To Aleksie le Orban, from Shaylei le Orban de Roldan (4)

July 19th, 2014

The following letter has been written in a hurry: its lines are unevenly scored, and there is a smudge of something that looks like cooking oil in one corner. A toddler has taken a blue crayon to it, as well: there is a squiggle on the top of the page, though it doesn’t mar the writing itself.

 

Evening, Arendas 28 Octobris, In the Year of Our Lord 362

To the hand of my dearest brother at the Ducal court of Vandago, Aleksie le Orban, from his sister in Lithmore Capitol, Shaylei le Orban de Roldan:

Strike me blind, Aleksie: married? You? None of my warnings about climbing into pretty girls’ beds seem to have sunk in, even after all these years. I hope your new father-in-law at least waited for the bruising to fade before pushing you down the aisle. Father did tell me her name, but I’ve forgotten: Bethany? You did talk to the girl a few times before bedding her, didn’t you? One impossible sister-in-law is enough to handle this Yule; I shall be very cross if you’ve given me another.

But Aleksie, I don’t think I could really stay angry with you for very long; I watch at the window each day, hoping that I’ll soon receive news of your arrival to the Capitol. Your room is already prepared for you, down the hall from the nursery (you’re welcome). I’ve had to shamelessly abuse our cousin’s kindness again, and put Abram and Ingrid in Orban Manor with Mother and Father. Poor Ariel: not only has he the weight of the Duchies on his shoulders, but he’s suddenly inundated with more family than he can count on one hand. Between your new wife, Kir, and Ingrid’s new daughter, that’s– what? Fourteen of us? I might have to make you eat your Yule dinner on the back porch this year; I don’t know how we’re going to fit everyone.

Bring your good riding gear. I’m determined that you, Abram, Father and I shall go for a good ride out of the city. It isn’t quite Vostock, but there’s the Shrine of Saint Celeste in the western mountains. Maybe you can pray for another child to keep Mother happy; she’s already giving my stomach pointed looks, and I want another year’s reprieve at the very least.

And you’ll meet Argider, who’s to be back in the city for two whole months. Please don’t take offence if he doesn’t smile at you, Aleksie; he has a bad habit of scowling at people he doesn’t know. Just for you, I’ll sneak some whisky into his morning coffee. That should at least make him stare a little less.

Hurry to the Capitol, Aleksie. I want you here for at least a full month, and you’ve three years of uncle duty to catch up on.

Your loving sister,

Shaylei.

Autumn’s End

July 2nd, 2014

Evening, Circadi 21 Augustus, In the Year Of Our Lord 362

I always took pleasure in knowing that summer had come to its end: the warmth would leech from the air and the colour from the leaves and I’d feel a certain sense of accomplishment. The middle months of the year were filled with sweat and dust and breathlessness. I was ill-suited to all those things at the best of times, but even more so when Abram’s new wife came to live with us. Shaylei’s dirt-stained hands and messy braids were poor contrasts to Ingrid’s colourful gowns and beribboned hair. It soon became obvious which of us my mother preferred. The summer sun made my own inadequacies painfully clear and I’d watch, in a mixture of jealousy and relief that I barely understood, as Ingrid swathed her body in drab, grey wool at Autumn’s End.

It was my father’s trading caravans that provided me the reprieve I’d desperately needed: the barren, snow-swathed plains of Vostock were places for fur mantles and frozen leathers; for cropped hair, wool leggings, and thick riding gloves. Ingrid could have my mother’s approval and the comforts of Orban Manor. I, however, basked in my father’s pride as I became more adept at judging the quality of sled hounds and hauling bundles of furs onto carts. I had thought that my parents gave up hope that my sunburned skin and wild hair would attract anyone other than a calloused tanner or miner; perhaps they thought that I’d at least make a good trader. I’d ignored my mother’s miserable expression as I rode out at my father’s side. Perhaps I’d even enjoyed it a little.

