2- In Which a Will is Delivered
As Elena was about to say something to Wood upon entering the room, she found he had ducked out seconds after announcing her presence. She realized she was going to be doing this alone.
Elena recognized Professor Milton Steinorth almost immediately. He was an older gentleman, one of the very first people she had met when boarding the Kingdom of Clouds—actually, he was the first person she had met. He had been kind to her then. And, although Edward Steinorth was not his biological son, he had raised him his whole life. His grief was apparent on his face.
The older woman he was standing next to looked surprisingly more put together than he did. Elena knew she was a former Chaste Beauty based on what Steinorth had told her about his mother. She looked like such an elegant lady with no hint of any graying in her black hair at all, holding her husband's hand, with their daughter standing between them.
The young woman must have been Irena, Steinorth's young sister—younger than Elena, perhaps. She looked very much like her mother. And, though her eyes were puffy and red, she was standing up straight and trying to support her parents as they mourned for their lost son.
There was another woman seated in one of the comfortable chairs set off to the side. This was Katherine, undoubtedly Steinorth's wife, also a Chaste Beauty from the past. She was very pretty, and much younger than Elena expected her to be. Perhaps she was only in her mid-twenties, though she seemed more mature, especially since she was leaning back in the chair with a young girl (Steinorth's daughter) asleep in her arms. She stroked the girl's black hair gently, her eyes distant.
Lastly, there was a crib in the room as well. Elena couldn't see the baby, though she remembered Steinorth said he had an infant son.
When Elena entered, they all looked to her at once. Professor Steinorth spoke first, coming up to her with a bow as he stated, "Ms Elena, it is nice to see you again looking so well."
"You…" Elena stopped herself before she said 'you too' since it was nice to see him again, though he wasn't looking too well. "I'm glad to see you. But… I wish it hadn't been like this."
Irena put her hand to her eyes and turned her back to Elena, stepping away from where the conversation was going to take place.
Everyone in this family was suppressing their tears quite expertly. They had only learned about Steinorth's death two days ago. She couldn't say it surprised her though, since that was how Steinorth was too.
"Sir Wood told us that you had a message from Edward," Steinorth's mother said quietly.
"Yeah…" Elena said. "There's some messages."
Irena looked back briefly, but then turned her back again. Katherine, on the other hand, sat up straighter, though did not move too much so she wouldn't wake up her daughter. "What did he say?" she asked quietly.
Elena had repeated the message in her mind over and over since Steinorth gave it to her so she wouldn't forget. She would hate to mess up something that was clearly so important.
"He had a message for Irena and one for Katherine," Elena said, wanting to make sure the right person got the right message. She could see both of Steinorth's parents looked at each other (probably disappointed that they didn't get a message as well, though they knew there wasn't very much time).
"What was it?" Irena asked commandingly (sounding much like her brother).
"He wanted to say that he always thought your poetry was very good," Elena began.
Irena immediately interrupted by making an annoyed sound of disbelief while she delicately covered her mouth. "Edward never read my poetry," Irena said defiantly.
"He said that," Elena confirmed. "And the reason he never read your poetry was because it would make him cry. And he said he didn't want to cry in front of you because he always wanted to be the strongest person in your life."
Irena closed her eyes and started shaking her head. She went over to her parents and they pulled her into a tight hug.
Throughout this interaction, Katherine was getting to her feet. She set her daughter down on the chair, and the young girl woke up briefly only to turn over and get more comfortable. Elena could see the resemblance in the little girl's face. She was only about three years old, so she it was going to take a while before she would be able to process that her father had died. That thought alone was very sad.
"Please," said Katherine quietly. "You said your name was Elena, didn't you?"
"Please, Elena. What did my husband have to say to me?"
Elena took in a deep breath. She only had one chance to say this right. So she readied herself for this and tried to recite what he had said perfectly. "He said thank you for the years," Elena answered. "And he's sorry for leaving you so soon. And he's sorry he couldn't take care of you."
