July 31, 2016

In Which Severin Does Not Leave Floundering

October 11, 1201

"Everything all right?"

Severin's father had a serious look about him more often than not, but if the hard, unblinking glint of his eye was anything to go by, he already knew the answer to that question. That wasn't unexpected. If there was reason to act as if he wasn't at least a little upset, Severin hadn't see it--so, why would he have bothered to pretend?

Especially when the only reason he'd seen fit to disturb his father in the first place was to inform him. "The dog died."

His father's posture stiffened as if cued by his frown--shoulders braced, arms forward, fists balled. There was no denying that Balin had been old for a dog, unless it was to argue that Balin had been downright ancient for a dog. Severin would be sixteen in December. He didn't know exactly how old Balin had been, as he'd made himself part of the family as a full-grown dog, but... well, he'd been a full-grown dog well before Severin had been born. And not only had he been older than Severin, but Nato and Alina as well. Any other dogs who'd been acquired at the same time had been gone for years now.

And yet, it had only been in the past few weeks that Balin had shown any beyond-aesthetic signs of his age.

"Well... no one can say he didn't live a damn full life for a dog, I suppose." All the same, his father didn't fight the escaping sigh. "I don't think I was prepared for it, though. After so many years of him putting off dying, I suppose I'd figured he'd never bother with it at all."

"At least he went peacefully, it looks like?" When that was said of people, Severin had yet to see what difference that assertion made--but, in Balin's case, given how unnaturally long he'd lived anyway... "Viridis found him. He was just curled up, like he'd gone to sleep and just stopped breathing at some point, none the wiser."

"I don't know. I think he knew it was coming. He always was uncanny that way. My uncle said he was more of a familiar than a pet; don't ask me what that means exactly, but you couldn't deny that Balin was always rather more--"

His father's voice came to a stunned halt, his lip curling inward and his eyes falling prey to a series of rapid-fire blinks. It might have been best to let him finish or not finish the thought as he saw fit, but Severin couldn't help himself. Anxious confusion was not a state in which he wished to leave his father floundering. "Father?"

"I know I can't be certain--" And yet, the catch in his throat insisted that he was. "--but I think my uncle is dead."


July 28, 2016

In Which Celina Is a Hypocrite

September 19, 1201

"Can't say I'm surprised to see that you're looking ravishing." Marsden's kiss to Celina's hand lingered rather longer than was proper. Though it was still tame by her standards, she'd take any and all sensuality she could get today.

She was not looking forward to this wedding.

It wasn't like her to be jealous--if she enjoyed multiple partners, then why should she deny those she cared about that same opportunity?--but something about Nearina Tamrion inspired more hypocrisy in her than most. And it was stupid, as Celina had never had Nearina and probably never would, as Nearina was obviously smitten with Oswald and had never so much as glanced at anyone else so far as Celina had noticed. But... well, before she'd even bled, before she'd discovered she could change her body at will, Nearina had been the first girl she'd ever noticed. Perhaps she'd even been the first person she'd ever noticed, as the first boy was apparently so insignificant in the short term to have vanished from her memory entirely. Whether it had ever been a possibility or not, there was an undeniable notability about the woman who'd taught her that she liked women.

"Are you all right?"

"Mmm... still recovering somewhat from my exam yesterday." She didn't like to lie to Marsden any more than necessary, so it was a lucky thing that was true enough. "I have no idea why Nearina couldn't wait until after term was over to get married--and same with Honora, for that matter."

"Well, don't take my word for it--but rumor has it that Nearina and Oswald might have gotten something of a head start on their young family." Marsden winked; Celina must have done a better job at masking her disgust at the thought of Nearina with Oswald than she'd thought. "And then Honora probably thought that as the older twin, she ought to be married first."

"That's a bit ridiculous, isn't it?"

"I agree, but I suppose with neither of us being twins, we wouldn't know."

"Mmm. That's true." So considerate--so aware that his own heart was not the only one that felt, that his own mind was not the only one that thought. It was why Celina had come to love him. It was an invaluable quality.

And while the last thing she needed was to feel like even more of a hypocrite... well, if she were ever tested, she hoped she'd be at least as jealous over him as she was over Nearina.

