15 ~ Delphinium ~ Death and Dreams

~ (Continued) Trisday, 8th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

The duc’s rooms were not his as of yet. Aimé and his wife Hélaïse would still be officially governing for the next year or so and their belongings were in that suite. Pierre was here on temporary adjustment after much time away for school, here for the summer with perhaps a return to the castle come autumn, and then a return in the winter. He would discuss the exact dates with Aimé at a later point.

Pierre was not certain what duties he would have right now, if any, but given the briefing he had had with Vivien, this would not merely be a vacation. That did not bother him—with having the power to do things it would be a pleasure. It was while he had been away and immersed in learning many other things that this part of his life had become less of a priority.

For now, he stood in the guest rooms that had been given to him for his stay this summer. They were elegant, often reserved for visiting nobles, which in a way he was. It reminded him in size of his quarters at the palace. He was on the second story, and so the room included a large set of glass doors that opened up onto a balcony, yet there were shades that could go over them and give privacy. The closet was far larger than he was used to, university meaning a small space for several people, so there would be a lot of empty space for now. Perhaps he would make this more of a study in the future. He could put his journals in there as well.

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Shoes tapped with nerves against the stone when he did not reply right away.

“Yes?”

Wolfram entered. He shut the door, hesitated, and then turned the key that was still in the lock. “Your Grace, if I may, please, see Salome…” He looked for the trunk and upon seeing it at the foot of the bed would not turn his gaze away.

Pierre gestured that the young man could go over to it. He dug into his pocket for the chest’s key and handed it over to Wolfram.

With relief the boy rushed over and opened the trunk. The silk at the top was set aside, and in the remaining fabric and cushions a young woman lay curled up in a thin nightdress.

“Is she…” He did not reach out though wanted to dearly.

“Exactly as she was when we left,” the lord of death said softly. He placed a hand on Wolfram’s shoulder. The girl’s soul was tentatively linked to him, he had renewed the connection of magic by giving her blood every few days in secret during their trip, and as long as he kept that up she would be fine.

“I promised you, Wolfram.”

“Thank you.” Wolfram finally reached out to her and stroked her far too pale cheek. Pierre stood and walked back over to the window to give them some privacy.

The Mists of Death were named Akhlys. It was Mora’s land, a plane of the dead, and a place where all the dead in Noctuina began their afterlives. Other spirits of the dead were said to reside there as well, but he had only met and known Mora. When one died they were surrounded by the fog as their lives and actions were judged. The mists then cleared and one either found themselves in a dream or a hell until they were reborn again in this world. There were other possible scenarios, some stayed tied to Noctuina and found themselves in their physical places of death, or could temporarily cross over into the realms of the living, but those were special cases that often involved ritual or passion. Mora’s suitors, and her lords, could pull back a spirit from the mists, but once they were beyond that it was impossible. Pierre had returned to life those who had died even years ago, so the time spent in the mists could be long, but it differed for everyone.

Wolfram stroked Salome’s hair, and then after glancing at Pierre, bent down to kiss her. He replaced the silk to hide her and shut the trunk, locking it with the key before putting it in his own pocket.

He stood and straightened his attire. “My lord, if I may help you dress, or aid with whatever you need?” It took Pierre a moment to realize the title lord was being used to mean lord of death, not as someone refusing his claim to Piques. Aloud no other save Mora has address him as such. He would have to make sure that Wolfram did not slip up and say the wrong word in the company of others.

“Have you actually taken up the duties of valet as well as doctor’s apprentice and suitor of death?”

“You have done much for me,” Wolfram replied. “I need to pay my dues.”

“That will be acceptable. Help me choose something for tonight’s dinner then.”

They continued to discuss necrocræft as they looked through the trunks and Pierre tried on clothes he was sure he had not owned before. Someone from the castle must have commissioned sets for him, he remembered a head maid insisting on getting some new measurements now that he had returned from University. It was not unpleasant that new things sometimes appeared in his possession, but he did not often have any choices in the matter.

“Your Grace, may you tell me of Familiars? Your familiar is what you first return from the dead, and it is a special case, yes?”

“Oui. An animal is chosen based on personal preference, usually, and you must kill it. It is not pleasant in the slightest, and the only redeeming factor in what I had done to Pluta was that I knew she would come back. The animal enters Akhlys just as a person would, then gains knowledge and magia. The practitioner then returns them to life. They are essentially immortal, new daimons in a way, reborn of Akhlys. Most choose to die when their masters finally do, though.”

“Must it be an animal?” Wolfram asked.

Pierre turned to look at him at the question. “I have heard of a case where the familiar was human,” he said slowly. “What are you thinking?”

“That I can bring Salome back now. I do not have a Familiar yet, but I have some knowledge. If the first resurrection is guaranteed then it will not take me months or years to have her back!”

The lord nodded. “This is true. But you did not kill her, I did. Your familiar must be your kill. That I have not heard otherwise.”

“Is this magic not about straining against the conventions of what a human should be able to do? I wish to at least try.” Pierre raised an eyebrow, but nodded. He himself had performed acts of the cræft that had taken others longer than he to do, or were thought beyond the scope of the magic.

“I cannot guarantee she will become a familiar, or that she will return to life. But I do not think it will harm any future chances of bringing her back. I will help. Give me some time though, I wish to asses your skill and make sure you have enough knowledge. I would also like to know what her illness was so it is cured upon her return so this shan’t be all for naught.”

“Thank you.” Wolfram’s face lit up in the first true smile Pierre had ever seen on him.

***

Dinner was quiet, Elizabeth and Pierre being joined only by Vivien and his family, with the other advisors either not at the home or wishing to meet tomorrow. Lady Maiolaine Yvette, Vivien’s wife, was introduced: the eldest child of Comte Hadrien de Bladeren. They had three children, Bastien Dion, Apolla Sidonie, and Eliana Narcisse, who “took after my mother,” as Lady Maiolaine said, her and her husband’s hair dark, but the comtesse Cloé’s locks famously white-gold.

The discussions were light—about their journey, the food, and similar things.

At dessert Apolla asked where their grandmother was. Vivien explained that his mother lived here as well, but was feeling unwell that evening and could not attend.

“She has a headache and sends her apologies. I am sure she will wish to meet you soon.”

“Tibault sends his apologies as well,” Maiolaine added to Pierre. “Brother will meet you tomorrow. He is quite new to Spadille himself and does not wish to impose. Our cousin, Perdita, lives here as well, as a lady-in-waiting to Lady Cordelia, Lord Jourdain’s wife.”

“Of course, it will be a pleasure to become acquainted with everyone.”

***

Elizabeth dreamt. She walked the halls of the château, trying to find her room, and being unable to make sense of any of the corridors. Finally, a large set of doors stood before her. Something called to her to enter and before she could wonder why she had that feeling she was going into a large library.

Even standing on her toes she barely reached the half-way point of the bookcases. They were filled with a multitude of tomes and scrolls and maps. A few lamps were already lit in the room and long shadows were cast upon the long walls. She began to walk and read, head tilted to the side to see the titles better. The further in she crept the dustier the books were, the subject matter going from histories and fictions to whole shelves devoted to magic, cræft, and the fée. The feeling of being pulled towards a specific place did not dissipate.

She had read many books on similar subjects from home already, but among these there were titles she had never seen before, knowledge that was new. It reminded her that she should ask Pierre later on about that tutor in blancræft.

Thump!

She jumped in her spot at the sound. Turning around she saw a book had fallen from a high shelf. As she was about to go pick it up, another woman stepped from the heavy shadows and reached it first. She wore a mourning dress in deep black with a garland of flowers around her wrist. It was too dark for Lizzy to recognize them.

“Oh, forgive me, I did not mean to intrude,” Lizzy said when the mourner looked up to her. “I thought I was alone.”

“Do not worry yourself, my lady,” the other said. Her eyes were red- the irises themselves, not from weeping. But that was merely a trick of the light, surely, and the dusty lamps whose glow was not as bright as they should be.

“I see you are interest in magic?” the stranger gestured around to the section of the library they were in.

“I have always been.”

The other nodded.

“I am Elizabeth Anne,” she said, hoping to gain a connection to the other. She did not mention her title.

“Greetings, Lady Elizabeth Anne.” The other woman did not offer her name and, given the mourning dress, Elizabeth felt rude prying.

The fires in the lamps flickered. Lizzy found she could not move as the other woman then came over to her. She held out the book that had fallen before, clean of any dust though every other tome in this section had been filthy.

