May 31, 2013

In Which Ietrin Is Told to Wait

October 2, 1181

"Why are you even asking me this?" Ietrin's father was not known for being the cleverest of men, so it was never a good sign, finding himself on the receiving end of that grey-eyed 'you're an idiot' glare. "Do you have any idea how absurd you sound?"

And that was why it was never a good sign. It meant his father had misunderstood. "I don't see what's so absurd about wanting my son for my heir."

His father sniffed. "Your bastard son."

"Clearly I wouldn't be here if I had a legitimate son." A legitimate son would have been a given. A legitimate son would have been a non-issue. He wouldn't have had to ask to let a legitimate son inherit--that was just the way things were. "But I've been married ten years now and I'm not getting any younger and my wife isn't getting any fatter--or, she is, but not in the desired sense." He shuddered in distaste as he considered the flab of her thighs during their more recent bedroom ordeals. If Jeda couldn't give him a son, would it kill her to at least keep her figure under control?

"I've noticed that, and you have my condolences. But if Jeda never gives you a son, you do still have younger brothers. I shan't scorn them, and their mother, and the kingdom--and myself!--by giving your bastard a higher place in line."

"Do you really think any of my brothers would make a halfway decent king?"

"Would your bastard? He's still a child. They all are. Give your brothers a chance." That was so easy for his father to say. His father didn't have any younger brothers. "I'm sorry, Ietrin, but unless you can divorce Jedaline for infertility--which I don't see how you could, given your daughters--all you can do is wait for her to give you a son, and to accept that your brothers will inherit if she fails to do so."

Because he hadn't waited long enough, apparently, hadn't agonized over the future of his kingdom, hadn't seen the other heirs with their sons, their secure futures. Lorn had been married as long as Ietrin to the day--about half an hour less, perhaps!--and he'd had a son in his arms within the year. Jadin and Xeta's little accident had been a girl, but sure enough, it hadn't been long before Xeta's waistline had increased once again, this time to the effect of a boy. Even Sparron had a son--Sparron, Jeda's brother, a man from a family where near-sterility must have been the norm!

Of course, Ietrin did have a son. The problem was that he wasn't Jeda's, but it was only a problem because his father refused to let it be otherwise. "I'm not content to wait any more, Father. If there's anything I can do--"

"Well... I suppose you could increase the frequency of your marital duties."

Of course. The one thing he'd already done. Long ago, in fact.

Thanks a lot, Father.

"And if it's any comfort, you have no immediate need of an heir anyway. I do plan on living for a long while yet."


May 29, 2013

In Which Severin Doesn't Have to Dwell

September 13, 1181

"So you got back last night and didn't bother to drop by until morning? How dare you." But Severin greeted his daughter with a hug anyway. Now that he'd pointed out the error, he'd let it slide--this time. "Couldn't resist one last night without the children, I suppose."

Over Riona's head, Isidro swallowed. Riona, however, laughed. "I hope they weren't horrible."

"Oh, no, they were all very good. Well, except for that lanky one with the smart mouth who kept trying to sneak out... oh, wait. That one's mine."

"And I shan't let you forget it! But we'll be taking Roddie off your hands now too."

"I daresay he's already packed. He's driven his mother so far up the wall that she might have done it for him by now if she wasn't too busy playing nurse for Xeta."

His son-in-law frowned. Lucky for him, his kids weren't at risk for anything contagious. "What does Xeta have?"

"Well, I'm not a doctor, but judging by the frequent complaints from the servants who sleep beneath her and Jadin's bedroom, I suspect an infestation of the reproductive variety." But at least it was just the one new grandchild on the way--so far as he knew. It was only a matter of time before one of his other daughters or daughter-in-laws conceived again, though; Vera and Asalaye both seemed to be hinting about wanting another. It wouldn't be long before he was raising taxes to cover everyone's Christmas presents. "This one has been particularly selective about which foods she's allowed to keep down."

Riona shuddered. Good to know that she wasn't similarly afflicted, or planning on becoming so soon. "My condolences to Xeta."

"Oh, she's quite pleased." And he was quite worried! Sure, he was happy that she was happy now, but after what had happened to Alina, her moods were more than a little brow-raising. Perhaps Xeta would consent to some counseling with Arydath or Aerina after the baby was born. God, he hoped she would. "But enough about everyone here. I hope the visit went more smoothly than expected?"

"We made it back in one piece, didn't we?" Isidro flashed Riona a smile, who relayed it in turn to Severin. Good to know that the poor boy had at least some half-decent relations, past wrongs aside. "My uncle will be sending us some books, actually."

