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by on March 4th, 2015

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Letters from Musgat

by on December 23rd, 2014

These letters are in far better shape than the ones from Vees. Particular care has gone into maintaining the visual integrity of the sealed and stamped parchment sheets, though the long travel from Musgat has meant that they have earned some dog-ears. A mark on the front of the letters is patterned with the de Versin crest in dark blue ink. They would appear to be yet unopened, with the ab Samael seal intact.

 

Musgat Barony, Arendas 6 Quintilis, 364

 

My dearest Ariel,

 

I apologise for the delay in responding to your last letter, and can only blame the rigours of the long journey south, as well as the lack of reliable offices at which to collect it. As you might be aware from the postmarks, Tomas and I have arrived in Musgat, to the house that once belonged to Dame Ahalin Paynifier. Though Brynieve’s brother, Baron Musgat, tells me that the building itself has changed a good deal since her stewardship, I fancy that I walk among titans as I explore its halls. Do you think it a sign of old age- indulging in the fantasy- or of youth? I feel as if I could spend hours looking for remnants of the old building, like an adventurer traipsing into an unknown land. In the minutes I am able to snatch, I sometimes think I see scoring marks in the stone of an archway that look too ancient to have been authored by Baron Musgat; at other times, fingerprints in mortar or a particularly old tapestry stored in an attic. I explore them all I can, touching, lifting, examining, aligning my own hand with those fingerprints and I fancy, for a moment, that I might have a real link to people who lived hundreds of years before. When -was- it that Dame Paynifier died?

 

But my time is too occupied by far to spend much of it concocting wild stories about the historical peoples of Musgat; its current ones are a continual source of entertainment, for better and worse. And I say that in the kindest way possible, Ariel: Brynieve had warned me that a Barony that sees little activity as a rule would be startled by the sudden arrival of an ab Jinosa, ab Samael, and (soon) a de Montford. I barely had the chance to dry myself off after my bath before Baroness Musgat’s maid came knocking on my door, inviting me very politely to take afternoon tea (its iced equivalent, given the scorching heat) with her mistress. Well: I promptly donned a saree (it took me a full twenty minutes to work up the courage to leave my room with a bare stomach), tossed the long edge over my head in a vain attempt to discourage sunburns (I write this letter with a -gracefully- peeling nose), and made my way out into the garden. I was pleasantly relieved to find that I very much like Brynieve’s sister-in-law. She’s still awfully young, but has children that she loves talking about- and, as you know, I don’t mind listening, especially when it is something as simple as a mother taking pride in her family. And she does, at that: she seems thoroughly content with her place in the world, and loves a husband who might not be the most exciting of men, but who makes her laugh. I can only admire that in Baroness Musgat and, in some ways, envy how much contentment she has found; not unlike Lady ab Jinosa, I think. No wonder poor Brynieve is so closed on the topic of marriage, though: I sat through an hour of Lady Musgat cataloguing every eligible bachelor of which she could think, beginning with our recently widowed Lord ab Jinosa, and ending with the sons of de Montford himself. I thought she might never stop, but then Brynieve’s brother burst in, chiding his wife (gently) that the Lady Justiciar was more than capable of choosing her own mate, and why not ask the Queen Dowager about her journey thus far, instead?

 

Baron Musgat, as I stated above, might not be terribly exciting and, when I say that, I mean that he does not have the personality of a highway robber, a spelunker, or a Court bard. But he is a generous host, a good steward for his lands and, as far as I can see, a morally upright sort of a man. He is, in fact, the soul of politeness and good manners- I rather think he might be afraid of me, for I have had nothing but courtesy from him (but you ought see how he warms when the subject touches on Brynieve). Tomas knows him far better than I, as the two seem to be getting on fairly well. He is much like Brynieve, but imagine building blocks instead of a book on laws. A particular point of pride is the aqueduct recently commissioned by Zeita von Zarrova- you know, I ought send her a gift when I return to the city, for that project has ensured I have as much bathwater as I want.

