Tereus and Lavinia have a son, Marcus, and a daughter, Sieia. Marcus has always been at boarding school, and stays in bachelor quarters when he’s in town. Sieia has been there all along, an infant, and then a toddler. Now she’s five years old, a sweet, fey, red-headed presence as lost and bemused as Fabius is.
Soon after he arrives, she seeks him out in the kitchen. He is plaiting his long, white hair into a queue in preparation for a party that night. He’ll be out on the street, dealing with the linkmen and coachmen, helping guests out of their carriages and up the steps to the portico. Sieia sees him in the corner furthest from the fire, and walks up to him. She eyes him for awhile — her eyes are classic Shelawn violet, unusual with her red hair — then says, “You are my brother. Marcus is one. You are the other.”
He’s surprised for a moment, then amused by her infantine gravity. Clearly she’s waiting for a reply. “Who told you that, honey?”
“One of the maidservants said it. She’s mean. I wanted to know if it was true or a lie, because she’s a catty thing, and often lies. So I asked Mother, and she said that it was true, but that I shouldn’t speak of it.”
“Your mother is right. I am your brother, and we probably shouldn’t speak of it.”
“I don’t understand why you’re not in school like Marcus is, if you’re my brother.” She frowns. “Perhaps you’re not clever?”
Fabius laughs. “It’s not a matter of clever or stupid, my dear. Marcus and I are of different stations. Marcus is the heir.”
“You should still be in school. Otherwise how will you learn anything and have a profession?”
“My dear, I have a profession. I’m a servant.”
She considers this. “I don’t see why you should be a servant.”
“Perhaps they told you that Marcus and I aren’t exactly brothers. I had a different mother. Your mother is Lavinia, Tereus’ wife. I don’t know who my mother was, but she wasn’t married to Tereus. I’m only your half-brother, and Marcus’ half-brother, too.”
“That’s why your eyes are white.”
“Yes, honey, that’s why my eyes are white.”
“Are they always like that?”
“I’m afraid so. Your mother is right — we shouldn’t speak of these things. I wish you will tell me your doll’s name, and what you will do while the ball is going on.”
Sieia looks at him solemnly. She’s clearly not satisfied with his account, and, childlike, feels a need to get to the bottom of any discrepancies. On the other hand, her doll and the ball are matters of importance. “My doll is named Melody. Her hair is not red like mine is. I am not out in society yet, so I will have dinner in the schoolroom and go to bed. I may get to see Mother’s dress, if she has time to show it to me. I hope she will, because her dresses are all very fine.”
They chat companionably for a few more minutes, then it’s time for Fabius to go downstairs. “Thank you for visiting me, Sieia,” he says. “I hope you will come to see me often.”
To his surprise, she seeks him out on most days. She learns when he will have moments of leisure, and she appears reliably. They either chat or sit in companionable silence. She helps to braid his hair and button his cuffs, and he inquires about the small matters of her life — her lessons and toys. At first it seems strange that she should go to such trouble to find him. He’s often pressed for time, and he certainly can’t offer any special entertainment. Eventually he realizes that she’s lonely. Her parents are distracted, caught up in their own vices and passions; Marcus is absent; her governess is severe and formal, and even Sieia’s worst enemy couldn’t accuse her of bookishness — she’s sensible, but not clever.
As time passes, Fabius becomes increasingly protective of his sister. In the odd manner of that household, it’s accepted that this footman will care for Sieia — will mend her toys, watch her when her governess takes a half-day, send her back to the nursery to change if she tears her dress or muddies her stockings. She confides her hopes and fears and worries, and she learns to care for him in little ways, too, cheerfully changing bandages and binding cuts and bruises.