October 31, 2016

In Which Aldhein Tries for Strategic Vexation

December 12, 1202

"Good morning, Nato." Aldhein clasped his hands together in feigned enthusiasm as he greeted his brother-in-law. Nato had never quite warmed up to him, which Aldhein had come to terms with on account of Nato rarely warming up to anyone. Today, however--well, Nato was bound to be in a bad mood. So, Aldhein figured it was his duty as a good brother-in-law to be as annoyingly chipper and patronizing as possible, just to give Nato a fair target for his discontent. "So! Tax time! And your father's letting you do the books. Excited?"

The battle-axe glare said that Aldhein had succeeded in his intention. "He's not 'letting' me do the books. He's making me do the books, probably at my mother's urging, because Lord knows border patrol is too interesting."

"Oh, yes. And too dangerous."

"Yes, the odds of having to single-handedly take on an invading horde are only slightly lower than those of bleeding to death after getting a paper-cut from the tax books." Nato rolled his eyes. "This is ridiculous. My entire life, anything I've had to do for more than ten minutes has proven to be mind-numbingly tedious. All I want is a life where I can wake up in the morning not being able to predict the day's events to a level where actually living the day becomes pointless, and my mother insists that I keep the books instead--because I'm so helpless and delicate or whatever."

"Don't say that. You're not helpless. If you were helpless, your father would have insisted on supervising you."

Nato was no more amused than Aldhein had ever seen him, but that said little as he didn't think he'd ever seen Nato amused. "I don't think you're here of your own accord."

"Now, now. Somebody has to be on hand in case you get a paper-cut." That might have been too low a blow, but Aldhein would dish it out anyway. If Nato had to be angry, then a short-term bout of fury Aldhein's way would at least distract him from his festering grudge against his parents. "Look, Nato... doing administrative tasks for your father isn't so bad. You're still a knight, you still get to inherit this castle, you're probably not going to die young--"

"Bullshit. They wouldn't have me cooped up in here if I wasn't expected to die young--and frankly, if I'm going to die young, I'd rather die doing something halfway interesting than foaming at the mouth over a pile of tax records. Not that I'm liable to die an interesting death anyway, given that this kingdom isn't worth the bother of invading, but the least everyone can do is give me something to hope for." Without so much as a glance toward the books on the desk, Nato brushed past Aldhein and made for the door. "I'm going out. If I have to spend my days in a windowless room, I might as well at least find one full of beer and naked women."

That, Aldhein had to admit, might have been better for both of them than his plot of strategic vexation. But-- "What about the tax records?"

Nato shrugged. "Tell my father to wipe his ass with them, for all I care."


October 26, 2016

In Which Raia Coins a Family Motto

November 17, 1202

"My God! You are so handsome." Raia kissed her son on the cheek, caught off-guard by his stubble on her lips despite his having had stubble for Lord only knew how long. Hadn't Rio just been a baby all that long ago, with the reddish fuzz growing on his head the only hair on him? "And I'm so damn old."

"You're not old, Mother--though I won't protest the part about my handsomeness." Rio smirked--as if he wasn't her third child to be married. "I'd like to think I'll be a welcome sight for the pretty lady walking down the aisle."

"You had better be! What really makes a man a welcome sight for his bride is how well he treats her, and I'd like to think I raised my boys to treat their lovers well."

"I daresay you did! Rahileine proposed to me, remember?" Rio beamed with a fond, sly grin. He'd inherited a fair share of his father's sweetness, but Falidor had never been so natural with his teasing. "I don't think many people would knowingly suggest that they spend the rest of their life with a complete ass."

"Alas, if only all asses were readily apparent as such." Poor Jeda, for one, had quite liked the idea of Ietrin in her youth--and, frankly, Raia and Leara and the others hadn't realized just how repulsive a man that boy would grow to be either. Thank God she had Fred now. "But, I daresay you and your siblings have enough Kemorin in you that if you were asses, you'd at least be upfront about it."

Her son chuckled. His laugh, at least, was akin to Falidor's. So was his voice, she mused, even if he favored a more playful tone most of the time. "A sentiment worthy of a Latin translation beneath the family crest! Grandfather would approve."

"Then I shall have to run it by him." Raia winked, knowing full well that such a thing may have been one of the more polite options for a Kemorin motto. "But, you're also a Wythleit, and I think it's safe to say that's a winning combination in a spouse: sweet, considerate, and just naughty enough to keep things interesting."

"I've never aspired to be anything less." And, red hair and pale tunic notwithstanding, he was for a second the very image of her father. "I don't know about all of that in just one person--but if Rahileine and I are half so well matched as you and Father, then I'd say we're in for a happy marriage indeed."


