The next morning was the Holy Day, Idira went down to the dining room for breakfast. VanCleef and Myra didn't come down, nor did they come down to take the carriage to the cathedral. Idira went alone and sat with Lanira instead. When Idira came back full of stories about the fish she had finally seen in the fountain, no one was there to talk to her. The door to VanCleef's room remained closed, with two of his henchmen standing outside, trying not to smirk. Lanira hurried her past and up to her room where she stayed with her for the afternoon, colouring with her and playing Idira's favourite game, Hearthstone.
At high tea, Nin arrived for a visit. She opened the door and peered in, wearing a wide-brimmed hat decorated with purple and green feathers. Her dark blue gown rustled as she came in and took a seat by the window. She made small talk about the unseasonable cool weather as she pulled the pins from her hat and lifted it off. Idira could feel Nin's eyes on her. She continued with her colouring, trying her best to look uninterested in their conversation, while secretly wondering what Nin wanted to say.
Tea and cake arrived. The women sat in the window seat sipping their tea, looking down at the square in companionable silence. Nin sighed and set her teacup back into its saucer.
'Edwin's absence at the service was noted today,' she murmured. 'You know how people like to talk. I do hope he is not unwell.'
'According to the servants he has not left his bed all day,' Lanira answered, vague.
'Indeed? How unlike him. Perhaps I should call on him.' Nin set aside her saucer, making to leave. Lanira took hold of her wrist and shook her head, a small smile playing on her lips. Nin drew in a sharp breath.
'Is it . . . No! Can it be? Have they . . . finally come to an understanding?'
Lanira nodded, her cheeks colouring. 'Something like that.'
Nin clasped her hands together in front of her, pleased. 'Oh thank the Light, I had almost given up hope for him. I rather suspected Myra would hold out to the bitter end. How did he ever change her mind?'
Lanira looked out the window, her face hardening a little. 'She drove them both to their wit's end, and it just came about, as these things tend to do.'
Nin leaned forward, perplexed. 'I don't understand.'
Lanira met Nin's eyes. 'Let's just say, I rather think VanCleef has met his match in Myra. That girl is going to break his heart one day.'
Nin fell silent, disapproval emanating from her. Lanira cleared her throat and lifted up the teapot, pouring them both more tea. 'I have been hearing rumors from Stormwind,' she said, lowering her voice. 'That the king has not recovered from the queen's death and the city is being run by another, a Lady Katrana Prestor.'
Nin nodded, brusque, stirring milk into her tea. 'I have heard the same. My contacts within the palace have confirmed the truth of it. King Varian remains in his apartments surrounded by Tiffin's belongings. He doesn't wash or take exercise, neither will he see their infant son, Anduin. He simply broods.' She tapped her spoon against the side of the tea cup, and set it aside. 'I heard he sleeps with Tiffin's dress on the bed beside him, holding it as though she is still there.' She tutted and shook her head. 'So tragic, for one so young.'
Neither of them said anything for awhile. Idira kept colouring thinking about the poor king, holding the dress of his dead queen in his arms as he slept. It made her think of her fairytales. So many of them were sad. From the corner of her eye she saw Lanira rise up to check on her. Idira kept colouring, studiously feigning her interest in her work. Lanira sank back down, satisfied.
'And his advisor,' Lanira asked, cautious. 'This Lady Prestor, can she be trusted in his stead?'
'For what?' Nin asked, sharp.
Lanira lifted her teacup to her lips. 'Many in Westfall are simple folk who have become caught in the crosshairs of VanCleef's disagreement with Stormwind,' she answered, careful. 'Certainly there are more than a few who fear reprisals from the king's army. Not all were masons or owed money.'
Nin scoffed. 'Then they can put their minds at ease, for so long as the king is in this state, Westfall is of no interest to Stormwind. Which is of course to Edwin's favour, granting him much needed time to organise and gather resources.'
'Hmm,' Lanira murmured, noncommittal. She touched one of the feathers of Nin's hat, full of admiration, enquiring where she had purchased it. Diverted, Nin described her recent visit to the magical city of Dalaran far to the north, where the most famous milliner of all Azeroth kept his boutique. Idira almost stopped colouring as she listened, fascinated, to Nin's vivid descriptions of the city's soaring spires and fashionable shopping district where only the incredibly wealthy and privileged could enter.
Warming to the conversation, Nin opened her tasselled pouch and pulled out a flask of alcohol, tipping a little into both Lanira's teacup and her own before adding more tea. She talked of Dalaran's fashions, comparing them to the current styles in Stormwind. They emptied the flask little by little, whiling away the afternoon, companionable. The sun was low in the sky when Nin clapped her hands together declaring she had just remembered a delicious tale she had been told by her milliner in Dalaran of a young mage cursed by his mentor with the looks of an old man. Apparently this young man had saved the world by closing a magical dark portal that led to Azeroth from the world of the orcs, called Draenor. But in an interesting twist, he had been forced to remain on the other side, never to return. An incredible sacrifice. She had since found out when VanCleef had been given the work to rebuild Stormwind, he had received an order to erect a statue to the heroic mage in Stormwind's Valley of Heroes, to commemorate him for all time.
