June 29, 2016

In Which Renata Tells Who Ought to Know

March 8, 1201

"Mama! You're home!" Sparron bounded over to the top of the stairs as Lettie finished scaling them and greeted her with an enthusiastic hug. Renata's grandson was such an affectionate boy. His mother and siblings did dote on him, possibly to make up for any comments he might have gotten on his unclear parentage--but, if he got any to his face, he was doing far too good a job of internalizing it. Renata hoped it was simply that children were kinder than they used to be, and not that Sparron was suffering in silence; she wasn't so naive as to not have her suspicions, though.

"Mama, Grandmother's here!"

"I can see that, sweetie." Lettie kissed him on the cheek, then ruffled his hair as he released her. "This is unexpected, Mother."

Renata picked at an uneven fingernail. Her visit would hardly be the greatest shock of Lettie's day. "Yes, and I hope this isn't a bad time. Octavius and I received some news today."

With her grandson's back to her, she took the opportunity to flit her eyes toward him, just obviously enough for her daughter to pick up on it. "Sparron, why don't you go down to the kitchens and ask Mara to whip us up some treats? I'm sure she'll let you eat the batter if you help her."

"Can I choose what kind of treat?"

"Of course you can--just as long as we have the ingredients."

"All right!" Sparron flashed Renata a giddy grin--probably thinking about his favorite oat-and-hazelnut biscuits--then rushed down the stairs with sufficient speed that Lettie had to watch over the railing to be sure he didn't trip.

Satisfied with her son's sure footing, Lettie took a seat on the other bench, her face fading from fond to frown in cue of Renata's melancholy. "What's wrong, Mother?"

"It's your friend, Tarien Andronei." Renata sighed as Lettie's brow twitched. Tarien, from what she understood, had once aspired to be more than Lettie's friend, if she even thought of him as that much. But, if she recalled the events surrounding Sparron's likely time of conception, he had managed to somewhat endear himself for at least one night. "He had some sort of accident. He didn't make it."

"Oh." Lettie clenched her lip between her teeth in a few seconds of silence. It perhaps a somewhat easier thing, learning about a death when there were clear feelings one way or another. At least, in those cases, there was an automatic reaction--no need to fret about whether tears or gasps or an obligatory sobriety were most fitting. "I... I'm sorry to hear that."

"Well, I thought you ought to know--am I right?" Renata jerked her head toward the stairs, where Sparron had been only minutes before; biting at her lip again, Lettie nodded. "Does Sparron know who his father is?"

Her daughter shook her head. "I'll tell him if he ever asks."

"You mean he hasn't?" Another shake of the head. Odd. Five years old was plenty old enough to wonder why everyone else had a father, and plenty young enough not to know that it might be a sensitive question.

"He hasn't asked me, at any rate--and I haven't heard about him asking anyone else. I'm sure he wonders, but I suppose it doesn't bother him that much."

That might have been the result of his siblings' tales of growing up with Searle for a father. For his own sake, at least that man seemed to be doing a better job of it with his second wife's children. "Then I suppose he doesn't feel that anything is missing. He's a remarkably well-adjusted child; perhaps it's for the better if you do leave it up to him when he decides when he wants to know."

"That's the plan for now, at least." Pensive, Lettie took to curling a lock of hair around her finger. "Pity there's not a way to know if it's the best one before it's too late to change course."


June 26, 2016

In Which Honora Is a Judgmental Bitch

February 15, 1201

"So... do they ever spend any time together without their tongues in each other's throats?"

If either Nearina or Oswald heard Arkon's question, they didn't care enough to protest. On her own part, Honora--much as she loved her sister and while she had nothing in particular against her future brother-in-law--made a point not to lie to her own betrothed. "Not so far as I've seen, no."

Nearina and Oswald had, of course, spent time together outside of Honora's presence--but she didn't want to think about what they must have been doing then.

