Elaine clutched the book of Huon’s poems to her chest. “--‘And if my sincerity you deny, stab my heart, so that I bleed, groan then die’.” She looked at Jean. “Isn’t that just the essence of love?”
Jean frowned. “It’s the essence of--something.” She glanced at the young girl. “Did he and whoever he wrote that to--get together?”
“Oh, no,” said Elaine, shaking her head. “She married someone else. And he tried to kill himself by walking into the sea. With rocks in his pockets.”
“Yeah, I sort of figured the story would be something like that,” said Jean, with a nod. “So--how’d the suicide attempt go?”
“He lived, but he caught pneumonia, and was an invalid for the next five years.” Elaine sniffed. “He was such a sad, lonely man!”
Jean rolled her eyes. “Yeah. I wonder why.” Jean glanced ahead at Justinian, still walking in a sullen daze, and Nisrioch, chatting cheerfully.
“--Of course, the secret is the pistachios,” Nisrioch explained. “They’re what gives the iced cream such a delightful flavor!”
Justinian nodded dimly. “Ahh.”
Nisrioch glanced around. “Of course, Morgaine prefers peaches. She has a bit of sweet tooth you know. Even for this family.”
Justinian gave another dim nod. “Indeed.”
Jean decided to stay out of what was doubtless a rather involved conversation already. “Hey--you know what the big deal with Lord Shaddad is?” she asked Elaine. “I mean--I know why they hate him in the Lightlands, but you’d think…”
Elaine stared at the former river trader. “Well, I personally hate Shaddad Cthonique because he killed a lot of my relatives before I even got a chance to know them. And had a bounty out on my mother. And probably would have put one on me, if he’d known I’d existed.” She shrugged. “Most people--it’s something similar. Or just the fact that--you know, he was a vile murderous tyrant who tried to conquer all the Lands of Night, resulting in a lot of people getting dead.. Then pissed the Lightlanders off so that they came over and made even more people get dead.”
Jean gave an impressed nod. “Yeah, that sounds like a good way to get on people’s bad side.” She coughed. “So--your--stepfather’s--father tried to kill your mother…”
“Yeah, I know,” said Elaine, shaking her head. “In his defense, Mansemat put an end to the bounty. Before he even MET mom, by the way. A matter of pure principle for him. He was even going to give her back the Marsh, before the whole--you know--”fall passionately in love and get married” thing took it off the--” And then she stopped.
Mansemat Cthonique had stepped out of a large door in front of them, and was now carefully locking it. He was carrying a small canvas bag. “Oh. Hello, Elaine. Miss Jehannine.”
Elaine nodded dully. “Hey.”
Jean bowed. “Hello, sir.” She gave him a nervous smile. “And really--it’s Jean. Or ‘Jehannine’ if you want to get formal.”
“Very well, Jehannine,” noted Mansemat, before turning his attention back to Elaine. “So, I see you’ve finally checked out the palace library.”
Elaine nodded. “Yeah. It was okay.”
“Okay?” Jean guffawed. “You’ve been in ecstasy for the last half-hour.”
Elaine glared at Jean for a moment, then sighed. “Okay, fine. It’s amazing. It’s the most amazing library in the world. Are you happy?”
Mansemat smiled. “I’m pleased that you’re enjoying yourself, yes.”
Elaine glanced at the doorway he’d come out of. “So--what’s in that?”
Mansemat blinked. “Why--nothing. Nothing really. Just--an old room. That I’ve been clearing some stuff out of.” He raised the bag. “See? Stuff.”
Nisrioch had turned around, Justinian trailing behind him. “Why, Mansemat--what are you doing in the--?”
“--In the old room that is completely unimportant?” snapped Mansemat, glaring at his brother. “Why, simply clearing stuff out of it.”
Nisrioch nodded. “Oh, right. That. Well, let’s go on our way. Ignoring the old room that isn’t important at all!” At which point, he broadly winked at his brother.
Mansemat winced. “Yeah. Nicely handled, Nissy.”
Justinian looked at the doorway. “What--is in that room?” he asked quietly.
“Nothing!” declared Mansemat.
“Right. It isn’t unimportant,” declared Nisrioch, who then blinked. “That’s to say, it IS important.” He blinked again. “Unimportant. It is unimportant.” He snapped his fingers. “Knew I could get it.”
Mansemat snorted. “Yes, brother, you are the cunning master of deception.” He gave a frustrated snarl and began to walk away. “I’ll just take all this to the Gallery of Agony.”
“That’s the torture room,” explained Nisrioch.
“That we USE for storage these days!” shouted Mansemat. “When we use it at all!” He began to turn away, then glanced again at Nisrioch. “Say--was it built by our great-great-grandfather or our great-aunt?”
“Lord Eregal had it built. Lady Ninsun added the more--elaborate devices.” Nisrioch shrugged. “She was an… enthusiast.”
Jean nodded. “Interesting… piece of family history.”
Mansemat walked away quickly. “Oh, yes. We have so many--lovably quirky members of the family tree,” he noted acidly.