"Some books? Izzy, your uncle will be sending us back with a library! You'd like Isidro's uncle, Father. His grandfather too."

A pity, then, that the one he had met was Domingo. Luckily, he didn't have to dwell on that long.

"Father? Is that Riona I hear?"

"Jadin?" Excellent. Lips twitching in anticipation of a laughing fit, Severin headed for the couch. "Oh, this ought to be good."

"What are you talking about, Father?"

"You'll see." Jadin's footsteps drew to the nearer part of the corridor. The cuff of his sleeve flung into view in front of him. Any second now...



Unrestrained and unapologetic glee? Yes, Riona had noticed. "What the hell is that one your face?"


May 26, 2013

In Which Rona Wakes on the Other Side

Nudity! Nothing too graphic, but still--probably NSFW.

September 13, 1181

As the morning light leaked through Rona's lashes, it occurred to her that Ashe might have wanted his space after a month of bunking with tall (and, according to Asalaye, restless-sleeping) Lonriad, and that only the barest inner sliver of her own side of the bed was occupied. Then again, the arm around her was an argument to the contrary. "Morning."

"Morning." He pinched a lock of her hair between his thumb and finger, then dropped it to the groove of her neck. "I, uh... wasn't expecting last night."

"Neither." And not just for the happy shock of finally having him back! The night had been... well. Either her senses were running on the physical high, or an imprint of that glorious sensation still lingered between her thighs. Their unease about each other had held them back in the past, but now that they'd finally put that behind them... well, it wasn't such a mystery any more, Asalaye's laments about a lack of sex in the middle of the day. She hoped Ashe had been similarly impressed with her. "That was the best we've ever done."

"It was. But, uh..." She craned her head, chin toward his, catching his concerned glance blanket-ward. "I think I forgot to..."

"Oh." If she remembered correctly, then yes, he had. In the heat of the moment, though, she hadn't considered it either. Nor had she minded; tracking down rags to wipe off her stomach hardly sounded like a hallmark of an impassioned reunion. Still. "It's all right. My courses haven't been back long, and Darry's still nursing. We should be all right for one time in any case." She hoped so, at least.

Or did she? She certainly hadn't planned on getting pregnant again less than half a year after Darry's birth, but if she thought about it, she liked the idea of a child who she could tell herself was conceived on one of the best nights of her life.

"I guess so. I'm sorry, though."

"Don't be." After a quick kiss to his cheek, she slipped out from under his arm and made a slow slide back to her own domain, the sheets left a startling cool in her absence. "We should probably get up, though. The children will want to see you."

"Will Darry even remember me?"

"Of course he will. He might be a little shy at first, and I don't know how he'll react to your haircut, but just be patient with him and he'll know who his papa is." Even if she had to baby-talk it into his head all week! "But start with Yvanette. Poor thing waited for you at the door every day since you left."

"Did she?" True to form, he was more alarmed than flattered, feet hitting the floor with the solid thud of tensed muscles. "Oh, God. Do you think she's hurt?"

"If she is, it's my fault, isn't it? For chasing you away." Not that Yvanette had been at resentful with her as far as she could tell--if she could even sense it--but nonetheless the guilt had remained. "She just wants you home. She'll stop hurting when she sees you."

"I hope you're right. It's not your fault, though."

"Ashe?" Rona slipped out of bed and climbed back atop the covers, meeting the floor again on the other side.


She kissed him--not long, not hard, but sufficiently. Or maybe a little more than so. "Let's just forget about fault, all right? What matters is that you're back now."

Her heels rose, his embrace tightening in the stead of verbal agreement. He'd keep blaming himself, and she'd keep blaming herself, because that was what they did. It was something, however, that they could work on later--now that the main hurdle had been cleared.

Besides, that main hurdle hadn't been cleared without leaving a few loose ends and unanswered questions. "Can I ask you something?"

"You can ask me anything."

"It's kind of awkward."

"That's fine."

Was it? Then again, 'awkward' might have already betrayed that it had something to do with that. "Do you prefer... you know..." She'd expected him to follow, but he'd been left with only a blank stare. Her wording may not have been choice. "I mean... what's more comfortable for you? Physically?" A hint of white above the green eyes. That may have done it. "And mentally too, I guess.

"If that's not, uh... out of line."

