Divination of My HeartbyLoveBird1929©
Okay, this is a seriously late submission for the Halloween contest, but I hope you enjoy regardless. Regency era story, gay male, vampires, divination.
October 31, 1815
It was old and, worse yet, dirty. Truly, at first glance, except for the excessive amount of filth which filled each and every one of its cracks and crevices, it appeared to be completely unremarkable.
In spite of his disdain, Thomas couldn't force his eyes away from the object his twin sister had just moments before flung onto his bed after rushing into his bedchambers unannounced. It was a hand mirror. At least he thought it might have been, once upon a long time ago, but he hadn't quite made up his mind yet that a person was truly supposed to gaze into the ghastly object's reflective depths with hopes to catch an accurate likeness of their visage.
Intrigued, Thomas hunkered down next to the foot of his bed to get a better look. The first thing he noticed was that some of the dirt had broken free of a home it had probably known for years. Absently, he flicked the dried specks of mud to the floor as he continued his perusal. The second thing to attract his attention was the fact that the round mirrored portion appeared to be made of a thin layer of dull gold rather than glass. And that it was currently reflecting a wavy, distorted image of his ceiling, solidifying his opinion as to the value of actually using the mirror as a mirror. The next thing he observed was the ornately carved handle. Though he had no doubt the ivory had once gleamed creamy and bright, it was now a former glory of itself with its sickly shade of dirt encrusted yellow.
The last thing to impress itself upon Thomas's cognizance was the nature of the carvings. Shocked, he studied them for several long seconds, absolutely sure he had taken leave of his senses. There was no way he could actually be seeing what he thought he was seeing.
The images were disturbing.
And, yet, oddly fascinating.
Men. Naked. Involved in various levels of debauchery. With one another.
The most magnetic scene depicted the naked form of the largest man pressed intimately close to the back of his unclothed lover. And were his—by God, the man's teeth were buried firmly in the neck of the smaller man!
"Thomas Clancy de Aubonville!"
Thomas's attention jerked to his sister. For the millionth time he marveled that to be so dainty she possessed a set of lungs to make the town crier weep with envy. From the put upon expression gracing her angelic face he knew she must have called out to him several times already but all to no avail. "I do apologize, Tammy, but your...gift has left me rather speechless." As an automatic afterthought, he added, "And don't call me Clancy."
"It's not a gift for you, you idiotic lummox."
The relief which coursed through Thomas was immense. If it had been a gift he hadn't the faintest idea how he was supposed to have expressed his gratitude. With a mud pie, perhaps? Somehow he didn't think a simple thank you would have sufficed. "Thank god for small favors. I was sure I was going to have to wait until you'd retired for the evening before burying that thing out in the garden. And if you insist on calling me a name that's not my own, I prefer handsome lummox."
Somewhere beneath the voluminous folds of her powder blue gown, one slipper covered foot tapped impatiently. "And if it had been a gift, what exactly would you have told me, Tommy, when I'd asked you to borrow it? Because you do realize I surely would have asked you to borrow it one day? Just to spite you because your distaste is so clear."
Standing, Thomas flashed his most disarming smile. "Why, I would have told you a fib, of course. That it was lost. Or maybe even stolen."
"Pfft, you know you can't lie to me. I know you better than you know yourself." Tammy tossed a flaxen curl the same shade as his own unruly curls over her slim shoulder and blue eyes the color of the purest sapphire just like his own sparked angrily at him. "I've been pouring out my heart to you for the past five minutes, yet you haven't heard one word, have you? You idiotic oaf."
He hadn't. But contrary to the charming endearments his sister so lovingly bestowed on him, Thomas Clancy de Aubonville was no fool. So he knew better than to admit his faux paus.
Thomas loved and adored his twin and was leagues closer to her than to their only other living relative. But since Tammy's transformation at the onset of the season, their relationship, out of necessity, had changed drastically. Just twelve short months ago she'd been the sister who could ferret out the most sordid of gossip, who could handle a temperamental horse more adeptly than the head groomsman, who could swim like a fish with and, in general, who could search out all manners of mischief with an astounding precision.
In short, she'd been a hoyden.
