October 31, 2009

In Which Holladrin Ponders the Power of Blood

April 25, 1163

"Well, don't you have the biggest, bluest eyes of all the babies I know," Florian informed Holladrin's daughter, leaning toward her as she gazed up at him reverently. "Your mama has nice blue eyes too--but they're not your blue! And you know what? Your papa has hazel eyes. So... where did you get those eyes of yours, girl? Hmm?"

"Florian!" Holladrin scolded, though she couldn't help but laugh as she gasped his name; some things just refused to change! "You've been told a thousand times--she has Octavius's mother's eyes!"

The steward's eyes narrowed. "I hope you realize that's a waste of a good joke, your majesty."

She couldn't help it; she giggled. "And I hope you realize that I'm the only woman around who appreciates your sense of humor enough to let you go about questioning her baby's paternity for all to hear."

"Indeed I do," he assured her, continuing to amuse the baby with rather forced-looking faces. "Now, help me think of all the men in this kingdom who have eyes like this little girl. The only name that comes to my mind right now is Lady Alina."

Holladrin rolled her eyes. "You guessed it; her ladyship is the father of my child."

"Damn, wish I'd been there to see that," sighed Florian regretfully. "Oh well, I suppose I can always catch the next show, hmmm? I must say, if I were her ladyship, I'd much rather sleep with you than his lordship anyway, so I'm sure she'll be back for seconds."

A devious grin crept onto Holladrin's face. "Sorry? Didn't quite hear you... except, that is, for the part about you sleeping with his lordship. Anyway, I trust I can always... catch the next show, as I believe you said?"

Florian shot a dark glare her way. "Touche, my lady--touche."

Chuckling to herself, she let him kiss the baby on the forehead, then carried her to the cradle and gently tucked her in for her nap. The baby was so peaceful when she slept, Holladrin noted; she wished she would have been able to see that firsthand eight days earlier, when the girl had been born.

She'd fallen ill again a few hours after the labor. No one had been expecting it--she'd been fine the whole time she'd been living in Naroni. She spent a good week confined to her bed, her husband and the twins frequently running about, bringing her soup and water, showing her the baby, holding her hand and singing to her. Finally, she was well enough to stand, laugh, run about, and--most importantly--spend time with her daughter.

For as long as Holladrin could remember, her mother had always been periodically ill--not unlike herself now. She'd been ten years old when her mother had died; her mother had been forty. Holladrin herself was nearly twenty-five, meaning that if she herself were to succumb at forty, her daughter would be a mere girl of fifteen.

More frightening yet, however, was the notion that her daughter might inherit the illness herself. Nightly, Holladrin prayed that she wouldn't; perhaps that, coupled with any luck, might strip this curse of the power to claim yet another generation. Still... it was a troubling thought. Troubling indeed.

"My lady?"

"Yes?" answered Holladrin, hastily spinning on her heel and meeting the steward's eye.

He cocked his head, frowning as his cool blue-gray gaze studied her features. "Are you all right?"

"Yes," she insisted, perhaps a little too fervently, "indeed, I am. Thank you very much for asking. Now... if you would excuse me, I should very much like a moment alone with my baby."


October 28, 2009

In Which Lyraina Plays a Different Game

March 16, 1163

"No fair!" cried Had as Lyraina laughed victoriously. "You're not supposed to hit that hard!"

Lyraina shook her head. "You know the rules; the winner gets to hit the loser. They don't say how hard the winner's allowed to hit, so that just means the winner can hit the loser as hard as she wants."

"You tell him, girly!" chuckled her papa from the fire. At the sound of his voice, her grandmother appeared quite disappointed; Lyraina concluded that she herself had been about to say something similar, but now had to remain silent so as to not appear to agree with him. That did seem like something her grandmother would think: Never let a man know you agree with him--it goes to his head, and before you know it, he thinks he's smarter than you!

"Oh, come on, Had! It's just a game," she did her best to assure him. "It's nothing to get all mopey over, you know."

Had remained silent, simply rubbing his arm with his other hand while his teal eyes glowered up at her.

"What? Hurt by a girl?"

Immediately, he let go of his injured arm and laughed. "Of course not, silly! It's just... you girls and your 'it's just a game'. It's not 'just a game' to us boys, you know--it all counts for something."

