The young woman said her name was Elisabeth, and Hart smiled. "My name is Hart," he said, "And this is Ruari." Elisabeth held her hand out to Ruari, and Ruari touched her lightly on the palm.
The two year old girl looked up at Elisabeth inquisitively, and then Ruari seemed to think of something; Hart was able to see it in her eyes, in the movement of her brow. Ruari stuck her hand into one of her pockets. Then, looking up at Elisabeth, she held her hand out. There was a shell in her hand, and she held it out to Elisabeth.
Wren drifted to Hart's side.
The boy was looking apprehensive, Hart noticed, and Hart said to him, "You okay?"
"Yes," Wren said, but he remained by Hart's side. The dinili snuffled at Elisabeth's legs, and Wren looked at the giant armadillo for a moment.
Something about how the dinili was behaving toward Elisabeth seemed to make him less apprehensive. "She likes you," Wren said, and then, when Elisabeth patted the dinili lightly, "She's a dinili. They're like armadillos." He said it like it was something Elisabeth might not have noticed, and Hart smiled.
"This is Wren," Hart said, and Wren said, "Oh. Yes, I'm Wren." He was less apprehensive as he spoke; then Elisabeth said something about Darius and Vega. There was no apprehension when the boy said, "Oh. You know Darius and Vega?"
The dinili trundled over to Wren's side, snuffling at him how she'd snuffled at Elisabeth, and he rested a hand on the dinili's back.
"Vega's a friend of ours," Hart said. "Darius too. We're living in Hopetoun."
"Kitty," Ruari said, and Hart asked, "Is it okay if we pet Storm?" Should Elisabeth say that it was okay, Hart would kneel by Storm, letting Ruari down so she was able to pet the kitty.
"Gently, Ru," Hart said. Ruari had been petting the dinili of late, which for Ruari involved patting the animal on her armored hide. Sometimes, she patted the dinili a bit excitedly. But the dinili liked it, because of how thick her hide was.
The kitty, however, didn't have an armored hide. So Hart said, "Let's be gentle, Ru."
They petted the kitty gently, Ruari attempting to purr at him when she touched him lightly on the back. "Kitty, kitty," Ruari said in a gentle voice. Wren had been attempting not to pet the kitty but when Storm purred, the boy knelt down too to pet him.
Elisabeth spoke of Haven and Hart said, "I've not been to Haven, though I've thought of going there at some point."
Wren looked over at him momentarily, and there was some apprehension in the look, and Hart said, "Wren might not travel with us, he likes to be with Vega and Arlo and the others in Hopetoun." That seemed to lessen Wren's apprehension, and the boy looked back at Storm, petting the kitty some more.
"But Ruari might travel with me," Hart said. He looked up at Elisabeth. "What's Haven like?"
Haven had clams and Elisabeth was looking for them here on the beach, and so Hart said, "Ru, let's look at your shells." He got up from where he'd been kneeling, and Ruari said, "Up!" Hart lifted her into his arms.
Ruari stuck her hand in her pocket once more, and Hart held out his hand, palm up. One by one, Ruari set a variety of shells lightly on Hart's palm, which he held out for Elisabeth to look through. "Is one of these shells the kind of clam you're looking for?" If one was, Hart would be able to guide Elisabeth to where they'd found the shells.
"Wren and Ruari would like to look for some live clams, I bet," Hart said, and Wren looked up from the kitty.
"Live clams?" the boy asked. He looked at the shells, thoughtfully. "Is it like with hermit crabs?" he asked.
"More like dinili, with their armored hides," Hart said. He patted the dinili on the back and Ruari did as well, and the dinili wriggled excitedly, snuffling at Hart's feet and legs. He laughed, ticklish. "Clams need their shells to live, like dinili need their hides," he said.
"Oh," Wren said, seeming to think.
When Elisabeth said that they might have met before, Hart looked at her thoughtfully. He held the shells for Ruari to look at, when Elisabeth had looked through them. Ruari smiled, turning them over one by one on his palm.
"I thought maybe we'd met in Hopetoun," Hart said thoughtfully. "It was why I asked if you were walking there. But thinking about it now, I don't think we've met. Or rather, I don't think we've spoken."
"I've not been to Viden, much," he said, when Elisabeth said she'd lived in Viden. "But, I have been to Rharne. I was in Rharne last cycle," he said, and smiled when Elisabeth said she'd been in Rharne as well.
"You weren't at the the Mummer's Ball, were you?" Hart asked. "Or..." He looked at her a moment longer, thoughtful. "You were there, weren't you?" It wasn't quite a question; he thought that must be where he'd met her. "It was a Ball for Daia, one of my favored immortals. I'm one of her marked. I was with Vega and Arlo, most of the Ball."
He'd danced with Vega, and had been seated with Arlo during dinner. He'd been seated with Syroa, as well.
That was, before Syroa had ruined the Ball, and Vivian, Varlum, Vega, Arlo, and Ti'atha had been in danger. That had been before Vega had lopped off Syroa's head. It had also been the night he'd learned from Varlum that Auya, Varlum's love and Hart's friend, had died. And it had been the night that he'd Wished on Varlum's behalf.
Hart thought of all of that, and he was quiet for a moment.
"It was an interesting Ball," Hart said quietly.
"Syroa..." he said. "I was sitting beside Syroa during dinner. I was right beside her when she burst into flames. But you weren't in the room, were you, when..."
"...when she died," Hart said.
"It was an interesting Ball," Hart said once more. "I met Syroa. Qylios implied I was a coward." He smiled. "Daia was there, with her daughter." That had been one good thing, Daia meeting her daughter and her Lions. There were other good things as well. It was when Hart had met Vega and Arlo once more, among others important to him.
"I was marked by Ziell," he said, smiling.
"I didn't much like the play, though," he said. "And Syroa ate a monkey's brain in front of me at dinner."
"A monkey's brain?" Wren asked, and Hart said, "Yes, a monkey's brain still in its skull. Arlo had much better table manners." Wren attempted not to smile, despite his appallment at the monkey skull.