"I don't mind. I just... I haven't really thought about it much, to be honest. Or not without making it more about your comfort, at least." He grinned, sheepish, and she tried to return it, but the twinge of guilt made that difficult. Why should her comfort have been more important than his own? It wasn't her body. "I don't know. I'm not even sure I care, really. If I get to see you every day, it doesn't matter what sort of body lets me do that, does it?"

Didn't it? But she supposed it wasn't her place to answer that. "I'd still love you if you were a garden slug."

"I'd be the luckiest garden slug alive."

"And I'd have to learn how to garden, so it's a good thing you're human." He laughed. It might as well have been years since she'd last heard such a thing. She hoped news of the upcoming plans wouldn't suck the laughter right back to the void. "And speaking of activities I don't enjoy, we're having a party in two days. I'm sorry, I know you don't like them either, but I needed something to do and I had to remind myself that you would be back soon and..."

"That's all right. I think I can get through one party." Good. She should have known he'd come through for her there. "Besides, if things get unbearable, we'll just get everyone else drunk and sneak off somewhere on our own."

Yes--she definitely got what the fuss was about now. "With any luck, it'll be the worst party ever."


May 23, 2013

In Which Ashe Is Found Again

September 13, 1181

A slower-than-usual motion did little for the dresser drawer's trademark creak and once again, Ashe regretted not just cutting his losses and sleeping in the shirt he already had with him--as badly in need of a wash as it was. One last night in a dirty shirt was a friendlier prospect than waking Rona.

Really, he was starting to wish he'd continued along with Lonriad and spent the night there. If he arrived home during the day, at least the steward could warn Rona of his arrival, and she could decided whether she cared to see him or not. Now, she'd learn after the fact that he'd returned in the night and had slept in one of the guest chambers. That was, if the drawer hadn't roused her.


So much for wishing that it wouldn't.

"Someone there?" Her voice was faint, but distinct.

Sorry, Rona. "It's just me. Go back to sleep."


The bedsheets rustled. He shut the drawer and looked over his shoulder to see her blond head rise from the pillow. "Ashe? Is that you?"

"I was just getting another shirt. I'm sorry. I was going to sleep in one of the guest rooms--"

"No, don't."

Her petite feet landed on the floor, soft as rain yet with a drum-like prominence. He'd grown too used to Lonriad's loud, careless footfalls. Rona hardly made a sound and it set his heart racing. "Stay."

Between rapid blinks, Ashe's eyes darted along the grain of the dresser door. Had he heard right? Surely he hadn't. "Rona--"


He turned around to find she'd snuck right up on him, lip pouting and eyes wide, their soft amber brown still golden in the dim light. As shocking a thought it was, she didn't seem to be angry with him any more. If she wanted him to stay, she might have been almost happy to see him.

Or maybe she'd decided they were through and just wanted to get it over with. He supposed he could understand. "Rona, I--"

She flung her arms around his neck, her chin over his shoulder, soft blond hair to his cheek, every star in the universe bursting into a billion smaller stars until the sky was a dome of tightly-clustered diamonds and Ashe's strange heart beat into a dance he'd forgotten. "Never leave again."

It was not a request he had expected. But it was one he was happy to oblige. "Wouldn't dream of it."

"Good. I'm sorry I made you leave. And I'm sorry I said all those horrible things to you." A series of kisses started at his cheek and trailed to his lips. Five in total. He'd spent the last while thinking he'd never be kissed again. "I don't believe that any more."

She didn't? Then... "Do you believe me?"

A smile. If he was still standing, then sheer bliss had the power to prop him up. "I'm sorry I didn't before."

"It's all right. I should have told you back at the tournament, when you met me in the stables. I'm sorry I didn't." A silken finger skimmed the blunt ends of his roughly-chopped hair. She probably hated it. How many times had he woken in the middle of the night to find her playing with his hair? "Uh... it'll grow back. Sorry--" He had to stop. He'd been caught so off-guard by her smiling face that he'd been unable to look away, but one glimpse of her neck...

"For what, silly? I missed you, not your hair."

As odd a thought it was, she must have. "Your key..."

"Oh." Her hand flew back to the dangling charm, index finger looping beneath the chain. "I've been sleeping with it the past couple nights. I hope you don't mind. I just wanted to feel like I had some part of you with me." She blushed--not so crimson as her preferred gowns, but nonetheless she wore the color better than most. "I guess I don't need it any more, do I?"


She fiddled with the clasp and pulled the chain from around her neck, key swaying back and forth as she wrapped it instead around his. The familiar weight settled and Rona's smile burned brighter than ever, some missing piece of him found again.