Now she was, on the surface, an exquisitely coifed, always polished, gently bred young lady of the ton. Who Thomas encouraged to dutifully dedicate all of her time and attention to finding a respectable husband before she was deemed the dreaded spinster in another three years time at the age of twenty-one. The irony wasn't lost on Thomas that it was an age several years younger than the age he himself would be expected to wed—a thought which held very little appeal to him since having had his heart dallied with, then cruelly broken, by a well-to-do widow during the season. Lady Miranda's shrill shrieks of laughter to his foolish public proclamation of everlasting love and her cruel statements that he should aim a bit lower still haunted him on the occasion.
"Loud as you are, God almighty up above in heaven can probably hear you right now so of course I can hear your bellowing as you stand not even two feet from me."
Thomas didn't take exception to the latter part of the insult as it was the truth. As accused, he'd missed every word of Tammy's tirade and had no clue as to why she was so worked up. Regardless of what actually had her concerned, Thomas thought it prudent to steer the conversation towards a subject his sister should be worried about, although he was fully aware she probably wasn't. "The little season's almost finished, Tammy. And we have to take advantage of every opportunity now. You should be getting ready for tonight's ball. And I guess I can settle for lummox, oaf, or even liar, if you promise to drop the idiotic part."
"Why should I bother, Tommy?"
"Because I find that I take grave exception to the verbal abusing of my ability to undertake reasoning of a higher sort."
With a roll of her eyes, she said, "Not that. I want to know why I should bother going to the ball at all. It's hopeless. Every last one of my friends received an offer earlier in the year. But not me. At this point, I think it's clear marriage is not to be part of my destiny."
The biggest reason for Tammy's failure to land a husband thus far was because she, like Thomas, was very nearly a penniless pauper, thanks to their elder brother's squandering of a meager wealth left after their parents' death in a horrific carriage accident. Added to that fact was the reality that Tammy, like Thomas, was nothing more than the title less, land less, youngest offspring of a lowly baron the ton had never quite forgiven for his scandalous marriage to his favorite servant. The only reason Tammy had had her season at all was a result of what must've been Edward's last strain of restraint. He hadn't whored, drunk or gambled her trousseau away, instead pressing Thomas into using the funds to hire a companion to teach their sister everything she needed to know about being a proper lady. The remainder had been used to rent Thomas and Tammy a horribly expensive townhouse in the fashionable part of the city, to hire only the necessary staff to man the townhouse and to outfit Tammy with all the gowns, gloves, slippers and jewels needed to complete the misleading appearance of affluence.
In Thomas's opinion, which was admittedly biased, his sister had been among the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, presented during the season. But she was still poor, of mixed blood, and now not even coming to her marriage with a dowry. And the snobbish members of the ton knew it and held it against her.
And there was nothing Tammy, nor Thomas, could do about it.
There was also a lesser known reason Thomas held responsible for Tammy's lack of success to draw a marital offer to date...a reason which had less to do with their dire finances and unsavory pedigree, and more to do with her herself. Specifically, her personality. Her cantankerous, oftentimes very unladylike, personality that no amount of training could rid her of.
Thomas approached his sister, wishing he possessed the ability to instantly solve all of their problems. And to save them from the very real possibility of debtor's gaol. Because he would. In a heartbeat. Even at his sacrifice rather than that of his twin. But life just didn't work that way, as demonstrated by Lady Miranda. Tammy's chances of making the much needed match outpaced those of Thomas's by a long shot. Placing an arm around her shoulders, Thomas drew her near and consoled, "Your turn is coming. Soon. You just have to be patient. Just for a little while longer."
She laid her head trustingly against his shoulder. "Do you really think that's what I'm upset about, Tommy?"
He gently stroked the silken threads flowing down her back and asked, "About what do you speak, love?"
"Do you really think I'm upset over the prospect of not having yet found some buffoon of a man to tie myself to for the rest of what will surely be my miserable life?"
"No, my dear, I don't think the finding is what is bothering you. I think it's the thought of being a biddable wife to the buffoon that troubles you." Thomas gave his sister a playful shove. "Now do tell what that piece of dirt is you've deposited on my bed, dear sister. I'm not overly fond of the thought of sleeping with all the worms and maggots crawling off of it."
She whirled to face him, irritation flashing bright in her eyes. "Biddable? Biddable!"
