Illusions of Grandeur: Part Nine
Lyn looked at me mournfully as he stepped out of the smoke and sparks. “Gianni...” He said it so gently I almost felt sorry for him. Then I cursed and wove shields around my emotions. I’d forgotten how much he manipulated emotions, even unconsciously. The Ogrin sighed and walked towards us, his black suit so tight around his body that it looked like fur. He was in remarkable shape for his age, but right now all I could think about were his words. “Listen to me, Gianni. I didn’t want this any more than you, but there was no other who would have been fair. Do you understand that?”
I nodded, still disgruntled, but calmer. “Did I give you enough, or do you need to pick our – or their – minds more?”
Lyn met my eyes, and I heard the flicker of his voice, carried and concentrated by fire. Your sister is either innocent or such a good actor that even I would not be able to break her mask without breaking her. He smiled and walked past me, giving my shoulder a brief squeeze as I closed my eyes to keep in relieved tears. “Release Peregrine, Doug. I need to touch him to see what he has to say for himself.”
The crack of Doug’s spell ending echoed in the room. I heard Lyn’s footsteps – one, two, three clicks of his boots – and then a sound almost, but not quite, like the roar of a cannon firing. A few seconds later, I turned and looked at Lyn, still holding Cecilia tight. The Ogrin’s hands were still holding Peregrine’s shoulders, and his red head was bowed. As if he could feel my gaze, he raised his head, looked at me, and said, “Guilty.”
I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. Doug bowed his head and said, “Go on, then.”
Peregrine started to voice a question, but Lyn’s quiet words overrode his. The Ogrin was one of the few people I knew who keyed their magic from vocalized words; most used some combination of thought and motion. The words were rarely in a language the mage used often; I knew Lyn used old Darigani, and Siobhan usually used the Gypsy tongue, but from what I understood it wasn’t so much the words used as the meaning behind them. Flickers of light appeared around Lyn, and his red fur seemed consumed by fire as the light hissed and fizzled.
Then the light died, and with it the noise.
For a moment I simply stared at the spot they had left from. Then Doug gave a noisy sigh and looked back at me. “Are you going to explain this to them?”
I hesitated. “A version of the truth, yes.”
“You’ve gotten better at lying over the years, then.” Doug gave me a rueful smile. “What version?”
“He threatened you, stuff blew up, you got him under control about the time I got here, I summoned the council, and he got taken away,” I recited quickly. “Not that different from the truth.”
“You still don’t give yourself enough credit.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Doug, I might end up living here again. I don’t want to be seen as a celebrity.”
Doug waved a hand airily, walking off towards where the nobles had disappeared. I let him go, shaking my head slightly as I looked at Cecilia. “He said you’re innocent. Are you going to be alright?”
She gave me a small smile. “Did you mean that, about living here?”
My starry sister hugged me tight for a few seconds before releasing me. She smiled, green eyes bright as emeralds. “I’ll be fine. Go on.”
I followed Doug, catching up to him at the door. We exchanged a glance, then went through together, into the fearful crowd of nobles. Each one demanded an explanation, and by the time we had given them all the explanation they required the sun had set. I thought I saw that shadow Gelert, Harlan Lockwood, for a moment, but before I could be sure the crowds had shifted and he was nowhere to be seen. Part of me wondered where he’d been during Doug and Peregrine’s battle, but I was more focused on not getting disgusted at the nobles not understanding what had happened.
At last everyone dispersed and my family and I could leave. While Mother and Cecilia climbed into the carriage, I watched Doug begin walking back to the Ark. Mother called at me, impatient, and I turned away from the Lupe’s silver-blue silhouette and joined them, still silent, inside. Mother’s yellow-furred face seemed paler, older, than usual, and Cecilia was again staring out the window into the silence. Outside, I heard the soft crack of the driver’s riding crop as the Whinny began moving.
The creaks and moans of the carriage’s movement were the only noises for the longest time. Cecilia sat looking out the window, Mother simply looked at her hands, and I leaned against the corner and closed my eyes, exhausted but unable to sleep while in the bumping, moving vehicle. I kept vague track of the time that passed, simply because I was longing for the comfort of home and sleep, but paid little attention to what was happening around me. Then Mother said, “Cecilia told me you might stay.”
I nodded, not opening my eyes.
“Would...” She sighed. “Siobhan?”
I opened my eyes with a sardonic smile and turned to face her. “Mother, do you really expect me to leave my best friend?”
“You have friends here.” Mother clutched at her purse, looking at me in the same way as when I’d told her I wanted to go to the Woods. “You could send letters.”
“There’s a difference,” I said softly.
She looked away. “I know, Gianni. It’s just...”
I moved next to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Mother, I’ll ask Siobhan if he would even be willing to live here; he’s lived around the Woods most of his life, but he has Gypsy blood. If he’d be willing to, I’d stay.”
Cecilia turned to me and smiled. I returned the expression for a brief moment before looking at Mother worriedly. She still wasn’t looking at me, and I could feel her shaking slightly with tears, but I couldn’t tell if they were joy or sorrow or fear. When at last she looked at me again, her blue eyes were shining. “Thank you,” she said, embracing me. “Thank you.”
I closed my eyes and smiled. When Mother released me, I returned to my seat and my thoughts, hoping that Siobhan would understand why I wanted to return to my childhood home when I told him about this. I could easily see him refusing to join me, and if he didn’t agree I had no idea what I’d do. I tried to keep myself from thinking about it; it wasn’t going to help anything right now. After sleep, and a restoration of the energy I’d spent grounding all the magic flying around, it’d be easier to think everything through. But I couldn’t break the promise I’d given my family.
