Gaian walked briskly down streets and alleyways, keeping up a steady stream of chatter as he went; amusing anecdotes, historical facts, and concocted versions of both of the above. Anything, really, to fill the silence that would otherwise reside between he and his companion. They were halfway to Belor’s, and Ereniel had spoken not a word to him after agreeing to accompany him only to avoid arguing in front of the children. Gaian had known that his increasingly frequent absences from home overnight would have been taken rather poorly, but knew also that elves were far more patient than humans given their longer lives, and thus his wife would have more tolerance. This was one of those occasions, he was quickly realising, where knowing something did not necessarily make it true.
Suddenly Ereniel stopped to look at something, and Gain stopped beside her, following her gaze to the notice stuck in the shadowy corner of two walls.
“What does it say?” he asked curiously. “My eyes couldn’t see clearly in this gloom at the best of times, and those times were at least ten years ago!”
Was that a slight hint of scorn as she glanced back over her shoulder at him? Surely not. He was more interested in studying her demeanour than listening to her words as she read from the note. Truth be told he could read the notice quite clearly, having delightfully discovered recently that his goddess had blessed him with excellent vision in dim, or even completely dark, conditions. Not that he needed to read it regardless; after all, he was the one who had written it, along with several similar spread about the city. Neither fact, of course, was something that he wished for his wife to be party to, so he feigned attention as she read aloud:
“There’s a sketch of a masked person, and it says ‘Reward offered for the capture of, or evidence of the death of, the criminal knows as Nightswarm. This criminal has been complicit in interfering in the lawful excruciation of the Poison Pen, conspicuous in the assassination of Nox, and cocksure in his assertion that he was ridding Kintargo of the Temple Hill Slasher when murdering one of its citizens. Likely a member of the Rebel organisation calling itself Children of the Ash.’
“That doesn’t seem right.” Ereniel said with a small frown. “There’s no way they’d put up something like that. It has to be some kind of joke.”
“Joke?” Gaian replied, almost laughing out loud at the fact that his posters had not only aided in promoting the notion of Nightswarm, but also in prompting his wife to speak to him. It seemed luck was truly with him today. “I’ve heard mention of this Nightswarm during my tours around the city, and he is attributed with all those deeds and more. I think he’s probably real.” He whispered gleefully.
“I’m not questioning whether he’s real,” the elf replied “It’s just that this reads more like propaganda for him than a true wanted poster. And appears to authenticate a rebellion.”
“Only if one was sympathetic to rebelling against House Thrune!” Gain hissed in false alarm, taking the opportunity to move closer and place his hand on Ereniel’s arm. “Best to keep such thoughts to yourself. Such words could be interpreted poorly in present times.”
They continued on to Belor’s, Gaian choosing to remain quiet now lest Ereniel remember the frostiness she seemed to have relaxed in the wake of their conversation.
Arriving at the beer hall, Gaian led his wife to a table, giving a small wave to the man behind the bar as he entered and sat down.
“Who’s that?” Ereniel asked curiously.
“Bodeen. New owner.” Gaian replied simply.
“What happened to Titus?” she asked, her tone implying that she didn’t like the look of this newcomer.
Gaian paused, having forgotten momentarily that he had not brought his family here for some time.
“Nobody knows for sure.” He said softly. “But, well, you remember Rufus?”
Ereniel nodded. “I saw Winifred yesterday. Poor thing, stuck now raising that child alone. Still says the Temple Hill Slasher killed her husband.” She turned thoughtful, perhaps contemplating again the wanted poster.
“It was Titus who stoked Rufus’ pursuit of the Slasher to start with. Believed the Slasher killed his wife, wanted revenge. Anyway, no body’s been found, but Titus disappeared the same time as Rufus. So one can assume.” Gaian shrugged.
Presently Mercia walked over with a bottle of wine and asked to take their orders.
“I’ll have the seafood stew.” Ereniel interrupted coldly as Gaian warmly greeted the woman.
“We don’t have that any more miss.” The waitress replied apologetically. “It’s all Tapo’s now.”
“What on earth is ‘tapas’?” Ereniel asked “And why would Sen stop doing his speciality?”
“Sen disapp…left.” Mercia said. “It’s Tapo now.”
