February 27, 2011

In Which Asalaye Learns Something about Brothers

July 28, 1172

Asalaye fiddled with the laces of her dresses as her form settled further into the hay. She probably should have been out in the field with everyone else, dancing and laughing and clapping every time the newlyweds so much as looked at each other--she was the groom's sister, after all--but she wasn't in the mood for a party, so she'd stolen away and climbed to the obscure sanctuary of the barn's loft, never mind that she was wearing her best dress and had torn the hem on one of the ladder's nails. Nanalie would scold her for it, but Asalaye didn't care--after all, who would notice a torn hem? The very same people who'd failed to notice her leaving?


So someone had noticed her absence after all--and not even a someone she would have preferred, she noted as she watched a dark head with a flawless nose emerge from the hole in the floor. Smirking, the boy slung himself from the ladder to the hardwood. "Has the beautiful Princess Laya been locked away in her tower, doomed to days of drudgery until yonder knight in shining armor comes to slay the dragon?"

Asalaye sniffed. Lonriad was the last person she cared to see right now, but she liked to think she could give as well as she took. "And what are you supposed to be? The dragon's next meal?"

"Yes, but I turned out to be one of those dishes that are just too pretty to eat." He crossed the floor and trudged through the strewn-about hay, leaving it in even more of a disarray than before.

"Really? I would have guessed the opposite."

As he drew nearer, Lonriad chuckled. "Well, you would've guessed wrong, then."

God, he was insufferable. Of all the stupid boys who could have found her up here, why did it have to be the one who was all but immune to her insults? "Look, what do you want?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I just wanted to see what you were up to, I guess."

Well, clearly she wasn't up to anything; why couldn't he just leave? "You should go back to the party."

"So should you."

Silence. Sighing, Lonriad dropped to his knees and crawled onto the hay pile beside her. Asalaye's nose twitched; for a dumb thirteen-year-old kid, he smelled shockingly good. "Are you all right? You didn't really seem like yourself at the wedding."

Asalaye kicked a chunk of hay to the side. "I'm fine."

"No, you're not." Lonriad crossed his legs and drummed his fingers against his torso. "If you were fine, you wouldn't have told me you were fine; you would have called me an ass-rag and tried to push me down the ladder."

Insulted, she frowned. "Tried?"

"Well, you know what I mean.

"Look, I just want to help. If you don't want to tell me, you don't have to."

"Then I won't." Thank God that was finally over. Asalaye leaned back against the shingled wall stared at the sloped ceiling above them; it was a somewhat overcast day, but the sun's weak rays still crept through the cracks. "Do you think he'll still want to spend time with us?"

Lonriad's head tilted. "Who? Your brother?"

She nodded; nudging a little closer, he did the same. "You're not losing him, Laya, if that's what you're worried about."

"Oh, and how would you know?" She felt her spine surge as he slipped his arm around her--and yet, oddly enough, she felt no urge to move.

"My sister, remember?" His lips pulled into a smile; she tried to mimic it, but he made it look too easy. "Raia. I mean, we fight and all, but she's still my sister--and when she got married, I didn't think she'd ever find time for the rest of us again. But she visits us, and we visit her, and honestly... I think her and I are getting along a lot better now that we're not under the same roof."

Getting along better? The very notion was so absurd that for the first time in days, she laughed. "You're joking, right?"

"Laya, have I ever lied to you?" He reached forward with his free hand to tapped her square on the nose. "You never hear anyone else telling you how ugly your nose is, do you?"

"That's because they have tact, you stupid bastard!"

He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. She'd always imagined tearing him a new asshole if he tried to kiss her, but she decided to let it slide. "Maybe, but the point stands. Don't worry about your brother. You'll still see him all the time, and I guarantee you that he'll never stop loving you--I have a couple of pain-in-the-ass little sisters myself, you know."

It was odd to think that he was making her feel better--so odd, in fact, that her rational side needed some reassurance. "You promise?" It was a childish thing to ask, but it had never failed her before.

Lonriad rubbed his hand up and down against her shoulder. "I promise."


