August 31, 2016

In Which Adonis Is a Pinched Candle

April 29, 1202

"I... I just..." Dora broke up her own sob with a cough. She'd been ill the past few days, to the point where Thetis Tumekrin had taken it on herself to make bowl after bowl of soup, to keep an eye on Ceidrid when Adonis had to work, to fight for sleep on the uncomfortable spare bed just in case she was needed in the morning. She was with Ceidrid now, downstairs, greeting Adonis as if she'd half-expected him to return as early as he had. The walls weren't thick. She'd probably heard more than Dora thought she had.

The sickness wasn't the half of it. "I can't remember anything, Adonis! I don't know, maybe it's the fever, but I can't! It used to be that everything seemed wrong, or that pieces were missing, but now it's all--just--gone!"

Adonis wiped his wife's brow with the cuff of his sleeve before lacing his arm around her back. The fever was as strong as ever. He wished she'd lie back down, but then again it had been long enough that bedsores may have been a concern. Still, her brow... "Darling, let me get you a cold cloth, for your head. It might be easier to talk about this if you're a little more comfortable."

"I don't--I don't know." He couldn't quite be sure she'd spoken in answer. "I don't feel like I'm here, even. I don't feel real any more. I don't know if I ever did."

"You're very real. And you're here. I know because the world's been better, since you've been here." And how unbearable a thought it was, that she might not recover--that she might cease to be here, and the world would return to what it had been before. "I wish I could help you with your memories. Perhaps Orrick, or Severin--"

Dora shook her head. "Orrick is my boss; I can't tell him about this. And Severin wouldn't understand. He's not like me. He's never been like me. Even when we were kids..."

Her words collapsed into sniffles as Adonis fumbled with the last of them. "What do you mean? You didn't know Severin when you were kids."

"I--I don't know who I knew when I was a kid. At this point, how can I know I even was a kid?"

She'd forgotten, he knew from the earnest shudders, just what she had said. It might not have meant anything. It might have been a patchwork of words collected from scattered thoughts, in the form of a complete but nonsensical sentence. If it meant anything, Adonis couldn't say he cared what.

She was the love of his life. He just wanted her to get better. "Dora..."

He took her in his arms and she clung to him tightly, fist balled around the fabric of his tunic. The tension of her grip was a wildfire he could not contain.

But her sudden release was a pinch to a candle.



August 27, 2016

In Which Lettie Finds Solace in the Grown-Up Approach

April 16, 1202

"I'll have to admit to not expecting another wedding night at my age," Lettie mused as Abrich ushered her into the bedroom, finally free of all the guests and commotion. She had forgotten just how big the master bedroom of a knight's castle was in comparison to her old room at the house on campus, and it would take some number of nights to readjust. But, now that Severin had finished his studies and would likely be married by this time next year, it had only made sense for Lettie and Sparron to relocate to Abrich's castle and to leave the house to him. Abrich's eldest was a daughter, and she wouldn't be back in the house for long after she graduated--and the rest of his children hadn't yet started at the university. None of Abrich's children needed a place to call their own quite yet, but it hadn't made sense to move the lot of them, especially given that he had the larger home in the first place.

Aside from the increased commute, though, Lettie didn't mind too much. A person could get lost in the splendor and solitude of a large castle like the one she'd grown up it, new secrets waiting to be uncovered even after living there for years. Her house had been fine for just her and whichever two or three kids she'd had at any time, but the prospect of sharing it with a large family would have had her pulling out her own hair in emotional claustrophobia.

"I don't see why; forty-four isn't so old, you know." Abrich, as it figured, was only forty-one. But, Lettie was both old enough and naughty enough that she could take a devilish pleasure in the thought of a man a few years her junior. "Perhaps that might be obvious come nine months from now, depending on how tonight goes."

"Ha! I suppose it's not impossible, but I wouldn't expect it if I were you. Granted, champ--I don't know just how confident you are in your own seed."

"Oh, confident enough that I didn't mind bringing it up." Abrich winked. "But I agree that anything on that front ought to be left to chance at this point. That wasn't why we decided to do this, after all."

