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Alain and Sirius had heeded his advice, and swiftly took off to find Walter, check the status of Lady Abana, as well as aid Lyrei in anyway they could in Royland’s stead. It was their choice to go outside the scope of his request, to alleviate his burden. After all, they were uninjured, unlike their king, who had thrust himself to the forefront of the Dalem’s conflict without being asked. Protected the lives of citizens of another country, who swore no fealty to him. They had spoken about it in the search for Walter – they wanted to do their part.
Royland crawled into bed just as soon as he was alone with Sumina. He found it hard to choose a position in which he was truly comfortable. The act of crouching down, even shuffling closer to her, to take her into his arms, caused him to wince in pain. The bandages were constricting. It felt like there were war drums beating into his temple. Perhaps he should have asked Alain or Sirius to wrap his head, too? Or bring him a cold cloth before they left?
No matter. Royland ran his fingertips down the length of Sumina’s arm as she laid there, head in his chest. Murmuring that they were safe, now. No need to worry. She needed her rest.
And the king did, too.
It was dark when he awoke, disturbed by the shuffling beside him in bed. Determined not to open his eyes, he furrowed his brow, muttering quietly. “Sumina…?” She wasn’t lying down anymore. And try as he might, his arm moved too lazily to pinpoint her location on the bed. But she [i was] still on the bed, wasn’t she? Bleary eyes opened, quickly adjusting to the darkness. Royland brought his arm to his eyes, trying to clear his vision. “[i What] are you doing?” He sighed. There was a pause when his fingers grazed what he thought was her arm. Slowly, he caressed her, trying to coax her back down beside him.
“You’ll not recover if you keep this up… Come lie with me.” Were her eyes as adjusted as his, she might have seen his face, in realization of what he’d just said. “Come lie down, I mean…” Because that certainly sounded no more suggestive than the last… Real smooth.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] “I think we’re all indebted to her. Take care of her.” What else could Castien say? Sumina had saved several lives that day. Saved his own family from a horrible tragedy. And all she wanted was [i him], the selfish king. How could he deny her that, though? The way she clung to Royland.
Once he had picked her up and started to carry her Sumina went a little limp. As he walked, her tears stopped, too tired to even cry anymore. Royland was here, he was alive. Well enough to hold her. The resolve to keep fighting, stay focused, was slipping away while a warm comfort enveloped her. Her worries weren’t entirely gone, but she fell into a half conscious state while Royland got her to bed.
Pain. He was in pain. She knew those sorts of sounds, knew the voice. It roused her a little. Not enough. Sumina groaned and tried to move, only shifting a little on the bed. The words of the conversation happening near her were hard to follow. They were talking of the attack. It was over now. But how bad was it? How many dead? How many had she failed?
“Royland?” It came out softly, barely a whisper. Her breathing was quick, and she tried to move again, to sit up. She only managed to half turn on her side. Probably for the best if Royland stayed, to keep her down and resting. Otherwise she seemed likely to drag herself out of bed somehow, and would only settle down with him beside her, feeling him touch her hand, her face, her hair. “I… thought you… [+darkgreen I couldn’t…] I couldn’t find… So many. How many?” Would he answer? Did he have an answer? How many died, that she couldn’t save? She had seen at least a few dead. She knew there were some that hadn’t survived, besides the attackers. Even those she wished she could have saved somehow, avoided the bloodshed.
He couldn’t understand her words, but what he could understand, was her worry. The fear, the uncertainty. All he could do in return was soothe her. A hand in her hair and on her cheek, as she clung to him. “It’s alright, now, you’re alright…” Royland wanted to keep his eyes on the girl in his arms but found it hard to look away from Castien’s gaze. It said, I hate you, and I envy you.
Returning a gentle smile down to Sumina, he lifted her into his arms effortlessly. He winced, as the wound in his side was exposed to the air. The cloth that Lyrei had stuffed it with were soaked through. He’d need to clean it, change them, soon. Get Sirius to stitch it closed, if Sumina wasn’t well enough to heal it herself.
“Thank you for keeping her safe… I’m indebted to you.” Quickly, now, they had to hurry home.
Sirius had been waiting outside for them, worriedly pacing. He had heard from Alain the extent of Royland’s injuries and was incredulous that he could just let their friend be at risk for bleeding out as opposed to having him tended to immediately. It had been the king’s own idea, Alain argued, reiterating his point to Sirius once he had taken Royland and Sumina inside. From the looks of everything, Walter had still not returned from Lady Abana’s. Royland wasn’t worried, not really, but he said a silent prayer regardless.
By now, the wound in his side had begun to leak unforgivingly, creating a trail of blood to the room where he laid Sumina down in bed. Sirius followed him in, with a chair and a bucket of clean water, fresh bandages, and what little medicinal paste could be made from the herbs that they kept around the house. Sirius knew that Royland wouldn’t leave Sumina unattended, not now, and he wished to honor that.
“Auughh…!” Royland hissed as he lifted his arms. First to remove his shirt, and then again as Sirius and Alain carefully removed the bloodied rags from his belly.
“This is bad, Royland. He could have killed you. The bastard.” Alain muttered, pressing a clean, wet rag against the gash. The king shied away, at first, but quickly took in a sharp breath and held it. It was for his own sake, after all. “Did Lyrei say anything else to you?”
Alain’s inquiry had forced Royland to exhale, but he spoke so obviously through pain – his knight felt some guilt for attempting to make conversation at such a time.
“Only that… agh, she needed to-ow! Talk to me when I was bandaged. Or healed. But…” Blue eyes trailed over to Sumina’s figure on the bed. She was certainly in no condition to expend any more energy than she already had. And he wouldn’t let her. The king had been through worse, he had fought through pain much more catastrophic than this, and it would certainly not be the last time. He had been cut and healed just fine before, even if he was a little battle scarred in the end.
With the wound cleaned, the paste applied, Alain began to gingerly wrap Royland’s wounds. “They’ll need to be changed tomorrow. Kept clean. We’ll hope it heals. Pray for no infection.” Alain muttered, uncharacteristically in thought. But he wasn’t the only one bothered by the whole ordeal.
They had all been to Felor’s camp, met him, spoke amongst his men. “What would drive him to do such a thing? Attack innocents. If he were upset with us, they could have sought us out. If it were Lyrei they wanted…”
“You shouldn’t have insulted his settlement, Alain. Remember what you said about his gates?” Sirius rolled his eyes.
“If that is all it took to attempt to slaughter a settlement, he would have sent his men to attack Dalem long ago. You heard how he spoke of Lyrei. How he loathed her and her business practices.” Alain tied Royland’s bandages taut, and the king replaced his shirt with one that was clean, untorn. Now, if only he could do something about the aching in his head…
“We may have been the catalysts,” Royland sighed, “But we were not the cause. His indignance had been brewing for some time.” No one attacked indiscriminately, or without reason. And based on their encounter, it was obvious that Felor was not doing this unprompted. Royland could see why. He might have been offended. With his prejudice towards half elves, being asked to bend to their will, and then being approached by humans who condoned human and elf unions – the lifestyle on which Dalem created and rested all of its laurels. No one had done anything wrong, but Felor.
“You both should look for Walter.” Royland suggested. “I’ll look after Sumina.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Castien was worried for Sumina, dragging her back to the bakery. She was hardly able to stay upright, and her eyes were concerningly unfocused a lot of the time. She kept looking at Grace carrying Elas, obviously disturbed. They all were, about how close the little boy had been to dying. He was crying and clinging to his mother. The pain was gone, but Sumina couldn’t do anything for the fear. The memory of the wound and pain.
