December 31, 2012

In Which Jeda Does Not Find Point Enough

August 24, 1180

"Can they go for their ride yet?" Gennie bobbed her doll up and down in indignance. She didn't lack her older sister's intelligence, or so it seemed to Jeda, but it manifested itself differently. Dea was cerebral, methodical, and thorough, not a detail left untouched and her sights on the far-off future. Gennie was Jeda's little social butterfly. Her language abilities were far beyond what Jeda would have expected of a three-year-old. Even if they hadn't been, the girl was fearless! She took to any given stranger like an old friend--for all she wasn't even old enough to have old friends--and would talk and talk and talk, often until she talked herself to sleep if the hour was late enough. And if she wasn't moving her mouth, she had to make up for it with some other part of her; she would be quite the horsewoman once her legs could reach the stirrups, Jeda was sure of it.

Of course, all her pent-up energy meant that she wasn't exactly thrilled about what Dea saw as the key aspects of their dolls' lives: their studies and their assemblies.

"No. They have to decide where to build the new bridge first."

"They can stay on one side of the river."

"Doesn't matter. Trade routes are stalled. They need that bridge and they need it n--"


Odd. It was Ietrin's knock. Ietrin usually didn't bother knocking.

But puzzled or not, she supposed it would be easier to just get whatever he wanted over with. She hoisted herself out of her slouch and sighed. "Yes?"

The door closed before she'd fully registered it opening. Ietrin took to the couch with a swift, premeditated motion, choosing not to acknowledge any of them before making himself comfortable. If he was ever comfortable around them. "Jedaline. Girls."

"Hello, Father," the girls muttered in unison. Their father greeted, they resumed their play--only more quietly.

Satisfied--at least, as much as he ever was--Ietrin sniffed and turned to Jeda. It was a fight to maintain eye contact. If it wasn't on one of her girls, she fucking hated violet. "Jedaline, remind me: how old is Geneva?"

Gennie turned her head and held up a hand. "I'm--"

"Not now, Geneva. Your mother and I are talking."

The little girl slumped, put-out as little could make her. It was enough to merit a comforting pat on the shoulder from her sister. Jeda would have to tend to the both of them later. Perhaps it was time for another weekend at her father's castle. "She's three."

"Hmm. A little old for a youngest child, wouldn't you say?"

Jeda frowned. It was a conversation they had almost nightly--if one could call it a conversation--but in the middle of the day? And in front of the children? "Ietrin--"

"No. This has gone on long enough." His wedding band slipped as his hand fell to his side. It had always been a little loose on his finger, just as hers had always been a little tight. "We'll try thrice daily now. The usual nighttime coitus, plus first thing in the morning and then around midday--right around this time, in fact."

Thrice daily? But... "Ietrin--"

"Be in my bedchamber in half an hour." He stood, as if that was point enough. Jeda caught Dea frowning at him, but he didn't seem to notice. "And don't think about simply not showing up. I imagine it would be quite embarrassing for both of us if I had to send the servants after you."


December 29, 2012

In Which Ellona Does Dare

August 24, 1180

"You got married?!" Well, so much for subtlety being to a prince's advantage. For a brief second, Ellona found herself entertaining the shocking wish that Elarys had spent the night here instead of at the inn; surely she would have been mortified with her co-conspirator's unrestrained rage! "What the fuck, Ellona? Who the hell would marry you?"

"I don't know--a man who realizes the hypocrisy of his own sleeping around while shaming any woman who dares do the same, maybe?" As if what she'd done could even be called 'sleeping around'. Ring around her finger or not, she'd only fucked one man in her life before the previous night's obligatory consummation. Her main mistake had been in choosing the prick who stood in front of her now, or it would have been if not for her children. "Leave me alone, Ietrin. My husband and my brother are both better fighters than you are, and don't assume either of them care that you're the crown prince."

"Oh, I'm sure both of them would care! You robbed me--you robbed the kingdom--of my heir!"

