[As published in Speculative Mystery Iconoclast, November 2008]
King Beneficent scowled at his High Lord Spy. “I’ve had reports that one of Magnanimus’s agents has been discovered among my royal guard!”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Ferrit confirmed with a respectful bow of his head.
“You knew of this?” King Beneficent barked incredulously.
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
“And you did nothing?” The king’s face became quite red.
“Naturally not,” Ferrit explained patiently. “You see, this agent also is in our pay as well. He keeps me informed of what King Magnanimus and his spies know of what we are doing. His loyalties are actually with us, but he must appear to be on the side of our enemies, so that he is trusted by them.”
“How do you know we can trust him?”
“Because, Your Majesty, I also have an agent in the court of King Magnanimus. He has confirmed the information that our agent has delivered to them. Of course, they know he is our agent, but they think that we do not know that they know. However, I do know, and I know that their agent is actually our agent. However, they do have another agent among the scullery maids, and I am making sure that she is informed only by an agent loyal to them who is actually loyal to us but whom they do not know is loyal to us. You see?”
King Beneficent’s scowl grow even more disgusted. “Curse it! It’s all so damned confusing!”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Ferrit agreed with a bow. “That is why you should leave it all to me.”
“Well, just make sure nothing happens to disrupt the wedding plans! It would be just like that treacherous fool Magnanimus to try to sabotage the treaty!”
“I wouldn’t worry,” the Lord High Spy assured him. “King Magnanimus wants this as badly as you do, although naturally he has boasted that he cares not, just as you have claimed scornful indifference in order to conceal how desperately important this really is to you.”
It was, of course. And after thirty years of war, the two kingdoms were both close to bankruptcy. The habit of deception and hostility made honest negotiations for peace nearly impossible, but an arrangement had finally been reached. The marriage between the Princess Narcissia and Prince Flambay would unite the two kingdoms permanently, if rather bitterly. The wedding was to take place at the castle of Duke Petrol of Oleander, who was as close to a neutral party as existed. All the nobility of the land would be in attendance – a situation ripe for intrigue.
The day before the festivities were supposed to begin, soldiers and spies from both sides converged on Duke Petrol’s castle. Ferrit knew most of them of course, although he didn’t let on that he knew them unless he knew that they knew that he knew them. He had been there for several days already, having arrived disguised as a merchant selling tapestries and other fineries appropriate to the occasion. The Lord High Spy had a knack for not being noticed. His hair was mouse brown, his eyes a colorless grey, and all other aspects of his appearance were common as dirt. Even his voice was unmemorable. Once established within the castle he chatted with other merchants, household servants, and anyone else whom he could find an excuse to sidle up to. The Duchess was most helpful, innocently mentioning all manner of suggestive things while she examined his wares.
Both kings arrived virtually simultaneously, vying haughtily to ignore each other and make the most noise, each demanding to be greeted first. The Duke and Duchess were momentarily at a loss, since standards of protocol gave them no graceful way of handling the simultaneous greeting of two royal households who detested one another. Things eventually sorted themselves out, and preparations were made for the welcoming banquet.
Ferrit was just coming up from the wine cellar disguised as a kitchen servant when he was approached on the stairs by a tall, bearded wine steward. “Can I help you with something, my good man?”
“Perhaps you can,” Ferrit replied. “I was sent down for a bottle of cooking sherry, but I can’t seem to find it.”
“Right this way,” the steward said. “Don’t know your way around, eh?”
“No, I was just hired for the occasion.”
“A lot of new faces these days. Ah, let’s see. Here we go.”
Ferrit smiled slightly. “I suspect that Amontillado would not do. A pity to waste something like that on a roast.”
The wine steward returned his smile. “You are quite right, of course. Perhaps this instead.”
Ferrit’s smile broadened. “That is Madeira. You ought to choose a disguise which your knowledge supports better, Faux.”
“I could say the same of you, Ferrit. They wouldn’t be using sherry on a roast.”
Ferrit took the bottle of Amontillado. “Well, since we’re here, shall we?”
The wine steward who wasn’t, nodded and produced a corkscrew. Seating themselves on barrels, they toasted each other and took several generous sips.
“So,” Ferrit said finally, “How long have you been here?”
“I arrived on Tuesday with the dressmakers. There was such a gaggle of them that they all assumed I went with somebody. I familiarized myself with all the royal apartments and who went where, and then moved on to the kitchen.”