She paused, tapping her fingers against her chin. 'Oh, what was his name again? Ah yes, there it is,' she snapped her fingers. 'Khadgar. By all accounts a charismatic, powerful man. I should rather liked to have met him.'
She left soon after, smiling and stumbling a little from having emptied her little silver flask. Lanira went to fetch dinner for Idira, since it didn't look like she would be summoned to eat in the dining room. Once she was alone, Idira opened her notebook and wrote down the name of the heroic mage. Khadgar. She stared at the letters of his name, sensing the vast distance that separated them. He was living on another world, right now. Up until today Stormwind seemed an impossible distance, now she realised she would have adjust her perceptions. She wished she could understand the bigness of it, but she couldn't. He was out there somewhere beyond the sea, the sky and the sun, beyond even the night and the stars. She felt crushed by the immensity of it and sad at the same time. She would never meet him, the man who saved Azeroth. She sighed and picked out a new picture. She would colour it in for him. Maybe one day she would get to visit Stormwind and she could leave it by his statue. Maybe in his heart, from far away he would sense her gratitude. She hoped so.
That evening at bedtime, VanCleef came to see her. She was sitting up in her bed, reading the fairytale of the king who lost his queen to the sea, where an evil sea sorceress cursed the queen to live forever without love because she was jealous of the queen's beauty. Every night the queen would sing to her king from the sea's rocks outside his castle, hoping he would come to her, hold her in his arms, and break the terrible spell. But he was cursed too, and he couldn't hear her. Years passed, but she never gave up hope he would hear her plaintive song. One evening he appeared on his balcony with his new queen, kissing her. Broken-hearted, the cursed queen slipped down from the rocks and swam away to the end of world where she found a deserted island. Long after he died, she continued to sing to him, dreaming of the days when he had once been hers, until the sorceress had mercy on her and cut out the queen's heart, killing her forever. It was the saddest story Idira knew and she loved it. She was on the last page when VanCleef came in.
He came to her, smiling and relaxed, wearing his red robe tied closed over his breeches. He pulled up a chair and took the book from her. Fishing a pair of reading glasses from the pocket of his robe, he read the rest of the story aloud. He was very quiet when he finished. He set the book aside.
'Is this your favourite story?' he asked.
Idira considered. 'It's one of them. I like a lot of them.'
'It's a very sad story,' he said as he helped Idira to settle down under the covers. He glanced back at the leather-bound tome. 'These are fairytales meant for grown ups. They are meant to teach us about important things like love, fidelity, and honour through the art of storytelling.'
'I know, but I like them anyway. Is Myra better now?'
VanCleef smiled, his eyes softening as his thoughts turned inward. 'She is.'
'I guess your lesson worked.'
VanCleef stared at her, uncomprehending.
'You told her you were going to teach her a lesson she wouldn't forget, you know, when you were shouting at her?' Idira prompted.
Realisation flickered across his face. He burst out laughing. Pulling his glasses off, he wiped the tears from his eyes. He shook his head, bent over and kissed her forehead.
'Indeed it did. Sleep well, little one.' He tucked the blankets up tight under her chin and gave Blackie an affectionate pat on the head. The cat ignored him.
Smiling, he snuffed out the candles and closed the door, soft. She heard him start laughing again as he went down the stairs. She wondered what was so funny. Adults were so strange sometimes. His door opened and closed, soon after she heard her sister laughing with him, they both sounded happy. Idira snuggled down into her pillows, warm and cosy. Never in her life had she heard Myra laugh like that. It must have been a really good lesson.
The next day, after her own lessons with Nin were finished, Idira went to see Myra. For the first time in months, no guards stood outside her sister's room. Idira peeked inside, curious. The ruined door and dressing table had been taken away. A new dressing table stood where the old one had been, though its surface lay bare of the usual toiletries and perfumes. The bloodstained bed cover had been changed, too. Apart from the missing door and the toiletries, it was as if the horrible events of two evenings ago had never happened. She left and went to VanCleef's room hoping to find Myra there.
Two of VanCleef's men stood outside, looking mean as usual. Blades on their hips, arms, and thighs reflected the light from the candlelit chandelier. Idira hung back by the landing's banister and pointed at the door. One of them turned and knocked.
'Yes?' Myra answered.
'Kid wants in,' VanCleef's henchman said, eyeing Idira.
Several moments passed. The door opened. Myra wore a lavender dressing gown, tied loose at the waist, her hair only half pinned up. She smiled and beckoned Idira inside. Idira took a deep breath and bolted past the two men into the room.
'We ain't that scary, kid,' the one who had knocked scoffed
Myra leaned against the door, giving the men an eyeful of her silken undergarments.
'Yes, you are,' she said as her eyes slid over his array of blades. 'Next time, give her more space to pass.'
