The Duchess Trevayne, as everyone who religiously read Echelite knew, loved socials. Other duchesses may prefer to find company with elite, incredibly exclusive company, but the Duchess Trevayne opened her iron gates to many. At least once a week, the Duchess held a ‘simple’ tea social for a variety of gentry from both the Upper and Lower Houses of the aristocracy. Since she was the Duke Trevayne’s esteemed spouse, few declined her heavily scented invitations.
Dressed gaily in their afternoon best, the Court of Doran came for the expensive imported tea, the infamous ham and cheese scones, and the equally delicious gossip which flowed throughout her well-appointed rooms. Carrying with them the latest news and rumors from their home estates , the Guilds, and the lower portions of the city, guests usually left feeling important and pampered, little knowing that they all were part of the unseen network of information created for assassins.
It was a little known fact, after all, that the Trevaynes had connections with the Assassin’s Guild.
While Emalynn was returning via the long train ride back to the Capital with the ever effervescent Colin Shermore, Hilde-Beth arranged a meeting with her own precocious apprentice. The Master-in-Training found the young lady a classroom sitting alone at her desk. A small stack of paper sat before Brittainy, but the girl seemed to be day-dreaming.
“Brittainy,” Hilde-Beth said in greeting. “Good day!”
“Mistress Hilde-Beth,” Brittainy said with little enthusiasm. “Are we going somewhere today?”
No doubt she hopes to get out of her assignments, Hilde-Beth thought. Her teachers say she lacks focus and shows little interest in her classwork...
“Our assignment is coming up,” Hilde-Beth said, sitting down opposite her apprentice, who was obviously being punished with a ‘time out’ session and failing to actually use her time wisely.
Instead, Brittainy seemed distracted by the glimpse of sky and a busy training field outside the large windows of the classroom. Noises of play filtered in through one of the open panes of glass. Obviously Brittainy’s class as enjoying a short recess, running about the third training field and playing ‘Assassin’s and Highwaymen’.
“Our assignment?” asked Brittainy.
“You remember the one I told you about briefly two days ago,” Hilde-Beth said exasperated.
“Oh. That assignment,” Brittainy said with little interest. “The one about going to a party.”
“Yes. We’ll be gathering information,” Hilde-Beth nodded, “by asking careful questions and listening to conversations.”
“Spying!” Brittainy said, blue eyes suddenly glittering with renewed zeal.
Hilde-Beth sighed, contemplated the pros and cons of bursting the young girl’s bubble, and then nodded again.
“Yes, a kind of spying,” she finally agreed. “Very delicate. Very careful.”
“So, we go to a party-”
“A tea party,” Hilde-Beth corrected gently.
“So, we go to a tea party and spy-”
“Gather information,” Hilde-Beth stifled another sigh which very nearly escaped her. “Do you remember about whom we are gathering information?”
“Lord Sadon,” Brittainy added quickly. “And it’s top secret!”
“Yes, that is why we will mingle at the Duchess Trevayne’s social,” Hilde-Beth reiterated. “The Duchess, after all, provides the primary network of social connections for the Assassin’s Guild.”
“The Duchess is an assassin?”
“Oh,” Brittainy said, her eyes downcast with disappointment.
“The Duke’s younger brother and the Duchess’s older sister are members of the Guild. You must remember that in cases of large aristocratic families, the younger family members – the unwanted ones – are farmed out to the military, to the Church, or to a prestigious Guild.”
“Well,” Hilde-Beth stopped and frowned. “I think your situation is a little more complicated. Most Guilds, and the Assassin’s Guild above all, prize the loyalty of family as much as the individual member of the guilds. Do you know why?”
“Because it’s easier to get in?”
Hilde-Beth rolled her eyes. “Loyalty. What is loyalty? How does this affect the relationship between the assassin and the Guild and the outside world? How does this set the Assassin’s Guild apart from the other Guilds? These questions, you must ask yourself.”
“Well, I know why I’m here.”
“Why is that?” Hilde-Beth asked curiously.
“I got removed from three finishing schools,” Brittainy admitted. “Mother is at her wit’s end. That’s what she says all the time: ‘I’m at my wit’s end.’ How can wits have an end? What’s a wit anyways?”
