April 29, 2014

In Which Cherry Joins a Fair Competition

May 20, 1185

The official meeting wouldn't be until the end of the school day, but while Morgan and Sister Paulina had classes to get them through the morning, Cherry had nothing until the afternoon. She'd tried sleeping in, but the anticipation hadn't agreed to that. So... why not break her fast and dress early, nod through the window to Sir Nythran in the next house as she never got the chance to on Mondays? Why not head over the now stage-free administrative tower, see if Raia had a moment, and confirm just a little earlier what she already knew?

Because there was no possible way that masque could have been considered a failure.

The audience space had been filled to capacity. The students manning the fenced perimeter had reported no attempts at unpaid entries--and since she and Morgan and Paulina all hammered in the importance of the masque's success to their education, covering for anyone was an arrow to the foot. And the idea that a cast of noted nobles and knights would raise the limit on what people were willing to pay? Stupid and gimmicky, sure--but according to an Economics major with several Literature electives who'd done some initial surveys, it had worked!

And then the performance itself had gone out without a hitch. No missed cues so far as Cherry noticed, no malfunctioning props or effects, nor any stumbling over lines or small, stiff movements. A line or two may have been changed unwittingly, but not to the point of compromising the meaning. Cherry hadn't had a script on her for reference, but the only obviously unscripted bit had been...

...well, kind of enough to merit more laughs and cheers than any other moment. "I still can't believe Florian's timing."

"It was quite... fitting," Raia managed, not quite so amused. But Cherry guessed she couldn't blame her, since she'd had one of the closer views of certain... things. "We find the defendant..."

"SIR BORS!" Of course, Florian had been much more vocal. And wearing far fewer articles of clothing. "You know, he spends the whole rehearsal period trying to derail the story with his interruptions, but what does he go with in the end? A non-sequitur naked dance routine."

"Kind of a miracle we got through the rest of the scene after that. And a good thing Morgan thought to send Vera and Sparron out before my death scene." Morgan, so she'd told Cherry after, had felt that a light reprieve would be needed to better bridge Florian's interruption with Morgause's emotional last minutes, so the task of improvising a fluffy little love scene had fallen to Vera and Sparron.They'd done quite a nice job with it too, all things considered--even if it hadn't quite passed for a scripted scene to those who knew Morgan's writing style. "But that's not what you're here to talk about."

"You know me so well." She was one of the four people in Naroni to have sat through the entire 'why they call me Cherry' story, after all. "The revenue--"

"Yes, the masque made a profit."

"So we get the profit."


"And the budgeting procedures will be revised."


Success! She'd thought so. "Excellent."

"I thought you'd say that." Raia pushed back her chair and stepped around the desk. Up close, the bags beneath her eyes weren't quite so subtle. It must have been a tough job, balancing so many conflicting interests--not that that gave Cherry any less of a right to fight for her own. "Though, I should warn you that future projects may be required."


"You proved that your department deserves increased funding. The other departments are going to want chances to prove themselves too. It'll be a competition from here on out."

That... could have been expected, Cherry supposed. There was only so much money to go around, and someone had to draw the short end of the stick. That said-- "But it'll be a fair competition, correct?"

Raia nodded. "I'll do my best to make it so."


April 27, 2014

In Which Raia Hears Something Sweet

May 18, 1185

It was Masque Day. More accurately... it was Masque Hour. The first scene opened with Vera and Xeta, Xeta's character reading a letter from Vera's while Vera herself monologued it to the audience from elsewhere on stage; Sister Paulina called it an aside. Then, Vera would make her exit, and Raia and Lonriad would arrive to interact with Xeta.

Cherry's students, with the help of Sister Paulina's, had designed a portable stage that could be taken apart and reassembled elsewhere in less than an hour, complete with trap doors for set changes and collapsible curtains. For the performance, it sat in front of the administrative tower, leaving the entry as a makeshift green room. When she'd first heard of this, she'd wondered how structurally sound such a construction could be, but a few run-throughs on the stage later and it had held up rather better than she'd expected. They would be able to store it for reuse by the Drama students.

