November 29, 2009

In Which Bernver's Spirits Are More than Dampened

March 2, 1164

He knew he was going to be late for supper if he took much longer, but Bernver was determined not to return home without some sort of gift for his wife. It was the fifteenth anniversary of the day they met, and he had always considered that to be even more important than the anniversary of their actual marriage; how could he have married her if he'd never met her in the first place?

He could remember his first glimpse of her as if it were yesterday. She'd been a mere girl of not yet fourteen, wildflowers braided in her coal-black hair. Wildflowers... he meant to bring her wildflowers.

There had to be a patch of them somewhere. He'd seen many a young man from around these parts present a sweetheart with a bouquet, and he doubted such lazy boys would bother wandering far. Indeed, it surprised him that they would even wander this far--perhaps he was better off searching nearer the villages.

The only splash of blue he could see was the sky; other than that, the world was green and brown. Surely any nearby flowers would jump to his eye the second he caught sight of them, the deep reds, the sunny yellows, the subtle violets...

Ah-ha! From the base of one of the trees, a glimpse of color caught his gaze. Crimson... golden... lavender... a whole rainbow in one bouquet! A fine centerpiece it would make; his daughter would love it for its beauty, his little sons would love it for its colors, and, most importantly, Avine would positively adore it. He couldn't wait to head home and see her smile.

Grinning to himself, he made his way toward the patch of flowers. Nothing--absolutely nothing--could dampen his spirits now.

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 27, 2009

In Which Raia Learns What Cold Is

February 23, 1164

Raia gradually slowed from a run to a brisk walk. She'd been sprinting for long enough that she felt warm enough by this point to give herself a well-deserved break. Perhaps she would have to stop at Had's house, though; somehow, she didn't think her mother would be too pleased to learn that Willott's friendly, yet rambunctious dog had completely shredded Raia's cloak.

Maybe she could borrow a cloak from Had. It would be a little short for her, but she supposed it would still be better than nothing. If she was lucky, perhaps Had's father would lend her a horse too, so she could get home a little faster; if she was really, really lucky, it would be the chestnut one with the mark that looked like a smiling face on his forehead--

"Forests no safe for Dovans no more, yes?"

She knew that voice.

"You!" Raia exclaimed, catching sight of the boy seated at the base of a nearby tree. God, this was the last thing she needed right now. "Why do you always do that?"

Without turning his head, he shrugged. "What?"

"Just appear out of nowhere like that!"

He didn't answer; from what Raia could judge from his casual manner, however, it was more because he felt it unimportant as opposed to something he didn't know or something he wanted to keep from her. What a silly boy. Shaking her head, she began to trudge toward him. "Aren't you cold?"

The boy cocked his head, as though unsure he had heard correctly. "What is 'cold'?"

...damn. How did one describe 'cold'? "Uh... what winter is. The air in winter, I suppose." It was weak, but it was the best she could do; she hoped he was satisfied.

"You mean... when air is of ice, not fire?"

That was a strange--not to mention, rather grammatically incorrect--way of putting it, but oddly enough, it seemed to work. In its own way, it was almost beautiful--ice in the air. Fire in the air. It was interesting how things a native speaker could not describe could be so aptly and perfectly explained by one who knew so few words. "Yes. Yes, that."

He took a moment to consider, then shook his head. "No bothers. You... cold?"

"Not right now," she assured him. "I was at my grandmother's house, and her friend's dog ate my cloak, so I've been running to keep warm--to keep the fire in the air," she quickly corrected herself in order to suit his poetry.

The strange youth sniffed. "Fire just in Raia-girl; no fire in air now. 'Nyways, you hurry away, yes? Forests no safe for Dovans no more."

Raia scowled. "And why not?"

Again, he didn't respond--this time, his diamond eyes told her that it was not without purpose. However, she was not about to take his silence for an answer; if she truly was in danger, she had the right to know why.

Not wanting to be dismissed as some sort of intellectual inferior who wouldn't understand, Raia hoisted herself onto the origin of the tree's three trunks. With he at his age and she at hers, she knew he would be much taller than she was when and if he chose to stand, and her father had always told her that if one wanted a man to regard him or her, one must be taller than said man--or at least, one must appear to be taller than said man. With this boost, she had gained an additional foot and a half, perhaps even two feet; she doubted the boy could match her in height from the ground.

