February 20, 2016

In Which Lileina Knows What Eyes She Sees

July 9, 1198

Lileina bit her listless tongue and forced her eyes back to the top of the page. What a pointless exercise it was without Searle. He'd been so patient, so encouraging. He'd smiled throughout each session--not a mocking smile, but a proud one, more sure of her eventual success than she could ever wish to be. He'd made her want to try. Even when he'd fallen sick, he'd insisted on listening to her, cheering her on from his deathbed. Now that he was gone, Lileina had just about given up.

But, Searle would have wanted her to keep trying, and the ten months since his death had compounded her grief with the grueling guilt of failing him. So, since she had to man the study anyway today--with her mother escorting her newly-arrived stepfather to his audience with the queen, with Cladelia and the children out on a play-date, with the steward on his day off--for all she couldn't imagine that a single youngster in the kitchens could possibly have been a worse choice to be left in charge than she was--she supposed she owed it to her brother's memory to make the use of being stuck in a room full of books.

"H-how th-th-thankful I am, S-S-Socrates, th-that I h-h-have..."

She trailed off--very aware that she was alone, but the sounds of snickering children dancing around her ears all the same. Suffice to say, she'd never said a word in any of her classes since her disastrous introduction at the age of five; most of her current university peers probably thought she couldn't speak at all, and that was almost preferable. At least that was a choice she'd made.

But--somehow--Searle hadn't seen it that way. And maybe her beloved brother wouldn't have felt so out of reach if she kept practicing. "...ar-r-rived at l-l-last, and, l-like a w-w-weary t-t-t-traveler after a l-long j-j-journey, m-may b-b-b-be at r-r-rest."

She felt herself blush as the echoes of her stammered syllables rang past their lifespan. That entire sentence might as well have been the 'long journey' it had itself reference. If she'd been reading in her head, she could have been done with the page by then--and she would have been engrossed and comfortable rather than foolish and ashamed.

But... Searle...

Lileina took a sharp breath before she continued. "And I p-pray th-the b-b-being who al-w-ways w-w-was of old, and h-has n-n-now b-b-b-been b-by m-m-me r-r-r-revealed--"

Someone knocked at the study door. "Hello?"

Lileina's speech, useless at the best of times, cut silent entirely. It was a man's knock--and the greeting was not of a voice she recognized. Maybe she ought to have recognized it, but the only advantage to being Celina of Armion's dumb youngest daughter was that her absence at events wasn't likely to attract much notice.

"Is anyone in here?"

The study door was unlocked. And why shouldn't it have been? Her five-year-old nephew had nothing worth hiding. Her mother kept all the important documents in her own private rooms. Lileina's best hope was the visitor's own propriety; if she didn't make a sound, then he would take that as the room being empty, and leave.

But, the door creaked open. "I thought I heard--oh. Hello, Lileina."

Lileina froze and burned at once, her spine so brittle that a gust might have cracked it.

Of all people... why oh why oh why did it have to be Severin Mokonri?

Not that he'd ever picked on her before. Or even spoken to her. Lord knew he was about the last person she'd ever dare to speak to, what with his evening sky eyes and his silken hair and that smile that was just crooked enough...

"Uh... what are you reading?" His face grew a little pink as he finished the question--probably remembering just who he was talking to and how unlikely it was that he'd get any response.

But, if only to be polite, Lileina closed the book partway, flashing him the cover.

"Oh. Critias. My mother likes that one." He grimaced, apparently unaware that that was about the highest compliment Lileina had ever thought she'd get from a handsome young man and she was about to die of embarrassment on the spot. "Speaking of mothers, my father has a proposition for yours, so he sent me over to discuss it with her. Is she around, or--oh, shit. Sorry. I... forgot again."

Lileina blushed--but, there was a stack of parchment on the desk, along with a quill and inkwell. She put the book aside and stood, some insane logic about it being more difficult to look down on someone who was standing. She stepped around the desk and dipped the quill, then scrawled him a quick note.

"'She went to the castle with King Oswald.'" He'd read it on first sight with more clarity than Lileina could pay to a book she'd almost memorized--just like everyone else. "Do you know when she'll be back?"

Lileina shook her head.

"Ah, all right. Hmm... do you at least think she'll be back soon enough that it'll be worth my waiting here for a while?"

She shrugged. For all she knew, her mother would be back within the quarter-hour, but there was no one around to keep him occupied until then. That was a sentiment best elaborated, so she picked up the quill again.

"'I can't promise that it will be'," Severin read as she replaced the quill in the inkwell. "Hmm. Well... I don't want that ride from Veldora to have been a complete waste of time. Maybe we could visit for a while?"

Lileina turned to him and stared. Severin blinked as the absurdity of what he'd just said caught up to him. "Uh, well... I mean, we don't need to talk to visit, right? You've got that quill there. Or we could just sit around and read, if you prefer; it's not as if there's any shortage of books in here."

She shrugged again, though she doubted the blush in her cheeks went unnoticed. There were some similarities in his face--the curve of the jaw, the shape of the eyes, the slight bump at the bridge of the nose--to that of her sister Rona's husband, who more than one person had mused could have been a descendant of some obscure Mokonri bastard. As Lileina privately thought Ashe to be the most romantic man she'd ever met, Severin's sudden resemblance to him in his awkward, second-guessing manner was about to make her burst.

"So... you're majoring in Mathematics, right?"

She nodded.

"That's not surprising. Wolf said the only reason he passed mathematics in school was because he copied off you."

