In the wake left by Sioned’s passing there’s a long silence.
“Mostly always like that, yes,” says Esmond.
There’s another lengthy pause. Julia seems to be deep in thought, staring at the sketch on the table.
“Well I like her,” says Janek.
Runa smiles. “She’s a vast improvement on your last girlfriend,” she offers, glancing sidelong at Janek to ensure he’s in on the joke.
Janek maintains an impassive facade. “No pesky mothers-in-law, for a start,” he says.
“Oh, I don’t know,” says Runa, “Her dad’s pretty … interesting.”
Julia glances up from the sketch, frowning gently.
Esmond matches Julia’s expression almost perfectly. “You haven’t even met him,” he says.
Janek spares Esmond a pitying glance. “I did the dossier,” says Janek. “Kind of my job.”
Esmond closes his eyes. “Spying on my girlfriend is not your job, Janek.”
“Spying?” says Janek archly.
“Girlfriend!” says Runa triumphantly. “It took the last one two years to progress to ‘girlfriend’.”
“It’s beside the point,” growls Esmond. “Stop checking up on me.”
“I asked them to,” says Julia softly. “And you’re forgetting that she’s my niece.”
“Ooh, any updates on the family tree?” says Janek. He pulls a small green notebook out of a breast pocket and starts rifling through the pages.
Julia stares at him a beat. “I do hope the proceeds of your little betting ring go somewhere useful.”
“You’re taking bets?” says Esmond, sounding annoyed to be missing out.
“You’re taking bets!” says Runa. “Can I get in on that?”
Janek snaps the book closed. “Betting is off-limits for anybody actually on the tree.”
Both Runa and Esmond respond at the same time with “I am not an Amberite!” This prompts a slightly affronted look from Julia. “No offense,” they both chime.
“Theodric and Matilda were of the Caderyn line,” says Janek slowly, “And Bleys, Fiona, and Brand are Feldanes. Didn’t you learn this stuff at school?”
“It’s a big family,” says Esmond.
“It’s an extinct line,” says Runa.
“Don’t look at me,” says Julia, “I’m a Bayle.”
“Anyway, back to the point,” says Runa, “You and Sioned. Have you had The Talk yet?”
Janek snorts, suppressing a laugh.
“Remind me, Runa,” drawls Esmond, “why are you still single?”
“Because I work too hard,” she says smoothly. “Unlike some people…”
Esmond begins a retort, then shuts his mouth. He has been neglecting his duties recently, but for what he considers a very good reason.
“Oh, leave him alone, Runa,” says Janek. “He can’t help it. He’s at That Stage.”
Runa mimes mock horror. “Oh no! Do you think there’s any cure?”
“She’s a child of the Pattern,” says Julia. There’s an edge to her tone, the ending of arguments. “It will end when it ends, and badly for Esmond.”