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Treachery and Tea
The Mystery of Moriamis

by Kit Navarro

Part I.
Fenswick Keep

"I could never understand this Fenswick fascination for tea."

"Try it. And have some crumpets, as well. These are considered the best in the Known World."

The young man watched as his hostess gracefully raised her outstretched arm, holding out a porcelain teacup. Her movements were carefully practiced, suave and slow and almost seductive.

When the young man had reached out for the crumpets, a disturbing thought jarred his mind. Looking at the slim alabaster arm of his hostess, he realised her skin was white as snow, and almost as pale as the albino skin of his "brother" whom he had come her to betray.

"Do go on, Noussoir. I'm listening..." she said, as she poured herself a cup.

"Princess... I..."

"Dolores, dear. In private, you may call me Dolores."

Noussoir was clearly uneasy at even mentioning her name, and decided to avoid addressing her directly altogether, or even looking straight into her eyes. Instead, Noussoir looked around nervously at the sitting room, its sombre drapes and dark panelled-walls, its heavy furniture lined in deep-coloured velvet. It was quite unlike most other Fenswick sitting rooms... dreary, threatening, even sinister. And perhaps most sinister of all, Noussoir thought, was his hostess and her charming manners, much like poison disguised with sweet honey.

In that self-same manner, Dolores continued their conversation: "So you're saying that Dame Diane de Moriamis has been... replaced?"

"Y-yes, Princess... Dolores. Madame La Vicomtesse is being impersonated by another who appears in her place at the social affairs."

"But I have not seen either this new Dame Diane, nor the old one (not that I miss her), in the recent parties of Glantri."

"Oh but she has only made appearances in Nouvelle Averoigne. She represented Prince Malachie at the d'Ambreville wedding a few years ago, and by all accounts she is a sight to behold: young, vibrant, with golden-brown hair, chestnut eyes, and a voluptuous figure, not at all like the real Vicomtesse."

"Is that so? And aren't their differences rather... conspicuous?"

"Mais oui, madame princesse! But the d'Ambrevilles-the strange lot that they are-they treat her as if they've known her for ages. And they all say that she is charming and gentile, and completely familiar with the d'Ambrevilles and the rest of the Sylaire nobility."

"And who is this new Dame Diane?"

"Some say she is actually the grandmother of the Vicomtesse who has travelled through time to guide her-how do you say-prodigal children."

"A grandmother who looks younger than her granddaughter? And one who can travel through time? Why, chronomancy has been unheard of since the time of the Alph..."

Princess Dolores deliberately let her voice trail off to prevent the young rumour-mongering socialite to hear her words. In her mind, ancient memories stirred... an empire of wizards... powerful ambitions... and even more powerful magic... tales of travelling into the past... and the future... the wrath of the Immortals... and secrets kept forever.

Princess Dolores quickly resumed the conversation before Noussoir noticed her lapse into reminiscence.

"And the old Dame Diane? What of her?"

"That I do not know, madame princesse. The last I know of her was years ago, when she exiled herself to Château Malinbois. She may still be there to this day."

"Unaware of the present events, apparently..." noted Dolores, her mind already hatching some sinister plot.

"Then again," suggested Noussoir, "she may already have 'died in a laboratory accident.'" Noussoir met her gaze for the first time, signifying their mutual comprehension of the Glantrian euphemism for a suspicious death.

But when Dolores turned away, Noussoir allowed a little shiver to run down his spine.

Part II.
Dragons and Secrets

Noussoir du Marais, the infamous "brother" of Prince Malachie of Morlay-Malinbois, sat in the dreary sitting room at Fenswick Keep. He was having afternoon tea and an intriguing tête-à-tête with Princess Dolores Hillsbury, who just happened to be Malachie's archrival, politically and otherwise.

Above Princess Dolores loomed two large imposing portraits. One depicted a stern old man, Duke Edward Hillsbury, the first Fenswick ruler of Fenswick, and Dolores' grandfather. The other portrait was of an even sterner old woman, Duchess Margaret Hillsbury, Dolores' mother who was often referred to as, "that old dragon of Fenswick."

It occurred to Noussoir that he had heard from someone, somewhere, sometime before, something about Lady Margaret, as barren as the Sindhi desert...

But Noussoir was waken out of his reverie, when Princess Dolores asked her with the most pleasant of smiles, "And your dear brother, Malachie? How much does he know of this plot of impersonating Dame Diane de Moriamis?"

Noussoir knew that this is what the Princess of Fenswick wanted to hear, and this is what he came here for. Noussoir choose his words carefully and deliberately.

"My dear 'brother,'" Noussoir began slowly, "is involved in everything. In public, he promotes the pretence that this stranger is indeed his wife, the Vicomtesse de Malinbois. And in private, he connives with her about everything."

