Coeur de la nuit – Urban/Historical Fantasy Short, 2/2

Lucilla held back a yawn as she turned and pushed the workshop’s door open with her back, carrying a tray with three steaming cups. 

The two men looked at her, sitting in the middle of the room, standing out from the tomes, powders, glasses, vials and mirrors. 

To a casual observer, Hermes and Karl Sparagmos might not have looked like family. 

The old scholar was a portly man with acres of naked skin on his rounded head, thin trails of grey beard to frame his thick lips, dressed in a purple night-gown that might have fitted him better last year. His left hand lingered on a plate that, Lucille could have bet, used to be full of cookies up until a few moments before. 

By contrast, Karl was lean, almost hollow in his sharp features, wearing only a military mustache as expected of an Austrian officer, and sporting a fresh scar running down the side of his regular face, from his forehead to the base of his hawkish nose. He smiled at her and she couldn’t stifle a light flutter in her chest at the appreciation in his black eyes. 

“Did you know? Your pupil has had a worse night than mine and she managed to catch a big prize.”

“It was a prolonged effort,” she replied, setting the tray on the tiny table between the two. There was no other chair, so she remained upright as the three picked up their cups. She had put on her light clothes but her long red hair were still a bit damp. She hoped the younger Sparagmos did not mind.

Hermes lifted his grey gaze from his cup. 

“What did you catch this time, dear?”

“The big wisp that’s been around here for months. Nasty little critter, you should have seen how hard it tried. It had been beckoning me to it for the past three weeks, but always stayed out of reach. I reckon it was really old and thought itself prudent, but greed got the best of it.”

“Greed often does,” Hermes replied with a sheepish smile. “Still, I am curious to take a look upon your last catch. I want to hear all about your strategy and what you plan to do with it.”

She beamed at his praise and opened her mouth to reply, but Karl cut her off. 

“I am afraid that will have to wait. Uncle, remember our little bet?” He asked. She noticed him setting down his cup without even taking a sip, wringing his thick, callous fingers together.

“I suppose you managed to get your princely audience. How is she? I have heard she grew up to be a beauty.”

He made a cutting motion with his hand. 

“Alba Malcastria’s beauty is skin deep. She is as sour as summer grapes and just as unwelcoming. Far too proud and stern to do her any good.”

Hermes chuckled.

“What a roundabout way to say she kicked you right in the shingles! So young and already showing her family’s temperament. Ah, she’ll go places. Tell me, did she throw you out of the castle herself or did she have her Chancellor have the honor?”

Karl hesitated and a faint sheen of red spread over his pale cheeks. 

“I left by myself. After I delivered her the ultimatum.”

Hermes’ good mood evaporated like a drop of alcohol on a flame. 

“I thought you had enough of war?” He pointed at his nephew’s face.

“How did you get that, young Master?” It was too irregular to be from a bayonet, she reckoned. Maybe a stray bullet. Ricochet?

“Some Piedmontese bastard got lucky at Custoza,” he winced rubbing the patch of pale skin. “You should have seen how quickly we routed them, uncle! King Charles will stop being a thorn in our side soon enough. If I can call that straw puppet a King.”

“You are young. Much too young. I’d wish you could have witnessed Napoleon’s madness spill over the continent with your own eyes. You’d be less eager for blood and murder, then.”

“Uncle, we’ve been over this. I am not going to sit in a corner when the chance for glory presents itself. I spoke with the Emperor: he approves of my design, but I only have until the celebratory ball at the Hofburg, this autumn, to seize the country.”

Hermes quirked an eyebrow. 

“That optimist. Listening to you one might believe we might break the Magyars before the end of summer!”

“We will. I sadly won’t be able to help in that field.”

“Hm. I’m sorry to interrupt,” Lucilla asked clearing her voice, “but I feel like I missed out on a few key conversations. What are your designs, young Master? And what of this bet? I am at a loss.”

He pierced right through her with his black eyes and Lucilla’s heart skipped a beat. 

“You didn’t tell her anything,” he replied to Hermes. 

“I hoped there would be nothing to say.”

Silence stretched between the two of them. She felt like she had stumbled upon the tail end of a long series of awkward conversations.

“Besides, why is she still standing? Don’t you have another chair in the entire house?”

“There’s no room!” Hermes groaned, opening his arms to address the cramped workshop. 

“I will stand. It better suits me anyway. Lucilla, take a seat.”

She looked at Hermes, who huffed and pointed at the chair. 

“Go on. It looks like my dear nephew has a store of energy anyway.”

“Thanks young Master,” she hushed taking his place at the seat. He nodded, standing between them, the mug of tea forgotten on the table. 

“Where to begin. I told you I had just come back from Eridania.”

