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 #4 of the 25
th of the Month of the Fallen Leaf

ear Brydda,

I have received a missive from our good Brother, and learned that Father is somewhat displeased with me of late for Someone has been giving an erroneous impression to our Parent, regaling him with false tales of me spending far too much money on new gowns and trinkets as well as indulging in frivolous pursuits unsuitable for a young lady of my years.

Xerius too has written that Father has been considering asking Cousin Kyiri to send me home. Well. I am comforted that I still have one sibling who has my best interests in his heart. I have always thought that our Brother was a fine, upstanding, worthy young man, unlike a grievously petty and jealous Other who has a dismaying tendency to kiss lowly stablehands in a stable. I am sure you and I know who the Other is, and there is not a need for me to name her openly within the pages of this letter.

And if you...I mean, if She does not desist in such unfounded rumors of my behavior in Voldar, then I am sure Father will also be very interested to know who it was that had, shall we say, borrowed Mother’s best ring last summer and proceeded to lose it in the pond behind our estate and afterwards blamed the loss on the new maid, causing her wrongful dismissal from the house.

Undoubtedly my concerned family is worried that I have been led astray by malicious miscreants but let me lay their fears to rest and prove that the accusation of a frivolous lifestyle, detrimental to my moral behavior, is entirely unfounded.

Know this, my dear Brydda, and try not to gash your teeth together with spite as I know you are wont to do and it is a very unbecoming sight, I have recently been extended an invitation to join The Society of Voldarian Ladies for the Betterment of Tavern Wenches!!

Headed by the exceptionally respectable Lady Liss who belongs to one of the Ruling Families of Voldar and is famed for her charity towards the Foundation of Wizardly Orphans, Organization for Bereaved Women who have lost a Beloved Pet as well as being the illustrious founder of The Society whose sole purpose is to educate our less fortunate Sisters in the proper mode of Tavern Attire! Is this not truly exciting?? You cannot comprehend the honour I have been bestowed upon by this invitation for only the ladies with the most impeccable and unvarnished reputations are considered for membership!

Why, only today, I have participated in my first assembly as a distinguished member of The Society as we sallied forth to a disreputable establishment, uncaring of the extreme danger posed to us by licentious men, bound to be stricken and overcome with lust when confronted by our purity of spirits and chaste auras! Nonetheless, peril to our fragile selves was secondary to the enriching thoughts and noble aspirations of having the chance to bring much needed enlightenment to our downtrodden and sadly ignorant working Sisters.

Ah, Brydda! I am sure you would have a longing to see Lady Liss breezing through the door of the tavern with great aplomb. Now if only I can dissuade her from wearing purple for it does nothing for her figure and complexion but I digress.

As you can imagine, the men inside the tavern were very much taken with our appearances and strength of purpose for not one of them uttered a word at our entrance! One fellow was in the midst of taking a sip of the foul brew they served in the establishment and stopped, his ale mug on the way to his mouth as he stared at us while another, a slovenly garbed individual who smelled like he had not touched a tub of water since Queen Katya’s days, even sprayed out the mouthful he was presently imbibing into the air. I do not like to brag but indeed, The Society must have been a wonderfully awe-inspiring sight for those reeking, unshaven lot.

Lady Liss has the voice of a born orator if a trifle booming and it makes the loose flesh on her cheeks jingle so unattractively. She magnificently harangued the men for their indecent groping of the poor Wenches and volubly chastised them for their inexplicable fixation and insistence on flimsy low-cut blouses to be worn by all Wenches and thus, creating a mass market for this continuing obsession which in turns imprints itself onto avaricious, proletarian tavern owners who, consequently, fiendishly forces the women under their employment to visually mold themselves to conform to this perceived ideal that these males have of a Typical Tavern Wench in the hopes of attracting their patronage. Such a heinous thing you have never heard! I was quite in tears and shock when Lady Liss had first informed me of this shameful exploitation!

I cannot tell you how proud I was to know that I now belonged to such a worthy cause and to take my place among these ladies fighting for the rights of Wenches everywhere to wear proper barmaid garb, to break themselves free from the disgusting, salacious fantasies of the common men!

