There was great rejoicing in the Blackwell family household when Othorion returned. Brother, father, and sister embraced the youngest, hugging and kissing him and welcoming him home. Ynaselle took Othorion’s coat, Vithian his gloves, and Flinar his hat before the maid little Ulesse could step in. Instead, Flinar demanded fine wine to be served in the sitting room while Ynaselle took Ulesse aside to arrange refreshments.
“Don’t make such a fuss,” Othorion, who was only a lieutenant and was not used to being treated to any luxury, insisted.
“We have to celebrate!” Ynaselle said, hugging her brother once more. “It’s been a year since we last saw you!”
“And not an inch taller,” Vithian said and they each laughed. Only Vithian could claim to be tall, and Othorion was the shortest among them.
Flinar placed a hand on his son’s shoulder and motioned him into the sitting room. “Come, sit with us.”
“Tell us of your adventures on the sea,” Ynaselle exclaimed.
“You would be very disappointed by most of them.” Othorion hooked Ynaselle’s arm around his own as he walked her into the sitting room. “The greatest enemy to any sailor is boredom, or so they say. Most of my days were spent just trying to keep everyone busy.”
“It can’t be so bad. You always seem so optimistic in your letters and calls.”
“Oh, yes.” Othorion chuckled. “Perhaps in a few days, I’ll miss the cramped quarters and stale food.”
Othorion and Ynaselle sat beside each other on the chaise. Flinar took a seat in an armchair while Vithian leaned over the back of it. Ulesse silently slipped into the room, offering a glass of wine to each, Flinar first. She lifted the plate to Vithian, who began to reach for a glass. Flinar turned in his chair, frowning at Vithian as he lifted the glass. Vithian hesitated, then took a deep breath and placed the glass back on the plate. Flinar had never approved of priests drinking, must less postulants.
“How long are you with us?” Flinar asked as Ulesse moved to offer wine to Othorion and Ynaselle.
“Just two weeks, I’m afraid.”
Ynaselle made a noise of displeasure and Vithian began to object, but Othorion raised his hand in a motion to silence them. “In two weeks, I must go to Rothniel to take my captaincy exams, and there is nothing I can do about that.” He glanced around, noting the vexation.
“However,” Othorion grinned, “if – and it is an if – if I pass my exams, I shall have a month free while they outfit my own ship.”
Ynaselle cried and threw her arms around her brother, “We’ll have you for a month.”
“There’s not guarantee of that.”
“You’ll pass your exams,” Vithian said, walking to his brother to clap him on the shoulder.
“I have every faith in you,” Flinar agreed.
“Well, you’re all very kind to say so,” Othorion said. “I shall be glad not to have it hanging over my head anymore.”
It would not be a shame for Othorion to remain a lieutenant. He had been a lieutenant for five years, and another year would hardly be a great hardship. However, Othorion was a determined and competent young man, and he feared he would disappoint to his captain, his fellow lieutenants, and his family if he failed to pass his exams. He chose not to mention the other concerns he would have to deal with during or, he hoped, shortly after his exams: Reconna’s accusations of dereliction of duty, assaulting a superior officer, disobeying a direct order, and cowardice. Othorion had received the list of the charges that were being filed before leaving Rothniel. He had not received Reconna’s report of what happened yet. He was fortunate that Reconna had been slow to file the charges, otherwise, he would have been arrested.
Othorion pushed this out of his mind and smiled at each of his family in turn. “I’m happy to be back home,” he said, then paused. “Where’s Jaonos, though?”
“He’s at the club,” Ynaselle said. “He hasn’t come back in a couple days.”
Othorion glanced at Flinar and Vithian who said nothing, but he could see their discomfort on their faces. When he glanced back to Ynaselle, he saw the look in her eyes that told him there was reason, but no one would talk about it in front of everyone else. Othorion placed his glass on the side table, stood, and straightened his vest. “I’ll go get him. Vithian, will you come with me?”
“Now?” Flinar asked as Vithian followed Othorion out of the room.
