July 31, 2014

In Which Laralita Is Received Unconventionally

November 17, 1186

"That... wasn't quite the reception I expected," Farilon admitted, voicing Laralita's thoughts to the letter. "Did we catch them off-guard? I thought that was why Ren made you write to Devidra: so she could make the necessary preparations."

"We did make good time. Perhaps they're running behind somewhat." But from what Laralita knew, Devidra's household--even if it wasn't truly Devidra's household anymore--was a tightly-run ship. Unless perhaps Ramona had taken up most of those responsibilities, in which case... well, she couldn't have expected too much, unless Ramona had proven to have the same knack for delegation as Laralita herself. "Odd that the steward would lead us through a side entrance, though."

"He might be new. Doesn't Devidra have a habit of firing stewards before she even breaks them in?"

"Yes, but even if it's his first day on the job, he ought to know where the front door is." And he had managed to find the king's study without difficulty! "He must have been instructed to bring us here, though I'm unsure why Adrius would want a word before we see your sister."

"Maybe she's unwell? She is in the family way, isn't she?"

"Yes, but it's still odd that he'd prefer to greet us here rather than--"

The argument went unfinished as the door opened and the steward stepped in, followed by a handsome young man who could have only been King Adrius--what with the velvet tunic and the startling eyes and the leather strap across his forehead. Regal, but quietly so, not pompous and obnoxious like her stepson. Mona no doubt found him a welcome change.

"Queen Laralita. Prince Farilon." Adrius bowed, for all he had to have been well aware that Laralita was no longer a queen. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

He, doing the interrupting? In his own study? "Of course not, your majesty." She stood and curtsied in turn, her son bowing alongside her. "An honor to make your acquaintance."

"Likewise--but do make yourselves comfortable." As if to lead by example, Adrius sat down at his desk. Laralita and Farilon took the cue and returned the bench, leaving only the steward on his feet.

"You see... we have rather a lot to discuss."

Did they? She might have considered that an explanation for her presence in the study had she thought it at all possible. They'd never corresponded, only ever acknowledging one another through Mona's letters, and she no longer held a shred of political influence in Naroni or Dovia. What could he have possibly wanted to say to her that was so important that it couldn't wait until she'd seen her daughter and grandchildren?

"With all due respect, your majesty, I can't think of anything urgent we two must discuss."

"Oh, it won't just be we two." With that, Adrius looked to the steward--who surely had even less cause for serious discussion. What on earth was going on? "Uncle, maybe it's better if you explain."


"I suppose." After a quick swallow, the not-steward stepped forth to Laralita's seat. "Your majesty, we apologize for the deception, and this really is your daughter's story to explain, but I hope you'll understand why you have to hear this before you can see her."


"Look, your daughter was very young when she was sent here, and she hadn't had a chance to figure out what she really wanted..."


July 29, 2014

In Which Raia Guarantees It

October 25, 1186

"Hello, stranger." Raia's stepmother winked as she stepped back from the initial hug. "The university's been keeping you busier than usual these past months, I take it?"

"Somewhat." The understatement of the year! A couple of the departments had been butting heads over class times for the 1187 school year, and given the amount of overlap in enrollment, some extensive surveying had been required. At least now the juniors and seniors could serve as teaching assistants and therefore a few more time-slots could be offered. However--the mess would be done with well before spring. She couldn't have hoped Nora would agree to help otherwise.

Of course, she wasn't about to outright lie. "Things do get a little hectic every now and then, to be honest--but it's rewarding for the most part."

"Glad to hear it. I wouldn't want you wasting all of your time on something you hated."

"You and I both."

Chuckling, Nora craned back her neck, eyes rolling couch-ward. "Care to sit?"

God. Did she ever. "Yes."

Raia settled on the nearer couch while Nora collapsed on the other. A more conversational angle. That would do.

"Now, I won't pretend I'm not flattered, but I'm unsure as to why you're wasting some of your precious time off on your old stepmother."

"Nonsense. I have a young, vibrant stepmother." That got a laugh. But hopefully the compliment had stuck in spite of it. "Besides, I won't be long. The truth is, I have a favor to ask, and I believe you'd be the best choice for it."

"Also flattering--but I'll have to hear what it is first."

