March 31, 2009

In Which Severin's Fear Is Realized

WARNING: The first part of this chapter might be somewhat ooky (and poorly written). If you wish to avoid ookiness, you may want to scroll down to the bottom, then scroll up to where the scene changes from the lighter room to the darker room. The first part isn't particularly important anyway.

January 16, 1157

Severin had been alive for exactly twenty-four years, three months, and ten days, and not once in all that time had he ever come across such an unusual sight, nor had he ever expected to if he lived to be a hundred.

His father and stepmother were being affectionate. Not just the ordinary suggestions spewing from his mouth and her blatant refusal--they were actually kissing and touching, rolling around on the bed in the very same room Severin had caught his father and Geneva in earlier.

The nerve of that man, taking his wife to the very same chamber in which he had met that whore of a queen mere hours before. Never before had Severin felt his father so unworthy of even the slightest glance from Viridis--and that was saying something.

And then there was the cuddling. Lonriad had never cuddled anyone or anything in his life, Severin could have sworn it--and yet, here he was, his arm around his wife's shoulder, resting his head against hers. Severin couldn't decide what shocked him more; the fact that Lonriad was actually bothering with this precursor to sex, or the fact that Viridis was allowing it.

But as he ventured further into the room, he saw that the woman on the bed wasn't Viridis at all.

It was his mother.

He should have been relieved. Anyone else he knew would only ever want their father touching their mother. Of course, he loved his mother, and if Lonriad had to be sleeping with anyone other than Viridis, he did feel more comfortable knowing that it was her... but Viridis had raised him, and Lonriad's other son. All of those kisses and cuddles should have been reserved for Viridis and Viridis alone.

Then, to his utmost horror, he realized that Lonriad's mistress wasn't his mother.

Oh, his sweet Alina! His darling, his princess, in the arms of another man--his father, no less! How had this happened? Did she no longer love him? And of all the men in the world, why had she chosen this one to run to?

The way she smiled at that old lecher... hadn't those smiles been reserved for him once? Why must she flutter her lashes at such an unworthy creature? The sight was nothing short of heartbreaking; There is no possible way, Severin decided, that this could be any worse.

He was wrong--not only did it get worse, but it also got downright sickening. Did Lonriad not have a single decent fiber in his entire being? Did he not have any discretion when it came to choosing sexual partners? Clearly, age was nothing more than a number to Lonriad--and blood was also meaningless.

Grown women, young girls--even his own granddaughter! To Lonriad, they were nothing but holes, all of them, and would never be a thing more. This was beyond wrong, beyond disgusting--even beyond blasphemy and sacrilege. There was no word that could begin to capture even the idea of this; what Lonriad was--and how strongly Severin loathed him--could never be voiced, or even thought. No, they could only ever be felt.

Oh, those eyes! Since the day she was born, he'd always known it was only a matter of time before those eyes would gaze upon man with such fondness; if only that gaze would fall upon someone--anyone--else!

Patricide was suddenly not such a horrible crime--not compared to this. He was take his father by the throat and squeeze until the man was begging him to stop, wheezing, gasping for that final breath... but oh, it would be too quick! He would kill him slowly. Perhaps he would hang him, or set him on fire, or...

On second thought, he would murder him quickly; he would not wait a moment more than necessary to see that man dead.

They sure as hell weren't making a fort under those blankets.

"You monster!" Severin shouted. "You vile monster! Don't you realize just how terribly wrong this is, you disgusting old pervert?"

"Sorry, son!" laughed Lonriad from beneath the covers. "It's just my nature, that's all!"

He had to act now. He would storm over to that bed, tear them apart, and rip that despicable old satyr to shreds.

Yes, he was unnarmed, but it was suddenly clear to him that one didn't need a weapon when one had such anger. Emotion was the most powerful weapon in the world--no man in the world was as well-equipped as he. All he had to do--

"Severin!" called Alina's faraway, panicked voice. "Severin! Oh, God... Severin! Wake up!"

"Princess!" he addressed her as his eyes flickered open. "Raia... my father..."

"Raia's in Naroni with your mother, stupid, and last time I saw your father, he was feeling up a maid in the wine cellar, but... oh God! Severin! It's--it's horrible!"

