Chapter 60: A Glimmer of Magic
“Why don’t we allow Lady Maura to complete her performance before we condemn her for heresy,” Octavia suggested with a hint of amusement.
The crown prince glanced at his grandmother with surprise then sighed as he took his seat and waved his hand permissively. “Very well, Lady Maura, proceed with caution.”
“Then, before I begin,” Carina said as she passed her cloak to Beaumont. “If I could ask someone to come forward as my first volunteer.”
“One of us?” Nicholas interrupted again. “Even if this is just a parlor trick, wouldn’t that be too easy?”
“Your Majesty?” Carina forced a smile as she shifted her weight uncomfortably.
‘The more he keeps interrupting me, the longer I have to stand on this flimsy ankle.’
“You’re the Countess’s protégé after all,” Nicholas pointed out. “Surely she’s given you enough insight into all of us to pull off a convincing act. It’s not like any of us can judge your predictions here and now.”
“Your Majesty has a point,” Carina replied graciously. “Which is why I have asked Captain Beaumont to blindfold me before we begin.” She pulled the black cotton fabric from her sleeve and dangled it from her fingers. “Would your Majesty care to examine it to ensure I’m not cheating?”
Nicholas glanced sharply at Beaumont. “Did you—” He caught himself, and his lips formed into a hard line as he stared at the knight captain.
Carina frowned as she glanced over her shoulder to Beaumont, who merely shook his head silently in response.
‘What the hell is going on?’
She turned back to the crown prince, who now glared at her as if she had just run a Ponzi scheme on him.
“I think the blindfold is a clever idea,” Attwood spoke up, breaking the tense silence. “And I would be happy to appraise the material to reassure everyone.” Not waiting for approval, the Prime Minister pushed his chair back, circled the banquet table, and headed towards the stage.
Beaumont took the blindfold from Carina and passed it down to the Prime Minister, who held it over his eyes and turned towards the audience—though a bit too the left—then nodded his approval as he removed it. “An adequate blindfold your Majesty.”
Nicholas stared grimly at his Prime Minister but nodded his head stiffly.
“Good luck, Lady Maura,” Attwood whispered as he returned the blindfold to Beaumont.
Carina returned a quick smile as the knight captain moved behind her. Then she folded her hands, closed her eyes, and remained still as Beaumont tied the fabric of the blindfold firmly against the back of her head.
She could barely open her eyes behind the taut material, which suited her just fine. Sufficiently blind, Carina extended her hand outward and waited for Beaumont to take it and guide her to the table as planned. In the darkness, her heightened senses jumbled together as her ankle trembled beneath her weight.
The stage felt uneven as she turned. The murmurs of the banquet guests seemed distorted, pitched, and menacing. And even Beaumont’s hand, which had always been unusually warm, felt strangely cold and binding.
She drew in a breath as the knight captain guided her hand to the back of the chair.
‘Just as practiced.’
She slid down into the seat and let her hands fumble across the tablecloth until they found the pillow and crystal ball in a display of helplessness.
‘Let them underestimate me all they want.’
A hand touched her shoulder lightly as Beaumont whispered against her ear. “Are you sure about this, Lady Maura?”
Carina smiled confidently as she turned towards his voice. “No risk, no reward, Captain. You may go now.”
He withdrew his hand silently. Carina listened to the heavy thud of his footsteps as they faded across the stage and down the steps. Then she took a quick breath and turned to the audience. “Would the first volunteer care to join me?” She gestured across the table towards the vacant chair.
Muffled whispers carried by the breeze, lengthened into silence. Carina held her confident smile in place as she waited.
‘I only need one.’
Although witches and magic were forbidden in Lafeara, street performers and fortune-tellers were not uncommon. They often traveled with trading merchants from Vetrayna, which was how Carina had stumbled upon the Mystics of Paradise’s traveling stage crew during her inspections with Sir Bryson. She later returned and introduced herself as Lady Aconitum before paying them to teach her a bit of their craft.
