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[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina and Castien had walked a little longer, but Royland wasn’t here either. It was after that, with the spiced mead perhaps hitting her harder than she’d thought, that she felt a wave of exhaustion and nearly fell. Castien caught her and kept her on her feet. “[+darkgreen Water lily? Steady. That was too much of Abana’s spiced mead. Or… Is Meriel still with my family?]”
That was right, she was a new summoner and the day was long, and full of mead and dancing. He felt her forehead and cheeks. Warm, but not overly so. Castien felt like he should have thought of that earlier, but at least she wasn’t in terrible shape. She nodded in confirmation and Castien sighed,”You had better call her back if you want to last the night. Besides, calling her will be good practice.”
True enough that it lined up with Orym’s instructions from last time. Communicating over a distance was one part of things she should practice. So she reached out for her familiar, beckoning for her return.
[i [+darkgreen Very well. And have you danced with him yet? No? What a shame.]] Meriel was in no particular hurry, and her senses much sharper than her summoners. [i She] was able to find Royland. While she couldn’t speak to him, she could try and coax him into following. Pleased he got the hint, she rather proudly went to Sumina,[i [+darkgreen Your everything is coming. Enjoy. And you’re welcome.]]
“[+darkgreen My…]” Sumina turned away from Castien. There was Meriel, and behind her was Royland. He was looking at her so warmly, so attentively. She couldn’t look away or move, though her heart felt like it might escape her chest. It was Meriel brushing her head against Sumina’s leg that snapped her out of it enough to call Meriel back.
The way he struggled to articulate, and his reddening face, made her own cheeks flush a more vibrant pink. His guard was down, he was open and slightly awkward and Sumina found that incredibly, irresistibly charming. She took his hand without hesitation,”[+darkgreen Yes], yes of course.”
Sumina hadn’t even looked back at Castien since she’d spotted Royland. And he’d been having such a lovely day with her. There was nothing to do but watch as the King led her to dance. She had been collecting dances all day from Royland’s guards, their friends, but this dance she had been looking forward to the most. Castien’s eyes had been lovely, hard to look away from. The blue of Royland’s was completely mesmerizing, impossible to look away from. She was fully ready to sink in and drown in that look he was giving her. “I’d been hoping… you wouldn’t forget… me… this… I mean. The dance.”
Royland pinched the bridge of his nose, as Lyrei seemed far more intent on showing him off like a fresh rug, rather than anything else. With the bustling of happy people and music in his ears, they drank down their third cups of mead for the afternoon. His eyes had been wandering all the time, and this had not gone unnoticed by Lyrei. As they sat, she reached for his hand to gently grasp it, but frowned when he rebuffed her for the tenth time that day.
“What’s gotten you so troubled, My King?” Lyrei batted her eyelashes. For some reason, Royland couldn’t resist responding.
“I’ve asked you not to call me that. Just ‘Royland’ is a fine name enough. Unless you’d like me to call you Ms. Valralei. Or, perhaps Madame Valralei?” Royland smirked at the annoyed glance he’d garnered. “So, some things do phase you.”
“I’ve got your point… Royland.” Lyrei smirked, her composure regained. “You’re right. Feels much more intimate this way.” She’d latched onto him again. Wishing not to spill his drink, he tried to gently remove himself from her. Lyrei laughed, shimmying her shoulders as she released him. It was the first genuine laugh they had shared since he’d arrived. And one of the first times she’d seen an expression of his not pained by awkwardness. Looking up from the cup at her lips, she eyed him for a bit. The King really [i was] a handsome man. And those eyes – bluer than the sea. If a ship were to have the luck to sail across them, who knew what jewels they might find at the depths. Fine, chiseled features, an adept fighter, likely a keen lover, as well…
“So,” Royland crossed his legs, “What is so important that you’ve pulled me from my friends and got me liquored up? Can’t just be that you wanted to see me.” If that is truly what she’d wanted, they’d have stayed inside her home longer than to simply try some cake. Yet, here they sat, on a bench in the shade on this unusually warm, spring day. Flower petals blooming and drifting about on the gentle breeze. Lyrei was quiet for a moment, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear as she thought for a moment. Interrupted from her daydreaming for the time being.
“I have something of a… proposal.” Lyrei started.
“I haven’t any intention of choosing a Que—” Royland began but was interrupted by Lyrei’s index finger wagging in his face.
“Not that, love.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Lyrei rolled her eyes, but smiled, nonetheless. “While you were away being my emissary in Felor’s village, some [i princes] came looking for you.”
“Did you send them away? Did they know we had been here?” Royland had tensed, visibly. He took a sip of his drink to calm his nerves, feeling his cheeks flush just slightly.
“Of course I misdirected them.” Lyrei chuckled when she saw Royland let out a breath of relief. “What do you take me for? …Though they did look quite strong. Stronger than you, even.”
“Well, it isn’t as though I have magic or familiars on my side. Nor is my armor anything special. If anything, I’m most vulnerable to death, if they’re to be my opponents.” There was no escaping the fact that one or more of them were fated to battle him.
“And that wouldn’t serve our purpose at all, love. But there is a way.” Lyrei turned and was surprised to see Royland staring at her…quite intently. Her cheeks flushed, and her heart began to race a bit. Although she wasn’t sure why. Probably the drink, clouding her judgement. Best to set the rest down, for now, she thought. “…There are certain properties that Elvish warriors attach to their armors to make them resistant to magic. While you’ll not be impervious, you’ll be in a much more advantageous position to reestablish your power. But there are some specific ingredients that we require. And, more than that, there is specific help that we must enlist.”
Royland furrowed his brow, thinking for a moment. “Isn’t there any way to have the work done in Dalem?”
“Royland, we’ve simply not got the talent for such things. Unlike Volaire, the tribes of Madej are scattered, and closely guard the secrets of their trades. Even those who come to Dalem are sworn not to replicate those secrets outside of where they originate. They’re banished, in a way. It is something sacred to the Elvish.” Lyrei explained, earnestly.
“It is often their livelihood…” Royland continued, softly.
“Precisely. But, more than that, imagine the statement when you arrive to take back Volaire in that armor. All those edicts you passed to make the Elves lives better, all of the efforts you made against Harrenhal. Your message will be [i stronger] for it.” Lyrei curled her fingers around Royland’s forearm, squeezing reassuringly. “The Vondien crest and the symbol denoting strength to all Elvish people. You’ll not just be King of Volaire. You’ll be a legend throughout Vasilios.”
There was a pause. Lyrei’s words held truth. They held… hope. It wasn’t so much his reputation. Simply the message of wanting to do right by the Elvish people who had suffered in Volaire for so long… He didn’t want their compliance to come from fear, but from mutual understanding. Perhaps… Perhaps he could have that.
Perhaps they all could.
Royland glanced resolutely into Lyrei’s eyes, a fire ignited inside them. A breath caught in her throat, for just a moment, seemingly growing in size when he spoke. “All right, then. What do we need?”
A smile tugged at Lyrei’s lips, and she pulled Royland to his feet, taking his cup out of his hand to lead him towards the music. “First! We dance!”
Royland resigned himself. In such joyous times, there certainly was no room to discuss such serious matters, he figured. What else could he do except enjoy what was left of the night? Just before they reached the large crowd, Royland noticed Meriel wandering about. Her head and tail adorned in flowers. He smiled when they locked eyes, but the snow leopard hadn’t stopped trotting along. She locked eyes with him for what seemed like an unusually long while. And so, mid-stride, Royland resisted against Lyrei’s pull, forcing her to stop as well. She let him go, momentarily distracted by Vargas asking her for a dance, but never let Royland out of her sight.
Seeing what was at the end of Meriel’s intended path, the world around Royland seemed to fall away. The laughter of happy men, women, and children faded out. The music ceased. And all other people mattered not to him. He gulped, staring wide-eyed. If someone had been calling his name, he’d have never heard it. His body moved on its own, and with each step, the vision in front of him became clearer. An angel. All she was missing were her white wings, and so, Royland imagined them around her, cradling her softly. It was only when he’d gotten up close, that he had noticed Castien was even [i there]. The redhead crossed his arms ad cleared his throat, bringing Royland seemingly back to reality. Much to his irritation, the King never took his eyes off of Sumina in front of him.
