Love poison no 13, p.1
Love Poison No. 13, p.1Jon Jacks / Fantasy / History & Fiction
Other New Adult and Children’s books by Jon Jacks
The Caught – The Rules – Chapter One – The Changes – Sleeping Ugly
The Barking Detective Agency – The Healing – The Lost Fairy Tale
A Horse for a Kingdom – Charity – The Most Beautiful Things (Now includes The Last Train)
The Dream Swallowers – Nyx; Granddaughter of the Night – Jonah and the Alligator
Glastonbury Sirens – Dr Jekyll’s Maid – The 500-Year Circus – The Desire: Class of 666
P – The Endless Game – DoriaN A – Wyrd Girl – The Wicker Slippers – Gorgesque
Heartache High (Vol I) – Heartache High: The Primer (Vol II) – Heartache High: The Wakening (Vol III)
Miss Terry Charm, Merry Kris Mouse & The Silver Egg – The Last Angel – Eve of the Serpent
Seecrets – The Cull – Dragonsapien – The Boy in White Linen – Porcelain Princess – Freaking Freak
Died Blondes – Queen of all the Knowing World – The Truth About Fairies – Lowlife
Elm of False Dreams – God of the 4th Sun – A Guide for Young Wytches – Lady of the Wasteland
The Wendygo House – Americarnie Trash – An Incomparable Pearl – We Three Queens – Cygnet Czarinas
Memesis – April Queen, May Fool – Sick Teen – Thrice Born – Self-Assembled Girl
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Those born under Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer, when the sun takes nineteen days to travel from Scorpius to Sagittarius, are infamous for being impervious to poisons, or for being as supple of mind and body as the serpent.
Now the former of these can make surprisingly successful careers as food tasters for king or queens (of which none alive today can fault their skills). The more industrious amongst them, however, take up either the administering or manufacturing of these very same poisons, ensuring the Serpents of Ophiuchus will always be gainfully employed.
The trade in poisons is remarkably vibrant, for who amongst us hasn’t, at some point, wished to rid ourselves of some pestilent fool?
It could be a matter of business, of politics, of nothing more than sheer envy, or, indeed, even a necessary defence – the first to strike first being almost invariably the victor.
Now many of the people who have found themselves unwillingly having to resort to such undignified means have also invariably found themselves following the directions of a well-meaning friend of a friend of an associate who, although wishing to remain nameless, has nevertheless provided invaluable information regarding a Master Caputo of a Lane Without Name.
It is on the Lane Without Name, of course, where you will find the providers of wares you will now and again direly need yet erroneously believe to be unavailable, for they are deemed unsavoury by those in authority even though they are the lane’s most regular patrons. Unlike most of the many winding, narrow lanes running like minor veins around the city, it has no obvious landing stage from which you can alight from your gondola but, rather, appears to be the entrance to just one of many similarly dilapidated buildings lining this particular canal.
The door, however, opens up not onto the expected room, but a dark cleft running between the other buildings, one so damp and wet it could reasonably be mistaken for the slenderest of tributaries running off the canal.
Master Caputo’s shop lies almost directly opposite a supplier of stilettos that can be easily hidden about your person, and next to a purveyor of the most universally approved love potions. There is, somewhere quite nearby, also a seller of the most pleasurable kind of artefacts, ones designed to secretly adorn the body, for the gratification of both wearer and observer.
On your first meeting of Caputo, he may seem abrupt, rude, moody, gruff; but don’t be dissuaded by this most unfortunate attitude that he takes with all newcomers seeking his wares. He needs only reassurance that you are in genuine need of his remarkable products. He abhors the merely curious, who are a waste of his precious time. He loathes those who are indecisive, who are bizarrely in two minds about removing an irritant from their lives.
It is not for him to help you come to a decision.
Yes, he can make your goal easier to achieve than you could possibly imagine.
He can help you assuage any fear of being caught.
He can make the death relatively swift and painless for the victim, if that is your preference.
Or he can make it long and drawn out, describing with the aid of detailed diagrams the various degrees of agony suffered after taking a particular poison (taking into account, of course, weight, build and gender).
But feelings of guilt; how can he possibly be held responsible for that?
So, if your mind’s unclear about what you’re hoping to achieve, then it is best for you that you stay away from his doorway.
Professionals rarely suffer fools gladly.
Now the man we catch alighting one night at the doorway to the Lane Without Name is no fool; he is wealthy even by the terms of wealth used within this city of the fabulously rich and the equally fabulously poor.
Tonight, of course, he is not dressed in a way that displays this wealth. Rather, his garment is dark and old, shabby and threadbare.
It’s not the place, not the area, to be seen wearing anything worth stealing.
Even the gondola is an ancient one, unvarnished, and soon to be of no use to anyone. He controls the boat himself, with difficulty naturally, for even as a youth it would have been ridiculous to describe him as lithe and healthy.
He has always liked his food, his drink, his women.
But now, like many a man, he realises that his happiness hangs on the attention of one particular woman, and one woman only.
