October 30, 2012

In Which Isidro Dismisses the Reasons

April 17, 1180

"Still nothing?"

Isidro shook his head. His father-in-law didn't sound surprised, or even disappointed, though he was not quite resigned either. It didn't make much immediate sense given the circumstances, but perhaps anger and its sub-emotions were most effective when bided, and for all he might have failed, Isidro was hardly the most appropriate target. "There were a few reports of a man matching Remiel's description throughout the shire, but however he's getting around, he's moving too quickly for us. The most recent witness said he was heading in the direction of Armion, so I sent some of the faster riders to alert the knights there."

"Is one of them en route to Sir Ovrean's castle?"

"The fastest of them."

"Good." Lord Severin glanced over at Jadin, who swallowed. He was dressed for an excursion, his father must have put his foot down, and not without reason. With even the method of Remiel's escape still a mystery, there were too many unknowns for any of Laveria's descendents to think about venturing far from their heavily-guarded strongholds; hell, Isidro had called in every guard on his payroll and he still wasn't sure if they were sufficient protection for his family, especially with Riona's pregnancy not going as smoothly as anyone would have hoped. What if Remiel could get past all those men and every lock, like he'd somehow done in the dungeons? And what if some added energy of the baby made her a more appealing target?

"If we have any forces to spare, send them to Celina. If this isn't a ruse and Remiel really has gone to Armion, he's likely to be after Farilon." Jadin's hand clenched into a fist; his father looked at him and nodded toward the door. "I won't let anything happen to your in-laws. Go to your wife; tell her what's happening, and tell her that as well."

Nodding, Jadin fled the front room without so much as a parting glance for Isidro. But he understood. Jadin wasn't the only one who wanted nothing more than to get back to his wife. Pity that his duties to her sometimes demanded he leave her side. "What should I do after I send the men?"

"Send a message to Octavius and ask if he can send a couple of his knights over to help out. Send some of mine over there too, but don't go yourself." His father-in-law sighed. "Of all my children, Remiel seems to have a particular obsession with Riona. I want you by her side whenever you can be until he's back in custody."

If ever was an order he could follow whole-heartedly. "I'll have his head if he so much as looks at her again."

"You'd better."

Lord Severin tilted his head to the side, staring over Isidro's shoulder. Isidro turned around to see Rifden Wythleit in the doorway, panting somewhat, a grave look about him. A pang of alarm welled in Isidro's gut and shot up through his chest. Rifden might have been here for any number of reasons--shire-wide manhunts didn't mark an end to business as usual, and Rifden was Lord Severin's brother-in-law twice over besides--but one glimpse of the man's eyes was enough to know that whatever it was, it was not something to be ignored, set aside for after things had calm down. Something was happening now.

Lord Severin seemed to pick up on it too. "I'm not going to want to hear this, am I?"


October 28, 2012

In Which Laveria Does as Meant

April 17, 1180

No less than ten minutes over the fire and the mixture had yet to spew forth a single bubble. Had she done something wrong? She must have. Too high a concentration of solid ingredient, perhaps, or too low a storage temperature--of course, the latter could be blamed on the weather, but the thought stung nonetheless.

And it only served as further proof to Laveria that this day did not in the least promise to be a good one.

She'd retired late, as she'd refused to turn in before she'd heard from her family. Severin had guards, as did most of his children, but Aerina and her family were vulnerable, as were Raia and Vera. It wasn't until Rifden had shown up to confirm that Aerina and the kids were settled at Sir Searle's castle, then Falidor for his family at Lonriad's, and Isidro for Vera's at his and Riona's, that Laveria even thought about going to bed, and once she actually did, sleep was a much more considerable feat than simply resting her head against a pillow. Add that to having run out of bread and a batch of her merchandise expiring and the troubling lack of any messenger bearing good news...

The mixture still hadn't boiled by the time the knock at the door finally came, and it wasn't the right knock. Not that she would have recognized any guard Severin sent--partly why she'd refused his offer of posting a few here, as she knew better than to trust just anyone--but there was something about it, some intrinsic tone in the sound or some variation in pressure that told her that whoever it was, they were not here to reassure her. Whoever it was, she would be, in the short-term, better off not answering.

And yet, there was some other sense--a tug at her heart, the faces of loved ones dancing in front of her--that said whoever it was had not come without some cosmic purpose. Whoever it was, she would answer. Whoever it was, she was meant to open the door.

Even if it was the last door she ever opened. "Figures that you're mad enough to come here even with the whole shire on the watch for you."

"Maybe." He crossed the threshold of her shop and kicked the door shut behind him. "But the fact remains that they still haven't found me."


