January 30, 2014

In Which Renata Has No Qualms

July 20, 1184

It was a battle to appear neither resigned nor hopeful as Renata stepped into Lord Severin's study. She tried instead for a mask of invincible confidence, as if a negative decision wouldn't sting, and perhaps a last convincing gambit in defense of a positive one. If her father was also there, though, then there was little point in hoping that would work.

But instead of her father's usual drab brown or maroon, a hint of teal caught her eye in the peripheral. The person on the couch was not her father, but her grandmother. "Hello, dear."

Her grandmother smiled, but Renata struggled to take that as a good sign. If her grandmother had come to defend her, then her father hadn't budged before. "Hello, Grandmother. Lord Severin."

"Renata." Lord Severin grinned at her. "Your father is paying a call to your Uncle Searle and Aunt Valira. Your grandmother and I thought we'd take advantage of his absence and discuss some things with you."

Discuss. In Renata's experience, that word never meant anything good from the mouth of an adult. She knew that Lord Severin would break it to her gently, but that didn't mean she'd be any happier about it. Maybe that was why her grandmother was here? A shoulder to cry on?

"All right..."

"Sit down."

She did, taking the empty seat next to her grandmother. The two adults shared a quick glance, sealed with a smirk. Renata wasn't sure what to make of that. "So, here's the thing. Your grandmother paid your Uncle Karlspan and Aunt Cladelia a visit this morning. I know you don't know them too well, but you must have heard something about them growing up, correct?"

Renata nodded. Uncle Karlspan was her father's youngest brother, and Aunt Cladelia was the daughter of two of his cousins. Whenever Aunt Cladelia was brought up, she was done so as the acme of ladyhood, the pinnacle to which Renata and her sisters were supposed to aspire--as if their mother had ever actually meant Aunt Cladelia. All she knew was that she was sweet, polite, and spectacular with a needle and thread.

"Well, since your father does think it would be in both your best interests and your mother's if the two of you lived under separate roofs for a time, so your grandmother suggested that you live with them for a while. They're only about a ten minute walk from here."

Only ten minutes? Then... she would be able to continue her training? "My father agreed to that?"

"Well... he agreed to your aunt instructing you in the womanly arts, and that you would have to live with her for that to happen." Oh. Well, that sounded... awful. But her grandmother winked. "But when he's back in Dovia, he won't be able to make sure firsthand that that's happening, will he?"

Sparked, Renata's back straightened out of her slouch. That... sounded much better. "So we're tricking him?"

"Tricking?" Lord Severin chuckled. "No point mincing words: we're lying to him. Unless you have any qualms about that?"

Not if her father had no qualms about trying to stop her training! "Of course not."

"Good. No one likes a stick in the mud." Lord Severin leaned back in his chair, the heels of his boots resting on the plank that held the legs of the desk together. "Your aunt has agreed to write your parents regular reports of your progress with embroidery and music and painting, and she's promised to be optimistic, yet realistic. Meanwhile, you'll really be over here, training with me. Most of our social sphere can be trusted not to let it get back to your parents, and the rest can be blackmailed; between your grandmother and myself, we must have something on everyone in the kingdom by now."

"And if they ever visit, your aunt says she has a few practice samplers and sketches of her own that she could show them. With any luck, by the time they're any wiser, you'll be in university, preparing to be knighted," her grandmother added. "And if we're not lucky... well, by that point, you'll still be older and it will be harder for them to deny you your own decisions, and you'll have no shortage of backup when it comes to persuading them."

They made it sound much too easy. But if it was a choice between too good to be true and certainly not good at all...

"I hope you're right."


January 29, 2014

In Which Severin Charts the Cycle

July 19, 1184

"Look, she showed up out of the blue with nowhere else to go and all she wanted was a chance, so why shouldn't I have given it to her?" Severin tried to keep from sighing as he watched Abrich's lashes fold into each other, annoyed. He did understand the worry. He'd worried when his sons had started their training, which was partly why he'd chosen to train the older three himself, and why he'd sent the younger three no further than their in-shire brothers and brother-in-law. If his daughters had shown any interest in pursuing the path to knighthood--or did, if he supposed it wasn't too late for Thetis--he would have preferred some firsthand involvement in their progress as well.

