April 27, 2009

In Which Florian Gives Thetis a Memory

May 18, 1157

Florian could not have the best of both worlds, he realized now. He was trying to watch his children as they played while still remaining in this comfortable position, but unfortunately, this perfect angle was effectively obscured by the droopy backside of his elderly housekeeper. Never before had he hired anyone, and now he knew that experience was not a thing to look for in a potential employee; the only real job requirement was a perfect ass.

But what was he doing hiring servants, anyway? He'd never been worth a single copper coin in his life. He was the humble second son of a farmer, who was also a son of a farmer, all the way back to Adam. Add the fact that he was both an exile and a thief, and he was probably the least qualified employer in all of Naroni.

And yet here he was, a man with a housekeeper, while many pairs of good, law-abiding family types like Halford and Arydath Diarn or Adonis and Honora Indruion had none.

Figuring she'd probably make some comment about how he was thoroughly enraptured by her hindquarters, Florian pulled himself up and shook his head as his son gnawed on the doll's shoe. He didn't remember much about being seven months old, but surely he hadn't been as silly as Setran was now; he must have gotten it from his mother.

Oh, how Electra would have been so proud of her little boy, so big and strong and handsome, even if he had a strange appetite for paint chips and rough chestnut wood. Now that he knew he was going to live for some time longer, Florian found himself constantly thinking about what sorts of stories he would tell Setran about Electra when he was older.

He would tell him that she had always wanted him, for many years before he was even born. He would tell him that she had been sweet and kind, the most generous, self-sacrificing woman he had ever known. And then, when he asked of her death, he would tell him that she had lived a tragic life, but, thanks to Setran, had left the world in the most incredible happiness she had ever known.

"The fire should hold out for a few more minutes, Master Tumekrin," Goodwife Noth assured him as she withdrew the poker from the flames.

Florian sniffed. "I still can't believe we have the need for fires in May."

"Indeed," his housekeeper agreed. "Now, when your lady friend arrives, would you like me to leave the two of you be?"

Frustrated, he bit his lip; how many times had he explained this to her? "Look, Goodwife, I'm only going to tell you this once more, so listen up. She's not my lady friend, as you say; she's a kid. If I wanted sex, I'd head to the village at night and pick up a prostitute, all right?"

She sighed, as she often did. "Well, you seem to be putting an awful lot of effort into a visit with just a kid."

"What makes you say that?"

"Well, for one, you're actually dressed."

"Well, if I wanted to have sex with her, I wouldn't be," he insisted with a laugh. "Why would I walk around half-naked in front of a woman I don't want to have sex with?"

"You walk around half-naked in front of me, Master Tumekrin," argued Goodwife Noth.

Florian's eyes narrowed--why hadn't he seen that one coming? "Don't flatter yourself; you could be my grandmother."

"Yes, but you seem to take advantage of the fact that I am not."

Really, he should have hired the girl with the nice ass.

"Isn't it ridiculous that we still need fires at this time of year?" mused a familiar voice from the doorway, causing Florian's heart rate to surge; Thetis had arrived.

Evera looked up at her and smiled, revealing her budding teeth. "Mama!"

"Hello, Evera," she greeted her daughter, returning the grin. "Are you having fun playing with your brother?"

The little girl pointed at her playmate. "Setran."

Chuckling slightly, Florian stood and made his way toward his guest, wrapping his arms around her hesitantly. "I hope it wasn't too difficult to get past Norwan."

"Oh, no," she assured him. "He had so much to drink last night he'll sleep all day."

"Maybe one of these nights, he'll have so much to drink that he just keels over on the tavern floor," ventured Florian hopefully. "Anyway, sit down, because I'm feeling lazy, and Goodwife Noth will scold me if I sit while you stand."

Goodwife Noth shook her head as the two of them made their way to the couch. "What use does my scolding ever do?"

"I know mine does absolutely nothing," laughed Thetis, "so take no offense, Goodwife Noth."