Royland waited for Meriel to return to Sumina before inquiring anything of her. If only he could have looked at her for longer. “Sumina… You…” He cleared his throat, feeling his entire face turn red, quite shamelessly. Too much to drink, and the most beautiful creature he had ever seen was staring right back at him. “Is it… possibly… I mean… Would you still like to dance?” He set out his hand for her to take. Royland never was one for dancing, though he’d been instructed in it in his upbringing. But, if Sumina had asked him to dance well into the night, and for all of eternity…
Well, how could he say no?
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Castien hadn’t left Sumina’s side the whole morning. They helped with his parents stall for a while, until he pulled her away to see some of the others. Meriel remained behind to play with the children for the time being, she was enjoying how they made little rings of grass for around her legs, being out of flowers for the moment.
It was during that time she found Alain, already a few drinks in, and with a little prompting convinced him to join her for a short dance. Castien offered him some of a raspberry mead he had gotten, mostly wanting Sumina to try but not wanting to be rude to her friend. And then she remembered something with a start, and insisted on rushing back to the house,”I was so sleepy I completely forgot!”
A little baffled, Castien had followed. Only to be surprised and quite touched when she produced from her hiding spot the fifth pouch she had made of tea,”It’s for you. A floral tea. I thought you might enjoy it, and I wanted to thank you for the dress and everything.” She had smiled at him, warm, and a little unsure if he’d actually like the tea. It seemed so small a gift compared to the seemingly lavish dress.
He’d wanted to kiss her then, more intensely than he had before. She looked so sweet, was so sweet and kind, thoughtful, and [i gorgeous]. He had stepped forward, half intent on it, emboldened by the mead he’d been drinking as well. But he only embraced her, not wanting to push too far and upset her when she was having such a wonderful time, and thanked her for thinking of him. Her answer was that it was nothing, but it wasn’t nothing to him. She smelled so sweetly of flowers that he was reluctant to let go of her, but she stepped away and he let go.
Sirius was the next one she caught for a dance, but she had yet to see Royland. By that time Castien had added a few more flowers to her head. The flowers were mostly white when she’d started the morning but were now splashed with a touch of color. He had also had her try several varieties of mead, including a rose one she liked very much, and several foods to keep her from getting [i too] intoxicated.
In Castien’s opinion she was even more breathtaking with the rosey cheeks from the drink, and a carefree smile. He asked her to dance after Sirius, since the festival was really starting to get more lively, and so was the music. He was glad she was enjoying herself so much.
That intensity in his eyes earlier hadn’t gone entirely unnoticed by Sumina, and she saw a glimmer of it again while they danced. She hadn’t really looked at his eyes so long before, but they really were positively captivating. The green flecked with a golden sort of amber. No wonder quite a few women were giggling and getting his attention all morning. He would give them some attention, a kiss on the hand, a touch to the cheek, his fingers through their hair, but then his attention would always wander back to Sumina, offering her some new taste, sight, flower, or just a compliment and a little show of affection much the same as the ones he handed out so freely.
It must have been all the mead, because she realized she’d been staring at him until the music changed, and those around them started dancing differently. The mead was leaving her a little fuzzy and unfocused, and the day was starting to get warmer.
After checking on his family again, and fetching a few more things from the bakery for them, Castien had brought her to try some of Abana’s spiced mead, warning her not to drink too much. Which was where she found Watler, and pleaded to borrow him from Abana for just one dance. She danced with all of her brothers every year. This year she couldn’t, so she would just make sure to collect a dance from each of her companions. And now only Royland was left.
After the spiced mead Castien took her to walk in the shade, where decorations had been put up to make a calm walking and picnic area for people to relax between the bustling market stalls and all the areas full of dancers. Things were quieter, and Castien stopped under a tree, among ribbons that had been tied to branches and left to hang down and flutter in the breeze. He took her hand up and kissed it,”[+darkgreen You seem as vibrant as a flower in full bloom.] Are you in need of anything else, [+darkgreen water lily]?”
Sumina laughed and shook her head,”[+darkgreen No, not at all. Everything is lovely. But maybe we keep walking a little more. Maybe...]” There was just one more thing. She still hadn’t seen Royland and it was past noon. She still wanted to dance with him at least once. She’d been looking for him with increasing frequency in the crowds, but had yet to actually see him. It probably didn’t help that the steady supply of mead was dulling her senses and head, making it harder to pick out anyone in a crowd.
The next morning, Royland woke up in bed to the sounds of birds in his ears. Notably, he was unthankful for having woken up in such a state, his head was throbbing. The feeling traveled back behind the eyes, and around the back of his skull. He squinted, shielding his face from the light shining in through the window. It didn’t [i seem] so early, but upon exiting the room, Walter informed him with a sad smile that Sumina had already left for the day with Castien. Alain and Sirius watched quietly from the table.
“As to be expected.” Royland said. Far too incapacitated by his headache to be pulled towards one emotion or the other. It was no secret that Castien would want him removed from the situation, and that he would do whatever was necessary to do so. He was probably showering Sumina with compliments in their native tongue, gifts to keep her attention, and a list of objectives to be completed at his side, to keep her occupied. The king sighed. Perhaps when the preparations were complete, they might have some time to themselves.
“Well,” Walter, noticeably free from his weapons, headed towards the door. “I’ve got to help Lady Abana with her spiced mead before the sun rises too much more. I suppose I’ll see you lads this evening.” The door closed softly behind him. Alain seemed to rise to his feet in an instant.
“Wait, there’s drink at this festival?!” Alain asked, incredulous. “Well, what are we waiting for! Let’s go out and earn our drink!”
Royland had nearly objected, when a knock at the door stole his attention. Alain was the one to answer it, being closest. And to their surprise, Vargas was at the door. Without words, at first, he simply handed Alain a pint, laughing heartily when it was downed far more swiftly than he could have imagined it.
“I knew I did right by you, Alain!” Vargas chuckled.
“Vargas! How’d you know I was just getting parched!” Alain’s cheeks began to turn red from the ferocity with which he had drank his morning refreshment. “What brings you to us this morn?” Royland and Sirius were quiet. They both wanted to know, as well.
“Some of the men and myself are on our way to help set up stalls, cart things around for the old biddies, and drink our weight in mead tonight. Care to join?” Vargas said with a smile.
With little else to do, and Alain agreeing on their behalf, Royland and Sirius quickly dressed appropriately and took to the streets to lend their strength where they could.
It was apparent from the abundance of work to do, and the elegant dressing of the women, that the festival was something of a special day for the community of Dalem – presumably for even settlements of full-blooded Elves, since Sumina had been so excited the night previous. In the midst of laying a cloth over the front of a booth, Royland sighed. He hadn’t caught so much as a glimpse out Sumina out of the corner of his eye. He wondered where she was, what Castien was having her do… Perhaps she wouldn’t come to collect on that dance he had promised her last night until the festivities really set in. A pint showed up in front of his eyes, held by Alain, who had clearly had a few more since their work began. Royland took it, wasting little time in trying to wash the unsavory thoughts from his mind.
By high noon, Royland had helped cart barrels filled with wine and mead to the town’s center bonfire. He’d gone beyond the gates to catch and carry back fresh meat for the butchers, helped air old linens and build stalls for those too frail to do for themselves. He found himself torn from one task to the next, almost without reprieve. He’d stopped accepting drink right around the time the butchers asked if he’d assist them. Alain, on the other hand…
“Royland, do talk some sense into him!” Walter sighed, just as he saw his friend walking past Abana’s stall. “He wants another cup. I told him many times that it’s just too risky.” Lady Abana was chuckling from her chair, seated under the shade of a large tree.
“You don’t understand, Roy! It makes yer hands numb…! It’s amazing!” Alain tried desperately to keep his balance while speaking. Eventually, Walter walked from around the stall and ordered Alain to take a seat with his back to the tree that Abana was seated under.
“By the way,” Walter leaned over the front of the stall, motioning Royland in close. “Have you seen Lady Sumina yet? She’s absolutely ravishing.”
Royland frowned. “That is the third time I’ve heard of it today. Alain saw her first when I helped Vargas carry the drinks to the center. Sirius saw her just after I left outside the gates.” He sighed. Perhaps it meant his time was coming up.
