September 30, 2010

In Which Nora Is Brought Down from Her Tower

June 9, 1169

Nora was not the sort of woman who cared much about her appearance, but she did own one nice dress--a dress so nice, in fact, that she didn't dare keep it at home, where her daughter's cats might have torn it to shreds. Instead, she kept it at Veldora Keep; the former squire, likely in search of feminine garments that could be showcased as proof of his youthful misadventures, had agreed to let her store it in his drawers. Now that he'd been a knight and husband with a castle of his own for a while now, she'd let her curiosity get the best of her and stole away to see if the dress was still intact.

Indeed, there was no evidence of moth damage and the deep blue was as bold as it ever had been. It looked to be in better shape than she herself was. She'd debated for a minute or so whether she dared try it on--she'd had twins since the last time she'd worn it, and she wasn't sure whether or not she'd ever lost all the added weight--finally deciding that she would attempt to slip into it, but ease it off the minute it began to feel tight.

To her surprise, it never did; indeed, it even felt a little loose in some places. Feeling triumphant, she'd taken a moment to step in front of the mirror and play with her hair. She had a hunch that it looked messy from behind, but she liked the look of the front--sort of elegant in a casual way, or perhaps casual in an elegant way. That was just as well, as she doubted she would ever be truly elegant, nor did she have an desire to become so. This was the closest she would ever be to that fairytale princess young Viridis spent her days dreaming of becoming, alone and beautiful in her secluded little tower with nothing much better to do than pretty herself up for the promised prince. She was fine with that.

"Well, someone's all dressed up, I see. Might I inquire as to the occasion?"

Startled, Princess Nora fell backward out of her tower window and crashed back down to earth. The blood rushed to her face as she caught sight of a tall man standing by the door. "My lord!"

"I just came in right now; I only got back from the castle a couple of minutes ago," Lord Severin tried to assure her--as if that was why she was embarrassed. It wasn't as if he'd never seen a naked woman. It wasn't as if she'd never been seen naked by a man. "Perhaps I should have knocked. Anyway, if you don't mind, I'd like a word with you."

Nodding, Nora hung her head and set herself down on a wooden bench at the foot of the bed. "Of course."

"Thank you." He crossed the floor and took the vacant seat to her left, his silky hair thick and glorious even in its unkempt state. This was someone for whom majesty required no conscious effort; Nora couldn't help but feel drab and pathetic in comparison.

"Our king, in his infinite wisdom," he began, the sarcasm in his voice more than apparent, "has decided to send for several women he would like me to... consider."

Nora felt her mouth twist into a bizarre sort of frown. "Is he aware that you're a grown man? You shouldn't have to start looking for a wife if you don't want feel ready."

"Yes, but you know how he is when he comes up with such lamentably stupid ideas. I believe he means to get an alliance out of this." Lord Severin sighed, unconsciously tossing back his head in the process; Nora watched with a raptured fascination as his dark locks propelled themselves outward, then fell gracefully back into position. "Anyway, while I don't think I'm ready, I can't imagine I'll ever be much moreso, if you know what I mean. I might as well just get it over with; if nothing else, at least my children would have a mother again."

"That they would." Her words agreed, but she wasn't sure if her tone did. She wasn't sure she cared.

Lord Severin tapped the sole of his boot against the hardwood as he took a moment to study his wedding band. "Luckily, Roderick is sparing me the anguish of having to choose a woman to some extent, but apparently I may have my pick from within that group. I'm not really sure what I want in a second spouse, though, which is why I wanted to talk to you." His brown eyes locked onto her face, a small twitch of a smile flitting briefly past his face. "I get the sense that we have similar needs, so I'm curious; if you were looking to marry again, what sort of qualities might you want in a second spouse?"

It was probably the last thing she'd ever expected him to ask her. It was probably the last thing she would have ever wanted him to ask her as well. Either way, however, she supposed he deserved an answer.

"Well, it would have to be someone who got along with my children," she began; he nodded in agreement, so she decided to continue. "Of course, he'd have to get along with me as well--put up with my flaws, just like I'd have to put up with his. I don't believe that people should try to change each other."

"Certainly," Lord Severin concurred. "Continue."

Nora glanced to the ceiling, then back at her lord. "And I wouldn't want someone who went about comparing himself to Jothein; no sense trying to be someone else. He couldn't begrudge me for still loving Jothein either, even if I did grow to love him as well."

