Bright Familiar – Jeffe Kennedy

THREE MESSAGES ARRİVED at House Phel, all before breakfast, all bearing bad news. “I told you so,” Nic said, taking in Gabriel’s frown as he read the missives. Lifting his wizard-black gaze, he cocked his head at her. “No doubt you did, but which thing are you referring to this time?” “That they wouldn’t leave us alone for long.” “I thought we’d have at least a day to settle in.” She snorted at his optimism. The morning had dawned fair and mild, so they’d decided to breakfast near the balcony overlooking the river. It wasn’t much of a breakfast, as apparently the minimally livable manse did not yet include a working kitchen. Instead they were eating the cold supper left over from the welcome-home picnic from the afternoon before. As Gabriel had asked his mother when he and Nic had abruptly left the party so as not to fight in front of his entire family, the food had been left outside the master suite doors. What with resolving their differences, discovering the arcanium, and finally—finally!—completing the bonding ceremony, they’d never gotten around to eating an actual supper. The cold fried poultry was a bit disconcerting as a breakfast meal, but something to eat was welcome, as she was starving. She would kill for a hot cup of coffee with cream and sugar, but the hot, subtly floral tea would do. At least the view was lovely, the several sets of glass-paned doors open to the breeze that ruffled Gabriel’s raggedly cut hair. Without the weight of its previous length, the white strands curled in the humidity, glittering bright in the morning sun—except for the streak at his right temple, black as night, black as his eyes.


She wanted to run her fingers through the surprising waves, but she and Gabriel had been observing a somewhat formal distance this morning. After the crashing intimacy of the bonding in the arcanium the night before, not to mention the life-altering sex, they’d barely made it back to the master suite before falling into bed and into instant sleep. Waking to their dramatically altered relationship had been somewhat awkward. Gabriel kept giving her searching looks, as if uncertain of her. She wasn’t sure what to say to reassure him. When he’d gone downstairs to determine the possibility of something for breakfast besides leftovers and returned with the missives, she’d been almost grateful for the distraction. Even though she was experienced enough in the ways of her people to know they wouldn’t say anything good. “News travels fast in the Convocation,” she told him. “Now that they know where to find us, they have. No doubt they’ve been chomping at the bit to scold us. May I?” “You don’t have to ask,” he replied almost testily, pushing the letters toward her, the formal stationery rustling crisply over the polished wood. She restrained a similarly tart comment to that, also. As his familiar, she did have to ask permission for such things, but Gabriel didn’t follow any Convocation customs—to the point of obstinately insisting on subverting them—so suggesting anything of the sort would only lead to yet another argument. Still basking in the glow of the bonding, and the exceptionally good sex, she was unwilling to disrupt their tentative peace. They were traversing uncharted territory, however, and she disliked not knowing her footing.

Gabriel might detest Convocation law, but at least she knew where Lifting his wizard-black gaze, he cocked his head at her. “No doubt you did, but which thing are She snorted at his optimism. The morning had dawned fair and mild, so they’d decided to breakfast near the balcony overlooking the river. It wasn’t much of a breakfast, as apparently the minimally livable manse did not yet include a working kitchen. Instead they were eating the cold supper left over from the welcome-home picnic from the afternoon before. As Gabriel had asked his mother when he and Nic had abruptly left the party so as not to fight in front of his entire family, the food had been left outside the master suite doors. What with resolving their differences, discovering the arcanium, and finally—finally!—completing the bonding ceremony, they’d never gotten around to to eat was welcome, as she was starving. She would kill for a hot cup of coffee with cream and sugar, but the hot, subtly floral tea would do. At least the view was lovely, the several sets of glass-paned doors open to the breeze that ruffled Gabriel’s raggedly cut hair. Without the weight of its previous length, the white strands curled in the humidity, glittering bright in the morning sun—except for the streak at his right temple, black as night, black as his eyes. She wanted to run her fingers through the surprising waves, but she and Gabriel had been observing a somewhat formal distance this morning. After the crashing intimacy of the bonding in the arcanium the night before, not to mention the life-altering sex, Gabriel kept giving her searching looks, as if uncertain of her. She wasn’t sure what to say to reassure him. When he’d gone downstairs to determine the possibility of something for breakfast besides leftovers and returned with the missives, she’d been almost grateful for the distraction. Even though she was experienced enough in the ways of her people to know they wouldn’t say anything “News travels fast in the Convocation,” she told him.

