ᴛʜᴇ ᴅᴜᴄʜᴇꜱꜱ

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[center [size12 [font "times new roman" House Hyperion is feared by the gentry and common folk alike. Rumors abound that they are the offspring of demon or monsters. For surely no ordinary human could posses such magic or show such a cruel and vicious nature. Stories of the mountains of corpses and the trail of blood they leave in their wake during war have long since caused terror to grow in others. And as the highest ranking nobles outside of the Imperial Family of the Etherild Empire they have long ruled over others. Loyal only to the royal family they have many enemies and almost no allies.

This is the family that Lady Aeryn Juniper Eldred is to married into.

Though married is perhaps too kind a word, in truth, Lady Aeryn is being sold off to this family in exchange for wealth, land, and the social advancement of the Eldred family.]]]

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[center [size12 [font "times new roman" [b [#9900cc “And I, Lady Aeryn Juniper Eldred, greet you, Duke Alric Daemon Hyperion,”]] The young lady greeted, dipping into a curtsey. Most people didn’t use middle names even in introductions and they rarely spoke Alric’s back to him when he introduced himself that way. She was probably only mimicking his greeting even if it hadn’t been entirely proper. Alric always used his middle name as it was the old-world word for demon, he enjoyed the reactions he got from nobles who didn’t like him when they heard that his middle name aligned with the rumors about him. He heard a small laugh and narrowed his eyes at her, there was nothing in this situation which was amusing to him.

Before anything else could be a said the pinch-faced woman who’d been glaring at his mother stepped forward, practically pushing Lady Aeryn aside in the process. She held out her hand while she spoke, [b [#E51A1A “I am Countess Olivia Eldred. It is a pleasure to meet you.”]] Alric clenched his jaw as he realized she expected him to kiss her hand, a greeting that was reserved for peers and those who ranked above. Even then most women wouldn’t ask a younger man for such a greeting unless they had an interest in them. Before he’d been a Duke there were plenty of women, he’d met but even then, they’d never do such a thing, because Alric was the heir of the Grand Duchy Hyperion. It was simply to presumptuous. Besides, Alric hated unnecessary contact with people. He could count on one hand the women who he had greeted in such a way; his Aunt the Empress, his cousin Princess Hilda, his sister Astri, which had been a playful and teasing manner during one of her many tea parties, and the warrior Queen of the Gaelevia Kingdom whom he’d respected after fighting a war against.

And this toad felt she was par with those women?

[i How disgusting], he thought to himself. But his face did not betray his thoughts as his lips curled into a cruel smile and his eyes sharped like a blood hungry beast, [b [#912222 “I would not offer your hand, unless you wish to lose it.”]] His own hand rested on the hilt of his ceremonial sword; it certainly wouldn’t be a clean cut but he was fairly sure he could remove the offending object in a single swing.

The Countess flinched at his words and the look in his eyes as he stared down at her, despite being a noble sheltered from war she could feel the pressure he exuded and the danger his existence pressed upon her. Slowly her hand fell under his gaze and her body trembled. Alric brushed past her, though he was careful not to actually touch the woman, but his aura was felt against her skin; it was a cold and unforgiving feeling.

Once past her he held his arm out towards Lady Aeryn, his face was emotionless and he was silent but his eyes spoke for him. Those eyes told her to quietly do as he bid. Alric could feel a level of reluctance from the lady but ultimately, she looped her own arm with his.

Free of Alric’s gaze the Countess, whose body had yet to stop shaking, wheeled around. Her eyes accusing everyone around, and her mouth opening as if she was going to protest, though her face said enough, everyone could practically hear her screeching voice [i [b [#E51A1A ‘How dare you let him speak to me like this. Don’t you know who I am?’]]] that was what her face said. However, none of the servants looked at her, their gazes were carefully pointed elsewhere.

The only one who looked at the Countess was the Grand Duchess, their eyes met and the only think the Countess could see in them was… Pity. The Grand Duchess looked at the pitiful sight of someone who had made an irreparable mistake. Her long gaze finally looked away and she moved to address her son, [b [#62C1F0 “After you enter your father and I will escort the Imperial Family to the grounds.”]] Alric only nodded while two servants opened the double doors for the party. Given that it was an afternoon garden party there would be no heralding of guests or even the two of them as they entered, of course the Imperial Family would be announced but that was a separate issue.

The garden was bustling with guests and servants, many of them ceased their chatter slightly as Alric entered with the lady but most of them kept gossiping with only the topic of their conversations changing. This was the first time they were seeing the two of them together. Some lamented the poor girl for her situation in being with an individual such as Alric. While others praised her good fortune that the daughter of a count would be married to a Duke that would one day become a Grand Duke. Alric ignored all of it; he was used to people whispering whenever he attending any event, why would hosting being any different? It was one of the many reasons he preferred to simply not attend things.]]]
  ᴅᴜᴋᴇ / LIVE / 17d 2h 44m 49s
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[center [abel [size15 Once the Duke retreated to his bedroom, he did not leave for the rest of the evening. His presence in the estate filled every inch and the atmosphere was suffocating. Aeryn had finally settled in her new hope, but with the engagement party only a night away, she was feeling the heat.

Aeryn and her mother waited for the Grand Duchess but were dismissed by the staff. Ignoring the Countess's sour mood, Aeryn retired to her room.

Taking a seat on her bed, Aeryn stared at the doors to her balcony. She liked to keep it open just in case the wildlife wanted to visit with her. Her favorite thing about her Gift was her ability to talk to animals. It wasn’t the same way she spoke to people. The animal’s thoughts would come into her mind like whispers. It wasn’t uncommon for the varmints to crawl into bed with her at night and soak up her heat.

Rising to her feet, she made her way onto the deck. The hard wood was cold under her bare feet. Fresh air washed over her; sea breeze nipped at her cheeks and brushed her silver locks from her face. Shivering, her white night gown was too thin to shield her from the chilly evening. On the horizon line, she watched as the moonlight danced on the ocean waves.

The Duke’s crimson eyes and bloodstained face flashed into her mind sending a jolt of anxiety through her chest. Clutching her heart, she winced. Her pulse thudded in her ears. Bracing herself against the balcony fence, she retched.

This was her reality. Although she had been prepped for this her entire life, the fact of the matter scared her. From the very beginning, she was taught to be the perfect daughter, the perfect bride, [i the perfect purchase.] She was going to marry a man who resented their marriage and have children to carry on a bloodline. Aeryn was going to continue living a life without love. The thought of her mother sleeping soundlessly in the other room made her shake.

There was a knock at the door. Clarissa’s sing-song voice asked for permission before she entered. Without missing a beat, Aeryn threw herself from the balcony.

Before she crashed to the earth, Aeryn tucked and rolled. This wasn’t her first time fleeing from a palace. As soon as she was on her feet, she took off as fast as she could. Adrenaline pumped through her veins. She regretted not grabbing shoes.

As soon as the shoreline was in sight, Aeryn slowed her pace. The smooth sand relieved her aching feet. Her chest heaved, gasping for air. Each breath burned in her throat. She felt alive again.

[b [#0066ff “Are you really ru-running away-“]] A familiar voice called from behind. The words came out rushed between labored exhales. [b [#0066ff “One moment,”]] Clarissa spoke again. She rested her hands on her hips and lifted her chin hoping her posture would help her catch her breath. [b [#0066ff “Sorry, I haven’t run since I was unwed,”]] she laughed, although it came out more as a wheeze.

Fighting a smile, Aeryn turned to face the woman. In the moonlight, Clarissa’s tawny hair shown silver. Their eyes met and it was all over for the girl. Tears escaped her like a floodgate. She pressed her palms to her eyes in attempt to stop the leak. It was no use. Falling to her knees, she welcomed the wet earth beneath her. The hem of her once white dress was now stained brown with mud.

Clarissa fell to meet her. Cradling the girl, she allowed her to weep. Her cries filled the night air. Nocturnal creatures ebbed at the edge of the forest, curious about their sister with the gift. The handmaid had to fight her own tears. She couldn’t imagine what the girl was going through.

They stayed liked that until Aeryn’s breathing steadied. Sitting up, she wiped her cheeks. Her eyelids felt heavy and her face hot. She felt like an idiot. Letting out a sigh, Aeryn stretched out on her back. The coolness of the grass soothed her flushed skin. Gazing at the night sky, she smiled.

Clarissa took a spot beside her. With an index finger, she pointed at a tiny spot that glowed brighter than the rest. [b [#0066ff “Do you see Jupiter?”]] She whispered.

[b [#9900cc “Yeah.”]] Aeryn croaked.

[#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦]

Aeryn woke with the sun. Warm light poured through the windows, igniting the room with gold. Sitting up, pain shot through her chest. She felt like she had been kicked by a horse. Her throat was sore and she knew her eyes were swollen. Frowning, she couldn’t remember how she got back from the night before. Scanning the room, her eyes fell on a slumbering body nested on the couch. Her handmaid had stayed with her the whole night. Smiling, she felt a little guilty.

Getting up, she hobbled towards the washroom. The woman staring back in the mirror looked like a stranger. Aeryn touched the bags under her bloodshot eyes. Her lips were dry and cracked. Raking her fingers through her messy hair, she felt like a mess. The idea of the Grand Duchess seeing her like this or even knowing of what transpired the night before set shivers down her spine.

Closing her eyes, Aeryn inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth. A silver light engulfed her. The flesh on her feet and knees knitted together, closing the wounds. Color returned to her ghostly skin. The bags under her eyes faded and her lips healed. When she opened her eyes again, she felt miles better. When she was finished in the bathroom, she woke Clarissa. They had a party to get ready for.

Aeryn requested breakfast in her room. She wasn't sure she was ready to see the Grand Duchess quite yet. Clarissa sat with her, chattering between bites of pastries. The events from the night before didn't come up. It was their little secret.