"My son was never your heir! I didn't sign your damn papers!" And of course he remembered that! Why involved Elarys if Ellona had cooperated? Unless maybe he'd just wanted a sexual favor. If that was the case, they deserved each other. "Maybe my mother would have, but that's hardly her right now, is it?"

"It would have been, if you hadn't fucked everything up!" For a second, she thought he might smack her. She was almost disappointed that he didn't. If he'd laid a hand on her, she could have called on the guards and had him removed, possibly banned from her presence for the rest of their mutual lives, whatever his position was. It was against the law to strike another man's wife. "Damn you, Ellona! I loved you for years. I loved you so damn much. And you gave me a son when my wife couldn't! By right, I should be able to do as I please!"

"Don't try to guilt me! If you think love means ownership, find yourself a fucking dictionary! I owe you nothing! And I didn't give you Kaldar; God damn it, if I hadn't wanted him myself, it's not like it's impossible to find herbs in this country!"

"And you wonder why I thought you'd never marry! My God, you are the most vulgar, blasphemous, uncultured woman east of London! You know what? Thank you for making me appreciate my wife a little more! She might be barren as the Sahara, but at least she never speaks to me of herbs!"

"Who says she's barren at all?" And for all she'd always been more or less indifferent to Jeda, it felt damn good to finally say it! "She has as many children as I do, in case you're too stupid to count. Maybe you're the one with the problem!"

She'd done it--she'd finally gotten him to shut up, staring and struck-dumb like she'd pulled out a blade and stabbed him in the gut. If only for a second. "How dare you."

But she did dare. Oh, did she dare. "No, sir. How dare you. How dare you try to take away my say in Kaldar's future--and Kaldar's say, for that matter. How dare you go behind my back and rope my scheming bitch of a mother into our private affairs. How dare you barge into my brother's castle, a castle where I've been effectively lady for nearly a year now, and scream at me like some unruly child? How. Dare. You!"

A wad of spit flew from her mouth and landed squarely on his shoe. She doubted he even noticed. He'd reached his threshold of comprehension; a wad of spit was a mere formality. "Get out."

"This isn't over!" He stomped the foot that she'd defiled, perhaps hard enough that the soul might have stung.

She felt much worse for Neilor's floor. "It damn well better be! Now really--get out. If I have to look at your face for another minute, I swear to God, there won't be a woman in this kingdom who hasn't heard about the size of your cock."


December 26, 2012

In Which Casimiro Comes as He Is

August 23, 1180

Casimiro found Ellona in her bedroom, just as Neilor had said he would. The children weren't there, which first struck him as odd--wouldn't she have wanted every last minute with them, if she thought there were no minutes to spare?--but then again she might have wanted them to live out their last days of freedom as usual, or she might still have been contemplating just how to tell them.

Not being a parent, he supposed it wasn't his place to guess. He was here as what he was--her friend. "Ellona?"

Her head barely tilted, her eyes still set firmly on the folded hands in her lap. She looked somehow younger, stripped of her tough exterior and apparently several years as well, small and hopeless and exposed. Casimiro stiffened. Some men--though none he'd ever cared for--liked their women stripped of all adult agency, but he'd never understood it. There was nothing beautiful or ideal about breaking someone's spirits, taming another human being like some animal. Such was the work of those who found pleasure in cruelty. "I can't believe they did that to you."

He sat down next to her and she held back what he guessed to be a whimper, what he guessed he never would have heard out of her. At least he could help, if she'd take it. "Marry me."

She looked up, an amber eye peeking out between strands of black hair. Her face was half-hidden more often than it wasn't and he'd never thought much of it. He didn't like to think she styled herself out of fear or shame or any such bitter emotion. "I couldn't ask that of you."

