18 ~ Delphinium ~ Going into town

~ Vijfday, 10th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

“What do you wish to do today?” Pierre asked Elizabeth. They had had breakfast together, Síofra and Wolfram accompanying them, but nothing was yet planned. Having met most everyone the first and second day he wanted to take at least the morning of the third to do as he pleased. He hoped it would be something with Elizabeth.

“Let us go into town,” Lizzy said. “It will not be half as fun when you are well-known and cannot be anonymous. And I have never been in such a large city.”

“Then we shall go into town.”

An hour later they met at the front door, dressed for a nice day out. Pierre’s suit was a mix of blacks and greys, a red ascot accenting the outfit and matching the gems that were in his cane. Elizabeth wore a fairly simple blue dress, though with an ivory corset and lace drapery. Her hair was pinned up with a few tendrils left loose to accent her face. Síofra, who was coming along as a chaperon, had clothes not as modern, a shimmering gold-green dress with long flowing sleeves. Her hair was let loose to catch the light.

“Shall we?” Pierre asked, holding out his elbow for Elizabeth. The comte’s daughter took up her suitor’s offer on his left side and they made their way into the front gardens. Síofra walked on his other side but did not take his arm, leaving his hand free to hold his cane and use the weapon if it was needed.

It was a warm day and flowers already filled the landscape, bringing bright colors and lovely scents. The château was beyond the main town some-a-ways, with the land around it mainly gardens, stables, and other niceties that could be afforded of the duchy’s ruler. They had seen some of this from the carriage ride up, but had not had time to take it in otherwise. A carriage waited by the stables to take them into the city.

“Perhaps we may walk?” Elizabeth said looking up into the cloudless sky. “It is not terribly far and Síofra lent me some of her more comfortable shoes. It is a lovely day. And I have had enough of carriages for now.”

“That would be nice,” Pierre agreed. “We can always ride back if we need to. And I still owe you a pair of new shoes, darling, maybe we can commission a comfortable set like what you are wearing now.” He waved off the carriage, thanking the driver for his time.

Síofra now took the lead, having been in town a handful of times before, though mostly it was to give Pierre and Elizabeth some semblance of privacy.

The dirt road became cobbled and soon small homes and farms filled their view. A half hour later a great open gate announced the way into the city proper, large stone walls surrounding even higher townhouses and buildings. Several carriages lined the street waiting to be rented for an hour or a day, and a stable rented space for travelers who were there on their own horse and wanted to leave the animal behind. There were other stalls as well that sold news or offered carrier services.

Elizabeth could not stop looking around. She had never been in such a large city before, among the people like this, and she was only at the edge of it! She took comfort in that Pierre seemed just as amazed, but that might be due to the thought that this was his city.

“And here,” Síofra said to them then, turning around and walking backwards a few steps as she continued to speak, “my dear nephew and future niece-in-law, I will leave you to your own devices. Be good, and if not, don’t be caught!” She smiled and dashed off in a seemingly random direction away from the couple. She wanted to find something nice to give to a man that had caught her eye in Pierre’s entourage.

“Niece-in-law,” Elizabeth whispered under her breath, shaking her head, sure that that was not an official form of kin and trying not to be too embarrassed by it.

“I suggest you become used to this, I can only imagine the teasing will get worse after we are actually married,” Pierre whispered back to her. He tightened his hold on her arm and when she glanced up to him he kissed her quickly.

“Now, I do believe I owe you a pair of shoes, my lady!” Pierre said before Lizzy could comment about how informally they were already speaking of their marriage. He was not sure when he had decided it exactly, but sometime before her illness it had become a strong possibility and after it was a certainty to him.

He led her across the street to where the shops began. At the other side he gently took her hand off of his left arm, kissed her knuckles, and moved to wrap his right arm around her before passing his cane back to his left. Now he was on the side nearer the street and the one in more danger should a horse spook or something else go awry. Lizzy snuggled into his side as they began to look at the displays.

They were in no rush and entered several stores while searching for the shoe-maker. Elizabeth bought some small things that could be easily carried back, making note where the tailor and seamstress were. She would return another day with Síofra and perhaps Maiolaine to commission more clothes for the summer. Or perhaps there was a seamstress at the château already that could be asked to expand her wardrobe. A couple of pre-made dresses would not go amiss either.

They eventually found themselves at the town square, a large open area that was the center and heart of Spadille. A grand church and its grounds took up a whole side and along the other three there were guild houses and the town hall. Some restaurants and an inn also advertised themselves in the lower floors of the buildings, and signs showed that that the hospital was not far down the main street. The square itself was filled with entertainers and stands selling everything from toys and drink to bird-seed for the pigeons that flocked to the area.

There they too wandered for a while, buying chilled spiced wine to share, and even some treats for the birds.

“Oh, Pierre, look! Do you think this is a cobbler?” There was small shop in the corner of a large building, the sign out front easy to pass by if one did not know it was there already. There was no name, but only the image of a shoe with butterfly wings on it as decoration.

They entered, Pierre opening the door for Elizabeth and a bell ringing above their heads announced them. It was a cobblers, and Lizzy went to look at some of the shoes on display while Pierre looked around the empty shop with narrowed eyes. He stepped closer to her.

Shortly after this a man came out from the back and Pierre kept himself between the shopkeeper and his love. Perhaps they would make polite excuses and go find another store that was further away and less eerily empty during what should be a busy time.

“Bonjour! Welcome, welcome. How may I help mademoiselle and monsieur today?”

Lizzy turned around before Pierre could lead them out. “Oh, bonjour monsieur! I would like to commission a pair of shoes quite like which I am wearing right now—they have been borrowed from a friend. Would such a thing be possible?”

“Of course. Please, mademoiselle, if I could look at them?”

Elizabeth sat on the offered bench and lifted her skirt up just enough to show her shoes. They had no heel and were quite low on the foot as well, not rising up past the ankle. A single clasped strap at the front kept the shoes on her feet. She then wiggled her foot and let one of them fall to the ground before picking it up and handing it to the shoemaker.

“They are simple, but well made,” he began commenting, almost to himself, “and they can be walked in for quite a time comfortably when they are custom made. The ones you are wearing as somewhat too big for you, though, so I would be careful with how far you walk today, you may end up with blisters and pains.”

“We’ll ride back then,” Pierre said. He stood beside Elizabeth, eyes not leaving the shoemaker. Something felt different about him and it made the duc tense. There had to be a reason that this shop was empty when all others had been at least half-full.

“Ah,” the shoemaker cried, “These were made in Faery! I take it back, my lady, they will not give you blisters no matter how much you walk in them.” He hesitated a moment before glancing to Pierre and then back to her. “I can, if it would please you, imbue your new shoes with a similar bit of magic?”

“That would be lovely! Merci. How much more shall that cost?” Elizabeth asked. She had not noticed exactly how fearful the man had been of revealing he could do such things, but Pierre did. Surely such benefits should have been the main selling point of this shop, that there was someone fée or fay and had enough magia to enchant your shoes.

The man’s eyes were wide as if he had not thought about asking to charge for such a service.

“For you, mademoiselle, it will be no extra cost. They will be done in a se’nnight, shall I have them sent to your home or will mademoiselle prefer to come pick them up?”

“We will return,” Pierre replied. “It is nice in town and a planned day here will break up what work we have at the time.”

“Of course, thank you, monsieur. Mademoiselle, would you prefer any specific colors or metals used?”

“Surprise me,” Lizzy replied. “I trust your knowledge and good taste, monsieur.”

The shoemaker looking to Pierre before handing him Lizzy’s shoe and allowed him to slip it back onto her foot before helping her stand.

“You go on ahead, my dear,” Pierre said. “I said I would buy these for you and I shall. I will be right behind you.” Lizzy kissed his cheek in appreciation and went to look at some of the shops on the other side of the street.

Pierre asked the price and paid the fay shoemaker, handing him a quarter-livre in addition to the half-livre he was told would be the cost.

“Monsieur, I cannot—”

“Take it. Such things are deserving of pay. Can you tell me why you did not wish to mention it at first?”

“It is not always well-received, being fay here in Spadille. But I saw her shoes and I believe her accent is from around Eichel, so I thought I would offer.”

“‘Not well-received,’” Pierre repeated. That explained the empty shop. “I will keep that in mind. Thank you, monsieur.”

“If I may ask, who are you that this matter is something for you to note?”

He supposed his anonymity would not stay that way for very long anymore.

“I am Pierre Salvador, heir to Piques.”

***

“And what did you buy?” Lizzy asked. Síofra and she were heading back to their rooms to put away their purchases. Pierre had reluctantly been parted from them by a formal summons to have tea.

“A gift for a man,” the fay-girl replied. “I find myself interested in getting to know one of His Grace’s advisors more, I thought a token would be nice.”

“Generally it is the man that buys the woman gifts.”

“Oh? I suppose, but I do not think he will mind receiving something. And did you not buy His Grace a gift?”

“I bought him a journal as appreciation for my shoes. It is not the same thing.”

“Of course not.”

“Hmph. Shall you tell me which man has your fancy, or will I have to guess?”

“Oh, guess first!”

“Let us see… a few are married, so I suppose they are not the receivers, true?”

“Of course not,” Síofra said, sticking out her tongue at her friend.

“From Piques?”

“Oui, not Charlot.”