Noussoir could see the sense of satisfaction sweep across the Princess' face, like a great hungry dragon that had just swallowed its prey.

But before this dragon devour him as well, Noussoir sprung his surprise.

"I have heard them plot about you as well..."

This undoubtedly caught the Princess' attention, and she suddenly sat bolt upright. But Dolores had regained her composure in but a moment, and her next question came with such nonchalance, Noussoir would have almost thought she was bored.

"Oh? And what do they plot about me?"

"Your downfall, madame princess. They say they know of your secrets..."

For once in this treacherous affair, Noussoir felt in control. Noussoir dealt in gossip and rumours, lies and truths and half-truths, but most of all, he dealt in secrets.

And for better or for worse, Princess Dolores knew this.

"They know my secrets, you say? And you know my secrets as well?"

"Perhaps," Noussoir answered, purposely elusive.

"And why," asked Dolores, "should I trust you?"

Dolores knew she was now playing Noussoir's game-blackmail, other people called it. Dolores also knew she had no choice but to play.

Noussoir did not reply.


Noussoir neither smiled nor frowned, but Dolores was clearly growing impatient.

"How can I know that you actually know something? Do you even have proof?" challenged Dolores.

"Mais oui, madame princess! I have it right here," Noussoir responded confidently.

Dolores was quick to ask, "What? What is it?"

Noussoir took something out of his shirt.

"It is an item I took from Dame Diane-the new one."

Noussoir held out his hand, and in his palm was a small statuette the size of a large apple. It was the figure of a dragon, curled up in a sleepy repose. The statue was carved out of fine ruby that shone with an internal fire.

Noussoir saw the Princess' amazed expression, and continued to speak, in an almost flippant tone.

"Ah, I see you recognise it. Dame Diane-the new one-said you would. It's magical, of course..."

"How did you...? How did she...? But that was ages... almost a lifetime ago... Even I..."

"Perhaps, you would like to have a closer look, Dolores?" Noussoir said smugly, noticing he could now call her by name without flinching.

But as Dolores reached out for the ruby dragon, the light inside the figurine began to glow brighter.

"What? What is happening?" Dolores asked, panicking.

"Th-this has never happened before!" Noussoir said, suddenly losing his confidence.

Noussoir dropped the statuette but the ruby-red light kept growing brighter and brighter. He had to shield his eyes but he was still blinded by the engulfing light.

All Noussoir heard as he fell to the floor was Dolores screaming in an almost inhuman voice, then the sound of a window breaking, and the flapping of large heavy wings.

Part III.
Château Morlay

"I could never understand this Fenswick fascination for tea."

"Try it. And have some crumpets, as well. These are considered the best in the Known World."

The hostess handed the man a cup, and he began to sip from it.

"Be careful! It's hot!" she warned.

"Mais oui, but it is good!" he replied, smiling eagerly, the cream-coloured tea staining his pale pink lips. "And where pray tell did you pick up such a taste for tea?"

"Oh, my fifth... no, sixth husband was a Fenswick nobleman. In Laterre, of course."

"Of course," replied her present "husband," who was contentedly munching on a crumpet, like a dog with a juicy steak--or more like a wolf with a plump pheasant.

"He was a passionate one... and I loved how he called me 'Diana.' That was my name at the time."

"Which reminds me, ma cherie, you should remember to spell your name with an e. It's Diane, not Dian. If we are to keep up this charade, we have to be consistent!"

"Yes, yes, my dear 'husband.' But after nine or ten lifetimes, these details do get tedious!"

Dame Dian or Diane or Diana pouted at the white-skinned man in mock exasperation. He couldn't help but be amused and gave out an almost feral laugh. She good-naturedly joined his laughter.

"So, do go on about Noussoir. I'm listening..."

"Well, he took the statue from my room, as you foretold," she said, taking a sip of her tea. "And not long after, he went to see Dolores."

She gave a satisfied smile at the man who sat in front of her. Although his eyes were hidden behind his obsidian shades, she could tell he was looking at her intently, trying to understand his mysterious new ally.

"I wonder how the Princess would have reacted when she saw that figurine..." he mused.

"Oh, she would have certainly panicked like she has never had in her life. Dolores has many secrets, some more secret than others. But I tell you, mon chèr, this secret would be the most secret of them all!"

Again there was a pause. Again the albino man studied his beauteous conspirator, admiring her well-laid intricate schemes, as much as her curvaceous figure. He noticed that from somewhere beneath the folds of her dress, she had taken out this sanguine-coloured vial, and started playing with it in the afternoon light.

"But I still do not understand the significance of that ruby dragon."

"Oh, my dear Malachie, it's just some secret of the past," assumed Dame de Moriamis. "Don't try to understand it all now. It might take a whole lifetime... or the next one."