Elaine took a deep breath, placed her hand on the sword hilt, and drew, counting under her breath the entire time.
Twenty-five. She sighed, replaced it in its scabbard, and started again. “Mansemat keeping your nose to the grindstone, eh?”
Elaine glanced over at Jean. “Actually, I am.” She frowned, and drew again. “I’ve been held prisoner by not one, but TWO bloodthirsty maniacs. Seeing as three would not be a charm, and I happen to now have a magic sword, I’m taking steps to make sure that the experience doesn’t repeat itself.”
Jean watched as Elaine drew the blade yet again. “How many times are you going to do that?”
“Till I can do it in under ten,” replied Elaine.
Jean watched her for a while, counting along. “He’s… not just winding you up, is he? Like when Nisrioch had me trying to stop handkerchiefs with my mind?”
“I’ve seen him do it in five,” said Elaine. She looked at the wooden practice sword. “And then slash through a metal rod.”
Jean shrugged. “Well, yeah, he’s got the Sword of Night…”
“No, I meant with one of these,” noted Elaine softly. Jean stared at her in shock. “He’s really, really good. I mean--better than I thought he was, which was already… pretty good.” She replaced the sword in its hilt. “So how’s your practice going?”
“Pretty good,” answered Jean. “Viv wanted me to practice being a tree. So I practiced for awhile, then I convinced her I was another tree and left. I figure that will keep her busy for awhile.”
“How long?” asked Elaine.
“Jehannine du Lac!” shouted the Badb. It occurred to Elaine that her mother’s voice was another fine example of what made Viviane Viviane. Usually it was soft and pleasant, but it could become an angry bellow capable of cracking walls when she lost her temper. Which was not the time to get scared. The time to get scared was when her voice got cold and sharp like a steel blade. That was when her mother worked her magic and turned enemies into corpses.
Viviane landed on her feet before the pair, pestle raised. “So,” she declared theatrically, “you thought it was funny to leave your dear, long-lost elder sister by herself, chatting with a tree, did you?”
Jean gulped. “A little bit.”
Viviane strode forward. “You snake! You fiend! You rogue!” Suddenly she was hugging Jean. “The Grand Coven are going to love you!”
Jean glanced at Elaine, who sighed. “It’s sort of the governing body of witches in the Marsh. Used to be the governing body OF the Marsh, but that… really didn’t work so well.”
“It’s a nice little social gathering now,” said Viviane. Elaine made a quiet snort, that elicited a raised eyebrow from her mother. “Anyway, I’ve told them all about you, and they just can’t wait to meet you and verify you as the Nemain.”
Jean blinked. “I have to be verified?”
“No, but it will help,” explained Viviane. “Otherwise, if something happened, a bunch of the more… traditional witches would have to challenge you and… it would get unpleasant. They’re lovely women, for the most part, but…” Elaine snorted again. Viviane turned to her. “You don’t have to… what are you doing?”
“Sword drill,” said Elaine. “The easiest, most basic sword drill imaginable. So basic it’s barely a sword drill at all.”
Viviane nodded. “Well, I’m glad you’ve found another hobby.” A slightly ironic smile showed up on her face. “Even if it is a tad…”
Elaine’s eyes shifted into a glare. “A tad what, Mother?”
Viviane stepped back slightly, and glanced away. “Nothing, dear. Nothing.”
“She is definitely your daughter,” whispered Jean.
“The glare’s been in the family since the beginning,” said Viviane. “It isn’t magic. It just… is.”