She ate her food slowly, but with gusto. It may have been only one long night to her, but it still seemed like a long time since she’d had a taste of home.
Dennor Hightower was staring at her. She looked up from her food and waited, patiently.
“Kael,” he repeated slowly, “is not a Lerienoijen name. You said Lerienoijen. How many scholars know that word?”
“I don’t know. How many?”
“I know three. One of them is me. And I’ve never heard of you.”
“I am – considered by those who know me to be a bit of a recluse,” she tried. Again, it was completely true.
“And yet here you are, playing a role of – well, I suppose she was a famous recluse, to those who study her life, but you’re not going to get to be, hanging out in tight Kael robes being the sexy potions-mistress for a museum of bored tour-goers.”
She had threatened men with melted bones for less dismissal than his tone offered.
She didn’t think he would be worried at all if she threatened to melt his bones. She missed having a reputation, she had to admit. It made quite a few things easier.
It had also made her the target of quite a bit of people begging for help, too, of course. She looked steadily at Dennor.
“Sexy potions-mistress?” she quoted, as if she’d just been handed a soaking-wet dead rat.
She was gratified to find that he squirmed a bit at her expression. “Well, ah. Those robes might not be tight or revealing for modern eyes in all circles, but for the times when Kaelingrade Torrent-Step actually lived, they would have been considered very titillating.”
She looked down at her robes thoughtfully. “Interesting choice of words. And you? Do you find this a titillating look?”
“Are you, ah. Are you flirting with me, Miss… Miss Kael?”
“No.” It was a word with a a great deal of finality if wielded correctly. This seemed like a time to wield it with force. “No. We were discussing, I believe, my qualifications for the job I have taken on.”
“Oh!” He sat back in his chair and looked her up and down. “And you believe… ah. Are you saying that the robe is one of your qualifications?”
“I do recall you suggesting that the word Lerienoijen had something to do with my qualifications. I also believe you were suggesting that the robe here somehow diminished from it being a serious position. “
“Well.” He shifted his weight. “I mean, there have definitely been actresses filling that role before. I’m sorry if someone told you that it was a serious scholarly position -”
“-is there any reason that it shouldn’t be? I’ve been told that nobody does potions the ‘old way’ any more except the Hoeraija and some old grannies – and, it seems, me. So shouldn’t we be teaching students more than ‘Kaelingrade Torrent-Step looked good in a robe?’”
“So you’re saying you’re here to educate people?” He could not have sounded more skeptical if he had been trying to insult her.
“I am saying,” she answered slowly, “I am here to fill the role of Kael in this museum. From everything I know of the original woman, that should not, reasonably, involve ‘looking sexy’ or anything of the sort.”
“You’re like ice,” he muttered – definitely not the first time she’d heard that. “You’re right. It’s a nice robe, but it’s not part of the qualifications. Ah.” He shook himself. “That was a very nice attempt to derail me.”
“I do believe that you derailed yourself.” Derail. To take off the… rails, obviously. She had so much to learn.
“I suppose I did. You speak like a scholar on your subject. How, might I ask, did your studies come to include the Lerienoija?
“The same way, more or less, that my name came to be Kael. How did yours?”
“Well, as I went to dive deeper and deeper into history — my specialty is Hoijera life and times in pre-conquest days-”
“-you call it conquest.” She was finding that an interesting distinction.
“Some people say colonization. Other people, people I don’t like a lot, say settlement. But I am Hoija, and I call it what it was.” He lifted his eyebrows in challenge at her. “And you-”
“And not Hoeraija. On the other hand, I’m not one of these things that Mr. Vibius talks about – that is, I’m not from the races of the conquerors, either.”
“At least not the oversea conquerors. The Lerienoija weren’t known as exactly friendly people, either.”
“And yet nobody knows of them, now. And everyone seems to know the Hoeraija.”
“That, of course, is your fault.”