“Lord Tibault?”

She shook her head. “Though he seems kind,” she added.

“Lord Renaud then? He is pleasing to look at, though I have not spoken much with him.”

Síofra nodded, “Yes! And neither have I truly spoken with him at length, but I wish to. He has been watching me when he believes I do not see.”

In Elizabeth’s room now Síofra borrowed a pen and scribbled a quick note to be placed with the packaged gift. She would leave it by his door.

“What did you write?” Lizzy asked, putting a new pot of ink next to the one that the other girl had just used. The book she bought, a fiction, she would put at her bedside, and the ribbons for her hair went in a drawer.

“‘Perhaps you will think of me when you next write a letter,’” Síofra read. “It is a dip-pen with streaks of red, gold, and green. It reminded me of the forest at the beginning of autumn.”

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

17.5 ~ Fée Child ~

~ Siwenday, 7th of Prima, 11814 ~

He had been told to leave the birthing room when the bleeding had increased. His pleas and demands to remain were ignored despite his rank, and the common sense that he would not interfere. He just wanted to stay with her. She had been pale and already so weak, her grip on his hand less strong than when they danced (when just a few days ago they had jested she might break his fingers during the worst pains). She could not hold on as he was removed by his own servants and shoved through the door. Her last words echoed in his head on repeat, “My love, Félicien..!”

Now she was dead. The doctor apologized as if that made any difference to him. He had not been beside her when she passed, had not comforted, or held, or praised her for giving him his children, being his beloved wife, and the very reason he was even here. Anger cut through grief and he vowed to punish those that had separated them.

A nurse finally came into the hall holding a small bundle. He tried not to stare at the blood-soaked clothes as he reached out and took his newborn child into his arms.

So small, Félicien thought, unwrapping the baby just enough to see it was a girl-child. Smaller than his son had been at birth. And born almost on the same day—tomorrow would be Pierre’s birthday. But they had been conceived at different times of the year, and it was too early for her. Ophélie should have still carried her for three more months. It was not until late afternoon that they realized her pains were not false, and her brother, a doctor, was too far away to make it in time. A local doctor was called instead. They had hoped it would not matter, their daughter had been conceived in Faery and time was an unsure thing in that plane, and they would just meet their new child earlier than thought.

But no. She was too small in his arms and would have fit snugly in one palm. And why were they handing her to him? Shouldn’t the doctor be doing something, it could not be good for a child to be born this early.

“Your Grace, she has a few hours…” Whatever strength he had retained left him, and he sank into a chair that was nearby before he fell.

She would not live to see tomorrow. This was their feeble apology— to let him hold her as she drew her only breaths.

Halfway through the doctor speaking, when he was sure his legs would hold him, the duc stood and walked out of the room with his little girl held close. His beloved was dead and his daughter would soon follow, there was not time for such nonsense. A part of him thought to perhaps call his son along, but Pierre was still too young and needed not know of death so intimately. They would speak tonight and grieve together then.

He wandered out into the gardens that were let grow wild since he became duc. They were an extension of the forest now, yet still tended and having been shaped by human hands. He preferred it like this, and his wife did—had—too.

He hadn’t seen Ophélie before he left. He couldn’t see her. If he saw her dead he would begin to weep and never stop, and his children needed him. Pierre was still a child and this little girl… she was still here for now.

“Morgaine,” he whispered into the girl’s ear. “Morgaine Ophelia.” He had not know what name his wife had wishes to give their daughter, one name was given by each parent in this realm, but perhaps it was better this way. No one would know her true second name and no one could take power over her in that way. A superstition in this plane, but very true in Faery. He had learned quickly to give a false second name or be a slave while living there. The baby gurgled, making a happy noise for the first time, and seemed to accept being named in part after her mother.

Félicien walked with no destination in mind, wishing only to wander the natural land until Morgaine passed. The forest of early spring, trees full with new leaves and flowers that seemed to offer condolences with their stretched-out branches, was comforting. The day’s sunlight flickered between the leaves, painting the forest and his child. Her eyes, a deep blue, seemed tinged with violet in the shade.

He began to hum and rock her as tears spilled down his cheeks. He would smile for her, surround her with beauty, and give her as much as he could until she…

Morgaine watched the sky, the leaves, reaching to touch flowers that bent down as if to brush her cheeks. Every so often she would wiggle or laugh. They walked until twilight, until she lay peaceful and asleep, but still breathing. He held her so that when she breathed out he felt it on his neck.

It would not be safe to walk once full dark came over the land. Maybe she could still pull through, the doctor had after all not thought she would live this long. And she seemed to be gaining strength not losing it. He turned around to return home.

The trees no longer held flowers, the branches heavy with the growth of a season. The sun shone from the opposing side it had been on before, bringing the dawn, not leaving for the evening. He must have walked through the planes without realizing it and now stood in Faery.

“I must go back,” he called. But even as he said this he was not very sure of it. He was the duc, yes, but he rarely did much in the way of ruling his land. His steward did that. He had not grown up there, and even living in that plane for almost a decade had not truly endeared him to humanity (beside his wife and her family). He was always the outsider, even as the blood heir of Piques, because he had been spirited away to this magical land as a child.

Now he had no reason to stay.

Pierre. His son, who would be seven years old tomorrow, was not here. But would the boy like living here? He was more his mother’s son, interested in the politics Félicien himself ignored, and always wanting to know more about the medicine his uncle knew. He would not find the same whimsy here. Another feeling crept up his neck, a truth that if he tried to return to get Pierre he would not be able to find his way back. His daughter would die and he would be in exile from his true home.

Walking the same path back, wrestling with feelings that he was not sure were magic or pain, it was not his manor in Clandestina that he stepped out into. A village of the fée greeted him instead, making it certain that he was in another plane of existence.

His daughter began again to squirm in his arms almost wriggling out of his grasp. He adjusted her, feeling she suddenly weighted more. His arms must be tired from holding her so long. But her cheeks, which had been pale before, were now rosy in this new place. She reached for him and grabbed at his clothes with a strength she hadn’t earlier. Her eyes were now entirely violet.

His child could survive here. Faery, where a day could mean a year, and a lifetime could be lived without aging. She was already looking better, stronger, as if she had been born at the right time even. And his grief, while still heavy on his heart, seemed somewhat lighter than before. This was coming home, returning to the land he had lived in for half a century and yet only a decade. He began to cry once more, only now with joy.

Ophion would be at the manor by morning. He would take care of Pierre, perhaps take him in as his own. He would be alright.

“Je suis désolé, Pierre, I am so sorry.”

Félicien began to walk towards the village.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

17 ~ Delphinium ~ Dancing Lessons

~ (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.

She entered.

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.”

Rhianu smiled.

“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.”

“Of course.”

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.

“Welcome, Síofra.”

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

16 ~ Delphinium ~ Council meeting

~ Qvattorday, 9th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

He woke in a room that brought back memories in the morning light. Pierre had chosen to sleep in his childhood room last night and it had been an indulgence granted him. Most of his things were in the larger suite where he would stay from now on, but the first night in a new place, or a familiar place that had not been visited recently, was special.

Pluta was already awake inspecting the room and looking through old toys and books. As he had not met her until he was older and living with Ophion this whole building was new to her. She was no doubt curious about her master’s younger life.

Most of the things in the room were as they had been years ago. It had never been cleared out, though it had been kept clean, perhaps out of respect and then habit.

“What have you found there, Pluta?” he asked, craning his neck to look at his cat. She was hitting something across the room and running to it only to hit it again.

“It smells like you and outside,” she replied, picking it up in her mouth and bringing it over to him. “My favorite things. I like it.”

It was a ball, just the right size to fit in a small child’s hands, made of leaves, feathers, and string. When Pierre touched it he felt a jolt go through his palms. So that is how it had not decayed, it was wrapped in magic just as much as the physical material. His père must have made it for him. A memory surfaced of Félicien in a meeting, not paying the least bit of attention, but instead playing catch with him. Pierre had hidden under the table and its thick tablecloth, tossing the ball towards him who caught it every time with one hand in his lap, sight unseen. It was also the first time the young boy had found himself interested in politics.

“Please don’t destroy it,” he asked Pluta, tossing it out into the room.

“I do not think I could if I wanted to, there is much magic in it. But I will be careful.” She returned to batting it across the room.

He watched for a while, lost in memories as much as his pet’s game, but finally got up to dress.

He would meet with his council today—several men chosen by his brother to help with the ruling of Piques. Aimé had had the same men at his disposal for advisory and it was not a smudge on Pierre to inherit them but an honor.

He knew Charlot some, as well as Vivien now, but the rest were unknown.

Most of his clothes were in the guest quarters he should have been sleeping in, but a few things were laid out for the day here. He had to trust the servants knew of his schedule and had picked appropriate attire.

“Come along, Pluta,” he said.

***

He first had breakfast with Elizabeth, still preferring the company of those that he knew well for the time being. A servant entered the room more often than might be usual, no doubt playing a chaperon for the two (the assumption given more weight as they stopped coming in as often after Wolfram joined them near the end of the meal).

“Did I choose the correct clothes, Your Grace?” the boy asked, sitting beside him after greeting them both.

“You picked the clothing?” Lizzy looked over his clothes, now with a more critical eye, and by her smile she approved.

“I said I would be at your desire and aid, Your Grace.”

“You did, Wolfram, thank you.” The boy was proving truly devoted. If he had even been half as involved with Ophion, Pierre felt guilty for having taken him without asking. That Wolfram had no parents and was essentially a ward of the state let him be moved around at the whim of those in power. Pierre outranked his uncle and could take the boy without repercussion, but he did expect a letter soon if there was not already one waiting for him somewhere.

“Good morning, Wolfram,” Lizzy said. “So you have decided to be his close aid?”

“I owe him a debt, and I wish to repay it.”

“Oh, a debt?” She looked between the two. “Pray, what has our dear duc done that you would repay him so?”

“That is a secret among men, my lady,” Pierre interrupted her. “So I must declare this topic forbidden.”

“Oh, my apologies then, keep those thoughts to yourself.”

They chatted among themselves, Wolfram speaking more of his personal life with Elizabeth’s coaxing, though did not reveal very much. They were only two and a half years apart, far less than Pierre and Lizzy. Their stations in life would never make them peers, but there would be an understanding there that Pierre and Elizabeth could not have.

“And what happened to her?” Lizzy asked after Wolfram had spoken of Salome and her illness. The boy stopped, unable to come up with a quick lie.

“It is part of my debt,” Pierre cut in. “It seems you shall find out what I have done after all. I could not find out the reason for her illness so I sent her into Faery. You actually helped, Elizabeth, by reminding me of my connections to the land. I am told she will be returned to us, both healed and not aged a day, though we do not know how long it will take. Wolfram decided to accompany me until her return. Given that Piques is so close to Faery, we hope her return will be swift.”

“Oh, I do hope so. I would love to meet her as well,” she replied. “And forgive me, I did not mean to pry about your secret. I did not know those were related.”

“Forgiven, of course.”

This worked well with the rumor that Pierre had begun to spread about Salome disappearing at Springfinding to explain her absence. The servant that had brought them drinks to finish their meal had seemed very interested in the debt as well, surely the story would be all about the château by dinnertime. Most would not pay much attention to Salome’s disappearance, she was only at the castle as Wolfram’s guest and Ophion’s patient, her presence or lack thereof would not register as important to many, but contingencies and alibis were always helpful.

A second servant then walked in with a message for Pierre. He took it and scanned it quickly after thanking the man. “It seems the council’s meeting shall begin whenever I arrive at my earliest convenience,” he said.

Not wishing to keep them waiting too long he smiled at the companions who had had breakfast with him before folding his napkin and standing. He bowed over Elizabeth and kissed both her hand and then her cheek, and gave Wolfram a nod of thanks.

“Do keep Pluta company. I fear it may be rude for our first meeting to involve my pet. They do not know how close I like to keep her.” They would know soon, but first impressions would be important, and a mostly formal meeting with his pet would be rude.

Upon unspoken understanding when Pierre left with the servant who had brought the note in the first place they began to walk down the hall towards the meeting room, said servant in front with the duc following. Even not knowing where he was going he knew which room it was as they walked up to it, the guarded large double-doors, in deep red, speaking for themselves.

Said doors were opened for him on each side and he entered.

It was more formal than a sitting room, made for important decisions and long discussion. Six men each sat in their own large armchair, a semi-circle before a great desk, already talking amongst themselves. There was a small table in the middle with a full decanter and glasses, none were in use right now, while the walls were lined with books and maps. It seemed the decor had changed since his childhood; he was certain now that the memory from the morning had taken place in this room.

The moment he was noticed they all stood to attention. He passed by them, nodding a welcome before standing in front of his desk and looking at each one in turn. His eyes were first drawn to the wolf. It sat by the chair of the man furthest to the right, apart even from the other five, and it watched him without blinking. The golden color of its fur seemed unnatural with the amount of sparkle the coat had. The man beside the wolf was stroking its head like it was a perfectly normal thing to bring a wolf to a meeting.

“This is Magec,” the man said, noticing that Pierre was looking at him and his pet. “He is a faithful companion and will do you no harm, My Grace. And I am your Margrave, Lord Elwin of Spadille and now Spadé,” he added at the end with a bow.

“Lord Spadé, it is a pleasure to meet you,” Pierre replied. This man had helped raise his père and was in some ways his grandfather more than the old late duc of Piques. He moved from his desk and out to where the first advisor stood to shake hands. Elwin was tall and even Pierre had to look up to meet his eyes. The man’s hair was almost the same color as his wolf’s fur, and his eyes were jade green. He had no facial hair, though a scar ran along the left side of his jaw. His attire was varying shades of green and brown, in an older style that was not suited for this meeting, but he seemed to care as much as Pierre did about colors and dress code, that is- in certain circumstances not at all.

The wolf leaned over and sniffed Pierre’s hand, then nudged him so he could get a greeting and a scratch as well. Pierre smiled and wondered what Pluta would think of the fée beast. As he straightened Pierre noted that the next advisor was at least twice as far away from Elwin as the rest. Were they worried about the wolf or the man?

But he moved to shake Charlot Alexandre’s hand with a smile. The heir to the duchy of Diamonds looked much like his sister, the princess—light blonde hair and a soft smile, though his eyes were a hazel instead of her green. Pierre had met him in passing, they were somewhat family, but did not know him very well. His attire was a proper black and white.

“Your future Grace, I thank you for your wish to stay and help before returning to your own lands,” Pierre said. Charlot’s parents were still living and so, though he was of-age, he need not take up the title or duties just yet.

“We will be working together for the good of the kingdom, it is a delight to be your aid until I am a duc myself.”

The next two men looked very similar in appearance, both with dark brown hair (though one had more of a reddish tint to it than the other), one with eyes of green and the other blue. The duc had never met either.

“The honorable sons of Feuilles,” Vivien introduced from the far left. “They are Jourdain Antonin and Renaud Paul.” Each nodded his welcome at his name— Jourdain was the one next to Charlot with green eyes, and Renaud was further left with the reddish hair and blue eyes. He would ask Pluta to watch them. If their father was planning on over-taking his claim one or both of them were likely to be involved.

Next, Vivien introduced the youngest there, Tibault Rainier, who had at nineteen not yet had his majority. He was here as Lord Bladeren’s heir, to learn as much as to advise, and would stay a year or two before returning home. After that his younger brother might then also come up to learn and study from the duc.

Like Charlot he was the second-born child and heir. Women, unless in dire circumstances, were rarely the heirs themselves even if the eldest. It was only when no other children were born for quite some time that they were given the title, and then their husbands would often take over when they wed.

Vivien was last and Pierre greeted his steward the same as the rest though they had met properly already.

After the duc had finished he walked back behind his desk and sat, motioning for the rest to do so as well.

“Welcome all, and my many thanks once again. I will try and keep this brief for today, but I hope we may meet every fortnight to discuss the land and how things are progressing. More informally we may, of course, discuss matters daily.”

It was agreed, though Lord Elwin could not promise he could attend each one with him often in another plane and not living at the château. This did not sit well with all of the other advisors, but beside some brief looks nothing was said out of turn. Pierre made note of it anyway. He may not know Elwin well yet, but they were kin, and that was enough to wish to defend him.

Not long into the meeting one of Feuilles’s sons, Renaud, spoke up, “Lord Elwin, I do not believe you have told His Grace your full name.”

The man with the wolf smiled. “I did not. My wife cured me of that habit decades ago. You do not truly believe I shall speak it out in the open where just anyone can hear?”

“Are you implying you do not trust His Grace?”

“Not at all, do not presume to interpret my words as more than what I say exactly. I will gladly tell him all of my secrets.” The unspoken implication that the other advisors were the ones untrusted hung in the air.

In Clandestina it was custom to give a child two names, one from their father and one from their mother. The fée did this as well, but often only revealed one of their names. To know the whole name of a person was to be able to control them among the fée. It could also be bought for a price. Most humans felt it impolite not to give their whole name as it implied you did not trust the person.

“It is not needed,” Pierre said, already feeling that those two did not get along. Or more so that Elwin was an outsider among them all. “You were chosen by my père, Lord Elwin, and that I trust above all. As I was saying, the prince and I spoke some about what has been happening, and then my steward informed me of more, but I wish to know everyone’s individual thoughts.”

Renaud did not seem happy to be dismissed but he kept quiet.

They spoke for almost two hours and finally Pierre decided that that was enough for the first meeting. The wolf had already started looking out the window and growling, which made Jourdain pale and Tibault look uncomfortable.

Elwin, furthest from the door and last to leave, stopped by Pierre’s seat when they were the only two in the room,

“My Grace, if I may speak to you more privately now?”

Pierre nodded, waving a hand to the doorman to shut it and leave them be. Elwin returned to his seat. Pierre stood from his desk and then walked over to the large chairs, they seemed far more comfortable anyway. He sat in the one Charlot had been in, pulling it next to Elwin so they faced each other.

“Shall I call you grandpère, then?” he asked, pouring them both some of the brandy that was laid out and handing the margrave’s his glass.

“If you wish,” Elwin replied. He raised his glass and sipped without hesitation. “Your father always called Rhianu ‘maman,’ but I was ‘Elwin’ more often than not. He was older when I met him, you see, in appearance and temperament still a child about twelve, but truly far older. Rhianu raised him by herself for many years before I became involved.”

