“Count Velandro, at your service.”
Rylaris smiled and made no reply. Her eyes faced Velandro, but her gaze was not focused. She sat unmoving except to breathe in and out, once, twice, thrice.
Finally, the count pulled a rolled parchment from his jacket and spread it out on the table. Handing the baroness a quill pen, he quietly said, “Just sign here and affix your seal, my lady.”
The lady slowly lifted the quill—and then quickly jabbed it into the back of the count’s hand. He cried out in pain and surprise, and the next moment two guardsmen came charging through the door.
“It’s just a minor accident; everything is under control,” the baroness calmly remarked.
Velandro’s first impulse was to shout that Rylaris had gone mad. Fortunately, he pulled himself together in time to start thinking it through. Obviously, his plan had fallen apart. He needed to salvage what he could. The first thing to do was hush this up somehow.
“Yes, just an accident,” he muttered.
The guardsmen immediately shifted from readiness for combat into a parade-perfect stance, then turned and marched back to their posts in the antechamber.
The count scowled. There was no point in keeping up a false front; Rylaris had obviously been forewarned of his scheme and thwarted it somehow. He wondered what, exactly, had gone wrong.
The lady grinned. “Yes, just an accident... like the unfortunate accident that got your agent captured when she tried to replace my tiara with a bewitched copy.”
So, that’s what happened. One last hope crossed his mind. “She”? Makorin must have sent in some hireling rather than attempt the job himself. Perhaps he even had the wit to make sure she didn’t know who she was working for.
“My agent? Are you accusing me of some third-rate burglary?”
“Not necessarily. However, I do wonder why you weren’t at all surprised when I seemed to have slipped into a witless trance.”
Damnation and demons. The game was up, but at least he could score one parting shot. “Are you going to bring these outrageous charges to the Emperor, Your Grace?”
His oh-so-proper words were delivered in a tone that made her proper title an insult, and denigrated it further with the reminder that that her claim to the Duchy of Thalriver rested upon an order solemnly handed down from His Imperial Highness... a directive that, for all its effect in the real world of power politics, might as well have been scrawled on a napkin by the court jester.
Rylaris did not give him the satisfaction of allowing her irritation to show in her face.
Velandro stood, made an exaggeratedly courteous bow, and took his leave without another word.