"So... shall we see if anyone else is ready to head to Tetran? Or would you prefer a more private walk?"


July 27, 2016

In Which Yvanette Finds the Baffling Companion

August 27, 1201

Whatever half-hearted platitudes Sevvie uttered, Yvanette's ears fell deaf. The only sounds she knew were the echoes in her head. Her frantic scratching against the floor as she fought to change back in time. Her son's desperate first breaths as she freed him from the surrounding membrane. Her own tears as they hit the floor, when she turned back and he did not.

Her baby. In the first second of his life, she had failed him. She'd failed him the moment he'd been conceived. Why hadn't she gone to Aerina Frey for herbs when she'd had the chance? It would have been a mercy.

"They should be back soon."

Yvanette choked. Did it even matter when they returned? If nothing could be done...

No. She wanted her baby--but more than that, she wanted to think, to hope, that there was the slightest chance of him being all right. As long as they were gone, she had that.

If they returned, and her baby--


Her father's voice. Did she dare--?

"Yvanette, it's all right. He's fine. He's back to normal."

Her father was not a liar, but she had to look to believe it.

Her boy was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.

"He... he's all right." More than all right. "He's amazing..."

"He looks like you when you were a baby, actually." Her father handed him off to her and stepped back. Had she dared dream of this since she'd first begun to suspect his existence? Her healthy, human son in her arms? "Darker hair, though. And Lonriad said he couldn't be certain, but he thinks those must be Asalaye's grandmother's eyes, based on something her father said once."

Who cared whose eyes they were? So long as they were living eyes.

"All he said was turquoise blue, Ashe; no need to sound so cryptic about it."

Her father-in-law. And...

...her baby?

"Wait, why do you have...?"


"Sevvie?" Surely she was hallucinating anyway. Her son still clutched tightly, she spun back to the sight of her husband.

And an even more baffling companion than her baby's kitten form.

What did Deian do?


July 25, 2016

In Which Ashe Places the Higher Priority

August 27, 1201

"You know, I can't remember the last time I heard someone was looking for me and it didn't turn out to be you two." Deian's rocky features squirmed in disgust, but not without some hint of sadistic pleasure. Whatever he truly felt about their presence, Ashe didn't have any worry to waste on Deian. He and Lonriad had made for the forest in silence, the sounds of the wind and the leaves and the mewing grandchild in Ashe's hands more than enough conversation.

If anyone could restore the baby's human form, it would have been Deian. And, frankly--Deian had to be able to. If he couldn't, Yvanette would never forgive herself for the fate of her child.

Nor would Ashe forgive himself for the fate of his.

"Look, we don't have the patience for your shit right now." Thank God for Lonriad's dauntless, stupid boldness. "Yvanette--"

"Gave birth to that kitten." Deian yawned. "She's lucky, really. You humans have the hardest time of labor; I'd guess that shooting this tiny thing out of a cat's cunt would be more akin to defecating."

"Never mind the labor! Can you make it human again, or not?"

"Do you really want me to? Think of how easy this thing would be compared to a human baby. It would probably have a better life, too, judging by what wrecks the rest of you are."

"That doesn't matter. It's a human baby." Even if its tail hung between the gap of his hands. Even if its hind claws dug into the his palms, if each individual fur asserted itself on his fingertips. Ashe could no more betray his daughter by believing her firstborn a cat than he could push the sun back eastward and make the day begin anew. "Isn't a human supposed to live as a human? Even if by some fluke it happened to be born something else?"

"Hmm." Smirking, Deian ran a narrowed gaze down Ashe's form from top to bottom. Christ, those eyes might as well have been unwanted fondling fingers. "Is that the sentiment you soothe yourself to sleep with, little girl?"

"Hey!" Lonriad's bark was enough to jerk Deian's focus back to him as Ashe sought refuge in the sight of his grandchild's borrowed body. How small and cold a body it was. How fat and healthy the child might have been from a mother who'd had a father other than him. "You shut your fucking mouth about that. If you haven't lived it, you don't get to say what's what."

"And that's the tone you take with someone you want performing magic on your grandchild?"

"When that someone is you? Don't be surprised."

