November 29, 2014

In Which Dalston Is Addressed

April 4, 1188

It still wasn't quite real to Dalston.

His mother spent her days sobbing, the new baby no doubt wondering what horrible world she'd left the womb for. Celina stood on the other side of their father's bed in tears, Lyssa doing her best to comfort her. Even Wolf stood beside Dalston, fidgeting, struggling not to do the same. But, for now, all Dalston could do was look on, unsure how all of this could truly be happening. For his siblings, their father was drifting out of reach.

For him, his father had never been in reach.

He didn't think his father had neglected him on purpose. He got the sense that his father felt bad about their distance, and surely it wasn't right to dwell on such thoughts when a man was on his death bed. In some ways, he didn't blame his father. His father had been a man of the world, fond of good food and strong drink, tournaments and buxom women. Men like his father wanted sons like Wolf, who ran in the corridors and spent hours hitting things with wooden swords and could belch the alphabet backwards. They didn't know what to do with shy, indoors-y bookworms like Dalston.

"You kids take care of your mama, all right? And your baby sister."

"Can't you get better, Papa?" Wolf squirmed; Dalston looked across the room to share a hopeless glance with Lyssa. "You can beat it."

His father chuckled, at least as best he could with his raspy breath and dry throat. But he chose not to acknowledge Wolf's urging. "Marry a girl like your mama, Wolf. You're going to need her good sense."

The thought of Wolf marrying anyone did nothing for Celina's tears. "D-don't go, Papa!"

"There, there," Lyssa muttered for lack of anything better.

"It's all right, sweetheart. I'll still be watching over you. I won't go far--promise."

That did it. Celina wailed and made a dive for Lyssa's shoulder. Their older sister patted her back and stroked her hair, but turned her head back to their father. "We love you, Father."

"I love you too, baby. I love all of you."

Why did it feel like that last bit had been directed at him?

"Dalston." His father turned over beneath the covers. "I'm sorry."


November 27, 2014

In Which Ashe Tries the Other Side

March 27, 1188

"How are you holding up?" Rona stepped back out of the hug, hand still on Lonriad's arm. She knew perfectly well how her brother-in-law fared. The truth was, Jadin likely didn't have more than a week. She'd spent much of the year so far comforting her sister--and today, when Xeta wanted time alone with Jadin and the children--her first instinct had been to check in on Jadin's brothers and sisters. They'd left Riona's castle only to head straight to Lonriad's.

Ashe was too well-acquainted with Rona to be oblivious to her faults. He knew she could be selfish and histrionic, and he knew there were those who found her tiresome for it. But unlike him, those people hadn't seen much of a her loving side. They didn't get to see her with Yvanette in her lap, stroking her tear-stained curls after one of her episodes. They didn't get to see her with Darry and a black eye, Aspen and a wounded bird, Dally and a torn stuffed toy.

Nor did they get to see her with Xeta and her family, being a rock for them all day, then coming home to Ashe and crying herself to sleep in his arms, making him promise to live forever even though he could never keep that vow.

"I'm all right, I guess. Jadin's still up to joking around, so it's still fun seeing him. Even though it's sad."

His mouth smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. Ashe's gut knotted. Over the past decade, he'd grown far too used to Lonriad being the one comforting him. He didn't know how to proceed now, being on the other side.

"Jadin's a good man. And a fun man." For all Jadin was the one dying, he himself was the biggest comfort his loved ones could ask for. "Like his little brother."

"I guess he did teach me well." He gave up on the grin. Grief did add a certain heaviness to the lips. "You know, I never thought I'd feel nostalgic about all the times he put spiders in my bed. Maybe I'll put some in Donnie's as a tribute."

"I'm sure Jadin would love that," Rona agreed.

"And then I guess I'll take Donnie to a brothel."

"Jadin would love that even more." Jadin had taken all of his other brothers to brothels once they'd been old enough. Never mind everyone else he knew. "I guess that time he dragged me along is a better memory than I give it credit for. His heart was in the right place." And he'd been respectful enough to everyone there. Whatever else people said about Jadin, they couldn't deny that.

"It was." Lonriad's hands fell to his legs one at a time, drumming a mournful little beat. "Still is."


November 25, 2014

In Which Jadin Sees as He Will

March 15, 1188

It was hot and cold at once. Jadin's flesh was on fire, but the blood in his veins was a river of ice. He cared for neither sensation, but he knew only one thing would make them stop, and he couldn't give in just yet.

