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[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] What did she want? She knew what Meriel would say, and honestly Meriel wouldn’t be far off the mark, though maybe a little extreme. He didn’t need to come in, all caution and modesty to the wind and kiss her. Some bit of warmth or affection at least though. What had happened during those negotiations to leave him so tense and withdrawn? Sumina hurried through her bath while she wondered.
Maybe she could ask him. If she could get a moment to. Find out what was bothering him. But why pull back from her? What she’d been hoping would be a happy, pleasant evening with them all back together right before a festival she loved had more or less been spoiled. She still had some hope of maybe salvaging some of the evening.
That hope crumbled away when she heard Alain as she slipped back inside, chilled from the evening air. The implications of his words were tumbling in her head. Asking Royland that. But obviously not talking about [i her], it was someone else. And Walter, trying to quiet him, but too late. She shut the door harder than she’d meant to.
Like a startled deer she stared at them wide eyed for a moment. Her eyes were starting to sting. And then like a deer, without a word she hurried off, around the edges of the room, to go to her bedroom. She had half opened her mouth first, to try and excuse herself, say good night, something, but words had utterly failed her and she just retreated to the room, and quickly shut the door behind her.
Hurt, exhausted, and like she’d been stupid. Stupid for thinking he’d come back, happy to see her. Hold her. Help her enjoy the festival, and forget that this year she [i wasn’t] with her family. That she likely never would be again. She had talked with Walter about the festival almost non-stop when she saw him ever since Castien had reminded her of it. Her excitement, and reminiscing a little about how she had celebrated with her brothers. She hadn’t come right out and said it to him, but she obviously missed them. She had been so set and focused on having a nice time with Walter, Sirius, Alain, and in particular Royland not only because she did cherish them and want to share the festival with them, but because she couldn’t spend the day with her family like before. She wanted to celebrate with them, those she was coming to think of as her new family.
Royland had met Sumina’s gift with a smile enough, but as his friends could tell, it was one with no warmth behind it. Only obligation. A paltry attempt to not make her feel so terribly while he tried to sort himself out. As her fingers brushed his hair, he’d nearly flinched, but steeled himself, so as not to draw any more suspicion to himself. Sumina’s words were cutting deep, but he knew his actions were doing the same to her. Nevertheless, he said his thanks, but was remarkably quiet during dinner, declining to answer most questions with a straight answer. Hoping the food might calm his nerves, he ate dinner quite quickly, and was just deciding whether or not to eat his pastry as Sumina left out the door to bathe.
Féile an Ghrá was about gift giving to those you cared about… Royland felt a knot in his stomach but dug his fork into the pastry anyhow. The tartness of the berries made his mouth tense for a second, before being soothed by the light sweetness of the honey. It was good. But no one would ever have known just by watching his face.
“Lyrei must have taken a lot out of you.” Alain said. He waved a hand in front of Royland’s face, just to make sure that his friend was paying attention. Quite unexpectedly, Royland coughed, nearly choking on the bite in his mouth that he had yet to swallow.
“No, she—We just had a frank discussion. I was tense, so she offered some wine.” Royland cleared his throat. “It was quite a strong mix… You know how it can make me.”
Alain’s eyes seemed to light up immediately. “Ah, that’s right. You are a bit of a sleeping drunk, aren’t you?” He said.
Walter, sensing some tension from Royland, narrowed his eyes. “Be honest, lad, what happened in there? You came in looking like you’d seen a sea serpent!”
Royland seemed to sink into his chair for a moment. No, he couldn’t possibly let anyone know. There was simply no good that could come of him divulging just how far Lyrei would go to become his queen. Perhaps it had been the wine, anyhow. It would do little for her reputation among them under the circumstances that it was an honest mistake, or a lapse in judgement. Maybe he was a bit too inviting with her, a bit too… defensive of her. A bit dramatic in his retelling of his exchange with Felor. Had he provoked her? Enticed her in some way?
“Lyrei is… adamant… about becoming queen. So adamant, in fact, that she was willing to…” Royland could feel his cheeks grow hot. He couldn’t finish that sentence.
Walter and Alain’s eyes were wide with disbelief. Alain leaned forward onto the table and Walter jumped to his feet, nearly sending his chair clattering to the floor behind him.
“You didn’t!” Walter hissed quietly.
“Of course not!” Royland glared. “What do you take me for? She never even undressed.” But if she had, could he be so honest with them? He wasn’t sure. What little he had seen of Lyrei’s personality, was matched by her appearance. No doubt she had many admirers within her own community. As vibrant and commanding as her presence was, or as shapely as the curves of her body showed through her clothes. He wondered what kind of fighter she was. How many men wanted the pleasure of being beside her in bed. How many women envied her.
His inner thighs burned as he remembered her touch. He thought he might become aroused a second time, but the thought of her wasn’t enough for him. Royland closed his eyes. Tried to imagine Sumina. But her white hair turned stark black, and those pale eyes read lavender. Was this some sort of curse? An Elven magic cast upon him to make her do her bidding? He shook his head.
Watching it all unfold, Alain slowly frowned, folding his arms. “What a shame, I wasn’t born the crown prince…” He sighed.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “It’s not a competition, Alain. She’s just a woman, same as any other. Nothing special about her.”
Alain scoffed, “Have you seen the size of her bosom! She’s massive! Tell all, Royland. How big were they?”
“Shhh!” Walter snapped, “Lady Sumina might be back from her bath! She might hear y--!” A sound from outside made the men all turn, horrified.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina peeked over to Royland at the door with a bright smile. “Ah, just in time for dinner. Welcome back.”
She was nearly finished, a few more things to bring to the table, or put aside to be cleaned in the kitchen. Watching Royland as she finished up, she could tell something was just a little off. Had the trip been so stressful? It sort of sounded that way, from how he and Sirius were talking about it.
“I don’t mind. It’s just nice to have everyone here. One more thing.” Maybe this would cheer Royland up? But either way, she was too eager to hold out any longer. She’d wanted to give them to them all the moment she’d finished. From her hiding spot in the back of the pantry she pulled out four of the five little pouches and brought them to the table.
“So, I told you how for Féile an Ghrá we give gifts to people we care about, right? It’s not much but I made something for each of you. And the pastries for after dinner.” She looked at Sirius with a smile. He certainly had a sweet tooth. He got his pouch first,”Just a tea for each of you. So for Sirius a sweet, floral tea. It’s relaxing, and there’s a little sugar in there too. It should go nicely with sweets, but also on its own.”
She went around the table, setting a pouch in front of each of them,”Alain, this one is good for headaches, and any sort of ache really.” She gave his ear a teasing little tug,”You might just need it. Walter, I made yours with some gold’s root, and a few other things, to help with exhaustion and give some energy.”
When she got to Royland she set the pouch down and brushed his hair back, hoping to get him to look at her, maybe smile,”And Royland. I made yours to help relax and sleep. Best taken before bed. It has lavender, valerian, and mint, among other things.”
