Draykon: Chapter Two
September 1, 2011 § 4 Comments
Thanks for visiting yesterday and admiring the new art. Today I am sharing Chapter Two of the new book. I expect this to be the last chapter I’ll be posting here before the book is launched. Enjoy meeting Eva!
Her carriage may be the best that money could buy, but Lady Evastany Glostrum was still lamentably cold. The chill seeped through the plush upholstery inside the vehicle, nimbly evaded the best attempts of the fitted glass windows to keep it out, and assaulted Eva’s pale and shrinking flesh in spite of her heavy fur wrap. It was really too detestably cold to step beyond the door of her handsome and thoroughly comfortable house, but today’s errand was too important to be missed. She was on her way to see her tailor.
Naturally she had wardrobes full of delightfully sumptuous gowns, but this was different. Something of an emergency, in fact. In a week she was to give a ball at her own house, at which she would be announcing her engagement. Such a momentous event in Glour society called for very careful treatment indeed. Eva knew she would be subjected to the closest scrutiny. The gossips and the reporters would be there in approximately equal measures, ready to tear apart every aspect of her appearance, her house, her entertaining. Most of all, they would be examining her behaviour towards her fiancé. The speculation had been running high for weeks – would the elusive Lady Glostrum finally fall to matrimony? – and she had allowed for a rumour to leak out about the purpose of the ball. It was imperative that she was looking at her best.
That being the case, it was of course inevitable that the gown she had had made for the day had been ruined. One of her maids had managed to stain it with furniture polish while cleaning Eva’s dressing room. She hadn’t scolded the girl – the maid had been devastated enough – but nonetheless this created an unwelcome problem. As High Summoner, Eva was in the middle of interviewing candidates for two high-ranked positions within the Summoner organisation. She didn’t really have the time for any more complications.
Her carriage came to a stop and Eva drew back the curtain that covered the freezing glass window. Her coachman opened the door for her and she stepped out with a smile, pulling her wrap as close around her shoulders as possible. She stepped quickly into the tailor’s shop, shuddering with cold. Baynson was in the back, but he came running quickly enough when she rang the bell.
‘Good morning, Mr. Baynson. I’m afraid there’s been a small incident regarding the gown I purchased last week, and I’ll be needing another. Before the ball.’ She didn’t smile. Baynson wasn’t the type to appreciate it. He regarded her with an air of grave disapproval as she delivered this piece of bad news, his thin eyebrows careening up his face towards his nearly bald head.
‘You’ll forgive my saying so, your ladyship, but summoner or not, you ought to keep them animals away from your wardrobe. Ten to one something’d happen to your finery sooner or later.’
‘Sage advice, Mr. Baynson, but in this case the culprit was one of my maids. Not her fault; these things do happen. Naturally I will pay you a considerable bonus if you are able to make me a replacement in time.’
Baynson tutted and tossed his head, muttering unflattering observations under his breath. Eva waited. The man was rude, uncouth and unpleasant but he was the best tailor in Glour City.
‘I’ll get it done,’ he conceded at last. ‘It’ll take a lot extra, though. I’ll have to pull my girls off a couple of other orders.’
‘Fine.’ Eva untied her purse from her waist and opened it. She had to count quite a large number of coins into Bayson’s hands before he was satisfied, but this was to be expected with him.
‘Same as before, I take it?’
She thought for a moment. ‘Yes, but perhaps you could drop the neckline just a little. On the last one it was practically demure.’
Baynson tutted some more. ‘Don’t want to make a spectacle of yourself, your ladyship. A low neckline’s the province of a woman who’s not fit for polite company.’
Eva laughed. ‘On the contrary, making a spectacle of myself is precisely my intention. I’m no debutante at her first season. On me, “demure” would look unforgivably coy.’
Baynson grunted. ‘Reckon you could get away with it, praps,’ he conceded, eyeing her figure in a manner devoid of all but dry professional interest.
‘I’m certain of it. If there is an advantage to being barely shy of forty, it is that I am a mature woman quite able to carry off a hint or two of the provocative. And I’m quite determined to, while I still have the figure for it.’
‘Forty, ma’am? You don’t look a day over thirty-two.’
‘That is my official age, Mr. Baynson, naturally, but I trust you not to give me away.’
Baynson flicked his hands at her in a shooing gesture. ‘Very well, get thee gone. I’ve a deal of work to do. Come back in four days. It’ll be ready.’
Eva smiled warmly. ‘Thank you, Mr. Baynson. I can always rely on you.’
