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[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] The attempt at humor was met with a half smile. Not that it was particularly funny. It wasn’t. But he just looked so… sweet. Still, there was the matter at hand. A King didn’t just have a wife, he had a Queen.
Caught up in the moment. Quite a lot of that. Not completely physical, she longed to hold him, soothe him, make him smile. She sought to reassure him, comfort him, and looked for the same from him. Maybe more. Eventually. But to leave it all for later, once things were settled? No. That was too much to ask for. It would take months, at least, to see him back on his throne safely. And during those months, she would not, could not stay her distance. It would be unbearable. But to get closer without any thought for the future left for when things were settled, whatever that would look like?
Royland seemed to understand that without her having to say anything. But this didn’t have an easy answer. It was difficult. Sumina reached for his hand, taking it gently in her own. That was unbelievably tempting. To have him, live a simple, ordinary life. No titles, stolen or otherwise. With her other hand she brushed his hair back from his eyes, let her fingers trail down his temple, his cheek, before her palm rested there. So tempting, but… it wasn’t all about her. There were others, so many people. A whole country depended on him.
“I couldn’t ask that of you. Our people, the people of Volaire, humans and Elves, they need you.” Her thumb ran over his knuckles and she tried to offer a smile,”A King’s burden is heavy. It is difficult. And you would have a hard time forgiving yourself for setting it aside.”
But then the issue of them. Of this. She stepped closer to kiss his cheek, a little worried he may step away, reject her now that things had been realized,”This… isn’t going to be easy. Everything need not be decided today, we need to think. But I do… still want you. Vondien or not. King or not.”
There was one other thing. Alain had mentioned once that there had been a political match that hadn’t ended well, implied it was the reason Royland had pulled away once. Now the others mentioned an engagement called off. Why? If Alain was right, that whole thing had wounded him deeply. It hadn’t been purely political. And Royland [i was] generally acting like, well, a man worried about getting hurt again. “That… engagement you called off. What… what happened?”
At first, he’d tried to lighten the mood. Royland pointed a finger to his face and smiled, sheepishly. “Well, technically, I’m not. Not at the moment.” Then his expression dropped. This wasn’t… this wasn’t humorous. Not at all. The tension was like dense fog in that room. How could he have been so careless? He couldn’t very tell her that the thought of her becoming his Queen had [i never] crossed his mind. And, yet, wasn’t that the truth? Royland put a hand on his forehead, pushing his bangs out of his eyes. Thinking. “I… suppose we’ve both found ourselves caught up in the moment… more than once, haven’t we?” An understatement.
Their relationship was not one that could simply be explained away as lust. No, Sumina was the answer to soothe the angry seas of his heart. Their eyes could see into the soul of the other. What pain was felt by one, translated to the other, nearly instantaneously. He never wanted her out of his sight. Never wanted her so far that he could not reach her. She made him feel loved, showed it, too. But did that mean they were meant to be married, or…? He could not decide. But expressing that indecision would only cause her undue strife. “Perhaps we can consider discussing this when everything is settled?”
The look he’d received in response to that proposal told him everything he needed to know. It asked him every question that very well should arise. It was a selfish thing to ask – carry on as if no new information had been received. Allow him to hold her, kiss her, protect her from other men without committing to the idea that they would one day be together. Perhaps this Vondien was no better than Harrenhal. It pained him to be so honest with himself.
“Please, try to understand that this is difficult for me…” As King, his obligation had always been to marry, to have children, to secure his lineage only through connections with other royalty. The people of Volaire might only accept his choice of wife if she were human – and other nobility might only accept his choice if he were to choose one of their daughters to wed. It was a delicate balancing act that he had managed to avoid. But he was getting older, growing more impatient to create a genuine connection. To build a family that he could be proud of, as opposed to living a life filled with obligations who he could not bring himself to love. “I don’t quite know what I want from all of this. For all intents and purposes, I’m an ordinary man, in a different country, living in a community far removed from Volaire. If I were to simply give up my birthright, there would be no issues… I could take whoever I pleased as my wife…” Tempting. But what of his home? What of the people he had left behind? His eyes glanced to Sumina, finally. Nervous at what she might have to say.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina smiled at Alain, a little shy and embarrassed about it. “I… I understand. It’s really alright. And thank you. You all mean… so much to me.”
She might not know them all as well as her own family, but they were starting to feel like family to her. Then there was the issue of what Lyrei wanted. The real conversation.
Sumina nibbled little bits of the meal and sipped tea while she listened. A diplomat. The task would likely have him gone a fair bit, but that couldn’t be helped. It was the price of all of this. Her position in all this was less certain. Sumina wondered what Lyrei might have planned for her. All this, it indicated that Lyrei was the sort of person to always have a plan. She wouldn’t just forget to utilize something, or someone, she had at her disposal.
A nod of agreement about familiars. There was no doubt in Sumina’s mind that Lyrei had familiars of her own. But how many, and how far could they travel? “I… don’t know what my brothers might know. But I’ve never heard of Dalem, or the name Lyrei, until yesterday. So it wasn’t discussed around me, at least. Not that I heard much, apparently...”
There was so much about her family’s plans she hadn’t known. She knew their hatred, she knew they planned an attack. And her opposition to it, the arguments, the tears, had kept them from letting her in on more.
It was probably a good thing she’d stopped eating and drinking for the moment to mull over her family situation, because she’d have choked when Royland told them what [i else] Lyrei wanted. Queen? Of Volaire?
Beside him. Sumina’s eyes were a little wide, and it was perfectly clear that the wheels in her head were turning. Frantically putting together information she’d had the whole time, but been content to leave in their own little boxes. Apart. Royland [i was] the King. And the wife of a King was a Queen. She chanced a look at Royland.
He was the [i King]. Somehow all the implications of that had completely escaped her notice. She hadn’t thought about it, maybe hadn’t [i wanted] to think about it, while they came closer. When he held her. Kissed her. Her cheeks were starting to burn. He wasn’t planning to marry Lyrei, but… She wanted a chance to speak with him. [i Alone]. She was going to sound like the stupidest girl in the world, and didn’t need an audience for it.
“Royland…?” How was she supposed to eat when her stomach felt like it was dancing around? She went for some tea instead, hoping it might calm things, calm her,”After breakfast could you… maybe… I was going to… do laundry… Could you help gather…?”
If it weren’t for her embarrassment the excuse might not have been so transparently an excuse to get him alone. As it was, she could barely get the request out. What was she going to [i say] to him?
Somehow she managed to eat, probably because deep down she really was hungry, and after breakfast she helped clear the table, but left the others to wash the dishes. They had picked up on what she meant, or at least Walter had as he shooed her and Royland to go ahead and take care of the laundry.
