March 31, 2012

In Which Octavius Tackles a Smaller Problem

July 13, 1178

"Still awake?"

Sparron looked up, blinking his eyes into focus. He must have been about to nod off; given that he'd just become a father, he would have to get used to napping when he could. "I couldn't sleep. You?"

"The babies needed a lullaby. Lettie's too tired and I don't know where Searle is." Cooking up some new misguided scheme, no doubt. Whatever Sparron insisted, Octavius knew perfectly well just who was behind all this... but he'd had to let it slide. Perhaps it was a foolish sentiment, but it had been far too long since he'd seen that selfless, infallibly good side of his son. Poor Sparrow had probably forgotten it existed. "They are cute little things. The boy looks just like you when you were born."

Sparron sighed. "Poor baby. At least he got Lettie's eyes."

"Your grandmother's eyes," Octavius corrected as he joined Sparron on the couch. It was a small detail, no more true or false than the original statement, but the right choice of phrasing was crucial and the sooner it was drilled into everyone's skulls, the better. "Her mother is my first cousin, remember."

His son seemed incapable of little more than staring blankly in front of him, just like his mother in the momentary lapses at the onset of her decline. Octavius might not have been the only one trying to get his attention; perhaps there was some hallucination on Sparron's other side, whispering poor advice into the supposedly free ear. This was why it was so difficult to be angry with Sparron, even if the boy insisted it was all his fault and even if it hadn't been Searle's idea after all. Who was to say which thoughts were truly Sparron's?


He'd snapped out of it, now looking in Octavius's direction, tugging at his collar with a restless finger like he'd done as a child when he'd thought himself in trouble. He needn't have worried. Most days, he was so far gone that any sort of punishment would have made little difference. "Yes?"

"Do you think--?" That was it-a preface of a question and an abrupt fall to silence as Sparron's face faded to a milky white, a clenched fist shaking atop his knee. "Never mind. I'm sorry. Forget I said anything."

As if that would be possible. "Sparron--"

"Do you still love me?"

WHAT? Octavius was not the sort of man who gaped often, but how else was he supposed to react? What had brought that on? Why would Sparron even consider such a thing? "'Still love you'? Of course I still love you, Sparrow. I'll always love you and you ought to know it. Why would you think I didn't?"

Sparron swallowed. Octavius thought he caught a glimpse of a tear, but before he could look twice, it had been blinked away. His Sparrow. His baby. Why? "I don't know. I'm sorry. It's late."

It was late. That wasn't the problem.

It was a problem, though--and admittedly, the only problem they could deal with just now. "Maybe you'll be ready to talk about it in the morning."


March 29, 2012

In Which Sparron Learns the Correctly Incorrect Name

July 12, 1178

Camaline swayed from side to side with the same reluctant indulgence she'd shown for her nieces and nephew, but if Sparron squinted, he thought he could discern a small smile. As per his suggestion, she held the boy; if she was going to be his mother, it seemed crucial that they bonded, and there was no sense in putting it off. That left Sparron with the girl, which also worked in all of their favors. If tonight was the only night of their lives that he could be her father, he'd be a fool to throw it away.

God, what was wrong with him? He hadn't even wanted to go through with this, and now one baby wasn't enough, even if that hadn't been the agreement. Even if he owed it to Lettie to let her keep at least one.

"She seems to like you," muttered Camaline as Sparron son's made a swat at her cleavage.

Sparron gave the girl a little tap on the shoulder and sighed. It would have been so much easier if she didn't. Being 'Uncle Sparron' just wouldn't be the same. "I think she's too sweet to dislike anyone."

Camaline sniffed, but she didn't press. More grateful for that than he should have been, Sparron peeked around her at Searle and Lettie on the bed. Neither of them seemed all that interested in the babies and that bothered him. He supposed he couldn't blame Lettie--she was probably still aching from the birth--but Searle hadn't once demanded to hold the girl. Maybe he was just giving Sparron his night? That better have been it.

