17.5 ~ Fée Child ~

~ Siwenday, 7th of Prima, 11814 ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now he had no reason to stay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Félicien began to walk towards the village.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

17 ~ Delphinium ~ Dancing Lessons

~ (Continued) Qvattorday, 9th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

Last night’s dream had unnerved Elizabeth. She had not spoken of it at breakfast, letting Pierre and Wolfram guide the conversation and trying to forget, but after they had parted ways she found herself exploring the château in search of that library. It called to her. Heading down hallways that she had never been in she finally found a familiar pair of doors.

She entered.

There was far more light amid the dusty books. It was still early morning and the sun was just high enough to peak through the large windows. To her relief it was not exactly the same as in her dream—maybe it was simply a nightmare that wished to cause her unease?

But such dreams were not often without reason.

She found the spot where the old book had fallen. Looking up into the shelves she noticed a book half-pulled out as if it had been hastily returned to its spot. From the color of the spine it looked to be the same one. A chill ran down her back.

Lizzy took a deep breath and, based on a feeling and no more, held out of her hands. The book fell into her grasp and she almost let it slip through it was so heavy. A table stood near the shelf and she placed it down before she could drop it.

It was old. The leather was cracked and the pages yellowed. She did not look yet at the title, but had neither done so in her dream. Or had it been a dream? Could she continue to call it such when it was clearly so much more. A vision, perhaps, or an omen.

She had hoped more magic would enter her life and it seemed her wish had come true.

The title was still legible even if some of the letters were peeling: A Complete and Thorough Account of Clandestina’s Bestia, Magia, and Cræfts.

Now wasn’t this an interesting book? She had not found something like this in her family’s libraries. Looking around now she saw the other books were also different than had been in her dreams—no books on cræfts or bestia were as out in the open as she had seen last night.

Most books mentioned the fée as part of the bestia of Clandestina, but omitted much because it was either unknown or not thought proper. The only cræft ever written extensively on was blancræft, with noircræft sometimes mentioned, and necrocræft never. Some people did not even believe in the dark magic. And magia? That was different than cræft, it was a merging of craefts actually if Lizzy remembered right, but it was restricted to being taught by other beings or was inherent in a bestia. Beside the fée what else were there here? The keres…

She opened it to the first page and began to read.

Clandestina is a realm surrounded in mystery. Once heavily connected to the plane of Faery it was, and is, a harsh and beautiful land. Separation of the two planes occurred in the early millennia after Amôru disappeared from the world. The plane of death, Thanatos, was already separated, but the Mountains of Mist, or Mists of Judgment (see: Akhlys) stayed for a longer time. Some historians claim that the Bastoni mountains are the remnants of the plane Akhlys, and the last of the keres may be found there, but I believe that, as they are now, the Bastoni were mountains belonging to Faery.

She soon realized this was not the kind of book that she should be reading in the daylight where she could be found. After the introduction there was a table of contents and three chapters were dedicated to necrocræft alone. She could well be reprimanded for being in possession of this, though she did not think if Pierre knew that he would allow that to happen. There was no law against this, as such, but it would have a great affect on social standing.

She hid the book behind several tomes and left the library with a promise that she would return later in the night.


***

Lizzy was walking back to her room when someone, quite literally, ran into her. She stumbled, catching herself against the wall and managing not to fall over.

“Oh my, I am so sorry, mademoiselle!”

She looked over to see a woman in a deep curtsy, breathing heavily as she had been running. She had not looked up and was waiting to be excused.

“It is alright,” Elizabeth replied slowly. She had not been hurt, just surprised.

The woman looked up and, seeing that Elizabeth really was fine, smiled brightly. “I am Síofra, mademoiselle!” she introduced herself. She curtsied again, quickly this time, in a manner that would have been rude save for her obvious hurry. Her bright red hair was a mess and her clothes not quite in line. “I am late to dancing practice with my mother and Lady Maiolaine. Oh! Would you like to come along? I insist you be my guest now after what I have done. Please come with me?”

Lizzy could not help but smile. The girl was earnest and had truly meant no harm. Elizabeth herself had no bosom friend, having never had a girl her age close by growing up. Eglė was an elder sister who listened to her secrets, but never spoke of her own in return. This woman seemed her age, perhaps a year or two older at most. She may become a good friend.