Back to the rooms, to gather dirt covered clothes. And more importantly, talk. Once Sumina closed the door, she looked to Royland, her face red. The clothes could wait a moment. Maybe more than a moment. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, then took a breath before actually saying anything,”I… I, um… Would you… believe that I just… sort of forgot you were… the King? At least when you… you… look at me or... anything really…”
The sight of breakfast did entice Royland, but until he could muster the courage to respond simply to Walter’s inquiry, his stomach would continue to churn. A sip of tea – gold’s root, he was told – did its job to ease his suffering, if only a bit. Alain was suffering a bit more than he was, visually, at least. Royland felt badly for his friend. Surely, he must have seen his face in the mirror when he woke, his better judgement no longer marred by the strong drink they had with lunch the previous day.
“Before all that, Walter. Alain?” Royland glanced at Sumina, apologizing for putting her on the spot, but they all needed to hear it. And Alain was not so shy that he could not muster the courage in front of the rest.
It had been eating at him since they locked eyes that morning. Her ambivalence on the matter disturbed him, but he hadn’t been about to admit that. The words came quick and were accompanied by a deep bow of his head, held below the line of his shoulders. “Lady Sumina, you’ll forever have my deepest apologies for what I said to you, yesterday. It was careless of me. I should have never doubted you, not even for a moment. I was just… I am no stranger to others lying to me for their own gain, much less lying to Royland. But that aggression should have never been directed at you.” And he didn’t quite care how long it took to get back into her good graces. “You’ve become as much as kin to me as my brothers in arms around the table. You deserve more respect than what you received from me…” Once the apology was accepted and Alain was reassured, the room quieted down. Alain took his seat, as did Sirius, who began to eat.
Walter sighed, seemingly impatient. “And, now? What did she say?” He asked.
Royland paused and took in a sharp breath. “Firstly, she demanded that I be her traveling diplomat for as long as we’re to stay. Alain and Sirius will be accompanying me.” Sirius, for his numbers and analytical prowess, and Alain for protection. “That will take us outside of Dalem. Our first assignment begins no later than six days from now.”
“And where will that leave Lady Sumina, and me?” Walter said. Royland, sadly, did not have an answer for him. Had Lyrei not been so damned forward earlier, he might have had the presence of mind to ask. Royland explained, that if he had to guess, their roles would be largely supportive in nature. But there was another task he had in mind.
“Watch Lyrei. Under any circumstances. Get close, but not too close. We know that she knows more than she’s letting on. Far too much.”
“It was strange.” Sirius took a sip of his tea and wore an uncharacteristically serious expression. “She knew precisely when we would arrive. Our meal was hot, the cake was freshly baked, there are clothes in this house, so she knew we’d be staying.”
“Don’t forget the town where Royland fell ill.” Alain pointed his fork at Sirius. “We’d hardly seen a hair of Castien until the arrows started flying. And as if he knew we had nowhere to turn, he led us here. On her command. Quite suspicious.”
“She also knew who to look for.” Royland had slowly begun eating his food. “She knew what we looked like, first off. Knew that Sumina’s parents were on the throne. Knew that Sumina was traveling with us. And she could have only known that if she had been watching from the near beginning. Perhaps Pimli…” It was a disturbing thought. To be under the lens of an enemy – or even an ally – that you could not see, would not meet until it was convenient for them. Plots like this were used to trap unsuspecting people into lifelong servitude, which, Royland thought, probably accurately described a marriage to Lyrei Valralei.
“…Royland, could she have familiars?” Walter asked.
“Undoubtedly.” It was the only explanation. “She did say at lunch that Castien typically takes care of the trades… She would never send him out as far as Pimli… I do wonder if you brothers know, Sumina.” If they knew, they were going to follow. And if they followed, it was unclear whether Lyrei might find it in her best interest to keep the rest safe. She did need Royland alive, after all. Sumina, for all Lyrei cared, might go back to her brothers. Walter, Alain, and Sirius might willingly be handed over for prompt execution. Under no circumstances would he allow any of that to happen.
“And secondly?” Walter asked, not having forgotten.
Royland closed his eyes and took in another sharp breath, and all at once, he blurted, “She wants to be Queen of Volaire.”
“She-- what!? That shifty wench!” Alain exclaimed.
“She feels as though she has outlived her usefulness as the leader of Dalem. Wishes to pave a better path for half-elves from the throne. Beside me.” Royland let out a breath and looked to see what he could of Sumina’s expression.
“Makes sense.” Sirius had set his dishes to the side, now. Walter took them and stacked them with his. “You’re one of the few young bachelors across Vasilios, since your engagement was called off. The day we committed Harrenhal to the earth, four autumns ago.”
“May the Sirens carry his soul down the River of the Damned for all of eternity.” Alain muttered quietly. “There are others Lyrei could marry, surely.”
“Who?” Walter rolled his eyes. “Name just one suitor who isn’t of poor constitution, poor bloodline, a poor swordsman, a poor leader, or just… [i poor!] I do hope you told her no, Royland!”
“Of course! I have no issues helping her with her cause in my own way, but I do not intend to marry her over it.” Again, eyes lingered on Sumina. The realization was flooding his head. The thoughts were swimming around, rapidly. They needed to talk. But, when?
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] “Royland…?” He wasn’t looking at her with blame. He was looking for something. And then the shame. His hands were gentle, and finally in his voice, in his eyes, she found something that eased the ache.
Forgiveness, or at least the beginning of it. A little tentatively her arms wound around the back of his neck. Savoring the kiss to her forehead, the return of affection. His fingers against her ears, gentle as a flower petal, made her breath catch in her throat for a moment. “[+darkgreen My everything… I want you as well.] I want you. Still want you. And you have me.” The hurt was still there. The doubt would take time to erase. But the longing for him was still there.
“I can’t lose you. So you must not die either, then.” Her nose, and then her lips against his cheek. Then another kiss, and another, but her want for more lost to her exhaustion. “I… need to lay down.”
She would be content with nothing less than him next to her to sleep. And that night she did get her wish. His hand in hers, her eyelids so heavy once she was in bed. It wasn’t long before the sound of his breathing had lulled her to sleep faster than she would have thought possible minutes before.
Sleep came untroubled, and Sumina was too deeply asleep to wake early. By the time she did wake, Royland had gone. His place on the bed still slightly warm. At least he had been there. Sumina dressed, glad for a change of clothes. She supposed today might be good for a bath, and perhaps she could wash everyone's clothes.
First, breakfast. She found Walter there with tea, and Alain. She gave them both a smile, a little shy, uncertain. Her hand went briefly to her ear. Had she left any marks from last night? She hadn’t, but she also couldn’t see that. She quickly let her hand fall and started for the kitchen.
“Good morning. Should we see about breakfast?” Oh, the morning was awkward, and Alain was looking at her with such guilt and shame. She tried not to let the obvious tension bother her. Food. Some food would probably help the situation. Hungry people were seldom reasonable people.
