Elaine sat there, scribbling notes, as Antea dusted the library’s shelves in near silence. Eventually, the young Erl coughed. “So… cousin Elaine,” asked Antea. “Will you be going to your ancestral homeland if Lord Mansemat decides to aid it?”
Elaine put down her pen. “Who actually talks like that?”
Antea’s blinked. “I… speak in this fashion. If I did not, I would not be speaking to you, would I not?”
“Yeah, I phrased that badly,” said Elaine, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Look--the Lands of Light are not my ancestral homeland. That’s the Marsh. Home to the du Lacs since… forever. Home to fish fries. And… other ways of cooking fish. Like…” She bit her lip. “I think we roast them, sometimes.”
Antea nodded. “Ahh. Mother would occasionally enjoy poached sea fish, if the season permitted. She would frequently let me sample it, if she was certain that Grandfather didn’t have any spies around.”
“Belberith spies on Alcina?” said Elaine.
“Oh, yes,” said Antea. “And she spies on him. It’s a time-honored tradition in House Ashurana.” She shut her eyes. “I always enjoyed the fish, when I ate it. It was light and almost seemed to melt on the tongue. Did your fish do that?”
“Not… exactly,” said Elaine, whose most memorable fish-eating experience was discovering as a very young girl that the “black” in “blackened fish” was a great deal of spice that could leave you gasping if you ate it too quickly.
“Oh.” Antea gave a slight nod. “Well, was it enjoyable, the fish you ate?”
“Ye… How did we even get on to this subject?” asked Elaine. “I was sitting here, happily writing notes on how Olous the Lesser is actually the result of Ede of White Pine mistaking three other writers for Olous the Greater and everyone sort of repeating his mistake but not quite, and you started asking me about my ancestral homeland. And somehow fish got involved.”
“Well, I merely wished to know if you planned to see the place that half your lineage came from,” said Antea with a shrug. “I for example, am enjoying Castle Terribel immensely.” She looked around the library. “It is so less oppressive than Mount Qaf. Why, I am almost certain there is no one hidden in the walls.”
Elaine glanced around the room. “Yeah… my stepfamily are nice about things like that.” She coughed. “Anyway--I’ve been to the Lands of Light. To Joyeuse, actually, which is pretty much the actual ancestral homeland of my… other family.” She shook her head. “Not planning on making a return trip. Not a fun place. At all.” She went back to her writing. “Anyway, doesn’t matter. I doubt Dad would take me to the Free Cities. If he’s going, which I wouldn’t bet on.”
“Oh, he will go,” said Antea. “The War begins. The first stroke must be struck. The first blood must be shed. The first dead sent to their graves.”
Elaine regarded her cousin, whose eyes she realized were… glowing in a rather unsettling way as she said that, then set her pen down. “You know what? Let’s go back to talking about fish again. It’s less creepy. Now--what sort of fish was it that your mother likes to eat?”
“I believe it is cod,” said Antea, after a moment’s thought.