June 30, 2015

In Which Zareth's Weight Is Lifted

September 30, 1192

"How did it go?" Zareth kissed his wife and waited for her answer. There was only so much a man could tell about how a birth had gone by looking at one of the women who'd been present, but he knew the most important thing by Mona's easy, relaxed manner: Anna had survived, and so had her baby.

"Very well. Each of Anna's babies seems to be more cooperative than the last."

"So everyone's happy and healthy."

"Oh, yes. Well, except for Ava." Mona smirked. She had a soft spot for Anna and Adrius's older daughter, Zareth figured in no small part because Ava couldn't have been far off from Mona herself at that age. "She wanted another little sister--not a stupid baby brother."

Brother? "A boy, then?"

"Yes. She'll get over it eventually; Lord knew I was having fun bossing around Farilon and Conant well before Lily ever came along, and she still has Dera. And you, my love--" She tapped him on the nose, one of those reassuring gestures that would have bothered him greatly from anyone else. "--don't have to worry about your brother any more."

"Seems I don't." What a relief. He had no more desire to be earl than his brother had to keep him as his heir, but no amount of talking sense had persuaded Lander of that. Now, with Adrius's second son in the world, that would no longer be an issue. "Welcome to the world, future earl. What's the boy's name?"

"Larsen. Anna's taken to calling him Lari."

"Prince Larsen, Earl of Hargrath." A name practically made for the title. "Funny how such a tiny person can lift so great a weight from my existence."

"I knew you'd be pleased." Mona wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled herself toward him. Their daughters were in the next room--but it wouldn't be the strangest thing in the world to ask the nanny to take them for a walk at this time of day. "So... now that we're in the clear, shall we try to make a little boy of our own?"


June 28, 2015

In Which Ella Is Stirred

August 19, 1192

"Let me guess," Ella groaned to Sev's friend--she thought his name was Florian?--as she joined him on the library bench. "Sev and Rennie are doing that thing again when they're insulting each other in cute voices with their faces inches apart and you wish they'd just start making out all right because it would be more bearable than their conversations."

The friend sighed. "You put it better than I could have. There's a reason I sought refuge in here."

"I'll grant that they'll make cute babies--cute, ridiculously inbred Kemorin babies--but the rest of us don't need to be privy to the making of such, at least if they're not interested in a group arrangement." Ella kicked up her legs, slipper dangling off her toe before she snapped it back to her heel. She hadn't bothered with stockings in the summer for years now. Her comfort trumped her modesty, if she'd ever had much modesty to begin with. "I can't imagine why they're so eager to swear off other people so soon anyway."

"I can't either. I mean, I can see the appeal of having a primary lover, but... why does it need to be exclusive, as long as it's respectful?"

"No idea. All of my friends are so boring when it comes to that sort of thing. If you ask me, a man worth having doesn't get jealous when he sees you with another man." She winked. "He watches."

"And likewise with a woman worth having! I'd like to think we'd each be so pleased with the idea of the other being pleasured that we wouldn't much care who does the pleasuring."

"And perhaps this ideal man and ideal woman would compromise on the idea of bringing a third party into the bed." This had always been a not-so-private fantasy of Ella's, two men in her bed at once. Maybe even a man and a woman, just to try it. "Or even a fourth."

"Why stop there? They could make a whole feast and party of it."

"Feasting on foods, or on each other?"

"Both, and perhaps foods off of each other." Florian--yes, she was pretty sure it was Florian--leaned back, a wistful grin on his mouth. If his experience had been anything like hers, he'd yet to manage holding someone this long to this sort of conversation.

"I think I'd quite like to lick pastry filling off a man's chest."

"And I think I'd quite like to lick pastry filling off a woman's chest--among other places." Oooh! Ella crossed her legs, as if that could help much with the stirring. "But do you know what I've always wanted to try?"

Lord knew she did. "What?"

"Being tied up."

"Like, to the bedposts?"

"The bedposts, a chair, my own contorted body..."

She held her legs a little tighter together. "Could you imagine having a whole room in your house devoted to sexual pursuits? You could have chains, whips, the occasional apparatus..."