A flick of Camaline's eyes told him she also sensed something amiss. "He's probably still baffled by your heroic sacrifice."

"It wasn't heroic." Not that there would be any explaining that to Searle. 'If my father thinks I suggested it, he'll blame the voices in my head' was not the sort of thing he could tell a carefree, sunny little thing like Searle.

"Well, someone didn't get that notice." The baby reached for her breast again; unamused, Camaline shot him a stern look. "All right, you--I don't know where you got your love of tits from, but you'd better not make a habit of this."

"Aww, he's just hungry." Not that he seemed to be suckling at anything. "All right, maybe he just likes breasts. Life will probably be easier for him that way."

"Oh, he can gawk at all the breasts he likes, but mine are strictly off-limits."

"Well, good thing you won't be feeding him, then." If he'd screwed up everything else, at least he'd had the foresight to line up a couple of wet nurses already. But what was everything else, now that the result was here? Even for him, it was difficult to focus on past wrongs with a tiny little angel in his arms. "Lettie? Searle? Does she have a name?"

Searle started to shake his head, but Lettie wasted little time in cutting him off. "Alina."

Oh. Sparron watched as the color drained from Searle's face, every freckle more obvious against the deathly white. Awkward. "That was my mother's name."

"Yes, and we already named a daughter for my mother." She stretched her swollen hand and sighed, the gold wedding band practically choking the enlarged finger. "People will be expecting our second daughter to be named for yours."

"Yes, but--"

"But what?" There was a look in her eye with which one could not argue. Sparron considered leaving the room but Lettie locked him in place with a commanding glance. He didn't think she wanted an ally--not exactly. She could handle Searle on her own. She just wanted a witness. "We agreed that she'd be your daughter, didn't we? And that you wouldn't treat her any differently than Rennie or any of our future daughters?"

"Yes, but--"

"And what would you have named our second daughter?"

Searle swallowed. "Alina."

Satisfied, Lettie slumped downward and stared at the wooden panels above her. Searle glanced at Sparron, a scared look in his eye, but he didn't know how to respond. She was his daughter--not Searle's. But she was also Lettie's, and if she was Lettie's then she had to be Searle's. The name was incorrect in the most correct of ways.

Powerless as ever, Sparron lowered Alina to a cradle of an arm and forced himself to look away. What right had he to be here? If not for the hour, if not for the baby, he would have taken his family and left. "Searle. Come hold her."


March 28, 2012

In Which Searle Gets What He Never Wanted

July 12, 1178

"That's the root cause of this? Roderick wouldn't get off of Camaline's back? How the hell is that justification for this twisted arrangement? You should have just come to me and I would have told him to back off--you know it!"

Sparron swallowed, struggling to keep his eyes locked with his father's but ashamed enough without looking away. If not for the guilt, Searle would have been impressed that Sparron hadn't just collapsed into a ball of tears. Not that he knew what it was like. He doubted Sparron had much more experience, but he himself had never been on the receiving end of such wrath.

Or had he? Hadn't Sparron used to berate him like that? No. Sparron's own wrath, no matter how it was deflected, always fell upon Sparron himself. Sparron had more experience than he'd guessed.

"I didn't know it," Camaline hissed under her breath, more to herself than to anyone else.

Searle gave her a sympathetic look, but it was rendered null by her father-in-law's glare. "Rest assured I'll get to you later. And you--" His marshfire eyes shot to Searle, the hairs on the back of the neck standing in reverence and ready to run in fear. "--don't think for a second that I won't be telling your father about this! Let me guess: you're the genius who dreamt up this whole scheme, aren't you?"

He gulped. The whole plan did reek of him, didn't it? Camaline was too proud to demand anyone's help and Sparron was too wrapped up in himself to consider the baby problem a priority. And as if Lettie would have offered on her own. Hell, his own lack of anger over being cuckolded was evidence in itself, wasn't it? "Sir--"


Among the three conspirators, it was the surest word spoken that night. Sparron looked so impossibly stoic that Searle had to turn away. Whatever was about to be said, he didn't think he could watch.