“Père,” Pierre corrected. “I call Félicien such and the roi Father so as not to confuse the two. I assume you are also far older than you appear?” His earlier comment about decades made no sense unless that was the case for he looked only to be in his thirties.

“Almost sixty-three. It will catch up to me, I suppose, though the longer I stay in Faery the more time acts curiously around me. Do you wish my full name?” he asked suddenly, changing the subject.

“No, that is yours to keep,”

“But I know your name, Your Grace, Pierre Salvador.”

There was a hint of magic in the air, but Pierre only smiled and shrugged. Elwin laughed.

“Of course that is not your true name! Your père did well, I am glad. You took up another name?”

“I did. In fact, I do not even know my real second name. I believe Père said that I would be told it once I turned ten and could keep it to myself. As neither of my parents were around then, I never knew. Mère named me Pierre. I found the name Salvador in a book and quite liked it, so I began to add it to my first name shortly afterward so I would not stand out.”

“Smart lad, well done. Yes, fée children often learn their whole name when they are older and can keep it a secret. But it is a shame that you do not know. It can be used as a blessing on the right tongue.”

“Why did père not return for me?”

Elwin was quiet for a moment at the serious question, swirling the drink in his glass. He reached out to pet Magec. “We discussed it, but he decided you were your mother’s son. You belonged in this plane, with these people. Faery, while in your blood, was not in your soul. He knew you would be taken care of here while Morgaine would not have survived. She had been dying before being taken in by the plane. That said, he regretted leaving you dearly.”

Pierre had not had a bad life. He missed his parents, of course, but Ophion had been a wonderful uncle, and then the roi was another father. He had support. Morgaine had had none and had been dying.

He finished his drink in one swig.

Elwin winced and looked aside. “He also felt he could not,” he said, trying to explain for his adopted son. “Faery takes into consideration its citizens so fée and most fay shall not usually have trouble with going between the planes or making time and space suit their needs. Félicien would usually be allowed to go back and forth, he had done so before, but he walked into Faery with your sister without meaning to that time. He could also not find his way back immediately—the plane wanted him there like it had when he was a child. He felt, magically, that if he had managed to leave Faery he would not be allowed to return. It cost him dearly to leave you, but there was little choice.”

Suddenly Pierre remembered how several weeks ago he and Elizabeth had found an open fée ring around Springfinding. She had suggested he walk through it into the other plane and he had tried, thinking about how it might be amazing to see this new land his father lived in (and that it may impress her if he could). Time lined up around the seasonal sabbats and a fée ring was an open door, if he stayed close he thought he would not be lost. It had not worked, the door had not opened for him, and they had continued to have a lovely evening, but the thought that he could have entered and then been locked out did not enter his mind. Lizzy, he was sure, had not known this either for she would not have suggested it.

“Faery can decide this?” he asked in a whisper. People who disappeared into Faery were said to be taken by fée themselves or just unable to find the way back, but if Faery itself had its own will than nothing was certain.

“Not often, but at times, yes,” Elwin confirmed. “I see you did not know this? Be well aware then if you ever wish to come visit. But, as I said, you are fay, Faery will listen to you unless there is dire need otherwise.

“So Félicien stayed and we became a family again. We helped to raise your sister. I believe she is currently celebrating her honeymoon with her new husband and will be in contact with you as soon as they find the time. My daughter and she consider themselves sisters, they are not very far apart in age. Then not long ago your father started to age rapidly and we lost him two years past, but not before he gave us a reason and means to return to you. Whatever higher power wishes us apart all that time ago no longer desired it and Félicien tried to correct our separation.”

More connections to Faery. More family. Pierre nodded, making note to find Rhianu and the margrave’s daughter as soon as possible. There was far more to his heritage than he had thought before.

Elwin put aside his empty glass and waved off an offer to have it refilled. He stood and stretched, Magec walking over to his side immediately. Pierre stood as well.

“Ah, I wish to say one more thing before we go,” Elwin said as he turned to the door. “As your margrave I am yours to command. Should you need anything done that would stain the ground, Faery gladly accept the offering of blood. Your père, I believe, often did it himself, but you may find the prospect daunting.”

“Thank you, I will keep that in mind.” Was the margrave of every duchy also an executioner or only for Spades? If he found a way to phrase it right he would ask his brother about it. Somehow he doubted that Elwin had made this same offer to Aimé so openly, or that Cœurs’ margrave would be so blunt.

“My wife and daughter should be in the summer room, if you desire to meet them. I wish to find and speak with someone else, and then I will join you there so we may all go have lunch together?”

“That sounds like a wonderful plan.”

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

14 ~ Delphinium ~ Château

~ (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.”

“Of course.”

“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.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

13 ~ Delphinium ~ A Favor

~ Dvoday, 7th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

“It looks a bit suspicious that you are so attached to my trunk.”

It was after dinner and camp had been set for the evening. They were three days from Spadille now, this half of the journey going well. They were now down to those that were specifically heading to Piques’ capital— Pierre’s party and the guards and servants that the castle had deemed he need travel with. Among those were several from Eichel as well, for Elizabeth’s sake. Those from Eichel would stay with Lizzy, while the castle guards and servants would return home shortly after arrival.

Wolfram, who was a guest of Pierre’s more than a servant though the boy tried to help as much as possible, sat near the wagons that held the baggage. In particular by the decorated trunk that used to sit in front of Pierre’s bed at the castle.

“I would rather seem odd than have anyone open it and look inside, Your Grace,” the boy replied.

True enough. Inside, underneath some sheets, was the body of a young girl Pierre had killed. It was on behalf of Wolfram and the girl herself, of course, but that made it no less immoral or illegal. That he intended to bring her back to life doubly so.

“Tell me about her,” Pierre asked, sitting down beside Wolfram. “I have come to know some about you, but not her. What is a girl from the swan-folk’s land doing in Father’s court?”

“Cygnati,” Wolfram corrected. “That is their word for their bestia. And she came in search of me.”

“Oh?”

The boy smiled. “They have soul-mates. Those born cygnati have always had a past life where the couple swore to love another for all their future rebirths. They sense this person, in a way, but to be certain there are rituals done. She found out through another that her love, I, was on this continent. Her parents did not wish her to leave so young, but she disobeyed and stowed away on a ship heading to Kilenc. She found me months later. We were together for half a year at most, and then she began to fall ill late last summer. I left Bellotas to find a physician to help. I ran into Lord Ophion on my travels and he took me in to teach and help me. I do not know if this is an illness from this land that her body cannot deal with, or something that only affects her people, but everything Ophion and I tried failed. So I, as you know, began to study more desperate measures with him. In the end I was not enough.”

“She will be well,” Pierre said. “I give you my word.”

“Salome. Her name is Salome.”

Pierre nodded and settled back against the trunk which held her body.

“And you and she were wed in a past life?”

“Oui. She says that in her dreams she remembers moments, and perhaps I will too after we wed in this life. We had spoken about engagement already, before her illness, her parents finally accepting her departure as she had found me. They were agreeable to a wedding, no sense in putting it off as we were already wed once upon a time. Then she fell ill. We never told her parents that, saying instead that I wished to finish my education before traveling to her home. Then she asked to die. I could not… I just wished to do as she desired. I did not want her in pain and—”

Pierre placed a hand on his shoulder when the younger boy stopped speaking, gripping the edges of the trunk and holding on until his fingertips were white.

“She will be well,” Pierre repeated. Wolfram only nodded, taking a deep breath to compose himself.

“I do have a question,” he said. At Pierre’s nod he continued. “What if the body has decayed? It may be months by the time I am ready to try and bring her back.”

“She will not decay,” Pierre said. “I have made it so that the microanimalia will not feast on her. But even if a corpse were bones there is a possibility to resurrect the life as long as it is all gathered together. A missing arm or a leg could be regrown, I suppose… I have never tried. It is more likely if one is missing a limb then they will remain without one once they have returned.”

He stood and brushed at his trousers to rid himself of the dirt. “Come, let us test this.”

He whistled sharply for Pluta as they took to the edges of the forest. She came bounding out from under the carriages and over to them.

“My dear,” Pierre said to her, kneeling down to stroke her head and scratch underneath her chin. “Find something small and decayed for us, I have a lesson to show and something to attempt.”

She chirped approval and dashed into the woods.

Pluta returned a few minutes later with a large rat, decrepit and foul, and missing its tail already. She dropped it in front of Pierre and sneezed, shaking her head in disgust.

“Thank you. You shall be rewarded for your trouble.”

The boy crouched beside him and Pierre let Wolfram see his hand as he cut it with his folding knife along the line for Life. He picked up the rat then and positioned his hand until a small stream of blood flowed into the animal’s small muzzle. Pluta moved up beside him and nudged him, then began to lick at his wound. By the time was blood was cleaned off his hand there was not even a mark where the cut had been.

He did not move his fingers much, not needing to for such a small life, and slowly the rat began to change. New muscle and skin grew over a gaping hole, the tail lengthened and thickened, fur returned with a sheen. It was still mostly dirty, but when it opened its eyes and squeaked it looked no different than any other forest rat.

Pierre stroked its head and it calmed down.

“So this is far more than just returning the soul to flesh,” Wolfram whispered, forcing himself to keep his voice down. “We are healing—creating!” He sounded more excited than Pierre had ever heard him.

“We are.”

