Viviane flipped through the pages of the book. The Properties of Rare Herbs was a du Lac family treasure, one that she had given up for lost. But here it was. In the Castle Terribel library. She looked at the page before her. “Saffron. The flowers make a good dye. Also a spice, if rather strong, with a flavor that is interesting.’
Admittedly not the most thrilling read. But it had family history. That made it special. Viviane closed the cover, and glanced around the library. It was strange. This was the largest collection of books she’d ever seen. It should have been--intimidating. And yet--somehow--it seemed pleasant and homey instead. She smiled to herself. She’d have to show Elaine this. She was certain her daughter would love it.
That was when she heard the noise--something like a whimper. Turning rapidly, she saw several books on the shelf behind her fall from their place, followed by the appearance of a young female Dev rapidly flapping her wings in a desperate, futile effort to stay afloat. As the girl landed with a yelp, Viviane got out of her chair and looked at her in what she hoped was a pleasant manner. “Hello there.”
“Hello,” said the girl shyly, fiddling nervously with one of her tiny horns, and looking away from Viviane.
“You’re Malina, aren’t you?” Viviane asked gently.
“Yes,” said the Dev quietly. She then looked up pleadingly at Viviane, her big red eyes wide. “Please don’t be angry, Badb. I know I’m not s’posed to be here! I just--I hearded you were here, and I wanted to take a look at you, and--” She gulped. “Don’t be mad.”
Viviane laughed. “I’m not.”
“Really?” said Malina, her lip trembling.
“Yes, really,” said Viviane cheerfully, leaning forward to look Malina in the eye. “And call me ‘Viviane’.”
The young Dev smiled. “Oh. Okay. Has Daddy brought you here to be my new mommy, Viviviane?”
Viviane blinked. “What…?”
“It’s just Auntie Morgaine said…” began Malina.
“Yeah, I can guess,” said Viviane. “Your aunt has a big mouth, you know that?”
“Yes,” said Malina with a nod. “And a very loud voice. And she’s a tribble.” Malina glanced around confidentially, then whispered, “That means she likes women, Viviviane.”
“I know,” said Viviane. “Though it’s a bit rude to talk about it behind her back.”
“Oh,” said Malina. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” Viviane replied. “But--to answer your question--no, I’m not here to become your new mommy. Okay?”
Malina gave a relieved nod. “Oh, yes.”
Viviane raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you--want a new mommy?”
Malina looked around the room nervously. “Well… Daddy would pick her. And he picked my old mommy. My mom. And…” The Dev bit her lip. “She really wasn’t a very good mommy. At all.” She sniffled slightly. “How… how can I be sure… the next mommy he picks will be better?”
Viviane frowned for a moment, and then patted Malina on the head. “I’m sure, if he ever does decide to--get you a new one, your daddy will do his very best to make sure that your new mommy is good at her job.” She smiled. “He’s a good man, and he loves you very, very much.”
Malina gave a hopeful little smile. “You really think so?”
Viviane nodded emphatically. “Positive. Also--it‘s ‘Viviane’. Not--‘Viviviane’.”
Malina nodded back at her. “Got it. Vidiane.”
Viviane bit her lip. “Viviane.”
Malina gave another nod. “Viviade.”
“Just--call me ‘Viv’,” said Viviane with a sigh.
“Viv,” said Malina. “Yes. Yes. ‘Viv’. I’ll call you ‘Viv’.” She and Viviane looked each other in the eye for a moment, and then Malina broke the silence. “Do you want to see a place that has lots and lots of spiders?”
“There you are, Flibbertigibbet!” said Mansemat, as he entered the library, a short Erl chambermaid by his side, while Viviane tried to think of a good reply to Malina’s comment.
“Ooooh, Miss Malina,” said the chambermaid. “Can’t you ever stay put?”
Malina glanced at the floor. “Sorry Yurdicey.”
The chambermaid sighed. “Eurydice.”
Mansemat gave his daughter an amused smile. “You really should get to bed, dear. You’re five years old, and you need your rest.”
“I’m almost SIX!” said Malina with a stamp of her feet.
“That’s still five,” said Mansemat quietly. “Now, come on. Why don’t you go with young le Fidèle to your bedroom?”