"What could be an apparatus?"

Ella shrugged. "I guess anything. The rafters, an old saddle... maybe even a library bench?"


June 26, 2015

In Which Jeda Hears Grand Enough

July 16, 1192

"Fred!" Jeda met her lover's arms with all the speed her now-showing baby allowed. Though she'd guessed, she hadn't dared believe it was him until she'd seen him. Her father had told her she had a caller, a man, but he hadn't said who it was. Fred might not have told him. I'm the man who knocked up your daughter while she was still married to the king might not have been a valid request for civil treatment.

But, Jeda suspected her father had figured it out the moment this stranger had turned up and asked for a word in private. He'd let them have it. Fred may not have known it, but after everything, he would have done anything for her.

"I'm sorry it took so long for me to come back after I heard Ietrin had died. I just had to make sure things were all right with my family in Carvallon."

"Are they?"

"Better than all right! My younger sister has married a very wealthy man, and his connections have gotten my older sister considerable business with the knights and nobility. I no longer need to continue my... trade in order to keep everyone fed."

"Fred!" She couldn't help but exclaim his name again. "Fred, that's wonderful!"

"Isn't it? Anyway, now that that's all behind me, I... thought I'd maybe start fresh here. Maybe..." He took her by the hand. "...with you."

She squeezed his hand back. She could scarcely believe this was happening. Nearly a lifetime deprived of romance and now here it was--not enough to make up for the cruelty of Ietrin, but enough to make up for sheer lack of itself. "You don't mean..."

"I do, Jeda. If you'll have me, that is." His hands trailed away from hers and grazed the arc of her stomach. "I know you're by far my social better, but if you want me, I'll spend my life trying my damnedest to make up for the pain of your first marriage. I'll raise your child as my own, and--"

"Fred!" Had he forgotten. "Ietrin hadn't touched me since Hollie was born."

He looked up--not blinking.

"Fred, this child is your own."

A touch of red warmed his face.

"And I would love to marry you. My brother Nythran is in need of a steward; I know he'd gladly give the job to my husband."

"I... I don't know what to say." They locked hands again--both hands this time. "Other than that I am glad, and that I love you very much. I wish I could say something grander."

"No need." Who needed many pretty words when the heart came across in so few? "That was more than grand enough."


June 24, 2015

In Which Riona Meets a Not-So-Casual Acquaintance

July 16, 1192

Riona and her son made their way into the front room, apparently quietly enough that her husband didn't notice. He was too busy talking to the dark stranger who'd been heralded by one of the maids a few minutes prior. As if the poor woman hadn't had enough work to do. She hoped this man was here about the steward job.

Didn't sound like it, though. "I don't know who told you she was staying here, but they were wrong. She's at our father's castle, but I don't think she's seeing visitors right now."

"Did she tell you that?"

"No, but she... she hasn't been well."

Riona shut her eyes. Jeda wasn't ill; she was pregnant. Of course, a man couldn't say that, not about his own sister. Not when he feared she'd be branded a whore. Though, from what Riona could tell, Jeda was quite happy about this pregnancy, now that Ietrin was gone.

"It's not serious, is it?"

"I don't think so, no. Anyway, how do you know Jeda?"

"I, uh..." It was a little too much of a pause for a casual acquaintance. "I used to work at the castle."

And he called her Jeda. Not the queen, not her majesty... Jeda.

Perhaps... could he have been...?


Her husband turned around, a quick grin her way. "Yes, Riona?"

"I think the only person who knows if Jeda would like to see this man is Jeda."


June 22, 2015

In Which Dea Has Work to Do

July 1, 1192

Dea had never been one for fancy gowns. She didn't dislike the concept of them, nor did she think there was anything inherently wrong with women who did like them... but to her, they'd just never been a priority. She couldn't quite put her finger on why--a woman could easily be both smart and beautiful, as many in her life demonstrated. Perhaps she'd simply never cared for the pomp and ceremony of formal dress.

