November 29, 2010

In Which Tavrin Takes a Hint

January 1, 1171

Raia's friend and his woman had been arguing for a while now--a good angle of the sun, at least. She hadn't been lying when she'd said that things weren't going so well. Vaguely, Tavrin wondered how things had gotten so out of hand between them. He and Atala fought, his sister and her man fought, his grandparents fought... but never like this. This was more than a disagreement, more than a simple difference of opinion--much more.

"Oh, like hell you will, you spineless mass of vomit!"

"Don't think I won't!"

"As if I couldn't! You don't have the guts to walk out of here!"

"I'm at my breaking point, Ailede! Fourteen years of putting up with all of your shit, and what do I get in return? Nothing!"

Exalted Ancestors! How long could they go on like this? If there were any children, Tavrin hoped they were out of the house; he'd only ever known one parent, but if he'd had two, he didn't think he would have wanted to hear something like this. Well... unless they were both horrible like this crazy lady, maybe. That might have been amusing. Did the Dovans have a word for that? The Germans did, he was sure of it; he wondered if he might have been feeling that now if the man hadn't been Raia's friend.

Not to mention, if he hadn't felt pressed for time and wasn't sick of waiting for the man to leave already.

"What the hell are you talking about? Don't you realize how much I've done for you, you worthless ingrate?"

"What you've done for me? What you've done for me?" Through the window, Tavrin could see the man's fist hit the kitchen table, the resulting thud! audible in spite of the stone walls. "You treat the children like chopped liver, waste my money on things you never even use, can't be arsed to bring in any income or even take care of the God damn house, and fuck around with everyone but me! By God, when your sister went to the convent, I should have sent you right along with her!"

The man opened the door and stormed out, fire in his eyes and mouth and movement though the air was pure ice. The woman was an even sorrier sight; Tavrin couldn't help but recall the time he and Atala had once watched that one Dovan family's angry old sow give birth. "If you leave this house, don't think for one second that you'll be welcome back!"

"Fine by me!" He stepped outside and slammed the door behind him. His fury still burning, he let out a livid roar and strode up the path toward the road, overlooking Tavrin entirely; even if he had noticed him, the man was clearly in no mood to talk.

And yet, that was precisely why Tavrin was there. "Hey!"

The Dovan--what had Raia said his name was? Faldor?--froze. "Who's there?"

Tavrin hurried alongside the path and cut in front of him, stringing together a bit of the man's language in his mind before letting it fly from his mouth. "You is Faldor, yes?"

An eyebrow arched, the man gave a wary nod. "And, uh... what the hell are you supposed to be?"

He was asking who he was--as if that was important. "I am friend to Raia, but no matters. You go to castle now."

"I was just heading there." The man lunged as if to sidestep, but Tavrin was not to be out-maneuvered by a mere human. "Now, if you just--"

"Wait!" Annoyed, the man glared at him; he chose to ignore this. "You hurry to castle and warn father of Raia, yes? You hurry to castle and tell father of Raia--"

"Tell him what?" the man roared, clearly at the end of his rope.

Tavrin scowled; he could take a hint. "Know what? Forget it!"


November 27, 2010

In Which Evaleith Copes with the In-Laws

December 8, 1170

Rifden Wythleit may have been one of the most distinguished and highly skilled tradesmen in the area, but regardless of his successes, he was no more mature than any other young man his age--which was, to be precise, eighteen and a half. "So... when do we eat?"

Embarassed, Evaleith slouched in her seat. The boy's sister and brother-in-law--who were also his lady and lord, he might have done well to remember--had gone through all the unnecessary trouble of throwing a nice family gathering for Falidor's birthday and he couldn't even sit and make small-talk for twenty minutes before asking about supper. And he called himself a gentleman?

Not that it mattered, seeing as everyone else called him such.