"Agreed. I'm a grandmother of four with two more on the way, and you knew that going into this."

"I did--but if all grandmothers of four-going-on-six are anything like you, then the term 'grandmotherly' will have to be redefined."

She smirked. "I can tell you meant that as a compliment, but for the record, I would have taken it as one either way. Not that there's any wrong with typically grandmotherliness, mind you." Abrich's own mother was an excellent example of that fact. Lettie's too, in a different way. "There's many a good way to be a grandmother."

"And many a good way to be a husband." He swept up her right hand with his left and brushed it with a kiss. His wedding band made for the barest of noticeable irregularities in his touch. "Whatever we may or may not come to feel for each other in the years to come, I hope I can find a suitable way to be yours."

A very grown-up approach.

A distinct advantage to marrying older. "I suspect you may be on the right path already."


August 26, 2016

In Which Celina Aims for a Shift in Urges

March 30, 1202

"You know, I've got to wonder what they think about at this age--if they can think, that is. But surely they must? I mean... do you ever have a minute when you're not thinking? But then again, babies don't have a concept of thinking. Hell, they don't have a concept of anything, I suppose. So, then how do they think? And if they can't think, then how do they learn? When does the thinking start?"

Not having spent much time with babies--before Farr was born, at least, and there was no way Nearina knew about that--Celina couldn't admit to having wondered such a thing. But, it was an interesting thought.

Interesting enough, at least, to distract from that fact that even having given birth mere days ago and the fatigue of new motherhood still wasn't enough to make the happily married Nearina any less attractive.

God. She had to get over it. Nearina was her friend--and Celina would be joining Marsden in Dovia once she graduated anyway. That wasn't as far off as she would have preferred, it had occurred to her recently, but it would hopefully be enough time to get most of her pent-up energy out of her system.

Meanwhile, cooing over Nearina's baby could help spur on what Celina hoped would be the next set of urges in her life. The next baby she had, of course, would have her as the birthing parent, and the primarily nurturing parent.

Probably, anyway.

"Whatever she's thinking, it only contributes to her cuteness, I'm sure."

"She does have a lot of that, thanks to her father." Nearina tapped her daughter on the nose--which did, at this stage, resemble Oswald's somewhat.

But, Celina shrugged that off. "Oh, I don't think that was his single-handed effort."

"Ha! You and your flattery." Flattery? Lord, was that why Nearina's sister was always giving her the side-eye? At least Nearina herself hadn't picked up on it. Or had she?

No--of course she hadn't. Nearina and Oswald had been joined at the hip since they'd been old enough to realize the practical perks of possessing genitalia. If it even occurred to Nearina that anyone else could be interested, she was well past caring at this point.

"Care to hold her? She's probably wondering how arms that aren't drenched in sweat feel."

"I doubt you're half as sweaty as you think you are." At the very least, the presence of the baby had Celina's own sweatiness at bay. "But I'd happy to hold her if you'd like a break."


August 23, 2016

In Which Yvanette Has to Learn

March 4, 1202

"Gah!" Little Lonriad bounced the kitten about, his chubby hands dangling the furry form clumsily from beneath the shoulders. The kitten--who probably should have had a name--squirmed, but only for want of his own mobility. The baby couldn't hurt him even if he tried.

The kitten couldn't hurt the baby either, as more than one unfelt scratch with no lingering marks had proven.

"Should be interesting, watching those two as they get older." Sevvie, of course, would call it 'interesting'. Yvanette needed another word, but she didn't think one existed that quite captured the sentiment of 'greatly relieved that her transformations were a thing of the past and that her son and any future children of hers weren't doomed to involuntary felinehood of either the temporary or permanent variety, but still wary of Lonriad's kitten and her cat and not satisfied with the information Imran's journals had managed to provide'. "I suspect our boy will be able to answer most of our questions better than any old diary can, once he starts talking."

Yvanette pursed her lips. Sevvie was too good a man to point out that she could have unlocked some of those secrets for herself if she stopped keeping the cat at arms' length. Perhaps it was her responsibility as a mother to do so. She didn't want Lonriad to hurt himself for the sake of his own curiosity, and certainly not for the sake of hers or Sevvie's. She would try, eventually.