“That the Slasher too?” Ereniel muttered, and Gaian almost choked on his wine at how very close to the truth that was.
“Huh?” the waitress asked.
“Don’t be facetious.” Gaian said with a forced smile. “I’m pretty sure Sen left to further his craft. Get a more personal experience as to what seafood is all about.”
The last sentence Gaian said in a voice that seemed somehow wrong. He tried to both clamp his mouth shut and gulp his wine at the same time, with predictable results.
“I’ll just get you some of everything.” Mercia said as she sauntered away from the table, throwing a strange glance back over her shoulder at Gaian as she went. Gaian watched her closely, wondering not for the first time if she suspected more than she let on.
“So, it’s her is it?” Ereniel asked coldly.
“What?” Gaian replied.
“Come on, you’re very cosy. The over the shoulder glance. You can barely take your eyes off her as she walks away. I admit I had my suspicions with all those nights you were delayed here past curfew. And there’s the new look; first that fancy cloak, and now that silly silver headband! But really,” she said angrily “Trying to take me out for some kind of reconciliation dinner to the place where she is? Are you trying to mock me?”
Gaian would have been tempted to laugh, had it not been for the narrowed eyes and stern mouth. Yes, women often were beautiful when they were angry. Beautiful in the way that a viper rears up majestically right before it puts its fangs through your heart. Thus he remained earnest in his demeanour.
“Ah, my dear, is that why you’re concerned? I assure you, you have nothing to worry about on that front. It would take a Countess to draw my attention from you, even for a night!” he smiled as she seemed to relax slightly. “You are correct though, in that I brought you here as a conciliatory gesture. I have been away too much lately, but things will hopefully soon change.
“As I’ve said, quite honestly I must maintain, my night-time activities have largely involved hunting down vermin in the city, due to the impact of recent changes on my usual business. But of late we have run into some good fortune, for there are a good many things buried under this city, and we are recently profiting more from our work.”
“We?” she asked, still far from placated. “Who is ‘we’. And don’t dissemble.”
“Business partners, who I do not wish to implicate at this time. It is far too dangerous to travel the sewers alone at night. While the Dottari do little to maintain curfew down there, there are all sorts of other undesirables.” Seeing she wanted more, he threw in “Pavo was formerly a part of this group. And Rufus.”
Throwing in the names of former companions she had liked, and who had met questionable ends, did the trick of turning anger to concern.
Gaian nodded solemnly. “But have no fear, their pursuit of the Slasher was nothing to do with me. Besides, it seems the murderer has met his end now, according to that poster.”
“I’m still worried. Think of the impact on the children if something happened to you. You said yourself the sewers are dangerous.”
Gaian was very aware of the impact of losing one’s parents, not that Ereniel knew that story.
“Well, put your worry aside. As I said, we’ve recently stumbled onto some good fortune, and have now invested in a business in Old Kintargo. All being well, things will improve and be back to normal soon. And,” he added “I’ve also managed to put aside some funds to send Raiia to Lady Docur’s in Velligre!”
“What’s wrong with Songbird Hall? She seems to be settling in there okay.” Ereniel replied.
“Sure, but remember the reason we initially sent her to Vaelus was because her head was already full enough of romanticism without Shelyn’s influence. And,” he said, lowering his voice “I’d rather not have her there in the current climate. Cheliax has never been too keen on Shelyn, and the way things have been lately…” he trailed off with a shrug.
Ereniel nodded. “I suppose. I wouldn’t think they’d be at risk. But then, I heard about what happened with the Knights of the Torrent.”
“Exactly. And won’t it be nice to have her learn more about her elven heritage?”
“I guess it will.”
The food came and the meal passed pleasantly, before the two left to ensure they returned home before curfew. Gaian smiled smugly at his own cleverness. He had essentially answered honestly to his wife’s questions without her realising the true meaning of his words, there to be seen yet beyond notice, like truths stacked against the wall. So pleased was he, that he only felt mildly annoyed when he saw Dottari taking down his wanted posters during the walk home.
“Gaian?” Ereniel asked just before they reached home. “To be honest, I really like the headband. It seems to give you a certain presence. In fact, perhaps I’d not have come around as easily without it.” She teased.
Gaian just smiled.