One of the Members has even kindly designed an archetype of a Morally Decent Wench Dress which consists of a high collar, long mutton sleeves and a slight flare to the floor-length skirt for that dash of added fashionable flair. The color chosen for the gown is a thoughtful dark mud-brown all over so as to hide any spilled ale and other less savoury stains.

As a gesture of our determination to bring about awareness, The Society then graciously handed out copied designs of the Wench Dress to all the girls working within the establishment. One of them rather impolitely crumpled the parchment into a ball and tossed it into a corner with a coarse laugh and muttered about silly, whey-faced noblewomen who cannot wipe their own bottoms (I blush here at her indelicate choice of words) with a silk kerchief without help.

But I took no offence at that for there are always some bad seeds within a pickle. Unfortunate but true. The other Wenches accepted the parchments and merely stared at The Society with their mouths slightly gaping open. I cannot say I find those blank looks of flabbergasted incredulity they adopted appealing to the men who patronised such places but then, the taste of the lower classes has always baffled me.

So! Father can rest his aged head easy for I am not indulging in frivolous activities as he had feared and there is absolutely no reason for him to send a missive to Cousin Kyiri for my return.

As for Cousin Kyiri, I regret to say that although she seems as delightfully convivial as ever to outsiders, I have detected a note of growing indifference in attitude towards Yours Truly the last few days. As a matter of fact, I have spied several looks of coolness directed at me from our Cousin when she thought I am not looking. Futhermore, yesterday morn, as I tripped down the stairs with my usual instinctive grace for breakfast, Kyiri remarked that I should never wear green as it brings out the flaws of my complexion!

I begged to differ with her, telling her that, no indeed, this particular shade of bronze-green suited me most becomingly!

Kyiri merely shrugged and turned her attention back to her cup of rosemint cordial, ignoring my further protestations.

I bravely try not to let this worry me but a sliver of hurt has penetrated my tender breast. How could Kyiri say such a hurtful and false thing to me when previously, she has always been all praise about my looks and choice of wardrobe! And this careless comment was but only one out of several unkind comments she had directed to me ever since I returned from the Theatre of the Queens that night and told her of the inane chatterings of Lady Celladyn's fat daughters I had to endure, the rather ghastly dancing by the troupe, the little curly-haired bard and my meeting with the Countess and that extra appendage which had been attached to her bosom, thinking these little anecdotes would amuse her vastly.

On the contrary, once she heard of my meeting with the Countess Hronia and as I related to her what the dreadful woman had said to me, Kyiri’s face grew most forbidding until she looked positively hag-like and she did not seem so pleasing in aspect anymore under the wizard’s light. There was an inexplicable and unpleasant sensation of pinching needles on my right hand and involuntarily, I drew back from our Cousin but then chastised myself for being a silly ninny. An overworked imagination as Mother would say.

Naturally I assumed her change in demeanor was due to anger at the Countess on my behalf but as I continued, Kyiri stopped my narration with a hiss and told me, in an exceedingly and unnecessarily curt and harsh tone, that under no circumstances am I to speak with Hronia again or she will pack me home with nary a word!

Then she swept out of the chamber, leaving me absolutely astonished and with no chance to inform her that it was certainly not my inclination to have been accosted into an unwanted dialogue with the Countess.

I very much fear I know the reason behind this newfound recent hostility from Kyiri and it pains me grievously for I dislike conflicts of any kind due to my pliant nature. And yet, what else can it be? I fear Cousin Kyiri’s resentment stems from a sense of jealousy for one of her suitors, the same who had composed a sonnet to her toe, has changed allegiances, so as to speak, to a dffierent side of the camp and has composed a new work, entitled, ‘Ode to Her Swan-like Neck’. I blush to admit it but yes, it is my neck that has inspired this most accomplished of poets. I daresay he is much enamored with me and my neck and hence, Kyiri’s ire with me.

You cannot begin to understand my sorrow and the responsibility placed upon my shoulders but alas, Brydda, it is inordinately hard to be an Acknowledged Beauty and the object of envious bitterness by her fellow sex.