"You would be asking nothing." She knew he'd planned on marrying someday. She was more than clever enough to figure out that he wouldn't have come to Naroni if he hadn't had a shot at Lady Rona's hand, for all it wasn't Lady Rona himself that he wanted. It was a horrible thought, that Rona or Ellona or any woman would have done just as well as any other, but perhaps it wasn't quite true. He didn't want romance, but he did want a friend. Ellona already was one. "If anything, it would inconvenience you after this is taken care of."

She sniffed. "I don't care about being inconvenienced."

"Then marry me."

Ellona dragged her foot back across the floorboards. "I don't want to be the person who ruins your life."

"And you won't be. What, did you think I was planning on marrying Searle?" He'd meant that as a joke, but she didn't laugh and neither did he. It wasn't funny anyway. "You won't be the person who ruins my life, Ellona. I don't want to be the person who could have stopped yours from being ruined and didn't."


"Please. I'll be a good father to Kaldar and Ella." And after what Ietrin had done, it was all too apparent that they needed one. "And maybe we'll have some more of our own, if you like. And if you meet a man who makes you happy, you can have him too--sauce for the gander and all that." He bridged the gap between them with a hand atop hers, the same insignificant comfort he'd once offered his sister as her little baby fought over every last breath. "We'd be an odd sort of family, and I know that. But we'll work, somehow. I promise."

Her eyes fell briefly to the site of his touch, following as he stroked her fingers. A half-minute of that and she wilted to the side, her body light against his side, her hair soft against his neck.


December 25, 2012

In Which Abrich Is Not Inconveniened Enough

August 23, 1180

"Meraleene!" Abrich's mother greeted his betrothed with a hand to the arm and a cordial kiss on the cheek. "It's lovely to see you again, dear. I trust the journey was pleasant enough?" She didn't openly acknowledge Abrich, but he thought he saw one eye flicker his way. It was the same eye she'd sometimes flashed him as a child, whenever she suspected someone of covering for some misdeed of his. Not that Abrich had been too horrible of a child--he lacked the sheer personality to be horrible, he feared--but his mother knew him better than anyone else, well enough to know when, for once, he'd done something wrong.

Now that he was an adult, of course, there wasn't a minute gone by when he didn't do something wrong. If poor Meraleene suspected that, though, she dared not tell his mother--though he couldn't imagine why. "It was. We only stayed at the most comfortable inns, and Abrich and Sir Casimiro were fine company."

Abrich gulped. He had made a point to be pleasant with her--she'd done nothing to deserve otherwise--but he feared now he might have been compensating. That might have been inevitable, what with his heart beating itself to an early grave over someone else's wife and all, but it might have been fairer to Meraleene to just be his usual quiet, standoffish self. He could have at least avoided getting her hopes up.

Of course, his mother never would have stood for such behavior with his own betrothed.

"Glad to hear it. And is that a new dress? You look lovely, dear." Meraleene's back was to him, but Abrich nodded for his mother's sake. He couldn't complain about Meraleene's looks anyway. He supposed he couldn't complain about her anything, really, or at least not to any serious extent.

The only thing 'wrong' with her was that she wasn't Riona.

"Good to know the trip went well. I trust the wedding was lovely?"

"Oh, yes." Casimiro flashed a small smile, giving Abrich a quick break from his mother's eye. Good timing, really; if Casimiro's sister hadn't been marrying a Dovian within the time frame of Abrich's journey, it would have just been him and Meraleene's escort from home. That would have been all the more agonizing. "It wasn't anything two fancy, since they've both been married before, but it was nice all the same. Tarien's daughters made some of the arrangements themselves; they're quite taken with Catalina."

Just like Abrich's mother and sisters were quite taken with Meraleene, or at least they had been when she'd been here for her sister's wedding. But his family liked all of the in-laws; surely that wasn't normal? Meraleene's father and brothers didn't seem to think much of him. Not that he blamed them, really.

"Well, let's sit, shall we?" Abrich's mother took Meraleene by the arm and gestured to the couches. "Meraleene, why don't you sit over there with Abrich? Casimiro, dear, you sit with me."

