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[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina could pick up on the tension between the two. Castien certainly was persistent. She wanted to attribute his affection for her to friendship, but with that look he gave her there really wasn’t much room to doubt that he was a suitor having his hopes crushed.
Rather than answer that look Sumina returned the pressure of Royland’s hand and looked to him,“Lavender and chamomile tonight then.” She leaned closer to kiss his cheek, in a way answering Castien, just not the answer he wanted. Solidifying her choice, that Royland was the one she wanted, he was the one who had her heart. “No hemlock, but I might add mint.” She added with a smile.
It was good that they were at least being civil with each other. Sumina looked at Castien, her hand still in Royland’s,”I’m glad you could make it. More help is always welcome.” She was giving him such a sweet, friendly smile. But that was all it was, friendly.
“Anything for you, [+darkgreen water lily].” It seemed impossible to really shake the dark mood while she was standing there with Royland like he belonged there next to her. Yet somehow, when she moved to put the flowers she had already picked in her basket and go to pick more, he felt some of that ugly weight laying over him like a shroud lift just seeing her beautiful and happy. She was genuinely enjoying her time out here.
“I’m still after some lavender and chamomile, and if it isn’t too much trouble I could really use some myrtle. If you don’t mind climbing.” She might have sent one of the others if Castien hadn’t arrived, but she could sense the tension and thought maybe it would be best to put some space between him and the others, if he didn’t mind.
It was impossible for Castien not to return her smile. She looked a little uncertain asking a favor, as if she thought he wouldn’t climb a tree for her. Or walk through fire, if she only asked. “Of course I can fetch some myrtle down for you. [+darkgreen Your smile leaves me light as a feather. I shan't need to climb, only float up if you would grace me with a little more.]”
The Elvish bit didn’t get him the kiss he might have wished for, but Sumina did laugh. Then leaned against Royland’s arm, to Castien’s annoyance,”Castien.” Playfully reproachful, mostly amused, all Castien could do was grin at her and try to ignore the king next to her. When he turned to the tree she asked,”How is Elas?”
After he pulled himself up onto the lowest branch Castien looked down at her,”He’s doing very well, thanks to you. Still a little nervous, though he tries to hide it. He doesn’t want to be far from us.” It was very lucky that things weren’t worse. That he was even here. Sumina was such a skilled healer, and had gotten to him right away. Castien pushed his hair from his face, that heavy feeling washed over him a little. Her question reminded him of the attack, dealing with the surviving attackers earlier, and then Lyrei had a small favor as he left. “Before I forget, Lyrei asked to see you. All three of us, actually. Once we’re done here.”
Sumina looked up, confused. Outwardly she didn’t show much of her apprehension, but she held Royland’s hand so much tighter,”Me? Why?”
Why indeed. Castien wondered that as well. What was Lyrei up to now? He was glad he would be there at least. After her part in ruining the little birthday celebration Castien wasn’t sure he trusted his old friend to be particularly kind to Sumina. Nor would he really trust Royland to look after her when faced with Lyrei. All he could offer his water lily was a shrug,”She didn’t explain to me.”
It would be rude to not go, so Sumina resolved herself to go with Royland and Castien to see the leader of Dalem after her herb gathering was done. Lyrei made Sumina uncomfortable. Until then, there were still herbs to gather. Sumina pulled Royland to sit with her to pick the flowers she was still after, though she didn’t exactly stay focused on the task. Soon enough Royland had more of her attention than the flowers. She had her arms around him, asking quietly,“What do you think Lyrei wants? Another errand? But then why me? She’s been quite adamant so far about keeping me in Dalem.”
[i She knows me so well.]
Royland recounted every moment where Sumina inserted herself into an uncomfortable situation, for his sake. The first time, he had been thinking about his response – unsure of how to handle the praise, after years of being criticized by the people of his own nation. The second, he hadn’t been able to get a word in. The third he had let her, because he had begun to notice. Sumina had a way about her, a protectiveness that she showed in the presence of those she felt for. A free hand would cross his body, she would smile, and they would turn and excuse themselves. For the most part, Alain and Sirius stayed silent in the background, dealing with their own share of bombardment. Royland noticed that Sumina extended no such privilege to them. A matter of proximity, perhaps?
Royland [i was] uncomfortable. Her efforts were not in vain. Everyone wanted to know why the king who had aided in the apprehension of Dalem’s recent attack, was not dealing with the prisoners of his own volition. For those explanations that Sumina could not protect him from, Royland would hand off the responsibility to Lyrei. After all, she was their leader, and for those that spilled Dalem blood, it should be their kin that enact revenge.
His men had followed behind them at a snail’s pace, staying silent unless spoken to. Tensions were still high, and the last thing Royland wanted to do was to spark another fight. Somewhere between Orym’s greeting, and when the elder and Sumina began to converse exclusively in Elvish, the king returned to Sirius and Alain who had been waiting outside. Alain wasted little time making his irritation known, voice low and teeth bared.
“Ever since we arrived in this wretched place, we’ve been at everyone’s mercy. That woman sends us across the continent, Castien sows discourse where ever he steps foot in. And look at us, Royland. Walter’s joined in on their side and even he isn’t here to discuss with us.” From the state of their fellow knight’s attitude, no one doubted that he would be unwilling to bring the matter to rest. Walter could be that way – content to live in the discourse. Enough to drive a man mad. He was a master at letting things fester. For an explosive man like Alain, who could never stifle his emotions, it caused that much more conflict on the rare occasions that they did disagree.
The nature of their relationship had always been maintained and cultivated through the course of their duties. Alain, Sirius and Walter were men of their king, his closest confidants, and they always acted with his best interests at heart. They always carried through with his will, but more than that – they were his closest confidants. Yet bonds that seemed unbreakable were strained under all of this pressure that had been presented to them. Royland cast his eyes at the ground, distressed. Would he have anyone to call friends at the end of all this?
“You shouldn’t speak so down on our comrade, Alain.” Sirius chimed in, incensed at the implications he was hearing. “Walter is our friend. Has he ever done us wrong?”
“And what of us? Have we done him wrong?” Alain retorted.
Royland cleared his throat as Sumina emerged from Oyrm’s shop. Alain clammed up, unwilling to further create tension where it wasn’t necessary. At least where Sumina was concerned. Between the occasional glances, Alain was uncharacteristically silent throughout the rest of their time spent together as a group.
“Oyrm is a good judge of strength.” Royland remarked, as Sumina explained to him on the way to the gates. “I have no such talents or abilities, however… I tend to agree. I think you’ll do just fine.” Regardless, he thought, putting a small kiss to her forehead – he would be here to tend to her.
The ordeal with the guards, while annoying, seemed almost a necessary evil. Sumina’s elated mood brought an undeniable cheerfulness to the men amongst her. As her shoulders fell, and he breathing slowed, so did theirs. Surrounded by the soothing scents of flowers and herbs, listening to her recounting of their scarcity in the home or otherwise, left the men feeling elated. That smile that had eluded them for so long, had returned to their precious Lady.