Ashe looked down at the baby again. Who cared what the hell he was, or what Lonriad thought he was or what Deian thought he was. All he wanted to be just then was someone with a happy daughter and a healthy grandchild. "It's fine, Lonriad. I don't care what he says about me. I just want him to help the baby."


"No. I want to go back to Yvanette with good news. I don't want to think about what she'll do to herself if we don't." A rudimentary purr rocked the tiny spine, its shiver amplified on the joints of his hand. A baby, in want of its mother. A mother, in fear for her baby. The rest of the world could have been on fire and it would have meant nothing to him. "Deian, I'll never ask anything of you again if that's what you want, but please do this. Please. Just save my..." It occurred to him that he hadn't checked. He took one hind paw between his thumb and forefinger and pried the legs just far enough apart to see what was between. "...my grandson."

Deian studied him again, frown firm. Then, he sighed. "You used to be much more fun to play with, you know that? Fine. I do know one way I can help--but, given that this is your daughter's energy at play here, I should warn you that it might affect her too."

Then--no. No... it was Yvanette's decision. She'd made it in a trembling whisper as she'd placed her son in his hands. "She said-- she said she wanted you to do whatever it took."

Lonriad, probably more on what would have been Sevvie's side--and Ashe's side too, if he were honest--of placing Yvanette as the higher priority, gave a reluctant kick to the ground with the toe of his boot. But, he said nothing. Perhaps placing Yvanette as the higher priority was more about respecting her wishes than anything else.

"All right, then. Now, I can't make the cat aspect go away, exactly--but I can separate it from the body, providing that the mother has exercised her powers enough by this point. If she hasn't, I suppose we could try again some other time. Though, granted, I'm just speculating in regards to Yvanette's case, since this is really only done on lycanthropes, but... well, I suppose we'll just pat ourselves on the back and call it science, shall we?" Deian winked. Eyes like that weren't much more accommodating solo than they were in pairs. "Any chance either of you are aware of the concept of a familiar?"


July 22, 2016

In Which Morgan Finds Both Rain and Stone

August 27, 1201

"Yvanette!" Morgan kicked the door shut in case any prying eyes were about as she found her stepdaughter-in-law curled up on the bedroom floor. One of her gut feelings again. Given the progress of Yvanette's pregnancy, she'd thought it had to have been labor--a little earlier than expected, perhaps, but nothing unheard of. As she'd approached, however, it hadn't been moans or panting or half-constrained screams that greeted her. It hadn't even been sobbing.

Just silence.

"What happened? Did you fall? Are you all right?"

Yvanette shook her head--in keeping with her shivering, in contrast to her eerie stillness. Somehow, she was both rain and stone at once.


She thought she heard some ghost of a gasped syllable, but it was faint enough that any content was lost. It was faint enough that it might have been in her own head.

"Darling, talk to me." Morgan dropped to her knees and settled on the rug across from Yvanette. Upon further scrutiny, the young woman's tight fetal position concealed her middle well--too well. Even if she'd already birthed the baby, evidence would linger for some time yet.

Somehow, though, Yvanette looked like she'd never been pregnant at all.

"I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong."

Yvanette hugged her legs close, her form smaller still. She didn't say anything--but, she did tug at her nightgown as a small dark tail peeked out from beneath it.


July 19, 2016

In Which Yvanette Is at the Mercy of the Timing

August 27, 1201

So much for Arydath's educated guess of 'September'.

No, not even the best midwife in the world could pinpoint a due date with complete accuracy, and Yvanette would grant that it was almost September. But, she hadn't been expecting the labor to hit just yet. Her mother, expecting her own baby in a month or so, was at the point where she wasn't about to travel outside the shire unnecessarily, but she'd meant to arrive in a few days to be there for the birth. Arydath too hadn't planned on arriving so early, but at least she could be sent for--assuming that the baby wasn't too hasty. Morgan was home, and she had enough of a medical (and magical) background that Yvanette would have wanted her around anyway, but her husband's stepmother wasn't quite the same as her own mother. And if it was to be a complicated labor, surely Arydath would have been the first choice for the mundane side of things.