I’d felt differently about the people I love in those years: the summer meant desperation, the drive to escape, the determination to remain unbending to my mother’s expectations, the agitation at never meeting them. Though I can’t profess to like the warmer months any more than I did then, perhaps I can understand my mother’s feelings at wanting her only daughter near, at wanting to care for her.

Look, Arla, I say now, when my own little girl fusses to leave my side, Look at the pretty doll Papa brought you from Savir. Don’t you want to play with her? Or, Come and help me in the garden. See: there’s your favourite growing over there. Why don’t we press them and put them in you room? I cling more tightly to her, to Luken and Kir, when their father leaves on another mission. Their coffee-coloured curls, dark skin, and determined scowls remind me of my absent husband; they make the loneliness and sense of space that I’d once sought on the plains of Vostock more manageable. The thought of Arla someday riding out at his side is unbearable.

I can picture Argider in my mind when I close my eyes. His life, to me, is as delicate and fragile as spider webs or glowing embers. Crocodiles in sewers; a mage’s lightning bolt; a fire blast that propels him sickeningly and discards him, limp as a ragdoll. He may be bigger, sturdier, and stronger than I, as inexorable and unbending as stone, but I feel only vulnerable flesh when I touch him; I see only the chinks in his armour when he rides from the gates of de Roldan Manor. You married a Knight Lithmorran, he reminds me, We might not have many years together. I pray every day that he might return to me safely once more; I erase the memory of him slumped on the floor of the Town Hall ballroom, skin charred and black as coal, by working, always working, pushing myself until I’m too exhausted to think. I can banish my fears in his body when he’s near, in the safety and comfort of his presence. But I feel adrift when he’s gone: like an unknowing Ariadne waiting at the gates to the Labyrinth, with only a fragile thread to guide my lover home.

Perhaps it was for those same reasons that my mother kept me so close to her, when she saw my father’s train leave the courtyard at Casterlay. I now understand something of what she must have felt: the empty bed, the stifling loneliness, the cold fear. Perhaps my odd boyishness wasn’t a source of humiliation but a reminder of the husband she so dearly missed. Perhaps the insistent hands that braided my hair weren’t motivated by shame but the need for some distraction from the same despondency that I now feel. Amazingly, diary, I find that I am more my mother’s daughter than I once thought.

To Aanson le Orban, from Shaylei le Orban (3)

October 26th, 2013

Though some attempts have been made to keep this letter neat and clean in appearance, several different coloured marks intrude its surface: smudges of dark earth intermingle with what looks to be a smattering of porridge, coupled by a droplet of oil.

Late afternoon, Eldes 22 Novembris, In the Year of Our Lord 359

To the hand of sir Aanson le Orban of Casterlay, from Shaylei de Roldan of House le Orban, Lithmore Capitol.

My dearest father,

You’ve been found out, you know: Aleksie wrote me just the other week, telling me that you’ve been unwell again. When were you going to send me word yourself? You should be able to feel my displeasure with you all the way from the Capitol, sir, and I sincerely hope that you are thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Enclosed with this letter is another packet of herbs that you should keep for your trip south; but do send for me immediately in the future, please?

I’ve been thinking more than usual about family, these past months. It feels as if it’s been such a long time since I last saw you, and really, it makes me heartsore to think about it. It’s been almost three years, and so much has happened in the interim: marriage, Arlais, and another one on the way. But it isn’t just that: three years ago, I could never have imagined that seeking out an estranged branch of the family would have such a profound effect on my life. I feel as if even I’m capable of being a good wife; a good mother; a good housekeeper; a good businesswoman. I feel useful, and I feel as if I have a place. I can hardly wait until you and Mama are with us so that you can see it all for yourself– yes, even Mama. Now that I have my own daughter, and that I’ve seen so many different kinds of mothers coming through the Hospital, I think, perhaps, that I’d been too hard on her. It is possible for a mother to love her children, isn’t it– even if she isn’t too adept at showing it? When you arrive in the Capitol, Papa, I promise you: I shall turn a new page and put the past behind us. For you, and for her.

