December 31, 2014

In Which Nearina Isn't Enough

November 17, 1188

It was a dreadful thing for a mother to think, but Nearina's daughter-in-law had deserved a much longer widowhood.

Her firstborn had been dead for a year and month now. She'd never figured out where she and Tertius had gone wrong with that boy, or whether he'd simply been born horrid, but--again, dreadful--it had been such a relief when she'd woken up one morning and learned he was dead. In her darkest moments, she recalled when she'd been a neurotic, borderline disturbed young mother and Felron had been a spiteful, screaming demon of an infant, and how it had crossed her mind more than once to smother the damn thing and fake a crib death. Perhaps that did make her a terrible person for considering such a thing, but maybe it would have been for the best.

Poor Xetrica had always been meek and passive and fragile--an easy victim for the Felrons of the world.

Nearina ought to have done more. She and Tertius should have disinherited Felron when he'd skinned Valira's cat alive, named Garrett the heir. Sent the boy off somewhere relatively secluded. Xetrica may still have had a short life, but she would have certainly had a better husband. At least none of the children seemed to have inherited Felron's worst, so far as she could tell.

Too young. Far too young, far too little good in her life.

Xetrica's mother had made it in time to say her goodbyes, as had her two older children. They'd sit with her again when they'd rested up from their journey, but Nearina was all Xetrica had for the moment. That about summed up life since Tertius had passed, with Arkon and Rina away and the other children too young and terrified to stand up to their father.

She hadn't been enough.

"I'm so sorry, dear."


December 29, 2014

In Which Severin Gives What Is Wanted

November 3, 1188


Severin wasn't sure whether he ought to have come. He still saw Rina quite a lot, but he'd kept some distance of late, handling the relationship with caution while Rina figured things out. That kiss might have been too much pressure, and maybe it shouldn't have happened. And, if she didn't want it, then nothing else would. He didn't want to be Hades, dragging Persephone down to the underworld away from everything she'd ever known.

But Nata had caught him in one of their shared classes today, told him that Rina had gotten some distressing news and he ought to check in on her. So, after he was done, he did.

Turned out, it had been the right choice. "My mother's really sick."

He didn't need to ask how sick. She wouldn't have been slumped over her desk with her head in her arms over a routine fall cold. "I'm sorry."

"Arkon and Cladelia and I are heading back to Dovia tonight. Just--just in case."

"Ah." Then Severin would do what he could. He'd help her pack. He'd keep track of her assignments, keep her professors reminded of the university's leave of absence policy. He'd offer to saddle Kevin if he hadn't known she was the better of the two when it came to horses.

But first, as she stood and approached him, he hugged her. "If you need anything, just ask."

"Actually..." She slumped into him, chin to his shoulder. "Could you come with me? I know you're busy with your studies and you never met my mother, but I haven't been home in so long, and... you know."

He held her a little tighter. She hadn't been home in so long. And he could always meet her mother, and he could catch up with school later. "If that's what you want."

"It is." She kissed him on the cheek as the embrace faded back. "Thank you."


In Which Darry's Power Is Not Too Interesting

October 26, 1188

"Wait, what?" Darry's father cringed. Maybe he ought to have mentioned the trees sooner. "This started in June?"

"Um. Yes." Darry rocked side to side. There hadn't been too much urgency--at least he could ignore the trees, unlike Yvanette and her cat transformations--but his parents had said to tell them if anything out of the ordinary started happening to him. He guessed they'd meant 'immediately'.

"Sorry. I didn't want to worry Mama while she was expecting, and you looked like you needed something else to think about after the ladies rushed in."

"It's fine. Just... we worry about you kids." And with what Yvanette went through, Darry guessed he understood that.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't worry too much about it. But thank you for telling me. We can tell your mother once she's recovered from your sister's birth."

Another sister? But he already had two of those, and only one brother. Besides, the baby wasn't even born yet! "How do you know it's a sister?"

"Magic." He didn't say any more. He never did when magic came up. "Sit down, Darry."

He did as he was told. His father slung an arm around him and rubbed his shoulder. "Maybe keep this to the family for now, all right? For the sake of your siblings' privacy. Yvanette doesn't want anyone knowing about her condition, and who knows about any of others, so it's best that we keep the speculation at bay."

"All right. It's not too interesting a power anyway. All the trees do is insult people."

"Maybe." Yet, his father's fingers tensed against his arms. "Who knows what they've seen, though."


December 27, 2014

In Which Alina Is Rather Less Scandalous

October 9, 1188

"Whoa!" Kaldar stumbled back as Alina sprung into his arms, clearly not expecting such a greeting. How could he not have, though? It had been far too long since they'd had a minute alone. "My stepfather's in the next room."

"I doubt Casimiro will think us wanton. Besides, we're adults. I'm older than my mother was when she had me."

Kaldar chuckled. "I suppose we have done some pretty adult things."

"None of which your stepfather can fairly shame us for, given the existence of your little siblings." Alina kissed him. She could taste whatever syrup he'd soaked his breakfast with, and gross as it may have been, she rather liked it. "So. How are you, Lord Ravenhold?"

"I'm well, thank you. Still kind of baffled about the whole thing. And how amazing my sister is."

"She is kind. Clever, too. I swear, that group project was the only reason I passed Philosophy." A credit to Dea's mother, no doubt. Alina's mother thought very highly of Queen Jeda. Of course, she wouldn't mention that to Kaldar. His mother may have been well over his father, but it couldn't have been good form, a light mention of the man's wife.

"Not that you had any problem passing anything else on your own. Thanks for saving my ass in Physics, by the way." He repaid her with another kiss. His lips, she was sure of it, made the syrup all the sweeter. "Sit with me?"

Alina smirked. "If my lord commands it."

Kaldar laughed, then took her by the hand and let her lead him to the couch. She took the nearer seat and he set himself beside her, his arm behind her back, her head on his shoulder.

"God damn, I love you."

"And God damn, I love you too." Alina snuggled up to him a little further. Her hair ruffled beneath his jawline, but she couldn't pretend to care. "So, when are you heading out to your land?"

"Dea says the castle should be ready for me by the end of the month, so I'll move there in November. Ella will to come with me, and Casimiro will stay there for part of the week while I'm at the university, just in case she needs help keeping an eye on things."

"Not a bad arrangement." Either Ella or Casimiro could have kept the shire running on their own, so the two of them would be even better.

"I agree. But I could improve upon it, if you're willing to hear me out."

"Oh?" She perched herself upon his lap as his legs nudged against hers. It sounded like a 'look me in the eye' kind of statement. "How so?"

"Well... you'll be graduating a few terms ahead of me, so I was thinking maybe you could take the reins after you're done at the university. Then when I get back, we can rule the shire together."


"Is that a marriage proposal?"

"Well, I think everyone will be expecting there to be a Lady Ravenhold eventually." He nudged her hair back with his nose and pecked her on the cheek. "And I can't think of anyone I'd rather that be than you."

"A steward's daughter as a lady? How scandalous."

"Lord Severin's granddaughter is rather less scandalous. And Alina Wythleit is even better."

Damn right it was. Alina laughed. "My grandfather will feel so old, knowing he has a granddaughter who's engaged."

"Never mind all of our parents," Kaldar agreed. "But they'll just have to get over it."


December 25, 2014

In Which Winter Would Not Intrude

September 26, 1188

"Were you a good boy for Winter today?" Lady Rona cooed as she picked up her youngest--youngest for about another month, anyway--and greeted him with a tickle. "Well?"

Dally only giggled, so Winter took it upon herself to answer. "He was a very good boy. You weren't too uncomfortable at the school today, were you, my lady?"

"Oh, Winter. I'm pregnant--not an invalid. I'll need plenty of time off after the baby gets here, so I might as well work all I can before." At least this baby seemed to be going easy on her employer, Winter supposed. If word among more senior staff was to be believed, both Darry and Aspen had been easy babies, but Yvanette had been the pregnancy from hell. Dally had been bearable for Lady Rona, but certainly not ideal. This one seemed at least calmer than their closest sibling, though maybe not so tame as the two before him. "Rough as they can be when they're inside, they'll have you running around all you can when they're out!"

"Oh, don't I know it." Though, she supposed it wasn't impossible that children were better for their nannies than their parents. Lady Rona's children didn't give Winter any trouble, or at least any trouble they couldn't help but give her, and neither had any of her previous employers'. Her stepchildren were darlings, and two of them barely qualified as children any more besides. It was only a matter of time, she guessed, before she knew for sure. "But speaking of that, I, uh... I do need to talk to you about... um, time off."

