March 31, 2011

In Which Asalaye Is Brought Back from the Cosmos

April 17, 1173

"And this," Cord concluded the tour as Asalaye followed him through the door, "is the master bedroom."

Christ, how many bedrooms did one man need? Even if Cord had started drawing up the plans for the house before his mother had married Sir Tarien--before he'd known that the rest of his family would be staying at the manor--the count was a bit steep. "So... how are you going to fill out all this space, exactly?"

He shrugged, not taking his eyes off the window in front of him; he did, however, reach back for her hand. Like she might have expected from a farmer, it was rough and calloused, but she didn't mind. Her father and brother had hands like that too. "Good question. Guests, farmhands, servants... maybe kids some day..."

"Kids?" The word stuck in her throat and was expelled in a choke. Concerned, Cord glanced at her, but she picked herself up with a grimace. At least there was a possibility that he'd meant it as a harmless comment? "What the hell, Cord? You're only a kid yourself."

"I'm fifteen." He turned around and tapped her on the nose. "Your own brother was married at sixteen, I might remind you--not that I'm planning on marrying any time soon. Anyway, do you like the bedding?" He nodded toward the bed, which was spread with a blanket of a pretty turquoise shade. "The dye wasn't cheap, but I figured it would be nice to have a splash of color."

"It is," Asalaye agreed, prompting a goofy grin on Cord's face. She always wanted to laugh when he smiled like that, but she wasn't sure why. It wasn't a particularly flattering grin, and it somehow made his nose seem even longer--not that she had any reason to complain about other people's noses, as Lonriad always made a point to remind her. "Nice color choice, too."

"Most girls like turquoise, right?" She nodded. His smile grew a little. "That's a relief. I really didn't want to have to spend the rest of my life with pink bedding."

Oh? Asalaye glanced over the bedding once again, her lip curling inward with each sweep of her eyes. She did like turquoise, but... "What's wrong with pink?"

Her sweetheart's brow arched. Had she ever seen it do that before? He had such thick, bushy brows that it was kind of a strange effect--almost comical, even. "I wouldn't have thought you were the sort of girl who liked pink."

"Err... I'm not." It was a lie--she loved pink--but she didn't want to make a big deal of it. She didn't want him to replace the blanket if she said she liked another color. She also didn't want him to not replace it if she said she liked another color. "But I do like turquoise."

"I thought so." Out-of-the-blue, he took her by the waist and twirled her around in circles. The motion, she would later muse, must have been playing with her senses. His nose looked smaller and his hair looked shorter, darker. His goofy grin became a teasing smirk and the earth was the cosmos. Only the sparkling dust of the universe supported them, but it was enough. The stars danced and the clouds swirled and the moon shot across the sky like a glowing arrow.

But then he set her down, and the stars vanished. She was back in his bedroom, no longer in the company of the celestial but instead in that of goofy grins, large noses, and turquoise blankets.


March 28, 2011

Announcement: Storyteller Spotlight

Hi everyone!

If you're subscribed to more than one of my blogs, sorry about clogging your feed with the same message multiple times.

Anyway, I'm doing the Storyteller Spotlight interview at the SimStoryTellers community on LiveJournal. If you have any questions (which I hope at least a few of you do, because I'm quite obscure on LiveJournal and it would be nice to have at least a couple questions up there), feel free to ask them at the question post (no LJ account required) and they will be answered in the interview next Monday. When the interview is posted, I'll add the link to the sidebar next to the VSS interview.

Have a great night, all :)

March 27, 2011

In Which Sparron Loses Faith in the Magic of Couch Forts

March 3, 1173

"--and I don't care if you weren't expecting it for another week! I don't care if you weren't expecting it for another month! Even you're not dense enough to think that the date the midwife gives is more than an educated guess; when she starts looking like she could burst any minute, then you're on alert, you hear me?"

His eyes wide and his form trembling, Ietrin nodded. He and Sparron had returned about ten minutes prior, and Sparron's father had spent the better part of the time between then and now cursing his son-in-law for his tardiness. Not that Sparron could blame him--hell, he might have chewed Ietrin out himself on the ride over here if only his anxiety had allowed him to speak.

