"Let me be sure this is clear," Cillian said, rubbing his forehead as he sat down, "you have met another magic animal, named her, and now we are going to be feeding her all the meat that she wants, just because she was following the hunters around?"
"Well, I think you may have a couple details backwards, but yes, essentially." Niamh said, smiling.
"Do we get anything in return?" Cillian asked.
"We haven't discussed that…"
"You do realize that, usually, there are two sides to a deal?" Cillian asked.
"Yes…" Niamh said. She wanted so much so ta say, 'Your keyword was "usually",' but knew better than to test the patience of her father.
"Well, never mind. I'll work something out. At best, she won't prevent us from chopping down trees." He gave a slight, uncomfortable chuckle. Niamh's smile faltered, but the two recovered quickly.
"So, have you sent the letters out to those planners yet? Artiar told me about them." Cillian said, quickly changing the subject.
"Oh, no!" Niamh suddenly stood up straighter and snapped her fingers. "I need to go do that now!" She then turned and left her father's study before more could be said. She continued down the hall at a quick walk, and stopped abruptly before she ran head-on into Artiar's chest, which, with the rest of him, had suddenly rounded a corner.
"Artiar! I forgot about the letter's! I need to get them sent!" Niamh said urgently.
Artiar put his hands on her shoulders. "I told you, I'm taking care of that." He grimaced. "Obviously, the excitement of meeting another magical animal has caused you to forget; you gave them to me so that I may free you of more stress."
Niamh let out a sigh of relief. "Of course, that's right." She let out a slight, half-hearted chuckle.
"Are you feeling well? You seem a little flushed. Perhaps we should sit, and give you some tea." Artiar put an arm around her waist and began directing her through the house.
"Tea? That won't be some strong enough. I'll need some coffee." Niamh groaned and rubbed the back of her neck. "I still feel so strung up, even though I know I don't have to worry about organizing everything…"
"Well, we are about to get married. It's only natural that you would feel this way, it's a rather large change in life."
"Especially if you mate for life!" The lynx, Krys, suddenly appeared next to them, on Artiar's side. The high lord jumped at the cat's appearance, and seemed to hide behind Niamh slightly when the cat smiled at him. "I don't know how single-maters can do it! My specie doesn't single-mate." The lynx pondered for a moment. "Then again, I'll bet any kind of mating would be a big change. I wouldn't know, I've never done it."
"Can magic animals mate?" Niamh suddenly asked. She had thought several times of asking Cailli that question, but it always felt like such an awkward subject.
"Well, yes, we can. We just don't," Krys answered, "I mean, we could produce generation after generation… but they'd all die within our life time. I think it'd be harder on single-maters, too, having to watch mate after mate die, each one someone you felt strongly for." The lynx shrugged, an awkward motion while walking. "Could drive them mad."
"I suppose, I never really thought about it much." Niamh said.
"This is all very interesting," Artiar suddenly said, "but we did reach the sitting room."
"Ah, yes, thank you Artiar." Niamh smiled and kissed him on the cheek. She then went to a bell-pull on the far side of the room and rung it to summon a maid.
"Why all this talk about mating?" Artiar asked out to the room.
"You started it." Krys responded.
"All I did was mention how stressful big life changes can be!" Artiar stated.
"Yes, and you specifically spoke of mating as your example." Krys pointed out. Niamh turned around just in time to see the pink of Krys' tongue flash between her teeth.
"Krys, what do you like to eat?" Niamh said loudly.
Krys' head whipped around, and her ears were pushed forward at the sound of her name. "Meat!" she proclaimed.
"Any particular kind?" Niamh asked, "we can serve a variety; deer, rabbit, beef, lamb," she shrugged. "We also serve several fowl-birds-as well."
Krys thought for a moment, then asked, "What about fish?"
"Fish isn't meat!" Artiar interjected.
"What?" Krys asked, "What do you mean? Is it a plant then? I'm pretty sure it isn't."
"Of course it isn't a plant." Artiar said indignantly.
"Then what is it? What is a fish?" Krys challenged.
"It's not meat, or a plant." Artiar said.
"How about vegetables!" Niamh asked, "Do you eat any vegetables?"
Krys grimaced at Niamh. "Of course I don't! That's gross!"
Suddenly, a maid appeared. She cleared her throat loudly, until she caught Niamh's attention.
"Ah, yes," Niamh said turning to the maid. "Three mugs for coffee, please. And, you may as well leave the pot."
The maid curtsied and left, obviously eager to be away from the room.
"Krys," Niamh said, turning to the large cat, "while you are here, I expect you to be civil and polite, and to not create arguments where there need be none."
The lynx's ears twitched, and she stared at the woman before her with sharp, green eyes. For a moment, Niamh thought Krys was considering attacking her. Finally, Krys sighed in resignation. "Fine," she said grudgingly, "but only because it's your territory."
Niamh nodded, satisfied, and immensely relieved. She probably would have had to ban the cat from the mansion if Krys had continued to act out. Either that, or Artiar might have insisted on dueling the cat.
She then turned to her fiancé and said, "As for you, I know your status, you need not remind me. However, I will remind you that you need to be setting a better example. You need to not let your nerves wear away at your reasoning." She paused. "Even if you are talking to a large, predatory animal."
Artiar grunted, but said nothing.
