When Jan returned to the house that night Su’Len was waiting for him in the hall. He could tell that she had been pacing from the window to the door for a while though she stopped when he came in. She had her arms folded tightly against her stomach.
“Where have you been?” She hissed in a whisper. Their maid arrived to take Jan’s jacket which was sopping wet as it had rained in buckets since he left the palace. Admittedly Jan had walked slowly home burdened by the weight of the queen’s request and Julien’s story. He frowned deeper.
“What’s the matter?” He asked trying to puzzle out what the matter was.
Su’Len grabbed his arm and started to pull him to the dining room. “Your father is here.” She managed to whisper before she opened the door. Before Jan could wipe the look of shock off of his face his father was in front of him sitting at the head of the huge dining table. He had folded his hands in his lap. His moustache and beard hid the thin line of his mouth which he had pressed even tighter for being kept waiting.
The table was spread with a clean white table cloth and three places laid. The candles were lit, though it was still early evening. The rain and the shorter days meant that the windows gave Jan’s father a dark background. Su’Len breezed into her seat on the far side of the table.
“Finally! I’m sorry to have kept you waiting Gierr. Jan is so busy at the palace these days.” She dropped into the chair and had turned a pretty blush with the panic.
“We didn’t know you were coming, Father.” Jan also took his seat. His knife and fork were the wrong way round so he quickly swapped them, throwing a pointed look at the maid filling their water glasses. The table was simple and hastily laid. Jan could imagine the flurry when his father had descended on the household.
“I was tired of all the letters, the service is awful from the East. It’s not surprising. The roads are a disgrace, and there are too many distractions on the road for the mail carriers.” Gierr leaned closer to Jan. He barely lowered his voice as he added. “I passed more than six brothels on the way.” His pretence at trying to protect his daughter in law’s morals was barely concealed.
“Truly” he continued. “I’ve come about my grandson.” He turned to Su’Len now and in a needling voice said. “Had we better get you to a doctor? It is nearly a year, you know.” He had taken her hand and was patting it gently.
“Father, it really is none of your business.” Jan couldn’t help snapping. How dare his father nose his way into his marriage? He was furious and about to continue when his vision suddenly went white. Jan’s head snapped back and he heard a loud rushing in his ears. He blinked hard and his vision started to ease into focus again. The lights still danced before his eyes and he saw Su’Len and Gierr almost nose to nose. Su’Len’s face was a rich beetroot colour with fury and she’d balled her hands into fists. She shoved Gierr out of the way and pushed her way to Jan’s side. She dabbed his napkin up to his nose where a thick stream of blood was pouring out of his nose. Luckily it seemed to stop quickly, but Jan was having trouble trying to speak. He looked wildly from his father to his wife.
“Wlah Wha juss…” He stopped, his tongue felt like a brick in his mouth. Su’Len wheeled on Gierr.
“Go upstairs. We’ll talk later. Madra,” She beckoned the maid over from where the door. “Take Lord Maag to his room.”
Later Madra took a tray of the dinner up to the guest room on the third floor. She knocked with a little difficulty, holding the tray by setting it on a raised knee and precariously balancing it with one hand. She kept her eyes on the little glass of wine that sloshed dangerously against the sides of the glass. The door opened from the inside and she was caught by so much surprise that when she lowered her knee she almost dropped the tray.
Lord Maag stood to the side and ushered her into the room. She put the tray down on the little table. Lord Maag took his seat in front of it. As she pulled away she noticed that the table was rocking a little. She pulled a clean piece of paper from the stack already on the table, folded it quickly into four and crouched to put it under the shorter table leg. Once she had finished she stood up, took a step back and curtsied. As she turned to go when Lord Maag cleared his throat.
“Come here.” He said.
She took a step closer. He shifted in his chair to face her. “How long have you worked here?” He asked.
“A year or so, I came soon after the wedding.”
He stood and suddenly it seemed to Madra that he was a lot closer as he loomed over her. She made to take a step back but he caught her shoulder to keep her still. Madra pressed her lips together and rolled her shoulder to try and shift his hand. But he held on tighter to the joint and leant down to her ear. Madra kept absolutely still.
“I want you to do something for me.” She heard him take a breath in the pause. “I want you to watch my daughter in law for me. Will you do that for me?” Her skin shivered down her back. She tried to twist to the side but his other hand came up to stop her. His hand fumbled with the waist of her skirt for a moment before diving and coming up snugly between her legs. His fingers were cold and she flinched, pressing her thighs as tightly as she could and bending away. Unfortunately this meant she was leaning her face closer. He rubbed his bearded cheek against hers but kept his lips next to her ear. He had started to move his fingers but luckily was about an inch too high from his target. He obviously saw this as some kind of trade, that she would appreciate his attention.
“I want to know why my grandson is. I want you to report every night that they spend together. Do you understand me?” His hand slid down her back pinning her to him for another moment or two before she nodded quickly and tried to twist away again. This time he released her, a white smile breaking across his dark beard.
“I’ll be in touch.” He sat down and took a bite of the salad. As he crunched he speared a potato and waving it in her direction, dismissed her. Madra, breath hard fled the room, He heard her clatter down the stairs. “I like her.” He said aloud to himself before popping the potato in his mouth.
Su’Len appeared at the door soon after and came into the room uninvited. She closed the door quietly behind her.
Doriel leaned back against the cushions. He felt his smile lifting high into his cheeks. The fait oozing smell of orchid twisted round the room and made the cold air heady. A man gently massaged the soft resin in the pipe finally lifting it out with the tip of a pin and dipping it quickly into the flame of the lamp. Similar dots of flame flickered around the room. Each customer had their own lamp.
The small ball turned a deep orange and seemed to swell up. Just as it was about to fall off the pin the man expertly twisted it up like honey and pushed it into the bowl of the pipe again. Doriel propped himself up on his elbows and took to pipe in one hand, just to guide it to his mouth once more. As he breathed out he nodded to the man. “Much better.” He waved the man away and closed his eyes.
Later as he collected his coat he handed his pipe back to the man who scraped the bowl clean into his own collection. Eventually he would have enough to smoke his own pipe, one of the perks of working for this particular opium den. “I liked that blend.” Doriel said. “Especially the colour. Was it saffron?” The dark reddish tint was added to the dark black ooze for colour and flavour. By the door was a little shelf with opium tinctures, the colours ranged from almost black to a light rose coloured bottle. All small vials to tuck into a pocket.
“There was rhubarb root as well.” A second man stepped forward to answer Doriel. He was dressed in black. The buttons at the neck were straining under the pressure of several chins. Buoyed as he was with the effects of the opium, Doriel smiled easily at the new comer. “I mix the compound now.”
“Well, good to have such an expert on the team!” Doriel held out his hand for the man to shake it. His hand shake was firm and steadied Doriel a little as he swayed towards the door.
“Indeed.” Doriel found himself out side in the street. Darkness had fallen hours ago. He bent his head against the icy wind and walked towards home.