Compared to his larger laboratory near Villach, this beachside home was little more than a resort for his uncle. One advantage was they could still take a step without knocking down vials, books or burners.
Lucilla came back from the kitchen carrying a large tray with steaming cups. She had taken a quick shower and dressed in a night dress that did little to highlight her fine features and her beautiful hair, but Sparagmos kept his thoughts to himself. Tonight was not the right moment to appreciate the many qualities of his uncle’s apprentice.
Speaking of whom, Hermes Sparagmos did not seem pleased at all he was paying him a surprise visit. Unlike his own features, which had been described as hawkish by unkind observers, his older relative displayed thick cheeks made soft by age and too many visits to the pastry. He was dressed in his night-gown and lamented the many mosquitos that buzzed around as Lucilla came back, setting her tray on a table in front of them. She stood up next to Hermes’ chair, but he raised a hand and pointed at the empty sofa that looked onto the patio and the lagoon.
“No, no. Please take a seat, Madame Brughiera. This involves you as well.”
“Oh.” Her hazelnut eyes shifted to look at his uncle and he shrugged.
“I see no reason why not. My beauty sleep is ruined already. Let’s all hear my nephew bringing thunderous news from Wien.”
“I am not heading back from there, no exactly.” He watched as Lucilla, with a thin patina of embarrassed rouge tinting her cheeks, took seat next to them. “I also think involves our old wager, my dearest uncle.”
“Does it now.” Hermes passed a jeweled hand over his bearded mouth, musing over his thoughts. His grey eyes pondered him. “I would hope this means we could lay our doubts to rest, but you wouldn’t wake me up so late to tell me I was right, would you?”
“You know me,” he replied with a grin. “No, I am afraid I was indeed quite right. You see, I just paid a visit to Eridania. I met three days ago with Alba Malcastria.”
“Ah,” Lucilla gasped, her hazelnut eyes sparkling with curiosity.
“My dear, why don’t you show us what you caught tonight? I am sure it will be relevant to the conversation.”
“It’s just a corpselight,” she tried to minimize.
“Nonsense,” Hermes interjected. “I assume at this point we are dealing with business and not pleasure. You could have waited for better hours, at least.”
Madame Brughiera stood up and left the patio. In the silence that followed he could hear Hermes murmuring something in her wake.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Nothing, nothing,” he replied with a wave of his hand. “I was just getting used to her presence. Three years go by so quick, when you reach my age.”
“Come on now, You’re a springy sixty-eight, it’s not like you are going to crumble into dust tomorrow.”
“Not if I keep my finger away from the right salts and potions. But let’s not change topic. You want to take her away from me.”
“As you said, we are talking business now.”
Lucilla came back carrying the lamp he caught her with before. The light inside shifted and waved in unnatural waves, like the flame was trying to escape.
“Ah, so that was it,” Hermes muttered, leaning forward to take a better look. “You already contained it, my dear. Astounding work.”
“You’re too kind, Teacher. I found it in the lagoon last January, and I had to follow it for months before it approached me. I think it understood something was not right, and it would not come near me, but tonight I managed to fool it. I suppose hunger got the best of it.”
“Hmmm. Greed has a way to get the upper hand over the best of us,” the older Sparagmos said sharing a look with Karl.
“This again?” He rolled his eyes. “Besides, I have taken a look with my own eyes at the Principality. And of course Huginn and Muninn’s, who are still standing guard there. Their defenses are laughable: I’ll just have to kick the rotten house’s door and the entire building will come collapsing down. Our for the taking.”
“If you are so certain-“
“At the same time, there is indeed a problem.”
“I can imagine. How is the youngest Malcastria anyway? Is she growing up pretty?”
“She’s beautiful enough. Far too headstrong for her own good.”
“Oh, now I see why you hurried here to cry on my shoulder, nephew. She must have bruised your ego, whipped you like a wet dog.”
“She did not,” Karl replied with a venomous hiss. “She’s just a young brat who doesn’t understand what is waiting for her. But she has found it, uncle. I am sure.”
Lucilla shifted her gaze between the two men, even as Hermes leaned back to sigh and Karl fidgeted, nervous.
“If I may inquire,” she tried, setting her exorcised lamp on the floor, “the young master is heading from Eridania. And I suppose there is only one thing he may be talking about. Does that mean… oh, Heavens, do I dare hope?”
“I am positive. The Princess has found the lost Witch of Eridania.”
“Heavens above,” Lucilla gasped, falling back on the chair. “What a found. What an incredible found. The possibilities, the uses…”
“Let’s not get hasty,” Hermes said with a grumble. “You may be sure. You may be wrong. It has happened before.”
“You are always so paranoid.”
“You are a good commander, Karl – and a better nephew. But save for a thing or two, you are a lousy sorcerer. Not least due to your inability to understand that in this line of work, paranoia is just the same thing as prudence.”
Karl shook his head. They had the same conversation every time, and he doubted he could change his mind now.
“But be it as it may – if you are certain, you are certain. I ought to expect something like that from the young Malcastria anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
He waved his hand away.
“She comes from a sharp bloodline, that one. You’ll have to expect many surprises and not at all pleasant. Ah, I suppose this also means my retirement is over.”
“I can conquer a kingdom, but I would certainly need your help to deal with the Witch, uncle. If you would.”
“I consider myself lucky I have found a better apprentice than you ever were. At least now I won’t have to worry all my knowledge will die with me.”
“Speaking of which. Madame Brughiera – you seem quite excited at the thought of employing your talents on something as exotic as a Witch.”
“Y-yes,” she replied with a gulp. She was almost shaking on the sofa. “Just to make it clear: we are not talking about a human practitioner, are we? The actual, bona fide, last living Witch.”
“The very same. What would you do with that?” He inquired.
“Oh, I have so many ideas!” Lucilla brushed her fingers over her lip as she started to recount the uses. “Bones are powerful amulets, of course. The skin for protection. Ichor as a catalyzer. And tongue and nails for potions. There is so much we could use, and these would be one-of-a-kind ingredients! We haven’t had access to such a bounty since the fall of Rome!”
“Which should invoke prudence,” Hermes replied. “Any Witch that survived for so long ought to be formidable. I would lend you my help, but Madame Brughiera will not go alone. I will spread the word to all her colleagues from Madrid to Moscow, my dear nephew. This is my demand: you will have to keep her safe.”
“I will do all that’s in my power to. But I am not too worried.” He shot her a confident smile and Lucilla found herself smiling back. His black eyes moved to her neck, covered in scars and etched arabesques. “She’s your apprentice, after all. And the best Witch Hunter this side of the Urals, I’m sure.”
Author’s Notes: this was an interesting chapter to write – I had to find another angle to a conversation between these three I had explored in my short story Coeur de la Nuit, which I published on here a few months ago. If you are interested by Lucilla’s character it’s better explained there. I prefer to keep her a little more mysterious for now, but she will soon be displaying her talents. Thanks for reading!