A Cormac and Maela prequel short
A Cormac and Maela prequel short
Intrigue and deception lies behind every closed door in Arras.
In this original, mature short, discover the secret that turned Maela from ambitious girl to vindictive Spinster.
The room was spare, as was his typical style. Some might consider it too cold with the black marble tiles veined with silver and the austere gray walls, but his bed was warm. It always was and he never minded if Maela lingered there. She wondered if the room changed when other officials visited, but as Ambassador she thought it wasn’t unlikely that the room was his and his alone even when he wasn’t around.
Cormac rarely smoked but tonight he puffed on a cigarette that she’d offered him. His hand skimmed her hair as they lay in the silence that accompanies such acts. Maela didn’t dare to think it meant he loved her.
Even though she hoped it did.
“Are you staying?” she murmured. Her voice was low and husky mirroring the atmosphere of his chambers.
“I have an inspection and some business in the...sector,” he replied. His answer was guarded. She liked to think he was protecting her and not that he didn’t care for her to know the details.
Maela propped herself up on her elbow and watched him. She tried to keep it from looking too loving, but she knew she was failing. “Listen. I’ve heard they’re looking for a new Crewel assistant.”
“I assume you have someone in mind?”
She couldn’t help but smile down at him. He knew her too well.
“I could do it,” she said. “I want to do it. If I have to spend one more minute—”
“I don’t decide these things,” he stopped her.
“You have influence,” Maela said.
“And you’re going to persuade me,” he guessed.
“I can be very persuasive.” Her words were a promise, and she fulfilled them with her lips, pushing his hand back to free his mouth from the cigarette. The kiss held the kind of intensity reserved for passionate embraces or for the aforementioned persuasion she claimed to offer. Cormac let her kiss him, knowing full well this was one topic on which he couldn’t be convinced.
Still as she pulled back and her dark hair cascaded over her shoulders, loose and free for once, he considered it. It wouldn’t be the first time a Spinster had risen in the ranks, and Maela was a force to be reckoned with. Of course, there was the tiny matter of her talent.
She had all the makings of a Spinster, a natural gift for seeing the weave, but Cormac understood that her true skills lay in much less scrupulous talents. Like persuasion. It was that which had first attracted him to her as more than just another pretty face. The affair had begun not long afterwards.
But Cormac knew as her fingers traced the line of his jaw that things had gone on too long. Expectations now accompanied their rendezvouses.
“You’re right,” he began, looking for the right words to accompany a sentiment he was sure she didn’t want to hear, “I can use my influence, but Maela, do you really think you’re made for the high tower? It’s lonely work.”
“It’s powerful work,” she corrected him. “You know I could do it.”
Cormac pushed himself up, dropping the remains of the cigarette into a small crystal bowl on his nightstand. He braced himself against the cool leather of his headboard. “You can’t handle the responsibility.”
Even in the dimly lit room, he saw her eyes flash. The lavender grew dark as her pupils contracted with the fury of his slight.
“You don’t want to,” he tried to add, but he sensed it wouldn’t appease her.
“So I should just weave a thunderstorm and be happy about it?” she snapped. “I was cut out for more than that, Cormac. We both know that.”
“There’s no denying your ambition. I’ll grant you that.”
“I can be influenced,” she said. “Much more than Loricel. You won’t have to fight with me on every single loose thread in Arras.”
It was a promising line of argument, but one they both knew she would lose.
“Is it because she won’t work with me?” Maela asked in a flat voice.
“Loricel will work with who I tell her to work with,” Cormac said.
“Then tell her to work with me.” Her voice softened on the suggestion, and she widened her eyes.
“Don’t play the innocent with me, Maela. I know you better than that.”
“Then you know I’m the right person to work with the Guild. I’m more malleable to your needs.”