"Indeed, Mistress Thetis," the housekeeper agreed as she turned away from the fire. "Now, I'll be in the kitchen if anyone needs me. Shall I take the children? Perhaps they would like some cake."

"Cake!" exclaimed Evera happily.

"You already had your cake, you silly girl," Florian scolded gently. "That won't be necessary, Goodwife."

Goodwife Noth cast one last glance at Florian and Thetis, then hurried off--but not before sending a wink their way.

"Well, look at you!" cooed Thetis as they heard the kitchen door shut. "Nice new house, a housekeeper... even a fancy tunic!"

"The tunic's for you," he admitted. "Obviously I wouldn't wear something like this in the field, and on days I don't leave the house... well, why bother getting dressed?"

Thetis giggled prettily; he had a sudden urge to let down her hair, so that it would match her laughter more suitably.

"Saves you laundry, at any rate--although, I guess a gentleman has to dress himself well, doesn't he?"

"Gentleman?" Florian repeated, one eyebrow raised. "Don't be stupid. You need money to be a gentleman, and I sure as hell have none of that. Honestly, I have no idea how I'm going to pay for all of this--the farmland over here makes my old field seem like the damn promised land."

"Papa!" Evera addressed him, both suddenly and sharply. "Cake?"

Florian shook his head; there was no way he had been like this as a kid. "You seem to find your doll a perfectly fine meal--both of you! Don't you be ruining your teeth before they're even fully in."

It was no use; neither Evera nor Setran removed the dolls from their little mouths.

"They've grown up, haven't they?" Thetis sighed as she watched the two of them play.

"Well, they've grown," deduced Florian in partial affirmation, "but I'm not so sure about the up."

Shaking her head, she closed her eyes; was she fighting back tears? "They have, Florian... she has. And I've missed it all."

He could not stand for this. He would not have her crying--not today. "Come here a minute, Thetis."

Not giving her a chance to reply, he gently placed his arm around her and pulled her toward him, her head resting on his arm. "We're going to get through this, Thetis. And by we, obviously I mean you."

"What's to get through, though?" she voiced breathlessly. "I was married at thirteen, and had the twins at fourteen. I've already done everything a woman's supposed to do with her life, and in the least romantic way possible. Would you believe that he never even kissed me? Not even on our wedding day; no one's ever kissed me."

"Thetis..." exhaled Florian, uncomfortable seeing her so melancholy. "Thetis, look at me."

She turned slowly, her life-colored eyes locking with his own. "Yes?"

"If you've never even been kissed, then you haven't already accomplished everything," he assured her. "You've got your whole life ahead of you, Thetis, and that bastard Norwan isn't always going to be a part of it."

"But what if I die before he does?" she demanded of him.

"You won't," he promised.

"How can you be so sure?"

How could he shut her up? Why was she talking like this, today of all days? He was unused to this; shouldn't she be the one to cheer him up?

"I mean, if he doesn't die while I'm still young," she continued in her newfound mournful tone, "then maybe I'll never even get my kiss."

Florian tried to smile, but he seemed to have forgotten how. "He doesn't have to die for you to get your kiss."

A single tear was welling in one eye, but she managed to bat it back with her lashes. "But how could that happen?"

Oh for the love of God! He couldn't take it anymore; it was time to bring out the cavalry.

She didn't kiss like a girl who had never been kissed before; in fact, she didn't even kiss like a girl he had never kissed before. It was as if she had an innate knowledge of every nook and cranny of his mouth, by pure instinct sliding her tongue to exactly the places he preferred it to go. He didn't care that his kids were present--in fact, he almost wished Goodwife Noth would come back from the kitchen. This was no ordinary show.

This was art.

"There," he panted as they parted, slowly lowering her down onto the couch. "Norwan didn't have to die for that, did he? And if he did... well, all the better."