October 27, 2012

In Which Severin Gets an Unheralded Interruption

April 16, 1180

"...so, long story short, that's why all future inhabitants of this castle are banned from ever performing surgery on mice with mathematical instruments," concluded CeeCee matter-of-factually, as if her six-year-old mind believed that her uncle had been holding on to every word.

Judging by the profoundly bored look on Sidwein's face, though, Severin guessed this wasn't exactly true. That wasn't a surprise. Sidwein was only about Searle's age, after all, and paid his own son what was perhaps the minimum amount of attention required to call oneself a not-sub-par father; what use could he have possibly had for anyone else's children?

Then again, maybe it was CeeCee's age. She was only two years older than Sidwein's Haldred, after all--and meanwhile, Severin was not only twenty-five years older than his brother, but had two children who were also older than Sidwein and another who was only a couple weeks younger. It might not have occurred to the youngster--to think, the very age Severin himself had been when he'd arrived in Naroni!--that he himself might very well have a six-year-old daughter at the ripe old age of forty-seven. No doubt the Severin of all those years ago wouldn't have taken that realization so well either.

"But lucky for the mouse, Grandmama patched him up nicely and he now lives with Uncle Rifden and Auntie Aerina."

Sidwein squinted in some sort of vague disgust; at its root, Severin found it more amusing than offensive. "Your grandmother does have a certain talent for fixing things."

"Uh-huh. And I'm going to fix things too." CeeCee swayed from side to side in one of those short-lived bouts of childhood excitement that he'd grown used to over the years, what with nine other children ahead of her. "I already fix things. I fixed Roddie and Falidor's mathematics problems just yesterday."

"I... see." Severin suspected he didn't. He wouldn't claim to know his little brother well, having lived another country for the entire duration of the young man's life, but Sidwein had been staying with him long enough to suggest more than a few similarities to Rudolphus, whom Severin did know. Of course, it could have also been CeeCee. Some people just could not wrap their heads around such fully-embraced precocity. "Uh... they didn't bully you into it, did they?"

"Oh, no! They're much too afraid of Mama to bully me." Behind CeeCee's back, Severin nodded to confirm. "Consider it an act of mercy. Neither of them can ever remember what a factorial is."

Sidwein frowned. "Right."

"I know. It's got to be embarrassing for them." CeeCee spun the end of an unruly lock around her finger and sighed. "Anyway, I should probably go talk to Falidor before he leaves, just so I can remind him. See you at supper, Uncle Sidwein."

Severin slouched. "And I've been demoted to desk chair?"

Giggling, CeeCee spun about and beamed. "You too, Papa."

He returned the smile, then watched as she charged from the study, her apparent enthusiasm for correcting her brother at the level that most six-year-old girls reserved for new kittens. The Severin of a quarter-century ago might have preferred to leave a beautiful corpse, but at forty-seven, old age seemed a small price for the chance to see his younger children turn the world upside-down.

"They grow up too quickly."

"Say what you will. A year and a half later and I'm still recovering from that over-long diaper phase."

Not that you were the one actually changing them, I wager, but fair enough. "No one said fatherhood was without its downsides. But you're not going to find a great man or woman anywhere who didn't spend their first couple years shitting indiscriminately."

His brother's nose wrinkled. "You certainly got Father's crudeness."

"And perhaps you ought to thank me for taking it all before you came along," Severin chided with a wink.

"I don't know. Sometimes I think there are benefits to lack of tact."

"Oh?" Brow peaked, Severin leaned forward. He would admit it--he had not been overly impressed with his brother since his arrival, finding him rather dull, maybe even predictable. But it seemed that Sidwein was capable of more startling insight than he might have guessed. "Care to elaborate?"

Sidwein hesitated. Had he not, he might have gotten a word out, but the fact was that he never did, cut off preemptively by Falidor's entrance--his unheralded, unexpected entrance, an entrance that never even bothered with a knock.

"Er, my lord..." Falidor swallowed. Just this once, Severin opted to let the title slide. "We have a bit of a, uh... situation..."


October 23, 2012

In Which Rennie Watches the Time

March 29, 1180


Rennie hardly gave her father a chance to notice her before launching herself into his arms. How could she have? He'd been holed up in his study all day, doing whatever it was he needed his privacy for, door locked. She'd been up early this morning--earlier than her mother, even earlier than her baby brother!--and she still hadn't seen him yet today. And to think, one of the cooks had already approached, asking Rennie what she wanted for supper! The day was almost over.

So with that in mind... why would she give her father a chance to catch his breath? She'd begged the cook not to start yet, but it was only a matter of time before Arkon and Alina got hungry and cranky...

