Saturday Snippet: When Silver Sings

Morning. Early. Cinnamon candy.

On Friday morning, far too early for either of them, Lelia and André walked up to the Lee’s front door. “There’d better be coffee,” she grumbled. Tay kept quiet, probably out of self preservation. She’d learned the cost of the electrician’s visit the evening before, and her temper remained less than mellow.

The door opened, and Dolores Lee waved them in, hiding a yawn. She ran a hand through her dark hair, currently pulled back in a loose pony-tail. “I love my husband but he remains an incurable morning person, despite my best efforts at conversion. You’ve been warned. He’s in the library. I need coffee.”

André followed Lelia down the hall to the book-filled room. Patrick Lee waited for them. “Good morning!” He wore a long-sleeved tweed tee-shirt, dark brown trousers, and a far too alert expression. “Cinders says that you wish to consult Archimandrite Waldemar’s pattern book?”

New Zealand. That’s got to be a New Zealand accent. Maybe. Somewhere not in the United States, that much she would bet on.

“Yes, sir.” André replied. “We don’t intend to copy anything, just identify.”

Lelia let her fiancé take the lead as she half-knelt so Tay could climb down from her shoulder without sinking claws into her blouse. He then clambered down to floor level and sauntered over to talk with Cinders. He and the coatimundi slapped paws before departing the library, both of their tails vertical. “How rude,” Lelia sighed.

“Quite.” Mr. Lee pulled reading glasses out of his the breast pocket on the tee-shirt and unfolded them. “Quite rude indeed. I shall have a word with him.”

Lelia did not inquire which him. Instead, as André started looking at the books on the open shelves, she opened her handbag and removed the belt buckle. She unwrapped the silk handkerchief around it, and set it on top of the pale gold wooden desk. “This is the pattern we want to hunt for, sir.”

“May I?” She nodded her permission, and Mr. Lee picked up the buckle, using the silk to protect his fingers from the silver, or vice versa. “Fascinating. I see why you are curious, Miss Chan. That is not the standard floral pattern found on such accessories, nor is silver the customary metal used to carry that sort of pattern.” He turned it over and peered at the hallmarks. “Most intriguing.” He looked over the reading glasses at her. “Have you been able to identify the creator?”

“Not yet, sir. The stamp does not match any of the American or English makers with marks readily available.”

André joined her at the desk. “It’s not German or French, either, sir, or at least not a well-known German or French hallmark,” he added quickly.

“Fascinating! The fact that a previous owner went to such lengths to conceal the pattern suggests either a malicious intent to prevent knowledge, or a sincere desire to protect the pattern.” Mr. Lee set the buckle and silk on the desk, almost rubbing hands with excitement.

Lelia held up one finger. “Or they did not know the pattern or magic, sir, and simply wanted to keep from having to polish the silver. The material was linen, not silk, sewn with cotton or a cotton-linen blend.”

Green eyes stared at her over the dark-framed reading glasses. “Miss Chan, do not automatically attribute to common origins what can be explained with magical intent.”

Oh boy. It’s going to be a long morning. She still needed coffee.

André cleared his throat a little. “The pattern book, sir? This design might not be related to anything magical. The metal content could be the key rather than the decoration.”

“The book.” Mr. Lee turned to the leaded glass and rowan-wood barrister’s book case behind the desk and murmured under his breath, then ran his index fingers around the edges of one level of books. Something hummed, and he opened the wood and glass door, sliding it into the top of the row. He counted four from the left end of the shelf and removed a tome. “Do not lick your fingers, do not turn down page corners,” he gave her a very pointed glare. “And do not recite any spells aloud, please. The page markers are on the table beside the— What are you doing, young fox?”

Lelia half-turned in time to see Rodney stop pawing a book out of the bottom of the bookcase beside the door. “Sir?” the kit fox asked.

“Your pardon, Mr. Lee.” André crossed the room, removed the volume in question, and set it on the low table between two other bookcases. “Ask, please. I will turn pages for you.”

“Yes, boss.”

“Ahem, as I was saying, the page markers are in the usual location, Miss Chan. I need to make a phone call, then I shall return. Begin with chapter eight, I believe, would be the most efficient.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you sir.” She did not curtsey as he departed. He’s worse than Sr. Lioba, the library guard. The German nun had scared everyone, even the two Jesuit priests.

André rejoined her at the desk. So did Tay, who climbed back onto the leather chair, then vaulted onto the desk. He stuck the landing. Lelia turned to chapter eight, and made room for the two males. “Ah, not that one,” she said, giggling. Lust practically radiated from the black-and-white drawing.

“No, and I am very glad that is a flawed copy, thank you!” André turned the page, then three more before they escaped from the fertility-and-attraction patterns. “Closer.”

