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There were those words again. Words he could not pronounce, nor understand. His mind left hazy from her kisses, he never thought to ask. Did she know? Royland noticed that she shared a knowing kind of look. Stay with me, she said. “Of course.” He could think to do nothing else. He was a slave to her will. Followed her to bed. Held her close as they laid down. Showered her cheeks, jaw, and neck with little baskets of affection until sleep called to them both. He pictured them in a home. Any home, really. In a bed made for the two of them, properly. Such wishful thinking, but he found himself praying that, one day, it might be true.
Royland wanted more than to have her near. But he refrained. Kept his hands from wandering. Relished in the gentle heat emanating from her body until the morning. When he opened his eyes, the door to the room, which had been closed when they went to sleep, was cracked just so. Without alarming the girl lying beside him, he sat up just slightly, vision blurred. Trying to see if there was a figure at the door ahead of him. Nothing. It was early. He could plainly tell by the angle of the sun coming through the window.
“Sumina.” He nudged her gently, again and again until he finally got a response. The first sight she would see would be a warm smile. The first thing she would feel would be a light kiss. Shame that it couldn’t last a bit longer.
When Royland poked his head around the corner, he was surprised to find that the table was unoccupied. The doors of the other’s rooms were open, but his men were nowhere to be found. From outside he could hear bits and pieces of a quiet discussion, growing in volume from a voice that was distinctly Alain’s. Royland sighed. So early in the morning, and they were out in public, bickering like old women. Walter keeping the peace, Sirius trying to reason, and Alain complaining.
“Why did you not think to tell her off! I’m in bed for one night—”
“You were in bed for a damn [i day], Alain! And, tell her off? Are you mad?”
“Fine, one day, Sirius! I was in bed one day, and you allow Lyrei to send us off to some derelict settlement on top of a mountain in the middle of spring! How are we meant to keep warm? What will our rations look like?”
“Will you two knock it off? It’s no use arguing about it. This is for Royland’s sake. Alain, you must simply put aside your hatred for the cold. It is but one trip.”
Though he hated to interrupt, Royland opened the door with something of a stern expression, thoroughly startling the men outside the door. Each stammered a good morning, cautiously looking over his shoulder for Sumina.
“Well, good morning, then.” Alain crossed his arms, smiling coyly. “I see the King and Queen have graced us with their presence.” Stifled chuckles all around, turning to muffled laughter at the sight of the change in color on Royland’s face.
“King and Qu--!! Why, you…!” Royland reached out his arms to strangle his friend but was disheartened when the laughter continued. “I ought to end your miserable life right now!”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina warmed the bread and butter for Alain, figuring the warm food may improve his mood. It probably couldn’t hurt, at least. Sirius seemed to think they may leave tomorrow, which was earlier than she’d like. Then again, an earlier departure may mean an earlier return. Sumina half smiled, but left while Royland was giving Sirius a hard time to let them sort that out while she tended to Alain.
He was quicker to do as she asked this time, but just as grumpy and sour faced. He drank some of the water at least, and didn’t throw it on the floor. She didn’t wait for him to finish, only saw that he started on the bread before she left, urging him to try and get some rest.
“He’s eating, and drank at least a little of the water. If he’s going to be traveling anywhere he had better drink more though.” Sumina announced when she returned.
Sumina was glad when the others went to bed, leaving her and Royland to have at least a moment with each other. She could feel that he wanted to say something. He was quite obviously struggling to find the words, so she waited.
And her cheeks warmed to a brilliant pink while he went on, stumbling over what he was trying to convey. More time. Together. Tonight. Right when it was time for bed. His nervousness, the embarrassment, it fueled a nervous sort of fluttering all through her insides. When his eyes met hers, she could more or less see what he hadn’t said. Something she couldn’t bring herself to say either. How to respond in words to a look like that? At first she wasn’t sure.
Instead of just standing there searching for words, her hands caressed warm, reddening cheeks. Light as a feather her lips met his. How many ways had she said she loved him without uttering those words? Did he know? Did he understand? He couldn’t entirely, but still. And did he feel as strongly? Sumina touched her nose to his,”[+darkgreen My everything…]”
She couldn’t say it any more than he could. As for the first part. She bit the inside of her lip. Before it had just… happened. Ending up sleeping next to each other. It had been nice. He would be gone for so long, and she wanted every moment she could get with him. “Stay with me… tonight.” Sumina swore he had to be able to hear the way her heart was racing. Her eyes half closed and she looked down,”I… I just want… to have you near. That’s… all I…”
It was all she wanted for the moment. To not let him go. More kisses shared before sleep. Sumina didn’t mind that the bed wasn’t meant for two, she was quite happy to stay close with him. Hear him breathing, and feel the rise and fall of his chest. She slept well, and if allowed she would stay that way well into the morning.
Royland did as he was asked, while Walter and Sirius continued to pour over the details of the trip to come. At the time Sumina had asked for their plans to leave, Royland and Sirius traded glances but even they weren’t entirely sure when Alain’s condition would come around. After hearing Sumina’s progress with Alain, Sirius was optimistic.
“Well, if he’s out of the bed by tomorrow, walking around and whatnot, I see no reason why we can’t leave in the afternoon.” Sirius said.
Royland just happened to step back in at the tail end of his sentence and set the water down on the table for Sumina to deliver to Alain. None too keen himself on having a mess made. Alain was unlikely to give Sumina the same treatment, as he’d been relatively cordial so far.
The king stood, thinking, conflicted. He shifted his weight to the right and stared at the ground. “Tomorrow is an idea, but…” He looked at Sumina for just a touch too long, forcing Sirius to sigh.
“Alright, Royland, I’ll let you have your fun. I’ll let Lyrei know it was [i you] that delayed our departure.” Sirius ran a hand through his hair but was interrupted by Royland rubbing his fist into the small of his back. “H-hey! Ow, ow!”
“What was that?” Royland smiled menacingly. “I can’t hear you over the sound of your pain.”
“There could be merits to leaving earlier, Royland.” Walter said, hoping to free Sirius from his punishment. It worked. The boys were back on track. “That’s one less round of rations used. If you eat here, I mean.” Royland shook his head.