“You know,” Royland chuckled, taking in the scent of lavender to his nose, “I would drink your tea, even if it had hemlock in it.” Of course he would help her pick what she needed. Lavender, hemlock, or even poison ivy…
After the citizens singing his accolades throughout the marketplace, to say that Castien’s appearance and subsequent attitude put a damper on Royland’s mood would have been an understatement. Despite the anger and the vitriol, despite the hatred and the disdain in his rival’s face, the king lifted the sides of his mouth into a smile. “Lyrei certainly sends me on many journeys to strange lands… I do appreciate you taking care of Sumina… [i for me].” Somewhere, among the whispers of the trees, both inside and beyond the walls of Dalem there was this inherent understanding of Castien’s place in the threesome’s dynamic. There was no need to say it aloud, nor speak to it in the confines of his own mind. The grasp on Sumina’s delicate fingers, a grasp that had never ceased , tightened.
Castien’s gaze darkened, an unforgiving haze thrown in Royland’s direction. Was the king [i mocking] him? Attempting to shoehorn him into the box of nevermore? Of irrelevance. And with a smile on his face, no less. Irritating. Somewhat pleadingly, he made eye contact with water lily – his water lily – asking silently for to reproach her king. Tell him he’s wrong.
After a brief pause, Castien had no choice but to return Royland’s composed demeanor, strands of red hair drifting over his eyes. Water lily would say nothing. He knew.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina wound her arms around his neck. It wasn’t so much about each individual phrase. “It means…” She leaned in until her nose just touched his and closed her eyes,”I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I just… start talking.”
She pulled back a little to look at him and bit slightly at her lower lip. That [i was] tempting. It was all she wanted right now, to spend time alone with him. It would be more than she’d hoped for. But it wasn’t as simple as getting a few things from the market. If it was, she might have given in. Orym wanted to see her, and she needed to gather the herbs herself. Walter might have been able to gather what she needed, but Sirius and Alain would be hopeless.
“Another day.” Sumina answered quietly, taking his hand to leave the house. For today, at least he would be accompanying her on errands.
First there was the market. The pair drew a fair amount of attention in each shop, for various reasons. Some came to profusely thank one or both of them for their help, more often Sumina. Between her general work as a healer and her efforts during the attack she had quite a few people feeling indebted to her. Word had spread, as gossip does, like a wildfire about the state she was in after. A few had seen the king carry her home, and excitedly shared what they saw, about the visiting healer princess working until she collapsed to save people in their town.
And now when thanked she would nod and smile, insisting it was the least she could do. She was shy at the attention when it came, and uncomfortable when people called her princess. But when some tried to ask Royland about something, usually what would become of the captured attackers, she sensed his discomfort and stepped in to change the subject, or else pulled him away, and suddenly they were in a hurry and needed to go to the next place. She might not have been the most subtle about what she was doing, but Sumina didn’t want them to bother Royland.
Then it was time to see Orym. He had said something about an important next step after the funerals were done when she had seen him after the attack, so she was quite curious when she went to his paint shop.
He was waiting by the counter, arranging a small display of colorful paints meant for skin. When they approached he looked at Royland a long moment before nodding,”You must be the one Meriel mentioned. A pleasure meeting you, I am Orym.”
With introductions exchanged the old man went behind the counter and pulled out a vial for Sumina,”[+darkgreen I feel as though you’re ready.]”
“[+darkgreen What...? Oh. This is…]” She looked at the little vial he had given her, holding it to the light. The liquid inside was dark. She recognized it.
Orym handed her a folded paper next,”[+darkgreen How to make more. It will likely take you several attempts to do without the mixture. Your strength is growing. You proved that in the attack. It’s likely past time you learned to see with your familiar’s eyes. Conserve your strength during the day, and drink this in the evening when you finally bring Meriel out. Practice, then sleep. It will drain you, and may make you ill. I will see you tomorrow]”
Sumina nodded, holding both the vial and paper close,”[+darkgreen I will do as you say. Thank you.]”
He would expect to hear from her tomorrow, to see how she did. She wondered if she would fare better or worse than Vaeril. She could remember the days he had spent doing the same thing. It was pretty miserable and hard to watch. All she’d been able to do was sit with him after, offer something to drink, and let him rest. Then there was her limited experience with it, she hadn’t intended to but in exhaustion the line between what she saw and what Meriel did had blurred. She was thinking about that while they walked to the gate. This wasn’t going to be easy, but the fact that he felt she was ready was high praise. She explained a little to Royland on the way,”Orym thinks I’m ready to try to see through Meriel. Not everyone with a familiar can master it, but he seems to think I can.”
At the gate the guards briefly stopped them, and offered to escort ‘Princess Sumina’. She hated that title. It was starting to get more common to hear, and not just from the guards. She insisted she was fine today, she had Royland, Sirius, and Alain with her today. Assured she was safely accompanied they let them pass, and Sumina led them around where she gathered herbs. She started to gather what she needed, telling them all a little about why she was low on this or that herb. Now that she was away from the town she was more relaxed, her smile came more easily.
“What do you think of this in the tea tonight?” Sumina held some lavender up for Royland to smell,”I like it, it’s relaxing. Would you pick some with me?”
Castien saw them with the flowers. He felt so conflicted emotionally. His mood was heavy after helping Lyrei, and that fed into his irritation that the king had [i somehow] won water lily's good graces again. Most likely without being honest with her. Yet he didn’t want to spoil the day for her. To hurt her was unthinkable. So he put on a smile to approach the group,”I see you’ve got quite the entourage for the day. Usually it’s just me helping you out here.”
It was about all he could safely do. He glanced cooly at the king. Rub it in a little that this was usually [i his] place with her, and the king was just a temporary guest.
Royland sighed, smiling, but hiding disappointment in his gaze. “You’re always speaking in Elvish to me. What does it mean?” Carefully avoiding her questions and her attempts to move the conversation away from their embrace. Perhaps it didn’t matter [i what] she was saying, so long as she continued to whisper, hum, and purr lovingly, with soft lips continuing to draw him into her. Chores? Errands? The thought of it was enough to dampen his excitement. The prying stares and the questions he’d be asked, answers he’d be forced to give. Whereas in the here and now, they were insulated from it. Defiantly, he wrapped his hands around her waist – though it was hard to force himself to behave, “What say we give the men a list… send them off, instead, and… stay here... together.” He half jested. But Royland knew that Sumina, as tempted as she may be, would never allow it. But there was still that hopefulness filling his eyes as he eagerly awaited her response.
“Of course,” he’d started, simply to appease her unforgiving eyes, “I’ll follow you where ever.” Into hell, barefoot, even.
It wasn’t so much the thought of death, but the waiting that frightened him.
Arod watched the wolf’s eyes carefully, following the swish of its tail. He had noticed something. When his gaze wandered, the wolf would grin and bare his teeth. And he could see the muscles in his handler’s hands twitching furiously. Irritated that he would dare avert his gaze. After all the eyes he had rendered lifeless, the families he had broken, and the fear he had set upon Dalem. The lone bandit looked at the corpse of his brethren, Beron, long since dead on the ground. Again, from the corner of his eye, the wolf showed its fangs. But he could not help but look.