It had only been a dream. Thank God; Alina was still his, Raia was a year old and safely away in another kingdom, and his father was not--as far as he knew--an incestuous pedophile. Never had Severin imagined that he would one day be thankful that his father was exactly what he had always been--at least he was not any worse.

Struggling to calm himself at the sight of her distraught state, he pushed back the blanket and stepped firmly onto the wooden floor. "Alina, are you all right? Did someone hurt you?"

Clearly trying to hold back tears, she shook her head, her lower lip quivering until she caught it between her teeth.

"It's not me," she insisted, "but he--she--they..."

She couldn't dam her tears any longer; from her eyes spouted the beginnings of a flood.

"Now, Princess," breathed Severin as he gently wrapped his arm around her shoulders, "do you want to tell me what happened? Or should I not bother you about it?"

"Just--just one second," Alina choked.

Severin nodded. "As long as you need."

"Oh, poor Celina!" she gasped suddenly, jerking slightly backwards. "That woman never did anyone any harm a day in her life, and now--now--"

She was cut off by her own sobs. It worried him, seeing her so beside herself--never in her life had the usually collected Alina been so hysterical. Whatever had happened was something significant--and something disturbing.

"What about Celina?" he inquired, unsure as to whether or not he could remain calm for the two of them. "Princess...?"

"I'm sorry!" squeaked Alina, burrying her face in her hands once more. "I'm sorry. I'll tell you, just..."

"I know," Severin assured her. "You need a moment."


He raised his hand to her face and softly brushed away the tears from her eye; he thought that for one brief moment, he saw a faint hint of a smile on her face. "Alina..."

"All right," she whispered. "I'll tell you."

Slowly, she leaned closer, her face level, but her eyes turned downward. "When I was coming back from Renata's room..."

"Yes?" he acknowledged, hoping he wasn't prying.

"Well," continued Alina, "you know how the hallway outside is also a balcony that looks into that bedchamber?"

He nodded once more. "That always struck me as strange. It seems like the sort of thing only my father would have in his castle. Anyway, go on."

She took a deep breath, then locked eyes with him, tears wavering in that brilliant blue once more. "Well... it turns out that's Dalston's room, and he was in there... with Geneva..."

That name told it all. After mentioning Celina, all Alina would have had to say was that woman's name, and he would have understood entirely.

"I thought Celina was her friend," he growled; did that woman have any sense of decency? If his father had a soulmate, then surely it was Geneva--each deserved only the other. "And Dalston... how could he do this to her? All that sweet girl ever did to him was love him--a hell of a lot more than he deserves, it turns out!"

"He's my cousin," Alina whimpered. "I thought I knew him, Severin; I never thought he'd do something like this. I know what she's like, but he... and Celina..."

"Alina?" he addressed her. "I have to ask you something."

She was a woman--she would know better than he what was best for Celina. He only hoped he could find the right way to ask her.

Alina nodded. "Yes?"

Oh, how would he word this? "Alina... if I ever... er, did to you what Dalston did to Celina--"

"Oh, you wouldn't!" she exclaimed in protest. Then, a fearful look on her face, she met his eye and mouthed the question "Would you?"

"No!" he immediately answered, attempting to reassure her with an embrace. "No, Princess! Never!"

At least, he hoped he never would. Maybe it was in his blood to be that sort of man, he realized suddenly. Occasionally, he did catch his gaze lingering on the hips of a passing woman, his eyes drawn to the partially-exposed cleavage of the landlady at the village inn... was that natural? Or was it only he who did that?

No... there was at least one other who did, one other who walked this path, many years ahead of him. Perhaps it was an animal instinct, a migratory pattern known innately for generations to come... was it possible that he too would end up in that same final resting place?

This was his greatest fear--becoming his father.

"Never," Severin repeated in a whisper, desperately praying that he would not be lying to her. "Just... if you were Celina right now... would you want to know?"

She raised her head slightly, then lowered it once more--a yes.

"Then I shall send a messenger to Celina first thing in the morning," he promised. "Now, you're very upset, and I don't doubt that you're tired, so--"

She didn't give him a chance to finish.