"Are we all right?"

"We'd better be." And if Rona so willed it, they must have been. Or they would be, all in all. She wouldn't let that budge, and so neither would he. "I love you. I think I always loved you."

"I think I always loved you too. And I'll never leave you and the kids again."

"I'll hold you to that."

"I know you will." It almost hurt to step back from her, but whatever ache the distance left, the life in her eyes left it good and healed. "But you won't have to."


May 21, 2013

In Which Elarys Offers the Details

September 12, 1181

"You're right on time." Elarys kept herself composed as she studied the man's face, though he seemed to be doing the same--no hint of smugness or indulgence or any other ill emotion she least desired in a contractor. As her sources had promised, his self-command was appropriately honed. "Many in your line of work have no qualms about keeping a potential employer waiting."

"The self-assured lack of punctuality gives an illusion of power and standing. I have no use for such bravado, and I don't delude myself about who is paying who to do what." All delivered without so much as a blink. She'd been told that he wore the mask of stone well among his clients. As he worked, though, he was ever the chameleon. The man she saw before her now would not be the one he presented to the mark.

"I appreciate that you respect our current hierarchy. On the purely business side, I can see why you've come so highly recommended." Mind games, after all, had no place in this field--or this part of this field, at least. "You've studied my contract, I trust?"

"Extensively." He reached into the pouch on his belt and pulled out the piece of parchment. A swift motion later and its browned edges constricted as the flames of the hearth devoured it. Elarys would not have had it any other way. "My lady, I don't concern myself with my clients' motives, but I must express some caution in this case. The mark is rather... high profile."

"That depends on who you ask, but there is wisdom in your reservations. I would not have offered you such coin to swipe cake from an infant. I expect that under any circumstances, a job like this would require at least a few months' worth of biding time--and building up trust." She smirked; he only raised an eyebrow, but she thought the point came across. "I've pulled a few strings with the right people and have arranged an opening for you, one that lends itself to this unique asset of yours. It should last you through the end of the year; you'll recall that I don't want you to strike until the dwindling hours of New Years' Eve."

"I recall. With such a significant date, I'm guessing you want to stir a degree of suspicion."

"Some, yes. The prying eyes aren't liable to fall on little old me." As far as anyone else was aware, what motive did she have? There were parts of her duty she ought to have paid closer attention to, ought to have gone about differently, but keeping a low profile was not one of them. "So, what will it be first? The details, or the money? Half now and half after, of course."

"In the interests of your trust, I'll take the details." For the first time, she thought she saw a shade of a grin beneath his mustache. "I doubt I'd have such favor in your circle if I was liable to take your money and run."


May 19, 2013

In Which Asalaye Deems It Possible

September 10, 1181

"Oh thank God! Another adult!" Not that Asalaye didn't love her little boys, but the ability to converse with someone who'd been around about as long as she had was one of the things she'd been missing most since Lonriad had gone--well, aside from the obvious, of course. She had her sister and her brother, and an assortment of in-laws and friends, but of course none of them could center their schedules around her, so it was a relief that Rona had shown up, especially after several days of relative solitude.

And Rona's husband was also out of the country besides! If anyone understood her current low, it was Rona--er, if her anger had passed, of course. "I take it you're not going to whine at me to make your siblings share their toys, are you?"

"You say that as if they have toys I could want! None of my siblings are known for their good taste."

"Perfect! Because except for maybe Xeta, I don't know any of them well enough to impose anyway." Ah, who was she kidding? Not that she wouldn't. She'd considered briefly earlier in the week attempting to further acquaint herself with Abrich and his wife, and if she wanted to visit Xeta, she probably couldn't have picked a better time--not that she could understand how someone could be at their happiest when gestating something that would one day burst out through a sensitive hole much smaller than its head, but she wasn't in the business of judging. "How are you?"

"All right, I suppose. Just feeling a little lonely." Ah-ha! Lonriad had been right; Rona wouldn't stay angry long. "I brought the kids, but I handed them over to your maid to take to the boys. Is that all right?"

"Yes, of course. Your kids tend to keep mine in check anyway." Yvanette in particular--perhaps that sister she'd been dreaming up for her boys in the past few weeks would do them well. "But enough about kids, and other kid-friendly topics. Please, have a seat."

Rona obliged, though not without a blush. Still a bit of a prude, naturally, but it was nice to have something of a project. Especially when she herself wasn't getting any either.