Those [i screams]. For Felor, for the Sirens, his long dead mother – anyone to save him. When it really came down to it, Beron had been a spineless coward. Felor had only sent him because he was light on his feet, silent in a crowd, absolutely deadly. Without a shred of courage in his blood, whatsoever. And he had died, regardless.
Arod dropped his head, and the wolf snapped, but received no such response.
[+darkgreen “You would [i dare] drop your head in our presence?”] Lyrei’s eyes glowed like wild, hot embers. Arod could see the death of her people in them, replaying endlessly in his head. He’d have thought to smile if he hadn’t been so weak. Thought to laugh if not so parched by the infrequent watering they had subjected him to. Lyrei grew silent, for which the prisoner was thankful for. There was nothing else to say. No words to be exchanged. He did not even want to utter his master’s name. Finally, he looked to Lyrei, exposing his neck as the wolf stepped forward, intent on goring him.
[+darkgreen “…Do your worst. I deserve it.”] Arod croaked.
[center [i Final Words]]
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] He seemed more troubled and confused than soothed by her words. Sumina didn’t want him to feel worse, to let him just wallow in guilt and self pity for something that couldn’t be changed now. He was far too harsh with himself. She just wanted him to spend the day with her, since there wasn’t anything that could be done about last night but today was still waiting.
The feel of his hands on her cheeks was so soothing. She couldn’t help but lean into that, look into those blue eyes searching her own. He was lost, trying to find something in her. What did he mean to her? She was saved from answering his question by him, his lips effectively silencing her. Her hands went to his chest, then to his shoulders, pulling in closer. Instead of words, there were kisses with increasing intensity. Could he tell how much he meant to her? How completely he could captivate her so easily. Make her forget everyone and everything but him when he held her, when he kissed her.
“Royland.” She felt a little lightheaded and breathless. “[+darkgreen Stay with me today.]” Elvish. She realized it after a dazed moment,”Stay with me.” With one hand her fingers trailed along and up his neck to his cheek. On the opposite side she pressed her lips lightly to his cheek, then another kiss lower at his jawline,”For errands. I’d like it. If you did.”
Royland was smiling, at first, calmly and gently. But, as she stroked his hair with her fingertips, telling him essentially that she forgave him, he couldn’t help but to let the sides of his mouth dip into a frown. An admirable man… His lips tensed into a harsh line. But even after a deep inhale, the expression wouldn’t leave his face. Sumina was hurting. And Royland could do nothing to assuage that heaviness in her heart. She had every right to be outwardly angry with him, to fully express her disappointment, and yet, she refrained. For his sake? For hers? For those around her?
“I don’t understand.” It had just, sort of slipped out, and he cast his eyes down to the floor immediately. Where was his admonishment? His heartbeat raced, and he clenched his free hand. That falsehood that had left his lips just moments earlier were making the walls feel like they were closing in on him, and fast. If she were at the least bit indignant with him, then he might be inclined to keep up the charade, but as it stood… He pondered, for just barely a second, on whether he should tell her the truth.
No. Royland shut his eyes and calmed himself. To backtrack on his word would only bring Sumina more pain, only serve to push her away from him. His hands reached up to her face, commandingly, thumbs stroking at the soft skin of her cheeks. For a moment, he studied her eyes. She’d been about to say something, and then she stopped herself. “What…? What do I mean to you?” It was like he couldn’t help himself when he was that close to her, but to push their lips together. Suddenly, it was clear to him, while they were connected like this. For her to express her distaste, dislike, disdain, or hatred for him would be the end of his own world as he knew it.
The timing of the kiss was poor, teetering on wildly inappropriate. He knew better than to try and distract her from what he’d done, and from what she had intended to spend her time doing today. Yet, here he was.
Sirius let out a sigh and gave Castien a polite nod on his way past. But on just the second step, he bumped into the back of Alain, who was frozen. Staring not at Castien, but at someone in front of him.
“My, my.” Lyrei cheerfully peered over the knight’s shoulders, into Castien’s eyes, and then to the door of the house. “I see knights, but where is your king? And your Princess?” Her smile quickly dissipated, seeing such a serious look on Alain and Castien’s faces. Of course everyone had noticed the king’s absence the night previous. It was only right that they should blame her. It had been her primary objective of the evening. The sneers she received, even from her loyal Castien, were scathing, to say the least. Had she been any lesser of a woman, she might have shrunk down to size. But as Alain approached her, Lyrei rose to the occasion, standing tall, that saccharine smile never wavering.
“Well, I see the snake has grown sick of her nest in the grass,” Alain said, simply walking past. That was enough to get Lyrei’s face to fall, and she turned to Castien for some modicum of defense. To her utter [i shock], he was shaking his head.
[+darkgreen “Even you?”] Lyrei’s words seemed to pass through Castien’s ears as he’d begun to walk past. [+darkgreen “You would turn your back on me?”] It had seemed to be enough to at least goad him into responding to her, what little an accusation it was.
[+darkgreen “I did not mean for you to use water lily’s birthday celebration to your own ends. Have you no shame?”] It pained Castien to think it, how crestfallen Sumina had been all last night, waiting for a man who would not come home until the early hours of the morning. No doubt singing niceties and shirking the truth of his whereabouts and his activities at the present moment.
Lyrei stepped in close, noticing that eyes were beginning to fly in their direction at Castien’s admissions. [+darkgreen “Do not play innocent. You want your water lily and I want her suitor. We both stood to gain. Are you against me now? Because your advances are for naught?”] Her tone was hushed, but sharp, like venom. And they stung. Between the two, there was a long bout of silence. Once her nerves had settled, Lyrei began pushing dark locks of hair from her face, eyeing the direction of the prisoner’s keep. Her mood had been spoiled. [+darkgreen “Relieve Vargas of his post and tell him to gather two other men. You and I shall meet them in the cells. It is time we take for what was taken from us.”]
“Right now?” Castien wanted to argue. But he was met with a gaze that could end his life if Lyrei so chose. All she needed to do was utter the words. His face flattened into a hard stare. “…As you wish.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Even growing up with four brothers, this was starting to wear on her. Royland’s appearance was a relief, but at the same time everything seemed to escalate just from his presence. He hadn’t even said anything yet. Sumina covered her mouth with one hand. She wasn’t terribly interested in getting between Castien and Alain. Or even Castien and Royland, despite her obviously being the main reason for the tension between them. She was stuck right in the middle of it, and didn’t want to snap at any of them.
Sumina looked to Sirius when she felt his hand on her shoulder, and made an affirmative hum. One maybe drowned out by Alain’s frustration. Her hand moved from her mouth, and sighed once Castien and Alain had left. “Thank you, Sirius.”
When she caught Royland’s eye, wondering if he would avoid her, she went to him, glad that he seemed ready to talk. Even if he looked exhausted. She only paused to put the little pastry on the table. His apology relaxed some of the tension she’d been holding in her shoulders. It made her feel better at least, though she did wonder a little about the wine. And how stubborn Lyrei must have been to take [i that] long to convince. Was that really all there was to it? Had Lyrei made some other attempt at becoming Queen? She pushed that from her mind for now.
