“Staring out the window every five seconds is not going to make your brother show up any faster, Kendrick,” Julia said gently, resting her head on his shoulder. Though she was taller than him by a few inches, the movement was natural for her. Kissing his neck lightly, she said, “Alston will show up soon, and then you can question him all you want.”
His wife was right, but that did not make retreating from the window any easier. Truthfully, Alston wasn’t even late yet, but Kendrick had a very uneasy feeling about the forthcoming meeting. “He was hiding something when we spoke last time, Julia. I can’t explain how I know that, but I could sense it. Alston knows better than to lie to me, yet that is what he did.”
“I am sure that he will explain everything once he gets here,” Julia said, immediately grabbing Kendrick to prevent him from returning to the window. “Come sit with me.”
His wife began pulling him over towards the couch when the sight outside her window stopped her in her tracks. At seeing the astonishment on his wife’s face, Kendrick turned back to face outside the window and he too gaped at the sight. Looking through the glass, he witnessed his brother walking casually with his arm around a woman and his eyes were truly captivated by her. And what was even more astonishing was the woman looked comfortable being there. Nothing about them seemed forced – not their actions, not their looks, nothing.
“I think you may be wrong about this one, Kendrick,” Julia said quietly, still gaping at the two as they approached. “I don’t think your brother is that good of an actor to look so comfortable with a woman in his arm.”
“Nor I,” Kendrick admitted, though he still did not trust what Alston may be planning. His brother was an expert at executing all of his crazy ideas.
Turning his back on the approaching couple, he took his necklace out from under his shirt and began twisting it idly around the chain. He heard Julia return to the kitchen to finish up the preparations and thought about the best way to handle Alston and the woman he brought with him. After a moment of thought, he decided that being friendly would be the best decision. Alston would be expecting him to be mean; surely he did not think that Kendrick had bought his lie. So, maybe if I treat her as though she were actually my new sister-in-law, it will catch him off-guard.
When a knock sounded not a minute later, Kendrick called out to his wife to let her know that he was letting them in, and then he opened the door. The woman’s face paled a little when he stepped out, but Alston was beaming at him.
“It is good to see you, Alston,” Kendrick said warmly.
“And you as well, Brother,” Alston replied.
Seeing that the woman was still a little on the edge, Kendrick tried to soften the mood, by saying, “Your description of your wife’s beauty does not do her justice.”
The woman gave him a careful smile, but said nothing. That seemed like an odd reaction from someone that his brother was supposedly married to. “Your wife seems troubled,” he said to Alston. “Is everything all right?”
“I’m sorry,” the woman said quickly. “It’s just that, I have heard so many stories about you that it would be foolish not to be intimidated when meeting the infamous Kendrick Kavich.”
Kendrick couldn’t help but laugh. “Flattery? I love it! Please come in. Julia has dinner ready to go in the kitchen.”
“How is your wife, Kendrick?” Alston asked as they followed him to the kitchen.
“Difficult as ever,” he responded, giving his brother a wicked grin. “But you will be experiencing that for yourself soon enough, eh?”
“Congratulations, Alston,” Julia greeted his brother warmly with a hug. Then, crossing over to embrace the woman he brought with him, she said, “I’m Julia, Kendrick’s wife. And who are you?”
“Rose,” the girl said. Kendrick was impressed by the delivery of that lie, but he knew it was a lie, all the same. As Julia dragged “Rose” away into the dining room, Kendrick found himself standing with his brother alone.
“Who is she?” Kendrick asked, his tone much colder than it had been a moment ago.
“Rose,” Alston answered shortly. “You know, she is my wife. You could at least pretend to be cordial.”
Please, Kendrick thought. But he kept the thought silent and instead asked, “Where did you find her at?”
“Silas,” his brother snapped, looking indignant.
Silas, Kendrick thought. So, she’s from the Northern Coast, if he is telling the truth about even that much.
“Gentlemen,” Julia called out with a stern undertone to the word. “We are waiting on you.”
Alston’s face lightened a little and he gave his brother a curious look, asking, “Is that what I have to look forward to?”
Chuckling in spite of himself, Kendrick responded, “Yes, unfortunately. Once you put on the bracelets, the home becomes the wife’s dominion. That is the first bit of advice you’ll get from me.”
Throwing his arm around his brother’s shoulders, Alston said easily, “Now you tell me . . . you and Julia seemed so happy together I just thought that was how marriages worked.”
Kendrick seriously doubted that, but he didn’t bother with a retort. Instead, he led the way into the dining room, which his wife had lit with thirty or forty candles scattered around the room.
“Julia, you have outdone yourself,” Alston said, taking his seat across from the woman he came with. Slipping her a wink, which Kendrick saw, he reached across the table to grab her hand.
He is good, Kendrick thought, with a slight frown. Certainly he has improved his skills at saying false words with conviction. I think he may have even surpassed Dad’s ability to do that.
As Julia set the table, Kendrick turned to his brother and decided to try a more neutral discussion topic. “Have you heard the big news in Temoragu today?”
Buttering a roll, Alston said slowly, “Can’t say that I have.”
“Layla has officially been named the Head of the Unseelie Court. Her first act of business was appointing the third of the triumvirate,” Kendrick informed him.
“Really?” Julia asked. “Who did she name?”
“Not a bad decision,” Alston nodded thoughtfully. “Although Layla is pretty radical. She might have wanted a better political ally than Simone.”
Kendrick’s face broadened in a proud smile, and he nodded, “That’s what I said.”
“Well,” Alston said, raising his eyebrow and offering a half grin as he took a drink from his glass, “it’s a shame you don’t have more sway in Temoragu then, isn’t it?”
Kendrick waved the statement off with a brush of his hand, “I have more than enough sway in the country. It’s the Court I want to be taken seriously in.”
“Gentlemen, why don’t we talk about something other than business?” Julia frowned at them. Gesturing towards the woman that came with his brother, his wife continued, “The poor girl is bored out of her mind.”
“No, it’s quite alright,” the woman said quickly. “I find it all fascinating.”
Interesting, Kendrick thought, taking a slow drink of water. Would someone from the Northern Coast actually be interested in the war? Considering that Silas was located in what used to be Rea, Kendrick was thinking that a true Silasian would not care to discuss such things. Keeping that thought to himself, Kendrick decided to instead agree with his wife, saying, “No, my wife is correct as usual. This is not the appropriate time to discuss Western news with my brother. Let’s talk about a more inclusive subject. What have you been up to, Alston?”
Smiling at the question, his brother arched an eyebrow and asked, “You mean besides getting married, I presume?”
Alston’s “work” fascinated Kendrick. How his brother managed to remain neutral for five years was beyond even Kendrick’s advanced comprehension. So long as he didn’t side with Edan, Kendrick was actually ok with Alston remaining neutral. His blade was quick and his mind was even quicker. On all of the assignments that Kendrick had sent his way, the deed was done in record time. If Alston had been charging him for the work, Kendrick would have gladly paid whatever price was named. Taking a bite from his plate, Kendrick raised an eyebrow and asked, “Your services are in high demand?”
“It certainly seems that way,” his brother shrugged, effortlessly. There was a hint of sadness in his response, which did not surprise Kendrick. Alston had never truly liked the fact that he was a neutral Warrior.
“Where are you two going to live?” Julia asked suddenly, presumably trying to change the subject to something more suitable for dinner than murder.
“Furlough,” Alston supplied. “Just past Odbaan.”
Not wanting his wife to sweep the conversation away completely, Kendrick jumped in and said, “Very good. I presume your wedding was far enough away from the horrible slaughter that happened in Temoragu?”
“What happened in the Western capitol?” Alston asked, taking a drink of water.
“A complete bloodbath,” Kendrick replied before his wife could cut in again. “Had I not been told of your wedding, I would have credited the event to you, it was such an impressive feat.”
Alston gave him an ironic smile and said lightly, “I thank you for your confidence in me, but why the bloodbath?”
Kendrick had to concentrate on not looking over at the woman by that point. He had a feeling that she knew absolutely nothing about any of this, which would make her less than useless in telling what his brother was lying about. Everything that he had heard about the assault on Temoragu sounded like it was Alston’s doing . . . the question was why did he do it? Who hired him to break out the Deluvias?
“Prison break,” Kendrick supplied after another bite. “You may recall that Temoragu captured the Deluvia brothers? There was an alleged scandal that Patrick and Nolan had daughters and they were brought to Xamalie to rescue them. Surprisingly, they were successful.”
“How did the daughters accomplish that feat?” Alston asked, looking startled.
And yet, Kendrick thought, he does not look completely surprised by this news. Almost as if he were expecting it . . .
Aloud, Kendrick said irritably, “Our sister.”
“Aerlene?” Julia asked, giving him a curious look. “I thought she was banished from Xamalie.”
“Yes,” her husband agreed, taking another bite from his plate. “Apparently she struck some sort of deal with Ella, because she has thrown her lot back in with Xamalie.”
That was when he saw it – Alston’s neck pulsed, and Kendrick barely heard him utter the word “Stupid” because he got a very dark idea. Finally turning his attention away from his brother, Kendrick looked at the woman that Alston had been parading around as his wife. With her brown hair and well-defined muscles, there was no denying that the woman did resemble Patrick Deluvia. Allowing his eyes to fall lower, Kendrick glimpsed a silver chain around her neck. Cocking his head to the side, Kendrick said slowly, “I can’t help but be intrigued by the necklace you are wearing.”
