Before Raiva had time to call in Shelly and interrogate her about the rude oaf, Cassian Lorentz, the bell sounded again. She had caught a glimpse of a big silhouette through the window, and by the sounds of his footsteps, that was a correct assessment.

Once again, Shelly appeared in front of her, though more flushed than usual.

”Captain Griffin for you, madam. ”

When the man entered the office, Raiva saw that just ”big ” was perhaps not the entirely correct word to use. He was impressively tall, likely more than a head taller than her, and had the build of a man who had spent his life fighting, swinging swords, and exercising. His chestnut hair was quite short, but somehow framed his attractive, angular face perfectly. He had a light, fine scar running through his right eyebrow down to his cheek, highlighted by his tan skin.

He took a few long strides into the office and bowed stiffly, waiting for her greeting. She stood up from her seat.

”Captain Griffin. Its a pleasure to finally meet you, ” Raiva nodded to Shelly as a signal of dismissal. ”I am Raiva. ”

She looked at Shelly, who was still lingering in the doorway, eyes fixed on the captain, face still flushed.

/Oh, Shelly.

The captain had straightened his back, and was looking at Raiva, clearly thinking about something.

”Would you care for some coffee, captain? I myself could use a cup or two. ”

”Yes, ” he replied curtly.

”Would you mind, Shelly? ”

”Oh, yes, ” Shelly broke into a smile and bowed before scampering off to the kitchen. ”Of course, My L-, madam! I shall bring some right away. ”

Raiva moved out from behind her desk and gestured to the armchairs.

”Please have seat, captain. ”

Griffin sat without a word, still gazing at her a little funny as she took her seat opposite.

”Madam, are you- ”

A small knock sounded on the office door, and Shelly announced herself, bringing in a waft of coffee with her.

”The coffee, madam. I took the liberty to arrange for some biscuits as well. ”

She felt a pang of betrayal when she saw that these biscuits were not Fredericks, well, -perfectly alright-, biscuits, but different, expensive looking ones, clearly purchased from a bakery. She shot her a look, but Shelly was preoccupied with arranging the table and not getting lost in the taciturn captains gray eyes, and somewhat failing.

Raiva accidentally chuckled at the thought, especially considering she had only seen this side of her a handful of times before. Usually competent, if not outright composed, Shelly had a habit of getting flustered and shy in front of men who had exactly one trait in common: excessive tallness.

/I guess its no surprise that she fell for Frederick then, even though they
e so different. Though I can see that the shyness wore off over the years.

”Thank you, Shelly. ”

This time she took the hint and surrendered with an almost inaudible sigh.

”Of course, madam, please call on me should you need anything else. ”

She withdrew and closed the door behind her.

”Im sorry, captain, you were saying? ” Raiva prodded as she took a sip of her cup.

”Are you the Crimson Widow? ”

Raiva was not really surprised by his directness, but the question was a little unexpected. She watched him for a moment.

There was no sign of nervousness, nor curiosity. While it was a bit rude, and blunt, it had occurred to her that her tenants would ask about it eventually.

/That was fast.

”Is that what they landed on? I personally preferred he Ruby Widow, but I suppose I should be thankful that he Fire Widow didn stick. A little on the nose for my tastes, ” she tried her best to sound lighthearted and nonchalant, but her hands wouldn stop trembling as the lowered her cup. After a pause she continued, ”Yes. ”

His face seemed to soften a bit, and he shifted his eyes downward.

”My condolences, ” Griffin said in a soft, quiet voice. He looked back at her sympathetically.

She waited a while for him to continue, taking a few more sips, and finally realized that he wasn going to.

”Thank you. ”

For a moment, when she looked at him, all she felt was warmth. A sort of silent empathy emanating from him, free of pity, for once. And then, a sense of camaraderie.


Raiva fought back the tingle in her nose, and the tears threatening to emerge.

She gestured at the still untouched cup in front of him and said carefully, ”May I ask something in return? ”

”Yes, ” he finally took hold of the cup, taking a tentative sip.

”You too? ” she asked hesitantly.

Griffin continued sipping his coffee for a while, trying to find the words, but falling a bit short.

”My wife, ” he finally mumbled.

Raiva took a deep breath.

”Im sorry for your loss. ”

”Thank you. Its been almost a decade now. ”

”Tell me, does it get easier? ”

”Maybe. The pain lessens. Over time, fewer things remind me of her. Memory fades a bit. But the void in my chest seems to remain, ” he said quietly, looking out of the window with a solemn expression on his face. He turned back at her and went on, ”I try not to dwell. She asked me not to. She was sick for a long time. She gave me a new objective to pursue. Keep me moving. Busy. Going forward is hard, but staying still was unbearable. ”

Despite his terse speech, his gaze was gentle.

Raiva contemplated a bit while nibbling on a biscuit.

”The rumors, how bad are they? ”

He grimaced, remembering the lower knights and recruits throwing around crude jokes and allegations between drills.

”Rude. Likely untrue. Definitely exaggerated. I would be careful with advertising that this is your residence. If possible. ”

”You know, captain, ” she sighed, leaning to one side, resting her head on her hand. ”For all you know, I could be exactly as they say. Cold heart, manipulative, greedy. I could be all those things, and then some.

”Did you know that I was accosted by a woman on Satin Square last week? She flung water at me and cursed me out, claiming I was sending young men to the underworld just by being near them with my
otten soul. ”

”Are you? All those things, ” he asked, unconvinced, an eyebrow slightly raised.

”No, ” she responded with a wry smile. ”Not that it matters. ”

She thought for a while and muttered contemplative, ”Perhaps greedy, in my own way. ”

He wondered what she meant by that, but decided against inquiring about it.

Silence had fallen in the office, with the two sipping their coffees and looking out the window, at the darkening clouds.

Many minutes later, Raiva took a deep breath and rose from her seat.

”Thank you, captain. For your warning and for keeping me company, even though this was just supposed to be a quick introductory meeting, ” she said apologetically. ”I suppose I should ask if you have any questions before you get settled? ”

”Nothing I can ask Mrs. Shelly, ” he replied matter-of-factly. ”And no need to thank me. ”

He stood up and bowed stiffly in her direction. Once again she was reminded of how tall he was, when she had to look up to see his face, despite the two being several feet apart.

/Fine, Ill give you this one, Shelly.

Griffin was back to his usual facial expression, though he seemed much friendlier in Raivas eyes than before.

He had opened the door and begun leaving her office when he turned around again.

”Feel free to let me know if you want to talk again. ”

To her surprise he smiled little as he walked off.

Shelly who was conspicuously dusting off the fireplace, offered to show him to his room and began chatting about the house and meals and knights and so on.

Raiva on the other hand, was still standing in the same spot wide-eyed.

Eventually she moved, lightly feeling her cheeks with her hands. Removing her hairpin from her pocket she put her hair up quickly.

/Its so warm in here.

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