But for some fathers of some daughters, firsthand involvement might not have been enough, and Abrich might have been 'some fathers'. But what did 'some fathers' know? If Renata found no joy in stitching samplers or music lessons, why should she be forced to endure them--especially given her undeniable talents in other areas? "If it makes you feel at all better, I did ask your mother, as Renata's closest in-country relative. She took no issue with your daughter's training."

"So my mother still overrides my authority at my age. Yes, that makes me feel so much better." Thirty-six or not, it would have been a nasty barb to tell Abrich he'd miss his mother's overriding when she was gone, so Severin saved it. It was the question of the younger Renata at hand anyway. "Look, Odette's in the middle of a pregnancy right now, and she hit the roof when Renata disappeared like that. This stress isn't good for her or the baby--or anyone else in the household."

"Is it really any less stressful for Odette when Renata is there? All I've heard is that she expects Renata to be the perfect little lady and gets in a huff when she can't do that." Not for the first time since Renata had arrived, Severin wondered if Abrich knew that Odette had been one of the women Roderick had paraded in front of him after Alina's death. Given that she might have been among the least objectionable of the lot had it not been for her young age, it was a shame to think she'd turned out to be so restrictive a mother. Another arrow dodged. "It seems to me as if this would be better for the both of them."

"I've considered sending Renata somewhere else--to Karlspan and Cladelia, perhaps. But even if they don't get along, she's still Odette's eldest, and I won't have her off pursuing some passing fancy of which her mother disapproves."

Perhaps this was why Renata and CeeCee has so easily bonded. CeeCee's high academic standards weren't taken seriously either. "Abrich, this isn't a 'passing fancy'. Even without any formal page training, she has more raw talent than any other squire I've trained. More discipline too." Possibly because she had more of a need to prove herself. Her parents presented ample evidence of that. "If you give me a few years, I'm certain I could make an excellent knight of her."

"A knight? Do you want to give her poor mother an apoplexy?"

"Why on earth should Renata's success give her mother an apoplexy?" Why couldn't some people realize that there were as many ways to be successful as there were people on the planet? "So what if her interests and skills aren't what Odette always expected from a daughter? A parent ought to be supportive."

Abrich sniffed, one hand raised to scratch at his newly-grown beard. God, he was young--young enough that one day, he might be able to look back on this with a fresher, wiser perspective.

But also young enough that he should have remembered what it was to desire. "I love my daughter. I don't want life to be hard for her. The world is cruel to those who are different."

And so it was. That didn't change much. "Pretending to be the same isn't any easier than being different. The only way Renata will ever be happy is if she gets to make that decision for herself."

It might have been a foreign concept, choice. Abrich himself had been heir to his father's lands and title, his whole future mapped for him since they'd pulled him from his mother--and while Severin couldn't claim to know him well, he doubted that Abrich had truly wanted to be lord deep down. Those without choice took no issue with denying the choice of others.

And that was the true cruelty of the world. It ran pattern upon pattern, cycle upon cycle, misery becoming bitterness, then viciousness, and misery again. "Don't make my wife and I the villains."


January 27, 2014

In Which Renata Notes the Welcome Change

July 19, 1184

"Seriously, where did you learn to parry like that?" As with most of his questions, Falidor accompanied it with a grin. Some of the other squires were sore losers, but CeeCee's brothers were not among them--not even Roddie, who might have had just cause to be bitter on the basis of age alone.

But if Renata had a sword to her throat and had to choose which of the two she preferred, it would have been Falidor. She had nothing against Roddie, of course, but Falidor just seemed to clear the clouds on a gloomy day. Always in a chipper mood, always willing to cheer everyone up... but in a sensitive way, a way that actually worked--not the way some optimists seemed to go about "improving" everyone else, with a subtle or not-so-subtle hint of guilt, as if it were a crime to not be happy all the time.