"Oh!" In no need of any further explanation, Lady Rona set Dally down, then returned to her full height, hands clasped together. "Winter, are you expecting?"

Winter smiled. "In the early part of April, yes."

"Oh, how exciting! I'm so happy for you." And she didn't look like she could have been lying, not with that giddy spark in her eye. "You'll make an excellent mother."

"Thank you. When I'm back after my leave, would you mind if I brought my baby along with me?"

"Not at all. It won't be too much younger than mine, after all; they ought to be fine playmates."

A funny thought, her baby playing with the child of a knight, the grandchild of a duke. How amused her dear mother would have been! "I should hope so."

"Splendid! I know Had probably has some of your stepchildren's baby things lying around, but if you need any more, don't hesitate to ask; between my children and my nieces and nephews and my younger siblings, my family always has plenty."

"That's very kind of you."

"And I hope you won't worry too much about the birth. It's worth it, I promise--for all the ones you've seen were just as disgusting as the ones I've seen, I'm sure of it."

Seen? "Actually, my lady... I haven't seen a birth."

Lady Rona's eyes widened. They were the same as Darry's--and rather like whenever the boy stubbed a toe. "Really? Not once?"

Winter shook her head. "I moved around a lot. I had friends, but most of them never had children while I was living near. I didn't have any sisters, and most of my female cousins lived in different shires."

"Oh. Well, awful a sight it is, you should see at least one before your time comes. Trust me, you'll be better off knowing what to expect." Lady Rona ran a hand over her baby's mass, then locked eyes with Winter again, grinning.

"You'll attend my baby's birth next month."

Winter blinked. A trusted lady's maid aside, surely that wasn't a servant's place. "Oh, I couldn't intrude."

"It wouldn't be intruding. Besides, I insist, and everyone knows better than to refuse a laboring woman anything she wants." She gave her stomach another pat. The baby must have been kicking. It wouldn't be long before Winter knew what that felt like. "And you'll be spending so much time with little Celina anyway that she might as well know you from the start."

"You think it will be a girl then?"

"Oh, I know she's a girl. The fun will come in seeing what yours is." Did Lady Rona want to attend Winter's baby's birth? She guessed that would be all right. Apart from Had's sister and sister-in-law, she hadn't given it too much thought... "Promise me you'll be there."

"All right." Yes, it would be gross, and painful--that much she'd figured. But Lady Rona was right; it would be better if she saw it done before attempting to do it herself. "I'll be there."


December 23, 2014

In Which Dea Does by the Laws

September 5, 1188

"Oh, no. Don't you pat my head and tell me to go practice my embroidery." Dea had stormed into her father's study and slammed the door--not a thing many kings were used to. She would have been scolded for being so unladylike had she not caught him off-guard. "Why do Kaldar and Ella get nothing from you? I get that you think you do enough for us by keeping us fed and clothed and sheltered, but you're responsible for their existence too. You can't just sweep them under the rug!"

"Not that it is any of your business," her father sneered as he regained some semblance of composure, "but their mother is an irrational shrew who would not let me see them unless she too was around, and I don't care to subject myself to that woman more than I already have."

"You should have thought of that before you slept with her, then!"

"Medea!" Outside of an official capacity, her father was the only one who called her by her full name. She hadn't been very old when she'd figured out why. "A young princess shouldn't know of such things!"

"I'm fifteen, in case you've lost track of time. Aunt Leara and Aunt Camaline were both married at my age!" She feared for a second she might have planted an idea in his head, but there was no need. Her father wouldn't marry her or Gennie off until he found two indisputable highest bidders. "And at least Lady Ellona cares about her children, which is more than anyone can say about you!"


"Name Kaldar Lord Ravenhold."

His angry snarling and his startled blinking were an unsuited mix of expressions. "What?"

"The new territory to the west. People are already living there, in case you haven't noticed. They need a lord, and that lord is going to be Kaldar."

"That territory is a part of your dowry!"

