December 7, 2009

In Which Severin Is the Wicked Stepbrother

March 2, 1164

In all honesty, Severin could not say he felt comfortable around Avine. He had no qualms about his mother's relationship with Willott--Lord knew that regardless of whether or not they were actually married, he was the only decent man she'd ever had--but the fact that the pair of them had a child together who was younger than some of his own offspring was somewhat unsettling. As Willott's daughter by his late wife, Avine shared a similar sentiment there--and, additionally, she had always seemed uneasy with the idea of Willott and Laveria together in the first place. Severin found Avine pleasant enough, but there was always this awkwardness between them, all these unspoken emotions and the painful awareness of their very presence. Around each other, they were polite, but stiff; there were too many reasons for each of them to not want to be near each other.

And now, there would be one more. He felt like a monster; the moment he knocked on the door would be the moment her world shattered forever, and yet, there was no sense in postponing the inevitable. He wiped his fevered brow with his sleeve, then softly rapped his knuckles against the door.

It was answered by a girl who looked to be about the same age as his son Searle. Severin didn't quite know what to make of this. On one hand, he now had a few more precious seconds to think about what to say to Avine; on the other, that young face was a living symbol of everything he was about to destroy.

"Uh... hello," he greeted her. His assumed familiarity confused her, he could tell by the confused look in her eyes, but in this instance, the more formal acknowledgment of "Good day" seemed horrifically inappropriate. "Is your mother here?"

The girl peered back over her shoulder. "Mama, there's a man here."

"Well, let him in, Melria," replied Avine's voice from the back of the room. "It's getting cold in here with that door open."

Nodding, Melria turned around and led him into the kitchen. Severin closed the door behind him; Avine had already complained, and he figured the room was about to get a hell of a lot colder without the additional draft. How could he do this? How could something so cruel be something so necessary? Were there even any words suitable for telling a woman that she was now a widow? For telling her children that they were now orphans?

The woman in question stood at the back of the room, washing vegetables in her basin, her black hair bound in a long braid, a tunic-like apron atop her dress. She was preparing supper, as she did every day--and here he was, about to tell her she toiled for one too many.

For all intents and purposes, Avine was his stepsister. As the father of four girls, Severin was more than familiar with all of the old stories, tales of selfless, virtuous--albeit, often rather dim--young women made martyrs under the tyranny of their wicked step-families. Avine herself had an origin not unlike such maidens, having been raised by her loving father following the early death of her mother, but her story deviated from theirs in the fact that she had begun her own family before her father had reforged his, and that her step-family had never done her any particular ill.

Until now.

Avine turned away from the basin, only to freeze at the sight of him. He didn't blame her; it wasn't as if they made a habit of purposely interacting. "Oh... my lord."

Severin ground the lining of his cheek between his teeth. As much as he hated being addressed so formally--and as bizarre as it was to be referred to as 'my lord' by one's own stepsister--he could never bring himself to tell Avine to call him by name. To do so would be an expression of comfort and familiarity, something he doubted they would ever share, especially considering what he was about to do her. "Mistress Lowan."

She sent him a half-hearted smile; he felt a tenth of the man who had just been standing in his place seconds before. "What can I do for you, my lord?"

As little as he wished to tell Avine of her husband's murder, Severin had to admit that he would rather do so himself than have Dalston bring her the news; however, he did not think it his place to inform any of her children that their father would never again tuck them into bed, or hold them in his arms, or present them with little toys and trinkets he had found in town. They deserved to hear such grim tidings from their mother herself, though it grieved him to believe so when he pictured the day Alina told their own children of his passing--or, God forbid, the day he told them of hers.

"Melria," he addressed the girl with a seriousness she appeared to have never known, "I hate to be rude, but would you mind stepping out of the room for a moment?"

A shudder from Avine told him that she knew something was amiss. "Run along, girl--go and play with your brothers."

Melria's eyes widened. "Mama..."

"Melria, go," her mother pressed; uneasy, the child scurried off, her pace quickening with each step. Soon enough, she had retreated through one of the doors lining the nearby corridor, allowing it to swing shut behind her.

Severin took a few weary strides toward his stepsister and locked his gaze with hers. The usual sparkle in her brown eyes was fast fading; he may as well have been plucking stars from the sky. "What's going on, my lord?"

He could stall for no longer. As horrible as he was, she needed to know the truth; he could not have her think that the husband who had loved her and their children so was absent for any reason other than the most final reason of all.

"Avine," he began, cringing at the gravity of his own voice, "perhaps you should take a seat..."



Dinuriel said...

Thanks for your patience, all :)

Gayl said...

I am not sure who I felt more sorry for...but Severin had a terrible task to perform. I'm sure he would deliver the news in the kindest way possible under the circumstances.

Dinuriel said...