“Though I must warn you,” Síofra continued with a wicked smile, having caught her breath, “our dances are those many in polite company would disagree with, should that interest you.”

“More so than the waltz?” Lizzy asked in return. The dance was still considered too close and intimate for some of her parent’s generation, though her peers had never seen it as such.

The other woman laughed. “Yes, more so than the waltz!”

“I would be delighted,” Lizzy replied. Síofra then snatched her hand without asking and began to run down the corridor again, Elizabeth at her heels trying to keep up while laughing along.

They found the room quickly enough, Síofra said she had been there before after all, but Elizabeth thought some exhibition was being held and they were still early. She soon realized it was the ‘dancing’ that had been mentioned before—two women, one of whom she recognized as Maiolaine, faced each other with swords in their hands. They wore skirts, though no blouse or even strip of cloth covered their breasts. A pair of younger girls, Maiolaine’s daughters, stood to the side, fully dressed with wooden sticks as their own swords, observing.

Apolla then announced that they should begin, and Lizzy watched as the two women circled around each other, thrusting, jabbing, and parrying with grace. The other woman was taller, the height of a man, and more skilled. Her too-large ice blue eyes remained alert even if her movements seemed almost bored, and not a hair was out of place in the ponytail that held her white-blonde hair. Maiolaine, on the other hand, concentrated with all of her muster, brows furrowed, and her own hair a tangle.

They stopped only when Maiolaine yelped in pain and crimson trickled from a wound down her front.

Yes, this dance would be far more improper than the waltz.

“Let me,” Elizabeth said, rushing to the injured woman’s side. There was already a bandage pressed to the shallow cut and she placed her palm over it.

“Blancræft, madame,” she said as means of explaining. “It will heal far faster.” When she moved her hand after a moment, cleaning the blood, the wound was already gone.

“Merci, Lady Elizabeth.”

“You are most welcome.”

Maiolaine could not see the wound, her breast in the way, so she touched it to make sure it was well. She nodded another thank you. “I do not believe my husband could do much better. He is a blancmagus himself, you see.”

Lizzy smiled. So the steward knew blancræft as well. Perhaps he would be open to teaching her, or at least showing her who might be a tutor to her.

“A pleasure to meet you,” the other woman greeted with a curtsy after the wound was tended to. “I am Rhianu of Faery and Spadé.”

“Oh, please, it is mine,” Lizzy said, performing her own curtsy, realizing the margravine was speaking to her. “I am not your equal, Madame, much less your superior.” The curtsy had been too low and it made Elizabeth uncomfortable.

“The duc, I hear, is in love with you. For one that may likely become our duchesse, we owe you this,” the fée woman replied. That Lizzy could not contest. Their courting, though only just begun, was serious. She likely would become the duchesse unless something great or terrible stopped it.

The margravine then finished cleaning her sword of blood, taking hold of the blade and holding it out handle-first. “Do you know how to hold a blade, Lady Elizabeth?”

“I do not,” Lizzy said, looking to the sword that had pierced flesh and was being offered. “I am a blanc-witch. I would rather not harm if possible… It makes me uneasy.”

“Sometimes it is the only option.”

Elizabeth nodded in agreement but still did not accept the blade.

“Very well.” Rhianu tossed the blade up and caught it by the handle before sheathing it at her side. “I am certain Our Grace will pull his blade for you if need be.”

Síofra laughed and her mother turned to look at her with a glare.

“I did not mean it in such a fashion!”

The other two girls in the room seemed confused and Elizabeth blushed deeply when she understood the meaning herself.

“Forgive my daughter,” Rhianu said to Lizzy. “She has just discovered human men. Do not be bothered. Though you must learn not to blush at the thought of your beloved. It lets the whole world know your thoughts.” It was said with a warm smile.

Síofra took her own sword, one that was metal but still dull, and her mother began to correct her grip and posture before showing her what movements she should practice.

Maiolaine began to put on her blouse. Rhianu had not bothered and the nudity did not seem to bother Síofra. They were all women, though, so Lizzy did not see much of an issue, even if it was not a norm she was used to.