February 26, 2011

In Which Jeda Falls Prey to an Idiot's Reasoning

July 1, 1172

While her brother's soft snores could be heard from the other crib, young Princess Lileina was all giggles. The concept of nap time was lost on her; she just wanted to play. Such a sweet little girl she was, or at least in Jeda's opinion.

A pity that she'd probably end up like her mother. Perhaps Jeda would make it her cause to prevent the baby from becoming another Laralita. Such a project might--if nothing else--make life here a little more worthwhile.

Ah, but such thoughts were unbefitting of a princess! Granted, so was everything else she did these days, from running through the halls to wearing her hair loose to putting her little in-laws down for their afternoon rest. She didn't see what the problem was--nothing she'd done since her marriage might have harmed someone, she was sure of it--but no matter what she did, no matter how she behaved, the king and queen remained quietly unsatisfied and Ietrin was as indifferent as always.

And by this point, she growing somewhat indifferent herself. She just wished the process would hurry itself up; she didn't much care for apathy, but anything was better than sheer disappointment.

After a few minutes of squirming under her blanket, Lileina's eyes finally drooped. Jeda kissed her on the forehead, then stepped away from the crib and slumped herself against the wall. She missed Tetran. She missed her twin brother and her little half-siblings and her stepmother. Most of all, she missed her father. More than once had she been tempted to accept his offer, to saddle up her horse and ride across the kingdom, back into the safe haven of his open arms; she might have done so that minute had she known whether or not a ride was a risk for her just now.

She'd never thought she'd yearn for that gloomy, almost dungeon-like castle, its stone walls and its cold tile floors and all the green decor that the eye could handle. Green. She'd never much cared for green as a girl--she saw so much of it every day that she'd tired of it before long--but now, her heart skipped every time she saw the barest hint of it. Green was comfort, and it was love. Green was home.


Swamped and resigned, she looked up. It was her husband, and perhaps the last person she wanted to see just then--not that she had seen him at all since she'd closed her eyes the night prior. "Good day, Ietrin."

"Good day." He listened for the sleepy murmurs of his small siblings, then shut the door and gestured the couch. "Might we have a word?"

He didn't have to ask and they both knew it. Jeda dragged herself to the couch and sat. She thought she knew what he wanted to talk about, and while she didn't care to discuss it herself, it was inevitable; it was a battle that was not worth fighting. "Fine. What about?"

"Well," Ietrin began, setting himself down beside her, "correct me if I'm wrong, but it's been quite a while since the servants have had to scrub any blood out of your linens, hasn't it?"

Not sure what else she could do, Jeda frowned. "It's a little early to tell, if you're asking what I think you are."

"But it is possible?" He leaned in a little closer, the smell of Ellona's perfume wafting off his form. A bit of leftover nausea from hours prior wedged itself in Jeda's throat as she nodded, but Ietrin didn't notice. "Good. It's about time, you know--people have been talking."

As if he had to tell her that. Her flat belly had been a source of gossip for months now and she was well aware of that fact; people as a rule were not subtle with their stares and whispers, and this had become even more obvious in her newfound cynicism. What bothered her most, however, were not the pitying looks and the patronizing inquiries about her health, but the fact that ten months of marriage without so much as a bump to show for it was translated unquestioningly by the masses as a problem with her.

Trying to ignore one's feelings made one examine the facts with an almost obsessive scrutiny. Ietrin had been routinely bedding Ellona for nearly a year before he'd married Jeda, and only now did she have a bulge beneath her gown to prove it. Ietrin had been going about his rounds of chambermaids and kitchen girls since his voice had begun to crack and never once had Jeda heard a whisper of some servant's bastard with violet eyes or golden curls. So far as she could tell, there was no proof either way in regards to her fertility; if there was a problem, it seemed more than likely that it had nothing to do with her.

But Jeda had never been a bold girl--at least, not bold enough to insult a prince's virility to his face. "I know."

"Well, at least I have an heir on the way now." He placed his hand on her stomach; she squirmed, but he didn't seem to notice. "That's the important thing. Now, just be careful with him, all right?"

"All right." She didn't know yet whether or not there was an it to be careful with, but she would be careful anyway. She was tired of trembling as he crawled into bed beside her and pushed her nightgown to her waist, climbing between her thighs and telling her he'd try to be quick. She was tired of his grunting and his panting and his almost militant thrusts as the sweat pooled on her brow and she tried to stop herself from crying. She was tired of a lot of things, but if there was something to be careful with, then at least she could have a break from all that.

"Good. I'm glad we have an understanding."

What was there to understand? It was the simplest thing she'd ever heard and he was still treating her like some little child who didn't know any better, still looking at her with that accusing stare that hinted she should have missed a course months ago--as if she could have done anything about it. She was probably fine. Perhaps if she'd had a different husband, she might have fallen asleep on her wedding night with the beginnings of a baby firmly planted within her.

But no one would see her logic. She was a woman, and the wife of the crown prince. As far as anyone was concerned, providing an heir was her only purpose--and if she couldn't do that, then she must have been lacking in all regards. It was the reasoning of an idiot, but it was also the reasoning of the world. So far as the people of Naroni could see, there could be no other excuse for her lack of a child.

At least, no excuse that anyone was willing to accept.


February 25, 2011

In Which Leara Notes What Lorn Doesn't Notice

June 21, 1172

"Jesus Christ, Leara!" Raia launched herself onto the empty side of the bed and laughed; in spite of the lingering pains throughout her body, Leara couldn't help but smile. "For a woman who just spent the last six hours screaming at the top of her lungs while shoving out an eight-pound baby, you seem calm."

"So did you, after the fact." Dear Lord, had Raia forgotten what it was like to give birth already? It seemed to Leara that she'd remember those six hours for a lot longer than she cared to; then again, she was both aching and excited, drunk on a combination of emotions she'd never figured possible. Maybe she'd wake tomorrow to think it had all been a dream. "And for the record, if I was screaming my lungs out, then I don't even want to know what you were doing when you had Alina."

Raia smirked. "It's called theatricality."

"It's called noise." She flipped one of her sweaty pigtails to the side and grimaced. It was a relief that she could still joke, but she still hadn't felt so unattractive in her life--and this was after months on end of looking like she'd swallowed a sack of cannonballs. "Do you think the baby's hungry yet? If I let any more milk leak onto this nightgown, no amount of washing is ever going to get the smell out."

An appreciative chuckle ringing from her mouth, Raia glanced to the room's newest little center of attention. "Maybe in a few minutes. He seems pretty happy with Grandma and Auntie Xeta right now."

She had a point there, Leara had to admit. "My little boy already has all the ladies wrapped around his finger."

"That's how it goes." Raia folded her hands over the midsection of her dress--which, Leara noted, looked to be suspiciously snug-fitting. "First my father, and now your mother-in-law. Who would've thought grandchildren would get to be all the rage around here?"

"Oh, Laralita isn't quite sold on the concept just yet," Leara reminded her, the memory of her stepmother running through the halls shrieking in terror after finding her first gray hair still oh-too-fresh in her mind. "I'm almost sure that Searle only told Elhina to tell her about his son because he knew it would make her squirm."

"Speaking of squirming--" Goodwife Diarn, stunning and oddly glowing in her green silk gown, turned away from Leara's cooing in-laws and made eye contact "--that's precisely what the duke must be doing right about now. Should I fetch him, your grace?"

After all these months, it was still so strange to be addressed as such, especially with her mother-in-law in the room, but it seemed improper to argue. She was the duchess, after all--and a duchess who had just birthed an heir, at that. "Yes. Thank you, Goodwife."

Goodwife Diarn obliged with a quick bow of her head, then turned on her heel and strode out of the room, the train of her green silk the last visible part of her. Leara doubted she'd be back; Lorn would be arriving alone.

"Does she seem a bit different to you?" Raia's question was the precise sum of Leara's thoughts. Goodwife Diarn had always been a little rough around the edges, but in a strong, take-no-prisoners sort of way; nowadays, she just seemed aloof.

But there had to be an explanation. "Maybe she's saving all her attitude for your uncle."

"Oh, probably. I know he's saving all of his for her."

