The company remained in the dining hall for a little while after the Countess left. They discussed their plans for the next day, but only briefly. The Dreamer would do as was expected, and search for answers in his sleep. After that, he would stay with the Countess. Nandliss would begin searching the grounds and talking with the foresters as soon as the sun rose. Elinge and Mr. Insel would start with searching the house and talking to the servants. Once their roles were determined, they retired to their rooms for the night.
When the sun rose, they were each greeted by one of the twins, and told to come to the back terrace after washing. Once they arrived, Nansi informed them that the countess would be taking her breakfast alone in her parlour, but that she and Rikard had been instructed to give them any aid and answer any questions they might have. She then brought out fruit and cream and fresh bread for their morning meal.
The face of Sol shone over the terrace, offering a beautiful view of the gardens. In the distance beyond, the roof of the garden house could be seen, as well as a plume of smoke, as from a camp fire. There was some noise of men talking from that direction, as well. The company sat at a wrought iron table covered by a fine linen cloth with a matching set of chairs.
Further on, to the north and west, the company could see the edge of the Willow Wood. The trees grew thick there – their foliage was just beginning to change – though there was some evidence of destruction where the trees had come closest to the gardens. The foresters had clearly been at their work for at least a few days.
"So, Master Trammer. Were your dreams informative?" asked Mr. Insel.
"I'm afraid they were not." The Dreamer frowned at the nearly untouched plate before him. "I felt no Connection last night. Perhaps it was the trip here. I may need more rest before I can truly Dream. I may also need more contact with the Countess. I'll spend a quiet day with her today, and perhaps nap in the afternoon when she does. I should be better able to prepare myself tonight."
Elinge grinned at the Dreamer. "So you need some proper rest before you can sleep?"
"Drolly put, but essentially correct. In order to truly Dream, one's mind and spirit must be rested and prepared appropriately. This is difficult to achieve, as time spent True Dreaming is never so restful as time spent merely dreaming in the conventional sense."
"Well, I slept like a babe," put in Owerst Nandliss. "The Countess's beds are quite comfortable. Of course, when you've spent as many nights camped outdoors as I have, any bed indoors is a comfort."
"Yes," said Elinge. "I imagine you've known enough sleepless nights for all of us."
"Indeed," he replied, and then rose. "But if you'll excuse me, I think I shall begin my investigations. The foresters begin early, and I shouldn't like to interrupt their work too much once they've begun. Ms. Froske. Gentlemen." He bowed to them in turn, and pulling a green rucksack over his left shoulder, made his way straight to the garden house.
The remaining three ate quietly for a few minutes, until the Dreamer, too, took his leave. "I had best check on Countess Amelia," he said. "Perhaps she's had another of her ... Dreams."
Once Nansi had finished cleaning up the table she brought them kaffea. They sat side by side, looking out over the garden. The gardens must have received attention that the rest of the estate did not, for they were still in a lovely condition.
"So, Mr. Insel, what do you think?" Elinge took a sip of her kaffea, and stared into her cup.
"I think the Countess is hiding something."
"You always think everyone is hiding something."
"Everyone usually is." Mr. Insel grinned crookedly.
"I suppose you're right, at that. But what, specifically, do you suppose our Amelia is hiding?"
"I'm not sure yet, Miss. But I'd bet you have some ideas already."
"You know me too well, Mr. Insel. What else have you got on your mind?"
"Well, this Rikard fellow. She seems to be of mixed mind about him. One minute she's insulting his honor, and the next she's talking about his loyalty."
"Very good, Mr. Insel. I think that bears some investigation, don't you?"
"As you say, Ms. Froske."
"And what did you think of the portraits in the dining hall?"
"Aside from the obvious, you mean?"
"Yes. Aside from the resemblance to the Count."
"Well, in the Countess's portrait, she appears to be of an age with what the Count is in his."
"And why do you find that strange, Mr. Insel?"
"Well, because he was twelve years her junior, of course. When he'd have had that portrait made she'd have already been nearly fifty. But she looks to be in her mid-thirties, at most. And she would have been … let's see … she was forty-eight when he Passed, and that was in 768. They were married in 758, so they were only married ten years. So she'd have been thirty eight and him only twenty-six when they were wed. She looks younger than that in the portrait."
"Yes. Now that does seem a bit odd, doesn't it? What possible reason could there be for this discrepancy in age?"
"Well, I suppose she could age as slowly as those kids seem to do."
"Yes, there is that, I suppose. But I expect the answer is far more mundane than that."
"How do you mean, Miss?"
"Portraits are usually made to project an image for posterity."
"And you expect she doesn't want posterity to remember the age difference between her and the Count?"
"Precisely, Mr. Insel. It's not common for people to marry someone so far from their age."
"But nobles are hardly common, are they?"
"Indeed they are not. Nobility often marries for reasons other than love."
"You expect their marriage was an arranged one, then?"
"Most probably, yes. And as the Countess was born an Astra, a marriage to her would have been quite a step up for the Count. Men usually arrange for their wives to be younger, but in this case there would have been something else at stake: power and connections."
"The Countess seems convinced that the Count loved her."
"She seems too convinced, though, don't you think, Mr. Insel?"
