June 30, 2014

In Which Ren Is Pressed for a Warning

May 23, 1186

"My cook wanted me to ask when she could expect this year's first batch of vegetables." And Ren would have probably asked of her own accord had the cook not mentioned it. She didn't much care for vegetables in general, but whatever Laralita was doing to eliminate their inherent bitterness, she did it damn right. If they hadn't added the garden to the house, she would have gone to her grave never having guessed that her snobbish, luxury-loving stepmother had such a green thumb.

Laralita sighed. "Soon, hopefully. The house has been so quiet with just me and Lily and Marsden here. It would have been nice to have some in time for Conant's return, but I suppose I can still send some back with him for the journey. Of course, once he heads back, the growing season will be almost over, so then the waiting starts again."

"I'm sure you and Lily and Marsden will find something to do."

"Oh, I don't know. Fall is such a gloomy time." It would be, for a gardener. Restless, Laralita looped a finger beneath her braid and flicked it. "Say, this is a little early, but would you mind hosting Lily and Marsden if I go to Carvallon to visit Ramona in November?"

"Ramona?" Oh, no. "As in... Queen Ramona of Carvallon?"

"As in my daughter." Her mother-in-law laughed, apparently having found nothing suspect in Ren's tone or phrasing or body language. Somehow. "Though I suppose she is Queen of Carvallon, isn't she? I should very much like to see her thriving. And to meet my two little Carvalli grandchildren!"

Unless Mona had left out some crucial details in her last letter to Searle, Laralita had only one Carvalli grandchild. Ren doubted she'd react well to learning otherwise--especially if it came with the knowledge that Mona was not, in fact, a queen. Mona would have to be warned. "That's rather a long trip to make unaccompanied, isn't it?"

"I was thinking I'd take Farilon with me. Give him a nice break from that wretched girl he married."

"Ah... yes, of course." Weak attempt as it was, why had she even tried? There was no discouraging Laralita once she made up her mind. "Will you write to her first, at least?"

"I considered it--but I think I'd rather surprise her. She probably thinks she'll never see me again, after all. What better way to be proven wrong?"

Ren could think of about a hundred. At least November gave plenty of time to send word to Mona. Though, was such a message something safe to be put in writing? Searle would be making a trip to Naroni with Karlspan in the summer; perhaps he'd head to Carvallon after bringing the boy back. It was hardly ideal. Ren would have gone to Mona herself, but now that her latest bout of nauseousness and lack of course had been confirmed for what it was, that was out of the question.

But poor timing aside... surely they could still give her a few months' notice?

"Of course..."


June 28, 2014

In Which Renata Does Not Want

May 1, 1186

It was not the first time Renata had entered a room to find only Sparron, and he'd failed to greet her. He did the same with Octavius, Florian, Camaline, the children... almost everyone. Only Prior's existence was consistently given the benefit of the doubt.

She didn't know the feeling, but she could see the logic in his behavior. In Sparron's mind, it made sense that some hallucinations were better ignored than indulged--maybe it chased some of them away, though Renata didn't want to assume. Some days, especially after particularly scarring episodes, it was a danger to take reality for granted. Renata could have very well been a figment of his illness.

But she might have been reading too much into it. It was a sensitive matter, and perhaps not her place to speculate. The best she could do for her stepson was accommodate him, keep him comfortable. In cases such as these, the best way to proceed was to speak of something mundane, as it seemed his delusions rarely did. "Seems the rains have stopped."

"Oh." She doubted that syllable had a thing to do with the weather. "It's you this time. The real you."

Oh. She still wasn't quite clear on how to proceed when he said things like that. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Sparron shrugged. "I think I knew it wasn't you. You looked younger."

"How flattering." Though... her stepson was one of the few men who saw any sign of age in her, one of the very few who leered, and in an odd way, it was refreshing.

"Holladrin was there too." He slouched, the mass of his torso favoring the further leg somewhat. "And my mother."

"Sparron..." She let his name trail in a sigh as she came closer. She didn't want to cut him off if he cared to keep talking, nor did she wish to force him if he didn't. "Your mother--"

"You and Holladrin tried to chase her away. Thank you for that--even if it wasn't really you."