"Hmm. Well, if it makes them happy." Arkon, being a Kemorin, never had much more of a reaction to lewd-but-harmless behavior than a shrug and a smile. Some part of Honora envied him that. "They might have more self-control than they let on, though. I know we were all shocked when my sister walked the aisle in white, but I suppose you can be sexual without technically having sex."

"It amuses me that your family was shocked by your sister's white dress, but no one thought much of her husband wearing something similar."

"Hey, you were there; you know it wasn't similar at all." Arkon threw back his head and chuckled the way only a Kemorin could. "Adonis's dress was much prettier. I'm sure it won't be as pretty as whatever you have in mind for your wedding dress, though--if only because you'll be the one wearing it."

"That's sweet of you to say," Honora acknowledged, still watching her sister with mingled concern and envy. If twins had to fight in the womb over every available trait, then Nearina must have claimed nearly all of the libido there was to go around. That wasn't to say that Honora had no libido, exactly... but it took a while. And it wasn't nearly powerful enough to override any of the worries surrounding any extensive premarital activity--because if Nearina had taken most of the libido, then Honora had taken most of the worry.

Secretly, Arkon must have found her dull and prudish.

While Oswald--who was not a Kemorin, who probably hadn't grown up expecting adult life to mimic the stuff of dirty novels--probably thought himself the luckiest man in Naroni.

"Oh! Here I was, thinking I'd be the first one here."

Except, perhaps, for his cousin Marsden.

That wasn't to say that Arkon's cousin Celina had the same reputation as some of her Kemorin brethren, but there had always been something somewhat... off about her. A little mischievous, a little sinister, more than a little sensual. Perhaps a little predatory.

Or perhaps she was just strange, and Honora was a judgmental bitch who couldn't by a loaf of bread without making a hundred snide assumptions about the baker in the process. "...Hello, Celina."

"Honora. Cousin Arkon." Celina paid them a polite wave, but quickly transferred her attentions elsewhere--to the precise reason Honora was wary of her. "Nearina!"

Surely it wasn't too bitchy or too judgmental to have thought she'd seen those grey eyes flicker to her sister's ass? And then to her breasts as she turned around?

"Celina! It's been a while." Nearina, of course, hadn't noticed a thing. Not now, not when she'd been twelve with brand new breast and Celina had been a shyly ogling ten-year-old. "Think your cousin will be surprised that not only his old housemates will be here for his birthday party?"

"Probably. He never catches on to these things until it's too late."

Nearina snickered, unaware of her own pot-and-kettle situation there. Or maybe Honora was seeing things that weren't there, again. Celina seemed to like Marsden well enough, after all.

Then again...

"Are you all right?"

Honora snapped back to reality as Arkon snuggled up to her. Or snapped back from reality. In any case, it was for the best.


"Just... wondering if your brother will be as surprised as we all hope."


June 24, 2016

In Which Rona Cannot Quell

January 12, 1201

"Morgan, what's the matter here?"

There clearly was a matter here. Rona and Morgan got along well enough, but not to the point where it wasn't odd if just Morgan--not Lonriad or Yvanette or Sevvie--invited just Rona--not Ashe or any of the children--to come over. Certainly not to the point where the messenger delivering said invitation had to leave his exhausted horse at the trough in the stables and was panting and sweating by the time he himself had scaled the front stairs, or to the point where the message included the words 'at once'. Not 'at your convenience', not even 'as soon as possible'...

At once.

"Thank God you're here." Morgan sighed. She was otherwise as composed as ever, but there was an air of helplessness about her that Rona hadn't seen before--and that, clearly, Morgan herself didn't have to cope with often. "It's Yvanette."

"She's not still sick, is she?" Rona bit her lip as she pulled off her hat and let her hair fall from its hasty side buns. Yvanette had been ill the past few weeks, but it had been the creeping and wanting fatigue-and-nausea sort of ill, more of a nuisance than an actual concern. Besides... if it were that, surely Ashe would have been summoned too?

"No--well, yes, but that's not it. She won't come out of her room. Not for me, not for Lonriad, not for any of the children. She might have come out for Sevvie, but he left at the crack of dawn on some mission for Lord Severin and he's not back yet. But I figured that if there was anyone else she'd be willing to see, it would surely be her own mother..."