After they finished eating, Clarissa invited two other staff members to help get the soon-to-be duchess ready for her engagement party. First, they dunked in her the bath. It took a little extra work to brush through all of Aeryn’s hair. Once she was clean, her handmaid retrieved her clothes.

Aeryn couldn’t believe how beautiful the dress was. She twirled from one end of her room to the next. Leaping onto her bed, she jumped up and down much to the horror of her servants. Clarissa was pleased to see the girl back to her old self.

[#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦]

As the Grand Duchess tucked a loose strand of starlight hair behind the tiara, Aeryn caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Tilting her head, her eyes fell on the man everyone had been waiting on.
The Duke was dressed in all black accented in gold. She suddenly felt out of place in her pale blue dress. Despite his elegant attire, Aeryn couldn’t take her eyes off of his face. His snowy hair had been brushed and styled. His long eyelashes cast shadows on his fair skin. The ruby eyes that haunted her all night drew her in. When he wasn’t scowling at her, she had to admit he was gorgeous.

The Duke looked from the man who had entered with him to his mother. They seemed to be having a conversation she wasn’t invited to.

[b [#912222 “I, Duke Alric Daemon Hyperion, greet you, Lady Aeryn Eldred,”]] the Duke introduced, crossing an arm over his chest and bowing. The disinterest in his voice made the girl wince.

She was quiet for a moment. Now that they were face to face, Aeryn finally processed how tall Alric was. He stood at least a foot taller than her. This was the first time the Duke had spoken to her and it took her an embarrassingly long amount of time for her to collect herself. Everyone was looking at her now; her mother didn’t try to hide her distaste for her daughter’s behavior. Blushing, Aeryn carefully curtsied.

[b [#9900cc “And I, Lady Aeryn Juniper Eldred, greet you, Duke Alric Daemon Hyperion,”]] Aeryn tried to match his energy and formality, but she couldn’t keep a straight face. Letting out a small laugh, she pursed her lips and smiled.

The Countess stepped forward and stretched a hand out for the Duke to kiss. She gazed down her nose at him. Her expression too pompous for her title. [b [#ff0000 “I am Countess Olivia Eldred. It is a pleasure to meet you,”]] she purred. Aeryn ducked her head in second hand embarrassment. She couldn’t wait for the wedding so her mother would finally leave.
  |eldred| / muta / 22d 2h 14m 13s
[center [size12 [font "times new roman" It was strange how being in his own home immediately wiped away his guard, was what Alric thought when he opened his eyes and registered the startlingly cold temperature of the water around his body and realized he’d fallen asleep. The rest was welcome, the freezing water was not. He braced his hands on the edge of the tub and hoisted himself up. The air didn’t feel any better to him, in fact, it was somehow even colder than the water. Reaching back into the tub he began to drain the water, he wouldn’t bother the maids with something trivial like that, besides bothering them with that task was far more of a bother to him. With a slight shiver against the air he crossed over the room to wrap himself in a towel.

Moving back into his room he was grateful to see that the maids had turned down his bed for him. Alric didn’t bother changing into night clothes or a robe and instead flung himself into the mattress and began pulling the sheets and blanket above his body. For the first time since he’d left for the border Alric allowed himself to feel the aches and fatigue the constant physical abuse that battle had cast on him. His high pain tolerance, something he’d earned through shedding both blood and flesh on the battlefield, and his naturally high stamina he could endure more than any normal soldier; that combined with his psychological conditioning meant that from the moment he’d left the manner until he’d returned he’d dissociated himself from his body, allowing it to take as many hits and push past any boundaries he might have had to achieve what needed to be done there. But here in his home, he felt at peace enough to let the tension go and feel the pains that racked his body. It was strange that an aching pain was what made him feel relaxed enough to begin slipping off into sleep again.

His sleep was disturbed once more when he heard the sound of something large hitting his door. He sat up in a groggy state, trying to orient himself as he listened to the low noises and banging. It took him a moment before his senses sharpened, he felt what was making the noise. [b [#912222 “Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,”]] He said, slipping out of the bed and crossing over towards the door where he could hear a rumble of displeasure from what lay beyond it.

Opening the door, he could vaguely make out the void like shape of his bonded lion, Arius. His pitch-black fur making all but his eyes, which shined fiercely, blend into the darkness. The feline pushed forward through the open doorway and nudged against his master’s leg, his fur and warmth tickling the bare skin.

[b [#912222 “Looks like you and dad made it home okay,”]] He spoke softly, kneeling down and burying his fingers into the long, dark fur of Arius’s mane. The lion grumbled back in an affectionate tone nuzzling his large face against Alric’s chest before a long tongue languidly licked at the young Duke. He gritted his teeth, he normally didn’t mind the barbed tongue of the lion but that was when he was licking his hands or forearms, even the Duke’s face was more adapted to the rough texture than the skin of his chest. But it wasn’t enough to hurt him, just very uncomfortable. [b [#912222 “Alright, to bed now,”]] Alric pressed his face into the beast’s fur as he spoke, the warmth and softness of Arius a comfort to him.

Once Alric withdrew from the lion the black beast immediately padded across the room, stepping up the dais which the bed was located on and then leaping up onto mattress. The bed creaked under the magnitude of weight but it had been built with Arius in mind. Alric followed, returning to his place in the bed which still clung to some of his warmth. The large beast stretched out until its head had reached where Alric was laying, its jaws opened and its tongue curled in a yawn as he reached out to pet its head. Almost immediately the white-haired young man slipped back into sleep as if he hadn’t been disturbed prior.

He briefly awoke at dawn, a conditioned response to the battlefield but rather than getting up he chose to roll over and try to sleep just an hour or so more. This sleep was much lighter, more of a half-conscious state than a real rest. It lasted around two hours before he heard the door to his room open and someone walk in. Alric didn’t bother to open his eyes, a faint hope that whoever it was would just leave prompted him to pretend that he was asleep. He knew it wasn’t Astri as the little girl was hardly up at this hour, and more importantly she would immediately jump onto his bed and insist he wake up. His mother would likely be speaking to him at this point, though the times she barged into his room were few and far between. Least likely was his father who would have been able to tell whether or not his son was really sleeping and wouldn’t actually enter the room, instead he’d say whatever he needed to and then leave. And none of the servants were bold enough to come into the room without prior knowledge that he was awake.

Which really only left one person. One very annoying person who began to clear their throat while standing at the side of the bed. Each time he increased the volume and exaggerated the sound trying to ‘wake up’ Alric. After about the sixth noise Alric finally spoke up, [b [#912222 “Shut up.”]]

[b [#172B90 “Did you forget that your engagement party is today?”]] The voice said with audible annoyance. Just as Alric had thought it was Perdel, his advisor and assistant and easily the most obnoxious person to have ever been cursed upon Alric.

[b [#912222 “It’s not until the afternoon,”]] He countered, closing his eyes again.

[b [#172B90 “Exactly! Which means we only a few hours to get you presentable,”]] Alric groaned into his pillow, and Perdel let out and tsking noise. [b [#172B90 “The [i Imperial Family] is here for this party Alric. Practically half of the nobility is here for this party. Hell, [i [u my father]] is here for this party!”]] Perdel sounded exhausted at the mere thought of his father being on the property, of course once the party began Perdel would make a point of looking both as composed and smug as he possibly could to annoy the old man. Alric’s advisor was the illegitimate son of Duke Obrien, one of the most vocal opposers to House Hyperion. Thus, Perdel had essentially spit in his father’s face by deciding to serve them. An act which had been quick to impress Alric and began their strange friendship. Perdel was one of the only people who didn’t flinch when he met Alric nor did he holdback in lecturing him. Which was why he’d quickly become Alric’s advisor and confidant. [b [#172B90 “Which means you need to be a real human being today rather than the antisocial monster I’ve come to know and love,”]] He was also unbelievably cheeky towards the young Duke.

Alric sighed in defeat, [b [#912222 “Did you at least bring breakfast?”]] If he was going to suffer, he was going to do so with a full stomach.

[b [#172B90 “No, because this is clearly my first day working with you,”]] Perdel said sarcastically his eyes dead of any emotion. [b [#172B90 “Of course, I had breakfast prepared, I’m not a novice.”]] At the mention of the word breakfast Arius lifted his large head from the bed, his tail twitching slightly. Meanwhile Perdel went to open the door, a maid entered carrying a tray of food. Normally Alric ate in the conservatory, which was where the servants placed Arius’s food as well. The lion could hunt for himself easily enough but as they had only just returned to the estate it was normal for the lion to stay with his master rather than venture out into the surrounding wilderness to hunt. Besides, there were too many guests at the estate to risk an incident.

Alric scratched at the top of the lion’s head. [b [#912222 “Go,”]] He instructed.

[b [#172B90 “Are you talking to your beast or to me?”]]

He rolled his eyes at Perdel’s question, [b [#912222 “Both. Go.”]] Arius blinked at Alric as if waiting for him to get up so they could go together, but ultimately the large cat let out a disgruntled growl and stood before leaping off the bed and stalking out the door.

Perdel followed the cat out, poking his head back in before departing fully, [b [#172B90 “When you’re done eating the maids will draw a bath and [i don’t dismiss them],”]] Perdel turned to jab a finger in Alric’s direction. [b [#172B90 “If I let you bathe yourself, you’ll only do the bare minimum.”]] Well, he wasn’t wrong.

Despite his reluctance Alric followed Perdel’s instructions and allowed the maids to wash him. It wasn’t that he hated being bathed or getting clean he just hated being touched by people so having to be washed was rather awkward and uncomfortable for him. The Grand Duke was quite similar in that regard, fortunately Astri had taken after their mother and didn’t mind any physical touch whether from her family or the servants.