Meraleene nodded and took a seat by the window, begging Abrich with wide green eyes to join here; he supposed it would be rude not to oblige. Satisfied, his mother sat down beside his friend, true to her word.

"So. The wedding date's just sneaking up on us, isn't it?" His mother tossed back a dark curl and laughed. "Most of the preparations have are done, though. Abrich's older sisters have done a wonderful job. Poor Xeta hasn't been in the best spirits of late, unfortunately, so the wedding has been a welcome distraction for her. And Rona hasn't been nearly as ill as she was the last time--she's expecting again, wouldn't you know it?--so she's been busying herself too. I've been feeling rather useless myself there, but they insist that everything's under control."

Abrich shuffled. Of course it was all under control, and it was a guilty feeling, wishing that perhaps it wasn't. But what difference did it make? Whether he married Meraleene or not, it wasn't as if Riona's husband was about to disappear. Even if he did, why on earth would she drop everything and run into Abrich's open arms? Riona wasn't the sort of woman who needed a man, and Abrich wasn't the sort of man a woman needed.

Meraleene nodded, a content smile on her lips. Did she like to be content? He could possibly make her content. Contentment required nothing in terms of passion. "I'm glad to hear it."

"I hope most of it will be to your taste. Your sister Cladelia has been rather involved as well, so I'm sure you were kept in mind." His mother folded her hands in her lap, then looked over at him again. He tried to keep a calm head, or as calm as he ever managed. "Abrich, I hope you'll play a few songs on your lute at the reception. Did he tell you, Meraleene? He's quite the musician."

"No, he never mentioned it." She glanced over at him, as if to ask why. But what had he told her about himself, really? And what had she told him about herself, even? "My father plays as well. I'm surprised you two never spoke of it."

He swallowed. He'd managed to get so far without speaking, but that had been too convenient--or just not inconvenient enough, at least--to last. "I... guess it never came up."

His mother sighed. "That's a shame. I wish you'd be more open about your talents, dear. You have so many, but you're never keen to share them."


Whatever he'd been about to say--he hadn't quite thought it through--he was spared the trouble by a knock at the door. Thank God.

"Odd," Abrich's mother muttered. "Does anyone else know you're back? It seems a little early for word to have gotten out."

Casimiro shrugged. "Well, we did stop at my castle to leave my things with my steward, but that was..."

"Casimiro? Casimiro, is that you? It's an emergency!"

It was Sir Neilor's voice--not a friend of Casimiro or Abrich or really anyone in particular if it got down to it. Abrich shared a puzzled glance with his mother while Casimiro stood. "Neilor?"

Neilor pushed through the door, panting, easily the least composed Abrich had seen him since Ashe had defeated him in that tournament. His usually-hard eyes paid an obligatory glimpse around the rest of the room before they locked with Casimiro's. "Sorry about this. I went to your castle in hopes that you might have gotten back, and your steward said you would be here--"

"Calm down." Casimiro scuffed the floor with the tip of his boot, but nothing more. Little though he liked Neilor... well, Casimiro was a better reader of situations than Abrich was, and if Casimiro was willing to hear out a frantic, emotional Neilor, then something had to have been wrong. "What's the matter?"

Neilor needed a couple breaths before he could answer. "It's Ellona..."


December 22, 2012

In Which Ellona Is Prey to the Omens

August 23, 1180

It was about damn time that Neilor fired that steward. The man showed up late if he showed up at all, then spent half the day fraternizing with the maids and the other half napping at his desk. Any news that reached one of his ears wasted little time echoing off the walls of his hollow skull before bouncing out the other, and if someone called... well, that varied. Male caller? Possibly he'd get out of his seat, and possibly not just to pick a losing fight like he did if he'd started drinking a little early that day, but the odds of him announcing the guest's presence before he was distracted by some pretty young servant girl? Not exactly high. Female caller? Well, harassment was inevitable, so the poor woman would have to either leave, or push through and announce herself--or, if she was Raia, slug him across the face and tell him he must have lacked the required size for whatever feat he'd been implying.

