April 27, 2010

In Which Severin Pushes the Line

October 12, 1166

According to Severin's mother, dreams were far from obscure bedtime stories comprised of random, nonsensical events--far from. No, she had always claimed that every dream had a purpose. They mirrored the heart, she claimed; they were a reflection. To dream was to gaze into the soul.

Being well past the age when people sorted out their beliefs for themselves, however, Severin liked to think that he was practical enough not to put any stock in such nonsense. Who cared about dreams? Even if they did have meaning, they were often too abstract to decipher; even if they were significant, chances were that they wouldn't even be remembered. If there was one thing Severin knew about dreams, it was this.

And yet, whenever he thought about them, there was--for some inexplicable reason--a quiet, yet nagging voice in the back of his mind, wondering if perhaps his mother had been right all along.

He hoped that wasn't the case, as his dreams of late had grown increasingly unpleasant. Nightly, he walked an endless corridor; he could see the door at the end, but no matter how many steps he took, it was never any nearer. Sculptured figures lined the walls, like the inner chambers of some pagan temple, their lifeless marble eyes piercing through him as they whispered back and forth in tongues he could not even identify. All the while, a sourceless wind howled in the background, the breath of some shadow-beast in hungry search of its pray.

But tonight, he had reached the corridor's end. He had taken hold of the knob at turned, bracing himself for what lay on the other side in mingled hope and fear--

Alas, it had been locked all along.

He pushed himself upwards and looked at his wife. Even in the dull light of the morning's earliest moments, she was radiant. He reached across the mattress and massaged the small of her back with the tips of his fingers. She didn't stir; she was fast asleep.

Or, so he supposed until a muffled sob told him otherwise.

"Alina?" She didn't acknowledge him, but the soft cries continued. Had she even heard him? He wasn't sure.

Severin kicked back the blankets and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "Princess?"

Nothing but sniffles. He stepped around the bed-frame to her side, then lowered himself so they were face to face.

Alina had a way of crying without tears. Her eyes were puffy and her lashes fogged, but nothing spilled from their depths. In the morning, she would wake with her face as fresh as ever, not a single streak across her freckled cheek; he would have never known had he not woken when he had.

He reached under the blanket and took her hand in his, then watched as her eyes fluttered open. "You all right?"

She nodded, though a little hesitantly for his taste. "I thought you were asleep."

Shaking his head, he pulled her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her, taking momentary refuge in the cinnamon scent of her hair. "Bad dream. I won't bore you with the details."

Alina sniffed. "Well, at least one of us got some sleep, then."

Severin frowned as he twirled one of her red curls around his finger. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Her chin rubbed across his shoulder as she shook her head. "I... I don't think you'd understand."

In an attempt to assure her, he pressed a quick kiss to her forehead. "Try me."

"You won't like it."

"Try me."

Sighing, she let her arms fall to her side as he released her. "Can we sit down?"

Severin nodded. "Should I light a fire?"


He took her by the hand and led her to the couch, twirling her into her seat. He grabbed a nearby flint and set the sparks falling to the firewood, then placed it on the mantel and took to prodding the logs with the poker.

Something was troubling his wife. Something had been troubling her for a while now, and he'd never even bothered to find out what it was. Perhaps there was a monster in his dreams, and he doubted it was whatever it was that made that gusty sound. "Angel, I'm so sorry."

Alina responded with a dismissive half-laugh. "For what? It's not as if it's your fault."

"Perhaps, but whatever it is, it isn't as if I did anything to help," he admitted as he put the poker aside and joined her on the couch.

She bit her lip and tossed back her head. "How could you, though? You don't even know what it is!"

"Maybe I should have asked."

"Maybe I didn't want you to."

Severin raised an eyebrow. "Now you're just being cryptic."

"I'm sorry," she apologized hastily. "I... I really don't know how to talk about this. I'm not sure I feel comfortable saying it aloud."

"Then at least tell me what I can do to help." Damned if he would continue to enable her suffering. Over the course of his life, Severin had failed to be many things for many people, but he did not think he could live with himself if he failed to be a good husband to his darling, increasingly melancholy princess.

She took a few seconds to consider, her blue eyes flicking up and down as she surveyed him. "Severin, I want another baby."

Whatever he had been expecting, it certainly hadn't been that. "...Sorry?"

