November 29, 2016

In Which Honora Asserts the Importance of Fun

March 2, 1203

"You know? I can't say I'm sad that we left that party early," Honora mused as she settled into her suitor's lap. She didn't dislike parties, exactly, and neither did Francois, but they'd been courting long enough now that they didn't need forty other people on hand as potential social catalysts--and they hadn't been courting quite so long as to risk being sick of each other. And tonight? They'd both happened to be in a mood for a quieter, more intimate evening.

The party at the inn had offered anything but.

"You're telling me. I'm sure my mother would have protested sending us all here if she'd known I'd have a housemate who'd one day get himself kicked out of an inn by using their ornamental target for a pissing contest."

"Ah, but she does know that said housemate is the Baron of Hoprine." And she hoped Koradril Andronei knew how lucky he was that titles were inherited! She found him amiable enough, but he had no sense of responsibility and little inclination to think before acting. He wouldn't have been named baron on merit.

"True. She'd be more concerned with how drunk Lileina is right now, which is why no one can ever tell her." Francois shook his head, somewhere between fondness and concern. His twin sister's night had so far included a naughty-limerick-turned-ballad performed from a tabletop and her betrothed's dessert stuffed down her corset--plus the dare she'd issued for him to retrieve it. "At least she's having fun, I suppose. I was worried about her having a match brokered by mother, but it's good to know that there wasn't much need to be."

"Fortunately for Arkon, 'younger brother of a duke' means for your mother than his actually being... you know. Fun." She grinned as Francois let out a chuckle. She wouldn't have made fun of most people's mothers to their faces, but Lady Odette had inspired in her children little more attachment than was obligatory. It was a sad state of affairs, but the bright side was that--if things between her and Francois continued to go well--Honora dared hope she could talk him into staying in Naroni after he graduated.

"He's certainly that. My only concern would be him and Lileina not having an ounce of seriousness between the two of them, but given that my mother produced Lileina, they'll probably spawn children who wouldn't know playtime if it hit them in the face."

"What a dreadful fate for a child!" But they could joke, because no doubt neither Arkon nor Lileina would stand for that. Plus, those children would one day attend the university and all the parties it offered, where even the most intense seriousness could be conquered with the right combination of antics and ale. She couldn't recall her grim cousin Nato, for one, ever being quite so drunk or so bold with unfiltered laughter. She certainly didn't think tight-wound Aspen Torgleid had ever let a man have a peek under her skirts!

"I'd say. The most miserable thing a kid can be is a little adult, and I ought to know; I was raised as one."

"That's probably why your sister does everything she can to make up for all the lost fun and games--and why I'm sometimes baffled as to why you don't."

"Oh, I think I do." He looped his arms around her waist and yanked her closer; she let out the rush of exhilaration in her core through a girlish giggle. "I picked you, didn't I?"

"I suppose you did--and if it's fun you want, perhaps I ought to demonstrate why you picked right."

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 24, 2016

In Which Celina Invokes the Sisterhood Angle

March 2, 1203

"Oh my God! Aspen! Can you believe it? I finally get to go to an actual university party!"

Celina's older sister, as she'd expected, gave no hint of finding this impressive. Aspen had less than a month left at the university; she'd been able to attend an actual university party every week for four years. And Aspen didn't like parties much anyway.

Celina, however, did. Quite a lot, actually.

And a university party! With guests who were--well, a little older than her, maybe, but closer to her age than her parents'. And no one who was liable to rat her out to her parents if she happened to have a little more wine than she was typically allowed, or if she happened to bring her acquaintance with some handsome young man to a lip-on-lip level. Not that she made a habit of that, mind.

But oh, to keep the possibility open!

But Aspen pursed her lips. So unfair, really. Celina understood that Aspen didn't like parties. Why couldn't Aspen understand that Celina did? "Do Mother and Father know you're here?"

"Of course they do! Darry brought me here, in case you haven't noticed him standing there!" Though, now that she thought about it, he hadn't said all that much since they'd arrived on campus. Had he even spoken at all on the ride over? Here she'd thought they'd had such a nice conversation. "Darry made the convincing case to Father that it would be better for everyone if I attend my first university party while I still had two siblings on campus and one who still had friends there. Wasn't that sweet of him? Darry, you're my knight in shining armor!"

She turned around to pay her eldest brother a grin and a squeal, whipping back to Aspen just in time to see that her sister wasn't quite so enthused.

"Two siblings on campus? It's not enough that Darry and Dally go with you, but I have to go as well?"