And really, it had been a relief to find his father furious. The alternative would have been finding him heartbroken.

In some miraculous surge of intuition, Ietrin seemed to pick up on this too. "Are Jeda and the baby all right?"

"They're fine." Sparron watched as his father's fist wavered at his side. He'd always been a stoic man, but everything was going to hell and the stress was taking its toll on him. He had a sickly wife and a miserable daughter and a disgusting pervert of a son, and almost losing both Jeda and her baby must have been more than enough to push him over the edge. "It was looking grim for a while, but Arydath managed to save them both. Now, we're going to go in there and see them, and you'd better be the best damn husband and father the world has ever seen. I don't want you so much as thinking about your whore and your bastard while you're in there, you got that?"

Ietrin sighed. "Yes, sir."

"Good." Sparron's father turned around and started down the corridor, the muted prince at his heels. Sparron waited until they had both turned the corner, then rose from his chair and followed. He was an uncle. His sister was alive, and her baby was alive. He would have his words with Ietrin later, and his father would have even more, but for now, Jeda and her baby were all that mattered.

His father opened Jeda's bedroom door and led the way inside. "Ladies."

"Darling," replied Sparron's stepmother, whose feet he could see on the bed beside Jeda's. "They're just cleaning up the baby in the next room. They won't be much longer."

"Very well." His father stepped toward the bed and placed his hand on one of the bedposts, eyes on Jeda. It was a shame to see her sweet self so tired and sweaty and likely in some lingering pain, but at least she was alive. "How are you feeling, angel?"

"All right," she answered, giving him a quick smile before locking eyes with Sparron. There was something odd about her expression--something rather melancholy, almost mournful, not the sort of face he would have expected to see on a new mother. Nobody else seemed to notice this; perhaps there was something to be said about the bond between twins after all.


If new fathers and new grandfathers hadn't taken precedence over new uncles, he would have crawled onto that bed and hugged her. He would have brushed back her hair, kissed her brow, promised that he'd make everything better. He would have done as he had when they were children and she'd needed cheering up, taken her by the hand and dragged her to the sitting room. They would have built a fort out of the couch cushions and retreated inside as if they'd created a whole new world and no one else could see or hear anything that happened within. He would have held her close and listened as she told him everything.

But they weren't children anymore. They were both grown and married and miserable. The most magical of couch forts could not have helped either of them--not anymore.

"You'll feel better soon," their stepmother did her best to reassure her, though Sparron doubted it would work. "Everything will be all right now."

Jeda didn't say anything. She just sat there, head to the board and hands to her still-swollen stomach, subdued and bitter like the sky awaiting the storm. She was far gone, beyond comfort. Never before had she looked so lost, not even when their parents had sat them down and told them what had happened to their mother. At least then he had been able to console her. At least then he'd known what was wrong.


"Well, look who's here!"

The door to the adjoining nursery had flung open, a grim Lady Arydath and a calculating Camaline at the heels of Leara, who held in her arms the newest addition to the family. The baby had the same violet eyes as its father and aunts, and its wispy hair was the same sunny blond as Jeda's own. "Congratulations, Brother--or should I call you 'Papa'?"

A grin on his face as he locked eyes with the infant, Ietrin hurried over from the bedside. Behind Leara, Camaline reached back to shut the door, then exchanged a quick glance with Sparron. It was nice to know he wasn't the only one who sensed something amiss. Arydath too seemed rather grave, and Sparron's father had raised an eyebrow--but now that the baby was in the room, Jeda seemed to have vanished from Ietrin's mind. "Aww, the poor thing's so small."

"It was an early birth," his sister reminded him as she held the baby out for him to see. "Don't worry too much, though. I'm sure she'll be fine."

Back on the bed, Jeda winced. Camaline bit her lips and Arydath crossed her arms. Sparron's father glared at the back of Ietrin's head as if waiting for a reason to grab him by the scruff of the neck and throw him out the window. Ietrin's smile froze to a pained grimace as his eyes cracked and crumbled like shattered glass.