But for now, it was their day--a fundraising day, more or less, but still a performance. Vera and Xeta handled the pressure well, just chatting and laughing as they might have done in Nora's sitting room. Something about the frustrations of the students doing their hair, from the words Raia bothered to catch. Xeta's character was supposed to wear her hair tightly in a snood, but Xeta's was too long and thick for the piece Cherry had made; Vera's character had wild and lovely curls, but Vera didn't have a curl to speak of and all they'd managed was a light wave. Though, their costumes both matched Morgan and Cherry's sketches almost exactly--while Raia's and Lonriad's had required some compromise.

Not that anyone was going to be paying much attention to Lonriad's clothes. "I still can't believe you let them glue that thing to your face."

"It comes off pretty easily. Plus, let's face it--someone like Sir Mordred just needs a villainous mustache."

Right. Villainous. She still wasn't entirely sure how comfortable she was with her own casting. Obviously, someone had to play the titular villain--but given the circumstances that had led to the production, it kind of felt like a personal dig. She doubted it actually was--none of the involved were such vindictive people--but it did feel dodgy, especially given her character's life-long rivalry with Ellona's character. Perhaps it was something a little more innocent, like a marketing gimmick. Come see the Chancellor and the Assistant Chancellor square off against each other! And then see the Chancellor in court, where one major patron is the foreman of the jury and another is the judge!

And of course, the general nervousness didn't help either.

Not that that appeared to be a problem for either Vera or Xeta, still chatting away.

But maybe that was why. They were distracting themselves. Further engaging her brother might not have been the worst course of action for the next however-many minutes. "Still. That mustache is almost as bad as Jadin's."

"No, it's worse. I just wear it better." His upper lip wriggled, the chunky sections of beard jerking about with it. "I doubt his itches as much, though."

"Vera, Xeta!" It was Sister Paulina from the door, saving Raia the trouble of deciding on a mustache joke. "We're starting soon. Get in position."


Xeta took off around one side of the staircase, and Vera around the other. If they were being called, it wouldn't be long before Raia and Lonriad had to wait in the wings. To think--a few days ago, this still hadn't seemed quite real. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Vera called back, Xeta apparently out of earshot. She took a few more steps and the door shut. Sure as hell felt real now.

"We'd better stretch our legs a minute." Lonriad eased himself forward and took a deep breath as he stood. He seemed to be coping with the stress of the performance all right, but Raia didn't envy him that--not when he still had to cope with the even greater stress of having lost his wife. "You're going to knock their socks off, you know. You've got that intensity under control."

"But you're going to steal every scene you're in. You're just having so much fun with it."

"Well... I kind of needed this to be fun." With Asalaye watching from the clouds instead of the crowd, that he did. "And having so many scenes with you helped a lot, actually. I mean, you know how it is now that we're all adults and we're all busy and we don't live under the same roof any more. I don't know if I would have had so much fun if I didn't get to work with my favorite sister."

A lucky thing he'd waited for Vera to leave before saying that. "That's... sweet."

"Maybe. Doesn't make it any less true that we're an insanely badass dark magic team." He opened his arms for a hug. She obliged; a hug couldn't have hurt either of them just then.

"You know, if I was actually going to be evil, I can't think of anyone I'd rather be evil with than you."

"Likewise, little brother." For the sake of the moment, she'd omit her reasoning that Falidor would make the most ineffectual antagonist in history. "Likewise."


April 25, 2014

In Which Isidro Does Not Begrudge

May 17, 1185

"Nervous about tomorrow?" Isidro mainly asked to reassure himself of its normalcy. He wasn't unprepared--at least, he was prepared as he was ever going to be--but it was possible to be nervous while still being prepared, wasn't it? Maybe it was even more natural than otherwise. If he made an ass of himself while unprepared, at least he could blame it on that.

"A little." And yet, Riona shrugged. Sweet of her to throw him a bone, but she could probably count the times in her life she'd been nervous on one hand. "You'll be fine. You know your lines. Sister Paulina says you've taken care of all her major notes for you, and no one who's watched your scenes had any complaints."