Her gift didn’t have the desired effect on Royland. Rather than cheer him up as she’d hoped, he seemed to withdraw. Her smile started to drop a little before she caught it and forced it to stay in place. The others seemed pleased though, and hadn’t noticed her sink in mood.
“Lady Sumina, thank you. This is all so thoughtful.” Walter started, and the others followed expressing their own gratitude.
Sumina took her seat, her head lowered, bashful at the thanks, but also a little disappointed,”It’s not much really.”
“But we haven’t got you anything.” Sirius looked up from smelling his tea.
Walter was tugging at the strings of his pouch,”The festival technically isn’t until tomorrow. There’s still time.”
Sumina shook her head,”Oh stop, you don’t need to. But after dinner we should all bathe. We shouldn’t be filthy for Féile an Ghrá. And we’ll have an early morning. Or at least I will. I promised Grace and Vanya I’d help do Vanya’s hair. And they’ve said they’re going to help dress me too, but they start early because of the bakery.”
Through dinner Sumina didn’t have a huge appetite. She kept glancing at Royland in what she hoped was a subtle way, and answered any questions about the upcoming festival the others had. Deciding an order for the baths, which while she objected all the men were unified in insisting whatever order they went in, she would go first as the lady of the group. Her enthusiasm had waned a little by the time she started to hand out the pastries she had made for them all. Berries and cream with honey glazed on top, and the dough flaky and soft,”The dough is really tricky to make. Grace taught me how. It’s a lot of folding and rolling, and has to be done far away from the ovens. I hope you all like them.”
Her own pastry sat untouched in front of her while she sat, her elbows on the table and chin resting on her laced together fingers. What had she expected when he returned, really? Perhaps not to sweep her off her feet, kiss her in front of everyone. But given the day before he’d left. Those kisses. The way he had held her against the wall. Even now thinking about it made her feel warm, inside and out. Maybe not a greeting like [i that], but certainly not to pull back again.
“Lady Sumina? Aren’t you going to eat yours?”
Sirius asking her made her sit up straighter and she put on a smile, not wanting any of them to worry,”Oh. Yes. Just perhaps after I bathe. I suppose I’ll go and… then you all have your turns before it gets too late. You must all be tired. I know I am.”
Despite it being the middle of the day, Lyrei’s front room was ominously dark. She tossed a lock of dark hair over her shoulders, motioning for Royland to sit down next to her. She poured him, and herself, a glass of the strongest wine Royland had ever thought he’d smelled. Best to drink this sparingly, if he were to make it back to Sumina at a reasonable hour. Arms across his chest, Royland sighed, shaking his head. Lyrei smiled.
“Come, now. It couldn’t have been so bad.” Lyrei said. She licked an errant drop of wine from her lips.
“You never told me that you had proposed to assimilate that small community, Lyrei.” Royland said.
“And?” Lyrei responded, her gaze sharpening. Such a serious tone would not be conducive to her evening plans. As if to say, “You’re too wound up,” she pushed Royland’s glass of wine closer to him.
“There is certain information that I must be made privy to if I’m to be your emissary. If I’m to mend relations, or create new ones, you need to be candid with me from now on.” Royland sighed, harshly rubbing his temple. Finally, he took a sip of the drink she’d offered him, admittedly, calming his nerves some.
“Noted.” Lyrei responded flatly. “What were Felor’s terms, then? Since he doesn’t wish to join our little community.”
“Quite simply, he needs hands to tend to, and harvest spices. Says his people are older, weaker.” Royland said.
“And? What of his prejudices?” Lyrei laughed. Royland raised a brow. So, she knew. And yet, she still sent a group of humans to do her bidding. What did she think she was going to accomplish? Lyrei continued, “I suppose you talked him out of it.”
Royland shook his head, much to Lyrei’s visible disappointment. “On the contrary. I told him to send word by raven if he should accept aid. I couldn’t stand to be in his presence any longer after how he referred to your people.” Another sip of wine. A warm, fuzzy feeling crawled up his neck and to the top of his head, eliciting a relaxed sigh from his lips. He noticed Lyrei’s glass was now halfway gone. And she’d moved closer to him, chin in hand, with her elbow at the table. Expectant lavender, and harsh blue, battling to see what the other might be thinking.
“What did he say of us?” Lyrei asked softly, genuinely. Her hand had crept up to his knee, hesitant at first. Royland hadn’t seemed to notice.
“He called you a mutt.” Royland said, quite matter-of-factly. He closed his eyes. The silence from Lyrei was deafening. It was at this point he noticed her hand on his knee. She’d gripped his skin with her fingers, just slightly, upon hearing the words. “Everything that came from his mouth was a disservice to you. To your people, what you’ve built. It matters not if you are half or full elf, to me. Your achievements are—… What he said… He had no right to say.” This time, the sip of wine was longer, more deliberate. Trying to erase the events of the previous days from his mind, to quell the anger he felt stirring inside him. It was that type of discrimination that had driven him so far away from the policies of his father.
With Royland distracted, somewhat, Lyrei had decided to close the distance between them. Her delicate fingers snuck up to the inside of his thigh, just as soon as his glass was sat down. When he stared at her in minor disbelief, a smile hitched at the side of her mouth. She leaned in for a kiss, but stopped just short, noting the blush the king’s face before she finally spoke.
Breathily, she said, “You are too kind. So kind to me.” She could hear him gulp, unable to speak, and she giggled quietly before placing a kiss on his neck. She caught her bottom lip in her teeth, making eye contact with Royland as she moved her hand to his belt. “My king, I… I wish to show you my kindness, as well.” Lyrei felt him shift around beneath her hand. A twinkle flickered in her eye.
As quickly as she had thought she’d caught him, Royland jumped to his feet, breathing heavily, face red with embarrassment. Confusion, lust, the guilt – “We’re done, then, right?” Lyrei smiled innocently and nodded. Royland returned the gesture, frantically, and took his leave. Thankful for the night air in his face, soothing his furiously pounding heart. He hunched over the ground, feeling winded, trying to catch his breath. Trying to reconcile what he had almost [i done] back there. It took more than a few moments for him to regain his composure. Even longer for him to walk without giving away his unfortunate condition…
It seemed as though when he entered through the door, Sumina had just finished up cooking. Royland’s heart sank to the pit of his stomach. Not once during Lyrei’s attempt on him had he even [i thought] about her. At the sight of their friend at the doorway, the men at the table offered waves and smiles. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Everyone except for Royland. If it hadn’t been for the wine, his face might have appeared pale. No one seemed to notice that he was distraught as he took a seat at the table, pointing a pensive glance down at his hands.
“How did she take the news?” Sirius asked, watching Sumina from the corner of his eyes as he took a innocent peek at the pastries she’d brought home.
“It seemed… fine.” Royland said, simply.
“Well, did you mention the tax?” Sirius asked.
Royland immediately placed his head in his hands, groaning quietly, frustratedly. “It slipped my mind.” Defeated, he let out a sigh. “I’ll give her the news, if Felor agrees.” Only time would tell.
