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The sensation of her fingers – gently, delicately caressing his chest as they kissed, sitting in his hair – drove him wild. Made him want more. He couldn’t respond to her words. No time to talk anymore. She was on the wall in a second, their bodies closer than ever. From her elbows his hands dropped to her hips. And then, with one, he cradled her face, pushing his thumb gently on her jaw, exposing her neck. The trail of kisses he left excited him. He wanted more. Needed more. Of her. All of her.
The crumbling truth of reality came swiftly after that. The door swung open, and two dumbfounded stares worn by Walter and Sirius had nearly seen their friends in a most precarious position. Royland had pulled away from Sumina at this point, but it was plainly obvious, by the looks on their faces, that something was happening, here. Alain, stumbling in behind, let out a laugh as he approached Royland, throwing an arm around his shoulder. This time with no ale in tow. Composure regained, Royland began curling his fingers and toes, attempting to rid himself of the troublesome feeling brewing beneath his belt. Somewhat sheepishly he glanced at Sumina, mouthing an apology, before returning to the rest.
“Walter, do try to see that our dear Alain gets some rest.” Royland said. Walter glanced nervously at Sirius. Wondering if he had caught that strain in Royland’s voice. The irritation. It was made clear through the atmosphere that Sirius would accompany and tend to whatever it was Walter needed to procure to make sure Alain was no longer to be a nuisance today. The King, once his men had ushered Alain into one of the bedrooms to see if they could convince him to lie down, let out a deep sigh.
“My… apologies. I don’t know what I…” A hand covered his eyes, slipped through his hair, and rested on his shoulder. Just, what had he been about to do to her? Slowly, he glanced to Meriel, who seemed less than enthused that they had been interrupted, but still looking quite proud of herself. If only he could tell what those eyes were saying to him, about him. Recognizing the state he was in, Royland excused himself to one of the spare rooms, grabbed a shirt, and dressed himself. His baldric and scabbard now resting beside the place where Sumina once stood on the wall, he pointed to the door. “Let’s… take a walk. Let Walter and Sirius try to wrangle Alain.”
Royland made it a point to stay silent, aside from the necessary questions during their time in the market. What dried meats tasted most suitable for travel, and which should they purchase for their own food that night. He lamented over the price of goods in Dalem, speculated on whether or not this was why Lyrei would be sending him around Madej to increase their trading prospects. Was it the availability of more food, or would it just be to increase the variety of such foods. She hadn’t given him any formal instructions on how she’d like her will carried out. Royland thought he’d have to as Sirius, as pondering it aloud and in his own head did no one any good.
There was a pause, a quick glance around, before he asked, sheepishly. “Did I… overstep my boundaries… earlier, I…” He noticed how she tensed up, how she’d responded. He would never think to ask her if she had ever been with any other man before. Royland knew his privilege as King afforded him many luxuries that the common man and woman of a strong spiritual faith would admonish him for imbibing in. It wasn’t that he’d ever made a habit of it. There had been one time, after Lenoir, but other than that, his experience with women was admittedly limited. Did Sumina have even less experience? “You seemed… uncomfortable… with me.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] So it had been Davin, and by the sound of it Royland had been young. How long had Davin wanted to kill Royland before that night? But that was not something she wanted to, or could, linger on. Not when he looked at her like that, hands on her elbows. Any thought of stepping back was gone.
He asked for something so difficult, and with such sweet kisses. And his eyes, she was sure she was going to lose herself in that look he was giving her. “Royland… [+darkgreen my everything, you…]” Ask for too much. She kissed him, and could feel Meriel’s amusement.
[i [+darkgreen Let him. It’s only natural. Most do not end so unfortunately. Men are men. They fight frequently, kill rarely.]] Sumina didn’t look to see Meriel, but hummed against Royland’s mouth. Traitor. Siding against her on this. Meriel was sitting patiently, seemingly not paying much attention to them, but her tail betrayed her excitement as it swept back and forth over the floor.
“Promise me then that you… you won’t be reckless.” Because how could she say no? When he asked like that. With Meriel urging. Another kiss, and with one hand she started to trace up, feeling scars and bare skin to his collarbone,”I couldn’t bear if… anything happened to you.” It wasn’t that he smelled nice the way flowers did, but it was even more alluring. And left her head feeling like she’d had a glass of wine. Warm, fuzzy, slow. But at the same time her heart was racing. “I’d rather… not. If you can help it. At all. So please.” Her fingers had continued up, to his neck, and she wrapped her arm around him, leaning in for another kiss. It was too easy to get carried away with him. “No one should die… on my account.”
Of course. Sumina was modest. It only made sense that she would want no one fighting over her. She only wanted to see pace amongst those close to her. But men were not so understanding. And sometimes, more than love, it was pride that drove them to act in such ways. But to say she wasn’t worth it? Royland frowned at that. “Sumina… Men are…” [i Animals]. No, she didn’t need to hear that, right now. “You’re… well, let’s say, you have likely been at the center of more skirmishes than you know of…” Thanks, in part, should be given to her brothers. Gatekeepers of the single wild lotus, floating in a pond of the clearest, bluest water.
“To say you aren’t worth it is a disservice to yourself, don’t you think?” Blue eyes gave her a glance over, quickly, hopefully she hadn’t noticed his blatant staring. But he couldn’t help himself. And his hands tried desperately to stay occupied, resting on his hips. “After all, you’re… Well. You know…” [i Lovely, selfless, radiant, unassuming, but headstrong. You’re a woman, and I am a man. And I would fight for you.] Frozen at the mention of his scar, Royland came around from his thoughts. Of course. A permanent reminder of the man that held a sword to the tip of his nose not long ago. The single greatest gift he had received from anyone, and his biggest curse. Conviction.
As soon as Sumina came into contact with him, Royland’s arms went up in surprise, hovering above her shoulders. A breath hitched in his throat. What was she saying? He couldn’t hear anything – as though there were a very thick wool covering his head, and the rest of him – [i all] of him – was on pins and needles. “Don’t… don’t be sorry...” Try as he might, that wool-like feeling wouldn’t leave his face. It tried to smother him to death, turned his ears pink, and he glanced down at Meriel. Although he could not hear her, nor understand her, the way her tail swayed back and forth indicated that she was incredibly proud of what she had just done.
