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[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Vanya was delighted with the answer, and Sumina smiled watching them, and catching the little wink. She was glad no one seemed to mind that she’d brought the children over.
Of course Alain would want to spend a day like today drinking,”Alain, you can have as many pastries as you like as well. I’ll make something nice to drink too. That the children can have as well.”
He wasn’t going to be getting any ale, though there would be plenty of other things to go around. Sumina had the kitchen pretty well stocked, and while it was clean, she had clearly taken it over as her domain.
Oh yes, Abana! Sumina was quite relieved that Walter would get her. Sumina hadn’t seen much of the old woman, but in a storm like this she really shouldn’t be left on her own. The house was going to be quite full and lively, something Sumina didn’t mind at all. Especially after it had been so empty with just her most of the time.
It was impossible to forget that Elas was eager to play with Meriel, so once some of the baskets' contents had been laid out on the table for now, and some hidden in the kitchen from Sirius so there would be some later, she called Meriel out. Vanya got permission from Sumina to use any of the numerous vases of flowers to make decorations for Meriel while Elas got to roughhouse with the big cat a little.
Responding to Royland’s silent request Sumina left the children with the snow leopard to come see him. She was still just a little apprehensive. At his apology her shoulders relaxed slightly, but noticeably. With the back of her fingers she just gently touched his temple, then ran them down along his cheek with a smile. She wasn’t sure what to say, but just wanted him to know she wasn’t upset with him.
So Castien’s presence around her bothered him. Castien did sort of flirt with her, but he did that with most women he saw. “Royland, he…” Before she could really answer Castien had come over, finished with wringing out and hanging up the blanket so it might dry. He gave Royland a polite smile,”It has been, hasn’t it? I’ve been keeping busy since my return, it’s quite the task keeping our [+darkgreen water lily] from working herself half to death.”
“I did not work myself half to death.” Sumina objected,”Just normal chores.”
“Mm,” Castien hummed skeptically,”And the time I found you asleep in the grass you weren’t exhausted?”
“I told you, I wasn’t asleep.”
“Just enjoying the day? [+darkgreen Water lily, even now you look tired. What happened? What did he say or do to have you still half wilted this morning?]” After initially being irritated she was off to the side here with Royland, now he was looking at her with a loving sort of concern. Sumina realized it and looked away, slightly irritated.
With a tug at a long lock of red hair she shook her head,”I’m fine, and you’re being rude. Now, if you’d be so kind as to fetch some water, I’d like to start making a few things soon.” That would get rid of him at least for a few minutes. Castien seemed to realize he had pushed just a bit too far there and left with a nod.
Before she could get started on cooking, or try and say anything else to Royland to try and explain about Castien, the children were surrounding her. Vanya, having made a wreath for Meriel wanted to put it on, but Elas wasn’t letting her. He wanted to keep playing, and Vanya didn’t want the flowers crushed. After a little bit of an argument both had run to Sumina, begging her to take [i their] side. She had to ask several times to tease out most of the story of how the argument had progressed, and what each of them wanted. And hush the other when she was questioning one. Stern, but kind and patient, she heard the children out and puzzled over a solution.
Just when they had finally come to the agreement that Elas could keep playing a while longer while Vanya helped Sumina in the kitchen, and then after that Sumina would play a card game with them both and Meriel could wear the wreath then Walter returned with Abana.
Sumina extracted herself from the children, saying they would get started in the kitchen momentarily. She smiled at Abana’s stubbornness. “Yes, I’m sure you would have been fine, but we’re delighted to have you. May I?”
Without really waiting, Sumina took a closer look, checking it over with her hands. “It’s nothing serious. Head wounds bleed a lot, even minor ones. May I heal it anyway? It really would be good practice for me with Meriel here.”
Painting it more for Sumina’s benefit than as something Abana needed tending to seemed to work exceptionally well, and Abana agreed without much hesitation, and stopped trying to lean away,”Well, if you want the practice. I suppose.”
“Thank you.” It was a good thing it was shallow, and just a little bump. It was easy enough to heal while maintaining Meriel, though Sumina could still feel the pull of using what was a fair amount of energy.
With that out of the way, Sumina leaned with one hand on the table,”Who would like to help me and Vanya in the kitchen?” Sumina planned to make a hot soup that they could eat throughout the day, a spiced tea to keep them warm, and a warm pudding she wanted Royland to try. It seemed like the perfect day to bring the recipe out, which she’d learned from her mother. There really wasn’t going to be a chance to talk with Royland privately, at least not soon.
In the time between his own return to the house and Sumina’s arrival, he had devolved somewhat to his natural state ‘ruling over’ those in his presence. Sirius fetched him a set of fresh clothes, and Walter something to dry his head. All noticed the shift in attitude and tried to appease him. A cup of tea, lighthearted talks of what they might do if there came a break in the rain, and when they grew entirely desperate, absolute silence. None of them knew what to say, nor what to do in order to lighten the atmosphere in the house. When the king’s mood was darker still than those black clouds full of rain, everyone around him knew it. Far from a violent king, but a good strike might have made them feel more at ease around him. At least they would know where they stood.
The sight of Sumina together with Castien, children in tow, made Royland’s top lip curl. Just for a second, and almost indistinguishably. [i Irritating]. Anyone might mistake them for a well-matched couple, together with their children. But the guests were a welcome distraction to the rest of them. Walter tried desperately to take the attention off of Royland, who had groaned uncomfortably when he’d caught that first glimpse of Castien in the doorway. “Lady Sumina! Castien! You wouldn’t have happened to bring any ale for Alain, here, have you?” For a moment, Walter glanced down and made eye contact with Elas, who seemed delighted at the sight of a knight before him. “And you’ve brought a town guard with you as well! He looks strong, this one!”
Much to the knight’s surprise, Royland had perked up noticeably upon interacting with the young one called Vanya, information graciously provided by Castien, as his sister was excited to see the king once more, determined to show off in his presence. The king’s veneer had come on – his stage was set, and he would play the part of the good king for as long as he had to. What stressors he had to deal with, were now to be dealt with inwardly. It was a personal rule of his, to never express anything but niceties to children. Memories of Harrenhal’s cruelty stirred inside him, for a time, but he fought their presence back with a smile. “Lovely, indeed. You’ll be a prize for any prince lucky enough to win your hand.” He didn’t look to Sumina until she had approached the table, and in silence, he relayed his intent to forget their awkward parting the night previous with a carefully timed wink. There were children about, after all.
Alain scoffed, “It figures, Sirius can get all the pastries he likes, but no one thinks of his poor brethren! Lying in his shadow, parched!”
“Oh, off with it, Alain. The children shouldn’t see you drinking anyway.” Sirius whispered, gleefully slipping his hand into the basket for a peek, and a bite.
What had once been a gentle enough rapping on the window turned to a deafening thump. Outside, branches from the surrounding trees had begun to snap off and fly about the streets of Dalem. Any who were outside were at the mercy of nature. Walter looked anxiously at the door, and then decided to take to it. “I’m off to look after Lady Abana. Her home isn’t likely to survive this weather.” An old woman shouldn’t be left by her lonesome to weather [i this] storm. Growing more sinister by the minute. He was gone in an instant after receiving Royland’s blessing to escort her back, so at least that she might have some company for as long as they were to be stuck inside.