"Of course." Raia fought back any of the morning's lingering queasiness and drummed her fingers against her leg. Perhaps she was being a little hasty, asking so early, but it never hurt to have the preparations in order. "I'm expecting a baby some time around the end of May, beginning of June."

"Really?" Nora's blue eyes were wide as the sky in the window behind them. What with Raia's career and Falidor's children from his first marriage, she'd probably assumed that they were finished having children--and not unfairly. This pregnancy hadn't been intentional, but at the same time, neither Raia nor Falidor had looked at the other and said 'No more'. So, she would have this one, and if it proved to be all they could handle, then that would be it. "Congratulations."

"Thanks--and since we just sat down, you can hug me when I go," Raia added with a wink, noting Nora's rustling. "The thing is, though, that Ellona is due only a month earlier, so our absences from the university will overlap."

"So you want me to fill in between your departure and Ellona's return."

Kind of nice, not being the one to say it. "Well, I'd have you come in a week or so before I leave to show you what's what, but yes, exactly. Would you be willing?"

"That depends." Nora leaned her way, smirk in place. She'd likely agree regardless, if only for the opportunity, but no doubt she wanted to know what she was getting herself into. "Will whatever nasty business that's keeping you so busy be done with by then?"

Her heart lept a little. Or maybe it was just nausea. "I guarantee it."


July 27, 2014

In Which Hanna Is Squeezed Softly

October 19, 1186

"Hanna!" Her mother reached her arms from the couch with such a burst that Hanna stumbled back a step. "I wasn't expecting you today, baby."

"I had some free time." Better to get this over with quickly, or so she'd decided as she'd tossed and turned the night before in search of sleep.

Her mother was not conventional, and for the most part, she loved her for it. Whereas many of her friends hadn't dared told their parents that they'd started using herbs, for instance, her mother had been steadfast in her support. Hell--if Hanna had come to announce that she'd gotten knocked up, her mother's instincts would be to help, never to scold or rage or anything else most parents did.

But this... well, for all Leina had spoken of little else since she'd been old enough to play pretend, Hanna doubted her mother would take it so well. "I have news."

"Oh?" Her mother smiled, probably expecting some academic accolade. If only she'd had thought to call on Sister Lurra before leaving campus! She hated the thought of that smile fading away.

Hanna nodded to the couch. "Maybe we should sit."

"All right." One black brow arched, but her mother obliged nonetheless, allowing Hanna the seat beside her. "Something shocking?"

"Um... yes, it might be." Here it was. She doubted her mother had ever quite imagined this for her--it was no secret it hadn't panned out for her mother herself!--but it was her life, after all. And her mother deserved to know. "Sev asked me to marry him."

Silence--just her mother's catlike eyes, shocked, staring. She supposed she'd have to elaborate. "And I, uh... I said yes." That, at least, merited a blink. "I'm sorry if that's not what you were hoping for, plus I know your marriage wasn't great and you might have wanted something different for Leina and me, but I love him. He makes me happy, and I know he'll keep making me happy, and I'll be able to help with his family business and keep myself occupied. I know you must be disappointed, but--"

She stopped. Her mother's warm hand had taken to squeezing her own, soft and silky as the first time Hanna remembered.

"Now, why on earth," her mother soothed, white teeth visible as her lips crept upward, "do you think I'd be disappointed?"


July 26, 2014

In Which Sev Is Not To-the-Point

October 16, 1186

Sev was not technically allowed inside Hanna's room. In fact, Sev was not technically allowed inside Hanna's house. Male students, after all, were not allowed inside of female residences--and vice versa.


In truth, males and females regularly called at each other's residences, sometimes in full view of secular staff--or even the more lenient of the clergy staff! Landus's sister, the assistant chancellor, had more or less confirmed that the rule was pretty much lip service for overbearing parents and overzealous church higher-ups. Lady Ellona herself had once been mistress to the current king, after all, and Lady Rahileine had once fallen pregnant by a married man; Sev doubted either of them felt right about forcing celibacy on others.

And now that the old duke's 'medical center' was up and running... well, if anyone on campus wanted to minimize their risks, or to take care of themselves in the event of said risks, they were free to do so. The center wouldn't have opened if anyone expected complete and prolonged abstinence. Hanna had been on herbs for a while now. But any carnal activity that happened today would be more or less incidental.

