~ Siwenday, 2nd of Maius, 11831 ~
There was an uneasiness among all in the château. Cordelia refused to leave her rooms and Pierre could not blame her. The guilt, while lessened from speaking with the priest, still wrapped around his heart the next day. If Jourdain was just dead perhaps he could have let it go, but no, he had the power to return Jourdain to life. He could go down to the dungeons right now and bring him back. Returning from the dead messed with one’s memories enough that the advisor would not remember being dead, or how he had been killed, and that could easily be attributed to a stay in Faery.
“What if I was wrong?” he asked Pluta, pacing around his room. A pigeon had just brought the message that the search party had found nothing—no way into Faery, no contact at all with any fée, and nothing about a disappearance. They were still searching, but would return soon if no leads were found. They would regroup then, try another plan, bring in Elwin or Rhiau as a liaison.
But Pierre knew none of that would work.
“It would not be the first time you killed an innocent man,” his familiar replied, licking her paw. “Why does this bother you so?” It was not said with malice, merely a statement of fact.
Pierre sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It now had short streaks of white amid the grey and black. Was it due to magic or stress? “I did not know that man. Ophion made it as humane as possible, and then he was given a proper burial. This is just…” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The man that he had killed at fifteen had been a patient of Ophion’s, induced in a deep sleep. If he knew his uncle it was also likely that that man had been dying anyway. But Mora’s test then had only asked that he kill an innocent man, not cut short a life that would still be very long and prosperous. This was Jourdain, a man he had known, come to respect if he ignored his suspicions, and then had killed while looking him in the eyes. As many foul things as he had done before this was new.
He did not know if it was a comfort that such things still caused him great distress.
“If it bothers you that much then return him to life,” his familiar said. She jumped off of her perch and sauntered over to him, nudging his legs and then purring. “Accuse him and his brother formally, have the evidence gathered, and watch them die legally.”
“And put Cordelia in even more stress? Have him return and then hang?” That would be even worse for her, may even be enough to induce a miscarriage. He would not do that to an innocent woman and child.
“Now you are just being contradictory.”
Pierre glared at her and returned to pacing. There was no good answer, there was no possible way this ended well. And it was his fault. Like how he had not become duc sooner.
Was he just as bad as Augustin?
“You are not.”
He stopped, feeling the air change in the room, and hearing the voice he had not been allowed to hear in weeks.
“My favorite,” Death replied.
“Am I still?” The words were whispered. He felt like a child who questioned whether he was still loved after doing something against his parent’s wishes. She had appeared behind him and he dared not turn around yet.
“You have done much in my name these last few weeks and it had caused you much stress. I found I could not keep away.”
He turned to see his Lady. She was again in modern attire, her wings hidden, and no longer covered in blood. The chill that often followed her was gone and there was almost a warmth in its place. He took several steps towards her and knelt, bowing his head, closing his eyes, accepting.
A hand through his hair, hers this time. He stiffened, but she began to hum softly, playing gently with his locks. He relaxed into her ministrations. She pulled him closer, sinking to the floor, and rested his head on her lap.
“Thank you,” she said. “And I ask your forgiveness. I was quick to anger and then refused to return out of pride. But your pain called to me.”
“Always forgiven,” he replied. “My Lady, you are not at fault. I overstepped—” She placed a hand over his mouth to silence him.
“As did I.”
She leant down and kissed his forehead. The warmth he felt covered him and it was a similar feeling to how light one would feel after Confession. For a time they sat together, saying nothing, just being in each other’s presence after so long apart.
“Tell me,” he said after a while, “please. If I had chosen to stay. How would we have been? And how are we now because I did not?”
She had taken off his gloves and was looking at his hands, realizing the number of scars had disappeared, and knowing that it had been Elizabeth’s doing. This pleased her.
“No one has yet chosen to stay,” she said.
“No one wished to serve?” He was puzzled, but he should not have been. He had chosen to return for the same reason. A selfishness and pride that came with being able to control life and death. When one was above even that, why would anyone choose to be bound? He had assumed that in returning to life he would be more powerful than if he had stayed dead in her realm. Her equal while he lived. She had done nothing to dissuade this notion.
And Elizabeth. If Mora had asked him just days earlier perhaps he would have chosen her over Lady Elizabeth Anne. But not after meeting Lizzy again.
“No, in the end, not a soul has fully pledged themselves to me.”
“And what am I now? And what are we?”
“In many ways the same. You are a lord of death, in as much as a human or fée can be. The spirits will listen to you, will be pleased to have guidance, but not in all cases. But that is true even for me at times… You can still learn more, hone your cræft, work with the spirits more intimately than before. And as for us— if I am a queen you are a duke. I hold power over you, but you are not without a considerably amount yourself.”
“Non. Do not ask forgiveness for choosing her. She lives. She is deserving of being your lady. The spirits themselves decided that day her illness came to its climax.”
“In that case, thank you.”
“You are most welcome.”
“One more thing, my lady,” he asked. “The plague, the illness that creeps up on my land. Is that your doing?”
She look down at him and smiled, kissing his cheek, before disappearing.
Pierre sighed and sat up. He touched his cheek where Mora had kissed him.
