Something in Saetan had changed.
Andulvar hadn't seen this side of him in fifty thousand years, since the last war between the Realms, but despite the graying temples and half-moon glasses, it was obvious - Saetan was getting his youth back. Not in the way most people would assume, in looks and vigor, but definitely in terms of personality. The bored, resigned half-life that his friend had been living since becoming a Guardian so long ago was replaced with a sparkle in the golden eyes, and the sound of Saetan's laughter, something Andulvar hadn't heard in millennia, was becoming a daily occurrence.
A loud 'thunk' sounded above them, followed by the sound of teenaged laughter and many pairs of feet running across the same space. Across the desk from him, Saetan smiled wearily and massaged his temples, setting his half-moon glasses on the papers he had in front of him, but Andulvar had known him long enough to know that the weariness was simply a mask to hide his delight, and that the waif and her friends didn't exhaust him nearly as much as he pretended.
"What are they up to today?" he asked when Saetan gave a long-suffering sigh.
"Winsol is coming," Saetan told him calmly. "Jaenelle's first Winsol since..." He trailed off, but the implication was obvious. Jaenelle's first Winsol since she woke up, since the rape, and Saetan was worried about how she would react.
"The waif doesn't remember anything about her last Winsol," Andulvar pointed out reasonably. "And she's surrounded by people who love her. I'm sure everything will go smoothly."
Saetan just looked at him.
"Okay, as smoothly as anything ever goes in this place," Andulvar amended. "But at least if Smoke is stealing chickens from Mrs. Beal and the coven are setting curtains on fire from Craft gone awry, the waif probably won't have time to stumble across repressed memories." He could tell by Saetan's thoughtful glance that his friend was considering this possibility. Elegant fingers with long, black-colored nails reached for a drawer at the side of his desk and Saetan drew out a picture frame, the kind that opened like a book. Without opening it, he handed it wordlessly to Andulvar.
Andulvar opened it slowly, unsure of what he would find inside, but he was somehow unsurprised to see pictures of Saetan's two youngest sons. Lucivar looked young, ready for trouble at any moment, and Daemon...Daemon Sadi was a colder, beautiful version of Saetan at his worst.
"I had hoped he would make it to Kaeleer by Winsol," Saetan murmured as Andulvar considered the son that was his father's mirror. "This was a Winsol present from Jaenelle," he explained finally, tapping the frame with one long nail. "Three years ago."
"She spent that Winsol with Daemon Sadi," Andulvar breathed, finally understanding what had Saetan so nervous.
"She doesn't remember Daemon," Saetan confirmed. "She doesn't remember that Winsol. She doesn't remember giving me this frame, or receiving the black dress from Draca that she was told was from me..." He trailed off, looking off to Andulvar's side as though he was deep in thought.
"Do you think celebrating Winsol will bring back her memories?" Andulvar finally asked.
"I don't know," Saetan answered. "I don't know, and I don't know whether I should hope for it...or be terrified of the possibility."
Andulvar didn't know, either.
As Winsol approached, Saetan began to show the familiar signs of agitation that Andulvar had learned to read over the years, but the glint of amusement from his eyes never faded.
Andulvar had been seated across the desk from him when Jaenelle had burst in, distressed.
"No, witch-child," Saetan said wearily, massaging his temples and closing his eyes in exasperated fondness. "You can't possibly be expected to buy Winsol gifts for all of your friends in Amdarh." The shopping trip alone would have angry merchants on his doorstep for months - his thoughts were visible on his face, and Andulvar was slightly amused that Jaenelle couldn't read him. Perhaps it was a male thing.
"But what will I do?!" she muttered, pacing up and down behind Andulvar's chair. "I have to get them something! They're special to me!" Saetan sighed, shot a helpless look at Andulvar, and sighed again.
"Why don't you try to make something for them?" Andulvar said before Saetan had a nervous breakdown. "Do something special with a group or..." he almost suggested going on an outing before he realized how much cleanup effort any extracurricular with the coven required. "...perhaps do something little for each person to show how much you appreciate them," he finished lamely.
Jaenelle's face went from worried to thoughtful in a heartbeat. Saetan's eyes cast downward to the drawer where he kept the framed picture of his sons.
"Thanks, Uncle Andulvar, Papa!" she exclaimed, suddenly happy again, and skipped out of the study. Andulvar could practically see the gears turning in her head as she left.
"When she came to me last time with this problem," Saetan said quietly, tapping his nails restlessly on top of his desk, "I told her to give something to those of her friends who would be otherwise left out of the celebrations." His eyes clouded with nostalgia, and sadness.
"That was when she gave the tree to the cildru dyathe," Andulvar murmured. Suddenly, another piece fell into place. "And the pictures to you."
"And the same pictures to Daemon. Well, not the same," Saetan amended, "but a similar set." They sat in silence for a moment, ruminating over their favorite subject. "She doesn't seem to be remembering."
"Do you think the cildru dyathe will receive another tree?" Andulvar asked, trying to lighten the mood, but Saetan shook his head grimly.