“That one, is, ah, uhm…” A painful, painful memory. Yet she had asked. And he intended to answer. Somewhat ashamed, he glanced over his right shoulder. At no one and at nothing in particular. “When I first wanted to be a knight, Davin challenged me on it. To see if I had it in me. I… My back was turned, and he struck me…” Royland had been in bed for weeks. It was nearly a month before he could lie on his back with some measure of comfort, nearly two before he could take steps from his bed without help. All to prove a point, Davin assured Harrenhal. To strike that entitled language right from the crown prince’s mouth, he’d told Royland, once he was nearly recovered. Apparently Harrenhal was perfectly fine with such The prince had been but ten years old.
Royland finally turned to face her, the palms of his hands coming to rest on her elbows. That uncomfortable memory retreated to the confines of his mind once more, especially the intimate details which he hadn’t bothered to put into words for her. What he had said was all he could stomach to recall, for now. He could only hope that the smile on his face didn’t seem as forced as it actually was. The pins and needles began to fall away, his body relaxing as he stared into her eyes, the captivating symmetry of her face no longer obscured by brooding thoughts. “I know you don’t want it, and I know it pains you, but would you let me?” A kiss. “Ever? Fight for you?” Two kisses more.
“I can’t let anyone else… I simply cannot… Am I allowed, then?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Royland’s words, his hands, reached through the fear, but her heart was still racing. She was worried Castien might still lash out. What had come over him? Castien seemed torn between his frustration and anger toward Royland and concern over Sumina. What scared her so much about this?
He hated how the King just walked off with her like that. The whole thing had basically backfired spectacularly. Rather than impress Sumina, he seemed to have only upset her. Once they were out of sight some of the humiliation sank in, and he was left with a curious crowd wondering about him and the girl the King had left with. The girl with the [i snow leopard] trailing behind her, which was not exactly the most typical sort of familiar.
On the walk back Sumina finally started to calm down a little. Only a little. Enough for her face to be quite red by the time the door was shut on the lovely house that was their temporary home. Sumina just looked at him, embarrassed, worried, and still under the shadow of that fear. He was alright, but things back there had been awkward. She could tell that now that she wasn’t so frantic. Meriel nudged her head against Sumina’s leg,[+darkgreen Calm. You see, no one is hurt.]
“Yes. I’m sorry. I… just couldn’t stand the thought of…” She looked down where Meriel had been, but the big cat had moved behind Sumina, pacing slowly. She let out a sigh,”I don’t want anyone hurt, anyone killed, over [i me]. It’s not… it’s not worth it. I’ve… cleaned that up, or failed to, too many times with others. So I never want… that.”
One particular incident always stuck out in her mind. Because she knew the girl. Everything that happened after. Sumina looked back at him, slowly. First taking in some of the scars along his arms and chest. She could have reached out and touched them easily, but kept her hands back. Some were clearly from more shallow wounds, probably painful but not overly concerning. Others she saw signs of additional scarring from stitches. Then there was the one on his back. She couldn’t see it now, but it had been a little alarming to see.
By the time her gaze reached his face the fluttering had spread deep in her stomach and she could hear her heartbeat like a drum in her ears. It wasn’t just professional curiosity in her eyes, but she [i was] trying to hold that burning want for him back. How was it that she forgot everything but him when they were alone?
Well, almost alone. She had somehow almost forgotten Meriel’s silent presence. Meriel [i had] gone very quiet. She waited until Sumina found her voice,”Sorry, I was just… wondering how you got that scar…the—” There was a shove and weight thrown at the back of her legs. Meriel had grown impatient. Sumina fell forward, right against Royland. Hands against skin, scars under fingers, which she’d been tempted to do but hadn’t. More than that, her whole body pressed against his. “M-Meriel!”
[i [+darkgreen You wanted to. I only helped. You’re welcome.]] She sounded so pleased with herself, and Sumina couldn’t even bring herself to look back at her familiar. To look away from Royland, or move away right away, though she did try to stammer out an apology,”S-sorry, she…”
The crowd seemed to grow quiet as Castien approached. Royland felt the change in atmosphere immediately. For the most part, he was silent, indecisive on whether or not he wanted to keep his eyes on Sumina’s frantic movements, or Castien’s gaze. Penetrating and unnerving. What was he trying to prove? Perhaps if he had been at full strength, he’d have wholeheartedly agreed. But, with Sumina so distressed, he wasn’t sure he could entirely go through with it. There wasn’t much anyone could do, except for some men to cry out in Elvish – all Royland could glean was that they were questions. Likely to the effect of just what Castien thought he was doing. The women and the elderly began to whisper. Heads began peering out of windows to watch the commotion.
A strange fact: that a King, so used to having his face seen by the masses when he addressed them, would rather be removed from the spotlight, more often than he would run to it. Royland hated undue attention. Whether for his deeds – good and bad – or needless confrontation. More concerned about Sumina than anything, he approached her, setting his hand on her head when she finally looked him in the eyes. He looked to Meriel pleadingly before stepping closer to her summoner. Did Castien despise him that fiercely, he’d wanted to ask? That even Royland, who had tried to mark his reign by separating himself from the sins of his father, had tried to do the right thing by the Elves of Vasilios, was deemed unworthy of someone’s attention, simply because of who he was? Perhaps Castien sensed his unworthiness, his hesitations to become close, inability to show outward affection, sensed his fear of judgement, or persecution. Royland closed his eyes and groaned quietly.
“Come, now, Sumina… No one’s going to get hurt.” His eyes turned sharp as he locked eyes with Castien. “And no one’s going to fight.” Not now. Not with the whole village watching. A King, Harrenhal used to say, knows when to stand up straight and take his leave from the unruly masses. He knows when to shield himself from the scrutiny beneath him. He knows to walk deliberately, with purpose, and conviction. He knows not to hold his enemies with too much reverence, lest they forget their place. Royland held out his arm towards the crowd, and Sirius came rushing with his shirt. Far too drenched in sweat, still, to put on. He guided Sumina by the shoulder, shirt in spare hand, with Meriel presumably tagging behind. Sirius and Walter would have to handle damage control… and handle Alain.
