~ Hexday, 18th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
A knock on his door. Pierre sighed and put down his pen. His guards were supposed to keep everyone away from him this evening. Truth be told he was still angry at his advisors and wanted to be alone. Elwin and Rhianu had only stayed one day and left that morning, their talk not quite as productive as it could have been. It would take more than a talk to solve years of tension among the fée and people of Clandestina though.
So he did not answer the door, waiting until his guards would do their job and tell Vivien, or Renaud, or whoever was at the door to leave.
Instead the door opened.
Elizabeth entered, poking her head in shyly at first, but upon seeing him smiling and walking in without an invitation. She shut the door behind herself.
“Pierre, we are going out tonight.”
“It is your nephew’s birthday,” she interrupted. “We are going to celebrate his young highness.”
Pierre could not think of a reason to argue. While he had much to do it was Ancel’s forth birthday. A good a excuse to get him out of his chambers and among the people he had been refusing to see.
“Doing very well, as you know. You spoke with her this morning. And I just checked her with Wolfram an hour ago. Of course by all means go see yourself, but she is happy, not in pain, and getting ready to sleep for the evening.”
She had come prepared. Pierre could not help but smile.
“I have not bought Ancel a present yet…” he admitted, starting to give in.
“I am sure he will not mind if it is late. I will help you pick something out. Síofra is waiting to help me get dressed, I will meet you in half an hour, or a little longer if you check Alise. Oh, and we can also pick up my new shoes!” She blew him a kiss and left.
Pierre looked down at his notes. He had taken to doodling in the margins, unable to concentrate. There was no reason to refuse Lizzy’s offer.
He sighed and looked around, spotting Pluta laying on top of a chair. “Pluta, shall you go fetch Wolfram for me, please? It seems I have a date tonight with Lady Elizabeth.”
He did check Alise. He passed by her rooms on the way to his chambers from his office and met with her parents as she was already asleep. They confirmed she was feeling much better and wanted to go home soon because she feared she would miss all of the little bunnies that had been born in spring.
“Lady Elizabeth has come by to sit with her every day for at least an hour, sometimes talking and sometimes just reading while holding her hand. The incision is nearby invisible now.” It had still been red this morning.
“I will look tomorrow. If things continue like this I am sure you will be on your way home early next week.”
Wolfram helped him dress quickly, already knowing from Lady Elizabeth that she planned on taking Pierre out tonight. The duc chose formal clothes, taking a regular top-hat with a crimson band around the cylinder and dark red gloves to match.
“Thank you,” he told Wolfram. “For this and for help with Alise. You performed well. I have not had as much time to look into Salome’s illness with everything going on, but I have an idea we may discuss later.”
“Of course, Your Grace, my lord. I have been reading some as well, the library here is full of every subject imaginable. Whenever you have the time, I am doing well by myself.”
“Keep her company if you wish while I go out tonight. Try and feel her soul. Do not attempt to bring her back, but place a drop of blood between her lips and try and sense her.”
“I… yes, thank you, I will.”
As Pierre opened the door Pluta squeezed into the room, turned around, meowed at Pierre to catch his attention, and then jumped up on his shoulders.
“Pluta! You cannot come, this is a date,” he said.
“Would you not then need a chaperone?” Wolfram asked, only to receive a glare from Pierre. The boy quickly returned to looking at the trunk that held Salome, waiting until his master left so he could lock the door and open it.
Pierre scratched Pluta behind the ears. In a soft voice he added, “Please listen to what is said when I am not around and they think themselves alone.”
Not wanting to be left behind, but glad for the job given, she meowed at him again, dug her claws into his shoulder, and jumped off, deciding that Wolfram would be better company if he was going to be performing magic. He would need her as a stand-in for a Familiar.
Pierre shook his head, swearing about his dear damn cat softly, and rubbed his shoulder. She knew better than to make him bleed so she would not have pierced far, but that did not mean it did not hurt. Sometimes he wished he had chosen a dog for his familiar…
“Have a good evening, Wolfram.”
“Oui, I shall. And yourself, Your Grace!”
Pierre left, waited until he heard the door lock with a click, and left Wolfram and his familiar to their magic.
Lizzy stepped out of her room just as he walked into her hallway. Her color was again blue, the same dress she had wore to the informal-dinner, but this time accented in black from the corset to a ribbon on her wrist. She wore a silver snood that held up hair hair and gold interwoven with the grey. Her now beloved larkspur fan was held in a gloved hand.
He said nothing, unable to form any words, holding out his arm for her. She took it and they began to walk to the front entrance.
“I did not know you were keeping Alise company,” Pierre said finally.
“Well, you were busy and Síofra was away,” Lizzy said, leaning onto him. “I wanted her to heal and have some company. I brought some books to read too.”
“Lord Vivien came too,” she added. “And his daughters as well. They are a little older than Alise, but both want to make friends with her. I even saw them drag Bastien in the other day, against his will of course. He is adamant he is too old to keep playing with girls, though he apologized for saying such when he realized I was a girl as well.”
Pierre laughed. “How old is he again?”
“Almost eleven. His birthday is in two months. Apolla is nine, and Eliana turned eight a week before we arrived,” she answered promptly. Pierre looked at her curiously and she smiled. “They have decided I can be Auntie Lizzy and need to know everything about them.”
Pierre laughed and squeezed her around the shoulders. “Good! I’m glad you are well liked here, my dear.”
“You are well liked as well, Pierre. And yet you have holed yourself away these last few days. Are you still angry at all of them?”