"Um... 'she'?"


In Which Ietrin's Heart Hits a Wall

March 3, 1173

Ietrin could have spent all day playing with his son, but the reality was that Kaldar needed to sleep every once in a while. Of course, it wasn't as if he and Ellona couldn't entertain themselves during these periods.

Or, so would have been the case if not for the knocking at the door. "Ietrin? Ietrin, are you in there?"

Well, so much for having a sanctuary. Annoyed, he peeled his lips from Ellona's and shot a quick glare toward the door. "Who's there?"

"It's me--Sparron." In its slight panic, his brother-in-law's voice had failed to register in Ietrin's mind, but now he recognized it. But what was Sparron doing here? As far as Ietrin could tell, he and Ellona weren't exactly fond of each other. "Are you dressed?"

"You should go talk to him," Ellona muttered, shrinking away in a fashion most unlike her. It was the way of shy violets, fading out of reach, not wanting to be touched but not wanting to offend. But Ellona was a wild rose; if she did not want to be touched, then she could and would make use of her thorns. "He sounds a little urgent."

"He can hear me through the door." He tapped her on the nose in an attempt to reassure her, but those pouty lips told him he'd failed. Why was she acting like this? Prior to this, anyone who dared interrupt their sessions was met with Ellona's own brand of seething, fire-eyed rage; why was she making an exception for Sparron, or all people?

His brother-in-law's fist pounded thrice more against the door's surface. "Ietrin! You asshole! Come out--now!"

"Kids." Ietrin smirked down at Ellona, who grimaced and nudged him with her leg. Was she trying to kick him off of the bed? "El? Are you all right?"

"Yes--I just don't think your brother-in-law would ride all the way out here if it wasn't important." She caught him off-guard with a swift blow to the shin and scowled--now this was the Ellona he knew. "Stop being an idiot and hear him out."

He sighed. At the very least, he could always tell himself that the sooner Sparron said his piece, the sooner he would leave. "Fine. What do you want, Sparron?"

"My father told me to find you." A sharp breath could be heard from the corridor; Ietrin's brow twitched as if by reflex. "It's Jeda. She's having the baby."

A disorienting stupor washed over him as his heart sprouted wings and flew laps around his core. His son! His heir! And to think, he'd thought it would be at least another week. "She is?"

Ellona sat up and smiled smugly. "Told you it was something important."

Laughing, he kissed her on the brow before leaping from the bed. "Yes, and thank God at least one of us is clever. But my God! Two sons--I'm going to have two sons, all in the space of a few months!" He slipped into his boots and sprung toward to door, a skip in his step that he had lacked even as a child. A son... an heir...

"Uh, Ietrin?" Sparron's voice wavered; Ietrin's heart slammed into his ribcage like a bird too high on life to watch where it was going, thrust to a sudden halt and leaving a bloody downward trail as gravity took over. "Please hurry up. When I left, it... uh, it wasn't really going so well."


March 25, 2011

In Which Severin Hears What He Will Not Allow

January 31, 1173

Arydath's wise eyes were a juxtaposition with a baby's innocent face; nevertheless, Severin's new niece seemed to make the contrast work. "Now, how did an ugly old oaf like your father manage to have a pretty little girl like you?"

"Funny--I could say the same of you four times over." Tarien bent down and planted a kiss on his daughter's tiny forehead, then looked back up at Severin and smirked. "You know, she's been quite fussy around most of the new people she's met, but you seem to have a way with babies."

Severin reached forward and tickled one of the baby's feet. Her toes curled in a charming fashion as the most elementary of laughs gurgled out of her. "Try having nine of your own and not having a way with them."

"Nine!" His brother-in-law wore the look of one lost long in bewilderment--not that Severin felt all that differently. "Funny how the world works, isn't it? If someone had told me, when you just were a little snot-nosed brat tagging along with me and your brother, that you would have nine children before I even had one--my God! I would have been laughing for weeks!"

"And don't forget the four stepchildren and the two grandchildren," Severin reminded him with a wink.

