Morgaine shook her head as Nisrioch took the seat next to her. “I am so glad I didn’t have to do that.”
Nisrioch smiled. “As am I. You have a horrible singing voice.”
Morgaine leaned back in her chair and pouted. “Well at least I don’t subject people to Kizak throat-singing,” she said with a scowl.
“It’s a grand tradition of the Lands of Night, stretching back centuries,” said Nisrioch. “And I am Dark Lord of the Screaming Waste.”
“Howling Waste,” said a sharp voice at Nisrioch’s side.
The Dark Lord turned. “Both terms are correct renditions of the Kizak name, dearest Alse.”
Alcina Ashurana sighed and shook her head. “Only in the most general of senses, sweet Nissy.”
Nisrioch looked over the crowd in apparent disinterest. “So, where is your youthful swain? Is it his naptime?”
Alcina rubbed her chin and smiled. “I may have tired him out.”
Nisrioch shook his head. “The young people of today simply do not measure up!” He raised an eyebrow. “You will grant me that whatever my faults, exhaustion has never been one of them.”
Alcina opened her fan and flapped it before her face coquettishly. “You are the only man I know willing to rise to any challenge I present, I’ll grant you that.” She snapped the fan shut. “But are you prepared to crawl?”
“I’ve been practicing,” replied Nisrioch with a smile.
Alcina leaned forward, looking him in the eye. “I might have to see that.”
Nisrioch craned his neck towards her. “And I might have to show you.”
Alcina grinned. “My, my. This is promising to be an entertaining visit.” A quiet cough came from behind her. She turned. “Ah. Medoro. There you are!” She offered the young Dev her arm, which he quickly took. “Well, adieu for the nonce, my delight. We shall have to take in that demonstration together in the near future.”
Nisrioch watched her leave, smiling to himself. “I really don’t know what you see in her, bro,” said Morgaine, shaking her head.
“Oh, my first love, for a start,” said Nisrioch. “A woman as brilliant and as unconventional as myself for another.”
“That I’m not related to,” amended Nisrioch. He rested his chin on his hand. “And of course, the most impressive wingspan in the Lands of Night.”
Morgaine blinked. “Yeah. You just creeped me out. That’s an accomplishment.”
“Oh, Morgaine,” said Nisrioch with an exasperated sigh. “For a woman who proclaims herself the family standard-bearer in debauchery, you really are such a prude these days.”
“I’m having a bit of a dry spell,” said Morgaine.
“For the last decade,” drawled Nisrioch.
“Well, it’s hard to meet nice girls when you’re dead,” said Morgaine. “And when you add in the obstacle I’m already facing…” She shut her eyes. “I’m working on it.”
“Skadi?” said Nisrioch chidingly. “Really, Morgaine. She’s not interested. Stop deluding yourself.” He spread his hands. “You may criticize what Alcina and I share, but we do share it. All that exists between you and the Dark Lord of Stonefangs is childish infatuation on one side, and utter repugnance on the other.” Nisrioch shook his head. “Stop pursuing it. You’re only making yourself ridiculous.”
Morgaine glared at him. “You are such a drag when she’s around.”
“I am not,” said her brother.
“You are. You could be used to keep ships anchored.”
Nisrioch sighed and looked over the crowd. “Why look! There’s Jerzy! I’ll go pay him a visit.” He rose up and headed towards the Kizak, who was seated among his followers.
Morgaine frowned. “Yeah. You better run off.” She signaled one of the servers for a drink. “Like I need his advice,” she muttered as the woman approached. Morgaine turned towards her. “Yes, I’ll be taking a small glass of white…” The Dark Lord blinked. “Hecuba?”
The server gulped. “Your Excellency.” She forced on a smile. “It’s been--a long time.”
“Umm, yeah,” said Morgaine. “You--look great.” Morgaine glanced at her own lap. “I--didn’t know you were working here again.”
“I’m not,” said Hecuba, pouring Morgaine’s glass. “I’ve been brought on for the Occasion. I work in a house in the Folly.”
“Ahh.” Morgaine nodded, and rested her hand on Hecuba’s. “So I guess this is just the luck…”
“I’m married now,” said Hecuba, politely pulling the hand back. “With two children.”
“Oh,” said Morgaine. She frowned slightly. “I--really meant it. You do look great.”
Hecuba sighed. “It’s been over a decade, Morgaine. Just--try to put what happened between us behind you, Morgaine. I know I have.”
Morgaine bit her lip, as Hecuba moved away. She looked at her cup of wine for a moment, and then began to pick it up. After a moment’s thought, she put it down again. Reaching into her sleeve, she took out a small bottle of liqueur and added some to her glass. Suddenly she paused.
Fiordespina Maganza and the Belfior Maganzas were staring at her.
Morgaine poured out the rest of the bottle into her cup, raised it to them in salute, and then swallowed the mixture of wine and liqueur down.