"I hope you're right." Rona untied her cloak, only to have Morgan take hold of the back and help her slip out of it. "Do you have a key to her room?"

"Yes, on the desk." Morgan jerked her head toward the steward's table as she folded Rona's cloak. "Neither Lonriad nor I thought it right to intrude if she didn't want to see us; I hope that was the right call."

"It probably was." Knowing Yvanette, at least. Rona made for the desk and took the key, then shot Morgan a last look. The other woman remained collected, yet alert; Rona doubted her own capacity to keep herself to the former quality. "I'll let you know how it goes."

As best I can, anyway, she added to herself in afterthought as she hurried down the halls to Yvanette and Sevvie's room. Morgan would have been told about Yvanette's transformations by now, but it was uncomfortable enough for the girl to know that even her own parents talked about them amongst themselves.

She reached the door, a chorus of sniffles sounding from the other side. In inept mimicry of her mother's gentle touch, Rona knocked. "Yvanette? Yvanette, sweetheart?"

A choke. "M-mother?"

It was the closest to permission she would get. She unlocked the door to the sight of her daughter--still in her nightgown, face in her hands, tears streaming from behind them. Her baby. She's been melancholy most of her life, but a scene like this was another thing entirely.

"Yvanette, what's wrong?" She pulled her daughter into her arms, rubbing her shoulder with what aimed for a soothing motion but probably just made it worse. "Everyone's worried about you."

"Mother, I don't--" Yvanette gasped back another sob and dragged one sleeve across her eyes. "I think I--I can't--"

"Yvanette." Rona laced a hand through her daughter's soft curls and brushed them from her face. "Take your time."

"I... I..." She haltered, fighting a sob--and losing. "...I'm late..."

Rona froze mid-stroke. That... had not been a thing Yvanette had planned on. And not without reasonable concerns--concerns that weren't likely to be quelled. How could she comfort her? Was comfort even possible? "That... doesn't always mean anything."

"But it could! And with my luck--" Yvanette's shoulders pulled together, boxing her body to a shaking, shrinking mass. "I mean, I don't even know how long... What if I've already hurt it? I can't go nine months without--"

"I know. Just... remember that you don't know for sure yet, all right?" Was there no other comfort to be found? Not in her mind, anyway. Not in her heart. People were too optimistic when they said that everything always turned out in the end. "We could send for Arydath, if you like. She'll know right away whether or not you need to be concerned--and if something's amiss, she'll probably notice that too."

"M-maybe..." Yvanette bowed her head in resignation, no doubt in shambles at the thought of yet another person having to learn her secret. "I guess there's not much ch-choice, is there?"

Not much choice. A dismal thought at the best of times, and downright agony in the worst of them. "Let's just... see what she says."


June 22, 2016

In Which Nata Has Nothing Better to Do

January 7, 1201

"You don't have to rise at the crack of dawn every morning, you know," Nata teased as Falidor finished dressing. "No one dares attend to this room before they know for sure that I'm awake. Besides--half the staff probably has some idea of what we're doing in our spare time anyway."

Falidor frowned. She'd been half-joking, but he'd of course gone for the nugget of truth. She'd have to work on that. "I don't want anyone saying things about you."

"Eh. I don't much care." Nata shrugged. She didn't care, really; the staff could think what they liked, but none of them were fool enough to say anything to her face, or even behind her back on the off-chance it got back to her. "I'd rather you feel like you didn't have to run off so soon."

"But I have to make my room look at least somewhat lived-in."

"Why? Maybe you spent the night with a chambermaid."

"No. I only want to spend nights with you."

"Then spend the morning with me as well, you silly boy."

"No. You may not care what people say about you, but I do. I can't be seen here--for your sake. I mean... we're not married."

Nata snorted. Falidor did, on occasion, like to state the obvious--just like she liked to snark if off. "I suppose we could always get married."

"We could."

Dear Lord. Nata slipped off the bed and landed a playful slug on his shoulder. "I was joking."