To be haunted by a long-dead mother he'd barely even known. As if he wasn't suffering enough. "Sparron, your mother wasn't a bad person."

"So the illness made her cruel?"

"No!" How could it have? Sparron... wasn't. Not really, she didn't think. "Your mother... she was miserable. Most people don't bear misery well. I don't think your father did either back then."

"But I'm miserable too. And I've been cruel--very cruel." The heel of his boot hit the couch frame with a thud!. His mother's old furniture. Renata doubted he cared if he broke it. "Just ask Lettie."

"Lettie thinks very highly of you."

"Then she's a damn better friend than I deserve." He didn't elaborate. She didn't want him to. "There's no difference between me and my mother."


June 26, 2014

In Which Nora Validates the Needed Want

April 27, 1186

"Well, you're home earlier than I expected." Severin managed a tired, yet genuine smile. He'd been mellow since his father's passing, but it had been a month and a half now and he'd at least come to terms with it. He'd be back to his old self in time--but even if he wasn't quite there yet, he wasn't so far gone as to forget there were other people in the world. "Quick birth?"

"Quick, and easy." Frankly, Alsina deserved the break. "No complications, in spite of everything. Everyone's just fine."

"That's a relief." He caught her left hand as it slid down his arm, though her right stayed put on his shoulder. His touch was a little warmer than it had been yesterday. "So... boy or girl?"

"Girl." Well... that was part of it. The pregnancy itself had been miracle enough, but one step further? She'd never seen her sister so happy. Oh, how long she'd deserved the break! "Actually... two girls. Leonora and Learianna." As if she didn't have granddaughters named for her, and as if the duchess never would. Still--a sweet gesture, and not a sour feeling.

"Twins." His smile grew a little less tired, a little more genuine. "Glad as I am I never had them myself, I can't think of anyone who'd love them more than Alsina."

"Twins are a handful--" Twice that on any single child! "--but a good handful. A good handful will be a welcome change. I mean, they won't fix everything, but... you know, I think there's an extent to which the occasional want is a need."

"I think you're right; the wants are what feed morale, after all. They can say what they will about my father, after all, but damned if he wasn't the best duke that shire had seen in generations--and the hedonism probably helped, even if he did overindulge." Though if that man had played any part in raising this one, a little overindulgence wasn't the worst sin a person could commit. "I'm glad your sister got what she wanted."

"Me too." For now, that would do. There would be time for more. "And one day, I know she'll get what she needs."


June 23, 2014

In Which Had Tries Something Innocent Enough

April 22, 1186

"Just relax," Setran urged, echoing Nanalie, Rifden, Raia, Hilla, Sev, Arydath, and Had's father all at once. "Tonight doesn't have to mean anything if neither of you feel it. Besides, you're honoring the agreement you had with Lyraina."

That he was, Had supposed. Morbid as some couples may have found it, he and Lyraina had always prided themselves on being practical people, so they'd discussed on more than one occasion what each of them wanted from the other should one party pass. In regards to courting others, they'd agreed that roughly a year later was a sensible place to start; neither had wanted the other to be alone long, after all.

But a year had come and gone, and Had hadn't felt quite up to it. So he'd let another month go by--and after that month, Medur had mentioned a young woman he and Ellie worked with at Sir Ashe's castle. Rather obviously, at that; he believed the exact phrasing had been 'clever, pretty, and surprisingly available'.

Medur--Lyraina's own brother--wanted to arrange an outing. If that wasn't a sign that enough time had passed, who knew what was. And even if he wasn't ready... well, a first date couldn't hurt. Many first dates didn't lead to seconds--and if it didn't, surely this woman would understand? From what Medur had told him, she seemed like she would.

But then, less than a week before they were scheduled to meet, tragedy struck Lyraina's family yet again: her sister Celina's husband, victim of a freak incident at Sir Bernardo's stables. He'd nearly backed out, not wanting to add to the family's stress, but they'd all insisted he keep the date--even Celina.

So, here he was--waiting for Medur's colleague, with good old Setran sitting around to keep the second thoughts at bay.

"Do you think it's fair to her? I mean, what if Medur didn't tell her I'm a widower?"