“There are many magics in the world, Elizabeth,” the woman said. “Humans have little of it inherently, but can learn almost any kind with enough practice. It is why they are my favorite. You want to learn to create fire or become a beast, all you need to do is go to the realm where such spirits thrive and gain control over them. Through force, or coaxing, or mutual agreement, it matters not- they will see you are equal measure of all the humors and therefore can inhibit your body and thrive. You are fertile soil for magic.

“And in you there is healing.”

The woman took Elizabeth’s hands, spreading them out, the heavy book open atop them. The woman then placed her finger at the center of the binding. It was bent at an odd angle, healed wrong having been broken at some time in the past. Before Lizzy knew what was happened the tome slammed shut on the finger. She dropped the book with a gasp and grabbed the woman’s hand. It was bloody, her nail almost peeled off, and bent at an even worse angle where a bone had snapped again.

“Forgive me, I do not know why—I—” As she held the other’s hand the finger straightened, the nail reattached, and the blood crept back from the wound before it healed over, now straight and without blemish.

“There will always be pain in the world,” the woman continued. The entire time her face had not changed expression, showing not fear or pain or surprise, only a small sad smile. “Sometimes it is your fault, sometimes an accident, sometimes it is Amôru’s plan. Sometimes it is not His plan, but He makes use of it. Sometimes you need the pain to heal.”

The woman vanished.

~ 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 ~

12.5 ~ Hanging ~

~ Dvoday, 16th of Septembrie, 11830 ~

The professor was not in the classroom as the students walked in to Anatomy. There were instructions written on the board in large letters (each student was to pair up with two others, choose one of the corpses laid out, and disassemble as much as possible, labeling each organ and its function. For extra credit they could find out the cause of death) but that was all. They had done this, or similar, exercises several times before under the watchful eye of their teacher, but today it seemed to be a test of how well they could work on their own.

Pierre Salvador stood by himself while most of the group paired with friends. Piers had finished his studies already, leaving for home a few weeks before, not needing the extra time in surgical schooling. The princeling therefor found himself alone more often than not now that his only true friend here was gone. It did not bother him much, he preferred working alone, but it was not pleasant. Possibly his status was scaring others away, or perhaps something about him emanated with Mora’s magic?

At the end there weren’t enough students for an even number of triads and Pierre stayed alone. He noted that one group had four students, and he should have at least been paired with one of them, but he let it go. There were also not enough bodies either so another group would be useless. He could make a fuss, or join one of the groups to observe, but he had better things to do. This was something he knew well already, and Mora has asked he kill a man for her.

He made to leave, minding to tell the professor later that he was feeling ill and to either get the assignment dropped or allowed time to remake it, but the door opened as he was walking towards it.

Two men in guard uniforms entered, a covered tray between them. They saw Pierre, apart from the others and the eldest, and addressed him.

“Monsieur! We are here to bring a body for the students. He was just hanged and sent here immediately for their observation.”

“Merci,” Pierre said, taking the wheeled slab and flipping over the white sheet. Beside the angry blue bruises around his throat he seemed asleep. His skin was still warm.

The prison guards said something and left a moment later after receiving no reply, the princeling having stopped paying attention to them. The corpse was his desire.

The man was still in tattered rags. He was thin, malnourished, having either been living on the streets or kept in a prison with strict rations. There was a sore on his wrist, and bruising in a number of places, some days old and others fresh. His neck was remarkably well intact for a hanging victim, but perhaps he had in fact been hung. The neck did not always snap after all and those who had that misfortune were left to strangle.

Yet, he did not feel like a corpse. Not in the same way the others had, or even the others in the room did. But Pierre had not spent extensive time with very many bodies. Perhaps they felt different based on their type of death?

Most of the other students had abandoned their chosen body to come observe him now. A fresh corpse was rare and never this fresh. Those unlucky enough to get the last body often had to deal with the stench of decay.

Pierre held out a hand and someone obliged him by handing a scalpel over. He cut into the torso only for blood to spurt onto his hands and clothes.

“Merde!”

“He’s still alive!”

If the bright lively blood had not confirmed it, a moan from the man and his eyes opening did. One of the youngest boys fainted. A few turned to help him, even more turned away entirely, but Pierre continued to watch in silence. He had seen men die before but every experience was new. Had he been dead and come back through a miracle, or had the doctor on staff at the prison merely not done his job?

