Though they hadn’t gone near the house, the previous night’s events were still somewhat of a close call. Julie repeated what she’d seen now that everyone had properly rested, in case they had better ideas. “There are wards to sense magic around their rooms, probably the whole manor. From that location neither myself nor Simon were able to see runes ahead of time. I don’t know if they were there before, since I didn’t even have an idea what to look for. Likely some of them already were, but there are many recent events that could have inspired them to improve their defenses.”
“What rank is your uncle?” Errold asked. “Mage, Senior Mage? Would he made the wards himself?”
“I believe he probably would. He’s a senior mage, and I do believe he earned it instead of inheriting the title. Though he didn’t talk about magic much in front of us.” Julie shook her head, “I don’t think attempting to circumvent the wards would be wise. It would instead be better to try to find them outside the manor grounds. However, since we already triggered wards they might be kept inside. If they know what location triggered, anyway.” She sighed, “I can’t believe we messed up already.”
“Mistakes will always happen,” Errold said. “Especially when it involves something important. It’s not irrecoverable.”
“Do you know anyone else?” Priscia asked, “A favorite maid, perhaps? They would not be watched so closely.”
“I didn’t spend enough time here to get that familiar with any of the servants. Not enough to trust them with this, anyway.”
Errold tapped his chin. “I might be able to transport a letter inside, now that we know they’re there. Since it’s just visual range it should be easier. Though it would risk triggering the wards again.”
“We should hold that for later,” Julie cautioned. “If we set off the wards again soon they’ll know something suspicious is happening. If Kristine didn’t say anything about the light, they might just think it’s a fluke.”
“What do we do then?” Priscia questioned the group. “We can’t just bribe a servant to deliver a message. Too much risk they would instead go to the master of the house.”
“We could, though,” Mattea suggested. “I don’t know if my magic would be detected by the wards, but it would greatly increase the chances of success.”
“We’d have to test that, but if it isn’t something wards would detect, it sounds good to me.” Errold looked to Julie, “What do you think about that?”
“I agree. Though Maynard mentioned that he sensed it easily…”
“I was looking for it. Wards may have different sensitivities. The important part is how much magic lingers after the suggestion.” Maynard looked to the twins.
“No idea,” Rina said.
“We didn’t exactly have the opportunity to study anything,” Mattea finished.
Errold smiled. “Then tests it is.”
Kevin knocked on the door to one of the rooms they had rented before entering. “Errold. Message for you from the girls.”
“What does it say?” Errold asked, reaching to take it. “Couldn’t they just walk over?”
“I… don’t know. I didn’t think about it.” Kevin frowned. “Huh.”
Errold looked at the slip of paper, just big enough to write a short message. ‘Did it work?’ was all it said. He supposed it did. “I think we have our answer,” Errold said. “You didn’t notice at all?”
Kevin shook his head. “I knew Mattea could cover up her incantations with the sound of her harp, but she’s just been playing for a while. I don’t know if this is really conclusive, though, because I would have done it anyway.”
“Let’s see what they have to say,” Errold walked back downstairs with Kevin. Mattea was still playing for the patrons of the inn, with Rina standing nearby. “I got your message,” he held up the slip of paper.
“Well?” Rina asked as he did so. “What’s the result?”
“Depends on what you wanted.” Errold gestured towards Kevin, “He didn’t notice anything happened, and didn’t question the request.”
“Did he look at the paper?” Rina pointed at it, “It’s completely visible for a reason.”
“I didn’t,” Kevin said. “Didn’t even think of it.”
“The wards didn’t pick up anything,” Errold said. “That’s the best we’ll get, a fresh spell. Do you know how easily it’s disrupted?”
Rina shook her head, “None of the customers really questioned it. They all made up a reason to go inside when Joffin asked them, like something specific caught their eye. Some people only glanced at one thing and walked out, but others who didn’t seem interested at first still stayed longer or bought something.”
“We’ll tell Julie. Then you can work together from there.”
The manor was all stiff for the last couple of days. Chantal didn’t quite know why, but the guards were on high alert and the family cooped up inside. Not that they went much of anywhere. Servants like herself took care of most of the business. The situation didn’t change when the lord of the house wanted something specific for dinner. It was the same as always, kitchen rushing and someone going out to get whatever was needed. At least most of the time he gave them sufficient warning, the morning of or sometimes the night before.