“Let’s not discuss business at the table, you all. Lady Sumina’s been eagerly awaiting our reunion.” Walter said, catching Royland’s eyes with a smile, which faded after Royland looked in the opposite direction.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] “[+darkgreen I can’t believe you lost the trail. What kind of tracker are you?]” Tarron was insufferable. While Vaeril had remained stoic against the remarks, and simply kept trying at first, his patience was wearing thin.
“[+darkgreen There are other familiars. It interferes. Not that [i you] would understand.]” After the market it had taken time to get rid of that powder which interfered with his familiars. He’d needed a bath and every bit of clothing either replaced or thoroughly cleaned. Tarron had taken the rest of the day to recover from whatever had knocked him out, and even the next day was sluggish and grumpy, complaining of a headache.
The trail was dead cold by the time they could even start to look. They spent days gathering what information they could about the groups stay in the town, concerned about their sisters' condition. They learned she had spent days in the market, in good spirits but tired. About the inn, the smith, any scrap of information they could gather. And then set out. Just when Vaeril had thought he was getting close, Tanyl was attacked and the trail went cold again like that.
They had a vague direction though, and that was the way they more or less went. Combing the area slowed them, checking various ways the group may have split off. Nothing panned out. But an area where Tanyl, or any familiar Vaeril sent, was thwarted by others got his attention, and Vaeril insisted on checking the blind spot.
It made perfect sense that if they could hide anywhere, it would be a huge area like that, impenetrable to Vaeril’s magical tracking. So the brothers made their way to Dalem, blind and increasingly frustrated.
“[+darkgreen You’re right, I don’t understand. You’re supposed to be such a good tracker, but you can’t find that little group. They’re mostly [i humans]. It shouldn’t be so hard.]” Tarron sneered.
Sensing Vaeril was about to turn and fight, Ayre stepped in,”[+darkgreen Tarron, do shut up. Do you really doubt that Vaeril is doing his best? We all want Mina back safely.]”
Aias pinched the bridge of his nose,”[+darkgreen She likely doesn’t fully realize the danger she’s in. We must find her again quickly. And if Vaeril thinks this blind spot is our best bet, then I trust his judgement.]”
Ayre and Aias managed to keep Vaeril and Tarron from each others throats, at least to the gates of Dalem. They got no farther than the gates. There waiting were not only guards, but a lovely woman. “[+darkgreen May I help you? I am the humble leader of this little settlement, Lyrei Valralei. And you are?]”
She smiled pleasantly. Of course she already knew who her guests were, and their reason for being there. She did not intend to allow them in her town. They were not to get any chance to cause trouble, kill the King she had such plans for, or take the little pawn she still wondered how best to use.
“[+darkgreen Ayre Liaren, and my brothers Aias, Vaeril, and Tarron. Princes of Volaire. We come seeking our sister, Princess Sumina, who has been taken by the former King. Have any such persons come seeking shelter here? He is accompanied by three other men. All traitors.]”
Lyrei tapped her chin, pretending to think,”[+darkgreen Oh my. Such large and important matters for my little town. I really can’t help you.]” It would spoil her own plans. She couldn’t very well let that happen. She put her fingers together and gave them a sickeningly sweet smile,”[+darkgreen The best I can offer is that South of here I’ve heard of a group traveling from some of our scouts. Now, good day, and may you enjoy your hunt.]”
Enjoy, but not necessarily find success.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
The Valralei gardens had always been beautiful, as long as Castien could remember. Lyrei’s mother had a passion for the garden, and now Lyrei paid others to keep it the way her mother left it. Castien was always free to enjoy it then and now. It was a beautiful subject to paint, and always a quiet place to think.
“You seem troubled.” In the light of dusk Lyrei approached Castien, where he was sitting at the edge of the fountain, on the stonework that made the raised edges. He was looking out at the water where lilies floated in the slow moving edges. Of course he was drawn to the water lilies this evening.
“And you doubtless know the reasons already.” Castien paused and rubbed his forehead,”I don’t know what I… [+darkgreen She drives me mad.]”
“Your water lily?” Lyrei smiled and took a seat next to him,”My my, I never thought I’d see you in such agony over a woman. I hear she was less than impressed by your attempt to fight for her attention. And against the King? Never one for modesty. Go right for the biggest, grandest thing. You even bring her to your family. That’s unusual for you. You must really be smitten with this girl.”
“[+darkgreen Yes. If you wish to phrase it all that way.]” Castien traced his fingers along the tips of the petals of the lily nearest to him,”[+darkgreen I find her utterly captivating.] I intend to take her to the festival. I assume you have your own plans this year?”
Lyrei smiled, in a way that reminded Castien of a cat with a bird. He loved his old friend dearly, but she was always up to [i something]. Trades, spying, secrets, and now this. Her grandest plan yet. Still, he trusted her absolutely. She had never wronged him or his family. Their parents had been close. “Oh yes. We may not get to dance together this year, my friend. But I suspect you won’t mind. In fact, I worry you won’t miss me at all. You’ll forget about me.”
Castien rolled his eyes at the dramatic way she put her hand to her chest. “[+darkgreen As if I’m the one leaving you in this situation.] You’re ridiculous. You’ll be spending the day with King Vondien then?”
“Naturally.” Lyrei confirmed.
“Hm. Good, then. Then may we both have a wonderful time. I’ll bring you your cakes, as usual.”
“The usual, and I asked your mother for a special one. You have your [+darkgreen Princess water lily] to impress, and I have my King.”
[center [b ~*~*~]]
With most of the men gone Sumina was left with little else besides chores to do, or so she thought. The house was cleaned, she went to see her teacher, and then to the shops. Her teacher, Orym, had questioned her more, about how it felt to have Meriel around. How tired she was after that, how she slept, and asked her more about what had happened on the road. He was still mostly figuring her out, and after giving her and Meriel more instructions sent them on their way for the day, to come back before supper. Until then she went to the shops. Sumina loved seeing the town, how people mingled. She couldn’t always tell who was an elf, who was a human, or who was mixed, and she loved that. Because it didn’t seem to matter to anyone else either. The town was a safe haven for them all.
Sumina wasn’t able to just pass by the Inakas bakery. As soon as she was seen, little Elas was there, tugging on her hand to come in and begging to play with Meriel. Meriel was happy to indulge, and so Sumina found herself in the bakery with the Inakas family.
They were all very sweet to her, and Sumina enjoyed watching Grace and Lorsan bake their bread and pastries. Eventually though Grace called her over and had her try making a few things, which Sumina enjoyed. She learned from Grace that while Castien was sweet and always loved helping out, he didn’t have as much talent for baking as his father, so usually didn’t. He was much better at the front of the shop, selling things, which was where he was.
Sumina helped in the bakery for a while before she insisted she really needed to go gather herbs. Grace insisted on her taking a couple of pastries, the two younger ones pleaded to come along, and Castien invited himself as well, so it was with all three Inakas siblings she went to pick herbs and whatever else she could with Meriel. Mostly the little ones played, while Castien at least tried to be helpful, while also peppering in compliments and flowers, an apology for yesterday that she quickly accepted and hoped to put the whole thing behind her, and ended with an invitation to Féile an Ghrá. That piqued her interest. That was right, the festival was coming up.
