June 29, 2013

In Which Raia Chooses the New Word

January 4, 1182

"You've seen Jeda, I take it?"

Raia had assumed that the first thing Ellona would ask upon her taking a seat would have something to do with the king's death, but she hadn't thought Jeda would be the direct subject. The break from Ietrin really had done wonders. "I saw her yesterday. She seems..." How to put it? "I don't know. She's not grieved, but I think Roderick was something of a buffer. Aunt Laralita too, but apparently Ietrin is throwing her out."

"Of course he is. She's of no use to him." Use. That had to have been why Ellona had been so insistent that they meet. There was always time for visiting later. "Before the king died, your father did--"

"Yes." Raia had witnessed the signing herself, for the late king had protested. She trusted her father more than anyone, but Raia didn't do friendship halfway. Ellona had needed that signature, and Raia had seen it through. "The draft made it into law. Roderick's line of succession is secured. Ietrin can't change it unless all three lords agree."

"And is that at all likely?"

"No." Not with the current group of lords, anyway. But Raia didn't want to think any more seats of power were liable to change any time soon. "The baron wouldn't pass over his own grandchildren like that, and my father said that he'd only agree if Kaldar actually wants the throne when he's older, and if those ahead of him didn't."

"Good." Ellona sighed. Many parents would have thought her mad, fighting tooth and nail to prevent her son from becoming king, but Raia couldn't say she was one of them. Not everyone was meant to be a king--and, as recent events may have proven if her father was right, kingship was not the safest of professions. "Out of curiosity, who will inherit? Er, assuming Ietrin never has a legitimate son, of course."

"Ietrin has three choices. Most likely, he'll pass the throne along to his brothers with Laralita." Not that that was particularly desirable, given that their combined intelligence didn't match the dumbest of Raia's brothers on his worst day, but if nothing else, they could be malleable like their father. Their older brother, not so much. "But he could also pass the crown along through Dea's line, or through Leara's sons."

"I've heard that Dea is clever."

"My daughter is clever. You'd need a whole new word for Dea." Privately, she thought it would be grand if that word was, one day, 'queen'. "She even asked her parents if she could go to Italy when she was older, to attend university. I'm sure you can guess what Ietrin thought of that."

"I'm sure I can, and it's a pity." Ellona's hand smoothed her skirts over her enlarged stomach, the gold around one finger catching a ray of sunlight from the window. "Church nonsense aside, I suppose I would have benefited from university."

"Likewise." If nothing else, they both might have had more hobbies and personal projects to keep them occupied--none of this fretting over who was or would be king or queen without being able to do something about it. "Pity that no one here of our age ever got that chance."

"Yes, well." Ellona's lips formed a brief pout as she blew a strand of hair out of her face. "Who knows? Perhaps our future queen will have better luck."


June 26, 2013

In Which Laralita Finds Nothing in the Violet

January 2, 1182

Two days was too soon for a funeral.

It had been closer to one day, even, given the late hour of Roderick's death. Laralita had been a wreck that night, as well as the day after, all tears and loose hair and God only knew what else, not bothering to dress or leave her bedroom or even eat for all the world seemed too large a place without him.

Today, though, she was numb. It was early for numbness if she recalled anything about loss, but perhaps the pain of losing Roderick had been so strong that her heart had been forced to retire, a day of sabbatical in order before the grief could go on. She'd overheard more than one acquaintance remark about how well she was keeping herself together, but she didn't think that was it. More like she might as well have died too.

But the funeral had been over a while now, and the last of the mourners had been filing out when she'd retreated to her bedroom with the only daughter she still had with her. She hadn't seen Lily or any of her other children at all the day before, and from what she'd heard, Lily had been distraught, but controlled. That apt description still applied from what Laralita could see; she wore a brave face, but at a moment alone, her father's grey eyes might have been brimming.

Ah, but she couldn't think about Roderick. It was impossible not to think about Roderick, but every thought was a reminder that she'd never see him again. She had to think about something else. Anything else.

"Your singing teacher says you have a lovely voice." Lily looked taken aback and Laralita supposed she couldn't blame her; she'd always found music a bit of a bore. But talking about music was the furthest thing from talking about Roderick. "I hope it won't be long before you let the rest of us hear it." A pity that your father never will.

"Did she?" Her daughter blushed, though her eyes didn't light. "Oh, I don't know. I'm not comfortable with it yet."

