~ Iunday, 10th of Maius, 11831 ~
Aimé made the trip in six days. On the afternoon of the aptly named Fairy Moon he returned to Spadille with a small retinue. They had all ridden their own horses, cutting the time from about two weeks to one, forsaking pleasantries and carts for the speed that a few men on horseback could achieve without overdue burden. Pierre was grateful for it, and for his brother. It would not be unusual for a prince to wish to be comfortable and take the extra time, but Aimé took his duties to family and land above all else.
After the initial clamor of welcoming the prince the two brothers went off to discuss matters. The advisors began to follow, but Aimé held up a hand and stopped them without even speaking.
“This will be between His Graceful Highness and myself,” he said, invoking Pierre’s station as foster son of the roi.
Renaud looked about to protest, but held his tongue and waited with the rest as Aimé and Pierre went behind closed doors.
“I am sorry.”
Of all the things Pierre had thought Aimé would begin with it was not that.
“I—pardon? Brother you—”
“I was to take up these duties for you. I swore this,” Aimé said. His shoulders slumped and weariness of many days ride showed upon his face. He seemed so young. He was only five years Pierre’s senior, and for most of the their lives that gap had seemed so wide. Now it felt like they were both too young. Were they too old to call their father for aid?
“In the two months you have been here you have discovered corruption and problems that did not occur to me to even look for in four years,” the prince said. “Even if I were not the true duc, I am the prince, and this land is as mine as yours.”
“You are the prince,” Pierre agreed. “And in that matter I assume there were those who acted around you in ways that they have not with me. You are known, beloved throughout the realm, respected.” His smile wavered and a shadow crossed his face. “And it would not surprise me if this was done specifically to keep you unaware. You were given reports, the advisors advised, no? I only learnt because of my position as a doctor and being curious.” And through means as one who practiced necrocræft.
“You are as much father’s son as I.”
“Non, I am not. In Piques I am Félicien’s son, a boy who left as a child, grew up far away, and chose schooling over returning the moment I should have when I was of age.”
The prince sighed and nodded in defeat. “Do you have anything to drink?”
Brandy was brought out and poured for them both. Aimé raised his glass in silent toast.
“And, oui, they advised me. In many cases well. They said they had this land under control and it seemed that way to me, for one who had not spent much time here. After all His Grace Félicien had been gone many years… I assumed they were well versed.”
“Vivien tried. Tries still, and does do better than most,” Pierre said. “He and I spoke the day of my arrival and he confessed being overwhelmed, but I see him doing as much as he can. And as does Charlot. Tibault is learning.”
“The sons of Feuilles?”
“Jourdain has aided me and shown initiative. Renaud often has opinions of his own but tends to listen. He is young, and began after his elder brother, though, no?”
Aimé nodded, and took a sip of the drink in his hand. The tension in his shoulders eased and he sat back. “I think this is the brandy Vivien got me one Winterfinding. He has good taste. I think I only had time to try it once.”
“Ah, forgive me for stealing your stock.”
The prince smiled and rested his hands on his knees, cradling the glass.
“A month ago you save a fay girl and now in the same moon your advisor is taken,” he began. “Could it be revenge? Was she an outcast from Faery that she was living here, and you saving her was not planned?”
“Non,” Pierre said. He swirled his own drink. The idea that that is how the events would look to others had never occurred to him. He prayed that the fée did not see it as him being manipulative against them. “Lady Rhianu and Lord Elwin have expressed that my saving of her was well received. Beside Jourdain’s disappearance there has not been a greater Midspring in years. The crops are rich, livestock healthy. I am told far more than the usual amount of women are already declaring themselves with child.”
“Including Lady Cordelia.”
“Oui… the conception had to have occurred before Midspring and Jourdain’s leave, but I am certain the days leading up to it were also blessed.”
“Perhaps the Spring Faery Queen has a plan of sorts? Giving a man a child and then spiriting him away…” he shrugged. “Or it may be unrelated entirely. An unseelie who thought Jourdain’s association with his family was enough to punish him.”
“Association?” Pierre asked.
Aimé grimaced. “Frederick has no love of the fée.”
“He told me himself a few days past. I was unaware it was well-known.”
“He tends not to keep quiet of it as much as he thinks he does. Perhaps the taking of his heir was to be against him and not Jourdain himself, he never seemed to share his father’s views… And what did Frederick say about Jourdain’s disappearance?”
“Feuilles seems to wish to count him among the dead. He said that even if Jourdain were to return he would be tainted.”
“Mm. Perhaps he does it to keep control of himself? I could not fathom the pain if Ancel disappeared. The distance may be keeping him sane.” He did not sound convinced, but it was the most neutral answer the prince could give without condemning the comte.
“How is home?” Pierre asked him. “If we may for a moment speak of nicer thing.” The next few days would be difficult and long. He wanted a few minutes with his older brother in peace.
“Lovely. I’ve missed it with being here all this time. Though Father is already muttering about being too old to be roi and perhaps I should take up the throne. Maman helped me when she saw my panicked face, at least I think she believes she helped, by suggesting I had too much to do with a small child and perhaps if I had more heirs first?”
Pierre laughed. “Shall you be trying for more children?”