While she initially tried to turn him down, he insisted she should at least allow him and his family to provide a nice dress and do her hair with his sister, and with some wheedling from the two younger ones who [i also] begged to be allowed to put flowers on Meriel for the festival, and Vanya pleading for Sumina to do her hair, she finally agreed to that. Then again to Orym before dinner.
That evening Sumina and Walter were the only ones at the table. Walter told her how he had spent the day helping Abana, and Sumina shared about the bakery, gave him one of the berry pastries she’d made and been given, and told him about Féile an Ghrá coming up.
He seemed curious, and most of the rest of the evening she spent explaining about the festival, full of flowers, dancing, music, games, and a time to give little gifts of flowers and food to anyone you loved, from lovers to family and friends.
The next couple of days passed similarly. She spent time with her teacher, who after that first day started demanding more of her time, having her and Meriel running exercises where Meriel went some distance, or performed various bits of simple magic. Gathered herbs, which on the second day led to her discovering rather frustratingly that Lyrei had left orders that Sumina was not to be allowed to leave town without some sort of escort. A guard, or Castien would do. Irritatingly the guards had simply explained Lyrei was only looking out for the ‘Princess’s safety’, and the guards referred to her as Princess. Castien’s flirting comments were preferred to [i that], so he was most often with her while she foraged outside the town, some of her gathered things went into the stock of the house and some she made into teas that she set aside in little pouches and hid away for Féile an Ghrá, her gifts for her friends. She also made regular appearances at the Inakas bakery, to the delight of the entire family, who all had taken a liking to her. Castien had gotten measurements from her, but otherwise was silent about this dress he had made noises about when he had first told her of the festival.
On the actual day before the festival the whole town was preparing, and Sumina was right there with them. Most of her time was at the bakery, with Grace and Lorsan explaining Féile an Ghrá was extra busy for them, because the tiny pastries and treats they made were popular gifts for the festival, especially the ones that incorporated flowers. She learned to bake all sorts of things while she helped, and when she took a break from that she was busy making decorations.
By the time she excused herself to go make dinner for her and Walter she was already tired, but found new energy when she heard Lyrei’s emissaries were back. That meant Royland and the others. She hurried to the house where she found Alain and Sirius, and pulled them both into a hug after setting down the basket of things, which included a few pastries for after dinner,”Oh, welcome back! You must be exhausted. I’ll get started on dinner. I’m so glad you’re all back in time for Féile an Ghrá. Walter should be back soon, he’s probably helping with decorations. Where is Royland?”
Alain answered, taking a seat at the table,”Giving a report on how things went to Lyrei.”
“Ah, of course.” That made sense. Lyrei would need to know how negotiations went. Decide what to do next. Sumina had clearly been hard at work. There was still flour on her face and arms, and the apron hadn’t managed to catch every bit of flour or sweet fillings that had spilled. She still went right to the kitchen, sweat making her hair cling around her face. Well, when he got back he would be hungry, and better if dinner was at least well on its way.
Without even having to properly turn around she gave a warning, catching Sirius poking in her basket out of the corner of her eye,”After dinner, Sirius. Then yes, you may have one.”
Sirius looked a little sheepish and retreated from the basket,”Ah… what is Féile an Ghrá?” His pronunciation wasn’t perfect, but Sumina didn’t comment on it and instead started to explain a bit about the festival while she cooked.
[center Diplomatic Matters (1)]
The weather was still. The sun, shining, birds singing, the soft crunch of the leaves beneath the boots of men on a mission. This would be their third day. Walking, waiting, watching, listening. For the sound of feet in pursuit that seemed inevitable. The screech of a familiar, or the gust of wind from an arrow rushing past their ears and through their hair. The men waited for a lot of things, but, none of them ever came.
Relief was short-lived, and it was quickly overtaken by a sense of apprehension as they approached the small community. The gates were nowhere as elaborate as Dalem, and Royland thought it might be due to their difference in size. A modest fence, spiked wood lined up side by side to make up the border, but there were no guards, no organized patrols, and certainly no fanfare to mark their arrival.
Alone, stood the elder, flanked by two young Elves with bows half-drawn, arrowheads pointed towards the ground. Ready to aim and fire at a moment’s notice. They didn’t trust them. Royland stepped forward, bowing ahead of the elder himself, giving his escorts a nod to acknowledge their presence at least. An old man, whose answer determined where they might be laying their head that night. Now wasn’t that a familiar scene.
“Royland Vondien. On behalf of Lyrei Valralei, of Dalem.” Royland gestured behind him. “My knights. Alain, and Sirius.”
“Curious… Why would she send you here? Humans in a strange land, imposing upon Elvish business.” Though his eyes were sunken and the skin around them wrinkled, the knights could sense his hostility, teetering on the end of acceptance. He regarded them for a moment longer, before turning his back. “Come. It would seem we have matters to discuss.”
The camp itself was unassuming. A majority of the homes were simply large tented structures, held up with sturdy wooden stakes. Simple fabric colored the inside to the owner’s fancy, while animal furs draped across the top provided suitable insulation from their harsh winters in the mountain range. Meals were made over the communal campfire; baths were had in a small creek running off the snow from the peak not far off. The elder and his attendants led Royland, Alain, and Sirius to, by far, the smallest tent, in the farthest corner of the settlement. It was cramped. Beyond cramped for the six men within its confines, but just large enough to stand with a hunch. It was here, amongst the acrid smoke of the elder’s pipe, though the chilly spring night, that negotiations began.
“Lyrei told me that relations were amicable up until some time ago.” Royland began, motioning for the negotiation papers in Sirius’ bag. The old man – Felor, he eventually introduced himself as – leaned in closely, examining the terms of Lyrei’s pre-written agreement. Her demands were simple enough, but as was discussed during the travel, there were no such benefits for the other settlement involved.
“This is the price of dealing with Lyrei, that witch.” Felor chuckled, removing a pipe made of deer antler from a hare skin pouch. Carefully, he stuffed tobacco leaves into the opening, and lit it. Slowly, the tent began to fill with thick, acrid smoke. “She’ll bleed you like a fresh doe until you’ve nothing left to offer her. Season after season we increase the volume of spices, and yet she refuses to budge in payments.” Nervous glances about the tent.
“Then, what is the volume of trade?” Sirius frowned.
“Enough that she’ll need to send cattle, if her demands increase any further.” Felor had a wry smile pulling at the side of his lips. He passed the pipe to one of his guards, who in turn passed it over to Alain, whom he was sitting beside. A wordless exchange between onlookers who had no stake in this discussion. “The previous emissary proposed assimilation. That was just before the last winter.”
“It’s the first we’re hearing of it.” Sirius looked to Royland, but the king didn’t have an answer for him. “Regardless, that’s preposterous. And not what we’re here to propose.”