"Rennie-Wren!" He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, the hairs on his chin scratching against her face as he pulled back, his breath rather stinky. Still, her father with bad breath was better than no father at all. "Good afternoon so far?"

"Papa, it's almost evening!"

"Is it?" He clapped his hands together in overblown amazement, the way he did with her little siblings when they did some silly thing adults somehow deemed noteworthy. She couldn't say she appreciated it, but she resolved to let it slide. There was no sense wasting precious time on being annoyed. "Wow, I've been in there a while, haven't I?"

"Uh-huh." Rennie rocked back and forth, heel to toe. "Mama said that you and her are having a talk after supper. Also, Grandpa was here, and he banged on your door for ten whole minutes and you never answered." How had her father managed that? Especially after the cursing had started? Her father must have been having the best nap of his life. "He said that he's coming back tomorrow, and you and him are having a talk then."

"Oh." Her father's overblown smile dulled. "I take it I'm in trouble?"

"Yes!" And really, if anyone had any right to punish him, it was Rennie. But again--time. "Don't you remember? It's my birthday!"

And now the smile was gone, the confusion in his eyes replaced with outright horror. Rennie shivered. She didn't think she'd seen her father scared before. Sad, sure--more often then she liked--but scared? Or was 'scared' the right word for this? "Papa?"

"Oh." Whatever it was, it had spread to the rest of his face. He looked like her cousin Dalston always did just before he puked. "Oh, Rennie-Wren... Rennie, honey, I..."

"It's all right. My birthday's not over yet." He flashed her the sort of fake smile he usually reserved for her mother. She'd take it, though. He wouldn't have faked it if he hadn't wanted to smile... would he? "Can we go now?"

"Um... where are we going?"

That was two things he'd forgotten. Two big things. How did anyone forget two big things in one day? "The kennel. Don't you remember? You said I could have a puppy."

Her father swallowed. "Oh, right... I did, didn't I?"

Rennie nodded, grinning as she glanced toward the window. The sun still had some way to go before it reached the horizon. There was still time. "So why are we still here? Let's go."

"Uh, yes, well..." The fake smile was back. This time, forgiveness was a bit more difficult. "I, uh... I don't think we can go today, sweetie. It's getting to be pretty late, and I've got some things to do--grown up things that can't wait. You understand, right? You're a smart girl."

She felt the corners of her mouth droop, dragging her lower eyelids along. He always said she was smart just before he broke his promises. She wished she was stupid. If she was stupid, he wouldn't have expected her to understand. And if she didn't understand, he wouldn't have let her down. "But..."

"We'll go tomorrow, all right?" He let one hand fall to the side and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear with the other. As soon as he'd withdrawn, she fished it back out. "And just for being patient, you can have two puppies. Two! How about that, Rennie-Wren? Twice the puppy fun!"

Rennie just looked at him. Only for a second, though--just a second before she turned around and set off to find her mother. If he was trying to hurt her, then at least he wouldn't have the satisfaction of seeing her cry.


October 22, 2012

In Which Celina Admits to the Fault

March 17, 1180

"So... standing around in the rain is preferable to a visit with your ex-wife and your sister?"

Celina had meant it as a joke, but Searle just crossed his arms and continued to stare oceanward without so much of a twitch of his head to acknowledge her. She could admit to herself that it had been foolish to expect much more. She'd never been one for telling jokes, and he'd never been one for hearing them.

"Fine. Ignore me."

From what she could see, her brother was intent on doing just that--at least, until a minute or so breezed by and she hadn't so much as rustled to hint at her exit.

"Why are you here, Celina?"

His back remained to her, so she indulged herself with a smirk. "Out here with you right this second, or here in Carvallon?" Searle shrugged. Helpfulness had never been his strong suit. "Just looking out for your best interests. I'm the only sister you have left, you know; Mother made me promise I'd keep an eye on all my idiot brothers.

"That and the whole thing is sort of my fault."

Her brother sniffled. The weather in part, no doubt, but he rarely came closer to laughter. "You mentioned my whereabouts to Danthia. It's hardly your fault if Tivie happened to overhear."

"I meant for her to overhear." At last, he turned to look at her. Meddlesome as he seemed to think her--meddlesome as she was, though she wasn't about to say it aloud--she wasn't sure why it came as a surprise. Surely the odds of Tivie having been in the next room and Celina having been aware of this weren't exactly mind-blowing? "I told you I'd take care of it, didn't I?"

"Yes, because sending a sixteen-year-old girl off alone on a cross-continental journey is the solution to all of life's problems, isn't it?"