He set the rat back down on the ground and it ran off into the underbrush, with Pluta right on its heels.

Pierre wiped his hands on his trousers and stood.

“It is why I also began to learn medicine. Knowledge is most important in this cræft. Granted, I do not know much about how a rat’s body works, but in general how muscle and bone and blood all work together is very helpful. The spirits are far more likely to aid you if you push them in a direction that is natural and they are used to.” As natural as forcing life into death can be.

They returned to their seat by the campfire, continuing to talk about more innocent subjects.

A short while later Wolfram observed Pierre flinch harshly.

“Are you alright, Your Grace?”

The duc made sure to note that they were not being listened to before he spoke.

“Pluta caught the rat and killed it. I felt it.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, where a cat would bite to sever the spine.

“Oh.”

“Yes. This is not something I have felt often, but if you use the magic on many it will be more frequent. Should they die by anyone else’s hand beside your own, nature’s included, you shall feel their passing. It is different than when you inflict the last blow— that you control. So be careful who, and how many, you share your blood with. The power over them lasts three days and you are connected to everyone you do this with for that time being. If I were to, say, give my blood to a whole battalion of men to try and aid them in their fight, should many become gravely wounded and begin dying faster than I can heal them, I will die as well. Death pulls you to herself. Remember this.”

He wondered if, as a lord of death, this would still be true. Somehow he thought it would only entice death more.

“I will remember.”


***

They descended upon the camp of the princeling Pierre Salvador and his company, appearing only as flickers and fireflies. Those few of Triumphe that had been awake for the watch, or simply could not sleep, found their eyelids heavy and their beds inviting. Spirits and magic filled the air along with laughter from people unseen.


***
~ Trisday, 8th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

Shouting woke Lizzy. She sat up in her cot, the cold of the morning not comparing to the chill as she realized something was very wrong. Angry shouts and frightened calls to Sebelas wrang in her ears. Grabbing a robe so as not to be indecent she stepped out of her tent.

This was not where they had stopped the night before. True, forests looked different in the gloom of evening than the light of day, but they did not vanish. Instead of the wood they were in a field with a pond, a smattering of trees in the distance.

“We were moved!”

“We were taken!”

Mon Dieu!

Had they offended any fairies? Had they not liked the gifts Pierre and she had left? She did not recognize the area so it was not someplace they had already traveled. And if they had not merely been taken back several days travel then they could be anyplace. She grabbed onto the flap of the tent as her head swam.

A sharp whistle cut through the noise (or was it silence?, Elizabeth felt deaf).

“Where is His Grace? I need to speak with him!” Was Pierre missing!?

“Here I am.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. Pierre was here. Good. One moment at a time. It was no use beginning to panic.

One of the carriage-drivers, the senior on this trip that lead the way, walked past her and over to Pierre (who had not even bothered to grab a robe and was standing in his sleepwear). She followed so that she would be able to hear, and most of those she could see did similar. Now it was quiet, enough that anything those two said would be heard all throughout the camp.

“Your Grace, as you can see, there’s been a bit of change this morning. But I recognize it, I know the routes of the land. If we continue down that road we will be in Spadille by early this afternoon.”

They had been taken.. Forward? The fée had not tricked them but had given them aid! The several days they had lost because of her illness were no longer lost and they would be in the capital on time.

Pierre nodded.

“That is a relief to know, thank you, sir. Well then let us have breakfast and continue on as usual, no need to seem ungrateful after all. I will send a pigeon to Spadille so that the steward will know that despite our earlier unplanned stop we will be there on time.”

At the notion of what could happen should they be ungrateful most held their tongues, but not all had the fortitude. Pierre paid them no heed.

“Oh, Lizzy, my dear! Come have breakfast with me.”

“Of course, Your Grace!”

Elizabeth ignored the naysayers as well and tightened her robe before going over to His Grace’s tent for breakfast.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

12 ~ Delphinium ~ Flirting

~ Hexday, 4th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

“How did you get up there?”

Pluta meowed her reply, which sounded just like a cat’s voice to him for once. Perhaps she was too embarrassed to say the truth. With a smile he held out his arms, anyway. “Come down now.”

She sat up, adjusted herself, and sprang into the open air. He caught her and hugged her before letting the cat climb up to her favorite perch around his shoulders.

Pierre winced at the claws that were dug into his back. “Ow! Pluta, I caught you already, be careful!”

Beside him Elizabeth stifled her laughter.

They had stopped for lunch and to rest in a small village. Pluta had gone hunting in the woods and not returned after a time so Pierre and Lizzy had gone off in search for her (not truly worried, but it was a nice excuse to be alone). She had gotten herself stuck in a tall tree and, Familiar or not, was wary of the way down.

“There, there, Pluta, you’re safe with us again.” Lizzy said, reaching out to stroke her. Pluta meowed and nudged her hand in agreement, Pierre understanding her telling Lizzy that she was fine. Elizabeth, of course, did not understand the familiar’s language.

“She does seem better now,” he agreed. “Come on, let’s have a stroll around before we go back.” They had not been allowed much time alone together after that first half of the day in the carriage.

“So what did you do this last year or so?” Elizabeth asked. Pierre wrapped his arm around her and they began to walk down a natural path. “Piers mentioned you working like mad. And you never sent a letter.”

“I apologized for this already, my lady,” he replied in a light tone. “It is not becoming to hold grudges.” Having said that, he looked towards her to make sure it was not still a sore subject. She was smiling.

“And it was surgery work mainly, assisting in hospitals when possible,” he replied. “I had decided around then that I wished to finish early, though I was already ahead of many in my classes as I rarely took the summertime off.”

They heard water and made towards the stream. Pluta decided against this plan and jumped off from Pierre’s shoulders.

“Go back to the village then,” Pierre told her. “If you get stuck again we shall not help you.”

“Oh, don’t say such things! Of course we will help you, Pluta. But look for a mouse and not a bird this time.”

The cat was already turning around and heading back, tail high in the air, deciding to ignore the two of them for now.

Lizzy giggled.

“How does one learn surgery work?” she asked.

“We had corpses to practice on,” Pierre admitted. It was not nicest thing to say aloud. Most of the students were uncomfortable with it at first, even. “We need to be able to know what goes where, and why, and how. In the hospitals we mainly watched the surgeons and passed them instruments.”

“How did you receive corpses?” It seemed Lizzy was undeterred with the gruesome topic.

“Several people and families generously allowed us to use their loved one’s bodies after death. They saw it as a good cause, to foster learning and help advance medicine.”

“I cannot imagine that is very popular, though. Did you share each…Body?”

Pierre grimaced. He had not wished to inform Lizzy of this specifically. “Truthfully most were criminals whose deaths were not deemed important enough to give full funerals. At least this way they would be… of use.”

She took this in stride, nodding her head slowly if looking a little paler.

“A grim year, then.”

“Quite. Though it was not all gloom and horror.”

“Do tell?”

“Well, we were students after all. Pranks were pulled, curfew ignored, alcohol drunk in excess. I was among the oldest so I mainly watched over the younger men.”

“And when you were younger?” Lizzy probed, reading into what Pierre had not said. He did not meet her eyes, staring up at the trees quite pointedly.

“Your brother and I had our fun at times.”

She laughed. They had gotten into enough trouble as children to guess the level of possible mischief Pierre and Piers could do when alone and bored.

“Anything illegal?”

I killed a man, he thought. Several in fact, but one stood out to him in that moment. A prisoner taken straight from his hanging to a slab, so the students could see what was as close to a living body as possible. He had been not quite as dead as they had thought. After seeing the blood flowing and hearing the man let out a moan, even opening his eyes, many of the students turned away and one ran to alert a professor. Pierre had made it seem that he checked for a pulse, but he squeezed the very damaged windpipe. By the time someone with more authority was in the room the man was well and truly dead. It was deemed a delayed hanging. Pierre remained to finish the lesson even though he had been offered a pass at seeing a man die right before his eyes.

“No,” he told her.

“A pity. I hear from Piers that the best moments are those that might get you a night in jail for your troubles.”

“Oh, did he? What tales did he tell his dear little sister?”

“I believe there was a time when the boys in your dorm snuck in strong wine, or went out on the town. Perhaps those were both done in the same night, it would explain much.”

“I never did such things.”

“Of course not. Though I now shall have to find myself another companion,” she said with a smile and sly glance to him. “I would like a partner with experience in such things so I have some guidance when I deem to try.”

She pulled away from him then, they were finally by the bank of the river they had heard. It was wide, with stones dotting the surface and fish darting in between fallen branches and underwater plants. It seemed like mostly calm water. Before he could reply or ask what she was planned she dashed ahead. He gave chase. At the edge of the river she did not stop, pulling up her skirts and jumping to a rock, and then another, and finally a third almost in the center. She made it, arms waving to keep her balance and getting one shoe wet, but staying on top of the rock. With a laugh she turned and curtsied to him.

“And you think yourself safe there, Lizzy dear?” he called.

Pierre took little care of his attire, jumping straight into the water and mud without even rolling up his pants. Lizzy gasped, looking around for another place to go, but the far side of the bank was, as named, too far, and there were no more stones close by.

He reached her then, grabbing her and swinging her in his arms as she shrieked.

“Pierre!”

“Hush or I shall drop you!”

“You would not!”