"Think it makes up for the fact that you're all shorter?" Lyraina teased.

Had contorted his features into a rather pained-looking face. "You've seen adults, haven't you? We boys get to be taller than you girls in the end, you know!"

"Yes, I'm sure the day will come when you tower over me!" she giggled; given the good number of inches she'd always had on him, the thought was absurd. She squatted and stared up at him, her eyes wide and adoring. "Oh, Had, you're sooooo tall! When did this happen?"

The boy scowled. "Shut up--you're not that much taller than me, you know." He shuffled toward her so that they were nearly touching; if she'd wanted to, she could have easily kissed him. "See?"

"Not really," she informed him. "The view must be different from down there."


Boys! They were just so easy! "Even if you do get taller, I'll probably still be taller than you," Lyraina told Had matter-of-factually. "My papa's quite a bit taller than your papa."

"But my mama's taller than your mama," he protested. "What if we end up being the same height?"

"Then you'll still never be taller than me."

Had opened his mouth to argue, but before he could say anything, Lyraina's papa called, "Had, I'd better take you home now; I promised your mother I'd have you back for your supper."

"Why can't he have supper with us?" Lyraina demanded.

"Because his mother wants him to have supper at his house," her father restated--then, with a devilish twinkle in his eye, he added, "besides, I'm sure you'll be eating enough suppers with him when you're older, hmm?"

She raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Her father simply laughed; meanwhile, her grandmother's forehead hit the table.

"Bye Lyraina," Had bade her, pulling her close for a quick hug. "Thanks for having me over today."

Lyraina felt her face grow warm; perhaps she was catching whatever her brother and sister had? "You're welcome, Had. Thanks for coming."

Her father shot the two of them a dark glare. "Don't you touch my daughter before you marry her, you hear?"

"Ewww!" they exclaimed in unison.

"Oh, they say that now," sighed her papa to his mother-in-law as he made his way around the table.

"Shut up and get the boy out of here already, you great useless dolt!" Lyraina's grandmother snapped at him.

"Yes, your majesty. Come along, Had."

Lyraina watched as Had scrambled to the corner of the room to fetch his cloak, then hurried outside after her father. She was still rather disappointed that he wasn't staying for supper--and still trying to figure out what her father had meant with his cryptic comment.

"Men!" moaned her grandmother from the table. "Good luck trying to find a damned mule with less of a brain than any one of them! Let me tell you something, girl--there's only one part of a man's body that was ever of any use to anyone, and you won't be catching a glimpse of that until it's too late and you're already married to the rest of him!"

Frowning, Lyraina shrugged. "I don't know, Grandmama; I think they're funny."


October 25, 2009

In Which Falidor Hears Bad News Put to Ill Use

February 22, 1163

"I just--just--it's not fair!" Ailede choked at last, her tiny fists balled as though she desired nothing more than to pick a fight with God Himself. "It's like--just--one day someone's there, and you think they'll be there the next day too, but..."

"I know," Falidor whispered, trying to assure his wife as best he could.

She paid him no heed; he didn't blame her. If nothing else, she needed the time to set her thoughts straight. "And they didn't even come to tell me themselves! They sent the neighbor with the news! They probably aren't even grieving themselves, and they couldn't have bothered to tell me--his sister! Their sister--their daughter! Did they want me to be as uncomfortable as possible?"

"I think the discomfort is a given, dear," he muttered under his breath. "It's never easy, losing a loved one. I know--"

"Oh, what do you know?" she wailed snappishly; startled, Falidor began to gradually edge away. "At least all your dead went slowly; it was no surprise to you when they were finally gone! You'd been expecting them to go for months--years! But how could I have seen this coming?"


He stopped speaking, as it dawned on him that she may have had a point there. Maybe he didn't know exactly how she felt. Maybe he couldn't truly empathize... could he? "Maybe you're right. I'm sorry, Ailede--for everything. For your loss. I had no idea you and your brother were so close."

"Oh, don't be sorry!" she scolded him with a sniff, the last of her tears finally streaming from her face. "It's not like it was your fault, stupid. And we weren't really that close, it's just... he was my brother, you know?"

