Astelbania Chronicles: The Bait

The house was huge, especially for such a small community. Falina stood there, her eyes and mouth wide as she gazed on the three storied house that covered several acres of land in the middle of Camde'an.

Windows studded the mansion every few feet and, in every window, light blazed and people passed by, pausing at times to stand in the open windows chatting with another person.

Falina's grip on Bahl's arm tightened as she stood frozen before the doorway.

"It is time to go in," Bahl's voice seemed to come from far away.

"What? Oh, yes," She swallowed hard,"I suppose so."

Bahl sighed. "Just remember, you are my woman this evening. You are here because you love the glamour that is to be had with the noble life. In other words, you are using me as much as I am using you."

Falina frowned. "I don't like it."

Bahl sighed again. "You don't have to like it. You simply have to play your part."

"I'm a simple farmer's daughter from Devensheer," She retorted though she looked nothing of the sort at this moment having donned the red velvet dress Bahl had given her and allowing Axym to apply rouge to her cheeks and paint to her eyes and mouth. Her shortened hair had been curled and preened until it glowed and framed her face, bringing attention to her full lips and large hazel eyes.

"You are a sister of the Shadow Hand," He said, his tone razor sharp, "And you will begin to act as such."

Falina blinked, taken back by the edge in his voice. There were times when she caught glimpses of his passions and this was one of those times. If she could not fault him on anything it would be the loyalty he showed to the Brotherhood of the Shadow Hand and to the royal family of Devensheer.

She nodded. "Yes, of course. I'm sorry." And gathered up the long, volumnous fabric of the skirt of her dress. She had thought that evening when dressing that the bottom half of her dress was trying to make up for the lack of the top half which expertly revealed her curves and bosom enhanced by the blood red rubies of the necklace that lay nested within her cleavage. Matching Blood drop earrings hung from her lobes and she looked every bit the part she was to play.

Stepping over the threshold, Bahl was instantly greeted by those within sight of the door. Men and women alike flocked to him, the woman clearly flirting and quick to touch him. Most of them also giving her looks of daggers as they tried to size her up.

Drawing herself up, she hooked her arm into Bahl's and stared down the women around them until Bahl made thier excuses and led her away from the crowd that greeted them.

"You certaintly are popular." She said, glancing back at the women who were pouting and then going off to find other sources of amusement.

"It's the horns," He said straightfaced and she looked at him closely to see if he was making a joke. She couldn't tell.

Before she could ask further, a voice rose about the sounds of the chatting crowds.

"Bahl! My dear, dear friend!"

Looking around Falina spied a gathering to her left parting to make way for a large man in both height and breadth. He looked almost to be from the Carenbreth except that his hair was raven dark instead of fair like the northern peoples.

"Ah, Bahl," The man said when he had reached them. "I am so glad you could make it this evening."

"Yes, well, if I had not been able to make it this evening I would have made it tomorrow evening or the day after. There is, afterall, no change in your nightly routine is there?"

"Someone has to keep the life in this dreary town."

"You could always move to Dirkshire."

"Good Gods no! Thieves in every crook and shadow! At least here I know I'm pretty safe. I mean, what thief would travel all this way to steal something from my collection when they could more conviently steal something close at hand."

Falina, for her part, was biting down on her tongue, hard and trying not to look at the man for fear of giving something away.

The man tapped his head with a finger. "When it comes to common thieves  you must be able to outthink them, my dear Bahl."

Falina's eyes traveled to the ceiling. Bahl and Axym were not 'common' for sure but she was seriously doubting the man's intellegence in assuming no one would take the time or effort to take something if they wanted it bad enough.

"You are always thinking, Ivan, my friend," Bahl said in a smooth voice oozing with sincerity that, somehow, managed not to sound false. "You did recieve the message from my courier this afternoon, did you not?"

"Yes, yes, of course and I am looking forward to talking to you further about the exchange."

Turning to Falina, he eyed her up and down until she almost writhed under his close scrutiny. Just as her hand was itching to slap him across his face, he picked that hand up and placed a kiss upon the back of it.

"It is a pleasure, Lady, a true pleasure to meet you. Bahl, your words about her beauty do not do her justice. I am flattered that you allowed her to grace my home. Truly, this will be the deal of my life."

Falina, caught totally by surprise, looked from the man to Bahl and back again. Something within her was nudging her and telling her something was not right.

"Ah, and in my excitement, my manners seem to have been misplaced. Come, come, let us go to more private quarters to seal this deal."

Ivan strutted off in the direction of a corridor, the only one that was not filled with people. Evidently his guests knew that this area was off limits for they passed from the crowded foyer to relative peace as if moving from world to the next. In a short span of time, they came to a sturdy oaken door which he opened with a large key taken from his pocket.

Entering what could only be a study, Ivan closed and locked the door again, moving to the huge oaken desk that sat in the middle of the floor and gesturing for them both to be seated in the plush chairs in front of it.

As Falina sat, she looked about the room which was a testement to luxury. Bookshelves and books, which she would bet were rare and collectable, lined three walls. Chandiliers hung from the ceiling and a huge fireplace graced the fourth wall. Tables, polished and rich in color and wood or brass, crowded the floor with glass cases displaying a wide range of objects.

Ivan's eyes danced as they looked upon her and Bahl and an energy could be felt coming from the man that made her fight not to squirm in her chair.

"Now then, let's not delay," Ivan said a smile breaking over his face. "We have festivities to get back to and I am sure you are eager to reaquaint yourself with some of my guests you have not seen in a long time."

"Indeed," Bahl nodded, "I have always admired your ability to get right to business, Ivan. You are truly a man after my own heart."

The man behind the desk seemed to preen at his words and Falina fought not to roll her eyes.

"Then shall we begin?" He reached into a drawer of his desk and brought out a long, rectangular case, placing it on the desk and opening it with almost a reverence.

Inside lay a quill pen. Nothing more. Falina was puzzled but Bahl picked it up and examined it, nodding in satisfaction.

"Yes, this is exactly what I wanted, Ivan. It is magnificent."

Once again the man preened. "Of course, I never, ever collect anything that is not."

"Of course," Bahl picked put the quill back in it's case and closed it, picking it up and placing it in a deep pocket of his cloak. "Which brings me to my part of the bargain."

"Yes, indeed." Ivan's eyes fell on Falina and lit with a light within. She looked at him with narrowed eyes a dark suspicion gathering in her.

"Yes, the Quill of Alarian for the Heir of El'Cairn. Just as we agreed."

The End

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