"Don't be silly. I know for a fact that music teachers are stingy with their compliments. If she says you have a lovely voice, then you must."

"I suppose I'm all right, maybe. But--" But 'what', Laralita never found out. Lily turned her head just as Laralita looked up, cued by the creak of the door and her stepson's shoes. "Hello, Ietrin."

"Sister." Ietrin didn't even look at Laralita. "If you don't mind, I'd like a word with your mother alone."

Unsure, Lily looked to her for confirmation first. Not up to an argument with Ietrin today, Laralita nodded. "It's all right. Go practice your singing for me."

Her daughter nodded and hurried off, brushing past her half-brother on the way out but not gathering a second of attention. Laralita had never known Ietrin to hold more than one thing in mind at a time.

"I didn't expect you to be so calm today."

And I didn't expect you to throw your father a funeral unworthy of the king he was. But she wouldn't say it aloud--every mourner had thought it, so it was only a matter of time before the sentiment got back to him somehow. For once in her life, she chose the direct option. "What do you want, Ietrin?"

"As I said, a word."

"You've never wanted a word with me."

"And I doubt I shall ever want one again." A little blunt, even for a man whose father had just passed. A lucky thing for him that she'd lost her will to feel. "And that is why this is necessary. We're both upset about my father's death and lesser people would excuse us for wanting to divorce ourselves from the world for a time, but I find no sense in delaying any crucial arrangements."

Odd that he would be talking to her then. Laralita had never been much for those aspects of her rank. "Such as...?"

"I shall be blunt. I've never liked you." He sat where Lily had the minute before, but no longer did Roderick's eyes pain her and comfort her. She found nothing in the violet. "My father loved you and I loved him, so I was willing to put up with you while he lived, but now that he is no more, I see no point in your continued presence here. You and your children have one week."


June 24, 2013

In Which Severin Is Given the Vague Report

January 1, 1182

"My lords." Ietrin went for the king's chair despite not technically being the king yet, little or no hesitation or sentiment in his motions as if his father had been dead for years instead of half a day. At least he wasn't wearing the crown. "I appreciate your haste in meeting with me today."

"Our condolences, Ietrin," Lorn bade him. Of the three of them, Severin figured Lorn was the most appropriate person for giving sympathies, at least where Ietrin was concerned. Octavius didn't give half a rat's ass about how Ietrin was and had never been shy about showing it, and the occasion of Roderick's passing was apparently no exception. As for Severin, he was too preoccupied with the long-term implications, plus he was sure he'd have to spend any comforting he had on Laralita on the way out.

"Thank you for your sympathy, but my father would have wanted us to get down to business." Ietrin inched his chair inward and nudged a stylus on the desk. He would have to write King Oswald later, as well as his sisters outside of the kingdom. Though she probably needed more time to grieve, Severin thought that was a job better left to Leara. "In keeping with our usual customs, the funeral will take place two days after the death--"

"Tomorrow." Octavius glowered, daring Ietrin to call him out for interrupting with the obvious. The challenge was ignored. "I would have thought that an exception was in order. Your uncle in Dovia will want to attend, and so will your sisters. The timing of a king's funeral ought to allow for travel."

"That, and the fact that whatever grand send-off your father wanted will take more than two days to arrange," Severin added. Personally, he wouldn't mind if his children put him in the ground the very day and with no more ceremony than the average peasant farmer was paid, but Roderick never would have stood for anything less than the grandest funeral imagined. Ietrin should have known that.

"If my father asks me for some spectacle of an affair, then he shall have it. Of course, we all know he won't." Apparently Ietrin's vocabulary didn't include the word 'can't'. "As for the timing, I don't care for the scent of corpse, nor do I think I could stomach the sight of my father half-rotten by the time the guests arrive. If they wish to hold some sort of service in their own countries, they are welcome to do so on their own time."

Rather flimsy excuses. Severin shared a look with Octavius. He knew what he wanted to say, but he had no doubt that Octavius wanted to say it more. "Are you sure you're not just being hasty because it's a more accepted practice to hold the coronation after the funeral?"

"That would be a valid haste. We can't have a kingdom without a king." Ietrin shut his eyes and straightened his back against Roderick's chair. Severin guessed he was imagining that stupid crown atop his head. "My coronation will take place four days from now. You will all swear fealty to me then."

His puffed-up manner supposed he thought admiration a part of that oath. Severin frowned. "But for now, we are still loyal to your father."

