October 29, 2015

In Which Rina Finds It Stuck

July 6, 1195

"My God. If I have to see one more hypochondriac who confuses a nosebleed with consumption, I've half a mind to tell him he's dying out of sheer spite." Severin shut the door and took a few steps in, but stopped when Rina failed to respond. "What's wrong? You usually stifle a snicker when I joke about malpractice."

"Oh, nothing. It's stupid." And to think--she'd thought she'd moved on! She had, really. She had a business she enjoyed, a loving husband, more friends than she'd ever dared hope for. She was happy... really.

But just because she was happy didn't mean she couldn't hurt sometimes.

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure. Just... ran into one of my old housemates at the bank today." And it was the only bank in the kingdom, as things stood now. There would be old acquaintance after old acquaintance. And there would always be the same old chitchat. "Asked how many children we had."

She didn't need to look at her husband to see him tugging at his sleeve, scowling at the floor, trying to figure out which former housemate she was talking about. She wouldn't tell him. It didn't matter.

"Rather personal a question."

"Maybe." Rina sighed. "Not an uncommon one, though. And it's not the first time I've been asked at the bank either. It just... it stuck, today."

"I hope it doesn't stick often." He sat down behind her and offered what must have been meant as a reassuring squeeze of the hand.

For whatever reason, she didn't feel it. "It does sometimes. I don't know why, though. I mean, I have a good life. I'm not unfulfilled."

"I don't think unfulfilled people have the monopoly on feelings. A good present doesn't make a lousy past any better. And part of friendly chitchat is minding your own damn business. The people in my waiting room talk, but they never ask each other why they're there."

"That's because no one wants to hear about pubic lice. They want to hear about babies."

"See, that's the problem with the world. Most children encounter a baby before they witness childbirth." Severin bit his lip. "Well, that and the prying. And the not letting people live their own lives."

"You're cute when you try to cheer me up." He was--and she appreciated it. But, it hadn't worked. "Can we talk about your day now? I think I just need to think about something else--even if it's pubic lice."


October 27, 2015

In Which Farilon Picks a Name

June 12, 1195

"Thank God for Renata's Aunt Cladelia," CeeCee sighed from just behind Farilon as they made their way up to the sitting room landing. "Renata was so worried about her mother acting up, but Cladelia kept her sufficiently distracted the entire time. Perhaps we ought to order her something from the bakery."

"If you like, though I maintain my stance that even Renata's mother wasn't about to make a scene at her own daughter's wedding."

"And I maintain my stance that it's a lucky thing Cladelia was around to prevent your being proven wrong. But, a happy night merits thoughts of happier things." CeeCee tugged at Farilon's wrist to spin him about. Even with the now-visible added mass of baby, his wife was a small enough person that her strength still surprised him. "So: when do you suppose Falidor and Renata will get to work on a new niece or nephew for me?"

If they truly were as eager as they'd looked tonight, then it wouldn't be long. But, Farilon and CeeCee had better ways of answering each other's questions. "Do you really want another niece or nephew? Or do you just want to share your suffering with your best friend?"

"A little of both." CeeCee blew a loose curl out of her eye, only to have it flop right back where it was. All jokes of suffering aside, she appeared to be in much better health than she'd been in those first few months, for which Farilon was grateful. "But for now, at least I can make you suffer."

"Not that you're doing a good job of it." Farilon tapped her bump twice with the tip of his finger. As always, a tiny foot repeated with perfect rhythm. "Isn't that right, Copycat?"

"I still don't know why this one keeps doing that." CeeCee let go of his arm and drummed her own fingers against her stomach. Her brows arched, as they always did when the kicks mimicked. "I don't know how we two science-and-mathematics types did it, but somehow we seem to have made a little musician."

"A drummer, from the looks of it," Farilon agreed, kneeling down to see what the kid did with a rub. A rub, it seemed, was a rest.

"You might need to ask Raia if her stepson could take Copycat on as an apprentice, if bards even take apprentices."

"No self-respecting bard would trust a Copycat."

"A pity, given that's her name."

CeeCee bit her lip, bump withdrawing somewhat. "Oh, no. That's your serious voice. You can't really be saying that our baby's name is Copycat with your serious voice."