October 24, 2016

In Which Falidor's Schemes Have Limits

October 8, 1202

"Couldn't you just cook up one of your diabolical plots? You used to do that all the time when we lived on campus."

That... was not entirely untrue. But said diabolical plots, Falidor had always made sure, never harmed, traumatized, or permanently altered the lives of the targets of said plots. Darry's request differed somewhat. It also differed in another important aspect. "Darry, all of my plots involve getting people black-out drunk. Do you really want your baby sister getting so drunk that she doesn't remember how she woke up with a hangover?"

"If it somehow keeps her from running off to Death Island? Damn right, I do."

"Death Island." Just what this conversation needed: another element of context-free nonsense. Darry must have been spending too much time listening to those damn trees. "What the hell is Death Island?"

"Oh--not common knowledge yet." Darry sighed in relief, or some facsimile of such. Ish. "Good. So... you remember Landus? He married my cousin Lyssa? They're in Carvallon now, since he's stationed there?"

"Sure? All you nobles do kind of look alike--even you 'technically not full nobles'."

"Funny." Darry groaned. "Anyway, he sent this report to Lorn about one of the islands off the coast. There's a convent-run orphanage there, and apparently they're dealing with... an outbreak."

An outbreak. That explained Darry's sudden willingness to accept the idea of a drunken Aspen. "Of... what?"


That really explained Darry's sudden willingness to accept the idea of a drunken Aspen. "All right, I think I can fill in the gaps now. I'm guessing Aspen isn't privy to this report, and that you and your father and everyone else who knows about the illness thing wants to keep it that way--because, knowing Aspen, she'll absolutely make a martyr of herself and head out there. So, in the event that she does find out, you want me to... keep her drunk for the rest of her life?"

"All right, when you put it like that, it sounds terrible." And yet, Darry made no effort to phrase it in a better light. "Just... at least she won't die young of fucking leprosy."

"And instead she risks dying of the much-preferable alcoholism. That is, assuming that my betrothed doesn't object to my obsessively providing drinks to another woman."

"Well, I never said it had to be alcohol. You can come up with schemes that don't involve alcohol, right?"

"Darry, my father taught me how to scheme; it's either alcohol, nudity, or unsuspecting animals--or some combination of the above." Falidor indulged himself with a smirk, but it was apparently too much to hope that Darry would find any part of that humorous. "Look, if this isn't going to be public knowledge, I don't know if you need to worry about it too much. Sweet that you'd be willing to risk your sister's respectability to save her life, though. A lot of people have an odd tendency to mix up those priorities, it seems."


October 20, 2016

In Which Dora Is Still Sad and So Happy

September 12, 1202

"Mama!" Ceidrid nearly bounced himself out of Dora's arms as she struggled to pick him up. He was so heavy now. It wouldn't be long before she couldn't lift him at all. "You all right? You look sad."

"Oh. Oh, no. No, I'm not sad. Quite the opposite." She'd thought she'd been right to be worried, to dread it. Who would take such a thing well? She hadn't taken it well, when she'd remembered--and it was her!

But... she should have known. She was a mother. And nothing in the world would have made her stop loving her baby, not for a second.

"I'm... actually very happy."

"But you're crying."

Was she? Dora took her hand off her son's back for a second, just long enough to wipe her eyelashes. She had cried earlier, rather a lot. Her mother had too. There might have been a few tears left over. "Oh. Yes, I was. But they were happy tears. There's nothing in the world quite like happy tears."

"Happy tears?"

Dora nodded and stroked at Ceidrid's hair. So soft, so thick. So like her mother's. "You'll understand, one day. Sometimes, happy things happen because sad things have gone away--or, at least, have become less sad. And those happy things are only happy because you were sad before."

Ceidrid's head rolled to the side. He didn't get it. He hadn't lived long enough to get it. To Dora's great relief, he'd never been sad enough to get it. She hoped it would be many years yet before he had been.

Sad things, less sad. Still sad. She'd still left her mother in several years of unknowing purgatory. Her mother would fight with keeping it from the rest of the family, everyone else, even though her heart wanted little more than to burst into joyous song for all the world to hear. She still had to figure out who to tell, how to tell them, who would be better off not knowing, how to pretend for their benefit. How to let Ceidrid and any future siblings he had have their grandmother, how to let her mother have her grandchildren, without acknowledging the relationship.

If Ceidrid need to know. If Adonis needed to know.

Still sad.

But less sad.

And, given that--so happy indeed.


