Used to be, he’d take long walks in the heavy rain, coming back to hama sopping wet and trying not to track mud into their house; cleaned his soul, he always said.
Today, the fog was so thick you could barely see a foot in front of you. From the big window of Anatole’s study, it looked like a blanket of mist and silence had settled over the city, broken only by the occasional carriage rattling through; the sky was like worn porcelain, shot through with dark cloudbanks. He knew it’d rain again, by the ache if not by the smell and the weight of the air.
Fine time for the Vyrdag to descend on Vienda like a flock of vultures in suits and robes. So far, he’d managed to avoid a mant manna the whole business, though he’d had to sign a handful of papers – gods knew what they were for, being as he could barely read them. Tom didn’t much care. With the thought of Dorhaven looming over Loshis and Hamis like a guillotine that could drop at any time, old men fussing over trade agreements felt like the last thing he ought to be attentive about. This morning, if only to distract himself, Anatole’s desk was spread out with first-year books on Monite; he was copying from one in particular, careful in his shaky hand, trying not to bear down too hard with the pen.
“Anatole—? Do you have a moment?”
He pushed his journal aside and snapped the old book shut, folding his hands over the cover. “Uh – why not?” He’d meant it friendly-like, but as soon as it came out of his mouth, he knew it wasn’t something Anatole’d have said.
Diana’s mouth pulled down in that tired, dull frown – more exasperation, at this point, than anger or surprise. “Ms. Weaver will be here shortly with the samples.” He didn’t know who Ms. Weaver was or what in the clocking hell they were sampling, but Diana didn’t seem keen on explaining. “You’ve come a long way, love,” she continued more softly, moving into the study, “but perhaps it would be best if, this time…”
Even as controlled as Diana was, the mona in her field fussed and grew tight as she came into range of his frazzled mess; she smoothed it in a moment’s time, turquoise-shift and welcoming, but he still caprised that undercurrent of discomfort. “I stay up here, out of sight,” he finished for her, smiling neatly.
“I wouldn’t have put it that way. You do have so much on your plate right now—”
“I promise not to bother you,” he replied. “Plenty of work to do.” He cleared his throat, glancing at the window. The glass was all fogged-up now – nothing to look at.
Diana laughed, practicedly warm. “Feel free to bother us,” she said, meaning the opposite, “but I doubt it will interest you.” Her eyes swept over the title of the book, which Tom quickly covered with his fingers; she raised an eyebrow. Then, with a barely-perceptible shrug, she moved silently to the door.
With her gone, the only sound was the ticking of the floor clock. He opened the book back up, but his hand was tired from the strain of all that delicate motion, and he couldn’t seem to focus on the words. He heaved a deep sigh, sitting back and wilting in Anatole’s cushioned chair. Then he glanced at the empty doorway. The clock ticked.
“—you see, we hear that the Symvoulio will turn to Mugroba next year,” came Diana’s soft voice, “and so it’s all Mugrobi fashions, everywhere. I’m thinking of having a new gown made, and it absolutely must be in the Mugrobi style, but I do not even know where to begin. Masoumeh pezre Soheila is having a party in Hamis, and I’ve heard that Maryam pezre Atefeh will be present – that is, the heiress of the Qadir family. I’m sure I’ve impressed upon you the importance, then, of making the correct choice.”
Fabric, thought Tom, feeling like a dolt. He peered into the parlor from the short, dimly-lit side hall.
It was a fine, well-appointed room, spacious and richly-papered in floral green; if the parlor was supposed to be the best room in the house, Tom would’ve rather nominated the study – the parlor chairs were too damned soft – but he reckoned it was the most impressive. The fancy floor clock had been saved for this room, tall and imposing, polished and beautifully-carved, pendulum glinting as it swung back and forth behind the glass. Coals glowed in the hearth, and above it, a painting of a woman who looked suspiciously like an elderly Anatole peered out from a gilt frame.
There were two women in the room, Diana and – Ms. Weaver? Something was laid out on the mahogany table, though he couldn’t see it from here.
“The rainy season is hectic,” continued Diana, smiling and reaching to touch the other woman on the arm. Condescendingly, if with a warm smile. “I’m sure you can imagine the stress of being a politician’s wife with all the eyes of the Six Kingdoms focused on Vienda right now.”
Clasping his hands behind his back, Tom moved a little sheepishly into the room, sparing the other woman a brief, awkward glance before looking more lingeringly at the table. He’d thought that both women were galdori, but as he moved into range, he felt the absence of a field and raised an eyebrow. The name Weaver suddenly made more sense.
As his porven mess brushed the edges of her coiffed field, Diana jumped, turning. “Oh,” she laughed. She turned to the human woman, smile brightening. “Ms. Weaver, this is my husband, Incumbent Anatole Vauquelin. Anatole, this is Ava Weaver – a purveyor of textiles from the Painted Ladies.” There was a hint of condescension in the description, too.
With a little hesitation, Tom bowed, then smiled. “Don’t mind me,” he said.