Alina frowned. "You heard."

He supposed there was no denying that, but... why? How? "Princess... don't you think we have an inordinate amount of children as it is?"

"But they're getting older," she insisted, driving her heel into the floorboards. "Laveria is five years old now; it isn't as if any of them need our constant supervision any more. Another baby won't be too much of an inconvenience for anyone in the household, you must admit."

He sighed. "Alina..."

"I mean, who says we can wait until Raia and Searle and Viridis are married and out of the castle? We're still young now--I'm not sure I care to be having children at the same time the grandchildren are arriving. Can't we please have another baby? Just one; it might be nice to try for an even number of sons and daughters."

And what if it was another girl? Would she then want to try for two sons? Perhaps eight was manageable, but ten seemed nothing short of ridiculous. "Princess..."

And yet, he could see the longing in her eyes. She wanted this baby, son or daughter. She had been thinking about this for quite some time, he knew now, and it was apparent that she was not about to go back on her decision at this point.

"Well," he relented with a grimace, lifting her from the couch and leaning in to kiss her, "I suppose there wouldn't be any harm in having just one more."

Her lips brushed against his for a brief moment, then he released her. Her smile was of the sort he had not seen since their youngest's birth. "God, I love you."

He rested his hand above her hip and drummed his fingers against her side. "I love you too, Princess. Now, what do you say we try to get some sleep, all right?"

He took her in his arms and prayed that she didn't notice as he swallowed in discomfort. He wanted her to be happy, and if another baby was what she wanted, then he would give it to her. When he thought about it, he did have to admit that eight did not seem all that worse than seven; on the other hand, he also supposed that a hundred was not all that worse than ninety-nine. How many times could he agree to 'just one more'? How far could the line be pushed before all hell broke loose?

He did not particularly care to find out.


April 24, 2010

In Which Laralita Takes Her Turn

September 17, 1166

"You're late!" Laralita exclaimed as she launched herself into her brother's arms. "I haven't had you to myself in weeks, and you make me wait! How typical of a brother, really!"

Ovrean chuckled, giving her a gentle pat on the back. Much to Laralita's dismay, he showed no discernible sign of remorse--men. "I'm sorry, dear sister. You see, I had a meeting with Lorn this morning, and just as I was leaving, I ran into Celina. We ended up having the most agreeable conversation, and I'm afraid I lost track of time... but I'm sure you'll find it in your heart to forgive me, Lali."

She sniffed. "Don't call me that."

Her brother shrugged. "Father does."

"That's because he's a senile old man," dismissed Laralita. "But anyway, you can't mean to say that you dare keep a queen waiting for a good two hours on account of a mere duchess, can you?"

"I can if said queen is my kid sister!" he teased, leaning in to kiss her on both cheeks. "Besides, the poor girl's had a rough year, and you're all so isolated out here; she could use a few more friends right now, I think."

She knew he hadn't meant it, but he sounded almost accusatory. The nerve of him--it wasn't as if she hadn't been a friend to Celina. She was quite fond of the duchess, she really was... but it seemed to her that such a shy lady would have found comfort in boundaries. "I figured she needed some space; she always was rather quiet."

He ushered her onto the couch and collapsed beside her, shaking his head with a defiant grin. "Not if you catch her alone, she isn't; she's really quite the conversationalist. She's very clever, and she has this way of making you feel like you're the most important person in the world when you're talking to her. Never in my life has anyone had me hanging onto every word like that, not once!"

Laralita giggled. "Oh, you silly boy! If you like Celina so much, then why don't you marry her?"

Ovrean laughed; meanwhile, Laralita was stricken by her own hasty comment. She'd meant it as a joke--some childish comeback she must picked up from Elhina or Riona--but as she considered the idea, she found herself smiling. Perhaps she hadn't been enough of a friend to Celina during this difficult time... but what friendlier gesture was there than the gift of a husband? Besides, after Severin and Alina had spun her in Roderick's direction, wasn't it her turn to play matchmaker for some other poor unfortunate?

"Well?" she pried as a few too many seconds of silence passed. "Seriously, why don't you?"

Her brother sighed. "Lali..."

Laralita glowered at him. "Ovrean, I am a queen--if I ask you not to call me by our little brother's childish mispronunciation of my name, you are obliged to obey. But really... why not? Don't you find her pretty?"

