July 31, 2013

In Which Octavius Is Bothered Either Way

April 12, 1182

"All right, so... I guess it's not entirely impossible that you did tell me, and I either forgot or wasn't listening."

More likely the latter, Octavius figured; Florian never forgot anything Octavius would have preferred forgotten, so he doubted it was a memory problem, but after so many years, he had no delusions about his steward's inconsistent attention span. "I see."

"So... congratulations, I guess."

"Thank you." And based on the second half of Florian's story, Octavius thought it best save them both a lot of trouble by not asking if Podrag and Ceira had received the engagement present he'd sent three months prior. "Well, now that we've got this over with, I suppose you can go back to--"

"Wait. I need to ask you something."

What now? Octavius swallowed back a sigh and hoped this was about one of the day's tasks. "Yes?"

"How do you do it?"

With that level of specificity, it might very well have been a reasonable question. Then again, given the inquirer... "Um. Do what?"

"You know." Like a little boy giddy at the prospect of cake, Florian swayed forward and backward, rolling on the balls of his feet. That could not have been a good sign. "That Renata is so goddamn gorgeous that I cried myself to sleep last night. And Holladrin was a ridiculous level of stunning as well. Even Medea--well, I know that your fathers made you two get married, but it's not like she was anything horrible to look at either. I mean, I'm not complaining, because I've got Thetis and I love Thetis, but..."

The hell? "Florian--"

"Seriously, how do you get all these beautiful women to marry you?" Florian bounced, hands clapping together, either teasing or admiring or both. Octavius wasn't sure which would have bothered him more. "I mean, think about. You're not good-looking. Your personality isn't anything special. You do have money, and you're not stupid, but there are richer men and smarter men, and men who are both. And men who are both, plus attractive and interesting!"

"Um... you know that I'm your boss, right?"

"Just saying." Of course. Just because he could. "Really, what's your secret? It's questions like this that keep me up all night. What can women like Renata and Holladrin possibly see in you?"

And what did a woman like Thetis see in Florian? No saint who'd ever lived had quite that patience. "You know, it's getting late. Maybe you should go home for the night."


July 29, 2013

In Which Florian Is Understood and Not Comprehended

April 11, 1182

"Well, I don't know why you'd expect my response to be any different from my wife's, seeing as we live in the same house and talk to each other and all..." Falidor's brother's side-eye to the door his wife had just shut did not go unnoticed by Florian; Rifden and Aerina had always been one of those couples who were a bit too attached. "...but yes, I did know that the baron had married again. Renata of Valcria, right? Queen Laralita and Lady Alina's sister?"

Hmph. That was the fourth time that connection had been mentioned. At least there had only been the one wise-ass who'd gone back to the previous generation and named her as the baron's cousin. Another cousin! And this time, the baron couldn't even claim the weak defense of 'second cousin'! It would have been amusing, had Florian not been so thoroughly pissed off at everyone at this point.

"I didn't ask for her life story. I just asked if you knew."

"Well, I do. And so does Aerina, and I'm pretty sure my kids have picked it up too." Rifden sniffed. "Actually, I'm pretty sure your kids would have picked it up as well. It's not exactly a--"

"Don't say it." Why did people keep saying that? He was the baron's steward! If anyone knew the baron's secrets... "Never mind. Who told you?"


"And who told him?" As the other man opened his mouth to reply, Florian realized he was better off not hearing that answer. "No, don't answer that."

Rifden sighed. "Can I go home now?"

"Whatever. You're useless anyway." Just like the last dozen people, Florian added to himself bitterly as Rifden hurried out to catch up with his wife. Christ, this was the renovation thing all over again! He still couldn't see what was so different about Seoth's inn.

Well... the inn was a full for this hour, today. He could take advantage of that. "Hey, everybody!" Enough eyes from each table fell to him that the conversations died down, a silent gap trailing behind, just waiting to be filled. "Am I the only one here who didn't know that the baron had married again?"

A couple seconds--the longest of Florian's life!--passed before anyone spoke. But, finally...


"It's a reasonable guess."

"You know, I don't think I know anyone who doesn't."

Well. Wasn't that a pleasant little kick in the crotch. "God damn..."

Behind the bar, Seoth's mouth curled with an unheard laugh. Florian glared at him. "What's so funny?"

"What isn't?" I'll tell you what isn't, buddy: this whole thing! Every fucking minute of it! "But now that you've bothered every paying customer in here, why don't you..."

