February 27, 2017

In Which Holladrin Starts Something

July 16, 1203

"Oh. I, uh... I thought you would have gone home hours ago."

"My horse hates thunder." Holladrin nudged the logs in the hearth with the poker. Farilon hadn't been at home all day, and once the storm had raged too long, she'd been of two minds whether to wait up for him, or to retire to Laralita's room. In truth she still hadn't made that decision, but it was too late now. "By the time the storm was over, it was too late to head home."

"Ah, right. I nearly stayed at my brother's as well."

She wondered if he now wished he had. "Oh."

"I'm sorry that I've been--"

"No. I understand." She set the poker down and turned. The hearth and the candles lit the room well enough, but his hair still shone the color of moonlight. "I haven't had much idea about what to say to you either."

Could she now, though? As well as the alert to her mother, Laralita had also given Holladrin a conversational entrance with Farilon that didn't involve King Oswald's Easter banquet, or anything that might have happened the night of. Then again... no, that wouldn't do. The last thing Farilon wanted to discuss was Danthia, and the last person he wanted to discuss her with was Holladrin. And what could he do with the knowledge of the letter anyway? The closest he had to a means of controlling Danthia was keeping well enough out of her way that she had little need to bother him. Her mother was the one who could look into it without repercussion.

But that left them in their silence, Easter hanging between them in its unspoken and omnipresent glory. She was tired of the silence. If there had to be silence--between the two of them, at least--it ought to have been on their reasoned terms. "I don't want to pretend it didn't happen."

Farilon's head tipped to the side. Struck by her own lack of clarity, Holladrin abandoned the fireplace and hurried toward him. "I mean, obviously I don't want people to know it did, but I don't see why we should let it keep us from ever speaking. It was just one kiss."

"More of a kiss than I've ever had with my wife," he muttered in admission, as if she didn't know that.

"And more of a kiss than I've ever had with anyone. It was a good kiss. I liked it. I don't regret that it happened."

"I don't either." And yet, his mouth remained a steadfast frown. "But I should. I'm a married man. I'm a father, and you're much closer to my children's age than mine. And hell--my wife is your own aunt."

"You're certainly not married in the emotional sense, and I'm an adult, and we barely knew each other before I was an adult. And you're not my uncle by blood." She smiled, somewhat elated by the mere speaking of it. Farilon's mouth didn't move, but however the candles flickered, his eyes did brighten. "I don't want to have an affair--but if you wanted to kiss me again, I wouldn't oppose that."

"Does that not count as an affair of sorts?"

"Should it?"

Emboldened--for Farilon, at least--he stepped forth, one hand to the small of her back, one steering nudge to the front of his body. "I'd like to think it would be at least significant enough to name."

"Perhaps it would be better to think it too significant to name."

"Will it be?"

Holladrin shrugged. "It's hard to say, if it hasn't even started."

The tips of his fingers landed beneath her chin and his lips brushed hers like a fleeting dream, only for a second but lingering in dancing pulse about her mouth.

"I suppose that's the start of it, then."


February 19, 2017

In Which Laralita Mentions the Letter

July 16, 1203

"It's adorable. They haven't even met yet, but he's already smitten. I swear, whenever he's not writing letters, he's just waiting for her replies!"

Behind her, Laralita's twin brother groaned. "I'm right here!"

"I know--and you can't even protest. Adorable!" But in truth, she did rather envy Roderick. Laralita had nothing against her own betrothed, but... she had met him. And she spent most of their time together... waiting for him to grow on her.

Plus, they'd been a half-random match of similar age and not-inappropriate standing. Not that she didn't think she was the all-around lucky one, not being the perpetual center of their mother's scheming--but a betrothal to Carvalli royalty? That was a not-insignificant perk.

"Don't be embarrassed, Roderick; I had a few classes with Dera's sister, and she says Dera's similarly enamored." Their cousin Holladrin shot a wink over Laralita's shoulder before turning back to her. "For the record, I have no trouble believing it. He's sweet--like his father."

