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The appearance of so many that needed Sumina's help shouldn't have been so surprising. Walter, along with his duties for Abana, often aided Sumina in bringing her fresh and dried ingredients that she needed for her many remedies. This is what she did for money, this was her profession. She had trained for this. Royland almost felt guilty – for all the time he had taken her out of the house, how many patients had been turned away at the door? Worse yet, he thought with an unnoticeably sour expression, how busy was she attempting to keep herself when he was away?
Of the four people crowding the common room, the woman with child was one of Royland's immediate concerns. After helping her into her chair, he brought a pillow on which she could rest her feet, and one for her back. Once he assured that she was comfortable, there was hardly any time to sit down as the young boy approached him, cautiously eyeing the sword on his hip.
"Are you a real knight?"
Royland smiled, "I am." He abandoned his plans to rest his feet, instead lowering himself to the boy's eye level. The boy's little fingers curled around the unsightly rash covering his arms, but his eyes were wide, and cheeks rosy with excitement.
"Toliver," His mother smiled when he looked back at her. "[+darkgreen Don't scratch.]"
Toliver looked quite distressed. Embarrassed, perhaps? But Royland quelled his anxiety, quickly, with a suggestion. "Let's get you something for that itch, young one." Royland said.
"Toliver!" That sparkle was back, and Royland could see the lingering question behind them. "[+darkgreen My name...] My name is Toliver..."
"Well, Squire Toliver. Let's be off, then.”
Royland's only saving grace was that Sumina was highly organized, and perceptive enough to place her supplies in an easily accessible place. A cabinet just beside the stove, typically used for storing pots - last time Royland had seen it - was filled to the brim with neatly placed and labeled containers, bottles, and jars of different concoctions. The sheer [i quantity] of it all made he - and Toliver - stare in awe before the search began. How long had it taken her to assemble all of this? Royland's brows furrowed together. Toliver noticed the change in expression and mimicked the king. Plenty of the labels were exclusively in Elvish, although Sumina had tried to write the more useful ones in the Common tongue as well. Her handwriting - sloppy as it was - made Royland smile to see.
"Can you read Elvish?" Toliver lifted a bottle to Royland's face and seemed surprised when the king shook his head. The young boy looked puzzled at first. But soon enough, he was teaching Royland as best he could, pointing out the different labels and translating for him. Occasionally, his mother would need to lend an eye for more complicated words. Sure enough, within a few minutes of finding the correct bottle, and loosely bandaging what open sores he’d managed to cause, Toliver had some mild relief.
Royland bent down to Toliver’s level once more to ask, “Do as your mother says, Squire Toliver. Don’t scratch.”
There was a small lull in the buzz as Toliver went to his mother to be comforted, able to place his arms around her without fear of spreading what was on his arms. Royland stayed standing, asked if there was anything he could do for anyone while they waited.
"Young King," Weakly, the elderly woman beckoned to Royland, hands stiff with age. He quickly obliged, kneeling beside her to listen in close and make himself better heard. "Your hands look strong and able."
"Aye, they are." Royland chuckled.
The old woman smiled in response. "Might you ease the pains in my old bones until Lady Sumina returns?" Never taught to disobey or disrespect his elders, Royland moved his sleeves to his elbows and went to task. Rolling the woman's knees carefully between his fingers and palms, adjusting to her level of comfort as she instructed him - and she wasn't shy in doing so. She resumed her conversation with Toliver’s mother, stroking her son’s head in her lap, as he’d finally been able to calm down. Exhausted by the day he’d spent unable to rest his mind from his affliction.
Royland had finally gotten around to the older woman's feet when Sumina came inside, a group trailing behind her as opposed to being on her lonesome. He sighed. Half out of utter disappointment, and the other of mild relief. Without much more than a nod and a smile, Royland quickly took to a large pot, filled it with water, and began to heat it over the stove. While he was bent over, stoking the wood, Oryanna approached him from behind. She didn't startle him, but he instinctively pulled back from her as she studied his face with indeterminate intent.
"I've never seen royalty up close. Are your knights this handsome as well?" Oryanna had a playfulness about her face, but a gentleness in her mannerisms. Her question was quite sincere, try as Royland might to find any hint of flirtation. His brow rose, but Omylia quickly pulled her sister back with a quiet hiss.
[+darkgreen "Oryanna! In front of Lady Sumina?!"]
[+darkgreen "Was just a question! I want to know if the rumors are true."] Oryanna seemed amused by her own behavior. And by her sister's reaction.
[+darkgreen "Sirens, all that time you've spent with grandfather's herbs have made you forget your manners... You've not even introduced yourself to him, yet..."] Omylia continued to have a hushed conversation with her sister for the duration of the patient's treatments.
Using it as his chance for even a moment of peace, Royland stood in front of the pot, arms crossed. Watching, waiting for it to boil. It was simply his own excuse not to engage. And everyone seemed fixated on Sumina, now. Castien certainly wasn’t interested in interacting with him, and he was able to fade into the background. He couldn’t deny that he felt overwhelmed.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] His words and smile chased away much of her concern, at least for the moment. Royland didn’t seem worried about it, so maybe it wasn’t such a concern. His rhetorical question did get his desired result, fluttering eyelashes along with her heart and rosey warmth in her cheeks.
That was unfair, sending her off just then. She almost said so, but instead just said his name half reproachfully,”Royland…” But she did go, if only to get her errands done sooner. Later, when they were alone, she’d get that kiss and more. Sumina looked back at Royland before rejoining Castien.
Castien didn’t need to ask, his raised eyebrow was enough,”I sent him on another errand. As for you… [+darkgreen I don’t appreciate how rude you’ve been today with him. You know he can’t understand Elvish. And I noticed what you were doing.]” Sumina wasn’t generally the type to publicly reprimand or humiliate others, so her words were quiet and she’d waited until Royland wasn’t there, but she was irritated and let that show a little. “[+darkgreen I’d like if you tried to be more polite and get along. I care about you both. And I don’t want to see you at each others throats.]”
But she did not care for them both in the same way. Castien ran a hand through his hair, trying not to look right at her, but it was impossible to avoid her gaze for too long. And how could he deny her? “[+darkgreen I’m trying, water lily. What else do you need?]”
Back to business, because Castien really didn’t want to keep the subject on the king now that the brat was finally gone and he had water lily to himself for the next little while. Besides, he [i was] trying, it was the only reason he hadn’t punched the royal snob in his smug face yet. They were nearly done with this part of preparations, getting the goods to sell or at least ordering what was needed, then Sumina took them to Orym’s paint shop. It was there that Oryanna and Omylia, Orym’s twin granddaughters, joined the group, insisting on coming along with Sumina for a while to talk.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
Just because Sumina was out didn’t mean no one needed a healer. Where better to look than her home, where they usually found her? Instead of her, they found Royland when they knocked on the door. The first to arrive, scarcely after Sirius had been pushed out the door, was an old human woman. The way she walked her joints much ache, and her fingers were bent a little off. She politely asked if Sumina was in, and if she could wait for her return when she found out the healer was out,”I would come back, it isn’t a far walk, but my knees…”
For a little while it was just the old woman, happy to do most of the talking, usually about her children and grandchildren. Then an elvish looking woman showed up with a boy of maybe ten with a rash all over his arms and asked somewhat desperately if Lady Sumina would be back soon. Not long after that another Elvish woman came knocking, this one heavily pregnant, and asked if Sumina might be able to help her. All of them were content to wait with Royland for the healers return rather than come back later or seek one of the other healers in the town. The pregnant woman seemed like the only one content to wait silently, the other two wanted to talk and the boy was very interested in asking Royland questions while his mother kept reminding him not to scratch himself.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
After seeing Elas and the rest of Castien’s family Sumina managed to extract herself from the bakery with some difficulty. The children had delayed her, making it hard to leave, and Oryanna and Omylia had not made it any easier. They encouraged Vanya playing with Sumina’s hair, and Castien was delighted to see the different styles the girls tried.
Sumina returned to the house with Castien and the twins, her hair in a waterfall braid along one side, and towards the other side after being braided around the back the braid had been wrapped and pinned up to look like a flower. While Castien held the door for the ladies, they all entered with Oryanna pulling at Sumina’s hand,”It looks lovely. You must let us paint you one of these days. Oh. You have company.”
It wasn’t so much that there was someone waiting for her as a healer that surprised her. Having someone come by while she was out wasn’t that uncommon. But three was a little more than she was used to. She went to Royland, which was something that irritated Castien as he shut the door behind him. “Ah, who shall I see first?”
The old woman answered,”I was here first, but let the boy be seen. He looks quite uncomfortable. I remember when my daughter got sick with a pox. Minor illness, but she was such a miserable little thing.”
The mother of the boy looked concerned,”I do hope it isn’t that.”
