It turned out the people Diarmad had tasked with looking after Sundial House had not been as reliable as he had thought. The place was a mess. A leak in one of the upper bathrooms had gone unnoticed for too long, as a result the trickling water had destroyed part of the ceilings of the rooms below. Animals had found their way inside, some even nested in various places. A thorough inspection showed the heating was outdated and needed replacement, as well as most of the appliances in the kitchen.
Normally, Simon would have organized the necessary renovations, but as that was no longer an option, Keith’s mate Lionel offered to coordinate and supervise the construction. He moved into a small hotel near the estate, with Keith frequently visiting him to help and prepare for their king’s arrival. Furthermore, furniture, art, and books were in storage, or had found other places in Diarmad’s various homes over the decades and Becca, who organized the actual move, had to collect everything and ship it to the house before she could put them back where they belonged.
Overall, it took several months before Diarmad could finally move in. Even then, the construction work wasn’t entirely finished, but at least it was at a state where he could live in the main building without being bothered too much by the noise.
However, one problem remained. Sundial House had too much space for one person. Diarmad didn’t need what once had been staff quarters and guest rooms. When Ronan and Becca agreed to move into the remodeled third floor, he was secretly relieved he didn’t have to live alone in the large house. To show his appreciation, he ordered a beautiful nursery, as they were expecting their first child.
Keith and Lionel didn’t want to live in the main building. They instead opted to take over the remodeled storage house near the back of the kitchen. This way they lived on their own, but were still available for Diarmad.
Unlike the house, the gardens were in perfect condition. Diarmad’s first mate Luis had created them, wherefore Diarmad had always made sure they were properly cared for, demanding monthly reports from the gardeners. Luis had wanted to reflect Earth’s cultural diversity, and of course Diarmad had supported the concept. Even after Luis’ death, he continually extended the gardens. His newest addition was only two years old. Seraei living in Japan had heard of his collection and sent people to create a rock and water area as a sign of their appreciation. When Diarmad walked its paths for the first time, the minimalism had instantaneously spoken to him.
Diarmad felt exhausted for months. He had been having difficulties meditating. Only by emerging himself in his new garden's simplicity, he was able to find the order he had been missing. More and more frequently, he could be found sitting on a small stone bench, staring at the stylized composition of rocks, raked sand and gravel, trying to absorb every bit of calmness the landscape emanated. To the council’s continuing displeasure, he missed important meetings and negotiations. He still couldn't completely get rid of his restlessness. He thought it was similar but not quite like the feeling he had experienced in the past when he didn't have Noël around to balance his energy. Since he saw Noël several times the week, it should have been enough to ensure his calmness, but it didn’t.
Diarmad opened the door from the library but instinctively stopped when he heard Keith’s voice in the hallway. "Mr. Ronan, Ms. Becca told me you visited the spring festival at the Music & Art Center over the weekend.”
"That’s right. Becca loves festivals, and who am I to deny my pregnant wife a wish.”
“How was it? What did you see?”
“It was amazing! On Friday we saw this dance performance where they decorated the whole room to look like a bar in Buenos Aires. Now, imagine a fourteen-year-old girl dressed in a slim, black suit at the piano and a guy, maybe sixteen, also wearing all black, plus a very impressive hat,” Ronan chuckled, “playing the guitar accompanying two couples, who lived and breathed the tango argentine. There was grace, barely-constrained temper breaking through, only to be reined in seconds later by controlled power; it was truly impressive.
“Afterwards, Becca made me sign us up for tango lessons.”
“In her...er condition?”
“She didn’t listen to me when I suggested waiting until the little one is born, and I stopped arguing with her these last few weeks. I don’t want to end up sleeping at the security staff quarters again. If it gets too much for her, we’ll just cancel the lessons and continue later. You offered to babysit, right?”
“Wait until the little hellion plays an instrument. Because on Saturday, we looked into the music lab where kids of all ages could try out every instrument available at the center, even the violins..."