“It’s something you’ll probably understand very well when you grow up and get married and have kids of your own.”
“Get married?” Brittainy made a face. “Ew!”
Hilde-Beth smiled tolerantly. She is very young, the young woman reassured herself. She’ll figure it out. One day. Rising to her feet, the blonde-haired, meticulously coiffed Master-in-Training looked down at Brittainy, who looked a bit more animated and interested than she had been earlier. I wonder how long her interest will last, Hilde-Beth wondered, recalling Brittainy’s heavily marked records within the Academy’s archives. Hopefully it will grow as the assignment continues. We will have to wait and see.
“I need to go,” Hilde-Beth said. “I have lots of preparation to do for the social. I will see you there in three days, right?”
“Yes,” Brittainy nodded. “My mother will definitely want to go. She is always dragging me off to these kinds of things.”
“Then you won’t need to tell her much. Just say that it’s a school assignment.”
“That’ll make her happy,” Brittainy shrugged.
“I’m sure it will,” Hilde-Beth said.
I wonder, the young Master-in-Training thought as she left the room, how this will really turn out for the both of us.
The day of the afternoon social began well for Hilde-Beth. It dawned clear and bright, promising fine weather – with sunshine and great white clouds. However, upon opening her window, the assassin knew that the late autumn chill had not abated. Soon, Hilde-Beth thought, it will be winter, and there will be rain and cloudy weather and dampness everywhere. Until then, we must enjoy what wonderful weather we do have. It’s getting to that time of year.
Beneath chilly blue skies and grey clouds, the trees’ cloaks turned the variegated colors of orange, purple, yellow and red. Shuffling through piles of leaves, puddles of water and stretches of mud, the assassins and the students of the Academy felt even further from the freedom of summer. The first quarter of school had come to an end and the students had just received their first marks of the year. For those enrolled in the Master-in-Training and Apprentice Program, extra-curricular activities and engagements began to rise as the various groups began their assignments in earnest.
For Hilde-Beth, however, despite the pressure of her various classes, the prospect of rubbing shoulders with the gentry of Doran was beyond exciting. How long have I dreamed of being able to attend a social such as this? Hilde-Beth laughed to herself as she prepared for the afternoon of her dreams. Carefully brushing her hair, applying light makeup, and pulling on her best blue gown and thick black shawl, Hilde-Beth felt more like a princess going to a ball than an assassin going on a mission. And that’s the point, she told herself. You are getting into character.
As per usual, Hilde-Beth was going to the social accompanied by the infamous infiltrator Master Ewan. Ewan Amhurst Vals-Amhurst, sixth son of a landed family in Coeurland, roamed the Court, danced, entertained, and, in the past, discovered many important pieces of information which had greatly benefited the Assassin’s Guild. On the arm of Master Ewan, Hilde-Beth, posing as a distant cousin, would have many doors opened to her. It also helped that Master Ewan, a dark-haired, brown-eyed, middle-aged man, was rather handsome and charismatic.
Upon being picked up by said gentleman, Hilde-Beth found herself swept into a world of gorgeous tea frocks, glistening (yet tasteful) jewelry, high fashion, and traditional etiquette. Master Ewan, dressed in shiny polished boots and a well-tailored black suit accented with a deep purple vest and matching bow tie, looked even more dashing to Hilde-Beth’s eye as he managed another impossible score during the shuttlecock match he had been invited to play within the Duchess’s indoor court. Sitting to the side and holding her best baby-blue parasol above her favorite sun hat, Hilde-Beth savored the moment. On either side of her before great windows looking out on a great lawn of brownish-green grass, guests chattered about the latest visitors to the Capital and what had happened at the Lorenthor ball two weeks previous.
Where, Hilde-Beth wondered, is Brittainy?
The Master-in-Training started to worry.
“I am so glad you wanted to come, dear.” Brittainy’s mother smiled down at her young daughter, feeling slightly hopeful that this glimmer of social awareness would remain within her usually tomboyish child. “Johan can’t come with us today because of his tutoring, and your Father said he had some dreadfully dull business meeting which Eric needs to attend apparently, so it will be just you and I! How fun!”