'Aye, whatever the lady wishes,' he answered, his eyes dark as they took in the curve of her breasts.
She smirked at him and closed the door, rolling her eyes as she turned the key. Idira followed her sister across the enormous, opulent room to a pair of wooden sliding doors, painted white. Myra pushed them open. They slid into the walls. Idira went in and turned around, astonished. It was a room just for clothes. A grand window faced onto the square, its wooden shutters folded back illuminating the space in soft evening light. Along the walls, sections of rails held VanCleef's jackets, breeches and shirts. Another wall contained shelves holding his collection of polished leather boots, held upright with wooden boot shapers. Beneath the rails, drawers held his scarves, handkerchiefs, and undergarments. In between the sections, mirrors stretched from the floor to the ceiling. In the middle stood a large square divan covered in dark blue velvet. A pile of Myra's dresses lay strewn over it. Idira found a corner free of the cascading garments. She sat, and looked around, enchanted.
'Nice, isn't it,' Myra said as she held up one of the dresses and gazed at herself in the mirror.
Idira nodded. 'It's like a fairytale, and VanCleef's the prince.'
Myra turned from the mirror and chose another gown, a dark blue one with gold embroidery. She held it up, turning from side to side. 'What about this one?' she asked.
Idira eyed it, she hadn't seen that one before. It was very nice. Myra glanced into the bedroom. Idira looked back. Maybe her sister was thinking of destroying it. She stood up, wary, and edged towards the door. 'Why? Are you going to burn it?'
Myra cheeks coloured a little. She shook her head. 'No. My dress burning days are done.'
'Oh? That's good.' Idira sat back down. 'Why?'
Myra sank down onto the divan and toyed with one of the golden tassels on her dressing gown. She sighed. 'All those days and nights I waited, longing for my old life to return, to go back to Benny and fulfill our dream of living on our little farm. All those nights spent holding out on the hope King Wrynn would come and make everything right before the six months ended. Benny asked me to live, but he left me here knowing if the king didn't come I would become VanCleef's lover.'
'Benny didn't have a choice,' Idira said, quiet, unwilling to let her sister blame him for her tantrums.
Myra stood up, agitated, and began to pace, her beautiful reflection following her in the half dozen mirrors. 'I thought if I could push VanCleef away by being difficult this would end, but all I did was make him want me more. Every fight we had made me feel something for him too, something I can't explain. I started to want him. It's not love, but now that it's finally happened, I can't bring myself to say I regret what we've begun.' She stopped pacing and glanced at Idira, shamefaced.
'I still love Benny, but he is far away and VanCleef is here. It's just easier this way, to go along with him, instead of fighting and being angry all the time. And . . . it's not so bad after all. He's . . . very attentive.' Her blush deepened and she bit her lip. A little secretive smile crept across her lips.
Idira raised her eyebrows. She really had no idea what her sister was talking about. She loved Benny but she liked letting VanCleef kiss her? Adults made no sense at all.
She pointed at a dark green gown, near the bottom of the pile. 'That one is my favourite.'
Myra blinked and shook her head, pulling her attention back to the present. She slid the dress out from under the others and held it up in front of the mirror. She smiled, wearing a faraway look in her eyes. 'This one it is then,' she whispered as she let her robe fall to the floor.
That night, when they went down to dinner, it was like they were a real family. Myra her Mama and VanCleef her Papa, they drank wine together, their foreheads touching as they laughed and talked. Even after two bottles of wine they never fought once.
After dessert, VanCleef played a game of Hearthstone with Idira. She suspected he let her win, but she didn't complain, she liked to win. Afterwards, Myra helped her get ready for bed. Her sister lay down beside her, as beautiful as a princess. She looked up at the canopy as VanCleef read a bedtime story from Idira's book of grown-up fairytales, his dark eyes catching Myra's as he turned the pages.
As they left, VanCleef wrapped his arm around Myra's waist and pulled her back against him, his dark eyes smouldering as he brushed his lips against the nape of her neck. Myra made a little sound, filled with longing, and clung to him. They slipped out. The door closed. A pause. Myra's gown rustled. She gave a little cry of delight.
'Don't drop me,' she said in a teasing tone.
'Never,' VanCleef returned, his voice low. He strode away. His booted footsteps moving down the stairs, determined.
Idira sat up and dragged her fairytale book from the bedside table, the full moon granting more than enough light.
'The next picture I see is what is going to happen to Myra and VanCleef,' she whispered as she opened the book.
It was the king on his sinking ship, desperately trying to save his drowning queen, his face filled with anguish as she slipped free of his fingers into the ocean's depths. Idira slammed the book closed and tried again. The pages fell open to the same picture.
She put the book back.
'It's just a stupid book, it doesn't mean anything,' she told Blackie, who sat watching her, swishing her tail back and forth. Idira lay back down and stared at the bed's canopy. It would be ok. Everything would be ok. The book didn't know. She closed her eyes and tried not to think of the vision she had had at the birthday dinner of Myra drowning.
It took a long time to fall asleep.