Louise paused for a moment before knocking on the dark wooden door. Then, even before the sound had faded, she dove to one side and crouched behind the wall, much to Narto's bemusement. "What?" she demanded, peering over the stones at him. "I remember what these two are like, all right? And besides," she added in a soft tone, "I've just noticed something… ominous."
"Ominous, Lou?" Narto queried, but she shook her head. Then there was a sound from inside the house, and she disappeared again.
The door opened a fraction, and a pair of grey eyes peered out. "Who is it?" a voice apparently associated with the eyes asked.
"That's not right," Louise said, standing up abruptly, as if she'd never dream of hiding behind any wall, just ignore those grass-stains on her skirt. "Far too young." She stepped back onto the porch and knelt in front of the door, ending up at eye level with the, well, eyes. "How old are you, little girl?"
There was a pause, and then the voice replied, "My mummy says I'm not s'posed to talk to strangers." Another pause, shorter. "'ctually she says strangers are evil an' should be 'sterminated with 'streme prejudice an' lots of fire an' stuff, but Tanfin says she means I'm not to talk to them."
Narto raised an eyebrow. "Well, we're in the right place," he muttered, "no doubt about that."
"Hush, you," Lou murmured, not turning away from the door. "We're not really strangers, dear," she said. "We used to know your parents – a long, long time ago."
The little voice sounded doubtful. "Mummy says not to talk to very old friends," it pointed out, and then added, "'ctually she says that old friends always want something from you an' should be kicked out an' beaten to death with their own limbs an' set on fire an' stuff," the voice paused for breath, "but Tanfin says-"
"Yes, I'm sure he does," Lou interrupted. "Now be a good little girl and go fetch Mummy before this very old friend starts setting fire to things as well."
The door closed, and Lou stood up. She looked at Narto, who said, "Was that absolutely necessary?"
She shrugged. "It worked, didn't it? And she didn't exactly seem bothered by it."
Narto shook his head. "Even after all these years, I don't think I'll ever understand you."
Lou beamed. "Good!"
"Bella tells me there's 'two crazy people, I think they're married, Mummy' out here," said a voice, and the pair swung around to face the now-open door, and the woman leaning with folded arms against the frame. "By an incredible process of deduction, I suppose that'd you."
"Hello, Constance," Lou said. "Glad you could make it."
"To my own front door? I'd be in trouble if I hadn't." Constance Illian shook her head. "So what brings you here? And are you really married?"
"No," Lou replied quickly.
"Sort of," Narto clarified.
"Oh, it sounds it." Constance shook her head. "Are you on PPC business?"
Lou coughed. "Actually we quit the PPC not long after you did. Or, um… well, we sort of quit this universe entirely. I shouldn't really exist." She jumped back as Constance moved, but not fast enough to avoid being hit. "That hurt," she said, rubbing her arm.
"Just checking you were solid," Constance said cheerfully. "So, portal technology?"
"Deus ex machina," Narto corrected. "I don't know how she does it, but… she does."
"How explanatory." From out of the bushes nearby stepped the source of the comment, dressed in dark greens and browns – elven camouflage. Lou nodded at him.
"Dafydd. I was wondering if you were still around." Then she shook her head. "Actually I wasn't – the kid, Isabella? She mentioned an Eldarin name…"
"Tanfin," Dafydd filled in. "Our eldest – my son."
"And our daughter's name isn't Isabella," Constance put in, "it's Belladonna."
Narto raised an eyebrow. "You named her after a poisonous plant?"
Constance shrugged. "Well, why not?"
"… it's… just… what?"
Lou grinned. "I think you broke him. So you only have the two?"
"Of course not!" Constance replied, looking offended. "What do you think we are, weaklings?"
Lou blinked. "Er… I don't think I want to know what that's supposed to mean."
"To answer your question," Dafydd said, "we have five children in all. You know about Tanfin. He's got three sisters – Jasmine, Bella who you already met, and Daphne. They've also got a baby brother now, Oleander. As you can tell, I let Constance do the naming, except for Tanfin."
"And we could easily have more," Constance said in a sulky tone. "We've been working hard enough, but someone," she shot a glare at her husband, "has complete control over his reproductive processes, and has declared that I'm not allowed any new babies."
Dafydd shook his head. "I don't see what all the fuss is about, really. So, you two are married, too?"
"Sort of," Lou replied, just as Narto said, "Yes." She glared at him, and he shrugged.
"Nice to see you're in agreement, at least," Dafydd murmured. "Anyway, since I know Connie would ask if she weren't busy pouting, do you have any children?"
"Only the one," Lou replied, an unaccustomed soft smile appearing on her face. "Our little Diane…"
Constance perked up. "Is she here?" Lou shook her head.
"She's back home. We'll head back when she wakes up, of course." At the other woman's look, she shrugged. "Just accept it as something I can do."
"Accepted," Dafydd said. "So is she a Telyan or a… actually, Louise, I don't think I ever knew your last name."
"No, you didn't," Lou said blandly. "And she's a neither. The naming conventions of Narto's homeworld are a bit odd – just like the genetics – so she's a Peryan. With daffodil-yellow hair."
"It's a lucky colour," Narto said gravely. "Also means she'll be artistic."
Lou rolled her eyes. "Nar, you know that's just an old superstition."
The young man poked his tongue out at her. "Says you."
"So," Constance said, cutting in, "did you just come here for a place to argue?"
"Nope!" Lou said cheerfully. "But mind if we come inside first?"
"… I suppose not." The woman looked at her husband. "Will you be joining us, Dafydd?"
"I suppose so," the Noldo said, walking over to the porch. "It's good manners to talk to one's guests, after all."
"Oh, yes, frightfully," Constance replied in a terribly terribly English accent. The pair grinned at each other, and then Constance beckoned to Lou and Narto. "Come on in," she said, pushing the door open and stepping through. "I'll introduce you to the children."
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