This is Issue #71 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
Feeling refreshed, if somewhat on edge from his terrifying dream, Jet knocked on Lucida’s door.
“One moment!” Her voice seemed higher than normal — strained.
Frowning, Jet let himself in; she did the same to him so often, he imagined it was no high offense, and in his concern, he hoped it was a trifle — perhaps she needed a lacing unknotted before she felt ready to join him with Immanis at dinner. He shut the door quietly behind him, and came into her main rooms, where he found himself staring at Lucida writing furiously, pausing to scratch something out and then crumple the paper and throw it, then get a fresh sheet and begin again. She wasn’t even dressed for dinner.
“Lucy?” Jet’s voice echoed the concern on his face. “What, ah… what… are you doing?” He slipped closer and moved to look over her shoulder. Her flowing script began on over several dozen existing pieces of parchment.
“Shut up,” she said, but there was no venom, nor love. There wasn’t any teasing — she didn’t even so much as look at him.
He leaned down to see what she was writing, and she twisted, irritation and anger on her face as she snapped up at him, “What.” It wasn’t even a question.
He reached out a hand and put it to her cheek, then leaned down and kissed her forehead. “You look upset, can I–”
“Of course. Be my guest. Do you know how to compose a carmenamorem?” Lucida’s expression was dry, angry, and yet oddly hopeful.
“I don’t even recognize that w–oh. Wait. Amorem. Amorem — a love song? You… you’re writing a love poem?” Jet couldn’t help it; his expression was terribly amused. Of all the things he’d imagined Lucy asking his help for, hiding a body was higher on the expected list than writing love poems.
“Fates help you caro, but if you smile at me right now I will cut it off of your face,” she snapped.
Jet’s expression quickly grew sober. He stood up, cleared his throat, and shook his head, saying, “I’ve written letters, but not… no. I’m sorry — ”
Lucy shook her head, sighing, and shoved the papers from her desk, putting her head in her hands.
Immediately, Jet knelt again and moved to gather her into his arms “Ah — bellamea, stop. You’ll ruin your fine things. What is it? Why are you upset you cannot write a love poem?”
“Because my Gemma receives them from an ardent admirer, and she will not admit it, but I can tell they delight her,” Lucy said. “They made her glow,” she said, looking forlorn. “I love her. I want to give her that joy. I did not know she would love them, or I would have learned to do it already.” Lucy’s face was the picture of sulky jealousy; she even pouted over the issue, frustrated.
“Who is the admirer?” Jet wondered, petting Lucy’s hair.
Shrugging, Lucy answered, “We do not know. Some noble fop here in the palace, likely. The writing is affected, but it is both written and written well.” She sighed, adding darkly “Someone means to make her swoon. I should like to make them swallow their own manho–”
Jet shuddered as he kissed the top of her head and said, “My sister, my Lucida, my light — Gemma is a lucky woman, that you love her. I don’t know the first thing about writing love poems, however.” He was all apologies as he hugged her, and said, “Let’s get ready for dinner, hmm? Immanis has news, and perhaps you can ask him if he knows how to do such a thing. Has he ever wooed a woman before?”
“Seduced,” Lucida said, sighing and rolling her eyes. “But not wooed.” She got up from her desk and walked to her closets to dress herself for dinner.
Jet watched her; she was half-naked or near-to most of the time she was around him — he’d grown used to much of it. “Don’t forget — this is not a private dinner. You should–”
Lucida walked back into the room.
Jet’s jaw dropped. He repeated, “You should–”
She was wearing a dress that was more bare than bead, with the thinnest of skirts fluttering about her thighs. “Dress for the occasion?” she said. “It’s summer, my Jet, and the people will be sitting at my table, dining on my food. I’ll wear what I like, and neither you, nor the Prince of Ilona will make me do otherwise.”
“That’s… yes,” Jet said, nodding, dragging his eyes away from her smooth skin and the glittering beads adorning it.
Lucy was not to be denied; she stood near Jet and ran her hands over his clothes, a silken outfit in black, with a heavy sash, lending him the look of a shadow; he’d taken to dressing that way both in and out of the palace walls, and it pleased her. The clothing was simple, but remarkably well-made, both durable and easy-to-move in, silent when he walked or ran. “You’re dressed well, caro; I imagined I shouldn’t allow myself to be upstaged by my little brother,” she laughed.
“Little?” Jet retorted, rolling his eyes.
“Ah, caro, I can only have one bigger brother, and that will always be my Immanis, yes?” Lucy said, dark eyes glittering.
“Fair.” Jet’s voice was amused; they left Lucy’s rooms together, and proceeded to the great hall, where Immanis was already entertaining his guests.
“And here they are!” Immanis cried as they entered. He welcomed them both to his side and kissed them each on the cheeks, embracing them. “We were all just talking about you.”
Jet felt something knot in the pit of his stomach, but he didn’t let anything show on his face.
One of the servants pressed heavy, cold goblets into his and Lucy’s hands.
Lucy’s expression tightened, similarly; she laughed daringly and said, “Oh? Something good, I hope, but if not, something terrifying.”
One of the guests excitedly clapped her hands, all but squealing. “I just think it’s so amazing–”
It set the room to fluttering around Lucida; she bore it well — she loved to be the center of attention in so many ways; the women cooed at her, and she looked to Immanis for some kind of explanation. While waiting, she took a deep drink of what she’d been given, hiding a pained expression behind the goblet.
“I merely informed them that I had officially chosen Jet as my champion,” Immanis said, raising a goblet to toast them both. The tang of aetheris was in the air; Jet recognized the smell, suddenly, as the guests raised their own glasses, all looking wide-eyed with wonder.
“Brother dear — what has that to do with me?” Lucida laughed.
“Oh,” the guest who’d spoken earlier gushes. “If I were to be married to such a magnificent beast of a man?” She laid a hand to Jet’s chest, where his shirt was open, and splayed her fingers. “Being wed to the guardian spirit of Ilona? How awestruck you must be!”
Jet looked at Immanis, then back at Lucy, who’s teeth were bared in a smile that was all joy to the guests of the party, but Immanis himself blanched faintly when he saw it directed at him.
“Oh, of course! I live my life in perpetual awe,” Lucy cooed, all but simpering at the woman, who had no idea Lucy was envisioning biting the rings out of her nose and spitting them back at her screaming face. “I’m so overwhelmed, we haven’t even begun the planning. I’ll have to conscript an entire army to handle the arrangements. It will be such an occasion, it will take over a year to plan!”
Jet allowed himself to fake disappointment; he smiled at Lucy and reached to give her hand a squeeze.
“Fear not,” Immanis said. “I have already made many of the arrangements, my precious Lucida. There will be a great ceremony which envoys from every city-state will attend. I will bind your union, and then we will have one hundred days of games, feasting, and revelry!”
A great cry went up amongst the guests; they clapped and called out, delighted. Immanis was not yet finished with his announcements, however; his eyes gleamed as he handed off his goblet and moved to cup Jet’s face in his hands, saying, “The hunt, my brother.” Lucida’s eyes grew wide, and Jet’s heart skipped a beat as their brother declared, “We will at last have a hunt.”
* * *