“Assuming that we’re going to eat two portions, per day, per man. If we can spread it thinner, we should.” Royland said.
“Yes, but we’re in a mountain range. In the spring?” Sirius reminded him. “The cold will demand more of our wits about us. Even more if there’s snow in these damned hills. It’s a bit late, now, but we also need prep our clothes for such conditions. I’ve heard the snow can rot limbs if it becomes too cold.”
“I’ve heard you’re liable to feel like you’re scorching, even in the dead of winter! Drives men mad.” Walter whispered ominously.
Royland sighed. All good points, by men far more traveled than he could have ever hoped to be. Though being prince and then king had its own merits, he was simply never allowed to make travels with the men of the guard. Always locked away in that damned carriage, fed the finer meals while his men fought over the last scrap of dried meat. Since taking the crown, he had since abolished such customs – as he had no need for them, himself. Still, even if the afflictions they spoke of were just rumors, they would need to plan accordingly.
“I think it’s best we all slept on it. We’ll see to Alain, finish preparations, talk it over. And then I’ll make my decision.” The day had gone now, and after all of the work at the Inakas’ bakery, Royland could feel his muscles begin to tighten. Walter and Sirius played a quick game to decide who it was to deal with Alain for the night. As Sirius tended to snore, Walter quickly managed to win by default. After a bit, at Royland’s silent urging, he and Sumina waited for the doors to close and for the room they were in to be empty.
Silence. The king began to shift his weight, back and forth, searching his brain for the right words to say to her. To ask her, such a thing. Would he be overstepping his boundaries? They had done it once – no, twice – before already, shared the same bed. Royland’s face turned pink from the thought.
“If…If we are leaving tomorrow…” He muttered, quietly. “Would you…mind… if we spent a bit more time together… than normal… tonight?” Sirens did [i that] sound uncouth. The beat of his heart was filling his throat. The thought of being apart for so long, it put a pit in his stomach. Half a month. It seemed too long to go without knowing the sight of her. The touch of her hand. Or the gentle way she soothed his heart. Or the way she made him feel when they were together. When she kissed him.
“That wasn’t what I meant.” Wasn’t it? “It’s just…” He trailed off. Bit his lip in a nervous sort of way. He couldn’t possibly tell her [i now]. He wasn’t sure himself. But he was sure that he wanted her to know, one way or the other. Three little words, so hard to string together. He shut his eyes for a second. Then opened them. And finally looked at her. He gulped. And blushed more. Harder, now. His ears were ringing from the blood in his face.
“Sumina, I think… I… No, never mind.” [i Fucking coward.]
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] She supposed she could try after dinner, to see what progress she could make with Alain. It was worth a try. Sumina’s cheeks were burning a little at their reaction to her handwriting. Practice. Somehow she was going to find time to get better at this. For now though she reached up and tugged lightly at Royland’s hair,”And I’d like to see your Elvish.”
While the men were more concerned with the supplies, Sumina was focused on getting their dinner ready. Enough for two weeks, and maybe a little more. Sumina was honestly hoping it would be less. Closer to the one week mark. She wished she could go too, but Orym was still only beginning to teach her to work with Meriel. It was more useful for her to hone some skills here for the time being. She’d miss them though, while they were gone.
Sumina’s contribution to their debate about the wood, when she set the table, was a quiet and thoughtful,”It’s… sacred. If you find any… it would be a blessing.” She took the baked treats off the table and into the kitchen to keep Sirius from sneaking them even during dinner. Dinner which was nearly done, and she was starting to lay out on the table.
“Well, Sirius seems to have left a few things for after dinner.” Sumina gave Walter a sympathetic smile,”We’ve all had a busy day it seems.” Well, hers and Royland’s had been busy perhaps, but obviously more enjoyable than the others. “Just take things easy now, food is ready, and something to help sleep. I’ll need to be restocking my herbs soon though.”
She almost felt bad that she and Royland had such a lovely day while the others were struggling so much. Almost. With dinner on the table she sat down by Royland to eat, and asked when they planned to leave. With Alain still shut in his room tomorrow seemed too soon, and there were still preparations to make even though they had the supplies. The day after seemed the absolute earliest they could all leave. And while they prepared she had plenty to do herself. The kitchen was starting to look like a mess, the laundry needed to be done, Orym would be continuing her training, and other things besides.
Once the meal was done she cleared some of the table and returned the basket of treats for them to enjoy. She didn’t sit back down, instead she went to check on Alain.
He was still in bed, as she expected. The tea untouched. Sumina sighed, which got his attention. “Go away. Unless you’ve finally brought more ale.”
“No, but some tea might help.” Alain seemed surprised to hear her voice and actually looked over. Sumina approached and took up the tea.
Alain stubbornly insisted that a cup of ale would right all his aches. Sumina just smiled wider and tugged his ear,”A fresh, new pain has a way of drowning out old pain too. I have a couple of ways I can help you, Alain. None of them is ale. I have tea.”
He was going to need a firm hand. Firm but sweet. They were staring at each other, Sumina with a smile against Alain’s sullen expression. The smile won, and Alain looked away with a snort. Sumina felt like she was dealing with an unruly child. Which she supposed wasn’t too far off the mark from Alain’s behavior, given how Sirius had explained things.
“Sit up, take a drink.” Met with silence. Yes, very childish. Sumina tugged at his ear again,”Up, come on.”
“I want ale.”
“Another time.” Back and forth a little. As stubborn as he was, Sumina had enough patience to beat him for the evening. She coaxed him into sitting up to drink some of the tea.
“It tastes awful.”
“It would have been better warm. You should have drank it when Sirius brought it.”
He had no answer for that besides a grunt and to drink more of it. “Are you hungry?” More silence. This time she was quiet too until he eventually answered.
“A little. Maybe.” His sour mood wouldn’t let him just come out and say yes. Let alone and please or a thank you.
Sumina didn’t pay that any mind and just nodded, brushing his hair back like she might to soothe one of her brothers or a sick child,”Then I’ll warm some bread and butter. That might help.”
When she emerged from the room with the empty tea cup she smiled at the others, her gaze resting on Royland,”Can you fetch him water while I get him something to eat?”