"Of course he did. It's Medur. And even if he didn't use that word exactly, she probably figured it out when he said brother-in-law; he would have spoken about you by name at work, I'm sure of it."

That seemed a bit of a stretch. "Do you think your steward and your children's nanny know each other's family?"

"Well... my steward and my children's nanny are married, so that's not really a fair comparison." Of course. "But I'm sure they talk. I mean, he knows the both of you well enough to think you'd enjoy each other's company, at least."

"I guess so." At any rate, Medur wasn't the type to force people together when they'd prefer to have nothing to do with each other. Had sighed. "I hope you're right."

"Of course I'm--" But Setran dropped the sentence, head turning to the cue of the opening door. Sure enough, the newcomer was a young woman, brown hair twisted back into a loose bun like Medur had described, her clothing an approximation of the Torgleid colors.

He tried to watch without staring and she approached Seoth at the bar. "Excuse me. I'm looking for Had Indruion. Is he here yet?"

"That's him." Seoth pointed, and the woman's head turned. Medur hadn't lied when he'd said she was pretty. "The one who copied my haircut."

"I didn't copy your haircut, Seoth." Had left the table, patting Setran on the shoulder as he passed. "I've been wearing my hair like this since I was a kid."

"And I've been wearing mine like this since your father was a kid."

"And I think you both wear it well," the woman concluded for them. "Actually, Medur didn't mention how handsome you were."

"Then he told me more than he told you." Wait... That hadn't sounded quite right. "He told me you were pretty, I mean. I'm sorry; it's been a while since I've done this."

"Yes, he... he did mention that." Her smile fell with grace to a line. She understood. He felt silly for fearing she wouldn't. "If this is too soon for you, I'd understand if you'd rather postpone it indefinitely."

"Thanks, but I should be all right." I think. Would she be so sensitive if he changed his mind partway through? "I'm Had, by the way."

"I know; Seoth just said it." He had. Shit. "I'm Winter."

"Winter." He'd heard 'Summer' as a woman's name, as well as 'Autumn'... but never 'Winter'. Perhaps because it was such a bleak season, the one most people couldn't wait to finish. But he'd always rather liked it. "That's a nice name."

"Thanks. My parents wanted four girls--one for each season--but some complications with my birth left my mother with some difficulties, so they just always had cats named Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Er, sorry, that was probably too much information. I don't this very often either."

"It happens." Good to know he wasn't the only one prone to nervous rambling, though he doubted it was so charming from his own mouth. "So... what do you want to do?"

"I was thinking maybe a walk around the village, then something to eat back here? I've just been to this inn a few times with Medur and Ellie; I'm not in this shire very often."

A walk, then something to eat. Innocent enough, but not devoid of the potential for something more. If he wasn't up to it, they could at least part as friends. Probably. "That sounds nice."


"No, I'm serious!" And if he'd learned anything about the movement of her eyes over the course of their date, she was. But how did a person act like the woman in this story? Winter's poor former employer, stuck being a nephew to this creature. "And the shouting match with her niece's suitor isn't even the end of it. Some other time I'll have to tell you about the Christmas party where Sir Darsy got stabbed and poisoned; even that had to be about her!"

"I'm going to have to hear that story." But saving it for another time was a good idea. He hadn't expected it, but... he wanted to see her again. Soon. "Is she still causing havoc back in Dovia?"

"Yes. Mostly butting heads with her son-in-law's father. Lucky that he's one of the few who can deal with her." Winter shook her head, grinning all the while. Boring old Sir Ashe and Lady Rona must have been such a welcome change. "I may have to write some memoirs about working in that household."

"And I may have to read them." His fingers twitched atop the table, toward her resting hand without bouncing the idea off his brain. But he didn't mind--and somehow, he knew that Lyraina didn't either. "Do you have any plans for May Day? The festivities in this village are usually good fun."

"I'm actually taking Lady Rona's kids to a May Day festival in Armion--but the day after that is my day off."

Probably for the better, he supposed. His own children would want to go to the May Day festival, and introducing them in the second date probably wasn't the best move. "I can clear some time the day after."

"All right." She squeezed his hand and flashed him a quick smile. "It's a date."