“It’s nothing special,” the woman said easily with a shrug. “Just a family heirloom.”
“Family heirlooms are of great interest to me,” he continued carefully. Tilting his head to the side, he asked lightly, “Mind if I take a look at it?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Alston tense. The woman, though, showed no nerve at all. Slipping off the necklace, she passed it over to him and said, “Of course not, Brother.”
As soon as he had the necklace in his hands, Kendrick tensed too. Edan, he thought bitterly. Taking several deep breaths, Kendrick continued, keeping his voice calm and steady, “I see you’ve met more than just my youngest brother, Miss Deluvia.”
Julia was the only one that showed any surprise at the mention of the woman’s true name and she alternated between gaping at Alston and gaping at Kendrick.
“Assuming the stories are true, you have met Aerlene. But Aerlene didn’t have this,” he said, passing the necklace back to her. “How did you get it?”
“Edan gave it to me,” she said, her voice careful as she accepted the necklace back from him.
Chuckling, Kendrick said, “At least now I can understand your initial fear when I opened the door. And here I was, worried that I wasn’t being social.”
No one said anything to that, but that suited Kendrick just fine; the statement was more rhetorical anyway. No more than a second later, he continued, “That necklace of yours is but one contention between Edan and I. I am sure that you are aware that the biggest contention between us is what side of the war we are supposed to be fighting for, but I would say that your necklace is a very close second. I had been looking for it for years, and when I finally realized that our dad had it, I was determined to get it from him, but by the time I asked for it, he told me that Edan had already taken it from him.”
“Why did you want it?” Deluvia asked him, giving him a curious look.
To answer her question, Kendrick pulled off his own Flair necklace and set it on the table. “As you probably know, all Flairs receive a necklace. I inherited my necklace; it was not made for me. This necklace first belonged to James Kavich, who was trained by none other than Aaron Deluvia. This necklace, though it possesses a definite power, is not as powerful as the one you have there. It was my hope that I could obtain Aaron’s necklace and be able to divine from it some knowledge about the magic behind how the necklaces work.”
Sweeping the necklace off the table, he put it back over his head and considered the situation. Turning back to face his brother, he asked him, “Why did you bring her here?”
“I told you that I would bring my wife to meet you. We lied about her name, yes, but we are married. I didn’t want to tell you her identity because I was scared that you would try to kill her.”
Kendrick took a long, measured look at his brother. From what he could tell, Alston was telling the truth. Turning back to Deluvia, he asked, “You obviously knew where you were going?”
“So why did you come with him?” Kendrick asked. He knew if it were him, Kendrick would have done it to see where he lived.
“I want to make a deal with you,” she said, meeting his eyes in a steady stare of her own. “If you agree to battle my uncle physically, without poisoning him, I will make sure he shows up wherever you want.”
Surprised by that, Kendrick glanced at his wife. She looked concerned, which was about how he felt about the prospect of battling Nolan physically. Placing his forefinger to the insignia on his temple, he asked, “You want me to fight Nolan physically?”
“Yes,” Deluvia affirmed, with a slow nod.
For several moments, Kendrick rotated the ring on his Flair necklace as he thought about the proposal. He had only seen Nolan two or three times in his life, and what he saw scared the shit out of him. To be perfectly frank, Nolan towered over him. Very few people could make Kendrick feel as short as he actually was, but Nolan? That giant made him feel even shorter. After a few moments had passed, Kendrick commented, “Nolan is considerably more difficult to kill in a battle than he would be with a poison.”
The Flair gave a brief nod and said, “I’m aware of that.”
Glancing back at his brother, Kendrick was caught off-guard at the look of concern on Alston’s face. They very well might be married, because he actually cares for her, Kendrick realized. That may have some possibilities . . . she does fight for Xamalie, but if Alston actually has an interest in protecting her, I might be able to use that.
Carefully replacing the Flair necklace beneath his shirt, Kendrick said slowly, “I’m impressed by your move, Alston. Bringing her to my home was a rather bold move on your part, no?”
That statement seemed to cause some concern for Deluvia, because her expression paled a little at the words. Alston said nothing, of course, but Kendrick could tell that he was uncomfortable. Turning back to the girl, he said, “It was nice to meet you, Miss Deluvia, but I am afraid that I have to decline your request. I believe you two can show yourselves out.”
With that, Kendrick pushed back from the table, leaving his plate where it was, and walked out of the dining room, never looking back.