December 9, 2017

In Which Agathe Dismisses the Purpose

February 4, 1205

"Sorry. I didn't mean to imply that I thought your translation was wrong but... I don't know." Agathe sighed. She did not doubt Eldona. In moments when she might have, she'd scanned passages of the original diary for common words, and they matched well enough to what she guessed to be their translated counterparts from what she could tell. "It's not what I was expecting, I suppose--not that I know what I was expecting."

"It's fine. Really, I don't know what I was expecting it to be either, but I thought it might have been more than that. Or less than that, perhaps."

"Less?" Agathe frowned. She didn't know her sister-in-law well enough to guess about her inner workings, but Eldona certainly said some odd things every now and then. "What could be less than that? Every page either devolves into nonsense or was nonsense to begin with."

"I don't disagree, but you must admit--some of the imagery is quite striking, and very specific. It's even clearer in the original Greek, if you'll take my word for it. It's madness, yes, but... madness with a purpose."

"What purpose could madness have? You know what my mother was like. You know her madness treated Searle. Surely there wasn't any purpose in that."

"I know--and believe me, I'll never find her actions toward him any less than downright repulsive." And if truth could truly spark in the eye, then Agathe saw it in Eldona's, but there was something else as well. Curiosity, maybe. Sympathy for the devil, perhaps. Some enlightened understanding that even villains could bleed. "If it's all right with you, I'd like to study the original text a while longer."


November 15, 2017

In Which Dani Watches for Shipwrecks

January 12, 1205

Dani's daughter wasn't old enough to make a proper playmate for Farr, but he didn't seem to mind. He didn't seem to mind much, really, and Dani wasn't yet sure what to make of that in regards to his parentage. Celina certainly thought herself easy-going, but that couldn't have been natural for someone so drama-hungry and egocentric. Aydelle? Dani didn't know her well enough to make that call. Aydelle was a guarded woman, which suited Dani just fine because she was a guarded woman too, only without the years of life experience that had added to Aydelle's guardedness.

Years that, if the thinning frame and the bags under her eyes and the worn woolen dressing gown said anything, might have been running out. "I get that you have some sort of agreement with Celina, but surely a young woman would be better off befriending someone her own age."

"If you believe that whether a person is similar in age to you is the only measure of compatibility, perhaps." Under cover of her skirts, Dani tensed her calf muscle. Her age or not, she'd never been one to actively seek friends, nor would she know how to go about it if she decided to do so. Having been visiting Aydelle on a semi-regular basis now, she supposed they weren't not friends, but any mutual fondness was incidental. She wouldn't have sought Aydelle's company if not for Celina's request, and she still wasn't quite sure why she'd obliged that request in the first place.

Toxic curiosity, she supposed. As horrifying as watching two ships ram into each other might have been, Dani wouldn't have turned away from the sight, and so too was the case with Celina's entire existence.

But as Celina herself was safely out of the country at the moment, Dani would attempt to focus on Aydelle herself. "How are you feeling?"

"Like shit, really." The older woman smirked. "But thanks for asking. And for the record, I've been around longer than a lot of people manage, and while I've made more than my fair share of mistakes, my children and grandchildren are flourishing, and I'm in a good place with everyone else I care about."

"That's... good?" At the very least, she wouldn't pry. Perhaps mortality, at least, was a topic better saved for peers of one's own age and relative health. "Though, I don't know if--"

"If I'm actually dying? Who knows, maybe I'm not. But if I am, then so be it." Aydelle sighed. "I'll be sad to miss Farr growing up, of course, but I know he'd be in good hands with Cenric and Leonora."

"I see." She didn't, but how else did one respond to such thoughts? At least, when one found soothing sentiments so fundamentally alien. "Uh... have you told Celina that you're ill?"

"I have not--and in case I do recover, I'd request that you follow my lead there." With a casual half-laugh, Aydelle slouched back, burying herself into the sofa pillows. "Though obviously I wouldn't be in much position to stop you telling her if I died."


