Xandra had high hopes for this disastrous dinner, though I’m not sure why. I suspect it will end in violence. Violence precipitated by my beautiful wife if her growing agitation means anything. I reach under the table and give her hand a reassuring squeeze. This also serves to keep her from throwing something. At least, with this hand.

“Julienne, you look lovely tonight, as usual,” Tana drawls. “How fortunate you are to be young for eternity.”

Xandra is not the only one losing her patience. Dagda appears to want nothing more than to strangle the wife with whom he recently reconciled. What can he expect? She is surrounded by the very reasons she left him in the first place. But, Julienne had no idea he was married at the time of the seduction. So, if Tana is going to revert back to jealousy and resentment, it should be targeted at her husband, not the ghost at the end of the table.

“Yes, and I only had to die to achieve it,” Julienne snipes.

Clearing his throat, Dagda says, “Has Xandra told you we have been asked to mediate peace talks between the Centaurs and the Sasquatch?” He directs a proud smile toward his daughter.

“How did you manage before Xandra got here? She seems indispensable to your rule. You can’t make a move without her,” Jim jabs.

I begin counting the exits. We are in the formal dining room in the family living quarters at the palace. There are three doors. Feasibly, I could send Dagda and Tana flying through one, Xandra’s parents through another, and escape with my wife through the third. Providing I can draw magic first. If not, the table is pretty solid, perhaps it will serve as a shield when small objects and magic begin to fly.

Keeping in mind the reason for this calamitous dinner, Dagda ignores the barb. “I am pleased to have the opportunity to help guide Xandra in her destiny.”

Tana can’t let it be. With a saccharine sweet smile, she says snidely, “Yes, it is wonderful to have your daughter here with us.”

My aching mind is torn from the conversation when Xandra begins brushing at herself like she is being attacked by fleas. “Are you okay?” I ask quietly.

Her convulsive arm movements begin to subside. “I had an insect or something on my arm,” she whispers.

Meanwhile, the conversation, if it can be called that, continues. “That you have accepted Xandra into your life is very gracious of you,” Julienne tells Tana in a voice as insincere as the latter’s was.

Next to me, Xandra begins squirming in her chair again. “What is it?” I give her a complete once over thinking maybe she does have an insect on her somewhere.

Trying to peer over her shoulder, she asks, “Is there a spider there?”

“Not that I can see.” Just in case, I run my hand down her back. I encounter no bugs.

The snide comments between Julienne and Tana are growing more heated. Jim adds his opinion, as well. I estimate we are now about thirty seconds from violence.

“I really wish my great-grandparents were alive so we could spend time discussing how all of you were conceived,” Xandra grumbles. I almost choke on my bite of mashed potatoes as I try not to laugh.

Clearing his throat, Dagda finally adds his voice to conversation. He has been wise enough to avoid defending his actions from all those years ago. All that would do is piss everyone off even more than they already are. “We all agree that my actions were reprehensible at the time. That being said, I do not regret the daughter who emerged from my poor decisions. Given the choice to do it over, I would act just as reprehensible to bring her into the universe. The only thing I can do at this point is offer my sincerest apologies to those of you I hurt.” He reaches over and places his hand on Tana’s and turns his eyes to Julienne, begging her to believe his sincerity. How far his words go to smooth things over, I have no idea. But, no one kills anyone. That is a good sign. Yet, anyway. The tension in the room is still thick enough to choke on.

As if that’s not enough to choke on, Xandra blurts out, “So, Kallen and I are pregnant.” Did she seriously just drop that on me here? We haven’t even discussed the possibility. I thought we were using the correct amount of protection, though, nothing is perfect. A baby? We’re not ready for a baby. Damn. I guess we’ll have to be. We’ll make it work, but really? A baby? Why wouldn’t she tell me in private so my shock didn’t rival everyone else’s in the room?

It has been a while since I wanted to strangle my wife, but her next words make me want to do so. “Just kidding. I just wanted to break the tension,” she giggles.

Thank god. I want to have children with Xandra someday. I do. Someday so far into the future, I can’t even see it. Our lives are too dangerous to even contemplate bringing a child into the world at this point in time.

“Xandra, that wasn’t funny,” her mother admonishes. I agree.