Felor remained skeptical, lifting his brow as the pipe had made its way back into his possession. He puffed for a moment, staring Sirius in the eye. “You’re here on behalf of Dalem, and you don’t wish to…” Suddenly, his gaze drifted to Royland, looking stern and resolute, but most of all, ready to disagree. “… Well, then. What are your terms?”
Sirius used his fingers to push the agreement draft closer to Felor’s face, who leaned with interest, at first. In the same moment, he shook his head. “Are you lads lost? We’re not so sophisticated out here, surrounded by the wilderness and reliant on our own devices.” Felor had seen humans attempt to peddle money to solve their issues before, but the manner of this seemed desperate.
“Then, what would you wish to have in return?” Sirius asked.
Felor didn’t miss a beat. “We are an aging community. Harvesting spices grows more difficult when the hands stiffen, and the fingers don’t move as nimbly as they should.” He flexed his hands slowly for effect. “Surely, Lyrei can find it in her heart to send some of her healthier stock to us. Not forever. Just, to harvest what they require for their needs.”
“But I suppose you’ll still be wanting some payment.” Royland said, and Felor nodded slowly.
“Nothing beyond what you’ve already proposed. What was it? A modest tax on the export of our goods, upon receipt?” Felor said.
“Yes, but in the case of sending in workers, we might ask for leniency.” Sirius said.
“I would think that allowing half-elves into my gates would suffice enough for good will.” Felor shook his head.
“Your gates?” Alain asked. “Do you mean those two large sticks crossed at the top that we walked through?”
“It is precisely that insolence that we would reluctantly ask for her workers! Humans have so little respect for our kind that they would defile our people, bear children with them!” Felor grumbled. The knights all wore sneers on their faces, scrutinizing the old man once his tirade was finished. Ailing eyes fell on Royland, the emissary. “She should be happy we’re taking instruction from that mutt in the first place. She is at our mercy.”
“Human or Elf, full-blood, half-blooded – So long as I serve as emissary, you will address and treat my employer with respect.” Royland said. His eyes were hard, and Felor knew, that it was not the eyes of a man who went back on his word. “Or as much as you might be able to muster.”
“How dare you!” Felor growled.
“Where have all your young men gone? Likely to Dalem. Or the villages south of the mountain. To lie with human and half-elf women. Driven off by your narrowminded way of life. You’ll not preserve your community with an attitude such as that.” Royland crossed his arms, “I would advise you not to be so stubborn. Dalem has women with nimble fingers, as you wished. It should matter not whether your help is half-elf, or even an elf at all.”
“You speak true enough words, and yet you still fail to understand. The death of Elves will come at the hands of humans if we allow such rampant breeding.” Felor said.
“The death of Elves will come at the hands of those who do not embrace change. Those who do not embrace the personal freedoms of those they claim to protect are only doomed to fall. Alain, Sirius… we’re done here.”
“Wait.” Felor’s gaze remained as steeled as it had when his prejudice was revealed.
“You can either let your community die, and let your settlement go to the victor of who comes to murder the rest of you, or you can show some humility to save your people. We shall await the raven with your decision.” Royland said. He stood, and exited the tent, met with the crisp bite of the early morning air. Negotiations had gone on far too long and were far more stressful than he could have imagined. He waited for Alain and Sirius to trail behind him. Without escorts, they found themselves in the unwelcoming dark of the landscape and began their trek back to Dalem. Hearts heavy and with a bitter taste on their tongues.
Driven by their disgust of Felor’s attitude, the men found that their journey was a few hours short of the three days they had afforded themselves. They were greeted at the gates by Lyrei, who quickly sent Alain and Sirius back to rest. Royland, however, would need to follow her back to her own home. No opportunity to check in on Sumina, no answers when he inquired as to the bustle of the citizens, who seemed to be busy creating or hanging decorations from the trees. Royland shut the door behind him after stepping past the threshold, staring somberly at Lyrei’s back.
[i The Lion’s Den]
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] The chaos of the house made her smile. Perhaps not the quiet evening she had hoped for, she still enjoyed the liveliness of the men. It did draw Royland away from the kitchen though.
Partway through getting dinner started Sumina remembered the laundry and rushed out to get it. Meriel followed, taking the quiet moment to tease Sumina little,[i [+darkgreen Wait until the chaos is your own children. How many will you two have?]]
“Meriel, that’s not… nothing has been decided.” Sumina put the clothespins away in the shed and picked the laundry basket back up. They were getting carried away again, without really deciding what to do about the more complicated aspects. But this wasn’t really the time to talk, was it? There was too much happening.
[i [+darkgreen Yet if he asked for your hand, you wouldn’t turn him down.]] Sumina didn’t answer that. Meriel knew. She [i always] knew, sometimes before Sumina had really realized it herself. Instead Sumina just went back inside to set the laundry down and return to Sirius and the dinner. Tea tonight was going to be more complicated, and she spent some time mixing a batch of herbs together, some of which she set aside.
Sumina was more amused than anything by Sirius explaining about Alain. She commented,”Ah, so he’s the loud one when drinks flow. There’s always one, isn’t there?” The bread was just what was left from yesterday, and the bird meat they had gotten was cooked in a flavorful milk and butter sauce with some vegetables that she thickened with a little flour. She fussed over the taste of the sauce, clearly wanting it to be a particular way. When she was satisfied she insisted Sirius try some while she finished the tea.
“I’m afraid not.” Sumina smiled at Sirius’s question,”Magic can’t do much for illness or hangovers. But this tea may help. Give him some in the morning too.” That was the portion she set aside, which she indicated. “It isn’t quite everything I’d like, I need to gather more, but it should be better than nothing. We’ll all have some, it helps with sleep too, and won’t hurt.”
It had a floral, herbal smell and taste, hidden behind the much stronger flavor of mint. The mint to hide the somewhat less than pleasant taste of a couple of the other ingredients, and because the mint helped too. Before she was done she noticed the sun setting, and as she’d been told called Meriel back.
While they all sat to eat Sumina wondered how they all liked the meal, and told them it was a favorite of hers. Alain talked the most though, attempting to make the gathering more of a party while the rest all tried to wind things down for the evening. Finally once things were cleaned up with the kitchen wiped down and the laundry folded and sorted Sumina got them together and rather shyly sang them an Elvish lullaby she knew, as she’d promised Royland. None of them would understand a word, but it was pretty regardless. A song about the stars and moon and drifting to sleep, to fly in dreams in the night sky, she explained when Walter asked. She even explained which word was moon, and its variations for full, new, waxing, and waning, none of which were in the song, but he seemed interested to know anyway.
They seemed to like it, with Alain praising her voice rather loudly and energetically. It was time to extinguish candles and head to bed. And in the dim light, while Walter and Sirius got Alain into the room he shared with Sirius, Sumina pulled Royland back and stole a quick kiss, hoping the others were too busy to notice the kiss or whispered words,”Good night, [+darkgreen my everything]. Sleep well.”