October 22, 2017

In Which Eldona Needs Something to Tell

December 10, 1204

Eldona had translated the diary. She'd read over that translation twice. She'd checked the translation, re-translated, read it over yet again, repeat. She could practically recite it--what she thought it said, at least--from memory. She was right, she was sure of it, or at least as right as she could be without the context of Searle's mother's fractured mind.

And she had no idea what the hell she could tell Agathe.

What was there to tell, really? Most of it was nonsense--the ravings of a madwoman whose madness had flourished under years of neglect and abuse and self-loathing. The rest of it was the years of neglect and abuse and self-loathing, a private account of deeply personal pain that belonged to a dead woman, pain that Eldona had no right to disclose. A cruel father, a crueler brother, a mother whose fate would repeat in her daughter. Agathe, at least, would be spared of that, in both life and knowledge. Perhaps that was the one comfort to be found in the early death of Riona as well.

But aside from the pain was... well, it was back to the nonsense. Something about a well, the blood of demons, trees with roots that knotted at the center of the earth and the things that slept amongst them. Something about beings made of starlight, clouds that rained emeralds, lions that devoured worlds. Something about seeds of darkness latent in the earth, windows masquerading as mirrors, the grave of the father.

Something part fiction, part delusion, part metaphor, part prophecy. Something Eldona couldn't explain, couldn't define, couldn't fathom. She had neither the ability nor desire to live in Eumelia's mind. She did not want to translate and read and re-translate and re-read again.

But she had to tell Agathe something.


September 25, 2017

In Which Leara Sees Support for the Theories

November 2, 1204

While they had made arrangements for most of their children, neither Leara nor Lorn would have hesitated to break off any of those betrothals had the other party proven unsuitable: violent, ill-tempered, manipulative, neglectful, or otherwise a risk to a spouse's well-being. A dreadful marriage, indeed, did not a strong alliance make--nor would any alliance have been worth the cost of any hope for one of their children's happiness.

So far, however, their children's betrothals had proven to be, more or less, functional matches. Celina had been wary of Karlspan at first, but by the time they'd married, they'd grown quite fond of each other. Neva had grown up with Prior, and their relationship had eventually moved from friendly to affectionate. Privately, Leara didn't quite like Eliana as much as a mother-in-law ought, but it wasn't as if she was outright wicked, and she seemed to make Dalston happy enough. And of course, she couldn't have picked a better woman for Ricky than Hollie.

But if their streak of good fortune there was bound to end eventually, she was relieved to see that Koradril wasn't the one to break it. Farilon's early death had caused Camaline enough grief over her parents' political games, enough anxiety over an uncertain future. Koradril, for all Leara wouldn't have thought Camaline too keen on a widower nineteen years her senior, had both his Aunt Holladrin's steadfast goodness and his father Oswald's unfailing health. It hadn't been her chance at romance that Camaline had mourned with Farilon, after all, but her settled future.

Not that, Leara mused as she caught Camaline glancing Koradril's way yet again as he and Lorn carried on with talk of some trade route or another, romance was out of the question.

"You're rather quiet today, darling."

"Oh?" Camaline blinked, as though she herself hadn't realized this--or hadn't been overly aware of her mother's presence. "My apologies, Mother. I may have talked myself out for the day on that morning walk I took with Koradril."

"That's quite all right--though I didn't know you'd taken a morning walk."

"I didn't tell you?"

"No. I suppose that does support your theory of having talked yourself out, though." Leara smiled, as much to herself as to her daughter. The men's conversation, from what she could hear, did seem to skew in favor of Lorn's voice; perhaps Koradril had found himself in a similar condition. "That, or the theory of how little there can be to say in front of one's parents; I somehow doubt you and Koradril spoke much of trade routes."

"But why shouldn't we have spoken of trade routes, Mother?" Camaline looked over at Koradril quickly before turning back to Leara with a pink tinge to her cheeks. "A princess ought to know something of trade routes, after all."


September 6, 2017

In Which Lettie Has Enough for Now

October 30, 1204

"You know, it's funny: before I had any babies of my own, I didn't think they were that cute. They were just... red and fat and squishy. But from Rennie onward, they were adorable. Granted, I still think they're odd--what with the whole 'perpetually confused and afraid of everything' attitude--but they're cute, and so is that oddness."