Lileina blinked. That was certainly new to her; she'd always excelled in mathematics, yes, but she hadn't thought her classmates had even noticed her presence most days--never mind her abilities.

But Severin reasserted himself with a nod. "Apparently a lot of people did. You might have saved me a little bit of trouble if we'd been a few years closer in age; I'm pretty dense where mathematics are concerned."

But he, at least, could speak properly. Lileina glanced down to the hem of her skirts. She would have gladly forgotten everything she knew about mathematics if that was the trade for getting over her stuttering.

"Oh. Oh, no. I mean... shit, I don't know how to say this without sounding like an ass. Just, you know people don't really think you're stupid, right? No one whose opinion is worth caring about, anyway."

Lileina shuddered. She knew very well that most people outside her immediate family did think she was stupid. Hell, some of her siblings--other then Searle--and nieces and nephews probably did, but were just too kind to say it.

"No, really! And don't think I'm just saying that to be nice, because I'm really not that nice. I mean, a lot of people who spend every waking hour talking never think about a damn thing they're saying--like I'm doing right now, I guess. But all anyone has to do to know that you're thinking is to look you in the eye. You're not stupid. Just because you can't talk doesn't mean--"

"It--" Lileina blinked, caught off-guard by her own daring. Severin, now quiet as she herself preferred to be, stared. Lileina swallowed. She supposed she had no choice now but to finish that thought. "It's n-n-n-not th-th-that I c-c-c-c-can't..."

Her face no doubt as red as his tunic, Lileina turned away, a handful of tears burning on her lashes. That had been more than enough to give him the idea.


She shook her head. She wished he'd just leave. Maybe he, at least--given time--could forget that this had ever happened.

"Lileina, please don't cry. I'm sorry. I should have just shut up."

He raised his hand to the level of her own, securing her inward retreat at her elbow. His fingers had any young knight's fair share of callouses, but there was a softness to them all the same. "You don't have to talk if you'd rather not--but, for the record, I think your voice is rather pretty."

Lileina swallowed, a couple of those tears breaking free. "D-d-d-don't l-l-lie t-to m-m-me."

"I'm serious. There's a rhythm to it. It's like rain--only better, because it doesn't make you all muddy and confine you indoors all day."

She blinked, wiping the tears away as she looked up and met his eye. Those weren't a liar's eyes, or a bully's eyes. She knew because she'd seen enough of both. Still--she couldn't quite believe him. "I d-d-don't kn-n-n-now..."

"Well, I do." Severin shrugged. "And unlike you, I am stupid--so if even I can figure something out, it's bound to be pretty obvious."

Lileina brought her arm back across her chest. If he'd thought like that at five or six, then she wished he had been a few years younger--so he might have told all those children who'd laughed as she'd stuttered her name where to stick it. "Y-you're n-not st-t-tupid."

"Well... maybe just comparatively." He winked. Lileina didn't know what do with that; she didn't think anyone other than her parents and Searle had ever winked at her. "Anyway--I'm sorry for bringing it up. And I'll leave if you want me to. And you don't have to worry about me telling anyone, because it's none of my business."

She bit her lip and watched his eyes for a minute. They were at their bluest just after he blinked, a brilliant contrast to the black lashes and pale flesh that had eclipsed them seconds before.

"Y-y-you c-can st-t-t-tay if y-you w-w-want... Severin."

She squeezed her arm at the shock of the unstammered name. But Severin just smiled and rested his hand on her own again.

"...I'd like that."



Van said...

Neither of these two has shown up in a while. Severin had a couple of appearances when his older brother died, plus one bit part as a toddler in the post when Nanalie and Garrett's twins were born (he was "Red Severin", while Sevvie was "Blue Severin"). I don't believe Lileina has appeared in the story since toddlerhood, despite her mother and a few of her siblings being major characters.

Also, this is the first of three consecutive posts shot on Celina's lot, despite none of them having much to do with either of the others and no characters appearing in more than one of them. Silly planning goof on my part.

Winter said...

If cuteness was fatal, you'd have killed every last reader with this one!

Searle coaching Lileina actually reminded me quite a bit of a situation in my family with a speech impediment, and the Searle was just the way you described. So much patience and perseverance. I'm glad she had him to believe in her and push her to keep working on herself. She clearly has a lot to offer. Reading her memories of being teased was so dreadful - realistic, but dreadful. Who could blame her for not wanting to speak after that? But it seems like Red Severin might just be the patient set of ears she needs.

Van said...

Searle and Lileina were very close, and not just with his patience for her stuttering and his drive to help her. Her mother, of course, thinks she's perfect just as she is (and she's right, but... well, social pressure is a bitch). Her father made some half-hearted attempts to push her, like he did with Farilon, but... well, she was his baby girl, and in the end, he just hated to see her hurting and ended up adopting his wife's approach. Her other siblings, while sympathetic and generally loving, tended to fall within the range of "annoyed and wishing she'd grow out of it already" and "resigned and at a loss as to how to help her". Searle... well, Searle saw more in Lileina, enough that he wished the rest of the world would see it, enough that he was so willing to help her get to a point where others could.

Suffice to say, between the day Searle died and the day of this post, Lileina probably didn't speak much at all. :S

S.B. said...

This is just achingly beautiful. Maybe I'm in an emotional mood - happily indulging myself by binge reading Naroni - but it made me cry.

Van said...

Thanks, Beth! With the gorgeous work you produce, that always means a lot coming from you. :)