Betray: Part 4

“How nice of you to join me for tea, again,” the patrician Jysteral quipped across his china cup, flashing, neat teeth appearing discoloured by contrast. “It seems to be becoming a habit of yours, dear boy. I had rather hoped I would still hear from you after that business at the front, of course, but it strikes me as tad odd.” The fat, boisterous figure calmly sipped from his cup, little finger extended in flamboyant snobbery. “Almost as odd, it seems that every time I see you, I do you some kind of service.”

“Why, how utterly remarkable of you to notice,” the younger man replied, having barely touched his cup. The two were seated upon painted, upholstered metal chairs beneath a veranda in Jysteral’s garden, accompanied by his young and boyish butler-cum-man about the house. That they were some distance from the main building seemed more than coincidence to Julian.

“I find that very droll. Though, by all means, do make pains to prove me wrong, won’t you? I should be ever so surprised - pleasantly, for I do so enjoy your wit - if this is a social visit rather than some other matter.”

“All visits among the aristocracy are social, learned Jysteral. Surely,” he retorted with brow wrinkled in transparent confusion, “you do not suggest that we need contend with anything other than the pleasantries in life?”

The servant stifled a laugh, drawing Julian’s attention without admitting his presence. His features were certainly young and boyish, with long, flowing hair bound up in a stylish ponytail, fair blue eyes set between luscious lashes. Or so, the aristocrat supposed, Jysteral would have described him, if the rumours about their relationship were true. They probably were, given that Jysteral and his wife lived in separate estates on opposite ends of the kingdom.

“Most certainly not!” blubbered his contemporary, though his eyes gleamed with humour. “Nor would I ever dare to cast doubts upon your honourable lineage by suggesting you engage in such, be assured my dear.”

“Ah, now I find that very droll.”

“Quite. Now, before we get down to some important socialising, and you remark upon the curious incident that brought you to see me, do let’s-”

“...Have a cup of tea, first. Yes. Whilst I am doing that, I would very much like you to see this letter that our dear Lydia - you do know her, of course - sent to me,” Julian finished for him, handing over a thin piece of parchment that was folded against the scrutiny of the servant. “I believe her account interests you, given your penchant for mathematics of logistical chaos.”

Jysteral laughed as he accepted the letter into his short hands, remembering his time spent enlisted into the army to coordinate the supply lines. “Quite true, dear, although it is chaos in general that really snares my attention.”

The master magus watched him as he read over the letter in one hand, his other extending empty cup that his aide might fill it. Julian half-wondered whether it was a ploy to keep unwanted attentions away from the letter, sipping from his drink as he watched a single fine brow raise.

It was an account of Til Malacios’ actions that he read, penned by Julian.

“How absolutely fascinating!” the portly man remarked, casting a subtle glance to his butler. Only Julian noticed the narrowing in his irises. “Lydia is from the school of healing, I recall. It certainly would seem that her problems are similar those experienced by the sergeants under my direction.” The letter was handed back to Julian, folded again. “Either her superior is having as much delight in tormenting her as I did those poor military types, or he is incompetent, or corrupt.”

“It certainly would seem so.”

“It rather reminds me of a recent problem I encountered in predicting the summation of a definite series of numbers.”

A slightly muted groan came from the servant, who had evidently heard the story before. “How is that?” Julian asked, watching with fascination as the normally slow-drinking Jysteral drained his tea, then deciding to follow suit.

In the space of the half hour that followed, Julian made every effort to appear interested and enthralled by the intricate calculations that Jysteral related. As time wore on, the butler seemed to sag into the scenery, boredom written behind his veneer of polite servitude. In very little time the pot of tea was drained, giving Jysteral the opportunity he needed. “I do apologise, Julian: we seem to be lacking in tea. Beauregard, do be a darling, and fetch us another pot forthwith?”

The patricians hid their satisfaction as the youth leapt at the opportunity, collecting the crockery and hastening toward the house as the pair kept up their rapport. Only when he was within its confines did Jysteral switch tones.

“We have ten minutes. Whilst I do not object to having a member of the crown’s spies as my butler - the panoply must pay well, as he’s a darling in bed - but I rather think there are some matters of which he must remain unaware,” he elaborated from beneath his coppery mane. “Goodness, Julian, but you’re in one terrible position. I knew about the war, and other indiscretions, but to alter a man’s memories of his father...”

You can find the complete version of Betray: Part 4 in issue 48 of TBD.

James Thornbury