After he existed the bath, he found that the maids had laid out the clothing his mother had chosen for the party. Luckily the Grand Duchess knew her child well enough not to push him into some colorful monstrosity that most noble men would likely be wearing. One might not have expected black as an appropriate color for an outdoor spring party but the Hyperion men were known for wearing black. The color suited them. And Alric had always preferred the dark color over bright or gilded articles of clothing.

Perdel entered the room, not caring to knock as there were very few times that the advisor acknowledged any level of privacy towards the one, he served. He leaned against the bed post blatantly staring at Alric’s body while the other dried off his hair, [b [#172B90 “Gods, if it weren’t for your personality, you’d be perfect.”]] Alric had long known about Perdel’s attraction to men, it wasn’t as if the other male was shy about it, rather Perdel was proud of who he was. Too proud according to the traditional and old-fashioned Duke Obrien; just another reason why Perdel had left that house. Alric couldn’t have cared less who Perdel was attracted to, for all his teasing and ogling he wasn’t remotely interested in the Duke.

[b [#912222 “And what exactly is wrong with my personality?”]]

[b [#172B90 “I don’t even know where to start,”]] Perdel said with a mocking serious tone. He threw his towel towards the other man, not necessarily in annoyance or anger but really just because it was amusing to throw things at him. Walking towards the bed where his clothes were laid out, he began dressing himself. After putting on his under clothes he dressed himself in the black trousers and began fastening his overcoat. The over coat was black with gold embellishments, the most notable being the gold trim down the front and the two gold chains that went across his chest, it had a high neckline that covered the alchemical writing that were at the base of his throat. The sleeves were cropped just past his elbow, with a gold trim on the cuffs, exposing the magic circles which lined his forearms. Unlike his formal evening coats, which were also more ornate, this lacked any tails and instead had a simple straight cut at his hips, just past the waist of his trousers. He wore black boots that reached just below the knees. The outfit in combination with his excellent posture made him appear even taller than he was.

The last thing he added was a ceremonial sword, normally one wouldn’t wear even a decorative sword in the presence of the Imperial family but like with most things House Hyperion was allowed certain privileges. In the hands of a normal person a ceremonial sword wouldn’t do much, they were meant only to show status and prestige. But with Alric’s inhuman strength and skill with a blade he could do more than enough damage with the blade to take a life. It was unlikely he’d need it; however, it was always best to be ready.

Perdel’s dark blue eyes gave a slight hint of approval, [b [#172B90 “Now, if you only would keep your mouth shut this engagement might actually work out.”]]

Despite his teasing Alric knew better than anyone that the engagement was too far advanced at this point to be broken. The Emperor himself had approved of the arrangement and his presence at the party today would be proof of it. The wedding might still be a month off but once the announcement was made today that girl might as well have already been his wife. He sneered at the thought. He’d only approved of the marriage because he knew it was inevitable that he would be married one day and also because his mother had insisted upon the girl. Though, if it hadn’t been for his cousin, he likely would have refused her as well.

Rather than answering Perdel, he strode out of the room walking towards the vague area he guessed his mother would be awaiting him. His advisor quickly overtook his leisurely pace and lead him with more certainty to the destination. The closer they got the more noise could be heard, the party had already begun and guest were clearly milling about outside awaiting the entrance of the Duke and his fiancé as well as the heads of House Hyperion; the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess.

Just before the doors to the garden he saw his mother, the Grand Duchess fussing over the dress of a young lady. His mother wore her hair up for once, though it could only be styled towards the base of her head due to the exceptional length. His mother refrained from cutting her hair by request of her husband, the Grand Duke, who was said to adore her hair long. Whether that was true or not was something even Alric didn’t know, it could just have easily have been his mother’s whim not to cut her hair. The Grand Duchess wore a violet dress of vivid color and her neck was adorned with diamonds.

His mother attended to the girl, smoothing out her skirt and constantly adjusting strands of her hair as well. Alric recognized the girl as the one who had peeked out at him the day before, though she looked more mature than she had before. Perhaps that was the dress however. The dress was simple, but the tailoring made it exquisite. It was a light, robin’s egg blue colored dress; a shade which likely would seem far more appropriate for spring than the dark black he was clad in. The dress had floral lace detailing at the bust which gave exaggeration to the lady’s chest and was held up by two straps on either shoulder. The bodice of the dress was tightly structured and at the waist gave way to a flowing satin skirt. It also looked as if the dress had pockets? A different but surprisingly functional addition to the design.

The color of the dress complimented the silver hues of the girl’s long hair which fell like a veil around her. Now that he was closer, he could make out her facial features better than he had when they’d briefly made eye contact on the stairs. She had delicate features, and smooth, pale skin that suited the fairness of her hair. She seemed small and thin to him, likely she was shorter than him by near a foot.

On her head sat a delicate tiara, with precious metal forged by an artisan to look like vines, leaves, and even the delicate flower petals. At the heart of each flower was a cluster of pure white mana gems, magical crystal imbued with power, these were too small to grant any magical blessings but the rarity gem and the even more rare coloring of it made the tiara all the more precious and valuable. He recognized the tiara immediately; it had been the one his mother had had specially commissioned for his fiancé as an engagement gift which was to be given in Alric’s name. Of course, he’d played no part in the choosing of the gift other than his suggestion of mana crystals rather than regular gems and event hat had been due to Perdel’s suggestion that the gift should be something that showed the status of Hyperion.

Even Alric, as disinterested as he was, had to admit she looked beautiful.

The Grand Duchess looked at her son expectantly and Perdel, who had moved to stand behind the group and by the door, looked exasperated as he mouthed to Alric, [b [#172B90 ‘Greet her!’]]

[b [#912222 “I, Duke Alric Daemon Hyperion, greet you, Lady Aeryn Eldred,”]] Alric crossed an arm over his chest and bowed ever slightly, his voice flat of any emotion and his words distinctively formal. As he straightened his posture his eyes flicked back towards his mother and Perdel as if to see if they were satisfied now. His mother seemed approving enough but Perdel had buried a hand in his long, azure locks in frustration. Alric noticed another person in the room standing off to the side, an old woman with a pinched faced who seemed to radiate her negative emotions, her eyes were sharp and darted between the young lady and the Grand Duchess. [i Who is this hag?] He thought with annoyance at the person who dared to glare at his mother so openly.]]]

[center [size11 [font "times new roman" Perdel [b [#172B90 #172B90]]]]]
  ᴅᴜᴋᴇ / LIVE / 25d 23h 41m 17s
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[center [abel [size15 With the engagement party only a day away, Aeryn was starting to lose her cool. She was struggling to keep her composure; anxiety ate at the lining of her stomach. The presence of her mother and father didn’t help the situation.
The Count had found a spot for himself in a rocking chair by the window, his gaze on the dreamlike scenery. Seeing him now, Aeryn thought he looked so much older. She couldn’t help but wonder if he was lonely without her in the silence of her childhood home. All she wanted to do was curl up at his feet with her head in his lap. She wanted to tell him of her new life and all of the people she met, her fear of marriage.

But alas, Aeryn did none of that. She knew better. The young girl sat perched next to her mother with her hands in her lap. She spoke only when spoken to. Aeryn tried to hide her distaste for how her mother spoke to the Grand Duchess. It was hard to watch her mother make a fool of herself. The Grand Duchess was nothing but kind to Aeryn. She treated Astri like a human being instead of an ignorant child. Aeryn knew the Grand Duchess behaved the way a mother should. The realization left a bitter taste in the girl’s mouth.

The Countess droned on about the Engagement Party. Who was going to be there? How many bouquets of flowers would there be? Would there be a band or a full orchestra? Her questions were endless. Mid sentence there was a knock at the door. A servant entered the room and bowed, [b “Your grace.”]

Fuming, the older woman turned her nose up at the servant. Aeryn cringed at her mother’s behavior. [b [#ff0000 “Well, I never. How [i dare] you interrupt me!”]] She shrieked.

The Grand Duchess shot the woman down with one look. Countess Olivia Eldred shut her mouth without another word. [b [#62C1F0 “Countess Eldred, I do hope you will be mindful of whose home you are in,”]] her voice was steady but her words cut through the air like a knife.

The servant approached the Grand Duchess and whispered in her ear. Aeryn shifted her weight in hopes of hearing what he said. All she could make out was [i 'Duke.'] Her eyes widened at the mention of his grace. The Grand Duchess made a face Aeryn had not seen on the celestial woman before: Panic.

Her mother wasn’t the only one to notice the change. A reptilian smile crawled across her lips. [b [#ff0000 “Your grace? Is something the matter?”]] The woman did not try to cloak her condescending tone.

[b [#62C1F0 “The matter is [i Hyperion] business,”]] the Grand Duchess shot, her eyes cold. Aeryn felt her skin crawl. Hyperion business was now [i her business.] Curiosity threatened to get the best of her. The Grand Duchess exited the room leaving Aeryn alone with her parents.

[b [#ff0000 “Hmm, what do you think that was about?”]] He mother purred. She crossed one leg over the other and tapped her lip with a finger. [b [#ff0000 “Even the mighty [i Grand Duchess] has family problem,”]] she noted with a grin.

Clenching her fists, Aeryn rose to her feet. Her mother’s eyes narrowed. Before she could speak, Aeryn barked at the woman, [b [#9900cc “Mother, this is the family I am marrying into. The family [i you] sold me to. Have some respect.”]]

The Countess was speechless, bewilderment plagued her face. Aeryn turned away from the woman and padded towards the door. Her mother stood to join her but Aeryn shot a look that stopped the woman in her tracks. She had learned a thing or two from the Grand Duchess whether she knew it or not.

Cracking the door, Aeryn stuck her head out. Her starlight hair fluttered around her like a veil. Glancing from one end of the hall to another, she heard voices from the entrance hall. They were rushed and echoed through the estate.

[b [#912222 “I’ll take dinner in my room.”]] She heard clearly. The voice was deep and rich.