The fact that he was kind of cute didn't hurt either.

"I used to watch a bunch of the knights train back home. Until my mother forbade it, that is." But that hadn't stopped her from sneaking out at night to practice on a makeshift dummy. "I had my ways of getting around her, though."

"That's good. You're good at what you do and you enjoy it; it would be a shame if someone stopped you."

You're good at what you do. The squires in Naroni weren't a bad sort overall, and none of them had treated her rudely, but compliments were still scarce apart from the obligatory "Good fight", and certainly she hadn't had one so wide-reaching yet. What a welcome change from when she'd swing wooden blades with the pages as a child, only to be labelled as a freak and told to get back in the kitchen or given some sexual remark she hadn't understood at the time.

But she struggled to see Falidor or Roddie or most of the others saying anything like that, and with Falidor, his kindness was just that: kindness. Some boys were only kind because they expected to be rewarded, never once considering that kindness ought to have been the default. His parents had taught their kids well.

"Thank you."

Falidor smiled. "Just telling the truth. Anyway, my sister was saying that you two are going swimming this afternoon?"

"Yes, we are." For CeeCee's sake, she didn't mention the reason for the excursion: to celebrate the departure of the 'little visitor'. Poor CeeCee had spent the past week downing potions for the cramps and checking her own back in mirrors and dashing back and forth from her bedroom to change the cloth pads hanging from her belt; after a week like that, who didn't deserve a nice dip in the swimming hole in the heat of summer?

Renata was two months younger, and she knew CeeCee had started early, but she'd asked Aerina about when she could expect it anyway when the healer had showed up with CeeCee's mixture, just so she could brace herself. Aerina had said that thin, athletic girls were more likely to start later than most, fifteen or even sixteen maybe; Renata couldn't say she took issue with that.

Not that she imagined Falidor wanted to hear about any of that--or that she herself even wanted to talk about it. "I'd invite you to join us, but... you know. No boys allowed."

"That's fine. Searle wanted me to start breaking in a new horse any--"

Behind her, the castle gate creaked. Most likely Roddie or Sir Searle--or so she'd thought before Falidor met the sight of the newcomer with a confused frown. "Can I help you, sir?"


Renata knew that voice.


"I'm here for my daughter."


January 23, 2014

In Which CeeCee Ruins the Afternoon

July 10, 1184

"Sorry about all the stairs." Farilon took the near seat on the couch and offered a sheepish grin. For land-use efficiency, the university staff houses were built to be tall rather than wide--and in Farilon's case, this meant a food-centric first floor with a small entrance plus the kitchen and dining room, a second floor with an assortment of spare rooms, and a third with a combination sitting room and study, as well as his own master bedroom. "They didn't wear you out, did you? You look a bit... I don't know. Strained, I guess."

CeeCee shook her head, not so much because he was wrong but because he could hardly be blamed for the architecture, and she didn't recall ever feeling quite like this anyway. She wasn't sick, but... well, 'strained' may have been the right word for it, if there was a right word. If she could pick a phrase, it would have been something to the effect of her innards in knots.

But she'd ridden all this way, and Renata was out training, and it had been a while since she'd last visited with Farilon, so whatever it was, she didn't care to let it get in the way.

"I'm all right." And who knew? Maybe all she needed was to sit down for a while. "I hope you like those books."

"I like most of the books you bring."

"Only most? And here I thought you had good tastes." She forced herself to laugh, though the cramping fought the effort. But surely that was because she'd only just sat down? "But I think you'll find these useful for your mechanics classes."

"Or maybe I could just get you to teach those classes. Are you still planning on becoming a professor?"

Still. The word stung somewhat. Yes, she had plenty of time to change her mind, but the word made her sound fickle--or worse, childish and unsure. It hurt to think that Farilon might have seen her like that. "It's a more appealing option than joining an nunnery, or being just a wife and mother."

"I don't know if all nuns and wives and mothers are miserable, but I see your point."