With Walter gone, and when Meriel made her appearance, thereby distracting the children, Royland silently motioned Sumina closer to him. “I’m sorry for last night.” And he didn’t wish to speak on it much more than that. His voice was low, lower than might have been needed. But there was no chance for privacy, what else could he do? Besides, it was bothering him, and the mask he had so carefully placed on for the children began to crack just slightly when their backs were turned to him. Castien’s presence unnerved him. “He does seem to like following you around. Was it the same while I was gone?” He really hadn’t meant for it to sound accusatory. A sharp inhale would mend the cracks in his façade.
“I just mean that he is always… well, nevermind it.” The local annoyance on two legs had taken notice of their chat, and wanted to join in, it seemed. [i Great]. “It has been a while, Castien. How have you been?”
When Walter came upon Lady Abana, his heart nearly skipped a beat. With the wind blowing the rain into his eyes, he could hardly see – but what was plainly evident was the door to Lady Abana’s shack flying about at the mercy of the weather, while she tried unsuccessfully to place a piece of wood over her windows. Battling to shield his eyes from the rain and his bangs, Walter rushed to her aid. She seemed pleasantly surprised to see him, which startled her helper…
“Lady Abana…! Your head!” But she couldn’t hear him. She smiled, blissfully unaware of the blood running down her face, mixing with the rain on her skin. With haste, and shielding the older woman from the elements with his body, he led her back to the house. His first course of action was to seek out Sumina. The second, accomplished when Royland quickly gave up his seat for the older woman, was to find a place for her to sit. So that she could be examined.
“I found her outside, trying to board up her windows. Lady Abana, you shouldn’t take risks like that.” Walter sighed, exasperated.
“Nonsense, child! I’ve weathered worse! And been just fine.” Abana scoffed, leaning away from the young ones trying to examine the shallow wound on her head.
“I’m sure,” Walter thought it best to humor her. Just for now. “Lady Sumina, if you would, please?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] It was so early when Sumina got out of bed, she thought she might just be able to catch Grace and Lorsan finishing their morning baking. And maybe even beat the rain that was obviously coming. Something fresh and hot from the bakery would be a nice treat for the men who had just returned off the mountaintop.
Of course there was Royland too. What to say after last night? She had managed to slip out of the house without running into anyone, so it wasn’t an immediate concern. The bakery wasn’t as busy as Sumina thought, the family hadn’t baked nearly as much as usual. Seeing her confused expression Grace explained,”Business is usually slow once it starts raining. No one wants to bring back soggy breads and desserts.”
“I suppose. This weather really does complicate the day…” Sumina had been planning on laundry. That was not a wise idea on a day like today.
Castien was watching her pick out the pastries she wanted to buy and chat with his mother about their planned and spoiled chores for the day. He’d heard the King was back, and had expected that to perk her mood given those worried looks she’d been casting toward the mountain all week. Instead, she seemed troubled still. She had also forgotten the necklace, again, and after he’d convinced her to wear it yesterday. Did she not like it? He wondered what gift she might like. And what Royland had done to leave her anxious like this.
When the rain started to pour Sumina looked out the window,”Oh… oh no.” She hadn’t really come prepared to walk back in a downpour like that. It wasn’t so much her getting soaked she minded as much as the pastries.
“I can walk you back, [+darkgreen water lily].” Castien offered with a smile.
Immediately Elas looked up from playing with his spinning top in the corner,”I’ll walk her back too! In fact, I want to stay with Sumina today! She can’t do chores anyway, so she can play!” The little boy scrambled up from the floor and went to Sumina, who was smiling in amusement.
Vanya, who was sweeping the floor, set her broom up against the wall,”Then I’m coming too! You can’t leave me behind!”
Castien just laughed, looking at Sumina questioningly. She looked at Grace and Lorsan, not sure what to tell the children. Elas had his arms around her in a hug, and Sumina’s hand was on his head, while Vanya was already holding Sumina’s other arm, while Sumina tried not to drop her basket. Grace and Lorsan exchanged a look. Lorsan started,”Well… if Sumina doesn’t mind.”
“And you promise to behave.” Their mother added.
“We will, we will!” Both children quickly promised to be on their best behavior, if only they could go play with Sumina and Meriel.
Sumina laughed,”Then I suppose we’re all going.”
With that decided Castien went to get some blankets to cover them from the rain, Vanya and Elas hurried to pack some games and toys, and Grace insisted on loading up Sumina with more bread and pastries, refusing any payment and just saying it was for helping with the children, and likely wouldn’t sell today anyway. The increasingly loud thunder and the fact that the rain wasn’t easing up all pointed to Grace’s assessment being right. The couple declined the offer to go with them all. They would rather have a quiet day to themselves, knowing the children were all well looked after.
Even with all the preparation the group wasn’t perfectly dry when they came through the door. The wind had tugged at the blanket Castien was using to try and keep everyone dry, and while they had shielded the things they were carrying decently well, their legs were wet.
While Sumina and the children hurried in, Castien shut the door against the wind and held the blanket up,”This will need to dry. As will we.”
The look Sumina gave Royland, bashful and biting at her lip, didn’t escape Castien’s notice. What had happened? Sumina looked away and set the basket of baked goods on the table.
Vanya had immediately gone up to Royland, showing off her bracelet, necklace, and earring,”Look, look! Castien got them for my birthday! Aren’t they lovely?”
Sumina looked at the men a little sheepishly,”The children wanted to come play. Ah, and Grace sent along most of what she baked this morning. I hope that’s alright?”
“Can Meriel come play now? Her fur won’t get wet!” Elas was around Sumina’s legs, practically begging. The children brought with them a chaotic sort of energy. The kind that was probably best directed outdoors, but with the storm raging outside they were trapped inside, ready to wreak as much havoc if not properly directed.
Royland didn’t try to hide his disappointment. Her justifiable rebuff wounded his pride, perhaps more than he was willing to admit to himself. She did want him – and not for his crown, or what he might afford her when he returned to the throne, but for him. It may have been the truth, but it did not comfort him – it made him question his worth. Like a circle, round and round, he could not reconcile the thought within himself. Outwardly, he resigned, saying nothing but bidding Sumina goodnight with as understanding a smile as he could muster.
The night was long. Walter had still been lying awake when Royland entered the room they were to share. They locked eyes, but nothing was said. Somehow, his mind was at ease, the longer he stared at the ceiling. He felt able enough to work through the events of that evening without risking losing his temper at how it had all come crashing down upon him. His pulse quickened when he thought about Lyrei. How attracted he was to her, if only for her shamelessness. He’d huffed as he thought about the flowers on the table. How the necklace around Sumina’s neck taunted him so. While Lyrei was sending him to do her bidding, Castien was getting bolder – too bold for Royland’s taste. Common sense told him that his display at the festival was the cause for their brazenness. He felt a fool. Trapped in a web in which he could not see any possible way of escape.
Walter was stunned when he awoke, to find Royland sat at the edge of his bed, holding his head in his hands.
“Have you… Have you slept? At all?” Royland shook his head. Walter sighed heavily, shaking the messiness out of his hair from the relatively deep sleep he’d arisen from. It was by no means anything strange of a sight to him. A frown crept across the knight’s face as he recalled the nights leading up to the castle’s siege. Although, now, it wasn’t his birthright that his friend was at risk of losing. No, it was something much more precious to him. “Whatever it is, it cannot be helped.”
Royland looked up, dark circles barely visible under his eyes. Walter only smiled. They both knew it wasn’t helpful. But, “No use dwelling.”
