reticule that still dangled off my arm. But my lovely silk purse would be too soft and thus would not cause much pain and do believe me, dear Brydda, when I write here that causing pain, much of it, was foremost in my mind at that moment.

I did the next most excellent thing instead. I stomped him. Hard. Making sure the heel of my shoe gouged into the flesh of his foot.

“Ow!” He stopped laughing and yelped instead, giving me a disbelieving expression of much woe. “You kicked me!”

“Wrong. I stomped you. There is a difference. Now this is a kick.”

I demonstrated by lifting my skirts up enough for me to swing a kick at his knee. The impact was very satisfying indeed.

“OW!”

“And that is for ruining my second-best gown!” I told him with a fetching toss of my curls.

“You little minx! See if I care now when you meet your death! They told me I have to help you from that woman’s clutches but I said let her perish, a silly airhead of a noblewoman who thinks only of parties and gowns and in any case, anyone who has the misfortunate of sucking her life will probably end up with a rotten stomach but do they listen to me? Does anyone listen to me? Nooooooooo, no one ever listens to me. I’m just the resident scullery wizard-in-training at Ximax. It’s always, 'Alram, fetch this. Alram, fetch that. Alram, get me a pot of cha. Alram, the ink’s dry, we need more ink. Alram, we need you to go to Voldar and spy on Kyiri Adelia!'”

“Kyiri? You’re spying on Cousin Kyiri?! Why, you, you… Degenerate!!”

“Hey! No more kicking!” The Craven Coward, also known as the Groper of Bosoms also called Alram apparently, dodged rather nimbly this time from my swinging feet. “It’s not that kind of spying, you brainless social twit! It’s a Ximaxian magic spy mission! I mean it is a Ximaxian spy magic mission. Of sorts... well, anyway, rest assured, it's a secret mission of utmost importance and urgency.”

“Ximax?”

“You do not know what is Ximax?”

“Of course I do! I am not a brainless twit though you seem to be laboring under the delusion that I am. Ximax is that new cha-shop that just opened the other day on Branberry Street, yes? Oh they have the loveliest tasting peach concoction that you just have to try, it’s delicious, like a breath of spring! Marvellously light and sweet.”

(I really must interject myself here in my narrative. Brydda, if you ever have the good fortune as I have to visit Voldar, you must pay an appointment to this place. The prices will be costly but I assure you, it would do one’s status very well to be seen sipping a little cup in this most brilliant of establishments)

“Ximax is not a cha-shop! By the Twelve, I am truly atonished to see your brain has not dribbled out of your ears by now, seeing how most of it is mush.”

I stared at him frostily. “I do not have to stand here and be insulted by someone of your status. Though I am loath to say it but good manners, which you are obviously sorely lacking in, dictates me to bid you a good day, sir!”

“It’s night, not day, if you haven’t noticed.” Alram grabbed my arm and let go just as quickly when he saw my foot preparing another course of action against his kneecap.

“Listen to me. Just listen! Your cousin Kyiri is not who she seems to be. And Ximax is not a teashop; it is the City of Magic! The home to the mightiest beacon of sorcerous power since the time of the Chosen and greatest repository of all ancient lore of our lands. Brimming with magic, mystery, wisdom and intrigue!”

“Well, your Ximax can intrigue itself somewhere else. It all sounds dreadfully boring. Greatest repository of ancient lore? Bah! Who needs more lore and smelly old wizards who have food things stuck in their beards when they eat, I’m sure. Can lore help me choose the most precise arrangement of accessories which will compliment a butter-yellow silk gown to its pinnacle? Only the delicate hint of rosepink, not too dark and not too light, will suffice in such an important endeavour. Can all your Ximaxian lore do that? I think not! Besides, what would you know of magic anyway? I know you. You’re one of Countess Hronia’s gropers!”

“What? Oh, that. I had to insinuate myself into her graces somehow to find out what she knows about Kyiri Adelia. If a rat died in a gutter in this city, Hronia would know about it.”

“Oh ho, so now Hronia’s involved in this elaborate magic spy mission of yours?” I sniffed at him dismissively. At least he was more interesting as a groper and not as the Voldar version of a village idiot. Oh my, I am dripping with alliteration today, am I not, Brydda? Mother always said I had a gift for poetry even though Father thinks poetry is unseemly for women.

Clissa, the Foremost Poetess of our Age. It does have quite a charming ring to it...

Ah, but back to my little tale and leave dreams of incipient greatness for another day. Alram must have seen the disbelief from me at his words for he snatched up my hand and waved it frantically, my hand that is, in front of my face. “You want proof? Here it is!”

