~ (Continued) Trisday, 8th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Elizabeth thought she was used to opulence, having been both at court and raised in a manor, but the Château de Piques was another thing entirely. It made sense in a way, the castle was made in an older style more to defend than to relish, and her family ruled a county not an entire duchy. She was certain the roi’s château in Cœurs was also elaborate but only family were invited there.
This château was vast, four stories tall, with a dozen windows across the front of the building for each floor. It was made in white brick with the roof so dark she thought it black, but the sunlight reflected off of it with a sheen of red. The corners had towers made in the same colors, and balconies opened up all along the second and forth floors onto terraces. Flowers and vines were encourages to grow among the stone, looking elegant and free. Gardens and fields stood at its left and right, and behind it all was the grand Duc’s Forest that led into Faery.
Pierre took her arm and helped her from the carriage before turning around to look at his home. Lizzy looked up to see his pained smile.
“I’d forgotten,” he said so softly that Lizzy supposed she was not to hear. He squeezed her hand and she returned the gesture.
“Your Grace!” a new voice then called, “I welcome you upon your return home!”
They turned to a man waiting near the entrance. He wore fine clothes of black and silver, in a style more often worn in Italaviana, and a great smile split his dark beard and curled moustache.
“Yes, lord?” Pierre asked. The other man’s smile faltered but he opened his arms in welcome.
“It has been many years, Your Grace, but I knew you as a child.”
“Forgive me but I remember little of my childhood here. Would you do me the kindness of reminding me?”
“Always, Your Grace. I was your father’s young steward after Lord Dorian died. And now I am yours.”
Pierre’s eyes lit up and he began to grin as well. “Vivien! Of course! Thank you for all the years you have aided Piques. I hope to relieve some of your burden.” He let go of her arm to cross the road and embrace the other man. Lizzy stayed where she was, a little uncertain of what to do.
“Shall you have lunch now?” Vivien said, beginning to lead Pierre inside. “Leave the unpacking, everything will be sorted for you of course. What will you wish to eat?”
“That would be wonderful, thank you. Any food the kitchens have is fine, mostly I wish to speak and discuss matters with you privately before I meet the other advisors. Please join me.”
He then turned to her and raised a hand to call her over. “Lizzy, love, come with us. Your company is always wanted as well.”
They waited for her to join them, Pierre holding out his elbow and so she could take his arm again.
“This, Lord Vivien, is Lady Elizabeth Anne of Eichel,” he said, introducing her, “And dear Lizzy, this is Lord Vivien Launcelot, my steward, and a cousin once removed.”
“A pleasure, Lord Vivien.” She inclined her head, but did not curtsy. Her station was above his.
“The pleasure is all mine, Lady Elizabeth.” He did bow to her and she thanked him.
“Please, follow me, Your Grace, my lady. We shall take luncheon in a sitting room, and have a short discussion as desired. I am sure you are tired from your journey.”
As they walked Pierre could not stop looking around at the home. His eyes widened as images brought back memories. At one point he turned in the wrong direction automatically and, upon apologizing, was informed that that direction lead to his childhood room and bed.
Along the way a servant caught up to them and handed Vivien a letter. The steward read it over and frowned, crumpling it up without an explanation. Elizabeth raised an eyebrow to Pierre, but he shook his head, unsure of what that was about.
They ended up in a sitting room that already had some light lunch set out. Sandwiches, tea, and desserts were to their choosing. They each picked a few small things to nibble on and Elizabeth went ahead and poured for each of them.
“Tell me some of Piques since I left,” Pierre asked. “I know broad strokes, but to hear it from you shall be best.”
“If I may begin a little further back, then, Your Grace. I was sixteen when Lord Dorian died. It was the middle of the time of the last great plague, and Cousin, Lord Ophion, was off doing as much as he could as a young doctor. It hurt him deeply that he could not save his father, but death gets us all in the end… He was Lord Dorian’s true heir, but never desired to be steward. He preferred medicine to politics, though would have done as his father wished of him.
“Your parents would still be with us for another year, and Duc Félicien knew that Ophion, while knowledgeable, did not wish to be steward. He gave me the title instead though I was not of-age or truly that well learned yet. He took to seeing things as a fée and decided that their majority was enough. A few protested, but there was no one else with Ophion away, and I was better than no steward at all. I did as best I could and learned as I went along. I kept the title even after the plague. It pains me to confess, but perhaps only in the past five years have I become truly comfortable in my role, and that may only be because of His Highness’s presence.”