“The lack of attire above the waist is for the same reason men duel at times without shirts,” Maiolaine explained. “To prevent infection from the cloth being pushed into flesh. We try not to injure each other, but it can happen as you saw.”

“Yes, Maman,” Apolla and Eliana said together.

“Forgive the silly question,” Elizabeth said, “But why are you learning swordsmanship?”

“Spadé,” Rhianu said, “means ‘swords’ in Italaviani. Multiple swords, and gendered female at that. It is not uncommon for fée to wear a blade, male and female. When I was given the responsibility to protect the border I thought it would be helpful to gain allies. Maiolaine joined my daughter and myself for lessons and now brings her own daughters that they are old enough to understand the responsibility. I hope you choose to join us more often, Lady Elizabeth, even if you do not yourself pick up a sword.”

“I would be honored, Lady Rhianu.”

“We can have fun beside as well,” Síofra added. “I would like to know you, Lizzy. Maybe you can meet Sister!”

“You have a sister?”

“Or well, she is actually my niece.”

Rhianu cleared up the confusion. “I raised His Grace Félicien when he was in Faery. He brought his daughter when he returned several years ago. My daughter and his grew up together.”

“Oh… my deepest apologies for your loss.”

Síofra’s ever-present smile disappeared for a moment. Félicien had been a wonderful uncle-figure to her while he had been alive and she still missed him dearly.

“My thanks, Elizabeth. I believe he could not live without his wife and, after making sure his children were grown and taken care of, he followed her. He is happy now.”

“I do hope so.”

The somber mood did not last long and Elizabeth was finally persuaded to try to use a blade. She found it interesting, but was not very good, though she was assured that was not unusual for a first lesson.

“I may continue this as a discipline, but I do not believe I could cause another harm.”

“Our goal is to learn to defend ourselves and others. That may end in harming others. But I see no issue with you joining us and not partaking in that step.

“Now, I believe the meeting of the advisors is finished. My husband should have mentioned us to His Grace and they may be here soon.” She had asked Elwin to do so after all. She went over to where she had put her discarded clothes picked up her cream blouse. Maiolaine took her daughters and bid the rest of them farewell before leaving through a door at the far end of the hall, understanding that this might turn into a meeting with family and not wishing to impose.

Whether it was her wish or coincidence, the door opened to let Pierre enter just as Rhianu finished clothing herself and the door closed behind Eliana.

Pierre glanced around the room, his eyes brightened upon seeing Lizzy, but moving past to Rhianu before walking to the fée woman. When standing before her he bowed low and then straightened, standing a little awkwardly, but saying not a word.

The margravine smiled and curtsied. Then the woman who was meeting her grandson embraced him.

Lizzy was too far away to hear, but Rhianu whispered something into his ear and Pierre stiffened before relaxing again and embracing her in return.

When they stepped back Pierre was blinking rapidly to hide tears.

Rhianu waved over her daughter and gestured for her to stand before the future duc, introducing her formally. Síofra squirmed and shifted from foot to foot, not used to being so still even for a moment.

“And this is my daughter, Your Grace. Lady Síofra.”

“Auntie,” Pierre replied seriously. He kept the sincere look for a moment before grinning widely and letting everyone know it was a jest, and Síofra’s laughter filled the room once again. Rhianu even hid chuckles behind her hand. Deciding that that was enough standing apart Síofra moved to hug him and Pierre hugged her back.

Elwin came in a few minutes later to announce that lunch was being served and the family should all come along. Elizabeth tried to make her excuses, but both Pierre and Síofra insisted that she be included.

“What did Lady Rhianu say to you?” Lizzy asked as she and Pierre walked out together, arm in arm. The thought that she was considered family warmed her heart.

“My full name,” he replied softly. “It seems Père told her what name he gave me.” She did not press to know more.


***

That evening the margrave and his family bid Pierre and the other advisors farewell in the garden. While Elwin had grown up in Spadille he had lived far longer in Faery, and neither Síofra nor Rhianu called this plane home. They were not used to being there and chose not to be as much as possible, though duties would mean they were at times forced.