"Hear me out; I've given this some thought." He continued massaging the mound, just in case he needed the baby to back him up later. "We should start with our parents' names, right? But you said it would be strange naming a baby after my mother because you were named after my mother."

She sniffed. "It would."

"But! Everyone calls you CeeCee instead of Celina. And you know what 'C.C.' could stand for?"

CeeCee groaned. "You're kidding."

"I'm not! Her name will be Celina, but we'll call her Copycat, since she copied your name--which you, I may point out, copied from my mother. What better name for a copycat's copycat than Copycat?"

"Farilon, putting aside the fact that that's insane, we don't even know that it's a girl."

"But she has to be, because she's Copycat." Smirking, Farilon leaned in toward her and tried for his best puppy-dog eyes. "Come on, what do you say?"

"I say you had too much to drink tonight." And yet, whenever she tilted her head and rolled her eyes like that, she was never quite so annoyed as she wished she were. "But if you actually want me to consider it, then at least promise that she'll go by Cat. That might at least have some flattering connotations."


October 25, 2015

In Which Sevvie's Assumption Is Wrong

May 16, 1195

"All right. I'll level with you." Adonis--usually so eager to announce every thought that popped into his head--sighed. Sevvie hadn't been sure what to expect when he'd returned home to a concerned Morgan, telling him that Adonis hadn't been himself for the past while, but the thought of a withdrawn, isolated Adonis had been a little too past the bounds of belief.

"I'm in love."


That... made sense. Adonis was sixteen now, past the point when such a thing might be possible. And, well...

Adonis had never been... well, like other boys.

How to proceed? Normally? How had his father spoken to him, again, when he'd first told him he was in love? "And, uh, how is that going for you?"

No, that hadn't been it.

"Awful! It's only a few months before the new university term starts."

"New university term?" An older man? But surely a year or so age difference shouldn't have been Adonis's first concern! "Adonis, I don't know if that's such an issue."

"But it is! I can't compete with older men!" Adonis tugged at his hair. Not too many men at the university had those sort of well-groomed, luscious locks. "And don't try to tell me there won't be any competition, because there will be. I mean--it's Alina!"

Sevvie blinked. That... meant one hell of a wrong assumption on his part. "Alina?"

"You know, our cousin. Uncle Searle's daughter. Blond hair, blue eyes... magnificent breasts?"

Magnificent breasts. One hell of a wrong assumption indeed.

"I, uh... guess I never noticed that. Adonis, have you tried actually telling her how you feel?"

"I've thought about it. I don't want to risk our friendship, though."

And now Sevvie really could relate. If Adonis could walk around in dresses just because he liked them better, then maybe he'd have the guts to take the advice Sevvie himself hadn't managed to yet. "Adonis, as long as you don't throw a fit like some entitled prick if she doesn't feel the same way, the friendship will survive."

"And how are you so sure of that?"

"Because I've seen you two together, you idiot." Sevvie smirked, if only to distract from the other blue eyes inside his head. "She obviously benefits from having you in her life in some capacity or another, and it's clear that you'd rather have her as a friend than have nothing to do with her. Sure, it will hurt for a while, but you'll be all right in the end."

"You really think so?" His words weren't quite sure, and his lips weren't quite a smile, but Sevvie would take it.

"You know I wouldn't lie to you." Even if he was a giant hypocrite. "Just tell her, Addie. Give her the chance to think her feelings over."


October 23, 2015

In Which Dea Is Promised a Picnic

April 11, 1195

Dea settled onto her bed for an afternoon respite, though she probably would have taken the time to catch up on some paperwork if Willott hadn't told her that her husband had returned. Her father had of course been the worst example of how to act in a marriage she'd ever known, but her grandfather--for all he'd had his failings as a monarch--had maintained a happy, well-nourished relationship with her step-grandmother throughout their time together.

Dea had not yet been married long enough to balance being a good queen and a good spouse--if such a balance were even possible. "I'm sorry I haven't seen you all day."

"It's quite all right, lass. I don't know any more about balancing a budget than the average fool, but I understand that it has to be done."