"Tell me," she insisted.

To her dismay, he ignored her. Frustrated, she tried again. "Tell me! If something's trying to kill me, I should know about it, shouldn't I?"

"I tell you if you say we friends."

Well, that had come from out-of-the-blue.

Regardless, it seemed harmless; he was a nice enough boy, even if he was more than a little odd. "All right. We're friends. Now, tell me what the danger is."

The boy's chin tilted toward the sky; even from behind him, she could see the sparkling of her gem-like eyes. They might as well have been afternoon stars. "See... they... family..."

"Your family?"

He nodded. "They can no leave with Dovans in valley. Dovans leave, they leave; Dovans stay, they kill Dovans, then leave."

It was a simple enough explanation--so simple it was positively lacking. She'd been much more impressed with the idea of ice and fire in the air. "I'll warn my father about the killing part, but other than that... that doesn't make much sense. Where do they want to go? And why can't they go if we stay?" She had more questions than that, but she didn't want to bombard him with more than a couple at once.

Once gain, he took his time before settling on a reply. Then, finally, he muttered, "Make no sense to you. Make no sense to me neither."

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 24, 2009

In Which Evaleith Opens an Oft-Trodden Path

February 4, 1164

The inn was not as busy as Evaleith might have hoped, but at least it was not empty. An unoccupied place did have its advantages, especially when one knew that one would have to sleep there that night, but she could not pay for a bed on her own. She would have to get a different way--the same way she had fed herself for years, the same way she had always bounced between buildings from night to night, the same way she had put herself on that ship and made it all the way to Naroni.

The innkeeper met her gaze and frowned. "A little cold to be out without a cloak, wouldn't you say?"

Evaleith shrugged. She had traded her cloak for some bread about half an hour prior, but he didn't need to know that. "I'm fine."

He appeared unconvinced; hastily, she looked away. "Can I help you with something?"

"Seoth!" scolded a mildly drunken man from the table by the stairs. "Your wife's just in the next room, you bastard!"

The man's friends began to laugh; the innkeeper's blue eyes narrowed. "I can throw you out of here, you know!"

"Can you throw me into your wife?"

"Shut up, Florian!" he spat, before turning back to Evaleith. "Now, do you need something, or...?"

She silenced him by pressing her finger to her lips. "One second."

Ignoring his marked confusion, she took a moment to study the inn's patrons. From what she could see, the men at the loudmouth's table were rather better-looking than the ones at the other table, but to her dismay, the two dark-haired men and the blond all wore wedding bands around their fingers. The auburn-haired one did not; she started to approach him, but it wasn't long before one of his friends inquired about his daughter. Anything that could be asked about a child--name, favorite color, general health--provided ample opportunity for conflicting accounts, and that was one thing she did not want to risk. Resigned, she looked to the other table.

Two of them wore rings. Of the other half of the party, one was rather old and did not look the type to go along with such things. The other, however, met her eyes and sent her a wink; he would have to do.

"Well, aren't you a pretty little thing!" the man chuckled as she strode toward him.

Evaleith sniffed. "So I've been told."

"I'm sure. Now, what can I do you for?"

She peered down at him, arching her brows and widening her eyes; she figured she might as well be direct with him. "I need money for a bed tonight."

The man frowned. "What's in it for me?"

"You can share it."

Sending a parting gesture the way of his fellows, he pulled himself to his feet and brushed past her, pressing some cold metal coins into the palm of her hand. "Meet me upstairs," he whispered. She felt his fingers spider their way up her side until they reached her thigh, then he removed his hand and proceeded to the staircase. Somehow, she doubted he had much experience; she may have just earned herself a long, painful night.

Ah, but she could not dwell on such thoughts, she realized as she approached the innkeeper and shoved the coins into his fist. "One bed, please. Forgive me for making you wait, I just needed to talk to my husband."

"Husband?" the innkeeper repeated. "I didn't know Roveln had a wife."