Yes, Brittainy grinned as she imagined scaling walls, climbing trees, lurking in bushes, and swooping down from the roofs of the small pavilions. It might actually be fun this time.
“You look so pretty today as well,” Lady Clarice went on, patting her hair and reassuring herself with a mirror that her large cream and pink hat looked just as perfect as it had upon leaving the house. “I really love that color of blue on you. New dresses are always fun to show off at events like this... and Madame Toulliere definitely out-did herself with your outfit.”
Brittainy looked down at the flounces of her satiny blue dress, at the sleeves which seemed to hang low with lace, at the white petticoats which just barely peeped out from below her hem, and the glimpse of her best black granny boots below. If I was on my way to class, she thought, I’d be tying up the dreadful thing. No chance of that if I am going to a party.
“It does look nice,” she finally admitted to her mother.
“Of course! It’s a Madame Toulliere original!” Her mother looked rather proud. “It will be the talk of the season!”
“I would rather not be the talk of the season,” Brittainy said. “Don’t you think-”
“My dear,” her mother continued onward airily, “you have much to learn about society.”
“I know enough,” muttered Brittainy to herself.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing,” Brittainy said hastily.
“I can’t understand you if you mumble, dear.”
“It was nothing.” Her mother leaned forward to look out the window of their carriage. “Well, we are almost there. This is so exciting! It’s been so long since I’ve been able to get you to come to a party with me! I wasn’t so sure when your father made the decision to put you in that new school of yours, but I see that it really is all turning out for the best.”
You have no idea, Brittainy thought. As she got out of the carriage and followed her mother and the escort of servants inside, the blonde-haired girl immediately started to look around. She remembered what Mistress Stonecroft had told them during their Assassin’s Life class. ′The first thing an assassin does is find the exits.′ For emergencies, Brittainy reminded herself. ‘An assassin is always prepared for any emergency’. That is what Mistress Stonecroft said... but I wonder what kind of emergency there would be in a place like this? A fire? An earthquake!!! A stabbing!
Then Brittainy’s mother was swallowed up by a bevy of middle-aged women who no doubt had young ladies and dynastic ambitions. ′Your brothers are in high demand,′ her mother had always said. However, Brittainy had never given such matters attention and she wasn’t really about to start now. Turning her attention to the other side of the large ballroom turned tea party room, she noticed a door which opened to another smaller room, which in turn opened to an indoor squash and shuttlecock court. On the wide, green floored court, a sedate game of croquette was taking place on one side and a rousing competition of shuttlecock between two men on the other side. For a few minutes, Brittainy drew close and watched the small white feathered ball pass over the wide black net, wishing she could take part.
But young girls don’t play shuttlecock with grownups, she sighed, because grownups are dull. Besides, she told herself, today you are working!
Drifting between the small groups of young ladies and gentlemen, Brittainy kept her ears sharp for any mention of Karrowyn and Lord Sadon.
“You look rather fatigued, Flora,” one girl said to another. “Positively washed out.”
“Oh goodness, Lareena,” Flora sighed dramatically. “It was the party at the Oro’s last night!”
“That would be the new Ambassador from the Far East continent?” asked another girl enviously. “I heard that his parties are quite entertaining!”
“Master Oro and his wife are indeed the breath of fresh air Doran needs. We had two imported fruits served to us as well as some of that flavored wine so common in Gojin.” Flora smugly smiled.
“I heard that some of the boys got their hands on some tear dust last night,” another girl whispered. “At Master Oro’s party.”
“Well, it does come from Gojin and is quite popular there for recreational use,” a tall young man shrugged.
“Do you go for it, Karle?” asked Flora with a meaningful glance at the other girls. “I heard it is all the rage for some people.”
“We-ell,” Karle glanced around nervously and blushed a little. “I tried it once... but it didn’t agree with me.”
“I tried it once,” Lareena laughed. “It’s hardly half the fuss everyone is making of it. Do you want to try it, Flora? If you’re interested, I think I can get you invited to the Rollyns night party next week. They’ll be handing the stuff out.”