Someone finally yelled out that they would run and get a professor and the door slammed on his way out. Pierre bent over the body and felt for the pulse. It throbbed a slow weak beat. He wrapped the rest of his hand around the windpipe. No one was looking at him, no one dared looked up to see the eyes of a man who had been pronounced dead and was likely dying for the second time. Pierre squeezed. One moment, one minute?, a quarter hour? … the heartbeat stopped.

The door burst open and their professor dashed in.

“Away, away,” the surgeon called, shooing his way to the body near Pierre.

“Your Graceful Highness,” he addressed Pierre respectfully. “What seems to have happened?”

“Monsieur, he still seemed alive when I started to cut. His blood flowed and his eyes snapped open. He made a noise as well.”

The professor was nodding, placing a stereoscope to the man’s chest, then neck. After a minute though he shook his head.

“Well he is not alive now. Do not worry, it is nothing you did, merely a dead man hanging on to life as tightly as he could until no more. See, he is malnourished, dehydrated, and was through a trauma. Let us merely call it a delayed hanging and leave it at that.”

Done with the analysis he nodded to himself again, wrapped the stethoscope around his neck and looked to the students.

“Well?” the professor prompted. “Back to your stations, there is still an hour and a half left in the lesson, and I will not be giving more time!”

Students shuffled back to their chosen bodies, one group’s left alone as the two boys who were paired with the one who fainted helped him to the side.

“I will go check on Raoul,” the professor said to Pierre. “You may continue with this body but I understand if you wish to skip this class. Not to worry, you will be given full marks, you have excelled in my class thus far.”

“Non, merci professor, I will be fine.”

He lined the slab up in the back of the room with the others, on the leftmost side with his back to everyone else. Pierre finished taking off the man’s clothes, folded and put them aside along with the shroud, and picked up his scalpel again.

“He would have lived.”

The voice in his ear was female. Mora stood by him wearing what only could be called a women’s uniform in the style of his own, though the students were all male at this University. Her hair was tied back in a deep crimson ribbon, and his wings were furled close to her back, but still there.

“With medical attention,” Pierre agreed. Attention a class full of students could have begun to provide until someone with more knowledge arrived. But the man was a prisoner sent to death. He would have only been executed once more after being saved. This was in a way kinder.

Mora looked to him and made to say something, but stopped instead. She smiled and then disappeared, off to greet the dead man’s soul in her domain.

Pierre had the feeling she had been about to inform him of the man’s innocence, a mistake in the roi’s judgement (for the roi was the duc in this land as well). But even if that were true it would no change the sentence. The roi had spoken. Pierre merely complied.

~ 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 ~

New cover :)

We all, ironically, judge books by their covers. I made the cover on the right with some assets I had from the commission for The Larkspur Quartet’s Amazon covers, and public domain art. It’s a little busy, but I liked the woods fading into the Victorian wallpaper, the larkspur, the blood- you know how I am.

I was told that while nice, it (like my old flower-painting covers) was not quite right. And what is ‘quite right’ for online web novels?

Anime girls

I went ahead and had Mora, The Lady of Death, drawn in the style of anime. Which, considering my inner picture when I read is a mesh of real life and anime, works just fine for me. I think I would prefer my stories be turned into an anime over a life-action movie.

Now this is *not* the final version. This is a basic preview sketch that I ran through Style2Paints and colored to I could see what it would look like. I’ll be getting the final version in a few days, and then add a title and make it nice. But I thought I would go ahead and use this as a temporary cover as it’s at least better than the original.

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.”

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

10.5 ~ The First Suitor ~

When doctors and healers began to converge in the realm of Clandestina, learning of its natural healing magic, its blancræft, the daimons of violent illness and death were forced out. The fée, who respected violence and death as they were volatile in their own way, returned to their plane of Faery. Everything that bound and tamed the spirits of death was suddenly gone.

The magic of a realm was innate. While other realms survived without these chains, Clandestina began to crumble.

Plagues descended upon realm. They infected man, beast, and vegetation, bringing famine along with it. Wars sprung up as people tried to hoard the few resources that were left. In trying to keep sickness at bay Death began to thrive.

One last daimon remained: a ker by the name of Mora. As much as she delighted in this, being the last, the most powerful, the chosen, she could not maintain control alone. And if this was left unchecked then everything would die and there would be nothing left. She was the last Keeper of Death, and thus it made her a Protector of Life as well.