Back and forth, forth and back until I got rather seasick and cross-eyed.

“Yes, I shall need proof. Proof that you are not utterly and madly insane. Now return me my hand before you break it off!”

“The ring. It is the ring. Do you not feel something strange about it?” The madman insisted.

The ring? Could he possibly mean the ring that Cousin Kyiri had given to me for my very own? The flawlessly cut diamond set on a gold band that looks so well on my finger and sets off my delicate hand so beautifully?

“Yes, that ring. I see you know what I am speaking of. Have you felt a sense of fatigue lately? A certain laxity of spirit?”

I bit my lip in consternation. I have been feeling more easily tired of late though I ascribed it to exhaustion of attending a never-ending stream of dazzling balls and fending off persistent admirers. Maintaining my sparkling wit and extreme charm does take quite a lot of work but, but, to say the ring is the cause of my recent weariness and inertia is carrying it too far!

“I see you still do not believe me. Alright. Try to take the ring off. You will see that I am right.” Alram the Magic Groper said with a detestable look of satisfaction on his face.

“And I suppose next you will be telling me this is the ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them,” I muttered under my breath as I decided to do as he asked. As you know, Father always said we should always humor the mad for they are either peculiarly humorless or too full of it. Like the tenants upon his land who are forever always descrying to him that the taxes are too heavy and that they are starving. Nonsense, we always have enough to eat at the house so I do not see what the peasants are complaining about.

“One ring to what?”

“Never mind….” I said as I wrenched at the jewellery in question.

“….”

“Ow…”

“Something wrong?”

"Nothing is wrong.”

“The ring cannot come off,” Alram said and folded his arms smugly.

I glared at him hatefully. As much as I detest to admit it, he was right! No matter how I pulled and tugged at the horrible thing with all my strength, the ring would not come off! And any efforts to do so brought sudden, spiky bursts of pain as if someone was gouging a hot needle under my skin.

I put my finger near to my eyes, examining the band for any defects that might have occurred to prevent me from taking it off and as I did, I screamed.

“Quiet! Why are you screeching like a fishwife? I told you the ring will not come off!”

“It is, it’s…. growing on me! Ooooooooh, take this disgusting thing off, TAKE IT OFF ME!” I howled and stamped my foot angrily.

Brydda, it is almost too terrible to remember as I pen this down but I must not let my courage fail me now for I must let you know the awful thing that I saw.

The ring, somehow, had fused itself to my skin! I could see thin filaments of my flesh attached to the gold band of the ring!

“I told you, the ring will not let you take it off. Or not until the one who spelled it so wishes it. And I doubt your Cousin Kyiri would wish it.”

“Kyiri?! Why is she doing this to me?”

“The woman you know as your cousin is not really your cousin. Actually, I do not think she is really much of a human by now anymore. She is far, far older in reality.”

“Old? But Cousin Kyiri cannot be more than ten... twenty years or so older than I." I was going to say ten years but Kyiri does have a tendency to look rather haggard under strong sunlight. Tsk, if she only uses the concoction of lymmon and oranges I told her about upon her visage, the fine wrinkles around her eyes would not be that obvious.

The man heaved a sigh. “The masters at Ximax had been keeping their eyes on her ever since the rumors came to their ears. That a mortal woman had taken hold of the Ring of Osric. An object that bestows eternal youth and life upon its user. But at a terrible price…” Alram’s voice softened and hushed on the last word.

“What price?! Tell me!” I shrieked impatiently, clearly not in the mood for his amateur dramatics.

“Every hundred years, the wearer of the ring must replenish her youth and beauty or face the consequences of a magicked immortality. And she does so through the ring. It acts as a conduit by drawing on the life-force of the victim and transferring the energy to its master. At first, the victim will feel a constant lassitude and weakening of health until he or she will be taken to the sickbed. From then, the ring will draw more and more and more until there is nothing left except a dry husk. And Kyiri will be forever young, eternally beautifully, until the next hundred years come around that is.”

“A HUSK?! I refuse to be a husk! How dare she, how dare she! Oh False Cousin!"

The fury that infused my very being then as I heard Alram’s words, oh, it could have set off the entire range of dormant volcanoes of the Celeste Mountains to instant, scorching life! Suck me dry indeed! A husk indeed!

I drew myself as tall as I could and with a steely look at Alram, groper or not, I said all that was right and proper and heroic.

“So how do we stop this despicable, immoral, wicked hussy from turning me into a husk?”

(I have to scribble these last few lines, as you can see, I have no more parchment left. Ask Father to send me more coins so I may have money to buy more!)

Your ever brave, sweet and currently victimized by a magic diamond ring, Sister
Clissa


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