DargonZine 16, Issue 3

Hidden Talents Part 2

Yuli 1, 1018


This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Hidden Talents

Although it was a warm summer morning, Allara sat at her desk in the scriptorium of Dargon Keep. She enjoyed the coolness of the room, which would keep her comfortable, especially during the midday heat. She’d already finished the tasks assigned to her and had started a drawing to keep herself occupied. The twittering birds outside tempted her to leave and take a walk around the woods near the keep, and Allara found it difficult to resist. She knew that her father, Rish Vogel, would be most displeased if he found her gone without having dismissed her. He was the duke’s scribe and chronicler, and had taught her how to read and write in order that she might be able to perform tedious tasks for him such as copying notes. Rish had been out for the past two bells attending to court bus iness at the request of Duke Clifton Dargon. A sigh escaped Allara and her hand dropped. The quill she’d been holding came to a careless rest atop a drawing of a songbird she had created, letting ink seep onto the paper.

 

The last sennight had been rather difficult for her. Her father was still holding a grudge for her disobedience, even if it had led to the discovery of a stolen plate. He had given her all the copying tasks he could think of to keep her at the desk and, in his opinion, out of trouble. At least for today, she’d already finished her tasks. No doubt when her father arrived he would find something else for her, but meanwhile she could occupy herself to her liking.

With another sigh, Allara looked from the door to her drawing, placed the quill into its holder, and took a piece of blotting paper to minimize the stain on her picture. Her father would certainly frown upon her use of paper and ink for drawing instead of for official documents, but she didn’t care. It wasn’t fair that she had to sit around doing nothing but wait; he had been summoned away before he’d had a chance to assign her more tasks for the day.

 

She picked up a fresh charcoal stick and continued the sketch. At least with the use of charcoal sticks she wouldn’t be blamed for wasting ink. She had managed to capture the likeness of a songbird in a tree and was proud of her work. “It really turned out well,” Allara thought, with a slight smile on her face, and added some more detail to the bird. With a few strokes of her charcoal stick she turned the ink blot into a fruit.

 

A few moments later, the door opened. Allara glanced up, expecting to see her father. Instead, a blonde girl wearing an embroidered dress of dark green strode in, followed by two other girls dressed in similar fashion. Allara’s heart sank; the blonde girl was Valrica Deshay, daughter of a wealthy shipwright. Valrica lived at the keep whenever her father was out of town on business. The other two were her friends, Leda and Ranae. The three of them were known around the court as “the Mourning Sisters,” due to their affectation of dyeing the ends of their hair mourning blue. They delighted in teasing and gossiping about people they didn’t like, and Allara was one of their favorite targets.

 

“Hail and well met, Lady Allara,” Valrica said with a faint sneer. “Doing important work today?”

 

“Um, yes, I’m very busy,” Allara lied, hoping that her father would return soon. “What do you want?”

 

“Oh, just stopped in to chat,” Valrica replied. Allara felt a stab of apprehension as Leda, a tall, lanky girl, firmly closed the door.

 

Ranae, who wore a ring on each finger of both hands, moved over to one side of the desk while Valrica stood at the other. Allara noted with a twinge of alarm that one of the rings on Ranae’s right hand bore a cluster of little spikes.

 

“If you have no official business to bring, leave,” Allara said firmly, pointing to the door. “How did you get past the guard?”

 

Valrica smirked, ignoring the question, and said, “We heard you were the one who figured out where the Founding Day prize was hidden. Very smart of you to do so, yes it was.”

 

“Thank you,” Allara replied, trying not to show any fear.

 

“So how did you do it?” Valrica asked, putting her hands on her hips and leaning down.

 

Allara gazed at the blonde girl but made no reply. About a sennight ago, one of the servants had noticed that the silver plate that was to be the contest prize during the Founding Day celebration was missing. The day after the theft, a messenger pigeon had been stolen from the keep’s pigeon coop, but it had returned with a strange message. Allara had figured out that the message revealed the location of the stolen plate, and the town guard had recovered it.

 

“What, shivaree got your tongue?” Ranae said.

 

“How did I do what?” answered Allara, ignoring Ranae’s snide comment.

 

“Work out what the pigeon’s message really meant, stupid,” said Valrica.

 

Allara squared her shoulders. “Um, shouldn’t you be dyeing your hair? The blue’s starting to fade.”