A kingdom formed during this time of war, the four main factions finally brought together under one ruler. This new king, who took the title of Roi, promised to bind together all of the people of Clandestina– the humans, the fée, and even the keres. He called his kingdom Triumphe, for Victory, and for the joining of the duchies and people under one rule as a trump card.

He was without a wife. Mora showed herself to him, told him the secrets of the realm, that it not only held magic of healing, but also of violence, and death. She showed him noircræft as well as blancræft, and even nekrocræft, weaving the three together so he could do anything from heal minor injuries to return the dead to life.

The realm began to heal. The roi was revered, said to be chosen by God for now under his rule there was peace and health.

A second guardian kept much at bay, but when Mora wished to show her magic to more people, to begin to fix more, the roi became possessive.

“You are mine,” he said. “You chose me, out of all men. You will not show anything to anyone else. Make me yours and we will rule together.”

She complied. She continued to teach him until there was only one last test. As she was a Lady of Death, after this, he would be a Lord.

“Take your own life,” she told him. “Kill yourself, come, enter my plane and learn what it truly means to be a being of death.”

That night they went to bed together. He ingested poison chosen by her own hand and taken with his own, and as they made love he experienced both little and true death.

Mists surrounded him. He was in Akhlys, the place of judgement before ones afterlife. Before him was a throne of limbs and bone, vines growing from the flesh and holding it all together. Mora sat on the throne in her true form– great black wings like a bat unfurled behind her, her robes stained a many colors of red, her eyes the same crimson.

“And here are you mine,” she said. “Kneel, accept me as your queen, and you too will gain all of my powers.”

And here the roi shook his head, stepping back from her. “No. I am your king. I will not kneel before you.”

Before she could protest, say anything else, he used the cræft she had taught him to return his own soul to his body and left her.

He was alone in bed that morning. Quickly he took from his drawer a small knife and cut into a finger– his blood ran black, like it had ever since he began to learn magic from Mora. So he could still perform the deeds that made him great.

Time passed. Mora did not return to him, but as he had completed her last test, it did not matter. He was a lord of death, capable of even returning himself to life after death! He continued to rule. He finally married. He could not seem to impregnate his wife, but it did not matter as he continued to live on. He aged, true, but far slower than most men, bringing rumors that he had fée blood in him.

Then rumors began to circulate that there were men and women who were beginning to cure ills that should not be curable even with blancræft. A few more even said they could return the dead to life. The roi was furious that Mora had betrayed him. He called this ‘necrocræft’ vile, and unnatural, and anyone learning or practicing such magic would be put to death.

They were killed. They had not passed her last test and remained dead.

Plagues sprung up again. Illness took root.

Mora still did not return to him.

It did not take long for the roi to be overthrown, by his own great-great-grandnephew at that. He was accused of practicing the same magic he outlawed, and when his blood ran black it was confirmed. He was sentenced to death.

The day of the hanging he felt his neck snap, but he then hung there, eyes wide, unable to feel or move or breath, yet undying.

He was buried amid silent internal cries that he had not died! He was still alive! But after they shut his eyes by force he could not even open them again.

Mora finally came to him. She appeared in his coffin, pressed up against him, wrapping her arms around him. He felt her breathing, felt her skin moving against his. She stroked his cheek and for the first time in days he could intake some breath. It was ecstasy. His flexed his fingers and slowly moved his arms so that he could hold her in return.

“Please.”

“You are not mine,” she replied into his ear. “And so you shall never enter my plane, never again see my throne, or have your life judged. You chose to return to this and so you may keep it.”

He was alone again. His breath was stuck in his throat, his arms no longer feeling. His eyes were half-open, staring into darkness. He lived. He could not die.

Mora never gave her heart in the same way. She continued to teach in secret, both men and women, her cræft. If rumors amid the people gave false information she let it be. And when her last test came she continued to offer her magic at a price. She hurt when they returned their own lives, but allowed it, still being with them and letting them help her. One day one would take up her offer, but it was not to be for a very long time.

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10 ~ Delphinium ~ Her Fate

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

Pierre entered the inn at dawn. He intended to ask the nurse about Lizzy and then to go to bed until noon, but the moment he opened the door Death covered him.

A fool. He had been played the fool.

He ran to Elizabeth’s room. The door was unlocked, and he rushed in. The nurse was there, slumped over in her chair in such an unnatural way that he wondered for a moment if she was dead. A noise had him turning his attention to Lizzy, who lay on a bed with covers thrown aside, tremors coursing through her body as she coughed. Blood spattered her cheeks and the front of her nightclothes. Her eyes were open, but she stared at nothing.

