You don't have permission to post in this thread.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] His irritation with her going with Castien was not unexpected, but the intensity of it stung. What did he mean by that? Whose side? Had she not made her preference clear enough? She watched the way his fingers moved, the creases in his face, where his eyes darted, which were not at her. It was more than just tiredness weighing on him. Whatever it really was, Castien was part of it or he’d set off whatever else was there.
But his words cut at her deeply, and she pulled her hands back. He seemed to realize it, too late. The apology did little to soothe the ache settling in her chest,”Is that what you think?”
Sumina retreated toward the door. Her arms were crossed in front of her, hands cupping her elbows. “[+darkgreen You are everything to me.] I love [i you]. If you think I’d rather have had him here, you’re wrong.” She wasn’t shouting, there wasn’t much in the way of anger, but there was hurt. She put her hand on the door but stopped, not looking back at him. Her gaze was firmly on the door, but not focused on anything in particular.
”He kept me alive, but he isn’t why I wanted to live.” She’d spoken quietly enough that she couldn’t be certain he’d heard. From where she was, the door cracked open, she could hear the knights in the other room. Alain was debating flavors with Sirius, trying to settle on a cake flavor once and for all. She exhaled, her shoulders slumping, and spoke again, a little louder,”But I did promise him. Come eat, supper is nearly ready.”
Not that she was very hungry anymore. A weight felt like it had settled in her stomach, leaving little space for food. She opened the door and stepped out. She took a deep breath and a moment to pull herself together before going back to join the others. They picked up on how quiet she was when she returned, how her smiles were more forced. They did not reach her eyes, which were more distant. She barely ate.
It reminded Walter a little of how she had been at times when Royland and the other two had been away. Alain, however, was a little more focused on his upcoming birthday. After he and Sirius continued the debate a little longer, with Sirius suggesting flavors and Alain shooting them down as not quite what he wanted, Sumina softly suggested she could make something called a whiskey cake, which Alain quickly agreed to saying that was the perfect thing.
Her smile then, while Alain rubbed his hands together in anticipation of the boozy dessert to go with everything else he had planned, seemed almost carefree if only for a split second. It was nice to see that Alain was still excited about his birthday, and she didn’t want to dampen the mood. With a muttered excuse about a headache she left them at the table to enjoy themselves. She did turn back though, nearly out of the room, and looked to Royland with some apprehension and inquisitiveness. Would he want to come to bed, or would he decide he’d rather not? Sumina bit her lower lip before turning away. She left the door slightly ajar when she went to lay down. An invitation he could either accept or reject. Despite the tension Sumina still wanted him. She expected to be too antsy to rest, but after laying down she realized how tired she really was. Her body was healing, she was looking and feeling less frail, but she tired so easily still. She tried to stay alert to listen for the door, half dozing.
The sound of Sumina’s voice and touch made him lift his head. But Castien’s name and the implication of his return the following day made Royland’s expression flatten out, and his lips pursed into a harsh line. “Tomorrow? You're going out with him tomorrow? Whose side are you on?" He paused, then turned his attention back to the outside, before his questions could become more pointed. He drummed his fingers irritatedly on the window sill. "...Nevermind. I can't… [i won't] stop you."
Castien's words were just that - what hurt was Sumina's defense of them. She was faithful, in action, but when it came to avoiding conflict, it was more apt to find her doing damage control, Royland had noticed. He didn't blame her, it was just her nature. It didn't stop him from wishing that he could recall any instance in which she shut Castien down where he stood, in the moment. Her comforts and platitudes were nice, but Royland felt an apprehension in accepting them so easily. It was decidedly easy for her when Lyrei was the target, as he had seen, but Castien must really be something special to her.
It was hard to stop the bitterness from showing on his face. But there is only so much a man can tolerate. "If you must know, I am quite tired.”
Of being criticized. Of being scrutinized. He did think he had more peaceful moments when Harenhal was alive. At least he took the attention off of Royland’s shortcomings. Everyone always wants [i something] from the bastard prince, turned King, of Volaire. Whether it be to use him as their own entertainment, a crown, or his swift demise. But there is always a catch. They are always so quick to incur a debt. Royland was always at the mercy of others. And he had little means to defend himself and his honor. Speaking and moving without tact and decency would only result in more unfavorable rumors to be spread about him, comparing him to the tyrant that he had succeeded. Even in Dalem, he had to bite his tongue, offer an empty smile, and sit pretty in his place. Maybe Castien was right. Maybe Royland was just a [i good, royal dog].
...But, Sumina didn’t need to hear any of that. It may be too much to ask of her, Royland thought, to try to understand him. It was probably worrying enough, watching him fidget around, while he tried to decide whether or not he was going to confide in her. Opening up was much easier with a drink in his hand.
“...I missed you terribly while you were gone. When Castien returns you to me, you’re barely alive. I’ve sat by your side to make sure you recover, and you run off to him the moment that you’re able to stand on your own two feet.” Royland huffed, trying to calm himself - but he knew that what he’d said was far too much. And, unwarranted. But the subject matter was so aggravating. Against the wall with nowhere to go. No way to dispute or talk his way out of what Lyrei had been sharing with Castien, he felt guilty, what else could he do but lash out? Even a good dog will snap and snarl when it feels trapped. A rush of shame ran cold through his chest. “I’m sorry, Sumina. I’m just… You didn’t deserve that.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina had a sharp look for Castien when he started again. He just could not let things go when it came to Royland. But what had he meant about Lyrei ‘educating’ Omylia and Oryanna? Oryanna had sort of let it slip yesterday that she was relieved things were back to normal with Royland. When pressed, she just said he’d spent quite a lot of time while Sumina was away in Lyrei’s company. Enough that people had started to speculate, since there were quite a few days where he’d hardly left her side. The twins had looked at each other, and both decided not to share any more details about the rumors.
Now Castien was dropping hints about Lyrei and Royland. He was always trying to find some way to criticize Royland though. But this wasn’t just him, apparently Oryanna had heard things too.
Sumina was on the quiet side, helping where she could with dinner. Waiting for Royland to reappear. But he didn’t. At Walter’s question she looked a little surprised, then nodded with a small smile,”[+darkgreen He did...] Your Elvish is good.”
Alain seemed to want to keep the celebration small but lively. She was glad to be included, they certainly didn’t need to be inviting all her friends. Even if Sumina suspected there was a little more than friendship starting to blossom between Walter and Oryanna. “You still need to tell me what sort of cake or treat you’d like me to bake. And don’t tell me not to trouble myself, I want to make something nice for you.”
But Royland was taking a long time. Had Castien bothered him so much? She looked to Walter for a moment before stepping back from the pot and saying quietly,”Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”
His prolonged absence bothered her. Castien was gone now, so why had he not come back? She slipped away trying not to make much of a fuss, hoping the others would keep talking about Alain’s birthday.
She peeked into the room and found him at the window, head on his arms. Something was bothering him, that was plain to her. What, exactly, that was she couldn’t quite guess. Castien’s constant needling trying to find sore spots can’t be a pleasant thing. She stepped into the room and pushed the door behind her, not properly closed but almost there.
Sumina crossed the room to him, and with her hands on his shoulder leaned to kiss his temple. She paused to study his face, first in profile and then tilting her head and touching her fingers to his cheek for a closer look. She could tell there was something besides just the merchant on his mind. Worry over her condition still? The exceptionally extravagant gift she’d been given? Something else? “My love, [+darkgreen my everything], what is it? I know something is bothering you. If it’s about Castien, he’s left and won’t be back until morning for me. He’s being difficult today. I think he’s just worried and expressing that poorly.”
The problem with crowds is that there is almost always a center to them. And for a while, Sumina was that center. But, then, so was Royland when she insisted on being beside him. He could tell she had been telling people about him, and he struggled with the judging glances he received. They were not malicious , but it was still...uncomfortable.
Sumina had been busy while away on her trip. Not that her companions expected anything less of the woman who did more than she ought to when it came to others. So much, in fact, that they saw fit to reward her efforts with jewels. Such opulence made Royland shift around on his feet. He turned his head while the others stared in awe. A reaction that hadn’t gone unnoticed by Oryanna.
“I would think you are used to receiving gifts like [i these], King Vondien. Is that why you seemed so disinterested?” The house had hardly had a chance to settle from the guests that had just seen themselves out, but Oryanna couldn’t help herself.
Castien jumped in, “Royalty operates out of convenience or obligation, [i only]. Genuine gratitude is foreign to them. And if it weren’t, they have difficulties changing their habits.” Walter started to protest in his friend’s defense, but Royland had hummed in agreement. A great source of irritation for the redhead.