He pretended to, getting another shriek from her that had him laughing as he carried her back to shore. The water was shallow and calm, if cold, waist deep for Pierre and would have been even higher for Lizzy.

“No, my dear, I would not,” he agreed, finally, sitting her down in the grass. Not after she had just been ill. Another day, perhaps.

They were the same height at the moment and he kissed her before getting out himself and looking down at his ruined clothes. His shoes were wet and the feeling was quite uncomfortable out of the water. He knelt down and began to untie the laces.

Lizzy bit her tongue to keep from asking naughtily if he would also take off his trousers.

When barefoot Pierre hopped back into the stream with the shoes in his hands.

“What are you doing?”

“Leaving my shoes,” he called over his shoulder, going back to the rock. He made sure they would not fall into the water before again returning. “They are quite nice shoes, but hardly my only pair. I am sure there are fée around, perhaps the gift would be appreciated. We cannot spare much food or drink.”

Her one shoe was hardly as wet as his had been but she sat and began to undo her laces as well. Without a word he bent down to help her.

“I shall buy you an even lovelier pair when we reach Piques,” he promised as he turned back to place her shoes next to his.

“Oh, you do not—”

“I insist.”

She kissed the top of his head.

“How do you know there are fée here in these woods?”

“It is a good assumption to have that most large wood will have fée or at least entries to Faery. But in this case I.. Feel them.”

“Feel them?”

“Mm. Their magia in the air. I think some are following the carriages to catch glimpses. We may meet a few in town. Perhaps they are interested in me?”

“Then it is good to leave a gift,” she said. “They may have caused us or the villagers trouble if we did not acknowledge them.”

He only nodded, deferring to her knowledge of the fée. He had not been sure if leaving his shoes was a good idea actually, but her confirmation made him smile.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

11 ~ Delphinium ~ The Witch and the Duc

~ (Continued) Trisday, 1st of Aprilis, 11831 ~

The traveling parties returned their luggage to the carriages and made to continue the journey. It would be better to leave in late afternoon and gain some ground rather than wait for morning given that two days had already slipped by.

“You are sure you are feeling up to traveling?” Pierre asked her as he helped Lizzy into their carriage. His good mood at her recovery was quickly brought down as the uncertainty of how that had occurred. This was not an illness ending naturally, it was all at the desire of spirits that he may not be able to control. What was to say that they would not change their mind? “And do you wish to continue to Piques? We can return you to Quercus for a time. You may come visit in a few weeks when you are better.” Several of the traveling party would in fact be heading in Eichel’s direction today instead of continuing along to Spadille.

“I have said I am fine, Pierre. I already wrote Mother and Father that it was just a small cough and there is nothing to worry about. Returning me home will only reveal my lie. Beside, you were far more ill than I recently and you are traveling.”

“You said nothing the first week until you were too ill to hide it.”

To this she did not reply and settled into her seat. Pluta, seemingly taking her side, jumped into her lap and purred. Unknown to her, his familiar assured him that she was truly fine, all the spirits that would have caused her ill were gone.

He sighed and closed the door, taking the chance that no one would notice they were without a third party save for his cat. He sat across from Lizzy, placing his cane against the seat. From a pocket he pulled out his deck of cards and began to shuffle them. It helped him think and to calm down. Without thought he made more elaborate moves with the cards and after a moment he had enthralled both girl and cat with the flying colors.

Her health, and more specifically what it meant, was a mystery. He longed to understand her body and what had happened, to feel her soul again against his, the desire stronger even still than the need to be near her physically. Their connection was weak as he had slipped her blood a few days past already and it would break by tomorrow. He knew the spirits had done something, came to some sort of conclusion, but the why and what it meant eluded him. Mora had merely said that they accepted her as his lady, but he did not believe she would become a practitioner.

Compromising, he moved to sit beside her and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her to his side, the cards put aside. His fingers found her pulse, and he only relaxed when he could feel its strength.

“And how are you?” Elizabeth asked, curling up into his embrace. Her pulse increased. “Did the tea I ask for help?”

“You sent that? Thank you. It did help, actually.” Before leaving he had received a cup of chamomile tea with varying other herbs that sometimes helped for headaches and sweetened with honey. He had thought it a nice but useless gesture, those teas had not worked on one of his headaches in years. The pain was from performing magic and more than simple herbal cures would have been needed. This time there had been a difference though.

“Good! Now we are both well.”

She reached over and took the deck of cards from his hand. She tried to do a fancy shuffle like she had seen him do and this ended with most of the cards spilling onto her lap. Pluta sprung back in surprise with a yowl.

“Pardon! I’m sorry, Pluta.” Lizzy gathered up the cards before sheepishly returning them to Pierre. He could not hold back a chuckle.

“There are seventy-eight in the deck, you are not used to so many,” he said. He removed his arm from around her to show off some more, flicking the cards through the air and catching them. Pluta watched for several moments, at one point standing on her back legs and trying to grab one herself. Failing that she sneezed and moved over to the corner, beginning to wash her paws. Pierre thought he heard her say something along the lines of ‘I could have caught that if I wanted to.’

“Of all the hobbies, why fancy card tricks?” Elizabeth laughed, managing to catch the queen of hearts as he tossed it to her.

He hesitated a moment before taking off one of his gloves. “I have calluses and scars on my hands. Shuffling the deck helps me to keep my dexterity. I cannot have that be an issue in surgery.” They were not deep scars, Pluta healed him enough that few remained, but some were too deep to be erased completely. Another student had suggested he pick up a skill to exercise his hands after spotting the scars. Come to think of it that student had often worn gloves as well.

“Oh, Pierre!” She took his hand and began to inspect it closer. He wanted to pull back, fearing she would understand where some of the cuts had been placed, but she mostly seemed to worry that they were there at all. She then began to kiss his palm.

Several kisses later she let go of his hand with a smile. “There. Now give me your other one. Has that been hurt as well?”

Pierre held up his hand for inspection. The calluses were still there, they were important to how he held his instruments, but many of the scars had faded even more, and a few of the smaller ones were gone.

“Elizabeth, thank you!”

It was easy to forget that Lizzy knew some magic. There was an inherent ability in her to heal with her touch. As children it had come in handy when scrapes and bruises would have halted their play, but it became a thing of the past when they grew up and were not as rough. As far as Pierre knew she was not trained.

“Who are you studying with?” he asked, taking off his other glove after hiding the deck. He gave her his left hand to kiss. “I never asked, have I taken you from your tutors and schooling with this summer holiday?”

She looked down to the floor, now ignoring his outstretched hand, her cheeks a rose that gave away her embarrassment.

“Elizabeth?”

“I have no tutor,” she said softly. “I just took to reading the medical and magical books in our library hoping to find some ways to do more magic. I thought because I could do this I could do much more. When I asked to be taught it was decided I was still a child and had no use of educating myself in such a way, even if I did have some talent for it. I cannot tell if it was because of my sex or age, boys after all begin their teachings younger than I sometimes, though both factors together likely made the decision final. Maman tried to persuade Papa differently, but he would not be swayed. I did not learn nothing, of course, but not what I desired. It was not out of cruelty; I think he just did not wish both of his children to leave. Piers went off to the castle often because of studies, and Papa has always held me dear and wanted me close.”

Pierre nodded. “Lord Eichel told me off more than once when we were younger that I was to be a gentleman with you, and not to take Piers’ side if you bickered, for it would not be fair.”

“He did?” Lizzy smiled. “Yes, he liked to keep me safe.”

“Ah, so then, do you know what you are?”

“What I am?”

“Yes. I’m surprised you missed this in your reading.” He kept to himself the fact that he too had not thought of it until this moment. “Though if you were looking to create fire and become invisible, it might be in another set of tomes entirely. You told me you wanted to be a mage, and yet now that you have never received any training. But there is magic in you, even if not as elaborate. You are human, perhaps there was a fée somewhere in your line given how Eichel touches Faery, but you do not have a bestia’s magia—you have cræft. It makes you a witch.”

“A witch?” Elizabeth repeated as if unsure this was a jest at her expense.

“Yes, my dear. Magecræft, you see, is taught. There may be talent for it, but you cannot just have it in you. And if you stop learning and practicing, it will fade. In time you will no longer be able to control the spirits. But a witch can never get rid of their witchcræft.”

She thought this over, expression soft.

“Witchcræft,” she whispered. “So I cannot be taught?”

“Oh, that is not what I meant, of course you can. You should, in fact, learn to harness the power. But the point is it cannot be taken from you.”

“I will mention this to Father then. He may be more inclined to let me learn now. Oh! Perhaps that is why I am all better so quickly. Please, write to doctor Hervé about it if you think it is relevant medically to the cure.”

“I will.” Though he knew the reason for her wellness was not her magic, perhaps it would help others.

“You need not wait to learn, you know,” he added. “You may by all means find someone to aid you this visit. I am sure we can find some healers around Spadille who would be delighted to tutor comte Eichel’s daughter.”

“You would let me learn?”

“Whyever not? I would not keep you ignorant.”

She looked away from him, fighting back tears. Her father, though she loved him, had thought it best to keep her that way. It was how it was done. That she enjoyed reading was almost too much, but he let it go as it kept her out of other trouble. She tried to justify it in her mind, but here was Pierre without a thought allowing her, encouraging her, when before it had not been spoken of.