“Yes, now,” Othorion said from the foyer as he handed Vithian his coat. “I haven’t seen my family in a year, I don’t have much time to be with you all, and once I’m out at sea again, I don’t know when I will be able to see you all again. I want to see Jaonos as well.”
“We’ll bring Jaonos back,” Vithian said and kissed Ynaselle on the cheek.
Ynaselle watched Othorion and Vithian step out the door, but Flinar returned to his seat in the sitting room. Othorion knew why she was surprised. Othorion had a good idea why Jaonos wasn’t in the house, and he imagined his father would have wanted his own permission given before Jaonos was welcomed back. But, Othorion had seen the feuds between his father and eldest brother all his life. They were both so pig-headed, one wondered if there weren’t some dwarven blood there. Flinar would want an apology from Jaonos and Jaonos would not only refuse but demand one himself. Without their mother around, Othorion wondered if the rest of them could bring peace back to the family.
Othorion refused to entertain this again, though. “Vithian,” Othorion asked once they turned the corner. “What was it this time?”
“Oh, you know. Nothing new.”
Vithian shrugged, but he was toying with the chain of constellations at his waist. “Father took Jaonos and me to court. Father was not pleased with either of us afterward.”
Othorion glanced at Vithian. He had expected to see anger on his face, but what he saw was embarrassment. “How so?”
Vithian told Othorion about the day at court, and what their father had said to them afterward. “He was disappointed in the both of us.”
“Is that it?”
“I know, we’ve all heard this before,” Vithian said. “They must have argued after I left them in the cab. Jaonos didn’t even enter the house afterward.”
They didn’t bother finding a cab. The Valstan Club stood right off Pleese Square just a few blocks away. Othorion had been in it a number of times and would have joined had he not been gone for so long; Vithian had only entered it a few times. It had a discrete entrance, tucked in between a florist and a tobacconist, a simple door carved of oak and made to look like a miniature version of the door orcs put on their ceremonial building, the graklung. Members of the Valstan Club had a bizarre sense of humor.
Othorion and Vithian stepped into the elvish interpretation of orcish architecture. Neither had actually even been in an orc city, though Othorion had met a few as orcs were occasionally hired or pressed into service in the navy. The walls were rough-hewn wood painted nearly black with tar. Windows were heavily draped in coarse, thick-woven wool dyed in bright clashing colors. The lamps on the ceiling were crystals made to look like oil lamps, the “smoke” they let off was steam scented with, Othorion sniffed, musk, oranges, and patchouli.
As the brothers walked to the slab of granite used as a bar, Othorion glanced around the main room. Heavy leather chairs – finely made, Othorion noted – surrounded low tables where men and women sat together, smoking, reading, or speaking in low tones. They approached a young elf whose face was dusted with gray powder. It took Othorion a moment to realize the two slashes of white at the corners of her mouths were supposed to look like tusks.
“Gentlemen,” the elf said cooly, “I’m afraid that the club will be closed to non-members shortly. You’ll have to leave.”
“We’re here to find a member,” Othorion replied.
“Which member is that?”
“Jaonos Master Blackwell.”
Her eyelids fluttered almost imperceptibly, but she smiled coldly and nodded. “A sailor and a priest. Master Blackwell said you might come. I’ll get him.”
She left them waiting at the bar, and as she made her way up stairs, Othorion noticed that her dress was also a hackneyed facsimile of orcish fashion, leather and coarse wool with stones hanging from the hem.
“Do you suppose she goes out like that?” Vithian whispered.
Othorion smirked. “No, I doubt it.”
“Was her hair supposed to be a mohawk?”
The elf’s hair had been tied in three bushy tails over the crown of her head. Othorion glanced at his brother and shrugged.
“The host didn’t always dress like that.”
“No,” Othorion agreed. The last time Othorion had visited the club, the host who had greeted them had dressed as any other elf. Othorion touched the drapes beside him and smirked. It had a geometric pattern that he had never actually seen one any orc he’d ever met. “This is actually dwarven,” he said with a smirk. “The orc patterns looks more… I don’t know, organic.”
The hostess walked down the stairs only far enough to motion Othorion and Vithian closer. “Turn left at the top of the stairs. It’ll be the second door on the left at the end of the hall,” the elf said. “Master Blackwell is waiting for you.”
Othorion and Vithian climbed the steps to find the second floor was decorated in more traditional elvish tastes. The windows at each end of the hall were large, and the refracted glass let in plenty of light. The wood of the head and foot boards were the same dark color of the first floor, but they were smooth and brightly oiled. The carpet was soft with the gentle scroll and paisley that had been popular fifty years before. Antlers topped each door, cradling different objects – masks, flowers, crystals. Over the door the hostess had directed the brothers to, a wooden bucket hung from the antlers, a rope tied around its handle draped over the antlers’ tines. The rope and bucket were painted black.
Othorion and Vithian exchanged a glance.
“An old black well bucket,” Othorion said.
“How droll,” Vithian replied.
Othorion opened the door. This room looked much more like an elf’s club. Soft music issued from a soundbeam, the crystal in the bookshelves and table resonating with it so that the mournful cry of the violins and the soft whisper of flutes was felt as well was heard. At the center of the room was a round glass table surrounded by chairs upholstered in bleached white lambskin.
Jaonos sat at the table with Dr. Prognes, as well as two elves Othorion didn’t recognize. The first was a slim woman, complexion as pale as milk and hair as rich as honey. She would have been considered a rare beauty if her nose had been longer and her lips a bit thinner, but she chose a silvery powder and light pink lipstick to hid it. The man with her had a similar complexion, but his brown hair and dark eyes gave Othorion the impression of a stoat.
“Othorion!” Jaonos cried and spread his arms, glass in one hand, cards in another. “Come give me a kiss, little brother!”
Othorion smiled wanly, but removed his hat. He placed it on the coat rack beside the door. “Hello, Jaonos. And hello Myrdin.”
“You’re looking very well, Lieutenant.”
“And you brought Vithian. We’re playing leper’s crown, come join us.”
“Master Blackwell, how awful, to corrupt a priest,” the lady tittered.
“He’s a postulant, not a priest, and my brother. Othorion, Vithian, this is Bellis, and Perenni, my friends.” Joanos sat up and tossed his hand of cards on a table. “Stop hovering at the door, come, sit.”
Othorion glanced at the two elves he didn’t know, but went to the table anyway. Vithian took the seat between him and Dr. Prognes.
“You’ve just come home, then? Haven’t been able to get out of those harlequins yet?”
“We just docked today, yes,” Othorion said. He was fiddling with his gloves which he always kept meticulously white. “But, I’ve been home, to see father and Ynaselle.”
Jaonos met Othorion’s gaze, but said nothing. The smile gone, Jaonos’s lips pressed tightly together.
“You’re a sailor, then?” Perenni said. Othorion couldn’t shake the stoat impression.
“A lieutenant, yes,” Othorion replied.
“A lieutenant and a postulant,” Perenni said, turning to Jaonos, “you must be proud of your brothers.”
“Soon to be a captain and a priest,” Jaonos replied. “Terribly proud. Did father send you to fetch me, then?”
Othorion pulled his gloves back on, as he had almost picked them entirely off. “No.”
Vithian leaned forward and address Perenni. “Sir…?
“Asteraca, and my sister.”
“Yuven Perenni Asterace, Yuven Bellis Asteraca,” Vithian said, and turned, “Dr. Prognes, do you mind giving us a moment?”
The Asteracas and Dr. Prognes glanced to Jaonos. Jaonos pouted, but waved his hand. Brother and sister stood, Bellis drawing a fan over her face. “A pleasure, Lieutenant, Postulant.”
“We’ll fetch some refreshments from downstairs,” Perenni said.
Dr. Prognes hesitated, leaning closer to Jaonos. “Jaonos…?”
“Just give us a moment, Myrdin.”
Dr. Prognes sighed, glanced to Othorion and Vithian, and stood. Without another word, he followed the Asteracas out.
“So father did send you,” Jaonos said once the door was closed.
