Ionas’ quiet appearance and introduction was first greeted by a polite bow from Lord Jeneyeru and a brief, “Good to see you again, Mr. Farseer,” from Prince Peino, together with even briefer explanations of who he was, which mostly just echoed what Ionas had already said himself.
But when Ionas drew the two cards from his pocket, both of the Ereonis brothers came up sharply. They listened to his account of how he had acquired the accursed objects that radiated their poisonous and subtle aura into the air breathed by the little group.
“‘Pon my bones, my good sir,” Jeneyeru said when he was done, “such doings over these little slips. We’d best put them with their brethren.”
“So much for finding the dealer,” said Peino as Jeneyeru retrieved the black Box of Nothing from the chest in his bed chamber. “What now?”
“Now, brother,” said Jeneyeru, “with the weather turning hard against us, I suggest we review the day’s labors and learn what we have learned. Then I may plan the next move. In the meantime, my dear Lord of Ymuin, if you will permit? Thank you.”
Gently taking the cards from Ionas, Jeneyeru glanced at their faces — a grim frown passed over his face — before he slipped them into the box. With the snap of the lid, he sighed, but he seemed hardly relieved.
“Let us join together again in but a few minutes. Thimble!”
The wizard waved generally at the group as he went into his chamber. “See to them.”
Naturally, the diminutive Thimble would be required to see to his own employer’s needs as well as the now four dripping wet elves and eormen of varying social strata. But then, this faerie was not the Valet to the Lord Magus of the Grand Navigators for nothing. With the resources of the embassy at his disposal, he would shift somehow to “see to” all of them and whatever they might need to make themselves presentable, whether it might be a new coat or a team of lads to dry a pair of boots double-quick.
At least the Prince would make little work for him.
Peino Starhand was unusual among the high-ranking aristocracy in that he traveled with no personal servant. In fact, he kept no servants at all, apart from his housekeeper. Not chamberlain, mind, but housekeeper. For a house, not a palace. The Sovereign Prince of the Grand Navigators was seen by many as positively eccentric in his passion for self-sufficiency. Lord Jeneyeru considered it just impractical of him, and so any time the noble brothers shared a roof, Thimble would be assigned to wait upon Peino — a duty which amounted to little more than brushing a few coats now and then.
Lord Ruili, the third brother, was quite the same, though not so much because he insisted on doing everything himself. It was more that, as the wags of the Isles had it, Windwolf had half the city of Plesz running to his beck and call, and the other half waiting for their shift, so widely did the youngest triplet employ the merchants and professional services of the town for his every need, at a great expense of gold.
Either way, Thimble’s burden was relatively light, and he considered himself lucky, especially as he had not started out in domestic service and never planned to end that way.
So the Magus’ valet set about flitting and buzzing about, arranging all that would be needed, including Prince Peino’s “bracing refreshment.”
— — —
For his part, Peino fulfilled Thimble’s expectations immediately. As soon as the cards were locked away, he retired to the bed chamber reserved for him where he stripped off the wettest parts of his blue silk suit. He scowled to notice his sleeve stained with the blood of the woman Lafitte had shot. Fresh recriminations against the foolhardiness of the air-captain racing through his mind, he pulled off waistcoat and shirt as well, throwing all but his plains into a pile for Thimble to send to the laundry.
A fresh white shirt and buff britches, a casual cream vest bound round with a red sash, and his wet hair combed out, and the Prince was already leaving the bedroom when Thimble looked in on him.
He was soon joined in the salon by Jeneyeru, comfortable in his rose-colored dressing gown but still equipped with all his charms and talismans, and the Box of Nothing.
The two of three brothers, physically identical yet so different in other ways, stood at the arched window and watched the storm beating across the harbor. It turned the sky prematurely dark. It washed high waves into the city. From below came the banging of the storm shutters sealing up the lower floors of the embassy.
“Angry weather,” said the wizard.
“Aye,” said the prince, “a will has chased us ever since we crossed with those spriggans off Kledy. Sink a man’s Reputation, and his vengeance will surely follow,” he added with a wink.
Jeneyeru shook his head. “A spriggan’s vengeance? I think not, nor do I think it chases you, particularly.”
“I agree.” Peino was as sensitive to the powers of the sea and sky as his brother or any other sea elf. “But I cannot tell who among us could have offended Manawydden so, or how.”
“It is an unwelcome complication.”
“Do not worry over it, brother. If we selkies cannot charm the moods of the wind god, then we’ll have more cause than this to fret.”
Jeneyeru smiled. “I leave the wind-singing to you, Milord Starhand. I shall turn my wisdom to the ways in which I am wise. And to that end…”
As Thimble ushered in some embassy footmen carrying trays of cold dishes and bottles of mead, ale, and stone-fruit liquors, the brothers of House Ereon turned to see if the others had joined them and to call the informal meeting to order.