"Maybe. But it'll be different with a large, paying audience." Especially since Sister Paulina had announced that she'd underestimated the number of tickets sold! Figured--probably half of that audience was eager to see someone fumble a line or two anyway.

"Just pretend they're all wearing funny hats or something."

"What if I laugh at the funny hats?"

"You won't. You're not that imaginative." She landed a light-hearted smack to his arm, her hand then sliding upward for a pat on the shoulder. "Besides--at the end of the day, there are only going to be four people in that audience whose opinions matter to you, and even if you do make some mistakes, those four will always think that their daddy is the greatest."

The kids. Huh. If she put it that way, maybe he could relax a little. Maybe. "Do you really think that?"

"I know it. You know what Nato told me today? He said he wishes he was in the masque with us."

"Did he?" His son, the future performer. No matter what that boy's looks said, Nato was all Riona. Really, the only child of theirs who wasn't was Shahira--and even she had enough of her mother in her that Isidro could be sure she'd grow up fine, just as Lord Severin must have seen in Riona for all she was the cause of most of his grey hairs. His own father had never looked at him and seen anything of worth.

Maybe that was why he couldn't help but doubt his ability to get through the masque. All these years in Naroni, and Domingo still haunted him.

But maybe one day, that ghost would be gone. Priests and mediums could do little where spirits were concerned; perhaps the true exorcist was the wide-eyed young child. "I... didn't know he had that much faith in me."

"Of course he does. They all do--and all they'll be able to talk about is how fantastic you were in the play." Her hands trailed down the line of her silk nightgown, the left rubbing her belly with a loving brush. "And... when he gets here, we'll tell the new little one too."

Isidro blinked. He'd later wonder if she'd saved that tidbit for that moment on purpose--to give him something to think about other than his own anxiety. But at the time, the question didn't nag him. News like that brought all other thoughts to a halt. "When...?"

"Between Christmas and New Year's, according to Arydath. I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier." But if she had, then the days or weeks or however long would have turned his shock to a second worry, in tandem with the renewed focus on the masque. He would not begrudge her the timing. "I know you didn't really want another one, and this didn't happen on purpose, but--"

He stopped her with a finger to the lips. His other arm swept around her shoulders and led them both to the middle of the mattress.

"It's all right." His right hand left her mouth and took her own. Her wedding band glinted in the light of the bedside candle and not for the first time, he wondered why she'd let him of all people slip it onto her finger. She'd seen something in him that no one before her had bothered to seek. Maybe one day, she'd tell him exactly what. "I could live with a hundred babies, so long as all of them were yours."


April 23, 2014

In Which Severin Is Guided Off-Script

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This post centers around a rehearsal for the masque, which as the cross-section of Naroni and Albion readers will know, is based on the "Trial of the Century" arc from the on-going storyline "The Orkney Saga". As such, most of the dialogue between the fourth and eighth images was shamelessly lifted from this Albion post, so all credit for those lines goes to the talented Morgaine. If you haven't read Albion yet... then what are you waiting for? Read it, read it now.

May 6, 1185

"I have to say--you make the most beautiful immortal light witch I've ever seen."

"This after you watched young Ellona in the capture scene rehearsal yesterday?" True. But as objectively attractive as Ellona may have been, there was an inherent repulsion in checking out a woman the age of some of Severin's own children, and he didn't doubt Nora knew it. But she also knew he'd respond to 'But what other immortal light witches have you seen?' with reference to Ellona, so if her aim was to get the last joke, his wife had made the correct choice. "I'm flattered. And I'll have you know that you rank among the most handsome of aspiring barons.

"A pity that in this universe, I'm married to Tarien."

"And I'm married to Arydath. So you may have gotten the last joke, but I believe that between the two of us, I got the more desirable fake spouse--for all Tarien has us both beaten."

"Us, and Arydath too," Nora teased. Severin knew she didn't mean it, but all the same, it was a relief to see that she was now comfortable making such jokes, having spent much of their marriage surrounded by undue glances and constant whispers about former servant girls who married their lords. Most of the spectacle had worn off by now, but some of the lingering stupidity refused to die.