"No, you don't." The knot in her gut tightened. She was probably about to ruin the afternoon, if he hadn't already. But was she supposed to just smile and nod and say nothing? Didn't that just breed tension instead of clearing the air? "No offense, but you're a man."

His eyebrow arched, but he didn't say anything. At least he was listening? "I mean... if a man tells people what he wants to be, there's almost nothing that will make anyone tell you no. But if you're a woman, the only acceptable options are being a wife and mother, or being a nun--and nothing on top of either of those things. And if you're not a wife and mother or nun, then you're a half-pitied, half-ridiculed maiden aunt. And if you don't want to be that either, then you're a malcontent and a woman of ill-repute, because God forbid you have any say in your own life."

"And as a man, I'll never fully grasp that."

"Exactly." Though he did have his own unique othering, and that might have made him more flexible than many. She would never understand his situation either, but they could both acknowledge their lack of perspective there; maybe that was something. "But maybe that will change, one day. My sister and the others made a big step by opening up the teaching positions to women--and not just nuns." Though they could be nuns if they wanted. And judging by Lettie's employment--plus the number of rooms on Farilon's second floor--they could be wives and mothers if they wanted as well.

"Never mind your sister herself. The male chancellors of other universities probably took issue when they heard, but she's doing just as good a job as any one of them. Better than some, I'm sure." Not that Farilon would have known the day-to-day workings of the other universities, but if he was comfortable with this one, that had to mean something. Farilon wasn't comfortable with much. "Say, has she taken you for a tour yet?"

CeeCee shook her head. "She hasn't had the time."

"Well, I could take you for one now, if you like." In afterthought, he swept her over with a quick stare. "Er, if you're feeling up to it, that is."

"All right. Maybe a walk is what I need." She'd ridden over here, after all, and that was when the aches had started--and sitting hadn't done much to ease them.

"You're sure?"

"Well, not unsure."

But--sure enough--her pains eased somewhat as she stood, maybe even a little more as she walked past him. They hadn't ruined the afternoon after all. She hadn't ruined the afternoon after all. And the tour could only improve things, certainly. They'd discuss the architecture, the layout, perhaps the current projects of the various disciplines...

"Er... CeeCee?" Farilon tapped her on the shoulder, finger hesitant. "You're bleeding..."

"What?" How was that possible? She would have remembered cutting herself. "Where?"

"Uh... I don't want to say."

"Oh." Though her stomach spun, she wasted no time turning around. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit... "Oh, no."

How had this snuck up on her already? Some sort of divine retribution for her wishing Farilon wouldn't think of her as a child? She was ten years old! She shouldn't have had to worry about this for another couple years, at least. Hell, her own mother hadn't started until she was fourteen, and Aldara and the twins averaged around there as well! How had she--?

Stupid! Why had she just expected to take after her mother's side in that regard? Of her half-sisters from her father, Riona had been the oldest at twelve--and a young twelve, at that. Raia and Vera had both been eleven, and Viridis had been... ten. Like CeeCee. God! Stupid!

"Uh... do you have something for that? In one of your saddlebags or something?"

...Damn it. "No. This, uh... this hasn't happened to me before..."

"Oh." That did it. He was now forever privy to the workings of her reproductive tract. He'd never be able to look at her again without remembering this moment.


"Do you want me to go and get your mother?"

Of all the things she would have preferred he'd never ask. "Yes, please."

"All right. I'll stop by next door and ask Cherry if she could come over and keep you company. She's usually home around this time."

Company? That sounded like a kinder way of saying she needed a babysitter. At least Cherry was unlikely to make a big deal of it. "Right."

"And you can take a towel if you need one. Just wash it before--" He squirmed as he caught up with his own thought. "On second thought, keep it."

Great. He thinks I'm disgusting. "Thanks."

He gave her a quick rub on the shoulder, then brushed past her and started down the stairs. "Just try to stay comfortable, all right? And help yourself to anything in the kitchen if you get hungry."


She knew he meant to be nice, but food was the least of her concerns right now.