"I'm not an idiot. Lornian aside, none of you were ever loyal to my father."

"Then what makes you think we'll be loyal to you?"

Ietrin nearly snapped the compass he'd been fiddling with, but Severin didn't budge and though he didn't look, he was sure Octavius hadn't either. The prince too stunned to reply, it fell to Lorn to fill the silence. "Perhaps we should backtrack a bit? Aldhein only told me that the king was dead. How did he die?"

"My stepmother found him here when he failed to retire after sampling tonight's wine. The coroner believes that his heart gave out."

Of course it did. He's dead, isn't he? "A rather vague report. Did it occur to you that it might have been the wine?"

"Poison, you mean?" Of course that's what he'd meant. Ietrin knew better than to ask. "Perish the thought. I picked out that bottle myself for my father to sample."

"Did you deliver it?" asked Octavius.

"No, that was Master Finessa."

"The Master Finessa who departed last night."

Ietrin sighed. "Yes, yes, convenient timing. But my stepmother claims that Finessa offered her a glass as well. Why offer poisoned wine to someone other than the target?"

"Perhaps she was expendable," Severin ventured, though that seemed a little too easy. "Or perhaps it was by design. Laralita doesn't drink after supper and Finessa might have known that. If he offered the wine to someone else--even if she didn't take it--the situation would appear less suspicious."

The prince sniffed. "I doubt a mere servant would put much thought into what was or wasn't suspicious."

"Some servants might. Besides, he may not have been the mastermind; I know if I were to hire an assassin, I'd want some say in how the murder was performed."

Ietrin sulked, more out of annoyance than any more human emotion. He would only get more insufferable when he did have that crown on his head. "Clearly you haven't met Finessa if you think there's the slightest chance that he's an assassin. And who would have wanted my father dead, anyway?"

"Admittedly? Off the top of my head, I can't think of a name." And Severin would be shocked if anyone else could either. Roderick had never been an obstacle for anyone in his life, and even those who loathed him would have rather seen him humiliated than dead. Yet, Severin did not know every person Roderick knew... "But that doesn't mean that no one did."

"You're next in line, aren't you?" Octavius leaned forward and stared forth, the prince flinching somewhat if the corner of Severin's eye could judge. "Perhaps you did."

Severin glanced over at Lorn and then they both turned to Ietrin. An interesting point. Ietrin did have reasons for wanting to inherit sooner rather than later.

For all he didn't yet know that those plans were no longer possible. Roderick, for once in your life, you did the smart thing.

Not all men stood up long against eyes. Ietrin was not slow to fold. "Don't be absurd. Now, if I see any of you tomorrow, you'd best be dressed for mourning."


June 21, 2013

In Which Roderick Sees the Last

December 31, 1181

"You know, Roderick, I'm quite glad you talked me out of throwing that New Year's Eve party." Laralita let her head fall to Roderick's shoulder in a deliberate, practiced slouch befitting of a queen, the crown on her head not slipping in the slightest. Roderick could not have asked for a better end-of-year companion than a woman who made poor poster so regal. "Who would we invite, really? Severin and that peasant he married and their undisciplined mob? I'm sure you would have loved to see your older daughters, but Camaline would have brought Sparron and Octavius, and of course Leara would have had Lorn's entire family come. Celina is lovely, of course, and Ovrean is my own dear brother, but I never know what to say about that undead son of hers. And of course I haven't spoken with Tarien since that woman was so rude with you.

"Besides." A charming giggle chimed from her lips. "If they all have their little separate New Year's Eve parties, then we get to host a magnificent New Year's Day. Oh, Roderick! Everyone will be trying all year to top it, and none of them will--until we outdo ourselves at Christmas!"

Christmas? That did leave several empty months. "An excellent plan, dearest... but what about Midsummer?"

"Oh! I forgot about Midsummer. Perhaps we will let someone else try and fail with that." She laughed, and he did the same. If his count was right, it was Severin's turn to host Midsummer. That would be a spectacular failure, to the point where it would be painful if it weren't so horribly amusing. Severin ought to have known better than consorting with the help, or he might have landed a wife who could throw a decent occasion--not that every man could be lucky enough to find a Laralita, of course. "It will make Christmas even grander."

"It will be the best party yet--even better than tomorrow's." Roderick kissed her on the forehead, just in time to look up for the knock on the door. "Who is it?"

"Master Finessa, your majesty. Your son wishes for you to sample his choice of wines for tomorrow before you retire."