Once the crowd was out of sight, they had returned to that quaint home, and they were alone, Royland leaned against the wall beside the door, waiting for Sumina to speak up. Apologize. Moments passed. “If only Walter were here to brew you some tea...” He’d have done it himself but couldn’t pull himself away from her eyes. He studied them but knew what it was. No questions needed to be asked. Another beat passed, the sound of his breathing grew louder in his own ears, his heart rate still unsettled from his match with Vargas. Not to mention the stress of it all. A quiet groan escaped him as he glanced at the ground. “You were… quite out of sorts, back there…”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Castien trailed behind her while Sumina approached the gathered crowd. It seemed like everyone was having fun, and soon enough she saw why. Men testing their skills and strength against each other. Women watching. Sumina had seen this sort of thing before. Pretty much any time men sparred it could gather a crowd. Things seemed good natured enough, just practice and fun. And right there in the middle fighting she spotted Royland. The sight left her a little stunned, for more than one reason. So many scars, including a large one across his back. She knew that wound had been serious, possibly nearly killed him. The scars weren’t all of it though. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen a man without a shirt before. In fact, she’d seen men wear [i far] less during her work. That was different though. That had never warmed her cheeks.
[i [+darkgreen He is quite attractive, for a human. Go on. I know you want to~]] Meriel’s voice in her head. The snow leopard could feel it. The butterflies in her stomach. Her tail swished back and forth lazily, pleased enough at the deepening red of her summoners cheeks.
“Meriel, that’s not…” Sumina mumbled. Royland’s victory was celebrated. His smile was boyish and a little bashful at the attention. Castien came up next to her. Sumina was starting to draw just a little attention of her own from those nearest to her, who could see Meriel by her side.
Castien looked between Sumina and Royland. The way her cheeks flushed, that look in her eyes. It all rubbed him the wrong way. This joy the King offered her was short lived. Castien started to take his shirt off, revealing the colorful phoenix on his back as he stepped in and walked up to his rival. “Your Majesty! Come, count me in! Let us test our skills. I’ve been curious since the market.”
True enough, but the way he looked back at Sumina made it clear what his [i real] reason for stepping in was. Let her look at him that way, instead of the King. To the victor the spoils. Plenty of women were thrilled by such displays. In fact quite a few of the women watching were obviously interested.
Not Sumina. Rather than being flattered her stomach sank. “[+darkgreen No. No, don’t!]” Castien was in a fighting stance already, facing Royland. Sumina ran forward, but Meriel beat her to them. The snow leopard placed herself between the two men, teeth bared,[i [+darkgreen Relax, girl. Relax.]]
Sumina couldn’t relax. She joined Meriel, her hands over Castien’s,”[+darkgreen Don’t.]”
It was the look on her face that really got him to pause. She didn’t just look troubled. She looked completely terrified. She pulled her hands away and took a step back, toward Royland, and looked back at him. Fear was overwhelming her, and she looked like she might cry. “Please. Don’t do this.” Back at Castien, who was looking over her shoulder at Royland.
Meriel bumped her head against Sumina’s leg,[i [+darkgreen Calm down. Calm. Nothing has happened.]]
“I don’t want either of you hurt. So please. I won’t let you.” Sumina was pleading, her breathing quick. This was about more than simply these two fighting. She could still remember vividly the aftermath of another supposed ‘friendly’ spar between two men over a woman. The death, which she hadn’t been able to prevent. The grief. She was terrified of seeing that play out again, and worse over [i her].
After breakfast, Sumina’s absence left the men alone, feeling quite aimless. All lacking motivation – all except for Alain, who seemed to be beaming at their open schedule. Sirius shook his head, taking a bite of his second or third muffin that morning, but before he could resist, Alain scolded him.
“Oh, no! We’re all out to train today. All of us. We’ve spent all this time on the run, and not once have we sparred. Not once have we brought out our swords.” Sirius stopped chewing as soon as all eyes were on him… then he slowly resumed. Walter laughed.
“I tend to agree.” Royland wrapped his hand around his chin. “We’re all a little out of shape. We’ve not got much else to do today.” Or, more so that Sumina was occupied, which meant he’d need to fall back on his friends, like old times.
“Idle hands are a demon’s toy!” Alain added excitedly. “Let’s be off then! Find a place and pair off, yeah?” Once the kitchen was cleaned as satisfactory as the men could bother to make it, they dressed more battle ready – in their boots, baldrics, and scabbards – and entered the town.
Outside, near the boundary of Dalem and in a small clearing, stood a group of young men. Humans, elves, and halflings amongst them. They had seemed to have stopped their horseplay for the time being, allowing for the perfect opportunity for the group to introduce themselves. A mix of Elvish language was being exchanged with the common tongue, raucous laughter and pats on the back being passed around as sparring partners separated for well-needed rest. It was almost too perfect – each group seemed to catch the other’s eyes simultaneously. There was little hesitation. Royland was waved over immediately, and the rest followed.
“So, you’re that King of Volaire, eh?” One of the Elves, at least he looked as much, extended his hand excitedly. The sunlight peeking through the mildly cloudy day seemed to blind the knights as it shone off their inviter’s hair – long, brassy and blonde. Royland took his hand with an apprehensive smile, but the friendly looks he received in response relaxed him a bit. “I’m Vargas. Resident troublemaker, Dalem guard.” Vargas was of similar build and stature to Royland – aside from the distinct lack of scarring on his body. The body of a man who trained nearly every day, and clearly enjoyed it. Most of those taking part in the activities were around the knight’s ages, some younger, some older. Each one took their turn, introducing themselves – so many names, Royland was sure he would never remember them all.
“I see news has carried fast.” Royland said. He could see that the outskirts were flanked by admiring eyes of some young women. It wasn’t long that soon it was just he and Vargas in the center of the clearing on their lonesome. Alain, directly following introductions, had gone and approached a few potential spars who were having pints in what little sun there was, admiring the “scenery.” Walter had taken a seat under some shade, while Sirius posed several questions about the frequency of gatherings such as this to others in the far corners of the group of men. Everyone spoke with one another for a while, before any pairs were made. Vargas seemed intrigued by Royland the most and pushed his hair up and out of his eyes.
“Splendid – we’re all set for our rounds! Care for a match with myself, Your Highness?” Vargas smiled so brightly that Royland could not bring himself to take offense. He agreed.