But now, the one time he'd actually bothered to do his job, the person who'd shown up was...

...well, frankly the first person she would have preferred he'd drive away.

"Daughter." Ellona glowered. Her mother brushed some hair out of her face, other hand reaching behind her back as if for a hidden dagger. "You know, I've traveled quite far to be here. You could at least offer me a drink."

She would begin with the guilt. Elarys didn't even drink. "Neilor's not here."

"Never mind where your brother is." The edge of the violet eyes slipped beneath those practiced lashes. "I'm here to see you."

"Of course you are." Because why wouldn't she be, when she hadn't paid Ellona a shred of attention since she'd learned she was pregnant with Kaldar? Even if Elarys was the type to pay international social calls at whim, this would have been suspicious. "What do you want?"

"You assume I need some selfish ulterior motive to visit my own child?" She adorned her lips with a teasing curve and her brow with an offended twitch, but not even Elarys could mask her eyes. She knew as well as Ellona did that the assumption was not unfounded. "It's been a while since I last saw your pretty face, dear. And I've never even met my grandchildren."

And you won't, Ellona wanted to spit back in her face. Good thing Kaldar had a playdate with Sev, and Ella with Rennie. "They're not even here."

"That's quite all right. It's not as if I'll have any shortage of time with them."

"Sorry?" That couldn't have been right. Her mother hadn't been any more loving with Neilor growing up than she had with Ellona--less so, perhaps, as Neilor was a boy and as far as Elarys was concerned, no one with a penis could be anything but a pawn on her chessboard--but with that in mind, surely she wasn't foolish enough to think Neilor would let her stay with him long-term? Neither he nor Landus seemed at all starved for her love...

"Oh, perhaps I should have mentioned. Here." Her hand folded back behind her once more and returned this time with a scroll in hand--reasonably fresh parchment, perfectly curled, tied with a ribbon. "This will explain more thoroughly than I can. Even if it couldn't, it's best that you see it anyway.

"This is official business, after all. Can't leave any windows for legal liabilities now, can we?"

Official business? Legal liabilities? Ellona tugged at the bow and unrolled the document to be greeted by a black wax stamp at the bottom, a mark she vaguely recognized as that of a Dovian ambassador. Frowning, she snapped to the top of the paper and processed word by word, letter by letter, each bold stroke an omen in itself. If any part of her had dared hope for good news...

Well, no part had. But even knowing Elarys could not have prepared her for an edict such as this.

"What is this?" She dropped the scroll and jumped back, half-expecting it to explode in flames, the gates of Hell itself born of its ashes. "What the hell is this?"

"It's exactly what it claims to be: an intervention of guardianship." The words might have been honey on Elarys's tongue. "You see, dear... your children's father is a Dovian by blood, as is their maternal grandmother, and you live in a kingdom that has made little change to the law of its motherland. And while Dovian law does not outright prohibit an... unwed woman--" Her mouth sneered in some private joke. "--from raising her children alone, the right to seek custody belongs to any well-meaning relative of higher repute."

"Well-meaning?" If phrases had flavor, she'd just tasted bullshit. "Higher repute? You dare declare yourself my better when Landus is walking around with Sir Searle's stupid face on his head? And 'well-meaning' my ass! You just want a signature on Ietrin's stupid document, don't you? You want Kaldar to be king one day, never mind whether it's what's best for him. Hell, that's why you sent us to court, isn't it? You always wanted one of us to be Ietrin's mistress! You always wanted one of us to give him a son! You always wanted--"

"Oh, please. Consider all the factors I can't account for; nothing's stopping Princess Jedaline from having a son of her own, at least nothing I can influence." But Elarys held herself with the triumph of knowing even biology dared not stand in her way. "I am simply doing what any loving grandmother would do. Most don't bother with this law, lacking the spare affection to waste on bastards, but I wouldn't dream of standing idly by while my own flesh and blood are stifled under the thumb of a loose cannon of a woman such as yourself."

