Narcissa heaved a sigh and straightened up, setting the quill in its cup and pushing the last of the documents away from her.
“I believe that’s everything that needs to be done today. I hope you like where we’re going this evening.”
“We like anything new,” Mirren said cheerfully. “And this sounds like a fun place.”
“Could one of you remind Evander that it’s time to leave?”
Mirren hopped off her stool and headed for the door to the outer office. With no one else around, there was no need for military-rigid stances, only staying alert.
Narcissa, of course, had her own office on an upper floor of the hospital. An outer room had its own large window, under which Evander had his desk. The inner one was larger, positioned in a corner so it had windows on two sides, and not only held Narcissa’s desk and ample shelf space and potted plants on every surface but considerable extra seating as well. Several stools and chairs were scattered around the space, the latter the common local kind that looked like an hourglass from the front with cushions softening the seat and back. Like the furnishings of Narcissa’s house, there was a distinct theme of plants and earthy colours, from the cushions to the rugs on the marble floors. In one corner was a life-sized painted statue of a woman in her prime, in yellow and green, with a basket cradled in her arms, and inside it were real, not carved, bottles and jars and a mortar and pestle and several bunches of herbs—a personal shrine of sorts, perhaps?
“You’ve had a tiring few days,” Kaveri said sympathetically. “Lirit can give you infinite energy but that doesn’t help much with emotional strain, and you’ve had a lot to deal with. Taking some time to enjoy yourself sounds like a wonderful idea. I know you have other reasons, but I hope you can relax, too.”
“I intend to. It’s a good place for that.”
Evander had conceded, though with some apprehension, to Narcissa’s reasoning, that hiding behind the walls of house and hospital would convey an unwelcome message about fear. This was an established routine, and a change to it would be noticed.
Kaveri, personally, was grateful that she’d never been in a position in which her every move became an example and a statement that overruled her own caution.
Narcissa straightened up her desk, leaving it ready for the next day, and took the most recent handful of documents to the outer office.
“Thank you,” Evander said, accepting them. “On the way out I’ll leave them with Oxylos to deliver.”
Evander’s door always being open, unlike Narcissa’s, Tyrel and Madoc had chosen to establish themselves in the corridor, where they could scrutinize everyone passing by—probably scaring some, Kaveri suspected. On the other hand, word would spread rapidly about the new foreigner bodyguards, and if some people were too nervous to harass Narcissa and Evander, that was helpful in itself.
Hermia remained less than happy with the arrangements, despite the foreigner quartet doing their best to keep her involved—especially in things they lacked any grounding in, like the increased security at Narcissa’s morning speech. The brothers and Mirren had done a sparring session and self-defence lesson on the roof around moonrise, and invited Hermia and Melanippe since they already knew the newcomers weren’t human. Watching them sparring with each other almost all out, careful only to avoid quick-kill shots, and an invitation to try against them with no holds barred, had gone a long way to convincing the two guards of their skills, if not their intentions.
Both Narcissa, in a shorter tunic than Kaveri had expected her to own, and Evander were far more strong and agile and coordinated than any of the foreigners had feared. When Madoc had commented on it, Narcissa had laughed and given him a one-word reply: dancing.
Narcissa and Evander had, deliberately, chosen a house that was a comfortable walk away from the hospital, finding that more convenient than longer trips requiring other means of transportation.
Melanippe opened the door for them immediately, and bolted it securely behind them.
“Go get dressed,” Narcissa told Evander, beginning to unwind her mantle. “I think Iole was shopping for you again. You can bathe first.” She gave him an affectionate kiss on the cheek. “And stop worrying. By now, you’re usually all excited and beginning to talk non-stop about what you’ve done before and what you’re doing tonight.”
“Can you think of a better time to try to make an example out of me?” Evander retorted.
“Not without going through us,” Tyrel said.
“Ridiculously powerful arrows aside,” Madoc muttered. “No one is going to reach either of you.”
“I scouted the whole route from the rooftops before moonset,” Kaveri said. “I know everywhere someone could possibly set up an ambush, and we’ll be taking extra care near those places.”
“I suspect, though,” Tyrel said, “they probably saw no way the bear and eagle could fail, and I doubt they had a backup plan in place. It will take them time to devise and arrange something else. If they’re going to, even. It’s possible there were only the three involved and with two dead, the archer may just be trying to keep his head down.”
“You can only change in the moonlight,” Evander said, though he did yield to Narcissa’s gentle push deeper into the house. “Where were they hiding until they came out to attack?”
“That’s a really good question,” Madoc said thoughtfully.
“Tomorrow,” Kaveri said firmly. “There was nothing left for us to see or smell by moonrise the night of the attack, and none of us can track scents through city streets, so however we investigate that, it will be the same now or later.” And Narcissa and Evander, she thought, badly needed this.