"If you doubt her capabilities, then clearly you haven't taken any chance to get to know her." She shook out her rain-weighted hair despite the fact that it wasn't going to get any dryer. Her husband would have scolded her for leaving the house without her hat, but she would have only shrugged him off like she always did. "Besides, what are Neilor and Landus? Her saddlebags?"

He grunted. Maybe Celina hadn't be the only one to catch that quick brush of hands before Neilor had gone to wake his brother. At least Searle had managed the tact to refrain from comment. "Well, I suppose there's no point worrying now. We all know she's safe."

"That we do." If only to annoy him, she flashed him the widest little sister smile she could manage. She didn't think she'd tried so hard since she'd told Tarien she wanted a pony. "Now, what do you say we head back inside? I can't be the only one who's damn sick of all this rain."


October 20, 2012

In Which Neilor Learns a New Smile

March 17, 1180

"Well," groaned Tivie as she finished her resigned descent from the second floor, "I'm pretty much grounded forever."

Huh. From the shocking lack of noise over the course of the hour Tivie and her mother had spent up there, Neilor wouldn't have guessed Lady Danthia would have been so angry. Then again, perhaps it was possible to discipline without resorting to screams and curses? He couldn't say. He didn't recall his own mother ever disciplining him, shouting or otherwise. No matter what he did, she could never be bothered.

Lady Viridis pulled herself to her feet, and for that, Neilor was relieved. It was hardly as if they had been talking. What would there have been to talk about, after all? Her willing marriage to a noted flight risk? His deflowering of her stepdaughter? Surely there was no point. He didn't dislike Lady Viridis, nor did she dislike him, and the best way from keeping things that way--so they'd both figured, it seemed--was to remain politely aloof.

Not that Lady Viridis was the person who most concerned Neilor just then--or that Neilor was the person who most concerned Lady Viridis. "You're all right, though?"

Tivie nodded. "Yes. Mother always gives her reasoning."

"Whether she needs to or not, I see." Her stepmother shot Neilor a glance and he made a point to not notice; she'd resolved similarly as she walked past, trailing skirts brushing against the hardwood. "I suppose it's getting close to lunch. I suppose I ought to tell the cook we have two more guests."

She left without a verbal response from either of them. Perhaps Tivie too had decided that silence was the best approach. "This is embarrassing."

"What? Being scolded?"

"No." She strode over the couch and sat down in Lady Viridis's vacant spot, snickering in spite of the immediate past. "I've been scolded hundreds of times. Never while you were in the same building, though."

"I didn't hear a thing."

"Maybe not, but you still knew what was going on, didn't you?" The side of her slippered foot tapped against his leg. "Just from your understanding of normal punishments for wayward young adults?"

Oh, there were so many things he could say to that! "I'm not sure I have the best idea of what 'normal' is."

"Who does? But I guess if that's the case, this could be as normal as it ever gets." She grabbed him by the wrist and lifted his arm pulling herself beneath it. He took care to drop it gently as she let go. "Thank you, again. This didn't turn out like I'd planned, but I think I got what I was looking for."

Neilor smiled. He didn't smile all that often--not for anyone who wasn't Landus, or Ellona or her children--but Tivie seemed to be well on her way into that exclusive set. Possibly an even more exclusive one; if the unpracticed muscles of her mouth had anything to say about it, the smiles he gave Tivie were a new stretch entirely. "Glad to hear it."

A pair of firm, moist lips caught him on the jawbone, not particularly fussed about the scruff of his stubble. "Just to make us even, though, you let me know if you ever get the urge to chase your feelings through three different countries and I'll be glad to come with."

Chasing feelings. He didn't think he'd ever chased a feeling in his life before now. To chase them would require letting them escape, and his heart was as fortified and well-guarded as any other prison. So he figured, at least. "I'll get back to you on that."


October 16, 2012

In Which Danthia Brings Forth the Facts

March 17, 1180

"Well, I suppose I can be grateful that she at least got herself here safely," Danthia sighed as she stepped down from the stairs and joined her former husband in the kitchen. His stillness was more than a little puzzling; all these years and she didn't think she'd once seen him sit without fidgeting like he wanted little more than to get up and leave.

Then again, she'd never seen him at home. "So I take it she's not--?"

"Grounded until the birth of her first child? Oh, she definitely is." And given how long Tivie had been gone and how far she'd traveled--and everything that could have happened between then and now--it was a lucky thing that such an event was well over nine months away. "But her well-being is more important; I needed her to know that, so I just looked her over and gave her a hug and said we'd talk once we both got our thoughts together. Celina's bracing her for the worst, no doubt."