“I do envy you,” Ferrit said. “You slip so easily betwixt genders. It gives you a marvelous advantage.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Faux agreed, pulling one leg up to rest her foot on the edge of the barrel. Her plain face and virtually sexless body made her as unmemorable in her way as Ferrit was in his. She very carefully scratched her cheek with the tip of one finger. “The beard does itch dreadfully, though. How long have you been here?”
“Long enough to learn a few things. Lord Malfeasance is a trifle cozy with the Duchess.”
“Is he? Interesting. There is a secret passageway between what is to be the Queen’s chamber and the apartment of Lord and Lady Malfeasance.”
“Your Queen or mine?” Ferrit asked, handing Faux the bottle.
“Mine,” she replied as she took it. “Queen Orca hasn’t been getting on well with Magnanimus lately. I think he may have discovered that she has been handing out large sums to Lord Bounder to finance that theater scheme of his.”
Ferrit laughed. “He’s never going to build that theater, you know. He spends it all on that drunken troupe of his. And on his smuggling operation. Have you found out what they are carrying yet?”
Faux nodded, handing the bottle back to him. “Escaped serfs.”
“Indeed?” Ferrit exclaimed with interest. “What, disguised as members of the troupe?”
“Precisely. They persuade serfs to leave their masters, promising them freedom, they take every copper the poor blighters have, then sell them to the highest bidder as soon as they get them over the border.”
Ferrit whistled. “I wonder what this unification of the kingdoms is going to do to Bounder’s business?”
“Good question,” Faux said. “After the wedding, there won’t be a border to smuggle across. For that matter, what will become of us? We won’t be on opposite sides anymore.”
“Never mind, there will always be suspicion, and where there is suspicion there will be need of us. But it will be a bit less interesting, eh?” He winked at her.
She blew him a kiss through her beard.
“Still,” Ferrit said, taking a sip from the bottle and handing it back to Faux, “I expect there are others who’ll take a blow if this marriage goes through.”
“Including the Duke himself. He has profited mightily from his neutrality.” She looked up. “Ah. Someone is coming. We’d best not be seen together.” Taking a last hasty sip, she corked the bottle and handed it to Ferrit. “To the kitchens with this, man, and don’t dawdle.”
He took the bottle with a bow and hurried back up the stairs. It was sometime later that he realized his purse was missing.
Just as the nobles were gathering to be seated for the welcoming banquet, Sir Unctius drew Ferrit aside. “My Lord!” he addressed the spy anxiously, “I have dreadful news!”
“Oh? And what might that be?” Ferrit asked.
“The Ancient Sword of King Manley which was to be the bridal gift to the bridegroom–it has disappeared! Stolen!”
“My, that is rather inconvenient, isn’t it?” Ferrit agreed, not particularly surprised. Something of the kind was bound to happen, after all. The Sword was an heirloom of the dynasty of King Beneficent, of priceless value, if one accepted its authenticity and all the legends that went along with it. Ferrit had reasonably good information that the Sword had been forged fairly recently, though modeled quite skillfully after the one which appeared in the portrait of King Manley, and was a part of a hoax perpetrated by Beneficent’s grandfather to validate his claim to the throne over that of a cousin. But no matter, its symbolism was what made it important.
“The great Sword was placed in my care to guard with my life until such time as it was to be presented to Prince Flambay. You must find it, Ferrit! The King will have my head if he finds out it’s gone!” The chamberlain was sweating profusely.
“Have no fear, dear Unctius,” Ferrit soothed him. “Have you touched anything in your apartment since you discovered it missing?”
“I turned the chamber upside down searching for it!”
Ferrit sighed. “That will make it rather difficult to find any clues. Ah, well. I shall give it a try.”
“Thank you! And you will be discreet?”
“I’ll not tell a soul. Now, go and present yourself at the banquet. I must get to work.”
Ferrit took advantage of the banquet to poke around a bit in the royal apartments. He first lured the chamber servants into a dice game, producing a bottle of fine spirits to lubricate their enthusiasm for the illicit entertainment. Then he hustled them to a secluded corner, so that they wouldn’t be seen in the game, and promised to watch the stairs and call to them if anyone came up. He had gotten as far as the apartment of the Baron and Baroness of Izzat when he heard voices on the stairs. He peered around the corner. It was Lord Malfeasance and a woman Ferrit did not immediately recognize. It might have been what it seemed, an idle dalliance. But Ferrit had a suspicious mind.
