2.15 ~ The Ladies
~ (Continued) Hexday, 11th of Aprilis, 11831 ~
Lizzy too obtained several letters, one from her brother today and then a shorter one from her parents the day before. Piers’ letter spoke more of his family and newborn son, confessing things that he worried over and did not wish to impose on his wife. Her parents were glad she was well and warned her to act as a lady and a generous host.
She replied to her brother as best she could, offering advice and assuring him he was a wonderful brother and would be a wonderful father as well. To her parents she would write later, a little put off about being reminded to be a lady. She was perfectly aware of how she should act, thank you very much.
“Are fay children any different than those who are not?” Lizzy asked after rolling up her reply. Síofra was with her in the room as she read the letter, taking her new duties as lady-in-waiting quite seriously for all she took anything seriously.
“I have not really been around children of either bestia,” the half-fée girl replied. “But I do not believe there is much difference. Why do you ask?”
“My brother had his first child a few weeks ago, a boy. His wife is fay, from the Tuatha Forest.”
“Ah, the forest. Her magia would be passed down, but how and when it manifests is anyone’s guess. I presume it will be similar to hers.”
The Tuatha forest was a great forest in Clandestina, but outside of the Kingdom of Triumphe because of who lived there. It was fay-land, the people a mix of fée and human whose magics twisted in unique ways. It was not Faery, more of a land that was half-sunk into the other plane, blending the two into one, and a highly magical and volatile place.
“She can turn into a snake, any kind she wishes, great, small, exotic,” Lizzy said. “It can be a little unnerving, but she does not do it very often and keeps the secret to those close.”
“He might have an affinity for serpents, be able to take their form, or instead have a close affiliation with another animal as she does to snakes. Magic of one that is fée is more vague and close to a magician’s overall control of most spirits, though we have specialties.”
“Oh? May I know of yours?”
Síofra turned to the window and was silent for a moment. “I am not comfortable with answering that just yet, Lady Elizabeth. Maybe after we know each other better?”
“Oh, of course, forgive me the intrusion.” It had not occurred to her that asking such a thing would be rude. That Síofra left it open to tell her another day was a good sign, though, surly?
“Secrets,” Síofra said, turning back around. “We have many, and those we trust to tell them to must know their gravity and how to hold their tongue. Even then we rarely speak the entirety of knowledge.”
“I hope to earn your trust.”
“I believe you shall. You know and understand more than you think. I think you would be liked and helped out of our forests if you were lost.”
“And if I was not liked?”
Síofra’s smile took upon itself that sharpness that sent a shiver up Lizzy’s spine. “You may be merely stranded until Faery decides to open herself and let you out. Someone may help you. But if you offend someone of Autumn or Winter you will be killed.”
Elizabeth could not hold her shudder at this and fiddled with her letter.
“Is murder not a crime in Faery?”
“It can be. But what is justified is different for us. We can be passionate and our emotions can be overwhelming when provoked. Joy, despair, anger—it is all far harder to control and there are consequences to this. I am seelie, so I tend to be happy and feel joy even when perhaps I should not. The unseelie caste may feel anger or sadness or a nothingness, though none of those are their sole emotion. Everyone has a line that might be crossed.”
Elizabeth nodded. It was something she had been taught, but never understood well. This explanation helped.
“Shall we go exploring?” she asked, standing up and grabbing her letter again. “I need to find the aviary to send this.”
“Let us go!”
They left her chambers arm in arm, continuing their conversation and changing topics from fairies to the land of Piques. Síofra had started to visit here with her parents a few years ago, but rarely stayed long. This would be her longest visit if she stayed two more days.
Suddenly they heard laughter down the hallway. Glancing at each other the women dashed over to see what was happening and to join whoever was having fun.
Two ladies, older than they by a few years, sat together in a sitting room with a pack of cards and colorful wooden board between them. They seemed ready to start a game as one took the deck and began to shuffle the cards. The other waited and nibbled at a tart from the dish of sweets.
The one shuffling was a women with thick blonde hair, lighter than Lizzy’s dirty blonde, tied in two parts behind her, one curly tail over her shoulder. She was accompanied by a woman with stark white hair, short, and let free. Both wore fine clothes.
“Good afternoon,” Elizabeth greeted with a slight curtsy. “Is this a private game or may others intrude?”
“Good afternoon,” the blonde replied, putting aside the deck. “Of course, come join us! I have not seen you around, did you come with His Grace?”
“I did,” Lizzy said. “I am—”
“Lady Elizabeth Anne,” Síofra said, interrupting to bestow the introductions. “She is His Grace’s beloved, and I am her new lady-in-waiting. Lizzy, this is Lady Cordelia Mariette, Lord Jourdain’s wife.”
“A pleasure too meet you.”