She pulled up the nearest chair and settled herself in. She supposed she could work out her feelings around Searle. She didn't want to risk giving her daughter the wrong idea, but she felt no similar concern toward Searle. And why should she? He'd certainly never given her that courtesy.

"Speaking of my sister, why is she here?"

"Moral support, mainly." Searle raised an eyebrow, and not without reason. But she doubted he knew his sister as well as he'd have himself think. "She called just as I was about to leave and insisted on joining--probably just to make sure I didn't kill you." Not that it had been necessary. If she'd gone through their entire marriage without killing him, then she clearly had no such intentions.

"And Sidwein had nothing to say about that?"

"Sidwein has no say in what Celina does. I sent my son with a message, but we left before he did, so it's not as if Sidwein had a chance to object." She dragged the chair forward with her ankle on its leg and set an elbow on the table top. "Besides, it works out well enough given that we might meet them halfway. Nythran and the children are heading to Naroni, and if Sidwein heeds Primus, he and little Haldred will join them. He has a brother he barely knows there anyway."

Searle sniffed. "What business does your family have in Naroni?"

"You don't know?" He shook his head. The response both surprised her and failed to do the same. "Doesn't your father-in-law write to you?"

"He writes to Viridis, and I respect my wife's privacy."

"Of course you do." It was perhaps the only part of being a husband she recalled him having mastered. "I suppose it must have slipped her mind. But anyway, it's your niece. Cladelia."

Searle's eye twitched. Beyond that, however, his stoicism was so complete she thought it almost forced. "Riona's eldest?"

Danthia nodded. "She's marrying one of your cousins--Karlspan, your Aunt Renata's youngest boy. He squired for Lord Severin before he was knighted last fall."

"Huh." Searle pressed his hand to his chin and slumped forward. "It didn't occur to me that Cladelia was old enough to be married."

"Well, you ought to get used to the idea, since Tivie's less than a year younger." Another twitch of his eye. Tivie had asked about Searle a few times, and one of the few details Danthia had given was that she had her father's eyes. She'd been wrong, though. Tivie had gotten her eyes from her father... but they were his father's eyes. Searle had his mother's eyes, which were nearly as startling, but the fact that she'd forgotten was yet another reminder of how little they'd known each other. They weren't even close to the same shade. "Anyway, we'll be there early to help with the preparations--apparently the castle needs some serious work--but the wedding isn't until June. You have plenty of time to consider coming."

He sniffed. "Do you think I should?"

"You're the bride's uncle, and the groom's cousin, and the father of Cladelia's stepsister." For all facts had traditionally held any sway over Searle. "You figure it out."


October 14, 2012

In Which Searle Confronts Another Ghost

March 17, 1180

Viridis was still asleep, or at least she had been when Searle had dressed. He'd yet to see any signs of his children or Neilor this morning either. He supposed he envied them that. If he'd managed a wink of sleep all night, he might have still been in bed, nestled beneath a soft blanket, arms around his wife's warm body.

But here he was, out on the cold beach as the sea claimed any raindrop that dared approach, a certain calm-before-the-storm quiet lurking about in spite of the tide and the rain and the playful yapping of the dogs.

It wasn't that he disliked seeing his children--far from it. If he had, why would he have bothered speaking to Landus at the tournament? Why would he have sought out Tivalia at his mother's funeral? But perhaps he had grown too used to not getting what he wanted. It was how he'd been raised, he supposed; he'd never wanted for any material good, of course, but in terms of deeper, more desperate desires he'd been granted precious few. He supposed there had come a point when he'd started denying himself these things out of habit.

Now that two of his children had actually sought him out--at least one of them on her own accord--he did not know what to do with that.

Prince barked, seemingly at nothing, but that happened from time to time; he was growing more than a little senile in his old age. It wasn't until Luna dashed around Searle's back and tugged at his coat that he sensed the calm had cleared and the storm had come at last.

"What is it, girl?" he muttered as he let the rabbit-eared dog turn him about. Prince growled in the direction of the house; Searle took that for a clue and looked, watching as two figures emerged from along the side.

Female, both of them--he could tell as much from their builds, even if the air was still cold enough to require the added warmth of a bulky cloak--and not of any insignificant standing if the vibrancy of their garb and the crispinettes on their heads had anything to say about it. The one in back wore blue, her bound hair a dull orange-red like Searle's own. The green-clad woman in front also had red hair, but it was richer, darker, not unlike...


So much for thinking he'd had enough ghosts to confront in a twenty-four hour period.

"Hello, Searle."