The sky seemed to echo the king’s mood. And the distant rumble of thunder not so far off brought an overcast over the men at the table. Royland made the decision to forego breakfast. He needed a walk. Perhaps if he could locate Vargas, there would be time for a spar, a drink, and good company.
Sirius was the first to speak up as they watched him leave. “I wonder what’s made him like [i that] this morning.”
“Did you see his eyes? The swamp witch gaze.” Alain lifted his hands and wriggled his fingers for effect. Walter chuckled quietly, and soon enough, Sirius couldn’t help himself, either.
A crash of thunder interrupted what good spirits that were left. The light pitter patter of rain began. A downpour followed, and all ears at the table listened intently. They thought it simply might be a passing shower, but it showed no signs of stopping. Just then, the door opened, slamming the opposite wall from the sheer force of the wind. As Royland stepped inside, thoroughly soaked, he sighed, irritated. “Seems I shan’t be afforded a modicum of peace on this lovely day.”
“We’ve got some ale around, don’t we!” Alain glanced around the room with hope in his eyes. “Nothing says comradery like ale on a stormy morning!”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] His hands trailing down her sides, unknowingly over the mark, sent a tingle all through her spine, up into her head. There was a heat in her stomach, lower down. Desires and sensations she was not entirely familiar with. Too close, yet not close enough.
Her head was clouded in a haze when they stopped kissing, her eyes met his and she could see the want there. The intensity in those beautiful blue eyes of his. Her cheeks just as red. Sumina felt like she could barely breathe, though she was, and quite quickly too. To bed? It was clear what he meant by that. He wasn’t just suggesting they sleep laying next to each other. And she was… conflicted.
“Maybe... [+darkgreen we…]” Her breath caught and all she could do for a moment was hold him tighter. A sound came from the back of her throat,”Royland [+darkgreen please…]” She wasn’t sure just then if she wanted him to stop or keep going. The places his hands went over and the insistent attention of his mouth was too much. Her hands found his, pulled them away. They had to stop. It was too much, too soon,”[+darkgreen I… I can’t… Royland, please…]”
Her fingers laced between his and she pulled back a little, breathless,”Royland, I… I can’t. Please. I… I want you, but I… I’m not…[+darkgreen I’m not ready.]” She squeezed his hands, stepping back for more air, more clarity. She was looking at him with a mix of that desire that threatened to consume her, and uneasiness at how quickly things had escalated. How close she was to giving in. “Good.. good night.”
That night her bed somehow felt more empty than before. Sleep didn’t come as easy as she’d have liked. There didn’t seem to be any escape for the feelings he’d aroused in her. That want, that though she’d denied it still lingered. Morning came, with dark clouds keeping the sun from making a brilliant appearance. A storm was coming, and Sumina had slept uneasily enough she was awake early.
Their lips parted only long enough that he could mutter, “I’ve missed you far more.” That excitement that had been festering in the pit of his stomach was starting to ignite. It was a longing, a burning sensation. In his loins, rising up to his head. Surely, she could feel how much he wanted her. His hands traveled down the length of her waist, fastening her close to his own hips.
It was precisely this draw about women that had forced him to abstain. For the good of Volaire, for the sake of staying focused on his mission. How could he comfortably fight for change, when anyone who might only marry him for political gain may or may not agree with his mission, or his methods? But Sumina had no stake in any of that. It made her infinitely more desirable, better for his spirits. So, then, why? Why was Lyrei the only woman on his mind, right now?
The image of Lyrei as he’d left her presented itself in his mind, followed by a myriad of lewd imaginations. Royland broke the intense kisses they were sharing. And he stared at Sumina quite seriously. His cheeks were flushed, his head felt full of air. Though so much time had passed, he still felt under the effects of that wine. Perhaps that was what emboldened him so. “Shall we… take this to bed?” He glanced away, but just for a moment. To the floor, back to her. Down and to the right, then back to her, again. “I cannot help it… I want you.”
He left her lips alone, to hear her response. Gently, he moved his mouth to her neck, eyes fluttering closed. Impulses getting the better of him. She was so petite. Every part of her body felt perfect in his hands. And he wandered unabashedly, exploring every inch of her. From the tops of her chest to her thighs. Anything to rid himself of the frustration. Anything to make him forget about Lyrei. He felt he could not truly tell if he loved her unless he had her, [i now], and his actions reflected that. Grabbing, kissing, biting gently, and holding her close to him. Didn't she want him, too?
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] There was something on his mind. Sumina could see that as well as the rest of them, but she didn’t have any insight into what, exactly, that might be. Whatever it was, his fatigue from the journey wasn’t helping.
“Oh.” Walter seemed to have realized it when she hadn’t. Sumina didn’t really think of the things Castien brought her as being particularly significant. She barely bothered with the necklace unless Castien pestered her about it. And after seeing the set of a necklace, bracelet, and earrings he had brought Vanya for her birthday, in silver with green stones, and the little hat Elas had been parading around in that Castien had brought back it seemed more like he was including her in his family, at least to her. Was that just her missing her brothers clouding her view of the situation? With the flowers too. Guilt that she might have made him worry was plain on her face, though she was looking down at what she had been cleaning. Quite simply she hadn’t been thinking too hard about it, and Castien was incredibly persistent, hard to say no to. And at any attempt at refusal, he managed to be more stubborn than her. Walter went to leave, but Meriel had more to say.
The big cat was laying on the floor, her head on her paws,[i [+darkgreen You do attract people to you. You are a flame in a world of moths. Does that bother you? It is a gift.]]
“Meriel....” Sumina sighed, and when she turned Royland was there. Meriel’s tail was sweeping back and forth along the floor. Sumina smiled at Royland, at first holding his hands tightly,“You say that like you aren’t even more tired. Meriel, [+darkgreen return please].”
Before the snow leopard had even fully disappeared Sumina had let go of his hands to caress his face,”I missed you.” Her lips pressed against his, and very quickly her fingers found their way into his damp hair. He really had been on her mind quite a lot, and now here he was, safely delivered back. Sumina didn’t want to let him go, or even pull back from a kiss that had gone from simply lingering to something deeper and more fervent. An intensity that she cautiously welcomed, at least for now. Like she had to make up for the past nearly two weeks.
Royland greeted Meriel with a smile, and a light pat on the head. The other men looked intrigued.
“Meriel seems to like Royland quite a bit.” Sirius pondered aloud, watching the large snow leopard. Though he bristled with a tinge of fear as he met those predatory eyes. “I-I mean that as a good thing…!”
“It must be her master’s will.” Alain said. He eyed Sumina coyly just as she sat dinner around the table.
Once the group was fully engaged in their meals, the room was quiet, save for the relieved sighs of men who had not known a hot meal for quite some time. Alain and Sirius praised Sumina’s cooking, noting that it tasted all the better after their time in the bitter cold. Yet, Royland had little to say, other than nods and words of affirmation.
The sight of the flowers on the table, the necklace she was wearing that he had never seen before. The longer he looked to her, the more he noticed. She looked tired, on the brink of looking haggard. Just how much work had she been doing while he was away? The longer he dwelled on everything, the sourer his mood became. Without first finishing his dinner, he slinked off to take his bath and change his clothes with little fanfare. Just a simple explanation that he wasn’t, in actuality, all that hungry.