"Indeed. But speaking of fake spouses, there are a lot of other people's not-so-legally un-wedded husbands and wives, and we've probably kept them waiting long enough--unless you care a quick exploration of that broom closet over there, in which case another few minutes wouldn't kill them."

"Tempting, but I'd rather hold out for a lengthier and more comfortable session after the fact." With a wink, she brushed past him toward the door--but not without a nip to his earlobe. So there was an advantage to tying back his hair indoors. "Come along. Sister Paulina always knows when we haven't rehearsed."

"If only because Searle will tell her." But the masque was near enough now that there was little point in complaining too much, so he followed her into the dining hall, where the jury would rehearse while Paulina had the stage for the four in the opening scene.

"Everyone." He took his seat at the head of the table. In the actual performance, they'd be blocked in such a way that allowed them all to be turned toward the audience--but Sister Paulina hadn't quite decided on the arrangement, so they'd sit naturally for now. "I hope you were at least able to entertain yourselves while we kept you waiting."

"Ovrean and Renata were, pestering me about what you were probably doing to my sister," Falidor grumbled.

"And what you were probably doing to my father," added Searle to Nora with a shudder.

"I see." Nora shot a succession of glares about the table, ending with an eye-roll Severin's way. "Well, whatever we were doing to each other, that's our own business, isn't it?"

"Agreed. Let's just start acting, so we can all be equally uncomfortable. Everyone ready?" Five nods. On that note, Severin put on a forced-cheerful face, as dictated by Morgan's script. "Well! What do you say we start with a vote, to figure out where we all stand? Those in favor of acquittal, say aye."

"Aye," chorused Nora and Searle.

"I see. Those in favor of conviction? Aye." Falidor joined him on the last word. As scripted, Renata and Ovrean were silent. "Lady Claire? Master Chevaux? You didn't vote."

"I--" Renata's start and stammer rang perfectly timed as always. She was the strongest actor of the six of them--as Sister Paulina never failed to remind the other five.

Falidor leaned in toward her, a little overdone. "Lady Claire?"

"I... don't know what to think."

"Well, at least you admit it." Nora reassured Renata's character with a wink. "Most folks don't, as a rule."

"So what don't you know what to think about?" Severin asked.

"I... oh, I don't even know where to begin. She's a woman. A mother. A grandmother! How could any mother do such horrible things to a little boy?" A pause, marked by expressions. Renata's in particular melted from indignant disbelief to lost confusion. "But... why would Betsy Pelles... Lady Dindrane, the little boy... why would they lie?"

And then, quick as a whip while the others processed, that was Nora's line. "It's not that simple. We're not being asked to say she's innocent, you know. Just whether she's guilty or not."

"I don't..." How did Renata trail off so naturally?

"We've got two choices for each of the charges: guilty or not guilty. Now, if we say she's guilty, well, then, she's guilty--at least, in the eyes of the law. But if we say she's not guilty? That doesn't mean we think she's innocent. Just that we're not quite convinced that she's guilty."

"Indeed," Searle chimed in agreement, though as always, Severin had to wonder about Sir Aglovale's actual chiming ability. "There's no physical evidence, really--just the word of three people. Should we send a woman to the block on that?"

But to his own credit, Severin could see Richard Ferreira snorting in derision. "She's the king's sister. I'm not at all convinced that she would go to the block, no matter what we decide."

"Even so..."

The scene carried out, for the most part, kink-free. Searle pointed out that these were death penalty offenses, and Renata questioned his trust of his (character's) sister's testimony, while Searle and Nora argued that testimony just wasn't sufficient. Falidor countered that, pointing out the flaws in the defense's testimonies and the strengths in the prosecution's, plus the state of the witness--and Nora confirmed the injuries to be of a magical nature.

Some lengthy reasoning later, and Renata came to the conclusion of 'guilty'. Brought to the fence, Nora questioned the defense attorney's method--the lack of a reasonable doubt, swapped for a multitude of smaller doubts. Searle made a loud-but-weak protest on classist grounds, and Severin ignored him--to ask Ovrean why he had yet to speak a word.