Sumina gave a patient smile,”I’m sure everything will be fine. Royland.” She looked at him a little apologetically,”Would you mind heating up a large pan of water for me?” She would need it, but it was also an escape for him from the heart of the chaos. The house was feeling a little crowded at the moment, especially since she’d nearly doubled the number of people with her friends coming along. Not what she was hoping for, but that was life and this was her job.
Royland's brows went up, then down, and drew together. Embarrass him? "That's nonsense. You could never..." Not by his standards, anyhow. It was true that royalty were gossip prone creatures, but few would say something so inept as to lose a Vondien's valuable, hard earned trust. Or to jeopardize any potential rewards for helping him take back the throne.
But Sumina wasn't thinking about that. She was thinking about Royland's image. Otherwise, she might not have let Castien strongarm her into accepting his gifts.
"You needn't worry about things like that. Do I look kingly to you, the way I am now?" One side of his mouth lifted into a smile. "Personally, I'm more worried of [i Alain] embarrassing us with his manners, than I am about the clothes you wear." He chuckled and cleared his throat.
While she was leaned in closely, he couldn't help but move forwards in kind, as though he were going to kiss her, "Aren't you beautiful, any which way you present yourself?" A question he knew she wouldn't be able to answer. His only intention was to fluster her.
Without following through on the kiss that seemed all but promised, the smile on his face turned devilish. "Go, now. Before he starts to ask questions." There would be plenty of time for intimate gestures when they were truly alone.
Only when Sumina and Castien were well out of sight, did Royland approach the still ongoing argument that had drawn an even larger host of nosy eyes since he'd parted ways with Sumina. Actually, Baldric had run up to him so quickly, that it almost startled him. Taken aback, Royland couldn't process what was being said to him, at first.
"Calm down, now-- Baldric, isn't it?" The only thing he'd been able to glean from Castien's snide comment earlier.
The large man seemed stunned that Royland knew his name, almost to the point of silence. But he quickly resumed rehashing his grievances, pointing behind him to Lyrei, who looked... exasperated. And angry. "If I've told her once, I've told her one thousand times! Over the course of a thousand moons! If she lets the crown tax us so heavily in the aftermath of that storm, how are we meant to feed our own!? That woman's got no backbone!" Lyrei visibly snapped her head to Baldric's direction, but Vargas held her off from advancing. "She refuses to send anyone on our behalf! Meanwhile, we're using scrap wood to repair our shops and homes like animals in thickets." Baldric was addressing the crowd now, arms raised, staring down at the faces of his neighbors.
Royland hung his head and thought for a moment before speaking, “Consider the damages to the crown’s castle. They, too, had to weather the storm. It’s likely not just your own tax that has been raised… Your leader likely pays taxes on this land, where you live, sell your goods, and support your families. Perhaps have some sympathy for her.” Baldric quickly grew red-faced at the foreign king’s level-headed response. But he said nothing. Several townspeople began to jeer in agreement, and without another word, Baldric retreated into his home, grumbling the entire way.
The tension in the air subsided almost immediately. Vargas approached Royland as the crowd dispersed. To his surprise, Lyrei said nothing to him as she walked past.
“Thank you,” Vargas sighed, exhausted. “That man can be a handful. But it took all of my strength to hold the Madame back.”
“Taxes are quite the strain on the relationship between a leader and his people…” Royland had his own stories, but none worth sharing in that moment.
“I should check on her. My thanks, again, King Vondien.” Vargas waved and jogged in the direction of Lyrei’s home, leaving Royland by his lonesome in the square. The citizens resumed their daily lives, and save for the occasional whispers, all was quiet on the subject of Lyrei and Baldric’s confrontation.
Royland resumed his intended task, and returned to the home to check the laundry, per Sumina’s request. There was an obvious, bothersome dampness in each individual shirt, pant, and sheet hung out to dry. He closed his hand around the corner of each item to assess it, before ultimately relenting and heading inside.
Sirius was hard at work, wiping windows and floors. Alain, apparently, had gone hunting quite some time ago, but hadn’t yet returned. Royland tried to help, but his assistance was vehemently refused. Sirius confessed that he was bored to [i tears]. With no pressing obligations spurring them on or giving them any such reason to leave the comfort of Dalem, the knight was feeling a bit stir crazy. Royland listened closely as he prattled on, words jumbled to the point of being incoherent.
“What could Lyrei possibly have planned? Why send Lady Sumina without her entourage?”
“And with that Castien, too. What if he tries to—”
“Has she no shame? I can only imagine what horrors await!”
Royland grabbed his friend by the collar of his shirt and promptly put him outside. “You need some fresh air. Take a walk.” He had been smiling, at first, but it quickly disappeared, “Don’t come back without Alain [i and] Walter.” It was the only thing he could think of to get some peace and quiet. Hopefully Sumina wasn’t too far off from returning.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] While trying on and showing off dresses Sumina noticed the two were tense with each other. Were they even speaking to each other when she was in the back, or was it just awkward silence? At least they didn’t seem to be ready to exchange blows. Her taste in clothing leaned toward the simple. The men both seemed to favor lighter colors on her, the pastels and finally the shopkeeper put her in white. She thought she liked it, and emerged from the back with a shy, questioning expression directed at Royland. His reaction actually made her blush. She did like the dress though, and wore it when they left. Castien insisted on paying for it and two other dresses she had liked, refusing to even let her inquire about the price. “Trust me, [+darkgreen water lily], I can easily afford it or anything else you might like.”
His assurance left her still feeling a little unsure about it, but on this Castien refused to budge so she’d had to give in. She had found Castien could be rather stubborn about certain things, gift giving among them.
Once they started shopping for supplies for the trip Castien started taking notes when they bought something in a little book he kept in his pocket. At Sumina’s inquisitive look he’d explained a good merchant had to keep rather meticulous records. He was constantly asking her opinion on anything and everything in the market, whether it was relevant to their errand or not, while she would try to get Royland in on it from time to time, wondering what he thought of something. Their tension was starting to wear on her a little though.
Shopping with Castien was necessary, but she wanted to spend the time before the trip with Royland as much as possible. That was proving difficult with Castien here. He was far more persistent than usual in his attempts to keep her engaged in conversation. There was a lull though when they all spotted the argument. Sumina wondered who would argue with Lyrei and why. Castien supplied the who, but as for why Baldric was shouting at Lyrei in the middle of the street, she had no answer since she couldn’t make out any words at this distance. What she could tell though was that Lyrei’s stance gave the impression she wasn’t the least bit intimidated by the man bearing down on her with angry words. “I suppose he must be, to argue in the street like that. I wonder what happened…” She was trying to not fall into speaking Elvish too much, since Royland wouldn’t be able to follow along. Of course Castien had to know that, and she had little doubt that he’d also noticed that she had a habit of responding in Elvish when spoken to in Elvish more often than not. She had caught herself doing that [i several] times already today. Enough for her to notice the pattern.
Sumina was sort of glad to have a moment with Royland where Castien wasn’t about to interrupt. But really, he was even more frustrated with Castien than she was. With a sympathetic smile she took his hands in hers and leaned close to press her lips to his cheek. She lingered there quietly for a moment. He was here and putting up with this all for her, because she’d asked. She didn’t want to push him too hard. And it was a little difficult to enjoy time with him while Castien was here. Without moving back at all she spoke softly, only shifting so her cheek was against his,”I am glad you came. And helped with clothes. I wouldn’t want to… embarrass you when we leave…” Her fingers tightened over his slightly. So much more she wanted to say. To ask. Did he remember the white dress she wore when they met? Stained with wine and blood, discarded soon after. It had been her favorite dress at the time. Had she already inadvertently embarrassed him by not taking more care in her appearance? She was always as clean and well groomed as she could manage, but she was just so used to a certain sort of lifestyle that didn’t leave time for fussing over elaborate hairstyles or makeup, and where new clothes were something you only usually got when you desperately needed them.
For now though, she pulled back just enough to meet his eyes. His patience with Castien was wearing a little thin. “How about… There are a couple more things to buy, I need to see Orym, and I’d like to see how Elas is doing. While I do that, you can go check on the laundry to see if it’s dry yet, then we can make dinner together. Just the two of us.”
While Castien shamelessly badgered Sumina, Royland gave her a sympathetic look every time they locked eyes. There wasn't any time to persuade Castien otherwise. He'd grasped onto Sumina's free hand, at which point Royland released her. She had asked him so sweetly to come along. There was no resisting her, and yet, he could not help but regret his decision as she disappeared into the shop, hand in hand with the blight on his life that was the wandering merchant. Royland sighed, dejected.
Castien certainly knew a lot about her current wardrobe. Which dresses were torn, which ones she didn't like. He likely even know when she'd torn them. Probably been around on a few occasions. The familiarity with which he regarded her was...disturbing.
Stepping inside, the king brooded over one aspect or another of their relationship. Whether it was the rampant misunderstandings, the personal tragedies, constant interruptions, or prior obligations, there was always [i something]. It pained him to think that, though her heart was with him, that he could not make her happy. He could not anticipate these things that Castien seemed acutely aware of.
