November 30, 2011

In Which Lorn Has a New Dilemma

April 12, 1177

"Your letter said you wouldn't be here for a couple of months."

As Lorn could have predicted, Searle dismissed the claim with a sniff. Typical. "My letter said that I would be here within a couple of months, a stretch of time which--unless you somehow received the letter long before it was even drafted--does include today."

Lorn stared for a minute, then grimaced. He wasn't sure whether it was because Searle was here already or because he was apparently supposed to be drafting his letters. "Right. Anyway, why are you here?" And how did the answer to that question not make it onto any of your drafts?

"Paying my respects to my sister, mainly." Searle closed his eyes and sighed. Lorn let him have the moment; he'd lost a sibling once too. "And then leaving before my mother learns I'm here."

"Yes, well... I won't tell her I saw you until you're halfway back?"

"Give me three quarters, at least." Was that a joke? Did Searle joke? Lorn decided not to risk it. "Anyway. I figured I'd better stop by while I'm here, seeing as you no doubt have some decision to make that you've somehow confused with a problem."

Oh dear God. Had someone told him about Remiel? "Thank you, but I've guided the situation to the most stable stalemate while making progress on the permanent solution."

"I somehow doubt that, but I'm not sure I want to waste time arguing." Then for God's sake, leave!

Not that thinking that ever worked. "You must have something else, though. Still short on knights, I take it?"

Lorn groaned. Searle never forgot a damn thing and as always Lorn was damned for forgetting that. "Perpetually."

"And you still haven't found a husband for your sister?"

"Not any she'd be happy about, anyway."

"Oh?" Searle raised an eyebrow. That was both always and never a good sign and Lorn didn't know what to make of it. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but her only real requirement is a local man, correct?"

Lord sighed. "Yes, but--"

...well I'll be damned.

So much for figuring he'd never see Searle laugh if they both lived to be a thousand and twelve. "Uh... mind letting me in on whatever you find so amusing?"

"My apologies." He allowed himself a few more chuckles, then recomposed, though a smug sort of smile remained. It was probably the closest Searle ever came to looking friendly. "I always manage to forget your lack of mental agility. Anyway... I take it it hasn't occurred to you that there's a simple way to solve both these problems at once?"

Leave it to Searle to point that out. "What gave it away?"

"A rather snide tone to take with the man who just solved both your problems, don't you think?" He gave a funny sort of wink, one that was enough to make Lorn consider leaping forward and clawing those cocky blue eyes out. "Just host a tournament."


"A tournament. Late spring, early summer... whenever the weather is optimal over here."

A tournament. Now it was Lorn's turn to raise the eyebrow. "And how will that solve my problems?"

"Simple. Offer a knighthood to the top however many."

He blinked--more than once. That actually sounded like a decent idea. But what about...? "And how would this involve my sister?"

"Well." That smug face was lit with a smirk that put greedy cats everywhere to shame. "There ought to be a nice bonus for the winner, correct?"


"You want me to offer my sister as a tournament trophy?"

"What? No!" Searle's hand waved with all the carefree slack of a mispronounced name or slightly strong tea. Lorn had half a mind to rip it right off of him. "You are showing Rona that you refuse to give her anything less than the man who proves his worth."

"No, I'm pretty sure I'm offering her as a tournament trophy!"

Searle rolled his eyes. God, that strange blue was going to be haunting his nightmares for weeks. "Look. Lorn. Rona told you her only preference was a man in Naroni, correct? Nothing else? She'll be perfectly fine with whoever you choose as long as she gets to stay in Naroni?"

Well... "Yes..."

"Then you're doing her one better." Searle's mouth twitched, probably unused to holding that smile for so long. At least he was trying, Lorn supposed. "Since the winner will be named a Knight of Naroni, he'll have to live in Naroni, so that fulfills Rona's condition. Additionally, he's enough of a man to win a competitive tournament for the hand of a fair lady, meaning that he's both a worthy knight and that he cared enough about winning--and by extension, obtaining the offer of her hand--to do so. Where exactly do you see a problem here?"

Oh dear God. There was nothing he could say. Where oh where was his mother when he needed her?

"You're welcome. There, now you have both those dilemmas resolved and now you can concentrate on your... 'stalemate', was it?" He snickered, like no one had ever been in a tight spot before. "Now, make sure you save me and mine some of the best seats for the tournament, all right? Lord knows it's been far too long since I've witnessed a good bludgeoning."


