Lord Dorian, Steward of Piques, sat across from Duc Felicien, who had been his childhood friend so very long ago. They had been playing in a creek in the woods when the younger boy disappeared at Springfinding. Dorian himself could barely remember it, but the after-effects had been grand. The duc and duchesse had held out hope for several years, every great change in season bringing with it a wish that their only son would return, but the hope faded as time went by. The steward at the time, his father, took over more and more duties as the grieving couple found themselves unable to. With their deaths came an end to the noble line of Piques. Until now.
It seemed as if only a fraction of the time had passed for Félicien, though. He was still young, a boy, and Dorian’s own children could now be his peers.
“How long were you there?”
“Ten years. Or maybe a hundred,” Félicien replied with a shrug. That those two measurements were vastly different did not seem to bother him. “Time flows, but rarely at a steady pace. How long has it been in this plane?”
“Sixty years. Exactly. You disappeared at Springfinding and today is—”
“The first day of our Midspring, yes,” the young man interrupted. “The celebrations began last night. We escorted those out who would help prepare this plane for Spring, and I went along because I reached my majority.” He smiled and his grin broadened as he added, “I came to cause some mischief, but it seems I have brought much of it with me.”
“It is less you,” the steward said, “and more your return, that has us all..”
“In a tizzy?”
The boy was enjoying this far too much. But he was, after all, still a boy. He was too young to be an adult in Piques, but a fée’s majority was at the start of puberty. So he was fourteen or fifteen. That he considered himself fée was also disturbing.
“Well then,” Félicien said, spreading his arms and leaning back in his chair, balancing on the hind legs in a way that should not be possible. “I can always put things to right by just going back—”
“You cannot. You are the rightful Duc of Piques, you have duties.”
“I, duties?” His chair slammed down and Félicien laughed. A dangerous glint entered his eye. “You say this land is mine to do with as I desire?”
“In a way.” Dorian tried to chose his words carefully. “I have been handling the affairs since your parents deaths, but there has been no duc for many years. You have been returned to us, please, perhaps you may take some time to be here. Do this for me.”
“You? And who are you to me?”
“Dorian Louis, your steward. And a friend, from when we were young. It was on an adventure together that you were lost.”
“Dorian Louis,” Félicien repeated softly. A chill went down the steward’s back as he realized he had told someone of Faery his whole true name.
“Very well, then.” Félicien inclined his head. “On our friendship, I shall stay a time. Perhaps there is a reason I have returned after all.”
“Thank you.” Tension eased from his shoulders and Dorian leaned back in his own chair. This would be difficult. He was tempted to let the heir go back, make Ophion continue his duties as planned, but it would be wrong to deny the land its proper ruler. A steward was all well and good, but they were not the duc.
A soft knock had both looking over to the door. Dorian bade them enter and a young girl in rich clothes came in. His daughter, Ophélie.
Out of the corner of his eye Dorian saw Félicien stand and bow to her (more than he himself had gotten).
His daughter curtsied in kind, and then gave her attention to him. “Papa, forgive the interruption, but I was told to come give you aid? Brother has already left.”
“Ah, yes, well- my dear, this is His Grace, Félicien, the rightful Duc of Piques. If you would be so kind as to show him around his home.”
She turned now-curious eyes to Félicien and smiled. “Of course. Your Grace, if you would like to follow me.”
“Thank you, mademoiselle. And thank you, Dorian.”
“I am not the duc yet, am I?” Félicien asked as they left the room. “Surely there must be some sort of ceremony.”
“Well, yes, but as both of your parents are deceased, it is your title already. Though you do not seem of age, so perhaps the actual duties shall not fall to you for a while yet.”
“I am sixty-four,” the boy said proudly. “At least, I was born sixty-four years ago. But I feel not a day over fifty.” When she looked back to him, unsure of how to take his words, he laughed once more.
“And how old are you?” Félicien asked, walking beside her, focused more on her than the path they were walking.
“Fourteen years and a month,” she said. “The month is important.”
“Of course it is.”
“Now, I will show you around the domain and tell you what I know. Brother shall help you after, he knows more than I as he is Papa’s heir, but is not home right now.”
“Oui, mademoiselle, as you say!” Félicien stepped out in front of her, walking backwards while facing her. She tried to ignore him, looking over his shoulder, but it was difficult.
“Your name, my dear?” he asked, having studied her from head to foot. She was pretty, with chestnut hair that was pinned up, and almost-violet eyes.
“Ophélie, though you may continue to call me Mademoiselle.”
Félicien grinned. “Ah, but if I understand this, I am your duc. I may call you as I please.”
“And I am your guide for the day. Without me you shall be lost and confused and the cause of much trouble.”
“I like being trouble.”
She stopped at this and he continued for a few paces before hitting a stand that held a decorative vase.
“Like that?” she asked, as he whirled around to make sure it did not fall.
He turned back around a bit sheepishly. “Yes, just like that.”
“Well then, if you shall follow me?”
He returned to her side, taking her arm and gesturing with his free hand that she should lead the way.
“And your name?”
“Is that your true name?”
“Of course not.”