“I understand.” Sumina brushed his hair back from his eyes, taking in how he looked. The sincere guilt, and the fact it had kept him from resting well. “You have responsibilities. And are not the sort of man to shirk those responsibilities. I really do… admire that about you.”
With her other hand she took his in hers,“The time never did seem quite right to say anything… Perhaps I shouldn’t have even tried to. Even so, I just… really did want you there.” She was still disappointed, despite her reassurances which were about as much trying to convince herself as him. It didn’t completely change how she felt, that she’d been so miserable waiting for him and hoping so long only to go to bed crying and unable to sleep well. She squeezed his hand a little tighter,”Because I… You… [+darkgreen You mean…]” Her cheeks felt warm. This wasn’t really the path she meant to go down, and she was too flustered to say it, the time hardly seemed right. To tell him that he meant everything to her, that she loved him. “A-anyway. Today are you… busy?”
[center [b ~*~*~]]
In the time since leaving Dalem there had been no progress in Sumina’s brother’s search. No fresh trace of their sister or the king. Their bickering had gotten worse as time dragged on and their concern for their sister’s well being grew with no way to locate her.
Finally after over a week of fruitless running around and Vaeril’s familiars turning up nothing Ayre had called off the search. They couldn’t let this drag on indefinitely, and their parents were apparently eager for their sons to return, judging from the messages relayed that Vaeril received.
They trudged back to the castle in low spirits, but were welcomed warmly. Still, despite the joy of having their sons back, the whole family couldn’t shake the shadow of Sumina’s absence. Especially knowing who she was with. A reward had been offered for her safe return, their parents had put that out while their sons looked, desperate to do something themselves to get their only daughter home. So far several girls had already been brought to the castle and turned away, bearing only a passing resemblance to the missing Princess. As if her own family wouldn’t be able to recognize her. But the temptation of the money made people blind with greed.
Ayre was able to quickly throw himself into work. As crown prince now, there were plenty of responsibilities. His parents were eager to establish him as someone in charge, ready to be king, and Ayre basked in it. He took command of the knights that were left, and started adding to their ranks. Mostly Elves, but really all Ayre was looking for were good men to serve. And with Elves serving, magic was incorporated. Aias was the second in command of the knights. Both were stern, but generally fair. Still, if one hoped for any leniency at all Ayre was the one to go to, or if you were human. Aias had less patience for human knights, and had a subtle but clear favoritism towards Elves and especially anyone using magic as he was. His view was that magic made them more powerful and useful than the humans, and that was important in a fighting force.
While things within the castle and the ranks of knights and newly hired Elvish staff seemed to be going well, outside the walls of the castle things were not going so smoothly. The people were uneasy, especially the humans. Human homes and businesses were often seized to be given to Elves, usually with shaky claims to the land at best. Some vague claim that they or an ancestor had the land before the exile, but very little evidence was needed before the humans were forced out. When the crown was petitioned to mediate disputes, if it was between an Elf and a human the human seldom won.
An owl glided silently over the castle, only to land on the wall next to their summoner. Vaeril was sitting there, looking out over what he could see of the town. He knew his brother was coming well before he got there, but waited for Aias to speak first.
“[+darkgreen You’ve been avoiding us.]”
“[+darkgreen I’ve been watching. The town is troubled. And still no word of Mina.]” Vaeril was sending his familiars out, hoping for some scrap of news about his sister. So far, not one reliable report of her being seen anywhere. It was like she’d vanished after that confrontation in the market. Vanished along with the king, who had also seemed to drop off the face of the earth. Rumors said he was dead, rumors none of them were eager to squash. But at the same time, they were looking for him. It led to a lot of confusion, and uncertainty about if he was really dead or not. Some even struck on something like the truth, claiming he’d fled with the missing Princess as his captive.
Aias leaned against the wall and looked out,”[+darkgreen The town will settle. We’ll find her. Mother and father need us a while longer. Then we’ll go out again, better prepared.]”
“[+darkgreen Tell that to Tarron. He’s ready to leave now. I have half a mind to go with him.]”
“[+darkgreen Tarron has been told. He’s staying put, while we finish helping. Mother and father need nobility they can rely on in our absence. Things were chaos while we were gone. They rely on us. And are at least as troubled by Mina being gone. Mother can’t focus on anything.]” Both Aias and Ayre were in agreement that they couldn't leave their mother and father again until things were a little more stable. They had returned to parents nearly ill with worry, and quite a few irritated co-conspirators eager for decisions and the power they had been promised. It made for quite a few long, tense days and many headaches. Like the one Aias was hoping to chase away with some rest now.
Vaeril recalled his owl back and climbed down from his perch,”[+darkgreen I know. Better if we find her soon. Every impostor girl they bring seems to break her heart all over again.]”
Rubbing his temple Aias sighed,”[+darkgreen I know. I’m considering taking that over myself and not telling her. Go rest. We expect you to send messages in the morning. The human nobles will be replaced, and the clans are still arguing over who gets which piece of land. Another long day.]”
Eventually, Royland thought, he would have to come to terms with the events of last night. Face Sumina, apologize, let her know that he hadn’t meant to miss something so important. But when he stuck his head out of the door, he locked eyes with Castien and sighed. Somehow the light bouncing off of that red hair of his, was making the ache in Royland’s head worse than he could have ever imagined.
“So he joins us.” Castien crossed his arms and stared quite menacingly. Still, Royland thought it best to pay him no mind. This wasn’t any place for his ego to show, and he certainly had no place governing Sumina over the outcome of an honest mistake. “[+darkgreen Water lily], do be careful with him. If you must.” The strain in Castien’s voice was obvious. He did not want her to go running into the arms of King Vondien, forgiving him, affording him any modicum of sympathy with that loving heart. No, she deserved better. His fingernails pressed into his flesh firmly, threatening to puncture.
“There you go, shooting your mouth off, again,” Alain snapped quietly. But Castien did nothing to return the courtesy of acknowledgement. Were all of the king’s men such ornery creatures, he wondered? Why, if looks could kill, he would venture to say that Alain wanted nothing more than to behead him where he stood.
Somewhat apologetically, Sirius placed a hand on Sumina’s shoulder just briefly enough to grab her attention, “You should see to him before we go.” How difficult it must be for her, caught in a squabble between men that had lasted hours, now. Sirius looked to Royland, but his attention couldn’t stay on the king for long. Alain had begun to raise his voice, but Castien’s eyes were still glued to Sumina’s figure. “You shouldn’t [i ignore] him. We helped save your people, don’t forget that. Lady Sumina saved your brother. And we are her entourage.” Sirius said.
Castien was none too accepting of the logic, but had to concede, and lifted his hands in the air. He would wait outside until Sumina was finished with her conversation. But he still would not give Alain the satisfaction of a response. Alain, now thoroughly angry, rubbed his temple, “I’ve got to get loose from the people in this village. I’ll be at the gates.” And off he went.
Royland, having leaned onto the doorframe while the arguments escalated, merely waited until Sumina caught his gaze, and then motioned her over to him. Sirius walked outside just then, shutting the door behind him, letting Sumina know that they would be waiting to accompany her to run those errands. And hopefully, make her day a bit brighter, depending on the content of the discussion she was to have with the king.
