Nim had woken that morning wondering why he was in the Retamlic forest and why he had Jo there so close to the trolls. As he realized there was no magic, he remembered they were at Jo’s parent’s house. The scent of the forest was all the trees and branches they had decorated with.
They’d spent the day visiting with Jo’s parents and youngest brother, Jared. They tried to explain some of the Christmas traditions to him. Some he understood, some not so much. It didn’t help that they didn’t fully understand all the traditions.
They were getting ready to go to a party. Tomorrow, Jo’s other brother, Kevin, was coming. Nim had spoken to Jared a few times in the past while scrying Amelia and Curt, but he’d never met Kevin.
“Are you sure I look okay?” Nim asked Jo. He’d never worn a suit before. He didn’t know how Jo’s parents managed to get him one that fit.
“You look very good,” Jo assured him. “How about me?”
Nim smiled. “You look beautiful.” He kissed her.
“Nim, we don’t have time for that.”
He growled and kept kissing her.
She pulled away. “Later, if you can keep quiet.”
Nim laughed. “Me? You’re louder than I am.”
Jo grinned. “Only sometimes.”
Nim sighed. “I suppose we should go.” He didn’t like crowds and wasn’t looking forward to that evening.
The party was similar to those at the palace. Different people, different clothing, but otherwise, similar. His long hair and accent marked him as a novelty. Plenty of people wanted to talk to him and ask about himself and his homeland. He told them it was an island in the North Atlantic. It was the same story he and Ann had used in the past. When they asked questions he couldn’t answer without revealing who he really was, or where he was from, he pretended not to know what it was in English. He was amused by how many thought if they talked louder, he’d be able to understand them.
“So how did you meet Joanne?” The woman he was currently talking to asked. She was an older woman who seemed a little more free-spirited than the rest of the crowd.
“A girl I tutored came here to study and met Jo. I joined her when she came back for a visit and was introduced to Jo then,” Nim explained. He had no idea who the woman was. She’d never introduced herself. It wouldn’t have meant anything to him anyhow.
The woman frowned. “So you were involved with a student and she introduced you to your future wife?”
“Maybe I said that wrong. She was no longer my student, but just a friend. I came with her as an escort, a chaperone, I think, when she came to pick up her fiancé’s parents,” Nim corrected her. He didn’t want people to think something inappropriate and make Jo or her parents look bad.
The woman smiled. “Oh, I’m sorry, my bad.”
“It’s okay. English is my third language. I don’t always say things correctly.”
“It’s my first and I have the same problem,” she admitted. “Is your culture much different than ours?”
Nim nodded. “The island is divided up into clans. Each one has a different way of life. In my clan, we put a very high priority on taking care of and protecting family. It’s rubbing off on some of the others. None discouraged family, but now, we’re seeing it take a priority there in some of the other clans. Curt and Amelia are getting used to it from me.”
“You should have been around when Amelia and Joanne weren’t even speaking to each other. Amelia had completely disowned the girl.”
“I did know Jo then. We were already married when they reconciled.”
“Really?” The woman’s eyes grew wide.
Nim realized she’d heard the claims about him. On Torthoc, he was an insane crossbreed, mass killer. Here, he was just a convicted murderer.
He leaned in conspiratorially and lowered his voice a little. “You should have heard the stories one of their business associates was telling them about me. He was from Torthoc too and his sister was my tutor. He didn’t get along with her and because of our association, me. So he called Amelia and told her I was a convicted murderer.” He rolled his eyes. “I mean, really. Wouldn’t I still be in prison if I’d done that?” Nim shook his head as if no one in their right mind would believe that story. “But Amelia has always loved Jo, even when they were having problems so she called to check on her. That was the start of the reconciliation. I guess I owe the man some thanks.” He might if the man hadn’t kidnapped Jo.
“I hear he was killed.”
Nim nodded. “He’d kidnapped a boy as a baby and had been raising him. He’d been quite abusive. When the boy discovered a relative, the man tried to kill her so the boy protected her and killed the man in self-defense.”
“Really?” The woman looked shocked.
“At seventeen, he was as big as I am. He didn’t know his strength. Jo’s been working with him as a counselor. He’s come a long way.”
“Is she still doing that now that the baby’s been born?”
“She is. She’s been taking him to the group home where she does most of her work. It gives the kids there some experience with babies.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
Nim shook his head. “The more babies around, the better the kids behave. The people who run the place have four of their own.”
A server came by with a plate of something Jo called hors d’oeuvres. Nim helped himself to a cucumber sandwich.
“Try the stuffed mushrooms,” the woman suggested.
“What’s in them?”
“Ham, cheese, onion, and egg,” the server said.
“No, thanks.” Nim smiled politely, and the server moved on.
“You should really try them,” the woman said.
“I don’t eat pork,” Nim told her.
The woman frowned. “Are you Jewish?”
Nim refrained from rolling his eyes. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d been asked that, as if that was the only reason not to eat something.
“No, I’m not Jewish, or Muslim.” That was usually the second guess. “There isn’t an equivalent to our religion here that I’ve found. Our worship of The Creator is different from anything I’ve seen here. It’s tradition rather than religion. When my clan’s ancestors first settled on the island, there was only an abundance of certain types of animals. Our diets developed around them. Pigs weren’t one of those animals.”
“Interesting.” The woman smiled.
“Jo’s been trying to encourage me to eat more variety, but tonight, I think I’ll pass.”
“Where is Jo?” The woman asked, looking around.
“Feeding Kory,” Nim wondered if there was a problem. She wasn’t happy. Then, she grew alarmed. “I should go check on her.” He hurried off.