March 29, 2016

In Which Yvanette Warns Again

May 8, 1199

"The situation hasn't changed, you know." If Yvanette were to say 'yes'--before she said 'yes'--then she had to make that clear. It was only right. "I might have a better handle on it now, but I'll never be normal."

"What's 'normal', really?" Sevvie asked with a shrug, his hair flopping against Yvanette's cheek. "We all have our quirks--and a lot of the things we're all supposed to do don't necessarily make sense. I don't think there's really such thing as 'normal'."

"You know what I mean." And knowing that, perhaps she could reason that she'd given him plenty of time to change his mind about her--but Sevvie had always been too nice for his own good. "Just because I can control it doesn't mean I don't have to... exercise it. I can't expect you to make excuses for me all our lives."

"What excuses? If you need to miss a party or a banquet or something, I'll just say you weren't feeling up to it. Worse comes to worse, we'll just say you're prone to headaches and leave it at that."

"And children?" She wouldn't guess exactly how long she could go without transforming if she had to, but having assumed that the prickling in her skin was any indicator that she was due, she hadn't dared stretch it past a few weeks. "I can't expect to keep a pregnancy--not without something going terribly wrong."

"We don't need children. We'll have each other, plus a bunch of nieces and nephews that we can happily hand back to their parents for their less enjoyable aspects."

"But what if you change your mind?"

"Doesn't matter; my love for you won't." He eased her onto his lap, unblinking as he swore it. Such was a lofty thing to promise, but Sevvie had always been good about keeping to his word. "I want to marry you. If you'll have me, then I'll gladly take on everything that entails."

Gladly. She barely knew the meaning of the word. She hoped he knew it better than she did. "Don't say I didn't warn you."


March 27, 2016

In Which Rona Damns the Cosmic Dice

April 23, 1199

When Hilla had died, Rona recalled Riona saying something about God playing dice--who lived, who died, completely random, no consideration of character or potential or anything else. Rona didn't doubt the existence of God, but as she'd grown older, she'd become increasingly unconvinced of his interest in the lesser beings he allegedly loved. Surely it wouldn't have taken much effort on the part of an all-knowing, all-powerful deity to direct chance happenings with justice and merit in mind? A god who played dice was either too lazy or too apathetic to be much of a god at all.

Her gentle, soft-hearted sister-in-law who'd never done anyone wrong in her life--who'd suffered in patient silence as Rona's brother had learned to love her--deserved a better roll.

Abrich, at least, hadn't blamed it on the baby. Some men did--men who ought to have gone in place of their wives, frankly. Rona thought her brother no more perfect than any sister thought her brother, but Abrich was at least good enough to realize that Meraleene's death was no one's earthly fault. He was good enough to love Meraleene's baby, as Meraleene had to her last breath.

"Cladelia took the children back to Mother's place," Rona muttered as Abrich rubbed his daughter's tiny back. "I'll stay here tonight. Ashe will bring Rilla over; I'll nurse her and your baby both."

Her brother sighed. He hadn't spoken much since he'd said his goodbyes to his wife. There hadn't been much to say. "Are you sure? I can find someone else if you'd rather not."

"It's no trouble. I'm here now, and I can stay as long as you need me." Her own youngest was only a few weeks old. That was the only part of all of this that could be fairly called fortunate.

"Thank you, then." Prompted by a small yawn, Abrich lowered the baby into her crib, eyes on her even after he'd pulled away. "I know I should probably name her for Meraleene's mother, but I'd rather name her for Meraleene herself. I... I think she ought to have some piece of her mother with her always, and the name would be something."

That, and it wouldn't have been right--naming Meraleene's last child for the woman Abrich had struggled for so long to let go of. Riona, who shared her name with Meraleene's mother. Another lousy roll of the cosmic dice. "I think you're right, though she'll have more than just the name."

"If the dead live on in any form, yes." He turned away from the crib as Rona stepped toward him, but his neck moved stiffly, as if it ached to look away. "Rona, do you think Meraleene forgave me? For wasting all those years before we finally fell in love?"