Yes, the Impresario Guilfo is in love.
When Cauda first arrived in the city of watery lanes, of canalled streets and rivers for roads, she possessed hardly anything to sustain her apart from her suppleness of both mind and body.
How could a gondolier not offer just one, free journey to this girl who reminded him so much of his daughter?
Why would the women who prepared the costumes for a large theatre not find a spare cupboard for such a delightfully thankful and helpful girl to stay in?
When would the young inventor of the theatre’s marvellous mechanical devices believe he had earned enough money to ask this most entrancing of girls to become his wife?
Cauda was a pretty little thing, they would all say; a cheerful soul, everyone would agree, whose presence invariably brightened up the dullest atmosphere. She took on any task, no matter how mundane, how trivial, with a smile, sometimes even a joyful laugh.
And yet it was only the young inventor, Forisimo, who noted that she had a natural grace, a flow of movement, that would shame even the theatre’s most accomplished dancers.
Every rising of the eyes, every inclination of the head, every gesture with a hand, every step; each flawless move carried information, spoke to him of need, of intent, of emotion.
Why did he see what no one else saw?
‘Ah, now I see!’ he exclaimed excitedly on the day the answer abruptly dawned on him: they did see what he saw – they just weren’t entirely aware of what they were seeing!
But in the way they reacted to her every move, it was the way a cobra hypnotically sways to the moves of the charmer: this was the secret of her charm, of the way she – quite naturally, quite unintentionally – bent everyone around her to her will.
So why was he aware of what everyone else only saw?
Because, of course, the inventor Forisimo was in love!
The Impresario Guilfo treads carefully along the lane, being perfectly aware that the path is uneven, slippery, even dangerous to anyone foolish enough to think this part of the city is as well maintained as the elegant piazzas.
He knows his way; he almost knows every pitfall in the crumbling pathway.
He has been here many times before, if not to actually visit Master Caputo’s establishment; yet he knows where it lies. It stands towards what could be called the very end of the lane, for here it continues to become ever narrower, ever more winding, until it vanishes into a fissure in the brickwork no wider than a serpent’s tail.
His previous visits here have included perusals of a wide variety of wares offered along the Lane Without Name; but as to how many times he has been tempted to purchase, that is only for him and the vendors to know for sure.
Certainly, it would be hard to believe that his rise to fame and wealth would have been quite so smoothly achieved had he foregone the advantages of erasing his more bothersome problems with a little help from the merchants of the Lane Without Name.
Nevertheless, he prides himself on the fact that, up until now, he has never had to resort to using any of Master Caputo’s poisons.
He regards himself as a man of tradition, one who prefers that his victims know before they die that he is the one responsible for their demise; and this, naturally, is far more readily achieved through the use of the hired assassin – the best of whom also take great delight in letting their victims know why they have been chosen to die.
It was all so more theatrically satisfying, wasn’t it? And, it must be said, a remarkably cheaper alternative to poison too.
The stiletto: now that is the weapon of choice of the more honourable man!
The Masks of Seneore, too, the impresario believed, had an air of being less disreputable than poison: they were the perfect guise, allowing the assassin to almost magically take on the identity of someone close to the intended victim. (Not that Seneore’s marvellous masks could only be used in this manner, of course!)
Naturally, Guilfo had never visited the recently opened workshop of the young inventor Forisimo, despite its increasing popularity amongst other people of his class. He walked past it with nothing more than a hateful scowl; after all, it was all Forisimo’s fault that the impresario had to go against the habits of a lifetime and lower himself to the unforgivable level of utilising poison.
He had displayed nothing but kindness to Forisimo when the young man had worked for him, nurturing the young man’s considerable talent for constructing the ingenious mechanical devices that brought theatrical productions to life; all in all, a mutually beneficial partnership, even if the ungrateful Forisimo obviously hadn’t regarded it as such.
Then again, had it really been Forisimo’s relatively lowly wage and position that had been the cause of contention? Or had it all been down to the girl, to Mistress Cauda?
He had tried to keep them apart for their own good, of course: he had ordered them both to forget any idea of forming a relationship. It would be detrimental to their careers, he had warned them in the fatherly, caring manner he was renowned for, resorting only to threats that he could destroy them when this friendly counsel had proved inadequate.
Someone granted the considerable talents of Forisimo shouldn’t be allowed to throw his life away on chasing after a girl who would only entrap him into marriage. As for Cauda, well; she was already justly famous for her dancing, but there was still far more this truly wonderful girl could achieve given the guidance and support that only an impresario of Guilfo’s standing could offer.
There would hardly have been any problem at all, then, had not the potions of Mr Gillars – usually so pleasurably effective – proven so surprisingly inadequate when it came to persuading Cauda where her best interests lay.
Yes, so far he had shown remarkable forbearance as far as the treacherous Forisimo was concerned.
But like many a long-running show, there’s a time when even the Impresario Guilfo’s clemency must draw to an end.
‘Yes, yes; you can do it, see?’