They got to the bakery safely, and Castien sighed in relief. “[+darkgreen Water lily, rest.]”
Sumina was trying to go back outside, but Castien practically carried her deeper into the building. Her hands, still covered in blood, gripped onto his shirt,”[+darkgreen I… have to… He’s just a little boy. How… how could...]”
“[+darkgreen I know. But he’s fine, thanks to you. A lot of people are. Relax.]” Castien ran a hand through her hair. His hand went to her cheek, trying to wipe tears with his thumb. She still seemed dazed, but she was crying. For Elas, and perhaps all the others. “[+darkgreen It’s alright.]”
Castien looked over when he heard Royland speak. He’d been so focused on Sumina he had barely noticed that his family had already gone, probably to get Elas cleaned and tended to. Hadn’t noticed the knock at the door even. There was the king, looking a little worse for the wear. He had probably been closer to the center of things than Castien and his family had been. Castien made no move to let go of Sumina. “She’s here.”
It was Sumina who moved away from Castien. She looked over to the door, initially confused. It took her a moment to recognize him, but as soon as she did she pushed free of Castien and started toward Royland. For a moment Castien didn’t want to release her, but at the words coming out of her mouth he let go, looking a little stunned. “[+darkgreen Royland? My everything, you’re… I’m so glad. I was so… worried…]”
She didn’t even make it two whole steps from Castien. She had tried to move in a hurry, but almost right away started to fall. Castien reached out and caught her, since he was so close. Her [i everything]. Was that how she felt about this selfish royal brat? Castien was giving Royland a hard look. Once again, she was choosing the king in an unmistakable clear way. Did the king even understand? Castien supposed he was just glad there was no audience this time. He felt he had no choice but to hand over the blood soaked lily over. She was still trying to get to Royland, though it was clear she lacked the strength to even stand. “She… says she was worried. [+darkgreen Water lily] saved a lot of people today. Including Elas. She’s exhausted.”
Once she was in Royland’s arms she clung to him tightly, and the tears started flowing more freely. Not only exhausted, but very emotional, and a little disoriented. “[+darkgreen My everything. I looked. I tried to. I helped. Not enough. How many died? Your face...]”
Her fingers released the tight grip on his clothes to feel his face, and the fresh, reddish purple bruise there.
Only the injured could let Royland know who their attacker was – some with their final breaths. The most panicked of villagers often ignored him completely, intent only on getting themselves and their families to safety. Not that he didn’t blame them.
Those eyes that were not wide with shock and fear were deemed his targets, and nearly as soon as he had found them, he aided a guard in cutting down two of the well-trained bastards with relative ease. Royland had asked the guard if he had been at the gates when the merchants arrived – and he said he had. There were six in plain view, but he wondered how many had been hidden in the cart they rode in on, covered beneath a bed of heavy cloths. A concerning thought, but all they could hope to do was catch the rest. Kill, if they resisted.
Royland and the guard went their separate ways. One to help get the people of Dalem to safety. To protect those that could not protect themselves. And the other to seek out any of Felor’s men remaining. The king could feel a cold chill down his spine, as though he were being watched.
Perhaps luckily the assailant only seemed to have eyes for the king. He dashed forward, but Royland was quick to dodge. The angry ‘merchant’ swung his body to the right, catching Royland in the side with his blade. “I’ll gut you!” There hadn’t been enough power in the swing to do quite that, but the blood spilled forth so quickly. Royland knew that the flesh had been cleanly cut through. Now, with one hand clenched over his wound, all he could do for a time was dodge, parry when the opportunity presented itself, and pray. The king had caught his attacker from behind and taking his foot to the back of the calf, had put Felor’s guard on the ground. Royland pressed the bottom of his boot against the man’s wrist, forcing him to release his sword, and then promptly impaled him through the right shoulder, pinning him to the ground. He wouldn’t be able to release himself without gripping the blade, and he seemed too weak of constitution to do much of that.
Through haggard breaths, Royland had began to ask the man how many of them were left but was distracted when a blow came to his temple, seemingly out of nowhere. The king stumbled but did not lose his footing. His head throbbed unforgivingly, and a man he recognized as one who had accompanied Felor to the tent for negotiations took quick steps towards him. So much for an explanation. The man had lifted his arm to swing, fully intent on lopping Royland’s head off, but cried out and grabbed his leg. Alain had come from behind and slashed at the man’s thighs, rendering him immobile and in great pain.
“Alain…!” Royland sheathed his sword, moving to get a better look at his friend. No injuries that he could see, but he was covered in blood. “How many more of them are there?”
Alain moved his head on a swivel, checking their immediate surroundings for any other nasty surprises. “These two, two in the square, makes four. But there were others. Scattered about.” His eyes panned to Royland’s torso. The king winced when he tried to stand straight, bend down, or extend his arms – but there were things that needed to be done. The assailants needed to be secured before he could worry about himself.
With great patience, Alain and Royland bundled up Felor’s men. And despite their attempts at questioning while on the way to the center of the market, neither would speak much, save for the occasional vitriol. The knights spotted Lyrei’s dire wolf before they had spotted her – and she was happy enough to see that the both of them were relatively unharmed, that instead of receiving her newfound prisoners with some grace, she gave her allies a hug instead.
“Thank the Sirens.” She’d muttered. Then, gaze cold, she put her elbow to the temple of one of the attackers and spat in the wound in his shoulder. “The guards will take them to a cell. Show them Dalem’s great hospitality.” The attack seemed over. There were survivors of Felor, and they would be made to talk. But as Lyrei glanced at the blood-soaked earth, she caught her lip in between her teeth. In that instance, Royland swore, he could see her pain. He had felt this pain, as well, and offered a hand on her shoulder.
“Thank you…” It was the first genuine smile they shared with one another. Soft. Understanding. “You ought to find your healer.” But Royland declined. There was much work to be done, still.
“I need to make sure it’s safe. We need to gather the dead… and confirm their numbers.” His eyes glanced down to the defeated group of men, bleeding and injured.
Royland led more able-bodied men to the area where he had the felled two ‘merchants’ and brought their bodies back to lie with their brethren. Two injured, and six dead. By the time the bodies of Felor’s men were rounded up, counted, and their numbers confirmed, Royland’s vision had started to blur. It was obvious that he was disoriented. A bruise was beginning to form where he had been struck, and a sizeable bump took shape over his eye. Lyrei had stuffed the wound in his belly with clean cloths, to stop the bleeding and keep him in working order until he felt comfortable accepting help.
A lull in the excitement had finally allowed them a word together. And Lyrei was excited. Having seen her king in action. In her wolf’s words, Royland was an excellent choice of mate. “Dalem thanks you, King Vondien.” She smiled and lifted a hand to gently brush the bruise on his face. When he didn’t pull away, she brushed his hair back. “When you’re healed, do come see me.” Lyrei’s expression was serious again. They needed to deal with Felor. And she wanted Royland to decide what was to be done.
With Lyrei’s blessing, Royland wandered off – first towards the bakery. He and Castien didn’t see eye to eye on much. But if he had run across Sumina in the chaos, he’d have kept her safe. A quick knock on the door got him so response, and so he entered, coming face to face with Avira.