Their meal had been light and friendly, Elwin becoming aware that his foster-son had informed Rhianu but not him about Pierre’s full name and not finding it too odd.

“I may not be able to keep the secret as well as she, my full name might still be found out for instance, and if I am to be your aid here it may be best that I cannot be forced.” Secrets were a part of being fée and it did not seen to phase him that his wife had kept something from him.

Now Pierre shook Elwin’s hand and began to thank him for his duties as margrave, but the latter tilted his head with a smile.

“You seem to be a bit confused, Your Grace. The one in power over the border is my dear wife. I aid her, but in no way find myself with her authority in Faery.”

The fée were matriarchal and it seemed that extended to the margravine in this case. He wondered if this was true of all the margravines or only those more fée than others. He had not heard of it before so openly at least, and judging by the glances of the advisors this was not well known.

“Then, my lady,” Pierre said, turning to her with a bow, “I would, if it so please you, welcome you to our council meetings.”

Rhianu smiled.

“The offer does please me,” she replied. “But I shall allow my husband to discuss this side of the realm with you. I will continue to take care of my side, and report to you when there is need.”

“Of course.”

Pierre turned to Síofra, but not before hearing his grandmère tell her husband that he should learn to cause less trouble.

“I seem to have gained yet another sister. I am glad to meet you as well, dear lady.”

She curtsied in reply, too quickly and without much grace, but with the great smile that rarely left her. She did the same to Elizabeth. Then she turned to her mother.

“Mother, if I may, I ask that I be allowed to stay at His Grace’s home. Lady Elizabeth seems to be in need of a lady-in-waiting and I would be so pleased to fill the role.” Though she was an adult by fée standards it still seemed polite to ask as she was half-human and still lived with her parents.

Elizabeth seemed as unaware of this plan as all else for she looked with wide eyes at Síofra.

“Well, if I am to have a valet,” Pierre said “it would only be fitting that my lady has similar aid. Did you not at home?”

“No, though Mother does,” Lizzy said. “Síofra, are you certain?” Those close to high-born ladies were often also high-born, but in this case Síofra outranked her as heir. Normally Elizabeth would be the one asked to serve her and not the other way around. Though, as before, if they were assuming she would become the duchesse one day this was not as unusual.

“Oh, yes! I would so love to help. Please, Lizzy?”

Pierre had not heard anyone outside of close family call her by that nickname, but Elizabeth did not seem to mind.

“You may do as you wish, Síofra,” Rhianu said. “Take care, of both yourself and her, if she is to be in your care. Your father will visit the plane more often than I. Do visit when you can.”

“I would welcome more dear friends and help,” Elizabeth said. Síofra squealed in joy and dashed over to hug her, all pretense of decorum forgotten. Pierre tried to hold back laughter and could not.

“Welcome, Síofra.”

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

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 ~ Delphinium ~ Flirting

~ Hexday, 4th of Aprilis, 11831 ~

“How did you get up there?”

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

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

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

Beside him Elizabeth stifled her laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizzy giggled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A grim year, then.”

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

“Do tell?”

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

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

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

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

“Anything illegal?”

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

“No,” he told her.

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

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

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

“I never did such things.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Pierre!”

“Hush or I shall drop you!”

“You would not!”

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?”

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

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

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

“Oh, you do not—”

“I insist.”

She kissed the top of his head.

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

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

“Feel them?”

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

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

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

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

11 ~ Delphinium ~ The Witch and the Duc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good! Now we are both well.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Elizabeth, thank you!”

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

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

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

“Elizabeth?”

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

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

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

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

“What I am?”

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

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

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

She thought this over, expression soft.

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

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

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

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

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

“You would let me learn?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizzy laughed. “I am glad as well.”

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

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

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

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

“What if I am a bad duc?”

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

“Except riding,” he said.

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

Invaluable, he thought.

“Have you been to Spadille, my dear?”

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

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

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

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

“Did His Grace Félicien not teach you?”

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

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

“No wonder what?” she asked softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

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.

~ Previous Chapter ~ Next Chapter ~

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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8 ~ Delphinium ~ Cræft

~ (Continued) Iunday, 29th of Prima, 11831 ~

Pierre made his way to the dining hall a while later. He had gone to his own rooms to try to think, but he could not focus. Pluta listened, but did not know enough about medicine to offer any aid, and even magically this was beyond her. Grabbing his cane, Pierre went to join those that had accompanied him—they had been left to have meals while Lizzy was tended to and rooms sorted. From guards, to those driving the carriages, miscellaneous staff, and other nobles who had been at the castle for his birthday party just two weeks past: Traveling as a child of the court came with great attention.

He raised a finger when he entered the dining hall, hushing the man that would announce his presence. He would be polite with the rest later but for now he needed just one person. His student Wolfram, a boy gifted in medicine and similar skills. Pierre found him quickly, sitting among a group of young men that helped with the animals.

“Have you heard of this illness?” the duc asked, interrupting some story about the dogs. Wolfram nodded though the others seemed unsure of what to do with the duc before them. They settled for keeping their eyes on their mostly empty plates.

“Yes, Your Grace,” he replied aloud, standing to address his master. “But I have only heard of it in passing. I do not know the treatment. I have just heard the lord physician mention it.” Before being with the duc Wolfram had been a student of the royal physician, Ophion, who was also Pierre’s uncle.

Pierre nodded, the tightening of his grip on his cane the only sign of his discomfort. “Let us go wait for the doctor and see if this has been happening in the area. Come along.” Wolfram was still a student, but he was bright to be chosen by Ophion. And brave, Pierre added to himself, thinking of how he had reacted to learning of Pierre’s dark magic. His fresh eyes might help Pierre see something that emotion was clouding over.

The remaining food was forgotten, Wolfram attending Pierre while leaving behind the others. Several more people offered to come, but the duc ignored them and walked by. He had spent the last several years as a student of medicine, becoming accustomed to his social rank not interfering too much with his life. Since returning to court the transition was still new.

“What else has Ophion said?”

“It presents with a harsh cough that can lead to blood coming up from the lungs and throat. The few cases he has seen…”

“Ended in death,” Pierre finished for the boy when Wolfram did not voice the words. Under his breath he added, “At least death I can cure.”

They stood before Elizabeth’s room now. Guards were at the stairs but none in this hall, giving the lady and the duc any privacy they desired. A chaperon would have been proper, but with the sickness Pierre was a physician before he was a lover.

“Your Grace?” Wolfram asked, as the duc had paused and the movements of his fingers showed him to be using magic. Though still a new apprentice of Mora, the boy felt the spirits of illness in the air give their attention to the duc. He could not help the shiver that ran through him.

“She drank the wine,” Pierre said, “And fell back to sleep immediately. I can feel her soul once again,” he added with a smile. “Come.” He opened the door and ushered in his medical student and magical apprentice. The door was then closed and locked, and Pluta meowed from her spot on Elizabeth’s bed before jumping down to be near them. A familiar was good to have around when performing complex magic.

Pierre put aside his cane, pulling off his gloves and stuffing them into a pocket before he shrugged off his outer jacket. As Wolfram took the outerwear, he watched and saw that at no moment did the duc stop painting with his fingers, reeling in the spirits so that their attention, will, and power was his to control.

The duc then made to snap his fingers. The movement was there, but he could not press hard enough and there was no sound. He tried again and still could not do it. Positioning his hand for a third time he could not press at all, and his fingers moved apart as if an invisible force was pulling them in opposite directions. Pierre fought until his thumb was so far back that it dislocated with an audible pop. He swore, cradling his hand and glaring at the air. Wolfram, who had been entranced with the display, suddenly found himself able to move and rushed to help.

“Move it back in carefully,” Pierre said, holding out his throbbing hand. He had not had spirits react to him so violently in years. Wolfram did not bother cautioning that it would hurt before snapping it back in place.

Pierre flinched and made a pained noise. “Thank you,” the duc said, releasing a breath as he tested his fingers. It would swell some but mobility was not much affected. He would shuffle his favorite deck of cards later to make sure of that.