“Yes, but not floral in the same way as the buckle.” She compared the drawing to the real thing, then reached for the wooden pointer in the little cup on the corner of the desk. She tapped the buckle. “These are more geometric, not true flowers.”

“Hmm.” He turned more pages. “That’s . . . I’ve never seen that done. And it’s close.” He picked up the buckle and compared it to the reproduction of an enamel-work gold cloak clasp from a grave in southern Germany. “That’s really close. But the one in the book is too old.”

Tay shook his head. “Patterns get used over and over. How many spiral things do you see, even today?”

“A lot,” Lelia answered. “And this” she tapped the book with the pointer, “says the original was probably owned by a female shaman-healer, or at least was buried with a female shaman-healer.”

Rodney’s voice came from the other side of the room. “Boss, can you turn a page, please?” André kept the buckle as he left.

Lelia turned the page in the book and stared. Hooooleee cats. Bingo. She bent closer to the page, looking at the flowers, knot-work, and what might have been little animals racing around the rectangle. “Belt buckle or shawl-buckle, Rhine Valley, upper Austria,” she read aloud. “Date unknown, believed to be late Bronze Age.”

“Love, why are you working a spell?”

“I’m not. Why?”

André held the buckle out on his open palm. It glowed with power! “Because this.” He hurried back to the desk. She draped the buckle with the silk, and he slid it onto the wood surface. “It’s never done that.”

She shook her head. “Look.” She moved well clear. Rodney bounced over, and André picked him up so he could see as well. “I think we have a match, if you remove the two chunks out of the middle where the gaps currently are.”

“That’s a match.” Tay thrashed his tail, ears back a little. “I don’t like the resonance.”

André set Rodney back onto the floor, then turned the page to the other pattern. “You know,” he began very slowly. “Let’s assume that this did, indeed, belong to a healer, and the pattern and its later variant were used by someone, or several someones, who had at least a little healing magic. I’ve never heard of a dark healer. They’re all light-side.”

A mild, sorrowful voice from the doorway said, “No. But a dark-inclined healer is once in a generation, and they are removed.” Lelia glanced up to see Cinders sitting in the doorway to the hall. “Some things are not permitted, once they are known.” Tay nodded his agreement, his eyes sad.

We’re in deep water here. Lelia swallowed hard, and looked back at the pattern. André flipped to the exact match once more. Lelia shifted to magic sight and lifted the corner of the silk just enough to peek under it. “Ow.”

André copied her and squinted. “Ditto.” He lowered the fabric. “I don’t recall anything like this out of Bednarz.” He sounded lost.

“Meister Gruenewald never mentioned it, either, just what to do if we found really old things where they didn’t belong, and he didn’t mean museums,” Rodney said. He shook all over. “I’m at sea.”

“No, you are in my library. Isabeau!” Mr. Lee ducked as the huge bird flapped into the room. She landed on a thick wooden rod that projected over the locked bookcase. “Ahem. Something of interest has transpired, I presume?”

“Yes, sir. We found a match that causes the buckle to resonate with so much magic that it glows to normal sight.” André got clear as Mr. Lee all but leaped across the room. “You might just peek, sir.”

Mr. Lee sniffed and whisked away the silk. Lelia covered her ears as Isabeau shrieked. Or sang. Whatever she said was loud in the small space. Mr. Lee covered the buckle with great haste. “That is a touch intense, yes.”

“Dear, whatever you did, undid it, please,” Dolores’ voice called from the hall. “It’s making our anniversary silver sing.”

Only after the buckle had been safely wrapped once more and stowed inside Lelia’s purse did the company adjourn to the dining room. Lelia did not venture to speak until she’d finished one cup of hair-curlingly strong coffee and started a second one. The men seemed as flustered as she felt, which made her feel a little better. At last she said, “So we have a match, the pattern is very old, and it makes other silver things react when the buckle sees the full pattern. And I do not want to play with either one.”

“No.” André, Cinders, Rodney, and Tay chorused. “Jinx,” Rodney added.

“No,” his mage continued. “Because given what we’ve found thus far in the buckle, I’m very leery of poking what’s still there without a very, very good reason. Curiosity is not a good reason.”

Lelia shook her head in agreement and had more coffee.

Mr. Lee removed a red and silver tin from the pocket of his trousers and opened it, popping one of the contents into his mouth. He offered it to Lelia, who abstained. He then offered it to André. The shadow mage took one and popped it into his mouth.

Three, two, one . . . Lelia smothered her giggles as crimson suffused André’s features, his eyes seemed to bulge and began watering copiously, and he struggled to breathe.