“Castien, it’s me… Is Sumina with you? Lyrei has called the outside clear.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] “He shouldn’t have.” Sumina insisted, muffled slightly with her head against his chest. His presence, his arm around her, his smell, everything about him soothed her. She felt more secure against him. When he showed her his hand, she took it in hers, her thumb resting near the punctures his nails had left. With a whisper they mended. As if she was going to just let him go about town injured, even something so minor. First that one, then the other, already wrapped in the remains of an old shirt. “It would bother me more… to leave them.” She’d have liked nothing more than to stay with him longer, wrapped in each others arms. But there had been a storm, and people might need help. Both of them were on the same page about doing that they could to help.
Holding his hand, the little kisses, as brief as they were, finally put a smile on her face. They had been too busy with guests to have much time with each other. It was nice having company over, but she did miss having the quiet moments to steal with him.
The state of the town was impressive to Sumina. With the sheer amount of debris scattered in the streets she expected more damage, but the town seemed largely unharmed. Houses still stood, and while there was plenty of work being done there was no real sense of loss. Inconvenience perhaps, but they were moving on. Lyrei was even out helping. She couldn’t say she was exactly [i happy] seeing the leader of Dalem, and the feeling was apparently mutual. Still, when Lyrei suggested helping with those injured by the storm Sumina agreed without hesitation,”I’d be happy to help.”
Healing wasn’t something Royland could really help with anyway, and there was quite the mess to clean up, so when he released her hand she started to wander off to find where the injured were.
Then quite suddenly the aftermath of the storm was the least of the town's worries. Sumina heard the cries, and an awful, cold sensation washed over her. Dread settled in her stomach at the bloodshed. The town had made it through the storm largely unscathed only for this once the skies cleared? Abana’s warning came back to her. One close to her, gravely injured. But she couldn’t see Royland anymore, he had already rushed into the chaos of the market. Was it him, or one of the others?
Regardless, there were plenty hurt closer at hand. “Meriel, [+darkgreen come].” The snow leopard materialized at her side, and sprang into action right away. Meriel darted forward, clearing the way for Sumina to tend to the injured. They had to go against the crowd, but when Meriel broke through she lunged for one of the attackers, pulling a blade from a man on the ground. Meriel had his arm in her teeth, and he dropped his weapon. Sumind was on the ground with the injured man, her hand over the gaping wound. It was pouring blood, and was quickly coating her hands and dress. Under her fingers, and at her words, the wound closed. The man’s breathing was still labored, but his hands groped over the spot, over Sumina’s hands, and felt the mended flesh.
“Get to safety.” When she stood and turned to Meriel, her stomach dropped. Meriel had torn at the attacker with teeth and claws, shredding his arm practically to ribbons and leaving his face with deep claw scratches. He was still alive. There was a lump in her throat.
[+darkgreen [i Leave him.]] There was blood on the snow leopard, her face and paws. She was already moving toward the next injured villager, the next attacker,[+darkgreen [i You cannot save everyone. Now move, girl.]]
Time ceased to flow normally to Sumina. It was all a mess of running, blood, mud, and pain. She went from person to person, Meriel most often taking the lead. Many were seriously injured. Some less seriously. Others dead by the time she arrived. With each attempt at healing she felt more drained, but the relief and gratitude on the faces of those she saved helped keep her going. That and that none of the faces were the ones she was searching for. Royland, Walter, Sirius, Alain, and even Castien were never the faces of the injured or dead she went to.
Had Abana been wrong? Sumina hoped so. But still. Her running became more like stumbling, and Meriel’s form was weakening. How long had she been rushing from person to person, healing wounds and seeing the carnage left behind? It felt like days, but realistically was likely only minutes at most.
When she finally did see a familiar face, it wasn’t at all the way she expected. After she had left, the Inakas family had gone out, to help with the town and little Elas had wanted to play outside. When the attack happened, the family had been separated. The parents desperately looking for their children.
Castien had joined in fighting off the attacking ‘merchants’ with Avira, picking up a sword along the way. Vanya found him before their parents, and stayed with him. The two found their parents next, but Elas was still missing. Grace was on the verge of panic, with Lorsan trying to calm his wife.
Castien spotted Sumina just before both of them saw Elas, half covered in mud. It was an awful picture, one Sumina doubted she would ever forget. It was all over in an instant, though time seemed to slow down. Between the little boy and the ‘merchant’ with the bloodstained blade lay a man, possibly already dead. The terror on Elas’s face was awful. The slight hesitation of the attacker. Grace called for her youngest son, drawing the gazes of both.
“Mama?” The little boy was frozen in terror, but the Elvish attacker took swift action. “For Felor!” The blade came down, tearing through soft flesh, down to the bone. Starting near where his shoulder and neck joined, and coming down along his little chest to the belly.
Before he could even make his next move, Meriel and Avira were both upon him. Castien was the next to arrive, pulling the fallen boy up with one arm,”Elas!”
There was a chorus of cries for the boy. Sumina scrambled to him, practically falling against Castien. This wasn’t what she expected. One of the men, the ones out fighting. Not a [i child]. A little boy who hadn’t done a thing, couldn’t even defend himself.
He was losing blood so fast. “[+darkgreen It’ll be alright. Shhh.]” Sumina tried to soothe the little boy. Her head felt so fuzzy. So out of it. So much blood on her hands. The rest of the family arrived, watching as Sumina closed the wound as quickly as she could.
Once Elas was whole his mother took him, holding him tight and crying. She was thanking Sumina, but Sumina could barely hear or understand. Sumina tried to walk, but swayed so badly that Castien grabbed her to steady her. He looked to Meriel, who was heavily obscured by black whisps. “Call her back. [+darkgreen Call Meriel back, water lily. Everything is fine.]”
He knew she couldn’t keep this up any longer. The way she looked at him a little vacantly, she was in bad shape. A little more coaxing and she did recall the snow leopard. Castien wasn’t about to let her go on her own anywhere in the state she was in. He looked from her to Elas, bloodied but unharmed in his mothers arms. How near a thing, almost losing his baby brother. But Sumina was there.
“[+darkgreen I need to… to go help.]” Sumina was trying to go help, but Castien held on a little tighter.
“[+darkgreen Come, this way.]” The man at their feet was already dead, and Castien steered Sumina away from the bodies. He needed to get them all together and keep them all safe until the attackers were all rounded up or dead. “[+darkgreen You’ve done enough. Rest now. I’ll see you home shortly.]”
First the bakery, which was closer. His family could bar themselves inside, though by then the attack seemed over, or mostly over, from what Castien could see. All that was left of the attackers were perhaps a few stragglers. Dangerous stragglers, like cornered animals. He did not want any of them near his family or Sumina.
The remainder of the cleanup took little time. After a few more moments of Alain’s bellyaching, Royland decided it was time to tend to his wounds. It became clear that, because they lived with a talented healer, bandages were nowhere to be found. So, he improvised, with the shirt that he had traveled out of Volaire with. Cleaned, but torn, and no longer suitable to wear until they could be mended. And there would be no time for that. He couldn’t quite imagine looking Sumina in the eye, let alone asking her to tend to mere rips and tears. Much like everything else he asked of her… he felt that he was inherently taking advantage of her good will. It mattered not what they felt for each other. Technically, he was her captor…
Alain and Sirius watched patiently while Royland took a knife to the tattered fabric and bandaged his hands. They tried to make conversation. Tried to offer suggestions as to who might need their help the most, what buildings were most vulnerable based on what they had experienced of Dalem before the storm. Most of the conversation didn’t require a response from Royland, but when it did, he only hemmed in mild agreement. His knights sighed in tandem. He was lost in his own world. Could anyone reach him?