First thing was to take stock of the kitchen. It had the basics, enough to get them started. Lyrei was expecting them. And this sort of hospitality… it was going to have a price. With someone like her, it was certainly going to cost something. Lyrei didn’t seem like the sort to go to this trouble out of the goodness of her heart. Sumina tried not to think too hard on it while she got eggs started, and set the two men to work cutting potatoes and mushrooms for her.
Alain seemed to be working up some courage to say something to her while she cooked when Royland entered. Her smile for him was less shy, more warm,”Good morning. Breakfast should be done soon.”
As if the smell of food had woken him, Sirius entered in time for breakfast, and was greeted by Sumina as well. Sumina had made eggs, scrambled, and cooked the potatoes and mushrooms together, seasoning them and adding some cheese. Breakfast was laid out on the table, along with the tea Walter had made. Before she sat next to Royland she affectionately brushed his hair back with her fingers for just a moment.
With them all seated it was Walter who broached the subject they all were thinking about,”And what are her expectations?”
Royland’s eyes widened at her accusations. “Sumina…We’re all a bit shocked by the news, but that will never mean that I don’t—” Royland let out a sigh. One that carried the weight of tangled feelings that he was unable to articulate. They were more alike than they were different, fleeing the obligations of the blood that flowed through their veins. What was he to do with his shameless display of hypocrisy?
The hand in her hair fell to his side. The hand on her face rested on the wall just behind her. He took a step until her back was pressed against it, leaning in to study her face. The whites of her eyes, the cadence of her breath. Searching for something. Some validation to what he had he felt. He found none.
Now, both his hands found their way to her face, gently persuading her to keep her eyes on him.
He conceded. Accepted defeat. Ready to deal with the consequences that she might rain down upon him. He deserved it all. Hatred, admonishment, abandonment – whatever she wished. “If you do not hold me to the actions of my father, then I… It is wrong of me to not offer you the same courtesy… I [i do] believe in you.” There was a crack of desperation in that last sentence. Praying that she wouldn’t rebuff him. Hoping that his intended sincerity would reach her. “And, I… I want you… All of you… In name, in spirit, in blood, and… in body…” His fingertips gingerly brushed the tips of her ears, where he had tugged before. He laid a kiss to her forehead, heart beating rapidly. Could she hear it? Feel it, even?
He had promised, in Pimli, to never let her doubt him again. Yet, here they stood, bodies close and hearts distanced. All on the words of one woman, whose mission for today seemed to be to destroy the bonds they all held so dear to them. “Give Alain time… I will speak to him. As will Walter, and Sirius… I will keep my promise to you. I will not allow you to die for me, Sumina. I need you. So, please, accept me.” Despite what he had heard, Royland decided that his feelings for her would outshine those doubts. And so long as she needed him to comfort her, he would not hesitate.
Love does not come easy for the man who had lost it so easily once before, and who had rejected it since. The nuances of a woman’s heart was not something Royland could say he had ever taken the time to know. Perhaps that much of Harrenhal had made it into his son. It was the next morning when the realization came rushing to him, accompanied by a headache that ran behind the eyes. Must have been the wine. The bed hadn’t been large enough for the both of them, not really, but Royland had laid beside Sumina anyhow. At first, he suggested merely taking a place on the floor, but her expression left nothing to the imagination. They fell asleep, holding hands – fully dressed – and awoke in the same way.
Royland slipped out of bed as quietly as he could muster and opened the chest of drawers on the far side of the room. No time for a bath, but he could serve to change before he saw Lyrei for their intended meeting. The sooner he could relay the information back to the rest, the sooner they might e able to counter whatever other nasty tricks she had up her sleeves for them. Glancing behind him, he watched Sumina’s chest rise and fall, steady enough that he thought her asleep. He slipped his shirt off – covered in dirt, so much so that it made him grimace. Somewhat instinctively he reached a hand over his shoulder to touch the large scar on his back, crossing from left shoulder to right hip. A memento of, ironically enough, Davin’s disdain for him. Thinking back on it now, the signs were clear from the time he’d arrived in Harrenhal’s home, Davin’s ill intentions. And there was the fact that his father had forgiven him, for nearly killing the crown prince. Maimed for life. Marked for death long before the night the Elves had stormed the castle. He sighed, slipping the fresh shirt over his body. Hoping that he wouldn’t wake Sumina, Royland made his exit.
Alain and Sirius were nowhere to be found. Asleep, maybe? Alain, likely on his lonesome, after his outburst last night. Walter was sat at the table, enjoying some type of herbal tea. “…Is she alright?” Royland raised a brow. No such sympathy for him, he supposed. Not that he deserved it.
“She is… I believe…” Royland averted his eyes.
“So you don’t know.” Walter said, somewhat sternly.
“I feel as though I did what I could for her… But I’ve got to go meet with Lyrei. Do look after her.” The sound of his footsteps seemed to linger in the air, reality itself was distorted from the tension between them all. He would leave it to Walter, the only source of calm. He must not have had as much wine as the rest of them.
The sound of the door closing stirred Alain. When he caught Walter’s eyes, shame washed over his face.
“Was that Royland?” Alain asked, sheepishly.
“Yes…” said Walter. “He’s on his way to meet with Lyrei. Discuss her terms for our stay.”
“And, Lady Sumina?”
“She’s… not yet awake. But, why don’t we wait for her and brew some tea? Come on, then.”
Lyrei had been waiting for him. He hadn’t even needed to knock at the door. Gesturing him inside, she shut his only exit, and Royland turned to face her. She was bemused. The King of Volaire was as handsome as she had heard, and especially up close. Those portraits within his castle walls did him very little justice. That cool, lavender gaze traced the line of his jaw, to his chest, and then they locked eyes again.
“I suppose you’ll be wanting to get to business?”
“Oh, yes.” Lyrei giggled, swaying her hips as she walked to the nearest chair, and took a seat. Royland would stay standing. Lyrei noted that he must be uncomfortable. And she was correct. “Sanctuary is not free. At least, not in Dalem. Not with bounties on your head.”
“Nothing ever is.” Said Royland. “Just state your terms. Quickly, now.”
Lyrei’s smile formed into a tiny frown. So impatient. Come, little mouse. Play the game as you are supposed to. You’re at my mercy – you’re not the big bad wolf you once were in Volaire. A slender finger opened the collar of her white dress. She threw her right leg over her left, revealing a thigh. Unabashedly, Royland noted. He gulped, quietly, and averted his eyes away. But Lyrei had seen that glimmer before they left her figure. “My King, I require your expertise in diplomacy to order to secure the future of Dalem in a number of places. Come, sit.” Lyrei waved her hand over a map, laid out on the table with several points denoted by black marks. Royland slowly walked over the chair beside Lyrei, and reluctantly, took a seat.