But I worry about Argider these days, especially when it comes to his feelings about his own family. We sometimes talk about his sister, or his brother– each time, it seems as if his mood darkens, and each time, I seem to struggle to pull him out of it. I wish he’d tell me why the idea of talking to me more openly about it pains him; I want to tell him that Arlais and I and our coming child are his family, and how much we love and admire him. What do you think I should do, Papa?

I look forward to your arrival, and will have the account books for the Offices available. We shall have to finalise the merger of the two branches of the le Orban Trading Group this Yule, I think, and then you and Mama can come to the Capitol permanently, if you’d like. Will you still stay in Orban Manor? Now that we aren’t living off King’s Concourse anymore, we have plenty of room for you.

Your loving daughter,

Shaylei

To Mother and Father le Orban, from Shaylei de Roldan

July 28th, 2013

The following letter has been written in a careful hand, though its lines have been scored a little unevenly. The result is a letter with a precise but slanted script with a smudge or two of ink in places. At the bottom of the page, beside the signature, is the Orban crest in red wax.

Early morning, Balasdes Januarius 4, In the Year of Our Lord 359

Dear Father, dear Mother:

I wanted to write you as soon as possible: the baby came just yesterday, and we are both healthy and well-cared for. It’s a girl; we called her Arlais, after Argider’s beloved sister. She has Argider’s dark hair and my eyes; her skin is not so dark, but her Farin heritage is plain. Argider’s awfully pleased with himself, and will hardly allow me the time to hold her, so smitten he is with her. I’ll send you more information when I can, but until then: know you have another granddaughter, and that we look forward to you visiting as soon as possible.

Your daughter,

Shaylei

Letters from Savir, to Lithmore Capitol

May 10th, 2013

Morning, Eldes 25 Februarius, In the Year of Our Lord 358

The following letter has been written on a plain, but clean sheet of thin parchment. Its missive marks are from the south of Lithmore, and bear the insignia of the Barony of Savir.

Addressed to my cousin, Baron Ariel le Orban, from Shaylei le Or de Roldan:

Dear Ariel-

I hope that you’re enjoying married life, and that the city is being kind to you in allowing you some time with your new wife. I write this missive from Savir, from the house of Theo and Esti ab Kasmith: Argider’s uncle and aunt, who we’re visiting for a few days before we continue south to Talfore. I miss you, and I miss everyone in the city; I can’t complain, though, with a new husband and the road beneath my feet. But I couldn’t resist writing, to inform you of what’s happened since I left.

We had exactly the kind of ceremony we wanted: we were married in an abbey in the south of the Capitol territory, with just us and one of my brothers, Aleksie le Orban, as a witness. Our journey south was… Cold. There is a great stretch between the Capitol and the northern tip of Lyndale that is all forest: did you know that? Thankfully, the canopy of the trees shielded us from the snow and the wind, and we had a great fire each night to keep us warm. Still, I was grateful– yes, grateful– to reach civilisation again, complete with its baths, soft beds, and good food. See what the luxuries of Orban Manor have done to me, cousin?

Savir is beautiful; I think I might happily live here some day, if ever we decide to leave the city. Argider’s aunt took me for a walk through the marketplace the other day, and I saw the most curious clothing: it was the strangest mixture of Farin and Lithmorran garb, but it was all beautiful. I bought a sheer cotton scarf– in the most brilliant shade of emerald– that has a border of tiny mirrors. It smelled of incense, as if it had come a long way. Argider says that it’s from Farin itself, and that the ladies there wear cotton, not silk, because it’s always so hot. What think you of that?

We leave for Talfore soon, but we’ll be here long enough for a reply, I think. Until I arrive in Talfore and can write you again, please be assured that I’m very happy.

I love you.

