4. I Found a Spy in my Soup…
I hissed angrily as I paced my room like a caged lion. It was well past 10 – almost 11 and Melissa still hadn’t arrived to clean my rooms. She had never been particularly punctual but this was absurd. I forced myself to sit down before I wore a hole in the carpet. Fidgeting restlessly, I let my eyes trail across the gold upholstery of the couch, embroidered with an intricate pattern of grape vines. Maybe Melissa had somehow found out that I intended to confront her about the ties I suspected she had with the Liberation.
Nothing added up about her… The address she had provided when she applied for this job existed but she didn’t live there – at least not under the name she had given me. And she was never on time for work, as though she couldn’t help herself. I could never find her when I needed her – when her work hours were over she disappeared. If I ever wanted her to work extra hours or a weekend I had to make sure I caught her before she left the house or I wouldn’t be able to find her… But strangest of all was that there were no records to indicate that she even existed. There were no records of her anywhere: no history, no previous places of settlement, occupation, no place of birth, time of birth, mother, father, family… Nothing. And that was impossible.
A knock at my door burst through my reverie and Melissa burst in looking red-faced and hassled as I looked up. “You’re late,” I accused, my words reverberating through my suite.
“I’m sorry Mistress,” she replied humbly, looking down at her feet nervously, “Your mother wanted me to do her rooms today as well.” She stiffened at my sudden intake of air and rushed across the room to begin dusting the china cupboard that held various unique articles I had collected over the years. Her hand trembled slightly as the same breath hissed out my nose.
My posture stiffened instinctively as my nostrils flared with sudden resentment. Trust my mother to start poking her nose into my business just as I was preparing to set my plans in motion. “And you didn’t refuse to accede to her request?” I asked incredulously. Melissa knew how I felt about my mother’s prying. Dark purple mottling accented my walls and Melissa jumped back from the china cupboard as it rattled with the force of my anger.
“Would you prefer that I lose my position next time she asks M’Lady?” she inquired. I shook my head; I needed her here so I could find out whether my hunch had been correct. I would have to deal with my mother though – I couldn’t have her scaring Melissa off. I fiddled with my hair in frustration, almost tearing it out.
I let the subject drop, realizing that Melissa really hadn’t had a choice but to comply with my mother’s request. “I’ll talk to my mother,” I promised her, “She won’t bother you again.” Melissa curtseyed and turned her attention back to my cupboard, which had stopped rattling now.
I watched her work efficiently throughout my room for a few moments before I remembered why I had been so eager to speak to her today. I wondered if she had planned my reaction to distract me. I dismissed the thought off-hand – surely, she wasn’t clever enough to come up with something like that. I remembered she had mentioned her mother had been ill this week.
“Is your mother feeling better?” I asked. She stiffened, standing in front of the mirror behind my dresser. Her reflection revealed nothing – her face was as impassive as before I had asked but I saw her knuckles turn white on the handle of the feather duster as she clutched it more tightly.
“My mother, M’Lady?” she said carefully, “What of my mother?”
“I thought she was ill,” I replied, “Perhaps I was mistaken.”
“She’s as well as she could be under the circumstances,” Melissa responded. She continued to work, but I noted that she was trembling and that she had sped up as though she was eager to get away from my questions and I.
“What circumstances?” I asked.
Finally, she turned and stared at me full on. “What does it matter to you how my mother is doing?” she demanded. She paused, seeming to realize her impertinence and added hastily, “If you pardon my asking, M’Lady.” I narrowed my eyes at her thoughtfully, wondering what I had said to cause her to take offense. My eyes widened as I took in her appearance more carefully. She was more dishevelled than usual; her usually radiant straight golden-brown hair hung limply and lifelessly down her back. Her bright hazel eyes were lifeless - ringed and red like she had stayed up all night – and she held herself like someone who was ready to drop dead but too stubborn to admit it. Wrinkles and mud smeared her normally neat, ironed frock. She was trying to hide something and doing it well considering the state of exhaustion she was obviously in.
“The wellbeing of you and your family matters to me after all you have done for me,” I said.
“I have only worked for your family a few months,” she said flatly, “What do you want?”
“Nothing really,” I said, trying hard to phrase my accusation delicately so she wouldn’t bolt. “It’s just that anytime I try to find you when you aren’t working you are nowhere to be found. What’s more, you have no records anywhere.” I stood up, keeping my voice level, “Don’t you think that strange? Everyone has papers, whether they are a slave, a commoner like you, or a Magician. It is necessary to help keep this society on its feet. So, where are yours?”
Her face blanched but she struggled to maintain a puzzled composure. “I’m sure I wouldn’t know what your ladyship is speaking of,” she murmured.