Rona closed her eyes. She'd liked Meraleene, but they hadn't been each other's closest friend. She certainly hadn't been Meraleene's confidante. But, if she listened to her gut, she didn't think Meraleene the type to hold a grudge. "I don't know if 'forgiveness' would be the right word in that situation, but I don't think she bore you any ill will."

"I wouldn't blame her if she did." Abrich glanced back down at the baby--little Meraleene--before pulling Rona in for a hug. "No one deserves to go like that--giving their life bringing someone else into the world, when it ought to be a happy occasion."

"No," Rona agreed. "I'm so sorry, Abrich."


March 25, 2016

In Which Prior Sees Something More in the Pattern

March 30, 1199

"Finally got them down for their nap?" Prior asked as Xeta returned to Geneva's room. He'd been tasked with watching the oldest of his younger half-sisters (for all he had zero interest in knowing exactly how the girls had come to be) while Xeta put the twins down for their nap. Turned out, that had been quite the lengthy process.

He didn't mind too much, though. He'd be married before the year was up; he'd be well served, getting used to entertaining children again.

"'Finally' is right. Every time I think one of them is finally drifting off, the other one has to start crying and wake her." Xeta sighed. "For your sake, I hope all of yours come one at a time."

"Twins do seem to run in my family, though," Prior mused as he pulled himself to his feet; it was a small castle, and Geneva would prefer it if her mother sat beside her.

"That's true. There's your father and your aunt, and--" Xeta stopped. Prior couldn't blame her; it was a large family to keep track of.

"My aunt's daughters? Her first two with Fred."

"Ah, yes. Thank you." Her smile was a little large for a simple reminder, but Xeta did have a bit of a strange streak to her. "Neva's family isn't drowning in twins, though, so maybe you'll get lucky."

"Maybe. But whatever size batches they come in, I don't know if I feel right about putting Neva through too many pregnancies if she isn't eager for them herself. I know we'll need at least one, but I'm not going to envy her those nine months." Though, some women did seem to have easier pregnancies than others--and if it ran in families, then it was a lucky thing Neva's mother and sister hadn't struggled so far as he was aware. Still. "It just... seems like such a rougher process than it should be. I suppose my mother is lucky, really--having only had to go through it once."

Xeta frowned. "Once?"

Eh? Xeta had carried both Geneva and the twins--she seemed to actually enjoy being pregnant, and she was a little younger. "Um, yes. Me."

"Oh! Oh, yes of course." There was something odd about her blush, something in the pattern of the swell, the wideness it gave her eyes. Something a little more than embarrassment. "Ah, sorry, I just... you've always been so grown up, I sort of forget that you were a child. And your mother! She's so unchanging and ageless."

"Right." Nice try, Aunt Xeta. But what was she covering up? His mother would have told him if she'd had another child. She might not have been the most conventionally maternal of women, but surely she wouldn't have let any child of hers go unacknowledged? Or at least, without proper care?

"A silly slip, though--and not just for the obvious reasons." Xeta smiled again--too widely, too brightly. "You look more like your father every day."


March 23, 2016

In Which Riona Hadn't Expected

March 4, 1199

"You're staying here tonight?"

Lily only asked because she and Cambrin had a castle, while Conant and Meera were in their mother's old house. Cambrin didn't need the stress of hosting his widowed sister-in-law and her children on the night after his brother's funeral, and Riona didn't have it in her to be any sort of gracious house guest.

And in truth... the relative smallness of the house would suit Riona tonight. If she wanted to check on her children as they slept, she didn't fancy a candlelit journey to another floor, another wing. She'd sleep here, in her mother's old bed, with her two small girls beside her. Her boys would be in the next bedroom, from where she wouldn't miss so much as a skipped snore.

So, she nodded. "Meera told me she doesn't mind. I won't impose longer than tonight.

"I just... I think I need a night elsewhere before I can sleep soundly in that bed without Lonriad."

It had been a political match, arranged by their mothers years before they'd ever met. She'd grown fond of Lonriad, Riona supposed, and she thought he'd felt similarly about her, but it had hardly been a fairy-tale romance. She hadn't expected to miss him quite so much.