Seoth bit his lip as he was both cut off and proven wrong by the swinging of the door. Florian took stock of the new arrivals and grinned; sure his own son wouldn't lie to him?

"Dragon!" His son flinched. Florian pretended not to notice and nodded to Dragon's companion--one of Nora and Jothein's twins. "Ceira."


"Master Tumekrin."

Florian smiled. Even if Dragon was, God forbid, uncooperative, Ceira had always come across as a reasonable, honest young woman. Much too reasonable and honest to be commonly seen with a rascal like Dragon, at any rate.

Hmm. Well, now that he was wondering he supposed he ought to ask. "So, how do you two know each other?"

Ceira blinked, hearing, understanding, not quite comprehending--though Florian had thought her smarter than that. Then again, Dragon didn't look to be handling the question so much better. "Uh... well, that probably would have been a better question before we got engaged..."

...Oh, fuck me. "You're engaged? And you never told me?"


July 27, 2013

In Which Thetis Takes the Honest Approach

April 11, 1182

"What do you mean you can't see it? I wake up and look in the mirror and it seems like that's all there is of my face!" Alsina's talking hands folded and expanded and fell to her sides in their frustration. "Look a little harder. Surely you see it!"

Thetis squinted, but found nothing. In truth, she hadn't expected to. "No, honey, I don't. But even if I did, you'd hardly be the first woman to find a few hairs on her chin."

"Have you ever found hairs on yours?"

She would ask that. Thetis decided to take the honest route. "Well, no..."

"See? And you're even older than me! It doesn't happen to everyone!" As if that proved a point, Alsina's form collapsed to a slouch and her face to a moping pout--never mind that Thetis had more than once seen teenage maidens who had managed to pull off more hair-prone faces. "I can't believe this. This morning, I had to steal some lather from my husband, and--"

"'Husband'? Aw, shit--did somebody else get married without telling me?"

Speaking of husbands, Thetis's had returned--and not in the happiest of moods it seemed. "Florian, are you all right?"

"Thetis, I'm never all right. But damn..." Not bothering to take off his coat, he traipsed into the sitting room and almost threw himself onto the couch. "Did you know that the baron got married again?"

Thetis blinked. Even from Florian, that was an unexpected question. "Um... yes?"

"What?" That one, even moreso. Especially since, if she'd learned to speak even passable Florian in all their years together, it didn't sound like a joke. "How did you know? Who told you?"

"You did. Remember?"

He snorted--not quite dismissive, but baffled. When had he ever been baffled? "I think I would have remembered telling you. Or hearing about it before today, for that matter."

Alsina frowned. "You didn't know before today?"

"You did?" Oh dear. "Well, who told you?"

"Nora told me. She and Severin stood witness." To Thetis's relief, Florian seemed to find this satisfactory.

A pity that Alsina hadn't finished. "But Aldhein also mentioned it."

"Aldhein knew?" Florian's mouth was wider than Thetis recalled ever seeing it. She didn't have the heart to tell him that it wasn't just Aldhein. "Who the hell told Aldhein?"

Alsina shrugged. "He said you did."

"I think I would have remembered telling Aldhein!" A little panicked, Florian swallowed. He never had enjoyed being left out of the loop--or expelled from it, apparently. "Seriously, when do you all get together and tell me you're kidding?"

"We're not kidding!" Alsina insisted.

Florian looked to Thetis for dissent, but alas, she couldn't lie to him. "Sorry, dear. It's... well, it's not exactly a secret."

"Not even close." Alsina grinned, Thetis guessed in apology, but soon her eyes perked with another interest. "Say, are they back yet? How is the baby doing?"

Not that, apparently, Florian had known about the baby either. "All right, I have to go find one other person in this kingdom who can't write a damn book about the baron's love life."


July 24, 2013

In Which Florian Is Plagued by the Vicious Falsehoods

April 11, 1182

"Not like that! Like this!" Florian swung one leg about, turning in the process, body pulsing with the imaginary--yet catchy--beat. The chicken just kept pecking at the ground. They did say that talent couldn't be taught, but this particular pupil wasn't even trying. "You're not even listening, are you?"

The chicken clucked, head bobbing out-of-time as it strutted away on its two left three-toed feet. In hindsight, Florian ought to have known that the donkey would have been a better bet. "Good riddance. You're a terrible dancer anyway."

And--figured--the bird zigged and zagged somewhat, the best moves it had managed all afternoon.