Falidor nodded; even if they didn't always agree, he couldn't imagine losing Ceidrid or Rifden. Then again, they had always been fairly close... but maybe that was in part due to the fact that their parents had always been laughing, smiling, loving? Ailede and Senwick's parents could not possibly have been any more different than Falidor's own--and maybe that alone merited even greater sympathy from him.

"I'm going to start cooking supper, all right? Maybe it will help me take my mind off of this."

"Fair enough. Don't strain yourself."

It was a delicate, tragic situation--yet, Falidor could not help but smile as Ailede made her way out of the bedroom. For once, it seemed that his wife actually did have some depth to her, did care about someone other than herself. Maybe it had been in her all along, and it took an unfortunate incident such as thing to bring to light that side of her; that was a shame, but perhaps knowing this, he could now grow to like her. Perhaps he could even grow to love--

"Oh, by the way, I'm pregnant again."


October 21, 2009

In Which Severin Tells Danthia Something About Men

January 1, 1163

"Thank you again for your hospitality, my lord," Danthia acknowledged with a slight smile; it seemed that her husband preferred that she do the talking for both of them, though he did look to be in somewhat better spirits than at any point over the course of his stay. "Christmas here was lovely. You have the most wonderful children, and I'm sorry for imposing."

"Believe me, you didn't impose," Severin assured her, the memory of Laralita still firmly rooted in his mind. "It was our pleasure. Thank you for coming; I'm glad to hear that your stay was comfortable."

These stiff salutations were not the sort he would have preferred, though he felt it rude to say so aloud. Severin was the sort of man who bade friends farewell with jokes and embraces; however, despite Searle's relatively elevated mood, it still seemed necessary to weigh each and every word and gesture while in the boy's presence.

Even Raia seemed to sense it, he was acutely aware. His other children, as well as their mother, had given their farewells to the guests as they had left the breakfast table, but his eldest had chosen to accompany them to the front room. Perhaps he should have objected in the best interests of her innocence, but now that he thought about it, he saw little point in sheltering the girl; no matter what he did, she would eventually have to know how to deal with situations such as these anyway, and there was no sense in postponing the inevitable. At the very least, it relieved him to know that his ordinarily boisterous daughter did have the sensitivity to realize that this was a delicate atmosphere.

"Are you sure you don't wish to stay for New Year's?" inquired Severin, though admittedly more out of politeness than anything else; he wouldn't have minded keeping Danthia there for a while longer, but Searle had been staying with them for months and had yet to make an effort to be anything more than melancholy. The boy permeated gloom as though it were a strong, foul aroma, and it had the whole household rather on edge--for the children's sake, it was best if he left.

Fortunately, Danthia seemed to sense this--and understand it. "Your offer is tempting, but unfortunately, there are probably people in Dovia wondering where we are. We really do need to get home soon, and who knows how long the weather will stay this agreeable? We should get leaving while it's calm."

"Fair enough," he agreed. "I do feel guilty that you won't be enjoying any feasts tonight, however."

"We'll have our own feast when we get home," she assured him. "Won't we, Searle?"

For a moment, Searle didn't say anything--not that Severin had expected he would by this point. His eyes fell to his wife briefly, then--

"Goodbye, Uncle Severin. Goodbye, Raia."

Severin sighed. "Farewell, Searle."

"Goodbye Searle," Raia bade him, but by the time she had finished, he had already turned and started off toward the door.

Shaking his head, Severin gently patted Raia on the shoulder, then approached Danthia. It was true torture to see such a young, amiable girl so resigned; there was life in her, but she had yet to find an opportunity to release it.

"Danthia, before you go, let me tell you something about men," he muttered under his breath, though he doubted Searle would bother listening even if he could hear them. "You've probably figured it out by now, but I shall admit it on Searle's behalf--we're all idiots."


October 18, 2009

In Which Danthia Requests a Favor of Her Friend

December 31, 1162

At the sound of the door slamming shut no sooner than it had been opened, Danthia turned her head to see her husband standing beside her bed, simply staring at her. She couldn't say she had expected him; after all, in the entire time she'd been here, he'd scarcely said a word to her, and his eyes had yet to meet her own. They did not even have rooms on the same floor of the castle.