January 21, 2014

In Which Nora Meets a Certain Standard of Honesty

July 2, 1184

Falidor had not lied. There was a girl waiting in the front room, a girl surely no older than ten or eleven, dressed in boys' mail and wanting a word with Nora's husband. But Severin was in the royal shire, putting a stop to some royal bullshit Ietrin wanted to pull, so the task of dealing with her had been left to Nora herself.

It would be easier once she had a chance to get a read of the kid. "Can I help you?"

"My lady." The girl practically leaped from the couch, grinning. Unsure, Nora tilted her head a couple degrees; usually, any business lone children came to present was bound to be unpleasant, but this child seemed much too eager to be here for that. "I heard that Lord Severin is in need of a new squire?"

That explained the armor. "That is true, yes." Interesting. Nora took a few seconds to look the girl over again. Her mail and leathers were of good quality, comparable to what the local knights and noblemen wore on excursions, but she wasn't a recognizable face--and she lacked the look of any Dovian family Nora knew. Carvallon, perhaps? No, there would have been a hint of an accent. "What is your name?"

"Ah, sorry." The girl raised her arm and rubbed at the back of her neck, like many did when they were embarrassed, but any reservation was short-lived. She didn't even show a hint of a blush. "I'm Renata Mokonri. You've met my grandmother and my father, I think."

"Renata Sadiel and Abrich Mokonri?" A nod. So Renata must have been a child of Abrich's second wife, the French noblewoman. If she took after her mother, then that explained the lack of resemblance to the rest of the Dovian families. "Yes, I see your grandmother quite often, and your father and I have met." And while Abrich had never struck her as too narrow-minded, she struggled to see him allowing his young daughter to pursue a post as a squire. "Um. Does he know that you're here?"

"He should by now. I did leave a note." She shrugged, as if she failed to see why it mattered beyond common courtesy. "Anyway, I was never allowed to be a page, but I've been training with them ever since I could hold a wooden practice sword, and I'm really good. I'm also a decent shot, and while I'm not the best rider you'll ever meet, I can hold my own in a race. I've even jousted a couple times, though my mother would have an apoplexy if she knew."

A ten-year-old jousting? What mother wouldn't? But Nora thought she could guess the other issue there. "She probably would have preferred you working on your embroidery?"

Not without a certain force, Renata laughed. "Even embroidery is too exciting as far as my mother is concerned. How could she live with herself if I was poked with a needle?"

"Ah, yes. I've come across the type." Though for good measure, she allowed herself another study of the girl. Renata was tall for her age, and she did look to have some muscle on her. Scrawnier boys had been sufficient squires. Ietrin would be pissed, of course, but no one cared and it wasn't his decision besides. Abrich and Odette might not approve, but if the elder Renata had no objections as the nearest relative in the country, perhaps there was no harm in giving her a chance before her father showed up looking for her. "Well, you'll have to speak with my husband when he returns, but I can't see him objecting."

"That's what I was told." Renata smiled--and this time, there was no conscious effort behind it. "Thank you, my lady."

"Please, call me Nora." She nudged a few strands of hair behind her ear before getting to the other half of what she'd just heard. "By the way, who is it who told--?"

"Renata? Oh my God, you actually came!"

A blue-clad blur bounded from the door and sprang upon the newcomer with a friendly embrace. Though her eyes widened, Renata didn't seem to mind too much. "You must be CeeCee."

"In the flesh." A pat to the apparent contact's back later and the pair of them broke apart. That answered that. "Mother, this is Renata. Remember? The baroness thought we might enjoy corresponding?"

"Well, now I do." And if Severin wouldn't have taken Renata on before, surely he had to now. CeeCee was by no means a shy girl, but she nonetheless struggled to find common ground with her peers. It would be good for her to have a friend who wasn't the much older Farilon, especially now that Lorn and Ovrean were hinting about a betrothal there--never mind that CeeCee was probably still a few years shy of a first course, much less marriage.

"CeeCee, your mother agrees that your father will probably consider me. Isn't that great?"