The market wasn’t too far from the manor, though it could be a bit of a walk if she needed to carry something heavy. In cases like that she asked one of the men along, but today she just needed to buy a chicken. The usual merchant wasn’t in town today, so she had to find another that had a handful lined up. “How much for that one?” she pointed to a medium sized bird.
“Ten coppers,” the skinny man said.
Pfft. Did he think she was so foolish? “That one’s barely worth five. Look at how skinny it is.”
“Could go down to eight,” the man shrugged.
“For a price like that, I’d need to get that fat one,” Chantal gestured.
“Hah, not even close. That’d be fifteen at a nice discount.”
“Might do eleven,” she said, her eyes intentionally drifting away.
“Twelve,” he said.
A few moments later, she was walking away with a fresh chicken in a little wooden cage. She’d gotten a decent deal, but she could see the bird still wasn’t as good of a quality as where she normally went. There was a certain shape she expected, and this just didn’t quite fit. Even so, she happily hummed to herself as she strolled back to the manor. The sound of nearby harp caught her attention. Two pretty young women were there, one playing and the other holding a small box at the ready. Chantal considered throwing them a copper for the song. It was quite nice, and the manor wouldn’t miss a single piece.
“Excuse me,” the woman holding the box said politely. “You’re a servant at the Vance manor, right? We’ve been trying to get a message to someone inside but they won’t open up even a bit. I could pay you for your time…”
“Well now!” Chantal turned her nose up as if offended, “Don’t take me as the type to take a bribe. I’m a woman of integrity. Who do you need the message to go to?”
“Kristine, if you please.” The young woman held out a folded piece of paper.
“I’d be glad to,” Chantal smiled. She shifted the box with the chicken to one hip so she could grab the paper. Then she headed back into the manor.
Soon enough she was in the kitchen. She set the box on the counter next to the head cook. “Here it is, fresh as can be. I’ll be right back in a second to help you with that.”
Chantal barely ever made her way to the upper floor of the manor, but she knew her way around. It wasn’t so large as to have twisting corridors everywhere. She knew which door was young miss Kristine’s. She knocked.
“Come in,” came a voice from inside the room.
Chantal opened the door as instructed. “Begging your pardon miss, I have a note for you.” She left it and then hurried back to the kitchen. Some of the other cooks were a bit squeamish about such fresh chickens, and she needed to help with the defeathering as well.
The rest of Chantal’s day went as normal, until the late afternoon when Kristine came into the kitchens. “Young miss! What brings you to the kitchens?”
“Just come with me for a moment,” she gestured Chantal out of the kitchens.
“Pardon me,” Chantal inclined her head towards the rest of the cooks. They’d understand what took priority at this moment. Once they were down the hallway a bit, Kristine stopped. “Is there a problem here, young miss?”
“No, nothing like that,” Kristine smiled soothingly. “I was just hoping you could deliver a return message.”
“Return…? Oh yes.” The young ladies outside. “Of course. I can’t be sure they’ll still be there, but I know who to look for.” Seemed a bit odd to have her delivering messages, but sometimes a servant had to do things not specifically called out in their duties.
“Wonderful. Here it is.”
“I know right where they were,” Chantal said. “If they’re not there, I can’t say I know where to find them.”
“If you can’t find them in a bit, just bring it back to me.”
“Very well, young miss.” Chantal inclined her head then quickly made her way outside. A strange request, but she’d honor it. Come to think of it, it was a bit strange to take the message from the girls outside, but she had no reason to refuse it. She was quite satisfied with her choice now, because the young miss had clearly been waiting for the note.
It wasn’t quite on the same street as the manor, but just one turn away down a main road. Chantal was quite pleased to see the buskers remained in the same place, even though it was getting later. “Pardon me. A return message from the young miss.”
The women looked slightly surprised. Maybe they’d expected her earlier? But she’d come as fast as she could.
“Thank you,” the woman holding the box smiled. “Good luck with your work.”
What nice young women. Shame they couldn’t deliver the message themselves, with the manor being as it was.