He hastened back up the hall to warn the servants to break up their game. It was always a good idea to keep one’s word in such situations–one never knew when a grateful servant could come in handy.
The crescent moon was rising above the parapets an hour later when Ferrit stepped out into the castle garden, breathing the night air and listening carefully. He concealed himself behind a rosebush topiary. When he saw a tall lady strolling idly by, he whistled softly. She arched an eyebrow, glanced around herself casually, and hissed, “Not behind there! I’ll tear my gown!” Then she strolled over to some statuary and found something interesting to examine behind a figure of Pan attended to by some poorly rendered nymphs.
“You look splendid, my dear,” Ferrit said, putting his arms around her waist and kissing her.
“Why, Ferrit!” Faux gasped when he let her up for air, “You take my breath away!”
“That’s not all,” he replied, holding up his purse, retrieved from where it had been concealed on her person. He jingled the contents. “I trust it’s all there.”
“Of course,” she said. “I only took it out of general principle.”
“I thank you for the tip earlier about the secret passageway,” he said, returning the purse to his pocket. “It made it far easier to eavesdrop on the conversation of Lord Malfeasance and a young lady he took to his chamber.”
“I take it you heard more for your trouble than mere giggled obscenities.”
“A bit more. The young lady is evidently an actress in Bounder’s troupe. They were discussing a message which the young lady had in her possession and intended to pass along to the Duke. Malfeasance offered to deliver it, but I got the impression she didn’t trust him.”
“Intelligent woman,” Faux observed.
“Oh, and by the way, the Sword’s been stolen.”
“Ah. So the other shoe has dropped.”
Ferrit cocked his head curiously. “The other shoe? Don’t tell me the Jewel of Brummagem has gone missing, too?” The Jewel was another bit of symbolism, intended as a gift for the bride from the bridegroom’s family. It was actually a quite lovely piece of work, worth a bit more on the open market than the Sword, with or without its legendary significance which was nearly as preposterous as the Sword’s. It was supposed to have been given to the Princess Ardora by the great Wizard Cozen as proof of her purity, and was said to burn the hand of any unchaste woman who tried to hold it. It was given to each bride of the crown prince in each generation of Magnanimus’s family. So far, nobody had failed the test, including the current Queen, who had been the very lovely widow of an exceedingly wealthy baron at the time of her marriage to the King. The Archbishop did some very clever sermonizing on the true nature of chastity at the wedding.
“The Jewel was placed in the keeping of Prince Flambay’s younger sister Bagnia,” Faux said.
“Hmm. Good advertising, that,” Ferrit commented.
“She needs it,” Faux agreed. “She has the reputation of having dallied with as many knights as her brother.”
“Some of the same knights, I’ve heard,” Ferrit said. “If the Prince produces an heir it will be God’s own miracle.”
“Particularly with Princess Narcissia. She’s been involved in a passionate love affair with her looking-glass since she was six.”
“Perhaps you could give her a few tips on dressing as a cavalier,” Ferrit suggested. “It may help on the wedding night.”
“There’s a thought. Although there might not be a wedding night if Princess Bagnia can’t produce the Jewel at the appointed time. She came to the Queen all in tears earlier tonight, reporting that it had been stolen from her chamber. And of course, Queen Orca turned to me.”
“Of course. By the way, has Her Majesty figured out yet that her High Lord Spy is actually a lady?”
“Not yet. She marvels at the way I look in woman’s garb.”
“So do I,” Ferrit said with a wink. Faux was really quite fetching when properly padded out and done up. There was a rumor which Faux would neither confirm nor deny, that she was really the illegitimate daughter of King Magnanimus himself, a child whom he didn’t dare acknowledge for fear of the wrath of the Queen. It would explain her unusual status in his court.
“I was searching the royal apartments this evening,” Ferrit continued thoughtfully. “I saw no one but Lord Malfeasance and his lady friend. And they were under my surveillance the entire time they were up there. When did Bagnia notice the loss?”
“Just before the welcoming banquet. But the Queen didn’t report it to me until about an hour ago.”
“Interesting. Stolen by the same agent?” Ferrit mused.
“It would seem illogical,” Faux replied. “We can assume the purpose for the theft is to sabotage the wedding. So why steal both? Either one going missing would effectively accomplish the purpose. Whichever side showed up empty-handed would be accused of violating the pre-nuptial agreements.”
“True. In fact, both sides coming up short would almost look better. They’d be on equal footing, at least.”