I sighed and leaned back, letting my head gently thud against the carriage’s side as the silent ride continued. When at last we reached the Serefini mansion once more, the footman – a quiet blue Kyrii – opened the door and I stepped out, helping Mother and Cecilia down. The footman urged the Whinny back into motion, taking the carriage to the stables as Mother, Cecilia, and I entered the house.
The foyer was dark, but that wasn’t unusual; the servants rarely chose to keep unnecessary rooms lit when Mother was gone. I agreed with them on principle, but now it bothered me somewhat. I snapped my fingers and let more of my energy flow out into a soft light that dimly lit the room. In the darkness, all I could easily see was color, shape, and shadow. An insectoid shape in the corner, as deep brown as the rest of the room, caused me to look away; I didn’t need to be reminded of Siobhan right now.
Then light, in the form of fire, flowed out from the shadow and lit the lamps. I turned, biting back a curse. “What are you doing here?”
“Did you think I could let something like that energy dump go without wanting to know more?” Siobhan’s voice turned dark as he came closer. “I’m glad you survived, but that was a remarkably stupid thing to do.”
I laughed and hugged the brown Ruki, drawing energy from his presence. “Thank you for being earth-tied; I wouldn’t have managed without you.”
“You would’ve spread it to the air instead.” Siobhan smiled. “Earth isn’t the only grounding element.”
“With lightning? Air wouldn’t work.”
Mother coughed delicately. “As nice as it is to have you visit, Siobhan, would you care to explain why you came?”
“Of course.” Siobhan released me and turned to Mother. “Your son used me to ground the magic thrown around here a few hours ago. I felt it and came here immediately. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no.” Mother clasped her hands. “It is a pleasure to see you again. I don’t think you’ve changed one bit.”
“Neither have you, Lady Serefini.”
“Call me Maria; you’re close enough to family.” Mother’s expression was somewhere between pain and a polite smile as she spoke those words. “Now, shall we move into the sitting room?” She led us the short distance to said room with an elegant hurry. As we passed out of the foyer, Siobhan murmured a few liquid words and held out a hand for the fire to return to. His other hand stayed on my shoulder, radiating warmth, revitalizing me with the gentle energy of the earth.
In the sitting room, Mother took her armchair, patting a smaller version beside her for Cecilia to sit in. Siobhan glanced at me, and I shook my head slightly, sitting on the floor in front of another chair. Siobhan murmured, “You’re not helping your case, you know,” as he sat. I leaned against his chair, closing my eyes and letting him channel energy from the earth back into me.
Silence filled the room for a minute or so, until at last Mother sighed and said, “Siobhan, as we were returning to this estate, Giovanni said that he was considering living here again.”
“Really.” Siobhan didn’t sound as disbelieving as his speech implied. “Why is that?”
“Because he wants us to be a family again,” Cecilia said softly.
I opened my eyes to see her looking down at clutched hands, and smiled. “Cece’s right. It’s... this house feels more right, too. But I’d only come back to live here if...”
“I’ll come.” Siobhan laughed as I twisted to look up at him. “Really, do you think I would’ve come if I hadn’t been prepared to stay? Gianni, you’ve always talked of Brightvale as your home, no matter how much you love the Woods, and I’ve been waiting for you to speak up about it.”
“I didn’t want to leave you, and I didn’t think you’d come.” I shrugged. “You’ve always lived in the Woods.”
“Gypsies move around. I’ve been most places east of the mountains.” He smiled wistfully. “And a few places west.” The Ruki shook his brown head. “The kingdoms were always one of the more beautiful places we visited.”
“So you’ll stay?” Cecilia’s bright voice was stained with hope and suppressed elation.
“Yes,” Siobhan said, a smile brightening his dark face. “We will.”
Cecilia laughed and came over to hug us, then settled down at my side like a child. “I’m glad,” she said.
“So am I.” I smiled at her, and then looked at Mother. “And you?”
“I’ll have my son back,” she said gently, her soft blue eyes shining against her golden fur. “I’m happy for that, Gianni. I truly am.”
In that moment, with Cecilia beside me, Siobhan behind me, and Mother giving her blessing to us all, the mansion was my home again, and I settled into its warm wood and gentle golden light with joy. I was home, with my family, and no more would a nobleman’s illusions of grandeur threaten my family’s wellbeing. The peace of that knowledge, more than anything else, gladdened my heart and I looked forward to the next day’s dawn more than I had since I left home fifteen years ago.
“Thank you,” I said to Mother, meaning every word. “I think I’m home to stay.”
Her smile was the most beautiful thing in the entire world, and I rose to accept Mother’s embrace. When she pulled back, she kept her hands on my arms. “Let’s sleep now,” she said. “If this is a dream, I never want to wake from it.”
“It’s not, Mother.” I brushed a tear from her face. “Neither is it illusion. This is real, and we’ll all still be here come the dawn’s light.”
Behind me, I heard Siobhan give Cecilia a hand to help her stand. Then the Ruki’s solid hand rested upon my shoulder, and he said, in his gravelly voice, “In the morning light this won’t seem so much like mist; it’ll be metal, as solid and shining and sure as silver or steel.”
Mother smiled again, still shaking her head in disbelief, and led us up the stairs to sleep and dream of the joyous days to come.