"What can I say?" Darry swooped in before Celina had a chance to answer--possibly a first. "Father insists that she'd be better off if there's a responsible big sister around to balance out her two big idiot brothers."

"But it's my last term! I have so much work, and I have to prepare for the island, and--"

"And you're running out of time to spend with your family! That's partly why Father let Celina come."

That... was probably true. Celina forced herself to keep smiling. "That's true. If you insist on leaving, you can't expect us to just stay away."

"But--"

"Nato will be there." Darry smirked. "Falidor made sure of it."

"I'm not talking to Nato. We agreed that we both have our own problems and it's easier if we don't have to deal with each other's--and that was no big deal, since we weren't friends anyway." Aspen tugged at her braid, agitated. "Nato hates parties even more than I do."

"But he's there, since it might be his last chance to see you before you leave. Isn't that sweet?"

She snorted. "He's probably only going because it's the last place his mother would think to look for him."

"And it also happens to be the last place he'll get to see you." Celina widened her eyes and swayed about in search of that oh-so-important balance between adorable little sister and nearly-grown woman desperate for her first taste of independence. The Nato argument might have been something Darry made up in his head, but sisterhood was real. "And it might be the last place I get to see you too. Please? I never ask you for anything."

"Ugh. Fine." Her sister curled her mouth to a short-lived scowl, then took Celina by the arm and yanked her inward. "But the second somebody throws up, we're leaving."

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 20, 2016

In Which Nato Is Presented With a Waste of Time

March 2, 1203

"Nato! How's my favorite former housemate?"

It wasn't an answer, but Nato had no more polite a response than a skeptical tilt of the head. In truth, he didn't doubt that he was at the bottom of Falidor's list in that category--and the only reason Falidor wasn't in that same position for him was that he'd made no active efforts to get to know anyone he'd lived with at the university and therefore lacked the data to accurately rank. That, and perhaps that Falidor only annoyed him by virtue of being Falidor, as opposed to someone like Darry who went out of his way to be a pain in the ass.

But whatever Falidor thought of Nato, the idea of an acquaintance he almost never saw dropping by without notice and requesting to see him specifically would have been difficult enough to wrap his head around even if the two of them did have anything in common. "I think we'd both leave this conversation in a better mood if you just got to whatever point you have in coming here."

"Right." Falidor stretched his grimace further, as if that didn't do more harm than good to their current standing. "It's the first Sunday of March."

"So?"

"So... tomorrow's Ditch Day."

"Oh." Of course that would have been a notable occasion for Falidor even after he'd graduated. For Nato--well, he could think of at least one person with influence over Falidor who might have thought he ought to get out more. "Shit. Your brother put you up to dragging me to some drunk-fest on campus, didn't he?"

"To be fair, I think your sister put him up to putting me up to it, but yes."

Nato caught the side of his tongue between his teeth. Shahira, of all people, thinking he needed to party more. More likely Aldhein was just covering his own ass by feigning her involvement. "Falidor, if I wanted to go to those parties, I would have done so when I was still living on campus."

"I know--but now you can go with the smug superiority of a graduate! That sounds rather more your speed to me."

Nato's eye twitched. If Falidor thought that, then he might not have been Falidor's least favorite after all; Falidor was, apparently, a terrible judge of character. "Actually, that sounds like an even bigger waste of time. Aldhein really should have given you some hint about how to bribe or threaten me into going, if either of you care that much whether or not I do."

"He should have, for sure. But now that you mention it, I seem to remember him saying a while back something about how you hit your head during training and you didn't want your mother to find out?"

Well. Fuck me. "...Fine. But I'm not staying long."

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 16, 2016

In Which Nearina Doesn't Notice the Lack

February 26, 1203

Was it a mercy or a tragedy, the fact that Nearina's younger daughter had no idea what a father was and wouldn't understand the concept for some time yet? If she didn't know what a father was, then she didn't know what she was missing and wouldn't ache over it. If she didn't know what a father was, then she'd never have the chance to learn firsthand, not unless Nearina remarried well before she thought she'd be ready to do so--if she ever was. Holladrin, at least, had had that couple of months to memorize Oswald's face, to associate it with love and comfort and a strong pair of arms to protect her. Nanalie wouldn't get that chance.

Poor baby. Wispy brown hair, maybe dark like her mother's or maybe light like her sister's, but with no evidence of her father's golden blond beyond what she'd learn when she was old enough to ask. No hazel eyes, even. Not even teal green, like her sister's. Pale grey.

Like that man's...

