The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 21
Lakshmi looked at the young prince. He had hazel eyes, sandy brown hair, and a neatly trimmed beard. And he had noticed her. That wasn’t unusual. Most heterosexual males noticed Lakshmi, but this time Lakshmi found herself noticing him back. And she wasn’t sure why.
He was a healthy young man, well-muscled and toned with the calluses of regular sword practice on his hands. Something she knew how to recognize after a year in this time of swords and magic.
But there was more. His hazel eyes seemed to see her in a way that made her feel like he saw right into her. And then he smiled a cute little half smile that said he liked what he saw.
Some time later Manuel found himself seated next to Gabriel Deloflote and Amelia Grady as they tried to persuade him to intervene in the case of Theodore Meliteniotes. Manuel wasn’t willing to go against his father, but he did find himself agreeing to talk to the man.
He wasn’t sure what would come of it. Theodore was a scion of the senatorial class, families who lived on the wealth and reputation of some illustrious ancestor. Often enough, one who lived before Caesar Augustus.
Sometimes, in his heart of hearts, Manuel wished the republic could be restored. But the time of democracies and republics was lost in history. It took a firm hand at the top to lead a nation.
Besides, the statue that his father gave him when Theodore was arrested never sang again. He asked about that and it was pointed out that since he wasn’t the owner of the statue, the demon didn’t answer to him.
“But I am the owner.”
“I would guess that the statue disagrees,” Gabriel said. “Just seizing things doesn’t make them yours.”
“What would happen if Theodore were to give me the statue?”
“I can’t be sure without knowing the spell. It would be an interesting experiment, though.”
Wilber smiled at the quip. Why not? It was a witty pun if you spoke both Latin and Greek. It was also delivered deadpan by an attractive noblewoman in red shoes and a colorful dress. She was wearing a hat and something that might be called a veil, though it barely covered the top half of her forehead. She was holding a gold stemmed heavy glass goblet filled with red wine in one hand and gesturing with the other, while she made jokes and explained court gossip to Wilber.
Wilber’s phone was recording the conversation and sending it to Merlin in his computer, so Wilber mostly let her talk flow over him, trying to laugh or frown in the right places. In one way, it wasn’t that different from parties he had attended at his mother’s house in Paris or earlier in London.
But in another way, it was extremely different. Wilber was center stage here. He could understand and speak any language now, while at his mother’s parties he’d spent most of his time trying to guess what people were saying. Especially before the cochlear implant. Lip reading wasn’t all that easy unless you were looking directly at the mouth of the person speaking.
She made a comment about one of the young ladies who was trying to get Bill Howe to dance.
Wilber said, “That’s not going to happen. Bill is involved with Jennifer.” He pointed at Jennifer and let the woman draw her own conclusions.
“How do you summon a demon?” she asked. It was a question out of the blue. Even more so because she seemed entirely serious. Much more serious than her talk of dresses, fashion, and court scandals.
“Answering that question,” Wilber said carefully, “is a longer conversation than would fit here. I suggest you start by reading Doctor Gabriel Delaflote’s book on the proper containers and spells to summon the sort of demon you need. What sort of demonic aid were you looking for?”
“Oh, nothing important,” she said, and her tone rang false to his magically enhanced ear. “Where might I get a copy of that book?”
“I would assume that any book seller might have it. I know that it was one of the first books to be printed in mass by the new printing presses in Paris. There ought to be hundreds of copies floating around Constantinople by now.”
“Oh, but that book has been banned by the patriarch.”
“Really?” Wilber looked at the daughter of a major court noble and third cousin of the emperor and added, “That seems an unwise policy to me, to leave yourself unarmed while all about you have the means to arm themselves.”
“I agree, but obtaining the book is not so easy, whatever we may think.”
“And, unfortunately, I am in a fairly delicate position.” Wilber noted that she had moved him over to a corner while they chatted so no one could hear their conversation. “I have diplomatic status so far as my own magic is concerned, but not carte blanche for teaching magic to others.”
“Well, could you sell me some magic?”
“What sort of magic?”
She looked at him for a long moment, then said, “Protective magic. Maybe a familiar spirit who could teach me magic.”
“Let me give it some thought,” Wilber said, moving back to the center of the party. She could come with him or stay there, as she chose.
Aurelia Crassa watched the French delegation as they circulated. Her father was prominent enough to be invited to the party, but only barely, and mostly because of the family wealth. And everyone she knew was wondering what the people from the future were really like.
They were, it had to be admitted, very attractive. Healthy, with even features, and excellent teeth. No pock marks in the entire party. They were rich. Their clothing said that, but they seemed a snooty lot.
Liane Boucher stepped up to one of the young men and said, in barely understandable French, “I wish these people wouldn’t stand so close.”
“Either that, or bathe more often,” the young man said, also in French, but French that was somehow more understandable than the woman’s.
Aurelia kept her mouth shut. She’d been to the baths day before yesterday and she went at least once a week.
Lakshmi strolled through the party, collecting stares. She was wearing a handmade red and gold crocheted gown over a dark tan, almost brown, chemise. Both the gown and chemise were made in Paris and given to her by the queen in the lead up to the battle of Paris. It was crocheted in a red and gold paisley pattern of fine linen thread and enchanted by a minor demon to turn it into a soft form-fitting cloth of gold and flames outfit, with a flaring skirt, a deep v neck, and tight sleeves.
The goal was to stand out. This was a world of status and the idea of pre-worn jeans and backward facing ball caps as fashion would simply confuse these people. The goal here was to have what no one else had, and your status was based in large part on what you wore. So much that there were laws about who could wear what. Only the emperor could wear red shoes — well, the emperor and upper class women — and only the imperial family could wear purple clothing. So Lakshmi was wearing clothing that was outside the rules, but obviously carefully and expensively made. The idea was to project the highest possible status without wearing something that was illegal for her to wear.
She smiled and gave a curtsy to an older man who wasn’t exactly drooling at her, but not far from it. That, naturally, was the other reason for the enchanted crocheted gown. It was armor. Not as good as chainmail, but considerably better than standard cloth.
Then Helena Kantakouzene, John V’s empress and Manuel’s mother approached, and Lakshmi gave her a deep curtsy.
“Charming,” Helena said, though she didn’t sound charmed. More like the evil queen in Snow White. Don’t take any rosy red apples from this one, Lakshmi told herself.
They talked about clothing and magic. Lakshmi had little Greek and Helena had no French at all. But Lakshmi’s earbuds were blue-toothed and occupied by the same demon that inhabited her computer, DW. With the phones and Merlin they had decent protocols with DW telling Lakshmi what Helena was saying and how to say stuff back in Greek.
All in all, for Lakshmi, the party was informative, but not a lot of fun.