“He’s right. My upbringing taught me that few gifts come from a place of good will for the sake of it. However… receiving unprovoked versus accepting and reciprocating gifts are two [i very] different things.” Royland clarified with a soft smile, and just as quickly took the box on the table into his arms, intent on removing himself from the room while the chance was presenting itself. “Sumina, where would you like this, for now? Under the bed?” Castien’s upper lip twitched at having been outdone at his own game, but he could not say that Royland’s swift exit didn’t fill him with some sense of satisfaction. Omylia, on the other hand, was not pleased. Oryanna hadn’t noticed the tension in the room.
Showing an uncharacteristic coldness, Sirius spoke up before anyone else could, “I’ll never understand why you must be so rude…”
“[+darkgreen Business, good pup. Business.]” Castien replied. Walter’s brows furrowed, and Sirius huffed, running his fingers through his hair. “If he’s so sensitive, perhaps he shouldn’t--”
“Perhaps [i you] shouldn’t.” Omylia frowned, then turned to Sumina apologetically. “We should leave. I’m sorry you’ve got to deal with this.”
Castien’s eyebrows flew up in surprise. “[+darkgreen Why are you taking up for [i that]]--... Fine. [+darkgreen Perhaps I'll have Lyrei educate the both of you, later.]" Omylia sternly pointed Castien towards the door, and after he'd kissed the top of Sumina's hand to say goodbye, he left without a word. The twins trailed behind him, with Omylia offering her condolences for Castien's demeanor the entire time.
Walter and Sirius took to getting dinner started in an attempt to clear the air. They had known Sumina was long since tired of stew and was craving solid foods, but could not bring themselves to make any. No one had time to do any hunting, anyhow. All time that wasn’t spent gravitating around her, was spent preparing for Alain’s imminent celebration - for which he had more specific requirements to ask of them. A hare that had been caught, salted for twelve hours, and was now sitting in a brine bath would be the star of their meal that day. They had a few handfuls of cheese leftover from Lyrei’s previous gifting, the drinks that Royland had procured, Sumina had unwittingly baked the bread, and the fruits would need to be scouted the following day. Alain was still complaining about pain in his hand, and asking for pity as the guest of honor, so there was little other conversation to be had in the kitchen that evening. Aside from the absent king and the nasty attitude that had driven him away.
Walter’s voice was low when he’d asked Sumina, “[+darkgreen Did he ask you to the hot springs again]?” Alain and Sirius would never know by the smile on his face, that concern was plaguing his first question. “...Is my Elvish any better? Oryanna’s been teaching me.”
“Seems like we hear that name quite a bit.” Alain muttered skeptically. Walter’s face burned, but he turned to Sirius for support instead of acknowledging the truth. “You’re not inviting her, are you? Lady Sumina, no offense, is woman enough for me to handle!”
“The more the merrier, right?” Sirius turned his head, but Alain’s glare let him know that his ill-timed joke was unappreciated. “Oryanna is a nice girl. Omylia, too.”
“They’re more than nice. If not for them, who knows where we’d be.” Alain admitted. “But, I’d like to keep my tradition between friends… Where [i is] that blasted commander of ours, anyway?” Nobody knew it, at the time, but he was still in that room - stewing.
Royland stayed tucked away behind the bedroom wall until he heard Omylia and Oryanna escort Castien out of the house. A collective sense of relief washed over everyone - except the king. Lyrei and Castien were close. How much, Royland thought - How much had she shared with him? There wasn’t much to tell. The kiss hadn’t been [i so] significant. Not to him. He’d pulled away right at the start. But how was Lyrei recounting it?
He took a swift step towards the window, opened it, and leaned over the window sill to clear his mind.
Did that man ever [i tire]? Did he ever feel that his impassioned pleas against Royland’s character was all for naught? ...If Lyrei were, indeed, feeding him false information, she had made enough of a case for Castien to think that his distasteful comments were justified .
Lyrei had a way of perfectly manicuring her interactions while in the public’s eye, that often, there was little Royland could do if he didn’t want to come off as [i rude]. Nobody heard or saw the arguments about her temperament behind closed doors, and all they could see, when she hung off of his arm in the square or the marketplace, was the strained smile on his face as he tried to placate her dreams for the future . They couldn’t hear his quiet rejection, or discern the disbelief in his chuckle. They didn’t have to deal with her increased persistence. Nor did they have to overindulge in drinking just to be rid of the stress that often settled over their discussions. Sirens forbid the people of Dalem label him a man without scruples. Even worse, if they would think he was ungrateful for everything they had done for him, his men, and now, saving Sumina’s life.
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, Royland Vondien… What will you do, now?” He settled his chin into the crook of his arms and sighed. If Dalem were to be the death of him, he wasn’t sure that he’d mind.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina slept easier after that, and was sound asleep well into the morning. She was not always the easiest patient. Her ambition to get back to work taking care of things came back faster than her strength to do so. She would try to cook or clean, and complain that she was fine when not allowed to do so. She often pouted when others took over for her and insisted she rest. She was getting tired of rest.
Her condition was improving though, and she felt almost well enough to go about as normal when Castien finally showed up in her room, where she’d been instructed to lie down for a little while after Sirius thought she was a little too pale after kneading some bread. They’d have fresh bread tonight at least, and she’d take some satisfaction out of that.
“Oh, Castien. I haven’t seen you, have you been busy?” Sumina sat up right away. She hadn’t really been napping, and the men probably knew that if they’d let anyone in to see her. It was more about keeping her from continuing to find things to do in the kitchen.
Castien’s smile was slightly strained,”[+darkgreen Your guard dogs would not allow me until now.]” At the sharp look she gave he averted his eyes. She didn’t need to voice it, her disapproval at calling the knights dogs was crystal clear. “I’m glad to see you better, [+darkgreen water lily]. You had us all quite worried.”
Sumina got up out of bed,”I’m doing a lot better now. Thank you. How is your family? Oh, and the ore?”
The slightly worried furrow in her brows had Castien hurrying to reassure her,”It’s all accounted for. My family is well. They keep asking about you.” He tilted his head,”[+darkgreen Which reminds me, beautiful water lily.] I believe you owe me a trip to the hot springs.”
“Really? I don’t know, I should get back to work, I’ve taken too much time already.” Sumina took half a step back when Castien walked up to her.
His fingers flexed, wanting to reach for her, but he refrained when she gave him that slightly wary look. “[+darkgreen Water lily], you almost [i died]. It’s no small thing. And you promised me. One last day for you to relax. We’ll go tomorrow. Unless you don’t think you’re well enough. [+darkgreen I could tell the others you’re feeling worse again.]”
Castien motioned to the open door and Sumina shook her head,”[+darkgreen No no, I’m much better. You really seem intent on collecting. Very well, tomorrow.]”
His smile was warm, pleased that she wasn’t arguing more. Glad to see her so lively again. The image of her half dead on that table in the other room was still fresh in his mind. The red of her blood had seemed so unnaturally bright against that deathly white her skin had turned. Now there was color in her cheeks, a light in her eyes. He put his hands on her shoulders and kissed the top of her head,”Tomorrow. Now, how have they been treating you? I do hope they haven’t been keeping you trapped here, gloomy and miserable.”
Sumina rolled her eyes and pulled his hands off her shoulders,”You’re being ridiculous. They’ve all been lovely.”
“And the king? Has he been as glad to see you as he ought to be?”
“Yes.” The way she smiled irritated Castien a little. She seemed happy, but once things had cooled a little with Lyrei he had talked with his friend. The picture she painted of Royland in Sumina’s absence was not of a man pining for the love of his life, but a man distracted by a perfectly placed temptation.
“I doubt it.”
“Castien. Don’t you start.”
It was fortunate enough for him that at that moment he heard his name called. The subject dropped and Castien answered the summons, Sumina following not far behind. Castien saw the miners first, recognizing them right away. Three of them, one missing a leg at the knee. He was supported on that side by a crutch. Of the other two, one stood back with a box in his hands, while the other was in front of the little group, and doing most of the talking.
Castien nodded in greeting, but the miners scarcely acknowledged him once they saw Sumina glide into the room behind him. Seeing their attention focused on her, the relief on their faces, Castien simply stepped aside to let them take in the sight of her, whole and healthy. Sumina’s eyes widened in surprise and she kept walking to them. In particular she focused on Kolvar,”[+darkgreen Oh, you look so well. I’m so sorry about your leg, how is — No no.]”
She started to object when Kolvar hobbled forward a little and lowered himself down with some effort to kneel in front of her. Sumina had little idea what to do with a gesture like that, and it showed on her face. When he took her hand all she could do was return the strong grip of his as much as she could manage. The other two came up behind Kolvar and lowered their heads. “[+darkgreen You don’t need to apologize. I’m alive because of you. And so relieved to see you well, Lady Sumina. We were worried, the way you looked then. I didn’t see, but they told me. I was worried I’d gotten you killed.]”