Eh. He could take or leave the chicken. The fact remained that it was a perfect day for dancing. The sun was out and the snow was gone, but the April air was still crisp enough that overheating was no issue. Tetran Keep itself was a sleepy sort of quiet, with Sparron up and about and going over the accounts, Camaline having taken the kids to a play-date at Veldora, the baron still away on his out-of-the-blue mystery mad dash to Dovia. Florian was alone, but not lonely. And no one was watching.


...or maybe he wasn't alone. Well, not like he'd ever really cared about people watching.

The baron unlocked the inner stable gate and pushed through, an attractive woman trailing with an infant in hand. Odd. Doorstep baby season wasn't due to start for a few weeks yet. "Florian, what are you doing?"

"Well, I was trying to teach that chicken a new dance I made up." It clucked again; he glowered, though a pause in his moves was not in order. "But it's a useless piece of meat. You should have it for supper tonight. How was your trip? And hello, pretty lady!" he added for the woman's benefit. Damn. If only he could have showed her a couple moves instead of the chicken.

"Good to see you again, Florian," she replied, stiff but cordial.

And not entirely honest. "'Again'? I think I would have remembered you."

She frowned, bottom lip sinking to a beautiful pout. The baron was a less attractive brand of unamused. "Well, you must not have. You met Renata when she was here last June, remember?"

Last June? Nope, he'd been around all of June. Surely he would have noticed and recalled any ethereal beauty who'd turned up. "Forgive me, my lady, but if I have ever seen you in my life, it would have been during my teenage years, in a dream, and naked."

The woman's eyes narrowed. In near unison, the baron's lip twitched. "Might I request that you not make such comments about my wife?"

"Your what now?"

He looked at the lady again, then back to the baron. Back and forth again. Had he just heard what he thought he'd heard? He'd thought he'd heard... "What? Really? When did this happen?"

"Last June."

June again? Whatever his game was, the baron needed a new angle. Florian damn well remembered June--and he would have remembered the baron getting married in June. July, maybe not so much... but June? Fuck, June might have been yesterday. There had been no weddings yesterday.

Not that he'd been told, anyway. "You got married and you never mentioned it?"

"What are you talking about? I told you the very next morning." No. You. Did. Not. "And I've mentioned it several times since. How is this a surprise to you?"

"We did debate keeping it a secret, but we opted against it." Renata, though Florian did not generally make a point to disagree with baronesses who weren't Medea, was wrong. They had, very clearly, opted for it. "Octavius told me that pretty much everyone in Naroni knew--and of course, everyone in Dovia knew once I started showing."

Well, that explained the baby. "So you got married, and you had a kid, without even giving me fair warning? Damn it, you'd better not be expecting any wedding presents from me after this!"

"You already gave me a wedding present!" The baron groaned, though Florian could not for the life of him figure out why. If he'd given any presents in June, he would have recalled what they were; somehow, he doubted that the baron had been the recipient of that pink toy rabbit. "As for the baby, I didn't know about her myself until just before I left, but surely Sparron or Camaline or somebody would have told you why I'd gone?"

"Nope. I just assumed that you were on a quest for some superior magic mushrooms. In my mind, you were wearing a red hat and jumping on turtles." The baron blinked. Florian supposed that one was justified. "I have no idea why. But no--nobody said anything about you having another kid. And nobody said anything about you being married either."

"For Christ's sake, Florian--I told you a thousand times if I told you once."

"But you didn't tell me once!" That's what I've been saying this entire time!

"I told you many more times than once!" Vicious falsehoods. The baron sighed--good. Florian would take that as an admission to his horrendous lies. "God, I don't have time to deal with this. We need to make some adjustments to the nursery. Prior's still sleeping in his big boy room just fine?"

Florian scowled. "I don't know, I'm not his parents. Not that anyone tells me anything these days, apparently."

"Oh, shut up. We tell you everything." Hmph. Said the man who had never once given an answer to the question of Holladrin's breasts sans corset. "But anyway, one of the stablehands said that Thetis was here a few days ago, dropping off some old baby booties for Clia? Thank her for us, all right?"

Well. Now that stung. "Thetis knew? And she never mentioned it?"


July 22, 2013

In Which Tivie Is Called Out by an Ear

March 21, 1182

Neither Tivie nor Neilor could lay claim to a fantastic relationship with their opposite-sexed parent, which was why Tivie, at least, had been living these past months in fear of how she was ever going to be a decent mother to a little boy when the most she'd seen of her father as a child was the occasional late birthday letter if he'd remembered at all. It was an irrational worry, seeing as Tivie would never be a father and any son she bore would never be a daughter, but it had eaten at her heart nonetheless, to the point where she wondered if it might be a mercy to have her stepsister raise the poor thing.