"Father, it's not Searle's fault. It was my idea."

The room's heat of loud rage froze to a chilling silence. The world stood so still that Searle worried he'd forgotten how to breathe. Camaline's violet eyes flickered between Sparron and her father-in-law, the flutter of her lashes made audible by the eerie quiet. Sparron's father stared forward while Sparron held his ground and the universe didn't resume until he spoke again.

"I know it was stupid. They know it too. They wouldn't have gone along with it if I'd had the presence of mind to drop it. I'm sorry."

Searle choked. It was the most romantic thing--the only romantic thing--that Sparron had ever done for him and it was killing him. For all he used to daydream of being rescued by knights in green tunics, he'd never wanted anything like this. "Sparron--"

"Shut up, Searle." The words were as hard and firm as those he'd given his father. All that was missing was the courtesy of a glance. "Damn good of you to try to cover for me, but I have to take responsibility for my own mistakes. Father, don't listen to a word he says; it's all my fault."

His father gaped, disbelieving as Searle but in a dozen different ways, no doubt unsure of what shocked him most. A couple tense seconds ticked by before he straightened his back, brows unfolding but one remaining arched, more intent on finding closure than he was on casting blame. "Now that I know, are you still planning on keeping it if it's a boy?"

Camaline sent a pleading look Sparron's way, a look Searle had cast a thousand times over. His had always been met with a turned head, but she was not so unlucky. "Yes."

"And you if you pass him off as your legitimate son, you know that your only way to avoid suspicion is to name him your heir?"

Sparron nodded. "I know."

"And if your brothers ever find out about his maternity while I live, you'll know better than to ask me to pick a side?"

Another nod. "I understand."

"Then it's settled." The baron's fist relaxed somewhat, but his eyes remained wary and livid. "But I'm not happy about this. And I'm very disappointed in you."

Sparron's gaze fell to the floor. There was little Searle wanted more than to pick it up again, even if it was a wish that was doomed to go unfulfilled.

"Um... my lord?"

The over-long door scraped against the hardwood. Searle looked up to see Nanalie standing on the other side, fiddling with her sleeve. "Now that you're done yelling, you ought to know that Arydath's just getting everyone cleaned up. Actually, given how long I've been waiting to tell you that, she must be done by now."

Searle shared a quick, confused look with Camaline. Nanalie's face was far too neutral to say much.

Sparron stiffened. "Is Lettie all right?"

"She's fine."

"And the baby?"

Nanalie closed her eyes. "Both fine."

Uh... Searle squinted. What had she just said? "Both?"

"Well, the father's a twin and the mother's a triplet, and that seems to up the odds." She shrugged, as if it were no big deal. Then again, perhaps it wasn't. "A boy and a girl, in case you're wondering."

Well... that was...

Sparron's father finished the thought. "Convenient."

"I'll say." And with that, Nanalie turned around and headed back in the direction of the bedroom. Searle figured he was the only one to notice her leave.

"Well." The baron gave a defeated sigh and gestured toward the door. "There's a lot more I should say to you all, but there are more pressing concerns at hand. You--" He nodded sharply toward Searle. "--go to your wife. And you..." He turned to his son again, softer than before and somehow even more of a presence. "...go to your children."


March 25, 2012

In Which Camaline Chooses the Moment

July 12, 1178

Figured. Just as Camaline was finally free of those infernal straps for the night, someone had to come tapping at her door. It was too light a knock to be Sparron or her father-in-law, but it was certainly an adult--most likely a man, or perhaps a heavy-handed woman. Whatever they wanted, she hoped it was her maid; anyone else would require a hasty re-stuffing of her nightgown. "Who is it?"

"It's Searle."