"She's beautiful," he assured her, "but Dalston hasn't even been dead a year yet; I imagine she's not finished mourning him."

Good Lord--he truly was oblivious to all things courtship. It was no wonder that he was still a bachelor, really. "Oh, Ovrean... I didn't say just now, dear! Wait until you feel she's ready--or, if you like, I could try to find out for you," she offered, cringing in delighted anticipation. As much as she loved Roderick and her children, she did miss being able to get out of the house and gossip with the other women every once in a while; this would give her the perfect excuse to do just that. Oh, it would be almost like being young again!

Of course, it might have been too much of a stretch to expect him to be initially cooperative. "Laralita, really..."

She raised an eyebrow; what was it now? "If she's beautiful and clever, and doesn't have a dreadful personality, then what could possibly be wrong with her? How could you not want to marry her?"

"What I want is not the issue," he insisted. "I just can't imagine that someone so magnificent would ever look twice at a man so unremarkable as myself."

"If you're talking about ranks now, bear in mind that she's only a duchess in name now that her son is duke instead of her husband," Laralita reminded him--how was it that of all the siblings who could have been with her in Naroni, she was stuck with the two who struggled with the basic concept of social hierarchy? "She's a count's granddaughter, and nothing more; you, dear brother, are another count's son. She could do much worse than you."

Ovrean shook his head, the toe of his boot nudging the throw-rug in front of them. "We could both be children of kings, or we could both be peasants; the fact of the matter is that brilliant, radiant women don't settle for creaking middle-aged men."

Laralita wrinkled her nose. "Middle-aged? You're only about half a decade older than her, if that."

Her brother looked away, his eyes settling on little Ramona as she played with Noah's ark. "The years weigh more heavily on me; she doesn't seem a day over twenty."

"Twenty is still old enough to marry a thirty-nine-year-old."

Ovrean bit his lip as he faced her once again; she'd always thought him a confident man, but it seemed that this was not the case. "Not old enough to want to, I don't think. If she would have me, I'd be delighted, but I really can't see that happening. She could do much better than me."

So he was just afraid of Celina's rejection. Ridiculous, really; why couldn't all men be such daring risk-takers as her Roderick? Oh well--at least Laralita could be certain that she herself had the best of the lot. "Well, I hope you realize that if you don't ask her to marry her, then it's only a matter of time before someone else does. And honestly... would you rather take the chance while you can, or watch the days fly by until it's too late and all you can do is wonder if she might have possibly had you?"

Ovrean's finger twitched. "Can we talk about something else now?"

So he was retreating from this battle. Oh well--she'd get him back on track later. Meanwhile, she pursed her lips and considered other potential conversation topics. "Hmm... do you happen to know where Alina and Severin keep that statue I gave them? I always look around for it when I'm there, but I can never seem to find it. I do hope nothing happened to it--the poor darlings would have been devastated!"


April 21, 2010

In Which Falidor Hears Bad News Put to Ill Use... Again

August 8, 1166

"I know he was a horrible person and nobody liked him and we're all probably much better off," choked Ailede between sobs as Falidor rubbed her shoulder with the tips of his fingers, "but he was still my father! I just can't believe he's really gone!"

Uneasy, Falidor placed a hasty, awkward kiss upon his wife's brow. While he knew firsthand the pain of losing one's father, this reaction was not one he might have expected of the almost unnaturally cold Ailede--even if he had been led to believe that her feelings for her cruel father were anything less than hatred. "There, there..."

Ailede wiped a tear away from her eye. Gentlemanly conduct might have dictated that Falidor do that for her, but he found he could not move his hand any nearer to her face; some insensitive, perhaps paranoid part of his mind couldn't help but notice more than a few similarities between this instance and the last time a family member of Ailede's had passed. Her brother had died. She'd cried about it, and he'd comforted her.

Then, she'd taken the chance to tell him that she was pregnant with another man's child. It was so typical of her--manipulative, opportunistic, and selfish beyond belief.

"You know, I blame him and my mother for this," she moaned. "When she came over here with the news, she said he'd been having some troubles with his heart for a few months now, but they decided to just keep it between themselves. Didn't want us to worry, she said--well, maybe if my idiot sister had known, then she wouldn't have sat down at the dinner table and blurted out that she'd missed her monthly!"