 

Valrica straightened up and began strolling around the room, lightly touching things as she passed. She stopped at a shelf and picked up a small ceramic pot with a cork in the top. “Is this ink?” She shook the little pot, then uncorked it and peered inside. “Yes, it is.”

 

“Put that back,” said Allara, starting to rise from her chair. Ranae gripped her shoulder and forced her back down.

 

“Oh, and look,” cooed Valrica. “She put her initials on the pot, how cute. Don’t want to get it confused with Smelly Vogel’s ink pots!” Leda and Ranae laughed.

 

Outrage flared through Allara. “Shut up and get out of here, you … witches!” she cried. “Guard!”

 

“Oh, don’t bother, he won’t come,” Ranae giggled.

 

“Guard!” Allara screamed, but the door remained closed.

 

“Told you,” Leda grinned.

 

“What did you do to him?” Allara was furious.

 

“Oh, nothing you need to concern yourself with,” Ranae replied nonchalantly and made way for Valrica.

 

“I think this cork has some ink on it,” said Valrica. She moved over to Allara’s desk and spotted the sketch of the bird. “Maybe I should clean it off for you.” She held the cork over the paper.

 

“No! Stop it!” Allara tried to grab the sketch off the desk, but Ranae went behind her and grabbed her arms. Leda came over and helped restrain Allara.

 

“You know who sent the message, don’t you? I can’t believe a little bastard skrat like you could figure it out on your own.”

 

“Let go of me!” Allara yelled, struggling.

 

“Then tell me,” Valrica replied, lowering the cork.

 

“I don’t know who sent it! Just get out of here now!”

 

Valrica shrugged, then began dabbing the cork onto the paper, making round black impressions over the bird. She replaced the cork, shook the ink pot, then took the cork out and started to move it toward Allara’s face.

 

“Stop it! I’m telling my father on you, and he’ll tell the duke!” Allara wailed.

 

At this, Valrica stamped the cork forcefully on the bird sketch. She nodded to Ranae and Leda, who released Allara. Putting the cork back on the ink pot, Valrica said, “You’re not going to tell anyone, because you know what we can do to you if you do.” The three girls turned and began walking to the door. As they passed Vogel’s desk, Leda knocked over a brush holder, sending the brushes clattering all over the floor.

 

Valrica paused at the door. “You had one chance to tell me the truth, skrat. But since you didn’t, not even the duke can save you.” She waited until the other girls had left the room, then gave a little wink and slammed the door behind her.

 

Allara began sobbing. “Witches!” she screamed. Her tears fell on the bird sketch, forming little rivulets of ink and charcoal as they ran down the paper.

 

***

 

By the time Rish Vogel returned to the scriptorium, Allara had composed herself and cleaned up the room. The bird sketch she had sadly burned in the fireplace. Vogel barely glanced at her as he gathered up some papers and informed Allara that since the duke needed him for the rest of the day, she was free to do whatever she wished.

 

When he left, Allara went to her bedroom and cried into a pillow for a long time. It was bad enough that people at the court looked down on her for being Rish Vogel’s bastard daughter, and that her father clearly resented having had to take her into his care after her mother’s death. But to have those mean, heartless girls ruin the things that gave her pleasure was almost too much to endure.

 

An emptiness in her stomach reminded Allara that she hadn’t had anything to eat since early morning. She poured some water on a rag and pressed it against her face so others wouldn’t notice she’d been crying. “I’m done crying,” she thought. “Next time I’ll fight. Nothing’s going to change unless I do something about it.”

 

It was now nearing midday. Allara went down to the keep’s kitchen, fixed herself a small meal and then went out to the courtyard. The keep’s cook only gave her a brief glance and continued with her pastry making as Allara entered and left the kitchen. Donia, a servant girl and friend to Allara, was sitting on a bench in the shade of one of the keep’s three towers. She walked over to her and sat down.

 

Donia was eating an apple and had a cloth draped across her lap; on top of the cloth was a thick slice of bread and a wedge of cheese. Allara sighed and unwrapped the cloth bundle that held her midday meal. When she didn’t start eating right away, Donia asked, “Something wrong, ‘Lara?”

 

“No,” Allara glumly replied. She heaved another sigh.

 

“You’ve been crying, haven’t you?” When Allara didn’t answer, Donia didn’t inquire further. Instead she peered at Allara’s lap. “What do you have there, a leftwich? What’s in it?”

