On 17 Opal Street, in the Free City of Prievo, stood a large house with lacquered wooden pillars and panels, and a clay roof in a dark green glaze.

For the past month, a steady stream of tradespersons and movers could be seen milling about the building, tidying it up, replacing almost every panel and board in the building. Neighbors claimed to have seen footmen and uniformed servants rushing in and out, inciting talks about what nobleman might move in there soon.

”It must be a young Lord, son of a baron or viscount at most, ” a woman strolling by commented to her companion.

”Oh, lets just hope it isn some illegitimate child at least, they always have people running in and out at all times of day, ” her friend lamented. ”That does remind me, have you heard the rumor about Duke Corrants daughter, the short one? … ”

Other Opal Street residents had been discussing the rumors of a boarding house supposedly being established there. This was was usually dismissed by others though, as no one in their right mind would do this in such a fine neighborhood, populated almost exclusively by the elite.

”Not to mention the property price! Imagine having enough money to buy the only free standing house on the street and then choosing to share it with strangers? ”

A merchant was standing further down the road and was clearly having an argument with his neighbor, a courthouse clerk.

He responded, ”Yes, well, but how else would you explain what Margaret saw Tuesday? Interior doors with locks on them, carved, in walnut, like the ones at the Parlor Hotel! The poor woman nearly dropped her cane. ”

”Margaret wouldn know walnut if her life depended on it! Im telling you, its a ludicrous rumor, that only a fool would believe. ”

”And Im telling you … ”

As the sun started getting high in the sky, two women approached the house and looked upon it in a contemplating manner. One was tall and statuesque, wearing a mourning gown of black silk, with long auburn hair cascading down her back. The other was a somewhat shorter and plumper, middle aged woman with gray streaking her dark, pinned-up hair.

”Shelly, I really do think you went a bit far, ” the red haired woman said, with a bemused tone and tilted head. ”Is that a new roof? ”

”You entrusted it to me, my lady, and the old roof was matte and close to cracking, the wood paneling was cheap and thin, barely fit for firewood, the floorboards creaky to boot, and the glass in the windows was so thick I could barely make out the sunlight through it. Simply not good enough for even my standards. ” Shelly shook her head in disbelief as though she had never seen any house so decrepit before.

”Weve been over this, Im not a lady anymore. Besides, I don think I have ever met someone with standards as high as yours. ”

Putting her hand on her cheek, Shelly sighed, ”I must be getting old, indeed. To think I could keep forgetting, my lady. ”

e barely past fifty, Shelly! Sooner or later I will have you call me by name, ” the redhead laughed. ”And what is this I hear of a state of the art kitchen? The old one had barely been there a few months! ”

”Really now, my lady, you can expect Frederick to work with some equipment that might leave half a bread burnt and the other raw! Now let me show you around, the tenants should start arriving in a few hours, and I need to get some food in you before then, ” Shelly brushed off her comments and began herding the redhead up the porch and through the front door, where a middle aged man could be seen dusting off the fireplace in the sitting room.

”Madam Raiva! ” the man exclaimed upon seeing the two enter.

He rushed to embrace her, gently patting her back as he held her.

”Its been too long, Frederick, ” she replied, slightly muffled by his shoulder.

”My dear, I am so- ”

”Frederick! ” shrieked Shelly, slapping her husbands back with an incredulous look on her face.

He let go, paused for a moment and jokingly put his arms around her instead, chuckling.

”Im sorry sweetheart, should I have greeted you first? ”

”Let. Go. You. Oaf. ” Shelly growled at him as she wiggled her way out. ”You can just go up to Lady Raiva and- ”

”Shelly, ” interrupted Raiva, watching the scene in front of her with a gentle smile on her face. ”Have you seen the crack in the window over there? ”

”The what? ”

As soon as she spun around, Raiva hugged her and gave her a little squeeze.

”This house looks wonderful. Its perfect. Thank you. ”

Shelly seemed frozen for a few seconds, then turned around with a slightly reddened face and mumbled, flustered, ”I, well, no, yes. Of course. My lady, how about you tour the house, while we get lunch ready? Come on Frederick. ”

With her tugging at his arm, the two walked off towards the kitchen, past the dining room. Before stepping out of view, he looked back at Raiva, and the two sent each other a sympathetic smile, while Shelly could be heard quietly berating her husband for ”being too casual with our lady ”.

Raiva looked around the sitting room. Against the wall was a big fireplace, the rustic kind without ornaments, surrounded by beautifully clear glass windows on both sides. The windows were framed by thick, velvety curtains in a light, dusted blue shade that matched the pillows on the massive sofa and chair arrangement opposite the fire place. Those, in turn, were out of a warm brown leather. She ran her hands along the backs and felt pleased with how well oiled and soft it felt. The room smelled almost overwhelmingly of wood and leather. It was a nostalgic scent. Her gaze fell on the vitrine cabinets lining the right hand side of the room. Filled to the brim with crystal glassware and an assortment of liquor, it looked more fitting of a gentlemens social club than a sitting room.

Along the wooden paneled walls were two discreet doors, made to match the ornate paneling save for brass handles and matching keyholes.

/Keyholes on interior doors? How odd.

She went through the far door first, entering what turned out to be her own bedroom from the looks of it. The room was on the smaller side, consisting of a massive, wooden, four-post bed with thin fabric draped around it, a bed side table, and a small trunk, which upon further inspection, contained spare linens and pillows. The windows had two sets of curtains, as had been typical in Raivas previous homes. One delicate, lacy set, and one heavier, velvet one, in a burnt orange color. Passing through the rooms interior door she found another small room, clearly intended to be used as a dressing room. It contained another interior door, presumably leading to a washroom.