Their prayers were answered when Sumina came through the door. Royland watched Alain and Sirius slip out relatively unnoticed. He laid what hand was bandaged over top of her head. He didn’t want to get blood on her.
“No need to be upset for my sake…” Royland brought his bloodied, unbound hand up to his face, admiring the marks in his skin. Despite the anger he had felt once before, he smiled. “It’s only natural for [i him]… and anyone involved… to feel that way.” Somewhat expectedly, a calming sensation washed over his body. The cuts on his hand began to sting – a welcome feeling. A reminder that his impulses were just that. Feelings that would pass.
Change was a lofty goal. Several months down the line, and the return to Volaire was nowhere in sight. There was so much left to do. Counts and barons, kings and princesses, to speak to, to ask for their support. Not to mention acquiring the support of Dalem, finishing the business Lyrei had laid out for them. Pieces of armor to be gathered, someone to assemble it, who would weave the fabric for the gambeson underneath. Despite that full night’s rest, the weight on his shoulder was beginning to tire him. And the day had only just begun.
The clarity that resulted in having Sumina at his side, it made his heart flutter. What hand he could use was now wrapped around her waist, pulling her close to him. Royland took it in. Her scent. The feeling of her fingers tightly gripping the back of his clothes. The closeness of their chests. Castien may have won the battle, but, Royland had surely won the war. “I would use both hands, but…” Sheepishly, he had to show her the cost of holding his tongue. “I’ll wrap it. We’ll be handling plenty of wood, today, may as well—” Royland stood straight as he remembered. What was the state of it all, outside?
Once Sumina had calmed down and composed herself, Royland took hold of her hand and led her outside. It was to bring her some measure of comfort… And, with how much company they had to entertain the night previous, he felt as though he hadn’t truly seen her in quite some time. Once she had looked away from him, he pressed his lips to her temple, and when she turned, he gave her another. Properly, on the lips. It was quick, light, and they hadn’t time to do much more, in case someone noticed.
Overall, the state of Dalem could be described as no worse for wear than before the storm began. What was fabric was, obviously, ripped due to the impact of the many branches scattered about the street. The corners of some roofs and homes showed signs of obvious damage. And the amount of debris scattered throughout the market was impressive. The skies always seemed bluer after storms. The sun beat down a little stronger, the wind was world’s softer than it had been the night previous. Most of the work had been delegated out, and the commander of it all, Lyrei, stood just off to the side of the only standing wall of a small shack that was no longer in one piece.
Royland had never seen such an expression on her face. Come to think of it, he had never once observed Lyrei acting as a leader. She oftentimes seemed more like a figurehead. But with sleeves rolled up and a pair of men’s pants, drawn tight over her waist with a belt, she moved and spoke only with purpose. Somewhat absentmindedly, Royland approached her.
Lyrei’s eyes dropped to her guest’s joined hands and then to Royland, annoyed. But, nevertheless, she smiled. A time and place, and all that nonsense.
“How lovely of you to join us all.”
Despite her somewhat curt greeting, Royland chose to keep his composure. “Is there any where you might need us?”
Lyrei didn’t need to think on it. She locked eyes with Sumina, “We do have some minor injuries from those that were caught outside or tried to foolishly board up their windows in the midst of it all.” She shook her head. Wondering if the elder half-elves were as stubborn in Volaire as they were in Dalem. An inquiry that could never have an answer. At least, not now. “Vargas and the other men are off stacking these loose branches. We’ll need them to dry before we might repurpose them for anything, but… we’ve also had some merchants just arrive.”
“Merchants?” Royland let go of Sumina’s hand in case she needed to head off and crossed his arms across his chest. “Where from? To deliver what? In [i that] storm?” The look on Lyrei’s face told Royland that she hadn’t quite thought of such an implication. Royland felt a terrible, sinking feeling in his chest as a cry came just through a crowd of people. Blood splattering the ground, a gurgling death rattle, more screams, pounding feet as women and children rushed out of the immediate area.
“For Felor!” One ‘merchant’ cried, plunging his sword in the body of a villager. Somewhere not far off, another man fell to the ground, pleading for his life. Lyrei and Royland set forward towards the sounds of chaos. Royland with his sword drawn, and Lyrei, summoning a large dire wolf familiar. No doubt tied to the large, colorful marking that Royland had seen on her back.
“Go around the left, Royland!” Lyrei shouted. “[i Find them!]”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] The topic was not one Sumina wanted to dwell on once Vanya brought up the whole Princess issue. She couldn’t be mad at the young girl, for her it was an innocent question. But it weighed on Sumina heavily. She couldn’t catch Royland’s eye, he was avoiding her. Of course he was. His father’s shadow was a heavy burden.
The way Castien put it sounded like a fairy tale. It was nothing like that. Her arms were crossed, and her expression serious. The only reason she kept quiet was because of the children. They didn’t need to feel guilty for their curiosity, or know all of the details. How her own family was trying to kill Royland, after [i stealing] the throne from him. Her own big brothers were hunting them down. She had faced them in the market, then spent days trying to keep them from catching up. That this all, keeping Royland safe, was why she had Meriel. That hatred they looked at Royland with wasn’t any more [i good] than what Royland’s father had done.
When Vanya looked to her, finishing Castien’s story, Sumina forced a smile, but couldn’t say anything. The truth was too harsh, but the lie not any better to her. The look she gave Castien after was not a happy one, and she retreated to the kitchen while he settled them down. No purpose in particular, just needed to get away, and tidied a little to keep busy.
The children wanted her to walk them home, and it was impossible to refuse, especially when Royland encouraged her to go. The look she gave before leaving, she was clearly still frustrated with Castien’s fairy tale version of the coup that had nearly cost Royland his life.
Her displeasure wouldn’t be voiced with the children. Instead while they all walked back to the bakery Sumina kept the conversation to the aftermath of the storm. Tree branches in the streets, the damage on the houses, and how very wet everything was. So much mud, which Castien and Sumina had to restrain Elas from playing in for now. Sumina didn’t want to return him to his mother covered head to toe in mud.
The parents were relieved to see their children safe and sound, though they assured Sumina they weren’t too worried. They hoped the children weren’t too much trouble, thanked Sumina profusely for watching them through the entire storm, and sent the little ones to put away the toys they had brought.
With the children ushered away, Sumina turned to Castien,”A word?”
That look she was giving him. Castien knew this wasn’t going to go well for him. Her anger was cold by now. If she’d been mad earlier, snapped at him in the house, he was sure it would have been better for him. He almost wanted to avoid it, make some excuse. No, that wouldn’t really help, would it? Finally giving in to the inevitable he nodded and followed her toward the door.
Sensing Sumina’s mood, Grace and Lorsan had wisely retreated to keep the younger ones occupied. Now that they were alone, Sumina’s gaze narrowed,”Why did you tell them that? [+darkgreen Good always prevails? It wasn’t like that. It isn’t like that. When they [i tortured] humans in the castle that night do you think they were really any better than King Harrenhal?]”
