December 27, 2009

In Which Ren Is Pierced by the Obvious Solution

May 16, 1164

Ren tapped on the door to her father's study, then stepped back and waited for a response. It had been more than half a year since her mother's passing, but it seemed to her that her father was still in mourning; perhaps he always would be. As such, she had taken to treating him with the utmost sensitivity, as being respectful of his grief helped her cope with her own. Maybe she was being selfish in that regard, but she had yet to find any better way to make things easier for the both of them. Her father was not one of her younger siblings, who could be soothed by mere cuddles and lullabies.

"Who is it?" called her father's voice from the other side of the door.

She inhaled deeply; as much as she loved her father, his once warm presence had become a stifling cocoon of misery. "It's me."

A sigh of relief could be heard from the study. "Ah, Ren! Just one minute, dear--I'm with Lady Felonis."

Lady Felonis was here again? How many times had she visited in these past months? Far too many for Ren's taste. While she had nothing personal against Lady Felonis, there was something suspicious about her now frequent intrusions; she could not recall that woman and her father ever being close friends until recently.

"So... July, then?" her ladyship's light voice echoed through the wing like the pounding of a battle drum. Ren raised an eyebrow. What on earth could her father and Lady Felonis possibly be setting a date for...

She cringed as the obvious solution pierced her in the heart like a flaming arrow. They couldn't possibly... could they? Would he? How dare she! Why? Oh, her poor mother! That vile witch!

"I was thinking maybe the fifth," her father agreed, the wound in her heart widening with each barbed word. "What about your children? I would accommodate all of them, of course."

"Well, the twins will certainly come with me, but I believe I shall give Jedaline and Searle the choice of staying with Nythran if they so choose; they are rather attached to Felonis."

"I see. Regardless, they are certainly welcome here if they would prefer."

A stepfamily--not just a stepmother, but a whole bloody family! Ren had to admit that it had only been a matter of time before her father found a new bride, but one who already had her own gaggle of screaming brats? And had it been too much to hope that Ren herself would have been married and gone before her father took a second wife?

It seemed that it had. She would have to witness her mother's replacement firsthand. What greater pain could there be than watching her baby siblings toddle toward Lady Felonis with an excited squeal of "Mama!"? It seemed there would not even be time to tell them about their real mother before this false one filled that niche in their eyes. She would have to light a candle for her mother tonight--perhaps she would make her father do the same.

Unable to stomach the thought of the two of them alone together, Ren pushed open the door and stepped inside. To her great relief, there was quite a bit of physical distance between the two of them; she also noticed that her father seemed reluctant to meet his betrothed's eye. She was not quite sure what to make of this.

Her father's back was turned, so it was Lady Felonis who noticed her first. She greeted her with a smile, but Ren thought this rather too familiar. "Good day, Surenica."

Ren stiffened. "Good day, my lady." Who did this woman think she was, addressing her by name? She was not her stepmother yet!

Lady Felonis nodded, then turned back to Ren's father. "Anyway, Oswald, I should probably leave before it gets dark. Why don't you ride out to Felonis around this time next week?"

He remained motionless; the fact that he remained standing was Surenica's only assurance of the fact that he was still breathing. "I do believe I shall. Thank you for the invitation."

Well, at the very least, she wouldn't be here.

"Oh, it's my pleasure," Lady Felonis assured him. "I shall have the cook prepare your favorite meal."

"I eagerly anticipate it."

"I likewise. Now, farewell, Oswald, Surenica."

Ren's father nodded. "Farewell, Meraleene. Have a pleasant ride!"

"As you wish it, I shall."

She lightly brushed her lips against his cheek, then stepped around the pair of them and filed out the door. Ren dared not blink until it had was firmly shut. Even after, she listened until the woman's footsteps had faded from the corridor, then turned to face her father.

"It's rather soon, don't you think?" she demanded, biting her lip as she spat the last syllable. As little as she cared to chastise her father, to avoid doing so was more difficult than she had expected.

Her father sighed. "Ren..."

"Father!"

Her father's shoulders arched in discomfort. "Ren, I do think it rather do soon, but I cannot be two parents at once, nor do I think it fair to expect you to mother your younger siblings. If your Aunt Holladrin was still living here, I would not feel this haste, but the fact of the matter is that I have young children who need a mother-figure in their life; likewise, Lady Felonis has young children in sore need of a father."

Ren sniffed. "So it's just for the sake of convenience, then?"