"Better a loose cannon than a scheming, lying bitch!" The blood in her eyes cast the world in red tint. She couldn't take this. She wouldn't take this. Her children, her babies. No. Not Elarys. "My children aren't going anywhere with you! I'll beat you at your own game. I'll have Neilor--"

"Invoke the same right I have?" It sounded much worse when practically laughed. "Pointless, I'm afraid. This is one law where 'first come, first served' can be and typically is applied. Now, if you were to find a husband, he could legally block my intervention, but... well, that doesn't seem too likely at this point, does it?"

Ellona scowled. One more barb and she swore she'd start breathing fire. "Shut up! You can't take my children. I won't let you! I don't care about any fucking laws!"

"Is that so?" The words could have been said innocently, but Elarys hadn't bothered to try. She'd even taken to grinning. This was how hyenas looked with bits of zebra in their teeth. "In that case, you might want to work on your choice of wording. I doubt you'll find a judge who allows for cursing in court."


December 18, 2012

In Which Yvanette Is Safe

August 4, 1180

It was warm because it was summer, and summer was warm. Not as warm as it had been before--warm enough to be fairly called 'hot'--but warm enough that Yvanette's mama had let her go to bed without the blanket. If only she'd been allowed to go to bed without socks too!

It hadn't been a good day, heat or no heat. Her papa had been gone most of the day; she hadn't seen him before supper, and after that she'd been left with Ellie while her parents went off to talk alone. Her mama had been around, but not really--sort of half there, half not, always falling asleep with her eyes open until Yvanette got her attention some way or another.

She'd made her mama mad with one try. Her mama had been lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, and Yvanette had climbed onto her tummy and bounced. Her mama's eyes grew large and she'd cried out something and she'd picked up Yvanette and sat her back down on the rug, scolding her for that and telling her not to do it again. She'd been confused, maybe a little scared, and she must have looked it because her mama had softened and held her, rocking her back and forth. Her mama said there was a baby growing in her tummy, and that while Yvanette could play with it all she wanted when it came out, it was too little for that now, too fragile like one of her grandmama's pretty glass figurines that were for looking and not touching.

She'd left her mama alone after that. She liked babies. She didn't want to break one, especially if it was her mama's.

"Yvanette?" A strong hand slipped through her hair and brushed it aside, thumb rubbing against her cheek. "Sweetheart? Are you awake?"

She slowly opened an eye. It was light enough that she could see her papa standing over her; she raised her arm to reach for his. "Papa!"

"Shh." He pressed a finger to his lips. She nodded and didn't say anything. "Do you mind if I hold you for a minute? I know it's late, but--"

She'd already sat up, arms stretched out toward him. Smiling, he took her under the arms and lifted her out of the crib.

"I'm sorry I've barely seen you all day. I had some grown-up things to take care of. You'll understand when you have a pretty little girl of your own." He pulled her closer; she clung to his shoulder as he moved one arm up and one down, making her more comfortable. "We'll spend all day together tomorrow, all right? Just you and me and Mama."

"And baby?"

Her papa blinked. But then he smiled again. "Yes, I guess baby will be there too."

Yvanette giggled. Her papa bounced her a couple times, then hoisted her up and kissed her on the forehead. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you, all right?"

She tipped her head to one side. Didn't things happen all the time? Did her papa have a say in everything that happened? "Nothing?"

He shook his head. "Well... I'll let the good things happen. But nothing bad. You know that, right?"

That made more sense. "Right."

He swayed back and forth a couple of times, his eyes growing a little faint like her mama's had during the day; she held on tighter, just in case he dropped her, but he didn't. "Do you maybe want to sleep in the big bed with Mama and me tonight?"