"Searle?" she addressed him cautiously; thus far, he had only ever responded to her concern with silence, but it seemed to her that it was only a matter of time before his mask of melancholy snapped, giving way to whatever other unpleasant emotions it may have been damming.

As usual, however, he said nothing. Even his eyes were as empty as his mouth--or so she thought before she caught sight of a small tear just as it was pushed aside by a blink.

Was it possible that she was doing him a disservice by walking on eggshells? Maybe he would be better off if she simply tried to talk to him about something--anything. Anything but them, at any rate.

"Uh... so, your twin sister had her baby last month," she muttered as she pulled herself off the bed. "A girl. She named her Cladelia." Again, he did not reply; she hastily added, "For your mother."

Searle's brow twitched. "I know my mother's name."

Startled, Danthia cringed; there was something venomously blunt about his tone. "Yes, well..."

Nothing came after "well", she realized as Searle drummed his fingers across his crossed arm. She closed her mouth and looked him up and down; logically, if she did nothing, he would either speak or leave.

And she was right--he did speak. "Does the baby look much like Riona's husband?"

"I don't know," answered Danthia. "I haven't seen her. I heard the news from a messenger."

A messenger who asked for you, she added bitterly to herself. A messenger who stood there like an idiot until I told him you were out. I've told lots of messengers you were out--I wonder when they'll clue in and figure out that you had no intention of ever coming back?

Again, there was silence; it seemed he had nothing more to say on that subject. But if that was the case, why didn't he change it? Surely he had a reason for coming to her room, and she wasn't about to disillusion herself by thinking he wanted to sleep with her.

The seconds past. Minutes. Then--

"For the love of God, Danthia, why are you here?" he demanded through gritted white teeth. "You're supposed to be back home in Dovia!"

"Oh, well it's nice to see you too," she sniffed. "I thought we were at least friends, Searle."

Her husband scowled. "I thought so too--until you showed up here, that is. A friend would have realized that I need my space. A friend would have stayed home and made sure things were kept running until I got back. I never meant for you to come after me, you know!"

"Stop being an idiot," Danthia scolded; God, why was he being such a child? "You're needed back home. Did you know that your mother rides out every week to see you? How many more times do you think I could have told her that you weren't there? I got a letter from Lileina saying that your mother thinks you've killed yourself and I'm just not telling her--what do you say to that?"

"Well, if that was the case, my mother wouldn't exactly be blameless there, would she?"

She didn't know how to respond to that. Danthia did not know all the details about what had happened between Searle and his parents, other than the fact that he had been involved with another girl. Her father had told her that much. He'd wanted her to know; he'd given her an opportunity to get out if she'd chosen to take it. For his sake, however, she had gone through with the marriage, as she knew it had been her father's plan for many years and the match would serve him well. Now, it seemed as though by she should have taken the chance when it had come. She wanted to love him--she really, really did--but it was painful to love someone who could not even be bothered to attempt to love her.


"Look, Danthia!" he snapped at her; she did not recoil, though she felt a distinct shiver trill from her ears to her spine. "I was going to come back eventually, all right? Just not now--not this soon. Now that you're here, however, I'm obliged to take you back and stay with you. Trust me... you don't want me to stay with you."

Taken aback somewhat, Danthia's back straightened as she looked him in the eye. It seemed that he was trying to avoid her gaze, as he always did--this time, however, she would not let him glance aimlessly about the room. "I never said that."

It seemed he had run out of words--a ridiculous notion, as he had been saving them for months. After a few long, painful moments, however, he seemed to find a few more.

"I didn't want to hurt you, you know," Searle sighed wearily. "You'd be better off without me. If you're willing to chase someone all this way on your own, then you should be with someone capable of loving you."

Danthia shook her head. "Searle..."


"Searle, look at me."

Surprisingly, he did. Trying to keep her face as neutral as possible, Danthia dove into his eyes and told him, "Go to bed, Searle; we have a long journey ahead of us tomorrow."

Searle shifted slightly in protest. "I don't think I can sleep."

"Try to, at least. Please."


"Try," she insisted once again. "If you can't love me... at least sleep. If not for your wife, please--do that much for your friend."