"Then by the laws of our forefathers, it is mine to do as I please with before I am betrothed. So unless you've sold my hand behind my back, Kaldar will be Lord Ravenhold whether you like it or not." As if she'd have use for that land in her dowry anyway. Her father would never marry her off to someone who didn't already have his own land, and he couldn't pretend he cared to keep her close. "And while we're on the subject, you are to match Sir Casimiro penny for penny with Ella's dowry, and then to double the gross sum. And if you have any children with your new mistress, you'll take suitable care of them too."


"You will! Or I'll have to take care of them for you--and you may not like everything I have to tell them."

Her father's hands balled into fists. Furious as he was with her, and furious as she'd be at the thought, what he said next would be the closest thing she ever got to an expression of affection from him.

"A pity you weren't a boy."


December 21, 2014

In Which Kaldar Sees the Better Eyes

September 5, 1188

The princess--Kaldar's sister--stiffened in her seat. So early in the morning, she couldn't have been expecting company. Kaldar certainly hadn't been. He was only here because he'd woken at the crack of dawn and hadn't managed to find sleep again, so he'd thought he'd make use of an empty school library and review some of the trickier mathematics concepts.

Dea complicated that. It was a big enough library that the only two people there wouldn't have to sit together, but small enough that not doing so would constitute something of an aggression. He had nothing against Dea personally, and he didn't thing she held anything against him either, but...

Well, they were half-siblings from different mothers, and a mere four months apart in age. Mathematics may not have been Kaldar's strongest subject, but he knew that that was an age difference with some heavy implications.

"Sorry, I... didn't think anyone else would be in here."

"It's fine." Dea took it upon herself to settle the seating arrangement and nudged the chair beside her. "You can sit down if you want."

Kaldar swallowed. Their relationship was the cool distance of people who neither knew each other well nor cared to, and he'd assumed that things would stay that way. What could a princess want with her bastard half-brother, after all?

Probably just not to make the morning any worse than it had to be. "So... that's a pretty big book."

"Inheritance law. My father has a copy, but he won't let me look at any of his legal texts. He says a woman couldn't possibly comprehend their content." Dea rolled her eyes. "Never mind that the university's Head of Political Science is a woman."

It had been a damn long time since Kaldar had seen his father, but nothing about that surprised him based on what little he could get out of his mother. But Dea likely didn't want to talk about that. "What are you looking up?"

"Well... my mother's been worrying about not having a spare prince, but it seems my father can't be bothered to make one. Holden seems to be in good health, but I thought I'd look into things--just in case my mother knows something I don't."


"And it looks like I need to look at my father's will, or my grandfather's. In the event of a lack of sons or sons of an heir, a ruler can under Dovian law choose to pass his titles and lands along to either his daughters or his brothers--or, in a grandfather's case, to his subsequent sons over his granddaughters. Most choose their daughters, but, well..." She sighed. It hadn't occurred to Kaldar that a princess--his sister--ever sighed. "My grandfather saw daughters as more of a luxury than a legacy, and my father doesn't care for us much at all. Well, for Gennie and I, anyway. Perhaps he likes Ella more."

"Not from what I can tell. It's been a few years since he remembered her birthday."

"Really?" She frowned. Why was he surprised that she frowned? She seemed nice enough. Why had he expected she'd take pleasure in that? "I thought you two were his preferred family."

"Not since he and mother had their falling out. He called on me a few times, but he's more or less forgotten about me since he got a legitimate son."

"You can't be serious."

"I've learned to live with it. My stepfather's been great, at least."

"Yes, but still. Bastards or not, our father has an obligation to you and Ella."

"He has an obligation to you too, but you don't seem satisfied with him."

"Because we're his duty. I thought you were the family he actually cared about. He doesn't even care about Holden beyond having an heir."

"Some people are just heartless, I guess." And knowing that, he was probably better off without his father. "At least I have a caring stepfather in his place. You and Gennie and Holden are the ones stuck putting up with him."

"Still." She shut her eyes--his own eyes, their father's eyes. No, not their father's. Better, brighter, kinder.

"It's not right that the two of you get nothing from him."


December 19, 2014

In Which Alyssin Learns What Always Was

August 22, 1188

Alyssin's older two boys were asleep, or had at least managed to fool her mother into thinking they were. It would have been a fight for them, but she envied them if they could sleep at all. Of course, any peace they might have had would be shattered with the sight of her in the morning.

