There are fates worse than death…
Hello, this is the eighth chapter of my serialisation of Accidental Immortal, on my blog. It will be published four times a week so the serialisation will be completed at (roughly) the same time as on Wattpad, if not a little sooner!
If you would like to start from the beginning, please head over to chapter one. There is also a contents list at the bottom of each post.
Chapter 8 – The Luscious Luna
The driveway was long. The carriage made its way with only the barest sound of a muted crunch, as the wheels almost glided over the gravel. All the effort had gone into making it quiet for as far as Lynsey could work out, the suspension was almost non-existent. Her bones jarred with every bounce. She was thinking she felt like she’d gone several rounds with the world heavyweight champion when the horse’s whicker announced their arrival.
Lynsey breathed a sigh of relief. Illyara, in front of her, stretched her back, grimacing as she did so. Through a gap between the black curtains covering the window they saw an imposing detached town house. Unlike the wooden houses near the city gates, this house was made with sandstone like the temple. It was as tall as any stately home.
Lynsey pushed the carriage door open and saw a woman running out of the entrance to greet them. She was wearing a sheer satin dress which although reaching the floor, the material was almost see-through, leaving little to the imagination. Lynsey averted her eyes to a particularly well-manicured hedge cut to look like a long necked bird.
“Arkan.” The woman breathed. Her front almost bursting out of tight laces. Lynsey rolled her eyes.
“My lady.” Arkan lifted the woman’s hand to his lips while staring into her eyes. Well really, Lynsey thought. Get a room! Pico chuckled in her mind. “Stop that! It’s very distracting!”
“Who are these people Arkan?” The woman’s eyes were big and round as she looked from Lynsey to Illyara.
“I’m terribly sorry to impose on you my dear Luna but I came across these strays on official business at the temple. They are strangers to this land but they have money. I couldn’t very well leave them to the mercy of the priests could I?” They both chortled at some private joke. Lynsey stood straighter and grabbed Illyara’s hand to reassure her.
“We can pay for lodging,” She dropped her friend’s hand and brought out a beautiful necklace from the store in her bag and offered it to Luna.
The woman stared in wonder for a few seconds at the jewels before replying. “That looks like something the pyramids would have held.”
“Exactly.” Arkan said meaningfully.
Luna’s eyes looked on covetously at the offering but shook her head with regret. “I can’t accept it. That must be worth hundreds of thousands. For a few nights board and lodging that is unreasonable and one cannot take from a traveller.”
Arkan visibly relaxed. His smile widened into a broad grin and he took Luna by the arm to stand a few feet away. Lynsey strained but couldn’t quite hear what they said and the woman’s soft giggling could only make her guess.
“Why are you annoyed?“ Pico asked. “Your hands are trembling and your heart is pounding. There is no reason for this.” Then he added, almost as an afterthought. “Would you like to hear what they are saying?”
Lynsey thought for a moment. It was nice Pico was asking for a change. Did she really want to know what they were saying? It was probably private. They didn’t look like they were talking about her. Still, she was curious.
“Pico…” But before he could reply, the two turned to re-join them. She shrugged and placed the necklace back in the rucksack, zipping it closed with force. Illyara looked at her in surprise, then her lips twitched imperceptibly. She hid it behind her hands.
Just then Arkan strode up, “Luna will look after you for a few days. She says she has been a little bored lately and has been looking for a project. I will come by tomorrow to talk some more of your problem. Don’t show the bracelet to anyone, not even Luna.”
While Arkan drove away, Lynsey watched as Luna waved incessantly with quick fluttery hand movements at the carriage as it departed. It was a good thing there was a slight chill, all that energy for a goodbye would be keeping her warm.
They entered the building together and a butler, who appeared as if from nowhere, closed the door behind them.
“Are you two, you know, going out?” asked Lynsey.
“Going out?” Luna turned to face her as they continued through the hallway.
“Yes, in a relationship?”
“Oh no, I am married.” Luna showed them two entwined bracelets. One gold, one silver. Look, this is my second marriage, I have two.” She pointed out a second set on her other arm.
“Oh, you don’t have rings?”
“Why would I have a ring?” Luna gave her a quizzical look. “Anyway,” She led them up a grand staircase. “Arkan has asked me to introduce you to society as a distant relative.” Luna paused and turned around with a graceful twirl. “I find the whole thing rather exciting. It has been rather boring with Trell being away for so long.”
The corridor branched off into two more but Luna continued on, her hands gesturing at rooms ahead. “I’m giving you the blue suite. The two bedrooms are connected and you’ll have a room to receive visitors. “
She opened a door. “Well go in, it’s yours for as long as you need it. We’ll sell one of your heirlooms in the morning and go shopping. I do so love shopping.” She patted her dark curls and stepped out closing the door behind her. There was silence for a few moments.
“Illyara? Do you believe what just happened?”
Her friend stared at the room and then her friend for a moment. “No, but we can only see where it goes. What do we have to lose?”