“Wouldn’t you?” I asked icily, dropping all pretenses, “What I’m saying is only people trying to oppose the government – let’s say the Liberation – don’t have papers.”
“I have papers,” she hissed, her eyes blazing with sudden light, “Not that you’d know where to look for them!”
“What?” I gaped, staring at her.
“I said I have papers,” she hissed.
I shrugged. “That wasn’t really my point.”
“Of course it wasn’t. What was then?” Her voice was hard enough to match mine. I noticed her eyes flitting from me to the door and back again. Good, I had her nervous enough to consider bolting.
“What are your connections to the Liberation?” She took a step towards the door. I let her. I could easily lock it from here if I wanted to.
“Who said I had connections with them M’Lady?” she asked carefully, a mask sliding into place across her face. She abandoned her attempts to walk to the door and walked towards me slowly. “I think, perhaps, M’Lady is not feeling very well today. Mayhaps you should lay down awhile?” She pressed a cool hand to my forehead. I grabbed her wrist and twisted it viciously so she cried out.
I snapped a few words in an ancient language and watched her face drain of colour. She murmured a few words that I couldn’t hear close as I was to her and snatched her wrist from my grip. She whipped around but not quickly enough to prevent me from seeing the tattoo above her right eye – embedded in her eyebrow. She turned back and I blinked. It was gone.
“Don’t lie Melissa,” I warned, “I know you spy for them.”
Now it was her turn to blink. “What do you want to know?” she asked, a bit breathlessly.
I almost grinned. I had her right where I wanted her now. “Who are the leaders of the Liberation?”
“I don’t know,” she said blithely, “They keep to the shadows of the organization. I’m not high enough in the organization to be worth their time or effort.” I almost laughed at her response. What a joke! If she was important enough to be sent out as a spy, she certainly knew their identities – she was either lying to placate me, or she did know who they were and was protecting them.
“I see,” I said thoughtfully and saw her face fall. So she did know! “Who do you report to then?”
“My handler, obviously,” she snapped snidely, using a Magician word for someone who supervises a spy’s mission. I scoffed at this. It was unlikely the Liberation did anything the same way we did. I let it go, assuming I would have lots of time to question her later.
“But who’s your handler?”
“I don’t know names, faces – anything about them,” she contended. That was a total lie – her face said that clearly. She was intimately involved in their operations, but she wouldn’t say.
I snapped my fingers prepared to clap irons on her and send her to the prison at the edge of town but she surprised me again. She shouted three words in a language I didn’t know and disappeared in a plume of smoke. I swore angrily, of course she could use magic. Quickly I began to murmur a counter-spell to bring her back with no luck.
I hissed my anger through clenched teeth and stepped forward to examine the traces of the spell she had used to escape. A Teleport paired with a Cloak and Anti-Reversal… she was proficient with magic – valuable information but negated by the fact that she had disappeared.
I paced the room for a few moments before coming to a decision. “Gary!” I snapped, “Come here!” I couldn’t find out precisely where Melissa had gone because of the Cloak she had placed on the Teleport spell but I could triangulate approximately where she had gone by examining the coverage the Cloak provided.
“Francesca!” my mother, Elaina Medici, called from downstairs, “Are you ready?”
“Almost!” I yelled back, cursing again. I had forgotten about the party I was supposed to attend this afternoon at Gedeon’s manor. I whirled around scanning my room for what I needed for the party. “I’ll be ready in a moment!”
My eyes landed on the pale green dress laid carefully over my royal-blue comforter and I hastily changed into it. I finished just as Gary sauntered into my room. He was huge, wiry with sunken, carved out cheeks and dark menacing eyes. His face was pale as ash and his hair was dark. He looked extremely disturbing and intimidating. I smirked maliciously.
“You called Mistress?” he asked in his low gruff voice.
“You still owe me a favour. Remember Gary?” I said sweetly.
“Yes,” he asserted, his thin mouth stretching into a malevolent grin with pointed vampire-like teeth.
“Good,” I said, with the same simpering voice, “Then we know the arrangement. A girl – my maid, Melissa – just left the house by magic. I triangulated her Teleport to Corrian, one of the commoner’s districts. I want you to follow her and keep track of whom she meets… Oh! And capture her.”
“Description,” he prompted, always a man of few words.
“Light brown hair, blue eyes, about 5' 8", white, and female. Last seen wearing a blue dress and white apron.” I quickly listed off her physical traits, “Don’t kill her, but if she needs some persuasion…” I let my thought trail off.
His grin widened and he turned and left as silently as he had come. I smiled nastily. Good, that was one thing taken care of. Hopefully, it would help shed some light on who she was - and give me a weakness I could use against her.