The map, a product of stunning cartography, depicted a section of the Madej mountain range, with Dalem at the center. Lyrei pointed a finger at a black mark, directly east of the settlement. Had they kept going for just a day or two more, Royland thought, they’d have reached said place. The short length of travel indicated that this was no more than a test of his value to her. And she was quick to confirm it, without saying explicitly so. “Primarily, this is where we receive the more exotic spices that we use in our traditional preparations of food. However, communications with them have broken down. I would like to know why, and how we may appease them.” Royland shot Lyrei a look. “I’ll arrange an entourage, and—”
“No, that is my one condition.” Royland looked quite stern, and Lyrei, enraptured by those blue eyes, sat silent. “Alain, and Sirius. That will be my entourage.” A moment of silence, before Lyrei chuckled, unwilling to fight him on it.
“As you wish, my King.” She said, leaning into him, disappointed when he sat back in the opposite direction.
“…What else is it you want from me?” Royland asked. He was unwilling to let her in on just how much he’d suspected, just how much he distrusted her. And yet she seemed to glean enough from that brief inquiry. Lyrei placed a hand on his leg, the other on his arm that rested on the table. Her king sat there, frozen, wide-eyed. She loved it. Wanted to see more.
“I… I want more than better trade routes, and mended friendships here in Madej. For my people, I want acknowledgement. Acceptance. And if I cannot give it to them, then I must pave the way. There is little I can do as the head of a small mountain community. But on a throne… As your Queen…” She eased into him again, testing the waters. Royland hadn’t moved this time. Seeing him, unflinching, Lyrei retreated. Like a hunter back to her den.
Royland released a breath he’d been holding in but was none too quick to stand up. He could feel it. If he stayed any longer, his cheeks would begin to burn. He’d be at her mercy if he showed her any weakness. “That’s an admirable goal… But I must, erm… Decline.” Lyrei smiled cutely. None surprised. None deterred. They parted on normal terms. Their departure would need to be the beginning of the following week, at the latest. They had time enough to gather supplies, and rest properly from their adventures. And then, Lyrei stressed, she and Royland would need to have a proper debriefing when he returned.
The meeting had taken a little less than an hour. And upon his quiet return to their temporary home, he took a seat at the table. Everyone would come when they did.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina leaned into him. She wanted it, she needed it. To be assured that things weren’t so bad. And yet, at his words she cried harder rather than be comforted. It just hurt more, to hear him say that when his actions were the opposite. She took the actions more seriously. “You don’t believe that. Or you wouldn’t look at me like that. Like it’s my fault, what they’ve done. If I’ve done nothing wrong, then why do you act like I’ve betrayed you?”
Her grip on her ears tightened, and then she let go. They were slightly pink from her tugging. “I thought you… of all people… Vondien or not. I’ve never counted your father’s wrongs against you. But my family.” The family she had turned her back on, was willing to give up despite her love for them, for his sake. Her head lowered, eyes half closed. “I have my answer then. You don’t want a Liaren. You don’t want me. Because of what my parents have done to you.”
His shoulders were her support. Sumina had to hold him to stay upright. Exhaustion, pain, and misery clouded everything, and her head felt so fuzzy. The ache in her chest felt like it might really burst. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to stop crying, let alone sleep, any time soon. She had been so happy before arriving in Dalem. But now from a whole other country her family had snatched that happiness she’d found. They didn’t even know what they’d taken from her. [i Everything]. “How does that make me anything but [i nothing]? If whatever I do, I’m just… what they did. What they pushed on me. Regardless… I’ll see you home safely. If it kills me. Our people need a king like you.”
The quiet threat made Alain bristle. It fueled the argument with Walter and Sirius, which grew louder which each exclamation. Of grievances, of statements passed, of insistence of their irrelevance. It made it difficult for Royland to concentrate, though he was seemingly far removed.
“All things in life,” Royland had learned, and so he imparted, “are temporary.” Alain was brash, hot-headed, and could certainly be unforgiving. But his current actions were only destructive in nature because it was the only way he could communicate his disappointment, his hurt, his gullibility. Royland, and Walter and Sirius, knew. He would agonize over it. How could he have been so naïve? To trust.
“For Alain, trust takes…time to build. And he is always waiting… to be betrayed.”
Her flowing tears, they called to him. To be wiped dry by his hand. A shaking figure, asking to be held. A trembling voice asking to be reassured. Without being able to control himself, Royland embraced her. If she should cry, let it be into his shoulder. If she should yell, let it be into his chest.
“Try to understand. We’re all troubled by the news. But we do not hate you.” Walter and Sirius, at the very least. It remained to be seen if Alain would return to his senses anytime soon. “[i I] do not hate you. Nor do I believe you’re threatening. A burden.” Being of Elvish descent had little to do with it. It was merely about the positions her family held, had imparted unto her vicariously. Yes, she was inherently more dangerous because of her proficiency with magic, but she had never once used it against them. Alain knew that just as well as anyone.
As he had done before, he rested his fingers in her hair with one hand, the thumb of the other wiping tears away. Pleading her to stop crying. “The content of your character is everything. Even when emotions should run high, you’ve done nothing wrong.” Even Royland himself could feel that his words were empty, devoid of feeling. Only drawing from his endless storage of uplifting phrases he’d had in his head for years. The words of dead poets and philosophers, whose names he could not remember.
He wanted nothing more than to show what he meant through his actions, but for some reason, he felt he could not. All he could offer, in the end, were those niceties that she didn’t need at the moment. All he was worth were actions that he could not bring himself to take. “Don’t claw at your ears… Please.” He leaned in closer, not yet close enough to kiss. His eyes steeled with loving concern, attempting to pull her out of the pit she had dug for herself and her emotions. “You’re not [i nothing], you’re… You’ve always been…”
[i Good to me].
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Things almost seemed alright, for a moment. Then all this arguing over her. Over a title she didn’t even want. Lyrei had to have known what trouble this would cause. So why help them, and also leave them to argue this? What was she playing at? All she could do was watch, and hurt, and hold back the tears. All the while her head spinning.
Alain’s words cut deeply. An unarmed elf. Dangerous simply because of what she was. Who her family was. And yet Royland’s gesture cut deeper. There was no warmth, no affection that she could see. She glanced at Alain,”I’m no princess. If any of you keep calling me that, I’ll assume you’d like to lose the function of a body part for a few hours.”
The fact that her threat was not shouted made it sound all the worse. She sounded exhausted and utterly serious. She wasn’t sure if she [i really] intended to follow through on it, but she couldn’t stand being called that. “And if they want to execute you all, they’ll have to bury their so-called [i princess] first.”
They could have Royland and the others over her dead body, and she meant that. Even against her brothers. Once inside the room she let out a shaky sigh. And then the tears started. Slow at first, she tried to wipe them away. He apologized, but it didn’t feel like things were the way they had been.
“How could I not know? I’ve been so stupid.” Sumina leaned her back against the wall by the door. “I don’t want it. I don’t want to be a princess. Can I just… not? Please.” The tears were flowing more freely, and she had stopped wiping them away. Her hands instead went to her ears, tugging on them miserably,“I… Am I really… If I were human, even part human, would I be… so much trouble? So dangerous? Like Alain said. I… had thought... it wasn’t a problem… but...”