At first, it was difficult to find words. But instead of wracking his brain, Royland simply said what first came to mind. “I… Had I known then I would have turned Lyrei down altogether… It could have waited…” He had to wonder – did Lyrei know about Sumina’s plans after the funeral? Is that why she kept him? “She wanted to make a public execution of those men we caught… I had to talk her out of it. Get her to agree to a private quieting… It wasn’t easy…” She didn’t need to know about the rest.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina hadn’t slept particularly well that night. The fact that she was awake earlier than usual was a pretty good indication of poor sleep, which Walter at least had likely noticed by now. She made breakfast for them, but didn’t have much to say, especially given the topic. She just kept glancing toward the bedroom door when she thought none of them were paying attention to her. Sumina was hopelessly transparent and easy to read. Still miserable from yesterday, and yet rather than being furious with Royland she was more hurt and concerned.
She gave Alain a strained smile at Walter’s departure,”I do understand, I just…” Why had it taken so long? Surely with the funerals done and most of the attackers dead the business shouldn’t have kept him quite so long. Unless there was a problem. But he still hadn’t come out this morning. Sumina sighed. She wasn’t in the mood for much breakfast either, once she had the plate in front of her and the others had started arguing.
“Yesterday was hard. I… suppose I shouldn’t have even… Well, I’m going to do some laundry, and then I have some errands. I also need to gather some herbs. Would either of you… I understand if you’re busy, but if you’d like to come?” She gathered up what was left of her breakfast to take to the kitchen, which was most of it. She didn’t want to bother them, but she’d prefer them over Lyrei’s guards. She hesitated in the kitchen, looking at the two left at the table, then the bedroom again. Before she could decide anything, whether to say anything, there was a knock at the door.
Castien was there, holding a little cinnamon pastry,”Good morning, [+darkgreen water lily]. I thought I’d come see how you felt this morning.” He eyed the room behind her. Just those two. Had the king even apologized for ruining the evening?
The way her smile was, slightly forced, he would guess not. Or it wasn’t enough. “Ah, thank you. I… just had breakfast, so maybe later.”
“Of course.” After a pause he added, trying to hide his irritation,”[+darkgreen And has the king apologized for coming in late last night, smelling of wine?]”
Sumina looked surprised to hear that. She shook her head, her eyes drawn down to the floor. Castien felt angry all over again. It wasn’t enough to ruin her birthday, she was still upset today too. The king had been selfish, but Lyrei had played her part too. Lyrei [i knew] what the plan was for Sumina’s birthday. He was furious with them both for their part in hurting her.
Should she check on him or not? She found herself looking back to the bedroom again. She hated when he avoided her. It always made her feel worse, the waiting and wondering. Castien put his hand on her cheek, turning her to face him,”[+darkgreen Leave him then.]”
Her eyes met his, and she took a step back. He was looking at her so intensely with those lovely eyes. Silently urging her to come with him, and disappointed when she pulled away.
When Royland would finish one tale of revelry, he would get lost in the banter that followed. Lyrei had a quick wit, and with the wine flowing freely from the start, it was difficult to break away. Especially when she proved to be such an intensive listener.
“And you let them [i go]?” Lyrei’s laugh was smooth and sweet like honey. Infectious. She found joy in some of the nuances of Royland’s actions, or the actions of his men.
“We had no choice! What would you have done? It’s the middle of winter, and a man is outside, stark nude, relieving himself on the side of the castle. Sirens, I just felt so bad for him.” Royland laughed, head back as he recalled the memory. “His wife, Sirens bless her, thought her poor husband might be executed, and came to plead for his life. Said she’d never let him near mead again!”
“Cruel woman!” Lyrei held her stomach, unable to hold back any longer. She and Royland continued on for a couple of more moments, before she removed the tears from her eyes. Joyous, this time around. It was getting late, and she could see that the king was tired, although he was having a good time. Royland had started to abstain, by now, not wanting to stumble back inside the home at such an hour. Especially since he had told Sumina he would be back soon just after the funeral. He did feel bad, having taken as long as he did, but Lyrei needed his comfort. It was a comfort that no one else could understand, nor give. He couldn’t very well leave her without the guidance to move through this tragedy that had befallen her people. Sumina would understand.
The king said his goodbyes at the door, and one hand on his sword, started on his way back home for the night. It hadn’t seemed like much time had passed, but it was quite dark, wasn’t it? Assuming most would be asleep upon his arrival, he pushed open the door quietly, but neglected to close it when he saw Castien and Walter sitting at the table, both staring daggers at him. Walter said nothing but turned his nose up. Castien walked swiftly to the king’s position, eyeing him seriously. “Quite the welcome…” Royland muttered.
Castien’s nose wrinkled at the scent of wine on the king’s breath. “I [i do] hope what you discussed with Lyrei was important.” He hissed. How dare he. Ruining the night in his typical, selfish ways. Imbibing, and with another woman, no less.
Royland took in a sharp breath, standing tall, “I would think [i you] of all people would want to see those men who nearly killed Elas dealt with accordingly. Felor, as well.”
“And that took you [i all nigh--]” Castien had to stop himself before he raised his voice too loudly. A gentle sigh escaped him, and he brushed Royland’s shoulder roughly on his way out the door. “It was [+darkgreen water lily’s] birthday today, [i King Vondien].”
The sound of the door closing forced Royland to face Walter, now, brows drawn together. “…Her birthday?” Royland asked quietly. “…She never said anything about—“
“She didn’t want to be so vocal about it. Never told any of us until we’d come back home.” Walter still refused to look at Royland. To be fair, the king didn’t want to look anyone in the eye right now, anyway. “You know, she waited for you.”
“Lyrei buried nine of her people this morning. And I was likely the catalyst for that. I had to take responsibility. See it through to the end.”
“You should apologize.” Walter said, sporting an angry stare. He had said his piece, and there was nothing left to say. All three of Royland’s men had to share a room, that night, as Walter was far too irritated to spend any extended time with his friend. Alain and Sirius merely wanted to stay out of the middle of everything.
Royland spent the entire night brooding, and got some sleep, but not nearly enough. Morning came swiftly, and the headache he was suffering from was fierce. While the others spent the morning together, Royland was sitting at the edge of the bed, head in his hands. When he had first awoken, he was fully intent on apologizing to Sumina after Walter had left for Lady Abana’s. He would simply send Alain and Sirius off elsewhere. But the longer he sat, the less he felt that he’d be able to face her. Such an important day, and he’d missed it. He felt like an imbecile.
Alain played devil’s advocate all through breakfast to try and convince Walter to forgive Royland. “Sure, I agree he shouldn’t have done it. I’m not saying he was right,” Alain began, “but if it’s for the sake of Volaire, can we truly fault him?”
“I hate to agree with Alain, but we have no idea as to whether or not Volaire will still be standing when we return.” Sirius said.
“So we should leave destruction in our wake for the sake of duty? To a woman and a town to whom we have no allegiance to?” Walter snapped.