"I guess." Her father was sweet--but it was strange that Holladrin thought so, given that the last few instances of their being in the same room had involved a level of interaction so minimal that it seemed almost choreographed. But, maybe part of her father's sweetness was that he was a perpetual fish out of water? And whatever Holladrin privately thought, she was the type to give the benefit of the doubt until there was no doubt left to be had. "And with all she dotes on him, I will give my dear baby brother credit for not turning out like our mother."

"Baby brother?" Roderick smacked his own forehead with an open palm. "We're twins! And I'm the older twin!"

Laralita sighed. "God, he's so pedantic."

"And Mother doesn't dote on me! At least not since I grew up, she hasn't. She just can't let go of her stupid delusions of my being king one day. I'd love it if she treated me like she treats you."

"She barely even remembers I exist!"

"That would be perfect!"

"Oh, don't fight! You two always get along so well, so long as the topic of your mother never comes up." Holladrin took Laralita by the arm and dragged her over to the empty bench by Roderick, seating herself on the far end and pulling Laralita down beside her. "Can't we all just agree that your mother is a terrible mother to both of you, if just in different ways? Even my mother thinks your mother treats you both horribly, and my mother might be the only person left who even sort of loves your mother."

"I guess." Roderick sniffed. "I'm sorry, Laralita."

"Sorry, Roderick." Laralita curled her toes inward, the silk of her slipper not so soft as a minute prior. They would be sorry, for now. Her brother may well have been her favorite person on the planet, but of course her mother had to ruin him for her too. "For someone so allegedly obsessed with what's best for you, it's alarming that she doesn't know you wouldn't want to be king even if it were more likely."

"And if she took a minute to notice you, she'd realize that you're clever and charming and full of ideas--and not just some accidental twin daughter to be treated as an eternal afterthought."

"I'll say. She didn't even notice me standing there while she was sending out that letter."

Her brother's mouth curled, dragging his brows down with it. He hadn't known? Their mother hadn't told him? "What letter? Who does Mother write to?"

"I'm not sure, but it was strange even for her. She even came down to meet the courier herself rather than sending it with a servant. She had him prove his illiteracy with a note insulting his mother--I guess she thought he'd react if he could read?--then insisted that the note was only ever to be delivered to... I don't know, she showed him a drawing of symbol or something, then burned that on a candle after he left. Oh, and he told her to burn it if he couldn't deliver it for some reason. Even gave him a flint, just in case."

"That almost sounds like--" Holladrin cut herself off with a shake of her head. For the moment, Laralita would take that as another benefit of the doubt, but she'd ponder the end of the sentence later that night as she drifted off to sleep--and she wouldn't know it then, but the answer would cross her mind. "Maybe she mentioned something to my mother? I'll ask her. If she didn't, then... well, my mother would want to know anyway."

"And I think we'd want your mother to know too," Laralita agreed after a quick shared glance with Roderick. "Sometimes I swear that your mother is the only reason ours isn't a serial killer yet."


February 17, 2017

In Which Nato's Niceness Counts

June 10, 1203

"So, uh... you can redecorate the room if you want." As he said it, Nato couldn't be quite sure why he'd chosen to start with something so trivial. Aspen had given no indication that she disliked the room as it was, so why had he bothered suggesting she might? It wouldn't have sprung from his own reservations. He had plenty of thoughts, concerns, even fears about Aspen moving in, but the physical state of his home featured in none of them.

As he settled onto the bed beside her, Aspen shook her head. "Your mother has a better eye than I do for that sort of thing."

Nato's vision darkened under the weight of his brow. His mother, the proud daughter of a clan infamous for their love of all things chaotic and scandalous and irreverent, was not a woman of poor taste--but, she lacked both the interest and the attention span to give her home's decor more than the minimal effort. Aspen's comparing herself unfavorably might have answered the question of his non sequitur. He wanted her to have a focus. A hobby. A career, if she cared for one. Something. Anything.

Anything to keep her going.

"If you say so. I just thought you might like that sort of thing. You studied art, right?"

"Textile arts--and I wasn't much good at the design part of it. I studied it for the practical aspects."

"Did you like those?"