And what was Searle doing here at this hour? So far as Camaline knew, Sparron hadn't bedded him since the day the baby had been conceived. It must have been something important--some sudden change of plans or something. She supposed she'd have to see him, although she did wonder why she wasn't getting this secondhand from Sparron as she usually did. "Is there anyone out there with you?"


She pushed herself out of her chair and hurried to the door, shutting it behind her as she stepped through. "What do you want?"

Searle glanced to the ceiling. He wasn't a nervous sort, but she'd been told she had frightening eyes--particularly for those who brought ill news. "The baby's coming early."

"Oh." Well. That certainly complicated things. "And what's being done about it?"

"I rounded up her maid and a couple other servants to keep an eye on her, then I went to fetch Nanalie, and then Arydath." Probably the most sensible course of action given the circumstances. Of course, everything would have been simpler if the baby could have been born at Tetran, but moving in a laboring woman from the next shire couldn't have been a good idea on any level. "Then I came here. Sparron's riding out to my castle right now."

As he should have been--it was his baby, after all. Then again, it was quite possibly her baby as well. "And what should I be doing?"

Searle sighed. She wished he hadn't. He didn't sound quite like himself when he sighed, and while Camaline didn't care for people in general, she did have some grudging respect for those who could at least be genuine; she'd always thought Searle to be one of them. "Get dressed and we'll follow in one of your carriages. Tomorrow morning, I'll head back here to say that you and Sparron went for an early ride, but you went into labor near my castle and you're being tended to there."

Not that Camaline had ever enjoyed carriage rides, but there was hardly a more likely solution as to why she'd be all the way out at Searle's castle full-term. She supposed she'd give him some credit. "All right. Give me a minute and I'll be ready."

"Please hurry." His eyes shot down to his wedding band as he stretched his hand in front of him. "I know it's late and everyone's in bed, but I don't want to risk--"

"Getting caught?"

A lightning charge shot through Camaline's nerves as her father-in-law stepped forward from the shadowy corridor beyond the room--arms crossed, mouth scowling, brow furrowed to a sharp valley. Of all the times for her eyes to fail her. Of all the times for his to be sweeping her up and down, stopping to linger on her flat, perfect middle. If she could have chosen the moment of her death, this would have been it.

"I think I've heard enough, but I suppose the two of you will have the whole length of the ride to make sure of it."


In Which Lettie Takes a Couple More Minutes

July 12, 1178

Lettie's tossed dress missed its peg and fell to the bottom of the wardrobe. It would have to say there; with her middle as big as it was, it wasn't as if she could just reach for the hook like she would have months prior. She supposed she could ask Searle to get it--not like he didn't owe her, after all--but he'd done that for her during her previous pregnancies and he'd never gotten it right. It would be less rumpled fresh from the heap.

Still. Damn physics. Lettie shut the door and waddled herself and the parasite over to the bed. "Searle, the wardrobe at Tetran had better be more accessible."

"Don't worry. Sparron promised you drawers, didn't he?"

Had Searle been in the room for that? "Yes, but I won't rest easy until I see them."

Her husband laughed, for the first time in a while. In spite of everything, it wasn't unwelcome. "You pick the strangest neuroses, you know?"

And neither were his stupid comments--so long as she forgot that his stupid comments were what had gotten her into this spot in the first place. "You didn't get to pick your neuroses, Scout. I shouldn't have to explain this to a man who has to put on his boots just to take them off and put them back on again."

"They're never comfortable the first time."

Uh-huh. "All in your head, kid."

Searle snorted, his back straightening as he swung his legs off the edge of the bed. "'Kid'? I'm three months younger than you."

"Closer to four, actually."

He flashed one of those typical sheepish smiles as he stood. Eh... she supposed she was done being angry with him. He still owed her, but at this point, was anger really all that practical? Besides, her due date was creeping up on her and it would probably go a lot more smoothly if she could let herself relax.

And what better way to relax than harmless banter? "Not that you were ever very good at counting."