The next morning Lynsey woke to the sound of a maid pulling curtains violently across rails. She never said a word but busied herself laying clothes on the foot of the bed and pouring fresh water into a bowl on an ornate dark wooden cabinet. She left as quietly as she arrived.
“This is all very nineteenth century. They have toilets but they give you washbasins?” Lynsey mused.
“Can we talk now?” Pico’s voice interjected her thoughts.
“You know there is nothing you can say that will stop me trying to get rid of you?”
“Do you know there is actually no way you can get rid of me? Look all I want is for us to get on.”
“The bracelet is uncomfortable. I just want it off.”
“I understand. I feel it too. The bracelet was designed to help a priest to communicate and as a symbol of power. They weren’t really thinking about comfort. How do you think you could talk to Illyara, Arkan or even Luna without me? It has sensors to help defend you from poison, remember the water? And the only way to get it off would be to chop your arm off!”
Lynsey rubbed her hands over her face, staring up at the ceiling. She hadn’t thought of it like that.
“Do I have to spend the rest of my life hiding the thing in long sleeves?”
Pico went quiet for a moment. “In the same way I can make you understand different languages and they you, I can make people not ‘see’ the bracelet. Would this be better?”
“Yes!” She pushed herself upright, startling the maid as she walked out of the room. How does that work? She thought to Pico.
“It is done. To understand people the bracelet picks up the electrical signals from people’s brains and then I translate them. The bracelet can also transmit signals that I send.”
Just then the door creaked open and Illyara stepped in.
“Wow, you look gorgeous!” said Lynsey.
Illyara twirled in the doorway. “I would never be allowed to wear such a dress like this at home.” The dress was asymmetrical. One side was lower at the knee than the other. It was made from satin and hugged her curves. The sleeves cut off just above her elbows.
Lynsey dove to the bottom of the bed to see what dresses Luna had given her. It was sheer black, crushed velvet with long sleeves which reached beyond her wrists. Even with the ruffles at the end of the sleeves it was not ostentatious. The wow factor was in the cut. She stepped out of the bed, the nightdress, Luna had lent her trailed after her. Illyara let out a gasp of surprise.
“The bracelet it’s gone!”
“Huh?” Lynsey looked down but the hated yellow band was there. “No it’s still. Oh. You really can’t see it?”
Her friend shook her head.
Thank you Pico. Lynsey mentally called. She blinked and it was gone. Yet she could still feel it.
“How are you doing that?”
“It’s still there, I’m just making sure you can’t see it.”
Lynsey touched the rich velvet fabric of the dress on the bed with her fingertips. “This one is lovely as well.”
“Try it on!”
“You are different away from the tribe.” Lynsey said, pulling the material over her head.
“No, I can just be more myself.”
As the dress enveloped her, Luna sashayed in.
“Oh good you are dressed. I hope you like them. They are a couple of seasons old but I suspect you won’t mind.” Luna giggled. “You’ll have to put the jewellery you don’t sell today in the bank. My husband should be back soon and I’m not sure he’ll be able to stand the temptation to take control of them.”
Cold shivered down Lynsey’s back. “How could he take control of my things?” she demanded.
“Oh it’s not malicious. Surely you realize that you are not allowed to own anything. That belongs to the head of the household. As you are pretending to be relatives that would make that him. Better to squirrel it away for a rainy day. It’s what I do. The men can’t know all our secrets!”
Lynsey looked at Illyara who shrugged. It made sense.
“…but first we need to sell something small so we can go shopping.” Luna led the way out of the room.
“Do you get the impression she likes shopping.” Whispered Lynsey. Both Pico and Illyara agreed.
The carriage waiting downstairs was wildly different from the night before. It was a brash red with a gold insignia on the door.
Luna saw them looking at the emblem and winked. “I’m a duchess so technically I outrank hubby so it’s on the coach. He just hates it!”
The first stop was a shop in the centre of town. Windows filled the front of the building and the proprietor was waiting at the door as soon as the carriage pulled up.
“Lady Kartridge. A pleasure as always. I have had some exquisite earrings come in just the other morning that I think you will find enchanting.”
“Really? I must have a look before we go. The young lady beside me with the simply horrid bag has something to show you.” They both turned to Lynsey with eyebrows slightly elevated.
“Of course.” Lynsey searched through the bag and found a small cat ornament. It was smaller than the elephant had been but she was curious about how much she had wasted at the temple.
She brought it out and sat it on the palm of her hand. The shopkeeper gasped.
“It is lovely. Look at the workmanship! May I?”
He took it with care. Gingerly turning it over in his hands.
“It is made of obsidian.” He took out a monocle and looked closer at the eyes and collar. His hands were shaking. “These are jade and diamonds!” He looked at Luna and she gave a warning glance.
“I can give you 60,000 for it.” Luna coughed and he revised his offer. “The diamonds are particularly fine. I can offer you 125,000?”
Lynsey looked at Luna who nodded. “That would be lovely.”
