~ (Continued) Qvattorday, 9th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Last night’s dream had unnerved Elizabeth. She had not spoken of it at breakfast, letting Pierre and Wolfram guide the conversation and trying to forget, but after they had parted ways she found herself exploring the château in search of that library. It called to her. Heading down hallways that she had never been in she finally found a familiar pair of doors.
There was far more light amid the dusty books. It was still early morning and the sun was just high enough to peak through the large windows. To her relief it was not exactly the same as in her dream—maybe it was simply a nightmare that wished to cause her unease?
But such dreams were not often without reason.
She found the spot where the old book had fallen. Looking up into the shelves she noticed a book half-pulled out as if it had been hastily returned to its spot. From the color of the spine it looked to be the same one. A chill ran down her back.
Lizzy took a deep breath and, based on a feeling and no more, held out of her hands. The book fell into her grasp and she almost let it slip through it was so heavy. A table stood near the shelf and she placed it down before she could drop it.
It was old. The leather was cracked and the pages yellowed. She did not look yet at the title, but had neither done so in her dream. Or had it been a dream? Could she continue to call it such when it was clearly so much more. A vision, perhaps, or an omen.
She had hoped more magic would enter her life and it seemed her wish had come true.
The title was still legible even if some of the letters were peeling: A Complete and Thorough Account of Clandestina’s Bestia, Magia, and Cræfts.
Now wasn’t this an interesting book? She had not found something like this in her family’s libraries. Looking around now she saw the other books were also different than had been in her dreams—no books on cræfts or bestia were as out in the open as she had seen last night.
Most books mentioned the fée as part of the bestia of Clandestina, but omitted much because it was either unknown or not thought proper. The only cræft ever written extensively on was blancræft, with noircræft sometimes mentioned, and necrocræft never. Some people did not even believe in the dark magic. And magia? That was different than cræft, it was a merging of craefts actually if Lizzy remembered right, but it was restricted to being taught by other beings or was inherent in a bestia. Beside the fée what else were there here? The keres…
She opened it to the first page and began to read.
Clandestina is a realm surrounded in mystery. Once heavily connected to the plane of Faery it was, and is, a harsh and beautiful land. Separation of the two planes occurred in the early millennia after Amôru disappeared from the world. The plane of death, Thanatos, was already separated, but the Mountains of Mist, or Mists of Judgment (see: Akhlys) stayed for a longer time. Some historians claim that the Bastoni mountains are the remnants of the plane Akhlys, and the last of the keres may be found there, but I believe that, as they are now, the Bastoni were mountains belonging to Faery.
She soon realized this was not the kind of book that she should be reading in the daylight where she could be found. After the introduction there was a table of contents and three chapters were dedicated to necrocræft alone. She could well be reprimanded for being in possession of this, though she did not think if Pierre knew that he would allow that to happen. There was no law against this, as such, but it would have a great affect on social standing.
She hid the book behind several tomes and left the library with a promise that she would return later in the night.
Lizzy was walking back to her room when someone, quite literally, ran into her. She stumbled, catching herself against the wall and managing not to fall over.
“Oh my, I am so sorry, mademoiselle!”
She looked over to see a woman in a deep curtsy, breathing heavily as she had been running. She had not looked up and was waiting to be excused.
“It is alright,” Elizabeth replied slowly. She had not been hurt, just surprised.
The woman looked up and, seeing that Elizabeth really was fine, smiled brightly. “I am Síofra, mademoiselle!” she introduced herself. She curtsied again, quickly this time, in a manner that would have been rude save for her obvious hurry. Her bright red hair was a mess and her clothes not quite in line. “I am late to dancing practice with my mother and Lady Maiolaine. Oh! Would you like to come along? I insist you be my guest now after what I have done. Please come with me?”
Lizzy could not help but smile. The girl was earnest and had truly meant no harm. Elizabeth herself had no bosom friend, having never had a girl her age close by growing up. Eglė was an elder sister who listened to her secrets, but never spoke of her own in return. This woman seemed her age, perhaps a year or two older at most. She may become a good friend.
“Though I must warn you,” Síofra continued with a wicked smile, having caught her breath, “our dances are those many in polite company would disagree with, should that interest you.”
“More so than the waltz?” Lizzy asked in return. The dance was still considered too close and intimate for some of her parent’s generation, though her peers had never seen it as such.
The other woman laughed. “Yes, more so than the waltz!”
“I would be delighted,” Lizzy replied. Síofra then snatched her hand without asking and began to run down the corridor again, Elizabeth at her heels trying to keep up while laughing along.
They found the room quickly enough, Síofra said she had been there before after all, but Elizabeth thought some exhibition was being held and they were still early. She soon realized it was the ‘dancing’ that had been mentioned before—two women, one of whom she recognized as Maiolaine, faced each other with swords in their hands. They wore skirts, though no blouse or even strip of cloth covered their breasts. A pair of younger girls, Maiolaine’s daughters, stood to the side, fully dressed with wooden sticks as their own swords, observing.