"She doesn't seem to remember them, either," he mused. "Perhaps they were too linked to the trauma that she went through...she sent children across a bridge to their island from Briarwood, many years ago." The sleepy look appeared in Saetan's eyes, as it always did when Briarwood came up, but Andulvar didn't feel the cold rage that came along with it and so he stood abruptly to leave Saetan alone with his thoughts.
"Andulvar," Saetan said as he was turning to go. The sleepy look was still there, but there was something else. He reached out with one elegant hand and gently touched Andulvar's wrist. "Thank you. For helping with her. For being there for her."
"We all love the waif," Andulvar told him. "It's the least we can do. If you need any other help for Winsol, just let me know." He patted Saetan's hand on his arm and turned to leave, almost reaching the doors to the study before Saetan spoke again.
"I think...since her memories are unlikely to return...we should make this the best Winsol she's ever seen," Saetan said quietly.
"I don't think that will be hard," Andulvar answered with a slight smile, turning around. "She'll be spending it with you." And then he left, gently closing the study doors behind him before Saetan truly had a breakdown or said something embarrassing.
The feast that Mrs. Beale had prepared had truly been remarkable - Andulvar definitely felt that she'd outdone herself. The entire coven settled around the large table and promptly tucked in, excited chatter filling the air at the prospect of the gift-giving to follow. He and Saetan both focused on Jaenelle's smiling face, so happy and carefree as she chatted gaily with Karla, Gabrielle, and Morghann, all clustered around her. Saetan sipped his yarbarah and smiled indulgently as course after course was brought in, and even though the demon-dead didn't eat, Andulvar sat with him, sipping his own cup.
Soon it was time to exchange gifts, and they moved into the large room where Jaenelle and her friends had spent long hours decorating the tall Winsol tree that they'd selected. It shined beautifully, with boxes piled high underneath, and Andulvar wondered what the waif had decided to get her friends for Winsol. Mrs. Beale and several members of the housekeeping staff came in with large trays laden with the traditional cups of hot blooded rum and everyone grouped around them, smiling and laughing. Except Jaenelle, who had suddenly gone still.
"What's wrong, witch-child?" Saetan asked, always the first to notice. Jaenelle got an odd look on her face, like she was trying to remember something that kept slipping out of reach, and she tilted her head to the side thoughtfully.
"I always drank alone at Winsol," she said in her midnight voice. Her friends all stilled, concerned and suddenly fiercely protective, but Saetan knew exactly what to do. He stood and grabbed the first cup from the tray and carried it to her, handing it over carefully.
"Witch-child," he said kindly, "will you share your Winsol cup with me?" Suddenly, her confusion gave way to a breathtaking smile, and she threw her arms around his neck in a fierce hug.
"Of course, Papa!" she exclaimed, and that was that.
As one of the demon-dead, Andulvar hadn't participated in drinking the hot blooded rum of Winsol in many years, and so he, Mephis, and Prothvar hung back and watched the teenagers and Saetan indulge in tradition. Pairs were already beginning to form amongst the group - immediately, Gabrielle claimed Chaosti and Morghann claimed Khardeen to share their respective Winsol cups. The others paired off in a slower fashion, usually with those from their own territories, but Andulvar noticed Aaron from Dharo and Kalush from Nharkhava watching each other shyly, despite not sharing a cup. He hid a smile behind his yarbarah - Saetan was going to have fun playing chaperone with this lot when they all paired off. The kindred were off having their own Winsol celebration, and the sound of wolves carried across the grounds and through the open window, a joyous chorus in honor of Witch.
The empty cups were returned to the trays and suddenly it was time to open presents. The room quickly became chaotic with flying paper and shouts of laughter. Jaenelle dove right in with the rest, opening her presents from the others with glee and becoming more and more excited. The boys had pooled their money and bought her a beautiful black dress, probably at the urging of Saetan, who still wished that the witches in his household would dress nicely for dinner. The girls mostly got her books - a rare Craft book from Gabrielle, a racy romance novel from Karla - and Jaenelle was delighted with each and every one of them, piling them joyfully next to her and planning each addition to her library. Jaenelle's gifts to her friends went over equally well - she had designed specialty spells with her ability to weave tangled webs, each individually tailored to whoever it was for.
Saetan's gift came last and Andulvar had helped him select it. It was a silver chain, delicate and fine, with a pendant to hold whichever Jewel she eventually decided to mount on it. The pendant was also silver and carved into an elegant shape. It was beautifully made and Jaenelle's breath caught.
"Oh, Papa, it's marvelous!" she exclaimed, jumping up and shedding wrapping paper from her lap as she enveloped him in a fierce hug. "I haven't had any of my Jewels set so I'll have to decide which one to put in it..." Her cheeks pinked with excitement. "It's beautiful."
"I'm glad you think so, witch-child. You might be one of the most difficult people I've ever had to find a Winsol gift for," Saetan said with a laugh, tweaking her nose. Their laughter was infectious and it spread through the room, and Jaenelle ran to rejoin her friends, gathered around Aaron and Chaosti, who were engaged in a mock swordfight.
