“I like the idea of starting fake rumors,” said Margarett. “It sounds like something a counter intelligence agency will do. I’ll take notes, so we don’t lose track of which rumor we spread where.” She looked around. Nobody was eavesdropping. The guards were standing by the coaches, waiting to take the two women home. Close enough to keep an eye on them, but not so close that they could hear what they were saying. The maid was gone, back inside Benedicta’s house.
“Do you think we should tell Benedicta what we’re doing?” asked Wynefrede.
“Well, she hasn’t really been harmed by the rumors,” said Margarett. “I don’t know if she’d be as committed as we are.”
“She could be the Nightingale herself. That way she can bad mouth everyone else and make herself sound good.”
“But she seems so nice.”
“And she probably is,” said Wynefrede. “I’m just saying that we need to be careful. The fewer people know what we’re doing, the less chance of it getting back to the wrong person.”
“What about the Royal Season staff? Should we tell Pleasance that we’re trying to catch the gossip columnist?”
“I don’t know.” Wynefrede shivered. “It’s getting chilly. Let’s go get dressed. I’ll see you at the ball tonight. Maybe we can start spreading rumors there?”
“No, we should start with a more controlled environment,” said Margarett. “If we start a rumor at the ball, it might spread quickly, and then we’d have no way of knowing who the Nightingale is.”
“That gives us a night to sleep on it, then,” said Wynefrede.
“Give time for ideas to percolate.”
“What if we start a bunch of rumors, and they all spread to everybody, and all of them end up in the newspaper?”
Margarett thought about it. “I think that would be a good thing, too,” she finally said. “If there are a bunch of crazy rumors that are obviously false then the true ones would lose any credibility. Everybody would know that the rumors about them were wrong, so the rumors about other people would be wrong, too.”
The two women hurried the rest of the way to their coaches. “I’ll see you at the ball,” Margarett called out as her guard helped her into her vehicle.
Wynefrede waved, and approached her own. The guard opened the coach door for her, but did not follow her inside. She looked at him and tried to remember if he was the same guard who’d been there before. There must be something wrong with her brain here on Krim. Back in the real world, she had no problems remembering who was who. Of course, there was a virtual assistant always there to whisper everyone’s name and how she knew them in her ear. But that had nothing to do with it, she was sure. There must be something defective about Krim’s simulation.
The guard closed the door and she pulled back the curtain and leaned out the window.
“Ride with me,” Wynefrede she told him. “It’s getting chilly. I could use someone to keep me warm.”
“It’s getting late in the day,” said the guard. “The miscreants have woken up by now and are starting to hit the streets. I’ll stay up top, with the driver, so I can keep an eye out for threats.”
“I bet you think that if you ride with me, you’ll be too distracted,” she said.
He smiled at her. “You’re probably right.”
She settled back into her seat and the coach started moving.
Wynefrede looked out the window at the city buildings slowly moving past. The city looked drab. Compared to the other medieval-themed worlds she’s been on, it was dirty and smelled foul. Of course, other worlds didn’t advertise themselves as being sticklers for authenticity. And most had magic, or, at least, non-player characters, to keep everything looking shiny and new.
Once this season was over, she doubled that any of the participants would ever come back to Krim.
But she liked it. She might come back. At the very least, she wanted to be here long enough to see a medieval-style surgeon drill a hole in someone’s head.
The newspaper was still there from the morning, and she picked it up.
“Is one of the gentlemen suitors actually married in real life, and in a monogamous relationship?” she read. “Does his husband thing he’s on a long fishing trip? Only the Nightingale knows who it is.”
Wynefrede rolled her eyes. Clearly, someone else knew, because the Nightingale found out from somebody.
Unless… could the Nightingale have some way of discovering people’s real identities? The Royal Season knew who everybody really was because they vetted all the participants. Wynefrede wouldn’t have felt safe coming here otherwise. Knowing that everyone had gone through a stringent background check was part of the program’s appeal.
So the gossip could well be someone connected to the Royal Season. Except… if that was the case, then it meant that the Royal Season knew that someone was married, and they’d let them into the program anyway.
That would be a real scandal if it came out. The Nightingale probably made a mistake, she thought. The man was probably divorced, or separated, or in an open relationship.
She went back to the article.
“Does the Royal Season even bother screening its bachelors and debutantes?” she read. “Or do they only look at personal wealth? The host of this year’s parade of romantic losers is Elea Carlyle, whose only claim to fame–other than being born into a very wealthy family–is her association with a disaster that cost the lives of thousands.”
The Nightingale really had it in for Elea Carlyle. Maybe the gossip writer was someone who worked in her organization. That might give them some limited access to background information, but not necessarily enough to get all the details right.
“At the Royal Season, it seems, money can cover up a lot of sins,” she read. “And one sin in particular should worry all the participants this year. A certain billionaire has come looking for a true love. But we should be asking what happened to their last one. Would you trust your life to someone who’s just finished murder rehab?”