“We are only safe because we’re in these walls, Walter, it only makes sense—” But before Alain could finish, Walter stood to take his leave. Intent not to fight any longer. Alain sighed, glancing apologetically to Sumina. Try as he might to restore some sort of peace to the household, it seemed he had only made things worse.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina had put off opening the gift for a while. First with getting the meal all ready and simmering, and getting everyone tea. Then tidying the kitchen while things cooked. It was apparent after a little while that she was stalling, and what she was waiting for. She kept glancing to the door. She was delaying any actual birthday celebration until Royland arrived.
Castien finally convinced her to at least open the gift while they waited. Sumina unfolded the bit of pink fabric to reveal a hair pin. A simple pointed stick made of wood, and at the top translucent white crystals were smoothed and put together to make a water lily. Sumina looked at it, then Castien, definitely surprised by the gift. “You shouldn’t have. I…”
“It’s your birthday, [+darkgreen water lily]. I had some help picking it out, from everyone. Though I did override [+darkgreen little strawberry’s] wish to buy you the pink one.” He would leave out Lyrei’s involvement in it, but it was true enough his family had also helped him choose her gift.
His family’s involvement seemed to get her to stop protesting. She held it a little closer and felt the smoothed and pointed quartz crystals,”So Vanya wanted pink?”
Castien smiled,”She did. Elas sided with me though.” That got a smile from Sumina. Just what Castien had been hoping for.
“I’ll have to thank them tomorrow.” Her hair was pulled up and pinned in place with the gift. Castien was delighted to see her using it, and thought he had chosen well. It looked lovely on her, but he also thought just about anything would look stunning on her.
That little bit of cheer didn’t last very long. At first she made conversation with the others, asking when everyones birthdays were and what they liked to do to celebrate. But she was watching the door again, and then making more tea. Checking that the food didn’t burn. Castien went to help in the kitchen, where he tried to keep her mood a little lighter by keeping close and distracting her. But between the funerals and Royland’s absence Sumina was obviously not feeling very cheerful. Things steadily declined the longer she waited. It got late enough that she served dinner, since everyone was no doubt hungry. Some was set aside for Royland, since she was sure he might arrive any moment.
She didn’t have much of an appetite. She was still waiting for Royland. Out of all of them he was the one she wanted to see the most, to spend the evening with. And he was the one not there. The others ate, while she picked at her food. There was more tea, and the cake sat waiting as well.
It was getting too late to keep waiting. Late enough she had to finally give up and admit that he wasn’t going to be here. She hadn’t exactly asked, but he had said he wouldn’t be long. Sumina finally brought out the cake. Even Sirius lacked enthusiasm for the baked treat, given how the birthday girl didn’t seem that excited, her smile was fake and small,”Here, we might as well. Who’d like a slice?”
It was a fairly simple vanilla cake with honey and adorned with edible flowers. Sirius slowly raised a hand, and Sumina cut into the cake. The slice went on a plate, and with a forced smile she handed it to Sirius.
“Lady Sumina? Won’t you have the first slice?” Walter asked, concerned. She obviously wasn’t very happy.
She shook her head,”I…” Sumina could feel tears starting to well up. Castien, trying to help, reached for her hand, taking it in both of his.
“[+darkgreen Water lily.]” He wanted to be able to comfort her. It was her [i birthday], already marred by funerals and death.
But she pulled away from him, her hand out of his,”I don’t feel well.” Just an excuse, and a flimsy one at that. None of the men stopped her though as she retreated to her room. Castien rubbed his face with both hands and sighed.
“Well, that didn’t go well.” Even setting aside the fact that it had ruined her birthday, the king hadn’t come back promptly at all despite Sumina being upset at the funeral. “Should one of us… check on her?”
Walter frowned toward the bedroom, concerned but thinking,”I’m not sure we should.” If anyone should, it would be the one that wasn’t here.
Once shut inside her room the tears could come. For a little while she just leaned back against the door with her face in her hands and cried. She felt awful, for several reasons. The funeral still weighed on her. The little celebration that never quite happened. And finally she was feeling guilty for even wanting to celebrate in the first place now. That it was selfish of her to want that, given everything else happening.
In silence, Royland followed Lyrei back to her home, head lowered and his hand almost nervously fidgeting with the sword on his hip. Constantly sheathing and unsheathing it with his thumb. If nothing else, Lyrei certainly knew how to time her decisions. To decide Felor’s men’s fates when emotions were high would ensure that they died a slow and agonizing death. And he knew, much too well, that she would have it no other way. But, what did he want?
Odd, he thought, that she would say nothing as they stepped through the threshold. Lyrei went straight to a dark wood cabinet beside her chair at the table and pulled out that pungent wine she had been serving Royland across all of their meetings. Just the smell was enough to remind him of the last time he was here… He tried to put it out of his mind. Lyrei seemed to have no nefarious intentions, this time.
As she filled her cup, Royland noticed, that she was trembling terribly. Royland… felt for her. His expression was soft, and Lyrei regarded him with some skepticism, her lips accepting the wine as quickly as she could. He knew what he wanted, in that moment. Justice for Dalem.
“… I didn’t think you’d come.” Lyrei muttered darkly. “I thought you’d need a lot more convincing… I was sure you would ask for a day, or two… I’m sure… I’m sure Sumina was expecting you this evening.” Royland looked bewildered, and it briefly parted the clouds hanging over Lyrei’s head. So, he didn’t know.
“You looked like you wanted to talk. [i Really] talk.” Royland smiled gently. Lyrei had no choice to return it. He was right. She wanted to confide in him. To have him comfort her. Who else could better understand what she had just been through? The tears in her eyes were difficult to hold back. As she thought of the friendly faces marred with blood, their lifeless eyes, and their cold hands. All those lives lost. It’d have been a lot more had it not been for Sumina’s valiant efforts, and the swiftness of Royland and her men taking down the assassins.
“…Do you think me a terrible leader, now?” She wiped at her eyes, to no avail.
“I think you did more than anyone could have asked of you.” Another gulp of wine, and a drop had dribbled down the side of her mouth. Lyrei poured a cup for Royland and he accepted it, drinking it all at once. This wine tasted sweeter than the last time he’d had it. He held the cup out for another, and Lyrei obliged. Royland motioned her over to him and placed a hand on her head. Lyrei fell into his chest. And she sobbed.
Some time had passed, and the two had taken their seats at the table. Having abandoned their cups altogether, they passed the wine back and forth for sips directly from its container. And it was here, among intimate whispers, where their talks began.
“Executions are a delicate thing,” Royland began. “If you want to do it publicly, you risk further damage to your people’s morale. I don’t think that’s the best idea, here.” This was his third time explaining it to her. With each reason he had given, Lyrei’s stance softened, but it could not have been said to have swayed.
“It is all they deserve.” Lyrei said. Royland rolled his eyes. She had beaten this horse to death.
“What are people more likely to remember of the past few days? The funeral, or the brutal execution in the early morning hours after?” Royland asked seriously. Lyrei averted her gaze and took another sip of wine. “You’ll not win any favors that way. Send some men to the cellar and let them have their way. We maintain some normalcy, we have their heads on a platter, and we let it go.”