“[+darkgreen Water lily, I was only trying to—]”
“[+darkgreen Hurt Royland? Congratulations, you hurt me as well. I don’t want to be their stupid Princess. I don’t want [i any] of it. I’m fighting [i my own family], Castien. Even if by some miracle they live, I have probably lost them anyway. So please. Don’t.]” He had started to reach for her, seeing tears in her eyes. Worse than the anger and frustration, he had hurt her. He hadn’t meant [i that].
“[+darkgreen Water lily, I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to…]” What else could he say?
“[+darkgreen You owe him an apology too.]” That may be asking a bit much. But Sumina left in a hurry, with Castien just standing there, rubbing his forehead as he watched her go back to the house. That had backfired horribly, and now he felt guilty. All he’d cared about then was finally putting that smug snake in his place, but Sumina had gotten caught up in it.
As soon as Sumina returned to the house and shut the door behind her she went to Royland. The others might as well have not been there. Was the embrace meant more to comfort him or her? She didn’t know, she just wanted to hold him. She was still upset, and needed a few moments at least to calm down.
Throughout the morning, Royland could certainly hear voices having casual conversations about him, and movement from the waking bodies. But he would not budge. Alain glanced around to Sirius and Walter. They had all gotten dressed, all put on their boots. The plan was to aid in the cleanup as much as possible once breakfast was over. Yet, still their king could slumber on. Royland’s brow furrowed slightly – he could plainly pick out Alain’s voice but couldn’t decipher what he was saying. Two voices responded with stifled chuckles, and Sirius bent down to Royland’s level.
“Royland, you’re late for your addressing of the court.” Sirius could hardly get the words out and tumbled onto his back when he saw Royland’s eyes shoot open in a moment of sheer panic. It passed quickly, and no one but his men had seen it. The king glared at his friends through messy hair that had traveled in front of his eyes. The sign of a good night’s sleep. Running his fingers through the tangles in his hair, he put on his boots, stood, and shambled over to walk amongst the living. He had almost excused himself without breakfast when he heard the topic of conversation. Suddenly, he decided against inserting himself into Sumina and Castien’s talk. The children were doing enough of that anyway.
Though her brother had attempted to shy her off the topic, Vanya simply could not help herself once she had caught wind of the conversation taking place over breakfast. “Do the Princesses where you come from all live in these tents, Lady Sumina?” The little girl frowned. She imagined Sumina in a dress unlike anything her mother had ever made or bought for her. Head to toe in jewels, lace, bows, and plenty hands to brush her hair every morning. Could such a Princess be comfortable in just… tents? Elas, on the other hand, was elated to hear.
“Tell us more, Lady Sumina!” Vanya regarded Elas with an unkind frown. The little boy noticed but showed no signs of giving up his request so easily. “What else, what else!”
Lady Abana turned to Royland and smiled, almost knowingly. Ominously. It wasn’t one of comfort, more of one meant to acknowledge the depth of his predicament. A familiar feeling made its home in his throat. A lump that crept up whenever Harrenhal or his actions were the center of discussion. Four years after his death, and yet Royland felt as though he was no closer to escaping that bastard’s shadow. And Castien, sensing both an opportunity, and seeing no way of escape from his sibling’s questions, happily served them their eggs with a smile on his face. Royland was avoiding his gaze, but also Sumina’s. It was a welcome sight, especially after so many losses to this rat with the selfish bloodline.
“Well, [+darkgreen little strawberry], long ago in [+darkgreen the water lily’s] land, there was a terrible king. And he didn’t very much like Elves. So he sent them away to the high, high mountaintops. Sumina was not always a Princess, but because good [i always] prevails…” and he looked at Royland, but immediately shied away from the thought of gloating when he was met with that dagger-like stare.
Vanya’s brow furrowed as her brother trailed off and had returned to the kitchen. “What? Good always prevails and then…” The little girl’s eyes lit up as she looked at Sumina, “And then the Elves ruled the land! And made you their Princess! It’s just as the grownups say it is.”
Figuring that Royland had had enough torture, Castien quieted down his siblings and instructed them to eat. Though he hoped the scoundrel would never forget his place.
For better or for worse, Royland kept his peace for the duration. It was over soon enough. But he could not help but try to push the homicidal thoughts in his mind to the wayside. All for the sake of the children, he told himself. Never would he show them any untoward sides of his personality, and especially not towards their brother. Nor would he strangle him to death in their presence. He sighed, resigning himself. It was something he had come to terms with on the eve of his father’s death. This was his cross to bear, the weight on his shoulders for accepting the crown as his birthright. It depressed him, visibly.
Walter left with Lady Abana to assess the damage to her home and speculated that he would be there for the duration of the day. Alain and Sirius had decided that they might locate other men in the village and see what needed to be done, who needed extra hands, or a heave and a push to get Dalem back in working order. The children were adamant that Sumina walk them home, and Royland encouraged her to heed their cries. He could spend some time cleaning the mess in the main room once everyone was clear from the house.
Once the Inakas’ had exited with Sumina, Alain turned to Royland with a scowl on his face.
“I hate that man.”
Sirius sighed, “There is little tact in his approach. It’s obvious he wants to disparage you, Royland. And his reasoning is no secret to us all. But why go to such lengths?”
“Because he’s as cruel as Harrenhal, and as spineless as Davin. Dancing around the point with children in the fold. Only a monster could do such a thing and keep a straight face.” Alain grumbled, moving the blankets he had gathered back to their respective rooms.
Competition in love was such an ugly thing, Royland thought. Never had he run into such constant and exhausting, repeated attacks on his character for the sake of but one woman. The high ground was beginning to look less and less like a viable option. A warm, wet sensation in his palms caused him to look down. Blood, from the force of his nails digging into his skin. The pain was nonexistent. It was how he knew his mood had soured. Whether it was beyond repair, or not, he might never know.
“It can’t be helped. I’m but an obstacle to him.” Royland admitted, quietly.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Again Sumina doted on Royland more than the others. She was glad he seemed to like the dessert. Really she’d had him in mind making it, knowing he liked to try new things and figuring he likely hadn’t had anything quite like that. And the bad weather was just the perfect excuse to make something warm and rich.
The remaining pastries were set out, for anyone still hungry to nibble on while the children played. Not many had much of an appetite for eating more after eating their fill of hot stew and warm pudding, but Sirius did snag a couple when he had a free moment from his roles in the game Walter was running.
Sumina was content to watch the game, which Walter had thankfully left her out of as well. Maybe figuring she had done enough that day, which was true enough. She was glad to just sit quietly by Royland, smiling and laughing at the play unfolding in the house. She would glance to Royland, obviously sleepy, and smile at him watching her instead of the others, until she noticed he had actually fallen asleep. He would need to be moved or his back would ache in the morning, but not until the game was done.
Her quiet, mostly content mood was shattered by Abana’s warning. “A terrible fate? I don’t think…” Sumina responded quietly, trying to reason that they were all fine. Safe from the storm here, but she knew that wasn’t what the older woman meant. A bad enough storm often preceded some tragedy. A great injury for one close to her. Sumina looked around the house, unnerved. Royland? Walter, Sirius, or Alain? Castien? “I hope… I hope not.” Yet she didn’t sound sure. As if answering her the house rattled with thunder again, and she paled. The storm was certainly bad enough.
