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A Metonymy for Love

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"Mother had to leave her bees at the dower house when she married Mr. Buchance," Jemis said as he and Jack ambled through the coppice wood of Arguty Manor, his words puncturing one of the slightly awkward silences that still fell between them more often than Jack wished. They were on the far side of the estate from the house in question, so the statement fell groundward even more abruptly than it might have done in another location.

"That's a pity," Jack said, casting his mind back to the simpler days of his youth. "She brought a hive from the Woods Noirell when we married. The bees were irritable that first year, no doubt missing the limes and the magic of the Woods, but your mother spent hours in the garden singing to them and to a wild hive that had nested in a lightning-struck oak nearby. She told me she had brought a hive without a queen, both because her mother would permit no breeding queen to leave the Noirell hives, and because it was easier to broker peace with the local bees if she could promise new blood for their lines without the presence of a potential usurper to agitate them."

He paused, attention briefly focused on avoiding a swathe of icy mud that had swallowed several lengths of the path. Green buds might haze the tips of the maple and poplar branches, but winter still fought a fierce rearguard action against the coming of spring, and he had no wish to lose a boot or spend the rest of the walk with a sodden, filthy sock.

"I had never considered that bees might have politics as complicated as ours," Jack continued, "but your mother treated them with as much dignity as the Good Neighbors, and they respected her in return. They might sting me, if I startled them, but never her. And never you, either -- did that change, after the Fall? So much else failed, or went awry, and I was hardly home long enough to ask much of anything."

He glanced sideways, still unsure how Jemis would react to the memory of that wrenching month when he returned home to find Olive married to another man, his reputation in tatters, and Jemis a tight-wound ball of misery.

Jemis ducked a stray branch, one hand on his hat brim to steady it, then shook his head as he rose. "Not anywhere in South Fiellan. I don't recall much about the bees of Morrowlea. The university had dozens of hives, of course, but after my first year, I was rarely assigned to tasks that required patience and careful hands, or that would keep me away from-- that would keep me occupied for more than an hour at a time." He grimaced, and Jack ventured to set a comforting hand on his son's shoulder. Jemis shot him a grateful smile.

"Do you want to purchase a hive or two for our new tenants?" Jack asked, returning to Jemis's original statement. "Or see if you can sweet-talk your mother's swarm into returning?"

Jemis shrugged. "Perhaps. I wouldn't know where to start coaxing a feral swarm back into a human-built hive. Mostly I wanted to--" He paused and looked more intently at his footing than the lightly graveled path required.

Jack walked beside his son and hoped his silence conveyed support and acceptance rather than the judgment Jemis often seemed to expect.

"It's difficult to keep bees in town," Jemis said eventually. "The neighbors complain, especially if they have small children. I hated that we had to leave the bees, but Mother was happy with Mr. Buchance. I've been happy living in Ragnor Bella, and I feel out of place here and in the Woods Noirell. But Arguty Manor will be mine someday, which means I'll have to reaccustom myself to the grounds and accustom myself to the main house."

Jack silently cursed Vorel once again for the wrongs he had done to Olive and Jemis. Lady Flora bore much of the blame there, but Vorel was nonetheless the one who had married her and eagerly taken her words to heart, racking up mountains of debt and dabbling in black magic while his nephew and sister-in-law scrimped and starved, barred from the very house that should have been Jemis's birthright.

"I wondered if a hive might make Arguty Manor feel less unfamiliar," Jemis finished. "It was an idle thought, not a proper plan or request."

"But a thought from the heart, and those are never foolish," Jack said, once again resting his hand on his son's shoulder. "We can make it a proper plan together."

Jemis's answering smile was shy and slightly embarrassed, but held an echo of the unbearable joy that still shone in his eyes now and then when he spoke of the Woods on the border of the Lady's country, where the pain of death transmuted into peace -- the same joy that had spilled from Jemis as he passed on messages from Olive and Rinald and Benneret Buchance, promising that Jack had not failed as a man or a father, that they cherished and respected him, and Jemis felt the same.

Jack pulled his son into a hug, and swore that he would live up to that faith.