The score was tied. Equal wins to both men, so far. Six rounds. Royland was heaving by the time the sun was in the center of the sky, beating down on him relentlessly. Thoroughly heated up by the many rounds with Vargas, he removed his shirt, to the surprise of everyone around. The large scar on his back drew the most attention, but there were others bearing down across his chest, his arms – small, superficial, but none insignificant. Vargas almost seemed impressed. He hadn’t been expecting such a sight.
“So, even Kings fight in battle?” Vargas said. He wiped the sweat from his brow.
“[i This] King does. Others may not, but I train with my men, and I fight with my men.” The two men exchanged smiles.
“Admirable. But will it carry you through this time?”
By now, Royland had come to know Vargas’ tricks. He didn’t like to make the first move – and when he did move, it was deliberate. No effort wasted. A defensive fighter who tended only to move in response. It was how he read his opponents. How he was able to counter Royland in their first match. The crowd was silent, save for the light-hearted jeering from the men, and giggling of young women. Royland closed the distance, slowly at first, and to his utter surprise, Vargas attempted to strike him. Fast – barely missing his head, but Royland was faster – dodging right just in time.
One, two jabs in return, and he pulled back, creating space. Vargas had stumbled, but not far, and checked his face for blood. He sprinted, aiming for Royland’s chest, connecting with his knee. Feeling cocky, he moved to his elbow, but Royland stopped him, using the opportunity to push out towards his chest, locking Vargas’ arm in tight to his body. Being so close, punches were useless to attempt to land. Royland pushed Vargas to create distance, the other worn out from his sudden burst of energy.
“You’re really not bad, King Vondien!” Royland never broke his fighting stance, taking the chance to catch his breath. Vargas rushed him, but this time stopped short to sweep his legs. Royland faltered slightly but managed to regain the advantage by striking Vargas in the chest once they were level once more. The sound of forceful hits were the only sounds in the air, now, and if all eyes in the village had been on him, Royland didn’t notice. He kicked his leg to hit Vargas – who had almost caught it but was knocked to the ground. The next thing those brown eyes saw was a fist, nearly colliding with his face. Royland opened his hand to lift his opponent off the ground, who let out a fierce laugh. “Guess I’ve lost this set, then!” The crowd seemed to agree. Alain was the first to offer Royland a congratulatory pat on the back, nearly spilling his ale on the ground. The young king could only laugh sheepishly as newfound acquaintances began singing his praises.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina was awakened by the knocking at her door and Sirius’s voice,”Lady Sumina?”
She couldn’t quite remember what she’d been dreaming about, but she vaguely recalled it was nice. Whatever it was. “Mmm? Just a moment.”
Staying in bed was very tempting, but there were probably plenty of things to do for the day. Chores, or something. Besides, the thought crossed her mind that Royland wasn’t here. If he had been, then more sleep for both of them might have been too hard to resist. After a little more than the requested moment she tossed off the blankets and got up.
Finding Castien there was a surprise. Sumina smiled at the room, but her eyes lingered on Royland,”Good morning.”
“Good morning, [+darkgreen sweet blossom].” Castien greeted her, and revealed he had brought muffins.
That didn’t seem like quite enough for breakfast, so she went to the kitchen,”What brings you here so early?”
“You, of course. You call to me like a Siren.” He had followed her into the kitchen, grinning.
His comment earned a raised eyebrow from her, but she didn’t stop working on cooking. “And the real reason?”
Defeat, but Castien took it well, smiling as he sighed and shook his head,”[+darkgreen The water lily] is serious today. I have a teacher for you, to help with Meriel.”
“Oh?” Sumina was interested in that. To learn to manage better would be good. There was only so far her conversations with Vaeril could guide her, since she’d never properly learned. “I’d like that. Thank you. Would you like some breakfast?”
Castin took her hand and brought it up to kiss, but stopped when she pointed a spatula at his face. Feisty this morning. She wasn’t giving him an inch. He let go, but didn’t seem terribly discouraged,”I would be delighted to join you, [+darkgreen water lily].”
“Then go sit down, it won’t be long.”
Castien relented, going back to the table. He did shoot a glance at the King. For her mood to be so bright and her rebuffs so sure, what had happened between them? It had to be him somehow, the two of them, their emotions were too wound together during their travels for it to be anyone else. This was not the tension he had seen last, when Lyrei’s lunch had left her miserable and unsure.
Sumina cooked eggs for everyone to go with the muffins. Castien watched as she picked out a blueberry muffin from the bunch, but didn’t comment on it, instead asking about Meriel and if Sumina had called her since. Sumina had admitted not, though she still felt her sometimes. Castien nodded, said that was good, she needed to recover. He wasn’t particularly hungry, he’d eaten already, but did sample a little of her cooking and liked what he tasted.
After breakfast Castien insisted they leave while the men could find something else to occupy themselves with. Sumina went with him into the town. She hadn’t gotten to see much of it yet, but it was lovely. Somewhere between the village she had grown up in, and the more tightly packed city they had moved to a few years ago. Castien took her to a shop full of paints for all sorts of purposes. Some for painting on canvases, which were also available, as well as ones for painting on skin, and ones for painting on wood. There were so many colors, and the shop smelled strongly in a way that wasn’t entirely pleasant. Sumina covered her nose, while Castien seemed unbothered,”[+darkgreen Orym? Your lovely new student is here.]”
Out from the back room emerged a young woman with dark hair, though Sumina couldn’t tell if it was black, or maybe blue or purple. There were marks along her shoulders and collarbone, butterflies, and very colorfully done. The woman looked like she might have been around Sumina’s age, and fairly Elvish, though Sumina suspected that like Castien, she was at least part human. She smiled at Castien and giggled when he greeted her with a kiss to her hand,”[+darkgreen Always a delight to see you, Omylia.]”
”[+darkgreen Grandpa is out back. So this is his new student?]” Omylia eyed Sumina. No mark visible, so the girl had it hidden. Castien nodded and introduced Sumina, then led Sumina out through the back, bidding a goodbye to his ‘bright butterfly’ as they left. The back was clearly where many of the paints were mixed, even outdoors. Out there in the covered courtyard among vats of colorful liquid they found Orym, mixing.