It was from Madame Maylea that Carina had learned the history of second sight, which many believed to be carried down in the bloodline of the Saints and even the current Pope. Though, whether they truly had visions of the future or merely manipulated the masses was up for debate.
Still, as long as Carina used “second sight” as her cover, and didn’t turn anyone into a snowman, she could use her knowledge of the future to her advantage or deflect it as nothing more than a stage trick. Those who believed her would do so whether they publicly admitted it or not, while the rest would no doubt join Nicholas in doubting her.
‘Either way, they will think me strange, but better they think of me as a charlatan than a witch.’
Still, Carina had not expected to use this trick so soon—and in front of the Dowager no less. The thud of footsteps upon the stage shook her from her uneasy thoughts, and Carina focused on the sound. Dull and heavy boots, so one of the men.
‘But just to be sure.’
She exhaled slowly, focused on the magic at her core, and opened her left hand beneath the tablecloth.
An invisible mist of frost fell over the stage and glided over the young man’s hair, face, and shoulders. He shivered, and the image in Carina’s mind disappeared, but it was enough for her to identify Acheron.
‘You really do like to meddle.’
Carina smiled as the chair across from her scraped against the floor, and the table shifted slightly.
“Will the first volunteer kindly place your hand over mine?” Carina held out her right hand, and a moment later, Acheron’s fingers slid across her palm. “Ahh,” Carina murmured as she wrapped her fingers around his wrist. “The hand of a rogue.”
Eleanora laughed from the audience as Acheron sighed. “A clever guess, Lady Maura,” he muttered.
“Shush!” Carina frowned sternly and placed her left hand on the crystal ball. “I am speaking to the spirits.”
“Spirits?” Acheron repeated with dry amusement.
“Those who have lived and died but remain trapped between this life and the next. Those who watch and witness every deed, whisper, and secret.”
Acheron shivered again. “It sounds like you’re talking about ghosts, Lady Maura.”
“Some might call them that.”
She could feel his uncertainty in his racing pulse. ‘Good, he was ready.’
“The spirits would like to know your question, Lord Acheron,” Carina said somberly. “You may only ask one question, so choose it carefully.”
“I see,” Acheron said hesitantly. “Then—will my cousin, Beaumont, find a woman that will make him happy?”
Carina’s smile tightened as she held back a sharp retort. “You may only ask a question about yourself, Lord Acheron,” she corrected calmly.
“Oh—drat,” Acheron muttered with a hint of disappointment. “Well then—I suppose I’ll ask, will I ever find a woman who makes me happy?”
‘Seriously, Acheron, is your head full of flowers?’
“Mmm,” Carina hummed as she bowed her head, and the cold sparked between their hands. Acheron’s arm twitched in surprise, but he remained seated. “The Spirits tell me that such a woman exists—but you will not notice her in your endless conquest for lustful gratification.”
‘Make of that what you will playboy and move on.’
“I see,” Acheron sighed. “That’s not what I was hoping to hear. Then how will I know if I do find her?”
“One question, Lord Acheron,” Carina replied as she released his wrist and withdrew her hand. “But perhaps she will find you.”
“Of course,” his tone was polite but troubled, “Thank you for the advice, Lady Maura.”
She smiled and inclined her head as the chair scraped back, and his footsteps faded across the platform. Then she turned her blindfolded gaze to the audience and asked, “Will there be any other volunteers?”
A sudden murmur of voices filled the audience as Carina waited. Again, heavy footsteps climbed the stairs, though these were rushed and quite abrasive. Another quick douse of fine mist confirmed what she already suspected.
A quiver of cold anger rippled through her as Carina clenched her jaw and twisted her hands together in her lap.
Nicholas pulled out the chair, sat down, and stared at her in silence.
“The spirits and I welcome you, your Majesty,” Carina greeted and bowed her head politely. The audience muttered in surprise once more as Nicholas scoffed. “I only hope you’re ready to hear their answer.”