"Florian..." giggled Thetis, smiling uncontrollably for some reason or another. "You're daring!"

Grinning contagiously himself, he shook his head. "I had to give you a present, didn't I? That was it--a memory. And the best part was, it didn't cost me a single coin. Happy birthday, Thetis."


April 25, 2009

In Which Celina's Joy Holds a Sorrow

May 9, 1157

As Celina's eyes flickered open, she was mildly surprised to see Alina's smiling face beaming down at her. She was in her own home--she'd been sleeping in the guest chamber since Dalston had returned from Dovia, so there was little chance of her not recognizing it--but why was Alina here? Unless...

"What happened?" she muttered breathlessly, a lingering pain between her thighs and a sensation of fading dizziness pulsing through her body.

Alina laughed lightly. "Oh, Celina, you silly little dear! You just had a baby... don't you remember?"

"Sort of," replied Celina, trying to relive exactly what had happened. She'd gone into labor... the ladies had come... and then...

"You passed out just as the baby came," Alina informed her. "You slept through the afterbirth and everything; we were worried. But you're awake now, so everything's fine--you're healthy, and so is your daughter."

Suddenly, she found the strength to smile. "My... daughter?"

"A beautiful baby girl," her friend confirmed. "She has brown hair and blue eyes and a smile that could soften the heart of the devil himself. Dalston wants to name her Xetrica, for his mother, but I told him that there was no chance in hell that he was naming this baby," she added bitterly.

Celina shook her head as best she could. "I named Lorn for my father, so it's Dalston's turn. Besides, Xetrica is a very pretty name, and we can call her Xeta in order to tell her apart from her cousin of the same name."

"Xeta. Simple, but lovely; I like it," declared Alina with a grin. "I'm already itching to introduce her to Jadin, but Severin would have my head if he knew I was thinking of such things."

"The only his lordship will be having your head, my lady, is if you give it to him," joked Arydath from the foot of the bed, prompting an embarrassed fit of giggling from Honora and an appreciative laugh from Alina.

There she was, in Arydath's arms... Xeta of Armion. Even from this angle, it was obvious that the baby had her father's blue eyes; at least one pair of those blue eyes would look upon Celina with love now.

And Xeta would be Celina's last child. Perhaps she would not be Dalston's, but Celina did not think she could ever bring herself to have an affair; that was not what she desired. If he pleased, Dalston could do as he wanted, as he had clearly tired of her--if he'd ever really loved her in the first place, that was. No, the only way Celina would ever have a third child was if Dalston died before her, while she was still of child-bearing age, but she did not wish him dead; no, Lorn and Xeta needed their father, and as much as Celina knew she shouldn't, she did love him.

She only wished that he could somehow be happy, but it seemed that his good fortune could only come to be if she herself was to disappear.

"Would you like to hold her, your grace?" Arydath offered, waddling toward the bedside under the weight of the five months worth of baby inside of her.

Nodding, Celina slowly slung her legs off of the bed and pulled herself into a sitting position. She would take any and every opportunity to hold her daughter; even when the girl was a woman, a wife and mother with children of her own, she would still be Celina's baby.


April 23, 2009

In Which Falidor Figures It Out

March 25, 1157

Falidor had been a married man for all of three months, two weeks, and one day--not that he was counting, of course--and yet, he still could not claim to know his wife in anything other than the biblical sense. As he stared into the dying embers of the fire, he tried to list all of the things he knew about her, and found himself struggling considerably.

She was the second of five surviving children, and the fourth of ten altogether. Her birthday was the twenty-seventh of May, but he only remembered it because it was exactly a week after Thetis's; he wondered whether or not Ailede knew when his birthday was. She hated the smell of flowers, the songs of birds, the touch of spring grass on her bare feet...

"So are you planning on making yourself at all useful today, or aren't you?" Ailede suddenly demanded of him from the bed.