He sighed. “Oui, I am. And at myself.”
“You cannot blame yourself.”
“And whyever not? If I was here I would have known.”
She squeezed his arm. “You know now.”
And now he would need to do something. The trouble was he did not know what.
“Where shall we be going first?” he asked, changing the subject. It was twilight, and the sky was painted every color while the town’s lights began to brighten the streets. A carriage already stood, door open, to take them into the city.
“Just about the shops. We can look for a toy first, and then if there is still time get my shoes. Though if we wish to stay up quite late I have an idea for later…” And if there was no time they could come by another day.
“Oh? I believe I am quite awake my dear. I shall follow your lead.”
He helped her into the carriage.
“Bring us to the center of town,” he told the driver and went in after her.
It was dusk when they exited, the gaslamps lit and bringing a glow all around.
“Left or right?”
Elizabeth took his hand and looked up and down each street before beginning to walk down the south road. Pierre followed.
It was after dinner, many of the shops closed for the evening with other establishments just opening up. He recognized the road after a while, the dark making it harder to distibguish. When they arrived at the shoemaker’s it seemed closed, only a faint light flickering through the window, not the many that would welcome in buyers. Pierre knocked on the door anyway, hoping that it would be answered.
“Bonsoir! And pardon, but we are closed—” The door opened the rest of the way and the shoemaker saw who was at his door.
“Oh, Your Grace! I am so glad you have come. Forgive the delay—”
“Not at all, we have been busy. In fact, I thought myself late to pick them up and was going to ask your forgiveness. Would it be possible to come get them even at this hour?”
“Of course, of course. Come in, let me show them to you. I must confess I am still here because I was seeing if there was anything last minute I could add.”
He lead Pierre to the back where the finished shoes were set up to be admired on a workbench. They were simple at first glance but details emerged the more they were inspected. Dark green with a single strip at the top, a golden buckle in the shape of an acorn to clasp it shut, they were leather, thin and comfortable, with embroidery along the sides in what seemed like rose-gold thread. Butterflies and roses; often symbols of the fée. The soles were dark wood, and the small heels seemed more like branches growing out from it. One even had the smallest twig and leaf on it.
“Monsieur you have outdone yourself,” Pierre said, picking up one of the shoes and looking it over.
“What spells are on them?” Elizabeth asked. She sat on a bench and slipped off the shoes she had chosen for the evening. Pierre knelt and put on her new pair. He pointed out the twig and leaf on her left shoe and she smiled, touching it gently, but not wishing to tear it off.
“They will fit your feet comfortably every time and leave no blisters or chaffing. They should also last quite a time, perhaps twice the length shoes without the magic would last, but not forever. That leaf, my dear, will actually indicate how much of the magic is left. When it fades past autumn colors and falls off the magic is no more.”
Elizabeth stood and twirled around, taking a few steps and even a leap with them. They were sturdy and she both felt they would not fall off no matter what she tried, and yet almost as if she were barefoot. The heels were short enough that they did not impede her, and she loved them, even if she had at first asked for flats.
“I know they do not match my dress,” she said, “but I do believe I will wear these out for the rest of tonight.”
Her other shoes were boxed up instead and Pierre handed the man a quarter-livre.
“But, Your Grace, you have already paid much more for these than I asked.”
“And yet I believe they are worth still more. Take it, next time I commission something from you I may not be as generous.” At the somewhat-warning the shoe-maker took the pay, thanked the duc again, and invited them to return soon.
“I will most certainly need a pair of similar shoes,” Pierre said as they walked out, observing Lizzy. She was almost dancing, twirling and walking around without a care. He wondered if there was a spell put on them to induce such happiness, or was it merely his presence that had her so happy.
“But no heels,” she said. “You are already far too tall.”
He caught her hand, stopping her, and twirled her back into his arms. Before she could protest he leant down and kissed her gently. Then he stood, still holding her, picking her up. He did not break the kiss and she did not protest.
“Hm, yes,” he murmured just before kissing her ear, “I believe with your new shoes you and I are just the right height. No heels for me, then.”
He placed her down gently, not wanting to test how her balance would hold up if he dropped her from half a foot in the air in new footwear. He smiled at her blush.
“A toy,” she finally said, turning around. There were still a few gift-stands open, though many vendors were putting things away already. “For Ancel, remember?”
They found a small toy, something that could be sent by pigeon without impeding the bird too much, so that it would be not very late. They in fact bought two, one for Eliana as well as she had recently also had her birthday. They were wooden horses whose legs moved if you tugged at the ribbons that made the reins.
“Tugging at the reins should stop the horse,” Pierre had commented though. “Even I know that.”
“Then I suggest we buy Gwythyr something else because my brother would never allow such a toy for his son. But he is still too small to appreciate this.”
At the edge of the square there was also a kiosk set up where boys could be paid to take one’s shopping home if the people wished to stay longer and not carry heavy bags. Given the hour only a few older boys were there, but when hearing that it would be taken to the château they jumped to attention.
“Do not look into it,” Pierre ordered, giving the packaging and bags over. Both Lizzy’s shoes and the two horses were inside. “Have it taken to Lady Elizabeth’s quarters.”
“You wish to stay out longer?” Lizzy asked. She had thought it enough of a victory that he had come out for this long.
“Yes. I feel much better in your company now. The sky is clear, the stars are starting to shine. We can just wander for a bit.”
“And if I have an idea of something to do?”
“Lead the way.”