The response did not come the next day during mail time, or even the day after that. Indeed, Solea was having doubts that it would come at all, when suddenly she heard a knock on her door. She sprang up, expecting it to be Alainna, and opened the door wide.
But it was not Alainna.
It was a Black Swan.
The Black Swan blinked at her with red eyes, and then gave her a deep bow. “May I come in?” the Black Swan said politely, and once more she marveled at how strange and metallic the voices of Black Swans were in their original forms. It made her hair stand on an end.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Archondid!” Solea suddenly cried. “You’re here?”
Archondid clicked his beak, as if he were amused. “I’ve had to do a lot of work around here as of late, and I figured I would stop by and bother my favorite goddaughter while I was here.”
“Oh!” Solea said. Then she looked closer at him. As a Black Swan with his neck curled normally, he only stood to her waist. “I didn’t recognize you as a Black Swan. It’s a bit unexpected! Usually when I see you, you look very human.”
Archondid bowed to her. “The Headmistress asked if I could show up as a Black Swan, since the girls would be less likely to fall in love with me that way.”
“But what if you poison someone accidentally?” Solea said, suddenly feeling annoyed with the Headmistress. “Everyone knows that Black Swan feathers are poisonous! What if you accidentally brush against somebody and poison them? What then?”
Archondid laughed and his laughter sounded like clanging bells. “I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you! People usually give a wide berth to Black Swans, just in case. Besides, merely brushing against my feathers wouldn’t be enough to poison anyone. The barbs in my feathers would have to dig into you a bit before that happened.”
“Well, it’s still a ridiculous rule,” Solea said, scoffing. “You’re married! Doesn’t that mean that it would be impossible for anyone to fall in love with you?”
“It’s all right,” Archondid said diplomatically. “Her rules don’t make sense applied to me, but I don’t mind following her rules. Besides, they are not altogether without merit. I’m afraid that Black Swans have built up a reputation of seducing mortal women and then leaving them.”
Solea frowned. “Like Uclepidies?”
Archondid shook his head. “Oh no, not him! He was faithful to your mother. Besides, he’s too broken to seduce most women. Frankly, we were surprised to find out that you were his. For the longest time, Eurodities and I thought you were Theron’s daughter.” Then he motioned his beak toward the door and bowed to her. “May I come in?”
“Of course!” Solea said, suddenly aware of her rudeness, and gestured him in. Then suddenly she frowned. “Are you allowed in? Or has the headmistress banned that as well?”
Again, Archondid clicked his beak. “Seeing as you are both my niece and my goddaughter, let’s assume that I am allowed in,” he said brightly. Then, when she ushered him in and closed the door, he stretched out his wings and said, “I admit, it’s a bit of a ridiculous rule that the Headmistress is insisting upon, especially since Sergius has already been here as a human and nobody has cared, but at least it’s an easy one to follow. Being a Black Swan is nicer than being a human.”
Solea made a face and slumped down on a chair. “I don’t think anyone, mortal or immortal, could ever fall in love with Sergius. I’ve met him twice this week, and already that seems like too much.”
Archondid laughed again. He wiggled his tail feathers and sat down on the floor. “Sergius and I will be working together soon, from the sound of it, and you’ll see a lot more of both of us in a couple of days, whether you would like to or not!”
“I would prefer not to see Sergius, if possible.”
Archondid bowed politely. “Understandable, given your history with him. I too have had major clashes with him in the past. However, let your anger subside.”
Solea gritted her teeth. “He tried to kill me.”
“And he tied me to a post in a desert for a hundred years and abandoned me there because he was angry with me,” Archondid said, laughing again. “He’s not exactly the nicest Swan. But be at peace! He did not hurt you when he could have, and he will not hurt you now.”
“Is he going to be our new language teacher?” When Archondid didn’t say anything, Solea added, “He already told us that Madam Burl was not going to be our new teacher.”
Archondid shook his head, clicking his beak. “He would be a terrible teacher. He is impatient and wants perfection instantaneously. You would learn a lot if he taught you, I am sure, but it would be a trial by fire. I do not think it would be a good idea.”
“So who is the new teacher?”
Archondid sighed. “Child, I am forbidden to tell you any details right now about this whole situation. It is still being decided.”
Solea bit her lip. “But if Sergius is involved—”
“Never mind Sergius!” Archondid said firmly, fluffing up his feathers in annoyance. “He is only one Swan. All of us are involved in the decision. After all, we all want the Lady to succeed.”
“But Sergius plays a big role, does he not?”
“Speaking of the Lady, I have a letter for her from your father, Uclepidies,” Archondid said, ignoring her last sentence entirely. “Though, he said that since the letter looked like a joint effort between you and Alainna, that perhaps you would be interested in seeing the letter as well, if that is permissible to the Lady.”
Suddenly Solea perked up. “He sent us a letter?”
“You asked about the new teacher, didn’t you?” Archondid said dryly. When Solea winced, he fluffed up his feathers and shook his head. “You know, he can’t say much more than I can. Again, we are forbidden to say anything!”
“Of course,” Solea agreed quickly. But a feeling of hope came to her at last. If there was one thing that her father was, it was unorthodox and unpredictable. Archondid would always follow the rules, but her father? She never knew what to expect from him.
Archondid looked at her carefully and sighed. “If you could perhaps fetch the Lady and tell her that I am here, I can give you both the letter and we can read it together.”
Solea frowned. “Together? Why would we read it together?”
Archondid bowed to her. “Uclepidies mentioned something about his handwriting being sloppy and asked if I could provide translation services. He said there was nothing in the letter that he didn’t mind me reading, though he mentioned that he hoped I could be discrete about the contents. He also hoped that you and Alainna would be discrete as well.”
“So he probably didn’t say anything about the teacher after all, if he would have you read it to us,” Solea said grumpily.
“And yet, he hopes that we will be discrete,” Archondid said warily, fluffing up his feathers. “That’s never a good sign, especially coming from Uclepidies.”
Solea suddenly grinned. The feeling of hope once more returned. “I will fetch Alainna at once!” she said. And with that, she curtsied to Archondid and hurried to Alainna’s room.