Nearina shook her head before the thought could conclude. She'd been in such a fog in those days after Oswald's death that she couldn't even be sure that had happened. If it had, surely she would have had some feeling or another as evidence. If she'd wanted it, she'd have had relief, catharsis. If she hadn't, she would have had those raw wounds on top of those of widowhood and her despair would have compounded. She'd had neither response. She'd neither wanted it nor not wanted it. The fact that it had happened, if it had happened, had made no difference. Perhaps she'd imagined the whole thing, like she still imagined Oswald's form on the other side of the bed.

She lifted Nanalie to her shoulder and kissed that soft, tiny cheek. She had to be Oswald's. That calming presence was Holladrin's, was Oswald's. She was Oswald's, in spirit at least. And of course she was Oswald's in every other way too.

How could she have been anyone else's? She didn't know if she could distinguish the air of Oswald's plane-defying love for this new baby, but she surely would have noticed the lack of it, like some missing mystery spice in her favorite of her mother's recipes. Oswald, wherever he was, must have been happy. Surely he wouldn't have been, if her baby wasn't his child?

"Your papa loves you, baby. Wherever he is, he loves you."

Quite a few of Oswald's cousins had grey eyes, after all.

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 12, 2016

In Which Alina Has Plausible Deniability

February 12, 1203

"Sorry about that," Falidor mumbled as he joined Alina on the bed, each word short and hesitant as fit their insignificance. "I didn't expect that Darry would be here that long."

Alina sighed. She didn't dislike Darry, exactly--or, at least, she didn't want to. Darry had been Falidor's best friend far longer than she'd been Falidor's betrothed, and she didn't want Falidor's life to revolve around her any more than she wanted her own to revolve around him. They would have their couple friends, sure, but she'd still have her own friends and he'd still have his, and--when she looked at it logically--that was not a problem. It was desirable, even. Surely even the most perfect of spouses would have driven each other mad if no facet of their lives were free of the other person!

Darry, however, seemed rather needier than many friends were. There was surely some validity behind that neediness, Alina forced herself to keep in mind, but the fact remained that he had no qualms about showing up unannounced with some myriad of problems he expected Falidor to solve, even if Falidor had no business in solving them and no capability of doing so anyway. When such an occasion landed on one of the very few free days of Alina's senior year? She didn't think her annoyance unjustified.

"Don't get me wrong--I love that you're such a good friend--but I should hope that occasions such as today won't be a frequent fixture of our marriage."

"They won't. Darry will be getting married before we are anyway, and Arydath will be the first line of aid in any Darry-related problem--if she isn't already. But I don't think Arydath would have wanted anything to do with this particular thing." Alina raised an eyebrow. Arydath de Cervantes, if her Aunt Riona wasn't seeing similarities that weren't there and Alina's own memories weren't lying, was a woman rather like Alina's own late mother: not lacking in scruples, but not in the slightest inclined toward disinvolvement. If Darry and Falidor assumed that Arydath would say 'no' to whatever the hell they were up to, that was cause for concern. "Mind letting me in on what this particular thing is, and what Darry's roped you into doing about it?"

"I'd rather not, to be honest. I'd like to give you plausible deniability."

Something that Arydath would want nothing to do with, something that Alina was better off not knowing. If she'd been one for tattling, each man would have woken in the morning to find their suspicious mother at the front door. "Well, if that's not the most comforting thing a man ever told his betrothed."

"Well, that and it's... I don't know. I wouldn't help him if I thought anyone was going to get hurt, but it's a bit manipulative, and I'm sure it would be a while before you slept with me again if I told you." He smirked, apparently trying to lighten the mood.

To that, Alina shrugged. "You do know that I'm a Kemorin, right? Besides, sometimes the sex is better when I'm angry with you."

"Then for your sake, I resolve to be much more of a nuisance from now on--but I really don't think you'd approve of this. Especially since you're friends with Darry's sister."

"Aspen? She's more Viridis's friend than she is mine." And why on earth Darry and Falidor would be pulling some scheme on her, she had no idea--but suffice to say that Aspen would be furious. Now there was someone in desperate need of a good lay.

Not that she'd be in any less desperate a state herself if she spent the rest of the day brooding over her betrothed's activities. "You know, it might be worth noting that I'm a little angry with you now."

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 9, 2016

In Which Nato Understands

January 13, 1203

"Didn't your mother ever teach you that it's rude to barge into someone else's bedroom?"

Not that Aspen, from the looks of her, had any intention of actually going to bed. She was fully dressed, hair still pinned at the side, and not hint of fatigue in her voice or face. Nato would take that, at least, for a break from her borrowed maladies.

