July 30, 2015

In Which Eldona Introduces the Simple Concept

July 21, 1193

"So..." Eldona let herself trail off, but only out of fear she'd otherwise stop abruptly. Had she thought Searle had any other friends, she would have left the comforting to someone else. She'd grown up as the daughter of quite possibly the sweetest, wisest, most loving mother on the planet. She had no idea what to say about a mother who was... not. "I'm sorry."

Searle kicked at the base of the bench. "I was a terrible son."

Eldona bit the inside of her cheek. It wasn't unnatural to think one ought to have been better to the dead--she'd had her moments of regret with both her father and sister in recent months--but from all accounts, Searle's mother had been a monster. "Searle--"

"No. I was. She hated me. She wouldn't have hated me if I wasn't terrible."

Eldona blinked. There could have been logic in the sentence, but there was little logic in an adult's hatred of a child. "But what could you have done that was so terrible?"

He shrugged. "I don't remember. I forget things sometimes."

That didn't surprise her. But he was a gentle, passive soul--almost incapable of anything truly terrible. "I don't think anything you could have done justified her treatment of you."

"She didn't want me."

"Then she ought to have given you to people who wanted to be your parents, or to have eliminated you before you were sentient. If she wasn't allowed to, then that's a pity--but no one deserves a parent's abuse, Searle."

It seemed such a simple concept.

And yet, he failed to grasp it. "But I did."


July 28, 2015

In Which Vulcran Acknowledges the Zest

July 3, 1193

"Papa!" Agathe shuffled across the bench and snuggled up to Vulcran's side. He had no idea where she'd learned to be so affectionate, or how she hadn't unlearned it. Her mother had always brushed her aside, and he himself just couldn't manage enough of the touchy-feely to more than tolerate it. He loved his daughter--at least, in so much as a useless old drunk like him could love--but it just wasn't in his nature to hug and cuddle.

Neither was it in his nature to tell his daughter that her mother was dead. So, if he had to tell her that, he might as well hug and cuddle her too. "Agathe... sweetie..."

How to even start? He barely remembered firsthand just what had happened; he'd been refreshed by his steward only an hour prior. He'd come home from the inn the night before, about half a drink away from not being able to keep himself atop his horse. He'd stumbled into the castle, about to drag himself into bed, when Eumelia's maid had approached him, screaming. She'd dragged him and the steward to Eumelia's corners, where they'd found her cold body, clothed and meticulous as ever. Beside her lay a bottle of sacramental wine, plus whatever poison she'd stirred into it; his steward had sent it to a local apothecary for examination.

It had only been a matter of time, he'd supposed once he had a sober moment to process it all. She had always been more interested in spending time with God than with any mortal, though Vulcran's sickest imaginings couldn't conjure a deity who'd find Eumelia good company.


It was his own damn fault, really. Ought to have released her to a convent years ago. His daughters might not have been born, but at least he wouldn't have known that heartache of Riona's death. And at least Searle might have been somewhat well-adjusted, or at least as well adjusted as a son of Vulcran Sadiel could be.

"So... what were you doing here in the chapel?"

He regretted the question as soon as he asked it. The chapel was where Eumelia could usually be found, and the first place Agathe would go had she gotten it into her head to seek her out.

But, he'd worried for naught. "Just praying.

"I don't know why God wants us to pray in this dingy old room, though. I think a field of flowers would feel closer to God--but Mama would call that blasphemous."

"Maybe. I think I prefer your field, though." Not that Vulcran was much of a praying man at all.

"Thank you! The way I see it, God made fields. Stuffy old priests made chapels."

Stuffy old priests. Such an obvious zest for life.

How had he and Eumelia managed to make this girl?

"Agathe... I have to tell you something..."


July 26, 2015

In Which Meraleene Is Held

June 12, 1193

There was a distinct, almost supernatural connection between twins--Meraleene knew this for a fact. Not all twins felt it, likely because not all twins believed in it, but Meraleene did and did, both because of the other and yet independently all at once.