 

On the topic of gifts: I have enclosed two with this missive. The first is something I found in the markets- a length of Farin cotton that I embroidered into a tapestry. The fabric is very fine- light, soft, and perfect for the summer- but it was the colour that reminded me of you. A deep, rich scarlet- I hope you agree. The second is a sketch I made of a military outpost that Tomas and I passed on our way to Musgat. In Lithmore, I think we see such camps as places of austerity, but this one was bursting with life: families, markets, musicians. But the Farin are a contradiction in and of themselves, are they not? On the one hand, they burn with a single-minded purpose, with animosity against a traditional enemy that consumes nearly everything they are; on the other, they apply that same passion to things of beauty, to good music, food, and art. Should I have been born anything, Ariel, I think I might have liked to be one of them. We still have time- maybe we ought dye our skin dark, run away together, and live on a southern outpost?

 

I miss you. Would you were with me, seeing all these things, too, rather than so far away in the Capitol. I feel almost consumed with nervous energy at meeting Duke de Montford tomorrow, but take some comfort in Tomas’ friendship and support, which I know will be to my advantage during the negotiations (if only that His Grace might find more in common with a tried and true soldier, rather than– what is it you call me? A Lithmorran rose?). When I return, I shall demand two days in the sun (or maybe the shade?) with you– one for each month that we have been apart.

 

Yours,

Cellan

 

————————————————————————–

Musgat Barony, Balasdes 7 Quintilis, 364

 

To the hand of the Lady Justiciar, Brynieve de Versin:

 

Brynieve,

 

I write this letter from your home barony of Musgat, from one of the finest rooms that your brother- the most gracious and kindest of hosts- has available to him. I sit, at present, at a desk that apparently belonged to a de Versin of the previous generation; from here, I look out a window at the Musgat landscape, dark but for the torches that burn in the nearby town (they are all framed by a certain aqueduct that has gained itself some considerable fame in the past months). Now that my work is done for the night, it occurred to me to write you—not only to express my gratitude for securing your brother’s house as a venue for forthcoming meeting, but also to send some word of a family and a home that you must miss, living so far away.

 

I spend most my time in the company of your sister-in-law, Farah, whose friendly, energetic company I enjoy very much. It was a welcome relief that, after spending a month on the road with a team of sweaty men (all of whom don’t seem to appreciate the virtues of regular baths), I was inducted to the house at Musgat with my very own tub and an invitation from the Baroness for tea (some very good stuff, and deliciously cold—I felt like a Vostocki ice block after my first glass, which has been a luxury of late). But, my dear Brynieve: I would quickly invent some likely suitor in the Capitol, were I you, otherwise I fear that you might become the target of a matchmaker, hired at your sister-in-law’s expense. Have you heard the story of Helena? Her father sourced every eligible man from the Duchies, from which she was instructed to pick a husband. Had I any talent in divination, my lady, then I might warn you that such an event is in your own future. Your brother is, of course, determined that you make your own choice—but I fear your sister-in-law’s eagerness for your nuptials is endless as the journey from here to Rihdman. When she is not making a list of every available suitor within a five year range of your own, however, Farah and I trade stories of our respective capitols: Montford for Lithmore. I hear stories of the Great Bazaar, of performers that can breathe fire and of women dressed in the most beautiful clothes, and I regret that we have not the time to make the journey. She seems to delight as equally in stories of Lithmore Capitol, though I imagine the dreary North to be of no comparison to the colour and life of Montford City.

 

Your brother and I have not been much in each other’s company, but—between us—I think he learned early on that I know little enough of construction and planning to be, at best, a poor companion. Have you heard of Zeita von Zarrova’s commissioned aqueduct yet? Lord ab Jinosa certainly has and, to your brother’s great delight, seemed to take an interest in even the minutest details of its design. I see that light still burns in the Great Hall, and can imagine them now: heads bent over one of those big sheets of parchment, discussing archways and supporting buttresses. But, more seriously, I am most impressed by Baron Musgat, Brynieve: he seems like a fine man, and the warmth with which he speaks of you is endearing. It puts me in mind of my own brother, Alexander, who has recently moved home to Mont Innes. Not quite so far away, but enough that I feel the distance; I regret that you and your brother are so often apart.

 

We have our meeting with Duke de Montford tomorrow, and so I think I should perhaps end this letter here—I don’t want to meet His Grace with dark smudges under my eyes. I hope that you are well, and that matters in the city have calmed over the past month. If not, then I insist you find some time to rest.

