As it is and always was,
shall now and forever be,
we seek to cleave to another,
in this find our true reprieve,
and by these ties that bind,
the whole is more secure,
and by these better virtues,
tame fickle nature and endure.
– wedding speech, circa 400 E.R.
Jovan 10th, 638 E.R.
Renae walked through the upper courtyard, a cumbersome child in her arms, and two soldiers escorting her casually. “Do you think you can walk dear?” she finally asked growing weary of the boy’s weight.
“Ok,” Wren replied, and Renae set him down gently, and took his hand. If anything the march slowed for the toddling steps of the little boy, but it was easier going.
“How old is he, if I might ask Mam?” one of the men enquired as the group slowly marched on.
“Just few days over two,” Renae said regarding the man kindly.
“A bit big for his age,” the other man remarked with some surprise.
“He’s a lot of things for his age,” Renae laughed, but her expression shifted. “Do I know you sir?” she asked uncertainly of the first guard.
“Name’s Eran,” the man nodded, “and yes, we’ve crossed paths quite a lot. I grew up in the cloister.”
“Ah, yes, Lanie’s boy,” Renae nodded.
“Have I heard right that he’s the brother of the two young lasses the Court Mage has taken in?” Eran asked.
“Yes, you’ve heard right,” she said with a slight smile.
“If you’ll beg my pardon mam, why was he left with you, and not brought here with the other two?” the second guard asked, and Eran gave him a questioning look for the tone of his inquiry.
The man shrugged as though to say he meant no offense.
“He was very unwell,” Renae said sadly.
“Yet he’s so big?” the second man repeated.
“Not every kind of sickness stunts your growth,” Renae laughed.
“No, I suppose not, sorry ma’am,” the guard said apologetically, and Eran elbowed him gently.
“Don’t worry, was a fair question, and not common wisdom,” Renae said shaking her head.
“Allow me ma’am,” Eran said as Renae bent down. Renae stepped back as Wren was lifted into Eran’s arms, and carried up the stairs to the keep door. The guards stationed at the doors opened them wide, as Eran set Wren back down, and the procession continued into the keep.
Renae took Wren’s hand again as the guards at the throne room door opened it in turn. Eran nodded to Renae, and she walked into the throne room with Wren, and the doors closed behind them. There were very few in the throne room that day. The King and the Queen sat on their thrones, with Darion at their side, and Laurel stood below the dais. To the side in the shadows under the balcony stood Mercu, with two identical little freckle faced girls by his side.
“My King,” Laurel said as Renae and Wren approached, and the throne room doors closed behind them, causing Wren to turn back and stumble. Renae helped him back up as Laurel continued his introduction. “Matron Renae Somavera of the Lycian Sisterhood, and the young Wren Ashton, brother to the girls Katrisha and Kiannae of the court.”
“King John,” Renae said with a curtsy, letting go of Wren’s hand for a moment, “Such a formal greeting for such a private audience.”
“It has been a long time Renae,” the King said leaning forward. “We did not greet you at all on your last visit, and felt it…appropriate.”
“As you will my Lord,” Renae said. “I have brought young Wren that he might meet his sisters, while they might still remember him.” Mercu lead the girls from the shadows, and up to Wren who they hesitantly considered.
The boy’s presence was a curious thing, like heavy satin, something stifling and yet unreasonably smooth. All at once it retreated from one’s awareness shyly, like a giant afraid to break the little things around him. It was a striking and yet fleeting impression that did not match the tiny form it belonged to. Though shy certainly fit.
Renae knelt down beside Wren, and gestured to one of the two. “Wren, this is…”
She was interrupted from her awkward pause, having realized that she didn’t know which was which, not by Katrisha identifying herself, but by Wren offering, “Kat.”
“That’s right,” Katrisha said eyeing her brother suspiciously.
“Kia,” Wen said biting his robe, and turning to look at his other sister.
“That is remarkable,” the Queen said astounded, “how did he know which was which? I’ve never been able to tell. Save if it’s the one running through the snow, or huddled under running water on the hot days of summer.”
“I…I really can’t be sure,” Renae said awkwardly, “I believe it is his mother’s influence.”
“That…matter regarding how she died?” the Queen asked uncomfortably.
“Yes,” Renae sighed, and stood up. “He speaks far far too well for his age, when he isn’t being timid and quiet. Which I must admit is most of the time. Ever so often there is the glimmer of something more as well.”
“I see,” the Queen said measuredly, “but he is not his mother then, reborn or any such witchery?”