The coronation gown she'd chosen hadn't even been commissioned. It was an old one of her step-grandmother's that had been hemmed to fit her. She didn't know why she'd picked it. Possibly because it was the most formal-looking gown of the right colors in the castle, possibly in honor of the late Queen Laralita, possibly as a take that to her father. All three, most likely. She doubted she'd wear it again. Riona or Lily might want it, as a memento of their mother, and Dea would be more than happy to honor that.

But, today, it would serve well for the coronation.

Finally--after all these years of barely daring to hope. She would be Queen of Naroni, officially. Queen Regnant of Naroni. Medea the First.

Everything had been sorted out. She'd finish her schooling via correspondence; anything she happened to miss, Lady Arletta had assured her, would be doubly compensated for by her undeniable practical experience. Her room at Scorpio House would be kept free for her, so she could stay on campus for exams and so she could visit her friends when time allowed.

Gennie and Hollie would come and go as they pleased between the castle and wherever their mother ended up living in the long run. At present, Gennie was living here while Hollie was at Tetran Keep with their mother. That would probably be the usual state of things. Gennie was a princess, born and raised, and the castle was her home. Hollie's home was with her mother.

So was Dea's, if she was honest. But, her mother had declined her offer of continued residence at the castle, and she could understand why. This castle had been her prison for long enough.

Under Dea, she vowed it would be a prison for no one.

It did not serve a monarch to be cruel. A monarch had to be just, strong, tough--but not cruel. Cruelty was its own brand of weakness, the weakest brand. Cruelty was a suffering populace, scheming lords, a fractured kingdom. It was self-service, corruption, but a kick to one's self in the end.

Dea had a lot to learn. But, she'd do her best to keep learning, to listen to the people, to keep her moral compass pointing in the right direction. It was not the job of a true leader to shepherd one's followers off of a cliff.

Dea pushed one last curl of hair into place and stepped away from the mirror. Starting today, she had work to do.


June 20, 2015

In Which Shahira Makes a Goal

June 29, 1192

"So... this is where we get to have our wedding night." Shahira shut her eyes to the sight of her husband--how baffling it was that she had a husband!--looking around her parents' guest room. She and Aldhein would be sleeping here until his schooling resumed, the day after the queen's coronation. She'd go back to her own room after that, and resume her own schooling from home. "Not that we need a wedding night at this point..."

This had all been a blur. They'd been engaged for all of five days before they'd wed early this afternoon. Shahira hadn't even had a proper wedding dress commissioned, instead wearing an old gown of her mother's they'd had hemmed the day before. Aldhein only had a wedding tunic because his brother Severin had been more than willing to part with his; based on the bright yellow, Shahira could see why, but Aldhein had been a good sport about the color.

And about the whole thing, really.

"Well, maybe we don't need one, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have one." She opened her eyes just in time to see him ease himself onto the bed. "Maybe we can make a twin."

A twin! At least she had the morning sickness to blame for her nausea. She was scarcely ready for one! "Please don't joke about twins."

"All right. Sorry about that." Aldhein reclined back against the headboard and winked. "One baby at a time. And plenty of space between this one and the next--if you want a next, that is."

"It's a little early to talk about the next one." She joined him on the bed, fighting to keep a grin. She did like him. She had felt their marriage had been the best way to go about things. But she hadn't thought she'd be married--or a mother--for a good few years, at least! "I'd like to go through university first."

"Of course. You have far more business being at the university than I do, at least." Aldhein smirked. No matter what he thought of his classes, Shahira hoped he was at least enjoying the parties. "I'll be taking your father up on his job offer. My father supported thirteen of us on a steward's salary without any issue."

Thirteen! Shahira cringed. "We are not having thirteen."

"Oh, God, no!" Aldhein shuddered; good to know they were on the same page there. "But do you want to know a secret?"

Shahira shrugged as he took her by the hand and pulled her toward him. "All right..."

"I think this one's a boy."

It wasn't wishful thinking, not by the tone of his voice, not how some husbands spoke of sons. It was simply a fact, a statement of a sure guess. And, little though she put faith in such things, Shahira wasn't entirely surprised. "That's funny. I have a feeling it's a boy too."