"Of course," he replied, his mouth collapsing into a broken frown. "I have no idea how Meraleene feels about me, but do you really think I could love so soon after the death of your mother? In fact, it is out of love for your mother that I would take a second bride; she would not want her children without a mother's love."

"I doubt she will love any of us as her own," dismissed Ren, rather hurt by his cold logic. "And Mother loves us regardless--you said so yourself!"

Her father shook his head. "Yes, it's more complicated than that, Ren. Please don't hate me for this."

Trying to smile, Ren leaned to toward him and perched her head over his shoulder, engulfing him in a reassuring hug. "I could never hate you, Father--you know that."

"I know," he agreed. "Thank you."

NEXT CHAPTER:

December 21, 2009

In Which Evaleith's Hope Is Shattered

April 19, 1164

"No, don't cry..." Ceidrid urged gently as he rubbed her shoulder in a vain attempt to comfort her. "I know it's hard, but..."

Evaleith didn't want to hear it; she got that he was trying to be nice, but that didn't give him the right to tell such lies. "You don't know anything! She's been gone for so long, and I finally find her and she denies everything just so she can keep her perfect new family free of me!"

The boy sighed. "Oh, don't say that..."

"Why not? It's true!" she wailed, her hands balling into such tight fists that her nails pierced several layers of skin. "She abandoned me and my father, and now she's giving her new, perfect husband and her new, perfect children everything they could ever want! What did I do?"

"Evaleith..."

She silenced him with a shake of her head. "Why am I not good enough for her? Why would she just deny me like that?"

"Evaleith," Ceidrid addressed her once more, wiping away her tears with the back of his hand, "Evaleith... maybe she hasn't denied you. After all, you haven't seen your mother since you were so little that you can barely remember her anyway--maybe the name and the eyes and everything are just a coincidence? Maybe she's really not your mother; maybe you haven't found your mother yet?"

Considering this, Evaleith swallowed. Such a possibility was an embarrassing prospect, but in some ways, she supposed it was also a hopeful view. If anything, it did lessen the pain of being disowned by a woman she had believed to be her mother if she figured that the woman might not actually be her mother after all. "Thanks, Ceidrid. That... well, maybe that helps."

Still--she almost wished she hadn't suggested that they crouch by the bedroom windows and eavesdrop on the couple's argument.

"You can stay at my house for the night, if you want," he offered. "We have some extra beds, and I'm sure my sister and brother would like to meet you."

Evaleith shrugged. "I suppose it'll have to do--I doubt I'll be able to actually earn a bed anywhere to--"

"Excuse me... can I talk to you for a second?"

Despite what she had been trying to tell herself, her heart stopped at the very sight of Honora. "...Alone, if you don't mind?"

Evaleith bit away at the flesh of her tongue as she stared at the older woman, her head and her heart locked in conflict. Finally, she muttered, "Ceidrid... do you mind?"

"Not at all," he assured her. "I'll just head a few minutes down the road, and you can meet me whenever you're done here."

She pawed the ground with the toe of her boot. "Fair enough."

As Ceidrid hurried off out of earshot, Evaleith cautiously approached Honora. She doubted that the older woman was aware that they had been eavesdropping, but that was the least of her concerns. Was Honora just going to tell her that which she had already told her husband? Evaleith did not think she cared to hear that again.

"Look, I think I can guess how you must feel," the older woman began, her voice neutral to the point of near-iciness, "but I do believe that you are capable of understanding that there comes a time when one simply desires a fresh start."

This seemed a rather odd thing to say given the circumstances. "Er... what are you talking about?"

Honora sighed. "Just go home. Go home to Adwyn--he always did adore you."

Evaleith could do nothing but gape; any hope Ceidrid had given her had now shattered like a fallen vase. "How do you know my father's name?"

The older woman looked away, still as much of a mystery as she had always been. "Go home, Evaleith. Just... go."

NEXT CHAPTER:

December 15, 2009

In Which Adonis Has Nothing to Hear

April 19, 1164

Honora's long lashes flickered as she slowly rocked back and forth. "Really, Adonis, it's a little insulting to think that you would believe the word of a girl you met mere hours ago over that of your wife of nine years."

"Oh, don't try to make me out to be a villain here," Adonis groaned. "It's not as if you've ever given me any details about your life before you went to work at Valcria. Your first decade and a half are a complete blank to me--it's not as if I have any evidence contrary to the girl's claim."