Well, that explained why he had come home to find Neleine in the guest bedroom, unloading a small bundle into the dresser drawers. Ridiculous. His pregnant sister was a bad influence on the girls, but hers was a young woman in need of a home? And how old was Neleine anyway? Thirteen? And did Ailede even like her all that much? "So, she's... staying with us, then?"

Shaking, Ailede nodded. "Mother blames her for what happened to Father, so she threw her out, and Eblor won't take her."

"What about the father?"

She shrugged, brushing him aside as her tears slowed and she began to make her way toward the door. "It's a moot point. He's married, and too old for her anyway; she said she had to tell him she was sixteen."

What on God's good earth had he married into? He doubted he could find a less functional family if he tried. On a more positive note, perhaps his worries had been needless--what were the odds of two sisters announcing their pregnancies a day apart?

"Anyway, I'd better talk to my sister. I'm thinking that we can just keep her inside once she starts showing, then pass off our babies as twins."

Just high enough, apparently. "You're pregnant too?"

She didn't even bother answering; she simply left the room, slamming the door behind her.

Shaking his head, Falidor made his way to the bench and collapsed upon it--muddy boots and all. If she didn't mind Lord knew how many men who'd had Lord knew how many women defiling her nether regions, then he saw no reason why she would have problem with her husband defiling her furniture.

He should have expected this--in fact, he had expected this. He wasn't surprised; he wondered whether or not that was a good thing.


April 18, 2010

In Which Alina's Years Slip Away

July 15, 1166

Today was Lonriad's seventh birthday. In accordance with tradition, he had received his first sword today.

Alina's third son had his first sword. Her youngest son had has first sword. All of her sons were now old enough to have swords.

Seven wasn't that old, she tried to tell herself. It wasn't as though Lonriad was getting married or having a child or anything--he was just getting a sword. And why shouldn't he be getting one? It was his seventh birthday.

Dear God. Her youngest son was already seven. Her youngest child was five. She'd spent the last five years watching all of her friends have babies while she herself cycled with clockwork regularity--and to think, she'd probably had more sex than any one of them in all that time! A child a year for seven years, then five years of monthly bleeding; either some unseen tragedy had rendered either her husband or herself infertile, or her man had an unfortunate talent for pulling out.

Honora was pregnant again. She'd told her the day before, so as to avoid stealing little Lonriad's thunder. As usual, Alina had feigned delight, forced herself to feel happy for her friend for the duration of the visit, only to return home to take out her frustrations on her unsuspecting pillow. Everyone was getting pregnant. Honora was pregnant, Arydath was pregnant, her sister-in-law Eldona was pregnant... Lord, she was so jealous!

But why was she jealous? After all--with the exception of poor, sickly Viridis, who was confined to bed far too often to make much mischief--were her children not the worst behaved brood in the whole damn kingdom? Any given one of them was a handful, at best.

And yet, she loved those little monsters, all seven of them. She knew would love an eighth just as much.

But why couldn't she have one? She'd wanted another since the last had been born, but she'd kept her silence because Severin had felt otherwise. What the hell did he know? It just wasn't the same for him. Every pregnancy gave her nine blissful, fulfilled months between two empty depressions, the rush of knowing that another life was completely dependent on her own body. A lot of time and care went into a baby on her part, time and care that she was only too happy to give. Severin didn't understand; as far as she knew, it made no difference to him whether he did his part or just went off to some secluded place and used his own hand.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a small set of knuckles against the door. "Mama?" came the voice of her youngest daughter. "Mama, Lonriad's birthday supper's going to be ready in a few minutes. The table's set, and everyone's sitting down."

Sighing, Alina took a minute to regain her composure, then swung her feet to the floorboards and pushed herself from the bed. "I'll be there in a minute, baby."

Her baby. Her youngest baby. Her youngest was five years, two months, and four days old. Perhaps she herself was getting old too.


April 16, 2010

In Which Florian Practices the Art of Truth-Telling

June 9, 1166

Evera had always been great with babies, even when she'd been scarcely more than one herself. She'd been content to occupy Setran with silly faces before he could sit up by himself, and she'd fretted over Alyssin and Hamrick and little Dragon almost as much as Thetis and Goodwife Noth had. Now that the girl was all of ten, Thetis was quite comfortable to leave Evera to tend the younger children whenever she wanted to lie down for a moment, and in truth, she was more than up to the task.