Or non-existent, if things didn't go well. But Sev didn't want to think about that just now. Just ask her. It's frightening, sure--but you'll never know if you don't ask.



Huh. How to start. He'd thought he'd had it all planned out--but now that he was here, his mind was blank. "I... I'm going to be a senior come winter."

"I'm aware." She was a mathematics major. "I'll miss you when you graduate. It's a while off, but I will."

"Yes, well..." Sev swallowed. How to proceed? A gentle touch seemed a good bet; he took her by the shoulders and pulled her close. "Maybe you won't have to miss me long?"

"I do graduate six months later. And you'll visit, right?"

"Of course. But after you graduate... well, I'm going to help my father with the business, right?" It was the longest wait of his life, but she couldn't have wasted more than a second before nodding. "I know how to make good business decisions now, and how to negotiate, how to manage staff and resources."


"But I'm not great with the numbers--the books. I mean, I'm all right, but not great. And of everyone else, my father's the best, but he doesn't care for it much. So, would you maybe be interested, if you don't have anything else lined up?"

"It wouldn't be the least agreeable thing I could do with my education." She slipped her own fingers between those of his free hand and squeezed. "Though, I'd probably have to move to Veldorashire."

"Yes, well... maybe you could?" This was it. Thank God. And God damn it. "My father's going to have a house made for me, and it might be a little big for just one person, so... maybe we could live there together?"

She sat up, brow cocked--but her hand remained in his. "Is this a proposal?"

Good thing one of them was to-the-point. "Maybe?"


July 24, 2014

In Which Gennie Is Warned

September 19, 1186


It was Friday, and Gennie's father had allowed her mother to take her and her siblings to spend the weekend at her grandfather's castle in Tetran. Her mother and brother hadn't arrived yet, but Gennie and Dea had headed over straight from school with their uncles and cousins. Dea had holed herself up in the library for her usual extra hour of study, and Farilon had left to call on a 'lady friend'. Gennie supposed she'd join Oswald and Prior and Holladrin in the courtyard for some games, but she wanted to greet her grandfather first.

Her grandfather wasn't in his study. "Hello, Uncle Sparron."

Uncle Sparron didn't move. His eyes were open, so he must have seen her... but he didn't acknowledge her. This had happened before--like he didn't think she really existed.

Her mother had told her and Dea that Uncle Sparron sometimes saw or heard things that weren't really there, and sometimes it took him a while to tell what was real and what wasn't. In such cases, her mother had said it was fine to just leave him be, that he'd improve later. But Grandma Renata said that, if one had to talk to Sparron, she found it best to start by talking about something boring--something he was unlikely to dwell on in his head. Gennie, once she greeted someone, found she had to talk to them. "Uncle Sparron, it's windy out."

"Hmm?" Weather usually did the trick. But Gennie suspected that Uncle Sparron was onto that. Dea had a knack for finding more novel ways of drawing Uncle Sparron out, but that might have just been Dea. Those two just got each other, sort of how Gennie got... well, nobody in particular. But then again, Gennie got along with most people well enough, while Dea and Uncle Sparron were both more particular in terms of company, so maybe they needed each other more than she needed any one person.

"Oh, sorry, Gennie."

"It's fine." Was it? She guessed it was. Maybe. "Are you all right?"

"Mmm... what is 'all right', really?"

"When things are good?" Gennie took a seat on the couch, right next to her uncle. Somehow, she didn't think it right to leave him alone just yet. "I think?"

"When things are good." He chuckled--not sincerely. Any louder and that laugh would have been a wail. "Oh, Gennie. Things are never good for very long."

"They're not?"

"No. And I'm sorry I had to tell you that, but you would have learned eventually--and it would have been cruel not to warn you. Regardless, I'm sorry." He'd said it twice. That usually meant a well-intentioned lie. "Have you seen Prior?"

She nodded. "He's in the courtyard with Oswald and Holladrin."

"Could you fetch him for me?"

Gennie frowned. There was a distinct discomfort in this conversation that she would not miss, but it was not like Uncle Sparron to interrupt playtime. Or was it? Playtime was a long stretch of good. "Why?"

"I just need to see him right now." It was not the answer Gennie craved, but it was the one she got. The rush of his words gave no point to seeking any more. "I hope you never know this feeling."


July 22, 2014

In Which Zareth Is Asked the Time-Consuming Question

September 3, 1186

"So, um..." Mona bit her lip as she stepped back, her hand on the shoulder the one remnant of her hug. "My brother is here." That explained the enthusiastic greeting, and the lingering hand. Well as she knew him otherwise, Mona did tend to overestimate Zareth's capacity for anger. The age gap, he feared--someone of her age might have not have unlearned just yet to see someone of his age as a disapproving authority figure, even if Mona did tend to prefer forgiveness to permission. He hoped that vanish as the years went by. "I know. The steward told me."

"You don't mind?"

"No. I have nothing against your brother." If anything, he couldn't have thanked the man enough for not blowing Mona and Anna's covers at any chance he got. An unexpected visit was no issue--well, not in regards to Searle himself, at least. "But it sounds like he had a reason for showing up?"

Eyes shut, Mona bowed her head. If he'd brought her a puppy, this would be where she announced her allergies. "My mother wants to visit."

Bad allergies indeed. "Shit."

"That's what I said." A sigh--most unlike her. Other people who pulled such stunts would have dreamt up cover stories, but Mona had been so certain of her family's forgetfulness of her that she likely hadn't bothered. And inconvenient as it was, Zareth couldn't blame her for that. Most of his family forgot about him too. "I always kind of thought that if anyone came to see me, it would be Ietrin--and I could make him look like a fool by switching back and telling everyone at court that it's an old Dovian tradition, swapping the princess and her handmaiden to test the visitor's memory. But I don't think I can do that to my mother, not after she's lost so many people these past few years."

"So we'll have to tell her the truth." And hope to God that she's as cooperative as Searle. Not that any marriages could be annulled, what with the presence of Lara, plus Anna's two-going-on-three... but if word got out, it was bound to piss off at least Ietrin, and who knew what diplomatic nightmare that would breed.

"Yes." She wrung her hands together, something he'd never seen her do. While she wore them well, the six or seven years the gesture added were not unnoticeable. "But how?"

That question, he suspected, would take most of the time they had to figure out. "Gently, I guess. Gently, and discreetly."


July 20, 2014

In Which Mona Is Given a Different Sort of Worry

September 3, 1186

"What's this, then? Queen Lara has no need for doors?" Mona teased her daughter as the doll left the castle by means of an apparent two-story leap.

"No." But Lara offered no further explanation.

"She can fly, then?"


Mona sighed. Not that she didn't enjoy playing with her daughter, but she ached for the day that Lara would be ready for a little more complexity--a simple story, maybe, or at least consistent physics. When had Telvar and Avirelle outgrown the nonsensical? Had Avirelle, fully?

But she had to curse herself for her hypocrisy; Lara hadn't gotten her sense of whimsy from Zareth, after all. "All right... the prince is jumping out of the castle too."


"So boys don't get magic."


'No' no, or 'Yes' no? Damn it, Lara knew more words! "All right, then..."


No second wasted, Lara dropped her doll and pointed. "Door!"

"Yes, sweetie. Door." Was two and a half a little old for stating the obvious? She guessed she'd worry about that later. "Zareth? Is that you?"

"No." Huh. That sounded rather like... "It's your brother. Sorry, the steward said you wouldn't mind."

"Of course I don't." Mona ran her hand along her daughter's hair, then scrambled to her feet. What was he doing here? He'd visited before, of course, but never without sufficient notice. "Come in."

He did as she said, sweeping the room with his swift eyes, the usual hint of a smirk in place. He never did change much. "Is that little Lara? Not so little any more, is she?"

Mona grimaced. Everyone always said that about kids. Was she the only parent in the world who wouldn't have minded if they grew up just a little faster? "That's what her papa always says."

It was in Lara's best interests to just let her be for a while, free of Mona's less-than-motherly thoughts, so she took the chance to greet Searle with an embrace before he could further the discussion of growth. "It's good to see you."

"You too. Sorry that I didn't give you any warning. Ren thought I ought to write, but I didn't want you to worry before you had to."

"Why would I have to worry?" Surely her family had endured enough tragedy in recent years, what with her dead father and her two dead brothers and her dead niece? Any God worthy of the name ought to have drawn the line somewhere. "No one else is dead or dying, are they?"

"No, this is a different sort of worry." The embrace parted, but contact resumed when he took her hands--not squeezing, more consistently firm. "Mother wants to pay you a visit."


July 17, 2014

In Which Ashe Asserts the Entitlement

August 16, 1186

"It wasn't on purpose!" Sevvie wailed, like all nine-year-old boys did from time to time but none would admit? Or did they? Having never actually been a nine-year-old boy, Ashe couldn't know for sure. But based on what Lonriad had told him, it didn't seem implausible. "I know I should've just gone and waited when she didn't answer, but the door wasn't locked, and I didn't see her dress on the floor or anything. I swear, I didn't mean to see her naked!"

That was what he'd thought the issue was? Poor Yvanette probably hadn't even considered that she was naked until after Winter had pulled Sevvie away. "Sevvie..."

"I swear, I didn't look! I closed my eyes as soon as I realized--"

"Sevvie, you're not in trouble. And it's not about whether she was naked or not." Yvanette was young enough that such a thing was a concern only for that most depraved sort. Ashe did not want to think that Sevvie would grow up to be such a monster. "It's the, uh... the other thing..."

"What, that she can turn into a cat?" Whatever value there was in conversational tip-toeing, kids never saw it. "Is that why she spends so much time in the privy at school? Stupid Wolf thinks she has diarrhea all the time."

And Xeta, at least, would waste no time telling her son how rude it was to speculate about other people's bowel movements--once Rona deemed Yvanette sufficiently comforted that she could leave her side and mention this to her sister, at least. "Yes, that would be why. Look, she can't help when she transforms and when she transforms back, and the whole thing is very stressful for her..."

"Why?" Eh? "I think it would be great fun to turn into an animal."

Nine-year-old boy or not, that may have been a popular opinion among children in general. Ashe recalled more than one occasion of curling up in that small bed in his father's house, pretending to be a fox. You do have the hair for it, his father would say. Pity that fathers couldn't say much either way to those kids who didn't have to pretend. "Perhaps it would be, if she could control it. But for now, it's a major source of anxiety and she's terrified of it being widespread knowledge, so I'm going to have to ask that you keep this a secret. Can you do that?"

"I guess so."

"Good." Ashe looked over at Lonriad, who nodded--not surprisingly. Sevvie was a good kid. If Yvanette wanted her secret kept, then Sevvie would keep it. Even if he was never sure just why he had to. "I know it might be hard for you to understand, but we're all entitled to our secrets. I'm sure you'll have some of your own some day, if you don't already."

Sevvie shrugged. Maybe the reasoning didn't matter all that much. "Is this why Yvanette's so sad all the time?"


July 15, 2014

In Which Sevvie Holds a Heartbeat

August 16, 1186


Sevvie had knocked. He'd knocked, and Yvanette hadn't answered. She hadn't said anything. So he'd knocked again. Still nothing.

But the door had been unlocked, so... well, it couldn't have been the worst thing, could it? He knew it wasn't nice to barge into older girls' rooms, or if it was an older boy doing the knocking--or both. But he thought he knew why it wasn't nice, and if he was right, then neither of them were old enough for that yet. So... he thought it would be all right? If she kicked him out, he'd leave.

But she didn't. She wasn't there.

Just a kitten.

Yvanette's mama let her get a kitten? That couldn't have been right. Yvanette's mama hated cats.

"Uh... hello."

The kitten stared at him--gaped, almost. Did kittens gape? Sevvie's papa was a dog person, and his mama had been too. Sevvie didn't know what happy cats looked like. But he got the sense that this wasn't one of them.

"I don't know if this castle's safe for you. I should take you outside."

It made a dash for the space beneath the bed, but Sevvie was quicker. He kind of regretted it, though. Yes--happy cats probably didn't squirm and hiss and paw so much.

"Sorry. It's just--ow!" He gritted his teeth, a drop of blood on his wrist where the kitten's back claw had caught. Did kittens usually scratch with their back claws? She couldn't have reached him with her front, but... was kicking with the back legs natural cat behavior? Wouldn't it have been an awkward motion? "I'm just trying to help you!"

The kitten waved her front legs about, as if to swim forward through the air, the prospect of a fall several times her length apparently preferable to his grip. "Sorry! It's just--"


She'd stopped. All that effort and then... nothing. Not a swipe, not a flick of the tail. Barely even the breath.

Just a tiny, racing heartbeat.