“I am Perdita Belle of Bladeren,” the woman with white hair added, standing to curtsy. “Maoilaine and Tibault are my cousins, if that helps you. I am Lady Cordelia’s lady-in-waiting.”
Lizzy and Síofra sat and a few more pleasantries were exchanged before and the game was explained to them (Cribbage, which Lizzy had played before, but Síofra had not). Extra colored wooden pieces were brought out so that they could also keep score, thankfully the game could just as easily be played with four as with two. Or three, as they would play a round without Síofra so she could observe and then the forth girl would join in.
Perdita won, placing her peg in the winner’s section with a flourish at the end of the game. “Too bad we are not playing for any coin,” she said, suggesting it with her tone as perhaps that could be done in the next game?
“Oh no,” Cordelia replied quickly, grabbing the cards and shuffling them with a bit more force than necessary. “Perdy, we are not playing with money again. You at least let yourself lose once in a while when there is nothing on the line!”
Síofra giggled and said she believed she understood the game and would like to play the next hand. As Lizzy this time took the cards to shuffle a bit more and deal them there a knock on the doorframe. The women all turned around to see Charlot smiling at them.
“Your Future Grace!”
He walked into the room a few steps before bowing to them all “Ah, my ladies fair, it is a pleasure to find all of you in one place. If I may borrow one of you, Lady Perdita, for a quick moment?”
“Of course you may, monsieur.” She stood, excusing herself and walking over to the corner of the room where a shelf would hide them from view. Charlot followed her.
“They are courting,” Cordelia said in not much of a whisper, turning to try and see them. Even craning her neck they were well hid, and their whispers did not quite reach, but Perdita’s light laugh did. Cordelia turned back around with a smile and spoke to her new friends, “Charlot has said that he stays for His Grace Pierre, but I believe that he stayed as an advisor to be with Perdita until she agrees to wed and move to Rire. When Charlot becomes duc proper I believe Jourdain and I will return to the family estate, then I can send her off then without her feeling guilty that she left me in a new place alone. Though I consider Spadille Château almost the same as home now.”
“You have been here that long?” Lizzy asked.
“A number of years. I am from a town not too far from here, a day’s ride—my father is the maior. When I met Jourdain he was not yet an advisor and I did not even know him as the comte’s son. It was only after I had flirted with him that father asked me what I had spoken about with the comte-to-be. I was mortified, and hid the next time he stopped by. But he kept coming over until he caught me and expressed that my manner was refreshing. He invited me to dinner that night. We married right before His Highness came to Spadille and moved to the château when he came. Here I met Perdy and we became quick friends.”
Perdita returned then, blushing and refusing to reveal what she had spoken about. Charlot pulled out her chair for her and as she took his hand a new bracelet caught the light.
“And I do have something for the rest of you as well,” Charlot added after sneaking a quick kiss to Perdy’s cheek. “We, that is the advisors and steward, ask that you all come have dinner in the east dining hall tonight at eight o’clock. An informal-formal gathering for us, so we may all get to know one another now that things have settled down.”
Charlot bowed to them all again then and left with a spring in his step.
Lizzy dealt the next hand.
Elizabeth and Síofra returned to their rooms after playing several more games. Perdita had even lost the hand right after Charlot had come to pay her a visit. She only blushed when the others teased her that her mind was in other places, then won the next three games in a row. At that point Cordelia had given up and apologized to her new friends for such unfairness.
“Next time we shall play without her,” she added with a wink.
They walked in through Síofra’s doors, her rooms right next to Elizabeth’s and in fact connected by a door inside, that was left open at all times now. It was not the usual room Síofra had stayed in when she had visited before, but she insisted when she realized there was a connection with Lizzy’s.
Síofra walked over to her vanity right away, seeing that something had been placed prominently for her eye to catch as she came in. There was a note and a box wrapped in colored paper. She picked up the note and looked at the seal before breaking it with her finger.
“Thank you for the pen, ma cherie. I reply to you now with it in my hands. Please accept this in return and wear it tonight,” she whispered aloud.
“Lizzy, it is from Renaud! For me!” she shrieked, spinning around to face her friend before taking the package. She began to open it and motioned for Lizzy to come see.
“When did he even have time?” she said, more to herself than to Lizzy. “I gave him the pen yesterday afternoon.”
“Maybe he was planning this already?” Lizzy suggested, looking at the note.
“Oh!” Síofra brought out an elegant pendant. Flakes of silver were suspended in a glass bauble that was filled with water, the entire thing wrapped in silver wire and on a chain of the same metal.
“Here, let me help.” Elizabeth spun Síofra around and brushed aside her hair, fastening the clasp and letting the pendant rest against her heart. Síofra, still wanting to see it, reached up to bring it up before her eyes and then flinched, dropping it.