Maela was, indeed, flexible with her own morality. After all, she was in bed with him, but it was this precise disregard for the carefully structured rules of the Coventry that gave him pause. Maela could be a powerful ally, but it didn’t take much to convert a friend to an enemy. And when he ended their affair, something he was already calculating, she’d become just that. Her temper didn’t add to her list of better qualities. She was already far too worked up.
“They’re looking for someone to train the new Eligibles,” he said, trying to divert her attention.
“I’m not interested in babysitting. I want a real job.”
To do what, Cormac wondered. Maela’s passionate side got in the way of her seeing that ambition was a danger to the mantle - and to the men that ran it.
“There’s another option,” Maela said. She hesitated, biting the flesh of her lower lip. Pushing herself up, she wrapped a sheet around her and stared him down, waiting for him to press her for it. She wasn’t sure she had the guts to offer it on her own.
“Yes?” he finally asked.
“You need a wife,” she suggested.
Cormac suddenly wished he had a drink.
“You won’t rise above Ambassador without one,” she pointed out.
“I’m a widower,” he reminded her.
“When? Twenty years ago? Any sympathy you enjoyed for that is long past.” Maela’s pulse was roaring in her ears. A warning to slow down or back up, but she pushed on, sensing she was losing the chance to convince him.
“So you want to marry me?” he asked. Even the question was enough to force him to his feet to search for the decanter of bourbon stocked in his chambers. He found it before she worked up the courage to continue her argument and he poured something into a cut glass tumbler.
Cormac didn’t like drinking at this moment. It showed more than he wanted Maela to see. Particularly that she was making him nervous, a fact he was sure she would twist in her own mind.
“We have fun together,” she said at last.
“Fun?” he echoed, amusement coloring his voice. “That’s one way of putting it.”
Maela wanted to fall back on the bed and draw the sheet over his face, but she stayed put and met his eyes.
“We’re not so different.” Her voice was soft, and he knew then that things had indeed gone too far. This wasn’t ambition speaking now, it was love.
It wasn’t the first time that he stepped over the line with a Spinster, and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last. But very few Spinsters were as formidable as Maela. It didn’t sit well with him.
It also didn’t change anything.
“I’m not looking for a wife,” Cormac told her.
Maela sucked in a long breath and let it whistle past her lips. She needed to stay in control of the situation.
“I have a long rebound in the morning,” Cormac said. It was permission for her to abandon the topic - or maybe just a command.
“When will you be back?” she asked.
Arras, she wasn’t going to let this go.
“Soon,” he told her. It was noncommittal.
“I’ll be here.” It was stupid thing to say. Of course, she would be here. Where else would she go? But Cormac’s dismissal of her - and of this topic- was evident in his face.
He moved to the wardrobe and pulled out a few items that he would need to travel tomorrow. Mentally he made a note to call Hannox for more supplies. He wouldn’t be coming back to the Western Coventry anytime soon, something he hadn’t accounted for in his preparations. But he felt sure he would need to stay in Cypress longer than he’d expected.
Maela took the opportunity to slip back into her gown. She left her hair down. She dared anyone in the halls to make a comment at her appearance this late at night. In fact, she hoped they would. The ball of fury building her in chest and throat needed to be loosened, and Cormac wasn’t the person to unleash it on.
He kept to his preparations as she slipped towards the door, but Maela wasn’t letting him off so easily. She sauntered to the wardrobe and leaned against it. Her silhouette framed by the shadows the moon cast through the windows of his quarters was long and sinuous.
“Have a good trip,” she said. Her hands reached out and brushed his chest, urging him to pay attention to her. When he didn’t she reached out once more but this time she lightly scraped his flesh with her lacquered red nails.
He turned to her and let his hands find her waist. Pulling her to him, he caught a lock of her smooth hair and ran it between his thumb and index finger. He’d miss watching it fall over her face. He kissed her roughly and his breath, heavy with alcohol, was like fire on her mouth.
She didn’t stay to watch him pack. She knew the kiss meant goodbye.
He had never bothered kissing her that way before.