As Alba had said, there was indeed much to do – but for the time being, she was more interested in listening to her stomach than her worries, and thus she had the servants bring breakfast to her room…
Breakfast for two, together with a little something extra.
“Would that be all, Your Highness?” Gretchen asked, reluctant to give her the tray. She might be young, but she was indeed able-bodied! She could carry a stupid tray to her desk. And also she wasn’t keen on the woman catching a peek of the Witch.
“Yes. Thank you,” she replied, shutting the door. She was really not used to doing everything with her left hand.
She carried (at least her arms still worked fine) both the tray and the clothes where they needed to stay – one on her desk and the other…
“Here. Put this on. It should be more fitting.” The Witch put down her book and with a tinkle from her metal bands she caught the clothes Alba has thrown her. It was a simple brown dress, lined with grey embroidery, that spoke of relative wealth and lineage without being too precise about it.
Alba sat at the desk, looking the other way. She had seen the Witch’s naked body a few times already and she was not really keen on reliving the experience. Even more so when, for some reason, the memory seemed to scratch at the back of her mind, beckoning to think about her abdomen or her luscious hair or-
“I would very much prefer to have you sit here in my room all day,” Alba stated pouring herself a generous glass of warm milk, using her left hand.
“I surely am flattered.”
Alba spilled a few drops out of the glass at that reply. It must have been because she was not used to her unfavored hand.
She jerked her head back, only to freeze when she found the Witch in the middle of her dress-up, the brown dress leaving her smooth shoulders exposed. She crooked one black eyebrow.
“I- just be done with it, Witch!” She whipped her head back, cleaning her glass with a napkin. “You are bending my words to your liking and changing the meaning to make me look like a fool! I will not stand for it. You know what I mean.”
“A fool surely does not need my help to behave like that,” she heard her retort. The Witch walked to sit at the other side of the desk-turned table, regarding the piles of notes, documents, ink bottles and royal seals. “You don’t seem to be the tidiest person who ever lived. How long did you work to find me?”
Alba frowned. as she now trying to be friendlier or was just a bait to lure her into embarrassing herself even more?
But the emerald eyes of the Witch did not seem to hold mockery – only a question.
“It wasn’t just me.” Alba looked down at the glass – it was an ornate piece with a golden handle, one of the few glassware items she had refused to sell even when expenses kept rising. It was the one she used to drink from when she was a child and when she curled her (left) hand around it she could almost go back to being a five-years old having breakfast with Father. “My father, the Prince Alexios, has spent many years putting the pieces together: why the Witches failed, why they left, and what happened in the meantime.”
“I see.” The Witch pursed her lips, seemingly in thoughts. Her eyes rose to go past the windows and towards the profile of the mountains. “Any news on what happened to the rest of us?”
Alba took a sip. The warm milk poured into her throat making her feel a little better. Maybe she could actually face the day.
“None that I know of. We would have probably tried to bring back the others before you, if we could have reached them.”
“I see,” she repeated, without actual conviction. She sounded like she used to when she tried to convince Andronikos she did really care about calculus.
“We both lost something precious to us,” Alba tried, pushing forward a plate with a few biscuits on it. “All I know is that I have to do all that I can to keep my kingdom from sliding into darkness. And all I ask for is your help.”
Cordelia’s fingers hesitated – they reached for the biscuit but she did not pick it up yet. She pointed at her ruined hand.
“You have already given up your payment for the Pact – at least for the time being.”
“I know. But I would like to keep this civil. An alliance would be better than mere servitude.”
The Witch rapped her fingers over the dark wood of the desk.
“You keep conflating me with the rest of my family: this is not a partnership, Your Highness. I am… what would you call it? A parasite: I draw power from everything I care for and that cares for me – for every bond is a knot.” She leaned forward, her voice a dangerous whisper. “The more attached to me you become, the deeper the shadow I cast. The deeper the shadow, the faster I will consume you. Inside me there is a Light that every other light devours.”
Alba pushed the cookie plate further, still using her left hand.
She would learn.
She tried to keep a level face, but she did not really like having the Witch so close.
“We live in an age of parasites. I am surrounded by Jacobins and opportunists. By bourgeois and bankers that would not blink at the chance to take their ill-gotten gains and leave for Paris or London. So what’s one more?” She offered her a self-assured grin, tilting her head back to show the sharp profile of a proud Malcastria. “I am the heir to thirteen centuries of uninterrupted bloodline. If there was someone able to ride the storm, it was our family.”
The Witch leaned back, chuckling.
“So be it, then.” She picked up one of the biscuits, cracking it between her platinum lips. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Wha-“
“Chocolate,” Alba grinned, feeling more in control than she had ever been all day. “Just one of the many surprises of the modern world, my dear. I’m sure you will like it, among many others… Madame Herkowitz.“
The Witch devoured her first biscuit and she reached for another – on any other person, that eagerness might have been… endearing?
“Just a precaution: as I said I would prefer you to stay in my room all day, but given those seals and my schedule, it’s not at all possible. As luck would have it, I am currently visited by a noble woman from… Ruthenia. I suppose that would work.”
The Witch looked down at her dress.
“Oh, so that’s the reason for the getup. What a ridiculous masquerade. And did you come up with that all on your own?”
“You will find I think better under pressure.” Alba lifted her glass of milk, showing off how hot she was at using her left hand already. “To our partnership, then, Madame Herkowtiz.”
Author’s Notes: I felt a bit of a block at the start, but I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for reading!