Lyrei had been shaking her head the entire time. “And what of Felor? How will he know where his place is?” Royland sighed. He… hadn’t thought that far ahead. There was a pause before he could answer, but Lyrei could anticipate talks of strained peace, a future of uncertainty. It was her greatest fear. “Felor needs to be dealt with.”
“I’m not so sure he does.” Lyrei was ready to raise arms, but Royland turned his palms towards her, wishing to elaborate. “Felor is old. His community is small, and won’t last much longer, led by bigotry and ignorance. This attack was his [i desperate] last chance. He just needs a little… gentle persuasion… to know where Dalem stands.”
Dalem’s greatest assets were probably its deadly archers. And Lyrei only need send one to back up one or two swordsmen from a distance, while her verbal warning was delivered to Felor. The archer would take equal lives for each of Dalem’s citizens in its attack. Felor had already sent his best men off, and six of them were dead. Those remaining were no more innocent than those that were sent to attack, having supported their brethren being essentially sent to their deaths. The result would be a death blow to Felor’s camp. Gentle persuasion.
Lyrei paused for a moment, watching Royland’s eyes carefully. When she was finished considering, she put the container of wine to his lips, encouraging him to drink. “You’ve convinced me.”
Royland hesitated, “… There’s a catch to all this, right?”
“If you’ll finish this drink with me, and tell me a tale of your own experiences… I’d be much obliged.” Lyrei looked at Royland with lonely eyes. Pleading him to stay a little longer. Offer her companionship for just a moment more… Without words, she could see that he was responding to her. It was this inherent understanding that they shared. It was isolating at the top. It wasn’t every day that kings and other leaders could commiserate with one another.
“… Alright.” Royland sighed. “Just for a bit, I suppose.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina leaned into Royland when she felt his arm around her. She had started to cry, but was trying not to draw attention. This wasn’t about her. So she wiped her tears and watched while Royland and the others drew their swords.
One last rite before they left as well. So many graves. Sumina stood silently while each grave was marked by the knights, one by one. She was ready to go with Royland back to the house, and see if she could enjoy what was left of her birthday. Just a quiet evening with everyone.
But Lyrei. Sumina didn’t really like the way Lyrei insisted on Royland coming with her. Her king. Was that the most important thing to her? His title. She chewed on the inside of her lip a little. It did sound like important things needed to be decided, and Royland should attend to them. “Of course. I’ll see you soon.”
He said he wouldn’t be long. There would still be time for her birthday, a meal and cake. Sumina left with Walter, Sirius, and Alain back to the house. Once there she started in the kitchen, working to cook. She recruited the men to help a little, cutting things for her, and finally mentioned that today was her birthday,”I would appreciate the help with dinner. Since it’s, um… my birthday today.”
They were all surprised to hear that, and pitched in eagerly. Sirius asked right away,”We’d be glad to! Why didn’t you mention it earlier? We could have done more. Even with…”
Sumina shook her head,”I don’t want a big party today. Just dinner. I asked Castien to bring a cake from his family.”
Sirius looked eager at the mention of cake. Walter nodded, helping to cut vegetables,”We’ll have a nice dinner then. What are you making?”
“Meat and vegetables in milk sauce.” The four of them had the meal started quickly, and Castien arrived before long with a cake and a gift wrapped in pink cloth. The cake was set aside, and Castien wondered when she’d like her gift, and Sumina told him she didn’t really need any gifts.
Castien silently noted that Royland was not there. He didn’t bring it up, but he could easily guess where the king was if he wasn’t here with Sumina for her birthday. Lyrei had gotten hold of him, at least for the moment. Was she right that she could pull him away from water lily?
Royland was watching Lyrei out of the corner of his eye. It was she that had insisted that the knights flank her as a sign of respect during the funeral. And it was only natural that Sumina should stay close by, but still, she seemed disgruntled about it. Royland couldn’t possibly hope to understand Dalem’s leader, and he held Sumina’s hand just a bit tighter, recalling her words to him when the massacre had ended. When he healed, he was meant to go see her. To discuss the fates of their prisoners kept beneath the town in a dark, damp cellar. Determine what counterattack would be launched against Felor. Though the mood was somber because of the dead that lay before him, Royland carried a serious, brooding expression on his face. Walter, standing to his rear, nudged him gently when he saw his head beginning to droop – a telltale sign that the king was getting lost in his own thoughts. When Royland looked back at him, Walter motioned his head towards Sumina.
Letting go of her hand, the king’s arm wrapped around her shoulders as the final prayer was made. The final coin laid in the hands of the ninth victim. And among the sobs of heartbroken family, they were covered with Earth. The ceremony was over. As the citizens of Dalem began to disperse, the knights and their king drew their swords. Lyrei looked on, her curiosity piqued.
Sirius seemed to notice her silent questions right away. Lyrei seemed to pout, probably hoping that Royland would have caught the look on her face, instead, but he proceeded with his explanation. “In Volaire, when our people pass, we mark the Earth with swords to let those spirits lost in the ether that these souls are under our protection.” Try as he might to say it flatly, Sirius held a smile on his face. “Of every soldier, past, present, and future. We treat all comrades just the same. From Volaire, to Madej, to Arouet…”
“[i This Vondien] not discriminate.” Royland marked the ground almost systematically. It was quite simple, really. The highest ranking among them would make the initial mark, and each subordinate would add a line beneath it. Over every individual grave, they went until they were done. Their swords were put away. But before Royland could return to Sumina, Lyrei had affectionately placed a hand on his chest, keeping him from stepping forward.
Her smile was sweet, almost unnerving. It forced nervous glances in Sumina’s direction as Lyrei made her demands clear. “Come, my king.” Lyrei batted her lashes and Royland had to stop himself from wincing. ‘My king,’ and in front of Sumina, no less. “I believe we have much to discuss. Felor, and his men. I want them dealt with [i today].” Those lavender eyes darkened. Begrudgingly, Royland glanced between Sumina and his men, and then turned on his heels with a sheepish smile.
“She’s right… Don’t worry, I won’t be long.” Not if he could help it.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] The kisses and caresses were so intimate, it almost felt like a dream in her over tired head. A soft hum against his mouth instead of words she couldn’t articulate in her sleepy haze, though it might not have been only sleep clouding her mind. That she loved him, she wanted to share in more moments like this. Sumina wanted him to know, but she was so tired.
In the morning the night before seemed even more like a dream, but she knew it hadn’t been. Royland was healed, though she didn’t see him much that day, or the next. She had been left to sleep until later in the morning, nearly noon if she had to guess, and even then was tired and slow to get moving.
After cleaning herself up she went out to help where and how she could, since the others were already up and gone by the time she woke. Some more minor injuries still needed tending, and she turned no one away when they approached her. Then there was the gratitude, which she wasn’t sure how to deal with. People thanking her for lives saved, their own or someone they knew. She was quite humble about it, insisting it was the least she could do. But those who had seen her, stumbling from person to person exhausted, or had spied her being carried back to her home by the king, insisted she had gone above and beyond.