Would Alain distrust her now, if she were a human instead of an Elf? Would Royland? They had no trouble with Walter’s Elvish ancestry, but Walter [i looked] human. Alain didn’t call him an Elf, implying he couldn’t be trusted. Walter wasn’t blamed for what had happened. What others had done. “Am I… nothing more than the worst… others like me have done? What my family has done? Even if I… stand against them?”
For a moment, Royland seemed to relax. Sumina’s voice and her words were reaching him. The pain in her voice, her face… His heart began to ache. He recognized those words that she was speaking. How could he forget, when it preceded a moment so undeniably precious to him. But he averted his eyes, unable to reconcile the anger in his heart. How badly he wanted to respond to her in earnest, and yet… How true were they?
Sirius was the first to speak up, taking good notice of Sumina’s state. Walter was the second, turning in his seat to offer support in the form of a gentle tap on her fingertips. Four eyes, now, expressed their disappointment with their king’s demeanor, with his callous attitude. Alain was the only one to come to his defense, the only one to properly articulate how serious this implication was.
“Royland, we should not badger her unnecessarily. We’re all worn from the travel.” Royland knew Sirius meant well, but his words were wholly unhelpful, when paired with the hard truths they all needed to come to terms with. “I know as well as you – and you, Alain – what this means if we are caught. But Lady Sumina is our [i friend]. We should treat her as such.”
“And what will you do when those brutes come knocking at the gates, asking for our heads? Adding the charge of treason to our execution orders, for holding their [i princess] hostage!?” Alain stepped forward, gripping Sirius by the collar of his shirt, shaking him rather violently. Walter quickly took to his feet to separate the two. Royland turned his back to the group. What good was it to endorse the discourse? And, yet, what could he do about it?
“Now, all of you…!” Walter hissed, giving Alain a shove to create distance. “Come to your senses! Lyrei’s having her fun with us. Using us. Playing us like a freshly tuned harp.”
Silence filled the room. Royland knew it to be true. Their fated meeting with Castien that had turned the tide of their luck, the shepherd who would lead them to the site of their salvation. The God that welcomed them into her kingdom, with terms not yet made clear. The feast, the brazen display of hospitality and acceptance. There was a price to pay that he had not yet been made privy to.
Still, he thought, now watching Sumina’s face closely. He was here with his usurper’s newly crowned princess. And what was worse, he was infatuated with her. But what feelings had developed could not extinguish the fire he felt rushing through his veins. Nor did it spare her from Alain’s wrath.
“And even if Lyrei is!” Alain snapped viciously, pointing at Sumina. “She’s jeopardized our very lives! Our mission is to see Royland sat on his throne once more, at the helm of Volaire! How much good are we, really, carting around heir to their lineage in our midst!? It’s as I told you in the castle that night! An unarmed elf is just as dangerous as those that were after Royland with malintent. We’ve gone and done it now.” Silence, again. Now, Sirius stepped in the center of the group, seemingly recovered from Alain’s outburst.
“Why don’t we all get some rest?” He shot a look at Royland. “Why don’t you and Lady Sumina go on first?” To the furthest room in the house, away from the commotion of Alain’s fury. Royland could read Sirius’ eyes, so long as they had been friends. [i Apologize to her.]
There was hesitation in Royland’s body language, though his words suggested otherwise. Perhaps most telling was his gesture to Sumina, as opposed to holding her hand. He put an outstretched arm towards the short hallway, to a room, unknown if she would accept. He said nothing, only expecting her to obey him.
As they settled into closer quarters, and with the verbal argument continuing behind them, Royland cautiously shut the door. Finally, they were alone. But when he looked at her, that burning was still there, behind that aching heart. ”…My apologies, Sumina, I was… what I said was cruel of me.” He knew it wasn’t right to take it out on her. “I, of all people, should not doubt you…” And yet, he did.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina was silent for the entire meal, barely eating. At the mention of the royal title she was now supposedly granted she was visibly uncomfortable, shifting in her seat. Princess of Volaire. A [i stolen] title. How did she not notice? How? Even though they had been carefully avoiding the subject when she was around after all the fights, how did she not see something that should have been so obvious? Hindsight was such a clear thing. All Tarron’s reassurances that their lives would get better. Her family’s reassurance that once this was over things would be looking up for them. Her mother wistfully saying how lovely Sumina might look in silk. Her father promising she wouldn’t want for anything once King Vondien was dead. Veiled hints, and she hadn’t seen them for what they were.
Castien saw how the news seemed to kill her appetite, and tried to gently encourage her to eat a little more. The trip had taken the most out of her, and she needed to recover her strength. There was some success in getting her to nibble more of the meal.
The house might have made her more enthusiastic at another time. It was charming. More than she was used to, without being overwhelming. Only she noticed, now that she wasn’t avoiding him, Royland was avoiding her. He wouldn’t look at her. It stung so much worse this time.
Lyrei was finally gone. As admirable as Sumina found Dalem, she had a dislike for Lyrei at this point. She got the feeling Lyrei was not someone she could trust, though how much of that was her unhappiness at the recent news and how much was a fair assessment Sumina wouldn’t be able to say.
“Don’t. Please.” Her face was red, burning in shame, and a little anger. She couldn’t stand being called that. Especially not by him. “No. We argued about it. About you. They… stopped telling me much of plans because we’d fight. Mother always hated the fighting. And I wanted no part of it. Any of it. I didn’t ask.”
Her face felt hot as she continued, like she might cry,”I may be blind and stupid, but I [i never] decieved you.” Her head hurt, her chest hurt, but she continued,”[+darkgreen My everything], I’ll ask you what you asked me. My answer is the same as it was then. [+darkgreen I want you. Vondien or not.]”
It was starting to feel like she was saying too much, despite her attempt to not with the others there. Would he even remember her saying it in Elvish first, let alone recognize it? She glanced to the ones sitting, watching, before rubbing her eyes with her fingers. She was so [i tired], and she just wanted him to hold her. Hold her hand to sleep as before. She felt a little unsteady and had to hold the back of Walter’s chair for balance. The walking, the awkward meal, and now [i this] was quickly eating through her fairly little sleep the night before, and her short nap.
“I’m sorry. I’m a little tired still.” Sumina mumbled, her other hand still over her face. What was she going to do if, after all that, her family name was too much for him to deal with? She needed to lay down.
Each knight turned their head in Sumina’s direction, all brows furrowed, mouths slightly agape in silent surprise. A range of emotions, atmospheres, washed over the table as they exchanged glances with one another, then set their sights back on the newly discovered princess in their midst. Most surprised, most incredulous, was Royland. His eyes lingered on Sumina a good while. A cool wash of disappointment flooded his chest, then seeped into his stomach. What little intentions he had on eating what Lyrei presented them had gone, now. Her expression seemed to suggest she hadn’t known, and yet… How could all their months – years, even – of planning have simply slipped past her? For the rest of the discussion, Royland would wear a stern expression. The tension brought on a headache, the longer Lyrei’s charade carried on. Quite tellingly, he made it a point to avoid Sumina.