The rest of his men were incredibly skeptical, and so, they looked to Sumina for answers. Some explanation for why Royland suddenly seemed so…distant. Distracted. Whether or not she had an answer, those who had accompanied Royland on his escapades turned in early once their bellies were full. Walter chose to help Sumina with the cleaning up. He spoke quietly, just so that he could hear the door open when Royland returned.
“I think he may have noticed the gifts you’ve received.” Though he wasn’t looking directly at her, Walter’s expression was equal parts filled with seriousness and worry for his friend. The meaning of those words she called him. How much could they mean, if she was so accepting of gifts from other men? Other obvious suitors, who had a vested interest in her hand. “You might have worried him. He cares, you know. That he has no means to give you material things…” Walter could say nothing else. With the cleaning done, he chose to retreat to one of the rooms for the night. Quite obviously giving Royland and Sumina some time to be alone once he’d returned from attempting to relax.
It hadn’t been easy, the thoughts he wrestled with, and the bath and fresh clothes had only made a marginal difference in the way he carried himself. He was tired, aching, but put on a show for Sumina in spite of himself. Honestly, it was beginning to get to him. The itch he was feeling. Just to whisk her away and make her his. But not because of anything [i she] did, said, or the way she looked at him. It wasn’t that loving look he wanted to experience. No, he wanted a scorching fire, an undeniable spark of passion. None of those tame, demure expressions – he wanted her to heave and pant, to say his name. That look that Lyrei had given to him as she sauntered her way to her chambers. It was doing something to him. For him.
“You look awful tired. When might you be calling Meriel back?” Royland laid a kiss to her forehead, running his thumb over the back of her hands.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina had begun to worry by the time Royland did enter. The parts of the story she heard from the other two made her glad she had been able to help them prepare as well as she had, and gave her something to think about when it came to the mysterious return.
Royland’s destiny seemed clearly enough laid out then. His journey to reclaim his throne obviously had received a blessing, he would be King again. A fine King. If her destiny was tied to his though, she wondered in what way. Marriage? Possibly. She was certainly starting to hope, to consider it. Then there he was, finally back from the long journey. Sumina had dropped everything to greet him with a kiss. She could tell he’d had wine, could smell and taste it on him. How much, she wondered? Did Lyrei just always have some for guests? “I’m glad you’re safe. And that things went well. I...”
She couldn’t really completely neglect their dinner to just hold him, tell him how much she missed him. All of them were tired and hungry. She pulled herself away to finish cooking, while Meriel emerged from the kitchen to greet Royland herself. Her head nudged against his leg, and then she lazily wandered back toward Sumina,[i [+darkgreen And your everything finally returns to you. You’re relieved.]]
“[+darkgreen Yes.]” Though she did wonder what had been discussed. The details of their journey to retrieve the wood seemed likely enough, but had Lyrei asked about being Queen again? Trying to pressure him because he was King, and the crown was all she could see.
[i [+darkgreen Also concerned. Relax. See the way he looks at you? He has missed you as you have missed him.]] Sumina smiled at Meriel, and then to Royland. Maybe Meriel was right, for now they could just enjoy being reunited.
Once dinner was on the table, arranged around Castien’s latest offering of flowers from that morning while others from previous days had found homes on any surface she could find, she sat by Royland,”It sounds as though you three had quite a journey. I’m sure you’re all exhausted. Your sheets are all clean, and I’ll wash the things you brought in the morning. There’s a bath for you too, Royland.” They weren’t the only ones tired. Sumina was feeling tired herself after having Meriel out all day, and putting in a full day of work tending to things.
While they ate she would look to Royland, or take his hand even briefly. Openly affectionate, but not so much that she thought she would make the others uncomfortable. Let them all know she’d kept busy, and established herself as a healer in town and was doing decent business with that. While she had shared with Walter some of her frustration at all the attention and rumors following her everywhere she went, she avoided that subject for now. She’d rather keep the conversation over dinner on mostly positive subjects. Enjoy them all being together again.
Again, with the ominously dark room. The bottle of wine on the table. And Lyrei, sitting at her table with a mirror in hand. Primping her hair, admiring her own reflection. She said nothing as Royland held up her note that she had left with one of the guards at the gate. He took a seat. She glanced his way. Again, the battle of sapphire and lavender resumed. None would stand down this time.
“I take it the mission was a success. How much of the white spruce did the Sirens allow you to take?” Lyrei played that telltale smirk in Royland’s direction. It made him flinch. Reminded him of the imminent danger he was in. No, [i breathe]. She was just a woman. [i A woman with a mission]. Who had conveniently refused to mention the note hanging freely between his fingers. Exasperated, and not so keen on being ignored, the king had no choice but to become her pawn, play her game. When he took a seat in front of her, she filled his glass of wine to the brim, seemingly intent of pressuring him to imbibe.
“Just fifteen pieces. Whatever we could first find lying around, and what was left, we took from the source…” They were silent, for a time. “Why did you ask me here tonight? There’s not much to say about the journey, nor the return. We neither desecrated the ruins, nor angered the Sirens. Barely survived the cold, but, made it back in one piece, nonetheless…” Royland scoffed. Another bout of silence. The lack of conversation was making him nervous. And Lyrei just seemed to continuously relish in the calmness of her own mind.
They spoke about many things over the course of the next half hour. The mundane and the extraordinary that happened in the small group’s travels to the Ice Forest. Lyrei was particularly interested in the phenomenon experienced by the men. The harrowing moment when they all realized that it was the Siren’s grace guiding them back to the base of the summit. How divine intervention had shortened the trail and allowed them to return two days ahead of schedule. Royland had to admit, it was a significant point of interest in his travels. But she had yet to answer his earlier question, and he was growing impatient. When the opportunity presented itself, he asked, again.
“Why did you ask me here tonight?”
It wasn’t so much that Lyrei didn’t want to answer – it was that she didn’t have an answer. From the moment he walked through the door, looked at her with those lovely blue eyes, her king was tense. He wanted nothing more than to be free from her, and hurry back to his precious Princess, stumbling her way through an ill-matched romance. Lyrei continued to sip her wine, watching Royland’s lips move, but heard no sound out of them. “Why do you reject me so?” She asked, pointedly.
“Aha, so [i that’s] what this is about.” Royland sat back in his chair, crossing his legs. Guarding himself from any advances she might make. “If we’re done here, I’d like to hurry on. Have a meal, get some rest.”
“I must say, I’m quite offended, Your Highness.”
“That sounds very much like a personal issue, Madame Valralei.”
In a second, Lyrei stood, pursing her lips and glowering in Royland’s direction. His eyes were wide, in mild shock, from which he recovered quickly. Lyrei searched for something. That flicker of lust he had showed her in their last meeting. It was so important to recreate that moment – now if only he were man enough not to run from her. To listen to his own body.
“You are capable of such passion. Such grand gestures of affection. Won’t you taste [i my] fruits, before you make your decision on a wife?”
The gaze she was greeted with, burned with indignation. “I have made no such decision.” Though he had pondered it. “And I don’t intend to until I reclaim my throne.”
“Is it right to push off the inevitable? You have many prospects. Why not choose someone with a [i cause] as noble as yours? With a mission?”
Royland rolled his eyes, “You mean, more complications? More agendas!” He stood, quickly. But in his haste, the wine glass she had poured for him shook violently, its contents splashing over the front side of Lyrei’s dress. She gasped, and stood back, momentarily taking in the damage. It was likely stained beyond saving. The king sighed, aggravated. “I’m… I’m sorry, Lyrei, I’m just…” Tired. It was time to head home. The least he could do was help her search for something to wipe up the excess, and then be on his way. He turned his back for just a moment, searching about for something he could use to dry her table. But when he turned around, his jaw dropped. Eyes panning down, and then up again. One, two, three, four, five… eight individual marks. Or, nine?