"Precisely." He was silent for moment, then sank back in quiet resignation. "I doubt there are many starry-eyed young maidens who would understand that, though; perhaps I should marry a widow."

Nora swallowed. "I should hope you'll be so fortunate, my lord."

"Ah, you!" Lord Severin indulged himself in a quick chuckle, then edged toward the center of the bench and slung his arm around her; she shivered slightly, but he didn't seem to notice. "Dressed like a duchess and still pelting me with that 'my lord' nonsense."

Was that a joke? As a compromise, Nora laughed dryly. "I'm a commoner."

"And yet, you are refreshingly uncommon." He kissed her brow, then took her by the hand and pulled her along as he stood. "I thank you for that, as well as for your opinion."

"Not a problem, my lord."

Fondly, he placed his hands on her shoulders and shook his head, a quiet grin on his lips. "Again with the titles! Do you keep doing that just to annoy me?"

"Maybe a little," Nora admitted with a wink. "Now if you don't mind, I suppose I should change before getting back to work."

"That would only be practical," he agreed as he headed to the door. He opened it and stepped halfway out, only to send a last parting glance her way. "In all honesty, though, I do hope I needn't wait another whole decade to see you in that dress again."

"Fair enough... my lord."

Falsely irritated and genuinely amused, he closed the door behind him. Nora listened as his footsteps grew ever fainter, soon vanishing entirely. When she could be sure that he wasn't about to come back, she stepped toward the bed and fell back upon it. This was the closest she would ever be to that fairytale princess, left to suffer in silence as she watched the unattainable prince ride past her tower without so much as the bat of an eye toward her wide open window.


September 28, 2010

In Which Severin Ponders the Harsh Possiblity

June 8, 1169

Severin's eyelids might as well have been leaden slates. He struggled to open his eyes for a good few minutes, only to have them fall shut once more. Frustrated, he tried again, determined to keep them wide; it was far more difficult than he remembered. His head was pounding, aching as if being repeatedly stricken. He wondered if this was how a piece of molten metal might have felt atop an anvil.

It took a minute or so for him to recognize the old bedroom. His essentials had all gradually been moved to the guest room he frequented, and there hadn't been any need for him to set foot in here for months now. He still wasn't sure he was quite at ease here; he felt rather unworthy of this place.

"You're awake?"

Severin eased himself upwards, catching sight of his father, who was seated on the couch facing the empty hearth. He wasn't sure why Lonriad was here, but he could vaguely recall seeing him the previous night. "Seems like a reasonable guess. What time is it?"

"Getting close to the dinner hour now. Your mother is here, sitting up with your children; she and I have been trading off between them and you."

His own footsteps caused too much of an echo for Severin's taste; he winced as he rose from the bed, then took a long drink from the pitcher of water on the end-table. "She didn't need to come; I know she's busy."

Lonriad sniffed. "She worries about you--and it isn't as if you don't give her just cause to do so."

The pitcher was still about half-full. Severin indulged himself with another sip, then took a few labored steps toward the couch and sat down beside his father.

"Do my children hate me?" It was a harsh thought, but it the possibility seemed increasingly likely. He supposed he couldn't blame them if they did.

His father's posture straightened. "No. They might be a little... exasperated, perhaps, but they've all been waiting around since I brought you back last night; if they didn't care, they wouldn't be here."

"Even Jadin?" It had been three months since their argument; in all that time, his oldest son had yet to acknowledge him with anything more accommodating than an impatient grunt.

Lonriad nodded. "He's a very emotional boy, you know. Thought you might be dying--both your mother and I insisted that you weren't, but he wouldn't hear of it. Went into a crying fit and told me the last thing he ever said to you was how he wished you were dead instead of Alina."

Severin sank back against the couch's wooden frame and closed his eyes. "I hope he knows that I don't blame him."

"Likewise, if I should presume to speak on the boy's behalf, he hopes you know that he didn't mean it."

"Does it matter, though?" Severin pondered aloud, perhaps more to himself than to Lonriad. "Even if he didn't mean that, everything else he said that day was true. I've hardly been there for any of them since their mother died. They've all been hurting, but..." A sudden pain shot through the center of his brain; groaning, Severin rubbed his forehead, then glanced down at his wedding band. "I... I don't really know what happened. I haven't been sure about anything for a long time."

"It's because you're hurt," his father stated. "You're hurt, and your kids are hurt, and you might never stop hurting. You could fall in love with some pretty young thing and start adding to your family again, but every once in a while, you'll come across Alina's scent on an old pillow or something and it's going to hurt--and that's normal, I would imagine. Some heartaches just don't heal, but there might be a few tricks to managing the pain."