“Maybe it’s the Sirens. Building up the suspense for you. So you’ll appreciate her a little more.” Walter said with a chuckle.
“Oh, come off it, I’ve done the best I can with her.” Royland felt his head, headache returning to him. Whether from the drinks he’d had today, or the stress, he couldn’t be sure. The more he thought about it, the more he ached. He could smell the scent in Lyrei’s bath that night, still. Remembered the way her bosom peeked out of her dress when she leaned into him. The way he felt when he was with Sumina.
“Haven’t you?” Walter asked.
“…Haven’t I?” Royland responded quietly.
Before Walter could respond to him, he glanced behind his friend, speechless by the sight before him. Royland looked confused. But understood when Walter pointed a finger behind him. Before the both of them, and the looming eyes of her many admirers, stood Lyrei. In a sleeveless dress that accentuated her shapely profile, the cut of the neckline left little to the imagination. The fabric was a simple, white lace, accentuated with a golden, velvety soft sash that seemed to bring out the shapeliness of her hips. Against her dark hair and violet eyes, Royland thought she maybe looked at as though she were here after an eventful eternity spent sinking ships and luring sailors to their doom. He gulped. Was his fate sealed?
“You’re not an easy man to pin down, my King.” Lyrei gave a spin, chuckling as her people let out light cheers and whistles. She beamed, feeling lavished in the attention, as the dress and sash came to a rest, lightly dusting the tops of her feet. “How do I look?”
Royland cleared his throat, standing straight ahead. “Absolutely lovely.” He had meant it, but he wished he hadn’t. Without warning, Lyrei latched onto the side of his arm, guiding him elsewhere. “Where are we going?”
“Oh?” Lyrei thought for a moment. “I wish for you to escort me, of course! We’ll have dinner, a dance… But we also have much to discuss.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] At first she just looked at him, heartbroken and pathetic. Meriel’s frustration was stirring inside her, like the cat was pacing inside waiting for release to jump out. It was honestly a little nauseating. His hand on her cheek soothed the both of them, and her eyes half closed.
[i [+darkgreen This is what you wanted.]] Meriel was right, but this wasn’t how and Meriel knew, the way she almost sounded disappointed. So it had been Lyrei. Was the frustration entirely Meriel’s anymore? Lyrei wanted his title. She wanted to be queen. Did she care how he felt about it?
Sumina looked at him, trying to figure things out. See what was unsaid. Whatever had happened with Lyrei he wasn’t being specific with her about, but it bothered him. Deeply. And Alain… well, Sumina was figuring out he was like Tarron in some ways. The one to say things rashly, without thinking.
Royland turned and Sumina reached for his hand,”[+darkgreen No.] I…” The evening was late, and morning would arrive too soon. They all needed sleep, her included. She squeezed his hand and stepped closer. One arm wrapped around the corner of his shoulder and she held on tight. With her nose against his neck she closed her eyes. He still smelled like the dirt from the road, and needed that bath, but it was still good to hold him. “Dance with me tomorrow. Please?” She still wanted to enjoy the festival. She wanted to enjoy it with him.
Her thumb went over the back of his hand,”You… can talk to me. Whatever it is.” It would be better than shutting her out, in her opinion. She let go of him and took half a step back,”Now go on and bathe. You really should before bed.”
When she laid down to sleep, Sumina was still bothered though. His reassurances helped. Knowing what she did. He had refused Lenoir, and had cared for her. He had no such feelings for Lyrei. At the same time, knowing that Lyrei was doing [i something] to tempt him, all for a crown, irritated her.
The morning came too soon for her, as she had thought. Castien arrived early, before the sun was fully up, knocking at the door. Walter was the one to answer this time, and was the one to go wake Sumina while Castien invited himself in while inquiring for her.
Sumina emerged sleepy and still feeling a little disappointed from the night before. Hopefully today would be better. Today was the actual festival. Castien took her hand and kissed the back once she had joined them,”Good morning, [+darkgreen beautiful water lily]. The little [+darkgreen strawberry] will be eagerly waiting for you. And my parents have breakfast for you.”
She was still rubbing sleep from her eyes,”[+darkgreen Good morning.] Vanya is up already?”
“Mama was waking her when I left. Come, I can’t wait until you see the dress.” Castien had gotten a bit of help from Lyrei to get the dress. He thought she’d know a place where he could get a very nice dress so short notice, and he’d been right.
Sumina was left wondering about the dress while they all ate, and Vanya’s hair was the first thing she tended to while the others cleaned up after the meal. Vanya was excited, and Sumina kept having to remind her to sit still while she braided the little girls hair with flowers and ribbons.
When she was finished with that, Castien was waiting and handed her a carefully folded white dress. Sumina started to unfold it and stopped. The material was soft and fine, some of it so thin and fine it was transparent. There was lace too.
“[+darkgreen Castien, no. I couldn’t possibly. It’s too much.]” Sumina tried to hand it back, but Castien pushed it back with a smile.
“[+darkgreen Please. I wouldn’t give it if it were too much. It’s festival day. Besides, you’ve been so good to my family.]” That was something that was true, and which he was coming to really adore about her. He had watched with a smile the whole time Sumina did his sister’s hair, with such gentle hands and a smile, and how happy it made her.
Sumina hesitated but nodded,”If… if you’re sure.” It would be rude to refuse anyway.
Castien smiled wider,”Wonderful. Then I’ll be back shortly, [+darkgreen water lily]. I have a delivery to make.” Lyrei’s cakes. While Castien was gone, Grace and Vanya set to work helping Sumina get ready.
The dress was somehow even more extravagant once she had it on. It was completely off her shoulders, and all along the neckline were flowers of fabric. Just under the bust was a wide strip of lace, and from there the long skirt cascaded down. The sleeves were huge, mostly transparent, and all along the ridiculously large openings for her hands, which went down nearly to the ground, it was trimmed in more lace.
Sumina was feeling the fabric in her fingers while Grace and Vanya put a crown of flowers on her head. She didn’t think she had [i ever] worn anything this nice. It felt so odd. After she was dressed, Meriel was summoned and adorned with flowers, placed around her neck and tied about three fourths of the way down her long tail. Meriel seemed pleased with the decorations. Sumina even helped Grace with a few flowers in her hair, which Lorsan complimented before giving his wife an affectionate kiss. Sumina thought they really were the sweetest couple.
Vanya was admiring the huge sleeves when Castien returned. Sumina turned, and Castien was just staring at her. Awestruck. Sumina looked down, tucking her hair back,”[+darkgreen It’s lovely. Thank you.]” She felt self conscious with his staring.
Castien finally managed to pull himself together and took her hand,”[+darkgreen Then shall we show it, and you, off? Come, the early part will just be getting started, and we have a stall to set up.]”
The streets weren’t exactly bustling yet, but venders were setting up stalls for the day. Sumina stayed with the Inakas family to help them get their baked goods arranged, and keep Lorsan off his bad leg instead of helping move things. Before they were even done they were selling things, and the pace was only picking up. Grace hadn’t been kidding when she said they did a lot of business, and the seemingly excessive number of things baked yesterday was seeming like it may not be enough, actually.
This early there was mostly eating, talking, and just a little singing or dancing, but things were going to pick up later once even the late risers filled the streets.
When the door closed, Alain tried to find the words to apologize, to explain, but it was clear that Sumina was having none of it. Royland, afraid that he might strangle his good friend sitting across the table from him, rose to his feet. And, knowing what he had to do, he set off to Sumina’s room to make things as right as he could.
Sirius and Walter nearly took up arms, each giving Alain a solid strike on the back of the head.
“You bumbling imbecile!” Walter sighed angrily. “Now look what you’ve done. That mouth of yours.”
“You would think the Sirens would have taken it upon themselves to give you some humility.” Sirius glared, walking over to Royland’s unfinished pastry. Fully intending to devour it in the chaos. “Unbelievable.”
Royland thought it best not to knock, lest Sumina have the opportunity to reject him before the night ended. The look on her face tugged at his heartstrings. A sigh escaped his lips, and he placed a hand on her cheek, thumbing over her skin. How he wanted to kiss her, now, behind closed doors. But he could not bring himself to do so. “I know after what Alain said, you’ll not be inclined to believe me, but Lyrei is not so shameless that she would undress in front of a man she hardly knows.” Mostly it was the truth. Probably? He hadn’t seen her undress, that much was true. But Lyrei’s motives and methods were wholly up for debate. What would have happened if he had stayed just a moment later?
