They were outside the manor when Aesa said, "So... you and Tavros?"
Jacqueline snapped back to attention. Aesa was Tavros' friend, and her opinion was important. "I don't know. I hope so. Maybe I'll just embarrass myself." She paused. "I could live with that, I think. It's not too late to go into hiding, after all."
Aesa laughed. "I don't think it'll come to that," she said easily. "I think that just by doing what you're doing -- being here, and helping as best you can -- you've shown your quality. I mean, maybe you're just earning our trust so you can betray us later. Vigo could do that, I think." She glanced at Jacqueline, sidelong. "Most people couldn't, though, and I don't think you are."
Jacqueline considered. "I don't think I could," she said after a moment, "but in any case I'm definitely not. You have no idea how much better I like it here." She shook her head, because actually shuddering was unbecoming for a lady of noble birth. "All of you can just... help each other out. Be nice to each other. Say what you mean and expect to be understood. Honestly, the foremost disadvantage to making an offer of marriage to Tavros is that I'll end up having to deal with the court again."
Aesa was silent for a long, thoughtful moment. Then she said, "He'll need someone to help him with that, though." She paused, still thinking. "And the court under Tavros may be somewhat different from what you remember."
"I hold to the hope," Jacqueline said fervently.
"Well," said Aesa, "for whatever it's worth: I won't advise him against it, either. Marrying you, I mean."
Jacqueline hesitated, but she would never have a better time to ask and she wanted to know. "What was it like for you and Vendril?"
"Strange," Aesa said immediately. "I wouldn't call it a proper courtship. I was already raising a daughter, and her father had finally returned, but this presence kept showing up out of nowhere to talk to me and ask me questions. We'd heard of the Silver Fox even out here; he was a legend. He was a ghost. I still don't know what he saw in me, and when I ask he says it was just me. But eventually he asked if he could meet my daughter, and I told him he'd have to take off his mask for that... and he did, and Rose seemed to like him. It was a while after that before he asked if he could kiss me, and by then I was... comfortable, having him around. He kept doing little things for me: collecting Rose from the nursery, leaving small gifts, interceding to make sure that Anica and I didn't end up in a death battle with a bunch of elven bandits in the hills. He was there, and... concerned? ...when Ruin couldn't be. And he needed my support, too. He'd lost most of his companions, and finally been driven out of the city where he'd chosen to make his stand. I don't think he entirely knows who he is if he doesn't have somebody to protect. It was... I don't know. We just fit."
"And Ruin?" asked Jacqueline. "Don't answer if it's an indelicate question. It's just that Tavros seems to have a surprising number of elves around him, and Ruin and Martini are the closest to his concerns. Is Ruin... Is Ruin a problem?"
Aesa offered a reassuring smile, though there was a hint of sadness there as well. "Ruin is Ruin," she said. "I don't know how to describe it any better than that, and that won't make any sense if you don't know Ruin. He's... he's loyal, but also a little self-destructive and a lot angry. I don't think I can properly explain how we ended up having a child together -- it was a very fraught couple of days -- but he didn't deceive me or take advantage of me. If anything, he was trying to help me and things just..." She gestured. "...got out of hand."
"Vendril seems like someone I could trust," Jacqueline observed carefully. "You're saying Ruin might be too."
"You can trust him," Aesa said. "Honestly, I'd be more worried about Martini. But given what the kingdom is facing, Tavros needs someone murderous and scheming on his side too."
Jacqueline nodded as she digested that. "Then I should trust Tavros' friends the way he trusts his friends."
Aesa shrugged. "Caution is never a bad idea," she said, "but ultimately I think... yes."