Copyright 2013 Camille Leone This story is a work of fiction.

All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means without the prior written consent of the author.


It was a flesh peddler. Iswald the younger was visibly relieved, not only that the heavily cloaked stranger was a potential customer, but at what he’d pulled from his satchel. At least it wasn’t some muddy, slimy creeper like his last visitor had brought in. The multi legged creature leapt upon his shelves and tried to hide within an open knot, squealing and coiling while chasing its own rear end. The thing wasn’t worth the coin or the aggravation since it wasn’t trained. But this, now this beauty was something. Luxurious dark hair, smooth complexion, and best of all, royalty. Iswald was almost giddy at his good fortune. And to think he’d been afraid to let the customer in. The night was chilly enough that a citizen could feel the crunch of soil beneath his feet. But it was also so black that a night’s stroll could be his last. Since Iswald was the only merchant foolish enough to stay open during the Nocturnal, the annual celebration when the outer land peasants came in droves to attend the theater, he still needed to know who or what he was dealing with. “Who decapitated her?” he asked. The peddler’s voice was gruff and a bit muffled. “I did.” Not really the answer he wanted to hear. But Iswald managed a smile to cover his unease. “Nicely done. Your blade was true, the cut goes with the grain, and there’s no tearing so I can certainly reuse the flesh.” The stitching was decent, as was the weft of processed skin. An excellent curer proficient in both stretching and molding was a rarity, so he grudgingly admitted whoever smoked the flesh possessed some skill. This was no sloppy heat and glue job just waiting to crack in an icy wind. The commission alone must have cost an armada’s wages. A craftsman who could deftly create an Alike of the Queen, with all the perpetrators keeping it secret, and the deception alone was more than worth the coin. Iswald threw out a figure, hoping for a quick payment with no bartering. “I’ll give you three coins.” His offer was met with silence. The stranger’s gaze stayed fixed on him, and not the numerous clay jars his shop of oddities was crammed with. What he’d give to be facing a slack jawed peasant easily

duped by his oils and potions. Aided by shadows being cast off flickering candles and a low slung hood, the seller’s face was hidden. But a bulky cape couldn’t hide the slightness of the shoulders and lack of height. “Four coins large, not a pence more,” Iswald said, deliberately adding deepness and annoyance to his voice. Four coins was quite a bit of money, especially if the peddler was salvaging for a living. Still, if the stranger stepped a few inches to the left Iswald could pull the lever on his very handy trap door, sending this customer, just like the one previously with the undomesticated creeper into the murky canal below. And then there’d be no need to spend a single cent. Yes, that door had enriched him many times over. A bag of coin landed on his belly, bounced once and settled between his heavy thighs in reply. The peddler’s hood was quickly drawn back, and Iswald gasped. “How about I give you thirty coins and you tell me who produced my face?” Leaning close enough to watch the sweat trickle down Iswald’s forehead, the Queen’s dagger rested beneath his chin and the thick folds of his neck. Iswald’s eyes shook round as wooden dice clasp in a fist. So the trap door was out of the question. “And I wouldn’t press that if I were you,” the Queen warned. Iswald’s hand immediately froze. How could she also know about the hidden slide sword? In answer, the Queen dug the tip of her knife deeper, causing him to yelp in pain. Her smile widened at his squeal. “I suggest you quell the need to dispose of me with your little surprises, especially if you want to live,” she said. “You’ve already cost me two good men with your tricks and I’ll have no more of it. Now be a good little dung and nod if we have a deal.” For his cooperation he received a bop on the head as she withdrew the knife. “My-my lady,” he wheezed. “My-my queen.” In his frightened stated he’d almost blurted out the name often used, My Mad Queen. “I am your devoted servant. To what do I owe the honor of your appearance in my little shop?” “Same as your father Iswald the elder. So full of shit it slims out of your mouth. How do you sleep at night with all your muckraking?” “I-I sleep very well your majesty.” She gave him a brittle smile. “Good, you’re just the kind of merchant I need.”

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Pictured: from left to right: Kadek No’am, Janhoy 1st Class. Upper right: The Child King, Tydaris Ridae, Cura Regis Divine. Lower right: Leonidas Sinclair, Man of Many Centuries

Credits for Steampunk model with braids: wardrobe and styling: Kit Stolen.

Steampunk model with leather mouth piece: Famke Backx, photographer
Goggled hat Steampunk model: inhauscreative photography

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