“No my Queen,” Renae said reassuringly. “Just gifted, and cursed. He learns fast, but rarely offers things he was not presented with first – as he did here.”
“Mercu,” the King interjected, “would you take the children elsewhere, I would speak to the Matron at length, regarding other matters.”
“Of course your Majesty,” Mercu said taking Kiannae and Katrisha’s hands, and before he could ask Katrisha had taken Wren’s in turn.
When the four were out of the throne room the King regarded Renae shrewdly. “We have been told you know of the trouble in the north, yes?” he asked.
“Yes,” Renae said without elaboration.
“How much do you know?” the King asked leaning back.
“The King, Queen, and heir apparent of Osyrae are dead,” Renae recounted from her memory of pieced together accounts. “There was a fire in the wall that held the royal chambers…but not all believe that is the whole story. They were mages after all – unlikely to succumb easily to such an event.”
“They were beloved by their people, and the Queen herself was a beloved relative of the crown.” The King grimaced. “I had hope, for the first time since the great war that a true prosperous relationship with Osyrae could be upon us.”
“The new King is respected, for his power, and is considered a good ruler, at least by the upper class,” Renae continued, “but not beloved.”
“Nor as friendly to our emissaries,” the King added, “they are not turned away outright, but are lucky to get audience with lower officials, or even set foot in the palace itself.”
“Yes,” Renae confirmed, “I have heard similar.”
“Directly no doubt,” the Queen said with only a touch of distaste.
“I have seen the odd emissary, taking time away within our walls,” Renae said measuredly, “but have not spoken with any personally.”
“Please, let us stick to the business at hand,” the King commanded sternly.
“My King,” Renae said solemnly, “what is the business at hand?”
“Osyrae has not gone to war – in our direction at least – since the fall of the Empire,” the King said with false calm. “Yet We are unsure of this new King, Vharen We find to the north. If it were to come to war, We fear for the casualties, to the wounds that would be inflicted upon our people. We ask if our long acceptance of the Sisterhood within our borders, has earned us your services if such dark days come to pass?”
Renae closed her eyes, and bowed her head for a moment, before looking up again sternly. “We will heal any wound, that is our calling. There are even those of us who would place themselves where the need is greatest, no matter the risk. That is where we must draw the line, we can not sanction the following of troops onto foreign soil, however justified the act might become.”
“We cannot ask more,” the King said solemnly, “though We might have hoped.”
“My King,” Renae spoke again, “I must ask something though, not as a prerequisite for what is simply our duty, but that we might be better able to perform it.”
“Speak your request, and it will be considered,” the King said shrewdly.
“The Clarions go too far, they insight the people against the Sisterhood,” Renae said flatly. “We are driven from our homes, our shops, and other places we might reside beyond Highvale.”
The King’s dour expression only deepened. “We have heard a few such troubling reports, of incidents stopped by my men, and a few who went so far that they are now indentured servants to the crown as penance for their crimes. Yet I know not what more We can do, the Clarions do not speak directly against the Sisterhood, and they are popular with many.”
Renae bowed her head, “As I said my King, not a demand, a request. I know that you do not share your father’s views…that you have never spoken against us, but might it be too much to speak openly in our favor?”
“You ask something dangerous of Us,” the King said firmly, “but it will be considered.”
“There is one more thing I might ask,” Renae began hesitantly. “A more trivial matter, but one that treads the same ground I fear.”
“Speak it,” the King commanded.
“There is disused land near Aldermor. We’ve the tentative blessing of local baron to begin construction of a new cloister, but he is uncertain if he has that authority,” Renae began.
The King hummed thoughtfully, and Renae continued, “Sister Marin has resided there for the past two years, with no incident. Clarion influence in the area is at least lacking venom. If you could assure the Baron Woren that he has the authority to sanction the use of land.”
“Yes,” the King nodded, “that is within reason.” He paused a moment, and considered another thought. “Enough of such wearisome topics. We will know how long you plan to stay?”
“A few days,” Renae said without much consideration.
“Have you heard that there is to be a wedding in a week?” Laurel interjected.
“I might have heard mention of some affair to be held at court,” Renae said glancing at Laurel curiously.
“The twins have been asked to be flower girls,” the Queen said leaning forward, “a place might be found for the young Wren as well. Horence credits them, I am told, with allowing him to catch the eye of his bride to be.”
“Interesting,” Renae said. “I suppose I might extend my stay, at the King’s leave of course.”
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Jovan 19th, 638 E.R.
Renae stood along the rampart of the western wall, leaned out, and watched the birds flock to and fro about the lake far beneath the the castle. As the third flight she had seen that morning took wing to the north she heard footsteps behind her, and turned to see Mercu strolling casually toward her.