Feeling no remorse for the heart attacks narrowly avoided, Xandra says, “Just wanted to get your attention. Can we go back to talking about the Sasquatch and the Centaurs now?”

Recovering from his shock, Dagda is eager to get the conversation away from his past transgressions. “Yes, of course. Both the Centaurs and the Sasquatch agree it is time to bring an end to their war. Now, we need to help them figure out the best way to do this. Xandra and I leave for the Centaur realm the day after tomorrow.”

Surprised, Julienne asks, “So soon?”

Dagda and I went in great detail with Xandra regarding the war. Also, about the volatile natures of both races. The fact that they came together to request this is astonishing. “We don’t want to give them time to change their minds,” Xandra explains. Her Familiars are under the table making comments. Xandra nudges one of the beasts with her foot. I am still amazed she can understand their growls and snarls.

Fortunately, the new topic holds. “What made them decide on a peace treaty?” Jim asks. “I thought both sides were adamant that no compromise could be reached.”

A genuine smile appears on Dagda’s face. “I believe our daughter is the reason behind it.” I want to groan. His comment brings us dangerously close to violence again. Xandra’s parents hate it when Dagda claims parentage. I wait for the explosion but it doesn’t come. Maybe things can change. Dagda continues. “After learning of her destiny and experiencing her power first hand, I believe both sides thought it prudent to come up with a compromise before they faced her wrath again.”

“I doubt that,” Xandra grumbles, growing uneasy with the reference to her power over other races and realms.

Glancing around the table, I decide to take advantage of the cease fire in the room. Xandra wants this to work so badly. To be able to walk into a room filled with her family and not have half of them sniping at each other doesn’t seem like an unreasonable desire. Maybe I can do more to help than just sit here and offer silent support. “Uncle, when is the last time we went fishing?”

Dagda sits back in his chair and rubs his chin. “I can’t remember exactly. You were probably around ten or so.” I have never been fond of fishing. I began to refuse his invitations around that time. I prefer my recreation to be more physically active. But, I know both he and Jim enjoy the sport.

“Jim, I believe fishing was a hobby of yours,” I say to Xandra’s father.

He nods. “There was a nice fishing hole just a couple miles from the house. I got out there as often as I could when the weather permitted.”

“The weather will be nice for fishing tomorrow,” I push. I try not to think of the other nice things I could be doing tomorrow morning. Most importantly, spending the morning make love to my beautiful wife. Infinitesimally more enjoyable, but I will do my part to bring our families together.

“The river has a nice supply of Callop. There is a place just south of the palace that is fairly comfortable,” Dagda tells him. Not that a ghost needs to worry about physical comforts.

“I would enjoy a morning of fishing. Someone will need to bait my hook for me,” Jim adds with a wink in my direction. “What, exactly, is a Callop?”

“You might know it better as a yellow perch,” Dagda explains. “When prepared with some bacon, onions and some of the chef’s favorite herbs, they are delicious.” Dagda realizes his faux pas and a touch of color appears on his cheeks.

“I bet they smell great,” Jim says, letting the comment slide. “What kind of bait do you use?”

“Usually a small shrimp,” I tell him. I remember trying to get one of the things on the hook when I was young. Could be a bit tricky.

Glancing at me, Dagda says, “Callops like to nibble, so they are not for the impatient fisherman.”

“I was nine,” I drawl. “I was more interested in fighting my cousin than waiting for a fish to decide my bait was a meal, not an appetizer.”

Jim chuckles. “I was going to suggest bringing Zac along. Perhaps that isn’t such a great idea.”

Dagda shrugs. “He would probably enjoy the experience if not the fishing itself. I imagine it has been a while since the two of you did any of the outdoorsman activities you enjoy.” Huh. Dagda has been doing his research.

Jim nods. “Getting Xandra to walk him to the fishing hole back home was like pulling teeth.” Xandra pretends not to hear him.

We spend the next few minutes making plans for tomorrow morning. I do my best to sound excited, or even interested, but this isn’t really about the fishing. I believe everyone at the table realizes this. Xandra must because as we rise from the table, she gives me a hug and whispers in my ear, “Thank you.”

Grinning, I take her hand and lead her out of the room. As soon as we are clear of the others, I wink and say, “I hope I get more of a reward than that.” I will take her smile and the fact she teleports us home as a yes.
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