Sighing, he pulled himself to his feet, one eyelid suddenly rather heavy; either he was more annoyed with her than he thought he was, or he was regaining his childhood lazy eye. A part of him wanted to point out to her that she wasn't doing anything at that moment either--and really, hadn't done anything since they'd moved into their own house--but he didn't want to upset her. When Ailede was upset, she screamed like a banshee, and, quite frankly, Falidor could do without the resulting headache.

"Ailede, it's my day off," he insisted.

Ailede rolled her eyes. "It's always your day off. Maybe you should work more and make us some more money."

"I make more money than your father does," Falidor reminded her, "if you couldn't tell by the fact that this house is so much nicer than his."

She scowled at him; he'd never found her to be particularly pretty, but the occasional, sincere smile would have certainly helped. "Maybe I would have taken that into consideration if the house hadn't been a wedding gift from his lordship--and if he hadn't only given it to you because your sister asked him to."

"True, but I still make more than your father does."

"You could make even more if you worked more," she pressed once more.

He was tempted to tell her that he could get away from her if he worked more, but he then decided against that; he didn't want any trouble.

"So... is that a new dress?" asked Falidor, making an attempt at a pleasant conversation as he set himself down on the bed beside her.

"Yes," Ailede replied. "I bought it in the village last week. I hate it."

He compensated for his drooping eyelid by raising his brow. "Then why did you buy it?"

"Because it was the most expensive one in the shop, of course!" she sighed, as if it were the most obvious answer to any question ever asked. "If you can afford the most expensive thing in a shop, you buy it, regardless of whether or not you like it."

Falidor frowned; she didn't seem to understand that he was the one who had to work for that money. "Or you could save the money and buy something even more expensive in the future."

This seemed to spark her interest.

"Oh?" she cooed, a rare enthusiasm in her voice. "What sort of thing are you thinking of?"

Falidor groaned inwardly. "I don't know, something. Ailede, I can deal with the fact that you tricked me into marrying you, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't throw my money away by buying things you don't even want."

"All the more incentive for you to make more, don't you think?"

He'd tried to like her--he really had--but she was just so damn unlikeable. Oh well; he was stuck with her now, and all he could do was chastise himself for being an idiot. Maybe he would get lucky; maybe God would pity him and strike him with a bolt of lightning or something.

"We also could have had more money if you'd gotten yourself over to see Lady Alina about that maid's job before Nora did," he pointed out to her.

Ailede frowned. "She needs it more. Besides, it won't be long before I can't work anyway."

What in the hell was she talking about? She was young, healthy, and perfectly capable of holding a job. Well... she'd been a little sick, maybe, but it was only the occasional bout of nausea. And she'd put on a little weight, but surely by actually forcing herself to go out and help him earn some money, she could easily lose it. And the odd eating habits of late... well, that was probably just her trying to annoy him.

Either way, she was still certainly an employable young woman.

Clearly exasperated, she stood. "Figure it out, genius; figure it out."

And so she strolled out the door and left him to his own devices. For this, he was grateful; it was much easier to think when she was out of the room, and...

Oh dear good God.


April 20, 2009

In Which Celina's Heartache Deepens

March 3, 1157

Celina didn't feel as though she should be here, in her husband's study, while he was working. Why should she? It wasn't as if he liked having her around, was it? Would he have slept with Geneva if he did? She doubted it.

But for some reason, he'd asked her to come; she didn't feel right about it, but if nothing else he was the father of her children, and she did owe him for that much. If he wanted her to sit with him while he worked, and she had nothing better to do, then why not?

They rarely saw each other anymore. As unwifely as it might have been, she made a point to avoid him whenever possible; if he did not love her, then why should she subject him to herself? She spent most of her time in the nursery, sewing gowns for the new baby while Lorn played on the floor. Sometimes, Alina would bring Raia over to play, and while their children squabbled over who got to be the giraffe, the two women would just sit in a comforting silence. Alina was fully aware of what had happened--in fact, she had been the one to discover it--so she felt no need to press Celina any further, and for that, she was grateful.