Then again, she'd never thought much about him dying. Lonriad had been a healthy man, and healthy men didn't waste away, leaving their wives time to prepare themselves for the inevitable. Healthy men died suddenly in freak hunting accidents.

Riona would have preferred if he'd been sickly.

"You're sure?"

At least she had her choice of sisters here in sweet, open-hearted Lily--even if all she really wanted, just for a moment, was her only-somewhat-more-than-platonic husband back. "Yes. Thank you, though."

"I can call here tomorrow morning, if you like."

"All right." Her sister, bless her, would be worse for wear if she didn't at least let her try to help. There wasn't much help to be had, but there was something to be said about the effort. "I could probably use some adult company for the ride back home after breakfast."


March 21, 2016

In Which Gennie Pushes for Life to Begin

February 11, 1199

"You didn't have to come if you had too much work, you know." It may have been a harsher hint than Gennie felt right about giving, but it never did seem to occur to Wolf that his presence at her family events was optional--even now that she was finished with university and he wasn't. "It's not as if it's a party--just a quiet dinner for my grandfather's birthday."

"It's all right. I don't have too much work." Never mind that he was now in his senior year and he ought to have been focused, especially considering that his major was actually relevant to his future. "I wanted to see you."

"Mmm." She wanted to want to see him. She supposed she did want to see him, sort of--but not in the way either of them wanted. Why? Dalston was out of the question, and he'd never been hers to begin with. "Well, my grandfather will appreciate your well-wishes."

"Well, I'll do what I can for the last birthday he has before hitting the big seven-zero. It's odd to think our grandparents are that old."

"Or that we're old enough to have grandparents who are that old." Gennie sighed. Her grandfather seemed more alive at sixty-nine than she felt at twenty-one. God, what was wrong with her? What was so great about Dalston, anyway? If she couldn't guess why she was so obsessed with him in the first place, then no wonder she couldn't figure out what drove her continued funk.

"Eh. We're not old, really," Wolf tried to assure her as he slung an arm around her shoulders; out of some vain hope to feel something, Gennie obliged and leaned into him. "Just... older, I guess."

"I suppose."

"I mean... life hasn't even begun for us yet." He kissed her on the cheek. He did have soft lips, she'd give herself credit for noticing. "Will you marry me?"

Gennie pressed her tongue to the back of her teeth. It had only been a matter of time before that question slipped out of his mouth. It had been bouncing about his head for years, and she ought to have been more prepared. Or more excited. Or more willing to dispel his hopes.

But she was twenty-one and he was right that life hadn't begun yet. For her, it wouldn't until she put Dalston behind her. She couldn't miss a man who'd never loved her forever.

"All right."


March 19, 2016

In Which Dea's Tact Suits Her

January 29, 1199

"Then it's all settled: I'll write to King Oswald and tell him the truth, and I'll have the lords sign the letter as well. If he doubts anyone's sincerity, then he can verify with either my Uncle Farilon or Searle Minara."

"And the people here?" Anna asked, not quite letting herself smile but hopeful nonetheless. She'd been in Carvallon for many years now, but from how comparatively... uneventful other nations seemed to be, Dea doubted a century was long enough to forget life in Naroni.

"Well, since you've arrived, we've made no effort to make it a secret, so I'm sure the news is already spreading via the servants of the ruling households. I'll make the official announcement after I get word of you having crossed the border, so no one suspects that you're somehow forcing my compliance." Dea didn't think anyone with much of a platform would, but it was safer to cover any bases she could. "Really, I don't believe that most of the people care so much about who sits on the throne than they do what that person does with that power. They'll be surprised, but no one will be itching to go to war over it."

"If anything, some should appreciate it for the inspirational value--taking control of one's destiny and whatnot," Henry added. He ought to have been a bard, really, always seeing all these subtextual details that eluded literal minds like Dea's entirely. He did write in his spare time, though he'd been stingy about how much he'd let her read.

"I hope you're right. The Carvalli people probably won't care much either, after a time. The nobility might take some offense, but we do have Devidra on our side, and they all know better than to argue with her."