His wife scowled. "Are you unaware as to what exactly to the claim is? If I had a daughter other than your own two, I would have told you before I married you."

"But you tell me nothing!" he insisted. "I don't even know what country you're from, for God's sake! I didn't know your birthday until I had already missed one. Look, I can see why you might have been reluctant to tell me at first, but frankly, after all this time, it's a little insulting to think that you would think I'd judge you for the girl's existence and whatever brought forth her conception."

"Well, if you're not judging me, than what is it you're doing right now?"

In all their years together, he had never seen her so hurt. Judging by the sorrow in her eyes, he wouldn't have been surprised if she started to cry--and Honora never cried. But couldn't she see that she had hurt him too?

Adonis sighed. "I'm not judging you. I just think that it's a little unfair for me to have to hear this from Evaleith instead of you."

"Adonis... there's nothing to hear. She's not my daughter, all right? I'm barely old enough to have a fourteen-year-old daughter, and she really doesn't resemble me all that much if you actually look."

He took a moment to consider this. Sure enough, while there were some similarities between their two faces, they were not so alike as he had originally believed; perhaps his mind had been playing tricks on him. Maybe they were just distant cousins or something. However, this did seem a situation that he would rather not brush aside so lightly. "Honora... are you sure?"

Honora laughed, but it was not the laugh to which he had grown accustomed. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something not quite right about that giggle. "Adonis, you dolt! I think I'd remember carrying a child for nine months and then giving birth to her."

Fair enough. "Well... what are you going to tell her, then?" He hoped she would go easy on the poor girl. Evaleith had been so certain, and it seemed that this reunion was what had brought her to Naroni in the first place; how would she react to learning that her efforts had been in vain?

"Let me worry about that, darling," Honora insisted with a smile. "Meanwhile, you just lie down for a while, all right? You've had a trying day; I'll wake you when it's time for supper."

NEXT CHAPTER:

December 13, 2009

In Which Had Discovers the Worst Something Ever

April 19, 1164

For the fifth time that afternoon, Had trudged up the stairs and turned the corner, his eyes falling on his sisters as they busied themselves with the ark. Nanalie, it seemed, was trying to keep Asalaye occupied with every possible story she could think to play out with the dolls, but it didn't take a genius to see that neither the younger nor the older sister was truly convinced that everything was just fine.

"So... what's happening, Had?" piped up Nanalie as he brushed past them and collapsed onto the couch. "Can we go back downstairs yet? Not that we aren't having fun up here, of course," she added for Asalaye's benefit.

Had shook his head. "No. They're still in the bedroom, alternating between fighting and barely talking."

Fighting. He still couldn't believe it. Not once in his memory had his parents ever done more than bicker over whose turn it was to change the baby's diaper or who would go to the village to buy some bread, or some other casual banter of the like. But now, they were actually hissing at each other, speaking with such venom that their words were barely distinguishable through that closed door that had always been open once upon a yesterday. When he had knocked on the door--if only to give them a brief distraction--his father had simply shouted for him to go back upstairs. Shouted... Had's father never shouted.

At least, not until now, he hadn't. Would this be their home from now on? All this shouting and fighting and the three of them confined upstairs until it temporarily ceased? Or would their parents' anger just fizzle out eventually, leading to a barren, empty household where their father slept on the couch and nobody dared speak anything more personal than a simple request of "Please pass the salt"? To Had, this almost seemed worse--at least the anger was something.

Yes, it was something... but it was the worst something ever.

"Had?"

He looked up to see Nanalie standing in front of him; he must have been too lost in his own thoughts to notice her. "Yes?"

Nanalie rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, her lip curling inward. "Had... when do you think we can go back down? Asalaye's getting restless."

Had sighed. When he had first become a brother, he had vowed to answer any question his sister might have had; now, it seemed she had asked the one question he could not. "I don't know, Nan--I don't know."

NEXT CHAPTER:

December 11, 2009

In Which Adonis Is Pierced by a Familiar Gaze

April 19, 1164

As Adonis lived a good ways away from the nearest village, he was not accustomed to receiving spontaneous visits from anyone other than close friends and those with whom he had business dealings; needless to say, he was rather surprised to find two young people at his door, one of whom he recognized as a brother of Falidor's and the other of whom was a complete stranger. "Uh... can I help you?" he offered, just as his daughter gave the pair a toothy grin and a fond "Hallo!"

"Hello, Asalaye," Ceidrid greeted the little girl with a nod. "I sure seem to be running into a lot of pretty women today."