She loved this man, and for a time, he had led her to believe that he loved her as well. But perhaps she had been kidding herself; what could this Olympian of a man possibly see in a plain little thing like her? She could only take comfort in the fact that he had not exercised his passions within the home they shared... or had he?

A faint, feminine knock resonated from the door.

"Who is it?" Dalston inquired of the visitor, suddenly looking up from whatever it was he was doing.

"It's me," replied an all-too-familiar voice; Celina couldn't help but feel slightly nauseous.

Her husband sighed. She wondered why--perhaps he would have rather his mistress called while his wife was otherwise occupied?

Geneva's violet eyes flickered in Celina's direction as she strode into the room, then settled on Dalston with intent--as to what that intent was, Celina had no doubts.

"Dalston, there's something you should know," she muttered darkly, continuing to send sidelong glances Celina's way; naturally, the duchess felt rather uncomfortable.

Dalston nodded, seemingly keen to avoid that piercing violet gaze for some reason or another. "All right. Tell me quickly, and then I would appreciate it if you left; I'm quite busy."

There was a curt note in his voice that Celina had never heard before. Perhaps he was angry; perhaps she should leave.

Geneva seemed to be of that same opinion. "Celina, dear, maybe you should go check up on Lorn--"

"Anything you have to say to me, you can say to my wife," snapped Dalston. "Now, out with it, Geneva; I don't have all day."

She spoke in barely more than a whisper, but Celina heard both words as though they had been heralded by a chorus of angels... or demons. The first word, she knew from her grammar lessons as a girl, was a contraction--namely, a pronoun combined with a verb. The second was an adjective, one which she normally saw as a wonderful word, but at that moment, was vulgar as a curse.

At the sound of that adjective, her heartache only deepened.


April 16, 2009

In Which Roderick's Biological Clock Ticks

February 17, 1157

Roderick had spent his wife's second and third pregnancies cringing in worry over the sex of the babies, but to his great relief, she had born daughters both times. Since he already had a male heir in Ietrin, he could not be bothered to raise another boy--what purpose would that serve? Naroni was not yet large enough for Roderick to establish another dukedom, and he would feel rather guilty about sending away his sons to Dovian monasteries. No, they would simply take up space in the castle until he was forced to set up castles for them somewhere, and then would come the question of their rank--certainly no prince would want to be a mere knight!

But daughters! Every daughter he produced would be a guarantee of an alliance, and since his daughters were both well-bred and beautiful, he would have no trouble finding himself some good ones. He would have to strengthen the his ties within Naroni first, of course--Leara was for Lorn, and Camaline was for Sparron--but who knew what bonds he could make with his future daughters? He would have several of them, he would make sure of it; a king could never have too many daughters.

"Hard to believe she was born a month early, isn't it?" he mused as he took in the sight of Geneva and Camaline together. "If I remember correctly, Ietrin and Leara were both smaller at that age."

Ordinarily, Geneva would have replied verbally, but instead, she simply nodded. Strange, thought Roderick as he drew nearer.

"You're growing much faster than your brother and sister did, aren't you?" he asked of the baby, who in turn gave him a slight smile and a violet-eyed stare. "Feel as though you have to win, don't you?"

Truth be told, Roderick still felt awkward when talking nonsense to Ietrin and Leara, but there was something different about Camaline. She was... well, perhaps not any more intelligent than either of her siblings, but there was a certain maturity about her that he had yet to see in either of the other two. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was definitely something.

Geneva sighed. "She'll have to learn to walk quickly; I don't know how long it will be until she's too heavy to hold."

"Would you like me to hold her for you?" offered Roderick. Just because he wasn't in love with Geneva didn't mean he didn't care about her; no, he had noticed that she hadn't seemed herself lately, and as her friend and husband, he figured the least he could do was take the baby when Geneva complained.