Childishly stubborn and cranky when he was hungover, but Alain was still enough of a man to respond better to a woman’s care. He’d also had more time to sleep things off, which she supposed helped. Once Alain was fed and settled she supposed it would be about time for bed, but before that she really did want even just a few moments with Royland. A proper kiss good night, since he was leaving so soon, and the days until then were bound to be busy for all of them.
As they exited the Inaka’s bakery, Grace’s treats in hand, Royland stopped just before they stepped off too far. “Mrs. Inakas, our friend, Sirius says your sweets are second to none. I hope you won’t think it presumptuous of me, but when we return to Volaire, you’re very welcome to come and bake for us at Vondien Castle.” Grace covered her mouth with her fingers and giggled, telling Royland how very kind he was, while Vanya and Elas pleaded with their father if they could, in fact, visit. Their parents had no choice but to try and calm them down. Royland apologized for causing a ruckus, but Lorsan told him with a smile not to worry about it.
Sumina’s comment forced the wheels in Royland’s head to turn. “I’m glad I came along, as well. I’ve never spent time with a family so large before…”
Though they were the center of attention throughout the market, Sumina had a way of making Royland feel as though he were the only other person for miles. Those little affectionate gestures that she graced him with were beginning to spoil him, he thought. For so long the greatest show of affection from Harrenhal had been quiet indifference. He never once acknowledged Royland’s ideas, recognized his efforts, or his talents. The quickness through which he progressed through either his studies, or his adeptness on the battlefield. Royland looked at Sumina for a moment. There was a smile on his face, but a sadness in his gaze. It was…nice. Looking at her now, Royland saw the sunlight bouncing off her hair, the glint in her eyes, could feel the happiness and warmth radiating off of her as she clung to him. She’d be a good mother. Loving, understanding, able to set good examples. Royland’s grip on her hand tightened just a bit. What kind of father might he be, he wondered?
With the supplies bought and set aside, Sirius had come to interrupt their brief moment of respite.
“How is he?” Royland asked with a tilt of his head.
Sirius sighed, “Well, at first, I simply tried to bring him some water, and he knocked it from my hand. Once I finished cleaning that up, I brought him some of your tea, Lady Sumina.” Sirius’ eyes darted between his two friends, seemingly becoming more frazzled as he talked. “He didn’t want the tea. Said he needed more ale. Said it would make his aches disappear.” His hands traveled up to his face, then through his hair. The day had clearly not been kind to him. Neither had Alain.
“And? You didn’t give it to him, did you?” Royland asked.
“No, I simply left the tea for him.” Sirius said. “He won’t come out until it’s dark, he says.”
Royland looked to Sumina briefly, “Perhaps you could try after dinner? He’d be more partial to you.” Upon receipt of Sumina’s small gift, Royland placed a hand on top of her head, smiling down at her. Though when he went to inspect the label…
Sirius came over as Royland strained to keep a straight face. “Oh my.” Sirius propped a hand over his mouth and then looked to Sumina pitifully. “Erm… It’s very thoughtful of you, Lady Sumina… I think we’ll manage somehow.” He glared briefly at Royland, who had accidentally let a snicker out.
“Sorry, sorry…” Royland waved his hand, hoping Sumina wouldn’t come over and strike him. “It’s lovely that you thought of us. Really.”
“You’ll have to excuse His Majesty… Years of penmanship training gives you a [i bit] of a big head.” Sirius said.
By the time Walter arrived to spend the evening with his friends, dinner preparations were half over. Sirius had been through the supplies that Royland and Sumina brought home and determined them to be adequate enough that they might just barely scrape by past the two-week estimation. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. But, if by any chance their trip was extended, they would have an extra day or two of scarce rations. There was much debate between Royland and Sirius as to whether or not Lyrei was sending them on a wild goose chase. A white spruce tree that only grows once every 500 years was their only source, or at least, she had made it seem that way. But why would birch or oak not work? Did it have anything to do with the urban legend itself?
“She said it doesn’t burn nor rot. But can a wood like that actually exist?” Sirius pondered as Walter took a seat, silently. There was a tired look to him. As though the day had rendered him worn and ragged. “What’s got you in a mood?” Sirius continued to pick at Grace’s treats until Sumina forced his hand to stop.
“Lady Abana is a bit of a slaver… That’s all…” Walter sighed.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] When it came to anything heavy, Royland and Castien were quick to keep Sumina and Grace from doing too much of the lifting and carrying. Instead they mostly scrubbed, or put away the decorations that had adorned the stall. It was happy work, and aside from Castien occasionally glaring, the Inakas family took to Royland quickly. Which only seemed to annoy the eldest child further, but he didn’t really have the heart to make all of them miserable with him by throwing a fit over it. Whatever irritation he felt toward Royland couldn’t outweigh love for his family, or Sumina. He thought she was breathtakingly beautiful, smiling and laughing while she gathered up cloth to be washed, scrubbed wooden boards, or listened attentively to Vanya’s chatter. He only wished she’d look at [i him] the way she kept looking at Royland. That soft, loving look.
The suds made Sumina giggle,”Oh just wait, I’ll get you back.” She’d wanted to kiss him then, but held back and instead playfully ruffled his hair.
Watching Royland with the children made her feel warm and happy. She hadn’t really seen him around children much before, but the way he talked with Vanya, or let little Elas think he was helping quite a lot more than he was, since he wanted to be a big strong helper like his brother and Royland was touching.
Once the stall was entirely tucked away back at the bakery, ready for the next festival, Sumina and Royland bid their goodbyes to the family, and Sumina promised to come by when she could. Grace insisted they take quite a few little baked treats with them as thanks for the help. Sumina was a little hesitant, saying it was too much, but Grace wouldn’t take no for an answer and she figured Sirius probably did deserve a treat for staying home with Alain. Next was the market, to see about supplies for the upcoming trip Royland would need to leave on. Supplies for at least a week, possibly two.
While they wandered Sumina took Royland’s hand and leaned her head against his arm a little,”I’m glad you came. I even think you had fun.”