She shrugged. He took that to mean 'As much as I like anything', and hated himself for judging her because that was exactly his opinion of his own field of study. "Not enough to make a career of it, if that's what you're suggesting. I know you'll fight me on this, but I still feel like I should be using my... abilities on more than just the occasional scrape or cut my siblings bring. And not just for my sanity."

"All right." But if only because he didn't need Aspen's help to be melancholy, Nato nestled up to her with a teasing grin. "I suppose that makes sense, given that you're a nice person--but you can't expect me to understand that, given that I'm not."

"You're nicer than you think you are."

Nato smirked. "To you, maybe."

"And since you insist I'm not nice enough to myself, that's exactly what counts." She leaned into his shoulder and took his hand, her fingers trembling somewhat in spite of her firm grip. "Are we ready for this? I mean... I know you were at my parents' place often enough that I guess we've been living together for a while now, but we never really did much. Just... talked, sat, slept."

"Don't admit that to Aldhein. He'll make some stupid joke about how we went from not even courting to being an old sexless married couple in the space of a month."

"And here I thought you'd enjoy seeing your sister punch him."

"Hmm. You're right. Do admit that to Aldhein." But he regretted it, adding to the joke, as her lashes shut to hide a green glimmer of an ache. "Sorry. Really, I... I don't know. I'm sure I'll still remember that morning when they're piling dirt on my grave, but I wish I remembered actually sleeping with you."

"You ought to be glad of that. I hadn't done that before, so I couldn't have been worth remembering. I'd never even kissed a man before that night." She cocked her head to the side, possibly under the weight of her grimace. "How pathetic is that? It takes me so long to finally kiss a man, and then I don't even remember it. I don't remember my first kiss."

He nudged her upright with an arm behind her shoulder until their noses met and all he could see were green eyes and thick lashes. "Remember this one."


February 10, 2017

In Which Riona Is Curled Up

June 10, 1203

"Welcome... dear." Riona had meant to say 'welcome home', but it felt somewhat presumptuous to be calling her castle Aspen's home just yet. Her daughter-in-law had only recently resolved to move in, and both she and Nato had been so hesitant about it that Riona and Isidro had agreed to treat this as a trial stay. With a vested interest in said trial going well--a happy home life would give Nato some incentive to take better care of himself--Riona didn't want to jeopardize it.

She hoped a hug, at least, wasn't stifling. Not greeting Aspen with a hug would have been aloof, and neither extreme would have made for a promising start. "How was the ride?"

"Well enough, thank you." Aspen held her breath, as if sucking in her stomach would have been enough to free their discourse of baby subtext. That... was another trial. Riona knew better than to impose her will on that either. "My parents will be by later with some of my things."

"Of course." Some of her things had already been brought. It would be a gradual move, which Riona didn't mind. She could gauge her expectations by the number of deliveries.

"Riona had your room prepared. Just let one of us know if anything's been overlooked." Isidro, as Riona might have guessed, had opted for diplomacy over familiarity. Between the two of them, perhaps they could strike an ideal balance. "I think it goes without saying that where Nato sleeps is up to you."

"He can stay." A soft request, a quiet one, but sure enough in conviction. "I don't want to be an inconvenience."

"Never a need to worry about that. If your stay here can grant you and Nato any clarity--separately or otherwise--then your presence is the exact opposite of that."

"If anything, this castle's been a little empty since our older three left home," Riona added, again substituting a phrase at the last second. 'Started their families' might have set in an acute dread about the two of them starting their own. "A great big place like this needs young people to keep the candles on in all corners. Old folks like us just want to stay curled up in one cozy little wing and leave the rest to ruin."

"You two aren't old," Aspen offered, never mind that they were older than her parents. "Thank you, though. Do you mind if I go lie down?"

Riona shook her head and watched her as her son took Aspen's hand with a slow reach. He found his haste as they touched, and the two whisked away to the castle's interior. It wasn't the usual newlywed impatience. Each of them no doubt needed space to hear themselves think first, then a little less to bounce thoughts off each other. In any case, Isidro and Riona made for two people too many in the room, and it was to their credit that they'd made sure the children had been occupied.

And with greetings out of the way, maybe they needed their space for a while too.