Oh yeah, I'm sure he broke it to her in the kindest way he could think of. At the end of the day, I definitely feel a hell of a lot worse for Avine. Sure, Severin has to deliver this crushing blow, but really, he gets to go home to his wife and kids and go about his life as usual, while Avine has to tell her children that their daddy isn't coming home, and will now be mourning and grieving and coping with the horrors of 12th century widowhood. Poor girl :(

Gayl said...

Of course he did...and Avine will definitely have it worse. No question about how hard it will be for her.

S.B. said...

Your phrase, Good day would be horrifically god yes. And typical of Severin to avoid using it.

Avine will be crushed. As you said, not only has she lost her husband, and her children their father, but there she is, a widow in that time period. Beyond imagining awful.

You really pull emotion out so delicately. I just love it!

Dinuriel said...

Gayl: I kind of wish I could work more Avine into my outline. She's going to have to start managing the house, tending the farm, and raising the kids on her own, all while coping with the pain. Plus, given the time period, she really has no choice but to remarry eventually, if only for the sake of convenience, but there aren't really that many eligible bachelors running around. Off the top of my head, the only one of a suitable class I can think of is Aldhein, and he's a little busy lusting after fourteen-year-old girls at the moment.

Beth: I never really understood the phrase "Good day" as a formal greeting. More often then not, formal greetings are used when it's not a good day at all :(

"Crushed" is probably the best way of describing how Avine will feel. You nailed it there.

Thanks :)

Penelope said...

There was excellent tension in this chapter, Van. I just wish that it hadn't ended where it did! I mean, we can guess at what happened- Severin delivered his news as gently as he could and Avine was grief-stricken but there was so much fabulous build-up.

And now my question is- Was that young prostitute at the inn related to Willot?

Penelope said...

I also want to add that Severin's guilt at having to be the messenger was an interesting look into his character. Obviously, none of what happened was his fault and yet, he feels as though he is doing something awful to this young woman and her family when, on the contrary, he is doing the thoughtful thing by not allowing them to hear it from someone more distant (and potentially less empathetic).

Dinuriel said...

Thanks Pen :)

Heheheh... sorry about that.

Evaleith is not related to Willott (though I do regret using the same hairstyle on both her and Avine). We'll find out more about Evaleith--and who she might know/be related to/have a connection to--in the next chapter.

Severin is not all that keen on breaking cold, hard facts to people, especially if they aren't expecting them or if they've been told otherwise. We see this with his kids occasionally. For example, Raia knows a lot about the facts of life for an eight-year-old, and this is in a time period where some girls went to their wedding beds not even knowing that men have different equipment. Severin makes no effort to shelter his kids because he doesn't want them to be caught off-guard; if this was a modern story, he'd be that parent who gets calls from the teacher every December about how Raia and Jadin and Searle are telling all the other kids that there's no such thing as Santa, then responds with a "Oh, so kids aren't supposed to know the truth these days?" The way he sees it, if there's something someone should know eventually, they should know right away, and it's cruel to keep them in the dark because it then becomes cruel to suddenly shine the light in their face.

The same sort of thing occurs here, on a different scale. If Bernver had been slowly dying of some terminal disease and had succumbed on Severin's watch, Severin still would have had difficulty telling Avine... but not nearly as much difficulty as he had here, with Bernver's entirely unexpected death, because with the first scenario, she would have already been prepared for it for quite some time. Here, according to Severin, Avine is living in this nice little illusion of everything being normal, and he's about to take that away from her, no matter how gently he breaks it to her.

I hope that sort of made sense.

Emmy said...

That poor woman. :(

You handled the emotions in this chapter very well, Van. As someone who has a stepsister, I can tell you that you completely nailed the way Severin and Avine felt about each other.

I also feel sorry for Severin. He seems to get overwhelmed so easily.

Also, this part made me LOL: "tales of selfless, virtuous--albeit, often rather dim--young women made martyrs under the tyranny of their wicked stepfamilies." So true! I love these little things you're always throwing in. ;)

Thankfully we have some FLORIAN next! =D

Dinuriel said...

Thanks Em :)

Heheheh, glad that part amused you :P

Phoenix said...

Poor Severin!:( That can't be an easy job for anyone to do and even more uncomfortable if it's family. Even if you're not close to that family!

I loved your phrasing in this chapter Van!

Dinuriel said...

Glad you enjoyed, Phoenix :)

eclectictsunami said...

Poor Avine. And poor Severin for having to break the news.

Severin does seem to have some...issues...with self-hatred and guilt, doesn't he? Maybe it's just me, but I feel like whenever we see a POV from him he's thinking about how awful and unworthy he is. Between that and Alina's postpartum issues, I worry about those two, and their children. :(

Dinuriel said...

That's an interesting point, Cassie. He does seem to have some sort of self-hatred issues. It probably goes back to his father. Before Severin sort of unofficially disowned him, Lonriad was a bit of a hardass dad. Also, a lot of people he had to associate with growing up weren't too keen on him because of his maternity, so that probably stuck with him to a certain degree. Demons like that are difficult to shake :(