At the market some whispers and looks followed them around. People recognized them from yesterday. The foreign king at the market together with the lovely elf he’d danced with and kissed. Speculating he wasn’t as unattached now. Sumina tried to not pay any mind to anything she did happen to hear or notice, but she kept looking at Royland with some mix of affection and embarrassment at getting so much attention. She wasn’t used to getting attention quite like this. Being the subject of whispers and rumors.
People were polite enough though when the pair approached to look over goods and buy things, and didn’t mention anything directly for the most part. One woman, who Sumina bought soap from, did inquire in a pointed way if the two of them enjoyed themselves yesterday. It made Sumina blush, and she just managed to say that the festival was lovely before hurrying away with Royland and their increasing burden of supplies.
Once they were back at the house and the shopping was set down Sumina pulled Royland into a kiss, and was promptly interrupted by Sirius emerging from his shared room, as if he could sense the presence of baked treats. He seemed a little down until Sumina revealed the basket of goodies and told him he could have first pick while she and Royland sorted out supplies and got dinner ready. She asked if Alain would be feeling up to joining them, or if they should set aside a plate for him, or if he needed anything else like more tea.
Along with the supplies they had bought, Sumina added a little pouch she had put together. Bandages, and an assortment of herbs and ointments for various little troubles they may run into. Things to repel insects, treat insect bites, soothe burns, or just relieve pain. Labels and instructions painstakingly written in their language, the letters obviously not as familiar to her hand as Elvish. It almost looked like the writing of a child, and kept to more simple, short words. She presented it briefly, a little embarrassed at her writing,”Just in case. Since I won’t be there to help. I hope you don’t need it too much, but I’d rather you all have it. And I do hope you can read it. I haven’t had much practice writing, only speaking, so...”
With that out of the way, she was eager enough to move on to cooking. And making sure Sirius didn’t eat [i all] of the baked goods. After he’d had a couple she insisted the rest should wait for after dinner.
For the most part, Royland chose not to take notice of Castien’s obvious throes of desperation, trying to get Sumina to notice him. If he had been in his position, after all they had been through, he supposed he might feel the same way. If he held half the amount of animosity as Castien did for him, he might be inclined to give lip. Mockingly call him by his title. Sneer at him when no one was looking. The only saving grace was that Castien could not hide his true feelings from the family that he cherished so dearly.
Truthfully, Royland felt a little jealous.
Upon seeing Castien’s mother grab Sumina’s face, he smiled warmly, a certain sadness peeking through his gaze. There was a familiar warmth radiating from their interaction, a feeling he hadn’t known for quite some time. He could see it in the wrinkles in her face, the flour under her fingernails, the strong smell of freshly baked breads and pastries in her apron. Grace had been a wonderful, loving mother. He partway wondered, looking at Sumina’s face, what kind of a mother she might be. Castien’s admission seemed to embarrass Royland, just a bit, and he tried to remedy the use of titles quickly, “Just ‘Royland’ is fine enough. Besides, I’m not much of a king, now. No need for formalities.”
As Lorsan began to close the gap, Royland briefly let go of Sumina’s hand to close the distance. “Please, I should have been the one to approach you.” It was strange, how nervous he felt. Why did he want this man’s approval? Somewhat in spite of himself, Royland bowed his head to both Grace and Lorsan. “Thank you for allowing me to be of assistance today. I do hope you’ll put me to work.”
First to go was the stall. Though he wasn’t instructed to, Royland carefully and efficiently took enough apart that it might be able to be salvaged later on. Lorsan, without saying much, was pleased by the work the king had put in under his supervision. And pleasantly surprised at the stride with which Royland carried out the tasks he was instructed to do. Whether it be carrying something large and heavy for Grace, or scrubbing dried honey, baked flower, or berries from the floor with vigor. At one point, he took a bit of suds from the wash bucket and touched it to Sumina’s cheek, smirking.
“That’s for soaking my clothes during laundry.” He hoped she remembered. He certainly would never forget.
The politeness with which he interacted with their younger children impressed Lorsan as well. Vanya was clearly smitten with Royland from the time he walked through the door. At one point, Vanya inquired as to Royland’s favorite instrument. He thought for a bit before answering, “I like all of them, but I think your little tambourine suits you just perfectly.” He pressed his finger to the tip of her nose, and the little girl covered her face, so clearly blushing. “I bet you’ll grow up to be a wonderful musician.”
“Do… Do you think so?” Vanya looked up at Royland with big eyes, which sparkled when she saw the sincerity in his own. “And beautiful, too?”
“The most beautiful wildflower Dalem will have ever seen.” Royland said.
Vanya turned to Lorsan and beamed, “Papa! A king said it so it must be true! Do you think I might marry a prince, now?” The look on her husband’s face forced Grace to chuckle. Castien rolled his eyes. The end of their day together could not come sooner for him.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Persuade them peacefully. Her family. Her friends. Her people. Was that possible? Sumina wasn’t sure. She remembered the way her brothers had looked at Royland. Hatred and blame. But maybe, wearing Elvish armor… Would that be enough to convince them? Even when all her words had fallen on deaf ears? Sumina drank more of her tea instead of just staring at it in thought. So much to consider.
Problems for another day, in a way. Nothing could be solved entirely now, they just needed to move forward a little more. The next step toward that armor. And another day with him before he had to leave again. Sumina stood up, then leaned over to kiss Royland’s cheek,”Thank you.”
Sumina only barely cleaned up what was absolutely necessary from their breakfast before leaving. It could wait, she was still tired and if the kitchen were going to be a mess until tomorrow, then so be it. As long as the other tasks got done. The Inakas bakery was already awake and functioning when they arrived. Castien was manning the front of the shop for the moment. When he greeted them, his smile was a little tense. With Royland the smile was entirely forced, and his eyes cold and narrowed. The expression softened when he laid eyes on Sumina though. Here she was, hand in hand with another. A man who despite the brazen display of affection yesterday Castien was sure would break her heart and betray her. Once Lyrei got her way, secured her position as the future queen. He almost looked sad, but then tried to act more cheerful, at least to her.
“Good morning, [+darkgreen water lily]. My parents are in the back. [+darkgreen Dad] will watch the shop while we take down the stall.” His eyes shifted to Royland with a slight glare,”Is His Majesty here to help?”