"Just curled up in one cozy little wing, are we?"

With a swiftness she hadn't known he still had, Isidro looped his arm about her waste and pulled her into him. How long had she known him, now? Dear Lord, they were old.

But it wasn't all that often when they stopped to consider that. "As long as I'm curled up with you."


February 7, 2017

In Which Camaline Has No Guilt

June 6, 1203

"Good Lord, this kingdom is even more boring now that I've graduated." The perfect Eliana Andronei sniffed in perfect distaste, her perfect hair bouncing perfectly against the perfect skin on her perfect shoulder as her perfect nose pointed to the not-so-perfect, apparently boring ceiling. "Not that Dovia is any less dull on even its best days--and knowing how twisted and deviant every other civilized country seems to think this one is, they've got to be even less interesting. It's enough to make one question the point of it all."

Camaline gritted her teeth. She'd spent enough time with her soon-to-be sister-in-law now to guess that Eliana's standards of excitement were too impossibly high for her to deem much even mildly interesting. That in itself wasn't Camaline's problem. Part of her problem was that she herself--even though she had yet to graduate--had little to do when she wasn't studying, so why shouldn't she keep Eliana occupied and out of everyone else's hair? The answer to that was that Eliana had everything going for her and everything Camaline wanted and no appreciation for any of it. She was beautiful, she was clever, she was betrothed and her future was settled, and all of that was just as much of a nuisance to her as everything else.

And Camaline, with her dead betrothed and no other suitable prospects on the horizon, and an education for the sake of filling her time with a focus chosen mostly because her uncle taught in the subject, had just about resigned herself to the fate of wasting at least a few of her prime years as a maiden aunt. Maiden aunts, unless everyone else in their families were useless beyond belief, truly did lead lives in which excitement was scarce and often second-hand, moreso than any others of Camaline's standing who hadn't felt called (or, as she suspected in at least some cases, were either forced or had given up hope for anything better than) to join the church. Eliana was an exaggerated and childish representation of what she feared would be her own misery without any cause for the same.

But oh! Didn't a good maiden aunt exist for the use of her relations? Wasn't it her duty to entertain the listless yet lovely sister-in-law so none of her effectual family members had to waste their time on her? In that sense, Eliana was double the grievance.

Triple, if Camaline considered that a person who could bring herself to refuse such tasks would be more capable of forging a better future--and that she was not that person. "Oh... surely there's something we could do. It's nice outside. We could go for a ride--"

"Boring." Eliana yawned. "I ride when I need to go somewhere. Why should I bother if I'm not? It's utilitarian. What brilliant idea are you going to suggest next? Sewing? Cooking?"

"No..." Well, not cooking, at least. Camaline certainly would have rather been sewing than attending to Eliana, though she shuddered to think that sewing may well be the most pleasant activity of her next however many years. "Do you paint?"


"Um... play the harp? Or any other--"


"Uh..." What had Eliana majored in, again? History? "We could go to the library, or stop in at the archives--"

"You know, I didn't choose to study history because I enjoyed it; it was purely for lack of anything better."

That was no surprise--and given Camaline's own choice in studies, it irked her to think they might have had such discontent in common already. "Surely you must have done something to entertain yourself before you came here."

"Don't be stupid. If I'd had anything better to do back in Dovia, why would I have consented to marrying a man who lived elsewhere? I won't pander to any illusions you have about your brother being any more than the husband equivalent of studying history."

A vein in Camaline's brow throbbed, and not for the insult to her brother. She loved Dalston, but he probably was the husband equivalent of studying history. But studying history was, at least, studying something. "Be grateful that you'll have a husband at all."

Eliana could have gone for another barb, but she took the more irritating route of an indifferent shrug. "I'd say you could have him, but he is your brother."

"Does he know you dislike him so?"

Another shrug. "I don't dislike him. On the contrary, I find him about as tolerable a person as might possibly exist. At least he sees fit to leave me alone."

"Well, I'm pleased to hear you say that." Camaline rose from her seat, the numbness of her needling legs about the best sensation she'd felt all day. "If what you find most tolerable is being left alone, then I'll have no guilt about going to my room to sew in peace."