Iolanthe had grown sick with sitting at her desk in her office and sick with waiting for the Freedonians to attack. The last several days she had spent either at home or driving around town in her steam carriage. She had even resorted to visiting other people. The day before, she had played a game of badminton against the Korlanns. Of course she had won. Now she walked alone in her garden, examining the annuals. Even the last summer blossoms were gone. It was time to prepare the beds for fall.
“It’s beginning to look a bit bleak.”
Iolanthe turned to find her husband standing behind her. He wore his khakis and stood with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders a bit slumped, but still towering over her.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you today. Shouldn’t you be preparing for the Freedonians?”
“We’re as prepared as we are going to be.”
“I hope so.”
“I sent out Bassington with a team three days ago. They destroyed several hundred yards of track and set up a magical ward to alert us when the Freedonians cross.”
“I have something for you,” he said, pulling his right hand from his pocket and holding up a small velvet-covered box.”
“It’s not my birthday for four more days.”
“I know. This is not a birthday gift. This is a gift for you just being you.”
“Oh? Interestingly enough, most people don’t find that sufficient reason to give me gifts.”
Iolanthe took the box and flipped open the hinged lid. Inside were two golden earrings fashioned to resemble dragons in flight. Each dragon clasped in each of its front claws a large and very bright red gem. It was as though they had just snatched the rubies from the ground and were taking them back to their treasure piles.
“These are exquisite,” said Iolanthe.
“Mr. Vever says there are no finer examples of rubies outside of the Crown Jewels of Brech. I had to have him rework them twice. First he made earrings with clips, not knowing your ears were pierced. Then I had him add a second gem to each of the dragons.”
“Put them on for me,” she said, shoving the box back into his hands, and then pulling the golden hoops from her ears.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It should be easy.” She leaned in close. “Just poke it in the hole.”
He took her left earlobe and pulled it taught, slipping the post through the piercing. She could smell his breath and feel it on her cheek. Once the earring was in, she turned and presented the other ear. More confident now, he threaded the earring without looking, pressing his lips against her temple and smelling her hair.
“We could go upstairs to the bedroom,” she said.
“Now that Cissy is no longer with us, we could use the paramour chamber.”
“No. I’ve had that filled with gardening tools.”
“Don’t we already have a gardener’s shed?”
“This was closer.”
“Well then the gardener’s shed must be empty…”
He smiled. She smiled back at him.
“Go to the kitchen and get two cups of tea,” she said. “I’ll be ready for you upstairs.”