At Anna's side, Adrius nodded in agreement. "She's quite the force of nature, my mother--rather like yourself, your majesty, if you don't mind me saying. Though, to your credit, you have considerably more tact."

"When it suits me, at least." Dea smirked. Politeness had never been a consideration when her father had been involved, for instance, but he hadn't much deserved it. "If you treat me well, I'll treat you well in turn."

"And you've treated us much better about this whole thing than Mona and I would have dared hope in the early years of all this." Anna lifted her skirts in a light curtsy while Adrius bowed his head; Dea and Henry did the same in turn. "Carvallon will not forget your understanding."


March 17, 2016

In Which Dora Doesn't Have an Answer

January 10, 1199

"You know, we invited you and Rina for lunch--not for a house-call," Dora teased Severin as she lifted her now-awake infant son from his crib. "You could have just stayed downstairs with Adonis and Rina and your children, rather than coming up here for me."

"I could have." He shrugged--just as he could have, Dora supposed, not bothered coming at all. "But I know you didn't have the easiest pregnancy. If you have anything to talk about, I figured it might be easier for you if you didn't have to ask in front of Adonis."

"Why? Adonis is proving himself a fine father, and you know how he doted on me when I was expecting."

"I didn't mean to imply the opposite of either; just that husbands and fathers tend not to look at their own wives' pregnancies most rationally. Just ask Rina how on-edge I was when she was pregnant."

"You're always on-edge." Perhaps she didn't spend enough time with Severin to fairly make that call, but she knew it was the right one. Her baby boy beamed up at her from his place in her arms, nothing but love in his blue eyes. Other than the expected fatigue of taking care of infant, he hadn't given her any trouble at all. "Ceidrid is a very good baby--and it wasn't as if I was dreadfully ill when I was pregnant."

"No, but you were... out of sorts, I figured." Severin sighed. "Adonis mentioned that you woke often throughout the night--usually in something of a state."

Dora shook her head as she wiped a bit of drool from Ceidrid's mouth. "Oh, that wasn't anything. Just... well, not even nightmares, really. Vivid dreams."

"Dreams." He frowned. Severin was a physician, and a man of science. 'Dreams' weren't his realm, nor were they likely a thing he considered to be of much importance to anyone. "How were they vivid? Bright images?"

"No, as if... as if I'd actually been there. Like they were memories, sort of--but they weren't." At least, she didn't think they were. But, the most troubling thing about the dreams had been the realization of just how little of her life she could clearly recall. "Or if they were, they weren't quite clear enough to ring any bells. Flashes, mostly. I couldn't even make out any faces."

"Hmm. You might have more luck mentioning that to Orrick than to me--though, I suppose his being your boss might complicate that." Severin shifted his gaze down to Ceidrid. He didn't much like children as a rule, but the look was more of inquiry than contempt. "You and Adonis both have blue eyes, but I don't think his are either of yours."

"They're not. We're not sure where they came from, really. My father had my eyes, and my mother's were green." She remembered their eyes. But they'd named the baby for Ceidrid's father. She couldn't remember the name of her own.

"You know, they look a bit like a few of my siblings' eyes," Severin muttered, squinting.

"Well, given how much you all keep talking about how much I look like Alyssin, maybe we really are distant relations."

"Maybe--but my mother says Holladrin and Octavius got her mother's eyes. Alyssin definitely takes more after our father."

"Oh." So that wasn't an answer, then. And Severin kept staring at the baby, frown curling. Surely she didn't suspect her of being unfaithful to Adonis--did he? "I wouldn't--"

"I know."

Still, his own eyes--green, teal green, like his mother's, like the eyes she kept seeing in her dreams--never left the baby's.


March 15, 2016

In Which Lara Considers Twelve-Year-Old Definitions

January 10, 1199

"...and it turns out, she copied off of me in mathematics. But I copied off of her in history, so I suppose that's fair." Camaline's curls bounced with a dismissive toss of her head, as satisfied with a twelve-year-old's definition of 'fair' as any other twelve-year-old was likely to be. "But you don't have a school in Carvallon, do you? You just have tutors. That must be dreadfully lonely!"