March 29, 2009

In Which Alina Finds Herself Very Wrong

January 16, 1157

"Oh, but she's such a horrible snob!" Alina continued to rant to her sister. Ordinarily, she wasn't much of a gossip, but Medea was a special case. "You should have heard her when I announced that I was pregnant with Jadin. Honestly, the woman just doesn't know how to keep her judgmental opinions to herself."

Renata nodded. "She is rather... elitist, shall we say? But really, Alina, I'm surprised she bothers you so much; after all, you did grow up with Laralita."

"Renata, you don't know Medea like I do," she insisted. "I've spent quite a bit of time with her lately--not that I've had much of a choice, considering the limited number of companions in Naroni. Sure, Laralita's a silly, superficial girl who cares more about money and influence and appearances than anything else, but she's not a bad person at heart; really, I think she's more like Roderick than anyone else. Medea... she's just plain mean, if not downright loony."

"Well, imagine how poor Octavius must feel, then," mused Renata solemnly.

"Yes, our dear cousin, married to that banshee," sighed Alina, shaking her head in dismay. "He's much to good for her. He should have an affair."

Renata's eyes bulged slightly. "Alina! Octavius would never--"

"Oh, he wouldn't," she agreed, "but he should. God knows he deserves a woman who loves him, and she deserves a man who's unfaithful to her."

Her older sister pursed her lips thoughtfully. "It's a moot point; he'd never do it. Alina, what would you say if someone said that Severin should have an affair?"

Alina shrugged. "It doesn't matter; he wouldn't."

"Exactly. It's the same with Octavius--a moot point."

"Further proof that he's far too good for her," she declared with a musical giggle; perhaps she had had a little too much wine at dinner. "But really, I saw how he was making eyes at Princess Holladrin at the dinner table--and she was making them right back. The only thing Medea was making eyes at was whatever design she was scratching into her potatoes with her fork."

"I highly doubt that humble Octavius would aspire to a love affair with the princess," argued Renata softly.

Alina smiled. "Oh, surely the king would kill him! But you must admit that it's a very romantic notion--a pity that his bitch of wife is in the way."

"Speaking of romance," Renata cooed in a teasing manner. "How is your husband? I talked to him earlier, but he seemed a little edgy... or maybe he just couldn't wait to have you alone and rip that nightgown right off of you like he did on your wedding night?"

"Oh, he's fine," she dismissed, hoping that she was telling the truth. Severin, she knew, had caught Lonriad kissing Geneva, and had been somewhat unnerved since. He had retired early, which was why she was in her sister's room, talking into the late hours as they had when they were girls. "It's just that his father is here, and you know how things are between them. I daresay he'll be back to normal once we get back to Naroni--and you should definitely come visit us at some point, you and your husband and your children."

"Don't think I won't," her sister assured her. "Anyway, I hate to be rude, but it's quite late and I get the feeling that the baby wants me to sleep. Sorry, Alina."

Nodding, she slipped off the bed and stood. She understood, of course, but all the same, she couldn't help but feel like a little girl again, the youngest of ten children and five sisters, always wanting to tag along and constantly shooed away, dismissed as nothing but a bother. It suddenly hit her that that was the fate of every youngest child, including her own youngest child; she didn't want any baby of hers to know that feeling. Perhaps she would just continue having children for as long as possible... oh, but eventually, there would have to be a youngest! Or maybe her youngest would be twins. Yes, that was it--she would make sure that her last baby was a twin.

"Goodnight, Renata," she bade her sister as she headed toward the door.

"Goodnight," Renata answered, "and again, sorry."

Alina closed her eyes and inhaled. "It's fine."

"With any luck, your husband's awake," laughed Renata as Alina ventured into the corridor. "Perhaps ripping off your nightgown will make him feel better, correct?"

She replied with a half-hearted chuckle of her own, then gently closed the door behind her. Renata hadn't meant to be cruel, but if anything, that only made it seem worse; her lowly status as the youngest must have become subconscious knowledge among her siblings.

Perhaps it would make her feel better if she leaned over the railing of the balcony for a few minutes, watching whoever it was in the guest bedroom below sleep peacefully; maybe then she would be inspired to seek slumber herself.