As he tended to do whenever Lettie blurted out some ridiculous thought out of sheer discomfort, Abrich just smiled and nodded. She didn't think he did it to be patronizing, but she did sometimes wonder what exactly he would have said to things like that had he been a less tactful man. "I suppose confusion and fear are natural when everything is brand new."

"Maybe. Still strange to think about what must be going on in their heads, though." She gave her new little son a pat on the back. Whatever she thought of babies, she hadn't expected to still be producing them as a grandmother of eight. When she'd married Abrich, the idea for both of them had been convenience and companionship, not reproduction--they'd already had six apiece, after all. But Ramona had been born anyway, and not even a year later, this new baby was around too.

Though, she supposed that did technically fall under possible consequences of 'companionship'...

As did disclosure. Now that she knew her boy was indeed a boy, there was no sense putting off that conversation any longer. She kissed the baby before returning him to his crib, then turned back to her husband.

"So, given our culture's general hatred of bringing new names into the mix, I'd like to name him for my stepfather."

There. Start with the intent. If Abrich had questions, she'd deal with them as they went. Why couldn't her mother have married a man named practically anything else?

"Octavius?" Abrich pursed his lips--probably tallying off Lettie's children in his head. She didn't blame him for that. Everyone they knew had so many children it was impossible to remember who had just what number. "Well, I know he is my eighth, but wouldn't you feel odd about that?"

She shrugged. "Not particularly, no."

She hadn't told Abrich about Prior. Part of her wanted to--she didn't think he'd judge her for it, not when she already had a son out of wedlock that he did know about--and her own parts of that secret were inconsequential. But he'd want the whole story. That would require divulging Searle's secrets, Sparron's secrets, Camaline's secrets... no. What she could say would be insufficient, and the rest was not hers to tell.

"Really? Or is this one of your jokes--naming your seventh kid 'Eighth'?"

"It's not a joke. Like you said, he's your eighth child." But it was her suggestion. Damn. He'd want more than that. "And, Abrich, uh..."

His brows rose, eyes dilated, concerned, alarmed. She thought she could guess what he was thinking, or at least the line of thinking. It was wrong to take advantage, but she could use that.

"Alina... had a twin."

It wasn't a lie. Alina did have a twin. Abrich, from the look on his face, assumed that said twin was a stillborn--and he was sensitive enough that he wouldn't press her for more. Lettie, meanwhile, had never said that Alina's twin wasn't still alive and well and the heir to the Barony of Tetran.

It was a shitty compromise--but unlike the full truth, at least it was hers.

"So... Octavius."

She nodded. "Unless you hate it, of course."

"I don't hate it, no. It's... acknowledgment, isn't it? Of his sibling. Of your child."

"It is, yes." And, she supposed, there was one more piece of the truth she could share. "I think I need that."

And one day, perhaps--if Searle and Camaline were gone, if Prior and Alina were safe from any repercussions--she would tell him more. If she could figure out how.

But for now, the baby had his name. The name had its justification. Lettie had stated some claim to Prior, even if it wasn't complete, even if it would forever be private between herself and Abrich.

For now, that was enough.

"Thank you."


August 26, 2017

In Which Eliana Credits Men in Books

September 14, 1204

A lifetime of leers and ogling did not permit Eliana much comfort when turning her back on a man, their greedy eyes capitalizing on the chance to do as their fingers longed, that prickly feeling on her skin timed to the point where she half-believed it the physical consequence of stares. Dalston, however, was not prone to the same drooling dog-smells-meat hunger of other men that had plagued her since puberty. He did comment on her beauty, of course--often enough to be almost annoying--but never as he might have had she not even been in the room, always to her and not to the other men around him, and not as often as he tried to talk to her about practically anything else. Over a year of marriage later, and she still wasn't sure just what to do with that.

Obviously, she liked it... but it was still so odd. And of course some paranoid part of her had to muse about what he had to gain from luring her in with a false sense of security.

