April 29, 2017

In Which Holladrin Is Inconvenienced

December 24, 1203

"I wouldn't blame you, you know--if you didn't want to do this any more."

Of course Holladrin knew. How could she not know, when Farilon offered her that out every time they were alone? He always gave her an exit.

And, as always, she didn't care to take it. "I know it's not what either of us really wants, but I'd rather a few stolen kisses than nothing."

"But you could have so much more."

"More, perhaps--but not better. No marriage in the world is as convenient to me as all the inconveniences with you." An inconvenience, she'd learned all too well these past months, did not have to be unpleasant. "Don't worry about my needs. As for my wants, there's only one you need to worry about: you."

Farilon's blush found itself lost in the glow of the nearby fire, but Holladrin didn't need to see it to know it was there. By this point, she knew how it dilated his eyes, opened his lips. She knew even the cheek's tug of a smile before he stopped it from forming. "I don't... I mean, I'm not sure--"

A soft knock on the door cut him off. Holladrin pulled back in a practiced step while Farilon watched over her shoulder. Farilon had excused himself from the party on account of a headache. Holladrin hadn't been in need of a story, but if caught, she'd say her mother had sent her to check up on him. Her mother had seen just how 'ill' Farilon's wife was, after all, to the point of admitting upon arrival that this may not have been one of Danthia's usual ruses. Surely there would have been a chance of Farilon catching that ailment?

"Uncle Farilon? Are you in there?"

"Celina?" His niece, daughter-in-law to the hosting earl and countess. He breathed relief into her name, glad to not have to explain anything to Searle of Bandera himself.

"Yes, he's here," Holladrin answered, announcing herself before Celina could enter. "If you've come to offer him a cup of water or a cold cloth, he's just refused both from me."

"Oh. Sorry that the headache persists." In spite of believing that, Celina did slip herself through the door. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Uncle."

"It's all right. Talking with Holladrin did ease it somewhat." Farilon grimaced. "Did you need something?"

"Actually, you're needed in the entrance hall." Celina's finger caught the end of one moon-blond curl, eyes fluttered shut in a half-informed messenger's unease. "My mother-in-law asked me to fetch you. She said that your wife's maid just arrived. I didn't see her myself, but it seems she's in something of a state."


April 19, 2017

In Which Riona Is Mercy

December 24, 1203

"I'm sure my absence at the party will be noted, of course. It always is. Our peers really do have no understanding to spare for an ill woman."

"I don't know if you really understand our peers," Riona muttered, more to the hearth in front of her than to her sister. The hearth was likely the better listener anyway. Danthia was almost never ill, and a clever attention seeker would switch methods once no one without some degree of obligation bothered to investigate any feigned illness she suffered.

That, and none of their peers understood Danthia. Riona herself didn't. In another time, another place, there might have been hope for her, or at least enough of an idea of what exactly made her what she was to think that hope could exist. A bad childhood couldn't have been all of it. Even if no one truly overcame a bad childhood, they still... felt. Acknowledged others, at least as more than a means to an end. Often went out of their way, in some cases, to prevent someone else from going through what they had.

Danthia didn't. She lacked even the self-awareness to know she didn't. It must have been a lonely life, thinking no one else mattered.

Hello, my name is Mercy.

Searle and Ren were hosting this year's Christmas party. It was perfect. Searle knew everything. Searle would make sure no one else knew anything. And for once... Danthia's illness would have been real. She would have the attention she always wanted, the regret she always wanted, the validation she always wanted. Or whatever the hell else she wanted. For one shining moment, she would be a queen, queen of a thought in the minds of those who learned of her death, a queen who lay dying while no one believed her.

The real Queen of Naroni, meanwhile, would be safe from any more misguided plots, no matter how foolish and unlikely to succeed.

"I just can't believe how rude everyone is. Even my own children couldn't be bothered to kiss me good night before leaving. The girl was always a lost cause, I suppose, but Roderick? Surely I raised him better than that!"

"I'm sure you hired a nanny who did." To Danthia's credit, many of their class couldn't have claimed much better. Riona herself wasn't the most nurturing of people, and for her children's own sakes she'd brought in someone whose strengths aligned with her weaknesses. But she did believe in giving credit where credit was due.