Rounding the corner was a handsome fellow. He was tall but the air he carried made him appear much bigger. His hair was bone white and his eyes were a startling crimson. Tattoos lettered his body. A dark liquid had dried brown on his clothes and pale skin. Blood streaked his cheeks. Aeryn’s lilac eyes widened at the sight. He looked like a predictor that had been victorious.

As he stalked passed her, he paused to look at her. Well, [i glare.] His ruby eyes looked straight through her, striking her to her core. Electricity coursed through her veins. Her knees threatened to give out. Despite his fierce gaze, Aeryn could only stare back. Curiosity and fear wrestled in her chest. She smiled.
  |eldred| / muta / 42d 1h 8m 56s
[center [size12 [font "times new roman" The young Duke Alric of house Hyperion looked every bit the demon that the courts whispered about. His reputation was one of violence and disdain. They spoke of the one who had been named by soldiers as the “Black Knight of Hyperion” for his black armor, they spoke of the strange and dark magic he used against his enemies, they gossiped about how he was immortal and could not be killed by any man, and they speculated about what cruel trick his family had used to become so close to the imperial family. If those tittering lords and ladies could see him now, they would surely faint with fear.

Alric had forgone is armor for lighter riding clothes so that the journey would be swifter. Yet, he was still adorned in black. He wore a black shirt with long sleeves and high collar that covered his neck, black leather gloves to protect his hands from holding the reins for such long hours, black trousers, and black riding boots. The most ornate item he wore was a cape, with golden fastenings and edging; that and a brooch of gold in the shape of his house’s sigil, the crowned lion. But even without the sigil or his noble cape it would be clear to any who looked at him whose house he belonged to.

The children of house Hyperion all had hair white as bone and eyes colored like torn flesh. His pale skin made to look all the more pale by his choice of dark clothing. But dark clothing had its uses, such as now when it was soaked with blood but showed no signs of it. Alric placed a boot on the upper chest of the corpse at his feet, wrenching his sword free from the dead flesh as he hear the familiar sounds of hoofbeats against the soft dirt behind him. The rest of the guard caught up to him and the few who had been keeping to his pace. He lazily wiped the blood off his sword using the leg of his pant, his hand loosely gripping it due to the slickness of blood on his gloves, before shoving it back in its hilt.

Blood dripped down from Alric’s hair, following a curved line down his cheek and jaw, as he looked up to the man who was dismounting from his horse. He looked every bit like Alric, from his pale skin and white hair, to the stark red eyes that bored into those they looked at. Unlike Alric his white hair was slicked back, away from his face, and he seemed to have sharper features than the twenty-six-year-old. This man with a suffocating aura was, of course, the Grand Duke Hyperion, the so-called Reaper of the Etherild Empire, and the Alric’s father.

Alric did not bow nor greet his father as one might normally do in a family with as high of titles as they possessed, but the Grand Duke would not care and Alric would not be bothered with actions that were unnecessary. Especially when the eight corpses at his feet were a far more pressing matter to his father, [b [#912222 “They were waiting to ambush me.”]] It was well known that Alric rode ahead of his father with a smaller number of knights, and this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to take advantage of that fact. They had been hiding ahead, but Alric’s magic was too sensitive for them to be concealed for long. When they attacked, he was ready for them. It wasn’t much of a fight given his experience and abilities. Though they did manage to land one arrow. Barely. It was just a sliver of a wound on his upper arm, easily concealed with his cloak. It hurt his pride more than it hurt his body. [b [#912222 “They were well trained,”]] Alric stated as he watched his father lean over one of the bodies, examining the man who had dared to kill a member of house Hyperion.

[b [#B29600 “You were better,”]] His father mused without humor. To him is son’s skill was a fact, a necessity to his ability to continue living, not a brag.

But for Alric, his combat skills were something he took pride in, and thus he did not shy away from the cold smirk that curled at his lips, [b [#912222 “I always am.”]] He didn’t miss the curl of his father’s lips in response to his son, but it vanished in an instant. [b [#912222 “Do we know who they serve?”]]

His father didn’t answer immediately, instead he looked more closely at the bodies, [b [#B29600 “No, and I doubt we’ll find any clues on them. They know better than to leave evidence of their attacks against us. But,”]] His father paused, a sneer in his voice, [b [#B29600 “I can guess who they belong to.”]] His father straightened, turning his attention to his son, [b [#B29600 “Hurry back to the estate.”]]

[b [#912222 “Shouldn’t we pursue any allies they might have had?”]] He asked in disbelief, it wasn’t like his father to leave a job half done.

[b [#B29600 “[i I] will pursue them, [i you] need to return to the estate,”]] His father said shaking his head. [b [#B29600 “You cannot risk missing your own engagement party, it will only incite the bastards that sent these men after you. Besides, your mother will have your head if your late,”]] They both laughed, or rather scoffed at the statement. It was true, the Grand Duchess would not accept her son’s absence at his own party. It had been bad enough when he’d been late to his own birthday party when he was fourteen. [b [#B29600 “Go, tell her that I will be back before sunrise tomorrow,”]] Alric arched a brow at his father but he merely nodded, so Alric accepted it. If the old man was lying his mother would kill him.

[b [#912222 “Very well. Arius!”]] Alric shouted backwards, the large black beast growled in response, raising itself from the ground where it had been lying after the fight. Its coat was splattered with blood with the ruby liquid dripping from its maw and painting its paws. The black lion slowly stalked towards its master, rubbing its mane against his leg once it had approached, [b [#912222 “Stay with father, help him to track any remnants, understood?”]] The beast roared lowly, its intelligent golden eyes blinking at its master and partner in a mix of understanding and reluctance. Arius disliked leaving the one he was bonded to, but Alric knew the lion would listen to him. The young man approached his Friesian stallion, the black horse stood tall and proud waiting for its rider to return to it. Its tail flicked anxiously as he mounted, ready to move once more, and likely happy to put distance between itself and the lion its rider kept so close.

[b [#B29600 “Ride well,”]] His father said, holding the side of his reins for just a moment, the largest affection he would show to his grown son while other watched. Alric only nodded in understanding before kicking off, his horse immediately responded, its powerful legs thundering against the road. The knights who had been accompanying Alric were barely able to follow. Without Arius to account for his horse could run as fast as its legs would carry it.

It was close to noon when the estate finally loomed before Alric, the architecture unlike most noble houses simply due to the age of the building and many artisans who had found patronage from house Hyperion. As he slowed the stallion’s pace to a stop he dismounted before the entrance, servants were already there to take the horse to the stable and fuss about him like gnats. They must have been watching from the rooftop for his arrival to know he was there already. The doors opened and he walked in only to find his mother hurrying towards him, a look of ferocious worry on her face as she took in his appearance.
Once she was close, she reached out to touch his face, had it been anyone else he would have flinched away but this was his mother, [b [#62C1F0 “What has happened?”]]

[b [#912222 “We were ambushed on our way home, father remained with the men to insure we rooted them all out. Father instructed me to ride ahead,”]] He explained, still upset that he’d been sent home for something as trivial as a party when there were those out there trying to kill them. Not that there weren’t always those who would try to take their lives. Remembering his father’s words, he spoke again, [b [#912222 “He promised to return to the estate before sun rise tomorrow. I left Arius with him,”]] It was unlikely his mother would notice the absence of the lion until later, the beast had never quite taken with her and tended to be wary of her presence.

[b [#62C1F0 “Good, good,”]] His words seemed to calm her. She seemed to be centering herself as she turned to one of the maids, [b [#62C1F0 “Please prepare a bath for the Duke, he must be presentable for dinner.”]]

Alric knew exactly why his mother felt he needed to be [i ‘presentable’] for dinner and was already gritting his teeth, [b [#912222 “I’ll take dinner in my room.”]] The way he spoke was much like an order and it seemed his mother knew better than to try and change his mind.

[b [#62C1F0 “Very well, I suppose you shall simply be meeting your fiancé with the rest of society tomorrow,”]] Alric didn’t miss the sound of reluctance or disdain his mother layered into her words. But she would not guilt or shame him into sitting through a stuffy dinner with the political piranhas who were selling off their child in exchange for status.

As he climbed the stairs, he felt someone watching him, he turned his face only slightly letting his eyes lead his movement. There was an unfamiliar face peeking out from one of the rooms below. Long, pale hair fell down around her and large lilac eyes stared at him. His eyes narrowed to a point. [i This child is meant to be my bride?] He thought bitterly before turning away from her and continuing up to his room.

Upon entering his room, he immediately threw off his cloak which he had used to hide the wound from his mother. He inspected his arm in the mirror; already, the cut was healing, leaving only a small scratch now. Alric’s magic may not have been adequate in healing others but his self-healing abilities were quite strong. Then again, to have survived what he had, they would have to be. The bathroom was attached to his room and as he entered the two maids bowed their heads to him. He waved off their formalities and began to remove his clothes. As he peeled his shirt off it clung uncomfortable to where ever there had been blood. His torso was covered in magic circles and alchemical runes that helped him to channel his magic, whether his chest or his back he had almost no patches of skin that were unmarred by ink. Normally only magicians were permitted to have such tattoos, but house Hyperion was allowed a great many things others were not. He handed the heavy cloth to one of the maids, [b [#912222 “The sleeve needs to be repaired. Do not tell my mother about the cut,”]] He ordered, they nodded, though they knew his order came from a place of care towards his mother not a desire to deceive. He stripped himself down and handed his clothes off to the maids who took the items and left him. Sinking into the water he felt his muscles relax as he washed off the blood and dirt from his travels.

