“I need you to reverse a love potion,” said Rameses Sable. The notorious gentleman thief shook a silk-gloved finger at Terpsichore Gryce, who returned it with a look of bemusement. Unaccustomed to being accosted in her own apothecary, she laughed out loud.
“Am I to understand that the one and only Slippery Sable – the man from whom no second storey bedroom window is safe, the Passionate Plunderer, the Rogue with a Velvet Heart, the legendary Cutpurse of Copper Street himself – has met his match? Can it be you have finally left one too many simpering lovestruck fools pining in your wake? Have all your pilfered larks come home to roost at last? For shame, Ram! I am gravely disappointed to discover these unexpected limits to your resourcefulness.”
“You don’t understand, Terps,” moaned Rameses, pushing a stack of herbalism monographs off her workbench so he could lean against it at a rakish angle. “I can handle ardent lovers. You know I can!”
She smirked, nodding acknowledgment and waving him on toward the good part.
“If it were just a case of reckless infatuation or malicious stalking, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Those situations, I can handle!”
Terpsichore clapped her hands together in pixieish delight, though the effect was spoiled slightly by her stained fingernails and their pungent chemical odour. “So what makes this obsessed naïf of yours too big to handle?”
Rameses’ shoulders slumped. “He’s been…helping me.”
Rameses Sable hangs by his fingertips from the window sill, listening for sounds from the room within. The cobbled streets are dark and empty; most of the well-to-do goodfolk of Silvercrest Hill are abed at this late, moonless hour.
And yet, Rameses hears murmurings. A muttered conversation, muted bustling when all should be still. Some protracted tryst? His informants assured him the master of the house was not on speaking terms with its mistress, much less intimacies. One or the other hosting a clandestine lover will complicate his quest to steal the emerald diadem of Nica Diminiz.
But he is Rameses Sable, Cona Singrisi’s master of thieves, and he knows nothing of insurmountable challenges. With a devilish smile on his dark features, he clambers into the room.
“Here at last is Sable! Tell me Mistress Neoli, did I misspeak to describe his ravishing slenderness? His ebony beauty? The princely line of his seductive lips?”
Two people lounge at a table set for three, with brimming wine goblets, a deck of playing cards, and the diadem, glinting in the light of a dozen candles. Mistress Neoli Diminiz curls a finger thoughtfully through her raven ringlets and adjusts the line of her low-cut peignoir. A hard-muscled bronze bull of a man with red hair and appraising green eyes shuffles cards with practised hands.
Rameses goggles at the man. “What in the seventeen sins are you doing here?”
Bertrand Volio sweeps a hand at the vacant seat, which is adorned with two perfect roses. “I happened to learn of your desire for this charming lady’s…bauble. So I thought, what better way for us all to get what we want than with a rousing game of chance? Winner takes all.”
Mistress Neoli giggles and puts a finger to her lip. “I have staked my greatest treasures, sir. I do hope you will be equal to the challenge?”
Rameses sighs and takes his place at the table. He correctly foresees a long night.
“I don’t see the problem,” said Terpsichore, as she bustled about moving jars of herbs and powders from shelves to her work bench. “It sounds like a rather sweet gesture to me. Saved you a bit of trouble and it can’t have been such a very great hardship to pass a pleasurable night in the company of such enthusiastic card players.”
“If it were just that one time,” sighed Rameses, now resigned to his friend’s amusement at his discomfort.
“There’s more?” Terpsichore raised a smudged eyebrow. “Tell me everything.”
Rameses slips his lockpicks away and pushes open the heavy stone door of the Roximus vault, where before he died old man Dylo stashed the family portrait of his first wife and true heirs. They are paying Rameses well for proof of their claims.
“Leave the door open, my treasure,” says Bertrand Volio, emerging from the darkness to offer Rameses a flute of brandy. “I want to look in your eyes as we toast your success.”
Flushed with effort from the long climb, Rameses draws a long rapier and steels himself to face the savage griffin Makora, who will surely not surrender her eggs without a fight. With a last deep breath, he scrambles up the side of the nest.
Bertrand has laid a cloth across one egg and set out a platter of cheese, dates and more wine. He is leaning comfortably against a gently snoring Makora.
“Oh come now!” says Rameses crossly.
“Isn’t this a perfect spot for a romantic picnic?” says Bertrand. “And look! We can have omelettes for breakfast!”
Terpsichore was beside herself with hilarity. “I don’t usually do cures, but I haven’t laughed so hard in years. For you, dear friend, anything.”
Rameses endured the humiliating spectacle as she guffawed her way through the potion preparation. “It should be taken with alcohol,” she said. “You’ll need to slip it into his drink. I expect you can-”
“No need for subterfuge,” said Bertrand, appearing suddenly with three glasses and a bottle. He plucked the potion from Terpsichore’s hand and filled his glass. “Whatever my beloved wants.”
“You didn’t mention he was a wizard.”
“You didn’t mention you sold him the potion in the first place.”
Terpsichore shrugged. “He’s a paying customer.”
Rameses turned to Bertrand. “Why?”
Betrand’s red complexion deepened. “I thought if I were a little less shy, I could help you with your work.” He drank the spiked wine in a gulp.
Rameses took Bertrand’s face between his hands. “You’re a fool sometimes,” he said, and when they kissed, the magic was theirs alone.
I don’t know about you, but I had kind of a rough week. I decided I could do with a smattering of sweet romantic comedy.
My short story collection Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales is on sale in the Kobo store across the Easter weekend. If for some reason you aren’t aware that you can get it for free by signing up to my newsletter, or if you know someone who might like an eclectic collection of weird, funny and/or adventurous fantasy stories, it’s just 99 cents/pence for readers in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia until Monday the 22nd of April.