November 27, 2011

In Which Severin Has One More Reason

April 9, 1177

"Quite bit bigger than the last few, isn't she?" Severin noted, raising the baby to his shoulder and rubbing her back with the tips of his fingers. As little as he'd planned on another child--hell, as little as he'd planned on the last ten of them--it couldn't be too much of an issue, having another little one around the castle. Roddie was now living with Isidro and Riona as a page, and in the interest of fairness that meant that Falidor would be going to Searle and Donnie to Lonriad. It was only a matter of time before Vera was out of here too, as well as his stepchildren. That left CeeCee and the new baby, plus Jadin's children; as crowded as it was, he supposed it would be nice not dying in an empty house.

"You couldn't tell from Nora's screams?" Chuckling to herself, his mother blew a kiss toward her newest little granddaughter. She probably never thought she'd have so many. "Anyway. I gave Nora a mixture of mine. Told her to take it every morning after breakfast; as long as she's diligent about it, you should be able to avoid having another child while still keeping yourselves occupied."

Only now? Oh well. Now that he had them, he wouldn't have given up the kids he already had. Still... "Mother, if my arms weren't so full of baby right now, I'd be twirling you all around the room."

"Well it was damn necessary, considering you apparently have all the self-control of an adolescent rabbit." She smirked, gesturing for him to let her see the baby again; Severin lowered the girl to his mother's eye level, earning the baby a wave a silly face. "Cute little things, though. But for God's sake, you're forty-four years old; most people your age are dead."

"An odd thought, coming from my own mother."

"Oh, just shut your damn mouth and let me get my fill of this little girl while I have the chance." While I have the chance? That was an odd choice of phrasing. "You know, I was hoping she wouldn't be born until that Lorn boy had found another priest, but I suppose she won't be out of your sight for a while anyway."

"And speaking of Lorn's priests, are you ever going to tell me exactly what's going on with Brother Remiel?"

His mother sprung out of her hunch and glared at him, though he nearly missed it in his shock. He probably would have frozen at the sound of his own slip if not for the baby in his arms. It was a happy day and he'd promised himself he wouldn't ruin it by pestering her, but some part of him must have had other ideas. Maybe it was the sensible part. There were some crises even a birth couldn't push aside.

"Well? Are you?"

Her eyes flickered toward the bedroom door, then to the baby--then back to his, a hurt sort of annoyance throughout. "Don't you trust me?"

"I trust you when you say he's bad news." And how could she think he didn't? After what he'd done to Severin's little girl? "But you haven't been clear on the details. How do you know him anyway?"

"I don't see how that's any of your business."

And how was it not? Especially if she knew Brother Remiel as well as she seemed to. Especially now that Severin had one more reason to get to the bottom of this. "Mother, if my family is in danger, then anything you can tell me is my business."

"Just stay away from him." She tapped her foot, the finality of the beat lingering in a paradoxical echo. "Stay away from him, and keep your children and grandchildren away from him too. That's all you need to know."

"Mother, I'm not satisfied."

She shrugged, then turned around and made her way back toward the bedroom. "Tough."


November 25, 2011

In Which Aldhein Has to Be Honest

March 23, 1177

Lorn snapped out of his slouch as if tied to some invisible string Aldhein had triggered. There was an art to feigned surprise and the young duke had yet to master it; if he had intended to appear busy, or at the very least that he wasn't actively waiting, he'd failed. But no matter. Frankly, after those painful few Geneva-medicated years of Roderick, Aldhein preferred his noblemen urgent and no-nonsense. "Your grace."

"Aldhein." Lorn flicked the corner of the letter in front of him. He'd probably finished it twenty minutes prior, but God forbid that a duke appear idle. "I've just received a letter from my cousin in Dovia."

"Oh?" Aldhein inquired, resisting the urge to ask which cousin. "Any news?"

"Apparently he's planning a visit some time within the next few months." Cringing, the duke pulled himself out of the chair and kicked it back into place. Oh--that cousin. "Lucky me. Anyway... you went over all those documents from the monastery."

"I did."


Aldhein sighed. "Nothing."

"Nothing?" In spite of his insistence on the investigation, Lorn looked a little shocked. Not that Aldhein could blame him; there was something about that Brother Remiel that just wasn't right. "Nothing? He never even stole quills from the scriptorium or anything?"

"No." Aldhein rested his index finger on his wedding ring and spun it. He was a man who preferred one-word answers when possible. Curse their frequent ambiguity. "By 'nothing' I mean 'there is literally no mention of a Brother Remiel in any of the documents'."