How long was this day to last?
In-between watching the shopkeeper showcase Sumina in every dress available it seemed like, Royland would try to appeal to Castien. But the redhead wasn't having it. Responding only with scoffs and cold glances while out of sight of Sumina.
"Why are you doing this?" Royland's smile wasn't genuine. His voice was low, trying to hide itself under the bubbly chatter of the shop attendant helping Sumina get dressed in her next garment. As Castien had witnessed at the front of the shop, Sumina wanted for little. She was content in mending her own dresses, and Royland and the rest of the knights were pleased to let her do just that. None would dare be critical of her appearance - and none had a reason to be.
But, Castien, on the other hand seemed to ignore all of Royland's finer points of the importance of a low profile in their travels. For the second time, now, he tried to explain.
"I've shed my armor, my sword, as have the others. If Sumina is the only one well dressed--"
"You seem quite content letting her run around in much the same straits as when she was in Volaire. Worried she might outshine you?" Castien interrupted.
Royland pinched the bridge of his nose, "Castien, everyone is likely looking for a white haired Elvish woman, dressed well. They'll spot her."
The merchant chuckled, and the king could tell it was at [i his] expense.
"What I'm hearing is that you cannot provide for her." Was the king embarrassed? It certainly made the most sense.
"We're not [i destitute]. Had she asked, she could very well have whatever we can afford her with our savings."
"For a king, you lack a considerable amount of understanding..." Castien sighed. "She should not [i have] to ask. You should simply provide. That is what a man does."
Royland bristled, "That's right. She'll ask for nothing when she's beside me after I return to the throne." Silence. Indignant silence. Again, Castien thought, that he might strike Royland, if they continued to prattle on.
Finally, it seemed, the last dress. The shopkeep giggled, locking eyes with Royland before Sumina stepped out from the back room. The woman had noticed that her client's eyes were drawn to the handsome young king, nearly every time, so she decided to take the initiative. Royland was unsettled at the twinkle in her eye, and tried to focus only on the dress. As with others of a similar color, it drew an earnest reaction from him. The design was simple, unassuming, "I do quite like you in white."
Castien and the shop woman raised their brows, both with different expressions. One was that of elated surprise, and the other...
Royland cleared his throat, ready to explain himself, when Castien suddenly declared that if Sumina would decide to have it, that they should be allowed to pay and be on their way.
The rest of the errands went quickly, but each task proved to be a test of Royland's patience. Castien knew that the king could say little for the sake of peace, but that did not mean that [i he] could not stir the pot a little. The merchant tried his damnedest to monopolize Sumina's attention, never leaving any room for Royland to say much. The only time he ever [i shut up], the king noticed, was when Sumina would ask Royland the odd question here and there in an attempt to make him feel included.
Sometime before entering into the apothecary, a shout caught Royland's attention. Out of the corner of his eye, he could very clearly see Vargas waving his hands trying to placate two others that weren't immediately identifiable. But as he craned his neck, he saw one of the others was Lyrei. The burly man shouting at her with his finger pointed towards her face was a menacing sight to behold. He towered over even Vargas, by no means a short man, and outweighed most of the village's guards. Combined. Despite the sight of him, Royland was unsurprised that Lyrei was holding her own. He speculated that Vargas was actually there for the other man's protection.
[+darkgreen "Baldric is such a brash man."] Castien spoke up, eyeing Royland with obvious disdain. He was speaking to Sumina.
[i "You know I can't understand you."] Royland thought to himself. He sighed, rolling his eyes, to find some measure of inner comfort. Then he looked to the girl in-between them, and asked Castien for a moment alone with her. Out of earshot of him, and out of the way of the commotion taking place, serving to draw everyone else's attention.
Once Royland discerned that they had some privacy, he looked at Sumina quite seriously. "I'm not sure how much more of this I can take." It wasn't his intention to be so honest with her, but he couldn't help it. He had to confide in her. It was a compulsion. He needed her to calm to storm brewing in his spirit.
There are more times than not where, as royalty, you are required to be in the presence of others who might irritate you, or otherwise do not see merit in your values, your traits, your personality. But you bite your tongue, bide your time. Castien had clearly never had that expectation held to him, and he was beginning to grind on Royland's nerves. It was difficult to be around someone so... Disapproving of him. Reminded him of the needless hurdles that he endured with Davin and his own father. It made him extraordinarily uncomfortable.
The day was far from young, but they still had quite some time before dinner would draw the rest of their friends to the home they all shared. But for now, he needed something else to occupy his thoughts. It was obvious that Vargas might appreciate his interjection. But Royland refrained from bringing it up, for fear that Sumina might think it was for Lyrei's sake, instead.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] It felt like morning came far too soon. At the nudges and urges to wake she had burrowed against Royland, hiding her face from the dawn. She wanted to stay in bed longer, but at Royland’s insistence eventually got up. She told him that she was fine now, just a little tired which might have been an understatement if her sluggishness was any indication. Her head still ached slightly, but a mere shadow of the pain from the night before.
“That helped last night. I could tell you were there. Thank you. I suppose Vaeril… was right.” Much of the previous evening was a blur to her from the time the concoction took effect. Vaeril had seemed to really appreciate her holding him at the time and she had obliged, not fully understanding. Now she did. She found herself wishing she could share this with him, tell him she understood now, let him know about Meriel. He would have been proud of her, in other circumstances. Sumina held Royland a little tighter, looking a touch glum as they entered the main room where two of the other three waited. As it was, he’d only see Meriel while making another attempt on Royland’s life. It would not be a happy moment.
Sumina was not surprised to learn that Walter was at Abana’s. He often enough was by the time she woke, and she mainly saw him in the evenings. The stew he had left was the perfect thing for her lingering headache, and she sat to quietly enjoy the broth and the company. It was probably best for her head that no one was especially chatty. Royland was the one to remind her about the washing. Funny since he’d distracted her from it yesterday. Despite his reluctance, her silent plea for him to help worked. As soon as he had agreed she smiled, her eyes lighting up in genuine, unclouded happiness for the first time that morning. She didn’t need to say anything for the general mood to shift with hers.
Having Royland help with the washing made it infinitely more enjoyable. She had teased him a little about owing her for distracting her, but it was accompanied by kisses showing she wasn’t really upset at all. The laundry got done, but not without the pair getting a bit wet. Sumina had used a bit of magic to both entertain Royland with floating spheres of water, and to dump those spheres on him.
Then came the news that Castien was there. Of course Royland wasn’t pleased. After last night she almost worried things would get worse between them if they were around each other for long. And yet,“I ought to…” Both of them had strands of wet hair clinging to their faces. Sumina delicately pushed his back, meeting his eyes,”The sooner we get the armor for you the better. So I need to. But would you… come with me? Please?” The two didn’t get along. She needed to go with Castien to get things ready for the journey she also needed to go on, all for the armor she felt Royland not only needed, but somehow the armor was meant for him.
Apparently neither Royland or Castien found it easy to deny her. Castien had been kept waiting around the front of the house by Sirius, silently tense but cordial with each other for the moment. On learning that Royland would be coming along, seeing him standing there with water lily’s hand in his unworthy one, Castien had made a sour face and started to object. The look she gave him silenced him, and just two soft words were the final blow,”Castien, please.”
She looked so tired. The redhead deflated in defeat. “He may be useful carrying things, I suppose.” With no choice Castien fell in at Sumina’s other side while they walked to the market,”You look tired. Did you not sleep well?” He shot an almost accusing look at the king. As if her poor sleep was his fault.
“Oh no. Orym has me trying to master the sight.”
“Ah.” Castien nodded in understanding,”Were you very sick?”
“I think perhaps tonight I’ll wait longer after dinner to start…” Sumina squeezed Royland’s hand slightly while Castien smiled sympathetically. She looked a little embarrassed, so Castien let the subject drop and picked up another once they got to the market.
“Well, [+darkgreen water lily], I will need a list of any supplies you think you will need. But before we get to that, I’d like to buy you a few new things to wear.” He had led them to a shop with lovely dresses in the window ranging from simple and practical but elegant designs to things so elaborate Sumina doubted she could get in them on her own. He had taken hold of her free hand to lead her inside but she was frozen, feet rooted in place.
“[+darkgreen What? No, I...]” Sumina had started in Elvish but switched when she realized,”No, I really don’t need anything. Just some containers for medicine, and a few—”
“Isn’t this the dress with the big tear in the skirt?”
“I mended that. It’s perfectly fine.”
“Mm, what about the one with the hole in the back? Or the one with threadbare sleeves?”
“Mended as well, and I cut the sleeves.”
“And what about the one that fits too large?”
“I can still wear it.”
“The one from the festival?”
“I can’t do chores in [i lace], Castien.”
“And the one that’s too small?”
Silence from Sumina after their quick back and forth, so Castien continued,”[+darkgreen Water lily], that’s all you ever wear.”
