The man who knelt before me was still kneeling. I had to pull my attention away from the elf long enough to let him know that there was no reason to kneel to someone like me.
“It’s okay… you can stand up.”
But he didn’t. “I am eternally at your service, milady,” he intoned instead.
“Really,” I told him. “You don’t have to kneel for my sake.”
He didn’t move, though, so I stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Please rise. You can introduce yourself and–”
At last he stood up. I realized once he was standing tall and straight, his walking stick in front of him, that I should have recognized him sooner. I didn’t feel too bad, though, because he did look a little different from before.
“E… Is that you, Evander?”
He bowed, low and gracious. “It most certainly is, milady,” he replied, “and I am humbled that you saw through the illusion.”
“I’m… I’m not so sure that I did,” I admitted.
There he was, the man– the faun– who’d sat next to me at Symphony Hall only a week ago. He had the same regal bearing, the same long black hair with the tiny braids put there by faeries, the aura of pure kindness, and… well the rest was similar, but with changes here and there. He had on the formal pants and the long tailcoat and vest, but the shirt underneath was ruffled at the neck and wrists. His eyes now had a silvery sheen, and his nails were longer. So were his ears.
The biggest change was the pair of horns that now curled around his head. They were black, I admit, but not in a way that seemed to indicate evil in any way. They also shimmered, reminding me more of the deep mysteries of the night sky than anything else. I wanted to touch them, but I realized that doing so might be wholly inappropriate.
“You were using magic before… The night of the symphony?”
He nodded. “A glamour, some might call it,” he explained. “Just a little something to keep the other humans from panicking.”
“I see… You’re a faun… but Jean-Marc wanted you there… You specifically.”
“It was worth the effort,” Jean-Marc said, “as you have come to us now.”
I looked over at him. I nodded, stiffly, and looked back to Evander. I didn’t know what else to say.
“For goodness’ sake,” Brom chimed in, standing up from the harpsichord, “let her sit down. Go on, before she ends up on the floor.”
I feel like Brom’s concern was overstated; I didn’t feel nearly as close to fainting as he seemed to think I was. But who knows? Maybe taking Evander’s chair and relaxing into the rich fabric did save me from making a spectacle of myself. My constitution isn’t usually so weak, though.
“May I bring you some tea, milady?” Evander asked me. Chopin glided over to perch on the armchair beside me, and he petted her back slowly, making her coo.
Before I could answer, lightning flashed again outside, and again the thunder seemed distant. I looked back to him and shook my head. “I… Tell me there’s more to this place than just this ballroom.”
“Of course there is,” Jean-Marc replied. “Now that you have the key with you, would you like to see it?”
I nodded. “Y- yeah… but…” I looked over at the elf. “Perhaps an introduction is in order first.”
Jean-Marc followed his gaze. The elf gave him a look of disappointment and… I guess I would describe it as, ‘you messed up again; are you even trying?’ Jean-Marc lowered his head.
“Ah, my dear Miss Moss,” he said, and paused to clear his throat nervously, “I am most honored to have you meet our esteemed companion and fellow musician, Aubré Redwood, from the Elvan kingdom of Clurichaun. Aubré, this is the young lady I wrote to you about, Miss Leila Moss.”
The elf bowed to me, not terribly low, but elegant and sweeping. His waves of thick red hair fell of his chest and shoulders, and his jade eyes shone when he stood up straight and looked directly at me. “A pleasure to meet you, honored mistress.”
“Mistress?!” I felt my cheeks burning. “I’m nobody’s mistress.”
“He means no offense,” Brom was quick to say, as though he understood clearly what might be wrong. “Please understand, Aubré wishes you only the greatest respect.”
I nodded slowly. “Okay… right…” Words mean many things. His tone didn’t even sound that much like he meant ‘mistress’ in a questionable way. But even then… I sighed; I was getting ahead of myself, and nervous or not, I wouldn’t get any explanations if I didn’t get it together. I stood up and bowed slightly to the elf, not know what else to do, since it felt strange to curtsy if I wasn’t in a dress. “It’s really nice to meet you… I’ve never met an elf in person before.
I really hoped I wouldn’t regret saying it like that. Was I going to come off as too naïve? Whatever the case, they seemed really glad I was there, so maybe they wouldn’t judge too harshly.
“I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know him,” Jean-Marc said. “And now, If you would like to see the rest of the manor house…”
“It’s an entire manor house?” I asked, my eyes widening a bit. “Of course it is… it has its own ballroom. Okay, show me around.”