Shaylei

————————————————————————————————————————————

To the hand of Beronica Destral of the Lithmorran Capitol, from Shaylei de Roldan:

Dearest Beronica,

I hope that the messenger is able to find you with this missive, and that he finds you well. We had a letter from the Proconsul about a week ago, stating that you were currently under threat from some mage. Is it really so? If it is, then please, by any means, keep safe: leave the city if you have to until the threat has passed. A word as to your health would be greatly appreciated.

If you aren’t thoroughly cross with me for running off without a ceremony in the city, then I’m very glad– I hope that you noticed my change in name at the beginning of the letter? I’m very sorry that you weren’t there to witness Argider and I’s wedding, and I promise you that I have a good explanation for it. The death of his sister affected him much more than he’d care to admit, I think, and after a talk between us, we decided that perhaps a big, public wedding was too much a strain on him and his family during their mourning period. Because of this, we decided to– can you believe it? — run away and get married on our way south.

As I write this, in fact, I’m at the house of his uncle and aunt, Theo and Esti ab Kasmith, in the Barony of Savir. It’s much warmer here than it is in the Capitol, though I’m certain that you’d tease me for being too soft about the winters. Truth be told, I don’t mind the cold so much– but I’ll admit to liking the sun on my face and the novelty of not having to spend an hour picking at the frozen ties of my wraps every time I go indoors.

In case you -are- awfully angry with me, then I’ve bought you some gifts already that I hope will sweeten your disposition. You’ll have them as soon as I return to the city– see, do you see what I did there? Now you have to see me, and I promise you that once you see me, you’ll forget all about daisy chains and sombre ceremonies and uncomfortable wedding gowns.  For myself, I was married in a black cotton gown, with my cloak still on to protect myself from the biting cold; I promise you, though, that I couldn’t be happier if I was dressed as well as the Queen herself.

We’ll leave for Talfore soon– in about a week, I think– so if you want to send a reply, I’m certain that Argider’s aunt would send it on for me, if you happen to miss me in Savir. I miss you, and I miss the time we spend together. Please be safe.
Say hello to your husband for me.

Love,
Shaylei

Untitled Journal Entry

April 26th, 2013

Mid-evening, Circadi 30 Decembris. In the Year of Our Lord, 357

The following entry has been limited to a scant few lines. Unlike the rest of the journal, this one is written without any care for keeping the spacing even or straight. It reads:

Love without anxiety and without fear

is fire without flames and without warmth.

Day without sunlight, hive without honey,

summer without flower, winter without frost.

Twelve days.

To Beronica Destral, from Shaylei le Orban (Draft One)

April 9th, 2013

The following letter is clearly an initial draft, composed with very little attention paid to executing straight lines or even spacing. Sentences have been nervously scratched out in several places, and notes have been written in the margins, as well, detailing topics that should and shouldn’t be spoken about. There are several smudges of ink marring the carelessly pressed, dog-eared edges.

Early afternoon, Solisda Octobris 24, In the Year of Our Lord 357

To the hand of Beronica Wright Destral, from miss Shaylei le Orban of House le Orban:

Dear Beronica,

I hope that this missive finds you and your new husband in the best of health and highest spirits. It’s been many days since your wedding, and I wondered how you are, how you are finding married life, and when I might next see you. How was the rest of the reception? I’m very sorry that it was interrupted by business: Argider told me that there was a man who’d been causing trouble in the city recently (especially for the Reeves) who needed to be dealt with. They say that he’s cursed with some affliction of the mind. Do you suppose that it is a demon, as so many claim of the insane, or do you think that it’s some malady that’s turned his mind? I know so little about the health of the mind, but I wonder if you do.  Miss le Stepps surely knows, and might give us some guidance. What do you think?