His hair was a dark blue, streaked with grey. There were marks painted along his arms, various creatures and patterns. He looked up,”[+darkgreen Ah, Castien. And there she is. Sumina, you said? Come here, girl. A healer primarily, yes?]”
Sumina nodded and stepped forward. Orym wiped his hands and looked her up and down,”[+darkgreen Bring your familiar forth. Let’s see what we’re working with.]”
Meriel was called. Orym didn’t seem terribly surprised, but called a familiar of his own. A small bird. What followed was him and the bird questioning Sumina and Meriel a little bit. If anything the old man seemed amused after a little while. “[+darkgreen I see. Well, for today I want you to keep Meriel around. Only until around sunset. Then come see me tomorrow, I’ll want to know how you felt today.]”
With her instructions, Sumina and Castien left, Meriel following behind. Sumina was a little pink in the face after that interview. Castien hadn’t heard, he could only watch and guess. But Sumina knew what Meriel had shared with the little bird, who had obviously relayed at least some of it to Orym. Bits about Royland, and how much he meant to her. How he was Sumina’s answer to Meriel’s questions, and the reason she wanted to learn. To protect him. Out loud Sumina had stuck more to saying she needed to protect her friends from her brothers, who were trying to kill them.
After that, Castien took her to the bakery where his family worked and lived. His mother, who she learned was named Grace, was a sweet woman who offered Sumina tastes of treats, which Sumina politely declined for the most part. His father, Lorsan, was obviously the one Castien got his looks from. Lorsan had an old injury that made it hard for him to walk without a cane, and Sumina wondered if she might be able to help, but didn’t ask just then. There were other family members to meet. A girl who looked very much like her older brother, save her eyes had more brown in them. She seemed shy at first, but was soon enamored with Sumina and Meriel, sharing that she was turning twelve soon and her Mama and Papa were making her a huge cake. Then there was the youngest son, the most human looking as Castien had said. Brown hair, brown eyes, pointed ears, and full of energy. He climbed on Meriel, who allowed the seven year old to, though sometimes she would roll to get him off then pin him down playfully before letting him up. She did like children, and basked in the attention from the two youngest of the Inakas family while Sumina was given a tour of the bakery.
After that, Castien extracted her and Meriel from his family and took them out back into the town. Along the way he was recognized by several girls, who he greeted with smiles, affectionate gestures that left them giggling, and little nicknames or scraps of poetry. Sumina was amused by that. Despite all the attention, he didn’t seem to forget about Sumina, asking what she’d like to do now, where she’d like to go, if she needed anything. She sort of wanted to gather herbs, so they were on their way to one of the gates when a gathering got her attention and she wandered over to see what was going on.
Royland’s heart beat wildly as Sumina lingered in front of him, constantly glancing into his eyes every time she passed into his line of sight. His friends, watching silently from the dining table, smiled and smirked, but he could not see them. His cheeks began to turn pink, but it was then, that she was finished. He gave her a smile, “Thank you.”
She was the first to go to bed – but before then, she seemed intent on reigniting that fire in his cheeks earlier. Nearly in front of everyone, he wanted to lift his hand to her cheek, kiss her no matter who was bearing witness. Ultimately, his hand found its way to the back of his head. All he could do was meet that loving gaze in kind. “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself… I did as well… Goodnight.” It was a painful parting. But not nearly as painful as the ribbing he could see that he was about to receive. Alain motioned Royland to the table. They needed to talk. Quietly, of course.
“You’re head over heels, my liege~” Alain sang quietly, to some indiscriminate tune. Royland frowned almost instinctively, but the blush would not leave his face. He said nothing. But his silence only served to fuel the fire.
“What?” Royland said, smiling nervously. The others seemed none too convinced, and he stared at his hands on the table in front of him. The smile faded. The other people in the room seemed to fade away. [i Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.] Faster. His breathing was quick just thinking about it. Returned affection? Want? No, fear? He didn’t know. Royland closed his eyes and took a breath. “…Perhaps.” But that hesitation bothered the men around the table. It elicited glances more akin to sympathy, rather than earnest joy. Sirius shot a glare at Alain, and the latter quickly backpedaled to alleviate Royland’s sulking. Nothing worked, however, and it would be Sirius coming to his rescue, hissing quietly as he pulled Alain by the shirt into one of the bedrooms, shutting the door. That left level-headed Walter to clean up the mess. He sighed, as the other two scurried away with their tails between their legs. Just like old times, he supposed.
“You don’t trust yourself enough, Royland.” Walter said. His brows were knitted together, expression concerned. “Was it that old monk’s words back in Pimli? Lenoir?” Again, Royland didn’t respond. The answer, Walter speculated, was a mixture of both. Doubly disturbing, doubly troublesome. No, there was something else on the mind. And Royland would make it known, starting with a glance.
“Do you know any Elvish at all, Walter?” Royland said.
“Er… Well, none enough to translate properly… Why?” Walter responded.
Royland paused. “She calls me…[+darkgreen my everything].” He flinched. He’d tried to pronounce it slowly enough that he would embarrass himself. But he felt he was doing a poor job regardless. Walter must not have noticed, as he had dipped his head, deep in thought, muttering to himself.
“[+darkgreen My everything]…?” And who might he ask to translate that. Walter’s head shot up. “Well, I’ll ask Lady Abana next time I see her.” Royland inquired as to who that was, and Walter was quite curt with him.
“You were so busy staring at Lady Sumina that you weren’t listening to how my day went, weren’t you? You know, as your elder, you’d best show me some respect. I’m not—” and on. And on. And on.
Walter certainly knew how to complain. With Alain and Sirius sharing one of the rooms, Royland had no choice but to endure his friend’s complaints of how he never paid attention to him. Truthfully told, he… hadn’t been listening too much longer after they went to bed. The night was calm, and dreamless. A thankful relief. Disrupted by Castien’s presence. Sirius, like a bloodhound, could smell the muffins from his room, and was the first to greet him at the door. Castien blinked, quickly glancing past his shoulders.
“Where’s the [+darkgreen water lily]? Asleep?” Castien stepped inside, none too excited to see that Royland was the next to step out of his room. They locked eyes, but for the sake of the peaceful morning atmosphere, they attempted to keep it civil. At least, Royland [i tried]. “The King awakes. I’m wondering if I might have our [+darkgreen lovely lady] for the day.” Royland raised a brow, so Castien carried on explaining.