Looking a little sheepish she still tried to object,”There’s still the black one and the red one…”
“You hate the red one. Sirens willing I hope you never have to wear the black one again. And they don’t really fit.”
“I could hem the skirts…” She wasn’t really making eye contact with anyone, and trying [i very] hard not to look at the shop windows.
Castien frowned, rubbing his temple with his free hand,”You should have something you [i like] that actually [i fits]. Come now, let me get you a few things.”
“I could buy them myself.” She glanced at Castien, who just shook his head. Then she looked to Royland. What did he think of all this?
“But you won’t, [+darkgreen water lily]. I won’t allow you to wander around in rags. So here we are.”
Rags? Castien’s exasperated last plea seemed to be the one that got to her. She looked down at the dress she was wearing, one of her nicer ones. The place she had mended was obvious, not for lack of skill but because the colors didn’t quite match. The blue of the dress had faded, and the thread used to mend it couldn’t match. With her brows together she very briefly met Royland’s eyes before turning to Castien with a nod. No one in Dalem seemed to care, but once she left could she really stand with Royland and the others dressed like this? If Royland had to seek out nobility and royalty would she embarrass him?
Once the seamstress had measured her the bubbly woman paraded Sumina out in each garment. Castien gave his opinions unprompted, but Sumina was intent on seeking out Royland’s opinion in particular dress after dress. While the two didn’t agree on much, they both thought Sumina was lovely in nearly everything. That made it hard to decide for her.
It hadn't taken long for her to stir. And when she did, calling his name, he answered her, putting his face into her back, "Mmm?"
Only after he was sure that she could support herself sitting up, did he fetch her some clean water. Royland halfway wondered if it were the elixir Oyrm had given her or the experience itself that had made her so brazen with him. But there were no complaints, only staunch obedience. It was a slow but steady progress to the bed, and Sumina was asleep quickly. Truth be told, she was so exhausted that her speech was just hardly loud enough for Royland to make out, but he responded with a soft hum and a kiss to her forehead regardless. Once her breathing slowed to a predictable rhythm, he released a breath. Though he was with Sumina, he felt alone, in the dark. Awake. Plagued by the conversation he'd been privy to and by Walter's words.
Take her as your queen consort. Walter spoke as though it were so easy. Sure, it was true enough that Sumina wanted him. Wanted to be with him. Let nothing come between them. Would she accept the title of queen with as much ease as Lyrei? He could understand why not. Any prospective wife of his would be subject to unholy amounts of scrutiny. But for his wife to be an Elvish woman on top of everything... He broke out in a brief, cold sweat. And decided it was time to at least attempt to get some sleep for the night.
By the time the sun rose, Royland was on his fourth round of wakefulness. With Sumina still in a deep sleep beside him, he thought it best not to move, and simply tried to go back to sleep.
But the Sirens wouldn't let him. All at once, the anxieties from the night previous overwhelmed him and his eyes shot open. It was impossible to put off. He had to get up. Still, he paused.
Where was he to go? Out for a walk, where he may run into Lyrei or Castien? Into the common room where he might be subjected to more talks of proposing marriage?
Again, Sumina's presence was his only refuge. "Tell me, what should I... No, what would you want from this...?" He chuckled, hearing only her evened breathing in response. "Sumina... It's morning." It took more than a gentle nudge to wake her, but when he finally did, it was no easy task to convince her that they had to move from bed.
"How is your head?" Royland frowned, placing his hand on the top of her head, worried she might still be in pain. Once he'd assessed his condition , he helped her to the common area where Sirius and Alain were waiting, patiently.
Walter had long since prepared a nice stew for breakfast and left to Lady Abana's for his training. Upon hearing the news from Sirius, Royland sighed heavily.
"Seems like we hardly see him these days." The king remarked.
"He's very dedicated to his craft. Cannot fault him. Lady Abana works him hard, but he's always been a good student in every discipline." Sirius said quietly, sipping on the warm broth from his bowl.
Other than this conversation, the morning was simply quiet, and all the men found some way to enjoy it. Suddenly, Royland remembered, and turned to Sumina to ask - "Didn't you say you left the linens out last night?" Her natural reaction was one of surprise, and then a silent expectant look slipped across her face. It didn't take the king long to figure out what she might say. He sighed, dejected, "I'll fill the basin..."
Laundering was easier the second time around, but Royland was still no means an expert in it. There were several times where Sumina had to offer him guidance, or simply had a little fun at his expense. Somewhere towards the end of the task, Alain, somewhat annoyed, tipped the pair off to Castien's arrival. Seems he wanted to shop with Sumina in preparation for their trip.
The king's mood noticeably soured, but he tried to be understanding, and smiled. It was a necessary evil, wasn't it? "I suppose you'll be wanting to accompany him." And it went without saying that Castien would prefer Royland not to insert himself.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] The whole time Sumina’s senses and awareness were a mess, in and out of one place or another. Seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling more than she thought she could handle. She could not keep focus entirely in herself, nor was she able to completely keep her focus on what Meriel was sensing. So much was a mix of both, and it made her feel so ill. When she did feel Royland holding her it helped. She leaned into that comfort when she could feel it. She felt so weak, her body trembling so bad her teeth chattered at times. With Meriel’s eye contact with Royland the elf had relaxed somewhat. She could see him, focus on him, at least a little bit. Sumina tried to hold onto that. It seemed impossible. Meriel encouraged her, giving advice. She was the calmest presence Sumina could feel. Meriel had done this before. How many others had Meriel chosen before her?
In and out of Meriel’s senses and her own. Meriel mercifully did not do much. She observed her surroundings moving little and slowly when she did to give Sumina some chance at adjusting. Eventually her senses dulled as the effects of the mixture wore off, and she was left not quite awake and not quite asleep. Neither entirely herself or entirely Meriel. It was less overwhelming, but not comfortable.
The men were talking, and Meriel listened. Sumina didn’t catch most of it. When had they started? Sumina could hardly tell who was speaking, let alone make out most of the words. She caught part of the last thing Sirius said, but it didn’t make sense. What news was he talking about? It had started to rouse her out of that barely conscious state. Royland started to speak and she relaxed. Things were quiet again. She might have drifted off were it not for Meriel’s prodding. While the others left Meriel stood and went to her summoner, stopping and sitting right in front of her,[i [+darkgreen Awake, girl. Call me back, then you may rest. Preferably not on the floor. Come now, you did well but one more step.]]
One more step. Sumina fought her own exhaustion to mumble in Elvish for Meriel to return. The cat disappeared in black smoke, staring at Royland until she was gone. She could tell Sumina what she had heard, but Meriel felt it was really Royland’s place to. Sumina shuddered at her familiar’s return, but then exhaled in clear relief. Her senses were entirely her own again. Her head felt like it was going to crack open any moment. Sumina didn’t open her eyes. It felt like it would hurt more if she did. “Royland?”
After trying to sit up a little straighter she asked for water. Once she had something to drink she leaned more on Royland,”Let’s go to bed.”
There wasn’t really any question, just the expectation that he would come to bed with her. She wanted him next to her, the comfort of his presence. She was too weak to have made it to bed without crawling, but Royland wouldn’t leave her to that. He helped her there, and she held onto him, clearly in pain from her headache. Sensing he may worry she mumbled that she hadn’t expected the headache to be quite this bad. It wasn’t too long after she cuddled up to him that her breathing slowed and evened as proper sleep took hold of her. If Sirius followed through on waking her to train he wasn’t going to have an easy time rousing her out of bed early in the morning.
With bated breath, the men at the table watched Sumina take her place on the ground. Royland, attempting to be proactive, instructed one of the men to retrieve a pail of water and a rag. Alain quickly went to his feet and hurried outside to the rear of the house, while Sirius and Walter watched on in curiosity. Everyone was uncomfortable, watching her this way. But based on how she had explained the process to them, none were surprised.
Royland tried his hardest not to interfere, but seeing her vomit was simply too much. Undeterred by the smell emanating off of the floor, he took a seat behind Sumina, placing his arms gently around her waist. If she lost her strength, she could simply ease back into his arms. By the way her body shook and shuddered, he was glad that he came over when he did.
When Alain returned, he was sent back outside to retrieve another pail of water, so that someone might help clean Sumina’s arms and the floor of the contents of her stomach. Walter placed a damp rag over her head; Sirius took to her arms and began to clean her. It was only now that Royland had started to look concerned. What could he do for her? He pressed himself into her back. Perhaps she could use his heartbeat to ground herself.
He looked to Meriel – though he wasn’t sure what for. Those eyes held answers he could not understand, to the questions he could not ask. The snow leopard, sensing his emotions lowered her head, tail swishing back and forth behind her, slowly. She looked like she might pounce on him, but otherwise didn’t move. Royland was the first to break his gaze, feeling Sumina’s body begin to shake again. Not wanting to break her concentration, he looked to Walter, who replaced the rag on her head with one freshly dampened. Once the floor was cleaned, the men waited. Holding their positions in the event something more drastic happened. Although they had hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
[center [i “If you’re sending her off to harm her, I’ll have more than just your life when this is over.”]]