Sensing a little of the tension Sumina held Royland’s hand a little tighter while her other reached over to touch his arm,”Yes. Should we head over?”
Castien was frowning slightly at the way she held onto Royland. “Mmm, we’ll go with Mama. By the way, I’m afraid after today if you come by I won’t be here though. A job has come up.”
Another glare shot at Royland for a split second, and Castien dared a little step closer to Sumina,”Is there anything the [+darkgreen most beautiful white blossom] would like as a gift on my return?”
Sumina laughed, waving one hand dismissively,”Oh no. No no, not at all. You’ve already overdone things with the dress. I [i thought] you were going to find an old one of your mothers or something… So really.”
Castien smiled, the most genuinely since they had walked in the door,”If it was too much, I wouldn’t have given it. Now, we’d best get to work.”
In the back of the shop where the ovens were Grace and Lorsan were at work finishing up a batch of breads fresh from the oven. They looked up, and while Lorsan simply leaned against the counter with a smile Grace went up and gave Sumina a hug,”It’s good to see you again, dear.” Her hands on Sumina’s cheeks left smudges of flour, but got a smile from the elf. Grace looked at Royland,”And this must be…”
“King Vondien.” Castien supplied, crossing his arms and leaning back against the counter. Not entirely happy, but trying not to look too sour.
Lorsan had a sympathetic look for his son before pushing himself more upright and taking a few steps closer to greet their guests. The way he walked, he clearly couldn’t put as much weight on or move the one leg as freely, though he tried not to emphasize it.
Upon hearing Sumina’s words, Sirius looked at the sky, brows knitted together, “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a set of Elvish armor…” There was a stillness in the air as the men tried to remember the night of their escape. Had they seen any such armor being worn by their pursuers? Even the confrontation in the market of that non-descript town seemed like a distant memory. Royland remembered his deafening heartbeat, the weight of his sword, the sound of it clashing with another. The force of the strike that sent Ayre fumbling backwards, so hard that it had split one of the nails on Royland’s hand. Were they wearing armor? Royland made a face, his head felt as though it might split open.
“Let’s not wear ourselves out too much dwelling on it.” Walter rested his head in his palm. “What matters now, is we know what we need. We’ve got to go and get the materials, get it made, and then—”
“We’ve still got to head around and ask for aid.” Royland reminded him. “They’ll not respond to just us five. I’ll need supporters if we’re to persuade them peacefully.” Oftentimes, the show of one’s hand could be all that was needed to turn the tides. Little need for a battle, even less for bloodshed of any kind, unless it were Royland. The responsibility of reacquiring the throne was his, and his alone.
For now, however, he would spend the day with Sumina. While the prospect of being around Castien did not warm Royland’s heart, the impending trip may be more unbearable if he did not take the opportunity to spend the day with Sumina. After the spectacle during the spars with Vargas and the others, and then the festival the night previous, any chance of reconcile with Castien seemed… impossible. They were decidedly rivals, for the affection and attention of someone who had very clearly made her choice. Feeling somewhat pressured, Royland sighed, and smiled. “I’ll gladly accompany you.”
Finished with his tea, Walter took to his feet, “Lady Abana has me gathering some ingredients this afternoon. I suppose I’ll see you all this evening.” That left only Sirius to deal with Alain, something which the former was none too happy about.
“I’ve got Alain, then?” Sirius sighed, weighing his prospects for the day. Here was the double-edged sword of his friend’s jovial demeanor when the drink was flowing freely: caring for him when the night turned to day again. If his behavior when sober could be polarizing, if he could smile no larger when drunk, then with a splitting headache and a sensitivity to light, he could turn downright nasty. Alain’s various states seemed to exist on a pendulum, which swung wildly back and forth depending on the current activity. Laying incapacitated in bed was only sure to set him off.
“Just let him have water until he calms. Wouldn’t want to waste Lady Sumina’s delicious tea.” Walter said.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] The tea was a blend mostly to help with their headaches. It took some time to steep, and while it did Sumina put together a little breakfast for them. Mostly bread and butter, easy on the stomach, lightly toasted in a pan so it would be warm. And while she worked she sprinkled in little affectionate gestures, touching his cheek, his hair, his hands, and asking how he’d slept, though she could see he wasn’t especially well rested. There wasn’t that much talking, even she was feeling tired and ill with a headache, but she was happy and enjoying the freedom to more openly express her feelings for Royland. She was in love, and he loved her, and that was enough to keep her mood fairly bright.
The men who were conscious all seemed quite thankful for the tea. Even smelling it made Sumina feel a little better, though the thing that made her smile, looking back at Royland, was him taking her hand. This was a quieter morning following a festival than she was used to, but it was nice. Usually her brothers were more noisy in their complaints.
An ordinary life. That would be nice. To just settle down, raise a family. And hopefully not be too bothered with things like wars or anything. It wasn’t always [i easy], the way she’d grown up, but… a simple life was an underrated thing.
Then there was Lyrei, interrupting the quiet morning. The matter did sound quite important as she laid it out, and Sumina listened with interest. She didn’t speak until Lyrei left,”That’s… a very good idea.”
She didn’t especially want him to leave, not for so long, and she held Royland’s hand a little tighter,”Armor like that is incredibly hard to come by, especially in a full set. At least in Volaire it was. It would be quite impressive. And very… regal.” A returning king in splendid armor, a human king wearing regalia of Elven make. But where did that leave her? She gave a smile, though it wasn’t as carefree as before. “Returning like that, you may win the support of at least some Elves. We’ll need to get you ready to go. And I promised Grace I would help with their stall. Lorsan’s bad leg troubles him more than he lets on, and he doesn’t need to be carrying all that. Would you like to come help? Then I can help with supplies.”
So much to do. And then Royland would be gone for at least a week, but return one step closer to a hopeful return to Volaire. She hoped to spend as much of the time before he left together. “Before we go, someone should force a cup of tea and some water into Alain. And see if they can convince him to eat a few bites of bread. Then he can sleep more, but if he doesn’t at least drink something he’ll be absolutely miserable when he does wake.”
