The Rake & the Headdress

Layers of rugs covered the stone floor of the dark antechamber, dulling any noise. Tapestries aided the effect, but habit drove Alessia to proceed with caution to the waiting chair. The unseen walls made the room seem vast, and with each step she felt carefully for the floor as if she were on a tightrope. The room itself seemed to hold its breath before she reached the chair and sat down. It creaked, as always.

Light and warmth flowed into the room through the iron bars of the partition that enclosed the priory’s visiting parlor; beyond, two candle stands stretched up from the bare stone floor and a cushioned armchair awaited, unoccupied. The underfloor heating, which worked in that part of the room, gave off a dry warmth. Reverend Mother liked her heat.

Alessia counted and recounted one hundred and seventy-eight flagstones in the stone floor as she waited. A sudden loud rattle of the latch broke the silence, then the door opened with a whisper, and the venerable prioress entered, preceded by a curious melange of perfume, beeswax, and a strangely masculine smell on which Alessia never dared to dwell. Her movements were difficult, an aged shuffle on fur-lined slippers. Reverend Mother sighed as she relaxed into the armchair, which grated slightly against the floor.

“Blessings to you, my dear Alessia.” Her voice was a loud whisper, with a hint of a lisp.

“Blessings to you, Reverend Mother,” Alessia murmured in response, trying to approach a whisper.

A grim smile split across the old woman’s face. She leaned forward and whispered, with a hint of urgency in her voice. “My old friend, the count of Pariperte—we play cards every Wednesday. Oh, he deals so well, he has such lovely hands! Anyway, he intercepted, by accident, his youngest daughter on a furtive excursion to a scheming rascal. A rake. He charmed her with a series of flowery letters. If she reached the rendezvous, robbery of her jewels and despoiling of her purity awaited.” Reverend Mother stopped. Her voice collapsed.

Alessia’s hands went out to her, but stopped at the bars of the partition, clenching the cold iron. Memories rose, but she pushed them down. “Reverend Mother, I am listening. Who is this rake?”

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Kevin Martin

Kevin came to fantasy writing via the traditional route –a degree in Agricultural Engineering. With the assistance of one wife, two sons a daughter and a dog, he gained a special insight into the nature of life in alternative worlds. When not writing, he gets inexplicable enjoyment from engineering, Irish whiskey, Irish mountains, woodwork, politics, music, books, and nature.

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