“So perhaps we should be spreading our suspicions around among those who stand to lose if the wedding goes on.” She grinned at Ferrit. “Spreads us rather thin, doesn’t it?”
“Discouragingly, yes,” he agreed. “On the other hand–” he stopped, cocking his head. They both heard the sounds of a scuffle in another part of the garden. There was a muffled cry, and then silence. With a glance at one another, they both silently began creeping towards the source of the sounds. Faux swore mutely, tugging at her skirts, muttering under her breath about female clothes being a curse and conspiracy designed to prevent women from being able to accomplish anything useful.
They tip-toed through a courtyard with a plashing fountain, the dancing water glittering in the moonlight. Poking about in the bushes, Faux swore again as her skirts caught on something, then she caught her breath. “Ferrit, come over here.”
“What is it?”
“Someone has been most helpful,” she said, bending to examine her discovery. Her colleague knelt beside her.
“Yes, indeed,” he murmured. “This rather simplifies things.” They had found the Sword of King Manley, wedged firmly between the ribs of Lord Malfeasance.
“Shh! Listen!” Faux hissed. “There’s someone in the bushes over there!”
“Allow me,” Ferrit offered. “I’m dressed for it.” He crept towards the rose hedge. There was a grunt and a moan. Cautiously, he crept around the edge of the bushes. A few moments later he returned to Faux, grinning. “Never mind,” he said, “The Prince is making the most of his last hours of bachelorhood.”
“Ah. Well, then. What do we do about this?” She prodded the inert body in the bushes with the toe of her slipper. “There’s going to be unpleasantness, of course.”
Ferrit withdrew the gore-smeared sword. “No need to complicate things more than necessary. I’ll get this cleaned up and returned to Lord Unctius’s care. You report the murder to the Duke’s guard.”
Faux nodded. “Poor fellow’s dead. It doesn’t matter really what sword killed him. We know, and that’s sufficient.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Ferrit agreed.
News of the murder of Lord Malfeasance was bound to dampen the festive atmosphere somewhat, but the kings and nobles gathered in the Duke’s private chambers all agreed they must bravely go ahead with the wedding on schedule. The Archbishop would be arriving on the morrow to perform the ceremony, and could conduct a proper funeral while he was in the neighborhood. An investigation of the crime would of course need to be conducted, but discreetly, and in a way that would not upset the ladies. The Sheriff of Oleander promised that justice would swiftly be served, and both King Beneficent and King Magnanimus promised the cooperation and assistance of their most able Lord High Spies. The Sheriff thanked their Majesties, but assured them aloofly that he required no assistance.
It was quite late. Ferrit stood concealed behind a tapestry, waiting for the Sheriff to finish his business with the chief of the Duke’s guard. It had been rather amusing following him about, and mildly informative. Ferrit had learned the whereabouts and details of the activities of a number of members of the Duke’s household and guests. It seemed the Sheriff had decided to pin the blame on a minor earl who was known to have expressed impure thoughts towards Lady Malfeasance. Although there was not a shred of evidence, the Sheriff had managed to build up a case on the earl’s lack of an alibi for that hour of the evening, and the fact that he had recently cleaned his sword. Never mind that nearly everyone in the castle had been polishing their swords, diadems and belt buckles in preparation for the wedding ceremony. The Sheriff had promised swift justice, and by God, he intended to deliver it.
Ferrit recognized Faux in the guise of a male domestic servant, carrying a pair of highly polished boots and an assortment of cloths and waxes, conducting her own search of the royal apartments. As they passed in the hallway, the servant dropped a boot, and Lord Ferrit was kind enough to pick it up for the poor, harried man. Thus Faux surreptitiously informed him that she had not been able to gain access to the apartment of the Duke’s chief steward, and it might be interesting to do so. A bit of study of the arrangement of the apartments gave him an idea. It took some nimble footwork climbing along the outside wall, but the stones were rough, the castle was old and the mortar loose, and Ferrit excelled at that sort of thing. He slipped through a window into the inner chamber of the steward’s apartment while the steward conversed with the Duke in an outer room. A hasty examination of the parchments unrolled on the table proved most enlightening.
“Well, well, well,” he murmured to himself, examining one in particular. He was carefully returning the documents to the order in which he’d found them when the approach of voices necessitated a hasty retreat out the window.