How very wrong she was.


March 28, 2009

In Which Dalston Takes a Second Bite

January 16, 1157

Dalston had not had quite had enough wine to completely clear his head, but unfortunately, it had been more than what was necessary to fill it. Not for the first time tonight, he wondered about Celina and the baby. Seeing his sister-in-law, who was at about the same stage in her pregnancy, had been the catalyst that had sped his worries. Renata, of course, was as healthy as always--would Arkon have brought her had she not been?--but she had always been a much stronger, more willful woman than his delicate darling. Perhaps Lina was ill. Perhaps his love and their baby were in danger.

He knew he was being irrational, as she had been perfectly fine when he left, but he couldn't help it; he would not feel better until he saw her again, alive and well, curled up in his arms with the strawberry scent of her hair rushing into his nostrils.

Hoping he would be able to sleep in his troubled state, he made his way to the far side of the bed and settled himself in. Back in his bachelor days, he would have immediately gravitated to the near side, because it was so much more convenient, but that was the side that Celina liked, so he had grown used to sleeping on the other side every night. Going to the near side would have been to admit that she would not join him tonight.

Oh, how he prayed that she would rest easy tonight! She needed her sleep, with the new baby on the way, and Lorn to take care of, as well as the added burden of Sparron and Jeda. Celina would have to sleep--she would have to sleep for him, as he doubted he himself would.

Then, as if it were a sign, the door swung open, then slammed shut.

He knew it could not have been his beloved wife, but he could not resist checking to see if it was anyway. As he was sure he would be, he was sorely disappointed; there was no way that those golden curls could have belonged to chestnut-haired Lina.

"Geneva?" he groaned as he pulled himself to his feet. "What are you doing here?"

"I couldn't sleep," she answered softly. "I wondered if anyone else was still awake."

Dalston nodded. "Most of the men are still up drinking, but it's not a scene for a lady like yourself. Go back to bed, Geneva."

"But I can't sleep," his cousin insisted once more, "and you can't either."

He sighed; he had a sneaking suspicion as to why she was here, and it was really the last thing he needed right now. "What do you want, Geneva?"

"The same thing you do," replied Geneva in a breathy whisper, "and don't pretend you don't."


"You're worried about your wife, aren't you?" she pried as she drew nearer; he tried to cringe, but found he could not.

"Geneva, you should go..."

"You need a distraction," Geneva continued, ignoring his soft pleas. "Poor, sweet Celina... the worry is too much for you, isn't it?"

How dare she say Celina's name! The nerve of this woman! Never was a pair of lips so unworthy of those three syllables--were he in his right mind, he would shove her to the wall and watch as she crumbled to the floor.

"She'll be just fine," she declared reassuringly, gently stroking his cheek with the back of her hand. "You don't need to worry about her, Dalston. She's perfectly safe."

Unlike me, he added to himself.

He took her wrist in his hand and pushed her arm back toward her. "Please don't touch me, Geneva. I'm married, remember?"

"So am I," she reminded him.

"This is wrong."

"The only thing wrong here is you, Dalston," she teased as she placed one hand on his waist; he was painfully aware of the cold touch of her wedding band.

He could not do this. He could not worry about two women at once; he could barely deal with worrying about one! The way he saw it, he had two choices--he could either forget about Lina and send Geneva away, putting her in her place, or he could just ignore this woman, and allow himself to wallow in his longing for his faraway love.

Oh, Lina! Sweet, beautiful Celina! Images of her flashed quickly before his eyes--her face, her hair, her naked body. How he wished it was she he was kissing... but no, he could only pretend.

And so he did. He pretended it was her lips his were meeting, her tongue swirling about his mouth, her throat he was sliding his own down...

"Gen--ee--va!" he hissed as they parted. "Go back to your room; I can't do this."

"Yes, you can," argued Geneva stubbornly.

"No!" he exclaimed as she pulled off her nightgown and tossed it to the side. "Put that back on and leave, and be thankful for the fact that I won't be telling Roderick about this."

All she did was laugh. "Dalston, if it makes it easier for you, you can close your eyes and pretend I'm her. You know me; I don't mind at all."