“You would not, Flora!” gasped another girl in horror. “What that stuff is going to do to your teeth!”
“I would go,” sighed Flora, ignoring the other girls’ whispers, “but my mother is dragging me out to the Plimpott-Misby House – you know, down in Malcho. Plimpott-Misby just got back from his studies on the Southern Continent, so mother wishes me to meet him.”
“No, Flora! That is hilarious-”
“Who is Plimpott-Misby?”
Brittainy, quietly and carefully (as per Hilde-Beth’s instructions), backed away, making sure that she looked more interested in the tuna sandwich tidbits than the conversation she had just heard. Tear dust , she thought. That’s what Eric takes... sometimes. I wonder if he’s going to get bad teeth too? Sighing with the onset of creeping boredom now that the interesting conversation had petered off, Brittainy looked around. Perhaps the old ladies would be better to listen to – or ask.
That was when Brittainy turned around at the sound of a high-pitched bark and caught sight of a merrily wagging white tail. The white tail belonged to a small white, brown and black beagle tussling with a croquette ball and chasing after it as it got knocked away by an older gentleman’s foot. It disappeared back into the smaller tea room, where groups of women had gathered for games of bridge and canasta.
“Puppy!” Brittainy gave a squeal of delight and disappeared after it under a table.
Hilde-Beth had always prided herself on her control, but as time went on and she saw no sign of Brittainy, the young woman began to worry. Had Brittainy forgotten her assignment? Had Brittainy gotten lost? Had she gotten distracted?
Trying to look relaxed and disengaged, Hilde-Beth wandered around the large circles of young and old, in hopes of catching a glimpse of her apprentice. At the sight of Lady Clarice surrounded by several middle-aged chatting women, Hilde-Beth felt even more confused. Her mother is here. Where is she?
Then she caught sight of a pair of black granny boots poking out from under the cream satin and lace tablecloths of one of the refreshment tables. Surely not.
When Brittainy finally emerged with grass stains on her pretty blue gown and a squirming puppy in her arms, Hilde-Beth groaned inwardly.
My worst fears have come true.
“Ahhhh! There you are!” A plump, grey-haired women dressed in a rather old-fashioned green and grey lace gown approached Brittainy, arms outstretched. “Carlisle! I have been worrying where you got to!”
“His name is Carlisle?” asked Brittainy, setting the dog on the ground reluctantly.
Carlisle, knowing a soul mate when he met one, pawed eagerly at Brittainy’s knees, his large brown eyes begging for the croquette ball he knew the young girl had stowed away somewhere. Brittainy turned around and noticed Hilde-Beth, who moved closer, forming a wide circle with her truant apprentice, the dog and the older lady who Hilde-Beth recognized as the Earl of Keel’s wife, Lady Theodora. Brittainy smiled at her mistress, failed to introduce herself as they had planned earlier that week, and instead focused her attention downward, grinning at Carlisle.
“Well, now, he has taken a shine to you, hasn’t he?” said the old lady.
“I like dogs.”
“Indeed – and dogs can always tell the true intent of a person upon meeting them.”
“Like magic?” asked Brittainy. “Or is it more like instinct?”
“Instinct, I should imagine.” The taller woman bent down to pet Carlisle’s head. “Say hello, Carlisle, to this nice young lady!”
Carlisle barked, his eyes still fastened on Brittainy’s hand. Hilde-Beth barely suppressed a shudder as Brittainy seemed to ignore the cue for self-introduction and bent down to pet the dog as well.
“We met under the table,” Brittainy explained. “I have his ball. Here!” With that, she threw the ball and watched Carlisle speed like the wind after it. “He’s so fun!”
“Carlisle certainly is enjoying his life,” smiled the older woman. “Which is a surprise, considering he’s a hunting dog, and they don’t do so well in the Capital. We don’t usually keep a dog in the city, but the children just can’t say goodbye to their pets when we leave our estate.”
“Where did you get him?” asked Brittainy.
“Well, Carlisle is a new member. He’s still young, but my grandson really took to him when we were passing through Karrowyn.”