It seemed to Florian, however, that most girls of that age would protest, or at least feel somewhat resentful of their mothers for pawning off boring little siblings onto them when there were far more interesting things to be done. The baron's daughter never complained, but Jeda was the sort of girl who spent her days dreaming of impossible things in order to escape harsh realities, impossible things which Florian doubted included watching her little sisters as her stepmother napped. Lyraina Diarn, Halford had told him, grumbled when her mother and grandmother left her siblings to her, and he figured Raia would be even more opposed to the idea.

But Evera didn't mind at all--in fact, she sometimes even asked if her mother was tired, as though searching for a reason to occupy herself. She'd always been a kind girl, and willing to help around the house; lately, however, this behavior had been frequent even for Evera. There was something on her mind, Florian was sure of it.

But what? Were some of the other children teasing her? Or perhaps she was fond of a boy? Whatever the reason, he didn't like to see her troubled. "Evera? Can we talk for a minute?"

Nodding, Evera lowered her baby sister down into the very crib in which Florian had once lain her and turned to face him. "All right..."

The corners of his mouth twitching into a slight smile, Florian nodded toward the couch by the door. He sat down and drummed his fingers against his knee as he waited for her to join him. Perhaps he should have left this to Thetis--it wasn't like he was one for heart-to-heart conversations--but there was a baby in the house. There was also a small child, and two older children in their wildest of semi-independent years. If Thetis wanted an hour to herself, then he supposed she deserved the rest.

Besides, if she got the chance to get off her feet for a while during the day, then Florian would be rewarded for his troubles that night.

Inhaling sharply, Florian faced his daughter and frowned. "Evera... is something wrong? You've been kind of strange lately."

Awkward, she let eyes sink to her lap. "I'm all right," she mumbled. Florian wasn't convinced; not only did she have her mother's selfless soul, but also her crippling honesty.

"There's an art to lying, you know," he sighed; when she was in better spirits, he would have to teach her. "For God's sake, Evera, don't tell me you're going to fall into that damned habit of pretending you're all right when you really aren't."

She tilted her head and looked him in the eye; he couldn't put his finger on it, but something in her face told him that this wasn't about some boy. Good. That would have been the last thing he wanted to talk to her about. He'd leave that one for Thetis; he didn't think he'd ever be ready. "Evera, if you don't want to talk about..."

"Papa, what was my real father like?"

Suddenly, boys would have been a far preferable topic.

It had been a matter of time. It had always been a matter of time, since the day Electra had first placed her in his arms. It was human instinct, he supposed, to want to know one's own origins, and Evera was sensitive enough to not breech the subject with her mother.

But what could he tell her? She was ten years old, savoring the last of her childhood; he didn't think she was ready to know the truth. All the same, he couldn't lie to her. It was useful to teach children to lie, yes, but actually lying to one's children? That was a parental failure.


What could he say? He knew exactly how he'd describe Norwan to anyone else--in fact, he had several ways of describing Norwan to anyone else--but this was her father they were talking about. He couldn't tell his stepdaughter that the devil himself trembled before the oversized bonacon that had expelled the girl's father, even if she did hate him. And why should he assume she hated him? Had anyone ever even mentioned him to her?

Florian swallowed; perhaps the words would come to him one by one? "Your father... he, uh..."

Nothing. Never before had he been at such a loss for words; even the image of Seoth's smug face inspired no sudden verbal brilliance.

Visibly uncomfortable, Evera shifted, her dangling ankles tapping the frame of the couch. "He never did a good thing for anyone, did he?"

He watched as a small tear welled in her eye. He hated seeing her like this; he had to say something to reassure her. If there was an art to lying... then surely there was an art to truth-telling as well?

He reached across the couch and took her hands in his own. "That's not true, baby; everyone does a good thing for someone at some point."

She didn't look convinced. He wasn't surprised; there had to be more to it than that. "What about my father?"

The tear rolled from its duct to her cheek. Trying to smile, Florian lifted one hand to wipe it away. "Well... he gave me you."


April 12, 2010

In Which Lorn's Spirits Lift

May 5, 1166

"Your grace."

