This morning, I thought I would share with you all an exceprt from the newly reprinted PROSPERO LOST, first book in the Prospero's Children (formerly Prospero's Daughter) series. This book is great fun, and I am so glad Wordfire is giving the series new life!
In this scene, from Chapter Three, the marvelous Mephistopheles Prospero comes onstage in all his goofy glory.
I had just finished my soup and was beginning on my salad when the door into the men’s bedroom finally opened. A wet and bedraggled Mab came slouching into the parlor of our suite. Mab had been saddled with the unpleasant job of stripping Mephisto down and piling him into the shower, while I went out to purchase a new wardrobe for my brother. On the way back, I had stopped at a theater costume shop, where I had found a royal blue surcoat emblazoned with the fleur-de-lis left over from a performance of The Lion in Winter. It was my hope Mephisto would accept it as a replacement for the ghastly poncho. As best as I understood, he had started wearing ponchos to begin with as a replacement for his royal tabard.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“Admiring his new duds in the mirror,” Mab growled. “He’ll be out here soon enough, once he smells the food.”
As Mab pulled the silver dome off his lunch, the door opened again to admit my brother.
Mephisto looked like a different man. He was clean. His newly-cut hair formed a halo of wavy dark curls around his head. He wore a loose, black Russian shirt and black trousers with high black leather boots. Over the black clothes, he had thrown the royal blue surcoat emblazoned with the fleur-de-lis in silver. When he came forward and embraced me, he smelled pleasantly of Old Spice after-shave. I had not seen him look so neatly turned out in many, many years.
Mephisto leapt back. He spread his arms and threw back his head, assuming the pose he had immortalized in his statue of himself.
“Don’t you recognize me?” he cried happily.
“Of course, I recognize you, Mephisto.” I looked him over once and then gestured toward the food cart. “Ah…why don’t you pull up a chair and eat your lunch. You look famished.”
He really did, too. He was thin, almost emaciated. I wondered if he had eaten in days.
Mephisto pulled up a straight-backed chair to the serving cart of food room service had provided and began devouring the fare. He inhaled whole slices of pizza and devoured sandwich halves in a single bite. His eyes, however, remained fixed fondly, though warily, on my face.
“So?” he asked happily, his mouth full.
“I believe something may have happened to Father,” I began. “He sent me a note that suggests he ran afoul of powers he could not control. His message asked that I warn the family if I did not hear from him. When I found the message, I sent Aerie Ones to his house on the island, but he hadn’t been back since he left to come to America in September. So, I’m warning the family. Beware the Three Shadowed Ones.”
“They’re after our staffs!” Mephisto exclaimed.
“How did you know?”
“They took mine, didn’t they?”
“I thought yours was stolen by some strumpet you took home for the night.”
“That’s because you didn’t stick around to hear the whole story,” Mephisto shot back accusingly.
“You were drunk.”
“You were rude.”
This was getting us nowhere.
“Someone broke into the house and…did some damage.” I said, returning to the earlier topic. It was too soon after the lute fiasco to tell Mephistopheles about the shattered statues. “I believe it was one of these Three Shadowed Ones, and he was after our staffs.”
“I told you!” Mephisto turned to Mab. “Didn’t I tell her?”
“That’s not all, Mephisto,” I continued. “The creature that broke into the mansion…it was an incubus.”
“What!” exclaimed Mephisto
“A Power of Hell!”
“Oh, them.” He reached for a biscuit.
A shiver ran down my spine. Was Mephisto so far gone he no longer feared the servants of Hell? If so, he was not just out of it, he was dangerous to be near! Either way, it was time to do what I came to do and go.
“Look, I’ve given you Father’s warning. Now, you know. Father said to “keep close the gifts he had given.” In your case, the warning came too late. All the same. I thought you should know.”
“Who else have you warned?”
“No one yet. You’re the first.”
Mephisto wiped his mouth with one of the napkins provided. “What a good move! Now you’ll have me to help you find the others.”
“Great comfort that is,” muttered Mab, from where he sat hunched over his lunch. Apparently, he was still disgruntled from the drenching he had taken bathing my brother. Mephisto regarded Mab, and then turned back to me, cocking his head.
“Where’d you chase up this one? He looks like something out of the movies. Is he your bodyguard?”
I laughed, and Mab snorted.
“A body would have to be crazy to guard the likes of her. Always rushing in where angels fear to tread.”
I stood to perform the proper introductions. “Mephisto, this is Mab Boreal, one of the Incarnated Northerlies. He heads our company detectives. Mab, this is my brother Mephisto.”
“Detective?” Mephisto’s eyes shone brightly. “As in ‘finds lost things?’”
“And he’s traveling with you?…And you’re going where now? To warn the others? The others who have staffs these Three Shadowy Ones might be hunting down as we speak?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Mephisto glanced back and forth between Mab and myself. Then, he gave us his brightest smile. “When do we leave?”
“No. Absolutely not.” Mab rose to his feet and stalked over to stand in front of me. “There is no way, Ma’am, that I am going to help this kook find his magical glorified kindling.”
“’Kook?’ Who you calling a kook? Mr. Sam Spade wannabe?” Mephisto turned to me. “Tell him how great it will be Miranda. Just like old times! We’ll travel together, and I’ll help you. And, if we just happen upon my staff? Well, that’s fine, too.”
His mention of old times evoked memories of countless treks, some pleasant, some disastrous. I recalled one time Father, Mephisto, and I had gone to Switzerland to meet with a Yeti and discuss avalanches. Taking Mephisto, the Beast Tamer, instead of one of the enforcers – Theo, Titus, or Gregor – had turned out to be a mistake. Mephisto did gain a new shaggy friend he could summon up with a tap of his staff; however, nothing was ever done to improve the avalanche situation.
“No, Mephisto,” I said firmly as I pictured Mephisto’s well-meaning antics resulting in my being buried under ten feet of snow, again.
“At last, she shows some sense,” muttered Mab.
“But, you’ll need help. What if the Three Shadowed Ones attack?” Mephisto said.
Mab snorted. “What help would you be?”
“I could hit them with my lute,” Mephisto offered helpfully, evidently forgetting the instrument he had broken. Or perhaps, he was envisioning a fate for the one I had promised to buy him.
“No. I’ll leave you a little money. You won’t be destitute.” I made a mental note to dispatch an Aerie One to keep an eye on him.
“But I could help. I know I could,” he continued plaintively. “I knew how to use a sword…once.”
“Please! Don’t leave me behind, Miranda. I’m afraid to be on my own without my staff. Please?”
I hated to hear him beg. He sounded so pathetic. Yet, I was certain if I brought him along, it would lead to another calamity such as our encounter with Yeti, or the time Theo and I were nearly drowned by his mermaid friends. We were facing the Powers of Hell, and even a slight mistake could lead to a fate far worse than frostbite.
“Come on, Mab,” I said, “We need to keep going. Lives could be at stake.”
* * *
Mab and I gathered our hats and coats. Mephisto retreated into the corner, where he sat with his arms crossed, sulking. I offered him some money, but he just threw it on the floor. I shrugged and returned to Mab.
“Do you have any more leads?” I asked, “Or must we return to Oregon?”
A crafty look came into Mephisto’s eyes. He leapt up and stepped in front of us to stand in the doorway.
“And, of course, you know where you’re going. So, you don’t need me to lead you around. But, perhaps, I’ll see you at Theo’s? Or maybe at Cornelius’s? Got to be going, now. Bye.”
He waved good-bye and started out the door. Mab and I exchanged glances.
“Yes?” Part way down the hall, Mephisto froze as if in mid-step. He turned and leaned back toward us, cupping a hand about his ear. “You called?”
“You know where Theo is?”
“And Cornelius! And Logistilla!”
“I don’t suppose you’ll tell us?” I asked sadly.
“What do you take me for? A fool?” he asked, throwing up his hands. “But of course, I would be willing to lead you there, if…”
“If you make your detective help me find my staff,” he said.
I looked at Mab. He was scowling.
“Could be a matter of life or death for some of my brothers, Mab. What if we hadn’t heard of the Three Shadowed Ones when the darkness started forming in the Great Hall?”
Mab stared at me hard for quite some time. Finally, he nodded glumly.
“Okay, Mephisto,” I said, “You have yourself a deal.”
“Yippee,” yelled Mephisto, punching the air as he leapt.
The phone rang in the room behind us.
“Could you get that Mab? It could be from our Chicago branch,” I said.
“While you’re at it,” called Mephisto. “Could you pick up the money Miranda left on the floor? I have a feeling I might want it after all.”
“Pick up your own damned money,” grumbled Mab, answering the phone. He spoke into it for a moment. Then, he picked up the money and came out, shutting the door behind him.
“It was for you, Ma’am. Front desk says there’s someone waiting downstairs to see you.” He handed me the money. I handed it to Mephisto, who wadded it up and stuck it into his pocket. Mab continued, “She hung up before I could ask any questions. I don’t like it.”
“Who could possibly know I was here, except someone from our Chicago office?” I asked. “Come on, let’s go downstairs.”
“What was it I said about ‘angels fear to tread?’” growled Mab. “Never listens to me. Okay, Ma’am, risk your neck. But I’m sticking with you. Just in case.”
“Me too!” exclaimed Mephisto.
“Great, just great,” I murmured. “You two have to promise me that if it’s a mundane business associate, you’ll both vamoose.”
“Let’s take the elevator to the second floor, then walk down the fire stairs to the lobby,” Mab said. “Just to be safe. That way we can approach from an unexpected angle and catch any assailants unaware.”
I sighed but obliged him. We took the elevator to the second floor and then found the nearest door marked “exit.” The fire stairs opened into a plush lobby covered by a maroon carpet. In the center stood a fountain surrounded by tall fronds.
Ahead, a man leaned casually against the counter. The clerk behind the counter, a pretty little brunette, blushed under his attentions. Then I saw his face.
Without hesitating, I turned and fled.