It was too severe to let anyone leave after the game was finished. Sumina suggested they all sleep in here, and with some help got every blanket and pillow she could muster in the house, including the one, now dry, that Castien had brought from his family’s house. All combined, the children eagerly made a single nest of blankets and pillows for nine. It was a bit of a mess, but Sumina declared it perfect. Meriel was recalled back, and then began the jostling over who would sleep where.
In the end, the children won their preferred spots on either side of Sumina, and begged for a story or a song before bed. They three settled into the mass of blankets and pillows, with Castien following and claiming a spot on Vanya’s other side. Not as close as he might like to water lily, but the only ones [i closer] were his younger siblings, so it was hard to be upset, really. Royland was prodded awake to move to the nest, where the spot on Elas’s other side was conveniently left.
The children did get a song, an Elvish lullaby they were familiar enough with. Elas was the first to fall asleep, nestled up with his head on Sumina’s arm. Sumina didn’t last long after her song was finished. Vanya was still awake, barely, and turned to her brother to whisper,”Castien? Sumina’s really a real Princess, right? Like my friends say.”
Castien put a hand on her head,”Hush, [+darkgreen little strawberry]. Mama told you, no talking about any rumors. They hurt her feelings.”
“But… She is, isn’t she? Kali’s papa is a guard and says Lady Lyrei says she’s a Princess and they need to protect her. Why doesn’t she—” Castien quieted her with a finger to her nose.
“I said hush. You’ll wake her. The truth is… complicated.” He knew their whispered conversation was likely easy for the others to hear. Vanya didn’t seem to realize. “[+darkgreen Little strawberry], go to sleep and perhaps I’ll explain tomorrow.”
“Not now. Sleep.” And Castien refused to let her get another word in on that. With a little humming of the same song Sumina had been singing, and a comforting hand on her head, he had Vanya at least quiet, and soon enough asleep.
By morning the storm had calmed and the skies were nearly clear. Castien was up, sitting but in no hurry to get out of the makeshift bed. Instead he was looking at Sumina and the children. Vanya was sprawled between him and Sumina at an angle, head toward him. Suming had turned to her side and was cuddled up with Elas, who was quite contentedly asleep in her arms, at least for a little while. The Inakas family were early risers, and Sumina was awakened by a very wiggly little boy squirming awake and sitting up. Vanya had already woken, but like her older brother was content to stay in bed.
Elas, however, was hungry and wanted breakfast. That got Castien up, and he offered to go make breakfast. Sumina wasn’t about to have a guest do all the work, so she forced herself up and into the kitchen to help. While things cooked, the children looked for things to nibble, mostly the leftover breads and pastries from yesterday.
The sunshine was welcome after the storm, and a relief. But what of Abana’s warning? Would one of them be injured? The storm had certainly wreaked some havoc on the town. Branches were flung about, littering streets. Some houses were damaged. Sumina was peering out the window with some apprehension, and wide eyes.
“Are you not used to storms either?” Castien asked, watching her more than the food he was trying to cook.
“Oh, I… I am. The mountains have storms. But they could do a lot more damage to… well, we lived mostly in [+darkgreen yurts].”
Castien’s eyebrows both shot up,”You lived in tents?”
“They were more than just tents. [+darkgreen Yurts]. How does that translate?” Humans in Volaire had no such structures, at least once she moved to the city. So she had never learned anything but the Elvish word for the type of structure so common to them in the mountains. More permanent and sturdy than a typical tent, but capable of being moved and modified with a little work to adjust for escaping danger, following food, or splitting and joining different clans. It was all before she was born, when they had been forced into the mountains and her people had all learned to build and live in that type of shelter from the clans that knew how, the desperate first years trying to survive. By the time she was little, they had adjusted.
Castien shook his head and looked at the eggs he was cooking,”Fancy tents.” Her face was reddening at his teasing, and he relented a little,”Yurt, I believe. Yurts plural. That can’t have been easy.”
Sumina didn’t answer right away, instead she looked back out the window with a slight frown. True enough that a storm in shelter like that had not always been easy. Had Dalem really mostly escaped damage and injury with sturdier shelter like this? She wanted to go find out. See if anyone needed help.
Royland didn’t need to gloat, brag, or otherwise bring attention to his swift and assured victory with Sumina as his partner. It wasn’t fair, some cried, that they should be paired together. Alain had been on the verge of disclosing the monk’s prophecy to the house, irritated by his friend’s smugness in the wake of victory.
“We let you win that round!” Alain shook his fist, and the children giggled. For even they knew that the [+darkgreen lovebirds], as the duo had been affectionately named, had won fair and square. It warmed Royland’s heart, but it also fanned his ego in Castien’s presence. Each person at the table had their own cause for joy or otherwise, but all was cut short with the occasional crash of lightning or deafening crack of thunder. Far from being in the eye of it, it felt as though Dalem were in a precarious position, caught in the thick. Seeing Sumina’s reactions, Royland did frown, but had no time to speak on it. She had quickly distracted herself, and intended to distract the rest of them, with more treats. Where she ever found the time to be so considerate, even in the wake of something awful, Royland could only speculate.
Sounds of delight quickly filled the home, as everyone took their turns tasting the warm pudding that Sumina had prepared for them. Thick notes of cocoa, and sweet notes of honey rushed over their tongues. And with the spiced tea she had served alongside it, made for a wonderfully complex experience on the taste buds. Royland had to stop for a moment and ask for more tea. It wasn’t that he had an aversion to sweets, but often times, even the most carefully crafted of deserts were too rich for his blood. The bitterness of the nuts on top helped, and he was sure to finish it all to the very last drop.
With their meals for the day seemingly finished, Walter enlisted the children into a game he had thought of while he was helping Sumina in the kitchen. After dubbing Elas to play the brave knight, and Vanya to take on the role of a benevolent, beloved queen of a far-off land, both Sirius and Alain were enlisted to play their parts as well. As steeds, as bad guys that Elas needed to overcome, and with their brother playing the part of the wizard who would bring peace upon the land. If only the good knight Elas should wish for it. But he needed to prove he was pure of heart! True of spirit! And a capable swordsman! Walter carefully laid out each trial that the young boy need overcome. First, to acquire the trust of the familiar Meriel, whose powers would only be granted to those she deemed to have true intentions. The snow leopard hadn’t quite understood what her role was but based on the expectant glances of the humans and halflings among her, she took Elas onto her back. Allowing him to ride triumphantly through the house as he quickly made his way to the next trial. The bridge troll, played by Alain, would test the young knight’s sword skills. But first, an impossible riddle. Which the young boy was sure to get wrong. The bridge troll launched his attack, teaching the young boy to parry, block, and absorb. In the end, the mighty troll fell silent. And young Elas carried on. Sirius was called to play his role as the scoundrel bandit, out to acquire Queen Vanya’s precious crown jewels! But what the thief showed in tenacity, he lacked in intelligence. His plan was easily thwarted. The queen thanked him for his efforts. But the people of their land would continue to suffer unless he could appeal to the mighty wizard. Yet, still, the witch Abana had cast a spell on the path. Could he traverse it?
Throughout it all, Royland lay with his head against his arms, resting on the table. Content to sleep there. The cacophony outside calmed him, in a way. It was difficult to keep his eyes open. And the incentive to sleep, knowing he did not have a role to play in the children’s adventure – courtesy of Walter relegating him to the role of the harmless, sleepy troll of an enchanted forest- was almost too much for him to ignore. He stared quite intently at Sumina, eyelids heavy, while the rest of their companions and guests minded their own, not too far off. If she had noticed, he smiled, but even if she hadn’t, he was much too tired to keep up appearances any longer.