"Lies. I could out-count Jadin until the Desk Leg Incident of 1158."

"Searle, in 1158 you were a year old."

"I was unfathomably precocious." He tugged at his shirt collar and chuckled. "I missed this--all this back and forth. You insulting me and me trying to defend myself."

He was grinning again. She wondered if he'd missed that too. "I know what you mean. You can't blame me for being pissed off, though."

"I know." A bit of a nervous quiver in his mouth, he reached for her hand and kissed it. For all he'd been a faded version of himself lately, his lips were as soft as she remembered. "Forgive me?"

Logically speaking, did she really have a choice? "Searle, we've got two kids and we might be getting a third and since you're not a complete asshole, we're stuck together until one of us kicks it. I think we'd both be pretty miserable if I never forgave you--even if you're never going to be able to pay me back for this."

His arms enclosed her as her own fingers fell upon his shoulders. "You're the best, you know?"

"That's right. Don't you forget it, Champ."

With a sudden, fluid motion he dipped her to the ground--somehow even mindful of her belly. "Oh, I won't."


Ah... what the hell? She had resolved not to be angry with him, after all. And with her hormones in their current state, who could blame her? Besides, he couldn't possibly get her pregnant now; really, would there ever be a better time? Probably not.

But a sudden gush of fluid begged to differ.

"Um... Searle?"

He stopped, concerned. A few months too late for that look, but she'd take it. "Everything all right?"

Did he really need to ask? Maybe she'd let herself be angry for a couple minutes longer. "Turns out the baby didn't get a copy of the schedule."


March 24, 2012

In Which Iata Gives Notice

June 24, 1178

"There you are!"

Iata's brother turned around as she dashed toward him, stopping just short of his feet. She didn't ordinarily seek him out during the day, nor he her, nor either of their cousins either of them--Tavrin's bizarre fascination with the Dovans aside, they'd outgrown most of their base social needs--but she doubted he'd appreciate being kept out of the loop.

Or would he care? Not like he gave her much response beyond a shrug. "Yes, here I am. What do you want?"

The first question ever out of his mouth when she spoke to him, as always. It was likewise with Atala and Vyro, and probably every Dovan sister and brother for miles around. But the normalcy of it didn't make it any less rude. "You could ask me about my day."

"Fine. How has your day been?"

Iata rolled her eyes. "Never mind that."

"Then why would you have me ask?"

Next time, Atala would bring him the news--whether she liked it or not. "Just a notice for future, less pressing conversations."

Brows arched like inching caterpillars, Tavrin frowned. It wouldn't be the last Iata saw of those brows today, she was sure of it. "Pressing?"

"Well... arguably." Iata took a lock of hair between her fingers and twirled it about. Forget Atala; she should have sent their grandsire. "Just thought you ought to know that the elders are back."


March 22, 2012

In Which Searle Gets a Request in Turn

June 13, 1178

"So let me get this straight."

Searle swallowed. It had taken him the better part of a month to work up the courage to approach Arydath, a month that hadn't been made any easier by Lettie's annoyed looks and Sparron's refusal to grant him even that. But of all the seasoned midwives, Arydath was the one nearest Tetran Keep, the one who would almost surely be called when it when 'Camaline' began to labor; someone had to tell her before Lettie's date drew too near, and since it had been his idea in the first place...

"Your friend's wife can't have children and you wanted to help him out."

He nodded.

"So you pestered him and your wife into sleeping together."

Another nod, even if that part had been largely abridged.

"So Lettie is now carrying Sparron's baby, while Camaline is only carrying a couple of pillows."

Well, it sounded pretty stupid the way she said it. "Yes..."

Arydath shook her head. "You're a fucking idiot. Did you know that?"

Yes--Sparron had made that much clear. Lettie too, even if her methods were a little more subtle. "Do I at least get points for good intentions?"

"Not where Lettie is concerned, no." She cracked her knuckles and he cringed. She'd probably only done it because everyone knew the sound bothered him. "Seems to me like you care more about your friend than you care about your wife."

To that, the only reasonable response was to press on. "Look, can you work something out? Lettie and I will be staying at Tetran that week; would people believe it if you tended to her and Camaline at once?"

"I doubt it. I would have to let Nanalie in on the secret. She knows enough by now that I don't think anyone would raise an eyebrow if I send her in with Camaline while I deal with the actual birth."

Another person. Sparron wouldn't be happy about that. Still, Arydath was the expert here--and after all he'd put Lettie through, he figured he owed it to her to at least ensure a safe, scandal-free delivery. Well... at least, he could try. "Yes, that's fine. So... you'll actually do this, then?"

She sniffed. "What sort of person would I be if I didn't? Doesn't change that fact that you're an idiot, though."

"I know."

"And I want twice my usual fee."

"You'll get it."

"And Nanalie's tip should be at least triple."

"Of course."

"And you'd better not ask for any dead babies to fill that fake coffin."

Well, at least he'd been spared the awkwardness of bringing up Camaline's morbid request. "I wouldn't think of it. Anything else?"

"Yes." Her brow twitched, black eyes sharp as a newly-forged dagger and hard as the anvil on which it had been worked. "If your wife ever lets you back into her bed, let me know. I've always wanted to see a herd of flying pigs."


March 21, 2012

In Which Aldhein Notes the Pattern

June 9, 1178

"Still awake?"

Given that Alsina had spent most of the past two months in bed--perhaps not asleep, but in bed nonetheless--it was a moderate shock to find her out of it, even if she had only moved to the couch. Aldhein shut the door and stopped a few feet short. "Dalston and Fenrick are in bed?"

These days, they were always 'Dalston and Fenrick'. 'The children' did not exclude the two they'd lost. "Fenrick is. I told Dalston he could stay up a little longer."

"They brought me breakfast this morning. I didn't see them at all yesterday." She rose, a little off-balance. Her red hair gleamed near-gold hues in the candlelight. "Am I a horrible mother?"

Aldhein shook his head. "Of course not. You're just..." He didn't finish. She knew she was still grieving.

"I'll see them tomorrow."

He hoped so. She did feel better on days she saw the boys, or so it seemed to Aldhein. Not that 'better' was 'good', or even 'fine'. These past few months, she'd been less his giddy, laughing wife than the scattered shards of girl he'd first married. "All right."

He combed his fingers through her hair like he had just after the first time they'd made love, his fingers dancing beneath her jaw as they'd never done with anyone else. She smiled--a ghost of a smile from a ghost of a woman, but he'd take what he could get. "I missed you."

Missed him? He'd been at work earlier, and not any later than usual. And she'd seen him since he'd returned. Regardless... "I see."

She stepped a little closer, her arms looping beneath his own and meeting at his back. "Did you miss me?"

"I... suppose?"

The grin widened a little, but her eyes were hollow and deadened as her hand worked it was toward his belt buckle. "Good."

Her eyes shut, a tear catching on the lashes as her lips puckered, inching toward his. Her breath bounced off his teeth before he could finally turn away. "Alsina?"

She blinked. She'd had a miscarriage once, some time between their elder two. It had been a much milder loss, but the pattern was not unfamiliar. This time, it had just taken a couple months instead of just a week. "Mmm?"

"If we have another baby, it won't bring back the two we lost." Her mouth fell slightly agape, eyes alight with the first signs of life he'd seen in months. A pity it had to be such horror. "I mean... we could have another baby, but we couldn't expect the boy to be Lornian, or the girl to be Celina. That's not exactly fair to the baby, is it?" She just stared. He might have been too blunt, but he didn't know how else to say it. "No one should be born just to be a replacement."

She still didn't speak, but she did sigh and slump forward, her brow falling to the side of his face. Not able to do much else, he slipped an arm beneath her legs and carried her back to bed.