“No, father didn’t send us nor did Ynaselle. They told me you were here, and Vithian and I came to bring you home. Instead of sulking here.”
“I’m not sulking.”
“You are sulking, and you do it so well.”
“Why come at all?”
“Because I haven’t seen my brother in so long. And I wanted to.”
Jaonos huffed and frowned at Othorion and Vithian in turn. Othorion stood and circled the table to Jaonos, where he kissed him and smiled. “I’ve missed you, Jaonos.”
Jaonos sighed even more deeply, but wrapped his arms around his brother’s waist and hugged him close. “My gentle little brother,” Jaonos said. “You always were the best of us, you know?”
“I just never bated father like you.”
“Oh, mother loved you best as well.”
“No, she loved Ynaselle best,” Vithian said and the three laughed. Othorion took the seat Bellis had been sitting in while Vithian fetched two glasses and a decanter from a side table.
“Yes, I suppose so,” Jaonos said. He lifted his glass so Vithian would fill his glass, which Vithian did first. Jaonos sipped his drink while Vithian handed Othorion a glass over him.
Othorion took his glass and looked delicately away as Vithian poured himself a glass. He didn’t want Vithian to think he disapproved. “You fought with father, then?”
“Hmm.” Jaonos glanced toward Vithian who shrugged.
“I told him how father chastised us”
“Father wouldn’t tell me what happened,” Othorion said. “Not that it would have been difficult to guess.”
Jaonos shrugged, sipping his drink again. “Well, yes, father and I fought, how is it different from any other day of our lives? He told both Vithian and me that we were such great disappointments. Not dear old Ynaselle, though, not you, of course.”
“He sent Vithian away,” Jaonos interrupted.
Othorion frowned slightly. He turned to Vithian, brow furrowed.
Vithian shrugged, both hands spread on the table. “He did, for a couple nights, to sequester. To speak to my elder. He believed my elder would disapprove of my actions in court. And she did. Perhaps not as severely as father, but, well, Elder Aymer advised me to return to sequester every evening until she could be certain I wouldn’t disappoint again.”
“What did you do in court?”
“Nothing!” Jaonos insisted. “We were just there, what could we have done?”
Vithian cut a frown at Jaonos and pushed his glass away. While not forbidden, he knew drinking any alcohol would raise an eyebrow on Elder Aymer’s face. “Gossipping. Well, there was a visiting noble, a little prince of the Lianthorn Court. He had dyblah with him, which we all noted was odd, since Myrcine has it, but…” Vithian paused as a shadow passed over his eyes, “none of it is any of my concern. Unbefitting a priest. As you know.”
“Oh, who cares?” Jaonos stood up so quickly, he nearly knocked over his chair. “Gossipping? Everyone gossips. Priests gossip. So you gossipped, so you irritated Lady Erro, so you were inquisitive, so what?”
“By the very slightest,” Jaonos insisted. “I’m so tired of father demanding perfection from us. Lady Erro is a gossip. She even told us who would be Blood Prince Heliohart’s affianced, something she is bound to keep secret.”
“Lady Erro is a Lady,” Othorion said softly.
“And I’m merely a postulant.”
Jaonos glared at both of them, then slapped the table. “Have a backbone, the both of you.” He stomped away to glare out the window.
Othorion and Vithian exchanged glances again. Then, Vithian leaned over the back of his chair and watched Jaonos. “What did father say to you after I went inside?”
Jaonos bowed his head slightly.
Othorion could see Jaonos’ shoulders stiffen and his fingers to tighten around his glass. Carefully, he placed the glass on the window sill in front of him. “He told me-” Jaonos took a deep breath “-he told me that I am selfish for relying on you two and Ynaselle as much as I do.”
“If that is all,” Othorion said, “come back home with us. Father may not like our methods, but no Blackwell is going to let their brother fail.”
Jaonos hesitated so long Othorion feared he would refuse. Jaonos let out a breath he had been holding in and turned around. There was a guilty, haunted look in his eyes that made Othorion certain he had not been entirely truthful, but Jaonos smiled broadly and walked back to the table. “Of course. Let’s return home.”
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