“I believe I can quite confidently claim that Aunt Ivy has never written anything more strenuous than a note to the butcher in her entire life.” Rue was circling the meeting table, her main sensation being near-paralytic confusion. Although, obviously not exactly paralytic as she was quite definitely circling.

Primrose sat placidly, hands crossed in her lap, eyes crinkled in amusement. “Terrible dark family secret. I hardly dare spill…” She allowed herself to trail off, heightening the suspense.

“Aunt Ivy is really Honeysuckle Isinglass?” Rue gave up confusion in favour of the thrill of discovery.

“Well, to be perfectly correct, Honeysuckle Isinglass is really my mother, the Baroness of Wimbledon. The hive thought it was beneath a vampire queen to publish a travel memoir, so she had to take a pen name. You know how vampires are – the respectability of the supernatural mystique, the gravitas of the blood, the nobility of the fang, all that rot. Pity, really – the book might have done better if people knew who penned it.”

“Oh, was it received poorly?” Rue tried not to grin.

“Very badly indeed. Why on earth did you buy it, Rue? It’s about Egypt not India, you do realise?”

“Primrose Tunstell, do not change the subject. Explain Honeysuckle Isinglass.”

Prim elucidated further. “Queen Mums wrote it a few years after her metamorphosis. It’s supposed to be based on notes she took while visiting Alexandria, you know, with the acting troupe and your parents back in 1876. When we were still in nappies.”

“Aunt Ivy takes notes?”


Prim ignored this and continued. “It is an alarming piece of literature. Percy is particularly embarrassed by its existence.”

“I suppose Aunt Ivy is ridiculously proud of it?”

“Ridiculously. Of course, no one else ever mentions it if they can possibly help it, and Queen Mums rarely manages to bring it up in casual conversation. Not that she doesn’t try.”

“But, honestly – Honeysuckle Isinglass?”

“I believe that was your mother’s invention.”

“My mother will have her little bouts of fun.”

“The two of them must have been holy terrors in their day.” Primrose puffed out her cheeks at the idea.

“If that book is any indication, they were certainly something – probably unholy.” Rue paused to consider. Aunt Ivy was so silly and mother so powerful, they must have been such an odd paring. She snorted. “Honeysuckle Isinglass indeed.”

Rue picked up the slim travel memoir in question and paged through it. “The amber sun sinks slowly into the tourmaline sea, a blooming peony of beauty surmounting the waving undulations of the silken sapphire depths. All unobserved, our heroine wanders along the wave-licked shores, a young lady with a soul overfilled with sentiment for the pulchritude of the bejewelled landscape radiating before her, her feet attired in Mademoiselle Membrainoux’s finest kid slippers. The slush slush slush of the sparkling iridescent waves marries to the breathless beating of her engorged heart––” Rue had to stop. “Crikey, Prim!”

Prim was giggling into her hand. “I know. It’s so bad.”

Why, wondered Rue, has a supposed acquaintance named Anitra given me a badly written slim travel memoir authored by a vampire? And does it have anything to do with my parasol being stolen by a lioness? And who’s Goldenrod? Rue snapped the book shut and turned it about in her hands, shaking out the pages, hoping for a hidden message, a dried flower, something. But there was nothing there, not even a suspicious stain.

“I should read it for clues but, Prim, I don’t think I could bear it.”

Prim said, “I do understand. And they are unfortunately ubiquitous. I mean, Queen Mums insisted they print simply thousands of them. They were so resoundingly disparaged by the critics, they were somewhat taken to heart by those who eschewed the intellectual set. Now all the very worst libraries have one. I can’t believe you haven’t encountered it before.”

“Neither can I. I can only speculate that my mother prevented copies from entering my sphere for fear of linguistic contamination.”

“Why did you buy it?” Prim pressed.

“I didn’t – it was given to me by an old friend.”

Prim stopped giggling and looked up. “You have other old friends?”

“Apparently. This one was so old I don’t remember her. Gave me her first name only – Anitra.”

“How terribly indelicate.”

“You’re telling me. Then she handed me that book.”

“Even more indelicate,” agreed Primrose. “Was that the reason you were late back to the ship? What happened to the lioness?”

“Well, that resulted in a different mysterious female. Name of Miss Sekhmet. I followed the cat into a shack, and then a beautiful woman swathed in silk came out, knew who I was, gave me back my parasol, and warned me to stay out of India. Then, when I was walking back to the ship, this Anitra person accosted me in public, also swathed in fabric, said that Goldenrod sent her with that book. And that was it.”

“Pull the other one.”

“If I were going to fib, wouldn’t I come up with a better story?”

Prim considered this and made a show of straightening the bodice of her travelling suit, carefully checking all the buttons. “I suppose so. But what does it mean?”

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