"You know? I think you and my sister will miss each other once she heads off to Dovia, even if neither of you would ever admit it."

A false sense of security, painted by conversation of his sister of all things! Not a topic brought up often by a man whose immediate concern was the stiffness of his cock.

Eliana bit her lip. It was just as unfair of her to paint Dalston with the actions of other men as it was of said other men to mentally undress her without so much as asking her name. She wanted to trust him. He hadn't given her any reason not to trust him. And yet...

Well, maybe conversation of his sister of all things wasn't the worst way to distract herself from her own unfounded suspicions. That was big news, after all. "I doubt it. Princesses have better things to do than to miss their sisters-in-law, even the ones they can actually stand to be around."

"I don't know; the job description of a princess always sounded rather light on duties to me."

"This from a man who thinks all I do working at the library is read."

From the bed, Dalston chuckled. "Well, I've lived with you long enough to know that's what you'd like your job to be."

"Perhaps," she admitted as she abandoned the fire and eased herself back into bed, "but I owe it to all the books I've loved over the years to see that more people read them." Men in books, after all, didn't know or care what she looked like, and had always made more use of her mind than her breasts or her ass or old wives' tales about violet eyes meaning wanton desires.

"If you say so. But I daresay my sister's favorite thing about university so far has been the library, and I have to wonder if you have anything to do with that."

"Not a thing. I see Camaline no more often than any other student there, and I don't believe she's approached me in there once."

"Of course she hasn't. She doesn't want to impose on your being family, so she compensates by keeping her distance. It's her attempt at being respectful."

Dalston's whole damn family was respectful. How such a thing couldn't be too good to be true was beyond her.

"Good night, Dalston."


August 9, 2017

In Which Laralita Addresses the Oddness

August 1, 1204

"So... you're about an hour away from being my stepmother."

And it hadn't been so long ago that Laralita would have thought that the last thing she'd ever have cause to say of her dear cousin and friend. Actually having said it did nothing to alleviate the strangeness of it all.

"That does look to be the case, doesn't it?" Holladrin grimaced as she fished a curl out of the woven back of Aunt Ren's bedroom sofa. Her dress was a beacon of pure white in Bandera Keep's otherwise dark master bedroom, and Laralita had spent the past several minutes struggling to look at away. "You and Roderick aren't bothered by it, are you?"

Laralita shook her head. It certainly didn't bother her to see her father happier than he'd ever been, nor did it bother her to think that she and her favorite cousin would be living under the same roof until she headed to Naroni for schooling. In a way, she was quite happy.

Or she would be, once she got over the oddness of it all.

"It... it's just strange. But I'll get over it, and I'll make sure Roderick does too. We love you, and obviously we love father, so we'll adjust."

"That's a relief to hear." Holladrin rose to her feet, and stretched her shoulders backward, eyes shut in welcome calm. "I'd been worrying about it, honestly, but I wasn't sure how best to bring it up. Regardless of the answer, though, I'm sorry I never cleared the air before the wedding day."

"It's fine," Laralita assured her as she too stood--what with the likely looming hug and all. "Just promise me one thing."

"For my stepdaughter? Anything."

Laralita indulged the voicing of 'stepdaughter' with a smirk, but it didn't last long. Her request was one that demanded deadly seriousness and a face to match it.

"Never talk to me about sex with my father. Ever."

Holladrin blinked, clearly not having expected to hear quite that. But, she didn't waste much time in nodding. "Fair enough. I'll just talk to you about sex with other men, then."

"Thank God." That settled, Laralita leaned in for that looming hug, not-so-looming now upon the act of the hug itself. "Congratulations, stepmother."


July 22, 2017

In Which Eldona Regards the Unanswered Questions

July 7, 1204

"No, I can see that Oswald means well, but I do agree with you." It was odd, perhaps, that Eldona knew her sister-in-law's betrothed better than she did her sister-in-law herself. Oswald, possibly to make up for Agathe's reservations, had indeed made much more of a point to get to know Searle and herself, despite not having much reason to do so other than the family connection. But Agathe, Eldona had determined, didn't keep her distance for sheer lack of interest--and in Searle's case, plenty of space was indeed crucial to his well-being. "Unless the journal contains something he might find comforting or interesting or important, I don't see why Searle needs to trouble himself with it."