Sumina smiled a little, though she was obviously a little flustered, and pulled Kolvar’s hand to urge him to stand,”[+darkgreen I’m doing well. Come and sit, I’ll make you all some tea.]”
“[+darkgreen I’ll make the tea.]” Omylia offered right away and went to the kitchen. Instead of letting Sumina try to help Kolvar up the man who had done most of the speaking helped Kolvar to his feet and over to the table to sit.
Sumina was looking happy, but noticeably bashful at the gratitude the men were trying to express. She looked to Royland and started with introductions,”This is Kolvar, Eltor, and Wyninn.” She indicated them in turn, the one with the missing leg, the one who had knocked at the door, and the one still clutching the box. Apparently Sumina remembered their names, and Castien nodded in approval while Eltor looked a little surprised. Then she introduced the miners to each of the others, though they already knew Castien they expressed pleasure at meeting Sumina’s friends.
“This the man you spoke of?” Eltor asked, seeing Sumina having gone to Royland’s side with her hand on his arm. He was the only one she paid such attention to when introducing them. Omylia had returned with the tea and was setting it out, looking to Royland when the miner asked about him. She must have been staring too long because Oryanna tugged her arm.
Sumina nodded shyly,”Yes.” The miners seemed to scrutinize Royland a little more after that, though none of them were inclined to ask the questions clearly on their minds. So this was the man she missed, the one that would benefit from the armor the ore would make.
Out of consideration for the humans present they tried to keep the conversation mostly not Elvish, but the miners clearly were used to speaking mostly in Elvish. “I hope the [+darkgreen armor] works.”
Sumina took a seat at the table,”I do too. This was a long way to come just to see I’m well. I [i am] glad to see you, but it can’t have been easy.” She looked at Kolvar. He would still be getting used to moving around, traveling all the way here had to be arduous. “You could have messaged with familiars. Oh, how is Ulesse?”
The men exchanged a brief look. Eltor clasped his hands together on the table,”Good. She and [+darkgreen the baby] are fine now. Thanks to you.”
“The baby? She had the baby?”
Eltor nodded,”Right before we left. [+darkgreen A girl, her name is Sumina.]” Sumina didn’t know what to say about that. She felt like she’d hardly done anything, let alone anything worth having the baby named after her. But apparently the mother felt differently. Eltor continued,”We wanted to come personally. See, after you left we all felt… [+darkgreen indebted]. So we all [+darkgreen pitched in] for a gift. To say thank you.”
At Eltor’s look, Wyninn heaved the box from his lap to the table. It gave a deep thud that rattled the cups when it shook the table. It was heavy, maybe a foot long or so. The men slid the heavy little box to her. She didn’t open it right away, instead she looked surprised and shook her head,”I can’t.”
Kolvar fiddled his thumbs together,”You can, and we insist. I insist.”
Eltor gave her a lopsided smile,”[+darkgreen You always did more than required for us. Like a blessing straight from the Sirens. We’re glad you’re here to accept the gift yourself.]” Wyninn just nodded.
It felt like everyone was looking at her. Feeling terribly shy and awkward she nodded,”Alright. I suppose.”
“Open.” Wyninn urged. At that she hesitantly undid the little clasp holding the box closed. It looked like it could easily accommodate a lock. The metalwork of the clasp and hinges was not the finest, and the wood was a little unfinished. They had sanded it, but it was still raw wood, a little course under her fingers.
She’d barely cracked it open, catching a glimpse of what was inside catching the light when she started to object,”[+darkgreen Oh no, no I can’t. This is too much.] It’s too much.”
Oryanna helpfully pushed the lid the rest of the way up to get a better look. Just as surprised as Sumina was,”Oh wow.”
The miners had packed the inside with assorted treasures. Gold, silver, and what seemed to be a rainbow assortment of gemstones. No wonder it was so heavy. It was full of raw valuables.
Sumina shook her head and closed the box,”I can’t. This is [i far] too much. How did you even get this all?”
When she tried to push it back across the table Kolvar pushed it back and held it in place,”It is not.”
Eltor shrugged with one shoulder, trying not to look too embarrassed,”[+darkgreen Professional courtesy.] We trade with other mines all the time.”
Castien cut in to clarify,”There is a sort of agreement between miners, at least Elvish miners. They trade the things they mine with each other at [i very] favorable rates. Mutually beneficial, and traders who participate get a small cut. I’ve done it once or twice. It allows each of them to command slightly higher prices, and protects them from, say, people near a ruby mine getting overwhelmed with rubies and wanting sapphires or emeralds. Well, the miners can provide all three, so the settlement can stay afloat and not starve when whims change.”
While Castien’s explanation helped her feel [i slightly] better, Sumina had gone quiet and was just staring at the box in shock. It didn’t seem she could turn it down, but how was she supposed to accept something like this? With just that box she’d be more wealthy than she’d ever been in her entire life. Than her entire family.
Wyninn finally spoke up,”[+darkgreen It is what we have to give, our trade. If we were trappers or hunters you would have fur. Please accept.]”
Sumina finally nodded and Kolvar took his hand off the box. The miners seemed more relaxed since she had accepted, though Sumina was much more quiet after that. She offered to let them stay the night, but they refused, wanting to get back home. She offered them some of the fresh bread she had made, which they gratefully accepted before leaving. Staying long enough to eat and with a little help translating express to the humans how wonderful it had been to have her in their settlement. Once the miners had gone Sumina went to pick up the cups off the table and paused, staring at the box like it might not be real.
Oryanna chirped right next to her,”I’ve got to say, that is amazing. Not every day someone shows up with a bunch of jewels.”
Sumina jumped a little, almost dropping the cup in her hands. Not every day indeed. “I don’t even know what to do with it. I’ve never had anything like that before.”
“Perks of having a bunch of miners feeling indebted to you.”
Sumina shook her head,”We need to make dinner.”
“With that on the table?”
Sumina paused, frowning at Oryanna and then the box still sitting there,”I suppose not. I’ll need to move it.”
Omylia shook her head,”No, you are not moving it. One of the men can take it to your room for you. It’s far too heavy for you right now.”
Royland was sure he’d never get used to the feeling - being told that someone loved him. It sent a warm sensation into the pit of his stomach. What in the world made him worthy of anyone? Let alone the girl who stood to lose everything she had ever known. There was little time to ponder, even less time to enjoy her admission, as he moved to keep her from forcing any more discomfort onto herself.
“I told you to be more careful.” He settled onto his side to face her. "Just a kiss? ...I suppose I can do at least that much for you.” Obliging her wasn’t the problem - it was stopping himself from getting carried away. The first was a fulfillment of her transaction, but the second and third was merely for his satisfaction. That night, Royland found the peace of mind that had been eluding him and had a sound sleep.
The changes were subtle at first, but Sumina steadily improved over the course of a few more days. Oryanna and Omylia proved themselves to be instrumental in making sure the household ran smoothly in Sumina’s absence, bathing, entertaining, and feeding her in the men’s stead. They had even found a new pastime in giving Alain, Sirius, and Walter a hard time.
With much consideration, Castien was allowed to visit while Royland excused himself to Dalem’s square to take care of any errands that he was able to imagine in order to avoid causing a scene. These days, it seemed Alain had been sending the king on an abundance of tasting tours, to decide what alcohol he might want at his upcoming birthday celebration. Make sure it’s sweet, but not too much, make sure it hits hard, but that we can drink a lot of it. Mead, if you can get it. Anything else is strictly a last resort. The quality of the drink drives the tradition of the night - if one could call complaining endlessly about the pains in their life “tradition” by any stretch of the word. When Royland could not possibly get back to the home without stumbling, he would stop his search, and make sure to prattle off his findings to Alain when he returned home. Provided he could remember his findings...
Lyrei was absent on Royland’s trips away from Sumina’s bedside - or as Vargas had put it, was avoiding just about everyone. She had let too many notices and messages pile up in recent weeks, and had made the excuse to anyone that asked that she was “catching up.” That was all well and good, as Royland couldn’t say that he wanted to see her. Something told him that when he did, she would have another assignment for him.
As opposed to a report on the types of mead available, Royland had a sample that he had paid well over market price to bring to Alain to try. Apparently there was yet another festival somewhere on the horizon, and the proprietor of this alcohol was not so willing to let it go so soon. But it was impressive enough that Royland thought his friend might appreciate the effort he put into bringing it.
“I hope you won’t think me your errand boy,” Royland had caught the attention of everyone sitting at the table, but noticed that Castien wasn’t among them. The door to Sumina’s room was still open, so he didn’t pay it any mind. “I’ve brought you a sample of what we discussed yesterday.”
Alain jumped to his feet, hurried to a glass, and poured himself a cup. In the next few seconds it was set on the table, emptied, “It’s just like you say! Sweet, mild, moist! Perfect! How much does he want for a--”
“No,” Royland interrupted, “Far too expensive. We’ll have to settle for something less extravagant.”