Jean-Marc crossed the room and opened another pair of doors, these ones simpler: stained and lacquered wood. Evander offered me his arm as the men stepped into the hallway, and I accepted it, enjoying his warm and friendly aura. Chopin hooted and flew close to him, perching on one of his horns whenever he stopped walking.
The ballroom opened onto a wide but short hallway, which ended in several wide, curving stairs going down, then a sort of landing. The other side of the landing had stairs that went back up, so that it was mostly a mirror reflection of this side. Between those pairs of stairs was another flight that led down from the landing, lengthening as they descended like in mansions in movies that had high-class settings. So far that made two floors in this house, but I suspected there might be a third that I simply didn’t see the way up to yet.
“Down these smaller hallways,” Jean-Marc said as he gestured to his left and right, “are some guest rooms, such as where Brom and Aubré sleep when they come to visit.”
I nodded, not sure what else to say. I guess it made sense that Brom didn’t live with him, and of course Aubré was from wherever the elves lived.
“Across the way is to library and some smaller study rooms. I have some guest rooms over there as well.”
“Okay…” I breathed as I took in the sights.
The floor was polished wooden planks, with long woven carpets running along them. The walls had framed paintings here and there, and ensconced lighting. There were tall windows and the ends of the narrower halls.
“And your room?” I asked. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked quite like that, but it was too late. I figured his room wasn’t on the same level as his guests, but also not on the main level, so I figured there had to be a third floor… I just wasn’t asking about it in the right way.
“Upstairs, of course,” he replied. “My quarters make up a whole suite, you see, with bathing chambers and a tea room and what have you.
“Wow… okay, so you get the entire third floor?”
“Not quite, my dear,” he said, clearly holding back a laugh. “Only half of it. The other half is a reflection of mine, you see, and that was where the esteemed Lord Morrigan resided.”
I blinked and looked up at him. “Morrigan?” I croaked. “You mean Morrigan Moss? My– my great uncle– er…” Or was it great, great uncle? Great Aunt Lydia had told me before, but I forgot the exact familial relationship all too easily.
“The very same,” Jean-Marc confirmed. I think he noticed the look of surprise on my face, because he added, “I shall explain it all to you in due time.”
The men stepped down the handful of stairs, pausing on the landing to turn my attention to the painting featured there. It was immense– again, like something you’d see in a nobleman’s home. I stood before it, gazing up at what I discovered was a portrait of Old Morrigan– but he wasn’t quite so old in the painting, and he wasn’t dressed like I’d expected him to be.
The photos we’d shared at his funeral, and that I found here and there around the house, were just like the faint memories I had of him: grandfatherly, sometimes in his Sunday best, sometimes in a long-sleeved shirt with a complementary sweater-vest. He had a golf hat or two– different colors, of course– he liked to wear. He was so much like the old pictures from the forties and fifties, so… historical.
But this painting was different. Instead of looking like he was from half a century ago, he was dressed as they did two or three centuries in the past. Early Baroque, I supposed. Ruffled collar and cuffs, embroidered waistcoat, long outer coat, and even breeches and hose. He even had the shoes worn by men of that era. Granted it was a painting, so there was no guarantee that the artist had painted what Morrigan had actually been wearing, but the ensemble did look fairly good on him.
Evander stood directly beside me, gazing at the painting along with me. Chopin perched on his shoulder– the one closer to me– hooting and ruffling her feathers. Maybe seeing Morrigan had her excited; she surely knew him before he passed away.
“Morrigan…” I whispered. “That… the instrument he’s holding; I don’t know why I didn’t remember it before, but he’d play the fiddle when I visited him as a little girl.”
“I remember him talking about the fiddle,” Jean-Marc replied. “It was a lively instrument, I can agree, but when he played the viola, the sounds he made were…” His expression became wistful, even longing. “So beautiful.”
I looked from him to the painting. He wasn’t holding his fiddle in the portrait. “Wait… that viola… It looks just like yours.”
“My dear Miss Moss,” Jean-Marc began, “allow me to tell you the first of many truths: that is his viola. from what he told me of his life, he played both instruments. The fiddle was his way to enjoy and celebrate life, while the viola was something he was taught as part of his formal education, a way to possibly make a living in music.”
“I see…” I breathed, taking in more details of the painting. “And he eventually gave it to you?”
Jean-Marc nodded solemnly. “I shall explain it all soon enough. Come, let me show you the rest of the house.
As he turned to head down the stairs with Brom and Aubré, I leaned in close to read the name plate on the frame. “The esteemed Lord Morrigan Moss, seventh pillar of music, upholding the world of Tierney Ríocht,” it said in delicately-etched script. At at the top of the frame, almost blending in with the frame’s filigree, was a stylized Roman numeral seven.