Once she had finished her role, Lady Abana shuffled quietly over to Sumina and Royland at the table. One look at the king, and she chuckled softly. It seemed more like a scoff. Surprised at how easily a man who had so obviously had such a storied past, could fall asleep in the open so unashamedly. Without so much as a word, she gripped onto Sumina’s sleeve, just enough to get her attention.
“You know, my child,” Lady Abana spoke quietly so that no one else might hear her. “A storm such as this, it signals a bad omen. I fear one of us in this home might have a terrible fate befall us.” If Sumina had wanted to play it off, Lady Abana did not allow her to. The old woman’s grip on the young elf’s sleeve tightened.
“A storm such as this… I fear great injury awaits one that you are close to.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina wasn’t exactly trying to [i hide] her affection for Royland, but the children’s questions at Abana’s comment still made her blush, and she wasn’t sure how to answer. Especially with the look Castien had on his face. Was he really… so serious about courting her?
Elas got his turn with Sumina first, on the logic that Vanya had been helping in the kitchen. While they all played, Meriel was adorned with a ring of flowers around her neck and made herself comfortable just behind Sumina to watch. The little boy lacked some in subtlety, while Vanya and Castien did quite well together. When it was Vanya’s turn with Sumina, they managed to beat all the boys quite handily. Vanya was pleased with her winning streak, just bordering on gloating a little too much.
It was wonderful to see Royland relaxed and having such a nice time. It certainly made Sumina happier and more at ease, save for all those little moments when the storm would make a particularly loud sound and she would pause, tense as if waiting for something worse. Then it would pass as quickly as it came. Usually it was thunder and lighting, but occasionally something the wind was tossing about outside hitting the house was what made her jump slightly. The later it got, the more violent the storm seemed to become.
After the children there would have to be another round or two of the game. Just when she was thinking maybe this round might be with Royland, Castien asked if she would play with him next. The look they exchanged, which Sumina didn’t entirely miss. Castien really was interested in her more than the average woman he talked with, wasn’t he? Yet Royland didn’t seem as bothered as he was earlier. That was good. So Sumina agreed to play a round with Castien.
The two of them weren’t bad at the game, or even reading each other, but Sumina was a little distracted. Sumina would be looking at Castien, only to find her gaze drifting to Royland across the table from her. Castien was sweet, and she liked him very much as a friend, but the others were right. She was in love with Royland.
That distraction and the surprising way Vanya and Elas worked together despite Elas’s lack of subtlety meant Vanya got to continue her winning streak a little longer. With that round done, Sumina asked Royland if he’d play one last round with her. For that round, she could scarcely look away from him. Save for her cards when she needed to. Any look or gesture to Royland might have been just a sign of infatuation, or a signal that she had the right hand to win the game. None could tell. Except Royland himself. And Sumina could easily enough tell when Royland’s looks meant something about cards, or if he was just looking at her.
They broke Vanya’s winning streak. Castien was certain by the end of that round that [i something] had indeed happened between them. Something that left his water lily upset this morning, and yet this afternoon she was positively glowing. And the king was so confident that it was frustrating to even look at him.
Time to celebrate was short, at least for Sumina. A flash and boom of lighting striking uncomfortably close wiped the warm smile from her face. It seemed to shake the house, and certainly shook her a little. Before she could recover, hoping no one would notice just how uncomfortable it made her, there was a bang at the wall by the door of a branch hitting the wall. She actually jumped in her seat and turned to look. Meriel raised her head,[i [+darkgreen This storm unnerves you. Sit. Calm. Everything is fine.]]
Sumina glanced back at Meriel. Elas, always curious, leaned over toward Sumina,”Are you scared of lighting?”
Her smile at the boy was a little forced,”It startled me. Now, how about some pudding and more tea? It’s my mother’s recipe.”
Sumina ruffled the little boy’s mop of brown hair before going to the kitchen to fetch bowls of pudding for everyone, and make more tea. At this point, unless the storm stopped soon, she was not going to feel comfortable letting any of their guests leave at all that night. She wouldn’t let any of them go out in weather like this. While she was working on the tea, she started sending Vanya out with bowls of pudding, sweetened with honey and topped with chopped nuts.
Perhaps Sumina hadn’t quite noticed it herself. Her hand momentarily tensed on top of Royland head. And he took it into his own, studying her face. In an instant, he swore he could understand. Her people had likely weathered storms much the same as this while they were banished to the mountains. He wondered, how many in her lifetime had she narrowly escaped death by lightning, by falling tree, or inadequate shelter, to be here with him today? To avoid the children noticing too much, he chose not to hold her for long.
The feeling of a warm meal and tea in their bellies was a welcome comfort. And everyone seemed to notice that Sumina was doting on Royland, especially, but none except Lady Abana made note of it aloud. The old woman put a hand to her cheek, and Walter covered his eyes – he knew what was coming.
“Oh, my.” Lady Abana began, “Love is quite something, isn’t it?” Royland’s cheeks lit up, but he tried desperately to keep himself from looking too embarrassed. The children looked on in interest, but the truth of the matter was plain enough to see.
“Sumina, Sumina – is it true?” Elas was the first to ask. “Are you in love with the king?”
Walter came in quickly with damage control. “Now, now, children. You shouldn’t ask a Lady a question like that!” A quick glance to Castien and it became apparent as to why such topics shouldn’t be discussed at the table. Still, the children wanted to know, and the rest of the room was silent as Walter hemmed and hawed. Searching for the right words to say. He tossed a panicked glance to Lady Abana, Sirius, Alain – none would help him. Sumina and Royland were much too flustered. Then, as quickly as they had asked, the children lost interest. Thank the Sirens… Other topics were spoken about as the group enjoyed their meal.
When it came time to play the card game, Royland had to chuckle at the children’s enthusiasm. Propping his elbow on the table, he admired the girl who everyone was so bewitched with – a beacon of light, even under the darkened clouds of a fierce storm. Who was he to deprive others of basking in her companionship? Images of the night previous flashed before his eyes. The palms of his hands burned, his skin remembering the feel of her body. Why now? But he kept enough of a straight face. Only Castien seemed to noticed how intently the king was staring. And it bothered him, but he said nothing, waiting to see their interaction play out.
“That’s quite alright. I’m curious to see how you play.” Royland smiled. Quite curious to see how they would play together. If he had to wait a round or two, or five, or even ten, to show up Castien, then so be it.
Alain was paired with Royland, first. And though the duo was entertaining for everyone else, they lost spectacularly. Alain complained, as expected, but Royland was quick to point out that his partner was an all-around terrible communicator. Many laughs were had at his expense. Much of the same happened when Royland paired with Walter – as the other’s signals were simply too subtle for even his partner to notice. Royland had folded that round, having given up at attempting to decipher what was being thrown his way.
Walter was stern in his assessment of Royland as a terrible communicator as well.
“Alright, alright,” Royland conceded. The children had had their turn, and he turned to Sumina to suggest that this might be their chance – but was beaten to the jump by Castien. They locked eyes, and the half-elf smirked knowingly. The king immediately conceded, throwing his hands up, and moving diagonal from Sirius at the table. No matter. He would just play with her afterwards.