 

“Just some roast chicken.”

 

“Oh, did you hear about the chickens?”

 

Allara shook her head. “What about them?”

 

“Well,” Donia said, lowering her voice, “I heard the cooks talking about something strange this morning. A few days ago they were counting up all the chickens they had to see how many they needed to buy for the Founding Day feast, and they discovered another one missing.”

 

“Another one?” Allara inquired. “What happened with the first missing chicken?”

 

“It’s a mystery,” Donia began. “The first chicken went missing about a sennight ago. The cook thought a fox had managed to get it, but there was no trace. And then a couple days later the second chicken went missing.”

 

“They weren’t stolen, were they?”

 

“No. They were found on the trash heap, with their throats cut and all the blood gone. But they hadn’t been plucked or anything, just killed!”

 

“Why would anyone kill a chicken that they didn’t intend to eat? That’s just wasteful!”

 

“I don’t know! It’s very mysterious, like who stole the Founding Day plate and the black pigeon.”

 

Allara nodded. Captain Koren and Lieutenant Milnor of the Dargon town guard had asked for her help in finding out the identity of the people responsible for the thefts, but she hadn’t been able to determine who might have done one or the other. She took a bite of the leftwich and then asked, “Has the duke heard of this?”

 

Donia shrugged. “Maybe you could ask him yourself.”

 

Allara pondered this new mystery as she ate her midday meal. Was there a link between the two thefts and the chicken killings? Could it all be the work of the same person, or had they all been committed by different people?

 

“Do you think a witch or a mage took the chickens, plotting evil against the duke?” Donia asked, her eyes wide.

 

“I don’t know, Donia,” Allara said, pensively. “I don’t know.”

 

A witch or mage, Allara thought, that would explain why no one had seen anyone take the plate, why no one remembered if anyone had entered the pigeon coop, and why no one knew why the chickens had been killed and left on the trash heap.

 

“Do I even know a witch?” Allara asked herself. “No, I don’t know even one witch, but hadn’t there been a mage been in town not too long ago? Straight! There had been a mage! Father had talked about him. What was that name?” A smile ran across Allara’s face as she recalled the name. “Anarr! Straight. Father mentioned he’d seen him in town. But would he steal a silver plate and then hide it? Or steal a pigeon and return it with a clue as to where to find the plate? He could always use magic to get in and out of the keep unseen.”

 

“What are you thinking?” Donia interrupted Allara’s thoughts.

 

“Just wondering who could have killed the chickens and why,” she responded and took a bite from her leftwich.

 

A group of children led by an old man entered the courtyard. Allara recognized the old man as Cavendish, tutor to the boys and girls that lived at the keep. She had been taught by him as well when she first had come to live there. As the group drew closer, Allara heard the scribe spell out an unfamiliar word.

 

“Now then,” she heard him say, “If you spell that backwards, what word does it make?”

 

The children babbled and shouted out guesses. Cavendish stopped when he reached Allara and Donia and said, “Perhaps these young ladies know the answer?”

 

“No! I know!” exclaimed a young dark-haired boy. “It says, ‘kingdom’.”

 

“Very good, Martyn! You are correct!” said the scribe.

 

Allara smiled. Cavendish liked to use word games to keep his students challenged. She had gotten good at solving them, but there had been one boy in her class who usually figured them out faster than she could … Suddenly another thought struck her: it wasn’t Anarr who had sent the note. She abruptly stood up, dumping the cloth with the leftwich remnants off her lap.

 

“What’s the matter, ‘Lara?” Donia asked.

 

“Nothing, I … I just have to go now.” She turned and dashed back to the keep, leaving Donia, the scribe, and the children staring after her in bewilderment.

 

***

 

In a sparsely furnished room that overlooked the river Coldwell, Allara found a chubby young man seated behind a table strewn with papers, bits of leftover food, and half-melted candles. He was fourteen, a year younger than Allara, and his black shoulder-length hair was uncombed. He was busily copying something from a scroll, and seemed oblivious to the girl’s entrance into the room. As she closed the door, the lock inside fell into place.

 

Allara waited until he paused to dip his quill into an ink pot and then said, “Hello, Hayden!”

 

The young man jerked and quickly looked up, a startled look on his face. “Oh, Allara. You … I didn’t hear you there.”