“How was the town?” she asked instead. This subject was too confusing for her right now. “I confess I saw little of it from my room at the inn, but I was told you were about.”

If Pierre realized she was changing the subject for a purpose, he did not comment.

“I did not want to leave your side, Lizzy,” he began instead, but Elizabeth shook her head before he could continue with the apology.

“Oh, I know, my dear principicule, but the head of state is more than power and fine foods. You did what you could for me and your people wished to see you. Now, how was it?”

“It was lovely,” he admitted. “I have never been to this town, and they were welcoming. The hospitals are fairly modern, well-staffed, from what I saw of a short tour. I assume it will only be better closer to home. Truthfully it had not yet sunk into me that I will be duc soon. I am still grateful I passed my exams this winter and was awarded my degree.”

Lizzy laughed. “I am glad as well.”

The carriage began to move. It seems their secluded meeting was either not found out, or was being ignored, and they would get to spend more time in just each other’s company.

They were already in the duchy of Piques. He had felt it when they crossed the border some days ago, right before Lizzy took too ill to continue on. His heart had clenched when they entered the land. There was little fanfare to separate Hearts and Spades, the border unguarded and the only building of note the grand tower that stood in the center where Hearts and Spades met along with Diamonds. But it was enough—the outermost reaches of his parents’, his, home.

Now he was returning to rule this land and its people.

Would he do a good job? He had spent the last several years learning how to be a doctor, and a lord of death, forgetting many lessons in politics. He was suddenly very grateful that Aimé promised him help and gave him this last year to regain his knowledge. Before he could stop himself he voiced his fears aloud.

“What if I am a bad duc?”

“Oh, Pierre. You shan’t be. You will have your advisors, His Highness, and I have never known you to be bad at anything.”

“Except riding,” he said.

Elizabeth smiled. “Except riding. And I will be there as well to help, though I do not know how much that will be of use.”

Invaluable, he thought.

“Have you been to Spadille, my dear?”

“I have traveled the borders of Piques,” she replied. “But I have never been within the heart of the land.”

“I have not been home in so many years, I cannot assure you of what we will find. An adventure then?”

“An adventure,” she agreed. “How long have you been away?”

“A decade from Piques, but even longer from Spadille. I… we never returned to the capital after mère died. Ophion took me in, and we traveled, helping and healing around the kingdom until he was given the position of Lord Physician for all of his good works. The roi and reine began to foster me so he could do his job, and I could be taught more about being a nobleman. Then of course we met,” he said turning to place a kiss in her hair. “I stayed at court and learned politics from Father and Mother, while still being taught some medicine from Uncle… Mère used to teach me politics too.” His voice turned soft and he tightened his arm around Elizabeth again, wanting her close, needing to feel her. “I remember asking about all of the men that Papa met with in his large conference room that had the great red doors. She told me their names, their station, and how my père was their protector and the man that set the rules. They worked together to make the land good.” Of course that had been the explanation a mother gave to her young son, being the Duc of Piques was far more complicated once one was no longer five.

“Did His Grace Félicien not teach you?”

“Non, actually,” Pierre said, beginning to absently stroke Elizabeth’s arm. He leaned against her, not putting much of his weight onto her, but enough to be close. “He never seemed to like it much. Mère was the politician and I think the only reason she was not allowed into that room was tradition. She and père spoke lengthily every night after dinner, and I am certain that during that time Piques was in fact ruled by its duchesse. No wonder…” He stopped speaking as his throat closed on the words.

Elizabeth leaned back so she could see Pierre. She reached up to stroke his beard and the stubble that was more decorative than unkept. His grey eyes shut and when her hand passed near his lips he kissed her.

“No wonder what?” she asked softly.

“No wonder he left after mère died. I am sure you know the story, how Duc Félicien fled into the forest, into Faery, with my sister after her birth. Mère had already died, and Sœur was dying. I was left behind… No one ever really told me why that was. Ophion assured me that I was loved, and Papa would have taken me if he could.”

“But that’s terrible. He should have stayed!”

“Should he have, my dear? His wife was dead, he had no love of his position at duc, and Faery was his true home. His daughter was dying and if Faery could save her it was no choice at all.”

“Non, you’re right. If ou—my child was in danger, I would do the same.”

He nodded, ignoring the cold in his stomach at the knowledge that his cræft made him infertile. If Elizabeth stayed his beloved, if they married, they would not be able to have children of their own.

Lizzy sat up and kissed away the morose look that was beginning to settle onto Pierre’s face. “Maybe he knew you would be a good duc in a way he never could be,” she said. “He knew you liked politics even as a child, and the land was important to him, even if he himself could not rule in a way that interested him.”

It was enough to return a smile to his face. Anything Lizzy said was often enough to make him smile.

“Yes, I like that. Then I will do well and be a good duc for them.”

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9 ~ Delphinium ~ Fée Funeral

~ Trisday, 1st of Aprilis, 11831 ~

It was dark when Pierre woke. At first he thought it was worry that took him from dreams, but he then saw Mora sitting on the edge of his bed. Her clothes were more smog than cloth, and with a low-cut back her great bat-wings were displayed. She also wore a veil crowned with blue larkspur that stood out in her dark hair.

“There is a funeral procession coming,” she said as he sat up. “One of your distant kin, I believe. You have never seen a fée funeral, and I thought you might wish to.”

“I am technically fay, and even then do not call myself such. Would I be welcome?” He did not consider himself fée, his late father and living sister were those who had been raised in Faery. Fay implied a more distant relation to the plane, like his cousin Eglė and perhaps even Ophion who had adopted her. But he usually thought himself just human.

Was there a different attitude in Piques than where he had lived in Cœurs? He did not remember if it had impacted his childhood much, beside celebrations and leaving offerings on certain days or searching for fairy rings. After his père’s disappearance, brought on by his mère’s death, he had been taken care of by Ophion for several years, who did abide by some fée traditions as well, but then even later the roi and reine took him in. Cræft, the studies of human flesh and spirit, as well as politics, all made Faery seem like something only for children.

“You are son to a man that had been chosen and spirited away to their plane. His time there will have changed his humors, his person, for the rest of his life, and for any child he sired. Your duchy is the closest to Faery as well. There will be weight to that heritage even if you do not embrace it. You should learn.” She crawled over to his side, her layered skirt disappearing into the darkness when it was too difficult to pull along and reappearing when convenient. “And I have never known you to pass up an opportunity to learn.”

“This is most certainly true, my lady.”

He got out of bed, beginning to change clothes in her presence as she settled into the warmth his body had left. She was not human, and the morals of humans were not hers to keep, and so modesty that he would show with anyone else was not needed. As he straightened his collar he realized that fée, and fay, too were not expected to keep the tradition and practices of humans.

“Is there a particular reason you are luring me to this side of myself? We have discussed it before, but never in depth.”

“The royal land of Hearts clings to its humanity—did you never notice other students uncertain of being paired with you, or even professors wary of your gaze?” she asked. He had, of course, but never thought it had anything to do with being fée-kith. Such things were rarely mentioned in Cœurs. He would have thought it to do with status as princeling or even an aura about him because of the dark cræft he practiced. Then again, his closest friend was from the land where a misstep in the woods would lead you into a fée’s domain.

“And?”

“As I said, you are fée-kin. They, and the keres, were the first true people of this land. You are no longer my suitor, you have passed your tests as a physician and are a lord of death, but only as a human man.”

He stopped buttoning up his waistcoat to turn and look at her.

“Then there is more I could do?”

She did not answer, which in and of itself was answer enough. If the comparison held true then it was easy to understand- he was a physician, but had not the experience of a doctor many years into his career. Now as a lord of death, and a fay one at that, the spirits may react to him in other ways. This was merely another beginning.

Pierre finished dressing, formal attire of the highest quality for this was a solemn occasion. Perhaps at a human funeral educational curiosity would override formality, he had seen enough corpses that it was not a special occasion for him, but to offend the fée would be a terrible thing.

When he looked over to her again Mora was missing. A sprig of larkspur lay on his pillow.

With a click of his tongue he woke Pluta. His familiar stretched and shook herself off before jumping up onto his shoulders. He scratched her under the chin.

“A fée funeral. We will be on our best behavior.”

She purred her reply while curling up around his neck.

Enough of the moon’s light shone through the windows to mark his way out without the need of a lamp or candle. He walked softly, cane high in his hand, not wishing to alert anyone of his departure.

Outside of Elizabeth’s doorway he paused. This reminded him of the night they had snuck out only a few weeks ago. It had been Springfinding, to watch the fée enter this plane of being and prepare it for the changes in season. He had been ill and the adventure had lifted his spirits while the night magic had helped his condition. She would surely wish to see this.

An invisible hand on his cheek turned his head, and a cool wind pushed him along. This was for him to see along with his Mora as his lady. Another would intrude.

He let his hand slip off the doorknob and continued out alone.


***

They walked through the unusually empty town, wearing robes in a multitude of pale colors, holding bouquets of twigs as well as large boughs. At the very end of their procession the body lay on a litter made of branches, carried between several men high in the air. It was wrapped in white glowing cloth.

Fée were rarely put to rest in this plane, many having so long taken to their own world, but they were as much a people of Clandestina as any other, perhaps more. Some chose to remember this.

Pierre found his way amongst the mourners, Mora beside him with her arm through the crook of his. They were welcomed without question.