But she wasn't ready yet.

Things had been so complicated for so long. Her last bout of true peacefulness had been long enough ago that she scarcely remembered, when she'd been so small a child she couldn't properly appreciate it. But now... well, things weren't perfect.

But, they were so much better than they'd been before. Her body was her own again. The child she hadn't dared consider was here and healthy and happy. The possibility of more children was no longer a thing to be dreaded for their own sakes, but a thing to be considered--even hoped for. She could attend weddings and feasts and parties and not have to worry about whether she could duck away for an hour, whether absence or tardiness would be noticed. She could come and go from her own home as she pleased, without worry as to what might happen if she was gone too long.

She was free.

For now, she'd savor that.


"I'll look into things myself before he talks."

Sevvie squeezed her hand. "I hope you don't feel that you have to."

"I don't--or, not for the reasons you'd fear, at least." She burrowed herself further into her husband's embrace and watched as their son rubbed his face with a fistful of kitten. "No one could understand what I went through as a child, since no one who knew me had gone through the same. Lonriad, at least, can have someone who can empathize--and I'm the only one who can be that person. I just have to learn to trust the familiars."

Her son's--and her own, staring wide-eyed from her perch on the other couch.

"After all, it's because of them that our lives can be so much better now."


August 20, 2016

In Which Adrius Considers the New Times

February 24, 1202

"So. Tomorrow's the big day." Adrius pulled Anna a little closer, unsure of how so much time could have possibly passed since they'd sat on this same bench as a young betrothed couple. "You know, I'm still not quite sure how the two of us are old enough to have a son who's getting married."

Anna shook her head. He still loved the feel of her hair against his cheek. "Never mind us; think of how your mother must be feeling right now."

"The advantage to them not marrying on Christmas Day, I suppose; she has another grievance to distract her from that thought."

"I rather like the idea of the anniversary of their first kiss, though."

"I rather do to." He sighed. "A pity we didn't get to choose our own wedding date--make it something significant to the two of us."

"Well." Anna perched herself upon his lap with a fluid leap, her hand weaving its way through his hair. "It has significance now, at least. Rather like Telvar's favorite childhood books. Care to read through some of them again on the eve of his wedding? For old times' sake?"

"Old, and new. It won't be long before we have to decide which ought to the be first book we read to a grandchild."


August 17, 2016

In Which Isidro Has Better Things to Do

January 17, 1202

"So... a familiar is... some sort of external extension of the soul?"

It was, undoubtedly, more complicated that that--more complicated than his uncle's records since the bizarre incident of Balin's creation, more complicated than whatever research he'd managed had probably pieced together. But, based on Isidro's understanding of the journal passages, based on what he'd tried to relay to Lonriad once he'd returned from his walk... "I guess that's the best way of summarizing it. You said that your grandson sometimes blanks out every now and then? My guess is that when he does that, he's inhabiting the kitten's body temporarily."

Like his uncle must have done with Balin every so often, even kingdoms away. That had been how he'd kept tabs on him. "It's a separate entity the rest of the time, but he can take it over at will. It's a part of him, but not. I guess it'd be the same with Yvanette and the cat, if she chose to do so; you said she doesn't need to transform any more?"

Lonriad nodded. "She hasn't, at least. I doubt she's tried. She always hated it, ever since she was a little girl."

"Explains why she was such a gloomy child. I take it this was a manifestation of whatever magic was left in Ashe after Jadin and I fished him out of the sex pond?"

His brother-in-law's eye twitched. It might have been the wrong choice, saying that, but he had now. "You knew about that?"

"I figured it out some years back--but, I had more firsthand information to work with than most, and it's a stretch of the possible anyway. I don't think Ashe needs to worry about anyone else who might know."

"Does he know that you know?"

Isidro shook his head. "I'd imagine it's better for his well-being if he doesn't. He doesn't need another track to worry about covering, and I'll assure you that I have no interest in disclosing his secrets."