Apolla then announced that they should begin, and Lizzy watched as the two women circled around each other, thrusting, jabbing, and parrying with grace. The other woman was taller, the height of a man, and more skilled. Her too-large ice blue eyes remained alert even if her movements seemed almost bored, and not a hair was out of place in the ponytail that held her white-blonde hair. Maiolaine, on the other hand, concentrated with all of her muster, brows furrowed, and her own hair a tangle.
They stopped only when Maiolaine yelped in pain and crimson trickled from a wound down her front.
Yes, this dance would be far more improper than the waltz.
“Let me,” Elizabeth said, rushing to the injured woman’s side. There was already a bandage pressed to the shallow cut and she placed her palm over it.
“Blancræft, madame,” she said as means of explaining. “It will heal far faster.” When she moved her hand after a moment, cleaning the blood, the wound was already gone.
“Merci, Lady Elizabeth.”
“You are most welcome.”
Maiolaine could not see the wound, her breast in the way, so she touched it to make sure it was well. She nodded another thank you. “I do not believe my husband could do much better. He is a blancmagus himself, you see.”
Lizzy smiled. So the steward knew blancræft as well. Perhaps he would be open to teaching her, or at least showing her who might be a tutor to her.
“A pleasure to meet you,” the other woman greeted with a curtsy after the wound was tended to. “I am Rhianu of Faery and Spadé.”
“Oh, please, it is mine,” Lizzy said, performing her own curtsy, realizing the margravine was speaking to her. “I am not your equal, Madame, much less your superior.” The curtsy had been too low and it made Elizabeth uncomfortable.
“The duc, I hear, is in love with you. For one that may likely become our duchesse, we owe you this,” the fée woman replied. That Lizzy could not contest. Their courting, though only just begun, was serious. She likely would become the duchesse unless something great or terrible stopped it.
The margravine then finished cleaning her sword of blood, taking hold of the blade and holding it out handle-first. “Do you know how to hold a blade, Lady Elizabeth?”
“I do not,” Lizzy said, looking to the sword that had pierced flesh and was being offered. “I am a blanc-witch. I would rather not harm if possible… It makes me uneasy.”
“Sometimes it is the only option.”
Elizabeth nodded in agreement but still did not accept the blade.
“Very well.” Rhianu tossed the blade up and caught it by the handle before sheathing it at her side. “I am certain Our Grace will pull his blade for you if need be.”
Síofra laughed and her mother turned to look at her with a glare.
“I did not mean it in such a fashion!”
The other two girls in the room seemed confused and Elizabeth blushed deeply when she understood the meaning herself.
“Forgive my daughter,” Rhianu said to Lizzy. “She has just discovered human men. Do not be bothered. Though you must learn not to blush at the thought of your beloved. It lets the whole world know your thoughts.” It was said with a warm smile.
Síofra took her own sword, one that was metal but still dull, and her mother began to correct her grip and posture before showing her what movements she should practice.
Maiolaine began to put on her blouse. Rhianu had not bothered and the nudity did not seem to bother Síofra. They were all women, though, so Lizzy did not see much of an issue, even if it was not a norm she was used to.
“The lack of attire above the waist is for the same reason men duel at times without shirts,” Maiolaine explained. “To prevent infection from the cloth being pushed into flesh. We try not to injure each other, but it can happen as you saw.”
“Yes, Maman,” Apolla and Eliana said together.
“Forgive the silly question,” Elizabeth said, “But why are you learning swordsmanship?”
“Spadé,” Rhianu said, “means ‘swords’ in Italaviani. Multiple swords, and gendered female at that. It is not uncommon for fée to wear a blade, male and female. When I was given the responsibility to protect the border I thought it would be helpful to gain allies. Maiolaine joined my daughter and myself for lessons and now brings her own daughters that they are old enough to understand the responsibility. I hope you choose to join us more often, Lady Elizabeth, even if you do not yourself pick up a sword.”
“I would be honored, Lady Rhianu.”
“We can have fun beside as well,” Síofra added. “I would like to know you, Lizzy. Maybe you can meet Sister!”
“You have a sister?”
“Or well, she is actually my niece.”
Rhianu cleared up the confusion. “I raised His Grace Félicien when he was in Faery. He brought his daughter when he returned several years ago. My daughter and his grew up together.”
“Oh… my deepest apologies for your loss.”
Síofra’s ever-present smile disappeared for a moment. Félicien had been a wonderful uncle-figure to her while he had been alive and she still missed him dearly.
“My thanks, Elizabeth. I believe he could not live without his wife and, after making sure his children were grown and taken care of, he followed her. He is happy now.”
“I do hope so.”
The somber mood did not last long and Elizabeth was finally persuaded to try to use a blade. She found it interesting, but was not very good, though she was assured that was not unusual for a first lesson.
“I may continue this as a discipline, but I do not believe I could cause another harm.”
“Our goal is to learn to defend ourselves and others. That may end in harming others. But I see no issue with you joining us and not partaking in that step.
“Now, I believe the meeting of the advisors is finished. My husband should have mentioned us to His Grace and they may be here soon.” She had asked Elwin to do so after all. She went over to where she had put her discarded clothes picked up her cream blouse. Maiolaine took her daughters and bid the rest of them farewell before leaving through a door at the far end of the hall, understanding that this might turn into a meeting with family and not wishing to impose.
Whether it was her wish or coincidence, the door opened to let Pierre enter just as Rhianu finished clothing herself and the door closed behind Eliana.
Pierre glanced around the room, his eyes brightened upon seeing Lizzy, but moving past to Rhianu before walking to the fée woman. When standing before her he bowed low and then straightened, standing a little awkwardly, but saying not a word.
The margravine smiled and curtsied. Then the woman who was meeting her grandson embraced him.
Lizzy was too far away to hear, but Rhianu whispered something into his ear and Pierre stiffened before relaxing again and embracing her in return.
When they stepped back Pierre was blinking rapidly to hide tears.
Rhianu waved over her daughter and gestured for her to stand before the future duc, introducing her formally. Síofra squirmed and shifted from foot to foot, not used to being so still even for a moment.
“And this is my daughter, Your Grace. Lady Síofra.”
“Auntie,” Pierre replied seriously. He kept the sincere look for a moment before grinning widely and letting everyone know it was a jest, and Síofra’s laughter filled the room once again. Rhianu even hid chuckles behind her hand. Deciding that that was enough standing apart Síofra moved to hug him and Pierre hugged her back.
Elwin came in a few minutes later to announce that lunch was being served and the family should all come along. Elizabeth tried to make her excuses, but both Pierre and Síofra insisted that she be included.
“What did Lady Rhianu say to you?” Lizzy asked as she and Pierre walked out together, arm in arm. The thought that she was considered family warmed her heart.
“My full name,” he replied softly. “It seems Père told her what name he gave me.” She did not press to know more.
That evening the margrave and his family bid Pierre and the other advisors farewell in the garden. While Elwin had grown up in Spadille he had lived far longer in Faery, and neither Síofra nor Rhianu called this plane home. They were not used to being there and chose not to be as much as possible, though duties would mean they were at times forced.
Their meal had been light and friendly, Elwin becoming aware that his foster-son had informed Rhianu but not him about Pierre’s full name and not finding it too odd.
“I may not be able to keep the secret as well as she, my full name might still be found out for instance, and if I am to be your aid here it may be best that I cannot be forced.” Secrets were a part of being fée and it did not seen to phase him that his wife had kept something from him.
Now Pierre shook Elwin’s hand and began to thank him for his duties as margrave, but the latter tilted his head with a smile.
“You seem to be a bit confused, Your Grace. The one in power over the border is my dear wife. I aid her, but in no way find myself with her authority in Faery.”
The fée were matriarchal and it seemed that extended to the margravine in this case. He wondered if this was true of all the margravines or only those more fée than others. He had not heard of it before so openly at least, and judging by the glances of the advisors this was not well known.
“Then, my lady,” Pierre said, turning to her with a bow, “I would, if it so please you, welcome you to our council meetings.”
“The offer does please me,” she replied. “But I shall allow my husband to discuss this side of the realm with you. I will continue to take care of my side, and report to you when there is need.”
Pierre turned to Síofra, but not before hearing his grandmère tell her husband that he should learn to cause less trouble.
“I seem to have gained yet another sister. I am glad to meet you as well, dear lady.”
She curtsied in reply, too quickly and without much grace, but with the great smile that rarely left her. She did the same to Elizabeth. Then she turned to her mother.
“Mother, if I may, I ask that I be allowed to stay at His Grace’s home. Lady Elizabeth seems to be in need of a lady-in-waiting and I would be so pleased to fill the role.” Though she was an adult by fée standards it still seemed polite to ask as she was half-human and still lived with her parents.
Elizabeth seemed as unaware of this plan as all else for she looked with wide eyes at Síofra.
“Well, if I am to have a valet,” Pierre said “it would only be fitting that my lady has similar aid. Did you not at home?”
“No, though Mother does,” Lizzy said. “Síofra, are you certain?” Those close to high-born ladies were often also high-born, but in this case Síofra outranked her as heir. Normally Elizabeth would be the one asked to serve her and not the other way around. Though, as before, if they were assuming she would become the duchesse one day this was not as unusual.
“Oh, yes! I would so love to help. Please, Lizzy?”
Pierre had not heard anyone outside of close family call her by that nickname, but Elizabeth did not seem to mind.
“You may do as you wish, Síofra,” Rhianu said. “Take care, of both yourself and her, if she is to be in your care. Your father will visit the plane more often than I. Do visit when you can.”
“I would welcome more dear friends and help,” Elizabeth said. Síofra squealed in joy and dashed over to hug her, all pretense of decorum forgotten. Pierre tried to hold back laughter and could not.