A phantom pain seared through his abdomen causing him to tightly grip the sides of the tub as he left it run through his body. It was a reaction to his healing magic; he should have been used it by now but the pain was still enough to knock the wind from his lungs. He could feel the tingles of electricity beneath his skin, dancing through his body as if his magic was checking for more injuries that needed healing. Slowly he relaxed once more into the steaming water, letting his magic seep out to keep it hot against his skin but careful not to let it get too out of control least he boil himself alive. Briefly he dunked his head beneath the surface of the water to wash out the blood before pushing the white strands back and away. Leaning his head back against the cool porcelain edge he let his guard down fully, there were no threats here in his home despite the many guests he knew were on the grounds, and especially despite the fact that it was likely one of those same guests had sent people to kill him. Was his engagement really so threatening to them? It wasn’t as if he really cared for it either.]]]

[center [size11 [font "times new roman" Grand Duke [b [#B29600 #B29600]] ]]]
  ᴅᴜᴋᴇ / LIVE / 43d 4h 31m 23s
[center [size12 [font "times new roman" Dinner was a stifling affair; with guests it was traditional to change to a more formal outfit to wear to meal, which meant that Astri had complained about the weight of her dress and cage layer to give shape to her skirt. Of course, the Grand Duchess felt quite similarly towards dress cages and the weight of dress overcoats. She could not have been more grateful to be old enough to discard those things, besides if the Countess wanted to take offense at how the Grand Duchess chose to dress, she was more than welcome to voice it. She wouldn’t. The Countess was so desperate to impress her higher that she wouldn’t dare to question it, especially since it would be a question regarding age and to ask a lady her age was quite insulting. It was hardly her grace’s fault that the magic in her children’s blood had slowed her aging, while the Countess was quickly becoming like a plum left out on a windowsill.

Over the next few days, the Countess tirelessly tried to flatter and get closer to the Grand Duchess. She offered to help with the preparations for the engagement party on more than one occasion her wish to see the guest list getting less and less veiled with each attempt. However, she was met only with a smile like a blizzard in its coldness and danger by the Grand Duchess. Most of the details of the party had been arranged well in advance of the date, the status of the Hyperion family demanded a large and costly affair. The weather had to monitored daily to be ready to move everything into the conservatory should the weather turn sour, as it often did this time of year in their territory. The servants had already begun setting up the event, and the Grand Duchess checked with vendors and artisans regarding every detail. The guards were managed by the commander in her husband and son’s absence; with guests arriving they were constantly patrolling the estate and the guest quarters.

Especially with the guest who had arrived just that morning; the royal family. House Hyperion had been so close with the royal family for most of the empire’s history that several generations ago royal quarters had been built on the estate. Thus, the Grand Duchess had risen well before dawn to be dressed for them. Her grace wore a black gown, with an intricate gold lace applique which followed down the plunging neckline, along her shoulders and down the sleeves, and just along her hips to accentuate her curves. The Fabric clung tightly to her body like a second skin until it flared out at the knees, creating a pool of fabric at her feet. Her hair had been pulled up into an elegant bun, each strand of her hair meticulously put away. The bun was decorated with a golden pin of flowers and leaves, at the heart of each flower was a black gemstone of the highest quality. Black and gold; the colors of House Hyperion.

With the engagement party only a day away even her tea times had to be carefully considered in their scheduling, thus she sat in the parlor as the Countess poked at her for information; even the Countess knew the Grand Duchess would not be dressed so formally without reason. As always, when the Countess was in the room Lady Aeryn was mute, it angered her grace to see how repulsively that woman treated her daughter. And the Count, who had arrived just a day earlier, had done nothing to reign in his wife. No, the useless heap had stationed himself in a chair in the quarters and had apparently not moved since, according to the staff.

The Countess was droning on endlessly, and the Grand Duchess simply hummed into her tea, wishing the woman would take the hint and close her mouth so that her grace could simply enjoy her few minutes before returning to the planning. It was lucky that with her husband gone his imperial majesty wouldn’t have reason to come to the main house, nor would the crown prince and his brother while Alric was away. Astri had immediately gone to play with her cousin, Princess Hilda, and the Grand Duchess would speak with her sister the Empress later that evening.
With her thoughts on her husband and son who had yet to arrive she frowned; they were meant to be here by now. As the notion crossed her mind a servant entered the room, [b “Your Grace,”] He bowed deeply.

The Countess whose speaking had been interrupted, puffed up like a frightened bird, [b [#E51A1A “Well, I never. How dare you interrupt me!”]]

[b [#62C1F0 “Countess Eldred, I do hope you will be mindful of whose home you are in,”]] The Grand Duchess said, this time not smiling; she had already had to give warning to the Countess on how the staff were to be treated. The color drained from the Countess’s face with the Grand Duchess’s words. Her grace gestured for the servant to come forward, he strode towards his lady with grace paying no mind to the hateful glare of the Countess who had been embarrassed.

He bent forward and spoke into her ear, a hand raised to keep the sounds and words from being overheard by others, [b “We’ve just had news, his grace, the Duke, as returned to the estate.”] Her heart leapt, but quickly fell once more with the utterance of one additional word, [b “Alone.”]

Why would her son be without the guard? Why would he be without his [i father]? Something must have happened. With a wave of her hand the servant bowed and departed, soon after the Grand Duchess nearly slammed her cup of tea down and stood. The Countess looked shocked; she’d never seen her grace lose any level of composure. Her grace gathered her skirts and began to leave the room, [b [#E51A1A “Your grace? Is something the matter?”]] The Countess asked, her voice not quite hiding her hint of delight.

[b [#62C1F0 “The [i matter] is Hyperion business,”]] The Grand Duchess said, glancing back towards the Countess with a sharpness to her eyes and voice that made the Countess’s blood run cold.

Sweeping out of the room she saw the front doors open and a figure clad in black enter. There was blood on him, splattered against the dark colors of his riding attire and on his face, clinging to the white strands of his hair. For a moment the Grand Duchess recalled a different time but as she reached him, she could see color and life in his face; it wasn’t his blood. She felt a strange since of relief as she strode towards her son. The youngest duke in the empire, and the youngest in its history to be award that title. Red eyes lifted to meet her and she immediately reached out, placing a hand on his cheek regardless of the blood, though it seemed to have already dried. [b [#62C1F0 “What has happened?”]]

[b [#912222 “We were ambushed on our way home, father remained with the men to insure we rooted them all out,”]] Alric’s voice was low, like a beast’s growl, and felt just as threatening even when he didn’t mean to be. [b [#912222 “Father instructed me to ride ahead,”]] Her grace did not miss the tone of reluctance in his voice, clearly, he had wanted to stay and assist. But his father was right to send him ahead; to have the future groom missing from his own engagement party would cast all kinds of rumors that would benefit no one. [b [#912222 “He promised to return to the estate before sun rise tomorrow. I left Arius with him,”]] She nodded at the words, if her husband said he would be home then, then so he would be. The Grand Duke did not make statements or promises lightly.

[b [#62C1F0 “Good, good,”]] The Grand Duchess felt her heart beat steady with her own words. She turned to the nearest servant, [b [#62C1F0 “Please prepare a bath for the Duke, he must be presentable for dinner.”]]

Her son broke away from her already striding towards the stair, [b [#912222 “I’ll take dinner in my room.”]] Her grace knew well enough which words her son said as suggestion and which as statement, this was the latter and there would be no room to argue him.

[b [#62C1F0 “Very well,”]] She said, with an aggravated sigh, [b [#62C1F0 “I suppose you shall simply be meeting your fiancé with the rest of society tomorrow then.”]] She did not hide her annoyance, nor did the Duke acknowledge it as he left towards his room to wash himself of blood. As she turned back towards where the two ladies had been left waiting, she saw a curtain of hair peeking out from the parlor; Lady Aeryn’s face was pointed towards where the Duke had left to. [i She was watching], the Grand Duchess thought, [i but on whose account?] Her heels clicked against the tile and girl quickly ducked back inside as the sound neared her. The Grand Duchess stood in the doorway, not quite entering the room, [b [#62C1F0 “I apologize for the interruption; however, you’ll have to continue tea without me. There are things that must be readied for my husband’s return to the estate.”]] She smiled politely and left with a sweep of her skirt.]]]

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  ᴅᴜᴋᴇ / LIVE / 43d 22h 21m 34s
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[center [abel [size15 Aeryn met the Grand Duchess’s gaze. It was steady, surveying her. [b [#62C1F0 “Would you prefer a kind lie? Or the cruel truth?”]] The elder asked, already knowing the answer. [b [#62C1F0 “My son will not like you. Nor will he hate you. If he did, he would never have agreed to the marriage in the first place. In all honesty, your existence will be of no consequence to him.”]]

Nodding, the young bride chewed on her answer. It wasn’t that she was expecting a fairytale. She had given up on that idea years ago. A woman sold into marriage knew her fate. But there was part of her that was secretly hoping for something more.

[b [#62C1F0 “Do know that he will never harm you, however. Nor will he ask anything of you,”]] the Grand Duchess added, her tone soft. Aeryn bit her lips. She could feel tears forming in the corners of her eyes. The woman’s kindness was bittersweet for the child. Rubbing her cheeks, she straightened her back. Aeryn knew better than to cry in front of nobility.

The Duchess dismissed her question about her expectations for a later time. She beckoned for a new body. A thin woman just a few years older than Aeryn entered the room and bowed.

[b [#62C1F0 “This is Clarissa Brooker, she will be your personal handmaid. Clarissa, please show Lady Aeryn to the room we’ve prepared,”]] the Noblewoman said, gesturing to the girl.

Aeryn’s eyes widened in disbelief. She hadn’t foreseen a handmaid. Curtsying to the woman, she smiled. [b [#9900cc “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Clarissa.”]]

[b [#62C1F0 “I will have someone fetch you when dinner is ready,”]] The Grand Duchess directed to Aeryn before turning her attention to her daughter. Aeryn waved to Astri and followed Clarrisa out of the room.

[#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦]

[b [#9900cc “So,”]] Aeryn started once the two were safely out of earshot, [b [#9900cc “do you like it here?”]] The girl would judge the household on how they treated their staff. If you asked the same question to the Eldred Family’s staff, they would look at you in fear. But Clarissa didn’t have this look. Her expression was relaxed, almost affectionate.

