To Be Gilded (WIP)

A current work in progress book of Victorian smutty erotica. Read that last word once more. Ok. Got it?

*Also, if you like where this is going, check out my Sushi button. I’d like to actually hire an editor when I take this to paperback, and the Sushi button helps a lot!*

Chapter 1

“You will not consider any of this season’s bachelorettes, Julian?” His mother’s crepe paper skinned hand hovered near the bone china teacup handle. He lifted a shoulder and raised his own cup if only to have a way of not answering her. She pursed her lips, glaring under sparse white brows at his casual dismissal. “What of suitors then? Are there no fine men in this city to please you either?”

He choked on his tea. “Mother!”

“You will leave your father to roll in his grave if you do not find a partner for the business soon.” She lifted her cup from its saucer and studied the honey orange shade.

“Father has been gone from us for near on two decades, mother. He would have rolled so many times in these many years, that me not taking on a partner will be the least of his worries. Or yours,” he gentled his protest. Maybe temperance would motivate her to drop the topic.

“Is it that you lack desire entirely? Tell me we are not to leave the whole fate of the Goldsman’s Guild in the hands of my grand-uncle’s progeny. That Wilhelm Van whatever his name is. Uppity little urchin.” She set her cup back down, put off by the smell.

He had hoped the peke would have made her leave. If tea was not to her liking, she tended to leave quickly with excuses of being busy. Not this time though. He followed suit, dismissed the tea tray to the servant, and pinched at the bridge of his nose. “Is this a conversation to be having with my own mother? You wish children from me to carry on the line. Is that what you are requesting of me? Find whoever you want for the deed then and I can get that done for you. I am too busy right now with acquiring the Zhargvackas mine and the Queen has requested an entire set for her Diamond Jubilee.”

“You are not the only esteemed designer within the Goldsman’s Guild, Julian. The acquisition of the mine is in process. The Queen’s Jubilee is not until summer. What do you mean you have no time?” She leaned back into the plush upholstery. “Grandchildren would be nice yes, but that is not the point of the exercise, son. You need someone here to ground you. To give you more than work. You will put yourself into a grave right next to your father at this rate. You may not have grey in that black hair of yours yet, but you keep pushing and it will just like Wallace’s did.”

“A partner would be work, mother.” He released the button on his suit coat so he could spread out more comfortably. At the moment, it constricted worse than a straight jacket.

She leaned forward, stabbing a manicured fingernail into the waxed coffee table between them. “Don’t I ever know it. Your father was a piece of work. He was good to me though and I would not see all of his effort thrown under gelding hooves by some pampered inbred hot air balloon.”

Tradition. He sagged at the unspoken word. Tradition. He was trapped in it. “Do you have someone in mind, mother?”

She smiled, a cat cornering a mouse. “Roderick!”

The butler, having already come under his mother’s attack, appeared at the parlor doors with a leather bound book. He shifted a glance between the Matron of the Goldsman’s Guild and his employer. Julian twitched a finger, motioning him to come forward. They both shared a bedraggled glance of irritated concession. “Madam, Sir.” He set the thick folio between them, bowed and backed up a step.

“What is this, mother?” Julian asked, though he already knew by the crest embossed on the leather.

“If there is no one in polite society that has caught your interest from the many seasons you have been privy to since coming of age twelve years ago, then someone designed for polite society might.” She turned the book so it faced her son and flipped the cover open to the bound vellum.

“How will the rest of the guilds react if I chose a Designer?” He turned his nose up at the pages as she flipped through them slowly. Pictures were carefully glued into small frames at the top left corner of each page. To the right was a short biography. Below was a resume of their accomplishments.

“I would not even be bringing it up if not for the meeting I just came from of the Guild leaders, Julian.” She left off on a page and sat up to turn her head at him. A look of weary exhaustion framed her face beneath her carefully constructed curls.

“The leaders are even asking?” He sat upright, startled at the revelation.

“Not asking. Demanding. They do not want Wilhelm, and they are growing nervous with the energy you’ve been driving into the Goldsman’s. You continue with your course, they will see it as outright hostility.” She leaned forward once more to flip another page. 