In the thick of the silence, Royland had some time to reflect on the events of that night, leading to this sobering moment. What he had said to Lyrei, how he had treated Castien. His brows came together as he recalled Sumina’s gentle words. She called Castien a “good friend.” Sumina was far from naïve. Surely, she could see Castien’s intentions were not harmless. No, he wanted her, in the same way Royland often got to have her. And the king wasn’t so understanding that he might allow Castien to take her away. Royland shifted, holding Sumina just a little closer to him, a little tighter. If only he could stop her from shaking so much.
There was little question of why, but when had the merchant’s attraction truly began, he wondered? From the time they had arrived in Dalem, to the present day, he could tell that Castien was getting bolder, more brazen in his acts of affection. Under normal circumstances, Royland might not give a damn. But it bothered him. Lyrei was much more forward but had shown the same tactics of escalation. It made sense, he supposed. Divide and conquer. Did they sense they were close to causing a real, irreversible rift?
Sumina’s words outside Lyrei’s home seemed to suggest that she wasn’t worried. After all, she said she was his… and, in kind, he was hers. But was it enough to simply say it?
Some time had passed since the ritual began, and Royland opened his eyes, just slightly. This was something he had never noticed before… but his heartbeat, and Sumina’s, were beating in perfect tandem. Meriel had started to purr. It sounded more like a small earthquake, being that she was so close to her handler, who in turn was in Royland’s embrace. The cat and the king made eye contact again. Was she trying to say that Sumina was done for the night?
“You know,” Sirius spoke quietly, still unsure of what was going on. “Meriel has always seemed to have taken to you, Royland. I wonder why that is?”
Alain glanced over, confused, and quite frankly surprised that Sirius hadn’t quite put it together. With how openly concerned they all were about their friend and his not-so-secret admiration for the elf in their company, Alain had assumed that everyone was on the same page. Everyone except Royland, who hadn’t outwardly admitted anything about Sumina, [i yet]. “Quite possibly due to Lady Sumina’s feelings for him. A familiar and its handler are connected in such ways, aren’t they, Walter?” Royland’s face turned red, but he said nothing. Alain could only assume then that he had been right in his assessment.
“Quite.” Walter folded his arms across his chest, regarding the scene in front of him with a bit of scrutiny. Royland tried to avert his gaze but found it difficult to find a space where his eyes were not met with that of another. And, since he wouldn’t say anything, the others continued to talk. “Royland, isn’t it about time you told her [i something]?” Walter asked softly. They had all heard the news, and it was plain as day on the king’s face. It was a journey where Sumina had to be accompanied by Castien. Lyrei certainly made it seem that there was no other way. And it was eating their friend up from the inside out.
“You wouldn’t want Castien saying anything first…” Alain muttered darkly.
“[i That’s] not why he should tell her.” Walter tried to hide the strain in his voice, but it was clear that Alain’s comment had gotten on his nerves. “He should tell her because they care for each other. No more beating about the bush. Accept her as your queen consort. Or tell her you intend to take her as such.”
“And what of Lyrei? She wishes to be queen. She may not offer us sanctuary when she hears that news, Walter.” said Sirius.
Royland cleared his throat upon feeling Sumina stir, just to grab the attention of his men, “Is this really the time?” What was it about his future that was so attractive for everyone to talk about? The eyes around the room said it all. He may not have another chance… but… “Sumina has… We’ve all had quite the day. I’ll stay with her, if you’d all like to get some rest.” He wouldn’t dare move her. He didn’t want to cause her any more discomfort or overwhelm her senses. And certainly did not want her to vomit anymore. Sensing their friend’s obvious discomfort, the men soon filed into the spare rooms, one by one. Each only leaving when they were sure that Royland had all he needed to care for Sumina on his own until she got her bearings again.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Were these two capable of not fighting or arguing? Sumina hated to see them at each others throats because she cared about both of them. In different ways, but the trouble was that they both wanted her in the same way. She hoped they wouldn’t fight in earnest, but held her tongue while they exchanged barbs. It might only escalate things. Castien was worked up, and Royland was almost ready to boil over. She let out a little sigh when Castien left and no blows had been exchanged. Just overly harsh words. She could hopefully speak to them both separately and smooth things over.
Royland had always been somewhat possessive, and that had never really bothered her. Even now, though it irritated Castien. What was bothering her was just how volatile things were between the men. Sumina saw his tension, his worry, and reached to caress Royland’s face. So much was bothering him, and plenty bothering her as well. On the one hand she was glad to be able to do something to help, but she didn’t like the idea of going without him. Each time he’d left Dalem she had wanted to go with him, not to leave Dalem but to stay with him.
Her reprimand was gentle,”Mm. We ought to. That was a little harsh, you know. He has been a good friend to me.” He might not have managed a smile, but she gave a weak one. She still felt so tired, the day had been long, she had barely eaten, and this meeting with Lyrei had been draining. Sumina stepped closer until her nose was nearly touching his, the words meant for his ears only,”Nothing could keep me from you,[+darkgreen my everything]. I am yours.”
The kiss she couldn’t help but lean in for was brief and soft. Part of her almost didn’t care if Lyrei saw, but she also didn’t want to linger and risk another confrontation. So instead she took his hand to walk back, deliberately avoiding looking back where Lyrei might be looking through a window at her. Along the way she apologized for losing her temper over the Princess comments, but didn’t really want to elaborate on it. The reminder that her family was sitting on the throne stolen from Royland. It also brought to mind that troubling issue of titles lingering between them. She tried not to think of it too often, but sooner or later it [i was] going to need to be addressed. Then she noticed something, laundry on a line from another house. She had frozen for a moment and then groaned. With her hand covering her face she admitted to forgetting about the laundry. After a moment she teased that it was really his fault, he’d distracted her this morning.
Instead of finding another scene of men ready to brawl, Sumina was relieved to find the house a more relaxed and cheerful place. They had even cooked rather than wait for her. She was laughing, delighted in the lighter spirits of her companions and their antics. Things felt so normal then. She was happy being with the little group. While they sat down Sumina got around to asking Sirius if he would mind waking her in the morning to teach her a little more about defending herself, since Royland had recommended asking him if she wanted to continue. She’d thought about it a little, and with gathering the ore coming up it seemed that their time in Dalem was, hopefully, coming to an end sooner rather than later. Leaving was the desired goal, but it put them in danger which she wanted to be prepared for.
Over dinner she let them know what Lyrei had wanted, it was clear that they were curious about why the leader of Dalem had called her. Calling Royland was no surprise, but this was the first time Lyrei had shown any interest in Sumina since she arrived. Sumina explained that she and Castien would leave in about a week to fetch the ore needed for Royland’s armor. The settlement they were going to was apparently always in need of healers, so she was the logical choice. The news still surprised the others. They wanted to know why none of them were going. There were looks directed at Royland. By the sound of it Sumina would be going alone with Castien. That can’t be sitting well with Royland, but no one said anything about that, sensting that was likely not a great subject to bring up. Instead they worried over her safety. She assured them she would be fine, she would be careful, and hurry back as soon as possible. It was the fastest way to get the ore, and the sooner Royland’s armor was ready the better. They needed to be prepared to return to Volaire.
After they were done eating Sumina got out the little vial Orym had given her. She called Meriel, who went to Royland once summoned and rubbed her head against his leg,[+darkgreen Are you really feeling up to this?]
Meriel was concerned already. Sumina nodded,”Of course.” She didn’t sound as confident as she wanted to, and Meriel swished her tail. Sumina fidgeted with the little vial under the curious looks the others were giving. Her gaze settled on Royland,”Orym said to take this. It will help me learn a skill with Meriel, but it isn’t… pleasant. Don’t worry though, I’ll be fine after some sleep. I used to… When Vaeril did this, I held him and put a damp cloth on his head, he said it helped.”
She hadn’t done this before, but seeing Vaeril go through it and Orym’s recipe gave her some idea and she couldn’t say she was looking forward to it. She saw it as necessary though, and after a brief pause she opened the vial and drank the contents as quickly as possible. Sumina’s face still scrunched up from the bitter taste. With the concoction taken there was nothing to do but wait. She set the vial on the table and rather than sit in a chair took a seat on the floor to wait. Was it working or was the twisting of her stomach just nerves? Meriel laid down to wait, looking off to a wall. She was the only one who seemed to really know what to expect. She remained still and calm when Sumina’s face drained of color. She looked like a ghost sitting there, white from head to toe, and her breathing got faster and more shallow. Still Meriel seemed unconcerned.
