The following day, Staff went to visit Iolanthe. He was aware that it might not be seemly, but he didn’t care. He hadn’t seen a glimpse of her in five days, eight hours. He hadn’t held her and kissed her in sixteen days, five hours. And he hadn’t made love to her in eighteen days, three hours. His plan to arrive when most members of the household were not up and about went awry when he forgot that it was the Zaeri Sabbath. As he was walking up the steps, the lizardman major-domo opened the front door and out stepped Yuah Dechantagne and another beautiful dark-haired woman.
“Good morning Mr. Staff,” said Yuah. “May I introduce my friend Honor Hertling?”
“Good morning ladies,” he replied.
“Don’t mind us. We’re on our way to Shrine.”
The two women went down the stairs and around the house, while Staff stepped in the open door and waited in the parlor as Iolanthe was informed by the servant of his arrival. When she entered the room she stole his breath away. She wore a pink dress, decorated all down the front with metallic brocade in the design of stems and leaves and inset with pearls where the blossoms would be. The collar was high in back, plunging down in front, revealing her long, thin neck to its best advantage. Her auburn hair had been carefully curled, long in the back and short curls falling across her forehead. The look was completed by a pink top hat with a gauzy veil which covered her face, but did not hide those remarkable aquamarine eyes.
“I was,” she said. “I didn’t know when I was going to see you.”
“I didn’t know when I should come.”
Iolanthe held out her elbow and Staff took two steps forward to take it. The elbow wasn’t enough though and his left hand reached up to caress the side of her cheek. Her eyes opened wider, but she offered no protest. His hand followed up the line of her jaw.
“My God, you’ve pierced your ear.”
“Yes, both of them. I got the idea when we were in Enclep. All the women there have pierced ears.”
“They also carve magic runes into their breasts and rub ashes into the open wounds to make them stand out.”
“Well, maybe I’ll try that next week. You will note that I’m not the only one in town with my ears pierced. If both Senta and I do something, it’s sure to become the next big thing.”
“I’m surprised you are comparing yourself to Zurfina’s girl.”
“I am not comparing us. Still, there is no denying that the child is popular. Shall we take a walk around the yard?”
Staff led her by the elbow through the front door, held open for them by the same lizardman. Down the front steps, they turned left and followed the winding cobblestone pathway between the trees, rock gardens, and empty flower beds.
“This yard should finally look the way that I want it to this spring. I’ve spent a great many marks to get it ready.”
“You’ve spent a great many marks overall. I understand you’ve been paying for ships full of Zaeri refugees to escape Freedonia and come here to live. If you keep it up, you may lose your reputation as a heartless and manipulative bitch.”
“Oh, I doubt that will happen. Let’s sit down in the gazebo.
The small white gazebo on the west side of the yard had a two person porch swing suspended from lengths of small steel chain. Staff held the swing steady to allow Iolanthe to sit down, a purely chivalrous act since the chains were hung so that the swing moved only a few inches either way in any case. He then sat down beside her.
“I didn’t want the children playing on this swing, so I had it strung like this,” Iolanthe explained. “They have their own swing and a slide out back.”
“Are they safe for the children to play on?”
Iolanthe’s neck stiffened and she slowly turned to look searchingly at his face. She found what she was looking for.
“How long have you known?”
“That Iolana was mine? Since the first moment I saw her. She looks just like a picture I have of my sister, before she died. Except for the eyes.”
“Yes, she has my eyes.”