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Avery is sitting at a table in the middle of the library. Her head is bent over a book and she holds a charcoal pencil just above the page.
Oren pauses in the doorway to observe that the room is empty but for Avery. He then enters and coughs lightly.
Avery lifts her head. A nervous look claims her features for a moment, but it passes. She closes the book and stands. “Your Grace.”
She curtsies, bowing her head.
Oren bows. “I owe you an apology.”
Avery extends a hand toward the chair across from her. “Please. I have something I wish to say too.”
Oren looks as though he’d rather be anywhere else, but nods his acquiescence and takes the seat opposite. “As you wish.”
Avery sits after he does, pushing her book to the side. “I was hoping we would run into one another…”
Oren says, “I ought to have sought you out sooner. I fear it took a couple of days for my face to resume its accustomed shade.”
Avery says, “I can understand that problem…”
Oren says, “I deeply regret that I mistook your words.”
Avery acknowledges his words with a nod. “I believe we are both at fault concerning that conversation…I should not have even brought the subject up.
Especially not in such a mysterious manner…It could have been easily misinterpreted by anyone.”
Oren says, “Maybe, but most men are not such self-important idiots as to assume you were referring to them after only two brief meetings.”
Avery follows a groove in the wooden table with her fingernail. “But you don’t know me so well. It’s very common for a woman to want to marry above her station and I could have been one of those women. You couldn’t have known. A Duke, who might possibly be a king, would be quite a catch for anyone seeking to rise above. Not to mention the timing of my arrival here, right after you. My words were poorly chosen and I’m not surprised that you thought what you did.”
Oren narrows his eyes. “I…prefer candor to artifice, Lady Avery, and despite my foolish blunder, I am not a foolish man. Personal interests or not, I do not for one moment believe the timing of your arrival is unrelated to my claim, of which you are clearly aware.
Avery straightens, meeting his gaze. “You are right, Duke. I am here now because of your claim. But not because I want to oppose you or find fault with you or whisper in the council’s ear about any foolish mistake you might make. I’m here because I will soon call Narnia my home and it would be foolish of me not to take an interest in anyone who might be my future king.”
Oren considers this, then nods slowly. “That’s fair. And Archenland…does King Lune have an opinion on the matter, do you know?
Avery says, “I wouldn’t know.”
Oren nods again. “I had hoped…but no matter. I did come here to apologize, not to discuss the succession.
Avery relaxes slightly. “Your Grace, I do not want there to be an awkwardness between us. From the encounter the other day or anything else.” She sighs. “There are a few reasons I’m here and not one of them is negative toward you in any way. I was curious about you, I’ll admit, and I find you to be kind and caring, even humorous. I have not found anything that worries me at all.”
Oren attempts a smile at this. “Thank you. It’s good to hear that I have not been found wanting, even if I am not the man to make you happy above all others.”
Avery blushes. “I am sorry, Duke, for that misunderstanding.”
Oren says, “Not at all. It was purely innocent on your part. My congratulations to you both.”
He smiles wryly. “At least one of us has attained our desire.”
Avery smiles. “Thank you, Your Grace. That is very kind of you.”
Oren says, “It’s…not meaning any disrespect, but it’s a relief, in a way. My Maralae only passed a year ago. I still miss her.”
Avery nods slowly. “I’m sure you always will.”
Oren says, “Yes. Not that grief makes a very good shield. I had two noblewomen and a wealthy merchant’s daughter making overtures almost before we’d buried her. Did my best to keep them out of sight of my children and sent them on their way.”
Avery frowns. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Oren says, “Thank you.”
Avery says, “It must have been hard for your children to lose their mother, but they are fortunate to have a father who cares for them as you do.”
Oren drums his fingers on the table. I dislike being away. My son is capable, But Noeli needs me right now.”
Avery says, “She /is/ very young.”
Oren fingers the cameo bearing his child’s likeness. “I want to bring her home. This is where our family lived for centuries. I want to see her run and laugh in the corridors surrounded by Talking Fox kits and Lambs and Piglets…”
Avery looks down for a moment, but she does smile. “That would be an adorable sight.”
Oren says, “Yes.” He rises. “Well, I thank you for your time and understanding. Please let me know if there is ever anything I may do to repay it.”
Avery stands as well. “All is forgiven, Duke” She curtsies. “Good day.”
Oren bows. “Good day.” Then he turns and departs the room.