Ardent strode from the entrance hall of the Palace of the Moon to Skein’s private quarters, silently snarling at the Queen’s teleport blocks in the Palace. They arrived at almost exactly the scheduled hour. Diamond of Winter awaited them in her antechamber, with a scowl on its crystalline face. Cope with it, glass-guy. You want people to be more prompt, you can let them port to the meeting spot. And we’re not even late. Technically.
The adjunct made them wait for a quarter hour anyway, during which Ardent checked her remaining messages. There was one from Whispers Rain that made her heart melt. Rain thanked her for the lovely evening, and asked after Miro’s health, and whether or not she’d been able to do anything about the intruders. I wonder if sexual jealousy is part of the Sun Etherium nowadays? I think marriage is still important to their High Court. At least it was when the Sun Queen made a big point of divorcing Jinokimijin and tumbling him from the High Court, forty-odd years ago. Whispers Rain had never been the possessive sort: she loved sharing, and was always encouraging Ardent to get into other relationships, whether friendships, casual flings, or romances. That was one of the reasons Rain couldn’t leave the Moon Etherium: too many other people there that she loved.
Ardent had been born in a time when jealousy was still seen as normal in the Moon Etherium. Fey had paired with just one other fey in relationships that were, at least in theory, sexually exclusive. To hear White Rose, who was her senior by at least a century, talk of it, it was a rule more observed in the breach. They contended that multiple relationships were common even then, but rife with lies and hypocrisy. After immortality became available to everyone by the middle of the eleventh century, exclusive, permanent, two-person marriages became increasingly rare. By the twelfth they were no longer held up even as an ideal.
Ardent’s own view of a single enduring marriage was more idealistic, and she’d held onto the desire for one for some decades after they became unfashionable. She’d been given to possessiveness and jealousy then, too. Rain was the one who’d broken her of that habit. Rain, who behaved as if sharing a lover was not merely a hardship to be tolerated but a gift to be treasured. If I’d tried harder, returned to the Etherium more often, could I have made you see Try Again as a lover with whom you shared me?
She had no idea how Miro felt on the subject. Given the state Rain and I were in when he interrupted us last night, he can’t have assumed he’s my only lover at present. I’ll have to ask him about it some time later. When we’re in private.
After shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Ardent opened her next message from Play. It was also from last night. “Thought some more about how to stop your pet from getting stolen. There’s no way to ward a fey, far as I know. But if you keep him on a leash all the time, you can ward the collar and leash, so someone’d have to break or bypass those wards to cut him loose of you. Anti-theft wards aren’t as secure as anti-trespassing, but they’re pretty good. Another option: shift him to something small, so you can carry him close. That’d extend to him some of the benefits of your own evasiveness and invulnerability. Not as much as your clothing gets, but still. About what your bag would get, while you’re carrying it. Anyway, you’ll want to keep him close to you. We still haven’t come up with a vault that’s as good as a fey is for keeping things safe.”
There was one more message from Play after that, this one from the morning. “I can’t do anything else for you,” it said. “Don’t message me. Don’t visit me. Stay away from me. And from Storm, too.” Startled, she read it again, and then a few more times. It was so unexpected that she found herself studying it for signs of a cipher, some hidden message in the blunt, unambiguous text.
Miro touched her arm. “My lady? What’s the matter?”
Ardent shook her head; she didn’t want to talk about it here, where they would be overheard. He didn’t press her on it. She was still pondering the implications when Diamond of Winter finally called her in to attend the Queen.
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