The Wythleit siblings had been born peasants, but of the five of them, Evaleith's husband was the only one who still retained that lowly status. Not that she'd ever expected to marry a gentlemen--Lord knew she was twice the peasant Ceidrid was--but she was a little tired of feeling like an impostor. She'd come to the castle in her best dress, only to find that it paled in comparison to both Alsina's lacy red semi-formal and the kirtle Nora wore to accommodate the vast-approaching baby. Of the men, Ceidrid was the only one who'd even felt the need to dress up at all; the rest of them were wearing the same sort of clothing they wore every day! How was it that they were the only ones here who weren't fancy enough for some stupid family dinner?

And to think, it wasn't even as if Severin hadn't meant to make Ceidrid a gentleman years prior! Ceidrid had declined the offer, saying he would not call himself a gentleman until he felt that he had earned the title on his own merit. It was honorable of him, Evaleith knew--honorable, but stupid.

Ah, but maybe she was being too hard on the poor man. Peasant or not, she did love him, and it wasn't as if they were impoverished--far from. Their sons were well-fed and they never had any trouble making ends meet. She'd made such a social leap when she married him that she had likely grown unused to maintaining the same status years on end--yes, that had to be it.

"I'm a little hungry too," Alsina whined from her husband's lap--how on earth did she feel comfortable hanging off of the man in front of her siblings?

Aldhein groaned. "Well, if you are, the children probably are too."

By Nora's end of the couch, Severin's eyes narrowed into a pair of dark slits. He must have thought his in-laws somewhat immature--not that Evaleith could blame him, really. "It won't be much longer, I'm sure. Anyway, Falidor... how does it feel to be all of thirty? It's been so long since I was that age that I can scarcely remember."

Nora glanced up at her husband and snickered. "Yes, because we all know that eight years is a lifetime."

"It's not--and that's the scary thing," piped up Aldhein as Alsina pressed a daring kiss to the side of his neck--she must have had something to drink before they'd arrived. "Enjoy whatever you have left of your twenties, children."

His sister-in-law flashed him a devious grin, then cast a side-long glance toward her brother beside her. "All right, knock it off; I think you're scaring Falidor."

Privately, Evaleith had to disagree; however Falidor looked, it wasn't 'scared'. Indeed, she found it doubtful that he was even paying any attention to the conversation around him. He didn't seem to be quite all there--hadn't all evening, now that she thought about it. She wondered why that was--had his marriage declined even further than they'd thought?

Seeming to sense something similar, Ceidrid left his post at the fire and headed toward his brother. "You all right, bro?"

"Hmm?" Falidor took a moment to come to his senses; by the time he'd snapped to the here and now, every eye in the room was upon him. "Oh. I'm fine, thank you, just... thinking."

"Ah, he probably just needs to get laid," chuckled Rifden from the corner. Evaleith glared at him, but he only smirked--stupid child.

But to her surprise, Severin also laughed. "Perhaps you might take him on a tour of the local inns later tonight? Falidor on the loose--fathers lock up your daughters and all that."

At the sound of the word 'daughters', Falidor buried his face in his hands and whimpered, leaning forward as his elbows met his knees. Evaleith raised an eyebrow; had Riala or Maddie gotten into some sort of mischief earlier?

"Mama!" a small voice Evaleith recognized as Nora's daughter Ceira's rang from the corridor. "Mama, Papa, everybody! Supper's ready!"

"We'll be right there!" Severin took Nora by the hand and hoisted her to her feet, then glanced around the room, his gaze finally resting on Falidor. "Falidor, we shall let you have the pick of seats; if it makes you feel any younger, you're welcome to sit at the children's table."

If possible, Falidor slouched even further. "That... won't be necessary, thank you."

"Very well, then." He wrapped his arm around his wife's waist and pressed a kiss to her cheek before leading her out of the room. "Come along, everyone--dinner is served!"

Rifden scurried along after the pair of them, and Aldhein and Alsina after him. Ceidrid locked eyes with Evaleith and smiled. "Hungry, love?"

"A little," she admitted. "Yourself?"