Katherine bit her lip and directed her gaze to the floor. She hugged herself, remaining strong and dry-eyed.
"And," Elena continued, "he wanted you to change the baby's name."
"Change the baby's name?" Steinorth's mother questioned. "Why?"
"He didn't say why," Elena replied. "He just said that he didn't want the baby to bear that name."
Katherine turned around and wandered over to the small crib. She reached down and lifted a tiny baby that couldn't be older than a month. That would mean that he had probably been born while Elena had been in this world. That was so weird to reflect on.
"I don't understand why he would ask for something like that," Katherine said, cradling the sleeping baby on her chest. "But he must have had a reason. He always had a reason for everything he said."
Elena knew it was evens sadder that this little boy would never know his father at all.
"What's wrong with the name Warren?" commented Irena. "What changed his mind?"
Elena stood up a little straighter at the sound of Irena's remark. Now she knew why Steinorth wouldn't want his son to be named Warren: because Hunt had said that he liked that name. Moments before he left, Hunt told Steinorth that if he had the authority to name him, he would have named him Warren.
She wasn't sure if she should say it. It didn't feel right to even think about Hunt, let alone mention him in front of this grieving family. But she also didn't want to hide it from them.
Even after she decided she was going to tell them, she remained quiet. She found she couldn't make herself do it.
"So that's all he told me," Elena said as she tried to back up towards the door.
Professor Steinorth abruptly cleared his throat and approached her. "Ms Elena," he said, putting a hand against her back and leading her towards the door (as if he was trying to hurry her even though she was already on her way out).
He opened it up, and Wood was there leaning against the wall. Wood was obviously startled that she had finished so quickly, and pushed off the wall to stand up straight again.
Professor Steinorth waved his arm to Wood to show him that wasn't necessary, and then he closed the door behind him. Elena tried to peek in as the door closed, wanting to at least say goodbye to everyone, but it was clearly Professor Steinorth's intention to keep that from happening (for whatever reason).
"Ms Elena, I wonder if I could ask you a question," Professor Steinorth began. "And I hope I won't sound rude or presumptuous when I ask."
"No. I mean, go ahead." She glanced back at Wood who turned to the side to give them privacy (even though it didn't do anything).
"Did my son tell you about my research regarding Chaste Beauties and the lingering abilities some of them retain?" Professor Steinorth asked.
"He did," Elena said. "He really believed in your research."
"It's true, of course," Professor Steinorth insisted. "Now, please, this is where I worry it might sound rude. Since you were a Chaste Beauty I anticipated had the lingering abilities, any offspring you have in the future might also possess some of your abilities just as my son, Edward, possessed them from his mother. I wonder, Ms Elena, if you were ever to have a son, you might permit me to study him alongside my grandson. Purely non-invasively, naturally."
Elena blushed a bit at the thought of having offspring at the moment, but she hastily nodded. "Yes, you can," she said.
"Thank you," he said with a sigh. "It's difficult to draw any conclusions on the sons of Chaste Beauties when it merely seems like I want to glorify my own family. And Madam Anya refuses to allow me to look at her son."
Steinorth had said once that he and Phinn were currently the only sons of this particular type of Chaste Beauty that were alive right now (and now Steinorth's son as well). Elena could definitely see the dilemma Professor Steinorth faced as a result of this.
"If I ever have a son, you can look at him all you want," Elena said.
"Thank you," Professor Steinorth repeated. "And thank you for bringing my son's words back to us. Edward was a good man. We were all prepared for his life to end this way, but that doesn't make it any easier to lose him."
"I understand," said Elena. "And I know he was a good man. I barely knew him and I could tell. I think you should be proud of him."
"We are," said Steinorth softly.
He took Elena by the hand and then bowed to her. When he stood up straight again, he said goodbye to her and then to Wood as well. Excusing himself politely, he returned into the room and closed the door behind him.
Elena remained staring at the door for a few seconds, and then looked over at Wood who took in a sigh and let it out. "I've said it before," Wood said, "that he will be sorely missed."