As I write this, I’m sitting in the main living area of Argider’s house, looking out at the orchard that he charged me to take care of when he first moved here. It’s a beautiful place, though I can hardly appreciate it in the winter.  In the warmer weather, when I have a little time away from the Hospital, I stay out there all day with my dog and his puppy. Do you know about the puppy that we rescued from the River Bren? Some time, you shall have to meet him. His name is Benat. In the colder weather, however, I tend the herbs and pick the fruit from the trees as quickly as possible. Luckily, though I can spend most my time in the kitchen, turning the fare into things to eat. Maybe one day, if matters progress in the same way as yours and mister Destral’s have, I might show you the house and its garden.

To tell you the absolute truth, Beronica (a truth that I think I can tell only you): I like the orchard so much, as well, because it’s from here that I can hear Argider work.  Strangely, though I’m employed to see to the garden, I like the thought that we can sit, not so far apart from each other, and work side by side during the day. Is that what it means to love someone? Always wanting to be by their side, even if it means that you can only hear the sound of them? I wonder if he feels that way each time he eats something that I’ve cooked, or when he walks through the orchard to go to his work? He’s making some armour for the Reeves, did you know that? Six whole sets. From the clutter in his workshop, I think he’s producing even more custom orders. He always seems busy, but he does seem much better endowed in terms of money these days. Enough, I hope, that we might justify marrying and having enough to support children. If I look up through the window, through the orchard, I think I can almost see the swing of his hammer at the forge, and I can certainly hear the ring of steel. There’s some great amount of peace to it that I never thought possible. Perhaps if we do marry one day, I’ll ask for a proper stable, so that I can raise and train horses. He did say that I’m allowed to have some space to myself, but do you think he might allow it?

I’m afraid that I’ve babbled for too long, and hope that you might forgive me. I hope to hear soon how you are finding married life, either by letter or face-to-face, especially when it comes to you-know-what. -Did- it hurt? What does it feel like? Maybe I’ll bring around some of the produce I’ve harvested from the orchard, so that you and your husband might enjoy them?

With affection, your friend,

Shaylei le Orban

Courtship

March 23rd, 2013

Mid-evening, Arendas 17 Augustus, In the Year of Our Lord, 357

The stables smelled of all the things that I thought were good about the world: freshly-turned hay, still warmed from the midday winter sun; horse hair dampened with water from the chill streams of Casterlay and slick with sweat from a hard ride; Northern Road tea brewing in its blackened, cast-ion kettle on the hearth, nearly ready to warm fingers stiffened by ice-encrusted forest pathways and fields that were even colder for their exposure to the sky above. 

The stables were my place: here, I could be as unkempt and loud-mouthed as I wanted to, with no one to hear me but the stablehands and my father’s soldiers. That is, until the winter he came and quite destroyed my solitude…

A heavy-booted step carried the young man over the threshold of the Casterlay stables, the soles of his shoes disturbed the newly-laid layers of hay on the cobblestones beneath. At a first glance, only a few horses populated the area, lined in the centre stalls with their backs covered in woollen blankets, perhaps suggesting some period of rest. To the west of the cavernous room, warm light tumbled from a soot-blackened hearth, though the fire was not so great that it could penetrate the dark shadows that swathed the stables’ corners.

“Arien fuc– all the– damn you to the Abyss, you Lord-forsaken sack of no-good–“, a howl of indignation accompanied the man’s welcome into the stables, following a heavy curse as something– something– fell in a graceless heap into one of the far-off stalls.

He waited. He waited, until the stall’s door trundled open, carrying with it a disheveled young woman. But she was a sight he never expected to find, dressed in mismatched leather leggings and a vest that sat askew above a white linen shirt, its neck tugged open and its sleeves, already marred in dirt and creased from activity, rolled up to her elbows. Her heavy boots were caked in a thick mixture of mud and hay, as if she’d just come in from a ride; she had, he supposed idly, for her fingerless leather gloves were still dark in dust from the road. Her skin beneath was swathed in a tan from the sun, and the man– to his surprise– thought that what might otherwise be a fragile frame was tempered with musculature from hard work. Shaylei le Orban? His lips curved upwards with his gaze, which took in a blonde, hay-spattered braid that fell messily over one shoulder. It couldn’t be. This stablehand couldn’t possibly match the groomed gentry girl he’d seen in the artist’s rendering.

One grey eye, set within a face that slowly filled in an embarrassed blush, tilted up towards the young man. He was too well-dressed for the stables, Shaylei thought: travel-weary but finely-dressed in black suede and fine, white cotton, the man stood in the doorway staring at her, his features shadowed by the darkness that attends the night.

“Lose your way to the baths, did you?”, Shaylei asked of him rudely, and perhaps a little too harshly. One gloved hand came around to her lower back, rubbing on the inflamed muscles in pain. The man’s mouth quirked upwards at both corners, “I could say the same of you, miss le Orban– or is it ‘master le Orban’? “, he responded. After a pause, “I suppose you know who I am already: Aleksandr von Ivanov of Engvi–“.

“I know who you are”, Shaylei responded to him as she nudged the door closed with one foot; that gesture heralded a few steps in towards the stables proper, closer to the young man. He was, Shaylei had to admit, not so bad-looking: tall and slender, with straight black hair, green eyes, and the darker skin typical to Vandagans. Shifting uncomfortably on the hay-strewn floor, Shaylei reached up, pushing a lock of sweat-riddled hair from her eyes, “And I’m not very impressed by you”, she lied. After a pause, “And I don’t care that you’re nobility. But our parents want us to get along, I suppose; for whatever Lord-forsaken reason, I might have to marry you. I’m sure you don’t want to be here as little as I don’t want you here, so why don’t we make the most of it and ignore each other unless we’re forced together?”.

Lord Aleksandr von Ivanov of Engvist laughed in response to Shaylei, his shoulders lifting in an untroubled shrug, “But I’d rather not ignore you, miss le Orban”, he murmured through an appraising expression, “Now why don’t you get yourself to those baths before dinner? I want to see just how many liberties that artist took with your likeness. Oh, and by the way–“, he paused, “–you have hay down the front of your shirt”.

To Aanson le Orban, from Shaylei le Orban (2)

March 18th, 2013

The following letter has been written in a careful hand, though its lines have been scored a little unevenly. The result is a letter with a precise but slanted script with a smudge or two of ink in places. At the bottom of the page, beside the signature, is the Orban crest in red wax.

Early morning, Circadi Quintilus 29, In the Year of Our Lord 357

To the hand of sir Aanson le Orban of the Casterlay Orbans, from his daughter, miss Shaylei le Orban:

Dearest Father,

I send you both my greetings and apologies that my letter has, once more, been so long in coming. I beg you to forgive an errant daughter for disregarding her duty. Has your health improved since your last letter? Have you been taking the herbs that I sent for you? I send no herbs this time, but instead, a letter that I ask you put in Aleksie’s hand. Don’t bother reading it, either, Papa: I promise you that it contains no secrets about all the trouble I’ve been causing in the Capitol. Casterlay is not so far away, after all, and my mother has a talent for winnowing news of her children from even the most reticent traveller.

Before all else, I should thank you for sparing Costin from your guard; his summons to the Capitol, as it turns out, was most timely. I don’t wish to alarm you, Papa: cousin Orban had a recent conflict with the Tenebrae, who apparently threatened my safety if he didn’t do as he wished. Ariel refused to parlay with him, of course, but I think he’s been worried for my safety ever since. Costin will serve me well, though, and I think he should like the Capitol; you do remember that we were friends as children? Is this why you sent him in particular? Since our last letter, Costin has arrived safely in the city, and is being settled in Ariel’s house as we speak.

I don’t think that Lord Orban will ever come to terms with the Tenebrae, nor any other of his ilk: as I hear it, the Tenebrae is a murderer who thrives on the fear and pain of others. Did you hear about what happened to the Grand Magnate? It doesn’t bear repeating in a letter, but needless to say, I am taking some extra measures for my safety, and those of the people in Ariel’s house.

It isn’t all bad news, Papa, and here I confess that I write you with an ulterior motive. I might have mentioned the son of a wealthy gentry house from Farin that I met soon after arriving in the city and have since formed a friendship with: a mister Argider de Roldan. I write to you now with news that his family might be amenable to doing business with us, once we break into the southern markets, in return for our aid in the markets of Vandago. They would be an easy business to place, Papa: they trade in jewellery, and no doubt the ladies of the north would clamour for “exotic” adornments to mark themselves apart. I shall speak again to Ariel about taking a route through Savir land, and I’ve no doubt that House de Roldan might want to do business with him, as well: perhaps, between the three of us, we can make some tentative efforts to further our trade throughout the kingdom. The current patriarch of House de Roldan is a man who goes by the name of Harith de Roldan, Papa, but I shall ask you to wait for my word before you write him: I hear that he is a difficult man to get along with at times, and so, I will ask Argider how best to approach him on your behalf.

I know you have difficulties trusting in new business partners, Papa, especially ones that you haven’t met. Are you and Abram still planning a trip to Farin, however? Perhaps, if matters progressed by then, you might be able to meet the de Roldans, to test their quality for yourself before you tie your southern efforts too closely in with them.

There is, of course, one way in which you could ensure their trust, though I should admit before suggesting this that I’m not doing it in the spirit of altruism, but pure selfishness: I want your permission to court, Papa, and, perhaps, to marry when the time comes. I think you know who it is I mean: Argider de Roldan, should he ask me on either counts. Surely you want me to be happy, and surely it would please both yourself and mother to find some usefulness in my marrying, especially if it would give you a much-desired foothold into the southern Duchy. Would you consider it, Papa, or at least make some tentative inquiries to Harith when you write to him?

I’ll send you more information on how to proceed soon. Until then: I send you my love, and ask you to visit me soon, before Yule. My love to both Abram and Aleksie, and Mother too, I suppose.

Your loving daughter,

Shaylei

To Aanson le Orban, from Shaylei le Orban

February 26th, 2013

This letter has been penned in a careful, even hand, though several smudges of ink and a soot mar its edges. Regardless of its state, it has been folded and sealed carefully with the le Orban insignia.

Evening, Votumas Maius 10, In the Year of Our Lord, 357

To the hand of my dearest father, sir Aanson le Orban of Casterlay,

I send you my love, Father, and the much-belated news that I am well-settled in the Capitol of Lithmore. I’m sorry it took me so long to write, but matters here have been in such a state of flux that I’ve only now had the opportunity to put quill to paper. How are mother and Eilsie? Is Abram home from Vavard yet? Will you join him on the road for the beginning of the spring trading season? I beseech you, father: please take care if your chest is giving you trouble again, for I don’t fancy the idea of riding back to Casterlay on news that you’ve become ill again. To ward away any foolishness that you might indulge in on the Road over the next few months, I send with this letter a concoction of mine that you can brew into a tea. Please don’t persist in being so stubborn about it, and whatever you do, don’t take it with honey. I know it tastes horrible, but you’ll undo any good it might otherwise have if you add so much as a drop. If you fall ill again, I shall know that you’ve not listened to a word I said, and you shall feel my displeasure all the way from the Capitol– I promise you.

As expected, Father, I’ve met with your cousin, Ariel le Orban, and have come to know him a little. I think you ought write to him, especially if you and Abram are determined to bring your wares to the southern markets. I suppose you know that he is Baron of Savir, and he seems to relish the idea of working with us in some capacity; something about several areas of overlap? Following a route through Lithmore Capitol and down to Farin through Lyndale and Savir would take some time, but it would be lucrative if we could secure proper offices in the city for the purpose. On my free days, I’ve been riding through the city and its surrounding countryside, to see where we might have a clear space to base our operations; have you given any thought to Wilhelm? I suppose not: it’s too far out of the city, isn’t it? Still… if you are intending on bringing horses with you, then you need to be aware of two things: one, that you shall need somewhere to house and exercise them properly, and there is precious little space to be found in the city; and two, our cousin Orban’s betrothed, Lady dul Damassande, the Baroness of Lyndale, trades already in high-quality horses. Perhaps I’ll speak to Ariel about meeting his future wife, to discuss how I might help her in her work. What do you think, Father? Oh, but yes: I’m getting off-topic. Our trade. I’ll speak further on it to the Baron, and write you a letter right afterwards.