"Like any other royal duty." Dea sighed. "You know, you're always welcome to sit on my meetings with the lords if you like."

"Good to hear you trust me, but I'd be worse than useless there, I'm afraid--and honestly, not all that interested, though I mean that in the most flattering way possible." Henry winked, though she couldn't quite claim to feel all the flattery he'd meant. Even with her limited free time, she'd come to learn that her new husband took an unstructured, heart-driven approach to life, more in keeping with that of a bard or mummer than a prince consort--and nothing like Dea's own focused and managerial methods. She thought him a fine man, a kind man, a handsome man... and she was a queen! And not a bad one! Surely she deserved a fine man, a kind man, a handsome man?

And yet, some nagging part of her couldn't help but dread his preference for someone more spontaneous, more affectionate. Someone like Gennie or Ella.

"I mean to say: I'm glad you enjoy the queenly necessities, and the kingdom ought to be thankful for it, and I'm willing to support you in any way possible. But I'd rather take that supporting role for myself and leave the real work for you--both for the people's sake, and yours and mine."

"I suppose that's the most flattering way of saying it."

"Give it time, lass. I'll find a more flattering way to flatter you yet." He edged himself toward the center of the bed and laced his arm around her shoulders. "Don't worry yourself about keeping me occupied; I'm a grown man and can entertain myself. I actually got in quite a long ride today, just enjoying the first nice spring day here. Found myself sitting by a pretty little riverbank for a good hour or so, just me and the horse and the lute."

"I didn't know you played the lute."

"There's a lot we don't yet know about each other, but we're both young, healthy people; no reason why we shouldn't have plenty of time to learn more." He kissed her cheek, his lips the first of this 'first nice spring day' she'd seen in her primarily indoor week. "Next time you have a free morning, let me know. I think you'd like this spot I found."

She suspected she would--and, with most of her time spent inside the castle, surely some exploration of her own kingdom couldn't have been the worst idea. "Perhaps we could pack a lunch. It's been years since I last had a picnic."

"Is that so?"

Dea nodded. A sunset smile on his mouth, Henry nestled his forehead to hers. "Well, then let me promise you it won't be years between this one and the next."


October 21, 2015

In Which Lettie Invokes the Principle

March 4, 1195

"Sorry about that." Lettie shut the privy door behind her, quickly enough to stop the vomit scent from wafting into the sitting room. Damn that Tarien.

If her brother had heard her heaving, he didn't comment. "It's fine--not as if I didn't see you yesterday. Anyway, Camaline sends her apologies about not being able to make it today, but she also told me to ask you if you'd be there for her labor."

That would come up. Lettie pursed her lips. "When is she due, again?"

"The end of next month. Should be an fun time to be born, with the excitement of the queen's marriage still so fresh in the kingdom." Not that Conant remembered the world at the time of his own birth any more than Lettie did, but... well, he was a man. If Lettie had learned a single thing since her breasts had developed, it was that men regarded their brains as extraneous organs. Why hadn't she made more of a point to keep that in mind? "She thinks it'll be a girl. If that's the case, we plan to name her Ramona, for our triplet."

"That's nice." But there was one name she now couldn't use if hers was a girl. She could hardly name it for anyone from Tarien's line.

"It is. But, back to yesterday's wedding, I think it speaks volumes of our queen that she sought a match out for herself only after she'd settled into her role, and that she took him in as a guest for a time so she could get to know him. A good ruler can't marry on an impulse, no matter what the doubters were saying of her lack of husband when she first took the throne. Not everyone can hold out long enough to know what they actually want in a spouse." Conant sighed--a man who'd spent every waking hour contemplating Camaline since their father had first suggested her when they were ten. At least his own children wouldn't have to worry about arranged marriages. "Your friend Tarien, for example. Did you know that he got married a fourth time?"

Lettie's gut lurched--and not from the nausea.


"Yes, Abrich mentioned it in his last letter. Apparently it was private and rushed and out of the blue, just near the end of January."

And he'd been here the end of December. A month after she'd shot him down, and he'd already roped in some other poor woman. "Who did he marry?"