"I'm sure you don't, but now I'm worried that I'll let loose that you know. Then again, Ashe might already be anxious about how much you know--what with all that time Aspen spends pestering your son, and now you heading out here with me to find out more about familiars."

"I'll let you be the judge of that, then. You know him far better than I do." And if he thought about it... he hadn't known his uncle all that much better than Lonriad had. "You can keep my uncle's journals. My aunt said it was all right if you did, and you shouldn't have to go through me any time you want something looked up. Besides, my uncle was a doctor; chances are, anything he documented to help himself, he would have wanted it to help others if it could."

Lonriad's head slumped to the side, as if his frown was weighted unevenly. "You're sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. It's like Aunt Amani said: you're my family. I trust you." As if their first trip out here handed been proof of that. "Besides, I have better things to do than to puzzle out my uncle's handwriting for you."


August 16, 2016

In Which Lonriad Is Family

January 16, 1202

"Well, here's where Imran said they'd be: with our father's more personal texts." Isidro's aunt gestured to the shelves in the corner of the room. How many years had it been, now, since the last time Lonriad had accompanied his brother-in-law here? Back when Isidro's grandfather had been on his deathbed? Lord... it must have been twenty. He and Asalaye had conceived Alina shortly after that trip.

This time, though, it wasn't so much that he was accompanying Isidro as it was that Isidro was accompanying him. Or that Isidro had relented and written his aunt, and she'd had what he was looking for.

Familiar. Deian and Imran had used the same word.

"Thanks for your help, Aunt Amani."

"Don't mention it. Imran thought you might have more questions, as did my father; I won't stand in the way of their answers."

"Well..." Lonriad tugged at his sleeve. God, he hoped he wasn't intruding. Amani had said that some of Imran's personal journals would hold some of what he sought, but Imran was a dead man he'd barely know. He'd already insisted that Isidro be the one to read them, and the relay only the relevant information. It just seemed like the right way to go about it--if there was a right way.

"It's my question, really. This time."

"That doesn't matter." Amani, tired as her eyes were, indulged him with what he read for a true smile. She was the last of Zaahir's children now; perhaps she thought she owed her father's memory the knowledge that guests in his home found what they sought. "You're Isidro's family, and Isidro is mine. That makes you my family as well.

"Imran would have been even more sure of that than I am."


August 13, 2016

In Which Farilon Is a Dirty Old Man

December 23, 1202

"Oh! Your highness!" The young woman's cheeks flashed pink as she recovered from her spell of jumpiness--as if it were she who was surprised to see Farilon, in the private upper floor of his own house, not expecting to see any vaguely familiar-looking people who apparently knew him on sight coming out of Danthia's bedroom. "I wasn't sure you'd before I left. My mother sent me over to check up on my aunt, because she didn't want to deal with her herself--and who can blame her, really?--but got word that her sister was 'dreadfully ill' and felt obligated to at least inquire. By the way, it's only a somewhat bad-ish cold. I kind of thought that would be the case, what with Aunt Danthia's typical dramatics, and my mother probably thought the same, but nevertheless--"

"It... it's fine. You don't need to explain." Farilon rubbed at the back of his neck, probably just as red as she'd been at the sight of him. Danthia's niece, then? One of Riona's daughters, probably the eldest if he had a reasonable guess of her age. What was her name? He'd seen her before, certainly. The red curls, the blue Sadiel eyes...

Though, the womanly body must have been a more recent development. "Uh, it... it was nice of you to indulge her."

"You don't know my name, do you?"

"Uh..." He racked his brain again for the names of Riona's daughters--and barely managed to remember Riona's name. She had him there. "Well, if you're half Andronei and half Sadiel, I can probably narrow it down to... six choices?"

"You sound just like the Carvalli students back at the university--as if they're not just as bad with that." Still a university student. Dear Lord. Was he already old enough to be a dirty old man? "Anyway, it's Holladrin. For my paternal grandmother."

"Right. Your, uh, your grandfather's first wife."

"Are you all right?" Her pretty eyes narrowed, pouting lip to a puzzled frown. Such a dynamic face, from the few minutes he'd spent staring at it. Danthia, for the most part, had maybe two expressions. "Frankly, you're much more out of sorts than Aunt Danthia is--at least, by whatever low standard of sanity we can assign to her, at least."