Yes, you did read that I call him by his given name, and before you protest, Father: it isn’t like that at all. Cousin Orban has kindly allowed me to stay with him as one of his family, but I assure you that I don’t have eyes for the Baron, nor him for me. Baroness le Orban? I can hear you laughing yourself to stitches all the way from Casterlay, and besides: a) he’s already betrothed, b) I have no interest whatever– now or in the future– of changing that fact, and c) I shall marry when I’m ready, and whoever I like. Do you understand, Mother? Yes, I know that you’re reading these words over Father’s shoulder, and no: I won’t reconsider. All my love, respect, and affection to you, Mother, but should it suit me to marry a farmer’s son or the Prince of Lithmore himself, I shall do just that. As for Ariel le Orban: he is the most loyal of cousins and friends, and I am glad to bring him some cheer and company.

Is Mother still reading, Father? If so, I’m afraid that she’s going to turn from furious to apoplectic with what I shall write next: no, I haven’t met Her Majesty yet, and beseech you to send Abram to the city if you wish to put our business before the Queen. I’ve taken on two jobs in the Capitol that I know you shall approve of, that suit me well: one, I am working at the Hospital with the Physician’s Guild, under the guidance of mistress Gwenith le Stepps; and two, I have taken on a support role with the Knights Lithmorran (make sure she isn’t reading), working in the stables and kennels as a trainer and medic for horses and dogs. Eventually, I hope to help them set up an infirmary, as well, for broken bones and bruises, and training more specifically as a field medic. Perhaps some day I shall journey south to Edessa and see what good I can do there. I’m happy in my work, Father, even moreso that I can choose any horse I like to ride out into the countryside– half-neglected horses who remain in their stalls all day because their masters are busy with training. No saddle, either: I am able to ride completely bareback, though I do as you instruct and wear a close hood, so that no one can see that I’m a woman while they have their exercise. Your daughter is grateful to have so indulgent a father as you, sir, and I shall never forget the kindness with which you treat me.

You shall want to know if I’ve made any friends, I suppose, and so I shall oblige you: a few. Apart from cousin Orban, I have made the acquaintance of Rothgar Astartes and his betrothed, Roesia ab Virture; recently, I’ve also befriended a woman of the South, Nayiv de Reymes, who is teaching me more of the culture and the language. She’s a physician for the Hospital and the Reeves, and I look forward to being better friends with her, Father: she is not such a tomboy as me, but I think she will understand my love of medicine. Most my time is spent with a young man from Montford, however: Argider de Roldan. He’s very nice, Father, and a proper Davite. I’m sure you’d like him. He eases my loneliness in the Capitol, and I never feel so comfortable as when I am in his company. I know what you shall say in response, and I assure you: I am now, as I ever was, mindful of the honour of my family, and will do nothing to disgrace myself or you and Mother. You shall hear no breath of scandal on my account, I swear it. Be happy for me, Father, but please don’t tell Mother or Abram’s wife. I shall want to make a life for myself here in the Capitol, as you requested of me, before Eilsie shuts me from our family home completely.

I’ve already kissed this letter once, which I send right to your cheek: the good one, and have embraced it twice. One for Mother, I suppose, though I know she will hate the thought of my ruining her clothes with muck from the stables. Thank you for the pretty dress for my birthday, Father. There is a Ball coming up in a few weeks’ time: maybe I shall wear it for that.

Your daughter,

Shaylei


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