Lyrei was proud of the markings on her body – the contracts of her many familiars. All arranged neatly down the length of her torso, stopping in the middle of her thighs. A large mural painted vibrantly on her back, courtesy of an artistic, helping hand. They crossed over the tops of her breasts, centered in her perfectly slim waist in a spiral. Royland drank it all in. He could feel his pants grow tight. Lyrei spun on her heels, flipping a lock of that dark hair across her back. She looked back to him. Calling, beckoning him to the bedchamber just out of sight. She watched him when she left to change, never saying a word, her hips swaying just so as she walked.
“You’ll wait for a lady to change… Won’t you?”
Against his better judgement, Royland agreed to her demand. Engaging her in conversation with short answers to whatever incessant questions she might want answered. She returned more quickly than he anticipated. Could she see the sweat rolling down his face? Was that why she was smiling?
He knew he was pushing his luck. Alone in this house, with a beautiful woman, clad only in her silk shawl no. Still clearly nude underneath. Leaned against the doorway, calling to him with those eyes. He had to bid her a hasty goodnight. She could call it rude, sick her guards on him in the dead of night, if she so pleased. Just the act of becoming aroused forced him to take a moment to himself outside the last barrier between himself and Sumina. No matter how much he thought of her, the image of Lyrei was seared into his mind. But, somehow, he composed himself. Just barely.
Upon entering, it was clear that his friends had long since been taken care off. Bathed, relaxed with good company, and soon to be fed. Despite his frustrations inside, Royland was able to passably join the fray. Showing Sumina much of the same energy that he had left her which. The sight of her soothed him. Perhaps he was staring too longingly, glancing too often. But, his frustrations grew, still. Why couldn’t the thought of her be just enough, for him?
Sirius and Alain wanted to know how the briefing went. They had recounted pieces of the journey to Walter and Sumina in the time since Royland had parted ways with them. What was so important that Lyrei wanted to know?
“It was just as pointless as you think it might be. She wanted to share wine, have a talk. That’s all.” End of discussion.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Royland had left, taking Sirius and Alain with him. Parting had been hard, but she did have to let him go. Walter had remained behind, but he had tasks of his own. He was kept busy with Abana, and she mostly saw him in the evenings after they were both done with their chores for the day.
Sumina had her practice. Getting used to a familiar, even one as large as Meriel, started simply with mostly keeping her around while doing other things. Those other things were often mundane. Cooking, cleaning, gathering plants, shopping, and making herself useful as a healer. That last one was the hardest to manage with Meriel, but her teacher saw it as the most important. Learning to handle that level of magical exertion was going to be important once she left Dalem. And Dalem didn't tend to need very intensive healing either.
When she left Dalem she had to be ready for whatever trouble they might face. Her brothers might find them again, and she couldn’t let them hurt Royland or the others. She wasn’t sure when she would leave Dalem. The farthest she got from the town was when she was out gathering herbs, and she wasn’t even allowed to do that alone. A guard always accompanied her, and they insisted on calling her Princess, apparently on orders from Lyrei. To protect the Princess from any threat that might be able to come close to Dalem.
With Royland away her mood was decidedly more melancholy, particularly when she thought no one was watching, or in the evening with Walter when she was too tired to feign energy and laughter, and her smiles were a little sad. She would still talk with him, telling about her day, asking about his, or sharing with him some bit of Elvish stories or culture. He seemed to like hearing about things like that.
And with Royland not at her side, some felt more free to approach her and ask while she was out. They asked about him, what it was like to be courted by a king. Some had heard rumors that she was a foreign Princess as well, though she generally denied that. Still, she could tell rumors were making rounds and few people had the whole truth of the situation. The attention was a little much, and she really had no idea how to answer the majority of the questions, but Sumina was just polite and vague most of the time when she was asked about the rumors, about Royland. She spent some time at the bakery with Castien’s family, where she was always welcome. Not only welcome, but they didn’t pry with questions about Royland. Or at least not the typical questions. Vanya in particular was eager to find out if he would come by again once he returned, but was also easily distracted with other topics. Once Vanya had asked if Sumina was really a Princess, but seeing Sumina’s expression Grace had quickly managed to change the topic and it didn’t come up again. She explained things briefly to Grace and Lorsan one day, out of earshot of the children, just because she’d rather they know the truth and hear it from her. They were so good to her.
As a healer she had some demand, particularly since people were curious about her and it was a chance to find out about her directly, get a look at her. It often started as just curiosity, but after talking and getting help from her, buying teas, salves, or medicine many people developed a liking for her. She had a sweet smile, and patiently listened to their problems. No one felt rushed or unimportant seeing Sumina for their problems. It also ended up providing a steady source of income, for which she was glad. Generally fairly frugal and resourceful, she was able to save up some while ensuring the house was well supplied.
Castien found her the fourth evening after Royland had left. After dropping off his ledger and things with Lyrei he went to the house she was staying at, to find her bidding an old man goodbye and sending him off with an ointment. Castien watched her, and then approached,”Good evening, [+darkgreen water lily].”
“Oh, Castien. Welcome back. That wasn’t terribly long.”
Castien smiled at her. She looked lovely as always, but tired. She was working herself hard, he could tell. “No, it was a pre-arranged trade. An exchange, little more. Though it was a fair distance away. May I come in?”
Sumina stepped inside,”Yes, of course. I was about to start on dinner. Would you like to stay?”
Inside where she had the room lit he could see her better, and his brows drew together in concern. She wasn’t simply tired, she was exhausted. She moved slower, and there was something else he couldn’t put his finger on yet. “[+darkgreen I would be delighted to stay], but I’m afraid my family will be expecting me. I’ll have to leave soon, but I just had to see you.”
Meriel came in from the kitchen, and Castien understood some of that fatigue that plagued her. Sumina smiled back at him, but he could tell it was mostly for show. “That’s sweet of you, I’m sure your family misses you. Isn’t Vanya’s birthday tomorrow? She’ll be so glad you’re back. She was starting to worry you’d miss it.”
“So you’ve been to see them? I’m glad.” He went into the kitchen, since she was too busy cooking to step away now. It was nice to know that she had been seeing his family, they were all quite fond of her. It seemed impossible not to adore her, really. “Will you be joining us for her birthday?”
“Yes, I planned to.” She didn’t even look up from the meal she was making.
With a little smile Castien leaned over,”Join us in the morning as well. Did you know Dalem has hot springs? You could use the break.”
“Hm? Really? I don’t know…” Sumina was hesitating. Castien took her hand, getting her to look at him.
“Please. I’m sure [+darkgreen the little strawberry] will be delighted to show you the springs. Ah, and before I forget I brought you a little something.”
Sumina started to object while Castien procured from a pocket a little bag. He opened it and holding her hand open put the contents of the pouch in her palm. Out fell a little pink translucent stone on a silver chain. “[+darkgreen No! I can’t possibly. You. Really shouldn’t—]”
When she tried to hand it back, Castien closed her fingers over the necklace,”[+darkgreen It’s nothing extravagant. But it is lovely, and I thought of you.]”