"Oh... That must have been pretty... noisy, sir."
Diarmad grinned when he heard Keith’s polite attempt of paraphrasing ‘horrible’.
"Oh yeah. The little one isn't even born yet, and Becca already plans asking Noël for piano lessons."
"And he would be happy to help. The young lord told me what he likes the most is teaching music to the very young. Have you talked to him there?”
“No, I only saw him on Sunday at the concert he gave with Kris.”
“From what I heard it, was a great success."
“You didn’t go?”
“No, the King had a dinner party with business associates scheduled at the same time, and even though we hired a catering service, he likes me to oversee everything.”
"That’s too bad. You missed quite the show," Ronan raved. "The hall was packed, some even climbed on the shoulders of their friends to have a better view of the stage. Those two could make a lot of money if they ever decided to become professionals.”
“What songs did they play?”
“They mixed their own pieces with cover songs; people loved it.”
“The young lord is so talented. When he still lived with us, he sometimes played his own pieces and asked me for my opinion. I always told him how good they were, but then he would laugh calling me biased.”
“As an encore, they offered to sing any song the people wanted if they donated money to the center. Never in my whole life have I heard such a crude mixture: Elvis Presley’s In the Ghetto, Imagine Dragon’s Gold, Twenty One Pilots’ Stressed Out, among others. They knew almost every piece people requested, and if they didn’t, they winged it to everyone’s amusement."
"I can imagine."
Diarmad had heard enough and was about to close the door again, when Keith suddenly lowered his voice. "Did you stay for the last songs?"
"You mean did I hear Kris serenading Noël?"
"So it's true..."
"Oh yes. They both sang one last solo. Noël played the piano and sang Love of my Life, fulfilling a girl’s request after she dropped a large sum of money into the pot. Kris, however, didn't accept any requests for his last song. He donated some of his own money and then launched into a heartrending version of I'm Your Man. To everyone in the room, it was crystal clear whose man he thought he was."
"I knew it! How did the young lord react?"
"I don't know. I didn't have a chance to meet him behind stage afterwards. Becca is so emotional lately; she had been brought to tears by both their last songs, so I had to get her home right after the show." After a slight pause Ronan said, “I was wondering for a while if there is something more going on between them, though.”
“It was always pretty obvious that young Kristof is in love with the young Lord.”
“Yes, and now that they are living together, maybe he...reciprocates Kris’ feelings?”
“Well, the King moved on. Why should the young lord not follow his example?”
Diarmad held his breath. There were a few moments of silence before he could hear Ronan’s voice again.
"Enough gossiping! I need to get going; the King wants me to accompany him to a court meeting. Say hello to Lionel for me, will you?"
Diarmad’s hand clamped around the doorframe so hard it hurt. He was paralyzed. A small voice in is head asked, What did you expect?, but he shoved it aside. This snake Kris had been after Noël the whole time... He knew it when he first saw him. All his curly, blond hair and chocolate-eyed innocence... A sudden rage pooled inside his chest, and he grabbed a vase standing on the table beside the door and hurled it into the fireplace.
Watching its shards glittering in the sun, his hands began to tremble. Things couldn't go on like this, he needed to calm down and find this place in his head again where he could be rational. With this thought in mind, Diarmad rushed out of the library, totally ignoring a wide-eyed Keith, who was still standing in the hallway, and Ronan, who came out of the office enquiring about the commotion.
Diarmad needed the solace of his gardens.
Outside, in his small, walled-in Kare-san-sui* Diarmad inhaled deeply, then let his breath out slowly and controlled. Repeating this a few times, he finally found a steady rhythm. His mind still jumped around even though his body had become almost motionless. Since he could not calm down his mind, he slowly detached himself and attempted to watch from the outside. With his gaze fixed on the granite plate bridging rippled water raked into the sand underneath, he finally found a resemblance of order in his chaos.