“What brings you to the west wall, so far from the growing excitement?” Renae asked perking a brow.
“I might ask you the same,” Mercu replied coyly, stopping to lean against the parapet a few steps away.
“Such would be fair, but decorum would require questions to be answered in the order asked.” Renae offered a playful smile.
“Just a stroll to clear my head,” Mercu said with a tip of his hat. “All the romance in the air, gets quite heady after a while.”
“If you will give me no real reason, then I shall say the same,” Renae offered with a nod, and turned back to the swirling flocks below. “I simply longed to rest from all the commotion.”
Mercu considered Renae for a moment. “It’s hard to explain…” he said with a slightly melancholy tone. “I do love a good wedding, the traditional romantic feel of it all, but at the same time they remind me that I am unlikely to ever have one, not that I’m sure it’s quite fit for me.”
“You speak as though there is someone specific on your mind,” Renae said glancing back to Mercu, who then stood looking into the sky wistfully. “You, who have spent the past week flirting with me mercilessly…and no, do not apologize, I quite enjoyed it.”
“And what if it is you?” Mercu laughed. “My darling lovely Renae, divine gracious beauty of the Sisterhood. Why wouldn’t it be you that I dream of wedding?”
Renae sighed, but smiled appreciatively at the thinly veiled dodge in the form of a compliment. “You do not have to tell me, you owe me no such confidence. As for me, I could be wed, if I wished. I have little doubt Andria would accept the offer, though such a union would be recognized only by the Sisterhood. It’s not what I want though. While I do adore and care for her, ours is an arrangement of convenience. A respectable pairing – in our circle at least – but I do not deny a part of my heart lies elsewhere. Quite foolishly, I should add.”
“Such tantalizing hints, but no clues,” Mercu laughed, “well played dear woman.”
“Oh if it were at all well played,” Renae said shaking her head. “So many mistakes, so many tragedies that I am hard pressed to forgive myself for. Even were the world itself not between us, even if he were still…no it could never have worked, and certainly can never be now.”
“Oh a man, how delightful. Perhaps there is hope for me after all.” Mercu laughed trying to draw Renae from her obvious dire train of thought.
“I wouldn’t go that far.” Renae laughed. “All tales, most particularly your own, tell of how utterly hopeless you are.”
“Oh, yes, there is that,” Mercu mused. “No, it was more that I had wondered if you even fancied the more rugged sort.”
“You, rugged?” Renae chuckled incredulously.
“Do you besmirch my manhood?” Mercu declared in mock indignation.
“Oh, heavens no, Just the use of rugged in any sentence pertaining to you,” Renae said trying to restrain her good humor, “and further absent of the word not.”
“I am wounded, dishonored, quickly I must find a dragon to slay with my bare hands – such that my virility be proven to the fair maiden!” Mercu declared raising his clenched fist to the sky.
“Bah, I am no more a maiden than you are rugged,” Renae offered in melancholy humor, but smiled warmly. “Besides, I am sure you are quite virile.”
“Fine then,” Mercu said, and leaned lazily back against the parapet, “as long as that much is settled.” There was a long silence, and at last Mercu stood up straight, adjusted his vest, and with hesitation returned to the earlier topic. “I will grant you in kind, to be fair. If I were to consider wedding, to give up my gallivanting ways, it would be…well it could never be, not in this day and age.”
Renae considered Mercu shrewdly, and a puzzled expression crossed her face. “You don’t mean…”
“I do mean…or don’t mean, quite entirely based upon what you might guess,” Mercu chuckled, “but I’ll not be lead into revealing my secret. Not with no guarantee yours is at least as grand. So who’s is bigger? I do wonder…”
“I thought we were through questioning your manhood?” Renae said with a wry playful grin.
“Bah,” Mercu said leaning back against the wall in a huff. “I like you Renae,” he said after a moment had passed, and turned his head towards her with a crooked smile, “you are such very good sport.”
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Lady Catharine considered the bride to be examining herself in a full length mirror, and wondered at the troubled expression on her face. “You look lovely Alice,” she said reassuringly, assuming she was fretting over her appearance on her wedding day.
Alice turned to Catharine a bit surprised at the sudden comment, a strand of her red hair rebelliously coming loose as she turned. “Thank you Catharine,” she said after a moment, as though confused, but her expression still seemed ill at ease.
“What troubles you dear?” Catherine asked with genuine concern.
“Nothing of importance,” Alice said turning back to the mirror, and fussing with the loose lock of hair. “Idle chatter of idle minds.”
