Lilian and Estella meet for the first time.
Seven-day 6, Day 1
I am the sum of my ancestors. Inside the Mercio mansion, a servitor leads Lilian through the opulent residence to the southwest corner of the second storey and an elegant salon decorated in blues and gold. By the tall windows, a table is set for a meal, Lady Estella reclining in a lounge next to it.
I am the foundation of my family. It has been years since Lilian has viewed Lady Estella in aught but a visual. Monsignor’s spouse is exquisite, the muted, yellow dress accents her pale beauty and brings out the blue of her eyes. As she closes with the lounging figure, Lilian’s awe turns to concern. Slenderness is revealed as fragility, Lady Estella’s porcelain skin stretched thin across the perfect cheekbones. Her blue eyes sparkle as she gestures to the beautifully stitched chair intended for her companion. “Well come.”
Perched on the chair, Lilian waits for Lady Estella to speak or signal the meal is to begin.
Picking up her fork, Lady Estella says, “I knew your mother, Helena, once upon a time. We were at the conservatory together. Did she ever mention it?”
Lady Estella knew Maman? Struggling to hide her confusion, Lilian reaches for a glass of sparkling water. “I do not believe so.” Unable to control her eagerness, Lilian leans forward. She knows few able to offer her knowledge of Maman in the time before Sinead claimed her and Remus Gariten broke her. “Was Maman happy while at the conservatory?”
At the hunger in Lilian’s voice, Estella’s heart aches. Whatever may come, Elysia will have strong memories of their many joyous days. “She had a lovely laugh and could play almost any musical instrument. Does she yet play?”
Lilian drops her gaze, her fork spearing a green. “She paints.”
Something about Helena’s painting troubles her daughter.
Lilian raises gray eyes so like Helena’s. “Does my lady yet sing?”
Once renowned as Rimon’s Nightingale, Estella’s voice has weakened with her illness. It is but one of many casualties. “I sing occasionally, I no longer dance. Why do you ask?”
“One of Maman’s paintings is a portrait of a nightingale that bears Lady Estella a striking resemblance.”
Estella is entranced. “It would please me greatly to view it.”
Color flushing her cheeks, Lilian says, “I regret, but it is holding up the house.”
“What say you?”
Dropping her fork, Lilian replies, “Maman paints murals on the walls.” Reaching into her satchel, she grasps her slate. “Does it please, I may offer the visual.”
Fascinated and diverted, Estella examines the visual. The detail and accuracy are astounding. The Estella nightingale owns her aspect the day she wed Lucius. Two decades drop away and the memory of sensation washes over her. The pleasant warmth of the planting season, the scent of blooming flowers, the dark mischief in her husband’s eyes, the ache in her sex as Lucius claimed her as his. The perfect joy of that time.
Estella’s spine tingles with the Shade’s touch. Lucius is correct, they are Shade driven and this resilient young woman is somehow at the center of it. What doubts she owned before this encounter dissipates as mist in the breeze. Across the table, the severe young woman waiting serenely for attention does not appear to notice the presence of the deity. Or perhaps, Lilian is so used to it that it no longer startles.
Rimon’s mercy. It matters naught. All that matters is that Estella has the few sevendays of life she needs to complete her design. Picking up her fork, she nods at Lilian’s untouched plate. As usual, Estella lacks appetite picking at her plate as she ransacks her memory for every scrap of Helena. Heir to the dominant agrarian cartel, Estella was a leading light in First System society while Helena, five years her junior, was a provincial from a fading bloodline. If it were not for Helena’s musical gifts, they might never have met. “She was a talented musician. A prodigy. A bit lost in Pinnacle City having been raised in the hills beyond the Great Crevasse. We were together two seasons in the conservatory and performed together on several occasions.”
Eyes bright, Lilian drinks in every word. Sipping tea laced with Chin’s potion, Estella recalls, “For one so quiet, she could be fierce. We were performing after the Five Warriors’ festival and a trio of drunkards mocked our efforts. Between one breath and next, Helena was on the trio. She slammed her harp into one’s temple, her knee into the second’s groin.”
Eyes wide, Lilian leans in. “And the third?”
“I had not your mother’s speed, but I was not without skills. I clocked her with my dagger hilt, swept her ankle, and dislocated her knee.”
Lilian’s jaw drops, but she nods to encourage Estella to finish the tale. It is a good memory and one she has not visited in a while. “I have not thought of that day in years. It was where I was first named Rimon’s Nightingale. Not for my voice, but the ferocity of my condemnation.”
Lilian’s hand trembles and she drops her fork. “The nightingale cripples the heretic, not the faithful.”
The shade tingle at Estella’s spine spreads to her extremities. “You voiced you knew naught of your mother’s time at the conservatory.”
Gasping and shaking her head, the protégé says, “I am a lackwit. When will I learn to heed my mother?”