He had to see Xeta. He had to see his father, his stepmother, his siblings. His children.

His new baby.

He would never forgive his own ghost if he didn't see his new baby.


Xeta was near--he could feel her--but her voice was a faraway whisper. He heard her as if from the other side of Styx. "Jadin, are you awake?"

"Yes," he managed with a halting breath.

"Jadin, our baby wants to meet you."

He turned his head and tugged on his leaden eyelids.

The baby looked right back at him.

Xeta hadn't said, but he knew by instinct that she was a girl. Her eyes were that same as her mother's, as well as her brother Wolf's. What hair she had appeared brown like most of her siblings', but hints of red would not rest until they were seen. For a minute, he saw her as he would from heaven years in the future. Tall and graceful, with thick red curls like his mother's.

"Her name is Alina."

He'd known that too. "She's beautiful."

"I just wish she had your eyes." Xeta lifted the baby to her shoulder. Jadin held his eyes open just long enough to catch her tear. "None of our children have your eyes."

"That's all right." He felt the world fading. It wasn't death--not quite yet--but it was sleep. It would be several hours before he saw them again. "Some of our grandchildren will."


November 23, 2014

In Which Severin Curses the Luck

March 15, 1188

"Quiet, isn't she?"

Devoted stepfather though he was, Ovrean had only sat through one of Xeta's labors, and that had been the difficult birth of Dalston. Lyssa, Wolf, and Celina had all been healthy, quick births, and by the time Ovrean had arrived at Veldora Keep, they'd all been clean and swaddled and indisputably in the world. As far as he knew, Xeta was not prone to making much noise during her healthy labors.

Severin, having been present for all of them, knew better. The truth was that the baby wasn't the only thing on Xeta's mind.

Jadin ought to have been sitting here.

He was in the bedroom. Xeta was on a single bed set up in the nursery; Jadin had offered to move to one of the guest rooms for the birth, but Xeta wouldn't hear of it. With her ailing husband only a room away, no doubt she was making a conscious effort to keep the noise to a minimum.

But Severin cared to upset neither Ovrean nor himself any more than necessary. "It must be going well."

"I hope you're right." Ovrean drummed his fingers across his knee. Devoted stepfather though he was... he may not have been entirely focused on Xeta either. "You know, I still remember the day I met Jadin, like it were yesterday. Remember, how he and Searle put that snake in my bed?

"I thought Alina was going to kill them."

Severin forced out something of a laugh--more like a sniff. "I think Alina thought she was going to kill them."

"He grew up well, though. A scamp, sure, but always a good-hearted one."

"I always thought so." A good-hearted scamp, just like his grandfather.

Curse all the damned luck in the world that Jadin wouldn't live nearly so long.


November 21, 2014

In Which Alina Has an Announcement

February 10, 1188

"Severin!" Alina burst through the library doors of Leo House, Rina close behind. Primus had told her that her brother would be here, but she hadn't needed the tip. "My God. Do you ever leave this room?"

"Sadly, my professors won't allow for correspondence." Severin shoved aside whatever massive anatomy text he'd been reading and left the table. "Rina, is my sister bothering you?"

"No, of course not." A casual answer--too casual. From what Alina could gather, Rina and Severin had kissed once some months back and then... that had been it. Neither would provide a clear answer of whether or not they were courting now or planned on doing so or what. And Alina had thought Hamrick's string of horrible dates before Esela had been frustrating. "We just saw a guest lecturer."

"I hope they were better than the one Sister Fabia brought in last term."

"The abstinence man?"

"Yes. Nata said Lady Rahileine even apologized to her when she went to complain." Not a surprise. Lady Rahileine was a Kemorin, after all. It had become a crude urban joke that every Kemorin was born sans virginity.

"Maybe the clergy staff are bitter about students having sex," Alina ventured. "You know, since they can't have it themselves." "Yes, because saying a few words render your genitalia useless forever." Severin rolled his eyes--and Rina, Alina was pleased to hear, snickered. "Really, what their superiors don't know won't hurt them. If Sister Fabia wants to rendezvous with some man in the wine cellar, I'm sure God has more important things to worry about."

"I don't much care to think about Sister Fabia in the wine cellar." Alina made for the couch and collapsed upon it, lounging. Severin and Rina would have to sit together. "Make yourselves comfortable, will you? Rina and I have an announcement."

Shrugging, her brother stepped around her couch and took the nearer side of the other one. Rina, as planned, sat down beside him. "It was a banking lecture."

"Banking?" Severin straightened, no doubt pretending to be interested. Had Alina come alone, he probably would have yawned and told her to stop wasting his time.

"Yes. The speaker was a woman named Rebekah. Her father was a money-lender, and she took over the business after he passed. She had some interesting insights about the intricacies of currency exchange."

"We won't bore you with the details if you don't gross us out with your dissection notes again," Alina offered.

"All right. But if you don't want to share the details, then why are you here?"

"Because," Alina pushed herself up, near to eye level as she could get with her brother. "We have decided to start a bank."

"Not now, of course. When we've graduated." Rina edged herself a little closer to Severin, rather to Alina's amusement. "We spoke with Rebekah after the lecture, and she said she'd love to correspond with us and give us more tips. And my grandmother said that the king just claimed some more land to the west, and she thinks it'll be going cheap in a few years to populate the area, so Alina and Jothein will head out there to lay the foundations, then I'll join them when I graduate."

"Maybe you can start up a practice there too, bro."

"Maybe." Couldn't have him and Rina living in different shires, after all. "You know, I think the kingdom could use an established bank."

"The Bank of Naroni does have a nice ring to it," Rina agreed. "I can probably get my step-grandfather to help with the start-up capital. It shouldn't take long to pay him back if we can win over a lot of the knights and nobility."

"Plus Father has his connections who find him amusing. Perhaps we can finally put his eccentricities to good use."

"Father as a bank mascot." Severin smirked. "I'm sure he'd find some way to make life difficult. You two could handle it, though."

"I don't think your father's that bad." Probably the greatest bit of proof that Rina was destined to become Alina's sister-in-law yet. "Anyway, assuming it all goes to plan, could we leave some pamphlets for the bank in your surgery?"

"Sure." Severin slung his arm over Rina's shoulder, black hair brushing brown as they both leaned inward. "Just as long as I can leave some pamphlets for my surgery in your bank."


November 19, 2014

In Which Farilon Is Weighed

January 8, 1188

"I know it's rough now, but you'll feel better when the birth is over."

Lonriad neither looked nor sounded too convinced of his own statement. Farilon's mother had invited his brother-in-law to sit with him so he could have the benefit of a man who was already a father, but Farilon doubted Lonriad had been the best choice. His daughter had died young, and his son was just as sickly and likely wouldn't live too many more years, even with the benefit of a royal upbringing. Riona was pregnant with their third child, due in May; Lonriad was probably more occupied with his own upcoming baby that he ever could have been with Farilon's.

Not that Farilon blamed him. He may not have understood the worry over sickly children, but he got now--he'd got when Danthia had told him--that a pregnancy could weigh heavily on the mind.

In Farilon's case, it was worry over what Danthia planned to do with the poor child--and how she might take it if it dared be a girl. "I guess..."

"I hope so." His brother sighed. Conant was in Dovia for the university's winter break, as was Lily, currently assisting. Not that the eternal optimist Conant was much help either. "You'll be a great father, bro."

"I don't know..."

"You would, though. Especially to a little girl, I think." Given how much Danthia wanted a boy, he guessed he'd have to be.

"You think?"

"I know. You were always so good with our nieces. Our nephews too, but especially our nieces."

He must have just been saying that. Farilon couldn't recall being much different with his nieces than his nephews, nor had he been a particular favorite. He hadn't been disliked, but he hadn't been liked either. Fittingly with the rest of his life, he'd just happened to be around.

Who knew if someone as insignificant as he was would ever be enough for a kid.



His mother--fresh from the birthing room, baby in arm. "Someone wants to meet you."

A nudge from Conant and he stood. The polite thing to do would be to inquire about Danthia, but he just couldn't manage it. What sort of father couldn't work through his distaste for his own child's mother? What sort of horrid example would that set? "Oh?"

"Yes. Come hold her."

Her. Farilon stepped forward, both relieved and dismayed. If he didn't have a son, then Danthia couldn't wreck him. If he had a daughter, then he'd spend the rest of his life making up for her mother.

She was so small. So delicate, so full of potential. How did he go about doing this? Not breaking her?

"She's... she's beautiful."

His mother nodded. "She is."

"Congratulations, bro," Conant chipped in from the bench. "Your first child."

"Actually..." His mother smiled, and not one she meant to be malicious. But why then did that pit of dread weigh down his stomach? "She's his second child."

Second? "Mother...?"

"Alas, it'll be a while before Danthia lets your son out of her sight."


November 17, 2014

In Which Searle Does Not Surprise

January 1, 1188

Searle had meant to go to bed at some point.

He'd declined his father's invitation for New Years'. The children had insisted on going, so Lettie had taken them and made an indulgent appearance herself before heading back, leaving them at the keep for the night. He'd wanted a quiet evening to himself, a plain dinner and an early bedtime, sleep well underway before he began a year when Sparron wasn't in the world.

But he hadn't gone to bed. He'd just sat down in his study and, somehow, it hadn't occurred to him to move. It had to have been nearly morning. There was little point in retiring now. When the children returned, wakefulness would be expected.

So, he would sit in solitude, his great enemy and only friend. He'd sit until he forgot he existed.

He'd sit until he forgot that it didn't matter.

But knuckles on wood, and the solitude was gone. Searle sighed. "Yes?"

"I didn't hear you leave." Lettie pushed through the door with her usual forced concern, and once again Searle cursed himself for not insisting she take a bedroom outside earshot of the study. "You haven't slept at all, have you?"

Searle shook his head. God, the poor woman, stuck with him. She'd known going in that their marriage wouldn't be ordinary, but it wasn't her natural state to have to be the grounded one. Perhaps it would be kinder to cut her loose and let her fly.

"How was Jadin tonight?" Asking after his dying brother was about the least selfish thing he could do to her.

"No worse." But no better. Nothing ever got better. "You should visit him some time this week."

He grunted. He guessed he would. If he no longer cared about himself, then he'd care about his brother instead.

"Look, I should tell you that I've had an offer."

An offer? Fair enough as far as he was concerned; they were barely married anymore. But whoever had done the offering must have had something else in mind. "What sort of offer?"

"Now that Nythran's married Cherry, his and Haldred's old house is empty. He said it's mine if I want it, but I'll stay here as long as you need me."


Did he need her? He supposed she was his only friend left, for all he didn't have it in him to treat her better. She needed him like she needed an arrow in the head. "Do you want to leave?"


He shook his head. He didn't want to know.

"I did love you, Searle." Lettie stiffened, the pale silk of her nightgown liquid on her rock. "For a time."

"I know."

"But you never did love me, did you?"

He'd thought he could, once. He wished he cared enough to lie. "I tried."

She tore at her lip with her teeth. Sad, sure--but not surprised. "I thought so."


November 15, 2014

In Which Xeta Begins the First Sleep

January 1, 1188


Xeta cursed under her breath. She hadn't wanted to wake Jadin. Worse, she hadn't wanted to leave him awake, wondering where she could have been and what was taking her so long. He'd been asleep when she left, peaceful as he could have been despite the labored breathing. If he'd woken while she was gone...

Well, maybe it was a little selfish, not wanting to be caught. But she didn't want to hurt him--certainly not now.

Or would a lie hurt more?

She'd be honest with him. He had, after all, always been honest with her. "I did something stupid."


"I..." It was chilly enough without the air between them. She slipped beneath the covers, shivering, hoping he could forgive her. "I tried to seduce Camaline."

"Really?" She caught a weak grin on his face as she turned her head. "Damn, Xeta. You know it hurts when I get an erection."

She'd take it. It was close enough to understanding, sort of. At least it wasn't hurt. "I'm serious, Jadin. It was a bad idea, and it was a good thing she said no. She said it would be taking advantage, and I think she was right." Though they may have differed on who would have been taking advantage. Camaline thought Xeta was distraught and vulnerable, and maybe she was right. Didn't change the fact that Xeta hadn't had sex since September and had suspected for a while that Camaline had feelings for her.


"I couldn't do that to you, though. I love you, Jadin." She reached across the mattress for his cold, shaking hand. "I couldn't have lived with myself if I did that, even if we can't make love any more."

"I love you too, Xeta." He let go of her fingers and instead threaded his hand beneath her neck, nudging her shoulder closer despite his quaking wrist. "You're the best."

"No, you are." And maybe Camaline was a close second. Xeta would apologize to her later.

But for now, she'd just try to enjoy the first sleep of the year with her husband.