And not one of her children had ever been a 'lost cause'. Laralita wasn't either. Nor would be, she hoped, a Danthia born a thousand years in the future.

"Your daughter is a lovely girl."

"What good is 'lovely'? An alliance? I'm not interested in compromise."

"No one is--but it's how we get by. Even animals have figured that out."

"And maybe the lack of an individual who won't compromise is why they're still animals."

"Who's to say we're not still animals, sister?" Animals may have had concepts, after all. Fear, desire. Justice. Mercy.

Hello, my name is Mercy.

"Would you care for a cup of tea before I leave? I was going to go down to kitchens anyway; after the detour, my horse deserves a nice carrot."

"Hmm. Not sure why you'd bother, but I suppose if you're going down there anyway. You'll have to get my maid to brew it, though; Farilon insisted on giving the cook the night off."

"I can brew a cup of tea myself. I'm sure you could too, if you tried."

"Why should I? That's the cook's job."

"Of course it. And you need to focus on... whatever it is you do. I won't be long."

Badly planning assassinations, pretending to be ill, manipulating in spite of the lack of ability to do so.

What a tragic existence.

Sister, my name is Mercy.


April 7, 2017

In Which Dora Wakes Late

November 8, 1203

Dora remembered having odd dreams. She was sure she'd forgotten having odd dreams. Neither thought had ever bothered her.

What did, however, was exactly what had happened upon waking this morning. She knew she'd dreamed--vividly. She knew it was an odd dream--very odd. But she couldn't remember a thing about it, other than that it had happened.

That had happened before, but never quite like this. She might have had... at least a flash of an image, even if it told her nothing about the dream as a whole. But this morning, there was nothing. Just an empty space in her mind, a gnawing reminder of something she'd forgotten, something that ought to have been unforgettable.


"Ah! Finally awake, I see."

Her husband, all smiles caught her as she cleared the last few steps and cleared her fog with a mid-morning kiss. Mid-morning. She'd always been an early riser, as Alina had long lamented since they'd been little girls stuck sharing a bedroom. A lucky thing, this rare occurrence striking on one of her free days!

"I was starting to worry. You're not ill, are you?"

"No. I just... slept strangely, I guess." Slept strangely, dreamed strangely, woken strangely. Adonis, at least, was his usual caring self. "I'll be fine so long as I've got you."

"And you'll always have me, my love--although alas, I won't have you to myself just yet today! Your father's waiting for you in the kitchen."

"My father?" She certainly hadn't gotten her usual sleeping habits from her father! Of course, her father had no sleep habits at all. She'd spent half her childhood convinced that he in fact didn't sleep, until she'd overheard the baron scolding him for napping at his desk. She'd since heard reports of him catching winks in trees, on the roof, at Master Altharaine's inn (probably not after having paid for a bed), and even in the Lady Rahileine's cellar--from the sounds of, any preceding presence on the property going unnoticed by the family.

Her mother thought sleep bored him. But if sleep bored him, then so did routine visits. Not that he didn't call, but rarely did she find him waiting politely in her kitchen.

"And he even knocked, if you believe it! I was so concerned, I asked if anyone had died. Of course, he told me to spend less time asking stupid questions and more time making my eyelashes look less girly."

"So... less cause for concern, then." Dora shook her head, not without that bizarre fondness only her father could inspire. "I'll go see him."

"And I'll be upstairs, making my eyelashes look less girly."

She chuckled as Adonis took to the steps, then made for the kitchen. Her father hated waiting even more than he did both sleep and visits.

"Oh, thank God. I need your help."

"Good morning to you too, Father." Whatever it was, she suspected he'd be better off seeking help from her five-year-old son than from her. "What do you need?"

"Your boss has a stash of books, right? Books that might say something about... I don't know, behavior and whatnot, whatever you did at the university? Or training? I'd ask Raia if I could use the university's, but it's tough to speak with someone after your nap in their cellar ends with them pelting potatoes at your naked ass as you run like hell."

"Wait, you were-- never mind." Dora sighed. "What do you need a book for?"

"I'm glad you asked. See, I'm curious as to what kind of bird would be best suited to a life spent stealing pastries off of windowsills. I don't know if a crow would be able to carry a pie, but I get the feeling that an owl would betray me..."