It had been a while since Pierre had written in his journals and taken an evening to himself. The plasma that he used as an invisible ink was unusable, dry, and without any spirits of magic still residing inside, but he had ink. And even if he was not writing about cræft there was much to write about. He would try and find some spare time to separate out the plasma soon— there was much of cræft to discuss as well.
He chose cheery topics, his soul lighter after Mora’s visit. On his desk was the item that Renaud had brought back, the man doing his duty even with the great turmoil and trouble going on. It was a ring, cushioned in velvet, one of a set that went to any daughter of Eichel who would marry outside of her county. It gave the blessing of the family and wished her well in her new home. This ring had belonged to Lizzy’s great-aunt, Lady Margaux, Comtesse de Ruiten, and it had returned to Eichel with her passing many years ago. Elizbeth had not known her aunt well, but you had a few fond memories of her. He he had specifically asked for this ring.
And soon Pierre would ask Elizabeth for her hand and to become the Duchesse de Piques by his side with it. It was her birthday soon, he could offer himself and all he owned to her as her present.
He reached out to grab the ring again, to admire it and imagine it on his lady’s elegant finger, when there was a harsh knock and the door opened without permission.
Vivien entered and closed the door with force, just enough not to be able to say it was slammed, but quite close.
“What have you been doing?” Vivien asked him. “The air is filled with spirits of death and blood. It has been for days, in fact. I tried to keep my tongue, but an hour ago—” he stop speaking, closing his eyes.
“An hour ago?” Pierre replied softly. He moved his hands into his lap, closer to where his cane was resting against his chair. An hour ago Mora had visited him. Her magic had been contained, reserved, tempting but only to him. How had Vivien..? And days? He had felt Salome, and maybe even Jourdain’s death?
His steward was pale, eyes darting around the room, and he was clenching his fists. Worry and pain. A chill went down Pierre’s spine and a need to help overcame him.
“Vivien? Vivien, are you alright?” The doctor stood and walked over to his cousin, reaching out to touch his face. Vivien tried to pull away, but at Pierre’s raised eyebrow relented.
“Oui, I am, I merely—”
“You are a witch,” the lord of death said, the conclusion so sudden in his mind and he spoke without thinking. He continued his examination after he spoke, mulling over the though, touching Vivien’s throat and tilting his head so he could see in the light of the sun from the window.
“Non, Your Grace, I am not. I practice blancræft, as you well know, but I was not born with it.”
“With blancræft, no,” Pierre agreed. “But you were born with a cræft.”
Silence. Pierre let go of Vivien and stepped back. “It seems you have a slight fever and your throat has swollen glands. Do you have a sore throat?”
“Yes,” the other admitted. He sighed and, at Pierre gesturing to an extra chair, sat down.
“Are you a necrowitch?” Pierre was not sure if necrowitches existed, but a child born of necrocræft was possible to be one.
“Non!” Vivien’s head snapped up at the accusation and he was flush with indignation. Or that fever was taking hold. It seemed like it took incredible effort for him to stop speaking more in anger and he took a deep breath, head falling into his hands. “I am a noirwitch,” he admitted.
“Yet you do not practice it.”
Vivien shook his head without speaking. Pierre remained standing, head tilted to the side, mimicking a look of curiosity that Pluta often wore. He said nothing of the outburst or disrespect.
“I do not,” his steward said. “I believe it can easily take me down roads I do not wish to walk.”
“Has Mora approached you?”
Vivien laughed at this, but it was dry. “Of course she has. She temps me to this day. I admit at first I was curious, but when she told me I needed to kill an animal… I could not bring myself to do it. It made me ill. Maman suggested an insect, but even that was too much. I told Mora no.”
Pierre returned to his seat and passed over the glass of water he had been drinking from. Vivien gave him a small smile and drank from it, wincing when his throat protested.
“You do not hunt, then?” Pierre asked.
“I do not, and I eat game very rarely. To kill something personally… my wife will tell you I refuse to even kill insects at her request. Bastien has taken up that duty to protect his mother and sisters.”
“Even knowing you would return it’s life?”
“Somehow that made it all the worse. I would cause such harm, death, and then erase it and pretend it never happened?”
“So that is why you do not like the cræft… Some would say it is your nature, though, as I am fay.”
“One can control one’s nature. It does not mean you need to succumb,” he replied.
The two men stared at each other.
“Blancræft and noircræft,” Pierre finally whispered, rolling another thought about in his head. “One could say those together are necrocræft.”
“I do not mix life and death.”
“Non, you—” But Pierre stopped. He had meant to admonish his steward for suppressing his innate cræft, but that was not his choice.
“Yes, Your Grace?”
At being called kin Vivien relaxed.
“Mora visited me,” Pierre said, finally answering Vivien’s initial question. “And I have been teaching Wolfram. I did not realize that you would feel the spirits or that they would make you ill. I apologize.”
“No, I… With Jourdain missing we are all very stressed. I miss him. We were not the best of friends, but we were companions. I may not much like his father, and Renaud can be a horse’s ass, but my heart goes out to Cordelia. I would not be able to function without Maiolaine. And then I felt Mora here and she called to me so strongly. I ignored her as long as I could, but then I began to feel so ill… forgive me for losing my temper.”
“You are of course forgiven, Vivien. Now, go to bed. I will have some tea brought to you. You are to rest tomorrow as well. Doctor and duc’s orders.”