Vera Martique: Part Four

Vera Martique: Part Four

29th of Nane, 986 A.C.

Brent Martique had owned a shop specializing in imported spices and scented oils. While he had made a decent income in that trade, his most lucrative commodity had been information.

He sold secrets. Everything from which high lord had a new bastard, to prospective shipments of high-valued goods, to bills set to go before the House of Lords and even which lords were for or against those bills. If men wanted information, they went to her father.

Vera and her mother, Aidiyah, had assisted him in this endeavor. They knew the secret codes that he used to record information and even took reports from his network of informants. With both of them gone, Vera had to decide what to do with both businesses.

She also had to decide how to deal with her grandfather.

For the first time since the memorial service, Vera spent the morning in the shop. She left the front door locked and the shutters were closed, but all the candle lanterns were lit.

Bernard Small and Darrel Jenkins were at opposite ends of the long counter that separated the main part of the shop from the back offices. Each man was sifting through the stacks of coded reports that he had gathered in the last three and a half weeks. Some rumors had gone stale. A month was a long time when it came to some plots and intrigues, especially when the participants had died in the sickness that had taken Brent and Aidiyah.

Those items that either man thought were no longer useful. Vera would sort through those at a later date, just to be sure. She had to concentrate on immediate matters at the moment.

Queen Mellina was pregnant. So was King Charles’s mistress, Lady Susanne Lorvette Dorn.

It was the third time Mellina had conceived since the birth of Prince Richard. She had lost the first pregnancy early on and her second son was stillborn. News of this latest child had been kept close though. None of the informants that worked in the palace had even suspected until last week when the Queen had come into the city to get fitted for new gowns to fit her growing figure. By all reports, she was six months gone.

Mellina had always kept her distance from Vera’s family and had chided Nikkana for not doing the same. A small part of Vera felt sorry for the rumors and gossip swirling around the court, overshadowing the Queen. A very small part.

Lord Wiley Lorvette had put a damper on the Queen’s big news last night when he hosted a dinner at his townhouse to announce that his daughter, Susanne, was carrying her second child.

King Charles, Lady Susanne, and several prominent lords and their wives were in attendance at this dinner. Rumor had it that the King presented his mistress with a sapphire pendant in honor of the event.

Rumor also had it that the Queen had smashed a crystal vase this morning, when news of the dinner reached her ears.

“It explains why the King gifted Lord Lorvette that stallion last week,” Bernard said as he put a final report on his stack of outdated news. “But the most unsettling bit is how he’s been talking about raising Lorvette to high lord and bestowing more land on him.”

“The Queen won’t like that at all.” Darrel closed his bag and turned to face Vera.

The two men were both older than her, but they knew their place. She held the purse strings and had all the puzzle pieces. They had worked for her father; now, they worked for her. But the honest truth was that they were all standing on shifting sand.

“What’s the plan moving forward?” Darrel asked, bot bothering to dance around. “Will you keep the shop open, same as your da?”

“You’ll need at least one other person here to help out but you can’t just hire a shop girl off the street,” Bernard put in.

Vera sighed. “I know.” She pressed two fingers between her eyes to ease the headache there before reminding herself that she couldn’t show weakness. Not to anyone. “I know,” she repeated, straightening her back. “The shop will have to be sold. I can buy a house with the proceeds and my inheritance will keep me comfortable for many years.”

Darrel and Bernard exchanged worried looks. “You’ll stop the other business too?” Bernard asked.

She shook her head. “No. Few will think a young woman can run a shop like this alone and I’ll be hounded by men that will see me a prize mare.” She gestured to the shop. “Between this place and my mother’s fortune, most will see me as some sort of heiress and will jump at the chance to marry me and take possession, since a woman’s property becomes her husband’s when they wed, unless it is tied up in a trust.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“So how will you get people to come see you?” Darrel asked, leaning against the counter. “And how will you explain us coming and going?”

“I’ll hire you two as servants or something,” Vera replied with a grin. Servants who have a mistress that gives them plenty of time off to wander the streets.”

Darrell chuckled.

Bernard crossed his arms over his chest. “Moving from a shop to a fancy house isn’t going to turn away the men looking to wed and bed you.”

“You’re right.” Vera took a deep breath. “And that’s where the next stage of my plan comes into play.”

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