Dinner and a song. Absolutely lovely. He squeezed her hand a bit more securely than he might have, otherwise. There was no appropriate response to what she had partially divulged to him. On the outside, his façade of a soft smile was unrivaled. On the inside, there was only chaos. Guilt. He almost felt like he had violated her. But her demeanor, her voice – soft, reassuring to him, perhaps there was some hope that she wouldn’t hold it against him.
The supplies were bought, for the most part, and the house was as calm as Walter could possibly muster. Alain was completely unruly. Attempting to further impart his joy on his friends, and especially when Royland had returned. While the young King would have simply loved to join Sumina in making dinner, he instructed Sirius to aid her, in his stead.
“Come on!” Alain cried. “Just one more!”
“For the thousandth time, we don’t have any mead or ale here, Alain.” Walter sighed incredulously. He looked to Royland for a half a moment, pleadingly. “When you’re done over there, please come help me?”
Royland handed the supplies off to Sirius and glanced longingly at Sumina. She hadn’t met his gaze, and yet, he wondered - did she want to spend time with him as much as he did with her? Would Meriel tell her?
“Ah, Lady Sumina, don’t forget to recall—” Walter started, but Alain interrupted.
“Ohh, the Elvish girl’s a sight to see, the only sight for me~! Isn’t that right, Royland, my boy!” Alain threw his fist in the air, his other arm around an uncomfortable looking Walter’s shoulders. Quickly, Royland had walked past the table, and out the door, returning only with a pail of water from the well out back in his arms. Grabbing a cup from a cupboard, he filled it, and handed it to Alain, who sniffed it before drinking. “Oh, what’s this! The Siren’s gift to man! Clear wine from Arouet’s southern coast!”
“Royland, stop him from mentioning wine!” Sirius shuddered. He could swear that stench had never left his nostrils since the day they fled from Volaire. From preparing dinner, to the tea, to serving plates at the table, Sirius gently and quietly explained to Sumina why it was that Alain, in particular, was often discouraged from drinking in excess. Loud, obnoxious behavior, which, if not curbed with copious amounts of water, would see him asking for more, attempting to retrieve more to think. Typically a rational and collected man, he often used ale to escape from his general uptight attitude when the opportunity presented itself. “We’ll all be hearing it tomorrow… How his head feels as though he’s been kicked by an ass, or knocked behind the head… I don’t suppose Elvish magic can aid in that, can it, Lady Sumina?” Sirius chuckled. The odds were slim, and the question was halfway in jest, but it was worth the ask.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] It all happened so fast then. Her back to the wall, his hands on her hips. He didn’t even know, but there was a part of Meriel’s mark under his hand. But she did. Her skin was on fire, feeling his lips against her neck. She made a noise in her throat, a mixture of surprise and pleasure. She was holding him closer, and at the same time squirmed. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t focus. There was just a fog, heat, and the conflicting desires for more, and to step away because this was all too much at once.
One moment she was drowning in the sensations of him pressed against her, and the next there was empty space between them. Her face had to give it away, beet red all the way into her ears, and a look like she’d been caught in something she knew she shouldn’t have been. If it wasn’t that, then her slightly unsteady breathing. Or maybe they could hear her heart. It certainly seemed to be pounding hard enough to her. Whatever it was, whether it was her, or him, or the both of them together, Walter and Sirius clearly had [i some] idea of what they had interrupted.
Apologize for what? The first time he’d mouthed it to her, her hand had gone to her mouth, her fingers over her lips. Meriel had wandered to Sumina, rubbed against her leg, and then wandered back away,[i [+darkgreen You two were making nice progress. Shame about the interruption.]]
Sumina just watched Meriel for a moment. What had he been doing? Not that she really thought he planned any of that any more than she had. Meriel was the only one who seemed to have any sort of plan, and she watched as Royland left to get more dressed,[i [+darkgreen You were enjoying that.]]
“Meriel…” Sumina finally found her voice again, and crossed her arms,”[+darkgreen You’re being…]”
[i [+darkgreen Honest. You can’t lie to me, girl. Here he comes, your everything. Will you tell him what it means?]]
Sumina looked away from Meriel,”A walk sounds good.” No, she didn’t intend to tell him just yet. How to explain something like that? That he meant the world to her. That she loved him. Enough to give up everything else.
The market was the perfect distraction. Sumina was glad to talk with him about supplies, and that while she wouldn’t be sharing the recipe, her family made a dried meat that had a nice herbal flavor, savory and slightly spicy, and she thought something like that would be nice. If he liked that sort of thing. And for dinner she had some ideas, using things she remembered they had as much as possible. It certainly helped calm her, distract her from any lingering embarrassment. Meriel was a little bored by their talk, but trailed behind anyway, enjoying the smells of the market and the attention she got.
“Oh.” Her face felt a little warm again immediately, thinking back to earlier. Meriel rubbed against the back of her legs, unhelpfully. “It isn’t you, I… ah, I’ve never…” She looked down to see the snow leopard circling around behind Royland. Sumina looked back to meet his gaze bashfully,”You’re the first…” While for him there had been Lenoir at least, for her there hadn’t been anything like that. A few possible suitors that never got very far, and that she hadn’t paid much attention to. Nothing worth speaking of really.
She took his hand, and spoke a little louder, though still softly,”We should go make dinner. If we finish soon enough, I, um, I believe I remember promising a song. If you still… wanted to hear. And it may help Alain sleep.”
The sensation of her fingers – gently, delicately caressing his chest as they kissed, sitting in his hair – drove him wild. Made him want more. He couldn’t respond to her words. No time to talk anymore. She was on the wall in a second, their bodies closer than ever. From her elbows his hands dropped to her hips. And then, with one, he cradled her face, pushing his thumb gently on her jaw, exposing her neck. The trail of kisses he left excited him. He wanted more. Needed more. Of her. All of her.
The crumbling truth of reality came swiftly after that. The door swung open, and two dumbfounded stares worn by Walter and Sirius had nearly seen their friends in a most precarious position. Royland had pulled away from Sumina at this point, but it was plainly obvious, by the looks on their faces, that something was happening, here. Alain, stumbling in behind, let out a laugh as he approached Royland, throwing an arm around his shoulder. This time with no ale in tow. Composure regained, Royland began curling his fingers and toes, attempting to rid himself of the troublesome feeling brewing beneath his belt. Somewhat sheepishly he glanced at Sumina, mouthing an apology, before returning to the rest.
“Walter, do try to see that our dear Alain gets some rest.” Royland said. Walter glanced nervously at Sirius. Wondering if he had caught that strain in Royland’s voice. The irritation. It was made clear through the atmosphere that Sirius would accompany and tend to whatever it was Walter needed to procure to make sure Alain was no longer to be a nuisance today. The King, once his men had ushered Alain into one of the bedrooms to see if they could convince him to lie down, let out a deep sigh.
“My… apologies. I don’t know what I…” A hand covered his eyes, slipped through his hair, and rested on his shoulder. Just, what had he been about to do to her? Slowly, he glanced to Meriel, who seemed less than enthused that they had been interrupted, but still looking quite proud of herself. If only he could tell what those eyes were saying to him, about him. Recognizing the state he was in, Royland excused himself to one of the spare rooms, grabbed a shirt, and dressed himself. His baldric and scabbard now resting beside the place where Sumina once stood on the wall, he pointed to the door. “Let’s… take a walk. Let Walter and Sirius try to wrangle Alain.”
Royland made it a point to stay silent, aside from the necessary questions during their time in the market. What dried meats tasted most suitable for travel, and which should they purchase for their own food that night. He lamented over the price of goods in Dalem, speculated on whether or not this was why Lyrei would be sending him around Madej to increase their trading prospects. Was it the availability of more food, or would it just be to increase the variety of such foods. She hadn’t given him any formal instructions on how she’d like her will carried out. Royland thought he’d have to as Sirius, as pondering it aloud and in his own head did no one any good.
There was a pause, a quick glance around, before he asked, sheepishly. “Did I… overstep my boundaries… earlier, I…” He noticed how she tensed up, how she’d responded. He would never think to ask her if she had ever been with any other man before. Royland knew his privilege as King afforded him many luxuries that the common man and woman of a strong spiritual faith would admonish him for imbibing in. It wasn’t that he’d ever made a habit of it. There had been one time, after Lenoir, but other than that, his experience with women was admittedly limited. Did Sumina have even less experience? “You seemed… uncomfortable… with me.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] So it had been Davin, and by the sound of it Royland had been young. How long had Davin wanted to kill Royland before that night? But that was not something she wanted to, or could, linger on. Not when he looked at her like that, hands on her elbows. Any thought of stepping back was gone.
He asked for something so difficult, and with such sweet kisses. And his eyes, she was sure she was going to lose herself in that look he was giving her. “Royland… [+darkgreen my everything, you…]” Ask for too much. She kissed him, and could feel Meriel’s amusement.
[i [+darkgreen Let him. It’s only natural. Most do not end so unfortunately. Men are men. They fight frequently, kill rarely.]] Sumina didn’t look to see Meriel, but hummed against Royland’s mouth. Traitor. Siding against her on this. Meriel was sitting patiently, seemingly not paying much attention to them, but her tail betrayed her excitement as it swept back and forth over the floor.
“Promise me then that you… you won’t be reckless.” Because how could she say no? When he asked like that. With Meriel urging. Another kiss, and with one hand she started to trace up, feeling scars and bare skin to his collarbone,”I couldn’t bear if… anything happened to you.” It wasn’t that he smelled nice the way flowers did, but it was even more alluring. And left her head feeling like she’d had a glass of wine. Warm, fuzzy, slow. But at the same time her heart was racing. “I’d rather… not. If you can help it. At all. So please.” Her fingers had continued up, to his neck, and she wrapped her arm around him, leaning in for another kiss. It was too easy to get carried away with him. “No one should die… on my account.”
Of course. Sumina was modest. It only made sense that she would want no one fighting over her. She only wanted to see pace amongst those close to her. But men were not so understanding. And sometimes, more than love, it was pride that drove them to act in such ways. But to say she wasn’t worth it? Royland frowned at that. “Sumina… Men are…” [i Animals]. No, she didn’t need to hear that, right now. “You’re… well, let’s say, you have likely been at the center of more skirmishes than you know of…” Thanks, in part, should be given to her brothers. Gatekeepers of the single wild lotus, floating in a pond of the clearest, bluest water.
“To say you aren’t worth it is a disservice to yourself, don’t you think?” Blue eyes gave her a glance over, quickly, hopefully she hadn’t noticed his blatant staring. But he couldn’t help himself. And his hands tried desperately to stay occupied, resting on his hips. “After all, you’re… Well. You know…” [i Lovely, selfless, radiant, unassuming, but headstrong. You’re a woman, and I am a man. And I would fight for you.] Frozen at the mention of his scar, Royland came around from his thoughts. Of course. A permanent reminder of the man that held a sword to the tip of his nose not long ago. The single greatest gift he had received from anyone, and his biggest curse. Conviction.
As soon as Sumina came into contact with him, Royland’s arms went up in surprise, hovering above her shoulders. A breath hitched in his throat. What was she saying? He couldn’t hear anything – as though there were a very thick wool covering his head, and the rest of him – [i all] of him – was on pins and needles. “Don’t… don’t be sorry...” Try as he might, that wool-like feeling wouldn’t leave his face. It tried to smother him to death, turned his ears pink, and he glanced down at Meriel. Although he could not hear her, nor understand her, the way her tail swayed back and forth indicated that she was incredibly proud of what she had just done.
“That one, is, ah, uhm…” A painful, painful memory. Yet she had asked. And he intended to answer. Somewhat ashamed, he glanced over his right shoulder. At no one and at nothing in particular. “When I first wanted to be a knight, Davin challenged me on it. To see if I had it in me. I… My back was turned, and he struck me…” Royland had been in bed for weeks. It was nearly a month before he could lie on his back with some measure of comfort, nearly two before he could take steps from his bed without help. All to prove a point, Davin assured Harrenhal. To strike that entitled language right from the crown prince’s mouth, he’d told Royland, once he was nearly recovered. Apparently Harrenhal was perfectly fine with such The prince had been but ten years old.
Royland finally turned to face her, the palms of his hands coming to rest on her elbows. That uncomfortable memory retreated to the confines of his mind once more, especially the intimate details which he hadn’t bothered to put into words for her. What he had said was all he could stomach to recall, for now. He could only hope that the smile on his face didn’t seem as forced as it actually was. The pins and needles began to fall away, his body relaxing as he stared into her eyes, the captivating symmetry of her face no longer obscured by brooding thoughts. “I know you don’t want it, and I know it pains you, but would you let me?” A kiss. “Ever? Fight for you?” Two kisses more.
“I can’t let anyone else… I simply cannot… Am I allowed, then?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Royland’s words, his hands, reached through the fear, but her heart was still racing. She was worried Castien might still lash out. What had come over him? Castien seemed torn between his frustration and anger toward Royland and concern over Sumina. What scared her so much about this?
He hated how the King just walked off with her like that. The whole thing had basically backfired spectacularly. Rather than impress Sumina, he seemed to have only upset her. Once they were out of sight some of the humiliation sank in, and he was left with a curious crowd wondering about him and the girl the King had left with. The girl with the [i snow leopard] trailing behind her, which was not exactly the most typical sort of familiar.
On the walk back Sumina finally started to calm down a little. Only a little. Enough for her face to be quite red by the time the door was shut on the lovely house that was their temporary home. Sumina just looked at him, embarrassed, worried, and still under the shadow of that fear. He was alright, but things back there had been awkward. She could tell that now that she wasn’t so frantic. Meriel nudged her head against Sumina’s leg,[+darkgreen Calm. You see, no one is hurt.]
“Yes. I’m sorry. I… just couldn’t stand the thought of…” She looked down where Meriel had been, but the big cat had moved behind Sumina, pacing slowly. She let out a sigh,”I don’t want anyone hurt, anyone killed, over [i me]. It’s not… it’s not worth it. I’ve… cleaned that up, or failed to, too many times with others. So I never want… that.”