Some heartaches just don't heal... what did Lonriad, of all people, know about heartache? Nevertheless, it made enough sense that it seemed a mere formality to question the source. "What sort of tricks?"

His father shrugged. "Different for everyone, I suppose. Maybe try spending more time with your kids; there's no need for any of you to hurt alone."

Severin looked to his ring again. It was as gold and shiny and perfect as the day Alina slipped it onto his finger. "Can I see them?"

Lonriad nodded, then pulled himself to his feet. "They'll all be very happy to see you. They've already lost their mother; they shouldn't have to worry about losing you as well."

He stepped toward Severin's side of the couch and held out his hand; Severin took it and allowed himself to be pulled upward into a standing position. "Thank you."

A small smile on his lips, Lonriad pulled him into a tight hug and gently massaged the gap between Severin's shoulder-blades. "Just... try not to let things get to this point again, all right? You know what it's like to grow up with a father who spends more time chasing skirts than paying much attention to your emotional needs; don't make the same mistakes with your children that I did with you and your brother."

His apprehensions suddenly trivial, Severin sank downward and rested his chin on his father's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Father--about everything."

"I'm sorry too, son," Lonriad replied, his embrace strengthening. "Now, I think you need to march over to the dining hall and say that same thing to your kids."


September 26, 2010

In Which Lonriad's Hopes Are Unfulfilled

June 7, 1169

"Here for a little evening delight, good sir?" She was a small, hatchet-faced woman with a humble bosom, but her red curls were soft and bountiful and her hips looked ample enough.

Lonriad felt a smile creeping up on him; whores in Naroni were so much more polite than their counterparts back in Dovia. "I was hoping to go well into the night."

The woman returned the grin. "That can be arranged." She placed her hand upon his hip and let her fingers dance their way up his side.

"Well, I'll be damned," Lonriad chuckled, taking a red curl in hand and wrapping it around his finger. "How did you know that gets me every time?"

"Oh, just a hunch."

She flashed a mysterious smile that in the dim light seemed to soften her entire face. Lonriad fished some coins out of his pouch and pressed them into her warm hand. "Will that be enough?"

She took a moment to count the coins with her fingers, then slipped them into the pocket of her apron and nodded. "Plenty. I'll take you to the back room now."

"I trust that a fine establishment such as this has rather comfortable facilities?"

The woman replied with a wink. "As comfortable as you want them to be."

That sounded promising; Lonriad took a deep, contented breath. "Perfect."

She giggled. "Then it seems we--"

The door to the back opened with a crash as a second prostitute barged through it. "Forget it!"

The redhead glanced back at her colleague, then rolled her eyes. "Thaya, you know the agreement; it's your turn."

The girl named Thaya slammed the door shut behind her and stepped forward. She was tall, blond, and full-figured, with long legs and daintily exotic features--younger and prettier than the other woman, but a man didn't get to be Lonriad's age without knowing that a smiling partner was always preferable over a scowling one. "I know, Rissa; I did what I had to do."

Rissa shrugged. "Then how can there be a problem?"

"Oh, there's a problem," Thaya insisted in a bitter hiss. "He strolled in here, drunk out of his mind, and paid for one roll in the sack, so I gave it to him. Then, after we're done, he keeps nursing that flask to the point where I have to steal the damn thing, and by then he's so drunk I'm thinking he's forgotten how to leave. Now, he's insisting that he paid for two romps, which he didn't."

The older woman sighed. "Just give him what he wants."

"Rissa, I don't care who he is; I'm not about to fuck a man for free."

"If you could steal his flask, then you can steal the money for a second time."

"But it's the principle of the thing! He can't go around thinking he can come in here and get what he wants without paying for it!"

Nodding apologetically to Lonriad, Rissa turned around to face Thaya. "Honey, if he's as drunk as you make it sound, he'll never remember it."

"Still, what if--"

"Thaya!" Lonriad had to raise a brow at the sound of that voice. "Oy! Thaya! Where'd'ya go?"

His fears were confirmed when Severin stumbled out of the back room, his steps uncertain and a ridiculous expression on his face. "Thaya! Come on!"

"Not until you pay me!"

"I did!"

"You did not!"

Now would have been a great time for heart attack, Lonriad decided; with his luck, though, it never came. "Severin!" He couldn't believe this. He'd thought he had one son--one!--who might turn out better than this. Was that really too much to hope for?