He gritted his teeth and lifted the folio to his lap. “Who would you choose, mother?” She was here to warn him. Without realizing it, in his effort to keep his father’s memory, he had started treading on toes he otherwise had no motivation to bruise. The guilds were joined in a union under the Queen. His father had negotiated, traded tricks, and bought out who he could to secure the working agreements that kept the economy in check. If his actions threatened that balance, he risked not only the Queen’s ire or the stripping of the Goldsman’s Guild name, he risked his workers’ livelihoods.

“Whoever piques your interest. They are Designers for a reason, Julian. They’re to suit your fancy, or fantasy, however you wish to look at it.” His mother shrugged.

“What is the difference then between a Designer partner and a housekeep or butler?” He stalled on a picture longer than he wanted to let on.

“I could have sworn you had some experience in this, son.” His mother rubbed her forehead.

Julian swallowed, heat blossoming across his ear tips. He cleared his throat in horror. “I-well, no, I mean. I don’t want to marry someone who will just cook and clean and keep the house, or be some errand runner. I want someone who is equal to me. If I’m to tie myself to someone, I’d rather it be a proper partnership.”

“And yet, you’ve had chance after chance to meet so many people in these years who would have been of an equal partnership.” She pressed the needles in further on his crumbling facade.

“You know as well as I that if I had taken on any of those partnerships, I would have been considered being partisan. To align myself with another house would be almost a slap to the face of every Guild leader. It would have tipped the scales!” His fingers lingered to keep track of the page he had passed by in an effort to remember to go back.

His mother deflated with the comment.  “You are not entirely wrong. Gregor admitted as much in the meeting. He and Connor both had noticed your elusive nature and pinned it on that possibility. It relieves me to know you at least recognized the possibility.”

“Then you understand why I have avoided tying myself down to someone?” He sank back in relief before panicking about losing his page.

She smothered a smile as he quickly fished back through the bulky number of pages. “So you did find someone?”

“Maybe,” he hedged. The pages flipped through his fingers until he landed on the page he was after.

His mother leaned forward to study who her son had found. He instead rose from his armchair to come around the coffee table and sit on the sette next to her. They looked at the column together, both silently working over the resume with a fine tooth comb, fingertips tapping out thoughts.

“A glassblower?” His mother broke their silence, asking her pressing question.

“A prior soldier of the Savia royal guard?” He tacked on.

“Sixth son of Malich Van Dermarch from Cardoon, a parliamentary district of Savia. He’s not even a citizen of Crimartia!” She did not push the book away though.

“Then he is not bound to the Queen’s Guilds or nobility.” Caution slipped into his voice.

“A royal guard?” She turned back to the other question.

“No longer. This would not be a power grab.”

She flicked a silvered glance at her son. “No.” She dragged out the vowel as she studied the resume and bio a second time.

“I would like to see his work.” Intrigue replaced caution.

“Bodyguard or glassblower?” His mother caught on.

“As a glassblower. I want to see how he looks at the world.” A smile crept across his lips.

“Roderick!” His mother startled his contemplations as she demanded the butler’s attention.

“You called, Madam?” He bowed at her elbow. Quiet and efficient.

“Send word to Universite de Treasure de Deux that Julian Goldman requests a meeting with Albrecht Van Dermarch. He would like to see his glasswork.” His mother returned her son’s smile.

Chapter 2

“You know you didn’t have to come along, mother.” Julian clutched at the swinging velvet rope over his head as the carriage jostled along the gravel road up to the Universite.

She waved a gloved hand at the comment. “Hush. You’re uptight enough as it is. It’ll be expedient for me to be there rather than you be middle man for the next month, concerning yourself over what I want for you. In this moment, consider if he will be what you want in a partner, not what I want from you. That much you are already doing by at least looking, finally.”

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking before.” He studied the pastures gliding by the small windows.

“If you were, you didn’t let anyone else in on it.” She set away her embroidery in frustration at the carriage’s unpredictable movement.

“I didn’t want to deal with the fall out if someone got the wrong idea.” He caught her bag before it could scatter it’s contents on the floor. Setting it on the purple horsehair padding next to her black and white pinstriped skirts, he contemplated the years she had been wearing mourning clothes.

“Marcus was right. You are difficult to drill holes in.” She twisted the latch on her bag to keep it from a repeat experience.

“I try.” His smile sank as the wrought iron gates of the Universite came into view. A massive converted monastery perched on a short cliff in the heatherlands. Away from the cities in every direction it was placed to be of its own rule. A neutral area from which the world’s elite and wealthy could be catered to. “Why would someone go to a Designer school willingly?”

“It is not for a lack of opportunity.” His mother turned to peer through the window.

“They have jobs, they have money. Yet, they become Designers? Are we certain they are such a good school to work with? What if they have more nefarious motivations?” Julian posited.

“Cold feet now, Jules?” His mother turned back to a more comfortable position.

“I would not wish for anyone to tie themselves to me if they were in ill-fated straights.” He pulled at his cravat to sit it lower from his Adam’s apple.

“The school has been investigated thoroughly not only by the Queen, but by other royals. They have not found it to be participating in questionable dealings.” She set a placating hand on his shoulder. “And every person considered for the Univeriste first needs a patron. Both parties have to agree to the patronage. And every one of them has had a complete and thorough background check to make sure they are not being marketed.”

His feet were cold and leaden, as was his stomach and his heart. It was not that his mother was incorrect with her information. It was that he did not completely trust any royal to be forthcoming with their information.

“If you are unsure after meeting this Mr. Van Dermarch, you are not obligated to continue. It will do enough to show the Guild leaders that you are listening and trying to find a middle ground for their own reassurances.” She startled as the carriage shifted from gravel to cobblestone.

Xxx

“Presenting Mister Julian Goldsman and Madam Angelica Goldsman for a Mister Albrecht Van Dermarch.” The steward pressed open the oak door for their entry into the headmaster’s extensive sitting room. Within were a pair of men. One standing, hand trembling at his waist as he ducked a perfected bow. The other, significantly older with a grey salted beard, sat at a massive desk skirted on both sides by a pair of floor to ceiling windows. Behind him, a portrait of his majesty the King, her holiness’s father, sitting upon a resplendent white gelding.

“Mister and Madam Goldsman, please.” The headmaster motioned to the series of armchairs surrounding a low coffee table on a plush powder blue carpet. He took his time in rising, joints creaking in protest.

“Mister Becker.” The younger man, red headed and lithe in appearance, turned between the guests and the headmaster, uncertain of procedure. He deferred to his instinct and helped the headmaster to one of the seats at the table.

“Aren’t you a good man, Albrecht.” The headmaster patted him on the elbow and sank into one of the armchairs.

Albrecht turned back to the audience he had been requested to meet with. “Good afternoon. My name is Albrecht Van Dermarch. It is a pleasure.” His accent was distinct to Savia, heavy toned and smooth.

Julian studied his structure with interest as he rose to shake the man’s hand. Freckles in massive radial bursts peppered his face. His curly hair, barely tamed with enough wax a maid would faint, was quaffed and tied at the base of his neck with a thick ribbon. His suit was of decent tailoring, though it did nothing to hide sleek muscle honed from military duty and working at an artisan’s bench. Callused hands told Julian that Albrecht had not given up his craft yet in hopes of becoming a Designer. “Julian Goldsman, and my mother, Madam Goldsman.”

Albrecht licked his lip nervously and sat down. “You requested a showing of my pieces?”

“Probably not the proposal you were tutored on?” Julian laced his fingers in his lap.

Albrecht looked to the headmaster for some direction before resigning himself to the fact the man was only going to play silent witness to the conference between potential patronage. “No. Um, no, sir. I – no, that was not what I was expecting. I did bring with me the pieces you requested though, if that is really what you wanted to see?”

“We can discuss the potential of other duties you were prompted on in becoming a possible Designer. However, as you might know, I represent the Goldsman’s Guild, and any partner I would take would need to show competence in a craft equal to our work.” Julian set out his parameters.

“Yes- yes, sir.” Albrecht rose and retrieved a series of small wooden boxes from the cabinet behind the sitting area.

Julian studied the little boxes, not much larger than something to hold a single saucer and teacup for transport. Once Albrecht had laid out the five parcels he seated himself once more. “Would you like for me to?” The glassblower motioned to the small packages.

“If you would, please.” Julian leaned forward with interest to see what types of bobbles and trinkets the ex-royal guard might produce. The first package contained what appeared to be a simple orb. Upon closer inspection, he sucked in a breath. Within the tiny ball was a world of ocean fish and coral, rendered into minutia. “You have an eye for detail and a fascinating concept of color.”

“Thank you, sir.” Albrecht’s reply was soft as he carefully nestled the piece back into it’s protective packaging and turned to the next box. Julian had to wonder if all the pieces were going to be tiny worlds. He could see it now. Something to stand on the same stage as his rings and necklaces. Little wonders that women throughout the Queen’s cities would be going mad for.

Lifting the lid on the next box, Julian had to reassess. This one was instead packed differently, in strewn news clippings and padded wads of wool. A pulled crystal clear horse on a grass base. Saddle and bridle rendered in absolute clarity. He would expect such detail from a lost wax brass. To find it in glass was breathtaking. “You are not just a glassblower.”

“No, sir. I know my way around a pipe, but I do perform other functions in the shop as well.” Albrecht hesitated to put the creature back.

“Do you enjoy working in the shop?”

“I did, sir.” His voice was cautious and his eyes were captivated with his own work.

“I hear a distinct note in that statement, Mister Van Dermarch.” Julian dared not touch the delicate horse, afraid to break it. He could see it in the Queen’s sitting room easily decorating a mantel during Lantern’s Night.

“It was my father’s shop, and now my eldest brother’s.” Albrecht allowed it to be explanation enough.

“You either do not wish to work for your brother, or your skills are not appreciated for what they are.” Julian made the observation.

Albrecht replaced the horse and opened the third lid. “It is not that it is unappreciated. It is that I waste my time on trivial matters.” Within this box was what at first appeared to be a simple glass ashtray. In removing it and holding it to the light, Julian had to reassess. In the afternoon light, the carving within it sent shattered rainbows skittering across the room.

“Trivial matters?” Julian laid out a hand. This particular object made him less nervous to handle and he was curious as to the method of carving in the lavender pink that left clear geometric patterns across it.

“It is that father, now my brother, works as a subcontractor of the Savia Glassguild in mass production of shades and panels for the street lamps. In my desire to understand the extent I can push glass, I deviated from their mission, and what provides the dividends for their folders. As a Designer, I’ve removed myself from the family and broken from the Guild. This would not be an acquisition of the Goldman’s Guild of the Salvia Glassguild.” He took back the ashtray Julian handed him and replaced it in its packaging.

“That is reassuring. I do not desire or envy those with political motivation. Who taught you how to make these, if the shop is in mass production? You were in his Highness Volder’s employment as a royal guard for a couple of years.” Julian wanted more information on this side step from the family business.

“It is not uncommon within Savia for all men to contribute some time to the military upon turning sixteen. I had the fortune to be selected for his Royal Guard because of my particular disposition to detail. Having served my three years and finding that my employment was underutilized, I returned home. In doing so, after having been freed from my family’s standards for a time, I found my brother’s rule,” he shifted in his seat, slicing his finger on one of the shreds of paper upon opening the fourth box, “uncomfortable.”

“And your teacher?” Julian pressed. A master craftsman he must have.

“Self taught.” Albrecht whispered, face going red as if he were in trouble. Julian left that announcement alone as Albrecht tended to the packaging. He sat with a master craftsman who had developed his skill to such a level. Any praise in this particular moment would sound hollow to the artist.

The fourth box contained a dessert drinking glass of a whimsical nature Julian had not expected. A soft grey iris as the cup with the stock and foliage as the stem and stand, it could not hold more than a nightcap of liquor. “Is this why each of your pieces is small? The ability to work an item in a timely manner without observation or without infringing upon materials?”

“As you say, sir. Each is small in that we waste enough glass on stringers and malformed canes, that my brother finds it easier to allow me my whims when the shop closes for the night as long as I clean up. It is not that my other brothers leave their duties, but that I enjoy my quiet.” Albrecht set the cup back in it’s cradle of wool.

“I find quiet, the late evening, and lamplight to be a time when I can truly craft for myself too.” Julian gave a small piece of himself to the interview.

“You are a craftsman yourself, Mr. Goldsman?” Albrecht asked.

“Yes. I may represent the Guild, but I do sit at a jeweler’s bench more often than not.” Julian stared pointedly at the last box. If what he had seen had been the lead up, he could not fathom the surprise awaiting him.

“It’s like listening to piano, isn’t it, sir?” Albrecht’s smile caught Julian off guard. A shot of heat robbed him of thought as the man lifted the lid on the last box. A series of sheets of green glass all twisted carefully upon themselves contained a hollowed space, a man swimming through a cavern. Slanted in the light correctly, the man almost moved.

“It is not that you are a simple glassblower, Mr. Van Dermarch.” Julian hesitated over the piece, the delicateness and difficulty ever present in the imagination and execution. “It is that you are an artist of miniatures asked to paint the outside of a house over and over again. You have no room for growth in a medium you were blessed with. You have a saint’s touch.”

Albrecht glowed under the compliment, hanging his head to hide his embarrassment. “Surely this is not what you wished to discuss at length, Mr. Goldsman.” He recovered his embarrassment to pointedly acknowledge the Headmaster and Madam in the room.

“In all honesty, it was. I am privy to the knowledge of what is usually requested in these meetings. It matters not to me your appearance if this is what you are capable of. Your aptitude is phenomenal enough. To admit though, it was initially your photo that did draw my interest. I did not realize your complexion was so enchanting.” Julian allowed himself a moment of charm. He genuinely wished for Albrecht to join with the Goldsman’s Guild as an artisan.

“You flatter, sir.” Albrecht’s breath hitched.

“Are you set on becoming a Designer, Mr. Van Dermarch?” Julian asked.

“I find the prospect of it to align with my current values, Mr. Goldsman.” The man settled into his chair, no longer needing to share the more intimate part of his soul with a set of strangers.

“Your feelings upon having a male patron?” Julian waited on Albrecht’s reply as a maid came in and served tea.

“I find it to be a good match.” Albrecht carefully handled the piping hot teacup.

“Do you have questions for me, Mr. Van Dermarch. I realize this has been an unusual meeting from what you have most likely already been through a number of times.” Julian offered.

“It would be too presumptuous, sir.” Albrecht tried his tea, burning his tongue in the process.

“Asking you to undress for me to inspect you like a lamb for the butcher feels presumptuous to me, Mr. Van Dermarch.” Julian pinned one of the many institutionally accepted methods of patronage under his disapproving tone. “If I had need of another butler to oversee the runnings of my house, I would have gone to the Academy to acquire one there. As it is, you have listed yourself with the Universite and hence, I would think it imprudent of me to offer you a position within Goldsman’s Guide on your talent alone.”

Albrecht, taken aback at the comment, rubbed one thumb with the other as he contemplated the patterned blue carpet beneath his shined leather shoes. “I would, then, if you say it is not presumptuous to ask, sir, as one craftsman to another, as you say, one potential equal to another, do you have any of your pieces I might see?”

Julian smirked at the request. “It is how we communicate, is it not?” Reaching into his coat pocket, he withdrew a black velveteen covered box and set it on Albrecht’s side of the table. Albrecht, calloused hands careful, took up the box to investigate the contents. Flipping open the hinged lid, within it he studied the products. Gold bars, tiny, no longer than the length of his pinky nails ended in pairs of arrowhead cut emeralds and rubies. Chains, small and feather light, dropped from each miniscule arrowhead tip to create a semicircle.

“You made these, sir?” He carefully extracted one of the bars to study it in the late afternoon light. Fire shot through the rubies and emeralds, casting colored spots on the table.

“I did. Reading a description of your personage, I estimated what might look good on you. What your resume told me of you.” Julian nodded once.

“I am not familiar with it’s usage, sir. They are not a type of cufflink I have ever seen.” Albrecht admitted.

Julian cleared his throat, glances flicking between his mother and the headmaster. “They are not meant for clothing, Mr. Van Dermarch.”

Albrecht furrowed his brow as he contemplated the tiny bars. Investigating the intricacy, he found the arrowheads twisted from the shafts, exposing a sharp post with a set of threading for the ends. A light lit in his eyes. “Earrings?”

Julian shifted uncomfortably at that assessment. “Um. Well. No, Mr. Van Dermarch, but within the same function.”

“Nipple piercings, Albrecht.” The headmaster interjected, breaking his silence. Julian raised a gloved hand to his own mouth to hide the heat creeping up his face at the bland assessment.

“When did you even have time to make those! I thought you said you were busy with the Queen’s Jubilee commission.” His mother pressed, ignoring the use of the ornamentation.

“I – well. It was a simple enough thing.” Julian deflected by drinking his tea. Albrecht had been rendered mute at the revelation. He had not dropped the jewelry in disgust though. Instead he was interested more in the fineness of the threading and the smooth glide of the arrowhead.

“Thoughts, Mr. Van Dermarch?” Julian swallowed the last of his tea.

“I have to wonder. I’ve seen medicinal bottles and such. How small could I get a proper thread?” He mused, fascinated.

Julian snorted at the assessment. “You. I like you. Will you let me be your patron?”

Albrecht looked up at the question, his eyes wide. “Really, sir? You would like for me to become your Designer?”

A single burst of a laugh shot from Julian at the question before he reigned in his response. “I would like a lot of things, Mr. Van Dermarch. Inclusive of a week long trip to the ocean front, and access to all the fudge served on Lantern’s night, but I realize I cannot have all that I desire. This is a partnership. What do you want?”

Albrecht stalled, surprised. “I-I, well, as you said, I would like a lot of things. This. A craftsman with another. I could enjoy this. You are interesting, and different. I think – I think I would like for you to be my patron, yes.” He reached a hand out. 

Julian took it, shaking it with confidence. “I look forward to what you will show me, Albrecht Van Dermarch.”

Chapter 3

The carriage ride back to the Goldsman’s Guild hall was quiet between his mother and himself for a time. Restless energy swarmed the cabin as it jostled on the path. He cradled one of the small boxes from Albrecht in his hands, ginger with the contents.

“Out with it, son. Your fidgeting is worse than a horse waiting on it’s oats.” His mother broke the silence.

“How many years do you think it took for him to figure out how to make the iris?” He traced the petals in his mind.

“You’re just as bad as he was.” She pulled out her embroidery, setting it on her lap. Her fingers did not find needle and thread though.

“It is a poor match?” He kept his eyes to the pastures and the sheep in the heatherland.

“It is not what I said.” She rubbed a thumb over her threads. Julian allowed silence to hang in the carriage, as pendulous as the velvet hand holds. Eventually she tried again. “His work is beautiful. I’ll give him that much. He is no jeweler though.”

“He need not be, though with his eye for small detail, I would not put it against him to create pendants and beads easily comparable to gemstone.” Julian returned his focus to his mother.

“And you prepared a piece for him before even meeting him. Were you going to take him whether his art was to your liking or not?” She ventured as they passed into a smoother section of terrain.

“No. I would not have even shown him the piece if I did not appreciate what I saw.” He folded his hands in his lap to watch emerald thread slip through the fine linen.

“No. I guess you could have pointed out your pocket watch face, your bracelet, even your signet ring if you thought to.” She twisted her thread to create a raised decorative knot.

“It is not that I am without enough material on my personnage to show off at a moment’s notice.” He dismissed the concept with a flick of his wrist.

“Why those then?” She tied off her thread and snipped it to start with an amethyst shade.

“A ring would be presumptuous, would it not? Same as a necklace, or a bracelet. All things that would either conflict with the university uniform, or single him out from the crowd quickly as to who his patron is, or how well off. Earrings would also fall within that bracket, and mark him more openly, if for some reason the patronage fell apart before a wedding.” Julian tugged to settle his gloves more closely against the webbing of his fingers.

“Those will leave a mark.” Angelica set thread to cloth.

“If he decides to have them placed. I left a note in the box for him that it’s up to him. In the end, if he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t have to, and it leaves him with a bit of spending money if he decides to pawn them later.” He relaxed as they passed into the farmland before the suburbs and city proper.

“I only now realized, in inviting myself along, that you were placed in an awkward position.” His mother made way for an apology.

“It is not that anything changed in what would have happened had you been occupied elsewhere.” Julian noted the harvest coming in.

“Anyone within the Queen’s domain knows of what is typical in the acquisition of a Designer.” His mother insisted on having this conversation.

He would have rather it stopped before it began. “Yes mother. I have a type. Red heads and freckles are my type. If that is what you are after. It was fortunate he had a craft skill. I don’t think I would have honestly considered him much further than a glance at his photo though otherwise. If instead Albrecht had been a woman with the same skill, I would have been interviewing her in the same manner. You of all people should know you taught me to be better than a pig in the mud.”

“Not entirely what I was expecting, but I am reassured at how you handled the situation. The Guild leaders will be pleased to know you’re at least pursuing a patronage at the Universite. That should keep them from raising a fuss before the Queen’s Jubilee.” She set aside her sewing as they emerged from the grain fields into the first sets of estate settlements.

“May I assume they will not be made privy to my exchange gift?” He fingered the smoothed wood that held the ocean globe.

“It would not raise my status any to tell of such personal matters, and it would neither lower nor raise yours for others to know of it. What of the gift you received?” She turned her glance to the little box.

“For now, it will go in my study. If the time comes, I plan to display it in the head store alongside a series of aquamarine and pink sapphire series Alexandro is intent on completing for a Duchess as an example of his homeland’s works.” He tightened his grip on the lid, a shaft of fear running through his spine at the thought of the ball breaking by some unfortunate accident.

“Is that why you chose it over the other pieces?” She straightened the pleats in her skirts as they crossed the paving into cobblestone, designating the shift from suburbs to city.

“It is what he was saying when he used it as his opening act.” A soft crease of his lip cast a dimple on his cheek.

“As bad as your father, you are, Julian. I don’t believe I will ever fully understand when you begin talking of others’ work in such a fashion.” She studied her son’s features, questions flitting across her own face.

“It is not like you are without your own creativity, mother. Often you tell me you can tell if Cassandra or Beatrix is in a good mood or a foul just by the way their handwriting lays on the paper. You talk to them not only through the words you write, but how you write them.” He recalled the many conversations she had gossiped with him.

She paused at the consideration. “I had never thought of it that way. You are not entirely wrong in the assumption. If the script is hurried, or the structure patterned in a particular way, I can tell if one of them is in a mood. If Beatrix’s wife has offended the maid again. You do this with jewelry? He can do this with glass? You can tell that just by looking?”

“It tends to be easier when the medium is shared. His dedication and his curiosity though cannot be missed. That is what I want in both my employees and my partner. The drive to master a craft and the capacity to divert from old traditions for new innovations.” He flipped through his memories of the other boxes, wondering at how many other spectacular pieces Albrecht Van Dermarch had accumulated.

“What does that one tell you, then?” Angelica motioned to the box.

“It told me he could find intrigue in the mundane. See a world in a drop of water.” The carriage drew to a hault in front of his mother’s townhouse.

“And that was enough to offer him your patronage?” She took his hand as he helped her step down.

“It told me that being fianced to a workaholic jeweler would not cast him into shades of boredness.” He escorted her to the door of her house where her butler and a maid waited to welcome her home.

“You are quite strange, Julian, you know that, right?” She patted him on the cheek.

“It was not father that I got it from.” He bowed, a twinkle in his eye.

Chapter 4

“A letter for you, sir.” Roderick presented a silver platter with an envelope to Julian when he pulled away from his bench for the evening to secure himself a shot of brandy.

Reaching for it, he rifled through contacts he knew would send out a correspondence to him at such a late hour. Most had been quiet in the last couple of weeks since his meeting at the Universite. Pulling off his cravat and slouching into his prefered arm chair, he set his glass on the stand next to him to consider the letter.

His name was carefully scrawled on the envelope. Starts and stops in the ink told him whoever wrote the contents was not entirely familiar with him. He turned the paper over to study the white wax and small seal on the back while Roderick saw himself out of Julian’s personal work room. In the low lamplight, he did not recognize the crest. The creatures on either side of the shield were not of his Queen’s lands.

Breaking the seal, Julian pulled out the page and set aside the envelope. Taking a sip of his thimble’s worth of brandy he twitched through the formality of address before coming to Albrecht’s name. Rising from his seat, he went to his door and threw the lock. He returned to his chair and twisted the knob on his lamp to light the space better.

To Mister Julian Goldsman,

I thank you for meeting with me. The opportunity to show you my work was unexpected. You were correct. I have had a few other meetings. None have asked to see my glasswork. That is why I thought you would be a good patron. Forgive me while I take the year with the Universite. My writing is poor. I speak Cramitia more than I read or write it. I will work on improving my script by then.

Thank you for the gift. Your presicion is beautiful. Headmaster directed me to speak with the Universite medical department about them. A little painful at first, but I am pleased with how they look.

The Universite will have the annual Harvest Masquerade four weeks after opening ceremony next week. The theme this year is legends. Would you be interested in joining with me for it?

I am looking forward to this partnership. Do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours,

-Albrecht Van DerMarch

Julian swallowed. The man was too honest. Not able to write well? Albrecht was fluent enough to leave him in a current predicament. He folded the letter back into its envelope and slid the package into his trouser pocket. 

Taking another moment, he contemplated his brandy and the piece he had been fiddling with on his workbench. He had no idea if it would fit. Having measurements was essential. He resigned himself to the fact it would be something he would reserve for later. Finish, but reserve.

A masquerade? It could be an interesting event. Now that he was paying for the year at the university, he might as well see how his Designer was doing at any opportunity he was given. Julian had rather enjoyed the concept of courtship, but never saw the advantage of time. This however, was expedient. A series of viewings through the year, but otherwise, Albrecht was left to learning the ins and outs of what it was to be a Designer and become a partner an elite of society could be proud to have at hand.

Time spent thinking had brought Julian’s head out of the clouds, that or the brandy was taking the edge off. He rose and unlocked the door to his workroom. Roderick regarded him, a subtle raise of an eyebrow the only hint to his butler’s curiosity. “What are your thoughts on legends, Rick?”

“Legends, sir?” Roderick’s maintained a bland disposition and followed his employer into the workroom.

Julian shifted his equipment, clearing his table and putting away his tools for the late evening. It would be another week before he had time like this to work on the gold bobble. “Legends.”

“They can be revelatory or cautious, sir.” He provided a neutral answer.

“For a masquerade, what would be better then?” Julian led the way from the workroom back to his dressing room.

“Who would you be talking to?” Roderick helped him out of his garments.

Julian pondered the question. Dove deeper. It was not a face value line. Roderick was not known for asking face value questions.

“Would I be considered a rake by polite society?” Julian slipped on his bed clothes.

“Do you want to be seen as one?” Roderick pulled the red houserobe over Julian’s shoulders.

“Respectable, preferred. Not a person playing the field. Maybe a bit of dash and daring for one.” Julian sank into the armchair next to the fireplace in his bedroom beyond the dressing room.

Roderick contemplated Julian’s musings. “What about the count and the apple maiden?”

Julian ran a hand over the stubble of his jaw. He snorted. Rising, he clapped Roderick on the shoulder. “And this is why I would be at a disadvantage if you ever left me to my own devices, Rick.”

“Any time, sir.” Roderick left his employer to turn in.

To Be Continued

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