"A girl wouldn't have caused this much trouble. She would have waited until we were good and ready to be conceived." Aldhein's right hand lingered at the side of her stomach before returning to her shoulder. "I guess we'll have to spoil his fun by being somewhat competent."

Shahira doubted they could. But, it was nice to have goals. "I guess so."


June 18, 2015

In Which Riona Tries to Look Forward

June 25, 1192


Riona found herself trailing off, unsure of what else to say. A scolding would have been hypocrisy; she'd been a mother of two at sixteen, her first biological child born a scandalous four and a half months after the wedding. All the same, she hadn't expected this of Shahira, who'd passed over Riona's recklessness in favor of her father's calculated caution. Then again, Isidro had had just as much a hand in Riona's situation as Riona herself.

Being careful did not exempt a person from being human.

"I can't say I thought we'd be having this conversation any time soon. But we'll figure something out."

Isidro nodded in agreement. "From the sounds of the timing, the baby should be born before you start at the university. That's... lucky, I suppose."

"You're still letting me go, then?"

"Of course!" Had she really feared otherwise? "With your grades, it would be a shame for you to miss out."

"What about the baby, though?"

"The baby can live with us until Aldhein graduates," Isidro offered. "We're close enough that you can come home on weekends, or ride over if there's an emergency."

"And what about Aldhein?"

"Well... that would be up to you." Isidro looked to Alya, then Riona. Then, finally, to Shahira. Potential spouses were always a tough subject for fathers and children. "Do you want to marry him?"

Shahira shrugged. "It would make things easier. And I am fond of him, but I don't want marry someone who doesn't want to marry me."

"We'll invite him over to talk, then. But we won't force you to get married if you don't want to," Riona assured her.

"Thank you." Shahira sighed. "I just hope he doesn't take this as an excuse to drop out."

"I doubt Florian would take kindly to the loss of tuition money, so for Aldhein's sake, we won't let that happen."

"And if he wants, and the two of you do decide to get married, I would offer him a job as my steward when he's finished with university."

"He might like that." Shahira smirked, as if chuckling at some private joke. Riona would take it; it was the first smile she'd seen from her in a while. "I don't think he's really too interested in his studies."

"That's all right." Riona hadn't been much interested in her lessons either, back in the day. At least Shahira had overcome that trait. "He'll have plenty else to look forward to. Shall we have him over for dinner tonight?"

"I can go invite him," Alya volunteered.

Shahira nodded. "All right."

"Good." Riona clapped her hands together. It was a gesture of somewhat forced joy--but it beat flying off the handle. And it beat the thought of Raia's smug face when she found out she wouldn't be the first of them to be a grandmother after all. "Now, all that's left is for us to hug it out."


June 16, 2015

In Which Alya Does the Most She Can Do

June 24, 1192

"Shahira?" Alya knocked on her sister's bedroom door. She'd spent the past week at Roddie's, and hadn't expected to return to a concerned chambermaid rushing to greet her, claiming that Shahira had locked herself in her room with nothing but the sounds of muffled sobs. Her mother had gone to call on Aunt Raia and her father was off with the reeve investigating a robbery. Alina and the boys would of course be no help.

"Go away!"

Alya bit her lip. Shahira was a private person, but she was not hostile. A simple 'I need some space' was more her style. "Shahira, what's wrong?"

"I said go away!"

"Don't think I won't pick the lock." Their grandmother had taught them both, if Shahira remembered. "This isn't like you."

"You don't know the first thing about me!"

Alya sighed. She hadn't any pins in her own hair, but the maid had had the sense to swipe one from Alina. Alya would return it after it served its purpose. "Shahira, I'm coming in. I promise I'm here to help."

She opened the door to find her sister sprung from the bed, halfway across the room, perhaps in a rush to hold the door shut. Shahira didn't manage to look her in the eye before her face was in her hands.

"Please talk to me." Alya looped her arm around her sister's shoulders, brushing Shahira's long locks back with her other hand. "I can't help if I don't know what's wrong."