“Now that they know where to find us, they “You don’t have to ask,” he replied almost testily, pushing the letters toward her, the formal have to ask permission for such things, but Gabriel didn’t follow any Convocation customs—to the point of obstinately insisting on subverting them—so suggesting anything of the sort would only lead to yet another argument. Still basking in the glow of the bonding, and the exceptionally good sex, she was unwilling to disrupt their tentative peace. They were traversing uncharted territory, however, and she disliked not knowing her footing. Gabriel might detest Convocation law, but at least she knew where she stood with the Convocation. Gabriel seemed to think that everything would just fall into place for them, whereas she knew their struggle was only beginning. And these missives were the opening salvo in the coming war. With a sigh, she raked back her hair, feeling that odd jolt of surprise when her fingers immediately sprang free. It would take a while to get used to being without her own formerly waist-length tresses, particularly given how unkempt she now looked. Gabriel’s assessment that she’d need a trim following the abrupt shearing during the bonding ceremony had been a massive understatement. One look in the bathing chamber mirror had confirmed that much. Without the weight, her dark locks were also curling—and with such uneven and wild abandon that they stood out around her head like a deranged halo. She would have gotten her grooming imp to try to tame the mess, but Gabriel had already returned from his fruitless breakfast quest—well, not entirely fruitless, as he’d found the tea and also brought some fresh oranges—and she hadn’t wanted to make him wait on her. Maybe she could find time later. Setting aside the irritating but arguably frivolous concerns of vanity, she picked up what should be the easiest missive to deal with: the demand from House Iblis. It was exactly what she’d expected.

Gabriel’s impulsive “liberation” of the aged familiar Narlis had been taken amiss. She sighed for that unnecessary complication. “What do you think?” he asked, peeling an orange and giving her half. She took it, the scent bright as sunshine. “I thought the orange trees drowned when the levee broke.” “Leaked, not broke,” he corrected. “And just the new saplings. We have mature orchards, too. What do you think about the demand from Iblis? You have to admit it’s not as bad as you predicted.” “Do I?” She decided not to point out that she was sensitive to Convocation nuance that he wasn’t. The missive was disturbingly condescending. “I don’t suppose you’re willing to return Narlis?” Gabriel sat back, giving her a disappointed glare. “How can you even suggest such a thing?” “I’m not suggesting it,” she replied mildly, not pointing out that he’d asked for her opinion— which she would have withheld, like a good familiar should, had he not requested it. “I’m ascertaining your position on the matter.” “Hmm.

” Unconvinced, he chewed a wedge of orange. “This decision, at least, is easy. Iblis asks that I return Narlis or pay for her. I’ll send the money, and we can knock House Iblis off our list of potential enemies.” She nodded, giving every appearance of agreement. “What?” he demanded. She raised a brow. “I didn’t say anything.” “Nic.” He bit back a sigh and took his irritation down a notch. “I’m relying on you to give me advice in navigating the arcane etiquette of the Convocation houses. If you see a pitfall that I don’t, I hope you’d tell me.” She supposed she should try; she had harnessed her fortunes to his, after all, which meant this would be far from the last custom she’d disregard. “They’re asking for a ridiculous amount of money.” “It’s not that much.

House Phel may be far from wealthy, but we’re not beggars either. I can pull those funds together.” Nic set her teeth. “That is not the point.” Gabriel seemed to think that everything would just fall into place for them, whereas she knew their struggle was only beginning. And these missives were the opening salvo in the coming war. With a sigh, she raked back her hair, feeling that odd jolt of surprise when her fingers immediately sprang free. It would take a while to get used to being without her own formerly waist-length tresses, Gabriel’s assessment that she’d need a trim following the abrupt shearing during the bonding ceremony had been a massive understatement. One look in the bathing chamber mirror had confirmed that much. Without the weight, her dark locks were also curling—and with such uneven and wild abandon that they stood out around her head like a deranged halo. She would have gotten her grooming imp to try to tame the mess, but Gabriel had already returned from his fruitless breakfast quest—well, not entirely fruitless, as he’d found the tea and also brought some fresh oranges—and Setting aside the irritating but arguably frivolous concerns of vanity, she picked up what should be the easiest missive to deal with: the demand from House Iblis. It was exactly what she’d expected. Gabriel’s impulsive “liberation” of the aged familiar Narlis had been taken amiss. She sighed for that She took it, the scent bright as sunshine. “I thought the orange trees drowned when the levee “Leaked, not broke,” he corrected.