None could bear the sun shining through the windows that morning.
Walter, the first to arise, was in the middle of placing some of his clothes over the kitchen windows in order to make the morning more bearable for them all. The second was Sirius, who diligently aided his friend in the good fight. Alain had never bothered to wake. Royland groaned quietly, yawning into his hand as he walked into the kitchen. No such restful sleep for him that night, despite the positive note that things had ended on. Instinctively, he shielded his eyes, awaiting to be assaulted by the morning sun, not quite realizing in his stupor that the windows had been blocked off.
“That spiced mead of Lady Abana’s… I’m positive it could kill a horse.” Sirius rested his forehead onto the table in defeat. “I never did find out what was in there.”
Walter sighed, taking a seat in between his friends. “You… You don’t wish to know.” Amongst the harmless ingredients that gave the mead its flavor, Lady Abana had placed a single leaf of stinging nettle in each cup served. The result, when the leaves contacted the drinker, was a noticeable but somewhat pleasurable numbing sensation on the lips. Combined with the strength of the brew, it could fell grown men in just a few cups. “Alain is a strong drinker, but I don’t believe he’ll grace us with his presence today.”
“Well, we’ll just have to take care of him, then.” Royland sighed. Predictable. Had their journey to Felor been started just a day later, he could have avoided this madness. But would Alain have ever forgiven him, forcing him to miss out on the joyous occasion? Would he have forgiven himself? After all, it would erase the memory of one of the only times he could remember being himself. Experiencing the love of another.
Sumina’s presence lifted the atmosphere of the room, if only a bit. Walter and Sirius said their brief good mornings, accompanied by smiles, turned smirks when they saw how she chose to greet Royland. Not missing the expressions of his friends, Royland’s face turned red, and he stood to join Sumina in the kitchen. “I’ll, er, I’ll help you.”
Once the tea was brewed, and everyone sat at the table, Royland took the first opportunity to hold Sumina’s hand while he nursed his headache. Conversation was far and few between, at least for the men, unless it was Sirius and Walter singing their praises to Sumina and her tea.
“Imagine if we’d all been born regular folks.” Walter sighed. “No obligations, none of that fates nonsense. Just good friends, safe behind big walls. A peaceful life.”
“I’d be partial to living on the coast.” Sirius said. “Maybe find a nice girl willing to settle with me.”
“Better make sure she’s a barmaid, or else Alain won’t bother visiting.” Royland chuckled.
Without warning, the front door swung open, then closed again. No one was in a particular rush to protect themselves, but all eyes were on the figure coming towards them. Lyrei threw her hair over her shoulders, arms folded over her chest, hips leaning to one side. Her expression, serious at first, soon turned into a sickly-sweet smile. Royland tightened his grip on Sumina’s hand ever so slightly.
Sirius narrowed his eyes, “Gracing us with your presence so early this morning, Lady Lyrei?”
“Forgive the intrusion, but it is imperative. It is about our conversation last night… Royland.” Lyrei said. Royland was silent, and so she continued. First by letting the others in on her ideas for Royland to come into ownership of armor that would further show his willingness to respect and honor the Elves of Volaire. The resulting sight of a King coming to take back his throne, with the blessing of other nations, and wearing the fruits of remote Elvish tribes’ labors, would stir a reaction in the people. Second, by laying out the materials, which she had neglected to mention the night previous: wood, metal ore, a metal worker for the sword, chainmail, and armor plating, and a gambeson woven from a particular breed of silkworm. Royland sighed, sensing her imminent command to some far-off place that would force him to leave Sumina alone with Castien.
“To begin, you’ll head to the peak of this mountain to [+darkgreen The Forest of Eternal Winter], or the Ice Forest. There you’ll find one of the last white spruce trees known to exist. They’re said to grow only once every 500 years.”
“How very lucky we should be, then.” Royland said. Lyrei shook her head in disagreement, however.
“There’s no way of estimating such a phenomenon. It could merely be a sapling when you arrive. The tribe that used to track the growth has long since died out. And with them, their secrets, too, went to the grave.” Lyrei said.
“Then… what are we to do if the tree hasn’t grown?” Sirius pressed.
“These branches do not die, nor do they burn, according to legend. You may need to probe the ruins of the tribe that once lived there. Simply make sure there is enough for a shield and be on your way.” Lyrei said.
“When are we expected to leave?” Royland stole a glance towards Sumina. It did not go unnoticed. In fact, it seemed to make Lyrei incredibly tense.
“As soon as you can muster. The journey will take the better part of a week, if you’re lucky. Up to a fortnight if you’re not. It simply depends on the tide of the forest.” It wasn’t long after that, Lyrei left the group to ponder over their new orders.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] “I made you wait?” Sumina laughed. His smile was all she’d wanted to see. To see him so happy at the festival with her. And when their friends did enter he didn’t let go. The kisses did, but she held her arms around his shoulders, a shy smile never quite leaving her face.
They were all tired, and maybe there had been plenty to drink. Sumina let her hands trail down his arms to take his hands in hers,”Mm, maybe. It is Féile an Ghrá. But…” She laced her fingers with his and leaned in for an affectionate but brief kiss,”You think I’d want you any less in the morning? [+darkgreen My everything], I’ve wanted you before today. Now, sleep well.”
[center [b ~*~*~]]
The Valralei gardens were no sanctuary of peace and tranquility that evening. Lyrei was in a mood, and Castien couldn’t say he was in high spirits either. And the day had started out so wonderfully…
“You might have warned me that I had [i competition]. This changes things.” Castien knew how badly she was agitated by the way she was pacing over the cobblestone path. This was more than slight annoyance. Lyrei was furious.
Castien seemed more outwardly calm, arms crossed, but his whole body was tense. The King, in his opinion, was selfish and spoiled. He had just… kissed her, just like that. In front of everyone. In front of [i him]. Somehow Castien felt personally insulted. “I hadn’t realized they were quite that close.”
“How do you miss something like that!?” Lyrei gestured at him furiously,”[i You]. You brag how you can tell a woman in love a mile off. Spout poetry about the ‘[+darkgreen radiance of love]’ a woman has when she’s fallen for someone. You waxed on and on about how lovely you found her! But you didn’t notice [i she’s in love with someone else]?”