 

Lord bless you,

 

Your friend,

 

Cellan

 

————————————————————————–

Musgat Barony, Arendas 6 Quintilis, 364

 

Casimir,

 

I received your letter upon our arrival at Musgat, where I was told that it had as long, arduous a journey as did we: travelling from one courier’s office to another, always just missing us at each port. But here I am, and here it is and, finally, here is a decent response.

 

I am exhausted. It feels as if the fatigue of a month’s travel has settled into my bones—more than I am capable of dispelling in an afternoon or, perhaps, a lifetime. I almost feel like a sailor who has put his feet on land for the first time in years. I sometimes wake in the night, surprised that I cannot feel the sway of a horse beneath me; shocked that I sleep in a soft feather bed, rather than inn mattresses I could swear were stuffed with old leather. We have, however, a blissful week before Duke de Montford’s arrival in which to recover and, when I am not required to attend to my social duties or prepare for the upcoming meeting, I spend it in the best was I know how: soaking in a tub to my ears or lying in bed with a book from one of Dame Ahalin’s collection. It was you that I first thought of when Baron Musgat conveyed me to her library—I imagined that you would suddenly disappear into the shelves, never to be seen again. Do you want me to copy anything for you that might be useful for your own work? I have included a list of some of the books you might be interested in reading from; should I be able to convince the Baron, I might even be able to hire on a scribe for a few days’ work.

 

News from the city surprised me. Did His Holiness really attempt to intervene on a matter of discipline within the Knights? He of all people should surely know how important it is that an arm of the Inquisition, no matter how young, should understand their duty to the souls of the tainted. I think you did right, yes, both in whipping the boy and in your own punishment. If the boy is old enough to carry a deadly weapon, then he is old enough to take responsibility for his actions; similarly, a teacher has the duty to instruct his pupil not to make these mistakes in the first place (with the exception of cases in which the student is too hard-headed to learn his lessons).

 

I do not envy you your concerns, nor your activity; I spend my time with, as you mentioned in your last letter, wonderfully uncomplicated women. Here in Musgat, I am the guest of Lady Farah, the sister-in-law of Brynieve de Versin. Another simple (but intelligent) woman who takes a certain pride in her husband and children, and who wants nothing more in life than to do honour to her House and her duchy. She is uncommonly set on marrying Brynieve to some likely nobleman (I often find her watching Lord ab Jinosa with a matchmaker’s eyes), and delighted that I show such an interest in Farin culture. While I cannot claim her company is as invigorating as listening to tales of bloodlust and betrayal in Lithmore Capitol, her friendship is a salve that heals some of my deep weariness from our travels. I cannot but be grateful for it.

 

I can feel my eyes droop, though, and my thoughts turn towards nothing but my bed—my feather bed, if you’ll remember. I’ll stop here, and include a sketch that I made of the markets just outside the de Versin house. I hope you like it, and that it puts you in mind of something other than the troubles of city life in the North.

 

Yours,

 

Cellan

Letters from Vees

by on December 19th, 2014

These letters have undergone no small amount of trials on their long journey: battered and crumpled from having been lodged in a saddlebag, they come with multiple tears and streaks of dust that mar their otherwise fine surfaces. Some of their words are smudged and blotted, though on the whole, the missives are legible.

 

Casimir,

 

I feel as if I should begin this missive with an address to your grand declarations of undying love: I have plenty of rings, heroes, and muscled knights at my fingertips (in fact, I count three of each when I look up from my sheet of parchment), but I seem to be in extremely short supply of letters by your hand. In that case, sir, I argue that the gesture is all the more significant for its rarity, and proceed in the hope that you’ll find an exchange of news compelling enough to send more in the future.

 

Lord ab Jinosa and I have reached Schilde, the largest and most important town in his home county of Vees. The border territories of Lithmore Duchy all seem alike in their tendency to blend Farin customs with their own; I am reminded of Mont Innes and Awan Ride continually, and feel more at home here, at times, than I ever have in the Capitol. Despite my desire to enjoy it, however, I am asked continually by his widowed mother—a very sweet, friendly woman—for stories of the city to which she has not returned since her marriage. While I indulge an old woman (maybe I will one day be the same, should I ever grow to really liking the Capitol), I cannot help but feel as if she is in the better position of the two of us, being able to enjoy the freedom and quiet of the provinces.