"And a third on the way!" Chuckling to himself, Tarien raised the baby to his face and rubbed his nose against her own. "And to think, your wife is only thirty-one."

"And speaking of youngsters," Severin steered the conversation as Tarien stepped toward the crib, "you never did tell me what this little girl's name is."

Tarien sniffed. "Guess."

The word was an answer in itself. A string of blonds and redheads danced in front of his eyes, the most prevalent of which wore a devious grin and a scattering of freckles. Severin frowned. "You didn't."

"You think my mother would have ever forgiven me if I hadn't?" Shaking his head, Tarien anointed the baby with one last kiss before placing her in her crib. "Finally having a daughter and not naming her Riona?"

The logic of the Sadiel siblings had always been lacking in this regard. Then again--with all the Nythrans and Celinas and even the recent hoard of Severins that seemed to be emerging--were the rest of them any better? Severin's lashes cast a shadow over the room as they met at his pupils; if the child Xeta was carrying ended up being a boy, he would have to campaign for the name Dalston. "I take it you'll be naming your first son Searle, then?"

Searle... Severin hadn't seen his own son of that name since the night before. He'd slept late, and Nora had informed him that Searle had left before he'd woken. The boy was probably at Tetran Keep again. Perhaps he'd stop by there and meet him for the ride home? Or would that be embarrassing for the poor kid?

Before he could make up his mind, however, Tarien interrupted his thoughts with a snicker. "Oh, that'll be some time yet, I'm sure. I can't imagine that going into labor while in the process of walking down the aisle makes a woman anxious to get pregnant again."

"Fair enough--but at least it made for an interesting wedding."

"And a painful wedding!" Tarien's hand flew to the back of his neck, his face strained as he massaged the apparent ache. "Of all the ways I ever pictured myself getting married, being practically in a headlock while my bride labored never came to mind. Talk about a surreal blur, though--hell, I'm not even sure if the words out of her mouth were 'I do' or 'Fuck you'."

Severin shrugged. "I suppose they're both fitting marriage vows."

"Yes, that's what I figure." Looking rather more winsome than usual, Tarien glanced down at the day-old band on his finger. "Is it normal to be so conscious of the ring?"

"It's a little strange the first few days, but you'll get used to it." Indeed, he now felt rather naked without the thing. He'd worn Alina's band long after her death, partially out of habit but mostly out of devotion, until he'd married Nora. The new ring had taken some getting used to, but it seemed like another part of his hand now; oddly enough, though, if he ever switched them in a moment of curiosity, the old one still felt familiar.

Funny, though, how a little thing like a wedding ring could make one a new person, bring about changes. Raia seemed more grown-up than ever upon receiving hers, and Jadin--if possible--even more like a child. He wondered what might sort of changes might be in store for Searle if he ever stood at that alter... but would he? These days it seemed more likely that at least Viridis would beat him down the aisle, if not the others as well. Even moreso than most boys his age, Searle just wasn't interested--and really, when it got down to it, Severin could understand that.

"But speaking of marriage," Tarien began, pulling him from his thoughts once more, "do you have anyone in mind for Roddie or little Falidor? Because if not..." A fond smile on his face, he nodded toward the crib.

In all fairness, Severin supposed he should have seen it coming. "What is it with you people and trying to marry off my children?"

It wasn't an absurd question, but Tarien's sigh seemed to indicate that he thought otherwise. For the most part, Severin thought Tarien and himself rather like-minded, but that was beside the point. Forty years on this earth had taught him that between any two people--no matter how many similar ideas they shared--would lie one vast difference of opinion. "Look, it's not to say I have nothing against love--hell, I married for love just yesterday--but as a man who got to be my age fearing that I'd die alone, I'd like to give my children some certainty."

"Yes, but--"

"Yes, I know; your first marriage was to a woman betrothed to your brother, and your second was a drunken elopement with a servant, and you don't want to be a hypocrite." That hadn't been what he was about to say, but Tarien didn't look like he was about to give him a chance to protest. He seemed to be mid-way through a short rant. "My God, Severin, you spend so much time trying not to be a hypocrite that it makes me wonder if you're really the biggest hypocrite of them all. Besides--" Tarien counted on his fingers, as if trying to get Severin's children sorted out; in any other situation, it might have been funny. "--you might have to arrange something for your next few anyway. Viridis is a sweet girl, but she's shy and delicate and might not meet all the men who might have been smitten with her otherwise. Lonriad spends all his time pulling that farm girl's pigtails, and Searle doesn't even seem to care either way.

"I hate to say it--they're my nieces and nephews, and Lord knows I love them--but unless you start giving them a hand in that regard, you might have no choice but to send some of them to--"

"Don't say it." It was a fate worse than an arranged marriage, possibly worse than death if he remembered anything of his own agonizing years locked up at that dusty old crypt of a place. What sort of a life was that, sent against one's will to serve a church that believed more in sin than it believed in love? Forced to confess every secret, every hidden pleasure and desire, only to be told the gates of hell lay waiting ahead unless one renounced their so-called evil ways?

No... he couldn't bear the thought. His Lonriad, his Roddie, his Falidor, hunched over a table, copying Augustine and Alcuin again and again until their little hands were crooked and brittle as vultures' claws? His Viridis, his Riona, his Vera, their pretty hair hidden by drab wimples, their rosaries weighing them down to a stoop and their dazzling eyes like those of bitter spinsters? His Searle--his sweet, darling little Searle--the kindest, sunniest boy who ever lived--his Searle...

No. No, he would not allow it. Never.

"My regards to your family," he muttered as he turned on his heel and stormed off toward the door, "but I can't stay any longer."


March 23, 2011

In Which Octavius Makes Note of the Only Thought

January 28, 1173

"Good morning."

"Likewise." Not even a nod of the head or a backward glance accompanied Severin's reply. His eyes seemed to be fixated on an open book in front of him, his right hand to his chin and his left grasping a quill, scribbling a note between the lines of the page. A stack of books sat on the other side of the table; Severin opened the topmost one to a dog-eared leaf, scanned it, then jotted down something else.

Octavius closed the door, then strode forward to skim the spines of the tomes. Most were written in Hebrew or Greek--nothing that Roderick might have wanted reviewed, and probably nothing that Severin would have picked up for the sheer pleasure of it either. And yet, whatever it was he was busying himself with, he was engrossed. Curious, Octavius stepped around Severin and glanced down at the open book, recognizing it immediately. "What are you doing with that?"

Severin set down the quill and sighed. "Taking notes."

Octavius's brow twitched. His own reverence, he had realized one night as he lay tormented by the toxic sounds of Holladrin's cough, tended to depend on his wife's health--cycling in spiritual peaks and near-atheistic valleys. Presently, he was somewhere in the middle: not pious enough to find any blasphemous comment of Severin's too scandalous, but not quite so skeptical as to play along. "In a Bible?"

"Just for my own personal reference." Severin gave one of the passages a last look-over before pushing the Bible to the back of the desk. "It's a changing world. I used to think that all these books and chapters contradicted each other in some divine ploy to test our collective idiocy, but I see now that what might have been applicable to one time won't necessarily be applicable to all the times that follow--our own included. That, and some of the translations aren't exactly accurate; certain Hebrew words don't have any counterparts in our language, vice versa, that sort of thing.

"But enough about my personal projects." His hand latched onto Octavius's arm and turned him away from the open Bible before any of his smudged left-handed scrawls could be untangled into proper text; perhaps the revisions were more 'personal' than Severin cared to admit. "I take it you didn't come all the way out here unannounced to read my heretical footnotes. What can I do for you?"

It was true. Inquiring though he may have felt, he did have his own business to attend to--his own personal business, at that. "It's my daughter, Thallie. You're, err... aware that she seems to have taken to worshiping your Riona, are you not?"

Severin's mouth curled into a frown, his eyes darting to the ceiling and back in their exasperation. The man had more than his fair share of children to keep track of, but such a reaction was a blinding testament to just how well he knew each and every one of them. "What did she do this time?"