"Uh, yes, I think so." But that arched red brow said he wasn't convincing. "I don't know. Maybe I've caught Danthia's cold? I hope my children don't get it."

His children! Good God. If Holladrin was still attending the university, then she wasn't much older than the twins. And yet--he was staring at her hair, how soft and full it was, and how long it had been since his fingers had been lost in a woman's curls. Er, that was to say, the curls on her head.

Though, come to think of it--

"Um... yes. Yes, I'm definitely coming down with something." He drew his fist to his mouth and forced out a cough. His blood had drawn to the same boil as it had back in his youth, that first time he'd noticed how Aydelle Ildaras's hips swayed in a pendulum motion when she walked away. That had resulted in a swat to the back of the head from his sister Camaline, then a flick of her violet eyes downward and warning that he needed a cold bath. "Uh, I don't want to be rude, but maybe you should... I mean, surely you don't need to catch anything so close to Christmas--"

"Yes, right. I was just about to leave anyway, before I ran into you." She paid him a hasty, likely indulgent smile, then took hold of her skirt for a quick curtsy. What the hell was wrong with him, longing to dive beneath it and let loose his tongue between her legs? "Feel better, your highness."

"Thank-- thank you." Damn, his face couldn't have been far from the color of her hair. "Uh... have a good day."

She hurried past him, no doubt eager to get away but too polite to run. Farilon forced himself not to turn around and watch her leave, lest she have a sway in her hips.

How long had it been? He'd have to get to a brothel soon. It hadn't occurred to him just how pent-up he was.


August 10, 2016

In Which Lettie Shares a Distaste for Idle Chitchat

December 19, 1201

"So--mind telling me what brings you here today, cousin? Because I can't say I had much reason to expect you."

Lettie watched as Abrich's nervous grin twitched. She didn't think Xeta's brother had anything against her, nor did she have anything against him--hell, once he'd finally grown up and gotten over his hopeless pining for Riona, pretty much any time she'd thought of him had been to compare him favorably to Searle. But, the fact was that she didn't think of him much, nor did she think he wasted spare thoughts on her. They were cousins, and they were cordial, but that was it.

Abrich's fingers fidgeted against the arm of the bench. "It might have been stupid of me to hope you'd let me warm myself up with small talk."

"Indeed, I've never been one for it." Lettie smirked. In truth, she doubted Abrich cared for idle chitchat either, but his distaste had sprouted from a different source. She had a lightning-fast tongue led by a brain that sent forth its thoughts unfiltered, and obligatory pleasantries didn't suit that. Abrich, though, was a man of few words. If he wished to speak, there had to be reason. "Spit it out."

"All right. Um... I've been thinking." What of, he must have been at a loss as to the phrasing. Lettie snorted. "I should hope most people have."

"Yes, well--I don't know, maybe this is a stupid idea. I'd understand if you said no." He pulled back his left hand and let it fall to his side, palm upright with an awkward turn of the wrist. "I thought I'd ask you if you'd be willing to marry me."

"Hmm. Well, to your credit, that's a much more diplomatic approach than that of the last man who proposed to me." One of his eyes squinted somewhat; for now, she'd let him go on thinking she meant Searle, even if an arranged marriage ought to have been diplomatic by definition. "I didn't know you were looking to remarry."

"I wasn't, really--but it would be nice if my children could have a mother again, especially Mia. And I thought that maybe Sparron..."

"Could use a father?" She tossed back her hair with a small laugh. Some would have seen--or meant--offense with that mention. Abrich, however, wasn't much capable of intentional offense, and Lettie wouldn't take it if there were other options. "Well, only if said father is of optimal quality. But, to be fair, I've heard nothing said against your parenting."

"That's... good?" He would make that sound like he needed an answer. But, now that the subject had been breached, he at least had the sense to realize what little his insecurities brought to his position. "But, I also kind of thought... well, Severin's back in this house now, and it's only a matter of time before he marries and has his own children, and this house might feel a little small and a little loud. And, I don't know about you, but I miss having someone around my own age to talk to."

"Old age loves company, is that it?" It was a good point, though. A house could be full of people, but with a lack of common ground, the crowd did little for the loneliness. She loved her children, her grandchildren, her future grandchildren--but, there were a few things that didn't mean much to other generations.

If Tarien Andronei had brought that up way back when, the circumstances of Sparron's conception might have been rather different. Or maybe not. Would have been nice, though. "I'll think about it."


August 8, 2016

In Which Abrich Does Not Frown Upon

December 8, 1201


"Sister." Abrich leaned in for an exchange of pecks to the cheek. Among the three siblings alongside whom he'd mostly grown up, he'd always had himself pegged as the least remarkable, with Lorn being the heir and late the duke, Xeta being the clever one with the auburn curls who'd been poised to become Lady Veldora, and Rona being... well, Rona. He'd suspected that Lorn and Rona, at least, agreed with him there; they'd never disregarded him, exactly, but their wants had always taken precedence in their relationship with him, feeling it wasn't much in his nature to be passionate about anything other than girls he couldn't have.

Xeta, though, had never asked a thing of him. It may just have been that she could get whatever she wanted for herself, but she just gave and gave and gave some more. Even now, when she was in the not-exactly-respected position of 'widow with three bastards living with another widow with whom she may or may not be engaging in sapphism', much of any conversation he had with her ended up focusing on how he was, because she kept drawing him out of her shell in that earnest, gentle way she always had. If she had any grievances of her own, she made no show of it to him.

He wished she would. She may have been the best sibling to him, but he'd been a better brother to Lorn and Rona. Abrich could give, but he had to be prompted--and Xeta was too kind to do so.

And not just to him, if the woman he'd crossed paths with just outside the door had been any indication. "I didn't know you and Lettie still visited, what with Jadin gone and her divorce from Searle."

"Well, we didn't used to visit much, to be honest. We always got along, but I already had an established group of friends by the time she arrived in Naroni, and she's something of a loner anyway." She shook her head--as if Camaline hadn't already proven Xeta's soft spot for 'loners'. "But after she had Sparron, Raia pointed out to me that she might need someone to talk to--who understood somewhat."

"Oh." He'd forgotten that Lettie too had a fatherless child. But... "You at least have Camaline, though."

"Hence the 'somewhat'. But I know enough about getting curious looks from strangers and hearing hushed whispers that you just know would be said to your face if it weren't for the fact that you have powerful relatives." She rolled her eyes--blue eyes, like their father's. Abrich remembered little of his father, apart from Xeta's blue eyes. She'd been the only one to inherit them. "Anyway, we bonded over that, then we started discussing politics and sciences and other things we both find interesting, and we ended up becoming quite good friends--even if I doubt she'll ever be as much of a social butterfly as Lyssie or Rona."

Abrich shrugged. Not being one himself, there was a self-preservative urge to add to that. "That's not necessarily a bad thing, though."

"It's not, no. In fact, she's sometimes a refreshing contrast. I just wish I could do more to help her, for all she'd insist she didn't need it."

Abrich frowned. His sister--giving, and giving, and giving some more. "I'm sure you do what you can."

"Well, I can empathize to an extent, and I know that's better than nothing." And yet, that sigh suggested she didn't. "It's her living situation that worries me, mainly. She only has Sparron and Severin, and then when Severin marries, there will be his family. She has no one her own age there--no one with comparable life experience, no one who's lost people like she has."

"Hmm. I suppose." But even then, not many lost people like Lettie had lost Searle--and that had made her a pariah long before her mystery child existed. A pity, though. It shouldn't have been frowned upon, cutting ties with someone who made you miserable.

Lord knew he wouldn't have blamed Meraleene if she'd ever wanted to cut ties with him.

Not one day had passed since his wife's death that he prayed he'd done right by her for at least a little while before the end. He'd made progress--even loved her eventually--but it might not have been enough. She might have wanted more. She'd certainly deserved more.

What a cruel thought it was, that denying something so clearly inadequate yielded such a hopeless chance of ever attaining better.