Marcia Tempranillo was surprised when she and her governess, Miss Eliza Livingston, were asked to wait in the foyer of the Blan-Virgine mansion instead of being shown directly in. Marcia was one of Cressidor Blan-Virgine's best friends and she'd visited there dozens of times over the years, and being asked to wait by the footman who'd admitted them like she was a mundane caller or even a tradesman stung a bit.
"Perhaps the footman is new, and didn't know your name yet?" Miss Livingston suggested.
"No, I remember him from last time." Marcia had found that most adults did have trouble telling elves apart. The nine-year-old had never had that problem, perhaps because she was the same height and so had a better view. Then again, a lot of adults also had trouble telling human servants apart, so it could have been something different.
"Well, you'll just have to ask about it, then. It's not good to keep these worries inside, and if there is a problem you should find out right away."
"Thanks, Miss Lizzy. That's good advice."
Indeed it was, but there was no need for her to put it into effect. In about two minutes Cressidor came into the foyer with a downcast expression.
"I'm sorry we made you wait, Marcia, but I don't think this is a good day to visit here. Maybe we could go over to your house, or to the park?"
"Is something wrong?"
"Well, not wrong..." Cress glanced over at Miss Livingston. "It's just that I think it would be better for Miss Lizzy. You know how she is with dogs."
Miss Livingston, it will be noted, was not particularly scared of dogs. She did, however, have a problem with pony-sized, quarter-ton, burning-eyed, fire-breathing barghests, which was the kind of pet a little girl had when her mothers were the kingdom's Mage Consul and a homunculus. She had to admit that Shuck was a very well-behaved dog, considerably more so than the lapdogs of most Court Society ladies, but it was the scale of the potential problems that made her nervous. Nonetheless, she was a loyal governess and steeled her courage.
"I appreciate your concern for my feelings, Miss Cressidor," she said, "but I do not think it is fair to you or to Miss Marcia for you to be forced to give up your fun together for the sake of my nerves. I am getting quite used to Shuck."
"I know, but it's...well, it's not Shuck that's the problem. You see, Mama was asked by some of Grandpa and Grandma's friends to help them breed sheepdogs, and we have some of the puppies in the house while we're training them to..." She pursed her lips, trying to remember the word. "To be socialized!"
"You have more giant magical dogs?" Miss Livingston could feel the cold sweat beginning to bead on her forehead.
Cress shook her head.
"No, no, they're not big like Shuck. They're all normal-sized dogs. But it's just, you don't really like dogs and I didn't want you to get scared."
Miss Livingston shook her head.
"I'm perfectly fine with normal dogs, really I am. I shan't faint if one should get loose and come running in."
That was when the barking started, as if to show that the world really was a place where actions have consequences. Miss Livingston could have made that into a teaching moment for Marcia, but was too busy being nervous to see the opportunity.
Still, she realized after a few seconds, that while there were several canine voices raised in excitement, they definitely did not have the deep, intimidating sound that came from Shuck's huge chest. This was definitely the barking of normal-sized animals, like Cressidor had said. She allowed herself to relax a little.
There came then the scrabble of paws and dog toenails on the tiled floor, and a canine body hurled around the corner and through the door from the front hall into the foyer. A tail wriggled, as if its owner was caught between thinking, "New friend! Wag!" and "Intruder! Be on guard!" Six eyes looked up at Miss Livingston, and she was greeted with two sharp barks and one friendly, lolling tongue.
"Oh, how cute!" Marcia exclaimed. She was very fond of animals.
"Mama thought they'd be good working dogs, because only two heads sleep at a time. That way they're always watching if a sheep slips away or a burglar gets into the house. And Cerberuses are much closer in size to sheepdogs than barghests, so she says that makes breeding easier."
"Can I pet her?"
"Sure!" Cress invited, scratching the dog's right head behind the ears. "She's really friendly. This one's name is Trippy. You know, for 'triple.' Mother really needs to get better at naming things," she added. Since Amoretta Virgine's grimalkin was, in fact, named Grimalkin, she had a point. Marcia held out a hand and three wet noses sniffed at it. She was just reaching out to pet the middle head when she heard a soft thump from behind her. Cress, Marcia, and Trippy all turned to see where Miss Livingston had crumpled to the foyer rug in a faint.
"She's going to hurt herself doing that one of these days," a worried Marcia said.
"Mother says that lots of people have trouble admitting when they're scared of things or a job's too big for them because of pride."
Trippy gave the unconscious governess a three-faced scowl. She was a protective dog, and didn't like people who made little girls sad.