He was perspiring rather heavily from the strain of crawling along a sheer wall some fifty feet off the ground, and was understandably eager to get back to safety. His fingers and toes ached. The apartment of the first window he came to was occupied, forcing him to keep going. It was a slow, difficult business, and with immense relief he gained the window sill of an empty room. He looked through the curtain carefully before jumping down to the floor, and then cautiously peered around the door into the hallway before leaving the room. His long nose twitched. Something was wrong. He wasn’t sure exactly what, but the hallway seemed too quiet. He waited several minutes watching for some concrete sign of danger, but saw nothing. So he closed the door and started down the hall.
He noticed the torch flicker, as if from the rapid movement of someone around the corner ahead of him, and he stopped, crouching, instantly alert. He saw the shadow and reached for his dagger, but before he could grasp it they were on him. Had it been just the one, grabbing him from behind, he could have managed it. If it had been just the two swordsmen in front he would have had no trouble at all. But the combination had him in a devil of a spot. He felt the edge of a sharp blade against his throat, and a harsh voice said, “If he makes a move, run him through. Don’t hesitate–he’s tricky!”
“You have me at a disadvantage, Sir,” Ferrit said.
“Indeed we do, Lord Sneak-Thief! You’ve poked your rat-face into one hole too many!”
“Let’s get this over with before somebody comes,” the swordsman on the left hissed, glancing nervously behind them down the hall. The swordsman on the right put his blade against Ferrit’s chest. It seemed quite hopeless, but it was against his nature to go down without a fight. He had to at least drive his foot cripplingly into somebody’s groin as a parting gesture. Just as he was tensing his muscles for a swift twist and kick, a sudden blur of motion appeared and disappeared beyond them at the end of the hall. A tiny, whirring projectile zipped past the swordsmen and landed with a soft “thuk” in the forehead of the knife-wielding assailant. He sucked in a final, startled breath and the pressure of the knife against Ferrit’s throat went lax. The two swordsmen spun in the direction of this sudden assault, tensed for a counter-attack, but they saw no one there. Ferrit’s planned twist and kick carried greater conviction now as he writhed deftly out of his assailant’s fading grip and knocked the sword out of the nearest man’s hand. He pivoted and disarmed the other a split-second later with a blow that likely broke the swordsman’s wrist. His next kick to the first man’s head knocked him off his feet senseless to the floor. The second man turned and fled in a panic down the hall. In a single, smooth motion, Ferrit pulled his dagger and threw. It landed squarely in the fleeing man’s back and stopped him short. He stumbled and fell, twitching once.
“I love watching you work,” Faux said with admiration as she stepped out from around the corner.
Ferrit turned towards her and bowed. “My thanks to you for providing me the opportunity. Most timely of you.”
“You’re quite welcome. Dear me, I hope you aren’t hurt badly.”
He touched his throat, his fingers coming away wet and red from where the knife had nicked him. “No worse than I’ve done to myself shaving,” he replied, hastily applying a handkerchief to the cut before the blood could spoil his collar.
“I was keeping an eye on your friend on the floor there. He happened to be in the courtyard when you did your bit of wall climbing.”
“Damn, I’d hoped the darkness would cover me.”
“It would have, except he just happened to look up as you were coming out of the window. You were outlined in the light.” She shrugged. “Bad luck, that’s all. It happens to the best of us.”
Ferrit knelt by his assailant, examining the spiked disk protruding from his forehead. “Very nice! Where did you acquire this little toy?”
Faux retrieved it carefully, using a cloth to hold it as she tugged it from the man’s skull. “I was on a mission last year to the East among the Moguls. It’s called an adder bee. Quite effective. The blades are poisoned.”
“Fascinating!” Ferrit murmured.
“True adepts can even curve them around corners,” she said, tucking it away in a case and concealing it in her belt. “My proficiency hasn’t progressed that far.”
“It was quite sufficient to the occasion. You must teach me how to use one of those.”
She bent over the inert swordsman. “It appears that you killed him.”
“I hit him a bit harder than I meant to. The excitement of the moment, you see.”
“Never mind, he doesn’t matter so much. This is the one we’re interested in.” She searched the man with the knife and pulled a pouch out of his pocket. “Ah, this is what we want.” Faux grinned, the Jewel rolling out into her hand.
“Splendid! He’s the Duke’s man, of course.”
“Of course. The Duke didn’t want to take the risk of having the Jewel found in his room or on his person. But he ordered its theft. You found the evidence in the steward’s chamber?”
