“Lady Sienna and her…wards, have arrived, countess.”

Viola gasped, and squealed. Sienna! Sienna was here! “She is?!? All right, let’s put together a little feast. And then we need toys, and get Nadia over here…”

Nalus cleared his throat. Viola calmed, and looked to the butler who had spoken.

“Um, right. Ahem,” She took on an air, and nodded her head to the butler. “Let lady Sienna and the Koskov children know that we shall receive them here. And inform Nadia Koskov that her presence is desired. And if one of the maids could gather the children’s playthings and bring them?”

“At once, Countess.”

Nalus stopped looking at the scar, and again regarded the Countess. Why did she continue to do this? Try and act the fool? He had seen her enough to know the truth. She hid her guile behind girlish outbursts to distract her opponents before she struck. An effective tactic, to be sure. But to continue to utilize deception after it had been discovered, was truly mind-boggling.

“Eyes forward, Nalus.” Viola straightened, and turned one foot towards the manse. “We must look our best when we receive all opponents.”

“Friends, countess.”

She smiled. “There is a difference?”


“Amateurs-in-training,” she clarified.

Sienna and the children displayed themselves dutifully. All dressed up prim and proper, arrayed like they were about to stand before a ball. They did not move or speak, looking up at Viola expectantly.

“Children…” She muttered. “How have your studies been progressing?”

Sienna cleared her throat. “Sophie?”

“I have started training with the violin, learning the strings,” she said. “Also the carpenter said I could soon be able to start working on smaller projects before I build my own.”

Viola nodded. “Acceptable, though let us also have some economics training for her, Sienna. If we are to establish the Valley as a woodwinds and strings utopia, it would be nice if our violinist and manufacturer knew how much to charge.”

“At once, countess.” Sienna said. “Pietr?”

“Military history is hard,” he sulked. Sophie stepped on his toe, and the boy straightened. “But kind of fun, I guess. And I get to run around a lot outside.”

“And your poetry lessons?” Viola asked. “I believe I was promised a sonnet.”

Pietr quailed. He had made a mistake and added orange to the third quatrain, and hadn’t completed it yesterday. Viola’s mouth clicked, and he promised that it would be done by the time they left today.

“And Ivan…”

“Mama!” Ivan shouted. The older Koskov children hushed, and turned around. There at the entrance to the manse stood their mother. Dressed in finest clothes, and holding a two-month-old daughter in her arms. She rushed forward, and hugged them close.

“Oh, children!” she said. “I haven’t seen you in weeks, how are you? How are you?”

The children ignored her questions. Hugs were a far better way of expressing affection. Their mother was there, and walking after a birth! Sienna smiled, it was wonderful.

Viola tutted. “Children…”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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