Castien’s frown grew deeper while Lyrei ranted. Of course this was a nasty shock to her. And Lyrei… hated being surprised. By anything. She’d fumed for days once over a surprise party thrown for her. Not publicly, but to him. Now it was much more personal, and he was having trouble just patiently listening. “The whole group is… wound up together. They’re close. She’s fiercely protective over them all, and each of them of her. And why wouldn’t they all want to protect the king most, even her? And she is…” Somehow words failed him and he shook his head,”You wouldn’t understand.”
Back to pacing,”You’re right. I don’t understand how you were so [i blind]. You had her all day! You, my famous charmer, couldn’t charm [i one woman]? I’ve sent you to successfully weasel secrets from happily married women, who tell all trying to bed you.”
Castien’s face scrunched up and he raised one hand to cover it. He had tried, hadn’t he? And she’d looked at him once… almost, almost the way she looked at [i him], though not quite. More time, maybe, and if they hadn’t run into the King then. Also, it wasn’t like he hadn’t suspected it at all. If anything, he worried that they might be… And he was right, to his and Lyrei’s misfortune. True enough he hadn’t divulged all his suspicions, but,”And you hadn’t noticed either. That he wasn’t interested in you, his mind was on another.” His hand balled into a fist and her rested his chin on it,”[+darkgreen A rare and delicate blossom.] And he just… Right in front of me. Can you believe him? He just stole her away from me. Not a word! He didn’t even look at me.”
Lyrei paused and shot a glare at her friend,”This isn’t about [i you]. There are much bigger stakes here. A kingdom. Our people, Castien. I [i will] be queen.”
Castien gave a noncommittal hum, which got him a frustrated sigh and eye roll from Lyrei when she went back to pacing. True enough the two were close, and intensely attracted, but Castien had seen Lyrei get her way despite bad odds before. If she wanted something, she usually got it. “Then I’ll win her. Make her forget him, before he breaks her heart and marries you.”
“Do it then. First I have a job for you.” Castien opened his mouth to protest but Lyrei continued,”Hush, it won’t be long and you’ll return [i well] before he does. But we must keep Dalem’s trade running smoothly.” Lyrei gave a one shouldered shrug,”And perhaps on your travels you’ll find something she’d like. A gift to win her affection.”
[center [b ~*~*~]]
The morning brought with it headaches and grogginess. Sumina wasn’t the first to wake, she heard the others moving about. There really had been a lot of mead. More than she was used to really. But… there had been more. Kisses and sweet words.
When she peered out of the room there were butterflies in her stomach. Had last night been a dream? No, it was dream-like but real. None of the men looked especially energetic that morning. Even her own head was throbbing, but she managed a smile anyway,“Good morning.”
And for Royland, her arms around him briefly, a kiss on the cheek. Simple, and not over the top, but she wanted to show her affection from yesterday hadn’t faded with the effects of the mead. Her heart was pounding, half worried that [i he] would be the one pulling away from her again,”Good morning.”
Then she was off to the kitchen,”There’s a tea that might just help a bit. I’ll make us all some.”
Royland’s senses had returned to him somewhat, once they were away from the music, the lights, and the dancing. But what she had said to him before they sought refuge in the home, was reverberating through his head. It made his chest feel warm. Her kisses had him wanting more. And there was little he could do to assuage his desire for her. Hands on her slim waist, he secured her close to him. Though he had no intention of escalating further than that, his body was beginning to betray him in other ways. When she finally gave him the space to answer, all he could do was smile, at first. “After all that time you made me wait for you,” Royland chuckled, teasingly. “Of course.”
There hadn’t been anything more satisfying than seeing her looking absolutely radiant, and happy, as she spent time with him. The way she glanced into his eyes. Told him that she was his. The way his name sounded coming off her tongue.
Everything about this was love.
“Did you see that!” Sirius exclaimed breathlessly. He’d come to find Walter once Royland and Sumina disappeared from the festivities. Everyone he’d passed by was whispering, out of envy, curiosity, or just plain bewilderment. Word had it that foreign King was unattached. And Lyrei had very clearly set her sights on him. But that Elvish girl was such a beauty. A rare flower that comes along once in a lifetime. It made sense that he would snatch her up. But to be so bold, even when he is unattached?
All the noise made Sirius nervous, and he looked to Walter for reassurance. But his friend had none to spare. “I never knew he could be so adamant with a woman…”
“Royland’s a man, Sirius. Surely, you’ve noticed how close they’ve been these past weeks? Embracing each other. Stealing a kiss when they’re convinced no one is watching.” Walter smiled, much to Sirius’ surprise.
“Isn’t that just the problem?” Sirius’ expression told Walter that his brother-in-arms was troubled by the revelation. Or, perhaps, it was something else? “Royland may not be on the throne, but he is still the rightful King of Volaire. He can’t afford to have an Elvish child out of wedlock. The people wouldn’t trust him. It’ll be a disaster.”
Walter frowned. “Well, it won’t much matter when he takes the throne back, will it? He’ll simply marry Lady Sumina…” But Sirius’ unchanging gaze made him stop mid-sentence. “She’s been good to us, Sirius. And-and the monk. He says their fates are intertwined. Direct from the Sirens themselves.” And the words Royland had asked to know the meaning of. Lady Sumina was the one meant for their King, their closest friend. And, yet, why did Sirius look so defeated?
“Is there something you’re not telling me, Sirius?”
“…It’s nothing. Might be best we find Alain, now.” Sirius said.
As if on cue, their inebriated friend came stumbling over on Vargas’ shoulder. Lady Abana was growing weary and retired to her home, while she left Walter and Sirius to close her stall. Vargas let it known that the decorations and the stalls were to be dismantled the following afternoon, so that everyone could enjoy the festival well into the night. Once all was finished, the men headed back to their abode. Some hoping they weren’t about to walk into anything untoward, and the rest hoping their King hadn’t already sabotaged himself.