“I do appreciate the sentiment, but sympathy is of no concern to me.” Back to the topic at hand, beyond the shroud of generous offerings and platitudes spread out on the table in front of him. The important things – food, shelter, safety. Those things he owed the people in his company. “I’m sure this comes as little surprise to you, but—”
“You wish to ask for sanctuary, and I intend to give it to you.” That saccharine smile, Royland thought. Again. A glint in her eyes signaled amusement at his discomfort.
“Lady Lyrei, do explain your reasoning.” They had only just arrived. Only just met. Yet the table was set, the meal prepared, the entrance and exits of the actors in her carefully orchestrated introductions to Dalem had gone off without a hitch.
Without hesitating, Lyrei turned to Sumina, feigning concern. “It is simply not safe for the [i Princess] outside these walls. Nor is it safe for you, my King.”
By now, the men at the table had begun to eat, nervously watching the conversation unfold before them. At the mention of Sumina’s royal title, Alain looked to see if she would finally grace them with a little eye contact. Whether he felt sorry for her plight, or felt irritated by her silence, seemingly endless, he couldn’t decide. A thick quiet came over the table, and it as at this point, that everyone decided it may be time to indulge in the spread laid out before them. Lest they come off as rude. Royland kept his consumption light, exhibiting a restraint that made Lyrei giggle.
“Come now, King Vondien. Do partake. I want to hear your thoughts on the meal we’ve prepared in your honor.”
Pear, apple, and sweet melon with a honeyed drizzle. Charred, earthy vegetables covered in a smooth, buttery sauce. Various cheeses paired with airy, crispy bread, with full-bodied wine. Marinated meats in rich, hearty broths. All local to Dalem, Lyrei went on to explain. Each flavor was bold in its own right, and as a whole, the meal was not only balanced, but delicious, as well. The spices and the materials they required to produce such exquisite foods came through hunting, gathering, and Castien’s various adventures beyond the walls. Often times his travels were restricted to nearby Elvish villages, camps, or meetings facilitated by their familiars with other traveling merchants. Simply so their stock never ran dry. Even their hunts for meat were regulated, rationed. Everyone contributed to the lifestyle in Dalem, equally. They did more, when they could afford to do so. Usually, they only did what was necessary. It was what kept their civilization afloat in these trying times, for both elves and humans. The historical contempt the two races held for one another was no secret, even in more relaxed countries like Madej. Yet, the stigma of elf and human relationships was still felt, and especially when children resulted from these unions.
“Tell me, my King. How many recorded half-elf births were there throughout Volaire’s history?”
Royland set down his utensil, dabbing his mouth with his napkin. Attempting to formulate a response that would not result in unintentional offenses. “We… have never typically recorded those births, I’m ashamed to say. Things have changed since Harrenhal’s death; however we never came so far as to offer those of mixed descent all benefits of citizenship.”
Lyrei took a long sip from her wine, that lavender gaze never breaking eye contact. “I do understand. These things take time… And yet, for as long as our people have warred, those children born in the center – those half and half – have never had so much as a place to call their own. Where they could be accepted without prejudice. That is the beauty of Dalem. The foundation on which we were built.”
“An admirable foundation, indeed, isn’t that correct, Walter?” Royland gave his friend a gentle smile. Walter covered his mouth to finish chewing his food before responding.
“O-Oh, yes. Absolutely.” He turned to Lyrei, who was waiting for an explanation. “I’m a quarter elf myself, though I pass enough for human. His highness graciously accepted me as a member of his personal detail, though we have been friends long before this ordeal.” From the expression on his face, Lyrei could tell his confession was genuine. And, with open arms, she would welcome him.
“Then, you’re one of our own. Please, do consider yourself at home in Dalem, amongst your kind.”
The remainder of the lunch went on without too much more conversation. Royland and his men, in silent agreement, made it a point to try everything on the table. Lyrei insisted that the cleanup be left to her and Castien, as they went over his ledger. For now, she seemed insistent upon leading the weary travelers to their abode. An empty home, they had been told. The former domicile of someone who had since passed and had no living relatives to whom they could pass their possessions onto. The woman had been rather young but was sickly all her life. A disease that ran in the blood of her family and had claimed all of their lives. Her family had been a large one, but the home in which they had lived was rather modest. Brick-built and single story with an open floor kitchen. With rooms enough for the four men to share in twos, with a spare for the odd woman out. It was simply furnished; beds, a table, chairs, and a full bookshelf to stave off boredom. Comfortable. Quaint. Royland was quite smitten with it.
“There’s a well around the back which you can use to draw your baths. Spare linens in your rooms, should you wish to wash those that you arrived in. Simple in design, but I do hope they are to your tastes.” A hand on her hip, Lyrei leaned against the open door’s frame, gauging her guest’s reactions. Proud to know her people’s workmanship was admired even by those used to more opulent quarters. “I do expect you all to get your rest. Oh, and, my King? We have much to discuss tomorrow.”
When Royland turned to question her, he was met only with the sight of a closed door. Cautiously, he eyed the room, again, noticeably passing over Sumina. Walter lit a candle to place in the center of the large table. Sirius and Alain took seats, and Royland stayed standing. Now, they could finally speak in relative privacy. Finally, Royland found the courage to meet Sumina’s eyes - if she had found that same courage, as well. “Well, Princess… Tell us, truly, did you know?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] There was no doubt he understood. His words and hands soothed away some of the trouble and noise in her head and heart. A knight and a healer, each in their own way, held the lives of others in their hands. Hands that held hers so gently. His eyes were impossible to look away from, she felt drawn in to that intense blue. Everything outside him seemed like nothing. He was everything.
And there was more he might have said, but instead he urged for rest. It was late, even later than she’d meant the walk to be. One more kiss before bed, soft, sweet, and lingering. Sumina would have liked more, to allow herself to be lost in affection, the feel of his skin, and drive away any thought that might trouble her. Her fingers in his hair, at the back of his head. But the others were so near. Instead, a few more whispered words,”You need not bear your burdens alone either. When you’re ready. Sleep well… [+darkgreen My everything].”
Perhaps a little unfair to say that to him knowing he couldn’t understand. Her cheeks still burned to say it to him, and she could half feel Meriel’s pleased amusement. She wasn’t sure she could have brought herself to if he did understand. Eventually she would. Once she was ready. And until then Meriel could tease all she wanted.
In the morning Sumina was obviously still tired, but doing so much better than the last couple of days. She had a happy smile, and was able to talk a little more with Walter about plants, and give him proper thanks and praise for the tea and remembering what the root was for. Still, with the sharper incline, Sumina was discouraged from walking too much and exhausting herself, so she spent some of the time taking a short nap in the cart. Most of the rest of the time enthusiastically admiring the flowers.
