Subject: Sarah, the Candle Maker’s Daughter
Money, its melodic overtones often lure a finer audience to the slaughter. That, and Luck’s expenditure of timely circumstance.
But do not misunderstand my sentiment. By no means do I bank on Luck for success. She has failed to pay dividends far too often to consider her fickled whims worthy of trust. Yet a greater fool I’d be if ever I were to entirely discount her contributions to a successful, or more likely, failed venture. Thus, however Luck chooses to perform her part in my current orchestrations, I shall consider myself fortunate if all the charted notes are played as written. And so far my ears have failed to pick up any truly dissident tones.
That Sarah, the candle maker’s daughter, should reside in my own backyard of Hartwich is, however, rather fortuitous. The same might be said of the recent and accidental trauma to befall her father; a maritime loss of vessel leaving him quite incapacitated and unable to provide. Why no scavenger has snatched up this darling of considerable talent, I cannot say for certain. It either speaks loudly of their general ignorance or their good sense to stay out of marked territory. In either case, I’ve taken the necessary steps to insure that all other curious parties remain distant.
It would be a lie to say Sarah only just came to my attention, that interest in her is newly founded. In fact, I’ve been aware of her musical gifts for quite some time. I was just never sensitive to the extent of her talents. Not that I fully comprehend them even now. But nor, do I believe, does Sarah, as recent events have proven.
Despite my long-term knowledge of this young girl, it is only in past months that I’ve made acquaintance through a rather exotic purchase, a purchase that was sure to require a significant price tag and produce considerable profit. My request? One dozen smokeless, odorless tapers able to burn for the duration of four hours each, ready by month’s end. A task calling for skill and valuable materials to fulfill, and one that also meant financial salvation for a family soon to find itself in dire straits monetarily.
I freely admit to having manipulated the child, waiting for Sarah’s mother to leave the shop before stopping in to conduct business. I brought Vaush along to help place her at ease, believing a peer about would save Sarah anxiety from having to be alone with a stranger. A false sense of security if ever there was one.
Though young, Sarah conducted business like a well-seasoned prostitute. She had assessed the needs of her customer and accurately gauged the value of her goods in the open market. Unwilling to give it away cheaply, she also knew enough not to overprice her merchandise and scare off good business to another corner. I won’t say she took advantage of my purse strings, but I allowed Sarah to take charge of the negotiations and reach a price more to her liking.
By month’s end, Vaush and I returned to collect on the order. The candles met all expectations and there was even an additional taper for the baker’s dozen. A nice touch, that. I was quick to recognize the quality and craftsmanship, couched with the offer to maintain a standing monthly order of two-dozen. How could they refuse? The coin from this order alone would be more than their ailing provider could ever hope to match. And I’m sure it ranked me as their prime customer.
It was at this time I found myself introduced to another of Sarah’s talents, knitting. I’m confident the shawl, made tablecloth, was purposely placed for my consideration. Women being women, no matter their age, know the means to trap their prey, and Sarah and her mother, Lidia, are no exceptions to the rule.
The shawl was of exquisite craftsmanship, made from quality silk. Having seen my share of ladies garments and covers, I cannot say I’ve seen its match in pattern or method of knot. And no matter how I tried, it was more than difficult to pry my eyes from its form. No doubt a trick of its unique composition. Despite being set up as the obvious purchaser, I was more than willing to accept the role of patsy, making the buy, and relegating the shawl to Vaush’s mother as a gift. So little did I understand the consequences of that small gesture.
Our next meeting came through machinations completely devoid of my own hand. Luck, it would seem, was playing at her little games again. For whatever cockeyed idea possessed Smitty and his idiot street thugs to kidnap Quail, the blacksmith’s son, it eventually paid the full measure of their lives in furthering my own goals.
From that debacle, my young protégé, Vaush, helping to retrieve Sarah’s friend, proved himself a rather reliable ally to the girl. An ally she chose to again call upon when not only Quail, but also his entire family went missing. Vaush, however, had recently departed to the highlands with the na-Baron, leaving only myself to fulfill her request for assistance. Once more, I was quite willing to oblige for the sake of greater gains.