Later, Eva sat dejectedly in the large wing-back chair in her office, her feet tucked under her skirts and her hands thrust into her shawl. Was it completely impossible to keep warm in this cursed chill? Interviewing was one of her least favourite duties: she had gone through six applicants in the last three hours and none of them had been suitable. She now awaited the seventh, wondering whether she could get away with pulling her chair a little closer to the heating pipes.
A knock came at the door before she could put this plan into action, and her seventh interviewee appeared. This one was a woman she didn’t recognise, apparently a little older than Eva herself. She wore plain, unaffected clothing and an air of cool capability that seemed promising. The previous six had been mostly men, mostly young, and mostly cocky. They had also mostly tried to flirt with her. Eva looked on this with the stern eye of decided disapproval. There was no place for flirtation when she was at work.
‘Oona Temble,’ the woman introduced herself. ‘I’m from the Summoner Guild in Orstwych.’ She didn’t curtsey, or even bow: instead she approached the desk and offered Eva her hand. Eva shook it. It may have been a departure from protocol, but she rather liked Oona’s straightforward manner.
‘Sit down, Ms. Temble,’ Eva said. ‘Thank you for coming all this way to talk to me. I’d like to be able to offer you some cayluch, but my last interviewee seems to have been something of an addict.’ She tapped the cold cayluch pot sitting on her desk, which rang emptily.
‘That’s quite all right, Lady Glostrum. I’m not thirsty.’ Oona sat down in the chair Eva indicated. Her hair was short, rather against the prevailing fashions, and threaded with grey. The unpretentious style suited her strong face.
‘You’ll be aware that the position is a new creation. When new summoners come out of the Academy, they’re still woefully ill-informed about the reality of a summoner’s work. We’re in desperate need of someone to take them in hand and give them a bit more practical education in animal acquisition and training. I’m looking for somebody to head up this proposed department.’
Oona nodded. ‘Your notion was it, Lady Glostrum?’
‘Yes, I believe it was.’
Oona raised her brows sceptically. ‘I see.’
‘Does that surprise you, Ms. Temble?’
‘Somewhat,’ said Oona blandly. ‘You don’t strike a person as made for practical measures, if you’ll forgive my mentioning it.’
‘Excellent. Plain-speaking is exactly what I need for this role.’
Oona lifted her brows again.
‘Ah, you expected to find a pampered and temperamental noblewoman, good for nothing but the ornamental and essentially incapable of useful activity. Well, that’s understandable if you read the papers. Let’s just agree that appearances can be deceiving and leave it at that, hm?’ She stood up, smiling down at Oona’s eminently capable face wreathed in an expression of mild surprise. ‘I’d like you to begin in two days, Ms. Temble. Your first task will be to choose your department members. I’ve budgeted for up to five to begin with. You’ll inform me if that’s insufficient.’
Oona pulled herself together. ‘Thank you, Lady Glostrum. I’d best make my preparations.’ She smiled then, unexpectedly. ‘I’ve a feeling it may be interesting working with you.’
Eva chuckled. ‘Let’s hope so, indeed.’
Eva had a desk at home as well. She had resisted getting one for a long time after her appointment to the role of High Summoner, preferring to keep her professional and private lives separate. But at last she had capitulated. She was too often obliged to carry paperwork home with her, and she needed somewhere to keep it. At least she could keep her study as warm as she liked.
Her agenda was becoming complicated. Her working hours for the next few days would be occupied with introducing Oona to her new role and setting up the department. She anticipated some extra hours at the Summoners’ Hall, a prospect which sank her spirits. No power in the Darklands could keep that place even remotely warm.
On top of that, there were still preparations outstanding for the ball. Fortunately the Darklands Market was scheduled for the morrow. Eva knew she could send servants to do her shopping for her, and certainly she would take some of them along as her assistants. She liked to visit herself, though. The Market always had an air of jovial confusion which delighted her, and its sheer variety of wares was no less enthralling. She planned to go in search of some rare curios and delicacies for the ball. She wondered, briefly, whether to take her fiancé with her, but she decided against it. There was more than enough speculation circulating already.
Eva worked until her fingers grew cramped from holding her pen and her eyes refused to focus. At last she retired to bed. As she sank gratefully under her blankets, appreciating the warmth of the stone hot water bottles that warmed the layers, it occurred to her that she would not have this space to herself for much longer. In a little over a moon, she would be bound to share her free time, her personal space and her body with one man for the rest of her life. As if in defiance of this thought, Eva positioned herself in the middle of the bed and stretched her limbs out as far as they would go. She smiled. At least she could enjoy the vestiges of her freedom in the meantime.