Forisimo exulted in every one of Cauda’s accomplishments.
But then, she had – yet again – so effortlessly emulated the difficult dancing pose he was projecting onto the painted backdrop of a square in Seville.
It was a particularly demanding position, one in which a leg was kicked high and held there, the foot reaching higher than the head, the head nevertheless remaining sternly upright. And yet it all had to retain a definite elegance, combining the stance with a raising up on the very toe tips of the other foot, the leg held stoically straight.
In some dances it was a swan. In others a princess, or describing the heroic death of a lost love.
Despite seemingly lacking the strength required to achieve the posture, Cauda wasn’t even straining to keep her foot high, her other foot rigidly motionless. Even when she flowed from this now well-practised position into another, fluidly passing through into a third and then a fourth stance, she transformed it all into a graceful twirl.
The projections, of course, were motionless, framed images of dancers that Forisimo had captured much earlier on chemically treated linen, but now fed as quickly as he could through one of his elaborate contraptions. He made a valiant if vain attempt to change them at a rate that could keep pace with Cauda’s slower moves, but eventually had to concede defeat.
Naturally, when he had originally cast his lantern upon the original dancers, they had merely presumed it was nothing more than the light of a flame condensed by lenses, designed to illuminate their actions. And, indeed, initially this had been the sole purpose of his contraption, a means of lighting the stage, of drawing the audience’s attention to a special dancer or part of a play.
Then he had discovered that the dancers’ images could be captured on linen impregnated with light-responsive salts, that the images could be brought back to life once more when another elaborate system of lenses and flames was used.
Utilising these projected images, Cauda could begin practising the dance moves as soon as the last people began heading for home, leaving the theatre empty and silent. Silent, that is, until Forisimo set into motion another one of his remarkable devices, one of suspended weights that turned a cylinder of projecting tips that struck at thin plates of metal, making them vibrate and produce a simple yet charming music.
The theatre, of course, was Cauda’s home, the cupboard still her only place of refuge. Forisimo stayed on, supposedly to test his latest devices for rapidly changing backdrops, for launching a man up onto the stage from below, for creating awe-inspiring simulations of explosions, rolling seas, rowing galleys, and toppling buildings.
Despite his enthusiastic response to Cauda’s dancing, she – as usual – was disappointed, critical of what seemed to her to be flawed, perhaps even jerky moves.
Tonight, rather than falling into his own usual protestations that Cauda was being too hard on herself, Forisimo merely knowingly smiled, stepping away from his projector and moving instead towards one of a number of sheet-draped contraptions, most of which were work in progress.
The one he uncovered with a deft flip of the sheet, however, seemed complete.
It could have been a horizontally suspended waterwheel, only at its centre there was an array of mirrors and lenses, together with a lantern similar to the one Forisimo used for his projections. Around the rim of the wheel, Forisimo had tautly stretched a number of his linen images, each one a dancer in a slightly different pose.
And so, as he set the wheel spinning, as he lit the lantern with a burning taper he’d taken from his projector, the images were cast upon a painted backcloth picturing an ancient Egyptian palace; and here the dancer burst into life, twirling and leaping across the stone plaza.
An enthralled Cauda clasped her hands in delight.
‘It’s beautiful, beautiful!’ she sighed excitedly. ‘But what’s the point of me learning to dance if you can capture our very best dancers like this?’
Forisimo secretly glanced her way, sighing inwardly with longing, hungrily taking in her wide-eyed expression of wonder – in particular the way her lips were just so slightly, so invitingly, open.
‘Because this machine could never capture your presence, your essence,’ he said, straining to veil his increasing need to hold her, to at least find an excuse to touch her, ‘it could only ever be an insubstantial mirage of the real you.’
She looked back at him, smiled, quizzically raised an eyebrow.
‘I can’t see why that would be necessary!’ she said. ‘It’s the grace of the dancing itself that’s important; you can see the beauty of the dance in these images you’ve captured!’
She turned back towards watching the dancer.
‘I could watch her dancing like this for–’
‘For no good reason!’ Forisimo interrupted with an amused chuckle. ‘I created this machine so you could practise your dancing; specifically, so you can reassure yourself that you’re getting the flow of your movement right!’
‘Oh, no, no!’ Cauda shook her head miserably. ‘I could never attain such grace!’
Despite her reticence, she got up to dance, standing alongside the image, launching herself into a similar pose, an identical leap, a matching twirl: and before she knew it, she was lost in the excitement of the moves, instantly casting aside all her anxieties and doubts.
Master Caputo’s establishment is so close towards the end of the Lane Without Name that there is only just enough room in the confines of the still narrowing ginnel to turn and face the door: a surprisingly elaborate and beautiful door, it must be said, to be installed within the otherwise grim, dank brickwork. The only windows lie a few levels higher, and even these are dingy, the stretched bladders of the isinglass stained with all manner of accumulated grime.
Love Poison No. 13 by Jon Jacks / Fantasy / History & Fiction have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on32 votes