 

We remain here another day before striking into Farin territory—for the first time in my adult life. I hope my skin bears up better than it had when I was younger, else I fear any roving Daravi might see me from a mile away, like one of the beacons they light along the Border Marches to announce attacks. I have a little jar of sun salve from the Capitol that the herbalists swear work; but I wonder if they’ve ever felt the Farin sun on their flesh.

 

I am sorry for my absence while you are readjusting to life in the city; though you said that you were better treated by the slavers than one might expect, I feel guilty for abandoning you while you come to terms with what happened. But please, do not let it stop you from doing the duty to which you are sworn: I have found, in my years in the city, that people are counted as heroic when they shoulder, push, and claw their way to the front of a crowd, usually at the expense of others who are (proverbially and literally), shoved into a corner as a result. I suppose there might be a thread of altruism to it, as well as a confidence in their own abilities; but I would also say, at times, that there is a desire for recognition in their sacrifice, as well. Sometimes, people will accuse you of faults to hide their own: heretic, coward, weakling. Neither tendency is really very pretty, but people of that sort monopolise on others’ lack of confidence when they rush from a crowd, swords drawn and righteous fury ablaze. Does any of this make sense? What I mean to say, I suppose, is that, when people push you to the back of a room, it is not always because they believe that is your place—that it is not a reflection on you. Rather, it might be an effort, on their part, to present themselves as more than they are—to make sure that no flame burns alongside theirs, lest people might see that it isn’t really so bright to begin with.

 

Then again, sometimes our achievements are best appreciated after our deaths, when people realise how quietly and diligently we had been working in our corner. I hope that people might think that of Ariel and myself, when we are gone; I think on it more, the closer Tomas and I get to the Farin border. People might dislike us now for abandoning Edessa to the Daravi but, perhaps they might see the good that it will do when the bulk of their harvest is not transported to the Front, when they have enough manpower to seed and cultivate their crops for the winter months, and when they lose less people they love because the forts we plan to build on the borders are fulfilling their purpose. You, too, with your writing, and I should say again: people pay most attention to those who shout and scream their worth, but the real value is the good you do for generations to come. We will always have slavers and mages, and our children will always have to fight each new waves as it arises; but changing our society for the better? It is as noble and significant a pursuit, especially when we consider laws like the Decree of Solidarity, for which I thank Queen Caterana daily. Should you not have the desire to push yourself forward, then content yourself that your wisdom will long survive whatever people like ab Levona sneer at you now.

 

Cellan

————————————————————————————————————————–

Dear Ariel,

 

I write this missive from Schilde, which, as you might know, is the seat of Tomas’ County. I am currently ensconced in what I am assured is the most comfortable guest chamber on offer in the Keep—and it is, indeed, with no small amount of white wax candles and the finest cotton bedding. I should like to be neatly wrapped in the latter, in fact, but find myself too troubled by the weeks ahead to focus my mind towards sleep. In order to combat my insomnia, I have sent letters to everyone who has written me—but still, it has not tired me as I hoped. Thus I turn, once more, to a source of comfort and confidence that has served me so well in the past: you. I sometimes think, in fact, that it will always be the case: that, should I have the misfortune of living after you are gone, it is to you that I would still write all my fears and nightmares, both real and imagined.

 

I find myself thinking progressively more about our impending meeting with Cameron de Montford, the closer Tomas and I are to Farin’s border. Not just about how it will go—you know the kind of response we had to the invitation we extended for Awan Ride, and the reasons we go as far as Musgat—but our reception by the Farin more generally on our journey south. I wonder, Ariel, how people will remember you and I for our withdrawal from Edessa. Will they think that we were traitors to our own, or will they see the benefits that came about on account of the retreat, and thank us for it? I hope that they might steer more towards the latter when they realise that the bulk of their harvest is not being transported to the Front, when they have enough manpower to seed and cultivate their crops for the winter months, and when they lose less people they love because the forts we plan to build on the borders are fulfilling their purpose. But still: I am vain enough to care about my legacy, and yours; I care how people think of me when I am gone, and I care how it might reflect on Caitrin. I am afraid that de Montford might read it in my face when we meet.