“Quite simply, if we’re all to be safe – if she is to be safe – she must learn to properly use Meriel so that we are not faced with what happened in our travels. She was safe with me that time. But she needs a teacher. And I intend to take her to one.”
“…Sirius.” Royland gestured his head towards Sumina’s door. “Wake her, would you?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina couldn’t help but laugh at them. She’d had a wonderful day, though tiring, and was in a happy mood. “Well, we’ll get you all cleaned up anyway.”
With dinner she had made chamomile tea with lavender, she said it was perfect to relax and get some sleep. The meal was enjoyable, though more than a few times Sumina caught herself glancing to Royland, a little distracted. She listened to what the others had done that day, exploring the town, meeting people, checking the Inakas bakery, and Walter meeting an old woman. On her day, she didn’t get into too many details, saying she and Royland had washed the clothes and cooked dinner. The smile that never quite left her face or eyes was enough to tell them what a nice day it had apparently been, though they were left guessing the specifics.
After everyone was full Sumina got out the scissors and comb for their hair. She’d found quite a few things while looking around for what she needed for dinner, and now had a pretty good idea where a lot of things in the house were. One by one she sat them down to get their hair cut and trimmed.
Sumina was sweet and affectionate with them in her own way, treating them mostly like she would her brothers. Chatting a little about how they liked their hair, if they wanted it shorter, ruffling their hair when it was done and commenting they cleaned up rather nicely. With Alain things felt perhaps a little awkward still, but Sumina treated him warmly anyway, though she did tease him just a little by tugging lightly at the rounded edge of his ear,”Your ears are odd to cut around, you know?” Her smile and tone made it clear she was only trying to tease in good nature, but it still seemed to embarrass him a little. Sirius seemed to really enjoy the attention, as did Walter when he was finally pushed into the chair for his turn. With Royland things were just a little different. Her fingers lingered in his hair, along his scalp, longer. She didn’t work quite as quick, and found herself just a little distracted by his eyes while she tried to trim his bangs.
After that there were still dishes to wash and she checked on the laundry. No good, she and Royland had taken so long washing, and the day wasn’t exceptionally warm, that things were still a little damp. They wouldn’t be ready to take down until sometime tomorrow. Oh well, it was worth it.
By then she was getting plenty tired after the day of chores. She told them all good night, but in particular Royland, who she pulled aside for a moment to say where hopefully the others couldn’t hear,”I hadn’t had so much fun in… too long. Thank you. And I hope you sleep well. Good night, [+darkgreen my everything].”
There was just a moment where she hesitated. She’d have kissed him, except the others would be able to see. Instead she just smiled, and went to bed.
The next morning, before she was even awake, the house had an early guest knocking on the door. Castien was there with a whole tray of assorted muffins and a smile, ready to wake the sleeping beauty. If her guards would allow it. It was doubtful, but he was ready to make the attempt anyway.
As that morning was still early, Sirius and Alain had some trouble deciding which venue to explore, first. The argument was by no means vicious, but the strain was there. Alain was adamant that it would be unwise to put off studying the Elves weapons and techniques any longer than necessary. Sirius tended to disagree – not that it was anything new.
“I’m not saying we won’t have time for your damn sweets, Sirius, but—”
“Oh, face it, Alain. You’ve never been a fan of them. Haven’t you ever wanted to taste more traditional Elvish confections!? We were never allowed when Harrenhal was alive. And we’ve been so busy…” The preparations, the planning, the siege, the escape, the never-ending adventure they seemed to be on. All Sirius wanted was to stretch his legs and indulge. “We’re safe inside these walls. Who knows what defenses they have here to—” Alain put his hand in Sirius’ face, stopping him.
“No more… I promise once we’re done snooping around, we’ll…” Alain sighed heavily, sliding his hand down his face. “We’ll be off to the bakery.” Though he sounded defeated, Sirius hadn’t noticed. [i You imbecile.]
Simple, he had thought. A pleasant experience, he had hoped. From tying the clothesline, to the effort it took to actually wash the clothes. Royland sighed, taking a moment to rest his arms, admiring Sumina’s free spirit. The way she seemed to let herself go when they were together – the happy smile, her giggle, made it impossible to keep his joy from shining through. Unlike with Lenoir, it came easy, and it wasn’t at risk of fading due to a solitary action, or the words of another.
It was difficult to think of another person who he had thoroughly enjoyed every moment with, never questioning whether they interacted with him out of sincerity, or out of obligation. Although he had some trouble doing, well, [i everything], Sumina’s gentle guidance eased the strain on the learning process. “You did this all of the time, for your entire family?” He had just removed his hands from the murky water when a wave came splashing into his face. It was only then that he realized his how long his hair had become. Where before it might not have obscured his sight, his auburn locks were like a curtain, curling about the tip of his nose. “Ha-ha, very funny…” And he returned the favor in kind.
By the time they were finished, Royland glanced at his hands, heavily pruned from the time spent submerged in water. “It’s no wonder royalty hire help… Perhaps I should speak to Elizabeth and Hans about raising their wages when I return…” No, he most certainly should.
Beginning dinner was somewhat difficult, as his arms were still in pain. Royland did his best, kneading the dough to Sumina’s standards, following her directions. Is this what it felt like for his servants? Most of them seemed to have few complaints, but this was much harder work than he had ever anticipated. The most pleasant part of the cooking process was the end – the tasting, and the kisses.
Sirius was the first to arrive back, taking in a whiff of the dinner nearly ready to be served. Alain came in just as the other took a seat. Walter came trotting in last, dusting off his clothes at the door before joining the others at the table.
“You really spoil us too much, Lady Sumina.” Sirius sighed, reaching up to touch the nape of his neck, that his hair grown past since the start of their journey. Since he tended to keep his bangs short, they hadn’t grown too unruly. Alain, on the other hand, whose hair was always pushed back, had begun to fill out with some volume. Royland, who always looked something akin to a shaggy dog, was [i fine] until he got wet. Almost instinctively, he moved his hand to get what bits of hair remained clung to his face out of his eyes.
Walter folded his arms, “Come now, men… There was plenty time to take care of yourself on the road. Like myself.” He smiled, smugly, much to Alain’s chagrin.