For all she knew, Neilor had nursed a similar dread of a baby girl, and while she hadn't wanted to ask him... well, that only compounded her reservations about this baby. If she couldn't handle a boy, and he couldn't handle a girl, then what could it be to please both of them? Even if babies were by nature functionally sexless?

But their baby was not sexless beyond the functional level, nor was their baby the hermaphrodite Tivie had entertained near the end as a compromise. Their baby was most assuredly a girl.

And a Daddy's Girl, at that, if Neilor's apparent infatuation was anything to go by, and Tivie wasn't sure how she felt about that. On one hand--if Neilor could so quickly forget any reservations he'd had about having a girl, then Tivie herself could do the same if they ever had a boy. On the other...

Well, she wondered if she might be jealous. Not over Neilor's particular attention, but over that status in general. Tivie had never been a Daddy's Girl, as that required having a daddy who was actually around.

"Are you all right?" Mindful of the baby, Neilor turned his eyes over to Tivie. Their daughter had those same eyes; he must have been relieved not to see his mother's staring back at him.

Tivie nodded, not wanting to give him cause to worry. With luck, there wouldn't be cause to worry, and she would get over this. With luck. "Yes. Just thinking."

"Want to hold her?" He lowered her down from his shoulder and into a cradle of an arm, though outward in offering. "I sort of feel like I've been hogging her. I hope you don't mind."

"It's fine." She stood to take him up on the offer. It would do her good to hold her baby, she decided. She already loved her daughter, but the extra effort couldn't hurt, especially in regards to the mixed feelings. Maybe her daughter couldn't technically be a Daddy's Girl if both her parents doted on her. "Hello, Dani."

The baby gurgled--not something Tivie had ever seen the grandmother and namesake do, but no name could tame a baby. "Are you hungry?"

Another gurgle, but no suckling--not yet, at least. Though, that would be sooner than Tivie preferred, she was sure of it. "All right. Just let me know when."

Not that that would be an issue, if she recalled every other baby she'd ever known correctly.

"I think she has your nose, Tiv." Hardly. Dani wasn't old enough to have anyone's nose just yet.

Though with any luck, it would not be her grandfather's.

"I think she has her own nose. And I think she has her own brain too, which is why she's rubbing her ear on my cheek--that's Baby for 'You're full of shit', you know."

Neilor snickered. Tivie wondered if that was a horrible sign, if not even a few hours later and she was already cursing in front of her infant, but that thought just led to another bout of ear-rubbing.


July 20, 2013

In Which Mona Makes Note of Her New Rights

March 10, 1182

"We should get up," Mona muttered, for about the fifth time between the two of them that morning.

"We should." But mouth aside, Zareth didn't stir. Neither did Mona.

"Anna will be wondering where I am."

"And I'm supposed to be in conference." His fingertips squeezed around a lock of her hair. "It can wait."

That was it, then. "So can Anna." She pried one eye open and studied the course dark hair of his chest. More than once she'd heard her father pestering her brother Ietrin to shave his, insisting that only the most vulgar of women could stand a man with a matted rug for a torso, but Mona thought it natural, even desirable. Did that make her vulgar? She didn't think she was vulgar...

"So. Um... now what?"

"With us?" She felt a flutter in his chest as he nodded. "I don't know. Are we betrothed now?"

"If you want to be." The response could have stood for a little more enthusiasm, but at least he didn't feel they were obligated after the events of the previous night. If Mona had wanted to marry out of obligation, she would have married Adrius.

"All right, then. How does some time in May sound?"

"For the wedding?" Now it was Mona's turn to nod. "May sounds fine. No better or worse than any other time, at least."

"No. I figure it gives us some time to plan, but it's near enough that we can still avoid scandal if I'm pregnant."

Maybe she shouldn't have said that. But he got credit for not wincing too noticeably. "And, uh... what would you say the odds of that are?"

"Oh, probably not high. We were careful, after all." She doubted it would have been Zareth had he not been! "Plus my courses aren't overly regular, and most of my siblings seem to have trouble conceiving."

"My siblings have trouble too, though I'm apt to blame Devidra's husband in her case. My brother's been trying half his life, though, and he still doesn't have a rumored bastard to his name."