June 22, 2014

In Which Lonel Finds a Less Preferable Topic

April 19, 1186

"She sleeps so well, doesn't she?"

Lonel fought to keep back a groan. He liked his wife's twin--he really did--but recently, Celina had been rather... single-minded. And he supposed that was understandable. Celina and Tanver had married in February of 1183. Despite the both of them being eager to start a family from the get-go, their first child had only been born in September of last year. That placed the conception close to two years after they'd started trying. If Celina wanted to talk about nothing but her daughter... well, Lonel supposed she had earned that.

But... well, he and Feoda had been eager from the get-go too. And they'd been trying for nearly three years now, without so much as a late course. Not that they didn't love their newest little niece, but having known their anxiety, he could have hoped that his sister-in-law could be more sensitive.

And if she had to talk about the baby in more than a passing sense... well, the least she could have done was wait until Feoda was out of the room. For all Lonel knew, it was just as likely to be a problem on his part as it was on his wife's, but all the nosy busy-bodies about took a less mathematical approach there. It was, after all, perfectly acceptable--rude, but acceptable--to inquire about a still-flat waist, whereas a deficiency of seed was a taboo topic. So, not only did Feoda take the bulk of unwelcome inquiries and whispers, but any Lonel got were likely to be about his wife rather than his own self. One former drinking buddy, a few months back, had suggested Lonel divorce Feoda on the grounds of her infertility; that man now had one less friend and several fewer teeth to show for it.

"She's such a peaceful little thing. Very easy-going too, and never demanding. Really, she's given us so little trouble that we're thinking of trying for another one soon."

He stood corrected. The least she could have done was refrain from comments about second babies.

"It's a little early for that, don't you think?" A lucky thing Feoda had spoken up first. Lonel wasn't sure he could have been so tactful. "I mean, have you even... recovered, quite?"

"I've 'recovered' a few times at about the normal rate, if that's what you're asking." What did it say when even courses were a preferable conversation topic? "Tanver's eager to try for another one too, especially given how long it took the first time, you know?"

Feoda swallowed. "I'm aware..."

Ugh. All Lonel could be thankful about where this visit was concerned was that the baby, at least, was napping in another room. A pity Tanver's day off hadn't coincided with his own. Tanver could and usually made a point to keep Celina engaged with other topics. "Say, when's Tanver done for the day?"

"Oh, probably a couple hours yet." Celina sighed. "Sir Bernardo is fairly generous when it comes to time off, but nothing seems to be enough with a small child in the house. But Tanver makes the most of the hours he has."

Feoda gave Lonel a quick glance, possibly to assure him that he did too--even if those hours were more geared toward trying to make a baby rather than playing with one. Or possibly to assure him that Sir Searle was likely to be even more generous than Sir Bernardo whenever it became necessary.

Though, at this point... felt more like if it became necessary.

Downstairs, someone knocked on the front door. Eager to get away--though perhaps a little guilty for his apparent willingness to strand Feoda--Lonel sprung up from the couch. "Maybe Tanver got off early."

"Maybe," Celina agreed. Did that count as an entire sentence in which she hadn't mentioned her daughter?

"Whoever it is, invite them up to join us." Feoda rustled as she stretched her back, showcasing to her unseeing sister a lack of middle. "Please."

"Of course."

He hurried down that stairs and reached for the door, the greetings and requests and warnings for his brother-in-law already halfway up his throat. But when he answered, he found not Tanver, but Tanver's employer. "Sir Bernardo?"

"Master Wythleit." Sir Bernardo was man from whom Lonel had come to expect at least trace amounts of jocularity, but today, there was none to be found. "Is Mistress Kaswick here? There was an accident..."


June 20, 2014

In Which Lonriad Isn't Stopped

March 11, 1186

"How are you feeling?"

Concerned, yet calm and casual. Rudolphus, up until the last few days, had been similarly composed. Denial, Lonriad had concluded; his older sons were in denial. His three younger children, having seen peers lose parents and realizing their own were so much older, were well aware that he was halfway past the velvet curtain--too aware, perhaps.