They walked south along the main road, heading towards the entrance of the town. Whispers filled the air as they spoke of the deceased, his life, his accomplishments, his family. They became louder the longer they walked. Fée magic filled the air and Pierre could not even feel any spirits of death around.

They came out of the city almost yelling stories about him and bursting into laughter at memories. It felt much better than the other funerals Pierre had been to- this was joyous and a happy remembrance. Finally, they stopped before a shallow grave. Those carrying branches of varying length lined up, and each walked past, placing their offering into the pit. The body was placed on the very top, lowered with the stretcher. It was a pyre.

Then the fun truly began. The group spread out in pairs and small rings along the main road. They laughed, danced and sang, and anyone who looked out into the night would see only faerie lights bobbing in the air. The man had died well, in old age even for a citizen of Faery, and this was a celebration.

When anyone tired, they looked to the surrounding homes. If there was milk and honey or ale left out they drank the offering and blessed the house, a warning to their kin from pulling pranks upon a silly human. If they did not see anything close by they chose a house to punish instead. A cow would only give sour milk for three days, or the next time guests came over they would feel ill until they left. Nothing permanent or too dangerous as this was a funeral and to compound the death spirits was a line even the fée worried about treading. They lived long lives in a plane where time was unlike to itself, but death would find them, eventually.

Pierre and Mora danced with the fée, twirling and leaping to the many tunes that came together in the night. No court dance would be this reckless, much less take place at an occasion such as this, and the duc was glad he had been invited. Pluta danced as well as much as a cat can with féeries.

After a time, hours? days?, a calm came to them. They regrouped, standing around the deceased, laying down any new branches and flowers that had been picked up during the dances.

An elderly fée woman came then from the forest. A murmuring broke out amongst the gathered—the staff she carried, which should have been lit so she could begin the pyre, was not.

The dead man suddenly threw his wrappings aside and leapt up from within the branches. “Fool’s Day!” he called.

Several gasped, others shouted in surprise and then laughed in delight. His family crowded him, relief and some anger among them, but mostly joy.

“Did you know of this?” Pierre asked Mora. He had thought the man had not felt dead to him, but dismissed it as not knowing the fée very well. That it was the first of Aprilis had not even entered his mind.

“I did. He liked the celebration and did not wish to miss it because of his own death.”

The cheer of the night returned, heightened as there was no death to be wary of. A few of the pranks pulled after this were more harmful than before, or done without much reason, and Pierre intervened when one couple thought to exchange a false-child for one in a human home.

“They have much on their mind right now with a young babe. To forget to leave out offerings is not their fault. Please, leave them be.”

“We would have returned him after a few days,” the woman said. Which, in Faery, might mean years. She looked from the figure in her arms, a doll that mimicked a child and would to the parents look like their own, to the sleeping baby through the open window. She then sighed and nodded, “Oui, Your Grace.” With a quick curtsy she made the figurine disappear and returned to the dance with her husband.

That she had listened somewhat surprised Pierre, but given Mora’s comment before perhaps it should not have. Any fée living in Triumphe were to pay heed to the ruling parties of a land- that is why the titles were in the Clandestinian tongue and not the universal language. But visiting fée did not always do so. He, though, was no longer merely human. Perhaps he had never been.

He glanced through the now-closed window to the child inside, still asleep, unaware that it had almost been taken. His père had been taken to Faery in a similar fashion, and not only for a few days, but for decades as Pierre had learned when he was older. Over fifty years passed before Duc Félicien returned, merely ten years older than when he disappeared much to the confusion of the court. Pierre remembered him as a fun-loving man, who took few things seriously, but that which he did was with terrifying conviction.

He would need to learn more about the fée. This was as much a part of his inheritance as being the duc was and deserved just as much care.

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7 ~ Delphinium ~ Spirits of Death

~ Iunday, 29th of Prima, 11831 ~

She had become ill. A cough began the day of their departure and lasted throughout the journey, bringing with it chills and taking away her appetite. Still far from Piques’s capital they were commanded to stop and rest in a town, her suitor refusing to go further until her health improved. His orders were that of duc and doctor; none could argue.

Pierre Salvador carried Elizabeth Anne to the most elegant suite in the inn as if he were already her husband, laying her down in bed and then moving to the hall while a maid helped her undress. When he entered again she was curled up under the covers shivering. Ignoring the maid, he made his way to the lady, kissing her forehead and letting his lips linger to both comfort and assess a fever.

“I am unfamiliar with what ails you, my dear,” he said, pulling back and then stroking her curls. Her blue eyes were unfocused and her skin pale save for blotches on her cheeks. He felt her throat, noting abnormalities. “I will consult with local physicians about this. You will be better soon.”

“Forgive me for being so much trouble—” A kiss silenced her. The thought he could catch her illness entered his mind, but the desire to show her no blame won over. And if he did fall ill, feel the symptoms himself, at least he might recognize and hold back the spirits that plagued her.

She broke the kiss to cough. Spots of red betrayed how much worse her condition had become.

“Rest for now,” he said softly. Taking out a handkerchief he wiped away her blood and tucked her in again. The duc then remained standing by her side, not wanting to leave her, one hand still stroking dark blonde hair damp from fever sweat.

“There is drink for Lady Elizabeth by the bed, Your Grace,” the maid said behind him. “And chimes to the servant’s rooms for when she wakes.”

“Thank you,” Pierre replied. “You may go.”

He poured his love a glass of diluted wine as the maid left and paused after she shut the door. Lizzy’s eyes were closed.

There were no witnesses.

He set the pitcher down and took off his gloves. With folding knife taken from his pocket he pricked his finger. Blood seeped out, becoming dark first with saturation and then in hue. When it dripped down his hand, even the trail left behind was black.

He let several drops of blood fall into her drink before putting on his gloves again. They were dark as well, and by sight one would not see the bloodstains. He would change them later when he had a spare moment.

“Sleep well, Lizzy. Do not forget to drink. I will have a light dinner brought to you later.” She did not reply, already asleep or too weak to answer.

He sat in one of the spare chairs and put away his knife. Perhaps she would wake to quench her thirst, and he would be able to use cræft to try to heal her by means outside the natural. This too kept him from seeing the rest of his entourage. There was enough on his mind without half the court attempting to gain favor.

For half an hour the duc watched his dear friend. She slept peacefully, only coughing now and again, and her shivering began to cease. Pierre only moved to wipe her lips once, and later again to touch her throat. It was still early spring, perhaps this was an illness she caught in winter?

The door creaked as it opened. Pierre glanced over to see a black cat entering the room and smiled as Pluta nudged the door closed with her head. She then turned to him and jumped into his lap. Pierre hugged her as she began to purr.

“I have just been here with Lizzy,” he told his pet. He whispered so as not to wake the girl. The cat nudged him to continue. “She is very ill. I do not know what to do, Pluta. I don’t know how to feel. A doctor has been sent for, but what if they can offer no help either?” Elizabeth had been unwell, but seemingly not terribly so, until that morning when she could no longer hide the blood that came with her increasing fits of coughing.

Still over a week away from their original destination of Spadille they were only six, perhaps five, from her home in Eichel. Lord Ophion, the royal physical, was also visiting her home at the moment. Perhaps a detour there would be prudent.

Pluta pressed herself to her master and purred louder to try to offer comfort.

“What is the worst that can happen?” the cat asked. To most it would sound like mewling, but to him and those that knew necrocræft it would be Saiva’s common language.

“She could suffer,” he replied, looking up to the sleeping comte’s daughter. “And I might not be able to do anything.”

Illness was something one learned to understand and live with in Clandestina. While some of the best healers and doctors of the world resided in this realm, it was by necessity. Death was not a certainty for many illnesses that would have taken lives anywhere else, but that did not mean the journey to health was smooth. The guardians who had once controlled this were all but gone. Some resided in other realms, most had just disappeared, but the magic of a realm was innate. Other places could continue to thrive without ever knowing about the keres; this land of fée and human was in turmoil.

Yet some did not accept this fate so easily.

The lord of death stepped out of the room, giving Lizzy one last glance before shutting the door. His familiar was still nestled in his arms.

“My Lady?” Pierre asked the air. A presence arose behind him and arms wrapped around his waist. Death rested her head between his shoulder-blades. She brought a chill with her, as if she had stood out in the snow for far too long and had yet to warm, and the duc shivered in her embrace.

“The illness—” he began.

“The spirits are not mine,” Mora said. “They come from my plane, but only in ancestry.” She was not divine though at times called goddess to honor her power. Neither all-knowing nor all-powerful, she was a being that came from another plane, and had a power over certain spirits—a daimon. The last of the keres, the daimons of pain and suffering. Legend and time had turned her into a being that responded to Death. And sometimes Life.

“Do what you will,” she said before he could ask his question. “Piques is your land and Clandestina your home. You do not need my permission, Lord Pierre.” The wrong title to call him as he was a duc, but she was referring to his other rank as her chosen.

“Will you help?” he asked. Mora had been wary of Elizabeth since the girl had returned to Pierre’s life. Had been jealous even that he had come back to life after committing suicide (the final of her tests) instead of staying with her in the land of the dead. Elizabeth was a large part in why he had chosen to return.

“I will not hinder.” She placed a kiss of ice to the nape of his neck, and the weight of her against him vanished. The cold remained.

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