October 19, 2016

In Which Thetis Is an Improbable Confidante

September 12, 1202

"Interesting way of learning that the kids are old enough to come over on their own--all barging in to attack your father before Renalie remembers all of a sudden that she was supposed to tell me to get over here as soon as I could." On a day when she'd thought Severin's clinic was open for business, no less! But the kids hadn't seemed upset, so it couldn't have been an emergency--unless it had been an emergency that they hadn't been told about. Her first thought had been that in spite of everything, Rina had gotten pregnant again, and she and Severin were in a panic over it.

But that couldn't have been the case now, given that Rina was nowhere to be seen and Severin--while somber enough--wasn't in any particular distress.

That said, she spied Dora over his shoulder, seated by the hearth, fingers fidgeting with the fabric of her skirt. "Dora? This is a surprise."

With a distinct twitch, Dora nodded her way, then let her eyes fall to her lap. How odd. Dora was shy, yes, and could be skittish--but she wasn't impolite.

"Well... you see, Mother, it's actually Dora who needs to speak with you. I've just been keeping her company for moral support."

Moral support? For a talk with her? Yes, she liked to think she and Dora were friends--but if Dora wanted a confidante, then surely she would have chosen someone her own age! Come to think of it, Severin likely already knew what she wanted to discuss. Shouldn't he have been sufficient?

"Is everything all right?"

"I think it will be, but I can't blame her for being nervous. Please try to keep an open mind, Mother. I'll be downstairs in the clinic when you're done." He kissed her on the cheek, then cut around her with a swift step and ushered himself out the door.

All as if there was nothing odd about any of this.

Not that she should have been unused to oddness, after all these years of being married to Florian. Thetis made for the empty bench beside Dora's and sighed as she sat down. "You know, he may just be my strangest child."

Dora grimaced. "I don't know about that..."

"Yes, I suppose Alyssin would be up there too. Just never tell either of them how like their father they are--and never tell their father that either." She didn't expect uproarious laughter, but all Dora managed was another forced smile. This in spite of now having met Florian. "I'm sorry, dear. You wanted to talk to me about something?"

"Uh... 'want' isn't really the right word." No--not by the way she bit at her lip. "I don't even know where to start..."


October 16, 2016

In Which Cladelia Borrows Some Confidence

August 15, 1202

"Cladelia! You're so gorgeous!" Alyss clasped her hands together with a squeal. She could always be counted on to pay a compliment, even when no such compliment was necessary. Today was one of those days, but now that Alyss was not only Cladelia's follower-turned-friend but her sister-in-law as well--for all the idea of anyone wanting to marry Koradril still boggled her mind--of course she'd be the first to fawn over her wedding gown.

Especially since who knew when Cladelia would next return to Naroni, what with marrying a Dovian and all.

A Dovian baron. The same Dovian baron she'd once drunkenly written to, pretending to be her brother, warning him that he might have impregnated some fictitious young woman. Life was strange.

"It doesn't matter what any of those people think." Her sister sniffed. Cladelia, though she usually won most over in the end, did suffer from that terrible need to be liked--but Riona seemed to have inherited their mother's utter indifference toward approval. "Apart from your own self, the only person whose opinion might matter here is Arkon's, and clearly he thinks you'd make a good enough baroness if he asked you to marry him."

"Who's to say he asked?" Cladelia joked, if only to mask her pangs of sisterly inferiority. "But I suppose you're right. He's had ample time to rid himself of me if he'd wished."

"Exactly. And if you're worried about anyone else, it's not as if you won't prove them wrong before long. You'll make an excellent baroness."

Huh. Unlike Alyss, Riona had never been one to toss around compliments lightly. Why should she have, when she herself had never had much need of them? "You really mean that?"

"I wouldn't bother saying it if I didn't." Riona took her by the arms and planted a quick kiss on her cheek. "You'll do just fine--and Arkon won't ever doubt that he made the right choice."

"Thank you, sister." Compliments might have meant more from those who thought they needed to be earned. "I'll try to borrow your confidence there."


October 14, 2016

In Which Dani Does the Bare Minimum

July 31, 1202

"You don't think--!"

Did it matter what Dani thought? Celina, at least, got that it was a possibility.

As for what Dani thought... well, exactly that. A possibility. "Calm down. I'm just alerting you to the situation. The baby could just as easily be Oswald's. Everyone knows that those two could never keep their hands off each other, so who's to say they didn't conceive the night before his death?"

"Nearina, maybe?"