Castien brought her several flowers he picked after seeing her watch from the cart,”[+darkgreen A few flowers pale in comparison to your beauty, but I hope my humble offering may please the lovely lady.]”
He spoke so sincerely, and Sumina tried and failed to hide her laugh behind the flowers,”I’m sorry. It’s nice, thank you.”
Castien only grinned,”Your laughter is music to my ears, [+darkgreen water lily].”
After yesterday, it was good to see her recovering so well. Even if knowing some of the source of her happiness had to be Royland. It rubbed him the wrong way a little, sure that Vondien selfishness would hurt her, but at the same time her carefree smile was a sight to behold for now. She even hopped out of the cart to walk once they could see the gates. It wouldn’t be far, and she didn’t want to spend the whole time in the cart.
The gates were breathtaking. And then there was their host. Was this Castien’s mysterious employer? Sumina gave the woman a little curtsey as she was introduced. Yes, Sumina decided, this was his employer. She had an air of authority. The way she looked at them reminded her a little of the way Aias often looked at people. Calculating. This woman was dangerous. But dangerous to them, or on their behalf?
“A pleasure to welcome you all to Dalem. I’m sure you all must be exhausted and hungry.” Lyrei led the way into the village,”Castien, if you could stay I have a couple of things for you to do, and then I’d like to go over your ledger with you.”
“Of course, My Lady.” Castien knew she wanted more than just the ledger. If all it was were the numbers, she’d take the ledger and send him off home. No, she would expect to hear his impression of the group. His gaze wandered to Sumina. Perhaps he didn’t need to get into every detail of what he suspected, but there would be no hiding from Lyrei his attraction to Sumina. Lyrei knew him too well, and was far too observant to miss something like that for long.
Inside the village Sumina noticed a well blended mix of humans and elves. Rather than separate off as she’d so often seen, they mingled freely. There was no tension she could pick out between the Elvish and the human residents. Elf and human worked together repairing a roof, and the children, while mostly Elvish looking to her, all played together. The women carrying baskets of shopping together were mixed and mingled, talking and laughing. She watched as they walked with open wonder, while Castien watched out of the corner of his eye, unsurprised but silently pleased that she liked what she saw.
Lyrei’s home was one of the more grand structures in the town. Two stories, with high, large windows. Vines grew along the wall, and one corner had a rounded structure, reminiscent of a tower, but not much taller than the house itself. The inside was not excessively cluttered, but Lyrei clearly had a taste for finer things. She led the group to a table where a meal was laid out for them all, and invited them to sit. The meal was meant to impress, at least a little, while seeming humble. Sumina was impressed by the variety of food offered. It was the sort of thing she wasn’t used to seeing aside from special occasions.
Out from the kitchen came a human woman, a little older, carrying a pie which she set on the table. Brown hair with streaks of grey just starting to set in and eyes a similar but darker brown, she looked very plain, but had a beautiful, warm smile. A smile that grew when she saw Castien,”Ah, there you are. Lyrei said you’d arrive today.”
Castien seemed a little surprised to see the woman there. She came right over and hugged him tight. A hug he returned,”Hello, Mama. Glad to be back.”
She eyed the group, the one Lyrei had asked for the pie for. The one she knew her son had been asked to escort back,”I hope your trip was a safe one. Your brother and sister are bouncing off the walls waiting for you.”
Castien smiled, and looked at Lyrei. He wasn’t very upset, but he knew when he was being used. Lyrei was making it a point to [i show] the group the secret of Dalem, using him. Lyrei put her hand on the woman’s shoulder at Castien’s silent urging. He might not be very upset with her, but he did not particularly want his mother in the middle of all of this,”I’m afraid I have to borrow your son for a little longer, over lunch. Thank you so much for the pie. Sometimes nothing but one of your treats will do, Mrs. Inakas. They’re the best in Dalem.”
“Of course, it’s always a pleasure.”
While his mother left, Castien looked back at Sumina. He had no doubt she wouldn’t be bothered, but was still relieved to see nothing but a little confusion and then understanding on her face. She was surprised, but not in a bad way. She did look a little puzzled. Sumina did wonder why he hadn’t said anything sooner.
While they all sat down to eat, Castien took a seat next to Sumina, and felt a need to mention in response to her silent curiosity,”I take after my father quite strongly. My brother looks more like our mother. My parents own a bakery here in Dalem.”
Once everyone was seated and lunch could be started, Lyrei eased into business,”I feel such sympathy for your plight, King Vondien. To have your throne stolen, forced to leave your home. I couldn’t imagine. And now Ailduin and Saida Liaren calling themselves King and Queen of Volaire in your absence…”
Lyrei shook her head to indicate it was such a shame. But a cool, lavender gaze was there to catch when Sumina went pale. No, there had to be some mistake. Lyrei perked her head in false curiosity,”Lady Sumina, you look upset. Is something wrong?”
Sumina looked up at their host, then to Royland. Her own [i parents] were… It was her entire family. They were all so much more involved in this than she realized. How could she have missed that? “I… I know them. That’s…”
Castien raised an eyebrow at Lyrei, but said nothing while she continued. Lyrei feigned surprise,”Oh my. How do you know them? Do you know anything that may help?”
There was a little lump in her throat, and she looked down at her lap. How did she not notice, in all her arguments? “They… they’re my parents. My parents… How…” She didn’t think she could look any of them in the eye just then. Especially not Royland. It had been bad enough when her family was involved, when they were trying to kill him, but for them to be the ones taking the lead? And she’d never noticed. She felt ashamed.
Let her hear him singing, now that was an amusing thought. Royland shook his head, pointing to Alain, who was laid on his side, back turned to them. “Alain doesn’t like my singing much.” Always a wealth of criticism from that one, unless the singer were a woman. Royland could recall his near constant complaints, whenever it was his turn to accompany him to harpsichord lessons. “Yet, to hear you sing would be a great treat to us all.” He returned the favor, a kiss to her forehead, lingering for longer than he’d initially planned.
The change of position of her hand and the drop in her expression forced the smile off of his lips. He listened, carefully, never making a concerned expression. A hand on her head, fingers in her hair, attempting to comfort her while she spoke. Horrible, awful things. But, par for the course, in her profession. It was the same, for him.
“That much we have in common… We think, had I been quicker, tried harder, perhaps we can save those lives. But these wishes elude us like sand through our fingers. A knight bears much the same responsibility… Yet we muster up our courage and we fight for what remains.” He moved his hand, now, from her hair to her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. “We do what we must, for the living. Else, we do a disservice to the dead. You are strong, Sumina. But you do not need to shoulder these burdens alone.”