Shaking his head, Royland’s gaze turned to some indiscriminate direction. “I’m sorry if Alain made you worry… You would have been the first sight I saw, if I could help it, when I returned.” Slowly, he started to run his fingers through her hair and down the side of her face. If he could have just remembered how he felt when he connected with her. He frowned. Were his primal urges so easily awoken by just any woman? Was he just like Harrenhal, after all?
His had dropped to his side. “I’ll be honest. Lyrei’s intentions bother me. Speaking with her, alone, I know not to what lengths she would go. But, Sumina, I could never… betray you. Do you believe me?” Did he believe himself? Would she be so willing to split hairs? Betrayal in body, through sight, or in action? Which sin was more egregious? All he could offer was a weak smile, and he turned to the door. Pausing for just a moment in case she stopped him. “I do understand if you need your space…” Royland, on the other hand, needed sleep.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] What did she want? She knew what Meriel would say, and honestly Meriel wouldn’t be far off the mark, though maybe a little extreme. He didn’t need to come in, all caution and modesty to the wind and kiss her. Some bit of warmth or affection at least though. What had happened during those negotiations to leave him so tense and withdrawn? Sumina hurried through her bath while she wondered.
Maybe she could ask him. If she could get a moment to. Find out what was bothering him. But why pull back from her? What she’d been hoping would be a happy, pleasant evening with them all back together right before a festival she loved had more or less been spoiled. She still had some hope of maybe salvaging some of the evening.
That hope crumbled away when she heard Alain as she slipped back inside, chilled from the evening air. The implications of his words were tumbling in her head. Asking Royland that. But obviously not talking about [i her], it was someone else. And Walter, trying to quiet him, but too late. She shut the door harder than she’d meant to.
Like a startled deer she stared at them wide eyed for a moment. Her eyes were starting to sting. And then like a deer, without a word she hurried off, around the edges of the room, to go to her bedroom. She had half opened her mouth first, to try and excuse herself, say good night, something, but words had utterly failed her and she just retreated to the room, and quickly shut the door behind her.
Hurt, exhausted, and like she’d been stupid. Stupid for thinking he’d come back, happy to see her. Hold her. Help her enjoy the festival, and forget that this year she [i wasn’t] with her family. That she likely never would be again. She had talked with Walter about the festival almost non-stop when she saw him ever since Castien had reminded her of it. Her excitement, and reminiscing a little about how she had celebrated with her brothers. She hadn’t come right out and said it to him, but she obviously missed them. She had been so set and focused on having a nice time with Walter, Sirius, Alain, and in particular Royland not only because she did cherish them and want to share the festival with them, but because she couldn’t spend the day with her family like before. She wanted to celebrate with them, those she was coming to think of as her new family.
Royland had met Sumina’s gift with a smile enough, but as his friends could tell, it was one with no warmth behind it. Only obligation. A paltry attempt to not make her feel so terribly while he tried to sort himself out. As her fingers brushed his hair, he’d nearly flinched, but steeled himself, so as not to draw any more suspicion to himself. Sumina’s words were cutting deep, but he knew his actions were doing the same to her. Nevertheless, he said his thanks, but was remarkably quiet during dinner, declining to answer most questions with a straight answer. Hoping the food might calm his nerves, he ate dinner quite quickly, and was just deciding whether or not to eat his pastry as Sumina left out the door to bathe.
Féile an Ghrá was about gift giving to those you cared about… Royland felt a knot in his stomach but dug his fork into the pastry anyhow. The tartness of the berries made his mouth tense for a second, before being soothed by the light sweetness of the honey. It was good. But no one would ever have known just by watching his face.
“Lyrei must have taken a lot out of you.” Alain said. He waved a hand in front of Royland’s face, just to make sure that his friend was paying attention. Quite unexpectedly, Royland coughed, nearly choking on the bite in his mouth that he had yet to swallow.
“No, she—We just had a frank discussion. I was tense, so she offered some wine.” Royland cleared his throat. “It was quite a strong mix… You know how it can make me.”
Alain’s eyes seemed to light up immediately. “Ah, that’s right. You are a bit of a sleeping drunk, aren’t you?” He said.
Walter, sensing some tension from Royland, narrowed his eyes. “Be honest, lad, what happened in there? You came in looking like you’d seen a sea serpent!”
Royland seemed to sink into his chair for a moment. No, he couldn’t possibly let anyone know. There was simply no good that could come of him divulging just how far Lyrei would go to become his queen. Perhaps it had been the wine, anyhow. It would do little for her reputation among them under the circumstances that it was an honest mistake, or a lapse in judgement. Maybe he was a bit too inviting with her, a bit too… defensive of her. A bit dramatic in his retelling of his exchange with Felor. Had he provoked her? Enticed her in some way?
“Lyrei is… adamant… about becoming queen. So adamant, in fact, that she was willing to…” Royland could feel his cheeks grow hot. He couldn’t finish that sentence.
Walter and Alain’s eyes were wide with disbelief. Alain leaned forward onto the table and Walter jumped to his feet, nearly sending his chair clattering to the floor behind him.
“You didn’t!” Walter hissed quietly.
“Of course not!” Royland glared. “What do you take me for? She never even undressed.” But if she had, could he be so honest with them? He wasn’t sure. What little he had seen of Lyrei’s personality, was matched by her appearance. No doubt she had many admirers within her own community. As vibrant and commanding as her presence was, or as shapely as the curves of her body showed through her clothes. He wondered what kind of fighter she was. How many men wanted the pleasure of being beside her in bed. How many women envied her.
His inner thighs burned as he remembered her touch. He thought he might become aroused a second time, but the thought of her wasn’t enough for him. Royland closed his eyes. Tried to imagine Sumina. But her white hair turned stark black, and those pale eyes read lavender. Was this some sort of curse? An Elven magic cast upon him to make her do her bidding? He shook his head.
Watching it all unfold, Alain slowly frowned, folding his arms. “What a shame, I wasn’t born the crown prince…” He sighed.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “It’s not a competition, Alain. She’s just a woman, same as any other. Nothing special about her.”
Alain scoffed, “Have you seen the size of her bosom! She’s massive! Tell all, Royland. How big were they?”
“Shhh!” Walter snapped, “Lady Sumina might be back from her bath! She might hear y--!” A sound from outside made the men all turn, horrified.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina peeked over to Royland at the door with a bright smile. “Ah, just in time for dinner. Welcome back.”
She was nearly finished, a few more things to bring to the table, or put aside to be cleaned in the kitchen. Watching Royland as she finished up, she could tell something was just a little off. Had the trip been so stressful? It sort of sounded that way, from how he and Sirius were talking about it.
“I don’t mind. It’s just nice to have everyone here. One more thing.” Maybe this would cheer Royland up? But either way, she was too eager to hold out any longer. She’d wanted to give them to them all the moment she’d finished. From her hiding spot in the back of the pantry she pulled out four of the five little pouches and brought them to the table.
“So, I told you how for Féile an Ghrá we give gifts to people we care about, right? It’s not much but I made something for each of you. And the pastries for after dinner.” She looked at Sirius with a smile. He certainly had a sweet tooth. He got his pouch first,”Just a tea for each of you. So for Sirius a sweet, floral tea. It’s relaxing, and there’s a little sugar in there too. It should go nicely with sweets, but also on its own.”
She went around the table, setting a pouch in front of each of them,”Alain, this one is good for headaches, and any sort of ache really.” She gave his ear a teasing little tug,”You might just need it. Walter, I made yours with some gold’s root, and a few other things, to help with exhaustion and give some energy.”
When she got to Royland she set the pouch down and brushed his hair back, hoping to get him to look at her, maybe smile,”And Royland. I made yours to help relax and sleep. Best taken before bed. It has lavender, valerian, and mint, among other things.”
Her gift didn’t have the desired effect on Royland. Rather than cheer him up as she’d hoped, he seemed to withdraw. Her smile started to drop a little before she caught it and forced it to stay in place. The others seemed pleased though, and hadn’t noticed her sink in mood.