"Given the timing, I doubt it." Good God. How did the idea that a woman could somehow know or control everything about any child she carried still exist? Whenever Celina had last switched the rest of her body back to female, she must have forgotten about her mind. "Besides, I'm sure she'll be telling herself it's Oswald's no matter what. This would be his last child, after all, and you know better than anyone how much she loved him."

"Don't remind me. But I hope you're right." Celina sighed. She, of course, wouldn't be convinced of that unless the baby was the unmistakable spawn of Oswald. That wasn't Dani's problem. She'd passed along the warning, lest Celina reveal herself in a moment of panic if she heard from anyone else--because if Nearina didn't know what had happened that night, then she was better off not finding out. She'd done the bare minimum required of a decent person, which was all she ever made a point to do. She just wasn't the sort to go the extra mile.

"You ought to add to that the hope that it is, indeed, Oswald's."

"Well, yes. Obviously. Er, for Nearina." But for herself too. Dani wasn't the only one for whom altruism was a struggle. "What if it looks like me, though?"

Dani shrugged. "She probably took you for a Kemorin anyway--some bastard of your father's, or some descendant from your grandfather's bachelor days. You and Oswald were... second cousins, once removed, I believe? His mother was first cousin to your grandfather. It wouldn't be the strangest thing in the world if Oswald fathered a child who looked like you, or any of your siblings or cousins."

"And if it looks like Nearina?"

"Then that would surprise nobody, seeing as the one thing we can all agree on is that it's hers. Nearina will tell herself it's Oswald's, it'll be in all official records as Oswald's, and no one will ever be any the wiser unless your secret becomes not only common knowledge, but actually believable common knowledge."

"You didn't have any trouble believing it."

"Only because I happened to see it. Nearina hasn't--and for the sake of both of your best interests, I hope you keep it that way."

"Do you really think I won't? I've barely worked up the nerve to go and see her again as a friend--and yes, I remember what you said about her needing a friend." She ought to have. It had only come up in every conversation they'd had since. "I'll go see her some time in the next few days. Just to see how she's coping."


October 11, 2016

In Which Clia Is Verbose

July 31, 1202

"Thanks for taking those notes for me. Figures, the one time that anything interesting gets discussed in that class, and--" Clia cut herself off just as she remembered who she was talking to. Aside from their shared hatred for their Classical History elective, she and Dani had never had much to bond over, even if they didn't have any explicit distaste for each other. Where would the bonding even start? Clia had no idea what, if anything, Dani found interesting.

But she somehow doubted that her own family problems would have been one such thing. "Sorry. Long story short, my sister-in-law, Nearina--you know, my brother's widow--she took a fall down the stairs, which she probably would have just shrugged off under normal circumstances, but she's with child, and--"


"Oh!" And without fail... she'd gone on about her family problems anyway. If only the rest of her could have run like her tongue did, Clia's mother had often teased, she could have gone to Egypt and back every day of her life. And of course her tongue wouldn't consider that someone like Dani wouldn't much care for that manic chatter! Good Lord--did Dani ever say a word without weighing its worth six times in her head? "My apologies. I mean, you know how I just go on and on when I start talking, and I know you've gotten a kick out of it when we're struggling to survive that ridiculously dull class, but now you've gone through all the trouble of doing me a favor and here I am, just talking your ear off about all this--"

"No, no. You're... verbose. I get that." But her brows remained knotted and eyes kept to a squint. "I didn't know that Nearina was pregnant."

"Oh, right. Yes, she hasn't been getting out all that much. She's still mourning Oswald, and now that she's carrying the last child he's ever going to have, she doesn't want to risk anything happening to it, which is why it was important that we were all there--just to be sure that everything was all right after her fall."

"Yes, of course." Dani bit her lip. "She can't be that all far along yet if not many people know, right?"

Clia shook her head. Poor Nearina. It was tragedy enough, a posthumous child, but one whose poor father hadn't even lived long enough to know of its existence... "She had no idea until after he died. Her mother's a midwife, and her guess is that the baby would have been conceived mere days before."

"That's... terrible timing."

"Isn't it?" Clia sighed. As if merely missing her brother wasn't enough as it was! "I mean, even if it had been a month or so earlier, Oswald could have at least known about it."

"Him and Nearina both." Dani pinched a lock of red hair between her fingers and twisted it--an odd burst of fidgeting from someone typically so collected. "I'm sorry. I've been prying into your family's personal business, and I ought to have known better. I should really go and get some work done."