Ovrean stroked his beard, though Master Chevaux was said to have a more impressive one. "Didn't think it was my place at first, sir."

"Nonsense. Of course it's your place. We're all..." Severin relented with the obligatory pause. The Kingdom of Albion did not place hierarchy over justice--that was rather the point of the play--but that didn't mean there was no hierarchy for the characters to consider, or so Morgan had explained. "...here to do the same job."

"Aye, sir."

"So, what do you think?"

Ovrean looked over at Nora, then Severin again--and then, at Searle. "Begging your pardon, sir, but... she's guilty. Ain't no doubt in my mind."

"Why not?" Searle demanded.

"'Cause of--"

"Everyone! Quick! Lady Morgause set the courthouse on fire! We have to evacuate--now!"

That... was not in the script. "Florian, not again!"

"Who is this 'Florian' of which you speak? I am Sir Bors, here to guide you all to the flame-free safety of the great outdoors!"

At least a fire made more sense than his previous interrupt of 'The hippos are attacking!'? "Florian..."

But instead of stopping like a rational person--and Severin had to wonder why he'd ever considered that Florian might do anything like a rational person--Florian dashed around the table and took to prodding Falidor's shoulder. "Come along, Sir Lancelot! We're too young and handsome to die!"

Caught between amusement and annoyance, Renata shrugged. "We might as well continue on as usual. Who knows what antics the audience will throw our way, anyway?"

"No time for nonsense, absurdly attractive wife! We must depart from this place!"

Severin grimaced. At least the performance wasn't so far off now--and at least there would be plenty of people backstage to keep their eyes on Florian. Hopefully. "Yes, let's continue on. Ovrean, let's take it from your line."


April 20, 2014

In Which Laralita Finds the Blood No Bluer

April 11, 1185

"You didn't have to come." Laralita told her son this out of motherly obligation, not genuine feeling. In the nearly three weeks since his brother had died, Farilon had called more days that not. She suspected that at least part of his reason was to avoid his wife, but she neither blamed him nor cared. His company was enough not to mind the motives. "It'll be planting season soon. I'll have something to take my mind off things."

"It's not planting season yet." He cast a fleeting glance out the window, as if to reassure himself of this. "Plus... well, it turns out that even Lent isn't a good enough excuse not to... you know."

"Hmm." After two years of marriage now, Danthia had yet to hint at so much as a missed course. Laralita had no doubt that this was largely for lack of trying on Farilon's part. Honestly--now that she was short one more of her own babies, she thought a new grandchild in her arms might do her well, but that was between Farilon and Danthia, and she wouldn't push it.

A new grandchild wouldn't bring Oswald back anyway. "I see."

Her second-youngest would have been twelve come October--still a child, but just old enough to be treated as a man in some respects. At least Ietrin and Elhina had been granted a glimpse of adulthood before they'd gone, even if Elhina's had been too short and Ietrin's, too tragic.

She supposed some women lost more than three. There was much fortune in being born a count's daughter, and large part of that was the decreased chance of illness, the longer lifespan--but Oswald, as a prince, had not been immune to the fever that took him. At the heart of it, blue blood was no more resilient than the common red, just as it truly was no bluer.

"You took good care of him, you know."

"Not good enough."

"Sometimes it can't be good enough."

He'd meant that to make her feel better, but it didn't. Her son hadn't died as a result of her incompetent care, but that didn't make him any less dead.

Nor did it make the world any less cruel.


April 19, 2014

In Which Camaline Does a Friend a Favor

April 3, 1185

Where did I put them?

Camaline ran a finger along the spines of the books, as if its presence would change a title to one she wanted. Aydelle's daughter Hanna was earning a little extra pocket money at university tutoring other students in math, and Aydelle had asked Camaline if she had any remedial texts to spare. She could have sworn to the presence of at least a couple in her office, but damned if she could recall exactly where she'd placed them. If Aydelle hadn't asked, no doubt she would have caught sight of them front and center every time she approached the shelf.