"It is, though you'll learn soon enough to trust my word on its own. I'm not much of a liar, am I, Mother?"

Nora shook her head, though she doubted that was so much due to lack of talent as it was to sheer lack of bother. "Indeed, sometimes, my daughter could stand to be a little less honest."

CeeCee smirked. Of course she'd take that as a compliment. "But the important thing is that you're here, and you'll get a fair shot--and now that you know my mother agrees, that's got to be even more reassuring. Father will absolutely let you squire for him."

Renata looked to Nora again, a hopeful gleam in her eye. Nora nodded. It wasn't up to CeeCee's standard of honesty, but a simple 'yes' answer was not a lie. Severin--CeeCee's father--would absolutely let Renata squire for him.

She didn't have the heart to point out that Renata's own father might be a different story.


January 19, 2014

In Which Asalaye Cannot Promise

June 24, 1184
How was it that the summer break was half over already?

The university ran in four terms, with a two-month break between the spring and summer, then another between the autumn and winter. The exception had been this year; given that some of the students would need remedial work, what with many of them not having had a substantial childhood education, the university had opened in January--normally half the winter break--for a thorough month of general studies. Since the school was to follow the university timeline as closely as possible, Camaline and Xeta had opted to open in January as well, which had meant a five-month stretch as opposed to the would-be-standard four months. By the ended of that, Asalaye had more than needed the time off.

Of course, her father and brothers and sister worked year-round, so Asalaye supposed she couldn't complain. And now that she'd done the five months, four months would surely seem no problem in the future?

And she did still have a month left before school resumed. There was plenty of time to pursue her hobbies, see her friends, enjoy her family... and to rest. Rest was crucial--especially now that Arydath had confirmed that Baby Number Four was to make her appearance in January.

And now that Baby Number Two had just burst into the room, face scrunched and his shoulders in a shudder, his bottom lip quivering as he fought to keep his mouth shut. "Adonis? Sweetie, what's wrong?"

Asalaye frowned as her younger son stopped just short of her footboard. It was not so short a distance that she could miss the tears in his eyes. "Adonis? Addie-my-laddie?"

"It's that--" As his mouth opened, they pulled his eyes with them. He buried his face in his hands; neither Asalaye nor Lonriad had ever told their sons that boys didn't cry, but no parent could prevent their children from picking up such things elsewhere. "That s-stupid Tad..."

Asalaye rose from the bed and approached her child, wrapping an arm around him. Of course it was Tad. Tad was one of the maids' sons, a nightmare of a little boy with a knack for destruction and a love of bullying. Had his mother had any relations or friends who were able to take him for the day, Tad would not have been welcome. Not after the stolen fish, not after Lonriad's mother's broken vase, certainly not after picking on the other children!

But Asalaye did, at least, want her children to be better than that. "It's not nice to call people stupid."

"But he is! And he's m-mean! Sevvie punched him, but he still... he still..."

A sob. Poor little kid. Most of the children in the family's social group were kind enough--or at least suffered the wrath of their parents when they weren't--but Adonis was an easy target and he couldn't help it. Or at least, Asalaye didn't see why he should be the one who had to change. "Was he teasing you about your clothes?"

Adonis nodded. Asalaye pulled him closer and wiped some hair out of his face, and a streaming tear from his eye. Lonriad's parents and Asalaye's father alike had agreed that kids liked to costume themselves, and sometimes the costumes got worn past playtime, and sometimes the clothing wasn't an accepted fit to the child's sex. Asalaye herself had sometimes dolled up Congren and Sev and pretended they were her little sisters, and Lonriad admitted to having endured more than one ladies-only tea party with Vera. It was by no means unheard of, young boys wearing dresses.

Granted, Adonis took it a little further than most. For the sake of his own security, they'd convinced him to wear tunics to school and on outings, but he could wear what he liked at home--and more often than not, what he liked were hand-me-down dresses from his older female cousins. It was beginning to seem a little long-lived for her and Lonriad to be reminding each other that it was "Just a phase", but why should their boy have to suffer for it? Clothing was an artificial thing, was it not? There was no law of nature that stated only certain people could wear certain things. And was a dress really so different than the longer tunics and robes worn by men in other places and ages?