 

I know that you will also want news of Tomas, and so: I have been keeping a close eye on him, but worry about his health. While we were on the road, my knights tell me that he is given to taking long walks at night, always with a bottle of liquor in one hand; that he returns reeking of it, with blood-shot eyes and a swagger in his step. Though he has been better since we arrived in Vees, I fear what might happen when we leave. I intend to embark on a covert operation into his bedchamber tomorrow afternoon while he is out visiting his father’s grave, with the intention of taking whatever alcohol he might have stored there; I am afraid that he might drink himself into one of his own, if he cannot come into better control of his grief. Have you any advice?

 

I hope that you are well, and that you are not so plagued by the dark humours with which you struggled before my departure from the city. I think on you, and the way you looked before I left, and I worry—you should know that, should that be the case, and were I there, I would do my best to make you smile. In the event that you are indeed in a like state, I have sent you a sketch from our travels.

 

I miss you terribly; please write soon.

 

Yours,

Cellan

From Cellan ab Samael, to Ariel le Orban

by on July 31st, 2014

OOC: The following letter has seen some travel despite its neatly trimmed edges and evenly spaced lines. Its folds are slightly beaten, as if it had been in a saddlebag for a short period of time.

 

To Lord Ariel le Orban in Lithmore Capitol, from Lady Cellan ab Samael:

Dear Ariel,

 

I hope this letter finds you well, and that you are enjoying the Yule season; my apologies for leaving in the way I did. I must have frightened you.

 

I arrived three days ago to find Celeste with a high fever. I’ve never been so scared: she was hot to touch, covered in sweat, and could barely keep herself from purging all her food. The only blessing is that she seems to have no trouble sleeping; indeed, it seems difficult for her to stay awake. I hope this means that her body is getting some much-needed rest. I write this from her bedside, where I’ve been watching over her for the past four hours. The physicians tell me that I shouldn’t attempt to leave her blankets off, as this might mean that she’ll catch a chill from the cold weather. Is this the right thing to do?

 

When I’m not with Celeste, I’m spending as much time as I can with Caitrin. Our little Queen is thrilled to have her family here. The twins, my father, Alexander, and the boys have joined me; it’s rather a miracle that we have everyone in the same place, even despite our sick princess. We are so often scattered about the kingdom for Yule. Caitrin, unlike her little sister, prefers to keep close by my side. Where my other children and nephews go to play in the garden, Caitrin wants to sit by me and listen to me reading, or working on papers and documents. I should take this as a good sign, though I wish she’d get more fresh air; she’s beginning to look as pale and thin as me. My genes and the winter weather can’t help.

 

Doubtless none of this is very interesting to you, though I find a special pleasure in being able to write about a family that I so rarely see together. I do wish you were here, though– I miss your company and I wish for your guidance and experienced hands where Celeste is concerned. Can you suggest anything else?

 

I had better go; Celeste is falling back to sleep and I’ve promised Caitrin and Father a game of checkers. Please stay safe and well. I hope the cryptex is keeping you occupied.

 

With much love and affection,

Cellan

 

OOC: The royal seal of House ab Samael is attached in red wax below the signature.

A Sheet in an Artist’s Folio (3)

by on July 21st, 2014

<page 8, Ariel le Orban and Cellan ab Samael, unknown location, 362>

 

Darkness permeates this scene, illuminated only by a modest campfire from which its viewer witnesses the exchange that takes place at its main centre of focus. Set in a small forest clearing, the painting is bordered by an uneven line of thickly set pines that tower over its inhabitants, shrouding the area in shadow at the same time as it protects them from the chill wind sweeping through its upper branches. Undergrowth further casts the area outside this small camp in indeterminacy, ferns and moss-covered logs creating treacherous missteps for wary travellers and places to hide for its wildlife. Both these elements contribute to what is the oppressive and dangerous feel of the space beyond this scene; the immediate space of the firelight, however, provides some reprieve for the people who keep it company.

 

Two sleeping rolls have been placed on the opposite side of the fire, a bare few inches between the wool blankets and pillows that cushion their owners from the hard, uneven ground. One in particular is being occupied by a pair of people: a man and a woman, the former of whom sits behind the latter, who is turned from him. The young woman is as fragile and fine-boned as a bird, though her practical riding leathers and wool-lined cotton shrouds her frame and lends it some weight it might otherwise lack; her blonde hair is a bright mane of curls that spills over her eyes and falls to the small of her back. It is currently in the custody of her companion, however, whose long, supple fingers gather the errant strands at her brow. He himself is taller and sturdier than the woman, with dark skin that suggests a mixed Farin-Tubori heritage; he leans towards her protectively, shielding her slender body with his own. His own hair, which is sleek and black as a raven’s wing, has been combed and pulled into a tight ponytail. The man’s main care is for the woman’s tresses, however: his nails tease each curl as he tames them into a firm, practical braid that begins at her brow and works to the very ends. Though both make a concerted effort to keep apart, they seem curiously locked in a constant tug-of-war with each other and themselves: a fight to maintain distance and restraint even as they struggle against it.

 

A line of four horses have been tied to a makeshift coral somewhere to their right, and the remnants of a meal are spread out to one side; one plate is empty, while the other is still half-filled with a chunk of bread and slices of cheese. The frame of a hulking Farin knight leaves a long shadow to the left of the scene, though only the tip of his boot, shoved close to the campfire’s embers, can be seen by the viewer.

A Sheet in an Artist’s Folio (2)

by on July 19th, 2014

<page 7, “Ariel le Orban, Awan Ride 362”>

 

This particular scene lacks a proper border, its edges instead reaching to the corners of the parchment in natural brushstrokes of paint. Composed to resemble a manor lounge at the midnight hour, it is centred upon a cavernous stone hearth, unmantled and protected only by a half-height grill. Despite the considerable fire burning in its metal grate, most of what is beyond its immediate area is lost to the dark shadows that accompany the night; one might be able to see the impression of a vaulted ceiling, however, its thick, sturdy buttresses outlined by the shadows that play over the bluestone architecture.

 

The main focus of the painting is a tall, lanky nobleman who lounges in an armchair before the fireplace. Sprawled in its deep cushions and ample seat, one his legs is cocked rakishly over the chair’s arm; his elbow rests on his thigh, balancing a stout glass of golden-coloured liquid with long, supple fingers. Though his face is turned away from the viewer, several details about his mannerisms might hint at his identity: his clothing is of the finest gold and emerald brocade, his dark hair is mused and long, falling in his eyes and draped down his neck, and his skin has a flush of colour that suggests Tubori heritage. A mask comprised of solid gold is on a small table by his side, reflecting the light of the fire; it also gives the viewer a glimpse of his whisky-coloured eyes, which gaze moodily into the hearth. His sleekly muscled frame is corded with some tension, betraying him despite the leisurely grace with which he sprawls; additionally, a well-made cane leans against the empty arm of his seat.

 

Despite clear signs of the man’s infirmity, the painter has gone to considerable trouble to convey both the latent power in his limbs and his strength of character. His figure has been rendered with some surprising affection, particular care and attention paid to articulate him with the utmost precision; he appears more clearly and sharply than the rest of the scene, as if he were the viewer’s primary interest. The rest of the room, in contrast, fades into the background in a haze of warm firelight and deep shadow.

A Sheet in an Artist’s Folio (1)

by on May 11th, 2013

This large, but slender folio is made from the plainest, natural-coloured card, covered in black leather than has been affixed with several straps to bind it closed. The pages contain paintings that have been done with surprising skill, their images unfurling in arrays of colour. Inside the cover, a simple inscription has been left: Cellan ab Samael.

 

<page 1, “Cellan ab Chevalier and Tobin ab Samael, circa. 351”>

 

Warm firelight pervades the length and breadth of this scene, filling the canvas in rich hues of scarlet, gold, and deep browns. Framed by a dark stone mantle that curves throughout the middle of the painting, the flames lick and stretch through otherwise dark surrounds, unfurling in a writhing pattern bereft of any sense of order. Only the stone seeks to contain them, though their warm light spills into the room beyond, painting the remainder of the scene in a comfortable, intimate glow.

 

The room itself might appear to be small compared to the large hearth. Painted in a circular format and lined entirely in bookshelves, it depicts a cluttered scholar’s alcove at nighttime. Thick rugs line expansive stone floors, and small tables cluttered with books, scrolls, and dusty writing implements cluster about the edges of the scene. From somewhere above, the rich hearth-fire is met with pale, filtered moonlight that casts deep shadows into the corners of the room, silver and blue and black.

 

Two people are in the center of the scene, distinguished not only by the difference in the size of their bodies, but by their outward appearance and mannerisms. The first is a man of a considerable size, dressed in a collection of leathers and steel plate. He is built like a tree trunk: tall, thick, and sturdy, with a face like rough bark. His weathered features betray his Lithmorran heritage, though his complexion bears more olive-oil coloration than one would expect. Shoulder-length, nut-brown hair has been tied in a ponytail with a strip of leather. His arms are bare, thick with corded muscle and covered in coarse, dark brown hair and a multitude of knotted scars that appear in slivers of pink and white.

 

Despite his obviously hardened, militaristic exterior, there’s an oddly tender (and somewhat amused) expression in his face as he looks down towards the young woman who stands with him. A study in pink, white, and gold, this woman is fine-boned and delicate, with alabaster skin and blonde curls that have been tied back in a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck. She wears a heavy velvet cloak settled over her shoulders that might be all too big for her-the same colour as the man’s clothing- that obscures the rest of her body. Nothing can hide the fact that she is heavily pregnant, however, her rounded belly almost too big for her fragile frame. Her head is slightly bent, with a curving smile on her mouth that tugs a dimple into one freckled cheek. She clasps onto the man’s left hand with one of her own, turning it open towards the ceiling; the other has its fingers outstretched, touching a weathered line in his palm. Their two bodies are leant very slightly inwards, and though the warm firelight is a bright blade separating them, the air about them seems to buzz with conflicting emotions.

Fading Light

by on January 5th, 2013

Eldes, Octobris (Month 10) 6, In the Year of Our Lord, 333

 

Alessandra remembers…

 

My daughter Cellan, always a fragile little girl, begins to fail before her third birthday. My husband’s physicians can offer me no solace, and my ladies no cure but for gruel and milk, fed into her tiny mouth hourly. And so I sit with her through the long winter, listening to wind that howls against the windows like demons come for my little girl, and attempt to nurse her back to health. I do not sleep properly for months as I sit by the fire in her nursery, warming her body with my own as if I could breathe the life into her. She grows no stronger.

 

Corentin and Alexander, my two sons, play with her an hour each day, helping her reach her toys, and make up stories for every mouthful of food she eats. I watch my three blonde-haired children as they sit by the fire, their heads bent together, and spend my time sewing new dresses that I’m not certain she’ll live to wear. My mother used to tell me that a child is safe only once you’ve reared them to adulthood. Looking on her, I’m not sure whether I could ever hope the same for my daughter.

 

Impossibly, it is only her bastard sister Wraenne who is able to cheer her; my Cellan seems stronger with her near, and it is only then that I can hope that she might find the strength to fight the fragility of her body. For this reason, and only this reason, I condone her presence in my daughter’s chambers. I feel as if I would bargain with the Daravi themselves, if only they’d save my Cellan.

 

‘Can we not send for a physician from the Capitol? Ask the Queen: surely she’ll release the Royal Physician to save my girl’, I beg this of my husband each day, and his face, weary with his own grief, mirrors the pain I know him to feel when he watches our daughter. ‘Alessandra, my love’, he murmurs into my hair, ‘Find your courage. You’ve done so well to keep her with us, so far’. ‘Don’t say that. Don’t’, I order him, in a voice filled with tears, ‘Spring will come, and then the summer-time. She has to get better in the summer’.

 

I spend hours in my daughter’s chamber dribbling gruel into her mouth, holding her body to my ear so that I can hear the faint patter of her little heart. 

 

They tell me that I should thank the Lord that I have two sons: that the succession of Mont Innes is strong, with no need for another child. I do not say a word in response to these idiots: I do not nurse my daughter for my husband, nor his County, nor his Queen. I nurse her out of love. I do not care for her to be a knight, or a lady, or the wife of Dav himself.

 

On a day in early Februarius I sit with her in my lap, humming a song from my homeland that I half-remember my mother having sung to me. Ice clutters the window panes thickly, and the old stone Keep is barely warmed by the fire that my servants keep well-stocked. 