The two of them walked away from the room, moving slowly. Almost tentatively, as if expecting one of Steinorth's family members to burst through the door and continue to conversation. Elena paused at the door that led to the stairwell and almost wished that one of them would, though she wasn't sure why.
When they entered the stairwell, Wood inquired where she wanted to go.
It had been a while since she had seen any of the Sons. Her plate was fairly full with delivering Steinorth's messages, speaking with the King and helping acclimate Olivier. And, now nearly a day had passed since she had any interaction with them whatsoever.
When she asked Wood for the whereabouts, he answered rather finitely when he said, "The King wanted them to remain in the hospital wing under constant observation. Not out of concern for their heath, but rather out of concern for his own health. He's undoubtedly concerned that, if left to their own devices, they might try to kill him."
"So…" Elena led.
"The hospital wing has been not-so-subtly converted into a dungeon," Wood said, simplifying things for her. "Just without the bars."
"Can I still go see them?" Elena asked. "I mean, it's kind of good that they're all being forced to finally get the medical attention they need, but I don't think I've ever gone this long without seeing any of them. It feels weird."
"You've adapted a bit of a mothering relationship with them, haven't you?" Wood observed.
Elena actually agreed with Wood's observation, though she would never dare attempt to call it "mothering." All the Sons had such bad/tragic/absent relationships with their mothers so the connotation wasn't necessarily a good thing. "I prefer the term 'babysitter'," Elena relented.
Wood was amused by the sentiment. "That's fair," he agreed. "I'll take you to them, though I will warn you that they have been reported as being rather irritable. Can't say I blame them. After all they've been through, I'm sure the last thing they need is to be cooped up like this."
"Actually, it's probably exactly what they need," Elena pointed out. "But they're smart enough to know they're prisoners, which is what will really get them mad."
"You know them quite well, don't you?" said Wood, gesturing for her to come with him up the stairs.
"I like to think so," Elena commented.
"Would you mind if I tagged along?" Wood requested. "I know about them, but I've had very few interactions with them. I anticipate I'll be working with them closely in the near future, so it may be essential to get some face time and ensure they're settled with the idea. It will be difficult to replace Hayden. I know they were quite fond of him."
"They need all the help they can get," Elena said. "It doesn't matter what they think. They need you."
"Nicely put, Elena," said Wood.
"Is there time before you have to meet with the Audience?" Elena asked.
Wood stopped in his tracks as he proceeded up the stairs. "Why, Elena," he said with a bit of a laugh under his breath as he started walking again. "I had somehow forgotten. I almost missed my very first day of my new job. That would have been embarrassing."
Elena laughed at his honest and candid reaction.
"Allow me to escort you to the hospital, and then please forgive me for having to quickly abandon you," Wood said.
"That's all right," said Elena. "You'll clock enough face-time with them later."
"I suppose I will. This way."
He opened up the door for her and gestured to the hallway in front of them.
She really liked Wood. His friendliness was comfortable, casual and sincere. Nothing felt stilted or awkward coming from him. Essentially, maybe she liked him so much because he was a lot like Hayden. She wondered if it was a requirement of the Captain of the Guard to be really good with people, while the King's bodyguard needed to be stiff and blunt.
Did that mean Judge Hunt, a former Captain of the Guard, used to be so deceptively friendly and kind? She shuddered to think that someone as kind as Hayden or Wood could ever turn into someone as evil as Hunt.
She stole a quick look at Wood, and he noticed her do so, which made him smile at her again.
What if he was pretending too?
No. She insisted this right away. No way. She was not going to start doubting Wood.
But… Steinorth had mentioned that there was a chance that there was someone in the Kingdom of Clouds who was either working for Hunt or being controlled by him.
But what were the chances it was Wood? There was just as big a chance as it being anyone else in the entire Kingdom.
She shook her head, realizing that the reason why she was doubting Wood was because he was nice. And that was stupid. Wood was simply a nice guy. Just because someone was nice didn't mean they were pretending. He was a nice guy.
No, perfectly nice enough.