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Fiction, Fantasy, Serial Novel
by: J. Dennis McKay
One hand swirled a wine glass, as the other rubbed his temples. Yllek glanced again at the tome in front of him, "Ambrose and Tibilisi's Principles of Commercial Accounting." The name alone gave him a headache, and he'd spent the past day and a half going over it with a series of Domi's bookkeepers. Making money by losing money? Profit loss through depreciation? Yllek considered fleeing the city again, just to avoid tomorrow's discussion on profit/risk analyses of long term trade agreements. Fascinating. Oh well. The hearing before the Council of Families was only a couple of days away now, and more likely than not he'd be put out of his misery soon enough.
Yllek stood and headed to the balcony to enjoy the last red glow of the day. Maybe he should send for Ahrich and Gianni, see if they were interested in some cards and drink. Looking down into the courtyard he spied a page scurrying across the courtyard to consult with Domi. After a moment, Domi looked up to where Yllek was standing, and even from this distance, he could swear he saw a smile creep across the old man's face. Yllek raised his glass to the old man below as the page ran back inside the house. The old buzzard was laughing! What on earth was he up to now? Yllek watched as Domi turned and headed off to the house himself, his shoulders shaking with laughter. Not that it didn't please Yllek to see the man in good spirits, just not at his expense. Yllek ran his fingers through his hair, ruffling it even further, and took another sip from his glass, then stood in silent contemplation for another moment before heading inside.
He'd made up his mind to have Gianni and Ahrich sent for, and had almost reached the bell pull when a knock at the door interupted him. "What is it?" after seeing Domi's mirth, Yllek doubted it could be anything good.
The door opened, and a breathless page entered the room, probably the one he'd seen below. "You have a visitor, Master Navillus. May I present the Lady Dovrani."
Yllek's eye's widened further than he thought possible, and he nearly dropped his half empty glass. The Lady herself glided into the room, the picture of composure. Dressed in a simple pale blue floor length gown that just missed touching the floor, with a tight bodice that displayed her fine figure and accented her bosom, while leaving just the right amount to the imagination, she dismissed the page with a flick of he gloved hand, then stood silently examining Yllek for a moment. "A simple 'Greetings, m'Lady' would suffice, but I see your manners haven't improved in the past five years."
For his part, Yllek honestly tried to say something to raven haired, porcelain faced beauty in front of him, but was immediately distracted as she slid across the room to pour herself a glass from the carafe on the table. By the gods, some women knew how to move, and Lady Dovrani was definitely one of them.
Seemingly ignoring him for the moment, the Lady took a sip from her glass and flipped open the cover of the book on the table with a flick of her finger. "Rather dull," she commented. "Perhaps your years in the wilds have turned you serious?" She turned to face him once again.
Damn those honey brown eyes, how they could see right through a man. "Um, it's Domi's idea," he mumbled, then downed the bottom half of his glass in one swallow. He instantly regretted this as the Lady stood between him and any hope of a refill.
"It speaks!" her eyebrows shot up in mock surpise. "I was begining to think maybe the Munthosy had relieved you of your tongue."
"Ahm, err," was all Yllek managed to respond.
Turning full face to him, she placed her free hand on hip, and though Yllek couldn't see it, he knew instinctively her foot was tapping the floor. "Five years. Not a good bye, no letter, and you return without even the courtesy of sending me a note?"
"I left in rather a hurry, if you remember, m'lady," Yllek reddened. He knew immediately that this wouldn't pass.
"Too much of a hurry to even dispatch a page to say farewell to 'The Eagle that soars with my heart'? Five years without a single letter to let me know that you lived, then slinking back into the city and holing up here and hiding, again without even sending me a page? And taking up with that tramp Elanna, and the gods know who else in your absence? Well? What have you to say for yourself?"
"Um, err," Yllek ran his fingers through his hair and shifted between feet. This wasn't fair at all! After all, she was the one who... "And you, so heartbroken that you married at the first chance..." oh bloody hell, now he'd done it.
