1217 words long
When a maenad invites you to share a drink, think carefully before saying no.
Notes from the author:
When I get stuck midway through a novel-length story, one of my strategies for getting unstuck is to choose some throw-away detail from an early chapter and make it relevant to later plot. Turns out the same strategy is available for getting unstuck during fictionette production.
Long-time followers of the Friday Fictionette project might recognize Belinda’s client from his last appearance in “The Artist’s Apprentice” (January 15, 2016). Pulling him in for sequel duty saved my butt. I was struggling to come up with a reason why the lawyer and the bartender from the writing prompt were competing and for what stakes. All I knew was that it was a clandestine game played by two supernaturally long-lived people under everyone else’s noses. Once I decided that Belinda was representing Faraj Al-Hamin against a disappointed and vengeful Frank Gosling, it all fell into place.
Belinda became aware of Lysandra the moment she crossed the threshold and entered the familiar gloom of the Drowning Carp. There she was, behind the bar, smiling a smug little smile. Not that Belinda could see Lysandra’s face from here. There were too many bodies in the way. But goddesses don’t need eyes to recognize each other.
I’ve missed you, said Lysandra; she spoke in a way Belinda didn’t need ears to hear. It’s been one hundred and eighty-seven years. You never write, you never call, you never visit me at all. Come have a drink with me.
Lysandra was a maenad, more or less, though she had no more connection to Dionysus and his crew than a random United States citizen has to the Secretary of the Interior. Her sphere of influence was alcohol and intoxication, divine hallucinations and wild parties. Belinda, a muse of the more serious arts, tended to avoid her as a bore and a bad influence.
Can’t just now, she responded curtly. I’m with a client. We’ll talk later.
Lysandra pouted, but Belinda tuned out any verbal response the maenad might have made. Her client, a young artist embroiled in an lawsuit, had found them a table by the Carp’s cavernous fireplace. She strode briskly over to join him. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Got a little turned around in the crowd.”
“I only just sat down myself.” He was still shrugging out of his snow-spattered coat. “Ms. Bronson, thank you for taking my case, but I fear it’s a losing battle.”
“Gosling’s got nothing on you, Mr. Al-Hamin. The truth is an absolute defense against defamation. If getting busted for plagiarizing you damaged his reputation, that’s nobody’s fault but his own.”
Faraj raised his hands in a gesture of exasperated despair. “As I said before, it’s not the accusation of plagiarism he is citing. It is the violation of our agreement which causes him the humiliation.”
“What agreement? Can you show me it in writing?” Belinda thumped the table once with her fist. Then she flattened her hand over the crack she’d made in the polished oak surface. Under her palm, the damage healed itself. “Oral contract’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. And given what you told me, it was a promise made under duress. It’ll never stand up in court. We’re going to wring him dry, Mr. Al-Hamin. Trust me.”
A polite cough, and Belinda turned. One of the Carp’s waitstaff had arrived to take their order. Henry, his name was. Belinda knew him intimately, though he didn’t know her. He was an aspiring historian who, having failed to secure a grant these past few years, was supporting himself working evenings at the bar. Over the past few months, Belinda had been nudging him toward greater heights, but he’d resisted her efforts thus far by means of his own fear and self-doubt. One day soon either he would break through that barrier to produce an astonishing thesis, or she would wind up breaking him. Obviously she hoped for the former outcome, but the latter was not unheard of; humans were fragile.
Henry held a tray with two drinks on it. “On the house, friends,” he said, “courtesy of our new hire over there. She says you two go way back.” Belinda looked up. Lysandra, waiting to catch her eye, waved. Henry placed the drinks on the table. The one he slid in front of Belinda was a favorite from more than three hundred years ago; Lysandra remembered her tastes. The spirits involved were long extinct, but with a goddess all things were possible.
Belinda did not recognize the ingredients of the drink in front of Faraj, but she recognized its purpose instantly. She slid a hand over its rim. Faraj gave her a questioning look, but she addressed herself first to Lysandra. A whole bar’s clientele to choose from, and you try to poach my protégé?
Lysandra made no pretense of apology. You always have such good taste in humans.
And you wonder why I don’t keep in touch. She stood, snatching up Faraj’s drink, and hurled the glass into the fireplace to smash among the fake logs. Get over here.
The maenad made her unhurried way over through the sudden hush of shocked drinkers. Belinda said to her, aloud, so that Faraj could hear, “If you have a proposal for my client, you will negotiate with me.”
“Proposal?” Faraj looked even more confused.
“The drink.” Belinda held a hand toward the approaching Lysandra and said, “My colleague was offering to be your newest patron. Drinking the cocktail would have signaled your acceptance. As your counsel, I could not allow you to accept the contract as it stood; its terms were extremely one-sided.”
This had to come across as utter nonsense to Faraj, but Belinda didn’t care. She was speaking more for Lysandra’s benefit. The maenad laughed and spread her hands. “Guilty as charged! But,” and here she addressed Faraj directly, “I do think I have more to offer an up-and-coming artist such as yourself. Bel here fancies herself a muse, but her sphere is such a dry one. Legalese, scholarly works—pah. You deserve the attentions of someone who really understands your art.” She made a gesture, weaving her fingers through several dimensions at once, and conjured up the twin to the cocktail Belinda had disposed of. She offered it to Faraj. “Go on.”
Faraj looked from one goddess to the other and back again, bewildered. Belinda sighed. “Ah, hell with it.” She made an interdimensional gesture of her own, and the scales fell away from her client’s eyes. He saw them, maenad and muse, as they truly were. Belinda braced herself for his reaction.
It was surprisingly quiet. “I see.” To Lysandra, he said, “Thank you for making the offer; I am honored beyond words. So you must understand how much it pains me to have to refuse.”
The maenad’s eyes widened, and Belinda could feel the anger wafting off of her like heat off a stove. “You know full well what I am and what I am capable of,” she warned him quietly.
“Alas, yes. But I know also what you are not capable of. I need legal representation, you see, and you are not a lawyer.”
Lysandra’s eyes were now glowing red-green with rage. “That lawsuit is now the least of your worries, mortal.”
“Ah-ah-ah.” Belinda held up a warning finger. “Bad Lysandra. No tearing my client limb from limb. He’s under my protection, legal and otherwise. Should anything untoward befall him, now or ever, you will answer to me.”
The look on Lysandra’s face as they left the bar was priceless.
The maenad would have been no good for him, of course. She’d inspire him to soaring works of art not to be matched in ten generations, yes, but she’d also see to it that he overdosed on something gruesome before age thirty. Lysandra was no fan of sobriety. The artist would enjoy a longer and more successful career under his own steam.
Besides, after his experience with Gosling, Belinda knew that Faraj Al-Hamin wasn’t going to let anyone else, human or goddess, take even the slightest credit for his work.
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