“I must admit,” said Nisrioch to Malagise Chiaramonte, “I will miss these fascinating little chats we’ve been having.”
“As will I, Your Excellency,” noted the Duke, hands behind his back. “Truth be told, I don’t get enough conversations with sorcerous experts back in Cremonia. All the major practitioners are in the Alts.” He sighed. “A few hedge wizards and practical thaumaturges in the employ of the Guild are all we have. All good in their fields, but with little interest in theory.” He shrugged. “It makes me perhaps a tad too eager for this sort of discussion, I’m afraid.”
“Then you must write me, sir!” declared Nisrioch eagerly. “For me, discussion of the Occult Arts is a fine wine! The more I have, the more I desire!”
“Then you shall have it, Your Excellency!” said Malagise, offering Nisrioch his hand. He chuckled. “Well--that’s two new correspondents. Yourself, and the exquisite Madame Zenobia.”
“Ahh,” said Nisrioch with a nod.
“Indeed,” said Malagise. “Well, the world must be peopled, Lord Nisrioch, even if it’s by such sorry souls as myself. And I like Suky very much.”
“I wouldn’t call you a sorry soul, Duke Chiaramonte,” said Nisrioch. “I’d call you a great one.”
“In mass, perhaps,” said Malagise, slapping his belly.
“Mal!” shouted Lanfusa from across the courtyard. “Stop wasting the Dark Lord of the Screaming Waste’s time!”
“I’ll be right there, Mumsy!” Malagise sighed. “Ahh, well. Pleasant chatting with you. But you must understand--my mother gets very concerned when she sees me enjoying myself. She thinks it’s a sure sign there’s something wrong with me.”
Nisrioch nodded in sympathy. “Best of fortune to you, then, until we meet again.”
“And after, sir!” said Malagise as he waddled towards Lanfusa and Aldigier. “And after!”
Nisrioch was still smiling when Armida reached his side. “You’re in a good mood, Your Excellency,” said the hostess.
“Oh, simply musing on things,” said Nisrioch. “I shall have to keep the Duke Chiaramonte in my Sight. A most fascinating fellow--and one I most certainly did not See coming.” He laughed. “It is so delightful to be surprised! Especially in a pleasant manner!” He shook his head. “This is just like my first time adding lemon juice to my tea!” Armida stared at him. “It’s quite good. You should try it.”
“Perhaps some other time,” said Armida. “And--how--was she this time?”
Nisrioch shrugged. “Alcina--was Alcina. It hurts to see her--and yet that pain...” He bit his lip and smiled. “It is the sweetest feeling I know.”
Armida sighed. “I shall--take your word for that.” She frowned. “I will, of course, be going shortly.”
“Of course,” said Nisrioch. “The Council’s held you captive long enough, and you have a business to run.”
“Ahh, Nisrioch,” said Armida. “You’re one of the few men I know who doesn’t see our… professional arrangement as some form of… rented ownership…”
Nisrioch looked at the hostess seriously. “No one can own anyone else, Armida. Not in any way that is true.” He sighed. “Truth be told, few ever get around to owning themselves.”
Armida laughed. “Such a philosopher, Your Excellency. I always enjoy your company so. A shame we didn’t spend more time together during the Council. Why, we never got to play a game of Esches!”
Nisrioch looked her in the eye. “Are you sure about that, my dear?” He leaned forward, smiling. “Absolutely… positive?”
Armida smiled back at him, her mismatched eyes, one a dull blue, the other a murky green, looking into his rainbow-colored ones. “Perhaps we did enjoy a game,” she answered smoothly. “In fact--on reflection--I’m sure we did.”