“Do share dear niece,” Catharine pressed kindly. “it surely could only help to get it off your mind on such an important day.”
Alice looked down for a moment, then turned back to her aunt and considered her shrewdly. “There are those who do not approve, who think Horence is beneath me. I pay them little mind, but…it wounds me none the less that they speak ill of my beloved.”
Catherine frowned, and for a moment it showed her age, not with frailty, but an imposing sense of knowing clarity. “I will not deny I was amongst those who questioned the courtship, at first – albeit only to myself I will stress. He’s a good man, and though he has no title, I believe it is only for a lack of opportunity to distinguish himself.”
“Not all with title have truly done anything of distinction,” Alice said with some venom.
“Too true,” Catharine offered. “I have often debated my wisdom all those years ago to style myself Lady.”
“I had never considered,” Alice said a bit taken aback, “that it had been a choice.”
“It was, and one that caused quite a stir,” Catharine laughed slightly. “Which at the time pleased me greatly, but in retrospect it was a childish gesture. If anything I believe it meant I was not worthy of the title I discarded. As such I have since dedicated myself to insuring the grace, and sanctity of the court. I say again, while your betrothed has not been honored with title, I for my part have deemed him worthy, at least of the hand of my dear niece.”
Alice took a moment to ponder Catherine’s words, “I suppose I can find peace in that, even if your approval here in these chambers will do little to quiet those insistent on the useless wagging of tongues.”
“No, it will take more to quiet such decent. Remember that when the time comes, and do not take offense at the disruption, it is for the best,” Catharine said with a smile.
Alice considered pressing the matter further, but was distracted by the arrival of two small girls with baskets, and pretty dresses, ushered in by one of the younger ladies of the court. Both girls clearly fussed a bit in their dresses, more used to robes.
“Oh they look positively darling,” Alice declared ecstatically making as much haste as she could towards the girls without stumbling in her gown.
The twins looked up with equal suspicion at the great white shrouded woman that crouched before them becoming an amorphous lump of fabric with a head, and arms that seemed to exist for no other purpose than to pinch at their cheeks.
“I have before me the two best flower girls that any bride could hope for. Fates I remember the first time I saw these two arrive at court.”
“As do I,” Catharine said taking Alice by the arm, and gently urging her to stand again. “They have grown ever so much in those two years, though I do swear it seems far longer.” Katrisha gave Catherine a funny look, but for once Catharine seemed to be smiling at her, and she relented to do the same.
A knock at the door brought all around to attention. Alice quickly checked herself, and all others present before hesitantly commanding, “Enter.” The door opened with caution, and an older man with deep red hair peppered in strands of gray peaked in. “Daddy!” Alice yelled as she hustled back across the room towards the new arrival.
“I hope I am not intruding. I only just arrived, and it has been a very long trip,” the man said, obviously a bit uncomfortable to enter the bridal suite on such short notice. His nervousness visibly lessened when pounced upon by his daughter.
“It’s good to see you could make it, Jeoffrey,” Catherine said with some reservation in her voice. “It is always a shame to have a wedding without the father of the bride, bad enough her mother could not attend. I am surprised however they could spare you.”
“For my part I will continue to not miss her,” Jeoffrey said a bit coldly, but managed to smile again as he looked to his daughter. “As for me, I am of no use up there, they could only be less receptive to diplomacy now if they outright expelled us from the country, or declared war,” he added with dark humor. “Besides it would have taken no less than a royal decree to keep me away on this day, and I dare say a defection, an army, and an unexpected general at its lead might have come before that stopped me.”
“You speak boldly in such company,” Catharine said with just a touch of humor.
“I speak plainly, and in good humor to my dear, and ever pompous cousin,” Jeoffrey said tersely. “You know my suspicions of their King, even if I have no proof…it would be a warm day in the abyss before…” He shook his head, and stopped himself. He was clearly rattled. “Though over throwing his light forsaken reign…that I might consider,” he added in awkward humor, his tone forced, his smile quite thin.
“Oh come here,” Catherine said, and reached out to hug Jeoffrey, forcing Alice to reluctantly make way. “I miss her too,” Catherine said kindly. “There are others who can take up the role. You should return home, and stay.”
“I will not,” Jeoffrey said plainly. “I can play my role, I can keep my temper. I will know the truth,” he said softening, but not relenting.
Catharine pulled back from the embrace, and held Jeoffrey at arms length, examined his state of dress, and nodded with approval. A thin veneer of propriety sweeping back over her face as she let the subject go. “Not quite full knightly attire, but it will do for such short notice. It will never cease to amaze me how well you travel dear cousin.”
“It is a necessary prerequisite to diplomatic service,” Jeoffrey laughed putting aside his troubles with practiced skill. “It does not make an appropriate impression to arrive disheveled, or otherwise undignified.”
The sound of music started in the distance, and Catharine turned to the Lady attending the the twins, “Marry, find a Boutonniere for Jeoffrey, quickly.” She turned back to Jeoffrey. “You really did arrive at the positive last moment, I do hope you aren’t too tired from your journey, to finish what you have started.”
Catharine slipped past Marry, as the woman made haste out the door in search of the requested adornment. She double checked each of the girls. “It’s time little ones, just as we discussed, are you ready?” she asked.
“Yes,” the twins answered in unison.
“Then let us begin,” Catharine said ushering the three past her.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
The wedding procession moved into it’s final position before the dais, where the King and Queen sat in their most regal attire on their thrones. As silence descended the King stood before the the wedding party, and looked across the gathered crowd.
“People of Avrale,” the King spoke in a firm, and practiced tenor. “We have gathered here today to bless the union of two valued subjects. In accordance with their wish, and the consent of their elders that they be joined in marriage before the sight of all. That sacred union, most treasured and adored when taken in love, but most fruitful when taken up in good council, and for the betterment of all. It is always with great joy that these two purposes of marriage’s sacred vows can find convergence, as they have on this day.”
The King looked over the court for a moment. “Before we may commence, it is custom that a question be put before those gathered. That should anyone present on this day see fit reason that these two should not be wed, they speak now, or forever hold their peace,” the King paused, longer than would have been custom. There was a palpable but silent stir as some wondered if the King expected a response.
“No objections?” the King continued in a demanding tone. “None dare speak their mind openly to the face of these good servants of King, and Country. It would be unseemly wouldn’t it? Yet We have heard such mutterings nonetheless. That it is questionable that a relative, if distant, to the crown should marry to a common soldier.” The King looked to Horence and Alice, and seeing the hints of distress in their eyes nodded ever so slightly in each of their directions.
“A dilemma has been placed before your King, We approve of this union, yet We can not ignore the descent of the court on this matter. Not,” the King stressed firmly, “because We believe there is merit to this idle bickering, but moreover because We think it brings to light a keen oversight that has gone on, for far too long.” The King paused for several seconds, and then continued, “Commander Armon Anders, of the King’s Royal Guard, step before your Lord, and kneel.”
From the groom’s side of the wedding party a gray haired man with sharp features stepped forth, and knelt beside the bride and groom, and before the King. The King reached out both hands and waited, as the Queen gracefully brought forth his sword, lain across her palms. Taking it firmly by the hilt he raised it, and gently lowered the flat of the blade to the left shoulder of Armon.
“For long, and faithful service, and for insuring the keen training, and skill of more than half of the sitting Knights of the realm this day, We name the Sir Armon of Anders,” the King spoke, raised the sword, and lay it on Armon’s right shoulder, “Royal Knight of the Realm, Defender of Avrale, and Keeper of the Sacred Trust. Stand good Sir, return to your vigilant post, you are honored this day, but other pressing matters remain at hand.”
The King looked back, and forth across the court as Armon returned to his place in the wedding party. “On this day these two stand before us now as peers, in law,” the King paused, “as much as they already had in merit. They stand each with titles inherited by birth, not earned by their own deeds. In their union they shall be expected to work together to uphold this privilege, and earn the blessings given to them by fate.”
“Now we shall continue, on a more traditional note,” the King said, and turned to Alice. “Lady Alice of Lansly, please take the hand of your betrothed.” Alice took Horence’s hand, and with great relief and pride in her eyes, looked into his. “Do you Lady Alice Lansly, daughter of Sir Jeoffrey of Lansly, take this man to be your lawful husband, to love, and to cherish, to follow, and abide, for as long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” Alice said on the verge of tears.
The King turned to Horence, “Do you Sir Horence of Anders, son of Sir Armon of Anders, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, to love, and to cherish, to respect, and defend, for as long as you both shall live?”
“I do,” Horence said happily looking into Alice’s eyes.
“Are the ring’s present,” the King asked as a formal cue, upon which Wren held them up with tiny trembling hands – he had spent much of the service to that point distracted, and staring at them intently for reasons he could not quite place.
“With these rings,” the King continued as the bride and groom took the rings, and slipped them in turn onto each other’s fingers, “which represent the cycle of life, of love, and the unbroken nature of this bond, these two are united. Let no man put asunder what has been joined together here today. I pronounce you man, and wife, you may now kiss the bride.”
A cheer rose across the crowd as the bride and groom threw themselves into each other arms. Everyone present took their own points from ceremony, but three small children each for their part saw something different from one another. One saw love defy the foolishness of its dissenters. One saw a King humble his arrogant court in the defense of loyal subjects. Lastly there was the smallest of the three, who for his part felt things he couldn’t quite understand, but in part, some where far at the back of his young mind he felt cheated, and he did not understand it.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Laurel stood leaning against the rail of the balcony overlooking the wedding ball, a musical company occupying the one opposite him. He absently noticed the father of the bride dance start, but was far more concerned with other matters. He turned to face the sound of slowly approaching footfalls, after having ignored them for several seconds.
“I was fairly certain it was you I saw up here,” Renae said with a good deal of cheer.
“Too much commotion below,” Laurel laughed, “but it’s still nice to enjoy the ambiance, and merriment of a good party without being trapped within. Rather like a roaring fire, nice to sit by, but I’d prefer to keep my distance.”
“Fair enough,” Renae said moving beside Laurel, and looking down as well. “Doesn’t seem like Mercu to go missing mid party though.”
“That would be my fault,” Laurel said with a smirk, “and no I suppose he wasn’t too happy about it, but I asked him to take over watching the girls for a bit.”
“Aren’t they to bed already?” Renae asked perking a brow. “I lay Wren down two hours ago,”
“No, they should be…but it would also be a change if they were,” Laurel chuckled. “I swear those two do not sleep save by the combined will of the fates themselves. Perhaps they will be tired enough after their present to fall asleep quickly, for once.”
“Oh,” Renae remarked with interest, “what present could they be giving that is so exhausting?”
“That,” Laurel laughed, “would be telling. You’ll see. They’ve been at it for an hour, I figure one more they should be ready.”
“Very well,” Renae said a bit bored with the secrecy. After a moment she seemed to consider Laurel carefully. “I can tell there is more on your mind than avoiding the party. What troubles the Court Mage of Avrale this fine evening?”
“The same things as trouble the King.” Laurel sighed. “Though I, for my part have heard more rumors, that I do not know what to do with. I have yet to decide when I should bring them to the King’s attention.”
“And yet you mention such sensitive information to me?” Renae asked a bit perplexed.
“It’s less sensitive…than curious, and concerning. There are whispers that the new King of Osyrae seeks to capture a dragon, or even dragons,” Laurel laughed darkly.
“That almost sounds like good news,” Renae remarked with a nearly ill expression. “They will kill themselves off long before we need worry about a march on Avrale.”
“Doesn’t it though?” Laurel sighed. “It’s so crazy, so suicidal, so hard to believe. The things is, I have understated the facts. It’s more than just rumors, the sources are quite credible, save the content.” He shook his head. “Even raised from hatching wild dragons are hard to tame or control, too powerful, too intelligent, what could those fools think they would do with a full grown one? If I believed their new king dim, or lacking in sense it would not trouble me so. I do not believe him to be as idiotic as this appears, and so…I am concerned.”
“No,” Renae grimaced, “nothing I have heard inclines me to believe that Vharen is a fool. Unstable perhaps, but no fool.”
“I shall trust your discretion for the moment Renae,” Laurel said eyeing her shrewdly. “I shall tell the King tomorrow when the festive air has cleared. It’s not information which can be acted upon, but it is my duty to inform him of what I have learned. Regardless, if it is Mercu you seek, he is in the upper courtyard, outside the keep.”
“I shall seek him out momentarily then,” Renae smiled, “for now I shall enjoy your company as we observe the joyous atmosphere from afar.”
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Renae made her way from the ballroom, two drinks in hand, one for herself, and one for Mercu. She found herself face to face with a stately man with pale hair in knightly attire, and a grim expression, going the other way. “Terribly sorry,” she said having nearly bumped into him.
The man simply eyed her coldly, and pushed past her, nearly causing her spill one of the drinks. “That was completely uncalled for,” she declared after the impertinent knight. He walked on for several steps, then stopped, turned, and stared at her with distaste.
“Your presence is uncalled for apostate,” the man said darkly, “not all at court appreciate that we entertain Lycian whores.”
Renae glanced up, and down the main corridor in slight surprise that no one else was present to hear such remarks on such an active night. “You speak boldly sir,” Renae laughed shrugging off the insult. It had been some time since she had found herself personally in that vein of confrontation. “Would you speak so plainly before your King?”
The man was silent for a moment, and Renae continued to consider his posture. He was a bit drunk she decided. “I thought not,” she continued. “Where do the Clarions stand on excessive drinking?” she prodded rhetorically. “A distraction of the flesh, unfit, unworthy, as I recall. No less a corruption than ones of passion. So tell me, that I might know those who set themselves up as my enemies, and hypocrites no less, who are you Sir?”
“Sir Arlen, of Wesrook – for what business it is of yours,” the man said, and turned promptly to continue down the hall.
As Renae turned she saw what might have prompted Arlen to depart suddenly. Mercu could be seen approaching. “Well met,” she declared, and offered him the second drink.
“So thoughtful,” Mercu said with a bow, and accepted the glass. “What was that exchange about?” He asked politely, taking a sip.
“Nothing worthy of your attention,” she said with restrained irritation. “What brings you in?” Renae enquired. “I had heard you were in the upper court watching the twins prepare some secret gift.”
“I was, but I have been commanded by the young ladies to acquire their intended audience. Would you be so kind as to go keep an eye on them, I doubt they will burn down the castle in my absence, but one is never sure of such things. I shall be along shortly when I can pull people away from the party, for the show.”
Renae nodded, and made her way to the keep doors, which stood open. As she emerged she was struck quickly enough by the singular out of place sight. Every bush seemed to be lit with countless glowing pale blue orbs. A few people strolled about the courtyard, or sat giving little new interest to the sight, though three stood, and examined the bushes with great interest.
Katrisha and Kiannae could be made out faintly as they darted about the brightly illuminated bushes. Renae found a bench, and sat to watch the girls work their magic, to some unknown end. Certainly it was pretty enough in itself, but she suspected there was more to it than met the eye.
Several minutes passed, and finally a slow trickle of people began to emerge from the Keep, and descend the stairs. Some went to examine the bushes more closely, while others stood back, chatted, and pointed. When at last the bride, groom, King, Queen, and finally Laurel all stood atop the keep steps, Mercu wove his way down, and through the crowd. He turned at its head, and launched into an overly dramatic and flourished bow.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, your Royal Highnesses, honored bride and groom,” he declared in his best speaking voice, as the twins hustled up to his side. “I present to you, the gift of the young ladies Ashton.”
The two girls curtsied, then bowed their heads in concentration. Renae caught the brief flicker of the filaments that still connected the girls to the spells they had woven in the bushes. Then slowly the lights began to rise, and scatter, until the courtyard was filled with drifting balls of light. The crowd murmured appreciatively, and from atop the steps clapping began.
As those gathered realized it was Alice applauding the spectacle the ovation spread, and the girls curtsied again. Renae just barely caught the glance between the girls, and Katrisha’s quick nod. There was a tiny flash of light above, and as everyone focused on where it had come from. Tiny shimmering sparks were raining down and fizzled away.
There was another, that everyone saw this time, as one of the orbs burst and sent tiny ribbons of light outward which dissolved into sparkling dust. Slowly more began to pop in brilliant showers of swirling light. As the number of lights dwindled to about a third of what they were at the start, all that remained let lose nearly at once in one final dazzling cascade.
Through it all the crowd had oohed, and awed, and as the last brilliant burst faded away the previous applause returned with far more vigor, and a growing cheer. There was a tear in Renae’s eye as Laurel walked down the steps, and sat next to her.
“That was impressive,” she said approvingly – wiping her face discreetly. “You’ve done a fine job teaching them.”
Laurel seemed to be eyeing the girls curiously, and finally spoke. “I wish I could take more credit, but I didn’t even know they could do that last bit.”
“Oh,” Renae said with surprise.
“Oh indeed,” Laurel said with a nervous laugh.
The girls for their part curtsied each way to the crowd, and then at last simply started bowing in a less dignified manner, and with the same excessive flourish Mercu had used when introducing them. Mercu for his part smiled proudly, and clapped along with the crowd.
⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃
Jovan 21th, 638 E.R.
“This – right here,” Mercu pointed insistently at the page he had turned to in a dusty old tome. It was a bit of a faded manuscript, written in the hand of some court member long gone, and so not present to answer for near illegibility.
Laurel stared at the text, doing his best to make it out.
The Duke of Ashrook has chosen to wed the woman Alimae, an old farmhand of about his age, and unwed mother from the area he was born to. There is more than a little talk that her grown son is in fact his. The boy has no gift to speak of, and this quiets some, but the Duke was an emergent, and the mother ungifted. My grandson, rightfully, has more pressing matters to consider, but as I prepare to step down as Regent, I do worry what this will mean for succession in the north – now that all the Duke’s legitimate heirs are gone. I wish I could say few similar circumstances weren’t looming all around. For all I have already lost, I must now contend with the greater costs. Not just those to my weary old heart. Oh Anton, if only you would have let me stand alone at Midrook. Yet you would not run, my dear boy.
Laurel looked up dubiously. “This alone doesn’t mean much,” he challenged.
“I’ve looked into it, this really is just the most conclusive statement on the matter,” Mercu said with a huff. “All together it paints a fairly clear picture. The Ashtons are not just relatives, or names sakes of the extinct line of Ashrook – they are his heirs.”
“It would explain their finances, but It’s a bit of a leap,” Laurel said shaking his head. “What good does it do any way? Being of royal lineage would only draw the eyes of the Council, and being descended from the bastard of a Duke would do them few favors in the eyes of the court,” he gestured emphatically. “If we can even trust the source of this,” he added dubiously.
Mercu flipped to the front of the book, and tapped at the name written on the first page. Most names of the heredity of Avrale would have meant little to Laurel, but there, written a bit more cleanly than most of her exaggerated script, was the name of the Emperor’s youngest daughter Gwendoline – first Queen Regent of the Midrook Dynasty.
“I will concede the point then,” Laurel sighed, “but please, I do stand by what I just said. It does them no good. Keep it to yourself.”
Mercu seemed satisfied at that, and nodded in acknowledgment. “Of course,” he said, but with some reluctance. “All at once, I will see this book preserved, and copies made in a more legible hand. I’ve heard a bit of the tale before, but this journal…” He trailed off tapping it. “It is more than just the aftermath. It contains a personal account of the fall of Avrale – the defeat of Empress, the start, and even end of the Dragon War. It is a crime it has been locked away this long, it is a treasure fit for far more than to sit on a dusty old shelf.”
Laurel sighed. “Very well, but please do not call any undue attention to this passage?”
“That I can do,” Mercu agreed. “Really, I doubt anyone will take note of it. Amidst the rest it is a fairly trivial matter.”
Laurel seemed thoughtful. “Something still is bothering me. It said the Duke was an emergent, and implied at least he was a commoner before?”
“Yes, there is more clear record on that. He was a farmer’s son, nothing much to be said of the line before him,” Mercu said, rattling off what he remembered. “His gift was so strong that he was discovered quite easily, pulled away, and pressed into service. Somehow he caught the eye of the King’s third born daughter. She managed to arrange that they be betrothed. Before it became Ashrook it was something of a backwater, all farmland, far up north. They were given it as a Duchy – had two sons, both died in the war, as did his wife.”
“His presumed son, according to the Queen,” Laurel began, “was not gifted, it says…”
“Nothing strange about that, flip a coin if a gifted father means a gifted child given a common mother,” Mercu shrugged. “You know that.”
“Standard assumption yes,” Laurel nodded. “There are other ideas though – recessive gifts. Take two parents that each carry the the recessive trait, but did not manifest it, put them together, and you explain some of the stronger emergents that crop up.”
“So you think it’s not because they have Sylvan blood then?” Mercu frowned.
“Oh, no, I think that has everything to do with it still, just…something is bothering me, and I can’t place a finger on it. Which means I’m probably chasing something prescient, and should stop.” Laurel sneered.
“I have as much reason as you to be cautious of such things,” Mercu shrugged, “but I’ll never understand why you are so hesitant to even consider them.”
“Would you laugh if I told you I was once warned I would meet ill ends chasing prophecy?” Laurel laughed uncomfortably.
“Somehow I don’t think you are joking” Mercu frowned with some concern.
“No – sadly, I’m not.” Laurel sighed.
“Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Mercu said picking up the book, and closing it. “Since if you listen to that, you are still chasing one, or at least being chased by one.”
“I try to take it with the grain of salt that I’d already told her where she could stuff her visions.” Laurel laughed.
“Which of several entertaining places did you choose?” Mercu asked with a grin.
Laurel rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t so specific,” he offered, “though to be fair I think I’d mistaken some of her remarks as a come on.”
“Oh, now I’m twice as interested,” Mercu chuckled, and leaned a bit on the table.
“She said I’d meet the love of my life, over the visions of a teller,” Laurel said with a half smile.
“Oh,” Mercu said, looking uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
“Indeed,” Laurel laughed. “Now you see how much trouble prophetic visions cause me?”
“I swear you are almost as much fun as Renae,” Mercu said with a snide grin.
“Am I now,” Laurel said crossing his arms.
“Ok, ok,” Mercu waved dismissively. “As much fun.”