February 28, 2009

In Which Arydath Captains a Doomed Vessel

October 3, 1156

Arydath's mother possessed an almost supernatural ability to predict the day's events based on the location of her headaches. Front of the head, and something surprising would happen; left of the head, and tragedy was inevitable. A headache in the front-left of the head, therefore, meant that some sudden, unexpected terrible thing was about to occur.

Arydath herself had never put much faith in her mother's superstitions as a girl, but that morning, as the front-left of her head continued to sear, she couldn't help but wonder if maybe there was maybe some basis to the idea.

She sincerely hoped that there wasn't.

"You all right?" asked Halford from Electra's kitchen table, big stupid grin on his big stupid face. God, Halford could be such an idiot; wasn't it obvious that she wasn't?

Oh well. After all, Arydath did like her men big and stupid. And it wasn't as if he was stupid all of the time--just most of the time.

Arydath took a moment to regain herself, removing her hand from her head and placing it instead on her hip. "I'm fine, Halford. I just have a slight headache, that's all."

In an uncharacteristically solemn manner, Halford nodded, then turned his gaze to Lyraina and Evera, who were playing together on the floor with Noah and his ark.

If nothing else went right today, at least the two of them looked very cute. Arydath, personally, was amazed at how quickly her daughter's hair had grown; it was now necessary to braid it at the side, so it wouldn't be in Lyraina's way when she played. She only wished that she and Halford could afford a prettier dress for the girl, but at least she was healthy, unlike some of their neighbors' babies.

Those arks were fast becoming the most popular toys in Naroni. They had really caught on recently in Dovia, and were now making their mark in the daughter-kingdom. The prince and princess had recieved one from their grandfather King Farilon, and Lord Severin's father had also sent one for Raia and the sibling that was expected in November. The duke and the baron had been so thrilled by the children's love of these toys that they themselves had imported a pair, and now Lord Severin had taken to having the carpenter in his nearest village make one whenever he felt the need to bestow a gift upon a peasant. He had given Evera hers, and Lyraina also had one, as a token of appreciation for Arydath's help with the women's labor.

Labor. That was why Arydath and her family were there, she remembered as Electra waddled in from behind Evera's curtains.

Electra wasn't supposed to be due for another week, but a side view of her stomach told Arydath differently. That baby was as big as he could possibly get without bursting from her abdomen. He wanted to get out, and very soon, at that.

At least the mother-to-be was looking much better than her usual, flustered self these days. The girth of the baby had required Electra to stop wearing that shapeless dress and apron she'd been walking around in before. Now, she donned a much more flattering pink and brown outfit that, even though it showcased her pregnancy, somehow made her look much slimmer. And her hair! She had taken the time to comb out her tangles, and with her now silken hair out of her face, it was obvious that she was a much more attractive woman than anyone had originally given her credit for.

Needless to say, Arydath had been somewhat reluctant to let Halford tag along, but she had a nagging feeling that it would not be the worst thing to have him around.

"How's he doing?" asked Arydath as she turned around, trying hard to mask her ailment with a smile.

"Kicking quite a bit," Electra answered promptly, "but I don't mind. Shows he's alive, right? How are you so sure it's a he, anyway?"

Halford grinned. "If Arydath says it's a boy, then it's a boy. She just knows. Every time she delivers a baby, she tells the mother what it'll be, and she's never been wrong."

"Oh, never mind that!" Arydath scolded him. "Let me listen, Electra."

She hurried to the pregnant woman's side, then pressed her ear against her belly.

"Can you really hear him?" demanded Electra in wonderment.

"Most people can't," admitted Arydath in a murmur, "but I've got good ears, I guess."

"I wouldn't say that's the only good thing you got, Arydath!" Halford laughed from his chair.

Arydath frowned. "Shut up."

The kicking sounds were both strong and frequent, even moreso than she had expected.

"He's coming today, Electra," she assured the other woman. "Definitely today. Lucky for you, it'll probably be a quick labor."

Electra smiled warmly. "So he's really coming. I still can't believe I'm going to have a baby..."

"You'll be a great mother," Arydath told her. "I'm sure little Evera will be happy to have a playmate."

