Chapter Two / Thirty-Three FingersMature

            They sat down on a cold stone bench in the midst of an herb garden, and Lupe curled up at her master’s feet, sighing dramatically.  For quite a while, they waited in silence, the morning sun warm on their faces, breathing in the sharp fragrance that drifted off of the overgrown rosemary bush that sulked behind them.

            “I suppose, then,” said Henry eventually, “you know why I chose you for wife?”

            Fiona smiled crookedly.  “You needed to marry, firstly for appearance sake, secondly because you need to produce an heir.  You needed the woman to be of a respectable class, but you couldn’t find anyone of noble blood who would suit all of your requirements.  You chose me in particular because you were previously acquainted with me and because you are on good terms with my uncle, who has at least some influence over my parents’ decisions.  In addition, although we have always been commoners, I have powerful relatives on both sides of my family, including Uncle Alasdair.  Perhaps most importantly, though, my brother was gay and my uncle is a mage, and you happen to be a gay mage, so you knew I would at least tolerate those aspects of who you are.”

            “You’re a clever girl.”

            “So I’ve been told.  Did I miss anything?”

            “Not much.  Just that I do love your uncle greatly.  He has been like a father to me.”  Henry shrugged his shoulders again and bit his lip.  “I would be honored to be related to him, if only by marriage.”

            “So,” said Fiona, elbowing him jokingly in the ribs.  “If my uncle is like a father to you, does that make us cousins?  That would be incest, wouldn’t it?”

            Henry grimaced.  “My parents were half-siblings.”

            “And, pray tell, what came of that?”

            “One simpleton, one madman, and one, well...me.  Thirty-three fingers between us.”  He wiggled his digits.  “I’m the only one who didn’t get any extras.”

            “Lucky you.”

            “I know.  It could be much worse.”  He lowered his voice.  “I have a cousin, the Earl of Darkarbor, who has two penises.”

            “Shit,” Fiona said.  “Are they both fully functional?”

            “I don’t know.  I mean, I would ask, but we aren’t exactly on speaking terms.  He’s next in line for my fiefdom—until I produce an heir, that is—and he’s tried to have me assassinated three times since my eighteenth birthday.”

            “Sounds like a lovely family you’re dragging me into, Henry.”

            He grinned sheepishly.  “Sorry.”

            “Aren’t you worried he’ll come after your theoretical heir, too?”

            “He has some moral decency.  Never kills children.  That’s why he waited until I came of age to start on me.”

            “So once you have an heir, you’re safe.  He’d have to wait eighteen years for it to be worth the effort to kill you.”

            “Exactly.”

            “No wonder you’re so eager to marry.”

            Henry nodded and sighed, reaching down to stroke Lupe’s pointed ears.  “Speaking of family and murder, there is something I wanted to address with you.  The reason why I was already at Carviliet when you arrived.”

            “Oh?”

            “I recently found a new lawyer for Simon, and we’ve filed for a retrial.  If all goes to plan, I’ll be bringing my brother home by the end of November.  If it doesn’t, then there’s a chance we might have to postpone the wedding.”

            “That’s fine by me,” said Fiona.  “I hope the case goes well.”

            “I’m optimistic about it.  The new attorney has an exceptional track record.  Plus, a gentleman in Brysail recommended a private detective to me.  I’ve contacted him, and he’s agreed to meet with me next week to decide if he wants to help with the case.  Which means that I’ll be leaving for the capital in a few days time, then ideally return to Carvil with the detective so that he can gather any evidence that might remain at my manor.  After that, we will travel up to Waelyngar for the trial.  Also, your uncle and aunt will be accompanying me both to Brysail and to Waelyngar.”

            “Why?”

            “I suppose they have business of their own in each city.  I don’t know the details.”

            Fiona nodded, although she suspected that Henry was still hiding something.

            As if he had noticed the doubt in her eyes, the mage hurriedly pulled a small glass flask from the pocket of his tunic before she could question him further.  “May I propose a toast?”

            “Henry, it’s nine thirty in the morning.”

            He glanced at his timepiece.  “Ten o’ clock.  Anyway, time is an illusion.”

            “Fine,” Fiona relented, rolling her eyes.

            Smiling, Henry uncorked the bottle and raised it toward the sun.  “To our lost brothers.  May we both find them again.”

            He drank deeply, then passed the flask to Fiona, who did likewise.

            “Who knows,” he said as he re-corked the bottle and returned it to his pocket.  “Perhaps Seoc isn’t as irretrievable as you seem to think he is.”

            Fiona shook her head.  “If he were alive still, he would have written.”

The End

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