"Do you have any rumored bastards to your name?"

"I'll admit that I don't pay much attention to rumored bastards, but not that I'm aware, no." Was she horrible if she found that a little reassuring? "We may not have many children."

"That's fine. We'll just appreciate any children we do have all the more." Really, she wasn't even sure how much she cared if they ever had any. Children would be nice, sure, but... "And we'll still have each other."

"Mmm." His nose tapped her scalp as he kissed her hair and his hand trailed downward across her back. "Well, I suppose we'd better break the news to our respective sweethearts."

...Eh? "Um... the sweethearts we made up to make each other jealous?"

"Made up?" What. "Right, yes, of course. Made up."

He kicked back the covers and scrambled out of bed, off to the wardrobe to retrieve his hose. Fighting back a scowl, Mona slipped out bed after him. "Zareth--"

"You should get back to Anna. I'll meet you at the castle later? My sister wanted to speak with me anyway." He finished tying the hose into place and stepped into his boots as he dug around for his tunic. "God damn, where did I put--?"

"Where are you going?" She supposed there was no sense in playing dumb, but she didn't want to ruin their first morning. She would scold him for it later--as was now her right.

"I, uh... I forgot to attend to some business in the village." He put his search on hold and hurried to her side, a quick kiss to her mouth before he let himself catch a breath. "I hope you don't think I just wanted to sleep with you once and never see you again. I'll meet you later--really."

He knew she wasn't thinking that! "Zareth--"

"Really, I'm sorry about this, but it can't be avoided." He kissed her once again, then dashed back to the wardrobe. "I'll tell my cook to make you anything you want for breakfast, all right? Love you!"


July 18, 2013

In Which Zareth Is Told Not to Think

March 9, 1182

No, Zareth had not been dreaming. Someone had said his name, someone was in his room, someone was standing by his bed. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead."

Spoken as if the sun had done the same--as if that was the strangest thing about this visit. "Did my guards let you in?"

"No. I climbed. I used to sneak out a lot back at home." Though there was little more than moonlight and his eyes were half-shut, there was no missing that smirk. Even though it was shortly replaced by a frown. "I'm tired of this. Don't tell me you're not tired of it too."

Tired of what? If Mona had to break into his castle in the middle of the night, she could have at least done him the courtesy of telling him why. "Well, I am tired..."

"That's not what I mean."

Zareth grunted and rolled over on his side. He wasn't sure why he was indulging her. He ought to have just gotten out of bed and shown her to a guest chamber. Hell, he would have been justified in just telling her to get out and leaving it at that. But of course he wouldn't, because that was the smart thing to do. "Then get to the point."

A quiet sounded for a second, oddly louder than any word before. Then--

"Do you love me?"

Or maybe he was dreaming. Maybe it was a nightmare. "Mona, I'm an earl's bastard from a chambermaid who's only gotten as far in life as he has because his sister took pity on him. That and I'm twelve years older than you."

"That doesn't answer my question."

Some trace of annoyance in her tread--for all he wasn't sure how the hell he'd picked that up, she stepped away, around the bed and toward the empty hearth by the wall of the intended nursery--or, so Devidra had called it, as if the first thing he'd do upon moving in was sire a child. Sighing, he followed. "Mona--"

"Look, life is short, all right? Aren't we both lucky to be here?" So that was it. "Why aren't we doing something about it?"

"Your father--"

"I'm not here because of my father." She flicked at her hair with the sleeve of her cloak. Teal green. Her father's colors had been white and purple. "Maybe that was... a kick in the pants, so to speak. But this has been going on for longer than that and you know it."

Zareth swallowed. "We can't--"

"And why not? Whatever you're about to say, my response is that I don't care!"

But why didn't she? Switch or not, she was still a princess. She could still do a thousand times better than him. "Mona--"

She grabbed him by the arm and yanked him forth into a hard, wet, perhaps stupidly unexpected kiss. He caught himself and only let it last a second.

But it wasn't a second he was about to forget. "What was that?"

"What do you think it was? I'm sure you've done that a thousand times."

"Not with you." At least, assuming that the mistletoe didn't count. "What the hell, Mona?"

"Just shut up." A small smile on her full lips, Mona took him by the shoulders and pulled herself nearer. "I love you. I love you so damn much, and I hate not doing anything about it. And I know you love me too."

Oh, God. She made it sound too damn simple.

"Mona, I don't think..."

"Then don't think." Her finger caught on the laces of her cloak. "Not tonight."