As for his reply, he'd take a different approach. "This isn't your bedroom. This is a guest bedroom--and not even your guest bedroom, I might add. You weren't going to spend the night here, but you said you were tired, so Yvanette took pity on you and Sevvie will spend the night in Sir Neilor's study."

"So I'm to believe you were looking for Yvanette and Sevvie, then?"

"Don't be stupid. Your idiot brother figured you'd heard about some ill servant, so he sent me off to find you--because apparently his sweetheart has it in her head that he pays you more attention than he does her."

"And apparently he doesn't know about your fits, if he'll send you in his stead."

"And I have half a mind to tell him if he'll leave me alone! I have problems of my own, you know; I don't have to take on yours as well."

"Good. I never wanted you to."

"Good."

"Fine."

"Great."

"Right."

Good. He'd never asked to know about Aspen's powers. He'd barely had anything to do with her before he'd found out, and his life had been that much easier. Why the hell had he gotten involved in the first place?

Oh. Right. "Why do you keep doing this?"

Scowling, Aspen's crossed-arm hold on her own chest tightened. "It feels worse not to."

Bullshit. People like Nato and Aspen didn't live in a world where worse existed. It couldn't exist, not without a better to compare it to. There was bad, and there was different bad, but there was no worse. Aspen was kidding herself if she thought there was.

But, she did this to herself. She could have claimed a land of better if she wanted to. "What, morally? Do you really think--"

"No! Not morally! Morals are incidental!" Her arms had dropped to her sides, fists clenched to the point of redness. "If I don't use my powers, then they use me. If I see an injury, or an illness, I'll take it--because it's better. If I don't use my powers, then the things they'll take for me are the invisible things. And you have no idea how many invisible things there are. And you can't lie in bed and wait them out, or bind them for a few weeks and hope they heal. How can you cure them if you can't see them?"

Invisible. Invisible, until they weren't.

Pain that no one saw. Screams that no one heard. Prayers to gods that were dead or indifferent or had never existed at all.

He understood, now. Or, he thought he did.

"Aspen--"

"Shut up, Nato. You get it. You're the only one who knows who gets it.

"You said I didn't have to live like you did. Well, this is me doing that."

NEXT CHAPTER:

November 4, 2016

In Which Rona States Who Is That Selfless

January 4, 1203

"And why shouldn't I go?" It wasn't a question. It was a demand, a dare, a challenge. And damned if Rona wouldn't take it. Curse that Gualtiero de Cervantes and his big mouth! It was only for his late mother's sake that Rona hadn't torn him to shreds right there--that, and his not knowing why such news shouldn't have been brought up around Aspen. "I'm almost done at the university. I don't have any plans for afterwards. I don't even enjoy anything enough to make plans. Why shouldn't I make myself useful?"

"With something of this scale? Isn't your life answer enough to that question?" More than anything--having dwelt at times in dark places herself--Rona feared that to her daughter, it wasn't. And for that, she had half a mind to send Aspen to live with her grandmother after she graduated. Rona's mother may have been the most innately comforting person alive.

Rona could comfort... but, as those early spats with Ashe had reminded her, not until her own fury had run its course.

"You'd be dead in days, Aspen! You'd take the illness out of every person on that island until your own body gave out, and they'd burn your corpse for fear of disease--even if you hadn't yet cured everyone. And if there was one person you hadn't reached, then you may have died for nothing. I am not letting any child of mine run off to die a pointless early death in a foreign land without even the dignity of a proper burial."

"I could work with the navy! I could have them transport everyone I manage to cure, have them send aid for those I don't. What would you have me do here? Work at your school and marry some man? I could get struck by lightning on my commute, you know. I could die birthing my first baby, who might end up dying too. We're all going to die sooner or later, so why shouldn't I take a death that means something if I have a chance?"

"Because a meaningful death doesn't have to be a sacrifice! And there are people who love you here! Your father and I, your grandmother, your brothers and sisters and friends! Your nephew--who adores you! Do all of us mean nothing to you?"

"Don't guilt me into changing my mind! This has nothing to do with any of you! It's my life, and my decision. I want to go!"

"It is your life." Rona gritted her teeth. Aspen was right about that. Too right. "It is your life, and it will be forfeit if you do this. What exactly makes your existence so unbearable that you'd throw it away in a reckless gamble? No one is that selfless, Aspen! Humanity never would have survived this long if we were!"

"I'm not selfless. If you paid a shred of attention, you'd know that." A shred. Almost hissed. Rona had been paying attention, as much as she could with her daughter living at the campus, but she'd pay a hell of a lot more now. "I'll finish up at the university, just because Father already paid for it. But the second I graduate, I'm gone."

NEXT CHAPTER: