Februarius 24, 374: “But we are not girls any longer. And this is not Capua.”

June 21st, 2017

Februarius 24, 374

The Dream

As you slip into the hazy realm of dreams you are met with unfettered darkness. You are confused a moment and reach about you trying to grasp for something in the dark – anything by which to cling for comfort or guidance. And yet as you finally relax you realize it is the shadows themselves that begin to soothe you with whispers and you seem to be guided by inky tendrils forward.

When you grow cold a blazing fire appears and keeps you warm. When you hunger flowering plants spring at your feet to feed you a plethora of beautifully odd fruits. When the air goes still and you grow too warm a sweet breeze stirs and caresses your cheek. You grow thirsty a shining Chalice appears – beautifully polished in silver and gold. You excitedly attempt to drink from it but find it empty. When the thirst threatens to crush you in lament you finally throw the Chalice away and a bubbling brook appears in its stead and offers you cool refreshing water.

You watch time pass by as the sun and moons each rise and set in your dream land and the discarded Chalice dents and rusts and eventually is reclaimed by the Urth and fades into obscurity and nothingness. And yet you are left with the whispering shadow, the warming fire, the flowering earth, the soothing air, and the refreshing water. You wake with a start and are left to ponder with your waking mind.

“Ah!”

It is a mere breath of sound, but it is the first word past my lips as I come awake, meeting darkness. The curtains are still drawn and the embers have long since died in the fireplace. It is still night; I simply know.

“What is it?” Letta mumbles from her place in the bed beside me before she comes awake with a sense of alarm. “Is it Gildarts?” Her voice whimpers at me from the darkness and I cannot help but feel a pang of guilt, as though my maid’s constant fear of monsters lurking in the shadows is my fault. But perhaps it is. There was no fear for us in Capua, when we would stay up late, gossiping to all hours of the night. When we were girls, happy to sit and embroider to while away the afternoons when I was not at lessons or out riding with Papa, at his side while he surveyed our many vineyards…

But we are not girls any longer. And this is not Capua. A wave of homesickness washes over me even as I settle back onto my pillows with a shake of my head. “It is nothing,” I reassure my poor Letta – my bedmate and constant companion since I was a mere girl of five. I remember my fifth birthday with fondness. It was a good year. Look, Kitty, Papa had said, leading out a fine courser for me. Not a pony, but a grown courser – powerful and sleek. Mother had said it was not proper, that I would fall and break my neck. But Papa did not care. He knew I would not fall.

And then that night, there had been Letta, the daughter of Mother’s chamber maid, waiting for me in my rooms. Wouldn’t you like a little friend to keep you company? Papa had asked me with a smile. And I had. I had wanted a friend more than anything…

“It was only a dream,” I finally manage to further reassure my companion and I hear her sigh of relief and the rustle of blankets as she settles back into bed with an ease I cannot help but envy. Staring at the dark ceiling overhead, I already know there will be no more sleep for me this night. A young lady needs her beauty rest, I hear Mother’s cool voice chastising me.

It is enough to drive me from my bed in full, bare feet striking against the silver-veined tiles of my room; I try to be quiet, for Letta’s sake, but it is not long before I hear her groan and then rise herself. A quiet jerk of the curtains later sees her announcing, “It is still dark out,” as though this might deter me.

“There is work to do,” is my only response. You work too hard, my girl, Papa would tell me if he was here. And he is probably right.

But better to work too hard than waste precious hours lying in the darkness, longing for sleep that will never come.

Februarius 8, 374: “Keep safe until I reach you.”

June 17th, 2017

Februarius 8, 374

The Office of the Grand Magnate, Lithmore City
Addressed to Mistress Caterina dul Decapua

[The letter arrives travel-stained and thoroughly battered, penned in a quick, sprawling hand.]

Miss Caterina,

Do forgive the shortness of this missive and my absence. I fear I have been delayed upon the road and have not yet had an opportunity to even quit Vavard. I should be to you by the end of the month.

Keep safe until I reach you. The Master will have my head otherwise.

I have included some instructions for your Letta so that she can prepare for my arrival.

It will be a delight to see you both again.

Lord Bless,
Captain Rodellocino dul Lioni

 

To Miss Letta Belerani,

I should be arriving in Lithmore City by the end of the month. I will write again if I am further delayed.

Please do have a place prepared for me and my courser.

I also must warn you that the Master has bid I report back every fine detail of the little miss’ doings. If there is anything you think would displease him, I beg you to either hide or get rid of it before I arrive or I’ll be bound to include it in the report.

He also worries about her eating enough. Please, Lord, I hope she is not too thin. Make her eat if you must.

You have a month.

-Roddy

Januarius 8, 374: “I must confess there are some days I would welcome a husband.”

June 10th, 2017

Januarius 8, 374

The Estate dul Decapua, Capua
Addressed to Giovanni dul Decapua

Dearest Father,

Thank you so much for the presents. I made a rather lovely new outfit for myself with the silk and gems you sent. It has received many compliments so far.

I fear I have been unable to sit for a portrait yet, though, but I will be sure to send one along soon.

I would also bid you to not listen to every piece of gossip you may hear coming out of the capital, Papa. I fear I am often the subject of gossip. But… I cannot lie to you. Those particular rumors are founded. If you really wish to send Roddy or another of our guards, I would be happy to have him here with me, watching my back. But there is no need to send an entire retinue. Please. If the danger persists, I will come home. I promise.

And… no, Papa. Please do not get excited. I have no suitors. There is no one courting me. If any did show interest of that sort, of course, I would direct them to you as would be proper. His Lordship was simply kind enough to wish to escort me to Her Royal Majesty’s wedding. Nothing more.

It is… nothing, Papa. Truly.

Though, I… I must confess there are some days I would welcome a husband. I find my position often weighs heavily upon my conscience and my heart. It is on those days that I wish I had a man at my side who might… lend his support. I know our year is not yet up, Papa, but… if there was a suit made, I… I would hear of it.

I make no promise that I would accept, but you may begin fielding them on my behalf again. If you desire.

And as much as I would love a puppy, I am not sure I would have the proper time for one at present. I have only been out hunting once since I came to the capital. I fear I am no longer acquainted with any gentlemen who enjoy the sport. At least none who would be on such familiar terms as to invite me along.

Perhaps the next litter?

I must confess that I can hardly imagine you retired, Papa… but if you do, will you come and visit me? I have no estate of my own here – not yet – but I have a rather lovely suite in the guild hall. You would be welcome to stay with me here and then we could go out about the city and I could introduce you about and show you the sights… if you would not miss Zezhi too badly while you were away.

I would even sing for you while you were here. I found a rather lovely book of love songs in the library here, in the University. And perhaps my store would be finished by then. Oh, wait until you see it, Papa. It is going to be the grandest shop in all the city. I am going to make sure of it.

I miss you. I miss you more than I can say.

Please send along a few casks of Capuan. I am beginning to forget what it tastes like.

Your Doting and Homesick Daughter,
Caterina dul Decapua

Januarius 23, 374

The Office of the Grand Magnate, Lithmore City
Addressed to Mistress Caterina dul Decapua

My Dear Kitty,

I am sure it was you receiving the compliments rather than the dress, but if you’re pleased, I’m pleased. I only ever wish to see you happy, my girl.

Well… happy and safe.

I will send along Roddy, then, and only Roddy, but I will be holding you to your promise, Kitty. If the danger persists, you are coming home at once. And that will be the end of it.

Ah, any man who does not wish to court you is a fool, my girl. But it is probably for the best. And what is this? My sweet Kitty longing for a husband? You simply need to say the word and I will look for someone suitable for you. Would you prefer a Vavardi, my girl? Or a Lithmorran? I would see you married to one of our own to keep you close, but… it would not hurt to strengthen our ties with Lithmore. In fact, it would probably do our family – and our duchy – much good to see our ties strengthened there.

I would be happy to see you married to a Lithmorran, so long as he would be agreeable to many visits to Vavard. At least four a year.

There is no rush, of course. You are still young. And I must confess that I am loathe to give you into the hands of any man who did not deserve you. I would wish to become well-acquainted with him and his family first.

No hunting? Good Lord, what do the men do up there for sport? Ah, well. I will be sure to let you know when the next litter is born. At the very least, it may do your heart some good to have one about. Nothing makes a bad day seem better quite like a nice hound.

And I would be pleased to visit you, my girl, very pleased indeed. I must confess being a bit put-out at learning that you are living out of the guild hall rather than a small estate or a nice, little townhouse of your own. But so long as your rooms are well-appointed, I suppose I cannot be too cross, eh?

That blasted bird is lucky he is so pretty and he enjoys abusing your Mother.

Forgive the shortness of this letter. I fear there is an emergency in the fields that I must attend to at once.

I greatly look forward to seeing your store and I have sent along five casks of Capuan, my girl. Let me know if you would have more.

With All of a Father’s Love and More,
Giovanni dul Decapua

 

Decembris 12, 373: “He shall be the death of me or I… the death of him.”

June 3rd, 2017

Decembris 12, 373

Gildarts returned today.

But I knew he would. How could he not when I issued such a public challenge to him before all of Lithmore City?

I know I should be awash with fear, afraid to step foot outside my office. But I feel nothing, nothing but mere exhaustion. How I tire of our dance. The lies. The threats. I am no longer even surprised when I feel the cold press of his thoughts within my mind. And I know I should be. But how can I when he has haunted me for so long?

My own personal poltergeist. The liar. The murderer. I still remember the first words he ever spoke to me that night the city burned.

“Excuse me, Miss,” he said as I lie there on the ground, burned by his magefire. Excuse me.

I should hate the cruel fate which drove me into that fire, which bound us together from that moment forth. I will always bear the scar from that night.

But I do not hate fate. I do not even know if I hate him.

All I do know is that he shall be the death of me or I… the death of him.

Novembris 25, 373: “I think I can die happy now. Truly.”

June 2nd, 2017

Novembris 25, 373

The Estate dul Decapua, Capua
Addressed to Giovanni dul Decapua

Dearest Father,

I have just come from Her Royal Majesty’s wedding and I simply had to pen this letter this very moment before I lost any details of the day. How I wish you could have been there. You would have loved it. Some said it was a quaint affair, but I thought it elegant all the same. And, of course, Her Royal Majesty was wearing my gown. My gown, Papa.

I have never been so happy in all my life.

The ceremony occurred in Saint Aelwyn’s Cathedral and it was a traditional Lithmorran affair. But the pews were all so crowded, the cathedral filled with people. I was both glad and terrified at the same time that my escort had insisted I sit in the front pews with the nobility. I am glad that I missed no detail. I am terrified as to what could have happened if someone of true note had spotted me there. I can bear gossip. I do not think I could bear a whip’s strike.

And then we adjourned to the palace after, for a reception. There was food and drink – mostly gin; proper Capuan is so hard to find in this city outside of the Quarter – though, unfortunately, there was no dancing. But I could hardly be disappointed. Papa, I had an opportunity to meet Her Royal Majesty. She actually spoke to me. And she said the gown I designed for her was lovely.

I think I can die happy now. Truly.

But what else might I tell you? Oh, yes. My escort and I coordinated our outfits, both wearing silk of azure accented with bronze and topaz. He is… a terribly pleasing fellow, Papa. A perfect gentleman. A proper gentleman. I think you would like him. The Lord Lance le Layne, Baron of Longcoast. Perhaps you have heard of him from your Tubor contacts? He… is a frightfully inept dancer, but he is both kind and generous. And he has excellent taste in fashion. And he has an artistic soul… And apparently he has tattoos!

Forgive me. My quill slipped and quite ruined that last sentence. But it was nothing of import.

I do hope you like the presents I am sending for Yule. Please, give everyone my love. What news is there from home? I do so long for news. And to see you; I miss you so. But perhaps we may see each other soon.

Your Loving Daughter,
Caterina dul Decapua

Decembris 10, 373

The Office of the Grand Magnate, Lithmore City
Addressed to Mistress Caterina dul Decapua

My Dear Kitty,

I can’t believe you sent me one of those queer Tubori birds. What do you call them? Parrots? I must confess that I was a bit put out at first, but then once I saw how it vexes your mother, I decided it is my new favorite thing. The creature never stops chattering. But he’s a handsome fellow and he knows it. He’s always squawking away about how he’s a pretty bird.

I decided to name him Zezhi. His cage has been strategically placed outside your mother’s drawing room.

Your other gifts have been better received. Thank you for the book, my girl. The illumination is quite fine. And I am eager for the chance to try out my new hunting tack.

I wish I could have been in attendance at Her Royal Majesty’s wedding myself, if only for the opportunity to see the gown. But, we get our news from the capital just as easily as anyone else. I have heard it was quite a thing to behold.

Just as I have heard some rather distressing news about you being threatened. What is this nonsense about someone coming up in your guild hall and trying to kill you? Some even whisper it was a mage. Kitty? Why have you not told me this? If you are in danger, you need only say and I can have an entire retinue of guards to you in a fortnight. I would rather bring you home, but I understand that is rather impossible now with your position.

But my girl? Being threatened? I will not have it. I will not stand for it. By the Lord, if I have to come up there MYSELF…

[A few ink splatters blot the page.]

Forgive me, my girl. I know you are a woman now. But you will always be my little Kitty. And I would rather go to the pyre myself than see any harm befall you. Tell me these rumors are unfounded or agree to accept my assistance in keeping you safe. These are the options afforded to you. Until you have a husband, you are still mine, and as your Father, I must insist in this matter.

But speaking of a husband… Am I to understand that my girl is being courted by a baron? A recent development? Or are you keeping more secrets from me, my girl? For him to want you on his arm at a royal function is a very high honor… a very high honor, indeed. Is he sweet on you? Does he make promises? Has there been any talk of a proposal?

I want details, Kitty. Details. I have made some inquiries into the man through my contacts, but all I have learned so far is that he is young, oft admired, and spends money like a Vavardi. What else need I know of him?

As for my own news, I am considering retiring with the new year, but I have not yet decided. I have plenty to keep me entertained and Niccolo has been eager to fully take the reins of our family holdings. Which reminds me. This lack of Capuan in the city is distressing. Shall I send you a few casks from our vineyards? What on Urth have you been drinking up there? Gin? Pah.

Beyond that… ah, yes. My bitch has finally had her litter and they’re looking like they’ll be strong brutes, the lot of them. Would you like a pup, my girl? Do you even have the time for hunting? You must remember to take time for leisure. It would not do to work all the time. Freemen work all day. dul Decapuas make sure they have plenty of time for play.

I knew you would balk at me sending along a new outfit for you for Yule, so instead I am sending a shipment of gems, silk, and furs, so that you might design something for yourself to wear. I would see you in it once you are finished. Commission a portrait of yourself and then have it sent to me. I’m including a purse of gold with this letter just for such a thing. Hire a true artist. I want you captured in the best light.

And happy early birthday, my girl. It is… odd not having you here to celebrate. But at least it is no longer quiet in these halls with loud Zezhi about.

But your sweet singing would be much preferred.

With All of a Father’s Love and More,
Giovanni dul Decapua

 

Novembris 14, 373: “Merely a pretty bauble.”

May 26th, 2017

Novembris 14, 373

Last night, I lost a friend.

The pain of our parting is almost too much to bear. How many friends have I already gained and lost? How many more must I lose?

But this… this one was my fault. And I think it is this which hurts the most. The fact that I deserve every moment of his scorn.

His words still burn in my ears. “I was a fool for thinking you anything more than a pretty bauble.” Perhaps he is right.

Perhaps I am merely a pretty bauble and nothing more.

Septembris 25, 373: “For the love of the Lord, save me.”

May 10th, 2017

Septembris 25, 373

The Cathedral of Saint Francis, Vavard City
Addressed to Father Agnolo dul Decapua

Dearest Brother,

For the love of the Lord… please save me. I hardly know where to turn in this sprawling city that is the capital. People whisper such hateful things about those from our home duchy, but I must say that the men here are far more forward than any men I ever did meet in Vavard.

Though I dare not put names to paper, I must confess that since my arrival within Lithmore City four months ago, I have had no less than five gentlemen make some sort of advance toward me – some mention of marriage or courtship or a suit. That is not even counting the others who have simply made attempts at mere flirtation.

One even tried to kiss me. Letta was so distraught.

As was I.

There are days where I feel as though I cannot even draw a proper breath for fear I will attract another pair of eyes. You always had so many girls flitting about you, dearest brother. I hardly know how you could stand it, to be a lone flame crowded by so many moths.

I find myself, more and more, longing for the safety a husband would bring, but I would so hate to admit defeat to Papa. The year for our agreement is not yet finished and I have not yet established myself within the city as a merchant of repute.

But with each passing day, I am reminded more and more of the dangers of being an unmarried woman in a strange land, far from the protection of my brothers and father.

I would have your words of advice, Agnolo. You were always far better versed in such matters than I.

Your Ever Devoted Sister,
Caterina dul Decapua

 

Octobris 15, 373

The Vavardi Trade Offices, Lithmore City
Addressed to Miss Caterina dul Decapua

Poor, Sweet Cat,

I hope you will forgive a brother for laughing at his little sister’s distress, but I did laugh.

Quite thoroughly.

You have never been a fool, little Cat. Surely, you realized there would be some interest. You are young, pretty, and have a dowry fit for a princess. I’m rather surprised you’ve only been approached by five men in such a large place as Lithmore City.

And, the truth? The only reason why you never had to deal with the advances of forward Vavardi men while you were with us in Capua is because Father kept you under such a strong lock and key. Had you been raised as I was raised, you would have no doubt had some little, plucky lordling pushing you up against a wall at one of the dul Terani balls, trying to coax you into having his bastard.

And then I would have had to run him through and then where would we be?

Blood stains are such a pain. They never do properly come out.

I mean… I have six bastards myself. And that’s only the ones I know about. (Though I still do not think Benito is mine. He doesn’t look a thing like me). So, let those uptight Lithmorrans speak ill of us. They have their own dark secrets, their own bastards hiding in their closets. The only difference is that I claim my children… well, most of them, anyway… even though their mothers are greedy, little wenches…

But I digress. These are not matters for my sweet sister.

You want my advice? Write to Father and tell him that you tire of being a maiden and then pick yourself a prize stallion and be done with it. There is no shame in it. Mother may goad you, but Mother is a whore. You know it’s best to ignore anything that woman says. And surely you can continue to establish yourself and ply your trade as a married woman.

You have my love and my support. But I would entreat you to pick a husband who will be kind to you, sweet sister. I would not hesitate to slit him from navel to nose if he so much as spoke an ill word against you.

Lord bless you.

Do burn this letter.

Your Bemused Yet Doting Brother,
-A

Augustus 5, 373: “… it was slander of the acutest kind.”

April 30th, 2017

Augustus 5, 373

The Estate dul Decapua, Capua
Addressed to Giovanni dul Decapua

Dear Father,

I hope you will forgive a daughter’s oversight in allowing your last missive to sit so long without reply. Please know that it was not from a lack of affection, but rather from a mere lack of time. I fear the capital can be terribly diverting in ways both pleasing and not.

I wish to thank you for sending Letta along with the rest of my effects. Her presence was sorely missed my first week within the city. Thank you, also, for your latest gift of my new palfrey. She is truly a lovely creature. I have named her Chastity. I hope such pleases you.

What news is there from home? Has Agnolo broken more hearts? Have Niccolo and Vittoria had their first child yet? I feel so terribly detached from it all here in the capital, though I have been doing my best to keep myself entertained.

I fear there is not as much to entertain here, though, as there would be in Capua. Please do not misunderstand me. I have… been met with much kindness here. Truly, I can think of perhaps only one person whose acquaintance I would have rather not made in the time I have already spent here in the city. There merely seems to be a distinct lack of polite female society with which I might mingle. I would truly love such a friend, but perhaps such things will come in time.

I have had the pleasure of securing the friendship of several gentlemen, though – all of whom I would consider to be very honorable and pious men. But I fear this has caused a bit of scandal amongst the rumormongers. Though such meetings always take place in public spaces and within the presence of my chaperone, I fear… well, I will not bother you with the painful details, Papa, but it was slander of the acutest kind.

But I am doing my best to ignore the whispers.

What else is there to tell you? Oh, yes. I have secured myself as the Patron of two very promising talents here within the capital. One is primarily a lutist while the other seems to be primarily a flutist. Oh, if you could only hear them, Papa… I know you would approve of them. Perhaps I might bring them along for a visit one day. Perhaps for the winter holidays? I do miss you terribly. And I think it would be heart-wrenching, indeed, to spend my birthday away from the loving arms of my family.

Rest assured that I have been keeping up with my own studies. I am sending along a little design I did for a ring. Does it please you?

I hope you are well and that I might see you before the year is out. Please, give everyone my love.

Your Ever Devoted Daughter,
Caterina dul Decapua

Augustus 20, 373

The Vavardi Trade Offices, Lithmore City
Addressed to Miss Caterina dul Decapua

My Dear Kitty,

You know you are always welcome to come home at any time, my girl. Any time. I would have rather you not have left in the first place. Your mother is redecorating her drawing room again and there is no one here to keep me sane in the midst of it all. In, out, in, out, workers coming and going and slamming doors at all hours of the day, every day.

And this talk of scandal. Scandal? Surrounding MY girl? The very idea. The very nerve. They should have their tongues slit for slander. I should send someone to do this. No, I should come and do it myself. The very idea… the NERVE of some people. Perhaps I will come over there and simply CUT THEIR VERY TONGUES OUT AND FEED THEM TO MY HUNTING HOUNDS…

[Several ink blots occur here on the page before the letter is suddenly taken up in a different style of writing – a much neater, elegant hand. A decidedly feminine hand.]

Caterina Alessandra Rose dul Decapua. Do you seek to punish me by unleashing your father’s fury upon this household? He is in such a state now, going through the house and yelling about slitting tongues. I trust you will have more of a care for his temper and – for the sake of my peace – not trouble him with such trivial affairs in the future.

Do you think yourself unique in having garnered unwanted attention? For being the subject of cruel whispers? Well, rest assured that you are not unique in this and take heart, for it means you have a rival. When I was your age, I had many.

But, then again, when I was your age, I was also married. To think that you are almost seventeen and still without a husband. And now living off in the capital away from us all. What will the neighbors think? What will they say? And after your father presented you with such spectacular fanfare at your last birthday ball.

Your father will not broach the subject with you for the sake of this silly agreement you two have struck and so it is encumbered upon me to do so. The dul Bellini boy has renewed his suit and I would entreat you to consider it, as a dutiful daughter should. Between our families, we would control some of the richest vineyards in Capua. And I hear that he is amiable enough.

Come home. Marry Cesare dul Bellini. Give him a few children and then you will be free to go… gallivanting off again on whatever fool’s errand this is of yours. One wonders why you feel the desire to seek a reputation and fortune to call your own in the first place when your father is more than willing to provide for you…

Praise the Lord. Your father has calmed himself. He wishes to know if you desire an increase in your allowance, though I think he should cut you off entirely if you insist on pursuing your own wealth. He is also sending along a selection of color swatches and fabrics for the upcoming season and wishes to know if he might order you a gown. He wishes me to write that he is “particularly fond of the apricot” and thinks it would suit you.

Your brother, Niccolo, is celebrating the birth of his first child as of three nights ago. Vittoria has given birth to a boy. We are all quite pleased that fruit has finally come of their union.

Your father is also pleased by your design for the ring, though I find it rather understated myself. He looks forward to hearing more of your accomplishments. Whereas I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the dul Bellini suit when next you write.

Your Ever Loving Mother,
Lucrezia dul Decapua


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