"Exactly. That, and... well, you know Searle and I don't exactly know each other like most siblings." Agathe broke their eye contact for a second to wave as little Celina turned her head and shot her aunt a toothy smile. The circumstances dictated that Agathe probably knew Searle's daughter better than she knew Searle himself, just because there was so little baggage to navigate when it came to a well-loved toddler as opposed to a grown man of harsh roots. "You'd be a better judge of whether it's relevant to him anyway. You don't think there's any chance of him finding it, though?"

"I doubt it. Searle's respectful of my study. He won't go through my drawers or anything, if that's what you're worried about."

"Good." But reassurance about her brother's security did little for Agathe's overall mood. From what Eldona could gather, her sister-in-law had escaped enough of her mother's scrutiny to lead a happy enough childhood, but her father's death had seen her transferred to the care of Maeja. Maeja was a lovely woman--but she was a lovely woman with much knowledge and therefore much well-informed hatred of Searle and Agathe's mother. Agathe wouldn't have grown up without more unanswered questions than any child needed.

"Thank you for helping me. I doubt it's anything more than her own madness, but we can all move on once that's confirmed."

"Indeed." Agathe, Oswald, and Searle too. Searle had a new life. That didn't mean the old one had never happened, that there wasn't still healing to be had even if it could never be complete. "You're a better sister to Searle than I think you know."


July 12, 2017

In Which Dea Urges Asking First

June 12, 1204

"That is exactly what I wished to hear. I shall begin a review of all issues I wanted to address with both Dovia and Carvallon immediately." Dea had dared hope, at least, that the upcoming nuptials between Prince Oswald and Princess Avirelle would ease the long-standing tensions between Naroni's two most significant allies, but given the current players on both sides, she wasn't about to make many assumptions. Hearing this firsthand from one of King Oswald's own sons made for a welcome bout of relief. "My best to both your nephew and his bride-to-be. I'll be unable to attend the wedding myself, but my sister Geneva and her husband will be there as my representatives--along with Celina, of course."

"Ah, yes. My stepmother. A lovely woman, but... I do still struggle to think of her as such, especially given the distance." For that, Koradril couldn't be blamed, Dea supposed. The duchess's marriage to the King of Dovia was a political arrangement, one that required her to stay in Naroni as an ambassador of all parties, more of a bridge between the two kingdoms than anyone's wife. That marriage had also happened long after Koradril might have been young enough for a stepmother to make much of an impression. "I did rather enjoy meeting her granddaughter, though--your cousin, who was here earlier."

"Camaline? Yes, I'm quite fond of her." Camaline had indeed been helpful, and quite sweet about it too. Dea just wished she could offer her something equally substantial in turn.

"I'm glad to hear it. I, uh..." Koradril swallowed, as if he might draw back the verbal stumble. It was rather unlike a prince with both formal and informal studies in governance. "Forgive me, as this is rather sudden, but it occurred to me as I spoke with Camaline that my family might still honor her betrothal in spite of my nephew's death. My Tivalia has been gone for five years now, and I had started to think about remarrying, both for my own sake and my children's. Granted, I'd understand if Camaline had no interest in an older man with children from a previous marriage, but... well, it was a thought."

"It... certainly is a thought." Dea flexed her jaw, unsure if even Camaline knew much about her own taste in men having grown up with the fixed idea of Farilon. On the surface, she found little to object to about Koradril, but simply 'not objectionable' did not an ideal husband make. "I can't claim such intimate knowledge of my cousin's heart, but she's approachable. I don't believe there would be harm in asking."

"Then I shall gather up my courage and ask." Koradril managed a wistful smile, shyer than most princes had much business in being with a foreign queen. For such a tall man, Dea found the difference in their heights held a sudden insignificance. "Do you think her parents would find the match acceptable?"

"I wouldn't worry about her parents." And not just, she wanted to say, because of who they were. "Ask Camaline herself first."