The tapestry is beautiful—nineteenth century, clearly inspired by Morris & Co. but not quite matching their style—even though it hasn’t been preserved as well as it should have been. It’s badly sun-faded, but the muted colors are soft and welcoming, an intriguing contrast to the emotion of the image.
It’s also dangerous. Sarah hasn’t been able to figure out who or why, but someone seems to have…cursed?…it, and in every household it’s passed through with a married couple the wife and a close friend of the husband’s had had an affair, usually ending in at least one death. She could sell it only to someone who isn’t married and isn’t likely to, or to someone whose spouse is the same gender as they are, but that wouldn’t solve the problem, especially since her father has taken a particular interest in the tapestry.
She wonders whether there’s anyone in the hunting community who actually has enough money to get this thing off of their hands before her father sells it to the young woman who kept looking wistfully at it as her (older, rich) husband examined other pieces.
She has a few people she can call.
The second gives her a number and a name, Bela.
Bela is dismissive at first, then thoughtful, and she calls Sarah back half an hour later to say she’ll take it after all and to get directions from the city.
Sarah looks at the frayed threads around the edges of the tapestry, the way the weaver made the sunlight glint off of armor and sink into velvet. She’s a little uneasy about this, but she isn’t sure what other choice she has.
Bela is—Sarah wasn’t sure what she was expecting.
Bela is wearing spike heels, and she walks as if she was born in them; she has slim manicured hands that don’t look like she’s ever held a gun; her suit is designer and Sarah would almost bet that the diamonds flashing at her ears are real.
Bela walks into the art house as if she owns it and everything in it, and she’s beautiful enough that Sarah’s brain freezes for a second.
When she looks at the tapestry she laughs, sharp and sweet. “Lancelot and Guinevere? A bit obvious, isn’t it?”
“Um,” Sarah says, resettling her thoughts, and Bela’s eyes shift from the tapestry to Sarah herself, thoughtful and clever. Aware. Sarah feels herself blush and shifts hurriedly into lecture mode before she thinks too much about the implications of that look, Bela’s faint smile now. “What do you mean, obvious? It’s not an uncommon motif in works dealing with Arthurian legend, especially the nineteenth-century—”
“Giving someone a present that will ruin them, and showing them exactly how it’ll be done?”
That…makes more sense than anything Sarah had been able to figure out, and explains why the weaver took such pains not to be identified. The trail stopped dead at the first owner; it was “a gift” and that’s all she knows.
“I like it,” Bela says. Sarah blinks, and then realizes Bela is looking back at the tapestry. It’s a little darker in the center, where Lancelot presses Guinevere’s hand to his lips and looks up at her with love so sharp it’s pain; Guinevere’s face is faded to marble, with almost no contrast left, but Sarah thinks from the way her other hand closes on the arm of her chair that she’d looked lost, overwhelmed.
It’s—it’s surprisingly good to know that she’s selling it to someone who actually wants it and isn’t just taking it because it has to be dealt with.
“Buy me a drink after you close up?” Bela asks after she’s paid and made arrangements to have the tapestry shipped back to the city.
“I’d like that,” Sarah admits. She could rationalize it to herself—some customers get Champagne; she should maintain a good relationship with someone willing and able to relieve her of dangerous objects—but she doesn’t bother. She wants to.
Bela gives her a full-on grin this time, and Sarah considers classifying her as a deadly weapon.
When Sarah emerges into the parking lot the only car left other than hers is a Mercedes. Bela is leaning against it, the wind stirring her whisky-dark hair. “Ready?” she calls.
Sarah crosses to her and says, “Definitely.”