“Walter, I didn’t wish to tell you this,” Alain tried hard to hold back his laughter, “But you’ve been cutting your hair crooked nearly all your life.”
“H-How dare you!”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] She looked a little surprised that he stopped, but in the end couldn’t help but smile at that impish smile of his. It was good to see him in a better mood.
Sumina got some of the clothes, but wasn’t in the house much longer. Instead she let Royland fetch most of the clothes while she went outside to set up. She just needed to find everything. There was a little shed, and Sumina went about searching through it.
By the time Royland arrived with the rest of the clothes she had found everything she needed. Large buckets, a wash board, soap, a clothesline, clothespins, and a basket for the clean laundry once it was dry. She was just starting to put up the clothesline and asked him to leave the clothes with the rest and come help her tie the thin rope up.
It was quickly apparent that Royland had no idea what he was doing. He’d never washed his own clothes before. Sumina explained with smiles and laughter while they filled buckets from the well that they needed to use soap first, and that she’d washed plenty of laundry with four brothers. It was mostly her and her mother doing the laundry for the family of seven, though sometimes one of her brothers would get pulled in to help when things piled up after heavy rain.
She walked him through how to put soap on the board and scrub. “Not quite. You need to really scrub hard, like this, or the dirt won’t come out.” And, in the sudsy bubbles in the dirty water she played a little, pushing them around in the water or picking up handfuls of bubbles and blowing them in the wind. With the rinsing bucket the task of rinsing the clothes often enough turned into a splashing game, especially when Sumina would declare cleaner water was needed. She would say that, and then try and get as much water as she could on him, giggling the whole time, even when he would return it with even more water. They could half empty the bucket that way before needing to pour the rest out.
Somehow the clothes did end up wrung out, a team effort and it took more strength that one might think to get most of the water out of some of the clothes, and then pinned up on the clothesline. And the clothes they were wearing were soaked long before they finished. It had been a while since Sumina had this much fun, and could relax this much. It was true enough that a price would need to be paid for the safety Lyrei offered, and some very heavy decisions had to be made. But today was laundry day, and Sumina enjoyed the day as much as she could. An ordinary day, just the two of them.
With the laundry drying and them soaked Sumina had them bathe and change into clean, dry clothes. The others weren’t back yet, she supposed they were out looking at the town. Plenty of time to make dinner, which she recruited Royland to help with.
A simple dough, which she taught him to knead, then let rise while they prepared the rest. Meat and vegetables, in a sauce she improvised with what she could find. Sumina spent the time in the kitchen working, but also slipping little affectionate gestures. Cleaning flour from his face, a quick kiss, her hands holding his for a moment, or just her head on his shoulder for a few moments while she checked on what he was doing. She would fill some of the time chatting about things she had cooked before, for her family, and asking if he had tried them before. The bread was braided rather elaborately and brushed with butter before going in to bake, and she explained that her mother taught her, and she preferred it that way because it looked nicer.
Sometime closer to the food being done she set the table and started feeding him little bits to taste, fine tuning the flavor. Then leaning closer, his face in her hands, and kiss that lingered, then another. For the moment they were alone, and nothing was there to disturb them. Except the kettle she had put on for tea. It whistled shrilly, pulling her out of the fluttery haze of kisses,”[+darkgreen Tea…] Right. Tea.”
By the time she had the tea steeping there wasn’t a chance to pick up where they’d been interrupted, the others were back from their day of exploration, and dinner was just about ready. Sumina gave Royland a smile, wishing they’d had just a little more time, but then started to get the food on the table, asking about what they’d been doing, and adding,”After you eat I’ll be giving you all haircuts. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“…A haircut…?” Royland blinked, and then, chuckled. It certainly had been a while. But, also, it was a pleasant relief from unsavory memories. The touch of her fingertips, the feel of her lips, and the warmth of her hand. He leaned over, stopping just short of her lips, smirking, teasing. “The laundry. Right, then.”
Going straight to work, Royland left the room to gather the rest of the clothes – most of which were still being worn. After the others had changed, he ordered them to go bathe… And sent them to occupy themselves.
“And what do you mean to do?” Alain eyed him suspiciously but was only met with an unsettlingly happy smile. “You’re scaring us, lad…”
“I just mean to spend as much time with her as I can. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had our safety assured…” He leaned in close for a moment, eyeing the room for Sumina’s presence before bringing his voice down low. “Do try to keep us from being disturbed… Please?” Whether by Lyrei, Castien, or some unseen force at the hand of the Sirens. Barring some devastation to the land signaling that they were not meant to be, he expected some measure of privacy. What little joy he could glean from their less than ideal situation would be enough to give him a calm night’s rest. For tomorrow, the preparations for their departure likely had to take place.
The sooner Royland could solve Lyrei’s trade issues, the sooner he could continue on his way.
But, first, he had to conquer the art of laundering clothes. He seemed to be a little concerned, approaching Sumina with soiled linen in hand. All they were to do would be to submerge them in water, wring them around, and then hang them to dry… Right? Simple.
Walter knew that “keep us from being disturbed” meant that Royland didn’t want to hear any inquiries out of them for the day. Troubling news could wait until the evening, or better still, the next morning. Alain and Sirius had decided they would spend their time scoping out what the local markets and businesses had to offer. But Walter knew better. That sweet tooth of Sirius’ would drive him right to the Inakas’ bakery. He could claim reconnaissance all he wanted. As the eldest of the group, Walter had seen many facets of his friends. What made them happy, what angered them, and what distracted them.
Yet, without an irresponsible brood of youngsters to watch over and guide with a steady hand, he felt somewhat lost. There was little he could do for everyone. It explained why Royland intended to keep him safe, in Dalem, while the others accompanied him outside the walls. There was no ill intention, and no hard feelings, but the cloud of uselessness can weigh on any man.
There wasn’t any time to dwell on such nonsense. Something firm had struck his chest as he walked, forcing him to look downwards. A wild assortment of plants were scattered on the ground – and in the midst of them, an elderly woman who had fallen on her backside. Walter scrambled to aid her off the ground.
“Sirens above--! Are you alright, ma’am!”
“Fine, my son, just fine...!” The elderly woman dusted herself off, chuckling at the sight of a grown man frantically picking flowers off the ground.
