After a late-night visit to Battington’s marketplace, Princess Mena vanishes without a trace. Merchants are frantic because King Leander has called for a curfew and postponed the Spring Festival until further notice. Certain his former constable is the man for the job; the mayor hires Xander to investigate, hoping he can solve the mystery in a hurry so things can go back to normal.
But Xander’s not so sure that’s possible, because there’s romance involved, and he knows when that happens folks who are normally very sensible seem to lose all reason. In addition to sorting out truths, half-truths, and outright lies, he must deal with gypsies, love potions, and an illegal moonshine operation before he can get to the bottom of things.
Revised version on Amazon coming soon!! In the frenzy of last-minute purchases, before Battington Marketplace closed for the night, no one seemed to notice someone creeping silently along the edges of darkness, dodging pools of light shining down from the streetlamps. As the last of the shoppers gathered their parcels and left, merchants were free to close up shop.
Only then did the cloaked and hooded figure emerge from the shadows and head straight for Mercury’s apothecary shop in the center of the market. The figure stopped, darting a glance in both directions before rapping on the weathered door.
Mercury spoke, his voice thin and reedy. “I’m closed for the night. Come back in the morning.”
After a brief pause, the knocking resumed. Louder and more persistent.
Amid the rattle of the lock, squeaking hinges, and mumbling protests, the wisp of a man opened the door far enough to peer outside. He pushed spectacles up on his nose and squinted, his eyes widening with recognition when he glimpsed the velvet cloak bordered in gold and fastened with a broach bearing the royal emblem.
“Oh. It’s you.” He poked his head out the door and swallowed, glancing nervously around the marketplace.
“Well? Are you going to stand there gaping or move out of my way?” With a snap of her cape, she brushed past and stepped inside.
Dark shadows made the workshop gloomy despite the flames dancing on top of dozens of beeswax candles clustered in the middle of the worktable.
“If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll light a lamp…”
“Don’t bother. Is it ready?”
Mercury wrung his hands. “My humble apologies for the delay, my lady. I didn’t get the ingredients needed until late this afternoon.” He wrung his hands. “Truth be told, after your father found out about your visit, I was unsure whether I’d ever see you again.”
“Enough of your prattle.” Her voice crackled with impatience. “Give me the potion. And be quick about it!”
Mercury pressed his lips together in a thin line as if to keep further explanations from escaping and pointed at the glass beaker filled with pale amber liquid, sitting on his worktable. “I finished mixing it only moments ago.”
The princess thrust a hand full of gold coins at the apothecary, but Mercury hesitated.
“Are you certain you want to go through with this?”
She forced words through gritted teeth. “Of course, I am. Why do you ask?”
“This spell is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill love potion. Perhaps you ought to reconsider.”
“We’ve been through this once already. Nothing you say will make me change my mind. Now, hand it over.”
Mercury picked up a sheet of parchment sitting next to a beaker of amber liquid and cleared his throat. “You must follow the directions exactly as written. Make sure you understand them.”
The princess inhaled sharply, snatched the paper from his hand, and held it close to the candles, muttering under her breath while she read. “Midnight… candle… strand of hair… recite the verse and drink only a drop. Got it.”
“Make sure you follow the directions to the letter.”
“What happens if I don’t?”
Mercury shrugged. “Love potions can be tricky. No telling what might happen if you don’t.”
Without another word, she grabbed the beaker, bolted out the door, and vanished into the shadows.
If you haven’t read Xander’s Tangled Web, you’re missing a delightful visit to the little town of Battington, where everything isn’t quite as picturesque as it seems. Just ask Xander.