October 15, 2009

In Which Alina's Nephew Gets a Christmas Present

December 25, 1162

"All right, Princess, now that we've given the children their presents, and I've given you yours," Severin began as he wrapped his arms around Alina and pressed himself against her, "out with it; what did you get me?"

Alina giggled. "Mmm... nothing."

His brow furrowed slightly, his eyes narrowing and his mouth curling. "Sorry if I heard wrong, but... nothing?"

"I don't think you quite understood," she teased him with a laugh, lowering her voice in the presence of the children. "When I give you your present... that's what I'll be wearing."

As Alina could have expected, a devious smile conquered his lips. "Well, if you put it that way..."

"We can hear you, you know!" Raia groaned from the couch as she continued to bounce on the cushion, Jadin and Searle on either side of her; by this point, Alina had given up on nagging them about jumping on the furniture. It was a battle she couldn't win.

"Get a room!" cackled Jadin gleefully.

Severin sent a quick wink Alina's way. "Not a bad idea, if I do say so myself. What do you think, Princess?"

"Severin!" she scolded him, turning away as he attempted to kiss her. "The children!"

"They've heard worse, Aunt Alina," her nephew Searle assured her--the younger, blond one, that was, Renata's son. As fond as she was of her nephews, she did have to admit that the fact that they both shared a name with one of her sons did tend to make things confusing. Chaos had ensued even when there had been only one extra Searle, and now, there were two. The alliteration--Searle, second son of a Sadiel sister--was enough to drive anyone mad on its own, but when tripled?

Pushing the tangent out of her head, Alina rolled her eyes. "From you, I presume?"

"I don't see how that's relevant, Aunt Alina." He looked to his cousin for support, but the son of Alina's oldest sister did not turn around; she somehow doubted that he had even been listening.

In fact, it seemed even likelier still that he was not even aware that there was anything to be listening to, and simply did not care. As to exactly what was bothering him, Alina had no idea, but she could see that whatever shadow stirred in his heart was consuming him from the inside out. Severin had mentioned to her that he suspected it had something to do with Searle's recent marriage to Danthia; while Alina hoped for the girl's sake that this wasn't the case, she had to admit that she had yet to find any evidence to the contrary.

On the other hand, she also had no evidence for that theory. In fact, she had no evidence at all; she had half a mind to write Cladelia and demand an explanation, if only she didn't have an eerie feeling that the boy's mother was part of the reason he had come to Naroni in the first place.

Fortunately, she was temporarily relieved from her musings by a knock at the door. "Come in," she requested--almost pleaded--of the person on the other side.

"Falidor, if that's you, you know perfectly well that you are not welcome here today," sighed Severin with a grin of fond exasperation as the steward stepped into the room. "Did I not explicitly command you to stay home and spend Christmas Day with your children?"

Falidor laughed. "And a Happy Christmas to you too, my lord. I'll be gone momentarily--I'm just here to deliver a present, if you will."

"What sort of present?" Alina's husband demanded. "You'd better not be presenting it to me in the manner in which my wife intends to do with hers."

"I shall not even ask what manner that may be," promised Falidor, shuddering. "Anyway, the present in question has come straight from Dovia, and is of your favorite sort--pretty, red-haired, and blue-eyed. Unfortunately for you, however, the name on the label is your nephew's."

From what Alina could see, Searle's gaze did not shift from the window, but he held to young Laveria even more tightly than he had before, as though he meant to use her as a weapon--or a shield.

Falidor cast a quick glance over his shoulder. "Do come in, my lady."

Timidly, none other than Searle's own young wife entered behind the steward. At first, it seemed she saw only her husband, and only through closed, resigned eyes; then, she suddenly remembered where she was and turned on her heel to face Alina and Severin, fumbling into a hasty curtsy. "My lord... my lady..."

"Danthia," they greeted her in unison, before locking eyes and exchanging a brief, panicked glance. While it was true that neither they nor anyone else had any insight in regards to Searle's problem, one thing was painfully clear to both of them; the boy had left Dovia to escape something, and the last thing he needed at the moment was a reminder of that.

Fortunately, Danthia herself did not seem to sense their discomfort. Once again, it appeared that Severin and Alina and everyone else in the room did not truly exist in her universe; there was one star in her sky, and that was her husband.