The height of Lorn's eyebrow was almost impressive--as was the depth of his frown. Aldhein didn't think he had any need to be apologetic--he'd only read the damn things, after all--but he bowed his head anyway. "Although you might want to know that the monk who delivered them said they'd had a fire some decades back and a certain percentage of their archive was lost."

"Decades? Recently enough that Remiel might have been there?"

Aldhein shrugged. "How old do you suppose he is?"

"Assuming he wasn't some sort of theological prodigy? Not old enough to have been mentioned in documents destroyed 'decades' ago." His lower lip obscured by the upper, the duke tucked a rebellious lock behind his ear. "Maybe start looking around for possible replacements. For now, I'll station a guard in the chapel and I'll consult Lord Severin as to the logical next move."

For all servants were supposed to keep their mouths shut, Aldhein had to be honest here. "Sir, you had me at 'replacement'."


November 24, 2011

In Which Raia Sees the Point

March 20, 1177

"Ha! I can jump higher than you!"

"Nuh-uh! You just think that because you're taller!"

"Prove it!"

"I will!"

The sun had come early this year, but the past week had been plagued by such fierce winds that the children had been confined to the house despite the inviting skies and it went without saying that they were all feeling a little crowded. At least Alina and Sev had another live-in playmate for the time, Raia figured. Her nephew Dalston had come down with some nasty fever near the beginning of the month, so her father had sent the younger children away out of fear they'd catch it as well. Roddie was with Riona, which was just as well considering that Isidro had been meaning to take him as a page anyway. Lyssa and CeeCee were at Searle and Lettie's while Lonriad and Asalaye had taken Donnie. That left Raia with Falidor, which had led to some confusion with her husband of the same name and all... but he was Alina's age almost to the day and they played well together.

Most of the time, anyway.

"Rai-uh! Alina's trying to push me off the couch!"

Maddie giggled. Not really sure how concerned for anyone's welfare she was at the moment--she hadn't had a moment to herself in a good week, after all--Raia turned back to her grandmother. "But you did get your money in the end, right?"

"Raia, honey--I always get my money in the end." She winked, the hilt of a dagger peeking out from her belt. "That husband of yours owes me a couple of coppers, by the way; would you believe he got all the way to the baker's before he realized he'd forgotten his wallet."

That did sound like something Falidor would do. "I believe it."

Her grandmother laughed. "Good thing that man's head is attached, that's for sure. But on a more positive note, I saw little Dalston today. Still a frail little thing, but the worst of the fever's gone now. I'm sure young Falidor here will be going home soon."

"Aww!" moaned Falidor from the couch. "That means I'll have to start eating vegetables again!"

"Ha!" Alina chirped. "Grandpapa and Auntie Nora never make me eat vegetables."

"But my sister does."

"Shut up!"

Raia sighed. Even if they could sort of watch themselves now, she kind of missed the days when they couldn't talk. At least Sev was being nice and quiet, even if he was bothering the puppy. At her side, her grandmother chuckled. "They grow up so fast."

"Too fast," Raia agreed. And not fast enough!

Ah, but they'd been jumping for a good half hour or so; they were due to tire themselves out any minute now. When they did, they knew better than to come crying to her. She had a guest, after all.

"Anyway. I was thinking of riding up to Armion tomorrow to visiting Lear--"

However her grandmother managed to cut people off with the twitch of an eyebrow, she wished she knew. "Oh no. No, you are not going to Armion."

Ack. Remiel. Not that she wasn't suspicious of the man--after what he'd done to her little sisters!--but she couldn't understand why Laveria's forbidden sphere kept growing. First the chapel--fair enough, that was obvious anyway. Then the castle's entire south side--understandably cautious. But the whole shire? Brother Remiel couldn't be everywhere at once. "I wasn't planning on stopping by the chapel."

"I don't care. I don't want any of you within a mile of that man--not even your father, for all he thinks he can take care of himself. Duchess or not, your friend can visit you here."

But there were nannies at Leara's castle. Nannies! It was too much to ask of Maddie, watching four children under six and a puppy just so Raia could catch up with a friend. "But it's much more convenient--"

"More convenient? Ha!" As if she found anything funny. "I'll tell you what's convenient, girl: staying the hell away from that man, that's what. Now, don't you be running off where that son of a bitch might find you. And if you won't think of yourself..." The old lady grabbed the edge of the table and leaned forward, peering into the sitting area. "Think of your children, at least."