They stared at each other for a long moment, seeing which would back down first. Sumina lost, and looked back to her dinner, stirring it before it could burn. Castien, with a smile, took the necklace from her hand to put around her neck. Sumina shook her head slightly,”[+darkgreen You’re ridiculous.]”
“[+darkgreen I know.]” Walter returned then, and Castien decided that was probably as good a cue to take his leave as any. But the way her head perked up slightly, the half smile as she greeted Walter. Yet still, a shadow over her. His gaze shifted to Meriel in the corner. The cat was just sitting there, watching. “Tomorrow then, for [+darkgreen little strawberry’s] birthday.”
The question didn’t need to be asked directly. Walter just needed to raise his eyebrows and Sumina answered with a sigh,”[+darkgreen Little strawberry] is his sister. It’s her birthday tomorrow.”
A pointed look at the necklace now around her neck. The stone was polished smooth in an oval. “And you get a gift?”
“Apparently.” Sumina put the food on plates and brought them to the table before rubbing her face,”He’s quite insistent. But tell me, what has Abana had you up to today?”
[center [b ~*~*~]]
The morning of Vanya’s birthday Castien arrived with flowers for Sumina, he said it was to brighten the house. After the flowers were taken care of, and Castien ensured she had the necklace on, Sumina went along to the hot springs with a little apprehension. She had no idea what to expect, was wondering if she should have even agreed, but Castien assured her everything would be fine and provided for. His family was already there and waiting for them when the two arrived. A large wooden structure had been erected around the whole site, and while she could see some of the steam rising up, the springs themselves were completely hidden. A little to her surprise, Castien told her to enjoy and relax, and then left with his father and little brother one way. Which left her with Grace and Vanya, who true to Castien’s word was excited to have Sumina there.
They entered through a different door from the men. The whole space Sumina saw was separated, and only women were in this half. Grace was a sweet host, explaining everything to Sumina and helping her feel comfortable. She treated Sumina like her own daughter, and they had a nice time washing each others hair and backs, and then just soaking in the water. Vanya was enthusiastically curious about the sprawling roses and thorny vines along Sumina’s side, though Sumina was far from the only woman there with a familiar’s mark. Many of them were more colorful than hers, though some favored just one color.
Even at the spring Sumina couldn’t entirely escape the attention that now followed her constantly. Grace was pretty good about trying to cut it off or distract Sumina from it, for which Sumina was grateful. The whole day was things Vanya wanted to do, which started with the hot springs for most of the morning, a big shared lunch at a nearby establishment, which the family wouldn’t let Sumina escape from or pay for, and games in the afternoon with family and many other children she was friends with, then the big cake she had talked of before. Watching her mood that afternoon, how Sumina alternated between happily distracted with his family, then quietly looking off to the mountains when she thought no one was watching, he figured out that thing he couldn’t put his finger on the previous evening. She missed them, she was worried about them. She wasn’t just tired, she was lonely.
After that, Sumina tried to carry on like usual. She continued her work as a healer, the necklace found a more or less permanent home on her dresser, Castien kept coming by with flowers to ‘brighten the house’ and because he said she should be surrounded by beautiful things, and Castien was usually the one to accompany her to gather herbs and go out hunting with Meriel, since he often insisted and [i didn’t] keep calling her Princess. Orym said it was good practice to have Meriel hunt, and had the practical benefit of supplying them with meat. Meat which was more than enough for her and Walter, so she had set up a place to start drying some. According to her family recipe, so she was quite secretive about some of the process when Walter or Castien were around.
Castien tried to keep her from working herself too hard, but she really was stubborn. She also seemed to prefer throwing herself into work to keep busy, especially as the days wore on. It could be two whole weeks. She tried not to worry too much as that second week stretched on. Two weeks still wouldn’t automatically mean trouble, she told herself. It wasn’t quite to the full fortnight when Alain and Sirius returned to the house while she was mixing herbs.
Her face lit up immediately and she dropped what she was doing to go greet them with a tight hug. Her face fell a little when she saw Royland wasn’t with them. Sirius seemed to pick up on her anxiety when she asked where he was and assured her he would be along soon, he’d just gone to tell Lyrei how things had gone. Her fears soothed, she went ahead to fuss over these two, having them set their things down and getting them a warm bath, clean clothes, and getting started on dinner.
[center Frostbitten (2)]
[i “Hurry back? I shall. With haste, but with no gifts, I’m afraid. Only with a heart full of eagerness, but to see your face.”] How he wished he could have recited some flowery prose to soothe her, but with Alain’s incessant probing into their goodbye, Royland could only offer Sumina a deeply passionate, final, farewell kiss.
And so, with their pelts and supplies tightly and neatly wrapped up, strapped to their backs, they first made their way to the very base of the summit, three days and two nights journey from Dalem’s gate. Once there, they prepared themselves for the climb. Filled their bellies with the tender meat of the rabbit they’d bought from the trapper’s block, immersing themselves in the full-bodied flavor of the hearty broth. Their last hot meal before the trek. Animal furs lining their arms, underneath their clothes, and tucked into their boots, as Sumina had instructed they do. Thick clothes covered their ears and noses. For that fourth day of travel, it seemed a touch too much. A tad too hot. But the bellyaching only served as a testament to any underestimation they had. The Forest of Eternal Winter – it had no beginning, only an end. They had been inside it for longer than they knew.
[i “Legend says...”] Royland recalled Sirius’ tale at the summit, over the last of their stew, before they had begun their ascent. [i "An ancient Elvish tribe once used said tree in their rituals, strictly because of the natural power it had imbued in it. Then, one day, a traveling band of humans came through, peddling their beliefs and false idols. In order to establish that the Sirens were not real, they approached the spruce tree and asked, if the Sirens were indeed the true rulers over these people, to strike this tree."]
The men walked at a slow pace through the knee-deep snow. The bitter cold was unforgiving. It had only been a few hours since they had set out, and in that time, they had grown weak. Exhausted. It was the fifth, or the sixth day, of travel. By Sirius' estimation, they should have only been a day's walk away from the only known white spruce tree in all of existence. Its branches were integral in their journey to reclaim Volaire, or so Lyrei had told them. Its strong magical properties were about the only thing in the material that would keep him out of the way of certain death, for a time. So they had been told.
An outline was showing itself in the distance, growing clearer with every painfully slow step. Sirius, who had managed ahead of Alain and Royland with his slender build and agile movements, cried out. But his voice was indiscernible under the harsh bite of the snow blowing around them, a mere muffle under the bundling around his mouth and ears.
Using what little strength they could muster, they jumped and hopped along the trail blazed for them by their comrade ahead. And under the flurry of white, haphazardly strewn branches soon became clear under their feet, distinguishable only by the cool blue flames, emanating off of them. The men were in awe.
[i “The tree was set ablaze, but it did not char, nor burn. It burned for several days, and nights, through snowy storms, and warm summer rains. The tribe tried desperately to appease the Sirens. But none of their cries would be heard until the human missionaries would flee the mountain. On their way back to the base, they became lost in what is now known as The Forest of Eternal Winter. All the human men perished. Their corpses are said to lay in the snow to this day. Perfectly fresh, as though they had died just a day before.”]
They exchanged knowing glances. The flames burned, and yet did not burn them. Was it their human blood baiting the flames? Their Elvish ties protecting them from being burned? Royland’s brows came together, unseen by the eyes of his snow blinded friends. A tap on their shoulders and a single hand motion let them know their next move – searching the area. Five odd branches would not be enough for even a single shield. No, they needed to find larger pieces. But what was left of any such settlement seemed impossibly covered by deep snow. What else could they do, but to search for the source – the tree itself.