She knew when Renata was happy, when Renata was angry. When she was jealous, relieved, crushed. Based on her sister's good timing over the years, Meraleene got the sense that the unspoken intimacy was mutual--but she'd never asked, because she'd never had to.

She ought to have this time, though. She should have written Renata months ago, asked if she wanted her to come to Dovia, just to be by her side. But, she hadn't wanted to upset her.

It was too late now. Meraleene knew, but the soul-sucking emptiness she sensed in her twin a kingdom away, that her sickly niece had finally succumbed. A letter would arrive any day now, but Meraleene didn't need it.

"I'm sorry." Her husband, at the foot of the bed. She'd scarcely noticed him. She doubted he was the type to believe in her and Renata's bond, but he hadn't said anything in the four days since the passing had occurred. Now that his beloved Riona was a grandmother, he seemed to have finally resolved to get over her. That, to Abrich, had meant an attempt at ideal husbandhood, or what he saw as that.

Meraleene didn't not appreciate it, she supposed.

"Can I sit with you?"

She shrugged. He took the invitation tentatively, but joined her nonetheless.

"I... I don't know what it is to lose a niece or nephew, but I do know loss." He did. His stepfather and his sister, mere months apart. "If there's anything I can do, just let me know."

"Thank you." Meraleene closed her eyes, trying to picture how her niece might have looked in her final months. She'd last seen Cladelia when she was four; the girl was nine now, or would have been. She'd taken more after Jadin than Renata, which was a blessing and a curse all at once.

"Would you like me to hold you?"

It was the first time he'd asked her that. Obviously, in thirteen years and three children later, they'd had some physical contact, but it had been of the dutiful, obligatory variety, more of a chore than any pleasurable pursuit on either of their parts. Neither of them had 'liked' any of it.

But, right now, an arm around her would have been nice. "If you wouldn't mind."

"Of course I don't." He may have been trying to convince himself just as much as her. But, today, she supposed she appreciated the effort. "You're my wife. You're the mother of my children. I don't mind at all."


July 24, 2015

In Which Winter Isn't Less Vague

May 30, 1193

"There. Not so much to worry about in this big new world, is there?" Winter rubbed her baby's back, the little girl's cries fading into hiccups. Giana had made for an easier birth than Tybran, Arydath had been right about that. Not even a few hours later and already Winter had been too restless to keep herself to bed.

Of course, those few hours had been dominated by a long nap, thanks to her stepdaughters willing to dote over their new sister while she slept. Arydath had left shortly after Winter had woken to shift her focus to Tybran, but Honora remained.

"You know, you don't have to stay here if you don't want to." Honora was at the age when she was always on the go, particularly where her boisterous friend Thetis was involved. Neither Winter nor Had much minded; she was old enough that she ought to go about with her friends at her own discretion. She'd certainly earned some time out with her help today.

But Honora shook her head. "I don't mind. I think I needed a quiet day in."

Winter sniffed. She hardly would have called the labor 'quiet', even if it hadn't been quite the ordeal she'd had with Tybran. "Try calling a day like this 'quiet' when you have one of your own."

Her stepdaughter shrugged. "Maybe. Just... can I ask you something?"

"I suppose." Winter raised Giana to her shoulder and rubbed at the baby's back. "What's on your mind?"

"How do you when you know what you want?"

"When you know what you want." This, Winter figured, was yet another sparkling reassurance that Honora would meet adulthood well. She hadn't asked how to know what she wanted, but how to know when she knew. She knew that only she herself could answer that other question, which was something many twice her age still hadn't figured out.

But this question, she hadn't considered, fell into that category too. "You know, I really couldn't say. I guess it just feels right."

"So it felt right when you married my father."

"Yes. And when I started to work for Lady Rona, and many times before and after that. You can want more than one thing in life."

"And what if it feels right, but other people say it's wrong?"

"Well, then they're the ones who are wrong." Winter kissed Giana's head, then sat down on the edge of the bed, facing her stepdaughter in the chair. "Other people can be an obstacle, but you're the only one who knows what's right for you. And when you know what's right for you... well, I can't tell you anything less vague than that you'll just know it."


