The following morning they were back together for breakfast, and Mr. Staff seemed affable enough, but he had lunch with some businessmen, and left Iolana alone for tea as well. She had just sat down to the afternoon meal, when she found a figure suddenly standing beside her table.
She looked up into the face of Tiber Stephenson. Tiber was the eldest son of the family whose home was just down the street from the Dechantagne Staff estate. He was a lean, handsome youth of seventeen, with brown hair and intelligent green eyes.
“Lady Iolana,” he said, with a nod.
“Oh please. You’ve known me all my life, Tiber. In fact, as I recall, you used to call me Roly-Poly-Yolie: not very clever of you, really.”
“To be fair, I was only seven or eight years old at the time.”
“I concede that point. Won’t you sit down?
“Only if you allow me to join you for tea.”
“My father didn’t put you up to it, did he?”
“Is he here?” Tiber looked around the dining room. “I haven’t seen him. I only just happened to see you sitting here.”
The young man took the seat across from her. They were almost immediately joined by the waiter.
“Bring us tea for two, please,” said Iolana.
With a nod, the server disappeared.
“So, you’re on your way to St. Ulixes?” asked Tiber.
“Oh, I can’t put one over on you, can I?” replied Iolana. “My father is making the trip for business, and I thought I would go along as a tourist.”
“That’s exactly my situation. My father is thinking of investing there. I just came along to get the look of the land. I’ve never been to Mallontah. Maybe we could do some of that together.”
“You know, I don’t think I’ve seen you since New Year’s Day.”
Iolana rolled her eyes. “Well, you did your duty. I collected your card. How many other young women did you visit that day?”
“Only a few—Questa, Talli, Dovie, and of course Ernst and Didrika.”
“You are very close with Miss Goose, aren’t you?
“Ernst, do you mean?”
“I was speaking of Didrika. You certainly spent a great deal of time with her at the New Year’s Eve party.”
“We’re good friends, but she’s too old for me. Or rather, I’m too young for her. She’s looking for an established gentleman. Ernst is very nice, and she’s pretty, not to mention that she’s a more appropriate age. If I had my way, I would court her, but I don’t think my father would allow it.”
“But she’s cousins with the McCoorts and also with the Drache Girl. They’re probably as rich as your family or mine.”
“The McCoorts are new money though. And the Drache Girl—well, she’s the problem really. My parents would accept new money with a daughter-in-law, not a son-in-law mind, but they would never accept anyone related to an unwed mother. It would be unthinkable.”
“Are you sure my father didn’t send you over?”
“No reason. So then, I suppose your parents would be dead set against Questa, what with her mother being a foreigner,” mused Iolana, to which Tiber nodded. “I suppose that leaves Talli Archer.”
“She acts nice in crowds,” he said, “but she’s really a shrew.”
“Don’t I know it!”
“My parents specifically asked me to call on you,” he said, “and I honestly like you better than any of the other girls.”
“It won’t be long before you are old enough to tame, Stahwasuwasu Zrant,” he said in perfect spit-n-gag.
“Stop showing off, Ssukhas Zrant,” she replied in the same tongue.
“I didn’t know you knew my lizzie name,” he said, switching back to Brech. “It’s not like I’m famous among them, a close friend of their god and all.”
“Yes, I know you’re not ready to receive callers, even though you turn fourteen in three weeks. Lots of girls get married when they are fourteen these days.” He held up his hand when she started to object. “I understand though. You’re not ready. All I ask is that in a year or two, when you are ready, you at least consider me.” He leaned across the table. “Or have you already settled on Ascan Tice?”