"Obedient. Compliant. Submissive," Thomas elaborated glibly, quick to step out of her range when she tried to punch him with her tiny balled up fist. "Now tell me what that thing is? From whence did it come? And why in God's name, and let me make absolutely clear that this is the question I'm most interested in having answered, is it on my bed?"
"Biddable," she repeated once more in outrage, shaking her head disgustedly. With a flounce of silken skirts, she sat on the edge of his bed next to the hand mirror. "It's used for scrying."
"One question down, two to—it's used for what?"
"Do stop yelling, Tommy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my hearing. And I said it's used for scrying." Imitating his earlier glib tone, she said, "Divination, seeing the future, fortune telling."
"I am perfectly aware of what scrying is. But what I'm not aware of is what my sister is doing with a mirror allegedly used for that purpose. And please don't tell me you've taken up divination as some sort of pastime."
Cocking her head prettily to one side, she said thoughtfully, "We could use the money."
"Tammy," Thomas warned. He could just imagine the scandal which would follow if the ton thought his sister had taken up a devil's hobby. That it was all a bit of foolish nonsense wouldn't matter in the least. What would matter is that her chances of marriage would instantly decrease from slim to nil.
"What?" she asked.
"Respectable ladies do not work. But if it came to that end, and you had to, then you should seek employment as a lady's companion or as a nanny. But working as a teller of the future is absolutely out of the question."
"Guess I have to admit, then, the true purpose of the mirror."
"I've found when the sun is at its zenith and if the mirror is held just so, I can start a fire...or, at the very least, cause a person a bit of warming discomfort."
"And who would you be wanting to discomfort?"
A too innocent expression blanketed her face. "No one."
Thomas wasn't fooled for one second. "You are to stay away from Lady Annabelle, Tammy, do you understand me?"
"If it wasn't for Lady Annabelle, Tommy, I'd be wed to Baron Rembrandt instead of her, and all of our problems already solved. Truthfully, I still don't know what the big deal was. Horses are meant to be rode, after all."
"Yes, little sister, they are," he agreed, feeling just a touch of amusement. He couldn't help himself...on first meeting Lady Annabelle he'd also immediately noticed her long face bore an uncanny resemblance to that of a mare. "But some horses have a higher value than others. Especially those horses who are the human, virginal daughter of a matchmaking mama. If he hadn't married her, her reputation would have been in tatters after their...gallop."
"Supposed virginal daughter," Tammy corrected meaningfully. "If you'd heard what I'd heard, you'd be doubtful of her purity also." She turned her gaze to the mirror, reverently stroking the handle with the tip of a finger. "This mirror is very old."
Thomas intoned dryly, "You don't say."
"Scoff if you want. But this is a priceless artifact. I have it on good authority it's been around since ancient Egypt actually. A gift to Cleopatra when she was two years younger than we are now. From one of her besotted lovers. He ordered it made special for her."
Thomas stared pointedly at the handle his sister adoringly caressed. "I honestly don't think the man who ordered the commissioning of that thing was smitten with any part of Cleopatra, except for, maybe, the power she wielded. Now, Mark Antony was probably a totally different story."
Tammy's attention snapped to him. She regarded him with a fair amount of disbelief. "I don't believe it."
"You don't believe what?" Thomas asked, unsettled by her close scrutiny.
"That you do have a sense of humor. I'd heard the rumors, but immediately dismissed them all as being frivolous, of course."
"Of course." Thomas shook his head in exasperation. "Proceed with your tale, Tammy."
"Very well," she conceded, a small smile curving her lips. "It's said Cleopatra saw her whole life in this mirror. She foresaw her marriage to Ptolemy and the fierce struggle for power which resulted afterwards. She foresaw her relationship with Julius Caesar and later Mark Antony." She paused briefly and in that short time it was all too clear to Thomas that some part of his sister actually believed the ridiculous prattle she was rattling off. "It's even said it was in this very mirror that she saw the idea to smuggle herself in a carpet to Julius Caesar."
"She saw all that in that very mirror, hmm?"
"It boggles the mind, does it not, Thomas? If the story is true, it means I am in possession of the object that the most powerful woman to ever rule Egypt drew all her knowledge from." Tammy's sigh was dreamy.