And that was just the women! Sevvie was out on a brief-yet-poorly-timed errand for his grandfather. Her father was in the shire, but it was his turn to evaluate some of the newer squires--and, as it figured, Sevvie's father had gone with him. It would be Morgan, and the servants, and maybe Honora if she hadn't left for school yet.

Some of the servants did, at least, have the advantage of having birthed children of their own... but none of them knew about Yvanette's particular condition. She much preferred to keep things that way.

Another burst of pain took hold of her body. She doubted Morgan was in earshot, but there was usually at least one maid in the vicinity of her room at this time of morning. Unless a drastic change in timing occurred, it wouldn't be any problem to reach the door--


No. No... that one wasn't a contraction.

Why oh why oh why couldn't it have been a contraction?


July 17, 2016

In Which Rina and Severin Are Free

August 1, 1201

Not even five seconds since returning home and Rina couldn't contain her giddiness any longer. "I can't believe they're finally gone!"

Technically, the quadruplets had started at the school in April--but, their first term had been a brief introduction. There had been a few short sessions, most of which encouraged the attendance of at least one parent and all of which were brief enough that it wasn't worth leaving school property anyway, but most April through July had been a series of half-mandated playdates to encourage the children to get to know their closest peers. This would be the first day of school proper.

And while Rina herself had hated school to the point where she felt guilty about thinking it... what a relief it was.

Severin, at least, didn't seem to mind the hypocrisy--if he didn't outright share it. "I know, right? I can't remember the last time I looked at my sleeve and there wasn't a kid wiping snot on it."

"Me neither! I love them, but why did they all have to be born at once?" Rina sighed. Sure, having four kids reasonably spread between one and twelve would have had its downsides as well... but Rina couldn't think of any that she wouldn't have been willing to put up with in exchange for the difficulties of four perpetually at the same wild stage. "We're finally free."

"We are." Her husband smirked. "And neither of us are working today either."

"Indeed." That was by design--but worth noting again. "No patients, no clients, no children. Just several hours before we have to pick them up, and anything we can imagine to fill that time."

"And I know where I'd like to start." Severin leaned in, stubble brushing Rina's cheek, his nose nudging her hair out of the way en route to her ear. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

After all these years of quadruple chaos? How could she not have been?

"Oh God, yes."


July 14, 2016

In Which Renata Is More Annoyed than Offended

July 13, 1201

"All right, I get that you don't like me," Renata snarled as Lady Odette waited in self-righteous fury for her to bow to the juvenile request. "But your son asked me to marry him. I agreed to marry him. Your husband's will stated explicitly that Arkon find his own wife. You have no right to tell me to take back my answer."

"I have every right! I am his mother. I am widow to the previous Lord Beretrin, and cousin to the King of France, and my son shares both my pedigree and his father's. Arkon can--and should--marry much higher than the unwanted orphan daughter of a disgraced knight."

Renata rolled her eyes. It always, always came down to rank and connections with Lady Odette. She doubted the woman wiped her ass without conscious deliberation of how a cousin of the King of France ought to do so. "If pedigree is the issue, I'll remind you that my paternal grandmother was both Countess of Bandera and Queen of Naroni--and that my mother was sister to your own late husband."

"That changes nothing! Your sinful father took his own life, and you were deemed unworthy of even his trivial attention. If your own father cast you off, why should you be worthy of my son?"

Because your son is a hell of a lot better a man than my father ever was? Because even Uncle Searle--who loved my father best--believes that my father was wrong? Not that Lady Odette would accept any of those answers. "Your son is Lord Beretrin, is he not? Don't presume to know what's best for Lord Beretrin better than Lord Beretrin himself does."

The woman gasped, spiteful eyes those of a vengeful beast. "Are you mocking me?"

At least that was proof of some sense of reality. "Is it that obvious?"

"Why you horrid, impertinent little--"

Whatever Lady was about to call her--there was no shortage of possibilities, Renata was sure of it--she didn't get a chance to say it before the door swung open and her aunt stepped into the study. Renata bit her tongue in relief. Nobody was better suited to dealing with people like Lady Odette than Aunt Ren: princess, countess, and having none of it.

"Might I ask what's going on in here?"