For as long as she were with him, he wanted to erase those fears, the nightmares, the reminders, the thoughts, the pain… “I am glad you choose to share your burdens with me.” He brought her hands to his lips, staring intently. Into those lovely, soft eyes that looked at him with such reverence. “Someone as unworthy as I… I want…” To share all his burdens with her, as well. About his past. His father and Lenoir.
Royland’s face grew red as he desperately searched for the correct words. Against his judgement, he calmly suggested that they attempt to rest. For the sun was due to rise in mere hours. It would do them no good to be exhausted the following day, unable to greet their hosts properly. Or worse, unable to defend themselves. That much did not need to be explained. He did say, earlier, that they would only wake for just a bit. Yet, now that it was coming to an end, he found it increasingly difficult to urge her towards the campfire. What [i did] he want?
“Ah, well… Never you mind. Let’s return.”
As predicted, the morning came far swifter than Royland thought it would. In an effort to get his blood pumping before their departure, he accompanied Alain on a quick patrol about the perimeter. The morning was cold – colder than it had been. The sun had not yet risen enough to warm the mountainside. It was a cold that encouraged dew to collect on the leaves, a cold that sank into their bones, staved off only by the movement of their legs. They talked about the mundane, the extraordinary they had seen on their travels, in their escape. Despite his admitted lack of sleep, Royland’s upbeat demeanor surprised his friend, who had to know what it was that made him almost unrecognizable. Their voices were quiet, so as not to give away the sensitive topic of their discussion.
“If I’m being honest, Alain, I’ve not quite felt this way about anyone. Certainly not Lenoir.” Nor the faceless, nameless women he’d used to forget about her in the wake of the postponement of their marriage. Ages ago, now.
“Lady Sumina is a good woman. Good [i for] you.” Alain said. He stopped, placing a hand on Royland’s shoulder, who frowned in response. The camp was just ahead. Castien would have a fit if they tarried any longer. “But we still have a mission, a cause. Don’t lose sight.” Royland knew he meant well, knew that he spoke the truth. He nodded, and they carried on. The last leg of the journey was something of an undertaking. The terrain sloped considerably from where they had been, where it had been an unrecognizable incline before. By mid-afternoon, the temperature had risen, the flowers had spread their petals to welcome the sun’s rays with open arms. The mountainside was rich with color – more so than Vondien castle’s own courtyard, perhaps.
Finally, they could see their destination beyond the trees. Gates made of beautifully stripped wood, twisted amongst each other and wrapped their way to the heavens, it seemed. Vines adorned the length of the large, fortified fence, spiked at the peak of each piece of wood. The ornateness reminded Royland of a buck’s antlers standing tall after its second spring. Castien was the first to step forward.
A guard standing watch on an elevated platform shared a nod with the band of unfamiliar travelers, before signaling that the gates be opened before them. Royland held his breath, first watching the gates give way, and then to the figure before them. He furrowed his brow. How curious. A woman. Slender, hardly older than Royland himself. Dark hair cascaded down her shoulders, ending just below the waist. Her eyes were the color of lavender, but richer, more vibrant. Purple jewels eyed her prize. The king she had been waiting for. Elves certainly dressed more liberally in Madej, Royland couldn’t help but think, noticing the tight fit of the clothes she wore. A modified corset, fit for combat, paired with a skirt that stopped just above the knees. The hem of it was weathered, torn – dark in color. Her body moved like a serpent when she walked. Deliberate. Deadly.
“Welcome, esteemed guests.” She placed one foot behind the other and bowed deeply in Royland’s direction. “To Dalem. I am Lyrei Valralei. And you…” Standing straight, she tipped her head, a coy half smile pulling at pursed lips. Royland tipped his head back, giving Lyrei an incredibly shrewd look, before responding.
“Royland Vondien. Son of Harrenhal. King of Volaire.” He gestured to Sumina, Alain, Walter, Sirius in sequence. “Lady Sumina. Sir Alain Maxwell. Sir Walter Allen. Sir Sirius Balthem. Pleased to meet your acquaintance.” If, skeptical.
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] She hadn’t meant to wake him, to trouble him, but Sumina was glad for Royland’s presence. Not only did she feel more steady on her feet with him to support her, she felt more calm and comforted with him there,”Yes, just a little. To clear my head.”
Royland was right that she was troubled. She didn’t immediately get into the subject, instead content to walk toward the cart, away from the others so as to not wake them. And then he had questions, questions she answered with a smile for the most part. Growing up she spent time learning to cook, clean, sew, and do various crafts from her mother mostly, while her father did most of the teaching when it came to reading, writing, and numbers. She learned plenty about edible plants from all sorts of people, her parents, her brothers, other relatives and people in their little village. She liked tending to plants, though had a tendency to over water them. When she decided to become a healer she had to apprentice herself to one of the established healers, and described an incredibly stern but kind woman who taught her the skills to tend to the ill and wounded. When it came to the community, Sumina struggled a little to explain. For some things she knew the Elvish word for it, but not necessarily the proper translation for it. She said the basic thing was family looked out for each other. Extended family was, and she cycled through a few words before settling on clan, and they could generally be relied on to help. And several clans might make up a village or tribe, or a clan might belong to a few villages or tribes that were loosely aligned. She couldn’t decide which word to use for that one and kept switching between the two. Some of them were rivals, but most were just interested in survival, and that meant helping each other. She glossed over it a little, but did briefly mention that pretty much all of the tribes or villages she knew agreed on one thing, and that was their intense hatred of the man who had forced them all into the mountains. It wasn’t something she felt like lingering on, even if it had helped keep several villages from being at each others throats at times.
Sumina admitted, sounding a little embarrassed, that she had never learned to play any instrument, but could sing passably well. Most of what she knew were Elvish lullabies and songs for celebrations, but she was curious to hear more human music. She hadn’t had a chance to hear much, even once they moved to the city her family was inclined to keep company exclusively with other Elves. When she said passably well, that was what she thought, but not what others said. Anyone who did hear her sing had little to say but praise for her voice. High but rich, and rarely an off note to be heard. His remark about not being appreciated and wink made her laugh. “One day you’ll have to let me hear. But we shouldn’t wake the others for that.”
With a light kiss on his cheek she promised,”I’ll sing for you tomorrow evening, if you like. Before bed.” There was no telling exactly what tomorrow evening would be like. What sort of place they may find themselves in then. But she thought the idea of singing something for him then wasn’t impossible.
At that point she let her hand linger over his chest, and her face looked a little more serious. She was ready to talk about what was bothering now, what had woken her. The arrow that hadn’t been there, hadn’t been in [i his] chest. “I… A healer can not save everyone. Those I could not… I remember them. I dream. I dreamed you, but… It was a boy, a hunting accident. He died before I could even get the arrow out.” Her gaze had lowered to her hand, pressed against the non-existent wound on his chest. Her brows were drawn together in distress as she continued,”And tonight. A young man, he and another had fought. He was dragged in, trying to hold his insides… in. He lost so much blood. So much. If I’d been there when he was hurt, I may not have been too late…”
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