"Not really." In truth, Lara suspected that Camaline's idea of loneliness was approximately her own idea of peace and quiet, and she'd yet to have a problem with any of her tutors--none that she hadn't been able to spin in her favor, at any rate. But she'd be back in Naroni the year after next to attend the university, and perhaps the Naronian classrooms would have been better preparation for that. Then again, a university class was surely a more focused experience than run-of-the-mill childhood education. "I usually finish up with my lessons fairly quickly, since I don't have to wait for anyone else to catch up. Then I'm free to do as I please."

"Don't you study with Naeva, though?"

"Naeva's four years younger than me--closer to five, even. We study more side-by-side than together."

"So she's closer to my age," Camaline mused. "Why didn't she come along, then? I don't doubt we'd have fun together."

"I don't know. Naeva doesn't really have much fun with anyone." And neither did Lara, really--but at least Lara had learned to be polite about it. Polite enough, at least, that she hadn't vehemently opposed leaving her comfortable room at the castle for the day to meet her cousins by the duchess.

"Oh." Camaline batted her eyes toward their other cousin--who, really, hadn't had much reason for dropping by as far as Lara could tell. "Sounds rather like Hollie."

"You realize I'm right here," Hollie muttered under her breath, the first she'd said since a half-grunted 'hello' to Lara as if it hadn't been only the second time they'd met.

"Yes, dear cousin--but I'm never sure if you do!" Camaline laughed. Lara failed to see just what was so funny. "You'll have to excuse her, Lara. Hollie never has anything to say, except maybe to my brother Ricky."

Hollie shifted, the fabric of her skirts rustling against that of the couch cushion. Camaline was twelve years old, with twelve-year-old definitions: 'loneliness', 'anything'. Camaline herself didn't have anything to say, but she insisted on saying it anyway.

Hollie, from what much-yet-little Lara knew about her, must have had a lot to say.

But having something to say didn't always mean having a way to say it.


March 13, 2016

In Which Ricky Allows for a Healthy Dose of Skepticism

January 7, 1199

"So Aunt Mona's maid has been Queen of Carvallon this whole time?" Whether or not it was the appropriate response for a future duke and the nephew of the woman who was apparently not the queen, Ricky couldn't fight the laugh and made no effort to do so. "All right, the world can be as shocked as it wants to be, but I can't pretend that's not at least a little bit funny."

His father obliged him with a slight smile. He wasn't as unorthodox as Lord Severin was, nor was he as loyal to Dea as Kaldar was, or as opposed to his late father-in-law as the baron was. If any of the Lords of Naroni were to have a problem with the whole scheme, it would have certainly been him--and perhaps he might have had a problem with it, had it reached his ears when it had been a newly-hatched conspiracy. But now, it seemed he'd deemed it pointless to fight against. "After all this time, yes, I suppose it can be now."

"Though, Grandfather Roderick must be tossing in his grave."

"Perhaps, but a man can change his perspective over much more trivial things than death. Stubborn as your grandfather was, I should hope the afterlife would provide at least some opportunity for reflection on such things. He may have already known, and come to peace with it long ago." Despite the grin, his father's tone was skeptical of his own words--but his brows twitched briefly upright, as if to say he knew he was no less prone to error than anyone else. "It seems that your Grandmother Laralita did learn of it before she went, and she took the news more calmly than anyone could have expected of her."

"Huh." Ricky pursed his lips as he nodded. After his grandfather's death, his step-grandmother's letters had progressed in a pattern of growth he hadn't quite expected of someone so famously materialistic and self-involved. "Sad as it is to say... I think widowhood actually did Grandmother Laralita a world of good, at least once she got past the worst of her grief."

"I believe it did. My father told me once that women are usually better off without a man holding them back--but a man had better have a woman if he hopes to make anything of himself. Going purely by myself and your mother, I'd say that's quite true." His father smirked. "And speaking of such things, I still intend to let you choose your own bride, but I won't pretend that I didn't think you'd have picked one years ago now. Twenty-six is well past the age an heir ought to be married."