Damn--the man was a regular. Hmmm... "I don't leave the house very often, and he's quite private about his personal life, you know."

"That also explains why you want a bed here when you have a house a minute's walk away."

Did he? "Oh, well... we just want a change of scenery. You know how it is, right?"

The innkeeper rolled his eyes. "Well, you certainly chose the right place for scenery."

"My husband likes this place," Evaleith insisted.

"I'm sure," he sneered. "Look, I'm sorry if you're down on your luck, but you have to understand that I'm trying run a clean establishment here, all right? I don't want the beds in this inn being used for any funny business."

He'd hit the nail right on the head; it was imperative that she didn't let him know that. "I don't like what you seem to be implying, sir."

The innkeeper sighed. "If I'm much mistaken, then I'm sorry, but you really can't blame me for finding this scenario rather odd. Now, run along, before I change my mind and give you back your money."

Nodding, she scurried up the stairs and made her way into the bedroom. She would have to warn the man to keep it down.

"What took you so long, girlie?" he teased as she stepped inside. "Old Seoth giving you grief?"

Evaleith closed her eyes. "If he asks, you're my husband."

"And what would my wife's name be?"

"I'll leave that up to you," she muttered as she released her curls from her braid. "Can you untie my dress for me?"

He smirked. "Don't think I won't."

She turned around and allowed him to lay his eager hands upon her. His clumsy fingers fumbled with the strings--even more reason to suspect he didn't have much of an idea as to what he was doing. If the bed wasn't warm and comfortable, she would know she had been cheated.

Finally, the dress fell to the floor; the man's hand, however, hovered over her back. "So beautiful," he breathed into her ear. "So magnificent..."

She didn't know how much more of this she could take.

Eager to get it over with, she turned on her heel and put on her most charming smile. "Let's just... proceed to the fun stuff, shall we?"

The man emitted a wicked laugh--this was really getting to be too easy. "Can't say 'no' to that now, can I?"

"Can't imagine why you would."

With all the giddiness of a boy half his age, he dipped her in his arms, planting kisses on the front of her neck, drumming his fingers against the small of her back. The glide of his tongue across her breasts sent a familiar tremor throughout her skeleton; that path had been trodden many more times than she herself had years.

Finally, a distinct hardness pressed itself against her thigh; she giggled throatily, then pushed him to the bed and slid herself between his open knees.

"All right, Tiger--time to take off those clothes and get your money's worth!"

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 21, 2009

In Which Oswald Is Resigned to a Partial Valediction

January 31, 1164

It was her birthday. Had she lived, she would have been twenty-nine years old.

But alas, she had not, and was not. She would be forever ingrained in Oswald's heart and memory as a woman of twenty-eight. Never would he see a wrinkle upon her face... never would he see a strand of silver in her blond hair...

Oswald had often heard men expressing their reservations about their wives and children advancing in age, but he couldn't claim to understand them. It seemed to him that such fools had never considered that the alternative to growing old was dying young.

Twenty-eight was young--very young. He tried to think back to when he himself had been twenty-eight, nine years earlier. He and Athalia had been married for a mere four and a half years. Only two of their seven children had been born. Hell, Roderick had still been in Dovia at the time! Just thinking about it made thirty-seven suddenly feel a creaking old age.

And yet, those nine years had not been long enough. Only three of his children would grow to remember their mother; his youngest two would never even know her at all. They would run to his chamber when roused from their nightmares, throw their faces into his shoulder and soak him with their tears, whispering the command of "Tell me about her". Then, he himself would begin to cry.

But Athalia would not have wanted this. She would have wanted for him and the children to be smiling, happy--at least, as happy as they could be. He was not through with his mourning, but Athalia would not have wanted it to stretch to the end of his life. There had been no words for the love that they had shared, but in the end, they had both been practical, down-to-earth people. She would hold his heart, but her ghost would not consume him; after a time, he would have to pick up where he had left off, go about his life as best he could, pull through for his children and his people. He would probably have to marry again, but it would be a match of convenience, and nothing more; his children would need a mother, and eventually, his people would need a queen, but Oswald himself would not need a love.

