“Tell me about the castle, Grandfather!” she begged. “Have there been any more grand feasts? Is it a time of peace? Will you be staying with us for a while?”
Golon’s eyes shone with patient affection as the young maid clung to his arms, her mother-of-pearl eyes dancing in the streaming light of the afternoon sun.
“Let’s go into the parlor, Lairen,” he guided her by the hand. “Let an old Elf rest his feet while he tells you tall tales.”
Laurel giggled. “Grandfather! You cannot be old! Did you not tell me once that time runs slower here than it did on Andar?”
Together, they entered the rose-colored room at the front of the house, with its stiff chairs upholstered in tightly-stuffed satin that provided little more than a respite for your legs and very little comfort, no matter how you sat. Golon let Laurel seat herself on the plush velvet sofa and took a seat next to her.
“I did indeed tell you such a thing,” he answered her question, “but though I may not be advancing in years or djenu, I feel my strength dwindling after each battle, I fear.”
Laurel tucked her feet up onto the seat to keep herself from sliding and looked at him anxiously. “Do you—Are there quite a lot of battles, Grandfather?”
Golon watched the young maid. She barely looked older than the Glastorian schoolchildren, yet by human reckoning she was the same age as most of their parents. She had every right to know of their tenuous situation as refugees in this kingdom.
“Yes, there are, Little One. King Polograth protects his mountain of gold and jewels, as his ancestors did before him, all the way back to the generation when those riches were first discovered. Many nations are willing to attack Glastor to take some of the mines for themselves, and so this country must be defended.” He stroked the rosy cheek next to him. “But there is always a feast when we return from battle.”
Laurel picked her head up and smiled. “Always? Are they grand?”
Golon rolled his eyes to indicate the scope. “Massive, my dear! Such mountains of food that would feed the whole Quarter for a week, and yet the fare is served up for only one meal!”
“Everyone dresses in their finery—did you know, Laurel, that women in the court of King Polograth wear their skirts wide enough for a child to hide under?”
“And the men wear short, stiff jackets that keep their arms stiff at their sides like so, which makes it impossible to move about freely—and all this because they believe it is fashionable!” Golon drew his elbows close and pulled a face like a trussed bird, which made Laurel giggle.
“What’s happening in here?” a calm voice called from the door of the parlor. Nareandor entered and smiled at his uncle and his daughter.
Laurel jumped up with a smile and ran to hug him.
“Father! Grandfather was just telling me about the feasts at the castle, and the big puffy dresses and the coats that keep you looking stiff!”
“And don’t forget the three frilly shirts that puff your chest out past your chin!” Golon added, standing up and extending that part of his frame.
Laurel laughed and covered her mouth with her hands. She was so delighted with Golon’s antics that she missed the look that passed between him and his nephew.
Nareandor patted Laurel’s head. “Lairen, go to the playroom and amuse yourself, eh? I need to speak with Grandfather for a bit.”
Laurel nodded. “All right, father.”
The two Elves waited till the young one had gone upstairs. Golon watched the Elf whom he had raised like a son. The short dark hair now showed patches of silver, but the keen blue eyes—his mother’s eyes—still glinted with icy fire.
Nareandor caught the glance. “Uncle, what is it?”
“It’s about Laurel, Nareandor.” The words came slow, weighed down by years of doubt and misgivings.
“She is growing more and more like her mother every day,” Nareandor said with a proud smile. His expression faltered when he saw Golon set his mouth mildly.
“Yes, more’s the pity,” Golon responded.
Nareandor sighed. “Do you still believe that my choice was unwise? Laurel is learning of Andar still, and she will continue to do so, just like all the other Elf children.”
“But is the tutelage shaping her into something against her natural bent? She is not like the other Elf children, Nareandor!”
“She is in my eyes!”
“She is rarely in your eyes!” Their voices, though heated, never raised. The only indication Golon gave of a rising temper was to lean forward slightly as he spoke. He continued, “You have finished grieving, but you find other things to occupy your time, Nareandor—leaving Laurel to find her own means of activity and recreation.”
“And what is so harmful about that? There are plenty of other Elf-children to play with. She needs her own peers for companions, not solely her father.”
“Nareandor,” Golon pressed his lips in irritation, “in case you have not realized—Laurel does not play with the other Elvish children. She has not for a very long time. Lyberedd says they claim she is too loud for them.”
Nareandor stared blankly as the confusion set in. “Then where does she go when she leaves every day?”
“Lyberedd tells me she goes out of the gates and finds Glastorian children to play with.”
“Yes.” Golon snorted softly. “And dwarves, as well. I hear footraces with the boys are among her favorite games.”
“Footraces?” Nareandor was still trying to comprehend the fact that his daughter had been rejected by the company of Elves—and moreover that she was encouraging the rejection by playing with human children.
Golon sighed and regained a more gentle composure. “Nareandor, I will say nothing against Mithiel, because I know how much she meant to you—but do you remember what we discussed when you were in the early stages of the courtship? Do you remember the warnings I gave?”
Nareandor nodded soberly. “You tried to tell me that if I defied your better judgment that I was risking my descendants being cast out as well.”
“I would never allow that to happen, if I had any say in the matter,” Golon assured him, “But, Nareandor, I won’t be around forever, and Lyberedd cannot be her governess as well as her nurse. If Laurel’s foolish behavior is permitted to continue—“
“I’ll see to it that more of this does not happen.”
Golon raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You’ll see to it?”
Nareandor nodded. “Personally; Laurel needs her father to be with her, and maybe that will help smooth things over as she grows.”
Golon nodded and rose to his feet. “I must take my leave now, in order to return to the castle before dark.”
“You will not stay and share a meal with us?” Nareandor followed him toward the entryway of the large mansion.
Golon shook his head, “I cannot. Good luck with your daughter, Nareandor.”
“Thank you, Uncle.”
As soon as the door closed, Laurel appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Grandfather couldn’t stay?” she asked, coming down to rejoin her father.
“No, Lai,” Nareandor replied. “He said to give you his love, and he will have more stories for you next time.”
Laurel smiled and hugged her father. Nareandor only patted her head, thinking all the while of what Golon had just said. He saw now that it was very likely unusual for an Elf to be as affectionate as Laurel was; would she eventually reject her heritage as her grandmother and namesake had? He hoped not.
“Laurel,” he said as they both headed to the dining room for supper, “What if I told you that Lyberedd was not going to be your nursemaid anymore?”
“She isn’t?” Laurel echoed in confusion. “Why not?”
Nareandor looked at his daughter and smiled. “Will you not have me, dear daughter?”
“You will teach me?” A smile illuminated her features.
Nareandor chuckled. “I will do my best.”
Laurel smiled and nodded. “Then I accept!”