Confused, Severin's gaze shifted Lonriad's way. A few seconds of silence passed; Lonriad guessed he was trying to correct his focus. "Th'ell are you doin' here?"

"I could ask you the same question," Lonriad sighed. "Viridis didn't raise you to spend your spare evenings pestering prostitutes, you know."

He watched as his son shuffled further into the room, a burning sensation welling within his core. Now would have been a great time to wake up; with any luck, this was just a nightmare. "Tell Thaya I paid 'er."

"He did not!"

"Ladies, please." Lonriad took Rissa by the waist and seated her on the bench by the wall. He then did the same with Thaya and proceeded to Severin.

"What the hell were you thinking, kiddo?" he scolded, despite the fact that it was probably useless at this point. "You're better than this; what gave you the idea to get drunk off your ass, then head over here and cause trouble for these ladies?"

Severin tossed back his head and laughed. "I'm not drunk!"

"And I'm the Empress of Byzantium." Lonriad crossed his arms and looked his son over once more. Seriously--great time to wake up. "I haven't seen you so befuddled since you were twelve years old and you and your brother stole the sacramental wine from the chapel. Now, let's just get you home and sober you up, all right?"

"I'm fine," Severin stressed, his grin wide enough to prove otherwise thrice over. "Maybe you're drunk."

"Then how come I'm not the one making an ass of himself?" Lonriad grabbed Severin's arm, worried that he might not be able to support himself for much longer. "Come on, let's go."

"But I paid for--"

"No, son, you didn't." He watched as Severin's pupils dilated and constricted, then shook his head and frowned. "Come along; you need to rest."

Severin yanked his arm from Lonriad's grasp, causing him to sway backward; he caught himself only by a lucky half-step. "I'm fine!"

"Then how come you can't stand up straight?"

"I can!" He looked as if he might try to prove himself by jumping, but luckily, he seemed to have forgotten the required motions. "It's everythin' else that can't."

This was getting out of hand. He expected this sort of thing from Rudolphus, and he had a feeling it was only a matter of time before Sidwein was pulling stunts like this too, but Severin? He had to get to the bottom of this. "Just listen to yourself! Really, you need to just--Severin!"


Well, that had been inevitable, he supposed. Lonriad cringed as he looked down at his son's unconscious form. He never thought he'd be here--on his feet, alert and aware, while Severin was passed out on a whorehouse floor. He couldn't remember ever being so disappointed in his son.

Nor could he remember ever being so disappointed with himself.

He reached into his pouch and grabbed a few more coins, tossing them in the direction of the two prostitutes. "Sorry for all the trouble, girls."


September 25, 2010

In Which Florian Fills the Pretentious Silence

June 7, 1169

"...and that is undeniable proof that the world is not a flat surface, and not a sphere, but a trapezohedron," concluded Florian, despite the fact that his meticulous calculations were clearly lost on a simple soul like Falidor. "A hexagonal trapezohedron, to be precise."

His companion frowned. "And where might we be sitting on this antiprism of yours?"

"One of the upper faces, near the central vertex, a little to the left."

Falidor's mouth twitched in a silent laugh, then collapsed into a half-smile. "Fascinating. Does the baron know you're here?"

Florian shrugged. "Not here specifically, but he told me to leave, with the baroness in labor and all."

The other man's eyebrow arched. Florian wasn't surprised; most people sometimes had trouble believing what he had to say, for some reason or another. "Whenever Lady Alina was in labor, Lord Severin practically had me running the place--seven children and never once was I asked to leave."

"Yes, but did you ever walk into the birthing room and catch a full view of her ladyship's nethers?" His eyes bulging, Falidor's back straightened; Florian grinned. "Enough said."


Florian tossed back his head, that simultaneously beautiful and disgusting view still flashing before his eyes. "It might have been nice to see that when she wasn't in the process of giving birth, but I'll take what I can get."

"You would say that," Falidor scolded, his teeth bared in a wide grin. "You're lucky the baron hasn't replaced you yet, you know."

"Oh, I'm not worried." Florian raised his hand to eye level and picked at the hangnail on his middle finger. "The baron needs someone who can actually speak his mind."

"Well, no one could say you don't--" Falidor's jaw dropped, his gaze captured by some unexpected sight behind Florian's back. "Your grace?"