 

The song ends, and all is silence. I sit still in my chair, and everything remains silent. Silent, but for my daughter’s breathing, stronger and more regular. I look down into her little face, then, and see something that I’ve not ever witnessed before: she smiles at me, weak but palpable. That is the first flame of hope that she might yet stay with us a while longer.

The Mountain

by on January 2nd, 2013

Arendas, Augustus (Month 8) 10, In the Year of Our Lord, 343

 

Wraenne remembers…

 

Someone was watching; I could feel it.

 

The fine hairs on the back of my neck prickle in reaction to the pressing touch of far-off eyes on my sister and I. My attention quickly swivels to Ana, who is frozen in the midst of binding the last few ribbons of her undergown.

 

A twig snaps, muffled by the dew-soaked foliage of the forest, and Ana hurries to pull the last ribbon tight over her breasts, the thin, white fabric closing and straining against her burgeoning body. At fourteen, my sister is finally growing into a woman, though that particular development gives her no small cause for grief. It means that she will be gone soon, married into the sun-burned southern lands. I use the time that she spends dressing to search the area, focusing on the shadows snaking between the filtered afternoon light.

 

I can see nothing but the darting flight of tiny birds and the occasional flash of a deer’s tawny coat. I close my eyes. I hear nothing but the sigh of the wind through the trees and the trill of a cricket. I’m surely going mad, seeing a demon in every shadow, Ana murmurs to me, lifting one water-logged hand to form the sign of the Chalice. We no longer live in a world filled with summer afternoons spent in idle luxury; now, my sister learns how to be a wife, while I’m sure that I’m bound for the nunnery as soon as our father deems that she no longer has any need of me. In these quiet moments when Ana manages to evade the Countess, however, we steal away our time in the protection of the forest.

 

Today, we slipped beneath the waters of the lake that we so frequently visited in our childhood years. It is easier to forget our differences in the cold and the darkness; easier to remember our secret sisterhood when our grasping hands are our only lifelines to the world above. I can stare into Ana’s blue eyes for hours, and watch the cloud of her bright hair as it floats in the black water above her, and pretend that we are not so different, despite our shared blood.

 

The figure appears on the periphery of my vision as Ana drags her dark blue gown over her head. I am careful to look at her hands while I focus my attention on the half-hidden man, recognising the familiar glint of steel chain in the dim forest light. A quiver passes down my spine, and I decide that it would behoove us to inform people of our whereabouts in the future; all these months of slipping out have made us lax in our guard.

 

What good is clothing if we’re dead? Ana’s furious whisper reaches me, and I know that she’s seen the man, too. Hurrying to a boulder where I’ve left most of my clothes, I bend to pick up one of my shoes, seeking out my dagger in its usual hiding place. Nothing. Another twig snaps, closer this time, and I decide that I don’t need that dagger after all. No sooner is my decision made then there is a bone-chilling cry. In the next instant, they appear all at once: a band of men, at least five barely discernible figures scrambling from the woods.

 

Shrieking in fear, I grab Ana’s hand and bolt for the safety of the trees. Ana is cursing words that no proper lady would admit knowing and dragging me in the direction of the Keep with all her might, even as I stumble over the jagged rocks lining the southern shore of the Lake. Like a death knell, their ringing footsteps draw ever closer.

 

A hand reaches out, brushing my hip and nearly grasping onto the skirt of my gown; I scream, and hear an ugly laugh sound behind us. I trip, and send both myself and Ana tumbling to the gravelled shore. Oh, no, Ana groans as she hits the ground with a painful thud.

 

Screaming. Screaming is all I hear, then, and it isn’t coming from us. I roll over rapidly, wincing as pain shoots through my left leg like wildfire. I hear Ana’s gasp, and look up.

 

The man who has joined us is like a mountain, taller than any man I’ve ever seen, and dark as night. Three of our pursuers are already– fainted, dead? I dare not think as I stare in horror at the inexorable grip the Mountain has around the neck of the fourth. Ana’s body follows mine, and before I know it, she’s pulling me heavily back to my feet.

 

Before we turn to run, I catch Ana’s eyes meet with the giant’s for a moment that seems to last an eternity, and I feel her heartbeat pulse in the hand that clutches onto mine.

 

That was the day that I lost Ana to the stranger in the forest.

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