"I wasn't." Said without blinking, said without smiling. "I think I want more. I think you do too."

"I think we already have more than you think we do." Or did he? They never said much. But she'd never been one to say things like that, and he wasn't one to say much at all. "Marriage would just be a way of letting other people know it."

"Good. I want everyone to know it."

And he'd been concerned about people thinking her merely promiscuous. The widowed sister of a baron marrying a low-born steward seven years her junior was a much juicier piece of gossip.

But... well, she didn't care. "All right, then."

"Good." She hadn't quite noticed how rarely and subtly he smiled until this odd and obvious grin had appeared. "Get dressed. Father Septimus should be stumbling home by about now."

Nata cocked her head to the side. Of all the things she hadn't expected to start her day with. "Today? Seriously?"

"Why not? Do you have something better to do?"

"No, nothing comes to mind." And if she was truly as sincere as she felt about that, than it must have been the right decision. "I had no idea you were so spontaneous, Falidor Diarn."


June 19, 2016

In Which Celina Is So Near

December 20, 1200

"Aydelle, I'm so sorry I couldn't get here yesterday." Yesterday had, of course, been the day when Gennie had been down for the count with the migraine of the year--and with the nanny down with a bad cold and everyone else being as busy as they always were, Celina had been the one stuck watching baby Jadin all day. Yesterday had also been the day when her mother had dropped by, mentioning that Camaline was at Aydelle's, as her labor had begun. Of all the rotten timing. "I had my nephew..."

"It's fine. It was my easiest labor yet, and it might have looked odd had you shown up. I don't know if my daughters have any idea that we even know each other, so your not being there might have saved you some prying questions." Aydelle let out a soft, tired laugh. Celina sort of knew Aydelle's daughters--mainly through family connections with their husbands, truth be told--and surely Aydelle's daughters had some idea of their mother's less-than-conventional love life... but, yes, Aydelle was probably right. Hanna, at least, couldn't let a question go unanswered, and Leina was probably too conventional to make a convincing show of indifference.

"Kid has your eyes, by the way."

"...Oh." So... it probably was hers, unless Aydelle had been sleeping with one of her mother's relatives or one of the royals. And King Roderick's surviving sons, at least, were all in Dovia now. "I, uh... well, I suppose I knew it was a possibility." But dear Lord--the thought was a lot to get used to!

"I don't doubt it--but I have another odd thought to throw your way, if you think you can handle it?" Aydelle arched a brow in a bid for permission. Fairly certain that nothing could require the same mental adjustment that her being both an eighteen-year-old mostly-woman and a father did, Celina nodded. "All right, I don't know if your mother told you, but your half-siblings are indeed Camaline's. They were conceived with the help of the Naron, but Deian himself told Camaline that all the children of two women would be girls--something about the factor that results in boys only being produced by males.

"So you can imagine my surprise when my baby turned out to be a boy."

How insufficient, then, the scope of 'fairly certain' was. "So... what am I, then?"

Aydelle shrugged. "You're whatever the hell you want to be. Maybe your mastery of your own body expands beyond what even you yourself are aware of."

"Maybe. That would make sense, given everything else." Still one hell of an idea to get used to, though. And a hell of a difficult explanation if she ever saw fit to tell Marsden.

"Anyway, he's just upstairs; do you want to see him?"

It wouldn't have made things any easier if she didn't. "All right. Could you bring him down while I put away my hat and cloak? I'm wearing a tunic underneath. I kind of thought the first time he saw his father should be... well, as his father."

"If that's how you feel." Aydelle winked as she turned around and made for the stairs. "Do what you have to do. I'll just be a minute."

She waited for the last hint of a trailing nightgown to vanish, then removed her winter garb and draped the cloak over a nearby chair, hat dangling from the corner. She picked the braids out of her hair, then sighed as her body morphed--head to toe, inside and out, blood and all its little mysteries included.

"Ready?" Aydelle called from upstairs.

Ready. Or, as close to ready as possible. "Yes."

