Armida smiled at the serving maid as she put down the crème brulee before her. “Thank you,” she said, picking up her spoon, and cracking the sugary top.
“I’d think you’d want to watch your weight,” said Idun quietly.
Armida laughed gently. “Ahh, but I am.” She gestured to her generous figure. “I mustn’t allow myself to waste away, after all. There’re a few things more disturbing than a woman with my build turning to skin and bones.” Armida shuddered. “Thing’s begin to--hang.”
The Muspeilun skald looked Armida in her mismatched eyes, but then looked away. The stories were true--Armida’s eyes were horribly disconcerting to look into. Idun shook her head to clear her thoughts--and then realized just what direction she was looking in. “Oh… damn it…” she seethed.
“What?” asked Armida, sipping her coffee. The hostess blinked as she followed Idun’s gaze. “Oh. That.”
Across the hall, Nisrioch and Alcina were chatting in their usual flirtatious, intimate way. Nisrioch leaned forward and whispered something in the Dev’s ear, which caused her to laugh quietly. The rest of their table seemed slightly embarrassed. Especially, Alcina’s unfortunate escort.
Armida clicked her tongue. “They do have the most profound mutual attraction that I have ever witnessed, don’t they?”
Idun gave a choked sob. “You--don’t have to put it that way.” The Ogre slumped forward on the table. “I don’t handle being thrown over very well, all right? I’m not a--professional, like you are.”
“Just because I’m a hostess, doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings,” said Armida softly. She looked at Nisrioch. “It was supposed to be merely another client. Oh, a prestigious one, to be sure--but in the end, only another client.” Armida smiled faintly. “He even warned me. ‘My dear’ he said, ‘you must never expect to gain my heart. This is no fault of your own--I simply have already lost it, I’m afraid.’ I told him that this was no problem for me, that I was a professional.” She sighed. “But--I found myself caring. As did he, to his surprise. But--we both knew that the most vital part of himself--that I could never have. That was hers. It will be hers, until the day he dies.”
Idun stared at the hostess in sympathy, then frowned. “You’re lucky you got him to care.” Her eyes snapped shut. “I… I thought we had something. That…” She shook her head. “Oh, I didn’t expect him to marry me, but--I thought we were a couple. And then…” Idun slouched forward, resting herself on the table. “The first Shadow Council meeting, they just--hooked up. All over again. It was--it was like I wasn’t even there.”
Armida patted Idun on the shoulder. “He is--sorry you know.”
“I don’t give a damn if he’s ‘sorry’!” shouted Idun. “What he did to me--I can’t forgive him! I can’t!”
“I can understand that,” noted Armida. She shook her head. “He--Nisrioch doesn’t view the world quite the way most people do. He can’t. He--Sees things. How--things tend to go. It--there’s a distance. He does what he can to bridge the gap, but--it’s always there. Except with her.”
Idun blinked. “What?”
Armida looked at Idun. “He once told me. She’s a complete blank. He sees--only a woman. A woman who--loves him, in her fashion.”
“Oh.” Idun frowned, and choked back a snarl. “I love the bastard too. In my fashion. Doesn’t that count?”
Armida sighed. “It does, dear. But not enough.” She smiled. “Now--come on. Let’s quit this dreary talk. Plenty of fish in the sea, and so forth.” She glanced over at Ull. “For example…”
Idun snorted. “He’s my cousin. And my friend. Nothing more.” She chuckled. “Actually, there’s someone he’s got his eye on. Though he’d never admit it. Maybe not even to himself.”
Armida glanced over at Skadi. “Ahh. So that wasn’t just my imagination.”
“Oh, the worst part is she fancies him too,” muttered Idun. “But she’s even worse than him, and her damned Jarlthing…” The Muspeilun shook her head. “I despair of the Fangs some times. I really do.”
“They have their good points,” said Armida, with a grin.