“Lady Sumina, thank you. This is all so thoughtful.” Walter started, and the others followed expressing their own gratitude.
Sumina took her seat, her head lowered, bashful at the thanks, but also a little disappointed,”It’s not much really.”
“But we haven’t got you anything.” Sirius looked up from smelling his tea.
Walter was tugging at the strings of his pouch,”The festival technically isn’t until tomorrow. There’s still time.”
Sumina shook her head,”Oh stop, you don’t need to. But after dinner we should all bathe. We shouldn’t be filthy for Féile an Ghrá. And we’ll have an early morning. Or at least I will. I promised Grace and Vanya I’d help do Vanya’s hair. And they’ve said they’re going to help dress me too, but they start early because of the bakery.”
Through dinner Sumina didn’t have a huge appetite. She kept glancing at Royland in what she hoped was a subtle way, and answered any questions about the upcoming festival the others had. Deciding an order for the baths, which while she objected all the men were unified in insisting whatever order they went in, she would go first as the lady of the group. Her enthusiasm had waned a little by the time she started to hand out the pastries she had made for them all. Berries and cream with honey glazed on top, and the dough flaky and soft,”The dough is really tricky to make. Grace taught me how. It’s a lot of folding and rolling, and has to be done far away from the ovens. I hope you all like them.”
Her own pastry sat untouched in front of her while she sat, her elbows on the table and chin resting on her laced together fingers. What had she expected when he returned, really? Perhaps not to sweep her off her feet, kiss her in front of everyone. But given the day before he’d left. Those kisses. The way he had held her against the wall. Even now thinking about it made her feel warm, inside and out. Maybe not a greeting like [i that], but certainly not to pull back again.
“Lady Sumina? Aren’t you going to eat yours?”
Sirius asking her made her sit up straighter and she put on a smile, not wanting any of them to worry,”Oh. Yes. Just perhaps after I bathe. I suppose I’ll go and… then you all have your turns before it gets too late. You must all be tired. I know I am.”
Despite it being the middle of the day, Lyrei’s front room was ominously dark. She tossed a lock of dark hair over her shoulders, motioning for Royland to sit down next to her. She poured him, and herself, a glass of the strongest wine Royland had ever thought he’d smelled. Best to drink this sparingly, if he were to make it back to Sumina at a reasonable hour. Arms across his chest, Royland sighed, shaking his head. Lyrei smiled.
“Come, now. It couldn’t have been so bad.” Lyrei said. She licked an errant drop of wine from her lips.
“You never told me that you had proposed to assimilate that small community, Lyrei.” Royland said.
“And?” Lyrei responded, her gaze sharpening. Such a serious tone would not be conducive to her evening plans. As if to say, “You’re too wound up,” she pushed Royland’s glass of wine closer to him.
“There is certain information that I must be made privy to if I’m to be your emissary. If I’m to mend relations, or create new ones, you need to be candid with me from now on.” Royland sighed, harshly rubbing his temple. Finally, he took a sip of the drink she’d offered him, admittedly, calming his nerves some.
“Noted.” Lyrei responded flatly. “What were Felor’s terms, then? Since he doesn’t wish to join our little community.”
“Quite simply, he needs hands to tend to, and harvest spices. Says his people are older, weaker.” Royland said.
“And? What of his prejudices?” Lyrei laughed. Royland raised a brow. So, she knew. And yet, she still sent a group of humans to do her bidding. What did she think she was going to accomplish? Lyrei continued, “I suppose you talked him out of it.”
Royland shook his head, much to Lyrei’s visible disappointment. “On the contrary. I told him to send word by raven if he should accept aid. I couldn’t stand to be in his presence any longer after how he referred to your people.” Another sip of wine. A warm, fuzzy feeling crawled up his neck and to the top of his head, eliciting a relaxed sigh from his lips. He noticed Lyrei’s glass was now halfway gone. And she’d moved closer to him, chin in hand, with her elbow at the table. Expectant lavender, and harsh blue, battling to see what the other might be thinking.
“What did he say of us?” Lyrei asked softly, genuinely. Her hand had crept up to his knee, hesitant at first. Royland hadn’t seemed to notice.
“He called you a mutt.” Royland said, quite matter-of-factly. He closed his eyes. The silence from Lyrei was deafening. It was at this point he noticed her hand on his knee. She’d gripped his skin with her fingers, just slightly, upon hearing the words. “Everything that came from his mouth was a disservice to you. To your people, what you’ve built. It matters not if you are half or full elf, to me. Your achievements are—… What he said… He had no right to say.” This time, the sip of wine was longer, more deliberate. Trying to erase the events of the previous days from his mind, to quell the anger he felt stirring inside him. It was that type of discrimination that had driven him so far away from the policies of his father.
With Royland distracted, somewhat, Lyrei had decided to close the distance between them. Her delicate fingers snuck up to the inside of his thigh, just as soon as his glass was sat down. When he stared at her in minor disbelief, a smile hitched at the side of her mouth. She leaned in for a kiss, but stopped just short, noting the blush the king’s face before she finally spoke.
Breathily, she said, “You are too kind. So kind to me.” She could hear him gulp, unable to speak, and she giggled quietly before placing a kiss on his neck. She caught her bottom lip in her teeth, making eye contact with Royland as she moved her hand to his belt. “My king, I… I wish to show you my kindness, as well.” Lyrei felt him shift around beneath her hand. A twinkle flickered in her eye.
As quickly as she had thought she’d caught him, Royland jumped to his feet, breathing heavily, face red with embarrassment. Confusion, lust, the guilt – “We’re done, then, right?” Lyrei smiled innocently and nodded. Royland returned the gesture, frantically, and took his leave. Thankful for the night air in his face, soothing his furiously pounding heart. He hunched over the ground, feeling winded, trying to catch his breath. Trying to reconcile what he had almost [i done] back there. It took more than a few moments for him to regain his composure. Even longer for him to walk without giving away his unfortunate condition…
It seemed as though when he entered through the door, Sumina had just finished up cooking. Royland’s heart sank to the pit of his stomach. Not once during Lyrei’s attempt on him had he even [i thought] about her. At the sight of their friend at the doorway, the men at the table offered waves and smiles. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Everyone except for Royland. If it hadn’t been for the wine, his face might have appeared pale. No one seemed to notice that he was distraught as he took a seat at the table, pointing a pensive glance down at his hands.
“How did she take the news?” Sirius asked, watching Sumina from the corner of his eyes as he took a innocent peek at the pastries she’d brought home.
“It seemed… fine.” Royland said, simply.
“Well, did you mention the tax?” Sirius asked.
Royland immediately placed his head in his hands, groaning quietly, frustratedly. “It slipped my mind.” Defeated, he let out a sigh. “I’ll give her the news, if Felor agrees.” Only time would tell.
“Let’s not discuss business at the table, you all. Lady Sumina’s been eagerly awaiting our reunion.” Walter said, catching Royland’s eyes with a smile, which faded after Royland looked in the opposite direction.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] “[+darkgreen I can’t believe you lost the trail. What kind of tracker are you?]” Tarron was insufferable. While Vaeril had remained stoic against the remarks, and simply kept trying at first, his patience was wearing thin.
“[+darkgreen There are other familiars. It interferes. Not that [i you] would understand.]” After the market it had taken time to get rid of that powder which interfered with his familiars. He’d needed a bath and every bit of clothing either replaced or thoroughly cleaned. Tarron had taken the rest of the day to recover from whatever had knocked him out, and even the next day was sluggish and grumpy, complaining of a headache.
The trail was dead cold by the time they could even start to look. They spent days gathering what information they could about the groups stay in the town, concerned about their sisters' condition. They learned she had spent days in the market, in good spirits but tired. About the inn, the smith, any scrap of information they could gather. And then set out. Just when Vaeril had thought he was getting close, Tanyl was attacked and the trail went cold again like that.
They had a vague direction though, and that was the way they more or less went. Combing the area slowed them, checking various ways the group may have split off. Nothing panned out. But an area where Tanyl, or any familiar Vaeril sent, was thwarted by others got his attention, and Vaeril insisted on checking the blind spot.
It made perfect sense that if they could hide anywhere, it would be a huge area like that, impenetrable to Vaeril’s magical tracking. So the brothers made their way to Dalem, blind and increasingly frustrated.