Rarely have I encountered a more challenging mystery then the one offered up by the blacksmith’s family disappearance. All evidence pointed to the fact that they just simply vanished from within their home. No signs of struggle or planned departure were evident. As the untouched meals upon the kitchen table attested to, one might believe they were simply there one minute, and gone the next. None of my contacts could give satisfaction to my queries, while more forceful interrogations upon likely culprits resulted only in unanswered questions and leaky corpses. In any event, certain loose ends were trimmed with the search serving a purpose beyond its original intent.
I may not have discovered the family’s whereabouts, but my efforts seemed to have fostered a level of trust and understanding with Sarah. And if any of the lesser denizens of Hartwich still harbored designs upon the girl, the morning trash and our daylight tandem through the streets sufficiently labeled her “hands off.” Yet, our destination was proof to the contrary for one particular person of note… the Old Woman of the Crossroads.
Over the years Neriah and I have come to a rather tacit understanding; stay out of each other’s way and out of each other’s business. Sure we’ve crossed paths, even lending an assist in times of need, but for the most part we do well enough to recognize the other’s work and turn aside where need be. Although, I have a distinct feeling we are going to butt heads concerning Sarah. Just how hard remains to be seen.
Our brief meeting was cordial enough. We agreed I wouldn’t be staying, but return to take Sarah home when her business was completed. It was clear to each that there was mutual claim upon the girl. Neither of us blinked. A stand off between powerful adversaries both unwilling to yield. That’s when Neriah switched tactics and asked about her “wee one.” Vaush… the connective tissue between us. My reply was curt, as was my departure. Again, just how hard remains to be seen.
It was during my private travels with Sarah that she informed me of a possible production problem they were likely to encounter in fulfilling future candle orders. It was becoming evident that the high quality bee’s wax required to make my tapers was in limited supply. They were soon to deplete what was readily available. I was wondering when this situation would come to light, as it was merely another element to manipulate… another note to play in the larger performance.
At the time, I chose to make little of the matter, but knew it was key to bringing Sarah further along. The following day I procured several more hives from an ailing keeper, arranged to have them sold to the girl’s Uncle Albert, and had certain assets make it known that the Rush Estate was in need of additional bees to pollinate its many groves and gardens. Sarah’s uncle was very quick to accept both bees and business, never questioning the timeliness of his good fortune. I seriously doubt the same could be said for Sarah. Very little goes unnoticed by that sharp mind.
One must imagine my delight when within days of making these arrangements I witnessed pulling up the Estate lane Uncle Albert and his wagon full of hives, driven by none other than his lovely niece, Sarah. I could not have planned better. Luck seemed to be playing my song.
The opportunity presented, I soon found myself escorting Sarah about the gardens of the Estate. She seemed quite taken with the miniature amphitheater and numerous marble statues of famed gods and mythical beasts. I must admit to a certain joy in offering up the various histories of each sculpture to this most innocent of souls. A true father-daughter moment if ever I was to experience one. Unfortunately, the spell was broken with two of Eve’s very own daughters choosing to make a nuisance of themselves. Thankfully, within the time it took me to dismiss their childish games, Sarah possessed the mental acuity to sidestep their petty quips. Whereby, we were left to continue our private tour of the grounds.
The gardens, in and of themselves, are a sight to behold, but they are mere shadows of the true treasures harbored in the house proper. And with the promise of a piano to entice the girl, we soon found ourselves walking the parquet floors of elegant halls and palatial spaces. I’m sure the visage was well beyond measure for this dockside darling, for I’ve seen far more cultured men stand in awe at what I’ve amassed for my lord. It is truly stunning if I must say so myself.
Paintings, tapestries, and a few pieces of furniture aside, the music room is dedicated to some of the finest musical instruments ever crafted. To properly identify with historical context the contents of this room alone would require several volumes. And I’m sure the curators of Cadis as a whole would summarily commit suicide in discovering what is housed within these four walls. An interesting thought, that.