"Maeja Ingolfsdottir--Uncle Marsden's widow. A bit of a scandal, given the relationship by marriage, which was probably why word didn't breach Dovia sooner; no one wanted to talk about it. But she's actually younger than Tarien."

Yes, that was the problem. Age. "I see."

"You sound a little bitter, sis." Conant frowned, torso forward. "You didn't, uh... have a thing for him, did you?"

"For Tarien?" Lettie snorted. "Don't be absurd.

"It's the principle of the thing."


October 19, 2015

In Which CeeCee Requests a Bucket

February 16, 1195

"Don't you worry about the guests, dear." CeeCee's mother-in-law of barely more than an hour shut the door behind them and nodded toward the bed. "A woman's wedding day can be exhausting--the good kind of exhausting, mind, but exhausting all the same. I'm sure your mother and I can keep everyone occupied if you need to lie down for a while."

"Thank you." CeeCee rubbed at her arm, as if the stimulated veins within would keep her eyes open. In hindsight, perhaps the Carvallon trip--and everything that had come along with it--ought to have waited until after the wedding. Such a demanding occasion as her wedding would have better fared with her usual healthy body. "I'll try not to be more than half an hour or so."

"Oh, no trouble if you are. Many a woman needs rather long naps than that when she's expecting."

CeeCee squirmed, some lingering nausea from earlier that morning welling in her gut. She'd only told four people: Farilon, Renata, and her parents. Surely none of them would have told...?

"How did you know?"

Her mother-in-law laughed. "Well, I did birth ten of my own. I just hope any subsequent ones you have aren't this rough on you so soon."

Subsequent ones? CeeCee shuddered at the thought. "I'll tell you right now that I'm not doing this nine more times."

"I should hope not! You have a promising career ahead of you as well, and only you can figure out just how many children you feel right about taking on in addition to that. I know I couldn't have raised my ten if I'd had the demands of being a professor as well, even with the help of all the wonderful nannies we employed over the years."

The university, at least, did have nannies on staff--for her working hours, anyway. "I think I'll just focus on this one before I start worrying about any more."

"A wise decision." Her mother-in-law paid her a pat on the shoulder, then a sweet smile. "Now, do you need anything else? A cup of water, perhaps?"

"That would be nice, thank you." But even with the thought of fresh water, her stomach churned. "And maybe a bucket."


October 17, 2015

In Which Alina Is a Big Sister

January 26, 1195

"She's so cute!" Alina waved at the tiny little baby in Auntie Camaline's arms, grey eyes like their sister Celina's staring back at her. She'd been a sister all almost-seven years of her life, but she'd never been a big sister before. She'd never thought she would be! Her poor father had died when she was a baby, and now her mother was married to Auntie Camaline (though she wasn't supposed to tell anyone that, for some reason she didn't quite get but was probably stupid). Almost seven was old enough to know that Auntie Camaline couldn't give her mother a baby.

And yet, here a baby was, fresh from her mother's womb! Yes, she'd wondered how it had gotten there, without any men around, but now that her sister--her little sister!--was here, she didn't care. "What's her name?"

"Her name is Geneva," her mother answered from the bed, bringing a smile to Auntie Camaline's lips. "For Auntie Camaline's mother. A pity she didn't get the violet eyes, though."

Auntie Camaline laughed, though Alina didn't get it. How could the baby have gotten Auntie Camaline's violet eyes, anyway? "Nothing wrong with this marble grey. She does wear them splendidly--don't you agree, Alina?"

"I think she'd be cute with any color eyes. Even yellow!" Well, maybe not yellow. Or maybe yellow? Ah, what did it matter--she didn't have yellow eyes! "Hello, Geneva. We're going to have so much fun when you're a little bigger!"

Geneva gurgled. Alina pretended she'd meant to say 'Yes, we will!'.

"I'm going to teach you everything I know. And if any other kid makes fun of you, I'll box them."

Her mother gasped. "Alina!"

But Auntie Camaline smiled. "Now, now. There are worse things a little girl can have than a protective big sister."

Big sister.

She loved the sound of that. "That's right. I'm your big sister."


October 15, 2015

In Which Dea Is Charmed by the Duality

January 23, 1195

It was only a couple of hours before Dea would leave the castle to attend her uncle's funeral. Everyone in the kingdom knew that the funeral was today, as the death of the queen's uncle, the former queen consort's half-brother--the baron's son, and the son of the beloved late Princess Holladrin of Dovia--could not possibly have escaped the notice of the public, especially when it was such a sudden death at such a young age. And even if someone hadn't known... well, it was morning, and early enough in the morning that many had yet to wake. On this day, at this hour, she had not expected a knock on her study door.

"Willott?" Even when her grandfather had been king, she'd known the steward's knock like she knew her own voice.

"My apologies, your majesty. I realize this is bad timing, but your betrothed has arrived."

Dea's spine jerked. In light of her Uncle Farilon's accident, it had slipped her mind completely that he was to arrive so soon. "Oh! Ah, yes, of course."

"Shall I put him up at the nearest inn until tomorrow, or...?"

"No, that won't be necessary. He couldn't have predicted any of this." Who could have? Her Uncle Farilon had been a healthy man of twenty-four! Dea rose from her desk chair and braced herself. "Bring him in."

Willott opened the door and entered, followed by a dark-haired, bearded young man in a winter coat. The coat wasn't anything special, but she found little disappointment in the man who wore it--handsome and casually regal, a grim look of sympathy befitting the news Willott had surely just told him, but not without a playful twinkle in his eye as he first spotted her. Dea mustered up all the queenly composure she could; she was used to many things, but such direct male attention was not one of them.

"Her Royal Majesty, Queen Medea the First of Naroni. Your majesty, may I present Henry of Stirling, son of David of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon."

"My lord," Dea greeted the man for lack of a better title as he stepped forward. His father was heir presumptive to the Scottish throne (a fact that left a vile fog in Dea's mind, as his brother the king did have a young daughter) but Henry himself was excluded from succession as a natural son. But he was well-connected, available, and--though she hadn't known it prior to his arrival--quite attractive. As far as prince consorts went, she could have found a worse candidate.

"Your majesty." He took to one knee and kissed her hand. The softness of his fingers was matched only by that of his lips. "My sincerest condolences to you and your family."

"Your condolences are appreciated, and I see no need to keep to the formality of 'majesties'. You may rise." He did, though she kept hold of his hand. It may not have a been queenly or maidenly gesture, but there was something in his skin that made her stronger, more prepared for the trials of the day. She did not want to let go. "Welcome to my country."

"Thank you. If it isn't too bold, I was told that the Queen of Naroni was even more brilliant than she was beautiful; having now laid eyes on you, I must surmise you to be the pinnacle of brilliance."

"It isn't too bold, though I daresay poetic compliments are wasted on someone so literal-minded as myself."

"Ah, lass--there is no such thing as a wasted compliment, so long as it comes from the heart as well as the lips."

Dea felt her cheeks warm. Not once in her life had anyone called her 'lass', but there was a charming duality in his pretty sentiments and the occasional bit of Scottish slang.

Behind Henry, Willott cleared his throat. "Shall I leave the two of you in peace, your majesty?"

"If you so prefer." If she were honest with herself, Dea had nearly forgotten that the steward was there. "Take the rest of the day, Willott. Go home to your wife and children."

Willott bowed, then turned and left. At least, that's what Dea figured he must have done after she'd dismissed him.

"I must apologize for my poor timing. If you would prefer I seek lodging elsewhere while you mourn, I understand."

"That won't be necessary. Our official mourning ends with the funeral here; the Dovians have long believed that any soul worth mourning would much prefer for their loved ones to focus on life."

That said, the funeral had not yet occurred. "Though, I must ask that you remain here while I attend the funeral, and warn you that I may overnight at my grandfather's."

"Of course. I should hate to start our acquaintance by imposing myself in your family's time of grief."

And that was good of him--but, so to would Dea hate to start their acquaintance by abandoning him for the day in a strange castle, even if she told the servants to cater to his every whim. "Then you'll be pleased to know that our acquaintance will instead begin with a tour of my home--unless you'd rather rest first, of course."

Henry smiled. "There'll be plenty of time for resting when you're away, lass. No sense in not getting my fill of you while I can."