"So if Lettie's estimates are correct, Lonriad and them shouldn't be more than a few days away now." A small smile. No, Rona was not angry. Not at all. "Thank God, right? I've bought enough cucumbers this past month to feed an army of rabbits--and I'll tell you right now, I can't stand the taste of 'em."

"...oh. Well, I suppose whatever keeps you... occupied." Heh. Interesting choice of word. "I've just been thinking a lot, I suppose. Maybe too much."

Asalaye shrugged. "As long as they're varied quality thoughts, I don't know if there's such thing as thinking too much. Though sometimes it is an awful lot of fun, not thinking."

"Mmmm." Though she got the sense that Rona wouldn't know it. Poor girl did tend to over-think everything, or at least all the wrong things. Asalaye hadn't seen fit to pry into her and Ashe's problems, but to hear Lonriad tell it, they both had that issue. Between the two of them, it must have factored largely. "Anyway, I was thinking..."

"A varied quality thought, I should hope?" Asalaye smirked. Rona flushed somewhat, but surrendered with a small breath of a laugh. Good.

"Varied from my usual thoughts, at least. Anyway, I know this is kind of short notice, but..." She forced herself to smile a little more widely--though if Asalaye saw what she thought she saw, Rona's eyes were a little more cooperative than her mouth. "Do you maybe want to help me plan a party? For when they get back?"

A party? All fine and good, but Asalaye never would have taken Rona for the sort of person who liked parties. Or Ashe, for that matter. Or even Isidro. The party would be solely for the benefit of Lonriad and Riona, and even then... well, the occasion seemed a bit small for a full-fledged party. They'd only gone on a personal errand; it wasn't as if they'd been at war.

Then again... maybe it was to Rona's benefit. Everyone did need some sort of occupation, after all, and not necessarily the sort that came from cucumbers. "How large of a party?"

"Oh, not large. Just family and good friends." That was, of course... probably a large party. Large, but manageable. Lonriad would enjoy it. "Do you think they'll be back by... the fifteenth, maybe?"

Five days. Tight, but possible. "They should definitely be back by the fifteenth."


May 17, 2013

In Which Riona Confirms Her Choice

September 9, 1181

"Ridiculous, isn't it?" The dresser drawer shut and Isidro's bare feet shuffled across the floor. Riona kept her eye on the fire. It was a silly thought, but she'd never been a stone-faced liar, and he was better than most for seeing through her. "Needing a fire at this time of year."

"I don't mind." To prove it, she jabbed one log and pushed it off the other, though after an initial burst the flame did suffer for it. In truth, she did sort of mind, but it was conversation and it was reassuring. If she'd wanted to worry him unnecessarily, she would have confessed to eavesdropping.

"Uh-huh." He drew a little nearer and stared down at the fire, half appreciative, half disgusted. "I hope the kids are having better weather back home."

"They should be. I'm more concerned about whether they're behaving themselves with their grandparents."

"They should be. And even if they're not, your father and stepmother will find ways to cope. Or they can make themselves scarce and leave them to Uncle Jadin and Aunt Xeta." He shrugged. "Or Uncle Roddie."

"I think I trust Roddie more than I trust Jadin."

He let out a short breath that might have been a laugh. He got credit for trying. "I think I agree with you. It won't be long before they can look after themselves, though."

"Thank God for that!" She dropped the poker and turned to the side for a kiss, fingers weaving through his hair after their lips parted. At least this trip was almost over, and they'd be home again soon. They could relax again, recover from the stress of dying relatives and relatives that should just die already. As for the baby thing... well, she wouldn't press him, if he really didn't want another. She wouldn't even bring it up again until Nato was more mobile and Alya could maybe watch her little siblings in a pinch.

But before the relaxing commenced, she would absolutely steal back those ten pieces.

"This vacation merits another vacation."

"And by 'vacation', I hope you mean 'several days at home, the majority of the hours spent in bed'." He squeezed her hands and she let herself laugh a little, not quite at ease but pleased by the thought. Lonriad had been right: it felt like it had been much longer than a month. "I'm sorry I dragged you into all this."

"Don't be. I dragged myself into it."

And really... "And you didn't volunteer either. You don't get to choose your family."

"Not the one you're born with, anyway--though I can see why you would have chosen yours."

Riona smiled. She had been lucky that way, and so had he, really. If any family could make up for the misfortune of his own, it was hers. "I would have chosen them. And then I would have stolen you."

"I wouldn't have put up a fight." A flame in the hearth swelled and a hint of it caught in his eye. "We really need to get home."