"Don't you start on that! It seems I have this conversation with Mother every month." His mother was planning on having Aunt Mona and her family for a banquet the night after next, and Ricky had no doubt that half her motive in hosting them was to set him up with his oldest cousin. "But if it makes you feel any better, I do believe I've chosen someone. It's just a matter of figuring out how best to approach her with it."

"Hmm. I suppose that's a relief." But his father arched one brow, opting to take the declaration with a grain of salt. At this stage, maybe a healthy dose of skepticism wasn't unfounded--but Ricky didn't much want to think about that right now. "But don't waste any time in figuring it out, all right? Lord knows I want to live to see my firstborn's firstborn."

"I'll take all the time I feel we both need. I do want her to have some say in it, you know--not just 'marry me, or I'll have your family make you'." Not that he thought her family would. "Besides, you've seen your secondborn's firstborn, at least."

"I have, and I love her. But forgive your mother and me for wanting a grandchild who lives in the same country."


March 12, 2016

In Which Henry Can't Answer for the Dead

January 6, 1198

"Aunt Mona." However Dea might have felt about her aunt--she'd been a child of five when Mona had been sent away, so if she didn't have enough memories of her to form an opinion, then Lord knew Henry had no cause to guess it--she paid her a familial kiss on the cheek as opposed to a more stately greeting. For her fellow queen, however, a stately mutual bow was merited. "Your majesty."

"Your majesty," Queen Anna replied in kind as Henry edged around the women to the hearth-facing bench. On Dea's request, Henry had greeted the women himself and led them to the study. Willott had been given the day off; he was more Dea's man than Roderick's now, as he'd been more Roderick's than Ietrin's, but the absurdity of the situation may have been too much for a loyal steward serving his third generation of monarchs to handle. Better to leave the greeting to the shiny new prince consort.

"Please, have a seat, both of you." Dea gestured to the other bench. She waited for her guests to seat themselves, then made her way to her desk from behind Henry, fingers grazing his shoulder as she brushed by. He smiled. He could keep up with political talk about as well as he was expected to, but it wasn't really his realm. All he could bring to this meeting was support.

But, given the women's agreeable manner and Dea's own level-headed views of the issue at hand, that would not be so difficult--or unpleasant--a task. "I think it goes without saying that no matter what anyone thinks, congratulations are in order to the two of you for having fooled the world for so long."

Anna replied with a shy smile. Mona, though, wasn't all that eager to focus on it, her eyes falling to the children on the floor. "Sparron and Jedaline, I take it?"

"My babies," Dea confirmed with a fond grin their way. "Say hello to Auntie Mona and Queen Anna."

Sparron and Jedaline relented a couple of mumbled greetings, then resumed their more interesting game. They were both rather like their mother, Henry thought: focused, independent, full of potential. Every minute he spent with them was all the more reason to give them the golden childhood that Dea's own father had denied her. A cordial first exposure to the workings of royals would do them well.

"Yes, that's... well, that's part of why we decided it was time to end this. The children. Anna's children deserved to know their mother's name, and how brave she was to go along with my scheme. And my children... uh, that is, if you think it appropriate..."

"They will have their place in the line of succession," Dea assured her aunt. "While Grandfather would have been furious about all of this, I don't believe he was the sort to cast aside a blood tie."

Henry had never met King Roderick. But, from what Dea had told him, that would have been rather close to home for the old king. "Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, but King Roderick did know what it was to be denied his place in line. He may not have been the kindest or cleverest of men, but I doubt that was a fate he would have wished on anyone."

"Yes--and if nothing else, he didn't care for disruptions in order. I won't pretend to agree with more of Grandfather's politics than I do, but to ensure that his grandchildren have their place in succession--however unlikely it is that they'll ever inherit--is a rare posthumous gift I can give him."

"But would he have forgiven me?"

A question only a dead man could answer. And while Henry knew--thought he knew, at least--what he himself would do as a father, he couldn't answer for a dead man he'd never met.

But Dea had known her grandfather.

And by now, Henry knew Dea well enough to trust her judgment.