“Okay, Daddy,” said Malina with a nod, shutting her eyes, a look of intense concentration coming over her face.
“The traditional way,” said Mansemat.
“Awww, Daddy!” whined Malina. “That takes longerer. And it’s sooooo boring!”
Mansemat crossed his arms. “But it lets us keep track of you.” He took a deep breath, and then suddenly, as if he could simply no longer maintain such a stern front, kneeled and kissed his daughter on the forehead. “You know I only ask you to do things like this because I want you to be safe and well, my little Flibbertigibbet. Understand?”
Malina gave a long sigh. “Okay.” As she trudged along after Eurydice, Malina suddenly paused, and turned to regard her father. “Oh, and if you do decide to make Viv my new mommy--I don’t think I’d mind. She seems nice. She smiles like Granmama Shamhat.” She gestured to the family portrait that hung on the wall. “In the picture! See?”
Mansemat winced slightly as Malina walked away with Eurydice, then glanced at Viviane. “Sorry about that. She’s--a bit presumptuous at times.”
“It’s okay,” said Viviane with a giggle. “She’s a sweet kid.” A frown came over her face. “Who really doesn’t seem to… like her mother.”
Mansemat nodded quietly. “It takes a lot of effort on a mother’s part to make her child fear and hate her--but Falerina was willing to make that effort.” He shook his head. “My ex-wife was a deeply troubled woman, Viviane, who made both my life and the life of our daughter very difficult. And that is why we are no longer married. And why Falerina has been exiled to the Shadow Woods.”
“I thought it was… the murder attempts,” said Viviane.
“That was a manifestation of the unpleasantness,” said Mansemat. “And--really, they were all very badly done. Honestly the way she treated Malina worried me more.”
Viviane looked at him. “Did you… love her?”
Mansemat Cthonique shut his eyes. “No, I did not. And that is my crime in the whole affair.” He shook his head. “It was a political marriage. Her father assured me that--love would come with time. It didn’t. Couldn’t really.” He looked at Viviane, frowning slightly. “I--told myself I was doing my duty by her. But that’s the path to a hundred crimes, when you get down to it.”
“I’m sorry.” Viviane glanced at the family portrait Malina had pointed at--one that showed the Cthoniques as children and their mother, with not a sign of Lord Shaddad. “Your mother left a big impression on you, didn’t she?”
Mansemat smiled sadly. “For the little time we had her. She died when I was eight.” He shook his head. “Too good for this world, Nisrioch likes to say. She--practically adopted him, you know. I think he took it harder than any of us. Quietly though. That’s his way.” Viviane gave Mansemat a skeptical glance. The Dark Lord chuckled and shook his head. “Believe it or not, Viv, he’s a very sensitive man under his gadfly exterior.” He glanced around the room. “This library--his idea. He’s the reason Father simply didn’t burn any books he came across.”
Viviane nodded. “Well, I’ll thank him the next time I see him.” She flipped through the book in front of her. “Really, this is excellent. It actually looks--cleaner than I remember.”
“He insists on the best care,” said Mansemat with a shrug.
“It shows,” said Viviane with a smile. She shut her eyes. “This is a lovely room. Actually, this is a lovely place. Castle Terribel, I mean.”
“Thank you. We try very hard to make it so,” said Mansemat.
Viviane fiddled idly with the book before her. “And it shows. I… like it here.”
Mansemat bowed. “Then come whenever you desire,” he declared, with the slightest of smiles.
“I will,” said Viviane, regarding him fondly.
“Good,” said Mansemat with an nod, beginning to head out of the room. He frowned and turned towards her. “Though it would be a nice touch if you tried to call before you came, mind you. And you might want to avoid coming next week. Nisrioch and Morgaine are hosting a symposium of erotic woodcut collectors.”
Viviane stared at him for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I’ll steer clear of that.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “What do…?”
“I have planned an expedition with my daughter to Marsilion’s Folly,” said Mansemat. “I’ll get some business done, we’ll take in a play--and then we’ll go to the menagerie.” He smiled. “She likes the seals. Especially Thecla. She’s a trained white seal who does tricks! Malina likes to feed her herrings.” Viviane smiled at him. Mansemat coughed. “And I also like to feed her herrings. On occasion.”