“[+darkgreen You’re right, I don’t understand. You’re supposed to be such a good tracker, but you can’t find that little group. They’re mostly [i humans]. It shouldn’t be so hard.]” Tarron sneered.
Sensing Vaeril was about to turn and fight, Ayre stepped in,”[+darkgreen Tarron, do shut up. Do you really doubt that Vaeril is doing his best? We all want Mina back safely.]”
Aias pinched the bridge of his nose,”[+darkgreen She likely doesn’t fully realize the danger she’s in. We must find her again quickly. And if Vaeril thinks this blind spot is our best bet, then I trust his judgement.]”
Ayre and Aias managed to keep Vaeril and Tarron from each others throats, at least to the gates of Dalem. They got no farther than the gates. There waiting were not only guards, but a lovely woman. “[+darkgreen May I help you? I am the humble leader of this little settlement, Lyrei Valralei. And you are?]”
She smiled pleasantly. Of course she already knew who her guests were, and their reason for being there. She did not intend to allow them in her town. They were not to get any chance to cause trouble, kill the King she had such plans for, or take the little pawn she still wondered how best to use.
“[+darkgreen Ayre Liaren, and my brothers Aias, Vaeril, and Tarron. Princes of Volaire. We come seeking our sister, Princess Sumina, who has been taken by the former King. Have any such persons come seeking shelter here? He is accompanied by three other men. All traitors.]”
Lyrei tapped her chin, pretending to think,”[+darkgreen Oh my. Such large and important matters for my little town. I really can’t help you.]” It would spoil her own plans. She couldn’t very well let that happen. She put her fingers together and gave them a sickeningly sweet smile,”[+darkgreen The best I can offer is that South of here I’ve heard of a group traveling from some of our scouts. Now, good day, and may you enjoy your hunt.]”
Enjoy, but not necessarily find success.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
The Valralei gardens had always been beautiful, as long as Castien could remember. Lyrei’s mother had a passion for the garden, and now Lyrei paid others to keep it the way her mother left it. Castien was always free to enjoy it then and now. It was a beautiful subject to paint, and always a quiet place to think.
“You seem troubled.” In the light of dusk Lyrei approached Castien, where he was sitting at the edge of the fountain, on the stonework that made the raised edges. He was looking out at the water where lilies floated in the slow moving edges. Of course he was drawn to the water lilies this evening.
“And you doubtless know the reasons already.” Castien paused and rubbed his forehead,”I don’t know what I… [+darkgreen She drives me mad.]”
“Your water lily?” Lyrei smiled and took a seat next to him,”My my, I never thought I’d see you in such agony over a woman. I hear she was less than impressed by your attempt to fight for her attention. And against the King? Never one for modesty. Go right for the biggest, grandest thing. You even bring her to your family. That’s unusual for you. You must really be smitten with this girl.”
“[+darkgreen Yes. If you wish to phrase it all that way.]” Castien traced his fingers along the tips of the petals of the lily nearest to him,”[+darkgreen I find her utterly captivating.] I intend to take her to the festival. I assume you have your own plans this year?”
Lyrei smiled, in a way that reminded Castien of a cat with a bird. He loved his old friend dearly, but she was always up to [i something]. Trades, spying, secrets, and now this. Her grandest plan yet. Still, he trusted her absolutely. She had never wronged him or his family. Their parents had been close. “Oh yes. We may not get to dance together this year, my friend. But I suspect you won’t mind. In fact, I worry you won’t miss me at all. You’ll forget about me.”
Castien rolled his eyes at the dramatic way she put her hand to her chest. “[+darkgreen As if I’m the one leaving you in this situation.] You’re ridiculous. You’ll be spending the day with King Vondien then?”
“Naturally.” Lyrei confirmed.
“Hm. Good, then. Then may we both have a wonderful time. I’ll bring you your cakes, as usual.”
“The usual, and I asked your mother for a special one. You have your [+darkgreen Princess water lily] to impress, and I have my King.”
[center [b ~*~*~]]
With most of the men gone Sumina was left with little else besides chores to do, or so she thought. The house was cleaned, she went to see her teacher, and then to the shops. Her teacher, Orym, had questioned her more, about how it felt to have Meriel around. How tired she was after that, how she slept, and asked her more about what had happened on the road. He was still mostly figuring her out, and after giving her and Meriel more instructions sent them on their way for the day, to come back before supper. Until then she went to the shops. Sumina loved seeing the town, how people mingled. She couldn’t always tell who was an elf, who was a human, or who was mixed, and she loved that. Because it didn’t seem to matter to anyone else either. The town was a safe haven for them all.
Sumina wasn’t able to just pass by the Inakas bakery. As soon as she was seen, little Elas was there, tugging on her hand to come in and begging to play with Meriel. Meriel was happy to indulge, and so Sumina found herself in the bakery with the Inakas family.
They were all very sweet to her, and Sumina enjoyed watching Grace and Lorsan bake their bread and pastries. Eventually though Grace called her over and had her try making a few things, which Sumina enjoyed. She learned from Grace that while Castien was sweet and always loved helping out, he didn’t have as much talent for baking as his father, so usually didn’t. He was much better at the front of the shop, selling things, which was where he was.
Sumina helped in the bakery for a while before she insisted she really needed to go gather herbs. Grace insisted on her taking a couple of pastries, the two younger ones pleaded to come along, and Castien invited himself as well, so it was with all three Inakas siblings she went to pick herbs and whatever else she could with Meriel. Mostly the little ones played, while Castien at least tried to be helpful, while also peppering in compliments and flowers, an apology for yesterday that she quickly accepted and hoped to put the whole thing behind her, and ended with an invitation to Féile an Ghrá. That piqued her interest. That was right, the festival was coming up.
While she initially tried to turn him down, he insisted she should at least allow him and his family to provide a nice dress and do her hair with his sister, and with some wheedling from the two younger ones who [i also] begged to be allowed to put flowers on Meriel for the festival, and Vanya pleading for Sumina to do her hair, she finally agreed to that. Then again to Orym before dinner.
That evening Sumina and Walter were the only ones at the table. Walter told her how he had spent the day helping Abana, and Sumina shared about the bakery, gave him one of the berry pastries she’d made and been given, and told him about Féile an Ghrá coming up.
He seemed curious, and most of the rest of the evening she spent explaining about the festival, full of flowers, dancing, music, games, and a time to give little gifts of flowers and food to anyone you loved, from lovers to family and friends.
The next couple of days passed similarly. She spent time with her teacher, who after that first day started demanding more of her time, having her and Meriel running exercises where Meriel went some distance, or performed various bits of simple magic. Gathered herbs, which on the second day led to her discovering rather frustratingly that Lyrei had left orders that Sumina was not to be allowed to leave town without some sort of escort. A guard, or Castien would do. Irritatingly the guards had simply explained Lyrei was only looking out for the ‘Princess’s safety’, and the guards referred to her as Princess. Castien’s flirting comments were preferred to [i that], so he was most often with her while she foraged outside the town, some of her gathered things went into the stock of the house and some she made into teas that she set aside in little pouches and hid away for Féile an Ghrá, her gifts for her friends. She also made regular appearances at the Inakas bakery, to the delight of the entire family, who all had taken a liking to her. Castien had gotten measurements from her, but otherwise was silent about this dress he had made noises about when he had first told her of the festival.
On the actual day before the festival the whole town was preparing, and Sumina was right there with them. Most of her time was at the bakery, with Grace and Lorsan explaining Féile an Ghrá was extra busy for them, because the tiny pastries and treats they made were popular gifts for the festival, especially the ones that incorporated flowers. She learned to bake all sorts of things while she helped, and when she took a break from that she was busy making decorations.
By the time she excused herself to go make dinner for her and Walter she was already tired, but found new energy when she heard Lyrei’s emissaries were back. That meant Royland and the others. She hurried to the house where she found Alain and Sirius, and pulled them both into a hug after setting down the basket of things, which included a few pastries for after dinner,”Oh, welcome back! You must be exhausted. I’ll get started on dinner. I’m so glad you’re all back in time for Féile an Ghrá. Walter should be back soon, he’s probably helping with decorations. Where is Royland?”
Alain answered, taking a seat at the table,”Giving a report on how things went to Lyrei.”
