Sixty-Eight: Part 2

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The next morning, Toad hadn't taken two steps into the morning room before he was swamped by skirts, led by Donna Chiara, all five of Piero's sisters behind, and his mother taking up the rear. It was impossible to hear anything distinct in the chatter, but it was a balm to Toad, who had been missing his chosen family and his villa as much as Wellstone and his parents and sister, even if he had been inundated with more family in Greece. Italy had become a second home and the d'Alvieris a second family.

"Lord Abersham," Chiara started, taking both hands in his and kissing both of his cheeks.

"My lady."

"You must call me Chiara, as you are my saviour, my knight, as much as Arturo. I am so grateful to you for bringing me my heart's desire, and I have waited these many weeks to express my gratitude. To you and your Sally, for making the loan of you, if briefly."

Toad made a bow, touching his forehead to her hand. "My lady, it was my pleasure entirely, and my own betrothed will be proud of my part when she reads my letter. She would be pleased another couple in love have been united. If I may be so bold, I will offer congratulations on both your marriage and your happy event on behalf of both of us, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Wellbridge." With a nod toward the head of the table, he added, "And of course, to you, Arturo."

"Our thanks, Abersham, endlessly. The risks you took..."

"I was afraid my brother would kill you, and I left you trussed for him."

"Nothing so dramatic as that. Piero is a very cunning strategist."

After he had been embraced by all five of Piero's sisters and his mother and greeted Arturo and Lena's husband, Marco , whom he hadn't seen since he was only her betrothed, he was finally given enough room to sit at table and choose his breakfast from the options served a la francaise.

"I am afraid I am quite late to breakfast. I should not have slept so long."

"You needed your sleep, traveling through the night," the dowager contessa clucked her tongue. "I will expect you to stay until you have recovered from your journey. You have lost too much weight and Garza said you arrived soaking wet. You might contract a fever."

"Sadly, I cannot stay, Mamma d'Alvieri, fever or no. I am glad I caught you all here, for I must move on to my villa to meet Piero as soon as I finish eating. Franks is repacking my things now."

"Abersham, that is not fair," Lena complained. "You owe me a fencing match."

Her husband chortled. "I do wish you would restrain yourself to sparring partners who are less skilled than you."

Toad grinned at him. "And what use is that when a lady is trying to stretch her skill?"

"That is fair," Marco agreed. With a kiss to Lena's cheek, he promised to indulge her in a match, since Toad couldn't.

"I have asked Franks to have the trunk of things that I brought for the d'Alvieri ladies, and my wedding gifts for the count and new countess, delivered to the dowager countess's sitting room. They are likely there by now."

That engendered more chattering, now speculation about the trunk full of gifts, that made him miss Almyra and Sally sitting at the table when they were young, whenever no one's parent shushed them.

"Alas, Lena, no, I will not be able to stay for the opening of your presents, for there is much urgency in my mission. I thank you all for the bed, and will expect you at the villa for a visit before too long. Arturo, will you come to the stables with me while I check on the state of my departure? I would speak to you of our business affairs, but I must save every moment I can. The carriages are being readied."

Arturo set his napkin on the table. "Of course."

On the way to the stables, Toad made Arturo aware of arrangements he had been making since before he left for Greece. "Make your way to my family in England any way you can, if there seems the slightest danger of uprising. And do not dare endanger anyone to save property that belongs to me. I have estates; my father has estates; my mother has estates; there are endless estates. You will be well-housed in England in one of the duchy's holdings until Italy is safe again. You can expect safe passage on any Delphinus, Seventh Sea, or Kopet Dag ship."

"There is always a danger of uprising, but as I have been warning, it is increasing. We will most likely be forced to accept your offer, perhaps sooner than later, but we shall see how the wind blows. You have truly become my brother, Abersham. It would have been my honour to have you as Lena's husband, but despite my disappointment, I will welcome your Sally into the d'Alvieri clan without reservation. If our child is a boy, we plan to call him David."

Tears stung in Toad's eyes, but he kept himself together, and so did Arturo, only because Toad recovered quickly enough to apply humour to the awkward silence: "As long you do not call him Toad, it will be my privilege to share my name with your heir."

Another quarter-hour later, Toad and Franks and the carriages were on their way.    

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