Ah! Good! Ietrin knew little about wine and Roderick wasn't sure he could trust his choice blindly. He'd been generous in allowing the boy to have his pick in the first place. "You may enter, then."

The wine master--and thank God tonight was his last, as he was surely no expert!--entered, a curt-yet-respectful nod in place of a bow; Roderick assumed that was only due to the bottle he carried. "Your majesties. Would you care for a sip too, my queen?"

"Thank you, but I couldn't. I prefer not to drink so soon before bed." How ladylike! The Arydaths and Noras of the world would not have abstained from the fine wine they'd coveted as peasants, Roderick was sure of it--even if it was wasted on their palates. "Is it true that you are leaving us tonight, Master Finessa?"

"It is, your highness." He crossed the study floor and placed on the table the two goblets he'd brought, then uncorked the bottle and took to filling one cup. "I have an aunt in Italy who is very ill, and I'm the only family she has left; the decent thing would be to go and care for her, wouldn't you say?"

"Admirable," Roderick agreed. And not just because it paved the way for him to hire someone better, though that was in truth his main concern. "Your aunt is lucky to have you."

"You flatter me, your majesty." He sealed the bottle and took the empty cup in hand. So that was it--the last that Roderick would see of yet another servant. It never did get any more difficult. "Best of luck in the New Year."

"You as well," Laralita bade him, out of politeness rather than obligation. "Safe travels, Master Finessa."

"Thank you kindly, my queen."

And with that, he'd shuffled out of the room, shutting the door behind him, leaving Roderick once again in more pleasurable company.

"Well." Laralita propped herself onto his lap and planted a peck to his lips. No doubt Ietrin's choice of wine would not taste so sweet. "I believe I shall retire now, but I'd like for you to join me before I fall asleep. I don't plan on dreaming before I've had my last kiss of this year and my first of the next."

"And I shan't have you greeting your dreams without my granting that wish." He eased her off of him gently and watched her trim figure as she rose. All those children later and still with the body of a maid of eighteen. The Lord had owed him after Geneva, and He'd certainly delivered. "I'll be with you after my wine."

"I'll hold you to your word."

Oh, that wonderful, wonderful woman! "My dear, I am a king; I always keep my word."



June 19, 2013

In Which Fred Tells What He'll Tell Himself

December 31, 1181

Freddard Farrier was a liar, a thief, and worse, and no one knew that better than he himself did. It ought to have meant nothing to him, strolling into a lady's bedchamber unbidden, a lady who was not only miles above his station but someone else's wife besides, even if his intentions were chaste (whatever he was, he was not that vile sort of man). It ought to have been as thoughtless and easy an action as that vague memory of swiping a loaf of bread from a smaller, stupider child.

But lady or not, Fred had not wanted to invade Jeda's privacy, even if he couldn't have told her what he'd come to say in front of prying ears. For a woman who spent so much time alone, she got remarkably little. Her husband and in-laws were there even when they weren't, their disappointed frowns and disapproving looks and their not-so-subtle hints. Even when they left her alone they pressured her.

He hoped she hadn't thought he was her husband when he'd knocked, coming to take his 'marital right' like the ring made her body his toy.

"I'm sorry for disturbing you."

"It's all right." Jeda folded down the corner of her page and shut the book. Plato. His father had owned a book of Plato's musings. His stepfather had turned it into kindling. "Do you need something?"

Perpetually. But Fred could never tell anyone that--though if he had his choice, Jeda would have been the one. "I thought I ought to tell you that tonight is my last night here."

She returned the book to the stack on the table, but kept staring at him all the while. It was a strange thought, someone missing him, or someone other than his siblings and his sister's children at any rate. He'd told himself earlier it was a vanity to think that Jeda might, but he saw now that he hadn't been kidding himself after all.

But it was better this way. At least she wouldn't miss him as much once she had an inkling of who he really was.

"May I ask why? You weren't dismissed, were you?" The way her voice caught in her throat and the way her hands ground against the edge of the bed, she might have feared it her fault.

"No. I... well, the official story is that I need to go care for my sick aunt in Italy." A thin blond brow arched upward. She knew he was being careless. He hoped she knew he didn't care. "I can't tell you the truth now, but you're clever, and I suspect you'll suspect when they wake you tomorrow. I hope you'll remember me as your friend, though I understand if--"

Her petite, curvy body caught him off-guard as she appeared at his other side and embraced him. "I don't want to guess at what you're talking about, but of course I'll remember you as my friend. Even if I am a bit bitter about you not staying as my friend."