A flash of an engraving that depicted a steep valley between Alpine passes, with a single city and fortress encroached by the silver stream of a river, appeared in her memory. She had heard of the place, but not due to its beauty or people. She was starting to guess – to hope – Karl Sparagmos had visited the young Princess for a very specific reason, and her heart picked up pace at what that might mean. It was a small possibility, but… oh, this night!

“That Principality has remained independent for far too long. Its people and resources could and should be put to better use. Under the wing of the double-eagle, they would flourish.”

Austriae Est Imperare Orbi Universo,” muttered Hermes. 

“One step at a time,” Karl grinned back.

“But it’s such a tiny place. You can cross it over in one look,” Lucilla frowned.

“Yes, and its army is twelve people and a cow. But for some reason…” and at that their gazes met and Lucilla knew she was right, “… it has managed to remain free until now.”

“It’s the Witch,” she murmured, the words spilling out of her lips in feverish awe. “Oh Holy Virgin, is there a living Witch yet?”

Karl turned a victorious grin to his uncle.

“I told you she’d be up for it.”

“Easy bet to win that one”.”

“Wait. Young Master, we are not talking about…” oh, her hands trembled so much. She was positively in shambles, making a fool of herself. “A human practitioner, are we? Someone who simply sold her soul to the Devil… or one of Kashei’s Bogatyri. Right? The actual, bona fide, last Witch of Eridania, right?

“That was our bet: was there still a Witch drawing breath in Eridania? And I won that one,” he grinned. 

“Did you see it?” Hermes ran in pouring water over their parade.

“Not with these eyes. But I have had Huginn and Muninn take a good look at the Princess before she cleared me for a visit. And besides, it’s far too obvious. She’s too confident! The Prinzessin rebuked all my appeals to reason, and she knows there is no force that can hold me back from waltzing in and putting my boots all over her cardboard kingdom. Unless she has found the Witch. And it’s working for her already.”

“And that’s the reason why you rode here at three in the morning. To tell me you won our bet and smear it all over my face. And because you now need my help.” He sighed, pulling up his right sleeve. On his arm Lucilla saw the thin lines of words and lines etched by the thinnest of blades, almost-white even against the skin of a man who had not seen the sun in months. He pulled his thumb at the conjunction of three knots and pressed onto it. 

Nothing happened.

He withdrew his thumb and locked eyes with Karl. 

“I am not lying,” he replied, seemingly hurt.

“Not suggesting otherwise. But when my dearest nephew barges inside my home rambling about Witches, one has to make sure he’s not carrying harmful forces inside these walls. Still, you’re clear.”

“I took every precaution, uncle. No need to be paranoid.”

The portly man waved his hand as he pulled his sleeve back down. “If you reach my age, you’ll understand that there is no difference between precaution and paranoia. First lesson every Magus learns.” A pause. “Or last.”

He glanced down at the plate where only crumbled remained. 

“Goodness, would you look at that, we are all out of cookies. How about we wrap this up for now? You two youngsters might be full of energy, but I need my beauty sleep.” A shadow passed over his face as her old Master withdrew for a moment deep in his thoughts. “And to check up on what I should carry with me. For this we will need my main workshop in Villach, I’m afraid.”

Lucilla started. She had been there only once, and just through a quick session of remote vision she believed the Master knew about but never commented on. 

Through the haze of distance she could only see a huge circular room full of tomes, tool, materials and cauldrons, but above all one thing had caught her attention: the weird skeleton affixed to the wall through dozens of silver spokes piercing through its bones. Weirder still, its arms had been fashioned in bronze and gold, and attached to the bone matrix through some repellent surgery she couldn’t even imagine. 

And what might be the reason to stick a skeleton to the wall by thick rings of steel?

She couldn’t find an answer and called the vision off right away. Somehow, she had been terribly afraid the skeleton would turn its empty orbits at her.

“We can wait for one more night,” Karl agreed, covering his mouth as he yawned. “Besides, your help is appreciated, but I came here for another reason.” He walked behind Lucilla and leaned against the back of her chair, his chest brushing against her still-damp hair. Holy Virgin, did she still smell like the swamp? “We are dealing with a Witch, so what do I need the most?”

Lucilla let out a quiet gasp. She looked up, meeting Karl’s gaze.

“Young Master, you…”

“What do we need, to kill a Witch?” He set his hands over her shoulders, grinning at his uncle. “A Witch Hunter.”

Pic by

Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading! As I said I wanted to take a quick break from Patina for these two days. I hope I will be able to wrap it up pretty quickly. For my next trick/webnovel, I think I’d like to take a look into the world of Bondwitch, which means we might see these characters again soon enough. Thanks again.


Inserisci i tuoi dati qui sotto o clicca su un’icona per effettuare l’accesso:

Logo di

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s…

%d blogger hanno fatto clic su Mi Piace per questo: