Month 3, Day 16, Tuesday 6:00am
Titus woke before the sun, only a few minutes before the alarm spell he had set the evening before was set to go off. There wasn’t enough time for him to go back to sleep, and yet he wasn’t early enough to get a real head start on any of his tasks. In the end, he had just barely started to doze off again when the buzzing startled him back to full wakefulness, and then his bedside lamp came on automatically, mocking him with its offending brightness.
Scowling blearily, Titus stumbled around his bedchambers, washing up and getting dressed. His manservant knocked on the door precisely five minutes after the alarm, bearing two steaming mugs. One, of coffee infused with wakefulness magic, and the other of a greenish-brown sludge that looked like nothing so much as a portion of fresh cow pie—straight from anus to cup.
As the head of Gilbratha’s coppers as well as the one in charge of much of their Family’s affairs, Titus had little time for leisurely mornings. The pressure to make progress and bring in actionable results had been mounting lately. After the attack by these mysterious Architects of Khronos stretching all his people thin and haggard with overtime, he could only hope that their plan to draw out the Raven Queen was successful, or he suspected the High Crown’s limited patience would run out.
He gulped down the thick sludge first, thankful that it didn’t taste quite as bad as it looked. It had all the nutrients and calories he needed to get through the first half of his day, and could be downed in under sixty seconds. Thankfully, he could still justify eating real food for the other two meals of his day, as he often held mealtime meetings or used those times to network. Still, he missed breakfast foods.
Sometimes he wished that he had an older sibling to take on the responsibility of being heir. As a child, straining under the pressure of the perfection his father required in all areas, exhausted from the never-ending training, he used to fantasize about it. If only there were someone else, more competent, stronger, smarter than him, who could take the burden in his stead, as he had done for Damien. But that was a child’s fantasy, something he only allowed himself to imagine when he was too exhausted and anxious to fall asleep as quickly as he needed.
Sipping slowly at his coffee, Titus cast a simple spell to style and hold his hair in place, another to cover the ever-present bags under his eyes, and made sure the enchantments embroidered into his clothing were still active. Then he headed to his study. A small stack of letters waited for him, and he read them quickly as he finished his coffee, setting them into piles based on the necessary responses. His manservant could draft replies to most, only requiring Titus’s signature at the bottom, but one letter was not so simple.
It had been sent by a man whose name he didn’t recognize, using the stationary from a local hotel…and it was an attempt at blackmail.
In simple terms, it stated that Titus’s younger brother Damien had entered that hotel with the same person involved in taking down Malcolm Gervin when the man attacked Damien and his best friend Ana in an attempt to avoid arrest for various crimes. Sebastien Siverling, recently in the newspapers and on the tip of every gossiping tongue.
Damien had asked for a single room for the both of them, and then when questioned, became visibly flustered and amended his request to two rooms. However, when the maids cleaned the rooms later, they found that only one had been used. There were signs of cosmetics use in that single room, despite their being no hint of a third—female—guest.
The sender wanted fifty gold in exchange for his silence on this somewhat scandalous matter, and threatened to take his witness statement to the newspapers if ignored.
With a deep sigh, Titus dropped the letter to the desk and rubbed his forehead. He suspected the contact had been prompted by the sender—one of the hotel employees—recognizing Sebastien Siverling in one of those same newspapers. Same sex relationships weren’t forbidden, but still remained somewhat frowned upon due to the inability to produce children. Among the nobles, those who preferred that type of thing were generally required to get married and produce an heir and a spare before setting aside their spouse. Occasionally, if one were powerful enough, they could get away with one member of a same sex couple procreating with a surrogate instead.
If Sebastien Siverling hadn’t been so recently interesting, perhaps the hotel employee wouldn’t have thought it worth it to try to blackmail the Westbay Family. But it was true. The newspapers, especially gossip rags like the Daily Sun, would be interested in this kind of story.
Fifty gold was nothing. Perhaps a bit more than the newspapers would give, but not an outrageous sum for someone bold enough to try to blackmail one of the Crown Families. Titus could pay it…but giving in to threats was a bad precedent to set. Giving in to blackmail, or even acknowledging its legitimacy, could have long term repercussions.
Instead, he would wait a few days to show how unbothered he was, then have one of his subordinates go collect the man who had sent this letter. Legally, they could detain someone at Harrow Hill for up to three days without officially arresting them for a crime.
It wasn’t the first blackmail attempt Titus had fielded, and though it certainly wouldn’t be the last, this one was relatively tame. Still, it did make him wonder. Damien hadn’t been subtle about his enthusiasm for his new friend. When given the opportunity, he had gushed about Sebastien’s prowess, insisting that the other young man was a genius, and potentially a valuable ally. Beyond that, though, Damien was obviously fond of this Siverling, complaining happily about how grumpy and rude he was, how he’d refused to even remember Damien’s name until the young man was able to prove himself, and how he completely ignored all the other students who were curious or infatuated.
Damien obviously took great pride in being one of the few that Siverling had accepted as a friend.
The letter’s mention of cosmetics use drew Titus’s memory to a detail he had thought strange at the time. When Siverling had gotten involved with the Moore Aberrant incident, he had admitted that he was coming from a high-class brothel, and he had a dress stuffed hastily into his bag. If they had measured, would they have found the garment fit Siverling?
As Titus left Westbay Manor and entered the carriage waiting for him outside the front door, he kept mulling the matter over in his mind. Had there been signs that Damien was interested in men? Titus hadn’t thought so, but he had to admit that in hindsight Damien was, perhaps, a little too attached to this Siverling person. Titus wasn’t sure where dressing up as a woman might come into it, but he had heard that Siverling had long, pale hair and was handsome enough to draw attention from the other students. Perhaps he was the beautiful type of man that could fit into a lot of different people’s preferred aesthetic, regardless of gender.
Titus leaned back in the carriage seat with a groan, rubbing his forehead again. Did he need to have a talk with his younger brother about how to properly manage his…safety? Titus desperately wished their mother were still here. She would have known how to handle this.