“Lizzy!”

He hesitated at her side, unsure whether to try to gain her attention, use his cræft, or call for aid. He touched her shoulder, and she jerked away from him.

“Elizabeth! Lizzy, darling!” No reaction.

“What did you do to her?” he demanded of Mora. When the ker appeared, form becoming visible though still a haze, he reached out and grabbed her wrist. Pulling her into this plane she became physical and stumbled into his arms, but he did not embrace her. He forced her chin up with no delicacy so their eyes met.

She became smoke.

Her presence filled the entire room and overwhelmed him. The queen of pain and suffering was before him in all of her glory. He could not breath, his very soul being torn out of him. Sinking to his knees before her he watched, eyes never leaving where she had stood, as she reformed into a terrible angel. Her wings were spread, and her somber attire of this era replaced with a red cloak. It seemed dirty as well as dyed, and the varying shades of red resembled blood. The stench confirmed it. Pierre would have been sick if he still felt any connection to his body.

Mora reached out to stroke his cheek, tracing where she had wounded him at his rejection of her. With the blood she spilled, with the magic she gave him, he had thought he exorcised her from the room. How foolish that notion was, to dare think he had tamed Death.

“I took you away to spare you,” she said. “The spirits are deciding her fate, I have done nothing and do not influence them. I merely stand witness.” Her breath upon his face was so cold it burned.

She looked over her shoulder to Elizabeth, who was now calming down, and smiled sadly.

“You will not be mine, I see this now… The spirits you claim to hold sway over must decide if she will be worthy to be your lady. And I will adhere to their choice.”

She turned back to him as he realized what he had done.

“My Lady—”

“Adieu.”

She was gone. There was an unnatural emptiness in the room as if all the spirits with her had decided to follow. Pierre did not move for a very long time, tears staining his face.

He finally crawled over to Lizzy’s bed. She lay still, save for the rise and fall of her chest, sleeping and alive. The sheets which had been soaked in sweat looked new and clean. There was no blood.

The spirits had judged her like they had him because he chose her. And they approved.

“My Lady Mora?” he spoke again. He wanted her to return, to beg forgiveness, to apologize. But there came no answer.

He kissed Lizzy’s forehead, tucked the covers around her, and left the room.

***

She felt as if no illness had befallen her. Waking up early this morning Elizabeth dreaded consciousness, fearing the terrible way her body was succumbing to an illness where she had begun to cough blood, but all seemed well. No aches or pain in her throat and her head was clear. She was even quite hungry.

She rang a serving bell and asked for breakfast, being attended to immediately. A nurse came in to check her as well, the same woman that had been helping her for the past few days, and Lizzy asked if anything odd had happened last night. The nurse replied that it had not, save her own falling asleep in a chair and waking up with a stiff neck. “You slept soundly, my lady, and it seems the illness has passed if you feel as well as you say.”

When she asked about the duc, she was told he still had not come from his room, but if she wished it, he would be woken.

“Oh no, do not disturb him for me.”

“Oui, Lady Elizabeth.”

She ate in silence, still contemplating how she had gotten better overnight—it had not been a minor illness after all. She was not ignorant of medicine, most nobles had a basic understanding of it, but she was not as learned as her brother or Pierre.

“A local doctor has said he will see you today,” the nurse continued. “He will confirm your wellbeing hopefully and then you can return to your travels. His Grace arranged it.”

“Thank you. And may you bring a note to His Grace for me for when he does wake?” She quickly penned a short letter to Pierre, asking him for a visit, and addressing her love in a way that she could not bring herself to speak aloud just yet. The nurse left to deliver it.

Finished now with breakfast and no longer tired, but without company, Elizabeth lay back in bed with a sigh. Her luggage was not here, likely thought unneeded while she had been too ill to even sit up, and so she could not get to her things. Not that there was very much in her luggage, she had initially only been going to the castle for a few days with her mother to celebrate Pierre’s birthday and his graduation. Now she was to spend the summer with him in Piques! She would need to buy clothes, perfume, and perhaps some books if she had any money to spare from her allowance.