July 22, 2015

In Which CeeCee Speaks the Last Word

May 5, 1193

Of the twelve children Lord Severin had sired, CeeCee was the only one to inherit his preference for the left hand. It wasn't a thing she thought about much, given that neither her parents nor her teachers had stressed the importance of using her right. But, today, as Farilon had reached for her trembling right hand as he said goodbye to his sister, all she'd felt was her own inadequacy, her sheer lack of ability to make things better.

It was stupid to blame that on the hand. Death made people feel that way, not left-handedness. But CeeCee didn't want to think about death any more.

Farilon's family had had enough of that this year.

"Thank you for coming with me."

CeeCee stiffened. Had she not been involved with Farilon, she would have attended the funeral anyway--old family friends, after all. But, due to the complications that might arise from the fact that she was a student and he was a professor, only her parents and his mother knew that they were involved, so they'd opted not to attend as a couple. Upon arrival, though, that resolve had been half-forgotten. She'd scarcely left his side the entire time.

Farilon put away his mourning tunic and joined her on his bed, right hand fiddling with the position of his pillow. He was right-handed, but it shook just as much as her own had. "1194 had better be a damn good year."

CeeCee nodded. She would graduate in December of 1194. "Pity it's still so far off."

"But if it wasn't, there's be that much more pain to bring along into it." Farilon sighed. "She was only twenty-three. She should have had so many more years ahead of her. She should have been the one burying me."

She wished he wouldn't say that. But, she might have felt the same had it been Donnie or Thetis. "I always liked Riona. She had a real strength to her."

"My mother's strength," Farilon agreed. "Of all my sisters, she was the most like my mother, I think."

"Eldona and Lileina might grow into it." But, of course, Riona already had. "Her poor children. I know they have plenty of others around who love them to pieces, but still."

"I guess there are times when love just has to be enough."

It seemed a final note, a last profound thought before a troubled night, and CeeCee had no answer for it. Yet, instead of turning in, they sat in silence. Seconds ticked. Minutes dragged. It couldn't have been more than a quarter hour, but it might as well have been years.

Finally, Farilon spoke. "Will you marry me?"

CeeCee looped the lace of her nightgown around one finger, staring at the wall across from her as if it might crumble. It was the worst time for that question. But, it was the only time.


It was the last word either of them spoke before morning.


July 20, 2015

In Which Honora Is Promised a Dog

April 9, 1193

"Happy birthd--"

Only a word and a half and a barely-closed door, and that was greeting and privacy enough for a smooch where Thetis was concerned. As always, Honora tried to relax best she could. Thetis lived in a large castle, after all. Her mother had greeted Honora personally and told her she could find Honora in the bedroom--never mind that her brows had lowered somewhat as she'd said it. None of Thetis's siblings lived at home any more, her father was in conference, her mother and sister-in-law had been just about to leave, and if any of her nieces and nephews were around, they'd chosen to keep to themselves. They weren't about to be caught.

Not that that ever stopped Honora from worrying. She was sixteen years old, the same age her parents had been when they'd married. She knew he was joking, but her father was already starting to pester her about whether she had her eye on any of the young men, and there were a troubling numbers of rumors circling about in regards to the identity of her 'secret suitor'. She didn't know what she'd end up having to tell him. She was neither religious enough nor academic enough that he'd believe she'd gone off to join a nunnery.

"Thank you." Thetis winked as she let go, oblivious as ever to Honora's awkwardness. That was part of her charm. "I'm so glad you managed to get here early, and not just for the obvious reasons. I've come into possession of some most interesting knowledge, and I believe it will prove relevant to us."

"Oh?" What interesting knowledge could have applied to them? Had her Aunt Hanna's mother been caught with someone? Not that Honora knew anything concrete about Aunt Hanna's mother, but she had her suspicions. If she'd been caught, and if there was a punishment in the works...

"Good news!" Thetis assured her. "I overheard my parents talking about it. You see... it seems that my sister-in-law and Camaline are an item."