Shahira choked. A number of tears leaked through her fingers. "I... I'm late. Really late..."

"Your courses?"

She nodded.

"Oh, honey, it's normal to be late sometimes. I don't think there's any point worrying too much. I mean, you haven't--"

Shahira's eyes peaked up from above her fingertips--wide, bloodshot, guilty.


That... that made a considerable difference. It was the last thing Alya would have expected of wary, studious Shahira. Alina, perhaps, when she was older--Alina, flirty and fun-loving. But Shahira? Did she even have a sweetheart? "Who...?"

"Aldhein Tumekrin." Huh. Aldhein had always had a rather obvious crush on Shahira. But Alya hadn't any idea that Shahira might have reciprocated. "I went to campus for his birthday, and... well, I haven't had a course since."

"His birthday?" If Alya remembered the timing of that party, then that had been nearly two months. Late indeed. She just hoped... "He didn't force you, did he?"

Shahira shook her head. "I was... curious, I guess.

"What am I going to do, Alya?"

Alya wiped a tear from her sister's cheek. She couldn't answer that. The most she could do was try to be supportive. "Well... we could go to Aerina for a pouch, if you want." Though, if Shahira had wanted that, surely she would have gone already.

To confirm, Shahira stiffened. "I thought about that, but... you have to be so careful with those, and you know how I tend to gag..."

"That's true." Alya kissed her sister's brow. If only Shahira was a year older and at the university! Female students had access to herbs if they wanted them. Hell, Alya would have shared her own if she'd known that Shahira and Aldhein were an item. "Well... you're not going to like this, but I think we'll have to tell Mother and Father. They shouldn't be too angry; Mother was younger than you and showing when they got married."

"I know, but..." Shahira sniffed. At least the tears had subsided. The melancholy had not. "But... what about the university? I can't keep a baby in the dormitory."

"We'll figure it out. Mother and Father and Aunt Raia won't make you miss out on anything if you don't want to." At least, she thought they wouldn't.

She hoped they wouldn't.


June 14, 2015

In Which Hollie Is Still Young

June 5, 1192

"How's it going, Hollyhock?" Hollie's favorite cousin shot her a smile and sat down beside her. She hadn't seen too much of Ricky, since he'd been so busy at university. It was good to see an old familiar face, now that she'd taken a hiatus from school and mainly spent her days roaming about her grandfather's castle. Still, she'd wished he would have called sooner.

"Hollyhock? No one's called me that before." Granted, it hadn't been all that long since anyone had started calling her Hollie.

"Just trying it out. I can stop if you don't like it."

Hollie shrugged. "I don't mind it."

"All right. Well, I just thought I'd stop by on you and see how you were holding up, now that we know Dea's going to inherit."

Why did everyone think she'd been so hurt by that? "I'm fine. I don't want to rule, and Dea does, so it works out for everyone. I just wish I could go back and not have to listen in on any of my father's boring meetings."

"I don't know; they still might serve you well some day. Dea might give you or Gennie a shire if we acquire more land."

"Gennie wants to marry Dalston, so she'd have Veldora. And I don't want a shire. Dea can give it to Ella if she wants."

"Well, maybe you'll marry a lord who's stupid, and you'll need to help him out."

"I don't want to marry anyone stupid."

Ricky laughed. "All men are stupid, Hollyhock--especially those who don't think they are."

"You're not stupid."

"Ack! Sorry to have misled you there." He smirked. "Hollie, one day when you're older, you'll see me when I'm drunk, and you'll know just how stupid I am."

"Everyone's stupid when they're drunk." And yet--that was why they seemed to like getting drunk. Hollie didn't get it. "But I guess that's a long way off anyway. I don't know if I want to get married. Maybe I'll just stay with Dea."

"I'm sure you'd be a great help to her if you did."

"I don't know if she'll need help, though."

"Well, maybe not--but you're still young." She guessed so. It was only recently that she'd come to take that as a good thing. "You've got plenty of time to figure out what you want."