/That would explain the absurd amount of doors I have been billed for.

She shook her head with a smile at the amiable extravagance of her friend, and decided to look around the dressing room briefly.

It was currently mostly empty, but knowing Shelly, she had likely expected her to fill it with new, colorful finery until it reached its bursting point.

A pair of small, drop shaped silver earrings were laid out on a side table by the floor length mirror with a note, scribbled in careful, but unsteady letters: ”A PRESENT ”, with no signature underneath. Raiva stopped dead in her tracks and reached out a slightly shaky hand towards the pair. Dropping softly to the floor, she held them in her hands and simply stayed there, steadying her breath for a minute. When she got back up, the faced the mirror and carefully put them on, lifted her hair up with a hairpin from her pocket, and straightened out her clothes.

Next, Raiva peeked into the second door leading from the sitting room, into what was apparently her office, with the usual office interior of a desk, bookshelves and two plush armchairs next to a round coffee table.

Having circled back to the entrance, she climbed the stairs next to the front door, leading to the second floor hallway, lined by four doors. These doors also had brass handles and keyholes, though they weren disguised to look like the wall at a glance. While she wasn particularly keen on snooping around, she hadn actually met her tenants yet, and her curiosity led her to decide a quick peek through the door wouldn hurt nor intrude on anyones privacy.

The first door, to the immediate right of the staircase landing led to a slightly peculiar room. A small, but quality looking bed, a small, mostly empty bookshelf, a rug covering most of the floor, a sturdy looking, cushioned stool and a massive table in the middle of the room, surrounded by chests and drawers. The windows were covered in heavy, embroidered curtains, making the room dark despite the broad daylight outside. It was a strange sight.

/Why is there a dining table in a bedroom?

Shaking her head in confusion, she moved to the next room, the one to the left of the stairs. This one was almost overwhelmingly filled with furniture, filled bookcases lining the walls and several trunks being strewn across the room. A curtained bed was tucked away in the far corner of the room, nearly obstructing the interior door. There was a desk by the window, and as opposed to the previous one, the curtains in this room were like the ones in Raivas bedroom, two-layered, though the velvet set in this room was a deep purple.

/I wasn expecting someone this wealthy.

She noted that no ordinary person, or even merchant, could afford such a staggering amount of books.

As Raiva looked into the next door, she was pleasantly surprised by how ordinary it looked. A bed, not too dissimilar from her own, a few side tables, a trunk, a small desk with a pretty chair, a small daybed and a shelf containing a few books. There was a large carpet on the floor, giving the room a warm appearance, as well as dried flowers in ceramic vases across a few surfaces. This person also preferred double layering curtains, although they had chosen a sheer silk and and a lace to go on top of each other, both in a beautiful white. On a second glance, the room to the dressing room was open, and it could only just fit what looked to be an incredible amount of expensive looking clothes.

/Someone fashionable, I suppose? That does remind me a bit of Giovanni.

She had a wistful look on her face as she closed the heavy door behind her, turning around to face the fourth, and last, door.

Peering in, Raiva had to stop, close the door, and then open it again. There was nothing in here, save for a small, simple bed, and a smallish desk with a wooden stool. No curtains. Not even a pillow on the bed. The simply carved interior door leading to the dressing- and washroom felt almost intrusive in comparison.

She was incredulous. Never had she seen so barren a room, not even as a child on the outskirts. There was no way that someone who could afford 5th district Opal Street prices couldn afford a pillow and a curtain.

/How? What? Did the movers not finish? Did they get the date wrong?

Not much wiser than before, Raiva decided to head back downstairs and followed the sound of Shellys humming past the dining room to the kitchen.

”How is lunch coming along? ” she inquired from the doorway with a smile.

Frederick was in the middle of stirring something fragrant in a pot while his wife was gathering up utensils.

”Wonderfully, in fact I think its just about done, ” the cook replied in a jolly tone. ”This kitchen really is marvelous! I don think I have ever had a stove get going this fast. ”

Raiva looked at Shelly pointedly and muttered, ”Yes, well. I can wait to see the invoice. ”

She was kidding of course, especially since Shelly had so far managed to get abatements and rebates on every single purchase and material, evident on the plentiful paper trail left behind by a complete renovation and several luxurious additions.

”Oh pish posh, the old kitchen was barely functional! Poor materials and entirely decrepit. And the -height-! You know how much it wears on him when he has to crouch and bend all the time, my lady! Hed have to retire next -week-, and then who will feed us all? ”

”Hopefully not you, dear, ” the inconveniently tall Frederick mumbled, as he began portioning out the soup for the three.

”Yes, lords forbid. My own fault for not giving you a budget, really, ” Raiva laughed as she loaded the tray. ”I know youll scold me, Shelly, but we are having lunch together today. ”

Shelly finally looked up from her task and spotted Raiva wearing the earrings they had gifted her. Tears went to her eyes as she tried suppressing a smile, and she turned back around, suddenly polishing a fork furiously.

She sighed dramatically and conceded.

”Alright, my lady. But -please- let me set the table! ”

The three sat down for a simple, but delicious lunch together, with Shelly trying very hard not to fuss about Fredericks table manners. She then insisted on cleaning up by herself, so Raiva retired to her office to have a look at the pile of invoices on her desk, and Frederick went out to get a few things for dinner.

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