Raia glanced down at her son, who was still rubbing his face against the squirming Shadow's back, then up at her daughter and brother--still bouncing but not with the energy of before, thank God. Her babies. Christ, how they drove her up the wall, both of them. And yet, daily life would've been the dullest sort of hell if they didn't.

Defeated--graciously so, almost thankfully so--Raia locked eyes with her grandmother and nodded. "I see your point."


November 22, 2011

In Which Florian Tries Something New

March 2, 1177

The baron's daughters were not quiet, solemn girls. They were nothing on Florian's Alyssin, of course--when it came to being loud and obnoxious, who was?--but they'd always been friendly and talkative enough. But now, all Pandora could offer was a mumbled greeting of "Florian" and Thallie paid him only a glance. How were these the same girls who'd been joking with him mere days ago?

But whatever. It wasn't as if he showed up at work just to chat with the baron's daughters--not while they still had some filling out to do, at any rate. "Is your father in?"

Thallie squirmed in her seat; Pandora gestured toward the door. "If you need something, Sparron's in the study."

Sparron? But that meant... "Where's your father, then?"

Thallie took to picking at the embroidery on her sleeve. "Sitting with Mother."

Her sister shot her a glare, but Florian nearly missed it. Was Holladrin that sick? He knew she hadn't been well lately, but ill enough for her husband to drop everything? And during the quarterly taxes, no less? "Is she all right?"

"Well, she's been a lot worse, but..." Pandora trailed off, sharing a quick glance with her sister before looking back up at him. The blue eyes he'd always teased her parents about had never looked more like her father's hazel. "I suppose you'll find out eventually anyway. Mother is with child. Arydath just confirmed it."

Well... that was troubling. "I thought they weren't going to try for any more on account of her health."

"They weren't," Thallie confirmed, her full lips forming a grim line. "But you know how it is."

Amen to that. God, she looked so much like her mother--the heart-shaped face, those soft blue eyes, that silky golden hair. He hoped Holladrin had been so healthy in her youth. He hoped Thallie would not be so unwell in her womanhood. "I see."

Thallie nodded and took to staring blankly in front of her. Beside her, Pandora shook her head, pleading eyes like desperate prayers that had fallen on deaf ears. Poor girl was getting close to fourteen and by the standards of some nobles, she could have been a mother herself. But Florian had been born a peasant; fourteen was not so much an age to be a mother as it was an age to need one.

"Father is furious with himself. He was already worried sick about Mother, plus Sparron and Jeda, and now this happens. I don't know if he'll be able to live with himself if she dies."

Her younger sister squirmed. The feeling shared, Florian bowed his head and sighed. Poor Holladrin. Poor, sweet Holladrin who'd never done anything to deserve the unlucky hand she'd been dealt by her own blood. And to think--she was probably laughing just then, making small talk, trying to distract her beloved from this and everything else. What an unfortunate family they were if the loving mistress couldn't find the time to worry about her own ailing self.

And Florian cared more than he thought he did if he couldn't even think of a well-timed remark.

Maybe it was time to try something new. They were only little girls, after all, of an age with a couple of his own children. Perhaps he could be reassuring. No... he'd never been good at reassuring, not without resorting to cliches at any rate. Still...

"Well... she survived four of you, right?" That didn't sound quite right, Florian had to note as Thallie cringed. There had to be a better way to say this. "Maybe it won't be a problem. At least it gives her an excuse to take it easy, right?"

Pandora indulged him with a weak attempt at a smile. It wasn't convincing, but he supposed he'd give it to her. She was very young, after all. "I hope you're right."


November 20, 2011

In Which Lucien Makes a Rule

February 21, 1177

"...but they can investigate all they like. They shan't find anything. They have no idea where to even begin." The scratches of Remiel's quill ceased and the parchment ruffled as he filed whatever it was away. "Even if they can connect me to her, she can't say anything without ruining her family's reputation. And you, of course..." A small sniff escaped Remiel's nose and bounced from wall to wall before falling into Lucien's ear. "Well. It's not like you'll be telling them anything.

"Anyway. We should be safe here. And now that we know that she has a family in the area... Well. With the way they seem to breed, I should be set for quite some time after you're gone. I'll occasionally have to duck out of the country for a couple decades or so to avoid rousing suspicion, but I've been through longer droughts. And I suppose I could always take some obscure bastard with me, just in case.