He frowned. "More than I could say without encouraging Alsina and Rifden, anyway. Falidor?"

Evaleith watched from the corner of her eye as Falidor pulled himself upright, relieving himself with the heavy sigh of a man twice his age. Ignoring his brother's question, he rose to his feet with a distracted struggle and began the long, labored trudge toward the banquet hall.


November 25, 2010

In Which Falidor Does Something Stupid

December 8, 1170

"...and last but not least, this is the master bedroom." Raia crossed to the other side of the room and turned around, as if anticipating a response, but Falidor couldn't give one--not right away. He'd been an awkward, silent wreck of a man just trying to hold himself together for the whole duration of the tour, and his lord's pretty, brown-eyed daughter was the last person he would force to watch him fall apart.

"It's... nice," he managed at last, though he didn't think the word did it justice. It was a spacious room--far more spacious than his own at home, and even moreso than the guest room in which he was currently staying--and filled with fine furniture that he wasn't sure he could ever afford if he doubled his work hours. He could say the same of the rest of the house; whoever Raia ended up marrying would be a lucky man to live in such a house.

Hell, who was he kidding? Whoever Raia ended up marrying would be a lucky man to have her.

"Have you seen the view?" He turned his head and stared out the large westward windows, allowing his gaze to linger only a couple seconds before staring at the wall once more. "I know it's not much at this time of day, but you should see it at sunset. It's too bad we have to be back at the castle for supper, really; we might have been able to watch it otherwise."

Falidor shrugged. "Some other time, perhaps." In truth, he had forgotten much about sunsets, as it had been years since he last saw one. Back in Dovia, his father had sometimes taken him and Nora out to the yard and they'd watch as the clear Bandera sky became a bright shell of pink and orange and gold before the last sliver of sun fell past the horizon and left the display to fade to twilight. After his father died and the family had moved to Naroni, he'd climb up on the roof some nights and observe as he tried to get his thoughts in order--his late father, his ailing mother, his lazy grandfather. The last sunset he remembered had been mere hours before his impromptu wedding, fourteen years ago now.

Fourteen years--fourteen fucking years and he'd never once thought of watching a sunset with Ailede. She probably wouldn't have cared to if he'd asked. Ceidrid watched sunsets with Evaleith, and Alsina watched them with Aldhein; Nora had watched them with Jothein, and he was sure she watched them with Lord Severin now as well. With that in mind, it seemed almost a blasphemy to share such a thing with a woman whose only happiness came from making him miserable. Sunsets, perhaps, were for lovers--not that he knew how lovers felt about anything.

Or maybe he had some idea.


God, what had he been thinking, coming here with her? She was scarcely older than his twins--he could even remember carrying her around when she was a baby! He'd seen her nearly every day for fifteen years, a restless, headstrong little girl with a mop of dark hair and a knack for bossing him around.

Every day--and somehow, some months ago, she'd suddenly become a woman.


He turned around to find that she'd drawn closer--great. It was so difficult to keep a straight face when his palms were sweating. "Sorry?"

"I was wondering if you knew why I brought your here." She crossed her arms and stared, her eyes as expecting and unyielding as ever; if she thought he might read her mind, she was bound to be disappointed.

"Err... to show off?"

Raia laughed--not some forced giggle like the women at the brothel or a spiteful cackle like Ailede, but a clear, ringing laugh. "No, stupid! I brought you here because it's your birthday and I want to give you a present! Happy birthday!"

His birthday! She was not the first to mention it, but he hadn't felt old until the words had sprung from her lips. When he'd woken, thirty hadn't seemed any different from twenty-nine, twenty-eight, twenty-seven; now, it was every bit as ancient as he'd thought it was when he'd been fifteen. He'd always hoped he would have made something of himself by thirty, but now that time was here and he was much the same--listless, useless, pathetic. If not for his children, he wouldn't have thought twice if offered the chance to be fifteen again and start anew.