One particular incident always stuck out in her mind. Because she knew the girl. Everything that happened after. Sumina looked back at him, slowly. First taking in some of the scars along his arms and chest. She could have reached out and touched them easily, but kept her hands back. Some were clearly from more shallow wounds, probably painful but not overly concerning. Others she saw signs of additional scarring from stitches. Then there was the one on his back. She couldn’t see it now, but it had been a little alarming to see.
By the time her gaze reached his face the fluttering had spread deep in her stomach and she could hear her heartbeat like a drum in her ears. It wasn’t just professional curiosity in her eyes, but she [i was] trying to hold that burning want for him back. How was it that she forgot everything but him when they were alone?
Well, almost alone. She had somehow almost forgotten Meriel’s silent presence. Meriel [i had] gone very quiet. She waited until Sumina found her voice,”Sorry, I was just… wondering how you got that scar…the—” There was a shove and weight thrown at the back of her legs. Meriel had grown impatient. Sumina fell forward, right against Royland. Hands against skin, scars under fingers, which she’d been tempted to do but hadn’t. More than that, her whole body pressed against his. “M-Meriel!”
[i [+darkgreen You wanted to. I only helped. You’re welcome.]] She sounded so pleased with herself, and Sumina couldn’t even bring herself to look back at her familiar. To look away from Royland, or move away right away, though she did try to stammer out an apology,”S-sorry, she…”
The crowd seemed to grow quiet as Castien approached. Royland felt the change in atmosphere immediately. For the most part, he was silent, indecisive on whether or not he wanted to keep his eyes on Sumina’s frantic movements, or Castien’s gaze. Penetrating and unnerving. What was he trying to prove? Perhaps if he had been at full strength, he’d have wholeheartedly agreed. But, with Sumina so distressed, he wasn’t sure he could entirely go through with it. There wasn’t much anyone could do, except for some men to cry out in Elvish – all Royland could glean was that they were questions. Likely to the effect of just what Castien thought he was doing. The women and the elderly began to whisper. Heads began peering out of windows to watch the commotion.
A strange fact: that a King, so used to having his face seen by the masses when he addressed them, would rather be removed from the spotlight, more often than he would run to it. Royland hated undue attention. Whether for his deeds – good and bad – or needless confrontation. More concerned about Sumina than anything, he approached her, setting his hand on her head when she finally looked him in the eyes. He looked to Meriel pleadingly before stepping closer to her summoner. Did Castien despise him that fiercely, he’d wanted to ask? That even Royland, who had tried to mark his reign by separating himself from the sins of his father, had tried to do the right thing by the Elves of Vasilios, was deemed unworthy of someone’s attention, simply because of who he was? Perhaps Castien sensed his unworthiness, his hesitations to become close, inability to show outward affection, sensed his fear of judgement, or persecution. Royland closed his eyes and groaned quietly.
“Come, now, Sumina… No one’s going to get hurt.” His eyes turned sharp as he locked eyes with Castien. “And no one’s going to fight.” Not now. Not with the whole village watching. A King, Harrenhal used to say, knows when to stand up straight and take his leave from the unruly masses. He knows when to shield himself from the scrutiny beneath him. He knows to walk deliberately, with purpose, and conviction. He knows not to hold his enemies with too much reverence, lest they forget their place. Royland held out his arm towards the crowd, and Sirius came rushing with his shirt. Far too drenched in sweat, still, to put on. He guided Sumina by the shoulder, shirt in spare hand, with Meriel presumably tagging behind. Sirius and Walter would have to handle damage control… and handle Alain.
Once the crowd was out of sight, they had returned to that quaint home, and they were alone, Royland leaned against the wall beside the door, waiting for Sumina to speak up. Apologize. Moments passed. “If only Walter were here to brew you some tea...” He’d have done it himself but couldn’t pull himself away from her eyes. He studied them but knew what it was. No questions needed to be asked. Another beat passed, the sound of his breathing grew louder in his own ears, his heart rate still unsettled from his match with Vargas. Not to mention the stress of it all. A quiet groan escaped him as he glanced at the ground. “You were… quite out of sorts, back there…”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Castien trailed behind her while Sumina approached the gathered crowd. It seemed like everyone was having fun, and soon enough she saw why. Men testing their skills and strength against each other. Women watching. Sumina had seen this sort of thing before. Pretty much any time men sparred it could gather a crowd. Things seemed good natured enough, just practice and fun. And right there in the middle fighting she spotted Royland. The sight left her a little stunned, for more than one reason. So many scars, including a large one across his back. She knew that wound had been serious, possibly nearly killed him. The scars weren’t all of it though. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen a man without a shirt before. In fact, she’d seen men wear [i far] less during her work. That was different though. That had never warmed her cheeks.
[i [+darkgreen He is quite attractive, for a human. Go on. I know you want to~]] Meriel’s voice in her head. The snow leopard could feel it. The butterflies in her stomach. Her tail swished back and forth lazily, pleased enough at the deepening red of her summoners cheeks.
“Meriel, that’s not…” Sumina mumbled. Royland’s victory was celebrated. His smile was boyish and a little bashful at the attention. Castien came up next to her. Sumina was starting to draw just a little attention of her own from those nearest to her, who could see Meriel by her side.
Castien looked between Sumina and Royland. The way her cheeks flushed, that look in her eyes. It all rubbed him the wrong way. This joy the King offered her was short lived. Castien started to take his shirt off, revealing the colorful phoenix on his back as he stepped in and walked up to his rival. “Your Majesty! Come, count me in! Let us test our skills. I’ve been curious since the market.”
True enough, but the way he looked back at Sumina made it clear what his [i real] reason for stepping in was. Let her look at him that way, instead of the King. To the victor the spoils. Plenty of women were thrilled by such displays. In fact quite a few of the women watching were obviously interested.
Not Sumina. Rather than being flattered her stomach sank. “[+darkgreen No. No, don’t!]” Castien was in a fighting stance already, facing Royland. Sumina ran forward, but Meriel beat her to them. The snow leopard placed herself between the two men, teeth bared,[i [+darkgreen Relax, girl. Relax.]]
Sumina couldn’t relax. She joined Meriel, her hands over Castien’s,”[+darkgreen Don’t.]”
It was the look on her face that really got him to pause. She didn’t just look troubled. She looked completely terrified. She pulled her hands away and took a step back, toward Royland, and looked back at him. Fear was overwhelming her, and she looked like she might cry. “Please. Don’t do this.” Back at Castien, who was looking over her shoulder at Royland.
Meriel bumped her head against Sumina’s leg,[i [+darkgreen Calm down. Calm. Nothing has happened.]]
“I don’t want either of you hurt. So please. I won’t let you.” Sumina was pleading, her breathing quick. This was about more than simply these two fighting. She could still remember vividly the aftermath of another supposed ‘friendly’ spar between two men over a woman. The death, which she hadn’t been able to prevent. The grief. She was terrified of seeing that play out again, and worse over [i her].
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