The festivities were just about finished when Jaenelle approached Saetan, who at that point was sitting quietly with Andulvar in the corner. She handed him a wrapped package and smiled expectantly as he peered at it.
"For me, witch-child?" he asked with a smile. Andulvar, who had received a "slouchy sweater" earlier in the evening, watched expectantly. Beneath the colorful paper was a heavy, leather-bound book of Craft knowledge. Saetan's brows furrowed as he tried to figure out why she would give him a book that he already had in the Hall's library, but his confusion only lasted until he opened it and saw the delicately written notes in the margins.
"You're always looking at my books and trying to peek at all my handwritten notes," she said, smiling shyly, "so I bought another copy of the book I use the most and copied the notes. Now you can look at it whenever you like without trying to be sneaky." Saetan looked slightly sheepish, but he smiled widely and ran his fingers delicately over the pencil marks on the page, touched at her thoughtfulness.
"Thank you, witch-child," he whispered, and then pulled her into a huge hug.
Most of the coven had wandered off to bed after the dancing was through, and eventually only the demon-dead, Saetan, and Jaenelle remained by the tree, watching the embers slowly fade in the fireplace. Jaenelle was drowsily leaning against Saetan's shoulder and Andulvar sat on his other side, feeling pleased to share in the warmth and comfort. Prothvar and Mephis were involved in a card game on the floor in front of the fireplace, quietly sniping at each other every once in awhile.
"I remember a past Winsol," Jaenelle said suddenly and quietly, practically asleep. "There was someone...I can't quite see his face." Saetan didn't move, didn't blink, didn't dare breathe for fear of disturbing her, and Andulvar turned and watched with wide eyes. "He was...warm. He got me a bracelet, and he was going to share his cup with me." She smiled sadly and snuggled into Saetan's shoulder. "And he was so very lonely." Her sapphire eyes blinked open suddenly and she stared up at Saetan, alert. "Who was he, Papa? Where is he now?"
"I don't know, witch-child," Saetan told her, his voice heavy with an emotion he didn't want to let escape. "I don't know." He stroked her blonde hair and she closed her eyes again, finally drifting off to sleep.
Saetan carried her off to bed soon after. When he returned, Andulvar was the only one left, standing by the window and watching the stars.
"It went smoothly," Saetan breathed, hardly daring to believe it. "No spells went awry and nobody got into a fight or made a mess or even did something creative with the furniture." Andulvar laughed.
"Wait until they get old enough that the dancing fires their blood," he said fondly. "You'll have more than enough problems then." He remembered when they were younger, taking courts by storm and dancing into the late hours of every Winsol. He remembered the occasions when the fire in their blood, fueled by the dancing, had led Saetan to seek his bed, when they'd been young and unstoppable and before Hekatah had waltzed into the mix, sashaying her hips and smiling insidiously. Sometimes there were women - Saetan loved women, and Andulvar was fond of them himself - but they always had each other.
It had been a long time since those days. Their friendship had taken many shapes throughout the long millennia, but it had always been strong.
"I'm thankful I had this chance," he said finally, turning to watch his friend. For once, Saetan didn't seem to know where he was going, raising one elegant eyebrow. "After my death, to continue living. To see the waif. To spend the years with you." The words tumbled out awkwardly, fifty thousand years of uneasiness finally giving way to gratitude.
"You asked me to release you, once," Saetan replied. It had been...nearly twenty thousand years ago, now. Andulvar had been tired of the dull half-life led by the demon-dead and decided it was time. He'd gone to Saetan and pleaded his case, but the High Lord of Hell wouldn't do it. 'Ask me again in twenty years,' he'd said, because twenty years was nothing when faced with eternity, and twenty years later Andulvar had nearly forgotten. They'd never spoken of it again.
"I did," Andulvar told him.
"Do you wish I had?" Saetan sank into the deep couch, letting out a sigh. "It was purely selfish, my refusal," he added. "I'd lost so much and as a Guardian, I faced a lonely life. I didn't want to do it alone."
"You were right," Andulvar told him, walking over and sitting beside him. "You were right, and I know if I had come back in twenty years and asked again, you would have honored my request."
"You don't know that."
"I know." Andulvar was firm as he placed a hand on Saetan's shoulder. "You're a tough bastard, SaDiablo, but you've got too firm a sense of justice. You would have done the right thing."
They were old now, one dead and the other halfway there, but their bond had lasted millennia despite that. As Saetan leaned into Andulvar and rested gently against his shoulder, and Andulvar pulled his wings up to give his friend more room, he considered the comfort they got from each other, even now, with so much of the past behind them.
"Happy Winsol, SaDiablo," he whispered, his voice carrying slightly. The fire crackled one last time and went out, leaving the room mostly dark. Saetan tucked himself under Andulvar's chin and curled up slightly, comfortably.
"Happy Winsol," he answered.