Noël's abilities were impressive, but Diarmad didn't know how strong they had become until they had to interrogate a rogue telepath. The man, Grayson, had been sent to him by a clan on the other side of the country whose best telepath couldn't get through his defenses. They had heard of Noël and hoped he could get them the proof they needed. Grayson was suspected of manipulating several humans into giving him money, transferring their land and other possessions to him, and even doing silly or embarrassing things like walking through the street naked.
In order to make it legal, the council had to witness the interrogation. Diarmad was a strong telepath, but as he sat behind the one-way mirror with three other council members, he could feel nothing from Grayson; it was as if he had become mind deaf. On the other hand, they all felt a sudden probing even though the suspect was in another room and couldn’t see them. In the end, they had to set up special devices to protect themselves from having him clawing at their shields and invading their heads.
Together they watched Noël strolling into the room, wearing red flip-flops, faded jeans, and a white button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves. His hair was held back in a low ponytail. With sunglasses in his hand, he looked more like he was on his way to the beach than to interrogate a criminal. Throwing himself into the chair opposite Grayson, he leaned back and examined the man without uttering a word.
Grayson tried to stay calm, but his fidgeting hands gave him away. Not being able to crack Noël's shields was obviously making him nervous. Finally his control slipped, and he drawled, "Well, well, well, what do we have here, a black triangle telepath? I met someone like you before... and I was not impressed." Not one of the council witnesses believed his nonchalance.
"Mr. Grayson, you are suspected of having used your telepathic abilities to swindle humans into entrusting you with their assets and their possessions for the sole purpose of embezzling them. What do you have to say to these accusations?"
"I said this already before, but I’ll say it again: these accusations are false."
Noël nodded. "Mr. Grayson, I might not look like it but I am a sworn telepath in service of the King's council. If I find that these accusations are true, it will be considered synonymous with you standing convicted. You will be sentenced by the council accordingly. By confessing, however, you could obtain a more lenient sentence."
Grayson grinned. He still wasn't aware of Noël's superiority. Diarmad asked himself how the man could be so dense, the fact alone that he wasn't able to read Noël should have pointed him in the right direction.
Noël watched Grayson a little longer and then finally sighed. He developed this gesture of showing witnesses he was about to get behind a person's mental shields by pushing away imaginary walls with his hands. Using only minimal movements, like pointing his finger at Grayson and then swishing it to the right, holding it for a moment then to the left, he eliminated the man's protection piece by piece. One time, he even tightened his hand as if he was cracking something.
It had been a good thing they bound Grayson to his chair before Noël began the procedure. When the man realized how easily Noël could break through his shields, he started to claw at the armrests, turning his head from one side to the other as if he was trying to shake Noël out of his head.
By the end of the process, Noël was ghostly pale and cold sweat was running down his face; one could see what he had to do pained him almost as much as Grayson. Then suddenly, he jumped from his chair screaming, "No! I don't need to see that!" But it was too late; Noël barely lifted his hand fast enough to shield himself. His rapidly reinforced inner barrier seemed to deflect a huge amount of mental energy, which then backlashed to Grayson. The man screamed until his voice was hoarse, then his eyes went blank. He collapsed in his chair, while blood was running out of his ears, eye sockets, and mouth.
Diarmad couldn't contain himself any longer. He and Cieran O’Connor stormed into the interrogation room, grabbed Noël by his shoulders, and turned him around to face them. He looked at them with wide eyes and panted," It was a fucking trap, a fucking mental mine."
Grayson died within an hour without awakening from his coma. Later, Noël confirmed that the man had indeed misused his telepathic abilities as he had been accused, but he believed it all had been a set up to render the council's strongest telepath useless by overloading his brain.
Someone wanted to weaken the council. The question was why... and who.
*Japanese dry garden
Thank you to Val and Lisa. For whatever reason this chapter was difficult but you showed me the way.
To my readers: Thank you for reading, even though it gets annoying. I love to hear your thought. Next chapter will answer a lot of questions. Finally.