Nevertheless, I bear my burden with equanimity. I can do no less.

Something unusual now crosses my mind as I sit here at this desk, writing to you. As soon as Cousin Kyiri went out of the chamber, the soreness from my hand vanished and a strange lassitude occupied me instead. I do not know what to make of it. I do hope it is not advanced rheumatism.

Your Sister in Voldar

P.S. I have neglected to mention - but tomorrow, The Society has decided to stage a standing protest in the center of Voldar, where the Count’s castle is situated. I do not know the full name of the place. I think no one does, everyone just calls it ‘The Count’s Castle’. Some of the Members will be bringing chains so as to wrap themselves onto the Statue of Queen Katya Ileri that stands in the yard of the castle grounds with in order to detract any soldiers from wishing to remove our presence. I am considering wearing a nut-brown gown, adorned with bone buttons and trimmed with wolverine fur. The square neckline flatters my neck beautifully while allowing me a serious mien, suitable for a serious demonstration.


Letter #5 of the 31st of the Month of the Fallen Leaf

ear Brydda,

A simply astounding thing has happened! I can scarcely believe it myself. I do hope for your sake that you are sitting down or reclining when you read this for I cannot be held responsible for another of your mishaps should you fall down in a swoon and break another of your legs.

As for the news which I shall shortly impart to you, I must reiterate that I had no notion whatsoever that my frail but shapely Body had inspired such affections in another for, as you know, how modestly retiring I am when it comes to the Marriage Mart. Unlike some unfortunates who practically hurl themselves at the nearest uncommitted bachelor in hopes of securing a Title and Position in polite society. I find myself clucking in mortification at such shamelessness and immodesty and thank the Gods that I do not have to resort to such brazen tactics to secure a future spouse for myself.

And my news that shall surely astound you greatly is that…I have received a Proposal of Matrimony from Sir ______ of ___________!!!

Forgive me, Sister, that I cannot divulge his name in this letter for fear of prying eyes. I shall tell you of his identity once I am returned home. Be content for the moment to know that he is a most respected member of Voldarian society and a third cousin, twice removed, to the current Head of the House Lothari. He is balding, in his fifties and a widower. His first wife, Lady __________, passed on after an adverse incident with a bad clam, I have heard tell. The man was, by all accounts, devastated and could never eat or even glance at a clam, be it bad or good, after that.

I was sitting demurely with one of Lady Celladyn’s daughters during Countess Mhera’s mourning memorial for her pet ferret when Sir _________ came up to me and begged that I momentarily retire with him to a discreet corner as he had something he wished to impart that was for my shell-like ears only.

Although he is bald, I agreed to his request for he is still a third cousin twice removed to a Voldarian Council Member and so the two of us retired to behind a rather large and leafy potted fern that shaded us from inquisitive eyes.

Upon my word, I did try not to stare at the balding patch, sadly ill-concealed by a few wisps of graying hair on his forehead, overly long but I am afraid I may have failed for it was so very shiny…

Then, with a sudden motion that surprised me from my subtle scrutiny of his head, he grasped my hands with a desperate fervor (I do wish he had not such clammy hands. I had to surreptitiously wipe my palms on a shawl that someone had draped over a chair later) and told me in hoarse, reckless tones that if I do not consent to become his Wife, he shall waste away from a Decline of Shocking Proportions.

Be gratified on my behalf for I blushed properly as he finished and stammered in maidenly confusion. Happily, years of training have prepared me for such a moment as this! I refused him with poised tact, citing that I had far too much respect for him to accept his suit.

As he began to refute my claim fulsomly, I fluttered my eyes wide in a doe-like expression of placid wretchedness and continued, saying to him that I have to decline the great honour he has bestowed upon my lowly self for the gulf between our stations is too wide and my mind being too flighty and yet unformed to be a suitable Companion against his mature astuteness.

Sir ________’s eyes welled with tears, overcome by my noble misery and resigned sadness I believed, and he went into an abject state of dejection whereupon I swiftly murmured all that was conciliatory and made my escape.