Off to the side, the door swung open, a tall blond form stepping forth with a sheepish grin. "Speaking of saving, what's Raia doing on my side of the bed?"

Leara smiled; Raia rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively. "You come in here and the first thing you notice is the bed? You have a son, you dolt--go look at him while I keep your spot warm."

Lorn's face flashed as red as his tunic. Leara giggled as it faded back to its usual color--stupid boy. "Right. Where is... oh.

"Oh, Leara..." Wide-eyed and trembling and raptured, Lorn reached for one of the little hands curling upwards from his sister's grasp. "He's... he's perfect. He looks just like you!"

"He has your father's eyes," Lorn's mother added. "His grandfather's eyes on his own sweet little face." She sent a fond look Leara's way; whatever vile filth had been sitting in Leara's gut melted to honey.

Meanwhile, Xeta took a step toward her brother. "Do you want to hold him?"

Although the girl couldn't see her, Leara nodded on Lorn's behalf. She watched as Xeta lowered the baby into his unsure, uneasy arms and sighed as he lifted the boy to his shoulder. "He's heavier than he looks."

His mother laughed. "You'll get used to it."

"I guess so." Lorn rubbed the baby's back as he approached the bed, his eyes squarely on Leara. Her belly was bloated and her skin was stretched and Lord only knew what was going on with her breasts, but somehow, she didn't think he'd noticed any of that. "I love you--both of you."

"Love you too." Beside her, Raia made a face; Leara shot her a glare, then looked to her in-laws. "Now, if the rest of you don't mind, I'd like a moment alone with my boys."


February 22, 2011

In Which Jadin Ruins the Moment

June 1, 1172

There were several advantages to large parties, Jadin had learned over the years. When he had been a child, the adults had always managed to get so spectacularly drunk that he and his friends were free to run wild and wreak havoc to their little hearts' content--and then when he'd gotten a little older, he and his friends had always managed to get so spectacularly drunk that they could run wild and wreak havoc regardless of their parents' states.

And now that he was even older... well, the crowd did always manage to keep itself occupied. It was never difficult for a pair of lovers to slip away for an hour or so.

Lovers... were he and Xeta lovers? Not quite, he guessed--not physically. But then again, didn't the word have more to do with love than it did with sex? Surely he would have never called the chambermaids he met for quick afternoon romps such a thing. Didn't lovers... love?

He pressed the last of series of kisses to her lips and smiled down at her. "I love you."

For a second, she fell rigid. He could only stare in anxious, privately horrified silence--had he really just said that? And how was she going to take it? "Err..."

A tip of a finger against his lips rendered him speechless. Laughing, Xeta pulled herself upright, her fingers interlocking with his as she pulled his shocked form along. "You mean that?"

God, he'd never seen such dazzling eyes. He'd never been to sea, but he'd spent many a summer afternoon on the shores of the lake, watched the sun's stray sparks shimmer like diamonds on the water's surface, but nothing could compare to Xeta's blue eyes in the candlelight. He could have just as easily drowned in those eyes as he might have in the lake. "Of course I do."

That wide, pretty smile a little wider and a little prettier, she inclined her head and kissed him once more. "I love you too."

She didn't say anything after that--not that he thought she needed to. It was kind of nice, the quiet, just holding her, loving her. Tame, perhaps, but was that not to be expected of a duke's sister? She was a different breed entirely from some whore at one of the brothels. He never would have paid one of them just for cuddling, but snuggling up to his charming little sweetheart was a different thing entirely. Maybe this was what his sister Viridis called a 'moment'.

Yes, that was it--a moment.

Don't ruin the moment. It was a nagging little voice in the back of his head, one that sounded like a blend of his father's and his older sister's, with perhaps a hint of... Florian? What the hell was he doing in there? Not that it mattered; it was good advice, and he had to admit that ruining a moment was something he would do. Jadin had lived long enough to know all the best ways of ignoring one's conscience, but for once--just this once--he supposed it was worth the listen. Don't ruin the moment.

Don't ruin the moment.

Don't ruin the moment.

Don't ruin the--

"Do you want to have sex?"

Well, so much for not ruining the moment.


February 21, 2011

In Which Asalaye Learns of a New Floor

May 15, 1172

Asalaye's sister Nanalie was of the industrious, domestic sort that could rarely be found without a broom or a needle and thread in her hand, balancing dishes in the crooks of her elbows and one eye fixed on the oven. She never had suitors because she rarely left the house and was even plainer than Asalaye herself, but she would have no trouble fetching a husband for the simple reason that she'd make a good wife; surely she'd been a good mother to the rest of them after their mother had died and before their father had married Avine.

But now that their father had married Avine--now that Asalaye had a mother-figure--she didn't see why Nanalie had to be taking her sweet time finishing the dishes while Cord was here. "Uh, Nan? Some time today would be great."

"Sorry, this stain just won't come off." Nanalie lifted the last spoon from the basin and flashed it toward the couch; Asalaye saw nothing but perfect, spotless wood. "You see? This is why you wash your dishes as soon as you're done with them."

Asalaye turned to Cord and rolled her eyes; his snicker was almost worth her annoyance. "What makes you think it's my spoon?"

"Because it always is." She set the spoon on the counter and sighed. Even Nanalie got to the point where she could no longer scrub, but as if she'd ever admit it. "You can dry it yourself. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and make the beds--because no one else in this house ever does."

Jesus Christ, again with the beds? Of all the pointless chores she could have been nagging about! "You do that, then."

"I will--and no funny business. I'll be able to hear you, you know."

She shot them one last warning glare, then marched past them and hurried up the stairs. Asalaye watched out of the corner of her eye as Nanalie's skirts vanished from view, then turned to Cord and gagged. "Dear God! I'd have more freedom living in convent!"

Cord gave a sheepish smile. "She is rather nun-like, isn't she? I take it she doesn't get many callers?"

"Not unless you count dirty dishes as callers." Asalaye narrowed her eyes and groaned. She didn't like talking about her sister, but for some reason, it was hard to stop. "You know, I kind of feel sorry for her. I think she won't leave me alone because she's jealous. I'm younger, and now I've got you calling, but she's never had anybody."

"It'll happen for her." He turned to face Asalaye and chuckled. "Maybe she'll meet some nice, overwhelmed widower with six kids."

"Or an old man who wants someone to make sure he stays comfortable as he slowly dies."

"And also cleans his house!" She nearly choked on her own laughter--God, how nice it was to have a sweetheart who was just as funny as he was handsome, even if his nose was almost as unfortunate as her own. Actually, now that she thought about it... would he have given her a second glance if he'd been blessed with a nose like Lonriad's? "I'm sorry, maybe that was a little rude. We probably shouldn't be talking about your sister like this."

And he knew when to stop too! "What do you want to talk about, then?"

Grinning, he slung his arm around her shoulders and nudged a little closer. "Well, it might interest you to know that the plans for my new house have been finalized."

"Really? So soon?"

He nodded. "And I'm adding a second floor. I have a little money saved up, and Sir Tarien said he'd help cover the difference. Isn't it great? We're finally going to have a second floor!"

We? He must have meant himself and his family... right?

In either case, she launched herself upwards and landed squarely in his lap. "It's wonderful, Cord. I just hope your second floor is nicer than ours--it's nothing more than a loft, really."

"A loft doesn't sound so bad." He lifted his hand from her side to tapped her on the nose; she wished it was possible to withhold a blush. "At least the kids can't fight over the best bedroom that way... but I was thinking maybe a three bedrooms upstairs? One for my mother and grandmother, and then my siblings can sleep in the other two while they're still living with me."

"I see." Feeling somewhat annoying, Asalaye smirked. "And what if they decide they'd rather keep living with Sir Tarien?"

Laughing, Cord leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "Then I guess I have the whole house to myself."


February 18, 2011

In Which Tarien Does the Gentlemanly Thing

April 29, 1172

There was something to be said about the groggy moments just before sleep, when the colors of the room swirled about to the center of the eye before fading to blackness, the sounds of the night breeze and the crackling fire swelling in crescendo before dying down to nothing. It was this during brief period, perhaps, that dreams were conceived, little sparks of the enhanced ordinary forming the framework for the surreal; an interruption might render the night a chronological void.

And yet, for something so powerful--so crucial--it was so delicate. The only force needed to break it was the mere creak of the door. So much for dreaming tonight; lucid-yet-hazy, Tarien heaved his eyelids upright and propped himself onto his elbows. He peered over the edge of the footboard and gaped. Perhaps he was asleep and dreaming after all. "...Arydath?"

It was dark and he was tired, but she was unmistakable, even in the dim light of the dying fire in the alcove. Even in the shadowy over of the corner entrance. Even in that silk gown he'd given her a month prior, the one she'd always passed over for her plain old cloth rags. It had to have been a dream--had to have been. "What are you doing here?"

She pressed her finger to her lips and blew a faint shh! "Don't say anything."

Stunned and confused and existentially unaware, he watched as she retreated to the door and shut it, only to return to her position across from him, drawing a little nearer. Tarien sat up and slipped one leg off the mattress; his toe had scarcely skimmed the floorboards when she froze him with a glare. "Don't get up."

What sort of trick was this? Tarien gaped; his dreams were most often either more indulgent or more heart-breakingly realistic. "Arydath..."

"I thought I told you to shut up."

Dream or not, she did sound like Arydath. Defeated, Tarien pulled himself back onto the bed, but crawled atop the covers before leaning back against the headboard; it was getting a little warm. "Arydath, really... what the hell?"

Arydath sighed. "You really can't take an order, can you?" She folded her arms behind her back and struggled as if grasping for some small, slippery object. "Figures, really."

He opened his mouth to respond, but was reduced to a mute, transfixed stare as she pried her laces from the back of her gown. She tossed the wad of gold ribbon to the floor and shook slightly, allowing the silk to slip downward against her olive skin. Sloped shoulders emerged as the sleeves fell, full breasts and sandglass waist following. The gown lingered for a moment on her curvy hips, then fell sharply to the floor, pooling around her ankles. Casual as she might have doused a candle, she lifted the mass of fabric with one foot and kicked it aside. "I don't think I ever thanked you properly."

This was the part where his dreams were always lacking. The naked Arydath that came to him in the night appeared in flashes--a breast here, a thigh there, the small of her back if the midnight muses smiled upon him. Here, however, she stood in full, just flesh and curves and cinnamon hair--all at once, not a piece missing or obscured. It was better than a dream. It was too good to be true. "You must have said it at some point."

"Does it matter?" She placed her hand on the bed post and spun herself onto the empty side of the mattress; after all those nights dreaming himself a reckless hedonist, he decided to be a gentleman and tried to look away. "They're just words. They don't mean anything on their own."

"From you, they mean the world to me."

"Damn good of you, then." She settled herself down and rolled onto her side, mere inches away. He could have touched her with little more than a twitch of his hand. "But I guess I'm a different sort; where I come from, we use gestures."

She grazed his thigh with the tickling tips of her fingers, the blood his veins surging toward his groin. He didn't think he could take it anymore; ungentlemanly or not, he looked at her. "Is that what this is? A gesture?"

With the force of someone twice her size, she pressed him to the bed's surface and answered him. Her tongue slipped past his lips and atop his own, spinning about with a fury he'd never even dreamed about--clockwise, counter-clockwise, seemingly both at once, the taste of her leaving his head spinning and his senses clouded. His veins split within his skin as his heart raced onward, his cock struggling against the confines of his loincloth; her leg gracing the region, she slipped her finger beneath the waistband and pulled the garment to his knees. She brought the kiss to his conclusion as he shook it off entirely, a strange sort of smile on her lips. "You could say so."

He didn't. He only pulled her closer and kissed her again. Just to be sure--just for his own peace of mind--he started slowly. The kiss lingered in a sweet stasis, her lips wide and full and honey-like, the calm ease of the moment almost as arousing as the passion of the last. He knew what he wanted to know. He didn't have to hold back any longer.

He ran his tongue across the ridge of her teeth and lowered her to her back. It was only gentlemanly to heed the request of one's beloved.