But... well, she could do a friend a favor, and she would. Their romance had been over long enough that awkwardness had little right to linger--and even if it hadn't, denying an innocent party valuable materials would have been a petty act indeed. She'd find those damn books even if she had to tear her office apart trying.

But she wouldn't have to tear it apart just yet, or so the knock on the door told her. She'd have to deal with whoever it was first. "Yes?"

"It's me." Xeta. Strangely, after a year in her position and with three of the four teachers having been there from the beginning, Xeta was the only one familiar enough to get away with 'me'. "May I?"

"Of course." She backed away from the bookcase as her friend entered, unsure what exactly she wanted. Xeta had come to her a few times about her pregnancy anxiety, but the last time had been some while back, and their frequency had been on the decline before that. Not that they never talked about anything else, but surely she would have gone to Rona first for any other concerns, and waited until the end of the day for mere visitation... "What do you need?"

"Uh... well, it might be a bit of an awkward favor, but I won't make a fuss if you say no."

"All right." In the interests of tact, she opted not to point out that discussing pregnancy was as awkward as it ever got for her. "What do you need?"

"It's about my part in the masque." Of course it was. Could anyone talk about anything else these days? Camaline had declined the offer of a part herself, having less than zero interest more than maybe--maybe--watching the thing. She hadn't expected to be alone in that regard. "I'm playing Lady Morgause's daughter-in-law, Lady Dindrane. I had a chat with Morgan about her character, and I think I can relate to her on most levels, but there's one thing that, um..."

"That what?"

"Well..." Xeta's lips broke into a sheepish smile. "Apparently Lady Dindrane... has an affinity for the female of the species."

"Oh." That explained why she'd been the choice over Xeta's sister. "Uh... well, I'm not really sure if I can tell you how to play that. It's not a personality trait."

"Ah, yes--sorry. But that's not quite what I wanted to ask." Her friend grimaced again, a not-insignificant red in her cheeks. "I just thought that maybe I could get in her head a little more easily if I, uh... had some experience in that regard."

And that really explained why she'd been the choice over Xeta's sister. "You don't mean--"

"Oh, no! No, I don't want to do that! Not that there's an issue with... that..." Her blush swelled, apologetic. "I just thought maybe a kiss?"

"A kiss."

"Just one. It's not totally inappropriate to ask you that, is it?"

"No, I don't mind." At least... she didn't think she did? It had been a while since her last kiss, and Xeta was not devoid of charms. If she was to develop some sort of fondness, a good friend was not her first choice--and nor was an employee. "It would just be a one-time thing, correct?"

"Yes, of course."

"All right, then." All right. Was it all right? Probably not if she was wondering what Xeta's breasts looked like beneath the shapeless work robes... "Um. Now, or...?"

"Now is fine."

"Oh. All right." What had been the first step in that kissing lesson of all those years ago? A hand to the shoulder? She put her hand on Xeta's shoulder. And Xeta's was on her...

...side? That was rather forward for a first kiss. More-so if it wasn't supposed to mean anything. But if Xeta had only ever kissed Jadin, then forward was all she knew.

Stop thinking about it so much. Just lean in and give her a kiss. She drew a little closer, caught between wanting to and not wanting to want to. Stop it. You've done this hundreds of times. Just get it over--


And that was the problem with over-thinking. "Shit! Sorry."

"No, it's fine." Nonetheless, Xeta massaged the bridge of her nose between her fingers. "Really."

No, it wasn't fine. But it was probably for the best anyway. "Look, if you don't want--"

But apparently she did.

Huh. A few more seconds than anticipated passed, but Camaline hardly noticed. Strange, how a kiss could bring all other thoughts to pause like that, how time stopped for the brush of lip on lip. Strange, and nice.

Perhaps a little too nice.

And over as suddenly as it had begun. "Well, that ought to do it. Thanks, Cammie."

Oh. Right. "Uh, no problem. Anything for a friend and all."

"And you're the best friend. And just so you're reassured--when I tell Jadin that I actually went through with this, I won't tell him it was you."

Right. Jadin. "All right. Um... thanks."

"Any time."

Someone else knocked--a man from the sounds of it. That would do well to quell the tingling between her legs. "Come in."