 

“I’m sorry.” She clasped her hands behind her back and approached the table. Her eyes turned wide when she noticed in what he’d been writing into. “You got a leather-bound book!” she exclaimed. “Where’d you get that from?”

 

Hayden’s cheeks turned slightly red and he smiled. “My uncle gave it to me when he returned from his latest trip. Father didn’t like it too much. He thinks I spend too much time in my room.”

 

“Working on your poetry?”

 

Hayden nodded. “Yes, I just had some inspiration last night. I’m hoping I’ll be invited to read a few of them on Founding Day.”

 

“Aren’t you going to enter the contest?”

 

“Which contest?”

 

“The one for the silver plate.”

 

Hayden cleared his throat and glanced down at the table. He brushed away a dried bread crust before looking back up at Allara. “No, I probably won’t. What do I need a plate for that you can’t eat from?” His chuckle seemed forced.

 

Allara pulled a wooden chair up to the table and sat down across from him. “Did you hear about the pigeon?”

 

Hayden’s eyes shifted left and right. “Yes, I … heard that you were there when it returned. And that it had a message about the plate that got stolen.”

 

“Right. The message was some nonsense about unholy men stealing the prize, but if you took the first letter of each line, you got the word ’causeway’.”

 

“Causeway,” Hayden repeated. “The bridge across the river.”

 

“The plate was buried on the north side of the river. No one would have thought to look for the plate outside the keep. So how did the person who sent the message know where to find it?”

 

“Ah, well …” Hayden sighed and shrugged. “Who knows?”

 

“Perhaps *you* do,” Allara said quickly.

 

The young man gasped. “No, not me!”

 

“Hayden, there aren’t many people in the keep who can read or write, much less make up word riddles. I’m fairly certain Cavendish didn’t send that message, since his hands shake so badly.”

 

Hayden exhaled loudly, then stood up and moved around the table. Allara watched as he poked his head out the door, then closed and locked it. He returned to his seat and stared at Allara. Finally, in a low whisper, he said, “Yes, I did it.”

 

“What?” Allara leaned across the table.

 

“I did it,” Hayden said again. “I stole the pigeon and sent the message.”

 

“So I was right!” Allara exclaimed.

 

Hayden shushed her, waving his arms. “Please don’t tell anyone!”

 

“And you know who stole the plate. Tell me who did it!”

 

“I … I can’t.” Hayden buried his face in his hands.

 

Allara went to his side and put an arm around his shoulder. He looked up at her, his eyes filling with tears. Quickly, he wiped them dry.

 

“Why can’t you tell me?” Allara asked softly.

 

“Because she … I just can’t.”

 

“Hayden, if you know the truth –”

 

“It’s Valrica!” the young man burst out.

 

This time it was Allara’s turn to gasp in surprise. After a moment, she said, “You’re sure? Valrica, daughter of Jindrich the shipwright?”

 

“Yes, her.” Hayden slumped in his chair.

 

“How did you find out? How long have you known this? How …?”

 

Hayden pulled away from her and stood up. He began pacing the room. “I wanted to tell someone, I really did, but you know what she’s like, what she does.”

 

“I certainly do.” She replied and told him about her morning encounter with Valrica and her friends.

 

Hayden hung his head, guilt plain on his face. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

 

“No, but it did. So don’t you think you owe me the truth about everything you know?”

 

“Everything?” Hayden went to the open window, inhaled deeply, then turned and sank down against the wall. “If I tell you everything, then soon enough everyone will know and laugh at me.”

 

Allara sat down beside him and put a hand on his knee, saying nothing. They sat in silence for several long moments, then Hayden murmured, “I suppose I couldn’t keep it secret forever.”

 

“Go on,” Allara said.

 

“Straight, then. You know all of my family lives here in the southeast hall, don’t you?”

 

Allara nodded, recalling that it was where many of the influential courtiers and nobles resided.

 

“Well,” Hayden continued, “not long after we moved in here, I discovered a space behind a wall of my bedroom.”

 

“A space?”

 

“Straight, just large enough for me to fit in.” He drew a breath. “There was also a small hole in the back of the space. Just big enough to look through. So I looked into it and …”

 

“And what did you see?” Allara prompted.

 

“I saw into Valrica’s room.”

 

Allara put a hand to her mouth. “Oh my.”

 

“At first I didn’t know whose room it was, so I just kept looking in from time to time. Then one night I saw Valrica come in, and she began undressing, and …”

 

Allara felt her face turn hot as she completed the thought. “You didn’t, um, watch her, did you?”

 

Hayden said nothing.

 

“Oh my.” Allara began to feel extremely uncomfortable, but forced herself to continue. “How many times did you look into her room?”

 

“Almost every night.”

 

Allara took a deep breath, but said nothing. She wasn’t sure what to make of his confession so far.

 

Hayden looked at her and said, “You think I’m sick, don’t you? I can see that you do.”

 

“I don’t think that,” Allara lied. “But tell me how you found out that she stole the silver plate.”

 

“You’ll think even worse of me.”

 

“I still have to know.”

 

Hayden closed his eyes for a moment, then said, “What’s the name of that boy she’s always with? Brown curly hair, green eyes . He won that bronze horse figure at the Melrin joust.”

 

“You mean Kirwin?”

 

“Straight, him. I saw them together in Valrica’s room the night before the plate went missing.”

 

“They were talking about it?”

 

“Well … not at first. Not talking, I mean.”

 

Allara stood up in alarm, afraid of what he was going to reveal next. “Please say that they were just kissing.”

 

“They were doing much more than just kissing, Allara.”

 

Allara drew in a deep breath. “What then?”

 

“Then, they were laughing. Valrica said something about her sister Una crying when she found out that the plate was gone.”

 

Allara knew that Una was Valrica’s older sister, and that Una had a talent for metal engraving. But unlike her younger sibling, Una was pleasant and friendly.

 

“So Valrica stole it just to be mean to her sister? I can’t believe she’d be such a … a …”

 

“I know,” Hayden said. “But I did hear her saying all kinds of bad things about Una, and that she didn’t deserve the honor of engraving the plate.”

 

“Valrica always was jealous of Una, that’s true,” Allara agreed. “But how precisely did Valrica steal the plate without getting caught?”

 

“She used a pendant. A crystal pendant that had the power to make people forget.”

 

“Magic!” Allara exclaimed. “Where did she get it?”

 

Hayden shrugged. “They didn’t talk about that, but I did find out that it only worked after being soaked in fresh blood.”

 

“The chickens!” said Allara.

 

“How did you know?”

 

“I’ll explain that later. But you said the pendant made people forget?”

 

“Straight. Valrica said that she was walking down the hall with the plate under her arm, and a guard saw her, but after she used the pendant on him he went on his way without saying a single word.”

 

Allara furrowed her brow in thought. So that was how it had been done: Valrica took the plate and made everyone she ran across forget that they had seen her. Small wonder that the theft had baffled everyone; they hadn’t considered magic!

 

“What about the pigeon, then?” Allara asked.

 

Before the young man could answer, a knock sounded at the door. A muffled voice called out, “Hayden, why did you lock this door? Open, please!”

 

Hayden leaped up, alarmed. “You’ve got to hide!” he whispered fearfully, pulling Allara to her feet.

 

“Open up!” the voice said, more insistently.

 

Hayden shoved Allara over to the wall, next to the door hinge. “Just a moment!” he said loudly. He looked at Allara, put two fingers to his lips, and then unlocked the door. She nodded, then Hayden pulled the door open halfway.

 

“Yes, uncle?” he said brightly.

 

“What are you doing in there? Locking yourself in with a girl?”

 

The man’s voice sounded deep and strong, so Allara imagined him to be a large man.

 

“I’m transcribing my poetry, if you have to know,” Hayden said stiffly. “I don’t want to be disturbed.”

 

The uncle snorted. “Well, pardon my *disturbance*, but your mother wants you to clean up your room before the evening meal. Don’t know why she couldn’t have had a damn servant tell you that, but there it is.”

 

“Straight, uncle, I’ll remember.”

 

“Eh, you always say that, don’t you?” Hayden’s uncle muttered something that Allara didn’t quite hear, then there was silence. A moment later Hayden closed and locked the door.

 

“Sorry for pushing you back like that,” he said, “but I didn’t want anyone to see us together.”

 

“I understand,” said Allara. They returned to their chairs at the table. “You were telling me about the pigeon?”

 

“I wanted to tell someone about Valrica and her pendant,” Hayden replied, “but was afraid of what she would do to me if I told. So I came up with that note, and prayed to all the gods that someone would read it and work out the true meaning.”

 

“How did you get the pigeon, though?”

 

“I used Valrica’s pendant.” Hayden went on. “I saw where Valrica hid the pendant. The next day I sneaked into her room when she wasn’t there and borrowed it.”

 

“What if she had come back and discovered that it was gone?” Allara asked.

 

“Not much she could have done, straight?” Hayden grinned. “But since she mentioned killing a chicken for the blood, that’s what I did too. And after I’d dipped it in the blood, the pendant glowed for a moment and got warm. The blood seemed to drain *into* the pendant, like it was soaking it all in.”

 

“So then you just went into the coop, took the black pigeon and walked right out past everyone there?”

 

Hayden nodded. “I made them look at the pendant, let it swing back and forth in front of their eyes, and just said things like, ‘forget I was here’ or ‘forget that you saw me’, over and over in a low voice until the pendant would glow for a moment. Then everyone would simply act like I wasn’t there.”

 

“Why did you wait until the day after the plate was stolen to release the pigeon?”

 

“I, ah, fell asleep.” Hayden explained. “I had gone into the coop late at night, but by the time I got back to my room with the pigeon I was so tired I just went to bed without tying the note to the pigeon and letting it go. When I woke up, I had to find a place outside where I could release it without anyone seeing me.”

 

“Couldn’t you have just left the note in the duke’s room? Or even my room?”

 

“I wanted to have it come from outside the keep. That way no one would think the pigeon had been taken by someone living here.”

 

“And you returned the pendant to Valrica’s room without anyone seeing you.”

 

“I made sure she was out of the keep before I returned it. She never missed it.”

 

Allara sat silently for several heartbeats, then said, “And that’s the whole story?”

 

“Everything,” answered Hayden.

 

“I’m going to have to tell all this to the duke, and to –”

 

“No, you mustn’t!” Hayden cried. “I only told you because I know that you keep your promises. So you have to promise not to repeat this to anyone.”

 

“Then you’ll have to be the one to tell the truth. Valrica has to be punished for what she did!”

 

Hayden shook his head fiercely. “If people find out that I’ve been secretly spying on her, they may not be as calm about it as you’ve been.”

 

Allara sighed; he was right about that. Hayden’s whole family might end up paying for his indiscretions. “But listen,” she said, holding up a finger for emphasis, “the cooks found two dead chickens on the rubbish pile. One of them was killed by Valrica, the other by you. I don’t know if she knows about the second chicken, but when she finds out, she’ll become suspicious, and she might change the hiding place of the pendant. You have to tell someone right now, so they can find the pendant and prove that your story is true.”

 

Hayden gave an anguished groan. “But it’s over now! The plate is back, the pigeon is back. Why does it still matter?”

 

“Because it’s the truth!”

 

The young man stared at her, breathing heavily. Suddenly he seized her hands. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone!”

 

“Hayden, please, I –”

 

“Promise me,” he whispered, voice sinking low. Tears welled up in his eyes.

 

Allara pursed her lips, then finally gave a sharp nod. Hayden sagged back in relief and released her. “Thank you,” he said.

 

“For what?” Allara said bitterly. She abruptly got out of her chair, unlocked the door, then flung it open. After casting a final look back at Hayden, she quickly walked away.

 

***

 

Two days later, Allara was finishing the copying tasks her father had given her. She was working as quickly as she could without sacrificing accuracy or neatness. When she placed the stack of parchments in front of her father to look at, she received a rare smile from him.

 

“May I have the rest of the afternoon, father?” she asked hopefully. Rish nodded briefly and Allara rushed out, giving the guard a quick smile as she closed the door. The day was perfect. Valrica, Leda, and Ranae had left that morning for a day at the market. Allara had overheard them talking in the kitchen as she had breakfast. Smiling inwardly, she made her way to Valrica’s room and entered. It took her several menes to locate the item she’d been searching for. Allara took a deep breath, placed the pendant in her small purse, and left the room unseen.

 

Back in her room, Allara let out a deep sigh of relief and pulled the pendant out of her purse. She had accomplished what she had set out to do: to take the jewel away from Valrica. “What next?” Allara thought and held it in front of her eyes. “Somehow I have to break it, to make sure Valrica will never again use it. Would it break? What would happen if it was destroyed?” She took a long look at the pendant. It was some kind of stone and looked ordinary enough with its green color and teardrop shape. Through the tip of the stone someone had drilled a fine hole and threaded a thin piece of wire. Part of the wire was wound around the tip, the rest made a loop. A thin piece of leather strap served as a chain. “It doesn’t look like it can do anything,” Allara thought. “I wonder what would happen if I dipped it in some blood?” She was so focused on the pendant tha t she almost dropped it when suddenly her door flew open and an enraged Valrica stormed in.

 

“You!” Valrica shouted and flung herself towards Allara. Allara sidestepped and Valrica fell to the floor.

 

“Hello, Valrica, how nice of you to visit,” Allara said with a sneer. “What brings you here?”

 

“You stole my pendant!” Valrica yelled while getting up. “I know you have it! My servant Sara saw you take it out of my room. Hand it over!”

 

“Who stole what?” another voice asked from the door.

 

“Hello, Lieutenant Milnor,” Allara greeted the woman. “Thank you for coming.” Valrica spun around.

 

“Hello Allara, Valrica,” the lieutenant replied and entered the room.

 

“Arrest that thief,” Valrica yelled at the lieutenant. “She stole my pendant!”

 

“You mean this one?” Allara asked and pulled the pendant out of the cup, swinging it back and forth. “I only borrowed it.” Valrica reached for it, but Allara was faster and moved it out of her reach.

 

“Yes, that one! Give it back!” Valrica made another attempt to grab the pendant, but without success.

 

“Sit down, Valrica, and be quiet for a mene,” Lieutenant Milnor directed the enraged youth. “Allara, hand me the pendant.” Both girls did as they were asked. The lieutenant looked intensely at the pendant.

 

“How does it work?” Lieutenant Milnor asked, looking at Valrica. The girl remained silent.

 

“First you have to dip it in blood and then I think you’re supposed to swing it and tell the person what you want them to do,” Allara said quietly. Valrica shot her a look so full of hatred, Allara paled.

 

“I don’t think we need this,” Lieutenant Milnor said and handed the pendant back to Allara.

 

“It’s mine!” Valrica shouted and reached out for it, but the lieutenant stopped her.

 

“Where did you get such a powerful pendant, Valrica?” Lieutenant Milnor inquired.

 

“At the market place, where else?” the girl replied rudely and folded her arms across her chest.

 

“Who sold it to you?”

 

Valrica bit her lip. Milnor repeated her question, but Valrica remained silent.

 

“I know how we can find out,” Allara said quietly, holding the pendant in front of her. Valrica leapt towards the other girl and grabbed the jewel. For a brief moment the two girls struggled. The strap broke and the pendant fell to the floor, shattering. Both girls stared in disbelief at the pieces.

 

Lieutenant Milnor however shook her head for a moment and then looked at Valrica. “You used the pendant on me! I saw you walking out of the keep, with something wrapped in a sheet and you used the pendant on me!” Milnor’s voice trembled with anger.

 

Valrica’s face turned white. “You remember?”

 

“Yes, I remember! And I wager everyone else will remember now that the pendant is broken.”

 

Valrica slumped down on a chair and buried her face in her hands. Allara felt sorry for the girl and placed a hand on Valrica’s shoulder. Valrica shook her off.

 

“Valrica,” Lieutenant Milnor said sternly, “Tell me what happened the day the plate was stolen.”

 

“My sister Una was nagging me all morning,” Valrica began, giving up any resistance she had left, and then continued to tell the lieutenant and Allara every single detail up to discovering her pendant missing. A few times both listeners shook their heads in disbelief about how much malice Valrica had in her.

 

“She needs to be punished,” Allara whispered more to herself than the lieutenant, but her remark hadn’t gone unnoticed.

 

“That is up to the duke to decide and I’m sure her father will have a word or two to say about this as well,” Lieutenant Milnor said. “Follow me, Valrica.” The lieutenant gestured towards the door and Valrica got up. Before she left the room, Valrica turned around and faced Allara.

 

“You will pay for this!” she mouthed silently, her face full of hatred.

 

Allara paled. She had made an enemy and Valrica was not the forgiving type. A sick feeling in her stomach, Allara watched them leave and then closed the door. She picked up the pieces of the pendant, put them in her grinder, and ground them into fine powder. “Just in case,” she thought. “Just in case.”

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