“Mm. Hélaïse wants a daughter and who am I to deny my dear wife? I admit I would love to have more myself and hope for another son so maybe we may have at least three. I did tell Father I would become roi soon, though, and he agreed without giving me a solid date.
“And your romance? How seriously are you courting Lady Elizabeth?”
“Quite seriously. We were friends for years before we grew apart. and I am glad to be in her company again. She is kind and has spirit. She makes me happy. I believe I make her feel the same.”
“That is all I need to know,” Aimé replied.
“But you wish to know more?”
“If you would be so inclined.”
Pierre pulled out the package of wrapped velvet and opened it to show his brother. “I had Jourdain and Renaud fetch it from Eichel for me. A family heirloom that is also their permission and agreement. Though I will refrain from asking her if she wishes to be my wife until the unpleasantness of that journey has settled.”
“Yes, of course. Though allow me to congratulate you first.”
“Merci, thank you, Brother.”
They sat in silence a moment, thinking and being near each other as brothers. When Pierre finished his drink he poured himself another.
“What bothers you?” Aimé held out his glass as well.
“Lies, younger brother. You are paler than I saw you when you were ill.”
Pierre managed not to roll his eyes, but barely. He returned the cap to the bottle and got up to put it away so he would have time to stall in answering. “There has been much to do, is all. I have learnt so much about this place in such a short amount of time. And I wish to fix it as soon as I can.”
“To heal it,” Aimé agreed. “You are a doctor after all.”
“I do not think I will be leaving after this summer. I had thought to switch places a few times, to travel up to Eichel, or see if Italaviana is as interesting as I have heard, but I will not abandon Piques. I wish to become the true duc in autumn. And, if I may beg of you, that you visit and help me.”
Aimé nodded. Before Pierre returned to his seat the prince stood, putting aside his glass, and hugging his younger brother. He said no words, and there was none that had to be said.
“Is the girl you saved well?” They would speak a little more of pleasantries and nothings before the advisors were allowed in and solid plans had to be made.
“Yes. She and her family have returned home and written that she is already up and playing in the gardens with her rabbit friends.”
~ Dvoday, 11th of Maius, 11831 ~
Pierre had been heading to Elizabeth’s quarters the next morning, but his heart skipped as her often-worn blue clothes caught his eyes in the hall. Not minding they were in public with guards and other staff about, he gathered her up into his arms and kissed her.
“I need you, Lizzy.”
“Are you alright— Oh, no, that is a stupid question. Forgive me for being so distant as of late, I did not want to disturb you with everything going on.”
“My dear you could never disturb me,” he whispered into her hair. “Please, let us just go into the gardens for a while and sit together. Everyone is rushing about and planning with Aimé, I can hide with you for a little time before lunch.”
Yesterday had begun with hope, but quickly soured. Renaud’s guilt had him lashing out in anger, even contradicting the prince, and no true plans had been made. A letter was sent to Elwin by Aimé and some guards had been told to go to where Jourdain was last seen. They would meet with the margrave soon and then Elwin or perhaps Rhianu would go after the search party.
Pierre knew they would not find anything. He worried about his grandpère and what the margrave would have to do given that he knew well what had happened to Jourdain.
Elizabeth nodded and they left to go out to find their spot, a far bench that was closer to the woods than the château, hidden behind several trees, and giving a clear view of both the estate and the wilderness.
“Remember when we thought this would be a nice relaxing vacation while we explore the city and get to know the staff and townspeople?” Pierre asked. His grip on Lizzy tightened and he stopped just outside the door once the fresh scent of larkspur and honeysuckles enveloped them. A guard closed the door for them.
“I can’t leave,” he said. He swallowed and closed his eyes. The closer he held Elizabeth the better he felt, he never wanted to let her go. For once he did not care about the magical reason, so much had happened all at once and he needed her as his friend and lover. “I cannot just take another year off to gallivant about the realm with you as I so desperately wanted and leave this. I trust Aimé, but this is not his land the way it is mine. These problems are mine. I spoke with him yesterday and I will be duc in the autumn.”
“You will solve them,” she assured. Her own arms wrapped around him and she stood on her toes to kiss his scruffy cheek. He had not bothered to shave lately. “We will solve them.”
“I will write to you when you return to Eichel—”
“Return?” She stepped back, but still in his outreached arms, and looked up at Pierre with a fire sparking in her eyes. “I am not going anywhere, monsieur. Maman and Papa have said that I may stay as long as I wish.” Not entirely true. She had received a letter about their worries, and expressed that she may come home when she wished, but also added that given “certain events” (they did not elaborate) she now had permission to stay in Spadille with His Grace as long as she chose.
“Lizzy, it is—”
“People have been jesting and teasing about our marriage from the day we left the castle together. You and I both know what an extended courtship with long visits implies. And I would not be courting anyone without at least the implication that we wed one day. You gave me permission to help you with politics and work, and as someone who hopes dearly she will be your duchesse—” she blushed at finally admitting it aloud, “then I am staying until you send me away.”
Stomping her foot would have negated much of that, but she so wanted to.
Pierre blinked at her, and for the first time in days she saw a genuine smile form on his lips.
“I want you to stay.”
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