“You were trained, if hastily, as a steward and not a duc, I can see how a missing duc would make this troublesome and overburden you.”
Vivien only nodded. “I was thrown into the role of steward rather unexpectedly, and then de facto duc. When I was allowed to essentially return to being the steward I was more comfortable.”
“And you may stay in that role,” Pierre replied. “Father—that is, His Majesty—taught me my politics. I may have been a student of medicine for the last few years, but I am not ignorant. I may, though, need a bit of time to catch up on what has been going on.”
“And my advisors?”
“There is myself, of course. The prince also brought his brother-in-law along when he first moved here, and His Future Grace Charlot was the second to become an advisor, given his own learnings as duchy heir. He stays for you, though will leave in the upcoming year for I hear that the duc and duchesse Carreaux wish him to inherit.
“Both of Comte Feuilles’s sons are here as well. They have each been living here permanently since their assignment. The elder is wed, but has not returned to his family home. Comte Bladeren’s eldest child is my wife, her brothers too young to helpful to His Highness, though the eldest son came soon after hearing you would be here, to help you and to learn from you, as he reaches his majority soon. His Highness was not averse to my wife’s help, though she is not officially a part of the council. Her brother wishes to be, but that shall be your choice.”
Pierre nodded, sitting back to take catalog of the information. Something seemed not quite right and he asked, “Both of Feuilles’s sons are here? Has he any other children?”
“No, he does not. He is also a widower.”
That he kept neither man at home was troubling, or foolish. Perhaps both. Charlot had stayed for such a time, leaving no direct heir to his duchy, but he was kin to Hélaïse. Family made that understandable. Feuilles had no such connection and it would have been prudent to keep one child close by, the heir especially now with him married.
Vivien nodded and confirmed the suspicion. “Comte Feuilles has had his eye on the duchy for some time now, but was subtle with Prince Aimé here. I believe even his father wanted to be duc, but your grandmother’s deathbed decree kept him at bay. It is rumored that your father visited her in her last days to confirm himself alive and Duchesse Cunégonde asked that the stewards hold Piques until the heir returns.
“Both of his sons were chosen as advisors by His Highness, believing that the comte would let one come and the other stay. And they are good at their job, do not misunderstand, but that Feuilles sent both his children here makes me believe he hopes to overtake the rule soon.
“Comte Bladeren, on the other hand, is quite content and doing well with his county.”
He would need to keep tabs on Feuilles. Spadille was in Feuilles, to want to become the duc of the whole of Piques— Feuilles may have been behind the attempt on his life.
“And what of the note that you received as we were coming here?” Elizabeth asked. Her voice was light, as if she were merely curious, but Pierre saw her narrowed eyes.
Vivien’s smile faded, whether at Elizabeth being the one to ask or the question itself unknown, but he pulled out the paper and smoothed it out.
“It is from the margrave, informing me that he will be here tomorrow early morning with his family to greet you and attend the council’s meeting. He states that he will also be one of his advisors.”
“That title was dissolved many years ago,” Pierre replied. “Père did not have a margrave.” Not that he needed one—fée raised Félicien would be his own liaison between the planes. “Who reinstated it?” His paternal grandfather and grandmother had exiled their margrave and margravine after Félicien’s disappearance as a child, in part because they did not, or perhaps could not, aid in the return of their son. The title left with them.
“Duc Félicien. As a dying decree two years ago he gave the titles to those that had taken care of him and were his family in Faery. It was written and signed, confirmed to be in his hand and therefore made law. They very rarely come to the estate, living in the Duc’s Forest and on the side of Faery more often than in this plane.”
He had more family. That should not have surprised him, his père had been a child when taken to Faery, surely someone had to have taken care of him and helped him grow up. But that had never crossed his mind before, beside a few adventure stories his time in Faery was not brought up very often. If the current margrave and margravine were kin, he would meet with them soon.
“And what are their names? Do you know much about them?”
“Lord Elwin is the margrave, with his wife Lady Rhianu as margravine. They have a daughter.” There was more, it was clear in his eyes, but he said no more about them.