The next stop was the bank. An imposing building it stood straddling two streets. It was two stories high with windows that reminded Lynsey of eyes watching. They followed Luna through revolving doors into a grand hallway lined with private booths. Each one was busy with a clerk and a patron. They must have been sound proofed because neither Lynsey nor Illyara could hear what was said as they passed.
Striding down the room they stopped next to a desk that was higher than most. Luna informed them that they needed to see the head cashier. He looked disapprovingly at her companions but acquiesced.
Five minutes passed while they observed the coming and goings of the bank staff and their patrons. There was a constant stream of people arriving and leaving. Eventually a gentlemen arrived. He dismissed the other as he directed them to another room down a concealed hall.
“Lady Kartridge, it is a delight to see you so soon.” He steepled his fingers on the desk.
“We would like to open an account for my cousins. They are slightly provincial you know but they have brought a substantial sum and jewellery with them to enjoy Society. I’m sure you understand, it is not sensible to leave such sums around the house.”
“Of course, Milady.”
He turned to Illyara, “What kind of items are we talking about?” he asked, looking over half-moon glasses at Illyara. She laughed and pointed at Lynsey.
“I have several pieces that I need to put away.” She emptied the rucksack on the table.
There was silence for a moment. He pushed his glasses firmly up the bridge of his nose.
“Well, I didn’t expect there to be that much. You must have millions there.”
The clerk was suddenly galvanized into action. “Put those back in your bag and follow me.”
They exited the room from a concealed door out the back and walked through another bare room devoid of colour and furniture. The empty space filled with the sound of their breathing and the echoes of their clicking heels on the marble floor. Lynsey couldn’t see anyone but she felt as though eyes were on her.
The next door was behind a metal gate which the man opened with a heavy iron key ready in his hand before they had gone half-way through the room. The key slipped into the lock with a click and they entered a hall with thousands of small vaults lining the walls. Up to the height of the clerk they were larger and the higher Lynsey’s gaze rose the smaller the vaults became.
There were ladders spanning the height of the room along regular intersections with men and women opening and closing boxes. The clerk ignored the vaults and continued to the end of the room to press a button hidden in an intricate painted design on the wall. None of the clerks even blinked in their direction as a trapdoor opened and a set of stone steps were revealed. They followed the clerk down with the sound of the trapdoor closing behind them.
They descended several levels, spiralling down a narrow staircase. The stone wall and floor was illuminated by lights hung at regular intervals. Lynsey, Illyara and Luna followed the clerk in single file. On the fifth level down he produced another set of keys from a pocket. They jangled while he found the one he wanted and then they entered the vault.
“Can you give me a word that you will remember? You can write it on this piece of paper and I will set the second vault door.”
Lynsey nodded, taking the yellow paper, noting a heavy metal door to their left. She started to write when she realised they probably had a different alphabet.
She looked up embarrassed. “I can’t write.”
The man looked surprised but replied. “Have you a good memory?”
Lynsey nodded her cheeks reddening. What would the others think of her?
The man took the pencil back and quickly drew some symbols.
“Here, this is your password.”
Lynsey looked in despair at the symbols. How was she going to remember those? Pico suddenly spoke in her mind.
“It’s okay. I can remember them for you.”
“Thank you.” Pico was starting to be really useful.
The man took back the paper and fiddled with the vault door. Lynsey craned to have a look and saw a combination lock with symbols through his arms. Once the man had finished jiggling the pictures into the correct sequence, he scrambled them again and turned back to face the group. Slowly with deliberation he scrunched up the paper and put it in his mouth and chewed.
“Rice paper.” Came the muffled reply to their stares.
He handed her a small key. The handle had a circle with three bars going through it. Then left them alone.
“That’s the Egyptian number for three.” advised Pico.
Lynsey touched the first cog and Pico threw up the first symbol in her mind. Twisting it into position, Pico gave her the next and another until all the pictures lined up as they were on the paper. The lock clicked and the metal gave way easily, swinging open on large metal hinges. She threw the bag in the small room by its strap but before she closed the door completely, she had a thought. She stepped inside and unzipped the bag and took out some paper money.
“Illyara, can you look after this for me?” Her friend nodded and placed the money in her purse. I see I’m going to have to buy a purse on this shopping trip! Lynsey thought longingly of her red leather purse but the money wouldn’t fit in it properly and it was far too bulky to be concealed in the figure hugging clothing everyone seemed to wear.
She pushed the door gently and it slammed closed, making her jump. She looked around in apology and then scrambled the symbols in front of the vault. There, safe. Who would have thought she’d be rich by the age of 19!
They walked out of the room to find the clerk waiting patiently in the stairwell. Lynsey closed the vault door and locked it with the key. What am I going to do with this? She twirled the key in her hand. She didn’t want to give it to Illyara. That wasn’t fair then she laughed. Lynsey stooped down and removed her shoe, she placed the key under the strip of cloth that served as a sole and put her shoe back on.
Luna was already heading back up the stairs. “Great, that’s our business concluded here. Let’s get shopping!”