Of all the instruments in the collection, the piano crafted by the late, great instrumentalist and composer Lucius Pandicci is by far the most prominent. Its dark hardwood is carved from trees rarely found in Hurradrum, most having been destroyed in ages past, while being overlaid with gold filigree in elegance beyond equal. And the tones produced by Pandicci’s masterpiece must have been stolen from the gods themselves. They are flawless in intensity, pitch, and timbre. This is what Sarah had come to see and hopefully play.
Here is where I must admit to a certain unpleasantness. It is not in me to be a great musician. Though I’ve mastered enough skills to appreciate several of the instruments in Lord Rush’s collection, to say I do any of them justice is certainly a generous overstatement of the truth. Yet, I try. Therefore, I must admire those who are true musicians; able to coach forth the greatest expressions each instrument has to offer. And it is in Sarah that I believe such musicianship exists.
We sat at the piano for a time, taking in its majestic qualities and where I performed simple melodies for Sarah to follow. By her own admission she had only sat twice before the Baron’s piano, but Sarah was more than capable of mimicking my childish offerings with the skill evident of a well practiced student… clearly an innate talent at work. It was a talent I wished to explore further, so I presented Sarah with a more complex piece from my limited repertoire. Something learned from Veronica. However, with my finale of flourished notes came the sedate applause of a single secretive audience member, Lord Rush himself.
It is the second time in as many months that Rush has caught me unawares while in the presence of my chosen charges. Just exactly what has drawn him out, be it the desire to witness my work first hand or wanting to place himself in close proximity to these exceptional youths, is difficult to say. Hopefully it is nothing more nefarious than a mission to satisfy his own curiosity. All the same, I shall persist in being more perceptive to his presence.
At the time, my greatest concern was what Rush’s reaction would be in finding Sarah sitting at his precious piano. For I would think in his eyes she would rate nothing more than flotsam washed up from the worst gutter of the Hartwich slums. But then too, I often wonder the value he places upon the many so-called “trinkets” I procure for him. Perhaps they are equal in his estimation and therefore, warrant no great concern on his part. I have worked for him these many decades past, and still I have failed to pinpoint his position on his many possessions.
Thankfully his disposition towards her seemed to be one of tolerance, if not of amused indifference. Though, I thought for sure Sarah had exceeded his level of patience when she began to play over our conversation. Perhaps it was because of her youthful exuberance she chose that moment to begin performing my most recent piece, or maybe she just didn’t care enough to recognize the danger she had placed herself in by doing so. Either way, I was awaiting her destruction at the hands of what I believed was to become a very angered Lord Rush.
Rush, surprisingly so, failed to meet my expectations. Instead he gave recognition to Sarah’s talent and only offered a slight chastisement for her rudeness. After which, he directed me to pursue Sarah’s formal training. And with that final command he not only made his exit, but also sanctioned my plans to bring Sarah into the fold. I’m sure my relief was quite palpable and more than evident to Sarah, but I was saved from any serious inquiry by the doorman’s arrival and subsequent notice that Uncle Albert was seeking to leave with his niece.
Before Sarah’s departure could be fully enacted, releasing her from the spell of the room and all its promise, I set the snare. The offer was simple; come and live at the Estates. Bring the family along, where her father could be well taken care of, her mother steadily employed, and she educated in the musical arts. I even accented the offer with the implied threat that Lord Rush was not to be denied without consequence. There was time to consider, but to take too long in deliberation was to court disappointment. And with that, I ushered Sarah from the house and into the stunned gaze of her uncle.
Were I to have known what Luck had in store soon after, I can’t say I would have prevented Sarah’s exodus. But then, a demon materializing in the middle of one’s trip home, contaminating said one’s house with exploded body parts, and ultimately drawing the attention of an overzealous clean freak of a priest, may have more than just Luck to assign blame to. In any case, the bizarre occurrences that followed necessitated a more forced response that now has Sarah and her family living within the Estates.
I do so love how a plan comes together.