But as the parents of his older sons' friends had perished, Lonriad and Viridis and Laveria had all lived on. Death was for other people's parents. Had Laveria not gone so suddenly, Severin still would have been shocked. His mother had, as far as his mortal mind was concerned, lived long enough to live forever. His father had lived even longer.

And for all Lonriad would have loved a little more time, one day, Severin would understand that nearly eighty-five years was more than many got. "Last few weeks? Not so great. Last eight decades? Well, I've made my mistakes, but at least I got the time to correct them."


"Sit with me."

Severin had never much liked to do as he was told, but he did so anyway. He probably did have a better grasp of reality than his older brother did, having lost his mother. Still a shock after all these years, though.

"At this point, you probably thought I'd never die."

His son stared over at the wall. Might've been tough to look at him. "I've made a point not to think about it."

"Flattering. Not practical--" He coughed. He pretended not to see Severin flinching. "--but flattering. I trust your kids are well? And their kids?"

"Barring any developments since I've left."

"Good. I've told your brother to make a donation in my name to Raia's university." He wouldn't live to see the first of his descendents attend, but this would be the next best thing. "Make sure it gets put to good use. Since those kids will be putting off marriage a few years, maybe something for the inevitable pent-up urges: correspondence classes for students in trouble, maybe, or childcare or... you know, emergency mixtures. Something that will get the monks' knickers in a twist."

"The Duke of Luperia Center for Reproductive Options. It would ruffle a few feathers."

"Damn right it would. Besides, I've spent a good nine tenths of my life making the ladies' pleasure a priority; I'm not about to let something as mundane and commonplace as death--" Another cough. And a couple more. "--stop me there."

"Interesting phrasing. But yes, I think such services would be helpful." Severin smiled, taking the opportunity to glance him over. Probably looking for any hint of recovery, the poor kid. "Perhaps you'll be up and about for the opening ceremonies."

"I'll have a splendid view from the next plane, I'm sure." And hopefully that view would include Nora's cleavage. A naughty thought, but he'd take that as a perk of dying.


"Oh, don't you worry that you came here for nothing. I was promised smoked bacon for breakfast tomorrow, so damned if I go before then." Never mind the woman who'd be bringing that bacon--still just as beautiful as the day they'd wed. She'd been so much more than he deserved. Maybe in some other life, he'd get a chance to make it up to her. "Besides, if your stepmother is amiable to the idea, I'm hoping for one last roll in the sack."


June 17, 2014

In Which Teodrin Is Not Swallowed

March 7, 1186

Alina may have had other engagements more days than not and Severin may have loathed the task with the fires of a thousand hells, but Teodrin didn't mind babysitting, nor did he often have anything better to do. He wasn't exactly a loner, but he was plenty shy enough that most of his 'friends' weren't really more than pleasant acquaintances he sat with at lunch. And he didn't talk much to them either--just sat and listened as they conversed with each other, muttering quick generalities if anyone asked him anything. Something more would have been nice, but he didn't know if he wanted to risk getting close with anyone. Some days, even his parents were more than he could handle.

The little kids, though... well, they didn't care. Some of them couldn't even talk yet. They just went along with their business, playing and spouting nonsense syllables as if that was all life was about. Sometimes, when he was around them, he could almost pretend that they were right.

Today, though, his mother's conversation with Evera and Setran made it an uncomfortable challenge to lose himself.

"Yes, I think Aldhein's next report will be much better. We were worried that we'd have to take some measures to improve his focus, but it seems Shahira de Cervantes took care of that for us."

"Lady Riona's daughter?" asked Evera.

"Yes. Turns out that she's quite studious, so Aldhein started working harder in order to impress her." His mother chuckled. "She's in the class below until next month, but he sees her during breaks and it seems she's developed over the course of the winter term. He's grown quite smitten."

"Ah, yes--that age." Setran through back his head and smirked--and then looked over at Teodrin. He wished the couch cushions would open up and swallow him whole. "How about you, Teo? Have your eye on any lovely ladies?"

He had no answer other than to scuff his boot against the floorboard and stare down at his knees. His mother took over verbally. "Setran, please. You know he's shy."