Well--there was no one quite like her stepbrother to bring the mind back to speed. "Searle? What are you doing in Naroni?"

Was there ever a good answer to that question? "I have some bad news."


April 17, 2014

In Which Lucien Listens In

March 15, 1185

"Oh." Caught off-guard by the grimacing figure on the couch, Lucien's hand lingered on the doorhandle a little longer than necessary. Vera's brothers were not infrequent visitors, but they all had their patterns, and Lonriad typically limited his calls to weekends. Certainly Lucien didn't remember ever coming home from the university to find him seated in the front room.

And yet, here he was. "Hello, Lonriad."

"Hello, Lucien. Morgan."

Hardly the Lonriad of old, for whom greetings were elaborate bouts of teasing. But it had only been two months since he'd lost Asalaye, so Lucien supposed any greeting at all was a step in the right direction. He doubted he'd cope half as well if he ever lost Vera. "What brings you here?"

"Well, Raia said Morgan wanted to talk to everyone about their characters, so..."

"You want to talk to me about your character," Morgan finished for him.

So there had been merit Raia's insistence on Lonriad's inclusion in the masque. The idea had been that the poor man needed something of a distraction--especially after his father's fabled widowerhood low--and what better than a rather significant role in the upcoming production? For some, Lucien thought, it might have been too much too soon, but it seemed that Lonriad was of the sort who needed to keep busy.

Hopefully no one else in the family would have to find out what sort they were any time soon.

"If now's a good time." Another awkward, obviously-forced smile. Morgan nodded and took a seat on the other bench, but Lonriad kept an eye on Lucien. "Um... do you mind listening in? My memory hasn't been great lately, and it would be nice to have two people who can remind me."

"All right." Vera wouldn't be home for an hour or so yet anyway, and he could postpone picking up the twins from her parents' house for the duration of a character sketch, if his own had been any indication. Morgan had filled him in on the gist of Master Tower on the ride back one day last week, and they'd still had plenty of time for other conversation. Then again, from what Lucien had seen of Morgan's manuscript as a whole, Sir Mordred was a more prominent character. Still--there wasn't much in the world that couldn't be condensed.

"Well, in the context of his life as a whole, the trial is a major turning point for Mordred. I don't want to lay all the cards on the table just yet, but suffice to say that the conviction takes a toll on both his emotional well-being and his personal ethics."

"So he genuinely believes that his mother is innocent."

"Consciously, yes. That's why he never stoops lower than standard defense lawyer practice."

"Still pretty low," muttered Lonriad. Was that... a smirk? It had only flashed for a second, but surely...

Had Lonriad made a joke? He'd have to confirm with Ashe or Searle, but he didn't think Lonriad had made a joke since Asalaye was still alive.

In any case, Morgan let out a snicker. "Fair enough. But the key point there is that Mordred can be scarily intelligent when he sets his mind to it--that comes up later in his life--and despite that, he avoids any underhanded legal maneuvers because he's so convinced of his mother's innocence that he thinks they can win honestly."

"All right. But you did say 'consciously'."

"I did." And Lonriad was invested enough in this conversation that he'd remembered it. That was an improvement on a few weeks' prior, if that awkward dinner at Vera's parents' castle said anything. "Subconsciously... I think he knows his mother well enough that neither her vanity nor her lack of empathy are particularly surprising. So at least some part of him knows damn well that she's guilty, or at least acknowledges the possibility."

"But he doesn't want to live with that knowledge."

"No. And ultimately, it's his refusal to face to reality that leads to his downfall."

"All right. I think I can find a way to get that across." Lonriad's mouth twitched into a shallow grin. It wasn't much, but it looked to be as sincere as Lucien could have expected. "Can I ask you one last thing?"

Morgan shrugged. "Go ahead."

"Can I have a ridiculous fake mustache? Like, Jadin-level ridiculous?"

Now that--that was the old Lonriad. Buried deep right now, but still in there. If only Vera or Lord Severin had been around to see.

But he got the sense that Morgan at least sort of understood. "...I'll think about it."