“Ah, of course.” That made sense. Lyrei would need to know how negotiations went. Decide what to do next. Sumina had clearly been hard at work. There was still flour on her face and arms, and the apron hadn’t managed to catch every bit of flour or sweet fillings that had spilled. She still went right to the kitchen, sweat making her hair cling around her face. Well, when he got back he would be hungry, and better if dinner was at least well on its way.
Without even having to properly turn around she gave a warning, catching Sirius poking in her basket out of the corner of her eye,”After dinner, Sirius. Then yes, you may have one.”
Sirius looked a little sheepish and retreated from the basket,”Ah… what is Féile an Ghrá?” His pronunciation wasn’t perfect, but Sumina didn’t comment on it and instead started to explain a bit about the festival while she cooked.
[center Diplomatic Matters (1)]
The weather was still. The sun, shining, birds singing, the soft crunch of the leaves beneath the boots of men on a mission. This would be their third day. Walking, waiting, watching, listening. For the sound of feet in pursuit that seemed inevitable. The screech of a familiar, or the gust of wind from an arrow rushing past their ears and through their hair. The men waited for a lot of things, but, none of them ever came.
Relief was short-lived, and it was quickly overtaken by a sense of apprehension as they approached the small community. The gates were nowhere as elaborate as Dalem, and Royland thought it might be due to their difference in size. A modest fence, spiked wood lined up side by side to make up the border, but there were no guards, no organized patrols, and certainly no fanfare to mark their arrival.
Alone, stood the elder, flanked by two young Elves with bows half-drawn, arrowheads pointed towards the ground. Ready to aim and fire at a moment’s notice. They didn’t trust them. Royland stepped forward, bowing ahead of the elder himself, giving his escorts a nod to acknowledge their presence at least. An old man, whose answer determined where they might be laying their head that night. Now wasn’t that a familiar scene.
“Royland Vondien. On behalf of Lyrei Valralei, of Dalem.” Royland gestured behind him. “My knights. Alain, and Sirius.”
“Curious… Why would she send you here? Humans in a strange land, imposing upon Elvish business.” Though his eyes were sunken and the skin around them wrinkled, the knights could sense his hostility, teetering on the end of acceptance. He regarded them for a moment longer, before turning his back. “Come. It would seem we have matters to discuss.”
The camp itself was unassuming. A majority of the homes were simply large tented structures, held up with sturdy wooden stakes. Simple fabric colored the inside to the owner’s fancy, while animal furs draped across the top provided suitable insulation from their harsh winters in the mountain range. Meals were made over the communal campfire; baths were had in a small creek running off the snow from the peak not far off. The elder and his attendants led Royland, Alain, and Sirius to, by far, the smallest tent, in the farthest corner of the settlement. It was cramped. Beyond cramped for the six men within its confines, but just large enough to stand with a hunch. It was here, amongst the acrid smoke of the elder’s pipe, though the chilly spring night, that negotiations began.
“Lyrei told me that relations were amicable up until some time ago.” Royland began, motioning for the negotiation papers in Sirius’ bag. The old man – Felor, he eventually introduced himself as – leaned in closely, examining the terms of Lyrei’s pre-written agreement. Her demands were simple enough, but as was discussed during the travel, there were no such benefits for the other settlement involved.
“This is the price of dealing with Lyrei, that witch.” Felor chuckled, removing a pipe made of deer antler from a hare skin pouch. Carefully, he stuffed tobacco leaves into the opening, and lit it. Slowly, the tent began to fill with thick, acrid smoke. “She’ll bleed you like a fresh doe until you’ve nothing left to offer her. Season after season we increase the volume of spices, and yet she refuses to budge in payments.” Nervous glances about the tent.
“Then, what is the volume of trade?” Sirius frowned.
“Enough that she’ll need to send cattle, if her demands increase any further.” Felor had a wry smile pulling at the side of his lips. He passed the pipe to one of his guards, who in turn passed it over to Alain, whom he was sitting beside. A wordless exchange between onlookers who had no stake in this discussion. “The previous emissary proposed assimilation. That was just before the last winter.”
“It’s the first we’re hearing of it.” Sirius looked to Royland, but the king didn’t have an answer for him. “Regardless, that’s preposterous. And not what we’re here to propose.”
Felor remained skeptical, lifting his brow as the pipe had made its way back into his possession. He puffed for a moment, staring Sirius in the eye. “You’re here on behalf of Dalem, and you don’t wish to…” Suddenly, his gaze drifted to Royland, looking stern and resolute, but most of all, ready to disagree. “… Well, then. What are your terms?”
Sirius used his fingers to push the agreement draft closer to Felor’s face, who leaned with interest, at first. In the same moment, he shook his head. “Are you lads lost? We’re not so sophisticated out here, surrounded by the wilderness and reliant on our own devices.” Felor had seen humans attempt to peddle money to solve their issues before, but the manner of this seemed desperate.
“Then, what would you wish to have in return?” Sirius asked.
Felor didn’t miss a beat. “We are an aging community. Harvesting spices grows more difficult when the hands stiffen, and the fingers don’t move as nimbly as they should.” He flexed his hands slowly for effect. “Surely, Lyrei can find it in her heart to send some of her healthier stock to us. Not forever. Just, to harvest what they require for their needs.”
“But I suppose you’ll still be wanting some payment.” Royland said, and Felor nodded slowly.
“Nothing beyond what you’ve already proposed. What was it? A modest tax on the export of our goods, upon receipt?” Felor said.
“Yes, but in the case of sending in workers, we might ask for leniency.” Sirius said.
“I would think that allowing half-elves into my gates would suffice enough for good will.” Felor shook his head.
“Your gates?” Alain asked. “Do you mean those two large sticks crossed at the top that we walked through?”
“It is precisely that insolence that we would reluctantly ask for her workers! Humans have so little respect for our kind that they would defile our people, bear children with them!” Felor grumbled. The knights all wore sneers on their faces, scrutinizing the old man once his tirade was finished. Ailing eyes fell on Royland, the emissary. “She should be happy we’re taking instruction from that mutt in the first place. She is at our mercy.”
“Human or Elf, full-blood, half-blooded – So long as I serve as emissary, you will address and treat my employer with respect.” Royland said. His eyes were hard, and Felor knew, that it was not the eyes of a man who went back on his word. “Or as much as you might be able to muster.”
“How dare you!” Felor growled.
“Where have all your young men gone? Likely to Dalem. Or the villages south of the mountain. To lie with human and half-elf women. Driven off by your narrowminded way of life. You’ll not preserve your community with an attitude such as that.” Royland crossed his arms, “I would advise you not to be so stubborn. Dalem has women with nimble fingers, as you wished. It should matter not whether your help is half-elf, or even an elf at all.”
“You speak true enough words, and yet you still fail to understand. The death of Elves will come at the hands of humans if we allow such rampant breeding.” Felor said.
“The death of Elves will come at the hands of those who do not embrace change. Those who do not embrace the personal freedoms of those they claim to protect are only doomed to fall. Alain, Sirius… we’re done here.”
“Wait.” Felor’s gaze remained as steeled as it had when his prejudice was revealed.
“You can either let your community die, and let your settlement go to the victor of who comes to murder the rest of you, or you can show some humility to save your people. We shall await the raven with your decision.” Royland said. He stood, and exited the tent, met with the crisp bite of the early morning air. Negotiations had gone on far too long and were far more stressful than he could have imagined. He waited for Alain and Sirius to trail behind him. Without escorts, they found themselves in the unwelcoming dark of the landscape and began their trek back to Dalem. Hearts heavy and with a bitter taste on their tongues.
Driven by their disgust of Felor’s attitude, the men found that their journey was a few hours short of the three days they had afforded themselves. They were greeted at the gates by Lyrei, who quickly sent Alain and Sirius back to rest. Royland, however, would need to follow her back to her own home. No opportunity to check in on Sumina, no answers when he inquired as to the bustle of the citizens, who seemed to be busy creating or hanging decorations from the trees. Royland shut the door behind him after stepping past the threshold, staring somberly at Lyrei’s back.
[i The Lion’s Den]
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] The chaos of the house made her smile. Perhaps not the quiet evening she had hoped for, she still enjoyed the liveliness of the men. It did draw Royland away from the kitchen though.