"I'm sorry. I wish we could have met under happier circumstances." He moved to brush some hair out of her eyes, intending to retreat if she swatted him away, but she never did--she even smiled somewhat, even if it didn't reach her eyes.

He wouldn't push further than that. "Maybe if I were an architect, and if you could make a stuffed animal for every child in the world."

Jeda sighed. "Rick..."

"It's Fred." It stung as Jeda's hazel eyes bulged, but he supposed he was lucky she didn't shove him to the ground. "I'm sorry that I lied about that too. I needed another name, and I wanted you to know me as a good man, even if that is a lie. My father's name was Rick. He was the best man I ever knew."

"You're not a bad man."

"You won't believe that tomorrow, but I'll admit that it's nice to hear it tonight."

"You don't know what I'll believe tomorrow."

He supposed he wouldn't. Still.

"Then I will tell myself that tomorrow, and that alone will keep me going." He took her hand and, with a more hesitant motion than he recalled ever using, kissed it. "Farewell, Jeda."

"Farewell... Fred."


June 17, 2013

In Which Mona Questions the Convenient

December 31, 1181

"Where's Telvar? There he is!"

The little prince erupted into giggles as Mona pulled back her hands and waved them about, showcasing what was no doubt a sillier expression than she would have dared wear in front of anyone else. She didn't care, though--by definition, Telvar was not anyone else. "There he is!"

"Gah! Gah!"

From what she could gather, that was her little buddy's way of saying 'Again! Again!' A little more indulgent than she'd ever been with her younger siblings--or her real nieces and nephews, a twinge of guilt reminded her--Mona flung her hands back in front of her face and let out a mock gasp. "Where's Telvar? Where's Telvar?"

"Well, I find they all look rather alike at that age, but I believe that's him on the rug with you."

"Zareth!" Mortified, Mona scrambled to her feet. If someone had had to barge in, couldn't it have at least been Anna? Someone who had already seen her at her most embarrassing? "Shit!"

Confused, Telvar glanced over at his great-uncle, then back at Mona. "Shit?"

And now 'mortified' wasn't the worst of what she was feeling. "Is that his first word?"

With any luck, he'd been muttering in his sleep for a good month now--as unlikely as that was. "Don't tell his parents."

Vexingly indifferent, Zareth sniffed. "Better to let them think they were there for it, anyway. How are you?"

Mona blinked. Zareth didn't usually make a habit of that sort of small-talk. She hoped it wasn't due to the awkwardness of Christmas Eve, when a handful of smirking servants had cornered them beneath the mistletoe. God, she could have died that night. Not even in her worst nightmares had her lips been so sloppy. He no doubt knew painfully well that that had been her first kiss. "Uh... what...?"


In the awkwardness, Telvar had seized his chance to bum-drag himself off the rug, toward Zareth. He held up his tiny little arms and bounced. "Uh!"

"Up," Mona translated. "He wants to be picked up."

"Are you sure?" Zareth took a knee and gave the kid a pat on the head, but Telvar made no sign of finding the compromise agreeable. "I don't know. I haven't held him since he was little."

"He's still little. And less delicate." At least, that's what she'd told herself when she'd dropped him earlier... "If I can hold him, he shouldn't be a problem for you."

Zareth relented, taking little Telvar under the arms and hoisting him up, but that unconvinced frown remained. "I don't know. I'm not good with kids."

"At least you don't teach them swearwords, right?" She tried a self-deprecating smile, but it was wasted on him, too busy cradling Telvar like he was made of glass. "Or drop them, apparently."

"You dropped him? Why do Anna and Adrius let you babysit?"

"Hey, he's alive, isn't he? What they don't know won't hurt them." It hurt her a little, though. For all she knew, little Telvar was the closest thing to her own child she'd ever have. At least he liked his Auntie Mona, even if she wasn't always careful. "I still don't know why you're here. Supper isn't for hours yet; it's not like you to be early."

"No," he agreed, fighting to mask his annoyance as Telvar swatted at his hair. But maybe it wasn't Telvar he found tiresome. "This just happened to be convenient. I was in the area, and it would have been out of my way to kill time."

"And that's the only reason you're here?"

It couldn't have been longer than a couple seconds before he answered, but as time often did when Zareth was around, the moment dragged on like months. "Yes. Nothing more."