“And just the new saplings. We have mature orchards, too. “Do I?” She decided not to point out that she was sensitive to Convocation nuance that he wasn’t. “I’m not suggesting it,” she replied mildly, not pointing out that he’d asked for her opinion— which she would have withheld, like a good familiar should, had he not requested it. “I’m “Hmm.” Unconvinced, he chewed a wedge of orange. “This decision, at least, is easy. Iblis asks that I return Narlis or pay for her. I’ll send the money, and we can knock House Iblis off our list of “Nic.” He bit back a sigh and took his irritation down a notch. “I’m relying on you to give me advice in navigating the arcane etiquette of the Convocation houses. If you see a pitfall that I don’t, I harnessed her fortunes to his, after all, which meant this would be far from the last custom she’d disregard. “They’re asking for a ridiculous amount of “It’s not that much. House Phel may be far from wealthy, but we’re not beggars either. I can pull “It’s exactly the point.

” “No,” she nearly growled at him. “An elderly familiar, well past her prime, who almost certainly won’t live a handful of years more, who will be only a mouth to feed and a consumer of expensive healing if you’re unwilling to let her suffer, which I’m sure you will be, and—” “Of course she’ll have healing. We may be provincials here in Meresin, but we’re not monsters.” “And who provides zero value in return,” Nic continued remorselessly, “is not worth any amount of coin, much less this absurd price. If anything, Iblis should pay you to take her off their hands.” “We’re talking about a human being here,” he said tightly. “Not in the eyes of the Convocation, we’re not,” she shot back, annoyed enough with his naïveté to abandon the circumspection she’d previously resolved upon. Which always seemed to happen in her interactions with Gabriel. “You want my opinion? Fine. To the Convocation, there are wizards, familiars, and nonmagical commoners.” She ticked off the points on her fingers. “The first have value. The second have value in respect to the first. The third are irrelevant. By demanding a price for Narlis that is beyond all reason, House Iblis is testing you.

They’ve figured out who you are, which means they’re well aware you’re from a fallen house and were not trained at Convocation Academy. You revealed yourself as being weak by showing sympathy for a dried-up, worthless familiar to the point that you went to the trouble of exposing us by abducting her, which—as I told you at the time— is an act of war. Now they’re determining just how inexperienced you are by seeing if you’ll meet their absurd demands.” Gabriel regarded her thoughtfully. “So, we have three options: pay the price, return Narlis— which, you are correct, I refuse to do—or refuse altogether.” “Four options,” she corrected. “You could counteroffer.” Though he remained apparently relaxed, his jaw tightened. “It doesn’t sit well with me to haggle over a human being.” When she opened her mouth, he shot a finger at her. “And don’t tell me a familiar isn’t a human being. I don’t care what Convocation law dictates. She is a person, as are you.” “We’re not talking about me,” she replied, aware of the bitter edge to her voice. Hoping to sweeten it, she added honey to her tea.

“Nic,” Gabriel said, far more softly, and set his hand on the table, palm up. Always giving her the invitation rather than the demand that was his right. When she relented and laid her hand in his, he squeezed it gently. “I don’t believe either of us is capable of having a conversation about familiars and their second-class status in the Convocation without both of us being very aware that everything we say also applies to you.” She sighed for the truth of that. Much as she’d rather have it otherwise, she’d been doomed to the life of a familiar long before Gabriel Phel applied to participate in her Betrothal Trials. None of it was his fault. So, she squeezed his hand in return. “Fine. Given that, I’m going to suggest that you’ll do better in dealing with other Convocation houses if you can set your emotions aside and view familiars—Narlis and me, both—the way they do. Otherwise they’ll discern your weakness and use it against you.

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Updated: 15 September 2021 — 03:16

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