“Dear loving and holy Lord, what is that, sir?” came a wheezy squeak. “That’s stronger than the curry made by south Indian contractor cooks!”

Mr. Lee blinked mildly. “Doyle’s Double Cinnamon candies. I find the flavor rather tame compared to some.”

“Tame?”

I didn’t know his voice could get that high. Lelia leaned to the side to make room as a platter of chilled fruit slices and dip appeared beside her, then continued on to the table.

“Love, you think that there is nothing wrong with making mustard from powder by stirring it until the bowl feels warm,” Dolores said with a sigh. “Not everyone has had their palate burned into oblivion by pepper sauces.”

The mildly offended look on Mr. Lee’s face almost triggered a spate of giggles. Instead, Lelia concentrated on helping herself to two slices of apple and some of the creamy-sweet dip. The flavor contrast between tart apple and smooth dip eased a little of her frustration. That and the surge of caffeine. She did not look back at the Lees until the kissing sounds stopped.

“Thinking of things that cause trouble,” Dolores began.

Oh no, not another damn charm disk. Lelia glanced to her left and saw an echoing unhappiness on André’s face.

“Do you know anything about a woman, plain looking, a little heavier built than you, Lelia,” Dolores gestured with her coffee cup, “who casts illusions.”

Oh fuck. “Yes, if it is the same person. Matt reported that he’d caught her trying to shoplift using an illusion, and Shadow and I collided with her in the club. She hid a ten as a twenty, and tried to drug one of the guys, dump something in his drink. She’s a sorceress.”

André had gone hard. He leaned forward a little. “She made a knife-illusion and threatened to cut Silver. Silver broke the illusion before someone really reacted, and the bouncers threw her out. She’d given the name Angel. She’s banned from the clubs.”

“I’m surprised she’s not dead, the way she’s heading for trouble. This was back in March,” Lelia added.

Patrick Lee too had shifted to predator. “Interesssting. Dolores and I encountered this individual. She was not committing malice at the time, but we noticed the illusions. She’d bespelled herself to look rather like an anime character, with slightly large eyes and flat, silver-pink hair, quite harmless. Too harmless, which was what drew our attention. This was at the Farmers’ Market in Riverside Park, on Wednesday morning.”

Dolores rolled her eyes. “That, and the guy with her. Patrick was quite taken with his tactical shirt and pants.”

“I was not taken, dear, I was taken aback that anyone would pay for trousers with so many useless pockets.” He sniffed. “Dolores would not permit me to ask which school of mall-ninjitsu he had attended. He also sported more tattoos than a tattoo artist’s pattern book.”

André covered his eyes with the hand not holding food. “An operator, in other words. I overheard one of his spiritual brothers at Baker’s last week, declaiming on the relative merits of small-arms ammunition calibers. While wearing Warsaw Pact surplus.”

Why is Mr. Lee smiling like that, and should I be nervous?

“Have you ever assured that sort that a real marksman needs no more than a 12 caliber, because no silencer is required?” Mr. Lee’s smile had grown wider and scarier.

“Not yet, but I might.” André’s smile matched that of the older mage.

Dolores sighed loudly. “Lelia, twelve caliber is an air rifle pellet, the kind you use to kill squirrels and other pests. Anyone who brags about being active duty special forces, ours or someone else’s, in order to impress people or to get stuff is probably lying or at least shading the truth. It’s like a metal-head claiming to have been at a Clash concert when they are barely twenty-one.”

Lelia rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah. I heard a gal bragging about going to a Nightwish concert in Germany in 1992. The band didn’t form until 1996, and they’re Finnish.”

“Bingo. Which does not sort out what to do about our illusion caster.” Dolores finished her snack, stood, and pecked her husband on the cheek. “Dear, don’t forget to remember to deal with the problem outside your workroom door.”

“I have not forgotten, love, I am sorting out the best way to deal with it.” He sounded a bit testy. Lelia glanced over at Cinders. The grey and black coatimundi seemed intensely interested in the ceiling, and not because Isabeau was in the room, either. Lelia took that to mean that his mage had indeed been remiss in remembering.

“Yes, dear.” Dolores winked at Lelia, took the empty platter and departed to the kitchen.

As they drove back to the duplex, Lelia said, “Should we do anything about Angel, unless she starts it?”

André didn’t speak until they’d turned onto the quiet, brick street leading to the duplex. “No. There’s not really anything we can do, because right now she’s not causing trouble that we know of. Just hiding herself and trying to look harmless isn’t a crime or grounds for blocking her power.” After he parked and turned off the engine, he added, “Not yet.”

Lelia shivered a little, then busied herself getting out of the truck and turning Tay loose from his hard-sided carrier. How does he put so much menace in two little words?

(C) 2020 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

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