“What’s wrong?” Síofra turned around and opened her hand up, showing a small smear of blood was on her palm.
“There must have been a loose wire,” she said. Elizabeth nodded and then held up her own hand to press it to the one Síofra still had open in the air. A moment later there was no wound. They wiped their hands of the remaining blood and looked over the pendant again, seeing nothing that would have done any harm. Síofra even took it off so they would have a better look.
“Perhaps I merely held it wrong,” Síofra said.
“Perhaps, yes. Do you wish to still wear it?”
“Oh, yes, I want Renaud to see!”
Elizabeth put it on her again. Neither noticed that while Lizzy had been healing Síofra’s hand the water inside the pendant had become red before the blood was absorbed by the metal.
Pierre and Elizabeth were last to arrive at dinner. He had forgotten the time while busy, and Lizzy waited while he finished his last reply to one of the nobles of his land. They had thought to go find the aviary together, but realizing they would be late beyond what could be even considered at times fashionable, a servant was asked to take it and send it for them (including Lizzy’s letter to her brother, as she had never actually found the aviary with Síofra).
Everyone made to stand as they walked in, but Pierre waved his hand in a gesture indicating they should stay down, even Vivien and Maiolaine as host and hostess. “No, no, please sit. This is informal, even if we are all present. We are friends and family tonight.” He then grinned sheepishly. “Otherwise I am in terrible breach of etiquette being this late.” The first course had not been served yet, but some servers had already come into the room as Pierre and Lizzy entered.
Jourdain laughed and stood, “Too right, Your Grace! Lady Elizabeth, will you please allow me to escort you to where my wife currently sits, so she may sit beside me in another terrible breach in etiquette?”
She hesitated, but only for a short moment. “I shall, Lord Jourdain.” Elizabeth smiled up to Pierre before she was passed over to the other man and taken to one side of the table before switching places with Cordelia. Seeing what his brother had done, Renaud too stood and asked Síofra to abandon her spot and take a seat at his left. Laughter filled the room as everyone moved about and reseated themselves, sometimes more than once.
In the end Tibault sat at the head of the table where the host should have been, Vivien at his right followed by Elizabeth, Charlot, Cordelia and Renaud. Síofra sat at the foot where the hostess normally would, and continuing on there was Sabine, followed by Jourdain, Perdita, Pierre, and finally Maiolaine at Tibault’s left. Wolfram was not among the guests, it being decided he was too young and still a child, not to mention the uneven number at that point. Vivien’s children similarly had already had supper and had gone to their rooms before bed.
The soup was finally served, though it was no longer as hot as it should have been. No one seemed to mind, conversations starting around the relatively small gathering.
“You look the perfect lady,” Renaud said, reaching out to tuck a stray curl behind Síofra’s ear and caress her cheek.
“I borrowed the dress from Lady Elizabeth,” she replied. It was a deep blue with an ivory corset, a restricting fashion that was nonetheless beautiful, even if she was not used to it. Her hair too was pinned up and caught in a coil of gold. The only jewelry she wore beside was the necklace Renaud had bestowed upon her.
“How has it been, living in the civilized world?”
“I have stayed at the château before, you know! But true, never as a lady-in-waiting to know and follow the etiquette. I am learning though, if only so I know what rules I can break without bringing offense.”
“Seating seems to be one of them, though for that I am a bit glad.”
“My lord Vivien,” Elizabeth greeted the steward after she tried the soup. “Thank you so much for this pleasant gathering, even if I assume it is already a bit different than you had desired.”
“Somehow I shall survive,” he replied. He was only one spot away from his original seat, sitting where the lady guest of honor should be sitting in fact. It had originally been open for Elizabeth.
“I am, though, glad that I am still beside you,” she continued. She had noted the empty seat as well. “I had hoped to talk with you tonight, hence my earlier hesitation at the seating being played with.”
“Oh, do tell, dear lady.”
“I have heard you are a practitioner of blancræft,” she began. Her hands were clasped in her lap and she played with the hem of her napkin to try and calm her nerves. “I am a blanc-witch without any formal training, though I have read as many books on the matter as I could find. I understand you are very busy, but if you could find an hour or two a week to help me harness my cræft I would be much obliged.” She finished in a rush and looked away from him, catching Pierre’s proud smile at her before he continued to talk with Maiolaine about the Ladies Spadé.
Vivien smiled as well.
“Of course, my lady, it would be an honor to assist you. Perhaps every Iunday evening after dinner? An hour or two depending on how the lesson progresses and what else needs to be done.”
Iundays began the week, always falling upon one of the important moon quarters. Magic was often most strongest on this day, though some types of magic changed with the daily phase. Today was Siwenday, the last day of the week and so their lessons would begin tomorrow.
“That sounds wonderful, thank you Vivien.”
“It will be my pleasure.”