Asalaye giggled, while the older girl rolled her eyes. Adonis had to do a double take--he could've sworn those eyes were just like the pairs upon the faces of his wife and all three of their children.

The girl then looked at him; he would have never imagined that those eyes could make him feel so uncomfortable. "Master Indruion?"

Wary, Adonis nodded. "Yes...?"

"Is your wife home?"

His suspicions were heightened. Not only did the girl have Honora's very eyes, but she had some business with her as well. Was she perhaps some sort of long-lost relation? "Well... yes. Er, why don't you come in and sit down?"

The girl took Ceidrid by the hand and led him past Adonis and toward the nearby couch. Adonis shut the door, then placed Asalaye on the floor beside Noah's ark. She quickly busied herself with the animals; he gently ruffled her hair, then pulled himself to his feet and faced the visitors.

"So... what's your name?" he asked, that uncannily familiar gaze upon him. She was not identical to Honora by any stretch, but the resemblance was more than enough to make him wonder. Was she a close cousin? Perhaps a younger sister? Honora had never mentioned having any siblings... but then again, whenever he had inquired about her family, she had always been quick to change the subject.

Embarassed, Ceidrid's eyes fell to the floor. "Oh, sorry... Master Indruion, this is Evaleith."

Adonis took her hand in his own and placed upon it a quick kiss. "Pleased to meet you."

Evaleith nodded. "You likewise."

"So..." he began, trying to think of some relatively innocent detail to ask of her, "...where are you from?"

It seemed her only answer was a shrug. "Here and there."

"Can't say I've heard of such a place. Is it far?"

She giggled--her laugh was not unlike Honora's. "Depends on your definition of 'far'. Of course, some days it's further than others."

Adonis smiled; perhaps this girl could grow on him. "And how far is it today?"

"Today, it feels nearer than usual."

He laughed, his mood lightened by the sound of his wife's footsteps on the stairs. Surely she could shed some light on the situation! "I'll take that as a compliment. I hope you're enjoying your stay in Naroni so far. You know, Honora and I were some of the first in these parts, weren't we, dear?"

Honora sighed. "Adonis, why are you reminiscing? You never reminisce."

"I'm entertaining some guests," he told her, gesturing toward the pair on the couch. "You know Ceidrid, and I just met this girl, but she was asking for you."

Honora's teal eyes flickered to Evaleith's face. She then froze, her expression unfathomable. Clearly, she recognized her; while Adonis didn't feel right about prying into his wife's private business, he had to admit that his curiosity was really starting to eat away at him. "Darling? Are you all right?"

Either she was ignoring him or was too preoccupied to notice him--he gambled on the latter. "Why are you here?" she inquired of the girl in a sharp whisper. He knew that tone; that was the voice she used when asking a question to which she already knew the answer.

Evaleith trembled, a small tear rolling from the corner of her eye. She bit her lip, then replied, "Well... I think you might be my mother."

NEXT CHAPTER:

December 8, 2009

In Which Ceidrid Is an Upstanding Citizen

April 19, 1164

Rifden had been complaining of headaches lately, so today, Ceidrid had left him in Alsina's charge and headed to the village for some herbs from Laveria. Fortunately, she hadn't been particularly busy--and it didn't hurt that Ceidrid's brother was one of the healer's close friends--so he'd managed to get what he needed fairly quickly. Now, all he had to do was head back home and boil them in a pail-full of water from the well, and hopefully the kid would shut up about his headaches, therefore preventing any in either of his siblings. Oh well; at least Rifden didn't have anything serious. By this point, the Wythleits were well aware of what "serious" was, and this wasn't it.

"Look, I really have to get going..."

"Oh, but what's the rush?"

The voices were coming from the narrow gap between Laveria and Jothein's respective shops. Ceidrid recognized the first voice as Florian's, but the second was unfamiliar--breathy, feminine, and lyrical. Curious, he approached the end of Laveria's wall and peered around the corner; he knew it was rude to spy and eavesdrop, but he just had to see if that pretty voice had a pretty face to match it.

"I've told you three times already, I'm a happily married man!" Florian snapped. "You're an attractive young thing, and I'm sure you're absolute wildfire in bed, but I love my wife, all right? Can't you just get that? God, why couldn't you have come around when I was single? Or were you even born back then?"

"I'm seventeen!" insisted the girl.

Florian snorted. "I doubt you're even fifteen."

"You could split me open and count my rings, if you want."