[b [#0066ff “I do. My husband is the blacksmith for the Guard. The Grand Duchess provides schooling for my daughter as well,”]] the maid explained. [b [#0066ff "The Grand Duke and Duchess are genuine people. Even the Young Duke is kind ... in his own way.]] She led Aeryn down a long corridor. They took a few turns before coming to an ornate door. [b [#0066ff “This is your room, Young Miss.”]] She said with a bow.

Aeryn cringed at the formality. She tried so hard at her own estate to get the staff to call her by her name. But they wouldn’t risk the wrath of the Countess. [b [#9900cc “Um, Clarissa,”]] she began, [b [#9900cc “would you call me Aeryn?"]]

The Maid looked at her with surprise. She was quiet for a moment, clearly thinking over the proposal. [b [#0066ff “If that is what you wish,”]] Clarissa agreed with a grin. Reaching for the door handle, she pushed it in, revealing the most beautiful bedroom Aeryn had ever seen.

Aeryn surveyed the room. It was marble like the rest of the house with gold accents. There were massive arched windows on every wall allowing light to ignite the room in oranges and yellows. Her favorite part was the double glass doors, leading to a balcony. The bed was large with pale sheets neatly pressed. There was a canopy of silk hanging over the bed frame. Aeryn noted the constellations painted on the dark ceiling. Turning to Clarissa, she grinned ear to ear.

[b [#9900cc “This room is spectacular, thank you.”]] She beamed. The few personal items she had brought were already put away. Entering the room, she immediately climbed into the bed. The only comparison she could make was to a cloud or a kitten. Getting up, she approached the balcony doors. Opening them, she welcomed the warm air. Her bedroom faced sea side. The balcony overlooked the garden and the rolling field that touched the ocean. This was heaven.

Glancing over her shoulder, she spotted Clarissa wavering in the doorway. Frowning, she gestured to the tea table in the corner of the room. There was already a tray full of treats and a porcelain tea set. [b [#9900cc “Would you like to have a cup of tea with me? I could really use a friend.”]] She confessed.

Clarissa hesitated. Aeryn imagined this was a weird request from nobility. Nodding, she stepped inside and closed the door. Taking a seat across from Aeryn, she smiled meekly. [b [#0066ff “At least let me pour it for you.”]]Clarissa giggled. Pouring the steaming liquid into two teacups, she placed one in front of the girl and took one for herself. Aeryn cradled her cup and began to chat idly.
  |eldred| / muta / 45d 5h 29m 41s
[center [size12 [font "times new roman" The young lady seemed amused by Astri’s outbursts, [b [#9900cc “I believe you. You and your mother are so beautiful, I would be surprised if your brother wasn’t handsome.”]] The girl complimented, though she seemed sincere in her words rather than attempting to garner favor from the Grand Duchess, or even more fruitless the young lady of the Hyperion House. Hyperions were notorious for not caring for court or the politics at play within and Astri, though young, was no exception.

The girl anxiously moved her hands in her lap but looked boldly at the Grand Duchess and spoke, [b [#9900cc “Before we go any further, is there anything you expect of me?”]] The Grand Duchess blinked with surprise before melting into a smile. So, she was smart as well as beautiful, a good combination for what she would face. There was a great deal that was expected of her, but it would not be now that she would be told. The Hyperion family was nontraditional in what brides were expected to be and the Grand Duchess doubted the Countess would be all to pleased to hear what they had in store of the young lady. Though the phrasing of the question was amusing as well, she spoke as if they were still negotiating the marriage, not as if it had been decided.

Before her grace could answer the girl spoke once more, [b [#9900cc “Do you think he will like me?”]] The Grand Duchess almost faltered, [i the poor dear].

[b [#62C1F0 “Would you prefer a kind lie? Or the cruel truth?”]] Though the Grand Duchess asked she knew the girl was both smart and strong enough to face the latter of the two. [b [#62C1F0 “My son will not like you. Nor will he hate you. If he did, he would never have agreed to the marriage in the first place. In all honesty, your existence will be of no consequence to him.”]]

Clearly it had not been the answer she was expecting, perhaps she had thought this would be some fairytale romance where the girl melts the icy heart of the villain. A foolish thought if she had. Yet still she felt bad for the young girl who had been sold by her family, [b [#62C1F0 “Do know that he will never harm you, however. Nor will he ask anything of you,”]] It was a sentence that was usually finished with a more specific ending but in truth she could not imagine anything her son would ask of the lady in front of her. Except, perhaps, to leave him alone.

[b [#62C1F0 “As for what is to be expect of you, that you will learn at another time,”]] [i After you are married], she thought to herself. [b [#62C1F0 “Now, I’m sure you have more questions and curiosities but I have some business regarding the engagement party to attend to. Clarissa, please enter,”]] At the Grand Duchess’s summons a young maid entered the room, she was demure little thing with a short brown hair. [b [#62C1F0 “This,”]] She said gesturing at the maid, [b [#62C1F0 “is Clarissa Brooker, she will be your personal handmaid. Clarissa, please show Lady Aeryn to the room we’ve prepared.”]]

[b [#62C1F0 “I will have someone fetch you when dinner is ready,”]] The Grand Duchess spoke as she stood, putting a firm end to the conversation. [b [#62C1F0 “And you,”]] She turned her gaze towards her daughter who was still sitting on the sofa, [b [#62C1F0 “I believe you have lessons, still today?”]]

[b [#cc6699 “But!”]] Astri immediately stood, indignation clear on her face, [b [#cc6699 “I wanted to play with my new sister more!”]]

[b [#62C1F0 “No, there will be none of that today. To your lesson, young lady,”]] The Grand Duchess gently tapped her daughter’s button nose.

The young girl crossed her arms, pouting, [b [#cc6699 “Fine!”]] Having relented the Grand Duchess glided out of the room, sweeping her daughter after her.]]]
  ᴅᴜᴋᴇ / LIVE / 50d 5h 32m 52s
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[center [abel [size15 The Grand Duchess interrupted the moment between the two young girls. Her daughter turned her bold gaze to the older woman. [b [#62C1F0 “Now, now, is that how a young lady should behave?”]] Questioned her mother. Her tone was surprisingly gentle.

Astri pursed her lips. Her ruby eyes were fixed on the goddess, her confidence unshakable. [b [#cc6699 “It is how a [i Hyperion] behaves.”]] The words that escaped her lips were a testimony that shook Aeryn to the core. How could a child be so brave? Aeryn felt the sudden urge to kneel before the girl. This was no ordinary family.

[b [#62C1F0 “It is certainly how [i you] behave, thought not quite like the other Hyperions.”]] The Grand Duchess laughed. It was not the reaction Aeryn expected from the powerful woman. But the tender expression she wore while bantering with her child spoke volumes. Aeryn noted the feeling as [i love.]

The noblewoman invited the girls to sit. Astri placed herself next to her mother. She stared ardently at the newcomer. Aeryn half expected her to crawl all over her, inspecting her the way the Grand Duchess had. But she didn’t, she showed great patience as her mother spoke.

[b [#62C1F0 “As for your questions regarding my son,”]] The duchess started, [b [#62C1F0 “I can tell you that he has not yet arrived. He is due to return from the border along with his father before the party this week however.”]] Aeryn tried to hide the disappointment on her face. She was eager to meet the man she had been sold into marrying. Aeryn couldn’t help but wonder what he looked like, how he spoke. What did he like? Would he like her?

The Duchess paused before speaking again, [b [#62C1F0 “For what he is like, He’s a soldier. A very capable one, so much so that he is the youngest to be awarded the title of Duke in the history of the Etherild Empire. He’s not particularly sociable. Over all he takes very much after his father, the Grand Duke.”]] Her words were careful, well placed.

Aeryn was quiet for a second. She thumbed the fabric that hung to her body. The girl had known soldiers. First, her father, a decorated General, now retired to a life in a rocking chair. He was a shell of the fierce warrior he once was. She thought about his dull eyes, the thin grey hair he kept tucked behind his ears. The lines on his face were a road map to the tragedies he had experienced. Aeryn had seen firsthand what war could do to someone.

Then there was her most beloved companion, Elias Walsh. He was a wild boy, hungry for glory. She had seen in his eyes his desire to devour the world whole. He was the son of military parents. They were excited to bare a son with the same appetite for battle as them. Elias was the most loyal person she had ever met. He believed in justice above all else. She knew he would not follow corruption blindly. That was why she was hesitant to believe the rumors about the young Duke.

He was said to be the most fearsome warrior enemies had ever seen. The way he moved on a battlefield was demonic. His cardinal eyes were the last thing men saw before death. Elias had complained about the Duke being a dictator on the practice field many times. But Aeryn couldn’t deny the fondness in the boy’s tone. He was devoted to the Duke despite his grievances. A man Elias would die for couldn’t be [i that bad.] At least that’s what she told herself.

Just as Aeryn was about to reply, Astri piped up an addition to her brother’s description. [b [#cc6699 “He’s handsome too! And strong!”]] The little girl gushed about her sibling; their connection apparent.

[b [#9900cc “I believe you. You and your mother are so beautiful, I would be surprised if your brother wasn’t handsome.”]] She smiled liberally. Folding her hands in her lap, she directed her attention to the Grand Duchess. [b [#9900cc “Before we go any further, is there anything you expect of me?”]] Aeryn asked uniformly. [i Besides children,] she thought to herself.
Her mother had drilled into her from the beginning that she would be married off for financial gain. She made sure the Aeryn knew a female’s job was to serve her husband. But the more she spoke to the Grand Duchess and her daughter, the girl wondered if this was untrue. Maybe there was more to being a woman than servitude?
[b [#9900cc "Do you think he will like me?"]] Aeryn asked without thinking. She felt like a child asking something so frivolous.
  |eldred| / muta / 53d 5h 58m 17s
[center [size12 [font "times new roman" At first the Grand Duchess thought she had shocked the dear with her sudden declaration about grandchildren but it appeared that it wasn’t her Grace’s words that stunned the girl but her appearance. [b [#9900cc “Are you a Goddess?”]] Her voice had an edge of genuine wonder that shocked the Grand Duchess, [b [#9900cc “I’ve never seen anyone as divine as you.”]]

After half a moment the Grand Duchess threw back her head with laughter, [b [#62C1F0 “Oh, you are quite the darling one, aren’t you?”]] The Grand Duchess took a step back, letting the girl recover from what was likely a whirlwind of a meeting.

Her Grace watched the young girl shift uncomfortably before speaking up, [b [#9900cc “Um, Madam, what is the young Duke like? Is he here?”]]

Of course, she was curious about him. After all this girl was being sold off by her family to a stranger. The Grand Duchess worried how much she had heard about him to begin with. Before she could answer the door to the sitting room swung open, slamming against the wall. A flurry of long white hair came bounding in, leaping towards the girl and nearly knocking her off balance with the force. Two guards followed after, red in the face and gasping for breath. Clearly the little girl had given them a difficult time today. Not that she didn’t always.

The small girl looked more like a doll than a child, covered in lace and perfectly charming. The girl was Astri, the Grand Duchess’s daughter, and a spoiled thing. Astri had been looking forward to meeting Lady Aeryn since she’d been told her brother would be getting married.
Still wrapping her arms around the young lady Astri looked up at her and asked, [b [#cc6699 “Are you my new sister?”]]

[b [#9900cc “Yes, I am Aeryn,”]] The Grand Duchess could practically feel the air around Astri vibrating with excitement.

[b [#62C1F0 “Now, now, is that how a young lady should behave?”]] The Grand Duchess spoke, her brow arched but her eyes soft.

Her daughter turned to look at her but was not at all intimidated or deterred, [b [#cc6699 “It is how a [i Hyperion] behaves.”]]

The Grand Duchess chuckled, she was certainly the Grand Duke’s daughter, [b [#62C1F0 “It is certainly how you behave, thought not quite like the other Hyperions.”]] She sighed and motioned for Astri to release Aeryn and come towards her, the young girl did, bounding towards her mother. The guards seemed unsure of what to do but the Grand Duchess merely waved them off, with a nod they retreated, and closed the door behind them. [b [#62C1F0 “Let us sit,”]] She instructed towards Lady Aeryn. Astri settled next to her mother, watching her new sister with eager eyes.

[b [#62C1F0 “As for your questions regarding my son,”]] Her grace began, [b [#62C1F0 “I can tell you that he has not yet arrived. He is due to return from the border along with his father before the party this week however.”]] She did not mention that she had practically threatened the two to arrive on time and how awful it would look to everyone if the groom-to-be was not present, especially with the Imperial Family attending. [b [#62C1F0 “For what he is like,”]] She thought for a moment, she wasn’t one to speak ill of her son even if she was aware of his short comings, but she also had no intention of lying to the young lady, [b [#62C1F0 “He’s a soldier. A very capable one, so much so that he is the youngest to be awarded the title of Duke in the history of the Etherild Empire. He’s not particularly sociable. Over all he takes very much after his father, the Grand Duke.”]]

Astri spoke up from beside her mother, [b [#cc6699 “He’s handsome too! And strong!”]] ]]]
  ᴅᴜᴋᴇ / LIVE / 53d 7h 21m 36s
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[center [abel [size15 Elias leaned back in his chair, crossing his leg over his knee. He was shoveling pastries into his mouth, not worrying about the crumbs accumulating in his lap. [b [#cc6600 “I can’t believe you’re marrying that tyrant.”]] Elias grumbled, spraying bits of scone. The knight had made it very clear he wasn’t excited his best friend was being sold into a loveless marriage. [b [#cc6600 “You’re too good for him,”]] he added, swallowing his bite.

Handing him a napkin, Aeryn didn’t look up from the dish she had been drying. [b [#9900cc “That’s no way to talk about your commanding officer,”]] the girl teased, carefully stacking the porcelain in the cabinet. Her mother had her attend to chores regularly to keep her disciplined. Aeryn couldn’t complain, she liked the distraction.

Wiping his lips, Elias jutted out his chin and narrowed his eyes at the female. [b [#cc6600 “You don’t know what he’s like, Aeri,”]] he retorted. Elias knew his commander wasn't a bad guy. He was hard on his knights for a reason. But that didn't mean he would eagerly hand his precious friend over to the Duke.

The words ached in her stomach. He was right, she didn’t know what he was like. She knew her friend was just being protective, but she couldn’t fight the edge she was feeling. In a matter of hours, she would be meeting with the Grand Duchess. The thought made her nauseated.

[b [#9900cc “You’re right, I don’t.”]] She said quietly. Gripping the sink, she stared at her pale knuckles.

Elias shifted his weight uncomfortably. [b [#cc6600 “That’s not what I meant,“]] he faltered, running his fingers through his hair. He paused before speaking again. [b [#cc6600 “I just can’t believe this day has finally come,”]] he started, his voice gentle, far off. [b [#cc6600 “I thought we’d be sneaking off in the middle of the night, getting into trouble forever.”]] He said with a somber smile.

Aeryn placed a hand on the knight’s shoulder. Gazing up at her, he searched her lilac eyes for something. Unable to find it, he looked away. His expression made her swallow hard. Her eyes stung. Clearing his throat, he rose to his feet.

[b [#cc6600 “I should get going. You have to get ready to meet Lady Emelle. She will make you weak in the knees.”]] He remarked. The sadness in his tone had dissolved. He was back to his old self. [b [#9900cc “I will see you later, [i Lady Aeryn.”]]] He waved a hand to her as he exited the kitchen leaving her alone with her thoughts.

[#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦][#9900cc ✦]

Lady Olivia insisted on having a gown made specifically for the evening. Aeryn sat stationed at a polished vanity, four women fussing over her. One, a tall, wiry women, was rolling her hair into hot rollers. Another, a stout hag, brushed powder over her cheeks. Her mother insisted on keeping her face as natural as possible. She took pride in selling her daughter’s beauty. The other two women were steaming a stunning white gown. Aeryn had to admit it was lovely. Up close, the gown was silk and hand beaded with small glass orbs. The bodice was lined with gold. She had never seen anything like it.

[b [#ff0000 “Aeryn, darling, what will you do when you meet the Grand Duchess?”]] Olivia asked, her daughter’s name sounded like an insult in her mouth.

[b [#9900cc “Curtsy and bow my head. Do not look her in the eyes.”]] Aeryn recited, monotoned.

The answer pleased her mother. [b [#ff0000 “Good,”]] she purred. [b [#ff0000 “Get her corset on and have her dressed in ten minutes. I want to leave as early as possible.”]] Olivia barked at the staff. They each nodded and went back to their doll.

Aeryn had to agree, the dressed hugged her in all the right places. Eyeing herself in the mirror, she didn’t recognize the girl staring at her. Her starlight hair hung at the small of her back in a waterfall of curls. She liked the length. Her mother never let her cut her hair and at this point it was almost unmanageable. But with the volume of the curls, it was comfortable. Her cheeks were a rosy pink in contrast with her pale complexion. The petal color the staff had picked for her lipstick made her lips look soft and plump. She wore a gold crown of stars that pressed gently against her forehead. Touching her fingertips to the cool metal, she couldn’t stop herself for smiling. [i She felt pretty.] The metallic bangles on her wrists clanked together. Twirling in a circle, she encouraged the sound.

[b “It’s time to go see your mother, m’lady,”] the thin woman announced, interrupting Aeryn’s fashion show. Nodding, the girl followed the servant.

Lady Olivia gawked at the young girl as she came down the stairs. She eyed her up and down like a piece of meat. The feeling of beautiful abandoned her, leaving insecurity and heartbreak. Aeryn crossed her arms, hugging her small body close in attempts to shield herself. Her mother didn't seem to notice or didn't care. Her mother draped herself over the older man perched in the rocking chair.

[b [#ff0000 “Doesn’t she look marvelous, Hamond.”]] Olivia crooned. Her father glanced up just for a moment. His eyes lingered on her face.

[b [#626262 “Yes, she is always beautiful.”]] He hummed.

Her heart tried to jump up her throat. She wanted to throw her arms around the tired man and weep into his chest. She wanted to scream and plea not to send her away: to save her from a life without love. But she stopped herself, for she already lived a life without love.
Curtsying, she faked a smile for her parents. She bid farewell to her father and thanked the staff. Her mother led her out to the carriage.

The ride to the estate was long and silent. Aeryn stared out the window at the passing scenery. She couldn’t help but wonder what the duchess was like. The stories of a woman who could bring grown men to their knees made the skin on Aeryn’s arms stand at attention. She wasn’t sure why the noblewoman chose her.

Aeryn was wildly under prepared for the Hyperion Estate. The palace was crafted from dazzling marble. She reached out her fingers and stroked the cool stone. The grounds were neatly kept; vibrant foliage cradled the architecture. Consuming its beauty, the building was humbling. Aeryn was pulled away from her marveling, much to her disappointment by her mother's icy stare. Aeryn complied.

The girl did not think the inside of the estate could be more breath-taking than it’s outside, but she was wrong. Aeryn could not avert her eyes from the ceiling. There were intricate murals depicting history the child could not comprehend. God-like men were swearing their loyalty to the Emperor. She felt like she was catching a glimpse of an intimate moment only she was lucky enough to see. Tears pricked in the corners of her eyes. Quickly wiping them away, she regained her composure.

[b [#ff0000 “Greetings to the Grand Duchess,”]] her mother’s sour voice devoured the peace in the room.