"Xeta?" Honora frowned, puzzled. She hadn't known Thetis's brother Jadin all that well before his death, but surely a woman who'd been so taken with that sort of man had no interest in...

"Yes, I was surprised too. But, my mother pointed out that a person can like apple pie without losing their taste for blueberry, and I suppose it's not any of my business if a person likes both rather than one or the other." Thetis shrugged. She had such an easy-going, devil-may-care view of the world that Honora both admired and envied. "But anyway--the two of them will be moving into a cottage together in the summer."

"Living together?" She wouldn't pretend that the thought hadn't crossed her mind. But... "Though, they're both widows. It's not that strange, the idea of two widows sharing a residence; no one will think much of it."

"Nonetheless, it's a point of inspiration. If two widows can share a residence without attracting any scrutiny, perhaps two not-so-maiden aunts can take up together as well."

"Without a man to protect them?" Whatever would her father say to that?

"Man!" Thetis snorted. If the pair of them hadn't fallen in love, Honora had no doubt that she would have ended up in a loveless, economical marriage with a not-unpleasant man who she only bedded for the sake of babies; Thetis, on the other hand, had no interest in even feigning a romantic interest in men and would gladly take to the highest tower of her father's keep to announce her distaste for the lot of them. "We'll get a dog. A dog is a much more useful protector than a man."

"Don't let your father hear you say that."

"My father told me that!" She laughed. Her father could probably hear her from his study--though Honora hoped she was wrong about that. "But, I suppose we have plenty of time to plan. No sense in thinking much about it until we're partway through university, at least."

Honora nodded--though, now that it had been said, she doubted she'd be thinking of much else until it either happened or didn't. "I guess so..."

"Indeed!" Thetis clapped her hands together and pecked Honora on the lips once again, light and fast this time. "So... birthday sex?"

Honora smirked. Thetis wasn't any quieter in bed than she was out of it, but something about the act made it more difficult to fret. "Just lock the door."


July 18, 2015

In Which Prior Is Loved

March 4, 1193

"So... you're really going, then?" Prior asked as his mother hugged him.

"Yes. It's official. Your Aunt Xeta and I will be living at the cottage." She rubbed his shoulder and stepped back, a smile on her face--though, not without a hint of bittersweet behind it. "I don't believe we'll be moving in until summer, though. Her children still need to decide whether or not they want to come with us."

"Has she told them about...?"

His mother shook her head. Her hair was so silky that movement never mussed it. Prior must have gotten his father's hair texture, as he'd gotten his father's color. Though, if he recalled correctly--and he dearly hoped he did!--his father's had been coarser than his own. "She will. She's just trying to figure out how to best tell them."

"I think they'll be happy for her. She is their mother, after all." He could never imagine not being happy for his!

"I hope you're right. Anyway, one of these days, you'll have to come down to the cottage with me and pick out your bedroom; I trust you'll visit whenever you can?"

"Hopefully more!"

"Good! I wouldn't have settled for seeing less of you." His mother clasped her hands together, violet eyes alight. If Prior ever had a daughter, he hoped she'd have those eyes. "You know... to be honest, Prior, before you born... I never thought I'd enjoy being a mother. But my God, there's not a thing in this world or any other I'd trade you for, my darling boy."

Prior blushed. He knew his mother loved him, but she was rarely so free with her words of affection. She'd never needed to be.

He'd felt fully and completely loved every day of his life.

"There's no mother I'd rather have than you."


July 16, 2015

In Which Xeta Has a Home

February 27, 1193

Xeta had never been afraid of her father in law, exactly, but there was something intimidating about just how... himself he was. She'd always found Lord Severin to be on some different level of existence than most men, as if he were more of an idea, or a monument, than an actual human being. He wouldn't have been flattered to hear that, but it was true nonetheless. He'd never quite felt real to her, and knowing that, she usually made a point not to be alone with him.

But she'd been putting off talking to him for nearly two months now. Her stepfather had been gone for half that time, and they'd buried him and mourned him and they were expected to move on with their lives. For Xeta's part, she'd been inspired by Ovrean's steady ease even in his final hours, determined to be happy regardless of life or death or any more trivial things mankind flung about. She'd lived in the shadows long enough.

"So... what do you think?"

"I think it's your life, and it's not my right to stop you from living it as you see fit." Lord Severin's eyes glinted, as if he'd thought it too obvious an answer to even merit a question. Xeta fought to keep from swallowing. She hadn't told him that she and Camaline were lovers--but why did she get the sense that he knew? "I realize that life here has been difficult for you since Jadin passed. I'd imagine it's been the same for Camaline at Tetran. If the two of you would be happier living elsewhere, I understand entirely."

"Thank you." She pinched the fabric of her gown beneath her fingers. It was an old dress, a timeless favorite of hers, but the comfort in the color blue had died with Jadin. Perhaps it was time for a change in wardrobe as well. Her blue gowns would mean more for her daughters, when they grew. "But what are your thoughts about where my children should go?"

"Well, we know we won't have to worry about Lyssa. She can stay where she likes in the short time between her graduation and her wedding. Alina, I believe, is still young enough that she ought to be with her mother, for all it seems she needs a new set of dresses every other week these days."

Xeta let herself giggle. They did grow quickly at that age. "All right."

"It would be easier for Dalston to remain here, as my heir. But, ultimately, I believe that he and Wolf and Celina should make that decision for themselves."

Xeta nodded. Dalston, she knew, would feel duty-bound to stay at Veldora. Wolf too would probably stay, a simple country cottage insufficient to the demands of his endless energy. Celina, she wasn't quite sure about; a quiet cottage would suit her better than the hustle and bustle of the keep, but she'd never been one for change.

"Though, they would of course be welcome to come and go as they please, between here and your new home."

"Yes. Camaline and Octavius have a similar understanding with Prior."

"Good. And, of course, you will always have a home here if you need one." Her father-in-law dropped his arms to his sides and smiled. On Jadin, that smile had been a friendly, loving beam focused on her and her alone; with his father, it didn't feel that he was so much smiling at Xeta as he was at the prospect of a better world ahead. Not that that was any horrible reason to grin, but it would have been nice to be more than just a detail in the grandiose picture of his mind.

Then again... she had Camaline for that now. And she wouldn't trade Camaline for anyone's special favor. And she didn't think she'd ever need another home again.

All the same, it had been good of him to offer. "Thank you."


July 14, 2015

In Which Celina Is Promised an Eternity

February 3, 1193

"Aren't you a sight for sore eyes." How Ovrean could smile like that after weeks of fevers and coughing fits, Celina couldn't guess. "God, you're as lovely as the day I married you."

Celina tried to return the grin, but couldn't quite manage it. They were both getting up in years--she knew that. Many of the people they'd grown up with were gone. Ovrean himself had more siblings buried than he did living. Celina had to concede that, objectively, sixty-five was not a short life.

But Ovrean still had so much to live for! Two new grandchildren on the way. Their youngest son, betrothed. One daughter to start at the university in April, and another who was still at home and needed a father.

But who didn't still have so much to live for? That was the fairness of death: the sheer unfairness of it.

"Sit with me, my love?"

She nodded. At least she could sit with him. She'd been denied that chance with Dalston.

"Are you sure you don't think you can hold on just a few more months?" Not a question he wanted to hear--but it was the only way she could make her mouth move as she joined him on the bed.

"No. My lungs are failing, and my heart is weak. I believe I have some time with you, then enough to bid farewell to the children. With most of my siblings gone already, I will count myself lucky to have even that."

Celina sighed. "I wish I could give you the comfort and optimism you deserve."

"I don't need comfort. All I need from you is for you to live a long and happy life." With a shaking hand, he took her by the shoulder and shuffled nearer. "Our children and grandchildren will need you for as long as they can have you."

"But you--"

"Don't worry about me." He turned to kiss her on the cheek. "After what will hopefully be many years here, you and I will have an eternity."