Yvanette nodded. The big bed was warmer than hers, but her mama and papa were there. She always felt just a little safer.


December 16, 2012

In Which Ashe Holds Back

August 4, 1180

"Well, this is a surprise." The creature's eerie eyes struck like a bolt of lightning. "I never thought either of you were stupid enough to seek me out. Or do you want me to make good on my threats after all?"

Ashe had to bite his tongue. Lonriad, however, appeared calmer--for all he was only here because he'd failed to talk Ashe out of it fully and had at least insisted that he not go alone. "Oh, sod off. We know you were bluffing."

"Was I?" That sneer was hardly comforting. But Tavrin had sworn that Deian could do them no harm, and with everything at stake, that belief would make this easier.

But speaking of Tavrin... where was he? Hadn't he been here just a second ago?

"Oh, never mind where my grandson is. He likes to disappear spontaneously sometimes. He's probably nearby, though, just in case. That boy never did trust me--probably smart of him." Deian's speech was marked with an almost yawn-like quality, as if he couldn't be bothered to care either way. "But no matter. Have you some selfish reason for seeking me out, or am I going to get a willing meal for once?"

Lonriad sniffed, possibly reassuring himself of his own safety. Ashe took a second to shelf the worst of his own fear before getting straight to the point. "What's wrong with me?"

"Hmm." Deian's gaze swept him over again, more like fire this time. The lightning had been preferable. The lightning had been quick. "Any number of things. Your hair is a ridiculous color for a human, you have all those unsightly freckles, and one of your pupils seems to dilate at a faster rate than the other, which is just bizarre. And don't get me started on your nose, or than one weird eyebrow hair that's sticking out and curling. You're also oddly short for someone whose body was designed for the sole purpose of knocking other men off of horses, but since you managed to win that tournament anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about that. There's also--"

"You know what I meant!" The creature smirked. A vein in Ashe's hand throbbed as he clenched a fist and fought to hold it back. "Why is my brother-in-law claiming that there's some kind of aura around me? And how did my daughter get it? And Rona's baby?"

"Oh, that!" Deian clapped his hands together in mock-realization. He was trying to provoke him--that had to be it. Probably for no reason other than his own dark amusement. It was now even more important to keep calm, just to spite the beast. "Oh, that's nothing to worry about. Honestly, it just smells like glaze on a ham to me."

He licked his lips, prompting a raised brow from Lonriad. "That could hardly be its purpose."

"No of course not."

He didn't sound like he meant to say any more--another cue, perhaps, a little subtler than before. This one couldn't be ignored. "So, do you mind telling me just what it is? Because if my children are in danger, I--"

"It's practically nothing. Just a light layer of magic left over from the transformation, and nothing more." Deian swayed forward, the lack of personal space hardly comfortable--and the sniffing, even less so. "Yours is fading, actually. Give it a few years and you'll have lost the only thing that makes you physiologically remarkable; otherwise, you're almost disappointingly ordinary."

"And my children--?"

"Theirs should be constant, but that magic will only ever be as strong as yours was at the time of each conception. This new child's will be weaker than your daughter's. After that, you might be able to squeeze in one more before your magic is entirely gone, and then any subsequent children won't have any trace of it."

Well, that was... good? No. No, it wasn't. He wasn't concerned for children that wouldn't exist for years to come, not right now. He was concerned for the new baby. More than that, he was concerned for Yvanette. "What about the children that do have it?"

"It will find ways to manifest itself in due time, but it won't harm its hosts; most likely they'll each develop some sort of odd, but ultimately beneficial ability. I'll let you use your imagination there." He shut his mouth, still smiling that warped smile of his. It would have been unwise to think it would stay shut for long. "Not that you're the most imaginative of people, are you? Even after all that's happened to you."

If Deian was trying to get into his head, Ashe wasn't about to let him. He had the information he'd come for. There was no point in wasting time playing games. "Thank you for your help."