He'd blanked out again--symptomatic of his age, no doubt. A little light-headed, he stepped around to the front of the couch and sat. "Sorry. Thank you, Raia; I'm not sure why you might have given me a tour, but it has been fun."

That rich, girlish laughter chimed about the room again as she took a seat beside him. "You idiot! The tour isn't your present--it's the house!"

...what? Of all damnedest the things he'd never thought he'd hear.

"You're kidding, right?" She had to be; there was no other explanation. "Why would you give me your house--your father's house, technically? Does he know about this?"

Raia dismissed the questions with a wave of her hand. "I'm not kidding--and I did ask my father. He said I was crazy to want to give away a house like this, but it was mine to give if I wanted to. I can have my pick of houses, but I think you should have this one."

Falidor looked around the room again. It was far finer than anything he could imagine for himself; the intricate mantle alone was probably worth more than what his parents had earned in their lifetimes. "Raia, I can't take this house from you; you love this house."

"Not as much as I love you." Startled, he gaped at her; had she just said she loved him? "What do you say? Will you please take the house? It has room for all your children if they want to stay with you every other week, and it's close to the castle and the village while still being remote enough for your wife to have trouble finding; please take it?"

He sighed. If there was one thing he'd learned in fifteen years, it was that there was no refusing those eyes. "All right; I'll take it."

Without warning, she launched herself him, a joyous squeal ringing from her moist, perfect lips. "Oh my God! This is going to be so much better for you and the children, Falidor--I promise!"

His hand nestled itself in her hair as he returned the hug. How was it so thick and silky at the same time? Venus herself would have killed for such hair, he was sure of it. "Thank you, Raia. This is... well, I certainly wasn't expecting this. Do you think I could move in gradually? I don't know if I feel right about leaving straight away."

"Move in however you like," she agreed. "It's your house, after all. But really, you wouldn't be leaving straight away; you should have left years ago."

Maybe she was right. Maybe... but he'd never had the strength before. "Raia, I don't think..."

She pressed her finger to his lips and grinned. "It's your birthday, you moron; you don't have to think."

So, for a moment, he didn't. He'd forgotten, however, that people tended to do stupid things when they weren't thinking.

Stupid things like kissing their lords' daughters.


November 24, 2010

In Which Tarien Gets a Scarf for His Trouble

November 16, 1170

"You really don't have to mind the fire, you know," Goodwife Fedurin muttered as Tarien continued to prod at the hearth. "You're a guest, after all."

Tarien laughed. From what he could gather, old Hilla had a reputation among her neighbors as something of a shrew, but he found her rather pleasant, in her own snarky sort of way. The other folks must not have taken the time to get to know her--either that or she'd just taken a liking to him. Either way, he supposed he couldn't complain, or at least not in regards to the woman herself. "Oh, it's no trouble. What sort of gentleman would I be if I'd come in here and sat my ass down and barked at you to put on a fire for me?"

Hilla sniffed. "No sort, I suppose--although I do still think you're only doing all this for us so my daughter will start putting out one of these days."

A Hilla-esque thing to say indeed! Arydath had certainly gotten her spunk from somewhere. Nevertheless, it was a little insulting to think that that was the impression he was giving, even if she was only joking. At the same time, however, he'd never been one for serious conversation--and after the tragic loss of his little step-nephew, a little humor might have served well to ease his melancholy for a moment. "Do you think it's working?" He turned his head and winked at her.

She shrugged. "Hell, we have a floor; if she won't crawl into your bed, then don't be surprised to find me in it one of these days."

Really, there was never any way of telling whether or not Hilla was kidding; in this case, Tarien figured it would be better for both of them if he assumed that she was. "Your appreciation does flatter me, Goodwife."

She opened her mouth to respond--something about his playing hard to get, no doubt--but couldn't get a word out before Arydath had emerged from the other room, taken one look at Tarien, and groaned.

"You're here again?" She didn't even bother trying to hide her annoyance--and yet, by some youthful logic, that lent a greater thrill to her presence. "Remind me again how you even found my house?"