He was, but that wasn't really it. In fact, all of the classmates he kept company with were girls. The boys were so immature, so shallow-minded and rough-and-tumble. It was easier to relate to the girls--insofar as Teodrin could relate to anyone--who were thoughtful and considerate and friendly. But he'd yet to feel any particular interest in any of them, which was probably for the better. Who knew if he'd ever be husband material anyway.

"He's shy, sure--but he's not dead."

"Aww, Setran. Leave him alone." Evera shot him a smile. It was good to have another older sister in the house. He had Alina, but she was a fixer; she had to tackle any perceived problems right away, never content to leave them be. Esela had some similar tendencies, plus a particular brand of sarcasm Teodrin knew meant no harm but nonetheless sometimes stung. As for Alyssin and Ellie, they were too much like his father and mother respectively. In terms of older sister allies, Evera was the best he could have hoped for. "Not everyone cares to start courting at twelve. You've still got plenty to do on your own time before worrying about girls."

Teodrin shrugged. He wasn't sure what he had to do, but he did have plenty to worry about. "I guess so."

Content, Evera grinned at him again before turning back to their mother. "So, Mother, you'll have to catch us up on local happenings. Little Florian's doing much better, thankfully, but we haven't gotten out much since he got sick."

"Oh." His mother grew hushed, prompting one of Setran's signature head-cocked squints. "So you haven't heard about Lord Severin then?"

"Lord Severin?" Evera gasped, Setran frowning opposite her. "You're kidding. He's usually in such good health. What could have happened to him?"

"To him? Nothing."


"He's in fine health; he just had to leave the country for a few weeks." His mother sighed. What was it about sighs that made everyone sound fifty years older? "It's his father..."


June 16, 2014

In Which Cherry Takes a Smile

February 15, 1186

"A butter-churn? Really?" Cherry leaned back, unsure of whether or not Nythran was joking. The man did have a sense of humor--even if it required some digging--but so far as she'd seen, exaggeration didn't play much of a part in it. Pulling stuff straight from his ass? Even less. "There is no way anyone at the training grounds ever went up against one of the dummies with a butter-churn."

"Believe me, it happened." She squinted for a better read of his eyes. He was amused, sure--but not in that deceitful, practical joker sort of way. She thought, at least. She hadn't known him all that long, so maybe... "He couldn't have been taking himself seriously, but he did a good job of hiding it. Had some skill with that thing, too; twirling it about, striking from a distance, even minding it during dodge rolls. He said that next time, he'd try an oar."


"All right, I made up the part about the oar. He actually left without a word." Much to the dismay of everyone else there, if this had in fact happened. "But the rest is all true, I swear it."


"Really." His smile widened. Whenever she saw that grin, she was reminded quite thoroughly of a crack in a rock--a cute crack in a cute rock, but a crack in a rock nonetheless. "You know, I like that we've been able to meet for these talks. Pity that we both work so much, though."

Whether he'd been kidding or not before, there was nothing less than honesty in his eyes now. How on earth did a color like that exist in nature? All the pigment in the world and she couldn't have made a paint so blue. "I've been enjoying your company too."

"Maybe if you have a break in your day, you could swing by the training grounds. There's always a chance I'll be unoccupied."

"Or that I'll get to see someone kicking the crap out of a dummy with a butter-churn." She'd meant to be sarcastic, but the more she thought about it, the more she wanted to see that. "It's a definite possibility."

"Great." That smile again. Was there something wrong with her if she wanted to take that smile home with her?

Then again, perhaps she could. "Would you be interested in sitting for a portrait?"

"One of your paintings?" No, just a doodle in the dust on my mantle. But she'd grant that the question may have caught him off-guard. "That's... huh. Not something I ever thought I'd be asked, to be honest. I'm not exactly handsome."

"Maybe not conventionally so, but I've made uglier people than you look beautiful--not that I think you're ugly." She reached across the table, giving him a reasonable chance to recoil but he never took it. So, she rested her hand on his. His face may have been rocky, but his skin was indisputably organic. "I just want to help the rest of the world see what I see."

Nythran chuckled, though he felt some need shift his gaze to some point over her shoulder. She didn't mind, though; that meant she caught a sight of a blush. "Then I hope what you see is mostly favorable."