Sure enough--grey eyes, clear as day, even from several feet back. "My father's name was Fardred, and I wanted to honor him, but I thought it somewhat cruel to stick this little fellow with that name. So, this is Farr."


Farr. So near.

"Hello, Farr."


June 18, 2016

In Which Sevvie Challenges the All Day Every Day

November 29, 1200

"Just burning off some magic?" It was a stupid question; Yvanette would never lounge around in cat form if it wasn't necessary. But, for lack of a more biting response at the moment, Sevvie's wife nodded as best her altered neck allowed. "I hope the rest of your day was a little more interesting."

Her ear twitched. It probably hadn't been. Sevvie stifled the urge to sigh. A pity that Yvanette hadn't found a career that had sparked her interest--but, if she were out of the castle all day, she'd probably spend most of her energy fearing she'd have to transform at an inopportune time.

There had to have been a way to improve her quality of life, something more permanent than his guard shifts at the old ruins, or Lysi and Lythe worshiping their beautiful sister-in-law like eight-year-olds were apt to do. There had to have been.

Why hadn't either of them figured it out yet?

"I'm going to lie down. Join me when you're ready?"

Her four-point tread turned from rustling on the rug to clicks on the hardwood as he slung himself onto the bed. As he settled, she reached the wardrobe and returned to her body. She dressed quickly, as she always did; at this point, she didn't mind him looking, but if she was dressed...

Well, then things were normal.

"How was your day?"

"Eh. Dull." It had been, and he was never sure whether or not a dull on his part made her feel better or worse about her own. But, she'd hated it most if he wasn't honest. "Nice scenery by the river, of course, but nothing happened there that doesn't happen every day."

"That describes things around here as well." Yvanette sighed--and plucked a stray, short hair from her bodice. "Sometimes I wonder if we're all not just living the same day over and over."

"God, that's a horrifying thought--but at least I know I still get to see you every day."

That sufficed for a small smile, he noted as she shuffled over to lean against him. "You're always the highlight of my all day every day, that's for sure."

"Heh. Well... I do what I can." He rested his head against hers, the scent of her perfumed hair a brief respite from his lingering lethargy, at least until he wondered if what he could do would ever be enough. "For this all day every day, that is. We'll figure out a way to get over today and get on with tomorrow--some day."


June 15, 2016

In Which Congren Isn't Averse to Sharing

November 14, 1200

"Leaving already, pretty boy?" Congren indulged himself with one last leer over that lithe young body-- muscles subtle yet clear, cock still impressive despite now being flaccid.

Damn. An afternoon like a vignette from a dirty book: university student stopped by the ranch for directions, asked for a cup of water as well, 'accidentally' spilled it all over himself and just had to take off his tunic. For all Congren knew, this kid knew exactly where the nearest village was and how best to get there.

"I do have to get to the bookseller's shop before it closes--unless you happen to have a copy of Euclid's Elements lying around here."

"If I did, I'd have to require a favor of you before lending it." Congren winked, bringing a smirk to the young man's face. Who was this student, anyway? He dressed like a commoner and claimed to be from Dovia, but Dovian commoners as a whole didn't seem to bother sending their children off to Naroni for further education. And he had those grey eyes that so many of the nobles had. Somebody's bastard? That nose could have been Jadin of Veldora's. But Jadin's eyes, if Congren remembered correctly, had been blue like Searle's.

"I can't say I wouldn't oblige, but I'd need to see the text first. In any case, I'll certainly be back--but you wouldn't happen to know any other men in this country who are game for a good fuck every once in a while, do you?"

"Oh?" Congren sprung from the bed and dashed for the young man, yanking that Greek god body tight and close. "Am I going to have to share you?

"That's fine. You're going to have to share me too."

"I'm glad you understand. Exclusivity isn't in my particular best interests right now, I assure you."

"That's what I like to hear." Congren leaned in to nip the man's ear, than ran his tongue down that blond jawline before releasing him. "Well, unfortunately, I can't give you too many names; most men like us don't like word getting out, after all, so it's a matter of luck to a large extent. But I have a map of a few established rendez-vous points where you might meet someone looking for the same things. You can keep it if you like; I haven't had to refer to it in years."