Hastily I rushed downstairs. My mother stood at the bottom of the stairs, tapping her foot impatiently. “The President’s waiting,” she chided me.
“I know mother,” I said snappishly, “And I might remind you that I like my privacy and in the future I would appreciate if you got your own chamber maid to tidy your room!”
“Tsk,” she rebuked, “Now is not the time Francesca!”
I sighed and followed my mother out to the carriage without another word. My mother and I did not see the world through the same lens. She would not have approved of how I handled Melissa’s interrogation this morning. In my mother’s eyes, if there was the slightest chance someone was guilty, they were. I wasn’t nearly as ruthless. My stomach clenched as I realized I had to tell her about Melissa. It would be a guaranteed fiasco.
“Mother?” I said, “I recently became suspicious of the behaviour of one of our maids – Melissa.” My mother turned toward me, her lips hardening into a stiff line.
“The same Melissa who cleaned my rooms today?” she asked tightly. Oh no, I had forgotten about that. I glanced toward the carriage door wondering if there was still a chance I could get out. We were slowly moving through the suburbs – where most commoners lived. The houses were more often than not unpainted and unkempt. What paint there was on the houses was cracked and faded. Weeds riddled their front lawns and their inhabitants would not take kindly to a stray Magician wandering their streets – especially the way I was dressed. I took a deep breath.
“Yes.” Her lips flattened further, if that was possible.
“You didn’t think to tell me this earlier when you began to suspect her?” she hissed.
“I didn’t realize that you would be so petty as to use her to spy on me!” I retorted, “I didn’t want to tip her off to my investigation!”
“Yes, but that really isn’t your job is it?” she snapped. Lightning flashed in her ice blue eyes – never a good sign. “There are detectives and investigators who do that sort of work.”
I glared at her. “Do you think me so incompetent Mother?” I asked icily.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” she snarled, “I suppose you accidentally tipped her off anyway and now she’s disappeared.” I flinched as her words hit close to the mark. “I thought so,” she murmured bitterly, reading my expression.
I opened my mouth and closed it. I didn’t want to give her any further information that would lower me in her eyes but I had come this far in my confession and couldn’t turn back now. “I confronted her this morning when she finally came to clean my rooms,” I said. I could barely raise my voice above a whisper at this point I was so ashamed of myself.
“And where is she now?” my mother asked. Her voice was dangerously quiet. I always knew it was better if my mother raged at me – I knew she wasn’t that angry if she did. This was worse; it was as though I had betrayed the entire government, not just her.
“Still in Saffron,” I said, “I triangulated her Teleport to one of the commoner’s districts and sent someone to find her.”
“She what?” My mother’s voice was deathly quiet now. “You mean to say that a spy – oh no, not just any spy, but one that can use magic – has been working my house for six months and you never told me you suspected anything?”
I winced, waiting for an explosion. Her face had hardened into rock. Angry lines radiated from the corners of her mouth and eyes. Most dangerous though were her eyes; they had hardened until they looked like gemstones with splinters of light dancing through them. “I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d react like this!” I sighed, “Besides I didn’t suspect her six months ago when I hired her. It was only recently when she started to be late for work more and more often.”
“Do you realize what sorts of restricted information I keep in my rooms?” she screamed, “Your blunder could be the ruin of us!”
“Mom!” I yelled back, “I DIDN”T KNOW! How could I know! You won’t trust me with anything more important than planning a stupid garden party! And even then you insist I confide every single detail to you!”
“And it appears that I was right to distrust your ability to handle anything more complicated than a garden party,” she snapped back, “You, young lady, are in heaps of trouble and I can’t shield you from the consequences of what you’ve done.”
I bit back an angry retort and turned my attention back to the open window of the carriage. Farmer’s fields rolled passed exhibiting the occasional cow or horse. I sighed and turned back to my mother. She was biting her lip with a worried expression on her face.
“Mom?” I whispered. She turned to look at me and all I could see was the fear that had etched itself onto her face. “I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t suspect Melissa until recently.”
“That’s just it,” she said, “It doesn’t matter. If she discovered anything of importance we are both in mortal danger.” For the first time I realized my mother might have prevented me from participating in more social functions not because she thought I was incompetent, but rather because she was afraid for me. I didn’t know what she was afraid of or why, just that she was. With that thought, our carriage turned onto Lord Gedeon’s drive.
“Not a word,” my mother breathed to me, “We’ll deal with our issue when we return home.” I nodded and reached over to squeeze her hand. The next few hours would be uncomfortable for both of us.ns 18.104.22.168da2