Brydda, I trust you will not be foolish as to harangue me for not accepting his Proposal. Needless to say, of course I had to reject him! Did you think that I would actually deign to marry a man, no matter who is his third cousin twice removed, when his breath smells as if Countess Mhera’s lamented ferret had crawled inside his mouth and was quietly rotting there?!

Good Goddesses, it took a momentous effort of willpower and all the social niceties that I could summon just to stand there in front of him and not reel backwards in a faint. I was surrounded with the stench of a thousand dead fishes every time he opened his mouth. I should say that even Ximaxian wizards could take a lesson or two from me in self-control and resolution!

I would sooner marry that awful person who accosted and tried to abduct me the other day as I was making my way home to Kyiri’s house. At least his breath did not smell of stinking dead fishes as Sir _______ of ___________ does.

I myself take conscious care every morning to rinse my own mouth with a concoction of minty water, flavored with lavender, to ensure that every word I speak will be accompanied by a cloud of pleasing fragrance. So many women, more ravishingly beautiful though they may be than me, neglects this most important of detail and often I would hear them bemoaning in a corner at some social engagement, why no eligible men will engage their hands for a dance though they be splendidly garbed or artfully face-painted to show off their every charm to the fullest extent.

I could have told them that sour breaths puffing into one’s face is as repulsive as clammy palms and a braying donkey-like laugh. But I do not. It is not my concern if they do not find the reason behind their shunned states.

While we are on the subject and still a half of a parchment to go, I had better tell you of that barbarian who so rudely waylaid me as I was walking home from a dressmaking session with Cetin. Cetin has been assigned to be my personal maid by Cousin Kyiri for the duration of my stay in Voldar. I regret to say that she is a very unsatisfactory servant with a slovenly appearance and a pert smile. She does not do my hair the way I tell her to and furthermore, out of a jealous spite towards me I suspect, she deliberately burnt a lock of my hair as she was curling it with the heating tongs this morning and pretended it was an accident!

Once too I caught her peeping at one of the letters I was in the midst of writing to you and had left it on my desk when I was called away on a matter. Sly little minx. I shall have to speak to Cousin Kyiri about her deplorable attitude one of these days.

It was growing late with the sun already set and the torches and lamps lit as I was walking with Cetin. I had not realized I had spent an inordinate amount of time at Madame Hovery but the latter is the most sought after dressmaker in Voldar and it is notoriously hard to secure an appointment with her! Thusly I was determined to commandeer every precious second that I have with the Madame to ensure she will create a breathtaking gown out of a length of blue silk that I had recently purchased which will make me the teeth-gnashing envy of every Voldarian noblewomen alive. Therefore all details must be perfect from the triple flounces on the hem and the length of the sleeves! You know how it distresses me so when even the tiniest stitch on a new gown is wrong.

I finally exited Madame Hovery’s establishment after eliciting promises from her that she would sew the grandest, most wonderful gown possible and with Cetin remarking in an impudent tone that Cousin Kyiri will not be pleased if I miss dinner. The servants have became conscious of a certain chill of manner towards me from Kyiri and have taken advantage of that by according less than the proper respect given to someone of my rank, treating me as if I was some poor relation from the country and a parasite sponging on our Cousin. I find myself sometimes on the verge of furious tears to be treated so but you will be proud to know that I bite my lip when that happens and blink away those treacherous signs of weakness before the lower class. In front of them, I am still the brave Lady with gracious manners and a perfectly coiffed head held high.

So there I was reprimanding Cetin on the proper demeanor befitting a lady’s maid when not two streets from Kyiri’s abode, two hands came out from the shadows to grab and drag me without a by your leave into a niche between two disreputable-looking buildings!

I could not even express my extreme displeasure at being hustled like this as one of those hands was clasped tight over my mouth! Well!

Cetin, the silly chit, gave a scream and went bounding off without even lifting a hand to help me. Really. It truly is so hard to find good help these days.