[+darkgreen Don’t fight it, girl. Relax.] It was easier said than done. Sumina tried to do as Meriel said, but her head was feeling strange. Her vision went not quite doubled, but like she was seeing the room from two different perspectives. Hers and Meriels. Her eyes were unfocused and she had to close them. Sumina thought she might throw up. No wonder Vaeril felt so sick doing this. She had gone from sitting there nervous but poised to seeming deathly ill in a matter of just a few minutes. It was only going to get worse while Meriel was there. Sumina feeling disoriented, struggling to tell what she was even seeing, and the first time Meriel moved Sumina vomited at the jarring sensation of it. It was similar to what had happened on their way to Dalem.
Sumina’s agreement of the matter had forced Royland’s attention off of Lyrei, who by this point, was none surprised that he would go [i running] towards her soft, affectionate uttering of his name. Still, Royland tried to reason with her, expression mixed with apprehension and understanding, “It’s not that, I just…” A sharp gaze to Castien’s somewhat surprised expression was enough to glean Royland’s train of thought.
He said nothing else throughout the remainder of the discussion. Sumina’s mind was made up, and Castien certainly had no objections. Lyrei’s reasoning, while ludicrous in some respects, was sound from a business perspective. In a settlement where there are plenty sick and injured, the receipt of a healer as adept as Sumina was invaluable. And Royland hated to admit it. He pressed his fingertips so roughly to his temple, that he was sure he might leave welts on his skin. It took a moment to compose himself, let alone look Lyrei in the eye as he heard Sumina and Castien leave without him. It was a silent rebuff that Lyrei noticed, and she lowered her hands to her side, resigned to the realization that the king would not be staying in her company tonight. Before turning to leave, Royland uttered something quietly to Lyrei – something that made the color drain from her face as she took in the expression with which he said it.
Outside, Royland had only heard the tail end of the conversation. What was clear, however, was that Castien was yet again trying to insert himself. And Royland was having none of it, today. Arms folded across his chest, he strode in between Sumina and Castien, much to the latter’s annoyance.
“I don’t believe we’re in the mood for entertaining guests tonight. [i Anyone] in our immediate company can see to Sumina’s needs just as well. No need for you to invite yourself.”
Castien scoffed at Royland’s muted delivery. And that particular use of words – [i anyone] can see to Sumina’s needs. Those in his immediate company. No outsiders allowed. You’re not welcome.
“And what say you, [+darkgreen water lily]?” Royland reached back to shield her at the question, threatening to send Castien into a frenzy. What uncouth behavior – preventing her from answering on her own accord, like he owned her. “… I see. You royals are all alike. Stunningly [i possessive] of that which you deem to be your property.”
“It simply makes no sense for a second-rate wandering tramp to return to a home that isn’t his own. And so late, at that.” Royland responded.
The king’s stern looks were natural, Castien noted. And the way he was looking at him. Nose in the air, eyes at an angle, putting himself on a pedestal. So that he might look down on others. Despicable. What did Sumina see in him? “That arrogance comes so easy to you.” Castien chuckled. Any more words exchanged, he thought, and it might come to blows. “I bid thee goodnight, then.” He turned on his heels, and his figure was quickly swallowed by the darkness. It wasn’t a long walk back to the bakery. But it felt much more akin to a journey than a short stroll. Each step filled with such hot feelings of hatred, Castien feared he may be leaving a trail of scorched earth behind him.
Finally alone, and in silence, Royland could hear the chirping crickets all around them. “Wretched leech.” He muttered, dropping his arm to his side. A part of him hoped Sumina herself would reach out and comfort him. It felt wrong to try to touch her when he was feeling such animosity towards the world around him, to his current realities. Between the funeral, last night, and today, he had seen far too much of Castien. Sumina didn’t seem to mind so much – but why would she? A constant companion to her when the king could not be there, with the ability to make her laugh and smile just as easy as Royland could. The thought weighed heavily on him. Would Sumina be displeased with how he had just treated her friend?
As he looked into Sumina’s eyes, Royland tried hard to replace the stern expression on his face with a gentler, kinder one. But he didn’t have the energy. Not even for a smile. Awful thoughts crossed his mind. About the what ifs – her brothers, Castien’s advances, Lyrei’s motives – intermixed with the unpleasant churning feeling in the pit of his stomach. Is this how she felt previously, when she knew that Lyrei would be sending him away? It was strange, he thought, his attachment to her. It was painful. Who would have thought that a bond could cause heartache like this? “I suppose we ought to head in for the night.”
The atmosphere in the house was less tense than Royland could have expected. Walter was there and ready at the door to greet them. Dinner had been made, and Lady Abana had even sent her student along with a bottle of spiced mead for Alain. Not that he needed it.
Royland was skeptical at first. “What’s going on?” Not long ago they were all at each other’s throats, bickering so fiercely that they likely couldn’t have agreed on the weather, if there had been a need. Sirius nudged Walter, who cleared his throat and bowed his head.
“I was… I’ve been too callous with you, Royland… I’ve fought on the battlefield with you all, walked the tunnels in our escape, traveled this far… I have no right to treat you the way I have been.” Walter gave Sumina a wholly apologetic glance. “Lady Sumina… I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel uncomfortable these past few days. I haven’t been in the best of spirits… But I see now. You’re all far too important to me to let these things, and this place, get in the way of our friendship.”
After some time, Royland feigned being deep in thought. “Hm… Alain, Sirius. Behead him.”
Walter looked wide eyed, unsure of how to process the words he’d just heard. From behind him, Alain made a motion like he was about to draw his sword. “I’m sorry, Walter, if the king should ask it, I must obey.” Alain sighed.
“I shall hold him down.” Sirius slowly advanced, and Walter swatted him on the head, quickly. “Ouch!”
Royland and Alain could hardly hold in their laughter at the sight of Walter’s flustered face. It was quick, that feeling of joy, but it was a welcome change. A change that would not have come if Castien had accompanied he and Sumina.
“Scoundrels, all of you! I was being serious!” Walter’s cheeks went red as he looked around, thoroughly embarrassed. It was hard to stay mad, seeing so many smiling faces around him. For now, things had returned to normal, it seemed.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] If her brothers should find her. The thought did trouble her a little. Would they be able to drag her back to Volaire? Sumina doubted she could overpower even one of them, let alone all four of them. She didn’t voice anything about his unfinished thought, but put her head on his shoulder and just held onto him. She might have stayed like that for quite a while, but before long Castien was down from the tree and distracting her with questions about what else she needed.
When they were finally headed back Sumina wished she could have just retreated somewhere quiet with Royland and gently pry to figure out what, exactly, was bothering him. She could tell something was. Likely whatever he imagined Lyrei wanted, which made her even less pleased to be going there now. All she wanted was a quiet evening, and she was exhausted. But neither of them were the type to shirk their responsibilities. There was little opportunity to talk with Royland on their way, since Castien was so persistent in getting her attention. As she’d noticed at the festival, and much of the time they were together, Castien would be momentarily distracted talking with someone. A brief, friendly exchange with a guard or man they passed, and with most women a more flirtatious greeting with compliments and a kiss to the hand. Then while they were still giggling and smiling he would focus back in on Sumina.
Castien talked with her about little things, a painting he was considering starting, musing about a poem he just couldn’t finish, and then fussing a little over how she really ought to get a new dress. He complained she always wore the same few, and wondered if she needed help getting new clothes. She had to insist several times she was fine with what she had. The real reason, which she didn’t really explain, was she didn’t want to get too much to either pack or leave behind when it was time for them to leave Dalem. Castien only got short answers out of her, while she kept close to Royland, her hand in his and trying to silently soothe whatever was bothering him, despite her own worries over what was about to happen.
With Sirius and Alain sent off to the house, with Sumina promising to get dinner started as soon as she got back, it was just the three of them the rest of the way to Lyrei’s house. It seemed to loom over Sumina like it wanted to eat her as she approached. Likely her own nerves making a perfectly lovely house seem ominous.
It was plain to see that Lyrei was not pleased to see Sumina. Particularly hand in hand with Royland. Her greeting didn’t really hide it much, and Sumina tensed at the use of the title she hated so much. She was frowning, but said nothing. Royland was eager to get to the point. If Lyrei disliked her so, then why invite her?
The news that [i she] was to gather the ore was a surprise. Lyrei was actually sending her out of Dalem? Sumina returned the tight squeeze of Royland’s hand, but glanced back to Castien, who was supposed to accompany her. His arched brows answered the question in her mind. He hadn’t known about this either.
Royland was so opposed to her going. How much of that was the fact that Castien was the one going with her? Admittedly that was the only reason she was even having second thoughts about going. The potential danger didn’t bother her as much as it maybe should have, but rather the fact that Royland would remain behind while Castien came. Royland needed the armor though. She thought it through while Royland argued. And her stomach sank at the way Lyrei addressed him, at the hand to his cheek. Her face felt hot. As much as she loathed Lyrei’s delivery, she had a point. Sumina just wanted her to take her hand off him while she made it.
“Royland,” Sumina’s voice was soft, an attempt to sound calm, but it wavered still. She just couldn’t entirely hide that she was upset,”I’ll go. You need the armor, and I’ll be careful. But why me?”
The question was directed at Lyrei, but Castien answered. He could see the way Lyrei was looking at Sumina every chance she got. The people Lyrei looked at that way often had some great misfortune. He was also picking up the tension, that his water lily was actually [i jealous]. The idea that she should feel jealous over that brat was offensive. He stepped forward,”It’s smart, really. You’re the best suited, [+darkgreen water lily]. Every time I go there they snap up any medicine I bring. A healer… if you came personally, your skills will be in high demand. Between the two of us we could earn what we needed in a fraction of the time anyone else would take.”
Well, that made perfect sense then. Sumina was still feeling frustrated with Lyrei’s familiarity with Royland. She knew Lyrei wanted to be queen, and that’s why Lyrei wanted him at all. Castien took another step, and Sumina felt his hand at her elbow. It got her attention fully, however rather than accepting his attempt to soothe her she turned to face him and stepped back. His fingers closed over air before falling back to his side. Sumina crossed her arms, cradling her elbows in her palms,”[+darkgreen I see].” Elvish, and she had to correct herself,”I see. When are we leaving then?”
Castien’s gaze wandered briefly to Lyrei. Why had she said nothing earlier? Still mad at him, maybe. He was certainly still irritated with her. Not wanting to allow the tension between the two women to get any worse he looked back to Sumina to answer what both of them were wondering, though Lyrei had not asked aloud,”It may take a week to prepare, give or take.”
“Then our Princess and Castien will prepare and leave as soon as they’re ready. Would you care to see what the armor will look like, my King?” Lyrei was drawing him in, trying to get him to stay behind.
Sumina finally snapped, just a little,”I’m no princess so you can stop calling me that.”
“I only mean it affectionately, and out of respect.” Lyrei was feigning that she had no idea it bothered Sumina now.
With that Sumina just looked embarrassed and ashamed for losing her temper, and excused herself, mumbling that she ought to pack. Lyrei looked just a little too pleased with herself for Castien’s liking, that perfect smile of hers just a little smug. Then Castien followed Sumina without bothering to check if the king would follow or stay. As far as Castien was concerned the brat could stay, just like before. He would tend to water lily, who was obviously not alright at the moment.
Castien could see she was looking pale once he caught up to her. Not just tired and irritated, she looked almost ill. She had barely touched her food last night, and with as tense as things were this morning had things been any better? They had worked gathering things through the day and not really eaten. He was familiar enough with forgetting to eat himself, plus he knew her to do the same when she was distracted between working and worrying about the royal brat when he was gone. “[+darkgreen Water lily], when was the last time you had a proper meal?”
Sumina paused to think, coming to a stop,”This morning?” She didn’t sound sure, because really she couldn’t remember eating more than a few bites. The pastry Castien had brought was likely still on the table where she left it, unless Sirius had gotten to it.
“One that you ate. And I mean more than a few bites.” The voice was that of a big brother, gently coaxing the truth out of and scolding a younger sibling but also full of concern.
Any of her brothers might have interrogated her like that, and Sumina responded like a typical little sister instinctively. Evasively, eyes searching for something interesting on the ground while she thought a little too long. “Yesterday… morning?”
Still uncertain sounding, making Castien sigh and rub his forehead,”[+darkgreen My lovely, sweet water lily], what am I going to do with you? Come, you need to eat. And perhaps for once let someone else cook for you.” How hard could it be?
[[Noooo, it's good! I actually really enjoyed that back and forth with Lyrei and Royland XD Had me like "<_< Bitch, you know what you're doing. Everyone is onto you." I Just hope mine is okay T_T Churned it out surprisingly quick because I actually randomly got a lot of free time in a big chunk today. Wasn't sure if Royland would stay or follow and hear that little bit about Sumina not eating so I ended it there. Somewhere in there I realized she kept not feeling like eating like, every freaking meal for a bit. Oh no, this is getting so long I probably should have just PMed D: Oops?]]
Royland’s head tilted at Sumina’s inquiries. His eyes left hers for the comforting blue of the sky, searching for the answers from above – hoping the Sirens might perhaps pass onto him some sign. No fire and brimstone, he hoped. In the end, all he could offer Sumina was a sigh, “Who knows…?” It was strange. This was the first time she would have specifically requested Sumina to her chambers… And if it was, indeed, a mission that would take her out of Dalem – “These are such delicate times for us all. If your brothers should find you…” From the corner of his eye, a restless glance and shuffle from Sirius prompted the king to shut his mouth. He supposed there was no reason to put such ideas in Sumina’s head. She would only worry.
Today was supposed to be a good day, after all.
Even when their day outside the gates had ended and it was time to respond to Lyrei’s beckoning, Royland couldn’t bring himself out of his own mind. Castien’s constant chatter with Sumina sounded like the muffled fluttering of moths, come to dance as the light from the sun set eerily beyond the backdrop. The intermixed sight of purples, oranges, and yellows was the opposite of a beautiful comfort.
After instructing Alain and Sirius to return to the home with the day’s spoils, including a catch for that night’s dinner, Royland inadvertently sighed aloud. The day had already proved to exhaust him. He could only dread what was to come.
For once, there was no wine on the table when they arrived at Lyrei’s dining table. She sat down at the furthest seat, sunlight dancing delicately off her shiny black locks. Her lavender eyes were peeled towards the wall, sharp and pensive. Royland couldn’t tell if she was angry, depressed, or if something was simply on her mind. Castien had made an off-the-cuff remark earlier, about the prisoners and their execution, to a few of the guards when they had returned from picking the herbs Sumina said she’d needed. It wasn’t appropriate to ask with Sumina in the room, but his gaze, at least, was sympathetic. Had it bothered her that much? …Perhaps he should have been there for her, as she initially wanted.
When she did finally turn her attention to the trio, Castien noticeably stepped out of her line of sight. Royland instinctively clasped Sumina’s hand just a little tighter. It seemed the sight of it would threaten to set Lyrei off – a distinctive flicker passing over her eyes when she saw it. Royland cleared his throat, trying to bring those cold eyes back to focus on his face, rather than his hands – lest she might chop them off. But when Lyrei met his gaze, her lips had curled into a perfect smile.
“Princess,” Just the [i word] itself forced Royland to stiffen. Lyrei’s [i tone] was another issue, entirely. Had she meant to be so transparent about her distaste? Royland’s eyes hit the floor, his free hand coming up to cover them. “Your Majesty… Lovely that you both could make it.”
Given her current mood, Royland thought it best to simply ignore her snide remark. He hoped Sumina might be willing to let it roll off of her back, for the time being. “Quite strange of you to call us [i both] here. I expect that it’s important.” The king’s bluntness ruined the smile on Lyrei’s face. Without much more of the pleasantries, she quickly got into the specifics of the purpose of the meeting.
“Quite short today, are we?” Lyrei’s eyes narrowed.
“I could say the same for you.” He dare not ask about the prisoners. Not now, anyhow. Lyrei’s smile returned. The sheer swiftness of Lyrei’s demeanor was enough to make Royland’s head spin. More jarring was the underhanded motives, hidden beneath the thin veneer of a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. What was going on?
“I’m pleased to announce that a template has been decided on the armor you’ll be leaving Dalem with.” Silence around her. Lyrei continued, “So, it’s decided that our dear Princess will retrieve the ore for its construction. And our Castien will be accompanying her.”
It hadn’t been her intention for Royland to let go of Sumina’s hand, but when he only seemed to hold her tighter, Lyrei couldn’t keep her expression from flinching.
“…This must be some kind of joke,” Royland chuckled, earnest in his response. “Sumina can’t leave Dalem, in good conscience.”
Lyrei shrugged, “The ore in question is to the north. Her pursuers shouldn’t pose a threat. A small white hair has told me they have returned to Volaire.” And how long ago was that, Royland wanted to know? Irrelevant, according to Lyrei. “Castien should prove to be adequate protection, if that’s your concern, King Vondien.”
“You [i know] that’s not where my concern lies.”
“Along with the training she’s received from Oyrm, and that exceptionally powerful familiar she has control of, I do believe Her Highness is plenty capable of defending herself… if need be.” An icy glance made its way to Sumina, but its effectiveness was dampened by Royland’s defensive of her as he stepped into Lyrei’s line of sight. There was a dark cloud hanging over the leader of Dalem, one fraught with deadly implications for them [i all], if she were allowed to continue on, unchecked.
“You’re mad. There’s nothing to stop them from ascertaining her location as soon as she leaves Dalem.” The king’s words seemed more desperate as he made his way around the side of the table, intent on keeping Lyrei’s harsh gaze off of Sumina while he tried to reason with her. “Are you fine gambling the lives of those of Madej if the sitting king of Volaire decides to declare [i war] over the discovery of his missing daughter in a foreign country? How could you live with that?”
Lyrei didn’t have an answer. Not one that satisfied Royland’s quick beating heart. “Well, I can’t very well send you, this time ‘round. That armor carries expectations of the wearer. Things you have yet to learn about the mixing of human and Elves, my dear King. You must stay behind.” Lyrei stood, taking the opportunity while Royland was separated from the undeserving creature behind them to place a hand gingerly on his cheek. “I only wish for your success is reclaiming your throne…”
[A/N: I would PM you, but all I'm gonna say is it's awful and you should forgive me and I don't want to muck up PMs for that. T_T Sorry it's disjointed/took so long.]
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina could pick up on the tension between the two. Castien certainly was persistent. She wanted to attribute his affection for her to friendship, but with that look he gave her there really wasn’t much room to doubt that he was a suitor having his hopes crushed.
Rather than answer that look Sumina returned the pressure of Royland’s hand and looked to him,“Lavender and chamomile tonight then.” She leaned closer to kiss his cheek, in a way answering Castien, just not the answer he wanted. Solidifying her choice, that Royland was the one she wanted, he was the one who had her heart. “No hemlock, but I might add mint.” She added with a smile.
It was good that they were at least being civil with each other. Sumina looked at Castien, her hand still in Royland’s,”I’m glad you could make it. More help is always welcome.” She was giving him such a sweet, friendly smile. But that was all it was, friendly.
“Anything for you, [+darkgreen water lily].” It seemed impossible to really shake the dark mood while she was standing there with Royland like he belonged there next to her. Yet somehow, when she moved to put the flowers she had already picked in her basket and go to pick more, he felt some of that ugly weight laying over him like a shroud lift just seeing her beautiful and happy. She was genuinely enjoying her time out here.
“I’m still after some lavender and chamomile, and if it isn’t too much trouble I could really use some myrtle. If you don’t mind climbing.” She might have sent one of the others if Castien hadn’t arrived, but she could sense the tension and thought maybe it would be best to put some space between him and the others, if he didn’t mind.
It was impossible for Castien not to return her smile. She looked a little uncertain asking a favor, as if she thought he wouldn’t climb a tree for her. Or walk through fire, if she only asked. “Of course I can fetch some myrtle down for you. [+darkgreen Your smile leaves me light as a feather. I shan't need to climb, only float up if you would grace me with a little more.]”
The Elvish bit didn’t get him the kiss he might have wished for, but Sumina did laugh. Then leaned against Royland’s arm, to Castien’s annoyance,”Castien.” Playfully reproachful, mostly amused, all Castien could do was grin at her and try to ignore the king next to her. When he turned to the tree she asked,”How is Elas?”
After he pulled himself up onto the lowest branch Castien looked down at her,”He’s doing very well, thanks to you. Still a little nervous, though he tries to hide it. He doesn’t want to be far from us.” It was very lucky that things weren’t worse. That he was even here. Sumina was such a skilled healer, and had gotten to him right away. Castien pushed his hair from his face, that heavy feeling washed over him a little. Her question reminded him of the attack, dealing with the surviving attackers earlier, and then Lyrei had a small favor as he left. “Before I forget, Lyrei asked to see you. All three of us, actually. Once we’re done here.”
Sumina looked up, confused. Outwardly she didn’t show much of her apprehension, but she held Royland’s hand so much tighter,”Me? Why?”
Why indeed. Castien wondered that as well. What was Lyrei up to now? He was glad he would be there at least. After her part in ruining the little birthday celebration Castien wasn’t sure he trusted his old friend to be particularly kind to Sumina. Nor would he really trust Royland to look after her when faced with Lyrei. All he could offer his water lily was a shrug,”She didn’t explain to me.”
It would be rude to not go, so Sumina resolved herself to go with Royland and Castien to see the leader of Dalem after her herb gathering was done. Lyrei made Sumina uncomfortable. Until then, there were still herbs to gather. Sumina pulled Royland to sit with her to pick the flowers she was still after, though she didn’t exactly stay focused on the task. Soon enough Royland had more of her attention than the flowers. She had her arms around him, asking quietly,“What do you think Lyrei wants? Another errand? But then why me? She’s been quite adamant so far about keeping me in Dalem.”
[i She knows me so well.]
Royland recounted every moment where Sumina inserted herself into an uncomfortable situation, for his sake. The first time, he had been thinking about his response – unsure of how to handle the praise, after years of being criticized by the people of his own nation. The second, he hadn’t been able to get a word in. The third he had let her, because he had begun to notice. Sumina had a way about her, a protectiveness that she showed in the presence of those she felt for. A free hand would cross his body, she would smile, and they would turn and excuse themselves. For the most part, Alain and Sirius stayed silent in the background, dealing with their own share of bombardment. Royland noticed that Sumina extended no such privilege to them. A matter of proximity, perhaps?
Royland [i was] uncomfortable. Her efforts were not in vain. Everyone wanted to know why the king who had aided in the apprehension of Dalem’s recent attack, was not dealing with the prisoners of his own volition. For those explanations that Sumina could not protect him from, Royland would hand off the responsibility to Lyrei. After all, she was their leader, and for those that spilled Dalem blood, it should be their kin that enact revenge.
His men had followed behind them at a snail’s pace, staying silent unless spoken to. Tensions were still high, and the last thing Royland wanted to do was to spark another fight. Somewhere between Orym’s greeting, and when the elder and Sumina began to converse exclusively in Elvish, the king returned to Sirius and Alain who had been waiting outside. Alain wasted little time making his irritation known, voice low and teeth bared.
“Ever since we arrived in this wretched place, we’ve been at everyone’s mercy. That woman sends us across the continent, Castien sows discourse where ever he steps foot in. And look at us, Royland. Walter’s joined in on their side and even he isn’t here to discuss with us.” From the state of their fellow knight’s attitude, no one doubted that he would be unwilling to bring the matter to rest. Walter could be that way – content to live in the discourse. Enough to drive a man mad. He was a master at letting things fester. For an explosive man like Alain, who could never stifle his emotions, it caused that much more conflict on the rare occasions that they did disagree.
The nature of their relationship had always been maintained and cultivated through the course of their duties. Alain, Sirius and Walter were men of their king, his closest confidants, and they always acted with his best interests at heart. They always carried through with his will, but more than that – they were his closest confidants. Yet bonds that seemed unbreakable were strained under all of this pressure that had been presented to them. Royland cast his eyes at the ground, distressed. Would he have anyone to call friends at the end of all this?
“You shouldn’t speak so down on our comrade, Alain.” Sirius chimed in, incensed at the implications he was hearing. “Walter is our friend. Has he ever done us wrong?”
“And what of us? Have we done him wrong?” Alain retorted.
Royland cleared his throat as Sumina emerged from Oyrm’s shop. Alain clammed up, unwilling to further create tension where it wasn’t necessary. At least where Sumina was concerned. Between the occasional glances, Alain was uncharacteristically silent throughout the rest of their time spent together as a group.
“Oyrm is a good judge of strength.” Royland remarked, as Sumina explained to him on the way to the gates. “I have no such talents or abilities, however… I tend to agree. I think you’ll do just fine.” Regardless, he thought, putting a small kiss to her forehead – he would be here to tend to her.
The ordeal with the guards, while annoying, seemed almost a necessary evil. Sumina’s elated mood brought an undeniable cheerfulness to the men amongst her. As her shoulders fell, and he breathing slowed, so did theirs. Surrounded by the soothing scents of flowers and herbs, listening to her recounting of their scarcity in the home or otherwise, left the men feeling elated. That smile that had eluded them for so long, had returned to their precious Lady.
“You know,” Royland chuckled, taking in the scent of lavender to his nose, “I would drink your tea, even if it had hemlock in it.” Of course he would help her pick what she needed. Lavender, hemlock, or even poison ivy…
After the citizens singing his accolades throughout the marketplace, to say that Castien’s appearance and subsequent attitude put a damper on Royland’s mood would have been an understatement. Despite the anger and the vitriol, despite the hatred and the disdain in his rival’s face, the king lifted the sides of his mouth into a smile. “Lyrei certainly sends me on many journeys to strange lands… I do appreciate you taking care of Sumina… [i for me].” Somewhere, among the whispers of the trees, both inside and beyond the walls of Dalem there was this inherent understanding of Castien’s place in the threesome’s dynamic. There was no need to say it aloud, nor speak to it in the confines of his own mind. The grasp on Sumina’s delicate fingers, a grasp that had never ceased , tightened.
Castien’s gaze darkened, an unforgiving haze thrown in Royland’s direction. Was the king [i mocking] him? Attempting to shoehorn him into the box of nevermore? Of irrelevance. And with a smile on his face, no less. Irritating. Somewhat pleadingly, he made eye contact with water lily – his water lily – asking silently for to reproach her king. Tell him he’s wrong.
After a brief pause, Castien had no choice but to return Royland’s composed demeanor, strands of red hair drifting over his eyes. Water lily would say nothing. He knew.
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