Lucia Brabante and Sir Percy Blakeney . . .
Well! Having asked to escort me to the Masked Ball and depositing a roll of white beaded silk georgette for my gown on the table, Ser Niccolo de Fleury has disappeared as if he had never been.
As Ser Richard. A. so often does. I swear, all these men vanishing and then reappearing, it’s enough to make a passing ordinary woman swoon.
I, meanwhile, confess to blood-pounding excitement! The wildness and unpredictability of Ser Niccolo is attractive . . . if only I could do something with his hair. And I must tell you, my agreement to his request to escort me has aroused the ire in other friends.
Sir Percy Blakeney called within hours of the gossip finding its way along the calli and rii of Veniche. He said he would have come earlier, but . . . ‘Sink me, Lucia, it was this damned cravat. Sticking out like a pincushion.’ He fingered the folds and I admired the burgundy damask of his tailcoat, the spring green of his gilet and the embroidery on both.
‘Slap me, Lucia. What’s the name of that woman? The Traveller, the one whose divine stumpwork robe is in the Museo?’ He slid his jewelled hand over the stumpwork flowers on his coat fondly. ‘Adelina! That’s it! Good, isn’t she?’
‘Percy, why have you come?’ Percy’s a fop and outrageous, but his visits are nothing if not deliberate.
He flicked up his tails as he sat. ‘Well, to berate you, my dear. What possessed you to agree to de Fleury’s request?’
‘I like him. He’s attractive and wild.’
Percy held a silk and lace kerchief to his nose. ‘Attractive? Huh, I’ll grant you that, if you like untamed. But Lucia, he is a spy.’
I laughed and tapped his arm with my quill, for I had been writing my book when he was announced. ‘Percy, I know. As are you. As is Ser Richard. As is practically every gent attending the Ball, for what is Veniche but a hot-bed of intrigue. You know I can handle myself and besides, you and Marguerite shall be there.’
‘Indeed . . . but I have heard a rumour that it may be a . . . tense evening.’
‘You say!’ I leaned forward and bless Percy, his eyes drifted to my decolletage and he grinned. ‘Tell me,’ I said.
‘It is the amulet.’
‘No!’ Now this was news and more like the deliberate Sir Percy I had come to know.
‘What shall you do?’
‘Watch. And wait. Which is why I am worried about de Fleury. He is unstable enough to covet it, capture it and then where shall we be?’
‘Percy, I think you are wrong. He may look like an unseelie Other, but he is not. I know.’
‘Well sink me, my dear, you know, do you? Do tell.’ He took a pinch of snuff from a delightfully enamelled box as he spoke.
‘Intuition. It’s odd, there is an air about him.’
‘An air? Then avail him of perfumes for his bath and send him my tailor’s card.’
‘Stop it, Percy. He has just returned from a voyage to Oighear Dubh in the southern ice flows. What do you expect? One doesn’t wear silks, satin and stumpwork in the midst of an exploration. He will not disappoint on the night, I am sure.
‘And where is Ser Niccolo now?’ Percy jumped up and began pacing, his buckled shoes tapping on my parquet floors.
He turned, holding his tall walking cane at arm’s length and leaning on it with affectation.
I forestalled his inquisition. ‘Temporarily. He will return.’
I could not divulge to Percy what Ser Nicolo had said. That he would leave me reluctantly until the night of the Ball (This said as he lifted my hand to his stern lips) but that he had matters of import to deal with and urgent papers to pass on.
‘Pass where?’ I asked.
‘To where none but I can go, ‘ he replied.
And for just one fleeting moment, as his deep blue eyes met mine and one corner of his mouth quirked slightly, and as the sensation of his hand holding mine sent a frisson to my armpit, I wondered if he too, like Ser Richard, is an Other. If he is, then sink me as Percy would say, what a Ball this will be.
* Sir Percy Blakeney’s quotes from the 1992 adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel
and with thanks to the inimitable Richard E Grant.