Alain’s face fell, “Oh, come, now! ...Can’t you open a tab?”
“Ha!” Royland scoffed, “I’d have to give away my firstborn child just to pay him!”
“Emphasis on ‘firstborn.’ Just have another!” The absurdity of the conversation sent the room into a fit of restrained laughter. Alain lowered his head to think, “I suppose we’ll have to get the rest from elsewhere.”
“How much more do you possibly need?” Walter sighed. “I’ve brought two barrels of mead from Lady Abana, we’ve got ale in the cupboard, and we’re--”
“No wine!” Sirius whined quietly, causing Omylia and Oryanna to laugh. Walter had, at one point, filled them in on the details of the group’s escape from Volaire earlier in the year. The aversion wasn’t lost on them, but it hadn’t stopped Oryanna from keeping the offer on the table. Orym had a bottle or two lying around that he would never get around to drinking, she assured them . Royland pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Just what did Alain intend to accomplish this year, with such a haul?
“I’ve lost my finger, the least you could do is indulge me this spring…” Alain pouted. But the rest of the men rolled their eyes with little sympathy to offer.
A knock on the door caught Omylia’s attention, but she was ill-prepared for the sight of the roughly dressed, gruff men standing on the other side of the door. One of them shifted his feet from one side to the other, and a meek voice drifted about the front room.
“[+darkgreen Is...Is this Lady Sumina’s home?]”
“[+darkgreen It...is…]” Omylia’s eyes fell back on Royland, who gave her a silent blessing to keep engaging, although he couldn’t understand what was being said.
“[+darkgreen Forgive the intrusion. We’re from the settlement she visited, up north? And we wondered if she might be alright? Last we saw her, she was…]”
“Oh! [+darkgreen Yes, come in!]” Omylia stepped out of the way, throwing her head back towards Sumina’s bedroom door, “[+darkgreen Castien! Come here, please, would you?]” She was [i just sure] Sumina would be thrilled. A brief explanation was all the knights needed to relax themselves, but Royland tensed noticeably upon seeing Castien’s face appear from around the corner and throughout the rest of the redhead’s time in the home.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina only made a soft hum of affirmation that his presence helped her feel better. Still slightly miffed at the suggestion that her nightmare might come true. But she was calmer and the house was asleep. She thought perhaps in a little while she could be asleep again. When her side stopped aching. The place where the wood had punctured her still felt a little tender and had left a scar. Oryanna had commented on it. The size of a large coin, roughly, and very jagged. It had the smooth look of a serious wound healed by magic rather than having stitches, and the scar tissue was not as rough as it could have been.
At his question she shifted a little. There was hardly any light to see. Just the outline of his face. How long had she known that she loved him? She was quiet at first, just laying her head against him while she thought. So he’d never said it, or had anyone say it to him. She suspected that also included his father, and that by anyone he really meant not a single person had told him. Not since he was old enough to remember.
“A while.” Sumina’s answer was vague at first. Knowing and saying were very different things. Her grip on him had loosened, and she let her fingertips glide up along his shirt all the way to his face,”In a way, I suppose… before you kissed me. Ever since Meriel.” Ages ago. She let her thumb rest on his lips. She was smiling softly,”It might be more accurate to say because of Merial. She is… far less shy. Especially when telling me how I feel. She picked it up right away, said I loved you.”
Sumina shifted again,”And I do. I love you, Royland Vondien.” She tried to prop herself up, brace her hand next to his head and lean over him. Her lips had scarcely touched his when she sagged down, her head ending up nestled in the crook of his neck. Her right arm was trembling, and her breathing was a little heavier than it should have been. Her head was throbbing slightly, and feeling uncomfortably light and fuzzy. “Ah, that wasn’t… a good idea.”
With her eyes closed and her hand going to the sore spot she rolled off him to lay beside him. Sumina grimaced and sighed,”I’m fine. Just a bit bruised. The delay didn’t do me any favors, though it couldn’t be helped.” Her arm relaxed and she turned her head toward him,”A kiss might help me feel better.”
The quivering of her body against him as she recounted her dream forced his arms to tighten around her. "I don't want you to relive it… What will that bring you?" Every beat of your heart brings a cool rush of blood to your head. Your field of vision betrays you. Seeing without seeing. Moving without purpose. Desperation becomes your identity as the blood leaves your veins, your nostrils flare, and everything you hear becomes muffled and distorted. Best to leave such feelings in the places that they first strike you. Whether they be in the battlefield, or elsewhere. More difficult for some than others, like Sirius, and Sumina. All Royland could do in the moment was offer the best comfort that he could - though he wasn’t any good, in his opinion. "Besides, I don't have your permission to leave this world. If you dream about it so often, it might come to be."
The subtle twitch in her eyes, and the pout forming on her lips made Royland chuckle in spite of himself. Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that. "Sorry… Are you better now? Seeing me here? Hearing my voice?" Damn that Castien. Sumina would defend him and try to keep the peace if Royland would bother to voice his opinion, but he would never forgive him for the pain and suffering that she was going through. Irrational? Perhaps. But he wasn't lying in bed with her, sharing space under covers damp from her sweat, tears soaking through his shirt. The only way [i he] knew how to comfort was with gifts that wilted and pretty words that would be easily forgotten.
When Sumina had finally calmed, the sound of Sirius’ snoring drifted through the walls, signaling to Royland that the others had likely slept through whatever noise they might have made. There was something else on the king’s mind, now. His eyes darted to the furthest corner of the room, fingers spinning through strands of hair that had been tangled in the struggle of her sleep. Royland cleared his throat. “So… How long have you known?”
In 26 years, the only assurance that Royland had known was the kind left unspoken. In the laughs shared with friends, the strength given to each other in hard times, and the care they showed through moments of weakness. Now, that had all but gone. There were words that he could attach to these once intangible moments of closeness that he had shared with friends.
“I mean… Before you left, you said… that you loved me. I wanted to know how long you’ve known that you did.”
Did Lenoir ever tell him? Outside of [i that night]? He didn’t want to try and recall. Lyrei, in the days before Alain’s accident, had always been waiting for Royland to wake, leaned against the front door frame of the house, eyes alight with subdued glee when he came to meet her. They had shared many drinks, she had looked to him for comfort, to share a laugh, and to ask his advice, or simply to talk. It was clear how she felt, through action, but she had never admitted it.
“...I’ve never had anyone say it to me, before. And I’ve...never said it in return…” His cheeks flushed, and he was thankful that she might not be able to see his embarrassment in the darkness. But he was worried about her response to such an admission. Love carried heavy implications...and expectations. Expectations that he wasn’t sure that he was ready to meet.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina smiled at him, and at his questions reassured him that she was fine. Tired, and a little bit of a headache still, but some sleep and she would be well. Her fingers explored his face, along his cheeks, from his forehead to his chin. When he settled next to her she shifted to kiss his forehead,”Just you. That’s all I want.” She was quiet for several moments, settling next to him and closing her eyes. Her eyelids felt so heavy it was a relief to not have to keep them up anymore. Sumina murmured softly,”On the road, I was scared I’d never see you again.” Before she could come up with anything else she wanted to say, she was drifting into sleep.
In her dream it was dark, but somehow she could see just enough. She didn’t question how she could see the rocks all around her, but they were there. She knew she was trapped, pinned in on all sides by stone and dirt, and she started to panic. She couldn’t tell which way was up or down, she just started trying to claw her way out.
Dirt and rocks gave way under her hands, creating a hole. She scrambled through, only to find herself in another cramped space, just as dark. She tried to scream, but heard no sound. No matter how she called for help, she heard nothing. All she could do was keep digging, so she did. The tunneling seemed endless, she was trapped in some deep, dark place. No one could see or hear her.
She pulled herself into another space, this one lit. A candle flickered, hovering just above the ground. She was laying sideways, she thought. An arm was reaching through the dirt near the candle. She rushed to it, took hold of what she thought was a helping hand, only for it to separate from the earth when she pulled. The hand was severed at the elbow. She screamed and let go, it hit the ground near her face and the fingers fell off. Still panicked she started digging again, trying to free herself and the broken hand.
In her digging her fingers found something else quickly. A foot. She freed the foot, pulled, worried someone else was trapped. The leg ended at the knee, another severed body part. She was crying at that point, pushing the leg back into the hole. Wanting to go back the way she came Sumina rolled over. Instead of finding the hole she’d come through she was face to face with a man she didn’t recognize. His eyes were dead and lifeless.
Sumina panicked, tried to push back, but there was no space. She was sobbing, thrashing, desperate to escape. She turned again to where the hole where the leg had been, but it was gone. Only the candle remained, burned down to nearly nothing. She started screaming soundlessly, begging for help while she tried to dig again. This time the soil seemed damp. It was turning to mud, but then out from the hole came pouring liquid, but it wasn’t water. Red and sticky, blood started to flood the little hollow space.