"And there's posterity, again."
Elinge nodded. "And why do you think it would be so important to her that her husband be depicted, for posterity, to be such a loving, caring, and devoted man?"
"Well, Miss Froske ... generally when someone tries so hard to foster a particular image for posterity, it's because they're trying to hide something."
"And we're back at square one again, Mr. Insel: the more obvious thing about the portraits."
"Yes. The resemblance between the Count and Rikard."
"And the fact that Rikard's mother, the young maid Livinia, came here with Amelia all those years ago."
"So you're thinking that the Count is Rikard's proper father. You reckon the Count may have married Amelia Astra, but that it was Livinia he loved?"
"It's quite possible. Amelia surely does what she can to dishonor the woman's memory. She can say what she likes about not standing on ceremony, but I've met few people who would dishonor the memory of those who've Passed in such a way."
"Fewer still among the nobility, wouldn't you say, Miss Froske?"
"Oh, they do it, but never so directly, Mr. Insel. Nobles rarely say anything directly."
"On account of posterity?"
"Something like that, yes."
Mr. Insel and Elinge Froske finished their kaffea and took their cups and saucers to the kitchen where Nansi was cleaning and beginning preparations for the midday meal. Jessa took their dishes from them and added them to the pile she was already washing. She gave them a sullen look as if to say, I didn't have to do so much work when we didn't have guests, you know. They startled Nansi by thanking her for the meal, and then left to explore the house.
They began with the Library, where they were surprised to find Merrik Trammer. He was quietly perusing the titles on the shelves.
"Master Dreamer," said Elinge, "I expected you to be upstairs."
"I would be, Ms. Froske, but I was informed by Rikard that she wasn't up to receiving anyone this morning. It seems she slept unsoundly and awoke with a touch of a cough. I, myself am unable to sleep so early, and so I decided to spend some time meditating."
"But you found yourself here?"
"Libraries often have the most comfortable chairs, you see." He indicated the overstuffed chairs placed about the room. "This one is no exception to that rule."
"Looking for heresies, are we?"
"Of course, not. I have no desire to put that poor woman in danger, no matter what unusual beliefs she's taken with in her old age."
"Yes, well, you and she both seemed to indicate that you may not hold the most orthodox philosophies yourself."
"Surely I have no idea what you mean."
"Did you hear that, Mr. Insel? He has no idea what I'm talking about. Do you find that odd?"
"I certainly do, Miss Froske."
"And why would you find that odd?" asked the Dreamer.
"Well, Master Dreamer" began Elinge. "It's because of Mr. Insel's unique gift."
"And what is that?"
"Won't you please tell him, Mr. Insel?"
Mr Insel's voice took on a flat tone: "Surely, Countess, you know what you speak could be construed as heresy? Yes, I know, but there is no Hierophant here to scold me. Surely you have no interest in running to the Temple? Though I've little doubt they'd love to hear the tale."
The Dreamer tilted his head to the right, his eyes narrowing. "What is this?"
"Continue, please, Mr. Insel," said Elinge.
"So say you and your former brethren." He hesitated a moment before beginning again in the same flat tone, "Some of this will make you uncomfortable, Dreamer, but it is truth I speak. And it was not so long ago that your very brethren would not have been so edgy around such talk. I've read my history. I should be careful discussing any books with that sort of knowledge so openly. The Temple has issued strict orders that the ecclesiastical histories of the Old Gods are to be removed."
A look of consternation passed across the Dreamer's face as Mr. Insel continued. "Calm yourself, Master Trammer. I think the Countess is quite safe here in her own home. She's hand picked her company for this evening, and I suspect she wouldn't risk such talk if she believed any of us were the type to go running to the Temple of The Invincible Light with tales of heresy. Quite so. As my Count used to say: 'Faith has its place, but it is not in restricting thought or reason. They must have their places too.'"
"Not just yet, Master Trammer. He's very nearly finished."
"Well, I have my own reasons for being cautious. I expect you know my history, Countess? Indeed, I do. This is why you were among those chosen."
"I see," said the Dreamer. "But what is the point of this little parlor trick?"
Elinge smiled. "The point is that we are quite aware that you have fallen afoul of Temple authorities yourself. I expect you recanted heresies you may have uttered, or you would not be here rather than in a dungeon, or in The Dream already."
"Yes, I recanted. And it is my duty to see that others do not fall into the same trap."
"Which trap would that be? The trap of false belief? Or the trap of having to answer for those beliefs? Perhaps on threat of pain of torture?"
The Dreamer sat in the nearest chair. "I do not wish to speak of this matter."
"And I do not wish to hear of it. I merely wish for you to know that I am believer in facts – verifiable facts. Whatever philosophies or religious names one wants to put to them hold little interest for me. As a result, I want you to know that you are safe discussing any matter with us. During this investigation facts may appear. And if those facts do not jibe with some predetermined notions of what is or isn't acceptable, I will follow the facts, heresy or no."
A look of relief crossed the Dreamer's face. "You really do mean that, don't you?"
"I do, Master Trammer. On that you may rely. In the meantime, Mr. Insel and I will take our leave. We've much to do before Old Sol sets himself down for the night."