Aeryn was suddenly very aware of a powerful presence. Standing before them was the most beautiful woman Aeryn had ever seen. She thought it was impossible to be that stunning. The girl felt like she was staring at the sun; it was painful but she couldn’t dare look away.

[b [#62C1F0 “Please rise,”]] her voice hung in the air like a song. [b [#62C1F0 “You must be tired from your journey.”]] The statement was directed at the Countess. She was awestruck by her grace.

[b [#62C1F0 “Miss Amelia, please escort Countess Eldred to the guest quarters we’ve prepared for her.”]] The Grand Duchess called to her staff, dismissing the Countess with ease. Aeryn’s jaw dropped.

[b [#ff0000 “You’re grace?”]] Lady Olivia bleated. Her voice came out in a whine.

[b [#62C1F0 “I wish to speak with my future daughter-in-law. It is House Hyperion business, not something someone of your position need worry themselves over,”]] the Noblewoman said evenly. Aeryn had never heard anyone talk to her mother like that. It was powerful. Chills shot up the girls’ spine, she felt infinite.

Her mother said her farewell in defeat and disappeared leaving Aeryn alone with the Grand Duchess. When it was just the two of them, the woman didn’t hesitate to size her up. She circled her, encompassing her in elegance. Aeryn did not dare move for fear the woman would eat her alive. Despite her fear, she couldn’t tear her eyes away. It felt like a sin to avert her eyes. The Grand Duchess stopped and lifted Aeryn’s small face in her nimble fingers.

[b [#62C1F0 “Yes. You’ll certainly give me beautiful grandchildren.”]] She declared. Aeryn locked eyes with her, knees trembling, her gaze did not waver.

[b [#9900cc “Are you a Goddess?”]] Aeryn asked, her voice steady, curious. [b [#9900cc “I’ve never seen anyone as divine as you.”]]

The Grand Duchess laughed freely. Aeryn decided in that moment she would do anything to make that woman laugh. [b [#62C1F0 “Oh you are quite the darling one, aren't you?”]] She mused. Releasing the girl from her spell, Aeryn had to catch herself from falling. Her knees felt weak and her head dizzy. This was the woman who could make men tremble before her.

When the girl trusted her voice again, she asked what was on her mind. [b [#9900cc “Um, Madam, what is the young Duke like? Is he here?”]] She asked carefully. The thought of her husband being just as divine as the Grand Duchess was horrifying. She wasn’t sure if she had the strength to say no to someone like that.

Before the noblewoman could answer, a small girl burst into the room. Her silver hair bellowed behind her like a cape. Two guards chased after her but it was too late, she had already tackled the newcomer.

Aeryn would have lost her balance if the child had weighed any more than she did. Steadying herself, she wrapped her arms around the little monkey in support. Staring up at her expectantly was a ten-year-old with the same ferocity as the Grand Duchess. Her eyes were a warm crimson. Aeryn couldn’t look away.

[b [#cc6699 “Are you my new sister?”]] She inquired, her round gaze demanding an answer.

[b [#9900cc “Yes, I am Aeryn.”]]

Astri: [#cc6699 #cc6699]
Aeryn: [#9900cc #9900cc]
  |eldred| / muta / 53d 7h 32m 26s
[center [size12 [font "times new roman" The Grand Duchess of the famed and feared House Hyperion, sat at her vanity in her bedroom. She preferred to stay there when her husband was away at war or on missions for the Emperor such as he was now. Of course, that meant her son was also away, fighting at the border by his father’s side in service to the Empire. Thinking about Alric made her sigh, such a serious young man he was and far too much like his father. No wonder it had taken her eight years to arrange a marriage for him. Of course, the problem wasn’t just in him, the family’s reputation, years of courtly rivalries, and the character of the lady in question were also rather daunting. She couldn’t pick just any lady. Some trembling wallflower that would wilt and wither without attention would never be able to survive the hardships and requirements of the Hyperion household; let alone survive her son’s temperament.

[b “Your Grace,”] The voice came from the door to her room, a maid stood her head bowed before her ladyship. [b “The carriage from house Eldred has arrived.”]

The Grand Duchess smiled her lips curling perfectly and her eyes twinkling, after eight years she had finally found the perfect bride, [b [#62C1F0 “Good, show them to the sitting room, I will greet them shortly.”]] The maid took her orders with a curtsy and left the room. Turning back to her mirror she quickly placed her sapphire and diamond chandelier earrings which complimented the navy-blue accents in her dress into her ears and admired her appearance. Her dulled brown hair was pulled away from her face but not styled into an updo like most ladies her age preferred this season; instead, her hair flowed in long waves that went well past her hips. She wore very little makeup besides around her eyes and on her lips, where she kept the colors natural so as to only enhance her beauty. And didn’t both with any necklace.

She was fortunately old enough now that she was not expected to wear a corset with her dresses and also bold enough to wear a dress with a neckline that plunged down towards her stomach. Despite her age her body was still quite young, an effect of baring children for the Hyperion bloodline, their innate magic slowed aging, though her husband who was older than her had begun to look far too much younger than her these past years. The dress clung to curves and as she stood the silken fabric swept towards the ground giving her a long and regal silhouette.
Satisfied, she departed from her room; her heels making a sharp noise against the tile as she strode out towards the front of the house. From what she knew Count Eldred would arrive later, and her sources were unsure of whether or not Lord Eldred would join his father. However, the Grand Duchess doubted that he would risk spurning the Hyperions with so little power at his disposal.

In truth the Grand Duchess had not gained a very favorable opinion of house Eldred in her organizing of this arrangement. She had expected a difficult and long time of courting the family before they would agree to send their only daughter off to marry a man with such a reputation as her son had. And yet when she approached the Countess about a marriage between the lady’s daughter and her son, the woman had practically leapt at the chance. Clearly, they were eager for the social advancement such a match would give them. Enough so they hardly even bargained with the Grand Duchess. At their eagerness she nearly canceled the whole thing, even the Emperor was concerned about marrying his nephew who was already a Duke to someone of such a lower status. But the Empress had suddenly changed her mind about the marriage after speaking with the Crown Prince, for whatever reason he seemed to think it would be a good match for Alric. Not only did the Crown Prince convince her sister of the marriage he had somehow gotten Alric to agree to it as well. Thus, here they were.

She swept down the stairs and into the lavish sitting room where tea and sweets were being served to two women. As her grace walked in the elder of the two rose; with the younger following her lead, the two dipped into low curtseys. [b [#E51A1A “Greetings to the Grand Duchess,”]] The elder woman spoke while the other stayed silent, she guessed the one speaking must have been the Countess.

The Countess’s hair was already greying, turning to a pale blonde, and her the sagging in her face told the Grand Duchess she frowned a great deal. The scarlet color of her satin dress looked gaudy to her with its intricate brocade.

[b [#62C1F0 “Please rise,”]] She instructed. Her voice gentle and more directed towards the young lady. [b [#62C1F0 “You must be tired from your long journey here,”]] The Grand Duchess said with false politeness, addressing only the Countess. [b [#62C1F0 “Miss Amelia, please escort Countess Eldred to the guest quarters we’ve prepared for her.”]]

[b [#E51A1A “Your Grace?”]] The Countess’s voice was nearly breathless, confused and worried at the other’s words. Something which only proved to both amuse and annoy the Grand Duchess.

[b [#62C1F0 “I wish to speak with my future daughter-in-law. It is House Hyperion business, not something someone of your position need worry themselves over,”]] The Grand Duchess did not raise her voice not put any effort to sound overly pompous but the message was clear; the countess was not wanted. Countess Eldred’s lips pursed together like she wanted to say something but the quirking of the Grand Duchess’s brow was enough to make her remember her place.

[b [#E51A1A “Of course, Your Grace. I am glad to see you show such care for my daughter,”]] The smile the countess gave was undoubtedly forced, but it was her quick glance towards her daughter almost enraged and fearful combined with her hesitation in the doorway that made the Grand Duchess most curious.

The Grand Duchess took a step closer to the girl and began circling her, investigating her appearance, she’d already known about the size of the girl and her figure due to the measurements that had been previously taken to begin work on her wedding gown but this was the first time she was seeing her in person. The rumors didn’t talk enough about how lovely she was. Her figure was very nice, something that would likely grow even better in the next few years. The dress she wore was of fine quality, a simple white but the delicate beading caught the light in just the right places, making her waist look even smaller than it was. It was clearly made specifically for her. Her hair was nearly silver but not in the same way as the Grand Duchess’s children or husband, no the girl’s hair had an undertone of lavender. She reached out, taking a strand of it in her hands and letting it slip away through her fingers, it was as fine as silk thread.

The young lady stood perfectly still, letting her grace circle about her like a starved wolf around a campfire and inspect every detail of her. Yet her face she directed downwards, towards her hands which were grasped tightly. [i She’s terrified, isn’t she?] The Grand Duchess thought pitifully as she looked at her. Finally, she reached out, placing her hand beneath the girl’s chin and lifting her face up towards the Grand Duchess. She really was quite stunning, how she had managed not to be married off as soon as she came of age was astounding. Especially those eyes of hers, a lovely lilac, large and round which were framed by long and thick eyelashes. The Grand Duchess half expected her to look away, to divert her eyes from her grace but instead she faced her.

Despite the meekness of her posture her eyes stood firm against the Grand Duchess, strong yet still fearful. She couldn’t help but smile, [b [#62C1F0 “Yes. You’ll certainly give me beautiful grandchildren.”]] And with eyes like that the Grand Duchess need not be fearful of whether the girl had the strength to survive this house. Or her son.]]]

[center [size11 [font "time new roman" Grand Duchess [b [#62C1F0 #62C1F0]]
Countess [b [#E51A1A #E51A1A]] ]]]
  ᴅᴜᴋᴇ / LIVE / 53d 19h 22m 30s
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