Florian shifted, allowing Ceidrid to catch sight of the girl's face; he realized that the man had been wrong to call her attractive. To say she was attractive was insufficient. That was to say that the sun was only as bright as a candle, or that the smell of freshly baked bread was merely pleasant. Ceidrid searched his head for a word to more aptly describe this girl, only to find that either he did not know one, or it had yet to be coined.

She sent a smile Florian's way; if Ceidrid squinted, he could imagine it was directed at him. "You know, a man can love his wife and still have his fun on the side. Get with the times, you geezer."

Florian only laughed. "I'll have you know that I'm all sexed out right now. If you really want to get with me, maybe try right after my wife has a baby--and I'll still probably say no."

The girl raised an eyebrow. "Probably? What do you mean, 'probably'?"

"I mean 'we're not bumping uglies'."

Why should she be so intent on sleeping with Florian? It wasn't as if there weren't any other interested male parties around; what did Florian have that Cei--er, other men didn't?

"Besides, I don't even have any money on me."

...oh. Indeed, Ceidrid certainly didn't have much of that.

"Oh, stop making excuses," the girl scolded; there was something about her face, Ceidrid noticed, that seemed vaguely familiar. "It's starting to get annoying."

Annoying? So, she was past that point of wanting him as a customer--he was now bothering her. And what sort of citizen would Ceidrid be if he didn't come to the aid of a young woman in need?

"Florian!" he gasped, sharply turning the corner and dashing between the two of them. "Florian, thank God I found you! You, uh... you're needed! Uh... Falidor's house is on fire!"

Falidor's house is on fire? Where the hell had that come from? He really should have thought this through...

Florian blinked. "...What?"

Ceidrid nodded. "I can't believe I made it in time! Really, I'm surprised you can't see the smoke from here--I've never seen such a fire in my life! They need all the help they can get! I'll get Jothein and Willott--you get over to Falidor's as quick as you can!"

From the look in his eyes, Ceidrid couldn't be sure if Florian truly believed him or if it had just suddenly dawned on him that he was bothering this girl; nevertheless, he swallowed and took off in the direction of Falidor's house. "Don't worry, Falidor! I'll get there in time to save you and your children--but hopefully not in time to save your wife as well!"

Something told Ceidrid that he'd been grateful for the excuse to say something like that.

As Florian bolted out of sight, Ceidrid turned around to face the girl. God, those eyes were unlike anything he had ever seen... and yet, he could have sworn he'd seen them before...

"You're welcome."

"Hey!" he exclaimed as her hand flew across his face, leaving a stinging sensation disproportionate to its delicate size. "What the hell was that for?"

The girl scowled; somehow, she was still rather beautiful. "I'll tell you what the hell that was for! For costing me breakfast, that's what! And I was getting so close, too!"

Ceidrid shook his head in desperate protest. "You were not! Besides, you said he was getting annoying!"

"I didn't mean I wanted some kid to come and chase him off!"

In truth, Ceidrid hadn't really been listening. Somehow, the girl's eyes had set themselves upon another face, one a little older, a little worldlier, framed by unrestrained mahogany hair instead of raven braids...

"I just figured out who you sort of look like."

The girl blinked. "Sorry?"

Ceidrid nodded. "I thought you looked a little familiar! You look a bit like Mistress Indruion."

The corners of her mouth forming a thoughtful frown, the girl drummed her fingers against her chin. "Can't say the name rings a bell. Is that her married name?"

"Yes. Her first name is Honora, if that helps. I'm not sure what her maiden name is, though."

The girl pursed her lips. "What does she look like?"

"Like you," he answered, "only twenty-something and not quite as pretty. I don't really know her too well, though, so I can't tell you much else about her."

In an instant, the girl's face was inches from his own, her eyes bright, her smile wide; he did not know whether to lean forward or back. "Oh... but you can take me to her, right? I would quite like to meet this Mistress Indruion."

Ceidrid felt himself stumbling, though he could not remember even moving his feet. "Well... that might be a little presumptuous of me. Like I said, I don't really--"

"I'll make it worth your while."

Could she have possibly meant what he thought she did?

"I... I... I'm Ceidrid," he choked, hoping he'd managed to pronounce his own name right. "Ceidrid Wythleit."

"Ceidrid Wythleit," she repeated, bowing slightly and slipping her hand in his own; it was like holding the spring's first blossom. "I'm Evaleith. Evaleith Ladell."

NEXT CHAPTER: