“Madam Melonscone,” Kelin said. He stood and bowed deeply. He waited for Jane to sit before seating himself. The servant that had arrived with Jane left the room, while Shiroi moved herself far behind Jane’s seat, silently watching.
“Ah, I see you’ve been entertained while waiting for me,” Jane said with a pleasant smile.
“Yes madam. Thank you for the invitation today,” Kelin said.
“Good. Now I don’t have much time for you, but I figured I’d make some anyways. There is a most minor curiosity I have that you can appease for me,” Jane said nonchalantly. Kelin kept back a smile, knowing this was noble speak for a question. He didn’t worry about being offended over his own status, especially considering how the majority of other nobles regarded his family. Today wasn’t the day to be picky.
“If I can appease Madam Melonscone in the slightest, of course,” Kelin said with unusual humbleness. He didn’t flatter people often, but he was feeling anxious as his questions were resurfacing.
“Well, to the matter at hand. I suppose there’s no dancing around the subject today, and it’s not like your family is one that requires delicate handling. So, lupus boy, it’s only obvious that I called for you today because we have spoken before. That matter is, of course, the only thing your presence would be asked of, rather than a subordinate’s answer. To be honest, I’m feeling generous as well as curious, so your answering my curiosity will provide you with a minor detail as well,” Jane said.
“I see. That is indeed generous,” Kelin said. He refrained from adding that it was unusual for her character, regardless of what important matter it could be.
“As to the matter, a simple one, not requiring much time. So, answer me, son of Doufer, have you happened to hear from that lost friend of yours, or have you heard anything regarding him?” Jane asked.
Kelin was not ready for such a question. Of all the things Jane could ask him, he didn’t think she’d ask him if he’d heard from Va’il. Especially considering Jane’s calmness, and knowing he had previously associated Va’il’s disappearance with Ruby’s. Something was odd, but Kelin resigned to his honest answer.
“Unfortunately madam, I’ve heard nothing. Nothing whatsoever, in any way. That’s all I can give,” Kelin said. Jane looked at him for a moment, her astute character searching for any deception in him. It didn’t matter his species, as Jane was determined to know if she was being lied to directly, and she’d have some idea if that was the case. It went with her business. Lying was part of the trade. Even lying when knowing the other person knows of the lie was all part of the game, the negotiation. And Jane knew Kelin had heard nothing. She remained quiet for a minute while thinking and drinking some tea.
“Interesting. Well, that satisfies me. As for the other part. First, you already know the importance of keeping a closed mouth when needed.”
“Yes Madam Melonscone. This son of Doufer will say nothing that needs not be said.”
“More than usual, this time,” Jane said.
“It shall not be spoken of,” Kelin said.
“Correct. Then also, servant girl, come center,” Jane said. Shiroi was startled at the call, but she obeyed and stood in front of Jane. “Sit down too. You’re both to hear this directly.”
“Yes, madam, as you direct,” Shiroi said. She then sat neatly next to Kelin, as before. She was still very surprised. After all, she would have heard either way, but for Jane to bring her in front of her meant the next item to be spoken of was a very important thing. Kelin recognized this as well. His ears perked up more than usual.
“Very well. For a third time, speak of this to none. Your answer regarding your friend may make this somewhat unfortunate news to you. Ruby has been located, alive of course,” Jane said. She remained silent for a minute.
Kelin and Shiroi were too stunned for words. Both were overjoyed, ecstatic, and ready to jump. Shiroi especially. Her master was alive, her master was found, her master was going to return to her. She was ready to break into tears, to laugh, to go absolutely wild. All she could do at the moment, though, was remain silent while her thoughts went wild.
Kelin also shared in part of Shiroi’s joy, but it was much more tempered. His thoughts jumped for a moment, and then settled as he thought a moment more.
“Madam, that’s wonderful news,” Kelin said, “but you’ll have to forgive my interruption of the joy for a moment to ask you something.”
“I know. Ask it anyways,” Jane said, sinking Kelin’s heart.
“If your daughter was located, do you know if she was alone? If you don’t mind, can I also ask where she was? This is good news, but there are now thousands of questions that come up upon her discovery,” Kelin said.
“Yes, that’s the right way to think. This is why I asked of you first. For I cannot say for certain, but as far as I know, I was not notified that my daughter was with anyone else. The status of your friend is something I am unaware of. Perhaps his disappearance was unfortunate coincidence. And yes, there are more questions than answers at this point. How she ended up in Grizz of all places is a question in itself!”
“Grizz? That’s, forgive the outburst, but Grizz? Madam, she made it to Grizz? Is she all right?”
“As far as I was notified, yes. And Grizz, of all places. She made it quite far, this time.”
“Astonishing. But how was all this discovered? Is she safe and coming back? Regardless of my friend, of course.”
“It’s a private matter now. But I suppose it doesn’t hurt to discuss this. Some expeditions were sent out previously, of course. The regent assisted somewhat. He’s the one who notified me he had received a message about her. The bumbler hasn’t confirmed when her safety and return shall be assured, but that’s only due to the time it takes to hear back from such far reaches. By now it’s probably fine, though it’ll be a few weeks before we hear anything more. And that is all I’ll be willing to disclose. You’d do well to not inquire of our matters further.”
“Yes madam. It has been most gracious of you. I see that now. It is unfortunate I’m no better off than before, but the matter of your daughter is of course, of the utmost importance. Even though my friend was not mentioned, no, especially because of that, you didn’t have to notify me. This matter will, of course, be sealed. Madam, before I go, I will say this. You know of my family and our purpose here. Our duty, of course, comes first. But know this. I will not rest until I succeed our duty. I will be the successor, no matter what I have to do. When I am, I will never forget your graciousness. After our duty, the Melonscone family will come second. I will personally, for the rest of my life, see to it as well. You know how I am but a child, and you know how long a lupus lives. Before all but that which we are here for, will be the Melonscones. Count on it,” Kelin said. Jane gave the first true smile of the evening, and then nodded at Kelin.
“I suppose it couldn’t hurt to have. And I know you’ll fulfill it. Though not in the way you think. Look forward to the coming future, son of Doufer. You’ll be most interested in the coming developments. You may now take your leave. See him out,” Jane said.
Shiroi stood and led Kelin out of the mansion. They walked together in the yard of the estate, slowly heading towards the gates.
“She’s coming back,” Kelin said, and then sighed.
“Yes. Miss is coming back. She’s fine. She’s, she’s such a good person,” Shiroi said, unable to speak with more depth.
“That she is. Take care of her, Shiroi,” Kelin said.
“I’m sorry,” Shiroi said. She couldn’t utter another word, her throat was closing from emotion, both happy and sad. Kelin patted her on the shoulder once, to which she slightly flinched at. She still said nothing.
“It’s all right. I know it will be. We just have to wait. Did you also make it to Grizz, my friend? How much longer will you be there? Or have you already started your journey back? Are you with her or not? Or are you just around the corner, waiting to surprise me? Come back already. Before I have to come after you. Before I go crazy and decide to take a bite out of a bird after all. I hear avians taste just like duck.”
Shiroi stifled a laugh, and then pushed Kelin away slightly using the sharp tips of her talons against part of his arm. He laughed then walked ahead and stood at the gate.
“This is where we part, pretty avian. Next time we meet, let it be as friends of friends. If not, then as master and servant. Mother doesn’t need one, but I could eventually use one.”
Shiroi just smiled and bowed. When she raised her head, he was gone. The guards were closing the gates again. Shiroi stood there silently, alone, wondering if she should turn around and return to the manor. Her thoughts hadn’t calmed down all that much.
Ruby was supposed to be returning. It should have made her happy beyond belief. And she was happy. She knew that Ruby had to be safe. She couldn’t fathom anything being wrong, now that the hope she had kept bottled and under check was finally released. And yet there was a bittersweetness to it. She knew the caveat to Ruby’s return. Not just one exception either, but several.
Shiroi really was an ideal servant. Of course, she did things correctly and quickly most of the time, but she wasn’t especially good compared to anyone else at servile duties, and her true talents were elsewhere. The thing that was so ideal about her was her concern for her master’s emotional well-being. She was happy that Ruby was returning physically, but there were two matters that worried Shiroi more than her joy could overcome.
First was the thought of Va’il. She knew that it didn’t mean he was gone, but she was worried about it regardless. Especially if Ruby returned, but Va’il was nowhere to be seen. She knew it’d be tough on Ruby. She considered that maybe, Ruby was already a changed person, that maybe something had happened in the year she’d been gone. Shiroi knew this to be the case already, but she wondered what more her master had to go through. Her own past briefly surfaced in her mind, but she pushed it aside to think about the human she’d grown attached to. She didn’t want to see Ruby emotionally burdened by the loss of that one boy.
Second was the thought of what awaited Ruby’s return. An engagement that would dictate her life again. Shiroi knew Ruby expected it at one point or another, but the thought of burdening her with it so soon was heavy. Especially if her first concern proved to be a matter of consequence.
Yes, Shiroi loved Ruby. She was concerned for her well-being, both mental and physical. Shiroi was Ruby’s friend, but she also regarded herself as support in other ways to Ruby. It was more than just being a friend or servant. That concern wasn’t just something that’d translate to Ruby either, and it’s something Kelin had picked up on. Shiroi regarded Ruby as her master, but if someone else was the one in charge of her, she’d look out for them as well.
It made her desirable to have, that pristine avian whose background was unknown. She didn’t know who her parents were, or where she had come from. She didn’t know what kind of avian she was either, even though she looked similar to the rest. She had never been part of any avian community or family, as far as she could remember. She had only known Jane Melonscone, Ruby Melonscone, and Jane’s other daughters at rarer times. Jane looked after her somewhat, taking her in, giving her the role of a servant. But it was attending to Ruby that had given her a feeling of living, accomplishment, and a proxy to feel life through. Now she couldn’t even remember the terrible days before she met the Melonscones. And that made her happy. And, of course, wonderful. Enough to ignore other pains. Only a short while remained until Ruby would return to Rising. For at that time, she was much closer than she had been in a long time.