June 18, 2017

In Which Aspen Gets an Opening

May 6, 1204

"Uh... hello."

Aspen had forced herself through the apothecary door, but the urge to turn back remained. Speaking, particularly a greeting, was a commitment. She didn't know Aerina well, but she was kin to her in-laws and therefore not a stranger. Now that she'd spoken, she either stayed, or left with the inevitable consequence of some sort of inquiry on the healer's part.

So she could tell herself, anyway.

"Aspen?" Aerina abandoned whatever root she'd been powdering and swept away from the table. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, I suppose." She was, for now. But her daughter's sniffles and the scrapes of Nato's siblings could only sustain her for so long. If she wanted to keep herself sane--while still keeping herself alive--she needed a more reliable supply of light headaches and slight coughs and minor injuries. And she needed something to do.

"I was just wondering if... you maybe needed any help around here? On a voluntary basis, I mean. You don't have to pay me or anything."

"Free help? From a relation by marriage who's expressed no prior interest in herbs and who has a baby at home?" A little blunt, perhaps--but, Aspen supposed she got the confusion. "Not to belittle your offer, but it's quite... out of the blue."

"Yes, I, uh-- I don't know. I never really had much interest in anything, and I just sort of need something to do. Er, something that's just mine, I mean."

"That's fair." But Aerina's lip retained its skeptical clench. "I get the feeling there's more to it, though. I hope you don't mind me prying, but I don't think it's unreasonable to want to know your motives before taking you on."

It wasn't unreasonable. Aerina needed to know how she could use Aspen, how to keep subtle. Aspen needed to know that Aerina believed her, would help her. And, if anything... well, it was an opening. When it came to the less-than-believable, it was better to be asked than to announce.

"All right. So, you're probably going to think I'm crazy, but..."


June 8, 2017

In Which Agathe Asserts Her Lead

April 21, 1204

"So... talked to your brother yet?"

As she did more than she cared to these days, Agathe sighed. Her betrothed was the Duke of Luperia, a titled man who could have wed a princess if she chose, who'd instead opted for the daughter of a drunkard knight and his mad wife. Oswald made an active effort, she suspected, not to invoke the monumental difference in rank, not to press and push and otherwise take any will she flung his way and twist it into his own. It helped that they agreed on more than they didn't, which may well have been the only reason he'd ever thought her a suitable bride.

On this, though, they'd found no consensus. And she wished he'd just stop bothering her about it.

"You know I haven't." And even if she had--even if she knew how to talk to the much older, more or less estranged brother who'd lived a kingdom away for almost her entire life--they wouldn't have spoken about that. She didn't know Searle, but she knew enough. "I see no reason to parade my mother's ghost in front of him all these years after her death."

"You can't tell me you're not a little curious about that diary."

"If I was, I'd learn to read Greek." Never mind found it sooner. She'd known that her mother had kept some records of... whatever it was her mother deemed worthy of record-keeping. But she'd left her father's castle when he'd died, and her planned marriage to a man with a title and a keep of his own meant that what would have otherwise been part of her dowry was now to be gifted to some cousin or another. Her approach to her mother in life had been to stay out of her way, and there'd been no point in pursuing her after death. It had been a chance discovery by a chambermaid, this diary--not the result of any endeavor of Agathe's.

Why couldn't Oswald just leave it at that?

"But your brother can read Greek."

"My mother treated my brother like garbage. That's why he was sent out here. Even if I was curious, I wouldn't make him translate the ramblings of someone who made his life a living hell."

"But how do you know he doesn't need the closure?"

"How do you know he does?"

"I don't--which is why you need to talk to him. Not to tell him to translate it, but to ask if he'd like to. Give him the option." Oswald folded his hands and leaned forward in his seat, simultaneously humbled and certain, a duality with which Agathe was intimate of late. "He did teach himself his mother's native tongue. That has to mean something."

"Perhaps, but it might not mean what you think. And it might not mean now what it meant then." If it meant anything. If Agathe had one hope for Searle, it was that he now found meaning elsewhere. "I won't pretend to know my brother any better than I do. I'd appreciate it if you followed my lead there."