"I'd appreciate that. Maybe I'll run into you in one of those places at some point."

"Oh, it's bound to happen eventually." Congren smirked. He'd been making the rounds since he was sixteen. He'd thought he'd fucked every willing man in the country until this one had shown up. "You'll get to know a few faces, maybe--or at least a few chests and cocks and asses. Most of the names I know are names that won't do you much good, like Casimiro de Cervantes; he used to be up for a good time, but he seems to have found himself a steady lay somewhere."

"The knight? Lady Ellona's husband?" Kid would have known Lady Ellona, being a student and all. "Interesting."

"She knows, if that's what you're wondering. She doesn't care; in her books, fucking men beats being King Ietrin. Oh, and there's also Searle Kemorin--Lord Severin's second son."

"What?" White face, wide eyes. Odd. No reason for a foreign student to know who Searle Kemorin was. "Unc--uh, Sir Searle? Really?"

"Oh, definitely, but he claims he likes women too, if you believe that sort of thing. In any case, he's always eager, but he's a pain in the ass--moans 'Oh, Sparron!' every time he comes."

"Yes, that... that would get annoying." Didn't look so much annoyed as he did grossed out, though. Yes, must have been some Kemorin's bastard. Lord knew there were a lot of them. Might have even been Searle's bastard, if Searle really liked women as much as he said he did. "Thanks for the heads-up."


June 14, 2016

In Which Camaline Sanctions the Safer Practice

October 18, 1200

"Good Lord. Those grey eyes are relentless," Camaline half-laughed and half-grumbled as she honed in on Prior's newborn son--her first grandchild. What a chore his birth had turned out to be! Neva had labored long enough that the women helping her had reached the point where they'd decided a napping rotation was in order. Camaline, as it figured, had been the one dozing off in one of the guest rooms when the baby had finally emerged.

But, looking at him now, it was hard to begrudge him for it. And the grey eyes, though clearly Neva's, were also those of Camaline's father--so, if she'd feared the baby would spark any question of Prior's maternity, she was no longer concerned.

"Yes, Grandfather Roderick's descendants seem more likely to have them than not. It's a little odd, but at least they're nothing horrible to look at--not on this little fellow, and certainly not on his mother." Prior smirked, his own Lettie-blue eyes twinkling. He and Neva had been betrothed since childhood--probably due to some fear on the part of Sparron or Octavius that he'd otherwise pursue Alina--and they hadn't had much to say to each other before they'd been nearly grown, but they'd become quite fond of each other since marrying. "Do you think Neva will object if I ask to name him for Father? After that labor, she deserves first naming rights, but... well, he's Father's first grandchild. Her father already has her sister's children."

"I see no problem with at least asking." She looked down at the baby again. A round, red-haired, grey-eyed baby was about the opposite of what came to mind when she heard the name 'Sparron', but if every son born to every parent in Naroni for the next hundred years was named for the best friend she'd ever had, that still wouldn't have been honor enough for him. "Lorn probably still feels too young to be a grandfather, so it might hammer in his age, a grandson named for him. Besides, he's still alive, and your father isn't; it's usually safer practice to name children for any deceased parents first."

"Well, you and Aunt Leara are both alive, so it's lucky he's a boy, then." Prior raised the baby to his shoulder and kissed the side of his head. Already he wore fatherhood well. Just like his own father had when he'd been born. "He would have been Camaline had he been a girl--or I would have fought for that, at least."

"You might have lost that one." She wouldn't mention that she'd only mentioned Lorn feeling insecure about his age because that's how she would have felt if presented with a descendant named 'Camaline'. "Ah, but you'll have a girl and then another girl before long. Just focus on this little one for now."

"That's the plan." Mindful of the boy's head, Prior lowered him somewhat in an attempt to meet his eyes. "Well, son: shall we go make the case for your name to your mama?"