Partway through getting dinner started Sumina remembered the laundry and rushed out to get it. Meriel followed, taking the quiet moment to tease Sumina little,[i [+darkgreen Wait until the chaos is your own children. How many will you two have?]]
“Meriel, that’s not… nothing has been decided.” Sumina put the clothespins away in the shed and picked the laundry basket back up. They were getting carried away again, without really deciding what to do about the more complicated aspects. But this wasn’t really the time to talk, was it? There was too much happening.
[i [+darkgreen Yet if he asked for your hand, you wouldn’t turn him down.]] Sumina didn’t answer that. Meriel knew. She [i always] knew, sometimes before Sumina had really realized it herself. Instead Sumina just went back inside to set the laundry down and return to Sirius and the dinner. Tea tonight was going to be more complicated, and she spent some time mixing a batch of herbs together, some of which she set aside.
Sumina was more amused than anything by Sirius explaining about Alain. She commented,”Ah, so he’s the loud one when drinks flow. There’s always one, isn’t there?” The bread was just what was left from yesterday, and the bird meat they had gotten was cooked in a flavorful milk and butter sauce with some vegetables that she thickened with a little flour. She fussed over the taste of the sauce, clearly wanting it to be a particular way. When she was satisfied she insisted Sirius try some while she finished the tea.
“I’m afraid not.” Sumina smiled at Sirius’s question,”Magic can’t do much for illness or hangovers. But this tea may help. Give him some in the morning too.” That was the portion she set aside, which she indicated. “It isn’t quite everything I’d like, I need to gather more, but it should be better than nothing. We’ll all have some, it helps with sleep too, and won’t hurt.”
It had a floral, herbal smell and taste, hidden behind the much stronger flavor of mint. The mint to hide the somewhat less than pleasant taste of a couple of the other ingredients, and because the mint helped too. Before she was done she noticed the sun setting, and as she’d been told called Meriel back.
While they all sat to eat Sumina wondered how they all liked the meal, and told them it was a favorite of hers. Alain talked the most though, attempting to make the gathering more of a party while the rest all tried to wind things down for the evening. Finally once things were cleaned up with the kitchen wiped down and the laundry folded and sorted Sumina got them together and rather shyly sang them an Elvish lullaby she knew, as she’d promised Royland. None of them would understand a word, but it was pretty regardless. A song about the stars and moon and drifting to sleep, to fly in dreams in the night sky, she explained when Walter asked. She even explained which word was moon, and its variations for full, new, waxing, and waning, none of which were in the song, but he seemed interested to know anyway.
They seemed to like it, with Alain praising her voice rather loudly and energetically. It was time to extinguish candles and head to bed. And in the dim light, while Walter and Sirius got Alain into the room he shared with Sirius, Sumina pulled Royland back and stole a quick kiss, hoping the others were too busy to notice the kiss or whispered words,”Good night, [+darkgreen my everything]. Sleep well.”
Dinner and a song. Absolutely lovely. He squeezed her hand a bit more securely than he might have, otherwise. There was no appropriate response to what she had partially divulged to him. On the outside, his façade of a soft smile was unrivaled. On the inside, there was only chaos. Guilt. He almost felt like he had violated her. But her demeanor, her voice – soft, reassuring to him, perhaps there was some hope that she wouldn’t hold it against him.
The supplies were bought, for the most part, and the house was as calm as Walter could possibly muster. Alain was completely unruly. Attempting to further impart his joy on his friends, and especially when Royland had returned. While the young King would have simply loved to join Sumina in making dinner, he instructed Sirius to aid her, in his stead.
“Come on!” Alain cried. “Just one more!”
“For the thousandth time, we don’t have any mead or ale here, Alain.” Walter sighed incredulously. He looked to Royland for a half a moment, pleadingly. “When you’re done over there, please come help me?”
Royland handed the supplies off to Sirius and glanced longingly at Sumina. She hadn’t met his gaze, and yet, he wondered - did she want to spend time with him as much as he did with her? Would Meriel tell her?
“Ah, Lady Sumina, don’t forget to recall—” Walter started, but Alain interrupted.
“Ohh, the Elvish girl’s a sight to see, the only sight for me~! Isn’t that right, Royland, my boy!” Alain threw his fist in the air, his other arm around an uncomfortable looking Walter’s shoulders. Quickly, Royland had walked past the table, and out the door, returning only with a pail of water from the well out back in his arms. Grabbing a cup from a cupboard, he filled it, and handed it to Alain, who sniffed it before drinking. “Oh, what’s this! The Siren’s gift to man! Clear wine from Arouet’s southern coast!”
“Royland, stop him from mentioning wine!” Sirius shuddered. He could swear that stench had never left his nostrils since the day they fled from Volaire. From preparing dinner, to the tea, to serving plates at the table, Sirius gently and quietly explained to Sumina why it was that Alain, in particular, was often discouraged from drinking in excess. Loud, obnoxious behavior, which, if not curbed with copious amounts of water, would see him asking for more, attempting to retrieve more to think. Typically a rational and collected man, he often used ale to escape from his general uptight attitude when the opportunity presented itself. “We’ll all be hearing it tomorrow… How his head feels as though he’s been kicked by an ass, or knocked behind the head… I don’t suppose Elvish magic can aid in that, can it, Lady Sumina?” Sirius chuckled. The odds were slim, and the question was halfway in jest, but it was worth the ask.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] It all happened so fast then. Her back to the wall, his hands on her hips. He didn’t even know, but there was a part of Meriel’s mark under his hand. But she did. Her skin was on fire, feeling his lips against her neck. She made a noise in her throat, a mixture of surprise and pleasure. She was holding him closer, and at the same time squirmed. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t focus. There was just a fog, heat, and the conflicting desires for more, and to step away because this was all too much at once.
One moment she was drowning in the sensations of him pressed against her, and the next there was empty space between them. Her face had to give it away, beet red all the way into her ears, and a look like she’d been caught in something she knew she shouldn’t have been. If it wasn’t that, then her slightly unsteady breathing. Or maybe they could hear her heart. It certainly seemed to be pounding hard enough to her. Whatever it was, whether it was her, or him, or the both of them together, Walter and Sirius clearly had [i some] idea of what they had interrupted.
Apologize for what? The first time he’d mouthed it to her, her hand had gone to her mouth, her fingers over her lips. Meriel had wandered to Sumina, rubbed against her leg, and then wandered back away,[i [+darkgreen You two were making nice progress. Shame about the interruption.]]
Sumina just watched Meriel for a moment. What had he been doing? Not that she really thought he planned any of that any more than she had. Meriel was the only one who seemed to have any sort of plan, and she watched as Royland left to get more dressed,[i [+darkgreen You were enjoying that.]]
“Meriel…” Sumina finally found her voice again, and crossed her arms,”[+darkgreen You’re being…]”
[i [+darkgreen Honest. You can’t lie to me, girl. Here he comes, your everything. Will you tell him what it means?]]
Sumina looked away from Meriel,”A walk sounds good.” No, she didn’t intend to tell him just yet. How to explain something like that? That he meant the world to her. That she loved him. Enough to give up everything else.
The market was the perfect distraction. Sumina was glad to talk with him about supplies, and that while she wouldn’t be sharing the recipe, her family made a dried meat that had a nice herbal flavor, savory and slightly spicy, and she thought something like that would be nice. If he liked that sort of thing. And for dinner she had some ideas, using things she remembered they had as much as possible. It certainly helped calm her, distract her from any lingering embarrassment. Meriel was a little bored by their talk, but trailed behind anyway, enjoying the smells of the market and the attention she got.
“Oh.” Her face felt a little warm again immediately, thinking back to earlier. Meriel rubbed against the back of her legs, unhelpfully. “It isn’t you, I… ah, I’ve never…” She looked down to see the snow leopard circling around behind Royland. Sumina looked back to meet his gaze bashfully,”You’re the first…” While for him there had been Lenoir at least, for her there hadn’t been anything like that. A few possible suitors that never got very far, and that she hadn’t paid much attention to. Nothing worth speaking of really.
She took his hand, and spoke a little louder, though still softly,”We should go make dinner. If we finish soon enough, I, um, I believe I remember promising a song. If you still… wanted to hear. And it may help Alain sleep.”
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