She turned back, but the dead man was still there, watching her. She tried to dig up, but all her fingers found were rocks, wedged so tight they wouldn’t budge. The candle was snuffed out, the darkness was worse, because it was frightening to be in the dark but at the same time she could still see the dead man. She couldn’t get her fingers any place to dig in, the rocks were wedged too tight.
While she thrashed around the space filled quickly with blood. She fought to keep her head above the liquid as long as she could, but then she was submerged. She was suffocating. Sumina reached up again, but instead of finding the rocks above her they broke the surface. She sat up, now in some sort of pond of blood. The trees loomed above her, tall and dead, the branches reaching up toward the red sky, devoid of sun, moon, or stars. All around her in the pond corpses were stacked, laying haphazardly against each other.
She stood and tried to walk out. The blood was thick, coming up to her knees. She stumbled onto some of the bodies, shrieking and falling back when she recognized the faces. Laying over each other were Alain, Sirius, and Walter. She scrambled back until her back hit something else. When she turned on that pile lay her family. Her mother, father, and each of her four brothers.
In terror she was shouting as she ran for the edge of the pond, sometimes on all fours. She was calling for help, calling for Royland. Afraid of what she might find. When she reached the shore she slowed to a stop. Laying facedown, their feet still in the pool of blood, were two bodies. One nearer her with red hair, the other a little ways away with a mop of auburn. Her heart sank, and she found herself walking forward even though she didn’t want to see. Not toward the redhead, but the auburn. That was when she finally woke up from the seemingly endless nightmare.
“[+darkgreen No no no.]” A dream? There were tears in her eyes. She curled up against Royland, holding onto him tightly, and started to sob now that she was awake instead of only whimpering and mumbling,”[+darkgreen Everyone was dead. You’re alive.]”
After several seconds she managed to calm down at little, not loosening her hold on him at all. She was no longer hysterical, though she was distraught,”You’re alive. I was so scared. Everyone was dead. I was trapped. Drowning. So much blood. Just a dream. Royland.” Her voice cracked and she pressed her face against his chest. “[+darkgreen My everything.]”
It took time to calm her enough to be able and willing to speak more coherently, to string things together into a proper explanation. Listening to the soothing sounds of his heartbeat, his breathing, his voice. Royland could ease her anxieties without much effort, but it still took time after the nightmare. It had been a while since she’d had one that bad. Eventually, unprompted, she started to explain quietly, that she had been trapped like she had been in the mine. She dug and dug. The hand, the leg, the body, all the blood. The lake of blood and all the bodies. Their friends, her family. Castien. Then finally him. “I saw Castien, and then you. I started going to you, but I was scared. I was so scared.”
[A/N: Sigh. >_>;]
“Under normal circumstances, I would.” Royland smiled, “But, I do want you to keep your strength up.” With the door closed and their privacy secured, Royland climbed into bed, carefully. Taking care not to touch or hold Sumina in any places that might be tender, and sore. It must have been bothersome for her to field all of his questions. Does anything hurt? How is your head? Is there a fever coming on? Are you keeping your food down alright? By the time he had been satisfied with the state of her, the noise outside the door had quieted down.
Was it morbid of him to think that they might all be listening just outside? By the way Oryanna had looked at him, he certainly wouldn’t put it past her. There were enough level heads out there that none of them would let her do [i that].
Though it wasn’t quite yet dark outside, Royland could feel the exhaustion creeping up behind him. Concern for Sumina had kept him awake all the night previous, but as she seemed to be doing better, he was tempted to allow himself to relax. Now that he assumed the danger had passed. A yawn and a deep sigh signaled his intentions, and with eyes closed, he nestled his face in the crook of Sumina’s neck. Not too rough, so as to avoid hurting her. “Is there anything else you need from me, today?”
The commotion in the kitchen hadn’t been because the rest of the home was listening in, as Royland had briefly wondered. The dishes were done in swift order, mostly due to the twin’s synergy when it came to completing household tasks. Then, they moved to completing tasks that they could see needed doing.
“Don’t you all ever dust?” Omylia turned to Sirius with her hands on her hips. He shook his head. And she spun on her heels, tending to the bookshelf. “Honestly…” Alain made a half-hearted argument that they never seemed to have time. There was always [i something] happening. Save for the times Sumina and Walter found themselves alone and presumably without interference from others, not much seemed to get done.
“And even if we did,” Alain leaned back in his chair, eyeing Omylia skeptically, “I took up knighthood for a reason. Not for laundering or...dusting books.”
It was one of the elder twin’s pet peeves. A man who found little merit in learning how to care for himself. The sharp glare he received told Alain that he had struck a nerve, and his head sunk into his shoulders just a bit. At least, Omylia thought, he was slightly ashamed of his words. “You’ll never survive on your own with that sort of thinking. Tell me, how do knights get by in their travels without women at their beck and call?”
'We've got squires, of course." Alain frowned.
"Were you never a squire?" Omylia asked.
"...I was never any good at the chores bit!" Alain huffed, arms flying over his chest. Walter turned his attention from Oryanna to shush him quietly while the twins giggled at Alain's expense.
All was calm after that. Walter and Oryanna carried on with dishes, while Omylia gave Alain a few well meaning tips on dusting and laundry, to which he pretended to respond poorly, but secretly appreciated. Soon enough, it was time for the twins to leave. It would be Walter's duty to see them home, while Sirius tended to Alain's bandages, after which they would all retire to bed.
It was a long and torturous night for sleep. At this point, Royland was no stranger to it, but it was beginning to wear his patience thin. Even watching Sumina writhe in her sleep, or listening to a brief whimper struggle to leave her throat, it was difficult for him to feel compelled to do much aside from try to calm her with a gentle reminder of his presence.
But this was far from an ordinary dream. It seemed prolonged, and Royland would wake every twenty minutes to check Sumina for a fever. Maybe she finally needed that mixture that the healers had told him about the previous day. Or was it the tincture for fever?
Twenty minutes turned to ten. And ten to five. She was mumbling, but he couldn’t understand her, and it seemed like if he made a move, she became slightly more panicked than before.
Holding her seemed to make it worse. Giving her space seemed to make her pine for him. It was a vicious cycle, and Royland was determined to make sure it was a [i short] one.
“Sumina,” He rubbed her arm gently, but with a voice firm enough that she might recognize him and wake up. “Shh, shh… You’re fine. You’re dreaming.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Her fingers felt cold, but his hands warmed them. She couldn’t not look at him when he asked her. He could soothe her worries so quickly, and she already felt a little better with his reassurance. “I’m glad it isn’t worse. You mean so much, I mean you all are so…” It was tempting to close what little distance there was between them, but she managed to refrain from leaning forward too much more,”Royland, I mean…”
She didn’t manage to finish, because they were alerted to Omylia’s presence. Royland pulled away and Sumina leaned back. Was Omylia just embarrassed walking in just then?
“Thank you, Alain.” He was having trouble adjusting. She could tell that he still wasn’t used to doing things without the one finger. It seemed like such a small thing, but she knew it was not such an easy thing to do without. She gave him a smile, content to start a little on her food while the others finished gathering. She might have waited to be polite, but she was hungry. Aside from the very light lunch Omylia and Oryanna had fed her she hadn’t eaten since before the mine. She was looking forward to getting something more solid tomorrow, instead of just soup and tea.
Once Oryanna and Walter finally joined them and everyone was sitting things quieted for them all to start eating. Sumina took advantage of that silence,”I think I’ll go to bed a little after dinner, but while we eat I could tell one more story.”
Oryanna perked up her head,”Stories? What kind? That sounds like fun.”
Omylia mumbled,”I doubt she meant gossip.” Oryanna nudged her sister’s leg with hers.
“Not what I was thinking. [+darkgreen Meanie.]”
Sumina was trying to suppress a laugh at them. “Childrens stories. Fairy tales.”
Oryanna gave a slightly exaggerated nod,”Ah, I see. That would be interesting. [+darkgreen Mama] and papa always did have different stories for us. Oh, remember how we always asked papa about the fox but he had no idea what we were talking about until [+darkgreen mom] explained?”
Omylia nodded while Sumina smiled,”That’s the idea. I told the one about the dragon and wolf familiars, with the prince and princess. So the last one for today.” Sumina settled back against her pillows and ate a little more soup, enjoying how everyone quieted and settled in to listen. She looked around the room until her gaze settled on Royland,”This one is about a princess. She was incredibly beautiful, with hair white like fresh snow and—”
“Wait, her hair was blue.” When Sumina looked confused Oryanna continued,”That’s how [+darkgreen grandpa] always told it. The princess had dark blue and purple hair, like… Ohhh.”
It seemed to dawn on all three women that the people telling them the stories might have changed the way the princess looked to match the girls they were telling the story to. Oryanna and Omylia had dark hair which showed the blue and purple in the light, something they had gotten from their mother. Sumina sipped her tea before continuing,”Well, whatever color her hair was, she was so beautiful that she had suitors from every land seeking her hand, or even a glimpse of her. Her brother, who was king after their parents death, saw her beauty as well and desired her for his wife, since no woman brought to him was ever her equal. He would have no other, despite the pleading of his advisors and all the lords.”
She went on, saying how the lords tried persuading him a last time with all their daughters and any lovely woman they could find, but he turned them all down. He finally announced to his sister his intention to marry her. In a panic she tried to ask for impossible gifts to stall for time. “She asked him, before she would marry anyone she wanted four gifts. A dress that shone like the sun, a dress of that glowed like the moon, a dress that sparkled like the stars, and finally a magical cloak. One sewn with each kind of animal with fur, imbued with magic to hide her from her enemies. Her brother agreed to her request and immediately set every seamstress to work on the splendid dresses, and every hunter with their familiars went to gather the furs for her cloak. It took months, but all four gifts were presented to her and the king prepared for a grand wedding.”
“He seriously marries his sister?” Sirius apparently couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “What kind of a story is that?”
The girls all giggled and Sumina shook her head,”I’m not done. The princess had been preparing while her brother was at work on her gifts. In secret she had made a… a um… a magic little… [+darkgreen nutshell.]” She motioned with her hands to indicate how small it was, looking to the twins for help with the word.
Oryanna smiled and glanced at Walter, as if to ask if he was paying attention,”Nutshell.”
Omylia tilted her head,”[+darkgreen Grandpa] usually said it was a seashell.”
Sumina paused her story, looking thoughtful for a moment. Apparently there were little differences between the version her family told her and the one the twins heard. The seashell made Sumina think their grandfather must have been from closer to the coast. “Well, in her shell she put the dresses and also three special treasures passed through her family. The first a ring with a sapphire, the second a necklace set with a beautiful pearl, and the last a lovely pair of earrings of pearls and sapphires. Each was said to amplify magical ability. With her treasures hidden she put on her magic cloak made from a thousand different kinds of fur and slipped out of the palace in the middle of the night. Her brother looked for her, but could not find her with the magic cloak concealing her, not even with all the familiars of all the hunters in his kingdom.”
Another pause while she ate a little more and drank some of her tea. It made her happy to see the knights so invested in the story. She didn’t keep them waiting long before she continued, describing her traveling very far until she was found by the hunting party of a king in a land far from her brother's influence. They mistook her for an animal at first, then laughed at her dirty appearance, but agreed to take the poor orphan girl in to work in the kitchen of the castle. There she worked hard doing the chores no one else liked to do, never complaining except quietly at night, wondering what would become of her now.
“One day the king held a grand party. People came from all over and the princess begged to be allowed to watch from some out of the way corner. Rather than simply watch she went to the little cupboard she slept in, cleaned herself and put on her three treasures and the golden dress. When she entered the crowds parted for her, sure she must be incredibly important. She shone like the sun, and caught the king’s eye. He danced with her and tried to learn more about her, but she was evasive about her identity and where she was from. Eventually she slipped away, changed into her rags and the fur cloak, put away her lovely dress, and smeared dirt on herself to hide her beauty. The king tried to find where she had gone, but none of the guards knew. Later that night he requested tea be brought, and while bringing it the princess dropped in her treasured ring. On finding it the king demanded to know how it had gotten in his tea, but the hidden princess said she knew nothing and was no one important.”
“Seriously? And he didn’t figure it out?” Alain scoffed, his arms crossed,”That king sounds like a thickheaded dolt.”
Sumina smiled,”Listen until the end. Some time later a second party was held, again the princess begged to go see. This time she put on the dress of silver, and the crowd at the party thought her even more lovely than before. All were dying to know her, but the king danced with her and let no one else near her. Yet she slipped away a second time, and no guards saw her leave. That night in the king’s tea he found the princess’ necklace, and once again as a servant she denied knowing.”
“But why wouldn’t she say anything? I don’t get it.” Sirius was frowning,”If she put the things in the tea, she likes him, right? So why not tell him it’s her?”
Sumina sipped her tea and raised her eyebrows,”Did you want to hear the end or not?” Sirius nodded his head vigorously and kept quiet. Sumina smiled and continued, watching Royland out of the corner of her eye. What did he think of stories like this? “Well, a third party was held, and as before the princess snuck into the party. The guests were even more enthralled by her than ever before. The dress sparkled like the night sky, gems sewn in as stars. The king had a plan this time. A ring made of wood, magic to fit whoever it was put on and impossible to remove save by the one who put it on. As he danced with his beautiful princess again he slipped the ring on a finger unnoticed. You see, the king was not a fool, but he had to be sure. This time he kept hold of her so long she had no time to change, especially after wasting time trying and failing to remove the ring once she saw it. All she could do was hurry to put her fur cloak and smear dirt on herself, but the dress of stars was still there, hidden under her cloak. When she brought the king tea, it had her beautiful earrings, the last of her treasures. This time when the king asked and she denied, he had her hold out her hands. Unable to refuse, she revealed the ring still stuck there where he had slipped it on. After proving no one else could remove it he easily slipped it off her finger and asked her to remove the fur cloak. She removed her cloak, revealing the lovely dress. He declared she would be his wife. They were quickly married, and lived together happily.”
Finished with her story, and the tea, she set the cup aside. She laid her head back more and closed her eyes,”And that’s the end.”
Oryanna smiled and stood,”I like that one. And it looks like you need to rest. Here, we’ll gather the dishes and clean. We heard what happened, you really ought to take it easy.” She looked back and forth between Royland and Sumina with a little smirk,”We’ll clean, but I imagine you’ll see that she’s comfortable. Since we likely won’t see you before we leave, good night.”
Omylia was staring at Royland and her sister practically had to drag her out of the room. Once everyone was gone Sumina asked quietly,”Are you going to make me climb out of bed?” Sumina was tired, but also longing for his affection. She was also not going to end up sleeping through the night, though she wasn’t aware of that yet. Bad dreams were waiting to plague her.
She must have noticed Royland’s staring, else she would have never said anything to reassure him about her injuries. He placed his hand over the tops of her arms, running his palm down the length of it.. Trying to calm her, and maybe then, he could calm those troublesome thoughts in her head.
“Mm.” Royland shook his head to indicate that, no, the finger had never been found. “It was… five days before you returned. Even if we [i had] found it…” He stopped himself, gazing down at her strained hands, struggling the life out of the blanket on her lap.
Far from concerning him, the implication that anyone would ever blame her for what happened… made Royland angry. “...Upset?” He muttered, brows drawn together. “Sumina, no. Never. Not one of us.” One finger, then another. He pried away her grip on the fabric, cupping those hands he loved so much in his own. Both sets of hands had seen their fair share of tragedy. Had been covered with their fair share of blood. Had they grown smaller since he last held them? Were they frail from the shock she’d experienced, or withering from the guilt?
He wouldn’t chastise her for a question asked out of fear, but he would not entertain those feelings of insecurity. “If anything, I realized just how much I… How much [i we all] rely on you… Look at me.” The door to the room was open, and the voices, though quiet, were carrying the lilting laughter and conversation of an engaged, distracted household. It may have explained, then, why Royland had leaned forward to kiss Sumina, but stopped just short. “You’re too hard on yourself, Sumina. We do what we can for the living. Do what we [i can], and don’t dwell on what could have been done. Alain doesn’t like it when people torture themselves over him.”
From around the corner, Omylia watched silently.
She was holding Sumina’s teacup in her hand, intent on changing it out for the one Sirius said he’d seen empty when he’d gotten up to leave the room. But she couldn’t bring herself to interrupt the scene in front of her - not just yet. With her free hand, she twirled a lock of her hair, anxiously. There was [i so] much going on at once. Lyrei’s words, Oryanna’s infatuation with Walter, Sumina’s grave state... It flustered her. The steam from the teacup made beads of sweat form on her nose, and her feet felt stuck to the floor.
It was very obvious to her, looking at the way the king and Sumina interacted, that Lyrei…
“Omylia, what are you doing? Sumina’s tea will get cold!” Oryanna’s voice startled her sister, causing her to jump.
“[+darkgreen Oh my--!]” Omylia immediately tried to steady the cup in her hands, lest the tea splash onto the floor. “Oryanna! Don’t do that!” Hearing the commotion, Royland glanced over, and when he locked eyes with Omylia… she turned stark red about the face. The king’s hand went over his mouth, and he leaned back into his seat. How much did she see, he wondered.
“You’re all so lively…” Alain sighed, holding a bowl of soup with both hands, hoping no one could see the subtle shake from his injured finger. It was more meddlesome, than painful. The bandages made it difficult to move his hand with any intent. Gripping objects around him was exceptionally hard. To make up for his deficient dominant hand, he was learning to do everything with both, or just the left. But, still, Sirius had made a big fuss of it… And he no longer wanted Sumina to wear that wrenching expression on her face. Else Royland might punish him in this life and the next. So, he did his best to present Sumina her dinner without making it too obvious just how relieved he was when the bowl left his hands.
Sirius appeared behind him, urging his friend to sit, then handed Royland and Alain bowls of their own. “There, now. Not so hard, is it?” Alain turned his head and snorted. Sirius had been trying to encourage and reassure him throughout his recovery. But, Alain was just so averse to practice. Said it made him feel embarrassed, to have to learn everything over again like a child. And Sirius was so damn [i happy] when he succeeded.
“Are you mocking me, Balthem!?” Alain’s voice was strained. Royland had to hold back a chuckle. “Don’t you start on me, too, Vondien…”
After causing the ruckus, Oryanna had snuck back into the kitchen with Walter to get her sister a bowl of food. “It’s the least I can do for her.” She sighed, having explained to Walter her intentions. The last thing she wanted to do was potentially cause a mess. Walter smiled, despite noting that she had lost a fraction of her flounce.
“She knows you didn’t mean anything by it.” Walter took a step back, noting the flat look on Oryanna’s face. “Wh-what is it?”
“[+darkgreen How is your Elvish coming along?]” Oryanna’s brows lifted while she waited for Walter to translate.
“[+darkgreen How is my…]” He’d been practicing, but it still took him a while to respond whenever Oryanna and Abana spoke to him. “It’s… it’s fine.”
“[+darkgreen Have you told anyone you’re studying?]” Oryanna’s smile had returned to her face… And Walter was glad to see it. Although, he could tell, she was disappointed in his sheepish response to her answer. It hadn’t been his intention to keep it from anybody. He’d been spending most of his time out of the house, anyway. The only one who could practice with him in the home was Sumina, and they had been busy making sure she and Alain were okay after both of them had been injured. Walter had a myriad of excuses for why it had slipped his mind, and Oryanna’s calm smile was making him feel more guilty by the minute. Eventually, she said to him,quietly, “[+darkgreen You have to practice, little lamb.]”
Walter’s head perked up a bit. He looked...confused. “Little... what? [+darkgreen Lamb?] I don’t think I’ve heard that word before.” Oryanna giggled. Of course, he wouldn’t. He had probably never heard it in casual conversation. He thought about pressing her. But all he was going to get was a smile before she’d turned to walk towards Sumina’s room… ah, well. That was enough for him.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina listened with interest to their stories, smiling slightly at the interruptions. The stories were fun enough, but she was enjoying the company at least as much. She reacted with wide eyes and gasps at appropriate times, looking particularly horrified with the sister crying when her brother's head fell off.
“I’ve never heard those before.” Sumina seemed to be thinking about the stories, or maybe what story she might tell next, when there was a knock at the front door that they all heard in the quiet moment. Sumina looked up at the door. Before she could say anything Walter stood,”I’ll get it.”
Sumina nodded and looked at the empty cup. She’d finished her tea while they shared stories. At this point she couldn’t deny that she was getting hungry, the sun was low enough to signal it was about time to eat. “Can we have dinner together?”
She started to move toward the edge of the bed. She had some of her energy back, but she was starting to look a little drained,”I could try to sit at the table.”
Alain shook his head, and Sirius stood up,”Lady Sumina, just relax. We’ll bring everything to you.” He patted Alain’s shoulder,”Come on, you can help too.”
”I can’t possibly. I’ll just drop everything.” Alain grumbled, and immediately regretted it when Sumina looked at him so utterly crestfallen. She was scooting forward as if going to help him, and he jumped to his feet,”It might not be so bad. I can carry something.”
As Walter thought it was the twins at the door. They came with food, as before. Oryanna was smiling,”Came to check on Sumina one more time for the day. Is she doing well?”
“Oh yes, very well. I’m sure she’ll be glad to see you.” Walter had not moved from the doorway yet.
Not until Omylia asked with a polite nod,”May we come in?” Oryanna started to giggle while Walter’s face flushed as he moved to let them in.
“Of course. I was just… We’ve been telling stories so I… was thinking of that...” That wasn’t the case at all. He wasn’t distracted by the stories at all, he’d been distracted because Oryanna was wearing a different dress than before. With the butterflies on their shoulders it seemed both the twins never wore anything with a very high neckline in order to show off the marks more easily. Not uncommon fashion in Dalem. But both twins were now wearing matching dresses with necklines that hung off the shoulders. Walter was trying to figure out why she changed, because she looked lovely before. But she was also lovely [i now], of course. Oryanna was not quite laughing anymore, but seemed delighted as she watched Walter try to gather himself as she and Omylia made their way to the kitchen.
“Are the others out?” Omylia asked. She was getting together things for tea and to finish Sumina’s meal. The only one working, because Oryanna was leaning against the counter and watching Walter.
“No. Uh, keeping Lady Sumina company.” Walter seemed to be getting his bearings again.
Oryanna practically bounced to Walter and took his arm,”And you here to help us. What a [+darkgreen kind knight] we have. Come help with the tea. We’ll take over, Omylia.”
While Oryanna seemed pleased that her dragging him to the kitchen seemed to fluster him all over again, Omylia just shook her head. It was obvious they fancied each other, and Omylia was still waiting for one of them to say something. Ryul, who Omylia had been dating, was so invested in finding out if Oryanna and Walter were dating yet that it bordered on annoying. Not that she exactly blamed him, they had talked and Omylia felt uncomfortable getting married just yet with her sister unattached, and so they were waiting.
They were all busy in the kitchen when Sirius came in followed closely by a slightly anxious Alain, glancing behind him as if expecting Sumina to come stumbling after him. Sirius explained Sumina wanted dinner with them all so they would all be eating in her room.
Once the others had all gone to get food Sumina leaned back, looking slightly uncomfortable and putting one arm across her body to feel her side, the ribs of the side where she’d been hurt. “It doesn’t hurt like you might expect. More like I bumped against something.” She tried to reassure Royland with a small smile. “If anything right now I’m hungry.”
Her gaze went to the door momentarily before falling to her lap. She pulled at the soft blanket, bunching up some of the material in her hands. The answers were unlikely to bring her much comfort, but she had to know. “How long ago? Did they… bring it back?” Her knuckles were starting to turn white as she gripped the fabric,”Are… any of you upset that I wasn’t here?”
Royland had a hard time sitting still, watching the tears well up in Sumina’s eyes, listening to the silence that floated in between them all when the topic of Alain’s finger came to attention. It had been his fault, by proxy. If he had gone himself, or accompanied them at the very least, things might have been different - more favorable. It was a topic of conversation while Alain recovered, and everyone except the stubborn king agreed that it would have put him at massive risk. Everyone was not simply looking for the missing “princess,” but also the usurped king who had spirited her away. He hadn’t seen it that way. Sumina was probably thinking in much the same way. He would have to apologize to her, later.
At Walter’s cue, he’d placed his hand over the tops of Sumina’s, but never found a moment to say his piece in order to calm her down. Sirius’ ineptitude seemed to squash the awkwardness quickly enough that everyone was able to listen to her story in earnest. When she was finished, there was a brief pause before Walter volunteered to tell his story next.
“Well, this is the story of a king and his three sons.” Walter began. “The king was a kind man, and tried to raise his sons to be the same way… But, his sons grew up to be power hungry and vindictive, all wishing their father’s wealth to be their own. All were waiting for the day that their father would name an heir, and one of them could become king. Even when he was on his deathbed, the king refused to make a decision. So, the eldest son had a thought - that if he should kill his father and brothers, that he would then get the throne. So he went to see an old witch in the forest. She told the eldest son that he should pluck three hairs each from his father and brothers that he wished to kill, remove a nail from a coffin, clip a lock of golden hair from a virgin, and bring the corpse of any animal of his choosing. The witch warned the eldest son that he, too, had to drink a potion, otherwise the magic would reverse itself, his crimes would be found out, and he would surely be put to death. Despite this, the eldest son agrees to the witch’s conditions.”
“Sounds like an imbecile.” Alain muttered.
“Could you have some manners!?” Sirius hissed.
Walter went on to explain that from the ingredients, the witch concocted three potions, and an additional fourth for the eldest son. The first potion killed his father within a day. The second turned one of his brothers into a princess, who was then married off to a lowly duke in a poor nation. The third turned the youngest son into a dead mouse.
“When the prince who would now be king took his own potion, he was turned into a ferocious half-beast - a tiger - and gobbled up the corpse of his youngest brother in front of all the castle servants. The townspeople ran the half-beast tiger from the kingdom. Out of shame, he returned to the witch, and asked her, ‘Why did you deceive me so? My life is ruined with this curse!’ The witch replied that she knew from the moment they met that the prince was unfit to be a king. He was selfish enough to want his father dead, cruel enough that he would turn his own brother to a princess and marry him into a life of poverty, and lacked so much restraint that he would devour the flesh of his own brother. The curse, and the memories of his actions were to be his cross to bear for the rest of his life. The prince would watch from the woods as the kingdom thrived underneath the rule of his kind old uncle, and the prince served the witch for the rest of his days to atone for his sins.” Walter sat back in his chair, thoroughly satisfied with his telling.
Sirius started on his story next. The story of a wealthy couple who prayed to the Siren’s every day for a baby. One winter, Sirius told them, the wife is peeling an apple underneath the juniper tree in their yard. When she cuts her finger, and sees her blood in the snow, she wishes for a child as white as snow and as red as blood.
Alain shook his head, “That doesn’t make any sense!”
“I feel as though these stories rarely do.” Royland responded. “But, still, I want to hear this one.”
“Anyway,” Sirius continued, “Six months after this wish, the wife falls gravely ill. She asks her husband to bury her under the juniper tree if she were to die. The next month, she gives birth to a baby boy who is just as she wished for: white and snow and red as blood, and then she dies. Heartbroken, the husband honors his wife’s wish, and buries her under the juniper tree. He remarries, and he and his new wife have a daughter together. But, of course, the new wife hates her stepson. She wishes for her daughter to inherit her husband’s vast fortune.”
The evil stepmother, Sirius explained, planned to lure her stepson into an empty room containing a large chest of apples. The daughter asks her mother for an apple, and is graciously gifted it. “But when the [i stepson] approached the chest, and reached down for an apple…” Sirius paused for effect, “BAM! She slams the lid down on the stepson’s head, and decapitates him!”
“Sirens above!” Walter lurched back into his seat. “What kind of story is this!?”
“It gets worse. The stepmother binds his head to his body with a bandage, props his body in a chair outside, and places an apple in his lap. When his sister comes by him, she asks for an apple. When she got no response from her brother, her mother implores her to ‘box him about the head.’ The boy’s head rolls onto the ground and his sister cries and cries, while her mother makes blood-soup from the boy’s body. The father comes home and his wife serves him the soup. And he claims it is the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted! The daughter sadly gathers the bones of the boy that remain from the dinner, and buries them underneath the juniper tree.”
“Wait, wait--” Alain shook his head, “The wife cooked up her stepson and fed it to the father!? Is that what your great aunt used to tell you at bedtime?”
“It’s no wonder you’re so morbid, sometimes.” Royland leaned to the side, almost as though he were trying to actively separate himself from his friend.
Sirius crossed his arms, “You’re all so dramatic. I’m almost done. So, a mist appears from the tree, and from the mist comes a little bird. It sings a sad, but beautiful song to nearby townspeople about its death at the hands of his wicked stepmother. Moved by the bird’s tale, the goldsmith, shoemaker, and a miller give him three gifts as thanks. A gold chain, a pair of red shoes, and a millstone. The bird flies home, gives the gold chain to the father and the red shoes to his sister. When the stepmother comes outside to investigate, the bird drops the millstone on her head, killing her! Then, the bird is overcome by smoke and flame - it’s the boy, come back to life. And he and his father and sister live out the rest of their days in happiness.”
Silence was Sirius’ only response. “Oh, for the love of - that one was brilliant!”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina couldn’t help but smile at him. The way he looked at her, like there was nothing else in the world that mattered, filled her with warmth. “Then you mustn’t make me reach.”
The idea of stories seemed to give him some pause. Royland’s father did not sound like the sort of man to sit and tell stories. Judging by his reaction after giving it some thought, she decided he really must not have been told stories the way she had. It was not a pleasant memory for him. He did not say anything, and she decided not to ask just then, instead smiling at the others when they came in.
“I’m really glad to see you all.” Sumina couldn’t hold back a laugh at their teasing, and looked to Royland. She was quite happy with the company. It was so good to be back with the group again, these knights she was so fond of like brothers. And of course back with the man she loved more than anyone else.
She eased back against the pillows, looking at the faces around her while they started on stories. Arguing about stories, really, but she loved it anyway. It took her several moments to notice, she’d been focused on their faces at first. But as soon as her eyes landed on Alain’s hand her face fell. He’d been hurt while she was gone. Not just hurt, she recognized quickly that one of the fingers was missing, the pinky was gone entirely. Her brows drew together, her face contorted in worry and guilt. “Oh, Alain…”
Her request for stories was forgotten for the moment. The room fell quiet when the men noticed where she was looking. The awkwardness was almost tangible. None of them knew what to say to her, only that not a single one of them could bear the look on her face. All eyes instead went to Alain, who scratched the back of his head, as much at a loss for words as the rest of them.
It was silent while they wanted for him to speak, but he couldn’t. He could barely look at her. He’d sort of hoped she wouldn’t pick up on it at all, but that was probably stupid. Of course she would see the bandages. Instead of him explaining she spoke again, scooting forward on the bed,”How? When? I’m so sorry.”
“Well don’t be.” It came out grumpier than Alain meant it to. Sumina froze for a moment, looking distressed. “It isn’t like it’s your fault.”
“But I might have been able to do something.” Even for a proper healer Sumina was uncommonly skilled. She had dedicated herself so much to her studies, and had an impressive natural aptitude for magic. She thought she could have reattached the finger, if he’d had it. If too much time hadn’t passed. But now it would be too late. But by how much was she late? Would shaving off a day or two by pressing herself harder have been enough? But then Kolvar would be dead in that mine.
It was impossible. She could not save everyone. But how desperately she wanted to. The tears were welling in her eyes with frustration and guilt. Alain huffed,”Don’t worry about it.”
Sirius chimed in, trying to be helpful,”He’s complained a bit but he’s fine. Been drinking enough I doubt it hurts.”
“But…” Sumina tried to protest, but went quiet and looked down at the bed in front of her. The men exchanged concerned looks, not sure what to do to cheer her up, to keep from stressing her. She needed to relax and recover. Walter looked to Royland and gestured with his head toward Sumina. It wasn’t exactly hard for anyone watching the two for any time to see how attuned their moods were. If any of them were going to be able to quickly soothe her it was going to be Royland.
Still, Walter tried to do his part to help too,”Lady Sumina, why don’t you start then?” Perhaps getting her engaged in another topic could get her away from feeling bad about Alain’s condition. None of them seemed comfortable with the idea of her becoming more distraught. None of them thought they could handle it if she actually cried.
She sniffled a little and the panic permeated the room. Walter stammered,”O-or maybe Sirius could. You know one, right?”
Walter’s mind was coming up blank, and Sirius’ was actually worse when he blurted out,”I remember one about a man who loses his leg and gets a golden one.”
Sirius immediately covered his mouth with both hands. Walter smacked his forehead with an open palm, and all Alain could do was stare at Sirius with wide eyes. The choice was [i horribly] inappropriate, and they didn’t even know about Kolvar, only Alain missing a digit. Sumina made a sound that sounded enough like crying that the knights looked like they were going to break down. But the sound continued, enough to tell that it was laughter, and they heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Sumina shook her head and wiped her eyes of the tears still there. The ridiculousness of it was enough to make the whole thing absurd to her for the moment. It lifted the heavy atmosphere,”Not that one now. Please. You’re all… Oh I missed you. I’ll start then. A story about a boy in search of a very special familiar. A king had three sons, all fine men. But the bravest and most noble was the youngest. Legend told of a great familiar that could only be found on a distant mountain peak, taking the form of a [i dragon]. Seeking glory the first two sons declared they would bond with the familiar and return home. The king gave his blessing and the two departed. The third son begged to go as well, and was finally allowed to go. Before he left a servant girl wished him luck and gave him a pair of earrings for luck. She said if he was ever in dire need to throw one on the ground. No sooner did he reach the first fork in the road than he met a large white wolf. Unknown to him, a familiar of the servant girl who secretly loved him, sent to help…”
The distraction worked, and she told a long story about the adventures the boy went on, aided by the wolf familiar guiding him, even as he bumbled through and failed several tasks. The wolf was there to save him. In dire moments the earrings came through twice, shielding him from almost certain doom by calling the wolf to him. A third time in peril and the girl came herself, saving him from the wrath of a wronged lord. In the end, the boy bested his brothers, came home with a dragon familiar, and married the servant girl, who it turned out was a princess from another land spying to see which of the three princes would make a good husband. The knits became quite invested in the story as Sumina told it, particularly since none of them had heard it before. She was quite enjoying herself, but at the end leaned back into the pillows and declared it was their turn to tell her stories. None of them were sure they could match her, but they were now determined to try.
All posts are either in parody or to be taken as literature. This is a roleplay site. Sexual content is forbidden.