“Is there a reason you’re grinning like a loon?” asked Jean.
“Mmmm,” murmured Nisiroch. “Merely musing on the manifold threads of the Wyrd, and how they are all woven, so tightly together.”
“Ahh!” said his apprentice. “Your usual portentous crap.” She shook her head. “I should have known better than to ask.”
“Well, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” said Nisrioch. “I mean--‘mystical gobbledygook’, I can see. Or perhaps ‘meaningless drivel’. But ‘portentous crap’?”
“What did you do to that poor man?” said Justinian, as he watched the walls of Castle Terribel come into view.
“Do to him? Oh, surprisingly little,” noted the Dark Lord. “Mostly I just guaranteed him his place in the histories.” Nisrioch shrugged. “There was a good chance he was getting in anyway, but I do like to be sure.”
Justinian stared at the Dark Lord for awhile. “What are you trying to do, sir?”
Nisrioch shut his eyes. “I’m trying to--well, make a better world, Squire Sigma. It is a long, arduous, uncertain work, but it is how I justify my existence.” His eyes opened, the prismatic irises gleaming dully. “I have been privileged to See the shadow of the Threads. If there is a purpose to this, it must be a noble one. If there is no purpose, than I shall make a purpose, and make it noble.”
Jean leaned out the window. “We’re here.”
“Ahh, good,” said Nisrioch with a nod. He glanced at the pair. “I am sorry if I’m not quite my jovial self. As this present meeting of the Shadow Council nears, it brings with it certain affairs of the heart that have never been satisfactorily resolved, I’m afraid.” He sighed. “Ahh, me. Amour! A force that even wizards and Dark Lords of the highest power tremble at.”
Jean glanced at her employer as she exited the carriage. “May I ask who she is?”
“You may ask anything you like,” said Nisrioch blandly. “However, I will neglect to answer.”
“Damn, now I know you love her,” declared Jean. “This is the first subject you’re not eager to prattle about when questioned.”
“Everyone has a limit,” replied Nisrioch, brushing off his robe. He turned towards the Great Hall as the footmen took the carriage away. Justinian glanced at Jean.
“Wow. He really is a bit of out of sorts.” The Sacristan shook his head. “I wonder who she is. And how she got under his skin…”
Jean smiled. “We’re going to find out who she is in a little while. As for the ‘how’--well, it seems obvious to me.” She chuckled. “Of course, I don’t expect you to understand it…” Hoppedance lighted on her shoulder. “Ahh, there you are!” She patted the crow’s head. “Mommy missed her little baby!”
Justinian turned towards Jean angrily. “You know, Jean, despite all the mockery you place on my vows, I am aware of certain… things that you feel I am completely ignorant of.” He snarled. “Do you think I’m a complete idiot? Half the blasted order has “special friends” tucked away in some corner or other! I’m not oblivious to--things of that nature. But despite this, I am resolved to follow my vows, and I would like you to respect that!”
“Easy, Sigma,” said Jean, raising her hand. “I was only joking. I really--just hope you’d lighten up on things. But I am sorry if I went a little too far. Okay?”
Justinian turned with stony dignity. “You apology is noted.” He took a step forward, lost his balance, and fell. As he righted himself, he glared at Jean.
“Sorry,” she said, trying to repress a chuckle.
Justinian sighed. “The universe conspires against my dignity, doesn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” declared Jean, as she helped him up. “That sort of suggests you had some, wouldn’t it?”
“Very true,” noted Justinian, as he regained his feet. He glanced to the side, and frowned. “Who are they?”
Jean looked at him quizzically “Who are who?”
“That small cluster of ominous-looking people lounging about,” said Justinian, pointing at a group of Erls clad in light scarlet robes, and purple turbans.
“Oh! Those are Kizaks!” said Jean. “They’re--nomads who live in the Screaming Waste.” She shrugged. “Sometimes they come up north, working as guards, mercenaries--that sort of thing. Might be up here for some security work.”
Justinian nodded. “Ahh.” He started to head towards the Great Hall. “Well, I have a lengthy cold bath, awaiting me.” He glanced at Jean. “You really are something, you know that? Barbarians at the gates--literally--and you have no interest whatsoever.”
“Of course, I do,” she declared calmly. “But I prefer to wait and see, instead of jumping to conclusions. Like about--closed rooms. The identity of certain Dark Lords. The bookcase in my room…”
“I thought there was a secret passage behind it!” Justinian groaned and shook his head. “I really am a prat aren’t I?”
“It’s part of your charm,” said Jean with a slight smile.