In my mind then, I had no doubts that this was a heinous abduction of lascivious intent which one often hears about and spoken in hush tones by others during dinner parties. Where the unfortunate maiden of impeccable lineage is usually abducted by a tall, dark, devastatingly handsome man with a sinister secret in his past and who is, in truth, revealed to be a disgraced scion of some noble family, wronged and slandered by a wicked Brother who was intent on seizing the family fortune. The Dark Captor is forced to reveal his love and undying devotion for said maiden by this unpardonable method of abduction and months later, word will inevitably arrived to the grieving Parents that the poor girl is now living in sin with her attractively brooding captor in a windswept castle on a lonely moor off northern Xaramon.

Now, I have no objections to be snatched in such a manner by a disgraced and darkly fine-looking scion of a respected family for I am relatively sure I can persuade him to abandon this ill advised action and convince him that my quick wits and charming deportment is imperative for helping to restore him to his rightful place in society and bring down his depraved and corrupt Brother. Whereupon he shall then profess his eternal gratitude and love for me, as his Benefactress and I shall, as befitting, accept his suit naturally since the poor man had suffered enough already.

However, I absolutely refuse to be abducted wearing what was my second-best gown! Why, I can just hear the malicious gossip of those horrible society harridans as they shake their heads to each other and remarked with barely concealed glee of how I was brought away to a windswept castle for passionate ravishment in a second-best gown!

Oh, the ignominy and the infamy! I shall not and will not stand for it!

Fired with longing thoughts of my best gown, white satin and lace that came from the needle of an elven lace maker I was assured by the shopkeeper that sold me that roll of lace, I bit into the palm of the hand across my mouth most savagely, drawing blood with my teeth. It was a very appalling thing to do, I admit with shame and Mother would swoon to see a Daughter of hers behave so, but compare this to being carried off like a sack of potatoes in a second-best gown, I am sure you can understand and exonerate me for this trespass of decorous behavior.

My Dark Captor gave a rather girlish yelp of pain as I bit him, a sound not very fitting for a tall, wronged noble scion I thought. Should they not give a thwarted cry or curse of manly proportions instead? I confess I have had very reticent familiarity with disgraced Scions, hence my ignorance.

He let go of me immediately and with a face adorably tinted a rosy red and my bosom heaving from the indignations I have just suffered, I turned to face him, ready to enlighten him that there was really no need for him to display his undying ardor for me in such a fashion, that I would be more than glad to assist him in his noble venture to wrest his rightful name back from his iniquitous Brother and I did not care for living in sin in a drafty castle although I would look astonishingly alluring in a gown of white satin billowing in the wind across a darkened moor.

A bright flash of light illuminated the dark passage subsequently and... and (Pardon me for I need a brief moment to compose myself here) it was to my profound dismay, that instead of confronting a tall man dressed all in black with a seductively good bearing, I was confronted by the appearance of someone not tall or decadently handsome in the least! Yes, well, he was dressed all in black but that is not the point.

Moreover, to my deep consternation, I recognized whom it was that had so boorishly laid hands on my delicate Body and heaved me around as if I was nothing but a common street wench. I have seen him before!

“You!” I exclaimed with righteous wrath at the craven coward as I pointed one shaking finger at him and clutched my heaving Bosom with the other hand.

You will never believe who HE was, his name is… oh, I have reached the last bit possible on this parchment. I have better end here then. Do remember to send my love to everyone back home. I was excessively sorry to hear about the recent infestation of sheep in the house. But if Father do insist on riling them in the pastures, making them run around in circles, whenever he goes riding out on his horse, he has to expect certain repercussions.

And I know the burning question that must be on your mind and in your heart now as you reached this last few concluding lines and learnt of my unfortunate Adventure. I hasten to assure you that your worry is unnecessary and unfounded! For despite the confusion of being dragged and cruelly manhandled, I have managed to keep the skirts of my second-best dress from being stained from the mud in that disgusting alley.

Your most affectionate and tenderly ill-used Sister

P.S. Although I have declined Sir ________’s Marriage Proposal, I have managed to glean from him a potion for excessive hair growth. It does not appear to have work prolifically for him but nevertheless, Father might be glad to know of it. If it works, our dear Parent needs not wear that awful rat’s nest on his head anymore in a bid to hide his utter baldness. Mother will be pleased.

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