June 15, 2013

In Which Zareth Makes an Exception

December 31, 1181

It rarely snowed in Carvallon, so the markets were open year-long, but the air was cold and crisp enough that winter shoppers were just as scarce. Zareth preferred it that way. He'd never cared for shopping, to the point where he would have sent a servant if he hadn't resolved to be the sort of knight who still did mundane things for himself, but when it was a necessity, going at a time when the stalls were unlikely to be crowded was a somewhat less repulsive prospect.

Today was even less repulsive than most. The shopkeepers weren't in the most pleasant of moods, ranging from bored to anxious to openly frustrated, but so far as Zareth could see, there was only one shopper aside from himself, a young woman at the next stand, who looked to be minding her own business with no intention of striking up a conversation. Not that Zareth had expected otherwise--it was in warm weather that people came to the markets to socialize, though he;d never understood the appeal of bothering complete strangers--but nonetheless it was a relief.

"Ah, Sir Zareth! I see you're eyeing the pork sausage." The butcher nodded toward his own stock, at which Zareth had in truth only glanced, but he wouldn't have been at the meat stand if he hadn't needed meat. "My wife grinds it and stuffs it herself, she does. Only uses the best parts of the pig, and throws in a savory herb mix. One of our most popular products."

"How fresh is it?"

"From the batch finished this morning, sir--though if you want fresher, Rosie usually finishes another batch around midday. I could have my daughter deliver a few links to your castle for an extra coin."

That would have saved him the trouble of going back to his castle. Devidra had insisted that Zareth himself dine with her family for the last feast of the year, but he had wanted to leave the few servants he had with some good meat for their supper. "Very well. My steward will collect them at the door." He fished a handful of coins out of his pouch and placed them on the counter. It was probably a little much, but he supposed the girl could use a generous, preemptive tip; he knew for a fact that her brother had a bad leg. "Will that be enough?"

"By far." The butcher pocketed the money and smiled. "Thank you for your business, sir. Miss, can I help you with anything?"

So the only other patron had now reached the same stand. Not that it mattered; she had every right to shop where she wanted, and if she'd wanted to make small talk, he would have heard voices to his right and behind him.

"Thank you, but I'll let you know if something catches my eye. I'm here to browse today."

The butcher squinted, mouth curled in confusion. Zareth didn't blame him. Few enough people merely 'browsed' even when the weather permitted it. "If you say so, miss."

No doubt the butcher might have been annoyed, but Zareth couldn't say he cared. It wasn't his business what total strangers did with their time, even if he personally would have deemed it a waste. Besides, if Devidra had told him early evening, she meant for him to be there in the afternoon; if he preferred to end the year on a good note, he couldn't waste time with any social policing.

But he'd scarcely had a chance to turn around before someone was at his other side.

"Sir Zareth."

So it seemed only one of them had intended to mind their own business. "You're quick on your feet."

"And I'll be quick with my words. I don't think you want to linger."

At least she saw that much. That still left the question of why she was talking to him in the first place. "I don't mean to be rude, but I'm not sure what you want with me. Have we met?"

"No." But by her tone, it made little difference. "You're spending the night at the castle, correct? With your sister and her family?"

If she knew who he was, then it was a reasonable assumption. "Unless I've lost her favor without my knowledge."

"Good." Yes, yes, good. But why did a stranger care? "I can't say much, so you're just going to have to trust me. Something horrible is going to happen tonight. You have to be there for your friend."

"My friend?" If only he could say that was the truly confusing element.

"The, uh... the queen's maid." Her throat caught as she said it. Did she know about Mona? Surely she couldn't have. Could she? Who was this woman? "She's going to need you. You have to be there for her."

"Can you at least tell me why?"

"I said you'd have to trust me, didn't I?"

She had. He'd been alive long enough to know what that meant. "No, then."

She shook her head. She wasn't smug about it, though. If she felt she could have told him, she would have. "I'm sorry. But I'm never wrong."

About what, exactly, Zareth couldn't be sure. He was a wary soul by nature, not the sort to heed cryptic warnings from people he'd never met, barely the sort to talk to them if he could help it. He also thought himself grounded. If he couldn't see it, couldn't somehow sense it... well, perhaps that was the point of belief. But if it was, then he wasn't a believer.

But on the last day of the year, for Mona's sake, he supposed he could make an exception. "Thank you, then."