As I mentioned a few days ago, I have a story in a mosaic anthology called Tales of the Emerald Serpent, which is having a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to pay for the printing (my understanding is that it will have quite a bit of artwork in it).
There are other authors involved: Lynn Flewelling, Juliet McKenna, Martha Wells, and Julie Czerneda to name just a few, and you can see some of the artwork at the Kickstarter site or the publisher’s Facebook page.
My own modest contribution is a short story called “The One Thing You Can Never Trust.” For folks who are interested, I thought I’d post the first couple of pages of my story. If you like it and want to read the rest, along with the stories from these other excellent authors, please consider pledging. The way Kickstarter works, you pledge whatever amount you want (larger pledges bring more/fancier swag) but if the project doesn’t meet its target, no money will be collected at all.
So! Without further blather, here’s the opening to my story. I hope you like it.
THE ONE THING YOU CAN NEVER TRUST
by Harry Connolly
Emil Lacosta did not expect his new prices to please Mama Serene, but he did not expect her to actually swear at him. She did. Being Mama Serene, she did it startlingly well. “I am terribly sorry,” he said, carefully keeping his voice mild. “Acquiring the materials I require has become quite difficult and…”
“Spare me the apologies of a Zimbolay scholar,” she interrupted. “Every learned word makes my purse lighter.” She wrote out a bank note, signed it, and handed it to him. It was for the old price. “Next time, I will pay your new, even more outrageous, fee.”
Emil nodded and handed the note to Mariella. He turned to the three young consorts sitting on Mama Serene’s ornate couch. “Do you accept this spell without coercion, of your own will?”
The consorts said “Yes,” in deeply bored tones. One of them added: “because it’s making me rich!” They all laughed at him. He had asked them last time, too, and would ask next time. It didn’t matter if they thought him fussy. He held out a small vial to the first consort and, after she had spit into the golden liquid, allowed her to take it. He did the same for the others.
They were love potions all. A select few of Mama Serene’s clients paid a high premium to be genuinely (or at least magically) adored, even if it was just for a few days.
Their business concluded, Emil and Mama Serene nodded politely to each other. Mariella opened the office door and led Emil swiftly and quietly down the side stair and through the lounge. Emil hated coming to the House of the Silk Purse, hated delivering his product in person, hated knowing the consorts would drink the potion when he was not there to watch over them. But the money was good. Very, very good. With luck, he–
Two men rose out of their chairs and moved toward him. They seemed to have been waiting for him, and Emil stopped immediately and drew back. Mariella stepped around him, her hand on the ribbon tying down her sword. There was an odd expression on her face.
“No no!” the taller man said, his empty hands raised. “We mean only to talk.”
He was near thirty, blue-eyed and deeply tanned. His clothes were satin and leather, and his black hair and long mustache was oiled into curls. He dressed like a dandy, but the amount of sun he’d gotten and the corded muscles in his wrists suggested pirate or merchant, not that there was always much difference.
His companion was small and slender, and his skin was as black as Emil’s–darker, even, because Emil spent long hours in his basement lab. The tattoos on the man’s face marked him as a dock thug or cut purse from Zimbolay. Emil felt a pang of homesickness at the sight of him, but of course he had nothing in common with such a person. “If you want to talk to me,” Emil said mildly as he tried to move around them, “come to my shop during shop hours.”
“That is impossible,” The merchant said. “Please, let me buy you a drink and I will explain why I am so desperate.”
“Shop hours,” Emil said, moving slowly and carefully around him. “Thank you.”
“My friend,” the merchant said. His tone was still light, but there was an undercurrent of threat. “I am trying to handle this respectfully.”
Emil stopped heading toward the door. Mariella had skill with her blade, but she was no duelist and certainly no bodyguard. Besides, she was burdened with his tome. Emil, of course, had no weapon. “I don’t need your respect,” Emil answered.
“What about my money? Eh? Aha! I see that got your attention.”
“I already have more clients than I can accommodate.”
“I will double your price.”
“You don’t even know what my prices are.”
“I am desperate,” the merchant said again, although he managed to include a trace of condescension in his voice as he said it. “And you are insulting me.”
Emil sighed. Mariella and the cut purse had their hands on their blades, but this merchant, whoever he was, had not tied off his own rapier with a ribbon. Since he was clearly not stupid, it meant he was not afraid to be challenged in the street by a duelist. That meant he was very, very good.
Getting killed was bad for business. Emil turned to Mariella: “You’ll have to complete your errand without me today. I will meet you back at the shop.”
“As you say, sir.” She left.
“Let me introduce myself,” the merchant said as he led Emil into a booth near the back wall. The lamplight was dim there. “I am Rene LeCroix, captain of Broadbelly and Tide Dancer, merchant, trader, shipper, and bearer of tidings good and ill.”
“Good day to you, sir. My name is Emil Lacosta.”
“That is a Portuvan name, is it not? But you are Zimbolay, like my friend here.”
“It’s true,” Emil said. “It’s what my people call a ‘public name.’ We have private names which are just that.”
“It is good for you that you are a scholar of obvious breeding,” Rene answered, smoothing his mustache, “or no one would do business with you. When my friend here gives his name, the sturgeons accuse him of using an alias.”
The cutpurse smiled, making the knife scars around his mouth turn grey. “I am called Increase Coin,” he said.
“An auspicious choice,” Emil said politely, inclining his head slightly. It was common for men of low class to choose such names.
Rene continued. “Still, it must be difficult for a black man in Taux, yes? Even for a man of privilege like yourself.”
Emil nodded to acknowledge the comment, then turned the conversation to business. “There is something you should know from the first, sir: I will not sell a potion or powder to make some unsuspecting person fall in love with you. What’s more, do not think you can purchase a potion under some pretense and use it on an unsuspecting person. The magic will work on one person only and be directed toward one person only, and I will not cast such a spell without the express permission of the person it will be used upon, not even under pain of torture.”
“You misunderstand me, sir. I do not wish to make someone else fall in love with me. I want you to make me fall in love with my wife.”
To read the rest of the story, support the Kickstarter here.