Lorn responded to his father's title by hoisting himself from the chair and tucking it neatly into the desk. He was no neater than any other boy his age, but this was not his study. It was his father's study--it would always be his father's study, even if he would never again occupy it. As such, Lorn was sure to always tuck in the chair, seal the inkwell, return books to their alphabetical positions on the shelf; his father had always been a very tidy man, and his study was to be kept accordingly.

His mother had risen from her place on the couch and was now fiddling with a fold in her skirt, a nervous habit of hers that had grown prevalent in these past months. He turned his head and sent her a reassuring grimace, waiting for her fingers to still themselves; only when they lay motionless at her side did her dare pass her and proceed to the knight. "Sir."

Sir Ovrean, Lorn noticed as he drew nearer, was quite a taller man. Taller than Aldhein, perhaps even taller than Lord Severin... and yet, Lorn did not feel towered over as he often did around men older and wiser than he. Most men--whether they meant to or not--looked down their noses at his ten-year-old form, at best doubtful of his capabilities, at worst believing him a joke. Sir Ovrean, however, gazed upon him with the same respect he would have bestowed upon a giant. Whatever he saw when he looked at Lorn, it was not an incompetent child; for that, the young duke was both relieved and grateful.

He looked up at the newcomer and grinned. "My mother tells me you came in response to an idea I mentioned to her?"

Sir Ovrean nodded. "If your king will have me, of course. This kingdom is growing exponentially, your grace; you were right to think that the protection of a few knights would be soon needed."

Your grace. That foreign title still sent his blood surging. "Please, sir... call me Lorn. None of this 'your grace' nons--" He froze. Was this right? What if it hadn't been just a bit of nonsense to his father? What if he was going about this all wrong?

If he'd made a mistake, however, Sir Ovrean hadn't noticed. Indeed, the man simply tossed back his head and chuckled. "In that case, I must request that you call me by name as well--none of this 'sir' nonsense, as you might say."

Lorn shrugged. "Fair enough." In any case, he still wasn't sure how he was handling the situation--or any situation, for that matter. He allowed himself a glance at the floor, then turned to Aldhein. "That fortification my father had built on the hill... is it habitable?"

The steward frowned, his green eyes darting between the occupants of the room. Lorn, Lorn's mother, Abrich, Sir Ovrean... "Well, your grace, I was only ever there once, but if I recall correctly, it could be with a few minor modifications. Perhaps you and Sir Ovrean should ride out there and determine that for yourselves."

"We could all go," suggested Abrich out-of-the-blue. Lorn raised an eyebrow; it wasn't often that his shy brother spoke in the presence of a stranger. Stranger still, he didn't even blush and twiddle his thumbs like he often did out of the shock of his own daring.

Lorn glanced back at his mother, who offered a sheepish smile in return. "Well, we haven't all gone for a ride since... well, in a while," she finished hastily, biting her lip as the last syllable left it. "Is that all right with everyone?"

"That's fine--but I hope you realize that we aren't leaving until you give me a hug, Celina," Sir Ovrean informed her with a grin. Nodding, Lorn's mother returned the smile and stepped between her older sons. Somehow, she seemed rather rejuvenated; perhaps Sir Ovrean just had that sort of effect on people.

As they embraced, he lifted her from the ground and spun her about, prompting a surprised squeal. "Ovrean!"

Laughing, he placed her between himself and Aldhein, then planted a quick kiss on her cheek. Lorn felt his spirits lift; his mother hadn't looked so close to a fit of giggles since before his father died. He understood that she was still healing--hell, he was still healing--but he didn't think it unreasonable to ask for a glimpse of some fleeting happiness every once in a while.

"Do you think your girls will want to come?" asked Sir Ovrean, fiddling with a pouch on his belt.

Lorn's mother closed her eyes. "Rona will, I'm sure; Xeta doesn't care much for leisurely rides, but we should ask her just in case."

"Abrich, would you mind asking the girls if they'd like to come?" Lorn requested of his brother. The little boy nodded, then brushed past the three adults and scurried out of the study.

Aldhein placed one hand on the mantel and leaned casually. "Hopefully they'll opt to accompany you; it's quite a nice day."

After a quick glance out of the window, Lorn's mother nodded. "The nicest we've had in weeks."