Carefully organizing them into bundles, Walter noticed that these were not simply flowers the old woman might use for decoration. Truth told; he was a bit terrified to ask. Nightshade, hemlock, and poppy flowers? Whatever might an old woman need with those?
The elderly woman seemed to notice his intrigue, even with those clouded, failing eyes. “Oh? You recognize these, do you?”
Walter shook his head, “Well, yes… ah, no. Not really…” He had never bothered to ask Lady Sumina about anything like [i this].
The old woman took her flowers into her hands, scrutinizing the state of the stems, the petals, much to Walter’s dismay. And yet, she smiled. “My dear, would you care to help me replace these flowers? These old hands can’t do too much gathering in one day.” Walter blinked, but took her meaning in stride. “When you are done,” she pointed, seemingly indiscriminately behind him, “bring them to my home, yes?”
“Of course, Lady…ah, your name?” Walter smiled slightly, bowing his head. “Sir Walter Allens, at your service.”
The old woman returned the gesture. “Lady Abana, you may call me.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina sat and held his hand while he told the story, patiently listening. Trying to silently offer what reassurance she could with little motions of her fingers. But at the same time, parts of it were hard to hear. Her reactions were subtle. A shift in her gaze, a tightening in her mouth. While Sumina had never thought very highly of the previous king, she did not like hearing what sort of a father he had been to Royland. Punishing him, forcing him into the engagement, his scheming. It was also clear to her that Royland [i had] loved Lenoir, once. The way he spoke of her, the way he had been acting, how the others had hinted at things, and how things had soured between them.
When he had finished she was quiet for a moment. It was quite a lot to take in. She gave his hand a squeeze,”I see…”
Sumina brushed his hair back from his forehead and leaned over to give him the same affectionate gesture he had given her before. “Thank you. For telling me everything.”
Her fingers lingered in his hair,”They should not have treated you so… so… poorly.” With a frown she pressed her lips to his forehead again. It frustrated her. All those political manipulations.
But this was a subject he already disliked speaking of, and would not want to linger on. Why would he? So she pulled back a little, brushing her fingers through his hair again,”Now, Royland… I think you need a haircut. The others too. And lucky for you all, I know how to cut hair.”
Her suggestion came with a sweet smile, understanding, and a squeeze of his hand. They had their serious conversation, at least for now. The rest, that could wait another day or so. To figure out what to do. “And we really ought to get started on laundry.”
Only natural she’d want to know about Lenoir. His men, loyal as they were, had taken such a liking to her that they’d undoubtedly dropped hints. Had seen him become close enough to her, that divulging such information didn’t seem out of line. His only regret on the matter was that they could not, for the life of them, [i keep their mouths shut] about it all. He had hoped that it would never come to this.
Though her touch was reassuring, though her closeness comforted him, he needed to take a seat. He gestured for Sumina to join him, and then, gently clasped her hand. For the courage he would need to recount this tale. “For as long as I can remember, Harrenhal had always lamented about our poor military power following the forced migration of your people. He and Davin fought often. Attempting to determine which princess I was to be married to. Which would offer us the most political gain. Which would result in the best children.” Sixteen years old. Thirteen years since he had first stepped foot in the castle, presented to Harrenhal, shivering, and asking for his mother. “None would do outside of Arouet. It took months to convince King Chatille of my worthiness…”
He’d participated in lawless spars, lent his aid as commander in small, inconsequential battles, and worked his way through the ranks of the Kings’ guard, never resting on his father’s laurels. Once word of his natural ability to speak, lead, and fight made its way to the prospective Queen, Lenoir colored herself intrigued. Begged her father to allow her to visit Royland, in her best dress, hair done up with curls, an expensive red lipstick staining her face. “When I first saw her, I thought I was the unluckiest man in the world. I could tell, by the way she looked at me, I was her fairytale prince… But I had no such interest in romancing her.”
By that point, unbeknownst to Royland, they were already engaged. Trade routes expanded; the availability of certain rare commodities had skyrocketed. Because he was never truly allowed to venture the market, it took a while for him to notice. But Lenoir had known. And she had asked to stay – get acquainted with her soon-to-be kingdom, win over her soon-to-be-husband. “I had been so preoccupied with my training, resting from the spars Davin had always forced me to take part in, tending to one open wound or another… I was livid when I had finally found out. I stormed to my father’s chambers and made my discontent known. As he always did when I defied him, I was punished…physically… He said it was to be, and that was that. He was King. And until his death, I would be a servant to his will.” A smile tugged at Royland’s lips – it was impossible for him to recount such painful memories without one.
“And, so, Lenoir stayed. Nearly a year, if I recall it. And we…” His grip on Sumina’s hand tightened. They had grown closer. She was his first love, but he spared Sumina that particular detail.
One day, Royland had returned to his room from sparring with Alain, and found Lenoir waiting for him. Barely dressed, with the smell of wine on her breath. She made an advance, and Royland rebuffed her. “All she would say was that the consummation between the betrothed was not wrong. But I knew better. I told the maid who had heard our argument to take her. And then, I confronted my father.” Royland made a scene. Ranting, raving, throwing priceless heirlooms to assuage his anger. Harrenhal laughed at his only son, provoking that Vondien stare. It was then, he noted, that Royland was truly his son. “I asked him, what did he do? What did he tell her?” Turned out Harrenhal was eager to solidify Arouet and Volaire’s relationship in the form of a pre-consummated union. With any luck, a child would be born, and the marriage would take place sooner rather than later. Both parties had come of age, there was no reason to delay. Had Royland simply given in to his duty as a man, the future of their people would be secured for the next ten generations, at least.
“I refused to speak to Lenoir after that. Told her I wanted nothing to do with her. She went back to Arouet after I turned seventeen. I stationed myself outside of Volaire until my father’s death. Lenoir and I were still betrothed up to that point, but once I became King, I… Severed ties, completely.” Royland closed his eyes. It was a miracle that King Chatille had heard his pleas and had chosen not to rescind naval and trade route support upon Harrenhal’s death. Turns out he had been privy to Harrenhal’s manipulation of his daughter, and nearly sought to punish Royland. But by the grace of the Sirens, here they were, today. Physically unscathed.
“So there you have it…” Royland averted his gaze.
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