"Oh, for the love of God! She's eleven months old! How the hell is she supposed to know that Electra just hasn't been eating a lot of cake lately? Jesus!"

Florian had emerged from the bedroom. Unlike his wife, he had been looking worse for the wear as of late; the bags under his eyes had darkened, and Arydath could see several ribs poking out of his torso. Also, he didn't seem to have any qualms about his guests seeing him wearing nothing but his loincloth. Great--now Halford would probably accuse her of ogling him when they got home.

"You all right, Florian?" Electra inquired of him.

Florian bit his lip. "Uh... I don't know. I'm feeling sort of... faint."

His wife shook her head. "Then go lie down, you silly boy!"

"But I heard Goodwife Diarn say the baby was coming today," he protested, "so unless you're planning on having this baby on the dirt floor, then you'll want me out of that bed."

Not wanting to take either side--she didn't want to admit that she herself did not know whether Florian or Electra had more valid reasoning--Arydath turned and stared at the clouds outside the window. She'd really hoped that her headache would be gone by this point, but it seemed that it was only worsening.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Florian suddenly stumbling forward.

"Florian?" Electra addressed him.

"I'm fine," he insisted. "I just... kind of..."

It happened both quickly and slowly. It seemed to Arydath like a series of images scratched onto some ancient temple wall; his arms flew to his core, he bent forward as he struggled to breathe, his eyes closed and widened and closed again...

And then, he fell.


Electra was quick to rush to his side, to check his breathing, his pulse...

"Is he all right?" Arydath choked. "I mean... he's not..."

But now, Electra was standing, a look of panic on her face.

"Arydath..." she whispered gravely, "I think... I think he's coming. The baby."

Suddenly, that belly looked much smaller than it had moments before. It wasn't time; it couldn't have been time. The baby just wasn't ready.

Or maybe Arydath wasn't ready.

"Arydath..." Electra gasped between strangled breaths. "Arydath... help..."

Help. That was why she was there; that what she had come to do. And it was all she could do--she could not fail.

Not today.

"Halford," she addressed her husband, trying desperately to remain calm, "I need you to get to Veldora as quickly as possible. Find Laveria, and send her here. Then, I need you to alert the baron. Today is not going to be one of the easier days we've spent in this land."


February 22, 2009

In Which Dalston Leaves a Moment for His Life

August 11, 1156

"Well, good afternoon, Dalston," the queen greeted the duke as he strolled into her sitting room. "Nice of you to come and visit me; lately it seems I have no one but this little baby for company."

"Geneva," he acknowledged her. "Aldhein arrived at Armion this morning and told me to come as soon as I could. I've been to Roderick's study, but he isn't there. Where is he, and what does he want with me?"

Geneva frowned. "Roderick sent for you? That's certainly odd, considering he's been out hunting with Severin all day."

"What?" demanded Dalston. If that was the case, this was a complete waste of his time; he hated hauling himself up to the castle, and now that he knew he was not there for any particular reason, he found himself rather annoyed.

"I'm sorry," Geneva yawned, pulling herself into a sitting position, "but while you're here, would you mind sitting a while and talking to me? I'm so dreadfully lonely."

Sighing, Dalston made his way over to the other side of the couch and set himself down at the very end; he figured it would be in his best interests to leave some space between himself and his cousin.

Geneva, however, seemed to have other ideas--no sooner had Dalston's backside met the cushion than the queen had quickly edged closer to him.

"The middle cushion is more comfortable," she explained.

Dalston rolled his eyes. "I'm sure."

She smiled; he had a sneaking suspicion as to what she was thinking about. "So... how are you?"

"Uh... all right, I suppose," he muttered in reply. God, those violet eyes were mesmerizing; the whole world might as well have been tinted with that color. What was it about this woman that made him want to strip naked from the waist down and shove his cock into any orifice he could find? It wasn't even as if she was extraordiarily beautiful; his cousin Alina was much prettier, and yet she inspired no such urges in him.

But there was something. There had to be something.

Suddenly, Geneva stood. "I'm sorry. The baby gets restless when I sit down. I won't be surprised if this one kicks his way out a month early."