"But the state of the bloodline is troubling, I'll admit. That Riona girl is a quarter and I couldn't get much energy out of her. And her husband? He's nothing special. I can't imagine any of their spouses are; hell, I have enough trouble finding you creatures and I know to look for you. Their children will be eighths, and who knows how little they might be worth. Sixteenths, thirty-seconds...

"Hmm. The younger sister. I didn't see a ring on her finger. Perhaps I'll breed her with you--you'd like that, wouldn't you?" Lucien's fingers curled into a tight fist. Remiel wasn't allowed to talk about Vera. Not that Lucien had any say in what Remiel did or didn't do, but Remiel wasn't allowed to even think about Vera, and especially not like that.

"I think I'd prefer the other myself--always did have an affinity for red hair, you know. Black is a little ordinary for tastes. Then again, not as if you can tell the diff--Boy!"

A splash of water soon turned to sizzling. A sleeve shook, drops hitting the floor like tiny mallets on a solid drum. "How many times must I tell you about the candles? If I want them lit, I'll do so myself; at least I can find the wicks!" The rim of his robe dragged along the hardwood, a few firm, irritated steps drawing nearer. "Now. I believe you owe me an apology. And it so happens I'm feeling a little faint."

He knew what that meant. It was a bit funny, really--how many ways there could be of saying the same thing. Funny, and perhaps a bit frightening how each was an incantation of utmost obedience.


November 18, 2011

In Which Isidro Gets an Update

February 20, 1177

"Well, you're not quite as playful as your sister was, are you?" Jadin asked his son as he bounced him up and down--to the boy's slight distaste, at least so far as Isidro could see. "Oh well. Your Uncle Lonriad was a tiny, sickly little thing too--and look how well he turned out!"

The baby wore some primitive look of horror that Isidro might have found funny had he been in a laughing sort of mood. In his own arms, Shahira rested her head on his shoulder and tugged at his hair. It was the only thing keeping him sane. "Are you really that keen on raising a boy like Lonriad?"

"In this family, it's pretty much inevitable." Jadin lifted Dalston to his face and tried to nuzzle noses; Dalston only wailed. "And if not this one, it'll be the next--which could be pretty soon, come to think of it. I swear to God, Xeta's trying to ride me to an early grave."

"Ride?" Alya dropped one of Lyssa's dolls, allowing her cousin to reclaim it. "Uncle Jadin, are you a horse?"

Lyssa giggled and Shahira gave an inquisitive glance. Isidro returned it with a strained grimace as Jadin snickered. "Yes, Alya. Uncle Jadin is a very happy horse."

That was a mental image that wasn't going anywhere any time soon. "So we're sharing adult anecdotes in front of the children now, are we?"

"I am," Jadin corrected him, not taking his eyes off of little Dalston. "You can't, because you're married to my sister and if you say anything about her, I'll box you. And if you say anything about some other woman, I'll box you even harder. Oh, and speaking of sisters--and Brothers--I saw Lorn yesterday."

"Oh?" About damn time. Isidro had been over there every morning that week, only to be sent away at the door by an irate Aldhein on the grounds that 'the investigation was still in progress'. He'd tried sending a few other people on his behalf--Sparron, Raia, Had--but none of them had fared any better. Frankly, he didn't know how Lorn couldn't see it. Well, unless this Remiel character was a much better actor than he'd bothered to let Isidro know.

Jadin nodded. "He sent a letter off to Brother Remiel's old monastery. Apparently the man keeps to himself and the only person around who seems to really know him is that kid--who can't talk. The letter's his best chance; it'll probably take another week or so, but at least he's doing something."

Isidro frowned while Shahira squirmed, trying to climb up onto his shoulder. Another week or so. Who knew how many women a priest could see in a week? Far too many. At least Riona had the sense to stay away, and at least Severin had told Vera to keep her distance. Still. Not everyone was lucky enough to know better. "I hope he's at least keeping an eye on the man while he waits."

"I'll say." After a loving look for the girls on the floor, Jadin lowered Dalston into his crib and sighed. "So... what if nothing comes up? Are you just going to drop it, or...?" He trailed off, leaving Isidro to fill it in for himself.

A tiny fist clenched the fabric of Isidro's tunic. Shahira pawed herself to the level of his cheek and endowed it with a sloppy kiss. He returned it with a squeeze, then locked eyes with Jadin and shook his head. "I don't care if he has a cleaner record than Christ himself; I'm not raising my daughters in a country where men like that don't get what's coming to them."