Maybe Pierre would buy her some of those things as gifts? They had gone from distant old friends to dear companions quite quickly these last few weeks. He had already gotten her a lovely necklace, and her mother would chide her if she knew how long they sometimes kissed. But Pierre had hinted at marriage already… That thought made her heart beat harder and a blush rise to her cheeks. Her father had had suitors come visit her this past year, but none of them had made her feel as Pierre had. But then again none of them had been her friend from childhood that she had not-very-secretly loved even then. It seemed that even if such a bond faded, time and distance would do such a thing, it could be rekindled. And being with him at times felt like a flame.

She now understood why chaperons were needed.

Lizzy’s hand moved up to her throat to caress the necklace she had received. She was already used to the soft weight. A few days ago Pierre had had to take it off after a fit of coughing; it had felt like the chain was choking her. After the incident passed, she insisted he return it to its rightful place. She liked having something from him always close, and the fan with his flower had fewer moments in her hand than jewelry she could wear at all times.

She must have been more tired than she thought, because while thinking of Pierre she dozed off, waking when there was a soft knocking on the door.

“Come in!”

She expected a maid with lunch, but it was Pierre who entered.

“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I received your note but was told you were sleeping again. I waited a while and hope I did not wake you.”

“Extremely well, and you did wake me, but it is a pleasure to be woken by you.” When he leaned over to touch her forehead, she kissed him. His arms wrapped around her and checking her was put off as they were reacquainted.

It was with a reluctance that he pulled away several moments later, and Elizabeth realized he had begun to kiss her cheeks and was making his way to her neck. He coughed and straightened his collar while she tried not to think of what could have taken place.

“A doctor from town is waiting in the hall, that is why I came in now. I wanted him to check up on your before we decide whether we leave just yet. Is that acceptable?”

“Oui, it is, thank you.”

He stood up and went into the hall to call in the doctor. A middle-aged man walked in a few moments later with Pierre, introducing himself as the head physician of the small, but growing, local hospital.

“A pleasure, Doctor Hervé,” Lizzy said.

“All mine, Lady Elizabeth.”

Pierre stayed in the room, off to the side, as she was examined. He seemed nervous, fiddling with his hands the entire time.

“Well, I cannot say how it has happened,” the doctor said, having looked her over in a modest and quick inspection, “But it seems you are all well, my lady. You are a little underweight, but nothing a few days of good food will not fix. Has anything unusual happened? Did you take a medicine or herbal brew?”

“No, doctor. I mostly slept the last two days and ate nothing unusual. Broth, bread, some fruits, and not in any great quantity. Perhaps it merely passed on its own?”

“Perhaps. Early season fruits might be filled with enough warm humors to balance out some of the winter illness. I will still give you a few doses of the medicines I have found helped just in case. But I see no reason for you to remain in bed and delay your journey.”

“Thank you, Doctor Hervé.”

Pierre thanked him as well, and the doctor left. Almost as soon as the door closed it was opened again by a maid carrying a tray.

“Oh! Pardon, Your Grace, I assumed with the doctor leaving I could bring lunch—”

“No, no, it is fine. She needs her strength. Here, let me, mademoiselle.” Pierre took the tray from the now bemused maid. He sat on the bed with it in his lap so that it would be easier for Lizzy to reach. She might be well but he could not refrain from setting up the scenario.

“Thank you,” he then dismissed with maid. At least this dismissal was given with a smile, unlike two days past when he had been curt, though understandably, from worry.

“It is your turn to play nurse, then?” Lizzy asked, scooting over so that she was nestled up against him. When he picked up a piece of fruit, she opened her mouth obligingly.

“I, my dear, am a doctor, and do not need to play.”

A few weeks ago he had been the one ill and in bed, Lizzy had helped him eat and kept him company. Returning the favor now amused him. That she was healthy made this even better. Hopefully them both being ill so early in their relationship was not a bad omen as to how it would progress.

Pierre put down the second strawberry and rubbed at his temples. A headache from monitoring Lizzy with his cræft had begun. Even becoming a lord of death was not enough to keep the side-effects of the spirits from affecting his body.

“Pierre, are you alright?”

“Just a small headache, it’s fine. It will pass.” She nodded, but bit her lip and he saw she was worrying about him. She of course did not know of his magic and he intended for it to stay that way. While she had showed an interesting in learning more about it, that was just the curiosity of what was forbidden. Watching a hanging was also popular in some of the larger cities, it did not mean any of the on-lookers wanted to pull the lever or would be enamored with the executioner. He wore a hood for a reason.

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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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