They knew about Tanver. Their little brother had been dead two days now, taking his last breath only a couple hours after Aerina had advised sending Florian and Donrain away. Jazelle, though, had been on the mend. Jazelle had been recovering. Her fever had been down, she'd been awake and talking, she'd even gotten out of bed to use the chamberpot. But as suddenly as she'd gotten better, she'd gotten worse.

And now she too was gone.

Was Alyssin a horrible mother to her remaining boys if she wished was was gone as well?

Aidric was still here, wasn't he? Standing watch over Jazelle's body since Alyssin couldn't take it any more? Hell, he'd be around more if he was all Florian and Donrain had. Maybe. At least the kids did have two sets of grandparents and their fair share of aunts and uncles and cousins.

But no sister or baby brother. Not any more.

Maybe Alyssin wasn't the best person in the world. She swore too much and drank too much--several pints tonight and half her thoughts contained the word 'fuck'--and maybe her cynicism rubbed people the wrong way. She'd fucked a few men before she married and picked Aidric because he was the best in bed. And maybe there had been cause to fear that Tanver had been Jadin of Veldora's before he'd come out with Aidric's face on him.

But if her children's deaths were some sort of punishment--some punishment meant for her, as surely neither had deserved it--well... why couldn't the punishment have actually been hers? Why punish her children as well? Why take their lives before they even started.

"Oh. You're here."

It was Teodrin. He was such an insignificant figure that Alyssin sometimes forgot she had a brother between the Opposite Twins and Aldhein. But he was inoffensive, and she guessed she needed inoffensive right now. "Good to know your eyes work."

"Then Jazelle--"

"Didn't make it." Alyssin slouched. The ache in her shoulder would require more alcohol. "Never have kids. People aren't built to take it when they die."

Her brother cringed a minute. Maybe the 'never have kids' had been out of place. Teodrin was a scrawny, near-invisible mass of shyness who lacked so much as a whisker at fifteen and had probably never so much as kissed a girl. Or a boy, if that was what he preferred. Alyssin couldn't bring herself to give a fuck.

"Teo, when did life become such a steaming pile of shit?"

"I don't know."

He sat. His ass barely brought a rustle out of the cushion. "Maybe it always was."


December 17, 2014

In Which Arkon Is Left

August 18, 1188

Arkon's father would be back home by the end of the month, though his grandparents would insist on visiting daily. His mother would be in her new house before that. It would make for a cleaner break, she said, and his grandparents had agreed. His father had been told as well, and he too thought it was for the best, for all it may have stung him.

Severin had been the first to make the decision, a mere day after their mother had gathered them together and briefed them on the situation. He was going with their mother. He'd had his mind made up from the start, Arkon was sure of it, but their mother had insisted they take at least a day to consider. Alina had struggled a little longer and a little harder, but in the end, she too decided she was going.

That left Rennie and Arkon, the older two. Their father couldn't be left alone and they both saw that. Their mother had taken care of him long enough, and neither of the younger two could be expected to do so alone. Despite their mother's urging that they each decide on their, to put their own well-being first, Rennie and Arkon had talked it over. Neither had wanted to throw the other in front of the carriage, but in the end...

Well, there had only ever been one solution and they both knew it. "Mother, I'm going to stay here with Father."

Rennie would have stayed had he not been willing. She loved their father as much as any of them, but she just wasn't the nurturing type. She would have lost patience long before he recovered.

"You're sure?" His mother had asked the younger two that as well, so it wasn't because he hadn't chosen her. If anything, she'd be relieved that someone had chosen their father. But what tougher decision was there, choosing one loved one over another?

"Yes. I'm his heir." Knights' castles and lands were technically owned by the shire lords, but so long as the knight did nothing to strip himself of his knighthood--and Arkon's father, being his lord's own son, likely wouldn't--his lands and responsibilities would pass to his heir. "It's my responsibility to keep things running while he gets back on his feet. You've had to do that long enough."

"It's not your responsibility." It was, but he got her point. It shouldn't have been. "Just be sure to take care of yourself, all right? Your father's well-being doesn't trump your own."

"I know."

"And your siblings and I will visit, and you're welcome to visit us whenever you want."

"I know."

"And all of you have every right to change your mind if you wish, as many times as you like."

"I know." But like so much else, it was only a formality. "But I won't need it."