October 9, 2016

In Which Holladrin Approves Any Addition

July 4, 1202

"There! Is that better, you fussy little boy?" Holladrin watched her son's face ease with relief as she tested his blankets with a pinch of her fingers. Her mother-in-law, the kingdom's premier midwife since its founding days, new better than anyone how to swaddle an infant, but Tarien always seemed to want more wiggle room than the typical baby of his size. Odd, seeing as he never wiggled much once he had that room, preferring only to writhe about in shameless annoyance when he didn't.

How would the poor tailors manage, once he was of an age to do the same with his clothing? "You should take advantage of your swaddling days, you know. Once you're free to move about, it's only a matter of time before you'll be expected to do things, and life won't be just naps and cuddles and... excrement."

"Well, there will always be excrement," came Searle's voice from the doorway, more sigh than statement.

Holladrin frowned. If he'd chosen to flip her words into a commentary on life rather than tease her about how she was talking to a baby about bodily functions, then there must have been some of that so-called excrement with which to deal. "What's wrong?"

Her husband folded his hands in front of him and cracked his knuckles--a standard for him, if he would have preferred to use those knuckles to knock someone's teeth out but was too polite to do so. "Your father is here."

Of course. The teeth that every man who cared about her wanted to knock out the most. "That's strange."

"My father said the same--only, peppered with a few words I don't know if this little boy needs to hear yet. But my father must not be as terrifying as your grandfather, because he's still here."

"So he'll show up unexpected on a random day for no reason, but our wedding was out of the question." Of course, her twelve-year-old self would have been ecstatic had he shown up for any reason at all. If only she could reach back in time and slap some sense into that stupid girl. "Tell him I've gone out."

Searle cringed. "Actually, all he said when I was in earshot was that he wanted to meet his grandson."

That ought to have surprised her more than it did. "So he'll acknowledge that he has a grandson. Then again, he did acknowledge that he had a daughter and seemed to consider that in itself decent parenting. If he goes through the trouble of looking at Tarien once, then he can call himself grandfather of the year."

Of course, Tarien had a grandfather--Searle's father--who could have been in the running for that title in earnest. And he also had a great-grandfather, her grandfather, who had won it twenty-two years straight. "I'm not subjecting our son--or any other children we might have--to any of that."

"So... I'll tell him to take a long walk off a short pier? Or some more biting version of that I can say when there's no baby in the room?"

"First off, tell him that he can't be a grandfather if he hasn't been a father first." In her arms, little Tarien blew a few saliva bubbles and let their remnants drip down his mouth. Searle reached over and wiped the drool away with his sleeve. How comforting it was, knowing that if she dropped dead tomorrow, her son would have a father who'd never dream of abandoning him. "And then you can add whatever you like."


October 6, 2016

In Which Nanalie Addresses the Possibility

June 15, 1202

"Well... I suppose now I'll always be able to pester her about how I managed not to vomit while she was the one giving birth," Honora drawled, in some effort to sound exhausted but rather on the well side for a woman mere hours past labor. "In all seriousness, though, I hope she isn't ill. She's been green at the gills all week."

"Hmm." Nanalie eased her grandson's hiccups with a pat to his back, and eased herself into the thought of speaking of one of her twin daughters with the other. Honora and Nearina had an odd sort of relationship, too different to be often drawn to each other's company but quite aware of each other's deficits, each seeing themselves as the other's protector. In terms of anything that required any caution--in action or emotion--Honora was the expert of the two. But, she was not so in tune to her twin that she didn't need the occasional hint. "Nearina might be hoping she is."

Honora stood, lashes pried apart as the eyes beneath them bulged. Preoccupied with her own timely, convenient, healthy pregnancy, the early detection of someone else's less desirable one couldn't have been a priority. "You think she might be with child?"

"I think it's a possibility," Nanalie affirmed as she handed little Garrett back to his mother. Her second grandchild, her first grandson. It may not have been long before she had a third grandchild, possibly a second grandson. A shame, though, that such a grandchild--if there was one--would never know their father. "Oswald hasn't been gone so long that she'd necessarily know if she wasn't."

"I suppose you're right. Poor Nearina." Honora shifted her son into what he seemed to find a comfortable cradling hold and sighed. "If the thought's crossed her mind, I don't know if either possibility could comfort her. Either Oswald will have a posthumous child he'll never see, or she'll know for certain that he'll never have another child."

"Indeed. Maybe don't mention it for her; if it somehow hasn't crossed her mind, then there's no sense in us pushing it in front of her, especially if she's not sure how she'd feel about it." And she wouldn't. Who did, in times like these? For someone dealing with Nearina's loss, there were both too many feelings and too few to predict them all.

"Right. For now, let's just do like poor Asalaye's doing and... hold her hair back if we catch her face in the bucket."