He already had one.

Bowing his head, he poured himself a goblet of wine and gently swished it about. He held the glass to his nose and sniffed, then slowly pushed it forward as though toasting some imagined company.

"Happy birthday, my love," he whispered. "I wish you could be here to see it."

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 17, 2009

In Which Searle Is Graced by the Presence of an Angel

WARNING: This post is not for the faint of heart. You'll see what I mean. I'm sure some people will have more of a problem with this, er... particular issue than others, but I'm not trying to be political or anything, I've just had this idea in my head for God knows how long, and there's been plenty of (probably forgotten) build-up, so... yeah. Proceed at your own risk.

December 14, 1163

"She's beautiful, Searle," breathed his older sister from the couch, her husband's arm slung over her shoulder. "Just... beautiful."

Cambrin nodded in agreement, but there was something in his eye that differed from Lileina's. Perhaps he had sensed Searle's discomfort; Searle himself hoped this wasn't the case. "Searle? Are you all right?"

Damn. He had.

Searle gently lifted his daughter to his shoulder, careful to support her head. She had his father's own violet eyes, as he had been secretly praying against since the day Danthia had announced her pregnancy; he did not think he could bear to live in the same castle as those eyes again. It was difficult enough living in the same castle as his mother's eyes, set upon his own face, reminiscent enough of both of his parents to bestow in him an almost religious aversion to reflective surfaces. "I'm fine," he lied, "just... a little tired, that's all."

Lileina frowned. "I can take her for a while, if you want."

"Oh, no. Really, I'm all right," insisted Searle. Then, as an afterthought, he added, "Thank you for your concern, though."

He had barely finished acknowledging her before she had planted herself upon Cambrin's lap, allowing him to run his hands up and down her back as she inhaled a nose-full of whatever spice he wore in his hair. Searle rolled his eyes; as much as he loved both of them separately, he hated to see them together. He had half a mind to ban all happy couples from his castle henceforth. It was too painful to see others with what he had once had and lost.

Or no... he hadn't lost it. It had been taken from him.

He hated to see them as they were, with all their touching and kissing and snuggling. He could never decide if it made him want to cry or vomit--perhaps it did both. It just wasn't fair. How had their father managed to choose for Lileina someone she would grow to love, while he got stuck with a girl with whom he could only be friends, and that at best. He supposed he did pity Danthia somewhat--he did like her as a person, and felt rather guilty about depriving her of the only love she could attain without becoming an adulteress--but she couldn't understand. He hoped for her sake that she never would.

Cambrin and Lileina did not look as though they would relent with their display any time soon; defeated, Searle resigned himself to counting the floor tiles, starting from the far wall. One... two... three...

"Searle?"

He knew that voice.

Mindful of the baby, Searle turned around to come face-to-face with his twin sister. He had not seen her since her wedding; he was rather shocked that their father, who had stationed himself in the front room, had allowed her entrance. "Aren't you a sight for sore eyes?"

That she was. He took a moment to memorize her, as he did not know when he would see her again; though Riona had haunted his thoughts and dreams since he was a child, he marveled that he had forgotten her magnificence. Or maybe he hadn't--maybe she had simply grown even more radiant in their time apart. If that was the case, he would not have believed it had he not seen it for himself. Their mother's eyes sparkled as she gazed upon him and shyly smiled. Hers was the only face upon which those eyes were not a blasphemy.

"This is Tivalia?" she cooed, leaning toward the baby, exposing the bare flesh of her swan-like neck. Was she taunting him? How he longed to run his fingers against the curve of her shoulder, press tender kisses under her ear; surely she knew that.

"Oh, Searle!" swooned Riona, her sacred eyes still resting upon the baby. "She's lovely! She has Father's eyes!"

How could she say that with such a smile? How could she look into those eyes and not want to hang herself? Did she not remember anything?

She seemed to shield her breasts with her arms as she reached to stroke the infant's face. Silly girl. He was not other men, who stared shamelessly at such a perfect bosom as though it were a separate entity; to him, it was only a part of the whole, no greater or lesser than any of her other features. Whether he saw all of her or not, she was nothing short of pure divinity. His father had pushed an angel from the heavens, and he had caught her before she hit the ground. It was not right that she had been so ruthlessly sold to her husband.