Gently, she lowered little Camaline into his arms. Roderick's gray eyes met the baby's violet--oh, she was so much better behaved than her siblings! And much quieter too; the older ones were still prone to crying and screaming at every opportunity.

Not to mention, Ietrin was still a rather snot-nosed boy.

"So, is your sister pregnant yet?" he inquired of Geneva as she sat herself down on the couch behind him. "And, more importantly, is mine getting married yet?"

"In both cases, not that I know of," she answered softly. "Your sister is not getting married, but she certainly has no qualms about flirting with married men."

Roderick rolled his eyes. "Geneva?"


"Neither do you."

It seemed like the sort of joke that would merit at least a small laugh, but for some reason, she remained silent. He briefly wondered why that might be, but was soon distracted by his older daughter.

"My God, Leara!" he exclaimed. "Get that doll out of your mouth!"

"Roderick..." muttered Geneva, but she quickly trailed off.

"Well, we can't have her chewing on toys forever now, can we?" Roderick insisted. "She might as well learn now. And Ietrin still has that insufferable habit of putting his fingers in his mouth, does he not?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of Geneva shaking her head. "They're babies, Roderick."

"And they're beautiful," he added as he lowered Camaline into her crib. "A beautiful boy, and two beautiful girls. You know, maybe we should start thinking about another one."


April 14, 2009

In Which Dalston's Reputation Precedes Him

February 1, 1157

It felt good to be home, Dalston fully realized as he stepped into his bedchamber. His worrying had likely been needless of course--after all, Celina had experienced no problems during her previous pregnancy--but he would only be entirely relieved when he saw his wife again with his own two eyes, when he placed his hands on her belly of six months. And oh, to sleep next to her again! If ever again came a time when she was unable leave the kingdom, he would certainly not go without her.

He was simultaneously pleased and disappointed to see that she was already asleep. She was comfortable, at least, and secure, and was surely getting the rest she so needed and deserved... but it would have been nice to greet her, touch her, kiss her. He had been without her for far too long now, and suddenly, as he gazed upon her sleeping form, he felt inexplicably reborn.

Beneath the covers, she began to stir.

Slowly, she rose. Had he woken her? He'd taken care to be quiet...

He trembled excitedly, drowning in anticipation of her sweet smile; however, she merely stared. "Oh. Welcome back."

Idiot! he cursed himself silently. He must have woken her!

"I'm sorry, Lina," he apologized as she heaved her pregnant form off of the bed. "I didn't mean to wake you."

She shook her head. "You didn't. I just... woke."

Well, that was reassuring. "I missed you."

Celina didn't reply with words, but with a frown. Was something wrong? Was she not happy to see him?

"I... I'm sure," she choked at last, seemingly intent on avoiding his eyes.

"Is Lorn all right?" he asked concernedly. "The baby?"

"Both are fine."

Frowning, he placed his hand under her chin and gently lift her face so that their eyes met. "And what about you?"

Her lip quivered slightly. "I--I'm fine too."

"You don't seem fine," mused Dalston. Something must have happened... maybe she had fought with Roderick about something? Perhaps he had been trying to arrange a match between Lorn and one of his daughters?

"I am," she insisted stubbornly. "I'm just... going to go check on Lorn and Sparron and Jeda. You're tired from traveling; please don't wait for me."

"Lina..." he sighed. "Lina, in your condition, maybe you shouldn't be walking around unnecessarily..."

She nodded, but nonetheless continued to make her way into the corridor. "You're right. I suppose I might as well sleep in the nursery."

"Lina..." Dalston found himself addressing her again, but it was too late; she had already closed the door behind her.

Something was wrong. He would have thought she'd be pleased to see him, and perhaps would have inquired about the wedding and her relatives. Ordinarily, she would have, he was sure of it; but no, she had been preoccupied with something, perhaps some sort of dark, terrible knowledge...

That was it.

She knew.