"Now, how about we please sit and try to relax?" Niamh didn't wait for an answer, she went to the couch by the window and sat down. She soon felt Artiar move, and then Krys. Soon, they were sitting on either side of her, glancing about the room and casting occasional looks at each other.
'At least they stopped fighting.' Niamh told herself. She wasn't sure if she would have been able to stop Krys from mauling anyone, had the urge arisen in the cat. She had known her for less than two days, hardly enough time for her 'magic' to take effect.
Coffee arrived, and was handed out. Krys tried hers once and, like Cailli before, didn't touch it again. Niamh, however, drank two cups to soothe her head and her temper. Artiar simply stared into his, as though trying to make out each of the different ingredients by sight.
Suddenly, her father entered the room, several papers in his hand. He stopped and studied the trio near the doorway.
Niamh smiled at him. "Hello, father. Would you like some coffee?" she asked as pleasantly as she could.
"Maybe later." He made as if to start walking again, then pointed at the three, his brow furrowing. "Is… everything all right?"
"Simply wonderful." Niamh pushed her smile even further, though she felt it looked more like a grimace by now.
Cillian simply nodded, then continued walking through the room, where he sat at the opposite end.
Then, Krys spoke. "Would you mind scratching the base of my ears?" Niamh didn't even look, she simply complied. She had done as such with Cailli before, it was almost a habit to do so after hearing the request. She paused slightly, as a wave emotion that she had considered two years dead washed over her. Krys pressed her head against Niamh's hand to implore that she continue with the affections, and Niamh did, though, with an odd feeling in her chest.
Finally, Artiar finished gazing into his cup and downed the coffee in a single swig. He placed the cup delicately on the small table in front of the couch and leaned back, hands on his knees, his jaw set in a rigid line. After several moments, he stood up, walked in front of Krys and stared down at her. He bowed, and said, "I must apologize for my previous conduct. I must say, it is one thing to hear of magic animals, and an entirely different thing to be near a magic animal. I assure you, my behavior will in no way repeat what I have done since meeting you thus far. If you would accept my apology?" he looked back at her, an odd mix of hope and heavy contemplation set in his eyes.
Krys began purring, loudly, once he finished. Niamh smiled –a genuine smile this time- and said, "I think that's a yes." Niamh couldn't help but feel elation at Artiar's look of relief. The lines of stress and anxiety that had been appearing around his eyes faded, and he looked more handsome than he had for the past couple of days.
'There's the man I'm going to marry!' She thought to herself. Pulling through was what she could count on him for, just as much as…
No. No need to think of him right now.
Krys yawned, flashing her sharp fangs, then shut her mouth a sharp click, cutting through the silence. "When is food going to be ready?" she asked.
"It's not quite dinner time," Niamh answered.
"It's not quite… dinner?" The lynx repeated, trying the new word.
"Yes, a particular meal at a particular time of day. The end of the day meal is 'dinner'." Niamh said.
"Oh. When will dinner be ready?"
"Patience, friend," Artiar spoke up, "only two hours more."
"Two hours?" Krys whined. "Why so long?"
Niamh shifted, thinking. "Well, humans eat in a very… organized manner, so we wait for meals. Because we can get our meals so easily, we don't need to eat whenever we come across prey or when we're hungry."
Krys flicked an ear in thought. "You humans…" she paused thinking again. "Gah, you have it so easy!"
Niamh shrugged, and glanced at Artiar, who shrugged back.
"So," Cillian suddenly said, "Do you live in the forest?"
"I suppose," Krys replied, twisting herself around to see behind her. "I don't know where else I'd live."
"Do you have any particular… objections to our use of the forest?" Cillian pressed.
"No. Not really. Just don't be stupid with it." Krys replied cheerfully, flashing Cillian a toothy smile.
A servant entered the room bearing a letter tray. He bowed to Cillian and proffered the tray. Cillian took the letter, opened it with the letter knife, then excused the servant.
"Who is it from?" Niamh asked, standing up and walking over to her father, leaning over his shoulder.
"Don't do that, it's rude." Cillian said, folding the letter to his chest until Niamh stood in front of him. He opened the letter again and said, "It's from your aunt, Aislin. She wants to be here to help you prepare for your wedding."
Niamh's smile faltered. "Aunt Aislin? I haven't seen her years…"
"No," Cillian said, folding the letter again, "Not since before your mother was sick."
"Are you going to invite her?" Niamh asked.
Cillian spread his hands. "It's your wedding. However, I would recommend that you think of how she may feel about being snubbed by her only niece, and in regards to your wedding, no less." He stood up, handing the letter to Niamh. "I leave the choice up to you."
He then left the room.
Niamh looked at the letter in her hands. Artiar was suddenly beside her, and put an arm around her.
"Well, I suppose there won't be any harm in inviting her…" Niamh said, "If nothing else, she can help with my own personal effects while the planners take care of everything else."
Artiar smiled, "I think that's a wonderful idea."
"You think everything I say is a wonderful idea." She paused a moment. "Almost."
Artiar simple shrugged. He gave her a light squeeze, then walked back to the couch, sitting on the far end from the lynx.
Krys let out a loud snore, and startled herself awake.
"Hello, sorry!' she shouted, scrambling to her feet.
"Krys!" Niamh said, tucking the letter into one of her belt pouches, "Would you like to meet Bevin?"