When Royland heard the door open, he didn’t let Sumina go, not even for a moment. It was a bit unsettling, Sirius thought to himself, to see his friend standing there. So nonchalant. So unaware of the implications of his actions. Whether it was the drink, or his infatuation with Sumina, he couldn’t decide. But being closest in age to Royland, he was concerned as to why he could not understand what was going on in his mind right now. They had been so close growing up, inseparable, but where there was usually mutual understanding, there was now a divide.
With only so much as a declaration that he was off to bed, Sirius took Alain’s slumping form over his shoulder and retired for the night. Not wanting to arouse suspicion to their friend’s disturbed state, Walter smiled at both Sumina and Royland, offering them some semblance of normalcy, despite the fact that they were wrapped around each other at this moment in time.
“Walter?” Royland began to ask, but he was stopped.
“We all might get some rest. Sleep off the mead and get ready for more work tomorrow! Goodnight, you two.” Walter disappeared behind one of the bedroom doors, leaving Royland to wonder. His hands dropped from Sumina’s waist, and he laid a kiss to her forehead, hoping she might not notice the air in the house.
“Walter may be right… We’ve all likely had a bit much to drink tonight. I should hope you’re not so far from me tomorrow…”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] “And you’d sing it for me?” Her face felt so warm, but rather than want to get air, she delighted in his face coming closer, his nose against hers. She couldn’t stop smiling. The crowd was melted into some shapeless, vague blur of colors, movement, and sounds that meant nothing to her. If it weren’t for him leading her, she might have bumped into any of them.
The dance she’d waited for was better than she had dared hope for, but there was still more. It almost felt like a dream, but before she could respond his lips were against hers. One hand stayed at his shoulder, while the fingers of the other worked their way into the hair at the back of his head. When he pulled back she was dizzy, and he’d succeeded in flustering her. When he spoke it took her a moment to put together that there were even words. Words and kisses, both so sweet and soft. “[+darkgreen Then never let go. I’m yours.]”
It took her a moment, another kiss, before she even realized she’d said it in Elvish. He could get her so confused she didn’t know what language she was speaking anymore. Her fingers brushing against his cheek she repeated for him to understand,”Then don’t ever let go. I’m yours, Royland.” Another kiss, and mumbled for his ears only, though he wouldn’t understand,”[+darkgreen My everything.]”
It wasn’t long after that when the whispers were just a little too much to entirely ignore. Had… people been watching? How many? Some of the embarrassment seeped into her head, enough that she quietly suggested they walk a little. Even on the walk, she didn’t let go of him and scarcely looked away, except to keep from stumbling. Some of the whispers and stares followed the lovestruck pair, but Sumina wasn’t paying it [i too] much mind, though she was trying to get away from it all. The festival might still go on for a little while, but Sumina ended up back at the house where things were quiet, and the crowds wouldn’t be staring.
“I had a wonderful time. Did you…?” Sumina didn’t exactly wait for an answer. Now that they were inside, away from prying eyes and whispers she pulled him in for another kiss. There was a more fervent desire in the way she cupped his face, kissed him again and again. She didn’t want the night to end, or his kisses. A little longer, she wanted, just the two of them. No interruptions. Unfortunately they wouldn’t have long before their friends would trail along in behind them.
At her admission, Royland laughed. Somewhat more nervously than he intended, still struck by the way she looked. “Of course I’d never forgotten. I promised you…” He could hear the music, but not the people. He could see their shapeless outlines around him, dancing in kind, or tending to stalls, sharing happy smiles with friends out of his periphery. But his focus never left Sumina. He pulled her in close, a hand at her waist, and the other lacing their fingers together. He had to stop dancing, for just a moment, and moved out of the way of those that continued their joyous celebrations.
“Sirens above… You are beautiful beyond words.” And yet, he would still make them known to her. Whatever he could manage. Anything for her to receive his message. “I’m not a poet. But I might be so inclined to write a song for you. Of you.” Royland set his nose against hers, and they rejoined the crowd. All men seemed to pass them by, wishing for a dance that they knew none else could have. It was plain for them to see about his eyes. How completely enraptured he was by Sumina. The mighty king and the pretty elf.
Walter watched from Abana’s stall, astonished at Royland’s boldness. “I’ve not seen him dance like that in a long time.” It wasn’t just the sight of Sumina, but the music and drink heightening his emotions for her. Whether he had wanted to or not, Royland was allowing himself to become lost in her. He was finally becoming a bit more honest with himself. It warmed his friend’s heart, and at the same time, worried him. How close they were showing the world that they were. Suddenly, Walter remembered, and he turned to Abana with a brow raised. “Ah, Lady Abana. What is the meaning of the words, [+darkgreen my everything]?”
He was surprised when Abana placed a hand over her lips. Even under the shade, he could see the pink in her cheeks. “[+darkgreen Well, now], who’s calling you [i that], when you’ve only just arrived?”
Walter chuckled somewhat defeatedly, “Oh, no, not I. It’s, uhm… I’m asking for someone else.”
Abana, sensing her protégé’s honesty, thought for a moment, before finally speaking. “For someone to say that… is the highest declaration of love in the Elvish language. It means, ‘my everything’. Quite bold, whoever is the one saying it!” Walter’s face likely displayed some sense of horror, and Abana inquired as to what was wrong. He had to tell her it was nothing worth worrying about. Nothing…
Watching the way Sumina’s hair framed her face, how her dress flowed as they danced, Royland could no longer ignore his urges. As one song ended and another began, he once again took Sumina to the side. He’d moved his hands to cup her face, feeling her skin beneath his fingers. “You’re real…? This… isn’t a dream?” To make sure – and to fluster her – he leaned down, slowly, giving her a deep kiss. Once finished, he lifted his head, unaware of the whispers and the stares. A voice in his head tried to remind him where he was. Another voice told him, let them watch. In-between kisses, he muttered, “You are the loveliest woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. You know that…Don’t you? I don’t ever want you far from my sight. Understand?”
From the sidelines, all who knew him were stunned into wide eyed stares. Lyrei, Castien, Alain, Sirius, and Walter. Unbelieving glances were exchanged between the knights, and then a cautious glance to Castien unnerved them. He was watching, intently, and although none could make out the expression on his face, they could see that his fists were trembling, angrily.
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