“Oh, yes,” Ferrit said. “It seems it was Lord Bounder who stole the Sword, evidently for the same reason the Duke stole the Jewel. Each planned to disrupt the wedding and wreck the treaty to protect their own profitable enterprises. But they had no idea what the other had done. Lord Malfeasance likely found out from Queen Orca that the Jewel was missing, no doubt from eavesdropping using the very same secret passageway that I did. He then found out from the Duchess that the Duke had it. In the meantime, I suspect your dear Queen, who has been so generous to Lord Bounder with the royal funds, was equally generous with the royal secrets, and confided to him that the Jewel was missing. Lord Bounder, realizing the implications, knew he had to do something. So he sent one of his actresses with a message to the Duke, which Lord Malfeasance attempted to intercept.”
“Unsuccessfully, I assume, since it must have ended up among the steward’s papers, which you saw.”
“You’re partly correct. However, Malfeasance managed to bribe the young lady into letting him take a look at the message before she delivered it.”
“Ah,” Faux nodded. “So the Duke knew Malfeasance was involved. Otherwise, I would have simply assumed that Bounder had killed him, returning the Sword, so to speak.”
“Quite so. The Duke would have been able to tell that the seal on the message had been tampered with, and a lady bribed once is easily bribed twice. Of course, there is still the matter of motive, isn’t there? Why do you think it became necessary to dispatch Lord Malfeasance?”
From the twinkle in his eye Faux could tell that Ferrit had already surmised an answer. She pondered for a moment. “Lord Malfeasance owed his allegiance to King Beneficent. He ought to have reported what he knew to the King immediately. But he didn’t did he?” She grinned. “I’ll wager you found a blackmail letter among the steward’s papers. Malfeasance likely sent a similar note to Bounder. He thought to enrich his own coffers with a threat to expose their treachery.”
“Very good!” Ferrit said with admiration.
“So, which of them actually killed him? Bounder? That would make sense, since he was in possession of the Sword.”
“That’s my guess. But it was almost certainly done in collusion with the Duke.” Ferrit stretched his arms and yawned. “Well, then. Since we’ve figured that all out, I’d say we ought to get some sleep. It’s quite late after all, and tomorrow will be a busy day.”
“An excellent suggestion. We’ll leave it to the servants to clean up this mess. Good night, my dear Ferrit.”
“And a good night to you, my dear Faux.”
They each reported to their respective sovereigns in the morning, each naturally claiming full credit for themselves for the investigation. The kings were appropriately impressed with the swift efficiency of their Lord High Spies.
“Damned confusing business!” King Beneficent grumbled. “Can’t make head nor tail of it!”
“Never mind, Your Majesty,” Ferrit reassured him. “That’s what you have me for.”
The Sheriff of Oleander was disappointed that he had to abandon his nicely salacious theory concerning the poor Earl, but the thought of taking down two much higher placed nobles instead consoled him. The Archbishop arrived with his retinue, blessing everything in sight, and the royal wedding took place quite smoothly, except for a tantrum or two on the part of the princess bride, who thought her gown not quite splendid enough.
As the royal entourages prepared to depart for their home turf, Ferrit sought out a young red-haired man in the stables who was currying a large war horse.
“And where might you be off to now?” he asked.
“I’m to be the page to Sir Trog, Knight Protector of the new Royal Couple. I’ll be going along to keep an eye on things.”
“That should be an interesting assignment,” Ferrit said enviously.
“Oh, no doubt, especially since Sir Trog was the fellow you discovered wrestling with the Prince in the bushes the other night.”
Ferrit laughed. “You’ll have to tell me all about it when we meet again. Dear, Faux, I shall miss you!”
“Are we quite alone?” she asked, glancing around.
“I expect so. Common folk seem to always find business elsewhere when they see me coming.”
Faux started to slip her arms around him, but he stepped back. “Now, you know it makes me feel odd kissing you when you are dressed as a man,” he protested.
“So close you eyes,” she replied, firmly taking hold of him. Of course Ferrit could not close his eyes; it was against his nature. But he surrendered to the pleasant, if somewhat unsettling, inevitable.
As he strolled back across the courtyard, he watched the nuptial caravan depart. Princess Narcissus looked quite grand and made sure everyone noticed; Prince Flambay looked at the manly assemblage of soldiers around him and noted particular individuals with speculative interest. Ferrit hoped with a grin that the Prince wouldn’t set his sights on a certain red-haired page. Then it occurred to him to check his pockets. His purse was missing. Shaking his head with a chuckle, he pulled Faux’s purse from his belt and tossed it in the air, noting its substantial jingle with satisfaction.