This year, all the WEP challenges will be about music. All but one incorporate popular songs of the 20th century. Only one challenge is dedicated to classical music. Unfortunately, while I enjoy classical music, I never liked popular music. I’ve never heard any of the songs or singers involved in this year’s challenges. Even when I tried to listen to them now, they don’t evoke any emotions in me. So instead of following the tunes and verses that leave me cold (except Moonlight Sonata), I’ll write my flash stories based on the words of the titles, which inspire me.
As usual, I’m going with a series of interconnected stories about one protagonist. She is Altenay, a Finder, living in a fantasy city in an imaginary, vaguely medieval land: horses, swords, magic, the usual. Here is my entry into the WEP Feb 2022 challenge All You Need Is Love.
“I wanted a baby,” Lady Malsy whispered. “I wanted someone to love. All I wanted was love.”
Altenay nodded. “Of course, Milady.” She had made it a policy never to contradict her clients, lest they became non-clients. But what had the woman’s maternal yearning had to do with Altenay, the Finder?
“My husband wasn’t a kind man,” the lady continued.
Altenay had heard that about the late General Malsy. Nobody mourned him. Obviously not his new widow.
“It wasn’t his baby. He’d never have forgiven me if he knew. He would’ve killed me and the baby. Luckily, he was away on campaign. He never learned.”
“Of course,” Altenay repeated. “What do you want me to Find for you, Milady?”
“I want you to find my baby.”
Altenay stared. “Uhm,” she said faintly.
“I had to give it up, so my husband wouldn’t find out. The midwife took it away. It was seven years ago. But as soon as the general died, I came to you. I want to find my baby. I want to adopt it officially.”
“Seven years,” Altenay squeaked. She glanced up from her visitor to the man who had come with her. He stayed at the door. His face was impassive, but his eyes blazed with anger. Lady Malsy had introduced him as her cousin, and he obviously didn’t want any baby found. Probably a large inheritance was at stake. Altenay returned her attention to the lady, who was still talking.
“I never saw it. Don’t even know if it was a girl or a boy. But I love it already.” Tears glistened in the woman’s eyes. “Find it for me, Finder. They said you never fail.”
Altenay swallowed. “Do you have anything that belonged to your baby?” Even as she asked the question, she knew the answer. Of course, not. The lady had never even seen the baby.
“No,” Lady Malsy said.
Altenay spared another glance at the cousin. His fury seemed to subside, replaced by quick mental calculations.
“What about the midwife?” Altenay asked. “Do you have anything that belonged to her? Do you know her name?”
The man at the door perked up. Would he do something nasty to the midwife? Or just pay her off to stay quiet?
“I don’t remember her name,” Lady Malsy said. “But I have this. It was hers. I kept it.” She put a cheap silver bracelet on Altenay’s desk. “She removed it before the birth and forgot it when she took the baby away. Would it help?”
Altenay picked up the bracelet and let her Finder magic flow. The pull was strong and unmistakable, arrowing north. Probably not far out of the city. Surreptitiously, she checked the cousin at the door again. He looked like a hunting dog on a scent. Ready to pounce. She needed to do her search out of his watchful eyes.
“I don’t know, Milady,” Altenay said. “My magic is small and erratic.” That was a shamefaced lie. Her magic wasn’t erratic. It was small, yes, but simple and straightforward. It tugged, and Altenay followed. So far, she had always found her quarry at the end of her magical line, but she always cautioned her clients, so they wouldn’t expect too much. Besides, the cousin might be a problem.
“I’ll try,” she said. “But I’ll have to finish a couple other jobs first. I can start on your search in a few days.” That was another prevarication. She didn’t have any other jobs at the moment, but hopefully the notion would keep the greedy cousin off her back for a time. She really wanted to find the kid.
Altenay watched through her window, as the lady’s carriage vanished around the corner. The cousin would need some time to organize anything. Meanwhile, she would move. As soon as the rattle of the carriage wheels on the cobblestones died away, she clamped a yellow tubeteika, fringed with tiny coins, on her head and slipped out of the house. She hurried to the northern gates of the city. To her relief, nobody followed her.
At the gates, she checked the midwife’s bracelet again. Her magic still pointed north. She hired a donkey cart at the livery just beyond the gate and followed the call of magic. It zoomed straight to the door of a modest cottage in a small town a couple hours from the city. Easy.
Convincing the midwife to disclose the fate of the child was trickier.
“General Malsy died?” the midwife asked in surprise. “When? She was afraid of him.”
“The funeral was yesterday,” Altenay sad. “That’s why Lady Malsy came to me. Because her husband died.”
The midwife pursed her lips but eventually relented. “His name is Ratmir,” she said. “A good, healthy lad. I gave him to the local draper’s family. They couldn’t have children.”
She even took Altenay to the draper. “This is a Finder,” she said. “Lady Malsy hired her.”
“No!” the draper’s wife exclaimed. “No. Ratmir is my son. We won’t give him up!”
Her husband, a thin stopped man, nodded his agreement.
Altenay looked through the window at the dusty yard outside. A boy with the dark curly hair played with a dog there.
“He might have more chances in life with a rich mother,” she said. “And she might pay you too. She doesn’t have to cut you off either. The boy loves you.”
The draper and his wife exchanged speaking glances. Everyone in the room knew that none of them could really make any decisions. It was Lady Malsy’s money. And the boy was her son.
“I’ll let the lady know where you live,” Altenay said at last.
It was already dark when she returned home. The next morning, she trudged up the hill to see Lady Malsy. To her relief, the cousin wasn’t in the room.
“You need something else?” the lady asked anxiously. The house was swathed in the mourning colors, but its mistress didn’t seem grieving.
“No, Milady.” Altenay told her about her yesterday’s trip.
“Ratmir,” the lady breathed. Her eyes shined. “You said a few days. Oh, thank you!” She thrust a heavy purse into Altenay’s hands. “Thank you, Finder. Thank you.”
“Milady,” Altenay said. “It is not my business, but you’re rich. You probably have other heirs for your money. They might resent Ratmir’s sudden appearance. Maybe … you should do something … to keep him safe.”
Lady Malsy’s expression turned frosty. Then it switched to thoughtful. “Yes,” she said after a lengthy pause. “Yes, perhaps I should.”
Altenay curtsied and fled. Later on, she heard in the market that Lady Malsy dotted on her long-lost son. She also heard that the lady’s cousin suffered a fatal accident. People always gossiped about the rich.
Tagline: The mother’s love can’t be denied.