"Ah, your highness." Lady Odette bade Aunt Ren a quick curtsy, then glared back at Renata. "I was just expressing to this girl how inappropriate her betrothal to my son is."

Aunt Ren crossed her arms over her chest. "'This girl' being my niece?"

"Well, your husband's niece. But surely, your highness, you must admit--"

"That 'this girl' is practically a daughter to me and I see no reason why a mere lord should seek to do any better than someone I love as my own?"

"Your highness, surely--"

"Surely you wouldn't presume to doubt the judgment of a princess." To that, Lady Odette had no reply. "My niece will make her personal decisions as she sees fit, and so will your son. Now, I must request that you leave my castle."

"Your highness!"

"Leave--before I call for the hounds."

Lady Odette shot on last glare Renata's way, then turned back to Aunt Ren. If that sour expression lingered as she turned around, that would not be forgotten by the recipient. "This isn't over."

"It had better be," Aunt Ren warned as Lady Odette stormed passed her. Once the furious tread had faded, Aunt Ren shook her head. "Dreadful woman. I'm sorry you had to put up with that."

Renata shrugged. "I'll survive. She's so ridiculous that it's difficult to feel more offended than annoyed."

"Regardless, if you find you can't stand living under the same roof as her, don't hesitate to tell your uncle and me." Her aunt stepped forward and pulled her into a hug, arms still so strong and loving even though Renata was now the taller of the two. "If there's any dirt on her that will force her to run back to her cousin in France, you know your uncle will find it."

"Tempting! But, Arkon had no more say in who his mother was than I did about my father." For the sake of their own children, at least, they had two solid examples of what sort of parents not to be.

And some examples of how best to be as well. "Though, for the record, I would have picked you and Uncle Searle in a heartbeat."


July 11, 2016

In Which Hollie Is Not the Suitable Comforter

June 24, 1201

So much for a nice, quiet day with Ricky.

Just when Hollie had finally had a day to spare, she'd made the ride out to Armion only to find that Ricky had and his father had left to survey some construction projects in the area, and that his mother was calling on her sister in Tetran.

But, Aldhein had told her she might as well stay, because Camaline had just received a letter from the woman who would have been her mother-in-law, informing her that her betrothed had died. He'd said she was in need of a suitable comforter.

Hollie didn't think she had been a 'suitable comforter' at any point in her existence. But, Camaline was her little cousin and would one day be her sister-in-law, so she'd resolved to do what she could--which was, apparently, nothing.

"I mean, I-- I-- I'm practically a widow!"

Had Camaline even met Farilon? Hollie didn't recall any instance in which she might have. Then again, what did she know about long, pre-arranged betrothals? Unlike herself at that age, Camaline had likely held a clear picture in her head of how the rest of her life would play out. Someone had taken a dagger to that canvas and slashed it to shreds. "Don't say that..."

"But I am! And what's to become of me now? Who's to say if Father can find anyone else for me?"

That couldn't have been much of an issue for a pretty, generally charming daughter of a duke and a princess, but it felt insensitive to point that out. "You're younger than I was when your brother proposed to me. Someone will come along."

"Will he? You know how early most of us are betrothed; every young man worth having is spoken for." Camaline took a minute to wipe her eyes while Hollie pondered the meaning of 'worth having'. Surely the existence of marriage hold-outs such as her brother hadn't been lost on her? "Now I'll probably end up as some old man's third wife, or I'll be promised to some little boy and I won't be married until I'm past thirty--and I'll be stuck here until then as a maiden aunt!"

Again--Hollie didn't think that would be the case. But, it did sound like a drag. "If it helps, I can cover for you if you decide to... you know, not be a maiden."

"That's not the point! I just don't want to be... extraneous. Purposeless." Camaline sniffed, a sob caught on her throat. "Well, and I don't want to be a maiden for that long either. And even if I technically wasn't, I don't want people to look at me when I'm that old and consider me as some woman-shaped child who knows nothing of the world and ought to be kept that way."

"Aww, you know Ricky and I will punch the lights out of anyone who treats you like that." But she just collapsed into tears again--because that didn't erase the possibility that people would. "I'm sorry. I'm... not good at this whole 'comforting' thing."