One Step Forward…

I have become accustomed to the limitations imposed on me by my nature over the past seven years, but sometimes, I resent them. In particular, right now, I resent that I can’t get drunk any more. At least, I can’t, not on the drinks available in the tavern. I wonder if we could import some blood wine on the next trip. I know that there were times in my life when I spent too much time crawling inside the bottle, and have long come to terms with it not being a good idea, but sometimes, just occasionally, it would be nice. I wonder if anybody here could cast the equivalent of the spell Catt used on me once.

It’s stupid, I know, and if Mother were here, she would no doubt be kicking my backside about it, but sometimes I can’t help it. I suppose that I have been playing the role; the self-confident, easy-going, never-rattled, good old Nate, for so long, I even forget myself that it is a role, a façade. Most people who know me would be surprised if they knew just how shy and insecure I can be. Occasionally, like today, I get a reminder. Court was held today to discuss the laws of the land. I spoke up in support of Aoibheann’s proposal and got slapped down for it. Maybe I spoke out of turn, or disregarded protocol, I don’t know, but I do know I got myself a slap and glares from their majesties. And it knocked me back. I thought I was doing well here, but perhaps not. For a while, I felt lost, hurt, and did not take further part in the proceedings. It all too easily reminded me of the failures I have experienced in the last couple of years; Night Haven, Twilight Excitement, Underhill, all the clubs I managed that then closed. For all that the rational part of me knows that the failures were not down to my fault, I still feel them as a personal failure.

This introspection was getting me nowhere, so I sought out Mother’s mourning locket from my bag. As ever, I was grateful it had survived my various adventures and ship-wrecks unscathed. For all the time that has passed, the lock of her hair seems to remain unchanged, still glorious red, a much deeper red than my own. It seems strange now, how much I loved her hair colour, yet hated my own, for all that it was so similar. Of course, as a boy at school, having hair my colour just made me a target – “Oi, ginger! Carrot-top,” and all the other casual cruelties that young boys do so well. Oh, how I hated my hair then, but Mother taught me to deal, how to not let them see I was hurt by their taunts and eventually, how to be proud of my hair. It was her idea to stop having it cut, but instead, to flaunt it, an act of defiance against the bullies. And I didn’t get it cut, save for occasional trims of split ends and such. Not through university, my training at the shipping company, and even through several ships captains.

I haven’t worn the locket in a long while, but I feel the need for it now, so it is there, under my cravat, a comforting and familiar weight against my neck. To hell with them, as Mother was wont to say on such occasions, to hell with them. It was not her nature to curse normally, but sometimes, that was the attitude she encouraged when I was down. So, to hell with courts and protocols and all that shit. Tonight, it’s me and my bottle of rum and tomorrow, I’ll be back out there in the world with a smile on my face.

The day had started innocently enough, spending a half-hour or so repairing the scratch marks in the floor of the tavern. I may not have followed Father into the construction business, but I still learned a few tricks from him. My casual garb and overalls appeared to alarm Aoibheann somewhat, as did the fact I was doing this so soon before court was due to start. I assured her I would be there in plenty of time.

And I was there in plenty of time. Court took a while to get settled, with the two older princesses apparently needing some coaching from their maids. They looked delightful in their court garb, though Ember, as always seemed a little uncomfortable. Any other time I have seen her, she dresses like a young boy. The king explained the purpose of the court and asked for suggestions. I proposed two things – one on all the different races being afforded equal protection under the law, and one on regulating the sort of traps that caught Jade. That was all well and good. Then Aoibheann got up and proposed that something official be done to take care of the various orphans that kept turning up. Initially, the crown seemed more inclined to that being something that the people should take care of, which reaction seemed to put Aoibheann off a bit. This is where I spoke up in favour of her ideas and got slapped down. I’m not sure what happened after that, as I was not really in the mood for paying attention. I left as soon as I decently could and did not bother with the second session.

Later in the day, I saw Cicely briefly in the gardens. She asked how I was and I said I was feeling somewhat jaded about the democratic process. She remarked that even a king is still a man and vulnerable to influence. I joked that I doubted I had that sort of influence and that her looks were better suited to such things. She assured me that I had my appeal, which I think was a compliment. Still, I said that after London, where so many factions were plotting and intriguing, I was perhaps enjoying being somewhere I didn’t have to do that. She seemed to agree, but I wasn’t so sure. She went off to do her own thing and I went to the tavern.

Meridiana was there, but looked glazed and confused. Maybe she had spent too much time catching up with Brigitte. I passed her a glass of port, but she turned it down, saying it was no longer to her taste and cancelling that part of her daily order. Having tasted it, I had to agree and suggested I could get much better stuff once I get my trading back into gear.

Seven and Marida turned up. They looked hungry, so I warmed up some stew for them. Meridiana had said that the money she had paid for the port should go to the feeding of the kids, but before I could explain I had already taken care of it, she stomped off to her room.

The kids ate their stew and I explained to them that they could come and eat in the tavern any time until the got themselves sorted. They were tired and soon fell asleep.

At which point, a youngish man turned up, looking the worse for wear. He looked exhausted but seemed to think that “this was the place” and that “she was here”. Before I could ask who and where, he collapsed on the floor. This alarmed the children, but once I checked that he was alive, they settled down again. I sent Rinni for a blanket and a pillow. While I was trying to tend to him, his watch fell out. In it was a miniature painting of Meridiana. So that would account for the “she is here”. I showed it to Rinni and asked her to go see if Meridiana was in her room.

She was indeed, but when she came down, she did not know who he was, thinking maybe he had been taking too much strong drink. He, however, recognised her, addressing her as “Mer”, and making reference to some old times that they had together, along with somebody called Tony. I wondered if this might have been the Antonio who arrived the same night she did and took great pains to appear to have nothing to do with her. Meridiana was quite insistent that she did not know who he was, but did say he should go upstairs and rest while she thought about it. He had reacted strangely to her dress, which gave me cause to think that she was out of his past, in the same way that she did not know Brigitte, even though Brigitte knew her. I suggested that maybe strong drink was now in order and poured myself a large rum.

It was all too confusing for Rinni, who asked where she might take a bath. I pointed her in the direction of the bath house but then Meridiana offered to show her. Given the predatory interest she had shown in Rinni the previous evening, I have to wonder how that encounter was going to work out.

I took a jug of water up for the newly arrived stranger and then left them to it. There is only so much excitement I can take in one evening.


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