"Oh, nothing I'd recommend any harsh punishment for," Octavius did his best to reassure him. He didn't think that Riona was a bad kid. On the contrary--and especially considering Holladrin's inconsistent health, Jeda's sham of a marriage, and whatever the hell was happening with Sparron--he was quite grateful to her for taking his younger daughters under her wing. But all of Severin's children had an impish streak in them, and Riona was... well, no exception, to say the very least. "It's just that my little girl has something of a runaway imagination, and some of the bedtime stories Riona has been telling her--"

"--have her begging to spend the night with you and Holladrin." His hand flew to his forehead and pushed back his hair in frustration; Octavius caught sight of the occasional fleck of gray amidst the black. "We've had similar incidents with the twins. I'll have a talk with her, but it probably won't do much; you might have to just start sending her home earlier."

"I shall." The idea wouldn't sit well with Thallie and Pandora, but the nightmares were getting rather out-of-hand. Besides, surely Riona would grow out of it soon? "But I wouldn't worry about it too much. It's probably just a phase."

"That's what I keep telling myself, at any rate." Severin's brow furrowed, his hands clasping together like the jaws of some monstrous beast. It was as if he was trying to decide whether to be angry or disappointed, or perhaps to prevent himself from being either. "But if it is a phase, then it's beginning to grow to a troubling length. I'm sorry for what she's been doing to Thallie, and I'll try to think of a suitable punishment, but nothing ever works with her."

Not really sure how to respond, Octavius scuffed his boot against the floorboard. "She's just spirited."

"Her siblings are spirited. You'd need to come up with a whole new word for Riona."

"Perhaps, but it isn't as if she's malicious." He hoped he knew what he was talking about. To his great fortune, Octavius's own children had always been among the most well-behaved in the kingdom, and he could only imagine what it might be like to be a parent to girl such as Riona. At the same time, however, he liked to think that no child was ever a lost cause; some days, if he walked into a room to find his son moping on the couch, it was the only thought that kept him going. "She's a little wild, but she does have a kind heart. I know that you and Nora and your children all realize that, but I just want to let you know that the rest of us can see that too. She's a good kid, Severin."

"She is, deep down." An almost wistful look crept forth from his eyes and spread across the rest of his face. As if some great burden had been lifted, his lips twitched upward, relieved. "They all are."


March 20, 2011

In Which Ellona Joins the Dirty Mistress Club

January 12, 1173

Whatever the purpose of this visit was, it certainly wasn't a play date. Kaldar wasn't yet three months old and Raia's son wasn't even a month, so proper 'play' was out of the question; all they could do was lie there on the rug, looking cute and wondering about that strange other baby while Severin's older sister ignored them both and went about her own private games.

"I don't think Alina's used to being a big sister yet," Raia mused aloud, leaning backward against the couch cushions. "She seems to think he's just like any other baby who gets brought over here and doesn't understand why he doesn't go home at night too. He worships her, though."

Ellona nodded, though she doubted young Severin was old enough to worship anything apart from the nourishing mounds on his mother's chest. She didn't care much for the company of other women in general--most were either whiny or giggly or holier-than-thou--but for the most part, Raia seemed tolerable. She beat sitting at home alone with no one but Kaldar and the servants for company, at any rate. "I think every boy needs a big sister to worship."

"And every girl needs a little brother to boss around." Raia smirked. People who came from happy families often smirked or smiled or otherwise turned their mouths upwards, Ellona had noticed. "I lucked out in that regard--three while I was growing up, five now."

"I only had the one." It was technically the truth. She was more than a decade older than Landus and had left home when he'd barely begun to walk. Besides, in spite of what her father might have believed, she would go to the grave swearing that the kid was only her half-brother.

Raia nodded. She didn't comment, but she seemed to pick up on some unspoken element. Ellona wasn't sure whether or not she was comfortable with this, but the other girl didn't leave her long to wonder. "Anyway, I didn't invite you over here to talk about babies or brothers."