“Karrowyn?” Brittainy blinked. “Isn’t that where Lord Sadon comes from?”
“Goodness, yes, dear. Do you know him?”
“No,” said Brittainy bluntly.
“Well,” chuckled the old woman, “for a forthright girl as yourself, Karrowyn may be the ideal place for you. They don’t spend too much time on social niceties.”
“Do you know Lord Sadon?” asked Brittainy, not fully understanding what the woman said but deciding to continue on regardless.
Watching her apprentice, Hilde-Beth decided that she wanted to melt into the grass and never be seen again. It’s a good thing the examiners for the program are not here, she thought. Hovering on the edge of the small group, the undercover assassin tried to pretend that this conversation was not only not happening but also that she did not look like she was a part of it.
“Lord Sadon? I’m afraid not...” The older woman was saying. “However, his wife, I have met on a number of occasions.”
“Ah! Theodora!” It was another woman, who joined their small group.
This aristocratic lady was much older with white hair like paper to Brittainy’s eye. She too was dressed in old-looking clothing, but she seemed just as friendly as the first lady.
“Betha! It has been a while.”
“I see you brought a dog and one of your grandchildren? Although...”
“Oh goodness, no,” Theodora said. “This is one of Carlisle’s new friends.
“Carlisle? Ah, the dog.”
“We were just talking about Matilde and the Sadons,” Theodora went on. “Have you met Lord Sadon?”
“Of Tawyrs in Karrowyn?” Betha squinted her eyes and scratched her chin. “Goodness me. That brings back memories! Not of Sadon. Goodness me, no. But Matilde! She was such a precocious child! Always getting into scrapes.”
Lady Matilde sounds interesting, Brittainy thought as she listened carefully to the two women, hoping that she would remember all of the information she was getting.
“Let me see, she was from DellTern-Cairn’s Cravanagh clan. The Cravanaghs – you know Gavin and Koralee. The eldest two. They live in the Capital for half the year at least. Goodness me. Matilde, let me see, she was the fourth child. The third girl. Quite a few girls in that family.”
“I heard she married down,” Theodora’s voice dropped a little. “I mean, a backwater estate in Karrowyn... and the Sadon family name doesn’t have half the weight that the Cravanagh clan holds.”
“Yes, well, that family is interesting as well. I mean, Matilde and Sadon don’t have any children,” Betha added in a dramatic whisper-not-whisper. “So the estate will no doubt pass to Barto’s son.”
“I am pretty certain that Dynell Sadon had some hopes, but Barto and his wife – what was her name? I forget now...”
“Gry – gry – Grisella! That’s it! Barto and Grisella. I remember getting their wedding invitation,” Theodora said. “I didn’t go, you know, but I did read the invitation.”
“Well, they had a child, I heard. Here in the Capital,” Betha nodded. “Taryth.”
“That would be Taryth Sadon, wouldn’t it?” Theodora mused aloud. “He’s the Guildmaster for the Textiles Guild here in the Capital. So interesting! A textile master in charge of an estate! What is the world coming to?”
“He’s a good man, though,” Betha pointed out. “And it could be worse. It could be Quirren Thornton.”
“Quirren,” Theodora shook her head.
Brittainy had no idea who Quirren was but all the women (including Hilde-Beth) nodded wisely, seemingly knowing that Quirren whoever-he-was was in fact No Good.
“Now... that will be interesting for the Textile Guild to lose their Guildmaster,” Betha went on. “I mean, have you met the man? You could not find a more practical, helpful, experienced man. He has his own family, you know. So, it will all work out for the Sadons.”
“But not the Textile Guild.”
“Not for the Textile Guild,” agreed Betha. “Although the current Assistant will no doubt step in. They have their own rules for that sort of thing. What was his name again... Peter... Peter...? At any rate, the Sadon estate will not lack for heirs.”
“Still, no children for Matilde...” Theodora shook her head. “That is odd. It always seems odd to me when I think about it.”
“Well, Matilde was always odd. And it may not be her fault,” Betha pointed out.
“True. It only makes sense for a man so ambitious as Lord Sadon. Henry says the man has become more married to his land than poor Matilde! He rarely comes to the Capital and seems to focus his entire life on his estate.”
