“Why, Roy, it’s so good to see you.” The voice was dripping with smarm, and it was the first thing that hit me as I stepped into the parlor. The second was the sight of Rolon, dressed in his formal finest, sitting on the divan and drinking delicately from a cup of tea. “I thought your wife might like some company in this trying time, so I stopped in to see her. She is still your wife, right? You haven’t grown tired of her yet?”
“What do you want?” I said coolly.
“Me? I wanted to pay my condolences. I heard you had lost a…friend.” He said with mock remorse.
“Yes. I have. Now get out of my house.” I motioned to the door.
“Must you always be so brusque? You’re not the only one her passing has affected. I’m sure there’s tree huggers somewhere who care, too.” Rolon tutted. I stepped forward, tensing up. One good right hook, and I could have the pleasure of dragging his unconscious body out the front gates. I imagined what it would look like. Him tumbling off the divan. Teacups shattering. The satisfying ache in my knuckles from putting them hard against bone. A hand settled on my shoulder.
John quietly entered the room behind me “Excuse me. Would you be bearing the name Netvor?” John asked distraction Rolon. “’Would I be bearing’…? Yes, actually. It seems my reputation precedes me. Would you like an autograph?” Rolon said with a laugh. “Your forefather was a cheat and a scoundrel. I spit on his name.” John said Rolons smile dropped “…cute. Does he also do tricks?” I blinked. What the hell had just happened? “Wherever did you find him, Roy? On the streets, perhaps?” Whatever nerve John had struck, it had been a solid hit. A muscle in Rolon’s face had begun to twitch, and John looked like he was getting ready to lunge.
“Better to be a mongrel than a bi—” Claire entered the room “–t of a bother.” It was a smooth recovery, but Rolon and I gave him the exact same look. One eyebrow raised, and the other ready to go up in case it needed reinforcements.
“Oh, I see we have more guests. I take it the three of you are already acquainted?” Claire said. She smiled softly allowing the wrinkles on her face to show.
“Yes. You could say that.” Rolon replied coldly.
I cleared my throat gaining their attention “Claire, may I present John…uh, Alabaster? He’s an old friend of mine.” I said presenting him.
“And I was visiting Liberdam.” John said “Just for a little while.” I countered. “And I didn’t know Roy lived here.” John added “We’d drifted out of touch.” I affirmed “And we just so happened to bump into each other.” John continued on.
“Yes. Uh, yes. Yes, we did.” I said. I risked a glance at Claire. Her expression was absolutely unreadable. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Alabaster. Have you been traveling for long? Would you like anything to eat?” Claire said with a curtsy. “No, madam. But thank you for the kind offer.” John said in a mumble manner.
“John, this is my wife, Claire Armstrong.” I commented.
“It is an honor to meet someone my old friend thinks of so dearly.” John said cheerfully. If I had been drinking a glass of water at the time, I would have sprayed it. Claire just smiled sweetly. “Likewise, good sir. If your schedule ever affords you any free time, I would love to sit and chat. I’m a curious girl by nature, and my husband only tells me rarely of his past.” Claire said. She ran her hand through her faintly graying red hair.
“I, uh. That is to say…” I tried. Ironically, it was Rolon who saved me.
“As fascinating as this all is, I am afraid we must be on our way. Begging your leave, Lady Armstrong?” Rolon said. Claire agreed in turn “It was wonderful of you to stop by, Rolon. I do wish you and your son would visit more often.”
“Father?” a small voice called from the hallway. When he entered the room he let out a small “ah.” Despite being in his early twenties, Nola still moved like a boy. He stood awkwardly in the doorway, staying just outside of the parlor, one hand holding onto the door frame like he was afraid he might be dragged away. Compared to the confident, self-centered Rolon, the apple couldn’t have fallen any further from the tree. Every time I saw him, it made me think of a dog that had been kicked too often.
“There you are. I was just telling our lovely host that we were ready to leave. Where were you?” Rolon asked his son. “I was…ah…talking to…La….” Nola replied meekly. Rolon fixed him with a steel-tipped stare. “…I was walking the grounds.” Nola corrected himself.
“Very good. A regular constitutional will keep you healthy. Do not ever neglect your body.” Rolon adroitly switched his attention back to my wife. “Claire, you’ve been an exceptional host. I really must do this more often. And Roy. Oh, Roy. What can I possibly say to you that would express how I feel? Your loss saddens me deeply. As, I’m sure, it saddens you. Knowing that there is one less elf in the world. Why, I must blink away tears. I can only hope that your grieving period is brief.” He turned to leave.
“It was good to see you again…” Nola said. I was practically shaking with anger. “It was good to see you, too.” I was able to squeeze out that one nicety. Nola smiled before exiting the room. Claire waited until they were gone before she took a deep breath. “What was that all about?” he asked.
“Nothing.” I crossed my arms, composing myself. Rolon and I had never seen eye-to-eye. He was old money. I came from successful tradesmen. He had passed his middle-age. I still had the prime of my life before me. He was a smug, xenophobic, self-righteous asshole. I had stolen the woman he was courting. Like she would’ve wanted a widower in the first place.
“If you’re going to pick fights in front of me, can you at least tell me what they’re supposed to be about?” Claire asked.
“I was not picking that fight. He started…damnit. John, can you give us a moment?” John was staring intently at a point on the far wall. I glanced at his chest. He wasn’t breathing. “…John?” His lungs kicked back in, double-time. “Oh! I’ll just…um…stand out in the hall.” John said fumbling to get out.
Claire let out a sigh “He’s your guest. We shouldn’t make him wait. I’ll let you get back to him in just a minute, but can we talk about this? I know you’re taking her death hard, Roy. I can only imagine what this feels like for you. But something has felt wrong with you lately. Even before her…” She must have seen something in my expression, because she stopped on a dime. “I’m sorry, Roy. If there’s anything I can do. If you need someone to listen, you can always ask me.” She stepped forward and hugged me. I patted her reassuringly on the back. It was a practiced motion, cold and mechanical.
“Thank you, Claire. I’ll be okay.” There was a hollowness in my stomach belying the words. “I should go attend to my guest.” I turned to make my way to him “Will he be staying overnight? Should I have the staff prepare the guest suite?” Claire asked. I nodded “That’s probably a good idea. Thank you, Claire.” She hugged me again, and then wordlessly left the room. She had never been terribly good at reading me.
“John?” He looked out of sorts standing there I ask what his problem was. “But I don’t think even a team of dedicated experts could tell me that.” The corner of John’s lip twitched, which was as close as I’d ever seen him come to smiling.
“Roy?” John said. “Yes?” I asked. “I don’t think I get tired, but I’d like to lie down all the same.” John said in a quiet tone.
“You’re taking it better than I would.” I said jokingly. John looked confused “Waking up after centuries of imprisonment. You’re taking it better than I would.” I elaborated.
“I didn’t wake up, Roy. I was conscious the whole time.” John said. I felt a chill run down my back. “I think you’re only proving my point. I’ll have the staff show you to your room.”
<<Chapter 3 Chapter 5>>