Castien had to admit that he would have been lying to himself if he said that the king’s demeanor did not worry him. How casually he was handling everything. Perhaps it was the cause of what he had heard snippets of throughout the other rounds. That Royland was merely tired, hadn’t had any sleep, and so was acting out of character. Yet there was an obvious air of confidence in the way he carried himself today. Almost as though something had happened between, he and water lily.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina did tense a little at the rattling lightning strike. The storm really was getting quite intense. Something warm would certainly help. While the men started to talk, Sumina went to the kitchen where Vanya helped with preparing the warm food. Vanya was an excellent helper in the kitchen, having some experience helping with her parents bakery.
Sumina shared a smile with Walter,”Of course. Could you start with the potatoes please? Thank you for helping.”
With two helpers the work went fast enough. Vegetables and meat were added to a pot for a hearty stew, and she started brewing a spiced tea. Then there was the pudding, made with rice and milk, seasoned with cinnamon and other spices. Sumina did most of the work on that herself, while delegating to Vanya and Walter to get the stew done. All the while there was the pounding of heavy rain on the house, and periodic rumbles of thunder, or flashes of lighting that made Sumina pause in her work momentarily.
They were wonderful helpers, and Vanya was eager to be a good helper to Sumina. She obviously admired the white haired Elf, who was patient and praised the work the young girl put in. Once the tea was ready and both the stew and pudding were cooking, Sumina had tea poured for everyone and brought out. With a cup of tea Sumina went to the table, behind Royland, and set a cup in front of him with an affectionate hand on top of his head,”Food will be ready soon.”
Another crash of lightning made her freeze. It wasn’t that she’d never been in a bad storm before, and in less sturdy shelters than this. But it still made her a little nervous when it was this bad. Besides, storms had a way of damaging things, and sometimes injuring people. Vanya had brought a cup of tea to her big brother and was already back in the kitchen getting more tea for the others.
Her nervousness didn’t go unnoticed. Castien watched her as she stepped back and went to get another cup of tea. Once everyone had a cup of tea, Sumina motioned for Elas,”I promised a card game, didn’t I? We should have time for a game before the food is ready.”
That was enough to draw the little boys attention, at least a little. The fact that Sumina again went to Royland’s side made Castien a little irritated, but he said nothing about that. “The more the merrier. Would you all like to play too?” She glanced at the others, but her gaze settled on Royland.
Castien was the first to volunteer,”I’d love to play a game, [+darkgreen water lily]. What shall we play? I’m partial to [+darkgreen Signs], and I’d be your partner.”
Sumina looked at Castien. He was using the Elvish word for a game played in pairs. Elas and Vanya both objected right away at their brother claiming Sumina as his partner in the game. Elas frowned in a way surely meant to be quite serious, but with his little face it was impossible not to smile,”No! I want to play with Sumina! She promised to play with me!”
Vanya shook her head,”Nu-uh, she said she’d play with us. Girls against boys. I’ll play with Sumina.”
Sumina laughed, but covered her mouth trying to stifle it. What a dilemma. She looked at Royland,”I may need to play several rounds.”
Just as Sumina had posed her question, a deafening shot of lightning struck the ground just beside the kitchen, seeming to rattle the wall and shake the surrounding earth. Royland looked concernedly at the roof, and hearing nothing but the torrential downpour outside, heaved a breath of apprehension.
“Are these types of storms common in Volaire?” Castien asked, lazily running his finger across the table, catching a glance of the king’s furrowed brows.
“No… We’re a temperate city, as the mountains typically protect us from radical storms such as [i this]…” Royland said. True, the elevation of Volaire was such that it was technically a valley – the springs were relatively mild, though summers were hot. Winters could bring snow but were more apt to render the ground frozen and slick than anything else. Falls were generally cool, but not overly so. The citizens that called Volaire their home owed their self-sufficiency to its weather. It was why trades had only brought the crown’s seat wealth and prosperity. In times of scarcity, or the ever-feared famine, they could likely survive. Royland’s people were a hardy type. He wondered how they were getting on without him.
“I haven’t seen a storm this terrible in ages.” Alain muttered. Hearing the shift in tone, a curious Elas had snuck up to the side of the table beside his brother, with Meriel trailing close behind. Little hands and a button nose peeked over across the top, waiting quietly to see what interesting stories might be told. “What were you then, Royland? But twenty? Perhaps not that young.”
“Twenty-two. It was just before my father passed.”
“Yes, I remember that storm. We had to import carpenters and metal workers from Arouet just to aid in the relief efforts.” Sirius recalled, glancing down at Elas. He thought it best that perhaps he should not say too much else on the matter. It seemed as though the mention of Arouet had deepened the king’s frown.
Such a reaction did not go unnoticed by Castien, who looked eager to learn more. “Arouet? You mean that foreign land that rules by sea? I am quite surprised you were able to acquire trade agreements with them. Even Madej’s crown had to pay an exorbitant price to have their coasts adequately supplied. As of today, it still stands that not much trading makes its way down to the southern end of the country.” Castien sighed at the plight of his countrymen. It was a part of why he agreed to travel so far and wide. Not just for Lyrei, but for the opportunity to aid anyone who might be in need.
“King Chatille has always had an affinity for anything round and made of gold.” Walter chimed in, just before popping into the kitchen to aid Sumina and Vanya, as he so often liked to do. Still no one had volunteered, and here the others were, talking business without so much as an acknowledgement. Walter looked to Sumina and smiled sheepishly, “You know them. Like old men when they talk business.”
Meanwhile at the table, the discussion continued. Castien had asked how it was that everyone seemed to be so well acquainted with the king of Arouet, and the hesitation at the table only fueled his curiosity. However, no one mentioned anything explicitly incriminating. There was something there, but it seemed no one was willing to open up to him about it. It shouldn’t have been surprising – it was no secret none of them trusted him.
Royland was the first to come up with a somewhat respectable answer, “My father and he were close. Close enough that King Chatille visited Volaire in person to discuss the terms of the trade agreement when it was made.” The king stopped, recessing into his mind. Had Lenoir settled on another suitor, yet, he wondered. Not that she wasn’t entirely capable of ruling – she was. That had never stopped her father from doubting her abilities on the basis of her gender, alone. It was always something that had perturbed Royland, ever since he had first met Lenoir’s father. The man was almost an unbearable hater of women. Even his love for his only child seemed contrived, at times. But if Lenoir was not yet married off, he would have no choice but to pass the throne down to her. The time to have children was steadily upon her…
“Hmm…” Castien was studying Royland’s expression, diligently. “You seem to be [i awfully] familiar with the royal family of Arouet. It does not merely seem to be all business.” No reaction. Instead, Royland shot a quick glance down to Castien’s side. When Castien turned to look, Elas looked back at him, smiling. Merely content being nosy.
“Besides, there’s nothing quite strange about having contact with other royal families. Debuts for the young women of surrounding kingdoms, the formal balls, traveling to pass on or collect taxes. Representatives coming to air their concerns on edicts that might affect them.” Alain was counting the occasions on his fingertips. “Royland is quite lucky that he spent as much time in Volaire as he did in these years since Harrenhal passed.”
“I am quite lucky I slept.” Royland sighed. How he wished he could bid the crowd surrounding him in the home a good evening and take himself to bed. At that moment, he stifled a quiet yawn. “Royalty can be quite tiring as guests. They want and expect to experience the comforts and the luxuries of [i their] homes…in [i my] home.” Such an admission forced a chuckle from Castien, and even Lady Abana.
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