Spring has come to Steelhead, yet I find no joy in the season this year.
In my home village, spring brings relief from winter's grip, and at the schloss it was the signal that the caravans would be mounting up as soon as the roads dried out sufficiently. Travel by airship is dangerous to mountain holdings, due to the capricious winds, so it is reserved for only the most dire emergency, though passing over the mountains is safe enough by air. And if spring means the bandits start oozing out of their foul dens at snowmelt, it also means more sport for the Jaegerkin.
Things are a bit softer here. The area around Mt St Helen is still wilderness, but if one of the neighbors has troubles, help reaches them quickly. The one place that gets more dangerous once the weather warms is Shanghai, but I have not had occasion to go there. He has not been back long enough to visit. If it were not for the brief notes he drops off in the dead of night at the hotel front desk for me, I would not know he had returned at all.
Luckily, the teasing of my co-workers in the clerks' den has found another target. No longer do I have to hear jests about my imaginary beau, thanks to Mr Messenger's courtship. I have only listened to the gossip with half an ear, partly because of my assignments for research my doamnă asks of me. Truth is, I am envious of his arrangement, where his beloved is safe here.
The sniping back-and-forth between him and Miss Davies reminds me much of the bickering between my older siblings, so I am able to tune much of it out. It is harder to not notice the spells he has when he grins foolishly at the pictures of Miss Burton that he keeps on his desk, and writing notes to her, slipping out to the post-box at the corner at odd times.
I keep Perun's picture in my desk, it keeps the teasing from having a focus. However, tuning out the bickering meant I did not notice when it slowed down. I thought I was keeping quiet enough I would escape notice, when that rather odd courier breezed through yesterday. Miss Bialowsky is one of the more... blatant and aggressive women here. Back home, she would have been mistaken for one of those fast British girls. She stopped at my desk and asked in a loud and snide tone how my courtship with my imaginary beau was progressing.
It could not have hit at a worse time, as I had been fretting over not hearing from him in the past two weeks. I sat in stunned silence, looking up at her sneering grin, and all I could think of was that I was not going to cry in front of her. My rescue came from an odd quarter. Miss Davies tore into her for her attitude, "Don't you start that garbage here again! I suppose your loose ways are better? It's embarrassing to us all the way your escapades reflect on the rest of us!"
Then, of all people, Mr Messenger stepped in. As the Baron's secretary and personal courier, he ranks the rest of us, but I had never seen him use it before. I was afraid he was going to dress down Miss Davies, but he addressed Miss Bialowsky instead. "There is a reason why you have not been assigned a permanent office, here or at any other outpost. Your manner is too familiar to your betters. Your attitude to your co-workers is too superior, even though you have the highest number of lost packets of anyone in the courier service. You are already on report for falsifying expense accounts, assaulting Consulate allies and inappropriate behavior. Do you want to add insulting the Vice Consul's assistant to that list? I am sure there are quite a few here that would not have any trouble filling out the report."
Miss Bialowsky stared at the circle of people that had gathered around my desk, then turned an ugly shade of red and stalked out of the ring of observers. Mr Messenger nodded, and said "That will do for now, let's get back to work." Then he sat down at his desk as if nothing had happened. I found the files that needed to go to the archives and hurried off before anyone could say anything.
An hour later, Miss Davies found me at the card-catalog desk near the cold storage. It was the least-used office in this peaceful posting, and the drafts could explain my sniffles. "She's gone now, and the others have mostly forgotten her, except the ones filing harassment reports. You might want to let Missus Lowey know what happened, though." She handed me a handkerchief, and continued, "At least you have someone, which she doesn't, no matter how many assignations she might say she has had. She's envious of your devotion to your beau, figment or not."
"My neighbor is not a figment of her imagination." The voice at the door was Mr Messenger, shrugging a bit in apology for eavesdropping. "Though I did not think it was best to tell the entire office you two were snogging on the balcony last month."
I blushed, "Thank you both. I hope you can meet him, he is supposed to come see Doamnă Lowey soon." Mr Messenger coughed, shuffling his feet, and I blushed harder. Miss Davies was confused, until Mr Messenger said, "Yes, well - at least he is following the forms. Now that I know you are still researching, I can report you are all right."
She turned to me, "He hasn't given you a ring, has he?" she asked, looking at my left hand. I showed her my right hand, saying, "It is a promissory ring, until he has official permission to court me."
"That sounds... complicated." Miss Davies looked doubtful.
"It is a little old-fashioned, and some might call it backwoods, but I think I like it that way." I touched the ring again, smiling.
Mr Messenger chuckled, "Even if his picture in your desk is not that old-fashioned." I blushed again and laughed as Miss Davies threw a paper-wad at him. It felt almost like home.