Surprised, Florian turned around to see a tall geezer making his way into the room. His eyes were the same soft blue as the baroness's, but the brows that sat above them were dark and sloped, and his graying mane of hair still contained some silky black strands; this must have been Lord Severin's father. "Falidor," the duke acknowledged with a slight twitch of his lips.

"This is certainly unexpected, your grace," Falidor replied, a trace of worry in his face betraying the welcoming tone of his voice. "To what do we here owe the honor?"

The duke chuckled as he stepped toward Falidor, his confident stride that of a man half his age. "Does a man need a reason to visit his son and grandchildren?"

"When he lives in another country, I imagine it helps," Florian quipped by sheer instinct, earning a quick glare from Falidor. He shrugged; some people just placed too much value on those pretentious silences that could easily be filled with a perfectly good comment.

Smirking, the duke sent a sidelong glance Florian's way. "Who is this?"

"Just the baron's steward," Falidor muttered, a little too apologetic for Florian's taste. "Don't mind him; he thinks the world is a bipyramid."

Florian bit his lip. "Trapezohedron--there's a difference, you know. And I proved it, in case you weren't listening."

The duke dismissed the fact with a wave of his hand, then turned back to Falidor. "Anyway, is Severin around?"

Falidor shook his head. "He's out right now."

"Oh?" The older man seemed to be waiting for more information, but if Falidor knew anything, he wasn't at liberty to divulge it. At last, the duke seemed to pick up on this. "How about the children?"

"They're at the castle."

"Bad timing on my part, then?" The duke glanced toward the ceiling, then shrugged. "No matter; I'll just go off and kill some time somewhere, then come back in a few hours. Say, where's the nearest brothel?"

This last bit had been directed at Florian--and with great enthusiasm, at that. He almost felt bad for the man; seeing as he was happily married and didn't even live in this shire, he couldn't answer the question.

"It's about ten minutes northeast of the village," Falidor told him. "The road veers off to the west about halfway between, but just keep following the fence and you can't miss it."

Shocked, the duke turned around and gaped at his son's steward. "I must say, I never would have expected you to know something like that."

"And why wouldn't he?" Florian demanded. "Do men in Dovia not visit their wives at work anymore?"

Falidor raised his hands to his face and moaned, but what could Florian do? It was against his very nature to ignore such obvious conversational opportunities. "Don't jump down the man's throat just because he's a good husband."

His friend didn't seem any less embarrassed; the duke, however, laughed. "Perhaps I ought to call on Octavius more often. Anyway, I'd best be off; those pretty ladies can't feed themselves if I'm here talking to you two, can they?"

Not giving either of them a chance to reply, he turned around and made his way out of the room, closing the door firmly behind him.

Somewhat unsure of what to make of that whole instance, Florian squinted. "Interesting fellow."

"Oh, he's interesting," Falidor agreed, crossing his arms across his chest, "but you know... sometimes, there's only so much interesting a man can handle."

Florian wasn't quite sure of this, but he was feeling a little indulgent, so he gave the compromise of a shrug. "Perhaps. Anyway, do you want to ride up to Tetran and see if the baroness has given birth yet?"


September 24, 2010

In Which Camaline Offers a Lesson

May 13, 1169

Watching Ietrin trying to impress Ellona had once been amusing, but this occurred so frequently that it was now a dull, dreaded, almost painful part of Camaline's daily routine. Ietrin would try some horrid line, Ellona would reply with a spiteful laugh, and he'd continue attempt to woo her for a few minutes before she'd resolve to get rid of him by smacking him across the face. The cycle would then repeat indefinitely, sometimes for hours on end; it was enough to make one suspect that the young lady-in-waiting got as much pleasure out of rejecting Camaline's brother as he did out of pursuing her.

"Do you want to go do something else?"

It was Ellona's younger sister, Catherelle. Camaline acknowledged her with the slightest tilt of the eyebrows. She didn't like Ellona, but at least the older girl was mildly interesting. Catherelle had all the personality of a dairy cow, if that. She might have been the type that was meant to be seen and not heard, if only she didn't insist on dressing like a novice nun and binding her hair in those ridiculous coils.

"Please," she insisted, her eyes looking anywhere and everywhere except for at the other two; as much as Ietrin fancied Ellona, Catherelle fancied Ietrin even more.

Camaline sighed. "Fine." She didn't much like the thought of being left to entertain Catherelle, but it didn't make much of a difference, she supposed. She was already bored. She was often bored. Most people were boring.

She pried herself from the couch's soft cushions as the younger girl shuffled into Leara's bedroom. Camaline couldn't be sure exactly why she would choose to go in there--Leara had left for Armion Keep half an hour prior--but perhaps the sheer lack of Ellona was paradise enough for Catherelle. Yawning, she toyed with the idea of running off elsewhere, but try as she might, she couldn't think of anything better to do. Anyone who could have possibly kept her interest was outside the castle walls; she had been abandoned to the mercy of a lovestruck, calf-eyed, simpering baby.

Gnawing at her own tongue, she followed the younger girl into the room and set herself down on the bed. "What do you want to do?"

There had been no need for the question; Catherelle had already taken to exploring Leara's dresser. Great--dress up. "Would Leara mind if I tried on some of her dresses?"

"Yes," Camaline lied, intent on changing the activity. However, she couldn't help but take pity on the girl when her shoulders fell, crestfallen; the last thing she wanted on her hands was a crybaby. "If you look in the bottom drawer, though, there are some old rags and costumes from yuletide plays and such; help yourself to any of those."

Catherelle pulled open the drawer and began to dig through the assorted old pieces. She took a few minutes to settle on an outfit she liked, then ducked behind the footboard in order to change modestly--as if she needed to bother. Stupid girl.

Finally, she kicked the old convent gown to the side and stood. "Is this a little revealing?" She wore a red skirt and chemise combination complete with several sashes around the waist. Aydelle had worn that when she'd played a slave on the Twelfth Night before last, and it had been her idea to shorten the chemise and reveal the midriff; Camaline's father had declared the play over the minute she'd made her entrance, but as far as Camaline was concerned, she'd simply dazzled.

But it was difficult to determine how Catherelle wore the garments--those damn coils just ruined everything. "I don't think so--especially if you consider that we're the only ones in the room."

Unconvinced, Catherelle planted herself in front of the mirror and examined her reflection. "It is a little revealing."

"Really, it's not," Camaline insisted. "If it bothers you so much, let your hair down; it might help cover up a bit."

Reluctant, the younger girl raised her hand and let one coil fall into a long, narrow braid. "This is most immodest."

"Catherelle, it isn't as if no one wears their hair long these days--I wear mine long, and I'm a princess." Camaline didn't like to remind people of her rank if she could help it--after all, her father always sounded like such an idiot when he did it--but every once in a while, it did actually have an effect on people.

Catherelle sighed, then released the other coil and picked at the braids. She quickly ran through her hair with Leara's brush and turned around, smiling shyly. "Is that better?"

Camaline had to blink--twice. Catherelle was stunning. Hidden in those tight coils had been a full head of silky, sensual golden tresses. Her bangs obscured one eye, but that only brought more emphasis to the previously unsung beauty of the other. And her skin! Alongside that lovely hair, it looked so soft, so touchable. As for the outfit, she was no Aydelle, but the clothes did flatter her figure; for an eleven-year-old, she was remarkably developed.

Unable to take her eyes off the girl, Camaline leapt from the bed and nodded. "Much. You should wear your hair down more often."

Unconvinced, Catherelle pinched a lock of her hair between her fingers and fiddled with the strands. "Oh, no. I don't have nice curls like Ellona."

Now that she'd spoken, it seemed that she wasn't any more interesting than she had been before. Oh well--at least she didn't look like some spinster living in an obscure wing of her brother's manor anymore. "No, but it is nice." Camaline stepped toward the lady-in-waiting and casually grazed a section of hair with the back of her hand; visibly flattered, Catherelle giggled.

"I never thought I'd ever be complimented by a princess," the girl swooned, a dreamy look in her amber eyes. "Do you think Ietrin would want to kiss me if I started wearing my hair like this?"

Camaline doubted it. She knew her brother had a strong preference for dark-haired women and would probably never give a blond like Catherelle a second glance. It was his loss, she supposed; he was limiting himself to half the market. Of course, she couldn't say that to Catherelle's face. "I'm sure he would."

A smile of sheer ecstasy broke out upon her pretty, yet simple face. "Oh, can you imagine? A kiss from a prince? Say... what's it even like, kissing a boy?"

A particular favorite memory flashing before her eyes, Camaline pondered the question. She'd had that lesson at Catherelle's age--younger, even. She didn't see any harm in it; surely it couldn't be such an issue?

"Well," she began, wrapping her arms around Catherelle's middle and resting her hands on the small of her exposed back, "he usually touches you before he kisses you..."