The group trekked onwards. Using the burning blue branches as torches to help find their way back down. Strangely, though the flames burned, the snow did not melt around them. Sure to cause trouble if they did not hurry back.
If the lore were to be believed, and the men were inclined to believe it, then their journey was not yet over. As time passed, and the sky grew darker, the men begrudgingly began digging a burrow in the snow. Wrapping their hands with torn linen, lining the inside with a thick wool, they huddled together, finally able to hear each other’s voices for some well-deserved commiseration. They neither slept for too long, nor ate too much. Just enough of each to keep going. For two more days, they struggled, sleeping less, eating more, trying to keep up their strength. Spirits were low, faith was wavering. Sirens above, they all thought, if you were truly there and accepting their pleas, all they wanted was to be seen through to this forest’s end.
When the winds left them to be, and the snow stopped flurrying about their eyes, they could hardly believe it. It was nearly high noon into day six, although they could never have known it, and the men could not say they recognized the sight around and ahead of them. The sounds of the Earth were dampened by the snow. All they could hear was their muffled, heavy breathing. Nary a bird nor hare in sight to eat. Not a berry had grown, not a sapling to be seen. Only the dilapidated remains of a village that once was. And at the base of a minor hill, the white spruce tree, with like white leaves, sprouting forth. Illuminated by that wispy blue fire.
Their first course was clear – camp. Using what stones and saved tinder from their trek they had left; they made the first fire they had seen in three days on the foundation of a house, curiously clear of snow. Then, using the stones and wood strewn about, a simple but effective barrier was built from any wind that may grace them again. In the quiet, against the fire, they finally spoke. About how much to take. Only branches? Alain wanted to strike the entirety of it down, but Sirius talked him out of such nonsense. It was a sacred tree. Used in rituals – sacred rituals, to appease the Sirens. Only they would see them out of this forest. Only the Sirens had the power to deliver them back to green grass, and warmer weather.
With warm hands and heightened morale that they had made it, at last, the men made great haste for several hundred feet to approach their target. With the five branches they had left as beacons for themselves, the men decided that another ten would serve them just well. Carefully, they chose – branches of comparable width, and size. Too large to be carried in their arms, but right enough that, with some reorganizing, they were able to strap to their packs with the last of the twine on hand. When they were finished, and they turned around, the sight before them startled them, greatly. Sirius fell to his knees, trembling. From under the covering of his face, he muttered, over and over, “T-the forest. The forest. The forest.”
A path. Lined by stark white trees on either side. It hadn’t been there before. The fire, the makeshift hut they had created, gone. Not a trace of it in sight. Alain and Royland met eyes. Was this the end?
After bringing Sirius to his feet, the men trekked forward. They had no camp. No fire. There were no ruins. There was no reason to stay. But it was strange. What was once thought to be a three-day long trip, turned to two when they found the last of the branches they had stuck in the ground. What was stranger, the weather, where it had previously been impossible to see, was now clear. Still, the trees flanked them on either side. They kept on straight.
A full day of travel passed. In that time, the men had found their third and fourth sticks left about. The burrow they had slept in previously. Although skeptical they took refuge. Pondering their strange fate while huddled in together. Sirius was worried – worried they might be walking in circles. Worried they might be cursed, as the group from the lore had been. Royland and Alain listened closely to his fears, but never acknowledged them. No, they had been Siren fearing all their lives. Surely, that was recognized. Right?
Little sleep was had. Instead of waiting for exhaustion to take them, the men kept moving. Another serving of rations – gone. The first and second stick they had left about, now in their possession. But they were still two days away from the base.
Or they should have been.
The weather warmed. The snow, in some parts, had melted away completely. Flowers and grass grew, leaning to the sun. The ice forest faded away into a distant memory. The pot they had made their stew in sat waiting for them. Removing the furs lining their clothes and faces, the knights were dumbfounded. Still, they said nothing to each other about it. And they couldn’t. Although it was daytime, they set camp, quickly under the shade of the green leaves of the summertime trees and slept.
The following days of travel were long, but an agonizing twelve days after their departure, they had arrived back to the gates of Dalem. And, this time, Lyrei was not there to greet Royland. Instead, she had left a note with a guard the gate. Telling him to bathe before he saw her. To eat, but not too much. With a roll of his eyes, he headed to her, anyhow. The sooner he came to get this over with, the sooner he might spend his night with Sumina.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] So what, exactly, had Lyrei said or done? Something to do with wanting to be Queen. Sumina sipped her tea. She wasn’t sure she [i wanted] to know, but she was still curious. Sumina didn’t ask, instead focusing on cleaning up while Sirius went to Lyrei, glad it wasn’t Royland. She could pick up a little of his reluctance.
When Sirius returned she could almost see why. Miss him dearly? Sumina subtly but noticeably tensed a little. Was that part of Lyrei’s attempt to become Queen? Sumina didn’t really like that. She looked to Royland, at his discomfort, and tried to soothe the both of them with her thumb over the back of his hand.
Their focus was on supplies though. Sumina wanted them to be ready. Well fed and warm. The trapper’s hut reminded her more of home than most places in Dalem, and she ended up quietly admiring the furs and hides while Sirius negotiated for furs and meat for the group. That was probably the most relaxed she was for the day, because she fretted a little over packing up supplies. Hoping it would be enough.
The time for their departure came too soon. Sumina wasn’t sure she was ready to let Royland go. She wasn’t sure she ever would be, though. “How could I forget you?” A smile at his worries over her. And his kisses, which didn’t feel like enough. Sumina caressed his face,”And you take care.” She leaned in close to kiss him lightly,”Keep warm.” Another kiss, lingering a little longer,”You push yourself too hard.” Yet another kiss, she was sure it would never be enough,”I’ll be waiting for your return.” Sumina kissed him again, this time more intensely. The world narrowed, so little outside of him mattered. She didn’t want him to doubt for a moment that she would miss him, that she would be here waiting for him to return. Two whole weeks he might be gone. When they parted momentarily, just barely, she mumbled,”I don’t want to let you go.”
She was oblivious to the looks being directed at them and exchanged between their friends and the guards at the gate watching. She wanted to kiss him, hold him, and never let go. One of them cleared their throat, she wasn’t sure who, but it was Alain who spoke up,”Will we need to come pry you two apart?”
Sumina finally pulled back then, a little breathless,”Hurry back to me.”
Royland’s relenting gaze turned into a glare as he glanced in Alain’s direction, just before being ushered inside. “Your life has been spared,” Alain nodded graciously, and quite tellingly took the seat furthest from his king at the table.
As the conversation focused on business, Alain found himself increasingly unsettled by Sumina’s warm and friendly advice. The look of disbelief on his face was making his brows knit together. His legs shook the table with his incessant fidgeting. Walter had to tell him twice to stop – he was liable to knock their morning tea right to the ground. And no one was keen on cleaning it up. Sirius seemed unsurprised, and Royland sheepishly asked amongst the group how much money they all had left, as he hadn’t been keeping track since they arrived in Dalem.
“Weren’t you the one who purchased supplies for our last trip? What did you do with the rest?” Sirius asked. Perhaps it was the day and night of drinking at the festival that had rendered him unable to remember. The king racked his brain for a few moments, but ultimately came up with nothing. “Well, didn’t Lyrei pay us for our trip to Felor’s settlement?”