Slowly, she began to make her way to the other side of the room. How she managed that sway in her hips like that while carrying four months' worth of baby was beyond Dalston. He desperately tried to distract himself by counting ceiling tiles; studying Geneva's lower regions would be a terrible disservice to Celina, even if she never learned of it.

"Of course, wouldn't you know it? I hate standing while I'm pregnant," she sighed. "I swear, one more pregnancy and my spine will never be the same again."

Unless your husband's steward bangs it straight, that is, Dalston thought snidely. Oh, but it was a cruel thought--she was his cousin, after all.

Geneva moaned softly as she reached behind her back and cracked her shoulders. She then proceeded to attempt to massage her spine. It was clear that she was in considerable discomfort; perhaps he was being an awful cousin to just sit back and do nothing?

Figuring that he would regret it later either way, Dalston pulled himself to his feet. "Geneva?"

She turned slightly as he approached her. "Yes?"

"If you want, I could..." Dalston began, trying desperately to find the most delicate phrasing he could.


"Maybe... rub your back?"

She smiled that same mischievous grin she'd worn all those years ago, when they were little more than children. That day, Dalston remembered now, had been the first time he'd ever touched a woman's naked breast.

"Well, I never thought you would offer! Thank you, Dalston!"

He placed his hands on her shoulders and began to massage her, a certain nostalgia suddenly rushing over him. Her skin was just as soft as he remembered, just as silky and touchable as when she had been a mere girl of thirteen. So dainty... so delicate... and yet, this was a woman who would jump a standing man and wrap her legs around his waist, doing all the work while all he did was enjoy.

Oh, it was so wrong, touching her with the hand that held Celina's son, the very finger that bore the symbol of his union with that dearest, sweetest girl. She deserved so much better than he, the poor lamb; if only she had known what sort of sick man she had married.

"How was it?" asked Dalston as he released her, smiling like a fool despite himself.

"Very nice," Geneva purred in reply. "Thank you, cousin."

Suddenly, her long fingers were brushing against his cheek. Her touch was light and warm, like the summer sunlight peaking through a window. If he didn't want her before, he certainly did now. But it was so wrong...

Sorry, Lina, he thought as his lips met Geneva's. I'm a weak, weak man.

But then, suddenly, her face flashed across his mind's eye, shortly followed by their son's.

"I'm sorry, Geneva," he muttered as he broke the kiss. "I can't."


Whatever she had to say, he didn't hear it. He was already out the door.

After the long ride home, and several stops at various new little villages to see how they were growing, Dalston was relieved to find Celina asleep in bed. He wondered how her day had been, and wished he could have been a part of it--not that he would have wished that cruel fate upon her.

The poor girl, all innocent and oblivious. She really had no idea... no idea at all...

He quickly undressed, intent on falling straight to sleep. He would not bother Celina tonight, not so soon after he had betrayed her. His touch was tainted now; he would have to confess to Father Quintus in the morning.

Suddenly, there came a feminine yawn from the bed.

"Dalston?" Celina addressed him as she pulled herself out of bed. "What did Roderick want?"

"Nothing particularly interesting," he assured her as they embraced; God, he was unworthy of her warm, loving hugs. "Or important. I wish I could have been here instead."

I should have been here instead, he corrected himself as he gently stroked her chin.

Celina had such a beautiful smile; sure, Geneva's were enticing, but Celina's were positively radiant. There wasn't a man on earth good enough for this woman, that was for sure.

And those lips! Oh, he could kiss her all night! He held her tight and proceeded to do just that--he prayed she wouldn't taste Geneva in his mouth.

He loved kissing Celina. Once, when he was very young, he'd had sex with Geneva; now, he knew he'd rather have just one chaste kiss with his Lina than a lifetime of romps with the queen.

"Dalston?" she asked as they broke apart. "Do you want to... I mean...?"

He smiled. "If you'll have me, Lina."

Sure, Geneva had been fun. She was wild, lovely, and knew just how to leave a man begging for more. But all the same, she was just a moment, a memory. Lina was his life.