When Miguel had finished, he met up with Fortuno to find that a late luncheon was being served for them in the dining room, and that Lord Weaver would be joining them shortly. The sorcerers noticed a great deal of hustle and bustle around the house, as the preparations for Rosemary’s birthday were being made for the next day. They also observed that they were the only guests invited to dinner, despite there being five others who were already present for the party. Clearly, Weaver was pulling out all the stops to impress Her Majesty’s representatives. They took their places at the table, with Fortuno’s eye noticeably wandering amongst the servants in search of the mysterious fencer Miss Warwick. Miguel noticed this and nudged him in the ribs.
‘So, have we perhaps come to your last mission Alex?’
Fortuno did not reply, rising to his feet as Lord Weaver and Rosemary had entered the room.
‘Ah, good afternoon gentlemen. I hear you’ve already met my daughter.’ Weaver bellowed, though the two men were right next to him. This had the effect of making Fortuno wince and Miguel had to stifle a giggle, as did Rosemary.
‘Yes, I’ve already had the pleasure.’ Miguel smiled at Rosemary, who turned crimson with delight. Lord Weaver did not notice this, and sat down at the head of the table. The servants had finished setting the table and left the room, bowing.
‘So, are your rooms to your satisfaction sirs?’ Weaver asked, delicately dipping into his soup.
‘Oh yes, quite fine thank you.’ Replied Fortuno, who stirred the soup with his spoon, trying to disperse several nasty looking clumps of an unidentifiable substance.
‘Might I ask, what became of the Lady of the House?’ Miguel enquired. A heavy silence fell. Lord Weaver looked up from his plate and swallowed.
‘Oh, my wife passed away several years ago. Smallpox. Place isn’t the same without her.’ Weaver sniffed, looking sadly at a sepia-tinted photograph that was framed on one side of the hall. The Lord Weaver of some eighteen years ago stood with his wife and their infant daughter, whose expression was radiant even then. Fortuno’s eye was drawn to a slightly older girl who stood with the servants. Time couldn’t disguise Miranda Warwick, whose mother stood behind her, smiling but with a great sadness in her eyes.
‘I’m sorry milord, I shouldn’t have asked.’
‘No, it’s alright. It’s been six years; I’m able to talk about it.’ Weaver wiped his eye clumsily with a napkin.
‘You have beautiful grounds here milord.’ Said Fortuno, hastily changing the subject.
‘Oh thank you.’ Replied Weaver, stiffening. ‘Cost my great-grandfather a small fortune all those years ago.’
‘I’m sure it did.’
Weaver continued, pausing occasionally to take another bite of the roast meat that had been placed before him.
‘Yes, what with the planning, hiring gardeners to landscape everything for him, bringing in new flowers to keep everything looking fresh, it’s surprising we didn’t end up destitute.’
‘So what saved you?’
‘Well, it wasn’t long after that that he earned us our peerage, fighting in the wars against Napoleon. Lost his right leg, but always considered it a worthy sacrifice…’
Alexander nodded, remembering his own years of service in the Napoleonic wars. The small talk continued through lunch, though Rosemary and Miguel took little part in the proceedings, merely seeming to gaze longingly at each other throughout the meal. When dessert was served, Miguel suddenly snapped out of his trance and nudged Alexander.
‘I think that’s your lady friend with the blancmange.’ He pointed out. Fortuno looked up and saw Miranda with a large silver dish, accompanied by several other servants, all carrying numerous delicacies. As they were laid on the table, Miranda leant over and whispered something to Rosemary, who smiled and nodded. When the servants had left, Rosemary turned to Alexander.
‘Miranda tells me the two of you fenced today Mr. Fortuno.’
‘Yes ma’am, that’s true.’ replied Alexander, nervously, suddenly feeling rather uncomfortable.
‘Never thought it was a sport for the ladies myself…’commented Lord Weaver, before Rosemary elbowed him lightly, and he quickly added.
‘But er…what do I know?’
‘She’s very good.’ Fortuno stammered. Rosemary smiled at him cunningly, as if the two of them shared a secret. Lord Weaver, oblivious to this, continued.
‘Didn’t know you were a fencing man, Mr Fortuno. I was quite the swordsman in my youth, but I seem to have lost all skill for it lately…’Weaver let out a belch, as he finished eating a large portion of trifle. ‘Excuse me for a moment sirs.’
He hurried off out of the dining room, not noticing the muffled laughter of the other diners. The moment he left, Rosemary turned to Alexander.
‘She says you’ve been giving her a few odd looks Mr. Fortuno.’
‘Erm yes…I mean…no…well…’Fortuno struggled to express himself.
‘It’s alright. I think she likes you too, though she’ll never admit it.’ Rosemary, although a day shy of twenty five, was a schoolgirl again as she spoke.
‘Although I’d be careful. The last man who got on her wrong side ended up at the doctor’s with a broken jaw.’
Fortuno almost choked and spat out the wine he was drinking in a most unceremonious fashion. Miguel laughed heartily at him and threw his friend a napkin. At this point, Lord Weaver returned, and with him followed the dignified mood of all concerned.
Following lunch, Fortuno decided to take a walk around the manor garden. Miguel declined the offer to accompany him, preferring to do his exploring at the manor. Fortuno immediately understood, and left through the back door onto the terrace. Several important looking men were lounging about on the terrace taking lunch, but Fortuno paid them no heed, merely walking down the steps in an affected, upper class manner, as to not arouse suspicion from the men. It would hardly matter however, as they seemed more engrossed in their food than him. Only one man, sitting alone and dressed in the garb of a Royal Marine gave Fortuno a quick, polite ‘Good afternoon’, before returning to his plate.
At the bottom of the stairs was Dr. Emerson, playing softly on a wooden flute, though his eyes were firmly closed. Alexander shook his head in disbelief and followed the path, which ran alongside a man made lake that looked like an overstated garden pond. He noticed several swans flying across the lake as he walked, occasionally landing on the water with aplomb, and immediately adopting a cool, indifferent air as they swam. He smiled as he reached the end of the lake, and sat down on a smooth rock. The surface of the water was clear and calm, and for a moment, Alexander Fortuno felt at peace.
What the sorcerer did not notice, however, was the raven, perched in the willow trees overhanging the lake, watching his every move.
Half an hour later, Alexander returned through the house to hear hearty laughter from the sitting room of Miguel’s chambers, so he withdrew into his own room. After a few minutes, he crossed the corridor and knocked on the door. It was answered almost immediately. There was a chess board set out on the table.
‘Did you have a good walk?’ Miguel asked, gesturing for his friend to sit down. Fortuno, surprised to find his friend alone, took the first move, sending a pawn forwards, before replying.
‘Yes, very pleasant. Did you have a good time?’ He winked at Miguel, who did not reply, responding by merely giving a characteristic devilish grin and taking one of Alexander’s pawns. The game continued at some speed, the two men studying each other intently.
‘I’ll have you know that nothing untoward happened in your absence.’
‘Oh, playing the gentleman? Or was she the one who held back?’
Fortuno moved his rook, taking one of Miguel’s bishops.
‘A gentleman would never tell and a friend wouldn’t ask. Check.’
‘Ah, so it was her.’ Alexander teased, moving his King out of check.
‘That, my friend is something you will never know.’ Miguel replied, grinning. ‘All said, I don’t think much of some of these party guests. It seems the nobility are too pompous and the commoners are too…well…common.’
‘Whereas you manage to acheive the best of both worlds eh Miguel?’
Miguel chuckled. His blood was divided by both class and culture, while his father had been an Italian aristocrat, Consuela Carrera had been a Spanish servant in his household at Cordoba. After an insult concerning his parentage from his stepbrother, and ensuing fight, Miguel was forced to leave his home with little in the way of provisions. Only a chance encounter with Vladimir Serapus had saved his life and set him on the path to becoming one of the finest warriors the sorcerous world had ever known.
‘Tomorrow, we need to be on our guard. I have a feeling that if whatever arrived in that forest was a necromancer, then they’ll act at the party tomorrow, when everyone’s distracted. Such a gathering could mean plenty of fresh corpses for whatever they’re planning.’
The game continued, with Fortuno at an advantage.
‘It’s clearly something very powerful, possibly more so than anything we’ve seen before.’
Miguel confidently took one of Fortuno’s rooks, smiling as he prepared for the endgame.
‘So, why do you think the Council sent us?’
‘Why? Well, no one else is stupid enough to do it. Check.’
Fortuno moved his king diagonally.
‘Or maybe they didn’t know the true power behind it.’
Miguel gave Alexander a sceptical look as he checked his king.
‘I don’t think so. I think they viewed the matter more as pest control than anything. Besides, it’s not so much of a big deal if it’s one of us that get killed. Although I’m betting Bernard wouldn’t want to see his chosen one with a hair out of place.’
‘Now, now.’ Alexander smiled, remembering back to when they had first met. The elder sorcerer, already a veteran of many battles, had been talked into supervising the younger on his first assignment in the field. Miguel had disliked him immediately: ‘I hate Chosen Ones’ he had remarked bluntly, and the relationship had remained frosty until several months later, when Alexander saved his life from the blade of an assassin called The Gentleman in Luxembourg. The two had been the best of friends ever since.
Miguel looked surprised at his defeat, but graciously knocked his king over and handed him to Fortuno.
‘Well, whatever it brings, I am certain that tomorrow will be a night to remember…’