"I figured as much." Ellona tapped her finger against her lap as she looked Raia over. They hardly knew each other, and the 'hardly' only came from large functions such as parties, to most of which Ellona was no longer invited. But she was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt; she seemed clever enough, and Ietrin held her in high regard, and then there was the simple fact that she'd been bored out of her skull for the past while and any conversation was a good one. "Why did you invite me?"

"A few reasons." Raia reached to her side and adjusted the cylindrical pillow along couch's arm before looking Ellona in the eye. She was certainly the type of girl that Ietrin admired: dark-haired, sharp-eyed, somewhat pretty in an unconventional, exotic sort of way. Ellona had heard tell that Ietrin had attempted a pursuit of Raia in their youth, and she could believe it. If she hadn't come to Naroni, would it have been Raia in her shoes right now? Maybe it was a possibility. Or maybe not--Raia didn't have a scheming bitch of a mother, and was probably too grounded to fall in love with said mother's target even if she had.

"First of all, I figured you were lonely." An incoming ray of sunlight bounced off of Raia's wedding band, reminding Ellona yet again that she didn't have one. "Ietrin's a busy man, and he can't be at your castle every waking moment, and I get the sense that you don't really have any other friends here."

Ellona sniffed. "Damn good of you."

"I hope you don't think of it as an act of pity. I'm sure the boys will play nicely together when they're old enough to appreciate each other's company, and you do seem like an interesting person."

Interesting... was that a compliment? She was never sure. "Well, you seem rather interesting yourself. I'm having trouble understanding why you haven't dismissed me as a whore."

"It would be a little hypocritical if I did, wouldn't it?" Raia glanced toward her children, a loving smile on her face. "Their father was married to someone else until less than a month before Alina was born, after all."

"So this is just a big welcome to the Dirty Mistress Club."

"We have a banner." A devious spark in her eye, Raia crossed her arms over her torso. "But I also wanted to talk to you about something else."

That figured--everyone who dared talk to her always did. "Ietrin?"

"No." Raia's brows knitted together in a peculiar fashion. She looked almost hurt; for once in her life, Ellona felt almost guilty. "Jeda."

Ellona sighed. It was not a name she heard often, but she did recognize it, did have a face to match it. Jeda--Ietrin's wife. "I'd forgotten you were friends with her."

"We grew up together." She spoke those words as if they meant the world; having never grown up with anyone but her own painfully annoying siblings, the tone seemed alien to Ellona. "Anyway, I went and saw her a couple days ago. She knows about you and Ietrin and she's not exactly happy, but to be honest, I don't think it's about you or even the affair."

"Then why are you telling me this?" It seemed like a valid question. If Jeda wasn't upset because of her or her relationship with Ietrin, then what could she do? The girl was pregnant, wasn't she? Maybe it was just the baby taking its toll on her?

"Because it's Ietrin." On the floor, a figurine slipped from Alina's little hand and was flung backward; Raia caught it with the side of her foot, then nudged it back to her daughter. "She's not in love with him and I don't think she had high expectations for his fidelity, but she still needs him to treat her less like a piece of furniture and more like a person. She's all alone in that big castle all day--something you can relate to, I'm sure--and he just ignores her needs and he's so dense I'm not even sure he knows he's doing it."

"So you're asking that I give up some of my time with Ietrin so he can spend more with her." There was no sense beating around the bush. If that was what Raia wanted to say, then Ellona would translate accordingly.


"I see." Ellona felt her lip lock between her teeth as it curled inward. It didn't seem unreasonable, but at the same time--if Jeda really didn't love Ietrin--it didn't seem all that fair either. "And what do you propose I do with my time in that case?"

"You could always come here." Raia nodded toward the children on the ground. Alina was digging around in the rooms of her toy boat as Severin kicked at the blanket beneath him. Kaldar's head rolled to the side, the violet of Ietrin's eyes visible even from Ellona's angle. "The kids look cute together."

She couldn't deny that they did. "I'll keep that offer in mind."

"Please do." Her gaze lingered on the babies for a few seconds longer; at last she closed her eyes turned her head back Ellona's way. "I know it seems like I'm asking a lot, but it would mean the world to Jeda right about now, and it would mean the world to me too. We grew up together."