One of the things she felt she had to do pretty early on was check on Elas. The entire family was quite overjoyed to see her, and she found herself tightly embraced by every member of the family. It was almost too much, but she was glad to see that the little boy seemed fine and healthy, and back to at least some of his usual energy. Not quite, because the whole town was still reeling from the attack. No one seemed back to normal really, that was too much to expect. There was a lot to deal with, between the storm and the murderous fake merchants.
Apparently some of the decisions had already been made while Sumina had slept. Castien had been helping Lyrei with some of it, while keeping a close eye on his family. The attack was something that troubled Castien greatly, Sumina could tell. She understood some of that, since Elas had been wounded in the attack. He loved and was protective of his family.
“The funerals will be the day after tomorrow. All the same day.” Castien explained. He was watching Elas, who was trying to help clean up outside the bakery. Picking up smaller twigs and bits of debris. It was clear enough what was on his mind. How uncomfortably close it had been to Elas being included in that number.
The number, which Sumina still didn’t know. “How many?” She asked quietly. How many had she been too late for, or not had the strength to find?
Castien didn’t answer right away. He gave some thought to it, wanting to comfort her. He could see the guilt there already, in the way her brows drew together, waiting to hear. “It would be many more without you, [+darkgreen water lily]. Nine. Only nine of our people passed yesterday. And how many did you return to their families?”
It was her turn to pause then, thinking back to yesterday. It was a bit of a blur. After the first few, between the healing and Meriel she’d had a hard time thinking, focusing. If Meriel hadn’t kept pushing her, guiding her, she was sure she wouldn’t have gone as far as she did. “I… honestly can’t recall. Several.”
Castien nodded,”I suspect more than you think. Will you be at the funeral? Do you need anything for it? I know you must be short on clothes still…” It wasn’t like any of them really expected a funeral at this point, or at any. And compared to most women he knew Sumina had a pretty limited wardrobe. Lyrei had provided a little, but she had arrived in Dalem with scarcely more than the clothes on her back. Even now, when he knew she was earning at least something from her work as a healer she seemed reluctant to spend much on herself.
“Oh. I… I’m not sure. Day after tomorrow…” Should she even mention? But she didn’t want to do [i nothing] for her birthday, even if she didn’t expect much of a party. And certainly not on the same day they had to bury nine people. “That would… be my birthday too. Funny how that sort of… happened.” She was pulling her hair over her shoulder, watching Elas sort of absentmindedly.
Castien raised his eyebrows,”Then we should celebrate still.”
“No, no no. I don’t want a party. It seems sort of… inappropriate. But maybe… a little cake? Just a small something.” She had never not celebrated. Even when things were a little tough, or busy, her brothers had never let her birthday pass without some acknowledgement.
“Whatever you want, [+darkgreen water lily]. I’ll see about a cake. What flavor would you like?”
[center [b ~*~*~]]
“And their punishment?” Castien was one among many eager for a punishment to be decided on for the surviving attackers. Justice or revenge, the lines blurred, but it was Lyrei’s call to make.
“To be decided. We’re trying to get information, but they are proving stubborn. First we should lay the dead to rest.” It would buy her a little more time to mull things over, and get information.
“Indeed. The funerals are on her birthday. Fate really can be unkind. But the two do both celebrate life, in their own way. Almost poetic...” If it weren’t for the fact that the juxtaposition obviously upset Sumina, he might have found it more interesting. Castien would have preferred the gardens for their little talks, but Lyrei was busy with too much for a leisurely stroll. And in a bit of a mood, from what Castien could tell. The storm would have been simple enough to deal with, but this attack was quite stressful. Dalem was considered so safe, so for an attack to happen within their walls was unthinkable until it happened. It had to weigh on her heavily. That she hadn’t seen it coming.
“Her birthday?” Lyrei shoved a paper away and took another sip from her half empty wine glass. It was evening and she was [i trying] to relax, but obviously frustrated. There was plenty to irritate her. “Is she throwing a party?”
Castien crossed his arms, rolling his eyes. It was clear from Lyrei’s tone that she wasn’t very fond of Sumina,”Hardly. Just a little cake after the funerals, a small thing. Just the king, his knights, and yours truly. She doesn’t want a big fuss, just a few she’s close to.”
“Oh? Then I take it from you getting an invitation to such an intimate affair that your attempts to woo her are going well?” That would be something, and make her own task easier. The girl was becoming quite the talk of the town, and with ears everywhere Lyrei was getting tired of hearing about the king’s pretty elf. What a lovely couple they were, and how sweet she was. Naive more like it.
Castien frowned deeply. “No. Not at all. I can’t. She loves him.” Lyrei tapped the table with her fingers. That sour look was easy enough for him to interpret. She didn’t want him to give up. He threw his hands up in irritation,”She doesn’t want me. She’s made that [i perfectly] clear. She’ll accept my friendship, but nothing more. [+darkgreen You’ll have no luck splitting the lovebirds. They are inseparable.]”
Lyrei nearly spilled her cup the way she put it down and pushed it away before coming around to Castien,”I can and I will. With or without you distracting her. He’ll want me, I know it. He’s tempted.”
Her ambition seemed unstoppable to Castien. Besides, was the selfish king really going to put Sumina before all others? Treasure her the way he ought to? Castien looked away from Lyrei’s glare,”As you say. But for her birthday, I did want to ask you. I was thinking of what to get her, and wanted your opinion.”
Probably best to change the subject a little, and make his retreat for the evening. Their argument would get nowhere. He had his doubts, both about Lyrei’s ability to lure the king, and about Royland being able to resist. His only wish to see Sumina spared from harm and heartbreak, but she was right there, the main obstacle in Lyrei’s way. Not a good place to be, and he could not seem to move her.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
There had been so much to do in two days. Sumina barely saw anyone but a steady stream of people to help. Grace had come by personally to loan her a dress for the funeral the evening before, having been told she probably needed one by Castien. Elas had come to see Sumina, to the point where it was hard to pry him away from her when his mother left.
The day of the funerals was beautiful. Sunny, with a clear blue sky. No one was in a mood to enjoy it. Sumina still hadn’t mentioned her birthday to anyone aside from Castien and his family. There just hadn’t been time, and the morning of the funeral seemed inappropriate for timing. She would just mention afterwards. Grace’s old, slightly faded black dress was too large on her. Sumina had to use a few tricks to fold, tuck, and tie things so the skirt didn’t drag and the sleeves didn’t cover her hands most of the time, and a belt took care of most of the rest.
Sumina didn’t say much, but she was upset and somber. Between her mood and the dark clothing she looked exceptionally pale, almost like one of the dead herself. She kept close to Royland when she could, seeking what comfort she could holding his hand. The whole town had gathered to lay the nine to rest. There was an abundance of flowers because of the season, and that showed at the funeral. The eight families were all obvious, and condolences were offered while everyone gathered. Sumina had a hard time with that, the guilt leaving her feeling ill. These were the ones she hadn’t saved, the ones that would be buried rather than returned to their families. It didn’t help that Lyrei was keeping their little group close. To keep Royland visible, but she realized she couldn’t exactly snub Sumina. Not after what she’d done to save those she had, it would cause more of a stir than just letting her be. Instead Lyrei contented herself with watching the healer’s obvious discomfort.
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