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A Chance Meeting with Mr Greenwing

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Two years after I had last seen my friend Jemis in person, six months since his last letter, and six weeks after his scandalous absence from the funeral of his stepfather, I was seriously considering the possibility that he had died as his father had when I bumped into him outside Mrs Etaris' bookshop on the streets of Ragnor Bella.

I recognised him instantly and lost all sense of decorum, pulling him into a rough embrace before he even realised who I was. But then, I had been examining every stranger who came to town in the hopes that I might see him; a little extra height and a drab waistcoat and a careworn face would hardly disguise him. However he had grown at Morrowlea, he seemed thinner than he ought to, in that brief embrace. There were dark bags under his eyes and his nose was reddened, and his shoulders were weighed down by...well, from his letters, I could guess. By his troubles.

Thank the Emperor, he was willing to talk (or at least, willing to listen while I talked), and I leapt from topic to topic trying to keep him there until at last I realised I had the chance to invite him to lunch and seized the opportunity. I seized his arm, too, tucking it into mine so he couldn't escape due to some nonsensical notions of propriety. (I could feel the warmth of his hand through my coat.) Working in a bookshop to earn a living made him no less a gentleman, no less my Jemis Greenwing, and if there was to be inequality between us, it would be our own choice - hang society! (Three years at Morrowlea made his scruples all the more irritating: he was equal friends with counts and dukes, and surely made no bones when they invited him to dine! Did he really think I gave a whit for the gossip?)

Our lunch was delayed by an errand to the fishmonger’s, as three days in town had already been enough for Jemis to discover a mystery. (Three days, and I hadn’t heard, hadn’t known that he was here!) I threw myself into the question of discovering who had purchased herring for a very odd pie as if it were one of Jemis’ poetry puzzles - there was nothing that fired him up so much as discovery, nothing that made him so enthusiastic for conversation as a person to talk mysteries with. 

I took him to Mrs Landry’s cafe - one of Ragnor Bella’s latest oddities, though it was sure to be eclipsed by something else within six months, especially with Jemis back in town. (He had always had the most extraordinarily odd luck. A friend of his was never bored.) The absence of men in the place gave me an opportunity to ask about sweethearts, who had been distinctly absent from Jemis’ letters even when he’d been writing them. His face was white when he told me he’d had none, but since nothing could make Jemis open his mouth when he’d decided to keep it closed, I accepted the lie.

I did dare enough to test: “Unless you’ve come to realise you prefer…?” But he shook his head, and I quickly reassured him, “Nor I.” Either my brother or myself must have children, of course, and since he would not, it was good that I did not prefer men. At least, I did not prefer them over women - I was sure I would be able to find a woman who would make a perfectly satisfactory Mrs Dart. 

The meal was good, and I was beginning to think I might succeed in making sure Jemis actually enjoyed his lunch when Saya Etaris approached us. There was nothing to do but greet her courteously, though by the Emperor I was tempted to do otherwise when she made a dreadful remark about Jemis’ father. (Major Greenwing cast a long shadow, most of it landing squarely over Jemis, and if Jemis hadn’t loved him so, I’d’ve been tempted to hate him for it.) 

“It’s true,” Jemis said, steady as steel. “I can hardly hope to win commendation from the Emperor himself for my bravery, Saya Etaris.” 

I thought I had remembered how extraordinary he was. I had been wrong. And damn it all, I couldn’t even compliment the man, because as soon as he sat back down it was perfectly obvious he wanted to ignore the whole thing. 

I changed the subject back to the herring pie, and managed to tag along back to the bookshop and get an hour and a half more of his company out of it before Mrs Etaris declared it was time to close and I had to make my excuses. It was the most pleasant hour and a half I had spent in a long time: the cosy warmth of a good fire emphasised by the soothing sound of rain; an affectionate cat purring in my lap; a mystery to investigate and plenty of books to do it with; and Jemis, thin and careworn but alive and here, reshelving books and humming under his breath. It was so domestic it near took my breath away, and I found myself distracted more than once by mentally transplanting the scene to the library at Dartington. Still, I found something interesting, and it turned out the herring pie might be more of a true mystery than a simple oddity after all, and Jemis agreed to go mushroom hunting with me that night, so I departed cheerfully, whistling as I went.

Dart and Greenwing, Greenwing and Dart…before he’d gone to Morrowlea and I to Stoneybridge, our names had often been spoken together. If I had my way, they would be again.