“Dress however you’re the most comfortable,” Narcissa told them, and smiled at Kaveri. “Including in the next thing to nothing, if you like, but make sure you wear something over that until we’re inside. In this place, what matters most is to be who you are, without regard for convention, and to accept the same from everyone around you. Only Aithre rules within. If you need to ask the staff for anything, do it soon, please. They’re always free until breakfast tomorrow.”
“Hermia and I will be here,” Melanippe said. “To make certain there are no surprises when you get home.”
“It’s very much appreciated, but don’t spend all the time on prowling like restless guard-dogs. Shall I have Eumelia send you supper, or would you rather take care of yourselves?”
“We’ll be fine. Hermia doesn’t believe me about how good my grandmother’s recipe for date-and-honey barley-cakes is, and Hermia’s sister told her about something to do with fish that she learned from her mother-in-law. Pherusa doesn’t like us being in the kitchen when she’s working. We’ll make enough to take Thaleia and Phaidra some cakes tomorrow. Iole’s planning to head to the hospital once you don’t need her, of course. Pherusa’s cousin invited her to come for dinner and bring friends, as usual, and the last I heard, she and Acantha had finally talked Megaira into coming along, which is certainly a change for our shy mouse. Clytie asked to stay and help us instead.”
“Clytie staying has more to do with Hermia than with the food,” Narcissa said in amusement. “Sounds wonderful. Phaidra’s making sense again after that head wound but she’s on minimal pain control for the broken bones because of it, so I’m sure she’ll appreciate any distraction, and certainly Iole’s company. Thaleia’s on a lot of pain control medicine so she may fall asleep, but she’ll be glad to see you. I hope the others have fun. Given the size of Pherusa’s family, if any of them show up as well, it should be quite a party.” Her gaze went to the foreigner quartet. “The Peacock’s doors don’t open until dusk, so there’s no hurry. Even with Iole’s help, which they both enjoy, Lysandra getting ready to dance takes time.”
“And we can seriously wear what we’re used to?” Tyrel asked.
“Yes. And while normally weapons are forbidden, under the circumstances you’ll be allowed to keep those, too.” Narcissa inclined her head in a kind of casual dismissal, and left them on their own.
“The Peacock really is a very welcoming place,” Melanippe said. “The food’s pretty good, the wine’s better, but the entertainment and the company are what keeps it in business.”
“Is there anything or anyone in particular we should be watching for?” Madoc asked.
“Let me talk to Hermia and we’ll come find you.”
“So are we going to take them up on it?” Tyrel said thoughtfully, as they wandered off towards their own rooms.
“I think we should,” Mirren said seriously. “We’re pretty obviously not locals. So, play along and be who we are, instead of trying to blend in. Just for tonight. I bet that’ll get us accepted there a lot more than trying not to draw attention will.”
“There’s a weird kind of logic to that,” Madoc conceded. “It might also help distract a lot of potentially highly sensitive people from noticing anything else strange about us. I have to admit, it’s going to be a relief to be back in real clothes. Honestly, the things some places come up with…”
“To be fair,” Kaveri said, “what you’re used to is meant for a cooler climate and partly as armour.”
“We’ve been in warm places where men didn’t run around half-naked and women didn’t have to cover so much. And you’re from basically the same climate we are, but you’d wear almost nothing if you could get away with it.”
“True. But if everywhere was the same, we’d get bored before long.”
With the sky darkening, they gathered back in the courtyard to wait.
Tyrel and Madoc were, quite gratefully, in trousers, though the ones they’d woven for themselves the previous night were more lightweight than usual. Linen shirt and layered doublet and thick leather jerkin would have been unbearably hot, even as moonspun equivalents, so they’d worked out a short-sleeved shirt and a sort of sleeveless, multi-layered cross between doublet and jerkin that fit closely and had several ties up the front where it overlapped slightly. Tyrel’s were mostly deep amber, a darker shade of Talir’s light, with a strong greenish-blue for contrast; Madoc preferred muted sandy-browns and a dark yellowish green that they called ‘olive’ around here. Mirren was in the drawstring-necked shirt and trousers she was used to, though again of lighter materials, as was the laced bodice that accentuated her curves and gave her full breasts more support than any kind of breast-band or halter they’d yet seen or devised. Given the choice, she liked a much brighter yellow-green, and combined it with any number of other colours depending on her mood—tonight, that meant darker trousers, lighter bodice, and a muted rose shirt. Kaveri had gone with a knee-length tunic of soft lavender, but had kept open the option of shedding it, with her loincloth and tied halter of the same colour under it.
All, of course, were fully armed.
“We are going to stand out like a fox in the middle of a chicken run,” Madoc said wryly. Tyrel bared his teeth at him in a teasing snarl.
“Which is actually going to make us stand out less, from the sounds of it,” Mirren said.
(chapter continued next post!)