She looked away; he looked at her. He would not let pass an opportunity to engrave the sight of her upon his mind's eye, to absorb this new beauty and splendor even vaster than that which he remembered. As was their fate, she would not be with him long.

And as was his fate, at least she would be with him in his dreams.

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 16, 2009

In Which Deian Gains a New Insight

November 24, 1163

"So it's settled, then?" cooed Ylwa as she rested her head against Deian's shoulder. "We head west next month?"

A hungry smile emerging on his lips, Deian nodded; he could almost taste the savory flesh now. "Indeed, my love. These Dovians are not exactly of a pleasing flavor, and the supply we brought back with us last time is nearing the end."

"Perhaps we should simply stay in Castile; after all, all creatures do live where they can feed, do they not?"

"Ah, but you know we cannot leave this place for long," he muttered, placing a quick kiss on her cheek.

She seemed to be growing restless, he could tell from her sudden shudder. "If They haven't come for us now, I think we can assume They never will."

Deian sighed, running his fingers along the curve of her side in an attempt to open her to reason. "Love, They will come--"

"Shut up. And do stop that--we are being watched."

Hastily, Deian looked up; indeed, their older son stood at their feet, staring down at them with as unfathomable an expression as ever. "Your senses must be failing you in your old age, Father."

"Oh, get lost!" Deian snapped.

Barely repressing his impatience, Veor sniffed. "Believe me, there is nothing I would rather do; however, Vron desires a word."

Humans, Deian had noticed over the years, were fools for their sons; he himself, however, was not about to be bossed around by a product of his own bodily fluids. "And you may give him this one--no."

Veor sighed. "It's about the Dovians."

Was it? Well, if that was the case, he knew what the problem was. "How many times must I tell you and your brother both to keep your little mongrel bastards in check? Especially your nephew--next time we run out of food, I say we eat him."

"This has nothing to do with any of those children," his son insisted. "Vron didn't give me any details. He just said to bring you to him."

Nodding, Deian glanced back toward Ylwa. "We'll continue when I return," he assured her with a wink.

She shrugged. "If I'm still in the mood, that is."

"You're always in the mood."

If she replied, he did not hear it; as soon as he had said his piece, he had stood and proceeded to follow his son further toward the heart of the forest. "This had better be worth my time."

"I'm just the messenger, Father; if you want to kill anyone in the end, start with Vron."

"I shall. I imagine he would make a better meal than you would anyway."

"I should hope so."

Deian snorted, though more out of indulgence than true amusement. "Fortunately, I won't have to taste either of your disgusting hides; how do you feel about heading west to hunt next month?"

"As long as Vron stays with the kids this time," agreed Veor.

Catching sight of a flash of magenta hair in the distance, Deian nodded. "After this, rest assured that he will."

They continued along their path for another minute or so until they were just behind Vron. His younger son did not react to their approach, but at the same time, Deian knew that Vron was well aware of their presence.

"All right, Brother," Veor addressed the other. "I've brought Father."

Vron turned around, glancing at his brother through narrowed, unimpressed eyes. "So I gathered from the scent of you both. Don't tell me what I already know."

The older of the two scowled. "You're welcome."

Deian didn't have time for this. If he cared to see some brotherly rivalry, he might have subtly suggested something more interesting for them to argue about. "Look, I don't have all day--what do you want?"

Vron's crimson eyes locked with Deian's own. "Father, I will be blunt. This morning, I had a vision."

"A vision?" he repeated. Now he was interested; never yet had any of them had a vision that had failed to come true. "A vision of what?"

His son tilted his eyes toward the leafy canopy above them, as though looking to the heavens for further confirmation--as if he needed it. "The Dovians. They are what is holding us back; our Ancestors will not come for us until the Dovians have left this place."

Deian's gaze flickered to and fro as splashes of red human blood conquered his sight. Even in all his wisdom, he could not help but believe that it was truly there; he could even smell it. "...I see."

NEXT CHAPTER: