January 30, 2015

In Which Dea Knows What Would Be Better

February 12, 1189

"That's... the gist of it, yes."

Dea's knuckles twitched. It explained so much. Why Holden was so sheltered. Why their mother fretted over him--her--them--what would the kid prefer?--so much. Why their mother had been itching to try for another son despite her distaste for her husband. So damn much.

"I'm sorry that I didn't tell you or Gennie, but I didn't want to burden any more people than necessary. You understand, don't you?"

"I suppose. And I can't imagine Father would have taken kindly to the thought of a third daughter." Bastard.

"No. He threatened to, uh... restrict my freedoms. Rather significantly."

She had few enough freedoms as it was! Dea scowled. "How dare he! A woman can't choose what sex of baby she has. And even she could, I think the person gestating and laboring would have more right to make that decision than the person who only had to deal with an oh-so-tiresome orgasm!"

"And whichever men you and Gennie marry, I only hope they understand that. Hollie too, if... if things work out that way."

"When are you planning on telling her?" Hell--what was she planning on telling her? Him? Them?

"I don't know. I just have to try my hardest to make sure she doesn't see a naked man before I do tell her. And maybe convince her that all men bind their breasts and bleed from their privates and that they never talk about it."

"You can't keep the facts of life from her forever."

Her mother tugged at one of her curls. She'd worn her hair long before becoming queen, Dea recalled. Lovely as the style was, it just wasn't her. Nothing about her life was. "I know. But things will be worse for her if your father finds out. Worse for all of us."

It would. What an awful thing it was, knowing life would be better without one's father in it. "I know."


January 28, 2015

In Which Holden Doesn't Leave His Room

February 12, 1189

"Uh... there, there?"

When he thought back on it later, Holden would realize that Dea was probably the best person who could have found him crying. Any of the servants would have called on his parents, neither of whom would have reacted well to a bruised leg and a torn chausse. His mama would have fretted, more overbearing than comforting; his father would have scolded him for jumping on the bed, and for not playing outside with the other boys and the supposedly 'feminine' decor of his bedroom, for that matter. Gennie... well, Gennie was nicer than Dea, usually. But Dea was the one who made things happen.

Even if she wasn't the most soothing of people. "What happened?"

"I fell off the bed!" Holden choked. His father would have scolded him too. No one liked a crown prince who cried like a girl, even if Holden didn't understand quite why crying had to be a girl thing. "I hurt my leg, and... and I ripped my chausse!"

"Aw, it's all right." Dea hugged him, even though he was pretty sure she didn't want to. "A torn chausse isn't the end of the world."

"But it will make Mama and Father fight! Because she'll want to mend it herself, but he'll say it's servant work, and--"

"Shh. If their fighting upsets you, then I'll mend it for you, all right?"

Huh? Dea didn't like mending! Even though she was a girl, and that was also a girl thing, for some reason. The whole concept of boy things and girl things, Holden decided, was stupid. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, it shouldn't take too long. We'll keep it a secret, all right?" Dea winked. "I don't need Father thinking I've gone domestic all of a sudden."

"All right." Though, he wasn't sure what 'domestic' meant. Maybe it was another thing that shouldn't have been a boy thing or a girl thing but somehow was. "Thank you, Dea."

"You're welcome. Does your nanny keep a needle and thread somewhere in your drawers?"

Holden nodded. His mama preferred that he didn't leave his room unless he had to. "The top one."


January 26, 2015

In Which CeeCee Measures the Sufficiency of Adulthood

January 1, 1189

It figured that of all the people who seemed to be in search of solitude in these early hours, CeeCee would be the one who couldn't find it. At least it was just Farilon. Sometimes, he was the next best thing to being alone.

Others, he was agony. But CeeCee resolved to make this instance the latter. "Mind if I share this room?"

"Not at all." Farilon stood. Whether he wanted to give her the couch to herself or to greet her properly, she didn't know. She wouldn't have minded if he'd kept sitting, really. Formal decorum had no place between friends, and she liked to think that they were at least friends.

She wasn't sure if she wanted to sit anyway. "So. Another year."

"Another year," he repeated with a sigh. "Does it ever seem to you like the New Year is often... well, nothing new?"

"More often than not." CeeCee rubbed at the sleeve of her gown. It had been a while since she'd needed a new one. She was almost finished growing, but alas, not quite. "I can't believe I still have two years before I can start at the university. I feel like I'm ready to move forward, you know? To be a real adult. But instead I'm still stuck here with my parents."

"And I still don't feel like a real adult. And it feels like I should every year, but I don't."

Knowing where he was coming from, he was more than entitled to that feeling. It was still a melancholy thought. "You seem sufficiently adult to me."

"Then I should hope you have a better idea of what is sufficiently adult than I do." He grimaced. Most of his smiles were grimaces. Maybe that would change one day. "To be honest, I wish it wasn't so long before you started at the university either. You're one of the few people I feel I can talk to."

"I'm sure you'll enjoy Renata's company too. And Lyssa's and Alina's, before I go--though I don't know if Lyssa will have much interest in any of your classes. But Alina signed up as a major in Physics."

"Well, I suppose any friend of yours could be a friend of mine."

"I should hope so. But don't strain yourself if you're not comfortable. A good part of being an adult is knowing your capacity and stretching it at your own pace."

"That makes sense." Farilon shook his head. "I wish my capacity matched yours. Maybe I'll be able to give you a New Years' kiss next year. Or the year after."

"Any year will be fine." She grabbed hold of his hands and squeezed gently--not so firm as to pressure him, firm enough that he knew she was there for him. "We both have other things to look forward to, after all."

He nodded. "That we do."


January 24, 2015

In Which Alya Addresses the Odd Not-Odd Thing

January 1, 1189

"You're leaving because of me, aren't you?"

Alya skidded to a halt a couple feet short of Roddie, fighting the urge to pant. She hadn't quite realized it before midnight--not consciously, at least. Roddie was her adoptive half-uncle. She'd always known that, but he'd never felt like her uncle. She'd assumed it was because they were close enough in age that he was more of a cousin, or an older brother. She'd assumed wrong.

"I..." He grimaced. Alya's heart seized. "I don't know. That... that kiss was odd."

"It wasn't odd."

"Yes." Roddie pushed back some his hair, swaying with a marked discomfort. "That's what was odd about it."

"I know." But so what if it wasn't odd? And if that made it odd? "Though, what if that's a good thing?"

"What if it is? Your parents would kill me."

"My parents love you, you idiot." And if they hadn't killed him already for all the trouble he'd caused them as a youngster, surely he had nothing to worry about! "Sure, it might be a bit shocking for them at first, but they'd get over it."

"Maybe." But she hadn't quite convinced that frown into a grin. "Is it legal, though? I mean, I know I'm not your uncle by blood, but--"

"Lady Meraleene's twin sister married their uncle. King Oswald decreed that they were close enough in age that they were more like cousins anyway, plus Renata hadn't really been raised with Jadin as her uncle since her mother died before he was born."

"Meraleene of Felonis? Sir Abrich's wife?"

Alya nodded. "She was visiting Xeta one day when I was calling on Lyssa and CeeCee."

"I didn't know that." But the newfound knowledge helped somewhat, if his eased brows and flattened mouth said anything. Not fully, but somewhat. Enough. "I suppose it would be worth at least thinking about, then. I don't want to force you into anything scandalous."

"Nor I you. Plus I suppose I should at least bounce the idea off of my mother."

"Only if she promises not to kill me."

"She won't kill you." She'd be saying that quite often before they figured this out and her mother proved otherwise, she was sure of it. "We'll figure this out. And if it doesn't work, we could always still be friends."

"I should hope so." Roddie smiled--finally. "There's no friend I'd hate to lose more than you."

That was true. Whatever their relationship, they were always also friends. That was one thing that could never change. "Likewise. Perhaps we ought to leave together and talk on the way home?"

"No. You were enjoying yourself. Plus the distance will give us both time to think." He took her hand in his and kissed it. His lips were soft enough atop her knuckles, but she preferred them on her mouth. "But we'll talk more tomorrow, all right?"

Alya nodded. One sleep would not be long. "All right."


January 22, 2015

In Which Rennie Wonders How

January 1, 1189

Rennie neither knew nor cared what Lyssa would think of her commandeering her bedroom. It shouldn't have been much of an issue. Lyssa was still dancing the night away, and Rennie didn't think she'd need more than a half hour's peace. If Lyssa minded someone else just resting on her bed, minding their own business and not snooping anywhere private, while she wasn't even around... well, that was her problem.

Though, Lyssa never minded that sort of thing. Rennie only considered it because she herself might have.

In the past, at least. Her personal neuroses lay half-abandoned in the wake of everything else going on.

The final letter from Rome had arrived. The church had threatened her grandfather with excommunication for his insistence, but it had proven an empty threat when they'd learned just how little he cared. The scandal of it, no doubt. It had been less embarrassing than letting her parents divorce.

She guessed she was glad of it, or ought to have been. Her mother, at least, would be better off. Her father would too, in time. Lord knew she and her siblings were doing as well as they could.

She'd liked having a family, though--as fucked up as that family might have been.


She rolled her eyes as he knocked. Her cousin Sev, probably wondering why he hadn't gotten a kiss out of her this year. He'd pestered her enough about it in the past couple months. She didn't have time for this. "Get lost."

"Relax, Ren. I'm not here to pester you." Sev shuffled in, fingers in his hair. He did have nice hair, she'd grant him. "I just wanted to see if you were all right."

She didn't want to lie to him. So, she said nothing.

"Your parents?"

"That obvious?" She slid off of Lyssa's bed. The wooden floor might as well have been jagged rocks.

"It's not as if it was a secret. And even if it was, your father is my uncle; I would have found out eventually."

"I suppose." She sighed. He probably didn't know what to say beyond that, and she guessed she appreciated his not trying. He didn't know what she was going through. He didn't know it would get better. But he knew that he didn't know. "How are your parents still happy, after all these years?"

"I don't know. I guess they have their own lives and they have their life together and they support each other no matter what." That sounded... well, like more than her parents had. Her father had his own life. Her mother had had her life with him.

The support had been woefully one-sided.

"That's a nice idea."

Sev shrugged. "I like to think so. It's a pity not every couple can be like them."

Indeed. There had only ever been one person who could make her father happy. Rennie had her suspicions as to who it had been, but suffice to say, her mother was out of the running. For all she'd tried. "I hope you'll have something like your parents have one day."

"Thank you." He stepped up and engulfed her in one of his warm, firm hugs.

"I hope you'll have something like my parents do too."


January 20, 2015

In Which Falidor Gets His Closure

January 1, 1189

"Ah-ha! There you are!" Falidor's sister spun into their mother's sitting room and kicked the door shut behind her. So much for hoping for some privacy. "You missed the stroke of twelve! I'm sure some girl would have wanted a kiss from you."

Falidor sighed. He'd be seventeen in a month. Perhaps that was still young, but he hadn't intended to kiss just anyone tonight. He'd run out of wild oats early. There was only one girl he wanted to kiss, and she'd made herself scarce throughout the party.

So, he'd done the same. But he wasn't in much of a mood to talk about it. "You know very well I can't kiss you."

"Obviously! But there would have been no need. Poor Severin was a bit out of sorts--the first New Year without his brother--so I indulged him when he asked."

CeeCee sighed. Clearly she would have preferred someone else, and Falidor suspected he knew who. But getting her to mind her own business would be difficult enough if he did mind his. "CeeCee, no offense, but I kind of wanted to be alone."

"Of course you did. That's the only reason you ever come in here."

It was. "Then why did you come in here?"

"To warn you, you ingrate." CeeCee sneered, brow arched, neck craned. Most of Falidor's friends had somehow deluded themselves into thinking that his sister was attractive. If she lived to be ninety but never aged a day, he wouldn't see it. "Xeta and Eilyssa and Meraleene have tired of the party. They plan on coming in here to do some embroidery, and you know they're bound to chat."

"Damn." Not that he had anything against any of them, but there was only one exception he cared to make to his solitude tonight. "Any chance I can sneak back to my room without being bombarded by someone asking about my training or school?"

"Not much of one--but you could use that room back there." She pointed to the only other door in the sitting room. It led to a little spare space, more of an alcove than a room if not for the walls. Not nearly so comfortable as the sitting room, but it would do.

"I guess so. Thanks for the notice." He patted her on the arm, then turned away. A little curt, but... well, no one wanted to spend the beginning hours of the New Year chatting with his sister. "Maybe you still have time to get a kiss from someone more appealing than Severin."

"I still got one more kiss than you did tonight." Not that a kid like Severin could have been much good at it yet. For CeeCee's sake--he guessed--he hoped Farilon grew somewhat bolder by next year.

"Then see if you can beat me this morning too. Happy New Year, CeeCee."

"You too."

By the sounds of the doors in near-tandem, they left the sitting room at about the same time. Only--Falidor didn't exit into an unaccompanied space. And it occurred to him that CeeCee may have been well aware of that.

But given who it was, he could forgive her. "Oh. Sorry, Renata."

"Oh, don't be sorry." Renata pushed herself up, a hint of pink in her tawny cheeks. She wasn't as he usually saw her, in a silken gown instead of a tunic and mail and with her hair long and brushed instead of bound in its hasty tail. Objectively speaking--more than one of his so-called friends had pointed it out--she wasn't the most beautiful girl in the world, with her beakish nose and skinny frame and mouse-colored hair. But frankly, she was the most beautiful girl in his world. And she looked very nice tonight.

But he had to admit: he preferred her when she looked like herself, boyish clothes and wild hair and all.

"If anything, I should apologize to you--and to CeeCee, getting her to trap you in here like that."

"We're not trapped if she lied about Xeta and them." Not that he much minded the thought of being trapped. "I was wondering where you were. I didn't see much of you tonight."

"I'm not one for parties." She picked at the laces of her dress. Somehow, the motion was not unlike an animal trying to struggle loose from a snare. "I'm sort of out of place at these fancy occasions."

"No. It's just that everyone else is out of place in your presence."

Renata's head turned. "Is that a good thing?"

Falidor nodded. "I'd say so, at least."

She smiled. Her two front teeth were a little crooked. Perhaps he was mad, but there was a certain sexiness in their imperfection, and he didn't care if he was mad. "That's reassuring. Um... look, about why I asked CeeCee..."

The pink returned to her cheeks as her eyes fell to the floor. CeeCee knew how Falidor used the sitting room, and she'd figured that he'd want to use it tonight. So she'd had Renata wait in the back room, then pounced on Falidor with the lie about Xeta when she had the chance. Such deviousness wasn't characteristic of Renata, whom he'd come to know as honest and upfront.

Though, she seemed to be having a hard time of it now. Maybe--just this once--she needed a little help. "Did you want a New Years' kiss?"

Wherever the pink had been, she was now red. She wore it well--but he liked her best her usual brown. "I--"

"No, don't be embarrassed--though I ought to be if I'm wrong." He chuckled; her coloring faded back to normal, though her eyes remained alert. "I'm sorry if I made a wrong assumption, but the truth is... well, I've kind of wanted to kiss you since I met you."

She blinked. Was that an answer? "Renata--"

She still said nothing.

But he got his closure nonetheless.


January 7, 2015

In Which Landus Sees How Long Since

December 31, 1188

"Christ, Landus! What are you drinking to grow so tall and where can I get some of it?" Lady Leonora greeted him with a peck on the cheek, sure that he noticed her standing on her toes. But whatever she might have lacked in height--or thought she lacked, since Landus tended to tower over most men, never mind women--she made up for in other aspects. How old was she now? Forty-five, forty-six? She could have passed for one of her own daughters. And nine children did nothing to ruin the effects of that tight, bare-shouldered gown.

A pity he hadn't found a wife at university. He was tired of scolding himself for thinking such things about happily married women. "Height is overrated, my lady. I miss being able to look people in the eye."

Lady Leonora laughed. "I have a name, you know. None of this 'my lady' nonsense."

"Uh, all right. Nora." God, that was awkwardly informal. Perhaps he ought to have used her full name? But no one seemed to call her 'Leonora' without the accompanying 'Lady'. "I'm sorry I'm early."

"Nonsense. You're not the first one here. Besides, it's been so damn long sense we've seen you around here that we need our fill of you before the other guests can steal you away." She winked. Not for the first time, Landus wondered if the Kemorins were only interested in him because he might have been Lady Viridis's stepson. Lady Viridis's stepmother, however, never seemed insincere.

"I take it Neilor and Tivie and the children will be along later?"

"Yes." Though, if the moaning behind the door had been any sort of hint, he wouldn't tell her exactly why. "I think Neilor had an issue with his tunic." That issue being keeping it on his body.

"Ah. Well, we've seen them more recently than we've seen you, and of course you see them all the time. So, are you missing university? Or are you glad to be--?"


They both turned their heads to the newcomer, a monument to splendor in royal blue and gold. It took Landus a minute to realize who she was.


Damn. He hadn't thought it had been quite this long since he'd set foot in Veldora Keep. What he remembered of Lyssa was a seven-year-old who used to follow him around like a puppy, pestering him with every inane comment she could think of just because he was too polite to tell her off. He'd certainly never seen this young woman, thick auburn locks in an elaborate tail, blue eyes like moons and freckles like stars on the sky of her lovely face. How old was she now? Fifteen, sixteen? Surely not old enough that he ought to have noticed her!

But apparently, old enough that he had. "You, uh... you look nice."

"Thank you. Though I suspect my Aunt Rona will be rather annoyed that I had the seamstress copy her dress." She twirled about with a smirk, skirts flying and folding like a flower sped up. Lady Rona, Landus recalled, had a two-month-old baby; who knew if she'd even show up for the party.

"Perhaps. I can't say I remember what dresses everyone has, but I believe you wear it better."

Lyssa smiled.

When it occurred to Landus to look back at Lady Leonora, her eyes had darted between him and her step-granddaughter more than once. "Perhaps I ought to review the wine selection before anyone else arrives. Lyssa, I trust you'll show Landus into the hall?"

"Yes, Grandmama."

Lady Leonora nodded to them both, then hurried off out the same door through which Lyssa had entered. Now that it was shut between them, Lyssa ventured further into the room. "So. Congratulations on graduating."

"Thank you. I take it you'll be starting university... soon?" He hoped it was soon!

"Soon enough, I suppose. Not this summer, but the summer after that." Damn. "A pity our times there didn't overlap. I should have liked it if you'd shown me around."

"Perhaps I could. I should still be in the area at the time." What a filthy lie, given the duke's hints that he was the first on the list for a possible posting in Carvallon. Why had he even said it?

And why didn't he take it back?

"I should very much enjoy that."

Landus swallowed. "So should I."

"Oh, good!" Such wide eyes. Such wide, pretty eyes.

Why had he lied to them?

"I'll show you into the hall now and let you mingle--but I'll warn you now that I fully expect a dance later on."