In an instant she stood directly before him, her eyes blazing up into his face. "For a year," she growled low and intensely, "I waited to hear from you. For two, I mourned your death. Tears wasted on a scoundrel, I see now. Then, under pressure from the House, I relented to a marriage of political convenience. What did it matter? The only man I ever... I believed you dead!"
Yllek, beet red and feeling every bit the scoundrel she named him, met her gaze and realized there was a quiver to her lip, and the corner of her eye held the begining of a tear. "M'Lady, I never..." he stuttered then faltered, lowering his head. "You deserve better than ever I could give."
Yllek never even saw it coming, just felt the sting and nearly lost his feet as she slapped him harder than he would have believed possible from even Brant. "Don't you dare! Don't even think of putting me off with such drivel. 'More woman than you deserve' certainly!" she mocked. "'Too precious a rose to be wasted on a blind man.' You think I haven't heard all that from my family and anyone else who cared to offer an opinion?" Again her voice lowered to a growl as she finished, "You owe me more than that."
Yllek shuffled over and sat on the edge of his bed under her scrutiny. For a moment, he glanced longingly at his empty glass and composed his thoughts as best he could. Then he began. "When I realized what happened at the harbor, I panicked. My reason fled. I knew I'd be a hunted man. My first thought was to flee to your House, but to what end? I'd only bring the mob down on us both. Then Gianni found me and brought me here, and Papa had me smuggled out of the city at the bottom of a honey wagon." Yllek's nose crinkled. "I thought I'd never be free of that smell. Everything," he held his palms up, "everything happened so fast. Within a week I was on the border of the Old Kingdom, with nothing to my name but my clothes, a horse, and a few gold crowns. That first year, maybe it was two," he shook his head trying to arrange that first terryfying flight, "I could do nothing but run. I spent a winter in the mountain passes, holed up in the forest, living off berries, roots, and what little game I could snare. By the time the snows hit, I could think of nothing but my growling stomach and the shiver in my spine. I never thought to survive that first winter. By the time I ventured out, I found my name had spread before me in all directions. I survived in the alleys and gutters, and hid in the forests whenever someone guessed my flight. Send you a letter? For three years I couldn't even afford ink and parchment, let alone a courier. You thought me dead? Just as well, for in those days Yllek Navillus was dead to the world. It wasn't until I'd made my way as far north as Munthosy that I could even begin to move openly again. And even then, my name caught up with me, and I had to flee the bounty hunters. By the time I decided to return and put an end to it, one way or another, what hope did I have of ever regaining you? Did I think of you? When the nights were long and I thought of all that I had lost, your face hunted me worse than any bounty hunter ever did. And when I returned... What good, what possible..." he trailed off again, rose and crossed the room to refill his glass.
For longer than any comfort could allow, there was nothing but silence. What could she want from him, from this meeting? What benefit, to either of them, could come from opening these old wounds? When he could bring himself to look at her again, he saw her staring through the painting above the mantle, seemingly lost in thought.
"Your choice?" she seemed to be indicating the painting.
"Domi's," Yllek responded, startled by the sudden change in tack.
"Of course," she concluded. Of course what? he wondered. "I'm not done with you," her eyes, smoldering now, held him fixed. "And damn you, I'm not sure I'll ever be done with you." Suddenly, she turned on her heel and strode from the room, leaving him standing by the table, holding his glass and feeling more alone than he had in any of the past five years.
For a long time he just stood there, silently damning himself for the man he had become, the man that this city had made of him. After a while, he heard another knock at the door, and wondered if she had returned to bring him lower. But the door opened without him responding, and Gianni and Ahrich entered, arms laden with bottles of strong liquor and a heaping plate of roast, gravy, and bread. Ahrich laid the table in silence as Gianni drew a deck from his pocket and began to shuffle.
"For the love of the game?" Gianni asked as he dealt three hands.
"For the love of the game," Yllek answered.
~End Chapter 7~