She crossed her arms and stepped toward him. Her mother stood, then hurried off to the other room. "I'll just go see what the children are up to."

Regardless of her occasional insinuations, Hilla was quite possibly Tarien's only ally in his pursuit of Arydath--and really, why wouldn't she be? What old peasant woman in her right mind would have a second thought if her equally underprivileged daughter suddenly caught the eye a knight? Hilla probably went to bed every night to dream about castles and tapestries and green-eyed grandchildren in fancy cribs. He felt a little bad about getting her hopes up; even if he had known Arydath for more than a couple months, she'd yet to express any interest.

Not that that was enough to stop a man from trying. "You sure you aren't cold in just that old dress, love? I could warm you up if you like."

Her brows arched and her eyes narrowed to dark slits, Arydath sighed. "I'm fine. Now, why the hell are you here?"

He shrugged. "I was in the neighborhood--thought it might be nice to catch a little visit with a friend while I was in the area."

"Since when are we friends?" She placed her hand on her hip and stared at him, an intense wave of taunting challenge streaming from her dark eyes. Damn--he had a thing for dark eyes.

"We can be whatever you want us to be."

She didn't look impressed--and yet, that only made him want to try harder. "You don't understand the meaning of the word 'no', do you?"

"Funny--forty years ago, my mother came to the same conclusion," he chuckled. "You know, if she could get past the fact that you're a peasant, I don't doubt that my mother would love you."

"But I am, so she wouldn't." The stark reality of her words stung, but he had to note that he'd never seen her so calm. Every time he'd seen her before, it had only been a matter of minutes before she exploded into some sort of terrifying and beautiful ball of vitriol, but now... not so much. He wondered why that was.

He placed his hand to the back of his neck and frowned. "Ah, just as well! My father probably wouldn't like you even if you were a princess."

Arydath raised an eyebrow. "Is he a misogynist?"

"No, just a run-of-the-mill misanthrope." Feeling the need to fidget, Tarien ran a quick, desperate scan over his own person; he found a stray thread on his sleeve and began to play with it. There was a persistent ache that came with talking about his father, and he wanted nothing more than to ignore it. "You shouldn't be offended if he doesn't like you. He doesn't like most people--hardly anyone, really, other than my sisters and my mother and my nieces and nephews. Hell, he doesn't even like me all that much."

He realized a second too late that he should not have said that. He could already hear her inevitable response of 'I can't imagine why' or 'That makes two of us, then'. He braced himself and waited; shockingly enough, it never came.

Indeed, all he'd brought upon himself was a silence, which he had never been one to suffer. He tossed back his head and forced himself to smile. "Ah, but enough with my bothersome self-pity! Care for a filthy limerick? I have the most extensive repertoire of filthy limericks."

"No thank you; I've probably heard all you have and more." She grabbed one of the tails of her green scarf and tugged, allowing that lovely cinnamon hair to cascade to her shoulders. She then took him by the hand and pressed it into his palm; if the quality of the fabric had surprised him before, it was certainly a shock now that he held the whole thing. "Now, I'm sure you have better things to do than wasting my time."

She wanted him to leave, but his boots had turned to lead; all he could do was stand and gape at her. This made no sense. "Why did you just give me your scarf?"

She stared at him blankly, as if he couldn't have asked a dumber question if he'd tried. Then, she flashed him a slight curve of the mouth that might have been the foundation of a smile. "You need it more than I do."

This made even less sense. "What? You mean this is some sort of... magic scarf?"

Arydath rolled her eyes, that curious expression now a thing of the past as her usual sneer took its place. "Yes, Tarien--it's a magic scarf. Now get the hell out of my house, you numbskull."

And with that, she turned around and returned to room from whence she came, closing the door with a quiet, yet firm thud!

What a strange, strange woman.

And yet, he didn't think he would have come had she been anything else.


November 23, 2010

In Which Ovrean Does Not Speak

November 10, 1170

Celina had retired at the service's end, and Ovrean didn't blame her. She'd already spent two days at the bedside of her five-year-old son--who would never wake--in a room that would no longer be slept in--filled with toys that would no longer be played with--so it seemed to him that it was unreasonable to think that she could bear to sit up in the crypt all night until they buried the boy in the morning. She was never going to forget that her child was dead; it would have made no sense to constantly remind her of the fact.

He and Lorn had seen the last of the mourners on their way, thanking them for their thoughts and prayers and absorbing their sentiments in Celina's stead, while Xeta had ushered Abrich and Rona to bed before turning in herself. Lorn had opted to sit up in his study alone for a while, so Ovrean had hurried to the master bedroom to check on Celina, whom he'd hoped to find asleep by now.

The baby, however, must have had other ideas.

Ovrean closed the nursery door and sighed. "I didn't think either of you would still be awake."

Celina raised the baby to her shoulder, her mouth poised in such a way that she might have been trying to smile; understandably, it seemed beyond her. "He was hungry, I think. He was crying..."

From the looks of it, she'd been crying too--as if he hadn't seen her do so firsthand in the past couple of days. They'd all cried: Celina, Ovrean, the kids, all of them. It had all happened so quickly. Yes, young Farilon had a history of sudden breathing problems, but the local wise women and their salves had always been able to clear his little airways before. Not this time, however; for whatever reason, his lungs had simply ceased.

Celina planted a kiss on Mernolt's forehead before lowering him back into his crib. "I'm sorry I couldn't stay, Ovrean, I just..."

"I know." He took her hands in his and stepped toward her, pulling her into a hug, not speaking. Ovrean was not a man of profound words and pretty phrases, and even if he had been, he doubted there was anything he could say to ease her pain; there were times when words were not enough, and if ever had been such an instance, it was this. No matter what he said--no matter how profound or pretty it might have been--there was still a dead child in the keep's crypt, waiting to be buried alongside his father. It was cruel and unfair and wrong, but nothing he could say or do would ever change the cold, hard facts of life.

So he did not speak.

He simply held her as she cried.


November 21, 2010

In Which Leara Is Humbled

November 8, 1170

The fire so quickly rekindled from its dying embers that it might have been the result of sheer will. If that was the case, it was a lucky thing that Leara hadn't set the whole room ablaze. Lorn should have arrived an hour earlier; she was both impatient and annoyed, two feelings that she had never before felt toward her sweet, congenial betrothed. What was taking him so long? Why was he making her wait?

She bit off a piece of her fingernail and flicked it toward the hearth. It was not the sort of thing a princess would do, but she couldn't claim to feel much like a princess just then; a princess, after all, would not have been stood up by a duke who claimed to love her.

Seriously, where the hell was that boy? Had he forgotten about their promised ride? Or worse, what if he'd been cornered by some slutty chambermaid on his way out the door? Men! If they were all like that, then it was no wonder her mother had left.

Her thoughts were silenced by a knock at the door. Finally! Leara shot into an upright position and pouted. "Took you long enough, you half-witted excuse for a--"

"Oh, my mistake, your highness--of course you must have been expecting me."

It was not Lorn, but Aldhein. Leara stiffened; her father had ended his exile from the shire some years ago, but she would have thought he'd have the good sense to stay away from the castle. "What do you want?"

She hoisted herself to her feet and stepped in front of him. Exasperated, his frown became an even thinner line. "Look, I know you don't like me and I can assure you that this is the last place on earth I want to be, but this is important. I need to speak to your father right away."

"Well, if you want to speak to my father, then it had better be important." Her hand balled into a fist as those eerie eyes continued to glaze over her. She yanked on her braid to keep herself from driving his fist right into his smug, perfect body that had once made her mother's knees weak. "You slept with my mother."

Aldhein's eyes narrowed; it was unearthly how a just glint of that green was just as overpowering as the full circle. "With all due respect, your highness, that was fifteen years ago--besides, that has nothing to do with the reason I'm here. Where the hell is the king?" Leara said nothing. She responded by means of a cold gaze, which was all she could manage between Lorn's tardiness and Aldhein's presence; Aldhein, however, was imprecise in his reading of her silent message. "This is serious, God damn it--far more serious than your idiot father and your slut mother and whatever the hell I did to them. Just get over yourself and tell me where I can find the king!"

"He's at the baron's keep in Tetran, you impertinent pig!" Leara shrieked. She liked to think of herself as patient woman, but if there had ever been a good day for the man who'd made a cuckold of her father to reprimand her like some foolish child, it was certainly not today; had she been anything but a princess, she might have clawed the bastard's face off. "And how dare you speak to me like that! Get out of my castle!"

The man crossed his arms and sniffed. "Don't think I won't--but before I leave, I have a message for you as well."

"Out with it, then," she hissed, her scalp aching as her grip on the braid tightened.

Aldhein nodded. "The duke sends his apologies, your majesty, but he will not be able to accompany you on a ride today." And with that, he placed his hand on the doorhandle, as if he deemed that a sufficient explanation.

Leara, however, did not. "That's it? He leaves me waiting for an hour and then sends his worthless churl of a steward to tell me he's not coming, without any explanation at all?"

"My God! You know, having seen you alongside your brother and sister, I thought that you alone might have avoided your parents' selfishness!" Aldhein drew his hand from the door and looked her over once more, as leery and disgusted with her as she was with him. "Clearly, I was wrong--you're all just like your parents! Everything has to be about you! Now, I have to go to Tetran and give this message to your father and the baron; is there anything you want to say to your betrothed?"

"Yes!" She plunged her foot into the hardwood, the metallic taste of blood flooding her tongue as she chomped down on the inside of her cheek. She could not recall the last time she had been so angry. She hadn't believed that Lorn could have ever hurt her so, but perhaps she'd been a fool to trust him--he was a man, after all, a man just like this horrible beast before her. "Tell him that if he doesn't love me anymore, he can come here and say it to my face, the pathetic little worm!"

Aldhein raised an eyebrow, his features contorting into that bizarre, disbelieving look that all old married people wore when people Leara's age spoke of love. "Your majesty, I do believe you've erred. The duke is not standing you up because of any love for you or lack of therefore; the fact of that matter is that he cannot spend the afternoon in your company today because his brother died this morning. Now, if you don't mind, I have to inform the rest of the nobility of the boy's passing."

He pushed through the door and left, not even bothering to close it behind him. The crisp November gust was enough to snuff the fire in the hearth, but Leara took no notice.


November 19, 2010

In Which Raia Gets an Unwanted Opinion

October 17, 1170

Raia nudged the earth with the heel of her slipper. She probably should have worn her boots, but it was still rather warm--and all the way out here, it was a little late now.

Today was her fifteenth birthday. She supposed that it was a somewhat monumental age, but she was getting to the point where the very idea of a birthday was beginning to lose its novelty. She would have been lying if she claimed not to like the presents or the dinners and dances, but other than that, birthdays didn't seem like such a big deal anymore. It wasn't as if her friends and family would put their lives on hold for the whole day just for her, and it wasn't as if she expected otherwise; besides, she had her own worries, and one magical day of gifts and parties wasn't going to solve anything.

Nora's baby, for one. According to Goodwife Diarn, the baby would arrive around Christmastime, just a little over two months away now--whatever had gone wrong with her mother's last pregnancy, it was well past the point where the same could happen to Nora. However, she was not in the clear yet, and no one was more aware of this than Raia's father. He wouldn't breathe easily again until the baby's birth, until he knew for sure that both mother and child were going to be all right. He tried not to let it show, but since her mother's death, Raia had developed an intense intuition where her father was concerned; after three years now, he was not so difficult to read.

And then there was the problem with Falidor. Whereas his marriage to Ailede had been cold and loveless before, his patience had kept their relationship at least mildly civil--but not anymore. The house was a blazing inferno every time the two of them crossed paths--often as a result of some insult to her that leaked from Ailede's mouth. It was nice to think that Falidor was willing to stand up for her, but she couldn't help but feel responsible for making his life even more miserable than it already was. It had gotten to the point where Ailede would show up at the castle unannounced for the sole purpose of railing on her husband--and Raia as well, if she happened to be around at the time. Her father had instructed the guards to deny Ailede entrance, but he could not stop her from screaming insults for all to hear; the way things were now, she supposed the only thing Falidor could be grateful for was the fact that there were plenty of people willing to take in the children on the worst of the nights.

If only he had somewhere else to go! Raia had heard of spouses taking separate residences when the damage of their relationship was beyond repair, and she didn't doubt that such a thing would be in Falidor's best interests... but where would he live? He'd spent a few nights at the castle, but that couldn't become a permanent arrangement if he wanted his kids to live with him every second week; he would need a house.

Raia had a house. Well... she supposed it was technically her father's, but he'd told her that it would be hers whenever she married if her husband didn't have a nicer abode of his own. She'd been thinking of asking him if she could take up residence there when she sixteen, just to see what it was like living her own, but perhaps giving it to Falidor was a better idea. Her father owned plenty of houses, and she could have her pick of them if she needed one, but... how exactly did one go about giving a man a house?


Startled, Raia sprung to her feet and caught sight of a tiny dark-haired girl setting a few feet away. The child looked up at her and smiled, her diamond eyes bright and an elaborate mark on her cheek obvious. She pointed at Raia's horse and giggled. "'Orse!"

Awkward, she indulged the girl with a sheepish grin. "I guess you like horses?"


"Raia-girl!" Raia knew that voice. "You find offspring!"

She turned around and sure enough, there he was, suddenly in sight as usual. Why did he always have to do that? "What the hell? You never told me you had a kid!"

"You never ask." He took a few jog-like strides toward her; as usual, she tried not to let her gaze linger on anything below his waist. "How is you?"

"I'm well, thank you," she acknowledged as he embraced her. "Well enough, anyway."

"So not all well." He took a step back, his hand on her shoulder. "What wrong?"

Ah, but where to begin! She knew he couldn't guarantee that Nora would deliver safely--and even if he could, she didn't think her father would believe it until he saw it. She supposed she'd have to start with Falidor. "I have this friend, and he needs to separate from his wife."

Tavrin raised an eyebrow. "Is this... sexy friend?"

Raia glared at him. "Oh God, no! He's just a man who's married to a psychotic bitch and has to get away from her for his own good!"

Unconvinced, the man shrugged. "Quick answer--too quick."

"Shut up!"


The toddler waved her arms about for a couple seconds, then clambered to her feet. "Da!"

"She looks just like you," Raia observed as Tavrin raised the child to his shoulder.

Tavrin laughed. "I guess I make pretty girl. So, what this about your friend?"

"I already told you--he needs to get away from his wife." Speaking with Tavrin could either be enlightening or exhausting; so far, this case was leaning toward the latter. "I'm thinking I might let him live in my house. Do you think that's a good idea?"

He shrugged. "Girl let me live in her cave once."

"Oh?" Interested, Raia leaned forward. "How did that turn out?"

Her friend stared at her for a moment, then glanced at his daughter and smiled. "Where you think this baby come from?"

Raia scowled; this was really getting annoying. "I didn't say I'd be living there with him!"

A teasing smile tugged at Tavrin's mouth. "You no have to."

God--why the hell did men just assume that everything had to be about sex? Stupid Tavrin. "Remind me never to ask for your opinion on anything again. You never get anything right."

"Oh really?" He brushed a stray lock out of his daughter's little face, then turned back to Raia. "If I never right, why you get 'fensive?"

She didn't have to deal with this. A grimace in place, she mounted her horse and left.