Royland froze visibly, “Er, ah… No. I suppose she didn’t.” None at the table seemed to notice his hesitation, but he was [i sure] Sumina did. The men amongst him groaned incredulously. It wasn’t like Royland at all, and they took great pleasure in reminding him as such. The meticulous king who had to have all reports, orders, payments in order, at all times, and dotted lines signed – something must have happened to distract him. “Alright, alright. We were all exhausted that day we returned. Sirius, you’ll speak to her about it.” There was no way in hell that he was going to approach her. Not after the festival, and certainly not after the events directly preceding that.
Following breakfast, Sirius begrudgingly did as he was told. All he could talk about when he got back was how disappointed Lyrei was that Royland hadn’t approached her himself. It solidified within the king’s mind that he was right not to go. Lyrei was rather generous in her payment, telling Sirius to pass onto Royland that she very much looked forward to his return. That she would miss him dearly. The news, which Sirius absent-mindedly recounted in front of Sumina, made Royland groan. The thought of not having the luck to die somewhere in the Forest of Eternal Winter before needing to return, made him hold Sumina’s hand a little tighter that day.
First was to double check their rations – more dried meat meant better contingencies for the worst-case scenario, which Royland wanted to be doubly prepared for. He suggested that before their journey took them through the snow, they have a nice, filling hot meal at the base of the summit. It was their intention to set camp before they ascended to the peak. Presumably, not many people had business searching for the white spruce tree. A moderate sized pot and a campfire would likely have kept its place upon their descent. A pot from the home would do, Sirius noted, as they could simply replace it if it were misplaced or stolen. They would need to acquire some spices to make sure there was nothing left to be desired.
A modest sized hut, whose back wall was shared with the boundary of the gates and adorned with all manner of furs on the front side was the trapper’s hut. There was no proper door on the front, instead, merely a sheet of cloth. The group was greeted warmly as they entered, and Sirius immediately began his negotiations.
The trapper’s business was small, quaint, but fortunately, he had all their needs. Including some unbutchered hares, which he had just finished skinning. He would let them go – for a fair price. With the money Lyrei had given them, Sirius had an easy time outbidding the butcher by mere bronze coins. He made sure to let the trapper know to pass along the message, that they would be the butcher’s best customers for the rest of their time in Dalem.
With adequate supplies, all that was left was to pack and leave. The sun hung over them at high noon. The guards held the gates closed until Royland would give the signal. But the king was having a hard time pulling himself away from the hand of the pretty elf they had seen him with at the festival. Alain rolled his eyes but held his tongue at Walter’s behest. The sooner they arrived at the summit, he whined, the sooner they might descend and be back on their way. It would already be a full three day’s walk to the base of the forest.
Royland offered Sumina a gentle smile yet could not say much. “We’ll be back as soon as we can… You’ll not forget me, I hope.” He leaned down to press his nose against hers, drawing just a bit nearer to offer her a kiss. Quick, light, followed by one to her forehead. “Do try not to overwork yourself with Meriel. You know how pushy she can be. How stubborn you are. You’ll greet me when I return, I hope?” This time, Lyrei would have no opportunity to pull him away from her. Hopefully.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] When morning came and she woke, she was warm and happy that Royland was still there this time. “Royland. [+darkgreen Good morning.]” Sleepy smiles and kisses before she was fully awake. Sumina hoped for more mornings like this, after more nights like that. A larger bed, a home of their own. Children to wake them early. One day, maybe. He’d been so sweet with the younger Inakas children, she was sure he would be a caring father someday. Concerns over titles and their families seemed so small when he was close like this. She would have gladly spent more of the morning in bed with him, simply enjoying the quiet intimacy, but the day urged them up. Things needed to be done.
Had the door been open? No, she was sure it had been closed. The others were awake too, but not at the table or in the kitchen. Instead, they could be heard outside arguing. Sumina gave Royland’s arm a reassuring squeeze before briefly detouring to the kitchen in order to start the kettle. Then she followed Royland to see what the fuss was so early in the morning. Was it about her taking Royland to bed with her? Though nothing had happened really. That nervousness faded once she heard a little of their argument. It was about the trip to the mountain. Alain was probably only just learning of it, and not happy about it.
Sumina followed behind Royland, blushing hard at Alain’s comment, which she had caught as she approached. King and Queen? They were obviously teasing, and yet… It brought to mind those dizzying complications. Of course she wanted to help him claim the throne back. She also wanted him. Marriage, a family together. What she [i didn’t] particularly want was to be Queen, but it really was part of the package, wasn’t it?
Her arms both wound around Royland’s, pulling it down. Her hand slipped into his, and she gave a smile, which perhaps didn’t hide all of her worries,”First thing is breakfast. Come on, inside everyone.”
Sumina was able to get them all inside, and then started on making breakfast. While she worked, she talked,”It sounded like you don’t like the cold in the mountains. Are you not… used to it?”
That was what it sounded like, which was a little unusual to her. But Walter confirmed for her that none of them were very familiar with the higher elevations and biting cold,”Ah, no, Lady Sumina. None of us have spent much time in the mountains.”
“Oh. I suppose… you wouldn’t have, and it doesn’t get so cold down off the mountain.” Sumina mused, giving it some thought,”[+darkgreen The Forest of Eternal Winter] doesn’t get the name for nothing, I’m sure. You should prepare as best you can. Prepare to sleep huddled together, it will keep you from freezing in the night. When I was little sometimes my whole family would all sleep under the same blankets, sometimes it was just two or three of us at a time but then we’d fight over who slept with who and... And, well, anyway be cautious about letting any part of you get so cold it changes color too drastically. If it gets too cold for too long, there isn’t much even a healer can do… besides remove the body part, to keep the rot from spreading and killing you. In spring that isn’t usually too much of a concern, but you’re traveling high and to a place named [+darkgreen Eternal Winter], so it may be cold even in summer.”
Sumina was obviously concerned about the group, since now she realized they weren’t especially used to the kind of cold the mountains were capable of. She almost wanted to insist on going with them, but that would likely waste too much time preparing for extra people. Extra rations, extra clothing and blankets, and she may not even be that much help. She served the breakfast to the table and continued, trying to offer practical advice instead of just warnings and worries,”Wear several layers. As many as you can. Animal furs are the best. A good rabbit pelt or two around your lower arms and legs works quite well. Tucked inside the boot if you can, to keep snow out. The last thing you want is to get wet in that kind of cold, if there is snow. I had these lovely arm warmers and leg warmers of white rabbit fur Vaeril got me, they really kept me warm. I really liked those... Aside from that, a good animal fur layer really does wonders wrapped just about anywhere to keep warm, or as a blanket layer at night. Tarron had this ridiculous bear skin blanket he was so proud of. It was so big and heavy, and too warm to use once we moved to the city. But any fur will work. Oh, and covering your face helps, make sure your nose doesn’t get too cold. Or your ears. Um. Maybe that isn’t as much of a problem for you? Still...”
While they ate she explained as much as she could, and tried to think of what they already had for extra blankets and layers to make suggestions. She wasn’t sure if they still intended to leave today, or if they would wait until tomorrow and take extra time to prepare for the cold. Either way, she would help as much as she could, and when the time came bid them goodbye as cheerfully as she could. Tell them she would eagerly await their return.
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