Thomas's snort was incredulous. "Yes, I do suppose that is one way to look at it."
"What other way is there to look at it?"
"That it is a worthless piece of clod ignorant young girls make up fanciful stories about. And it's also in dire need of resodding. Some insect is without its home right now."
"I am not ignorant!" In a rage, Tammy shot off of the bed. "You—you—"
"Idiotic oafish lummox of a liar," Thomas supplied helpfully.
"I couldn't have said it better myself." She stomped to the door and yanked it open.
Before she disappeared through the archway, Thomas reminded, "You didn't tell me what it is you hoped to see in it, Tammy."
"It is of no consequence now," she answered, back to him. "But if you must know, Lady Matilda gave it to me at the Asherton's soiree. Said she'd heard rumors of its existence for years and when she finally determined the rumors to be true, she set out on a mission to discover its location. She eventually found it several All Hallows Eves past, buried deep in the woods. She dug it up from its resting place and, following tradition, looked into it that very day...and saw Viscount Pembroke's face in it next to hers. The next day he offered for her. I took the mirror with broad hopes that if it didn't show me my future husband it would at least show me a prosperous venture in which to invest. Or how to overthrow the monarchy." At Thomas's gasp, she added, "Oh, come off it, Thomas. You know as well as I our current monarch leaves a lot to be desired."
"Tammy, you better not ever let anyone hear you speak—"
"Never fear, brother, the chance of me repeating my unladylike opinions in the presence of others is equal to the chances of you becoming our next king. Our reputations as dutiful subjects are safe. For the damn thing showed me nothing at all."
Thomas stared at the door his sister had quietly clicked shut after her departing form, thinking of the implication of her words. Lady Matilda, the Viscountess of Pembroke, had claimed to see the face of Alec Dumont, Viscount of Pembroke, when she'd gazed into its depths a number of years ago on this very day. It was obvious to Thomas what Tamsyn de Aubonville, penniless sister of Edward de Aubonville, Baron of Rothers, had seen when she'd looked into it. A beautiful face with wide blue eyes filled with a rapidly departing hopefulness.
Seemed to him that Viscountess Pembroke had cruelly played on his sister's desperateness. Which didn't fit with the sweet, caring temperament the lady was normally very careful to maintain while in his presence. But that just went to show the extreme lengths the members of the ton were willing to undertake to fit in by causing the humiliation of another by any means necessary, didn't it. Plus, Viscountess Pembroke was a close friend of Lady Miranda so Thomas knew not to expect better of her.
Anger surged as he thought of Lady Matilda and Lady Miranda having a good laugh at Tammy's expense. They were probably even now spreading malicious rumors of Tammy's midnight assignations with the Prince of Darkness and his evil minions.
Although Tammy always made a point to act like the grim reality of their dire situation didn't affect her, Thomas knew it did. And she'd just had it all but slapped in her face like a gauntlet. There was nothing Thomas could do about that now...but he could make sure the ladies didn't get the chance to play their little prank on another unsuspecting innocent. He would forbid Tammy to speak of the mirror to another soul. And he would destroy it. Yes, that's exactly what he would do. And then he would burn the remains.
Thomas strode to his bed and grabbed the ivory handle. He swung the hand mirror upwards, ready to bring it to its harrowing end by smashing it against the oak post of his bed. But before he could carry out the destructive downswing the weak light of early evening streamed through the open damask draperies covering his windows and reflected against the golden surface right into his eyes. Automatically, his gaze turned to the mirror.
A startled shout erupted from his throat as he caught sight of himself. With a vicious curse, he hurled the malignant object across the room where it landed face down, unharmed and in one piece, on the soft Aubusson rug.
Aghast, he stared at it, his mind unwilling to process the image his eyes had just seen.
"Is that you, Julien?" a female voice questioned.
"But of course." Julien Montford, third Duke of Williamton, turned to face the masked hostess of the masquerade ball. Bending over the proffered hand, he pressed a lingering kiss to its back, then straightened, taking in the Duchess's massive form, made even larger by the layers and layers of white and gold fabric which currently cloaked it. He studied her for several seconds before giving up on trying to determine what her costume was supposed to be, other than ridiculous. "You look absolutely exquisite."