“A real pity.”
“Hm,” Theodora frowned. “And wasn’t there that rumor about Matilde...”
“Now that is going back!” Betha sighed nostalgically. “Before she married to Lord Sadon, there was something about her and some man... but her parents nipped that in the bud pretty quickly. Well, perhaps they didn’t, but the young man in question disappeared back to the Southern Continent – or was it Redaire? It was too long ago...”
“Or was it DellTern-Cairn?”
“My goodness, I don’t know,” Theodora sighed. “We are getting old. So is Matilde. I saw her the other day down at Kilpern Park, and she seems satisfied, children or no.”
Babies, Brittainy gagged internally. That is all they talk about. Babies. And getting married. I think Carlisle is much more interesting than boys. Mother says things will change when I get older, but I don’t know...
“She was probably visiting Koralee and Annabeth,” Betha said. “They’re in town, and Matilde always was thick as thieves with her sisters. It probably had to do with how they were raised up north in Delltern-Cairn. They always seemed to be going out for long trips together – doing everything together, really.”
“Do you remember that one time Koralee stole your dance card and got Terence’s name?” Theodora laughed. “You had such a fit!”
“Back then, Terence was a prat,” Betha rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter. Who has Terence now?”
“Ha,” Theodora chuckled. “You always were competitive.”
“Well, I won. And none of the Cravanaghs could do anything about it. So there!”
The two older women chuckled, obviously sharing some joke together. Brittainy threw the ball for Carlisle one last time.
“Well, now,” Theodora collected herself, no doubt realizing that time and talk had gotten away with her. “That was a fine trip down memory lane, but I’m sure it has been rather dull for you, dear!”
“Oh,” Brittainy said politely, trying to remember how to extract herself from a conversation that could potentially get more boring than she was prepared for. “I thought it was very interesting,” she added truthfully. “But I really should go back to my mother.”
“Of course, dear!”
“Do get back to your mother safely!”
Brittainy gave a wobbly curtsy and darted past the crowds of young people playing within the tennis court to the final door which led outside to a well-cared for garden. Once outside, the young girl glanced around, noted the few couples who huddled together against the brisk November wind, and found a quiet place where she thought she could quickly jot down what she could remember. Gaining the shelter of a bush, Brittainy, now hidden from view, jumped up and down and flailed with excitement.
I’ve done it! I spied and interrogated people and found out so much stuff. I hope I can remember it all – but – oh my! This is so real! I’m a real assassin!
“Yes! Yes!” Brittainy stopped at the sight of Hilde-Beth looming over her, arms folded and eyebrows twitching. “Mistress... Hilde-Beth.”
“You, young lady,” Hilde-Beth gave Brittainy a reproving glance, “are a menace.” Then she sighed. “But you did succeed at your mission, I suppose.”
“We found out so much!”
“Yes, we did.” Hilde-Beth gave Brittainy a firm look. “Tonight, write up a report for me about everything you learned. Leave no detail out! I expect it to be done by tomorrow night.”
“What!!!” Brittainy sagged, her face a picture of pain and betrayal. “There’s homework?”
 One would wonder what value gossip from Nordeen or Eldalind would actually have, but it is surprising how interesting such matters become to incredibly bored people. Not that all of Doranian aristocracy is bored (or boring). Nevertheless, rumors and gossip spawn even in the remotest of places and those who have a keen interest in the trends of the lower populace of a country would do well to listen.
 Poppy’s Tear Dust, also known as Tear Dust or Poppy’s Dust or Dust, an illegal drug imported from Gojin on the Far East continent, became popular five years previously, especially among the middle and upper classes of Doran. However, the usually harmless drug has become more dangerous with time as other unhealthy elements have on occasion been added to it, resulting in brain damage and death. Most Doranian doctors strongly recommend abstaining from tear dust use and most parents religiously search their adolescent children’s wardrobes in hopes of monitoring such substance abuse.
The life of Quirren Thornton, although fascinating and varied and full of adventure, requires a book of its own. Suffice to say that the Thornton Estate will never be the same again thanks to the ostriches.