"Aww, don't listen to him, Addie. He's just jealous because he knows he'll never be as handsome as you." If anything, that spurred the crying a little further. Maybe it hadn't been a tactful thing to say. Adonis was not stupid--and alas, while their father was a god from a long line of gods, he and his brother both took after Asalaye's less-than-pretty side. And Tad, little brat though he was, was not an aesthetically displeasing child. "Or as confident."

Sniffling, her son shook his head. "I'm not c-confident, Mama."

"Yes, you are." She pulled him closer and kissed the side of his head. "You know who you are, and what you like, and you don't have a problem showing it. You're true to yourself. Bullies like Tad wish they could stand out, but they're too afraid, because fitting in is easier. And then they see you, all good and genuine, and they feel bad about themselves. That's why they want to make you feel bad too."

"And they do a good job of it!"

Asalaye sighed. Damn kids always did. "Yes, some of them do. But just remember that their insecurity is never your fault, and while it's all right to feel sad and insulted, never feel like you have to be guilty or ashamed. Can you promise me you won't blame yourself?"

Adonis swallowed. But then, after a couple seconds' hesitation, a nod. "All right..."

He didn't sound too sure, but what five-year-old was? She couldn't promise that the world would ever be a kind place. There was no minimum age for cynicism.

Regardless, she needed him to know that not everyone cared what sort of clothes he preferred. She, for one, would always love him all the same. "That's my brave boy."


January 16, 2014

In Which Elarys Reviews the Necessities

June 19, 1184

Today was Elarys's son's seventeenth birthday.

She hadn't seen Landus in a while--there had been no pressing need to visit, now that Roderick was gone and his alleged lumber plans had died with him--but she had raised a glass to him at dinner. Seventeen was legal age in Dovia, so it seemed appropriate. It was also Landus's first year of study at that new university. He would still be a knight, of course, but why shouldn't she wish for his academic success? Not that his planned major in Physics would have been her first choice for him, but surely it could be useful somehow.

And he enjoyed it, didn't he? Why shouldn't he enjoy it? No one born before 1167 had even had a chance to attend the university in Naroni, or at least hadn't tried as far as Elarys knew. Even if he majored in flower arrangement and minored in squirrel-wrangling, he'd have a step up on most knights of his generation.

She hoped he'd made many friends, and would make more. The more friends he had, the more reason he had to stay in Naroni. Of course, her reasons for visits there had solidified when she'd sent the girls there, even if Catherelle had eventually returned to Spain, but when Neilor too had expressed an interest in a fresh start, she'd been eager to send Landus along with him. That gave her three children in the area. Elarys was not so naive to think herself immune to tragedy; Death didn't always arrive with the courtesy of a slow knock, and she might have dropped by unexpectedly on any of the children.

But what were the odds that she'd come for all three of those in Naroni before things had been settled? Them, plus all of her grandchildren?

Especially since it wouldn't be too many years now. It was coming--not so quickly that she couldn't revise plans if need be, but quickly enough. The Heiress had returned. Searle had seen to that, bless his soul, even if it hadn't ended well for him, even if he'd never known a damn thing. It was only a matter of time before the Trials began.

All that mattered now was that Ietrin left the forests alone. Perhaps she would visit him again, soon... and as a host's gift, she would bring the wine that killed his father. She'd remind him that he'd chosen it, that he himself had hired on Master Finessa, that he'd had tangible motive most would believe of him. Farrier had been instructed to leave hints, and Elarys had more than a few little birdies at her disposal; if she gave them the notes, they would sing.

So far, Ietrin had done nothing to outright displease her, but caution had been necessary. The Trials had to occur. The Heiress needed to take her rightful place. The Cycle could not be broken.

And she could not expect Ietrin's tiny little brain to comprehend why.