“They do not want me to interfere,” he spoke, more to himself than Wolfram. He ran a hand through his black, grey-streaked hair, made so from pain and cræft. “Mora mentioned them being unlike her own.” A magic and its spirits were, in theory, the same throughout a realm. That was after all what the borders of the realms signified. But citizens were not always loyal to their liege, and borders could be crossed.

He walked back over to Elizabeth and stood closer to her than before. She was still sleeping deeply, unaffected by their talking—though that was his doing. The first spell he had put her under was unconsciousness, which had been allowed of him.

She coughed even in dream and more blood came up. He wiped her lips with a handkerchief.

He began to draw with his fingers again as if coaxing over a frightened animal. He did not ask for anything aside from information, making sure to be polite, and it was finally given.

Harmful micro-animalia ran rampant in her body, clustering around her throat and lungs. Her whole body was weakened and in time it would simply stop working. Unfortunately, that was all that he could tell. Necrocræft was not a miracle, one had to understand what one was looking for and this was new to him.

He tried anyway, banishing some of the illness with a general command, and the spirits thankfully thinned.

“Perhaps if you try,” he said over his shoulder to Wolfram. He broke the active connection and moved out of the way to let the boy come closer. A dull ache in the back of his head confirmed his actions would have consequences.

“I am not sure…”

“You have not started your practical training, I know. But the first step is knowledge. I am here,” Pierre assured him. “Should you overstep I can save you and her.”

Wolfram looked worriedly to the duc but took off his gloves. He had practiced cutting into his hands with Ophion, to know how deeply to cut, how to hide the pain, but that was as far as he had gone. The lord handed him a small folding knife and began to explain.

“The greater the wound, the greater the magic. But eventually you will be skilled enough that small incisions will do the trick. There are too areas where the magic is more concentrated. If a wound is deep, or closer to your heart there will be a stronger connection. But lines of power are easiest found on the hand. While painful to use the hand later unless a familiar helps to heal you, it is fastest and easiest in the moment.” He took Wolfram’s hand and opened his own palm to compare the two. “Instead of reading the lines to know things about a person, a suitor of death cuts their flesh along them. This one for healing,” he said, tracing a scar on his own hand and then the same line on Wolfram’s. “And this for illness. Another for death. This is not better or worse than other parts of the body that have similar threads, but it is easiest to do quickly, and what you likely will most often use. Eventually you may not need the lines.”

“And for bringing back the dead?” Wolfram asked. Pierre had done it in front of him with just a cut along his palm, something small and thin that would heal over in a few days’ time even without Pluta’s help. It had not even been on any specific line of power.

“For the first year or two you will cut your wrist for that,” Pierre said. Pushing up his sleeve there was a long scar running from his wrist to halfway up his elbow, with smaller ones surrounding it.

Wolfram slowly pushed up his own sleeve and swallowed to keep down his anxiety. “Even with a familiar you will scar at times, though far fainter than it would be otherwise. This wound is meant to be deep, Wolfram. I say it happened when I fell from a horse, should I need my sleeves rolled up in company. It helps that I am not the best rider.” The attempt at levity was lost on the boy still looking at the scars.

“You do this because to bring back a life, at first, you must risk your own?”

“Correct,” Pierre confirmed. And then in one motion he took the open knife from Wolfram and cut down his student’s arm. To his credit the boy held back his yelp of surprise and pain. It was a shallow wound though, not threatening to his life just yet.

Pierre ran a finger along the cut gathering blood. He then wiped his hand on the handkerchief he still had in his hand.

“Pluta? Heal him and clean the floor.” Pierre smiled to Wolfram and said a quick apology while the familiar jumped on top of a chair to reach the arm. Several scratchy licks later the wound was closed and only tinged pink. The blood from his arm, and the floor, were too then taken care of.

“Wolfram, are you alright?”

“Yes, Your Grace. Just a little shocked. Thank you, I am not sure if I could have done that myself. But surely Lady Elizabeth—”

“Is still with us. But perhaps the risk I forced upon you will entice the spirits to tell you more than they told me.”

The duc wiped Lizzy’s lips with Wolfram’s blood and stepped aside. “Feel with your soul. The motions of your fingers do not need to be anything specific, just get their attention.”

Wolfram did so, closing his eyes and using a hand to play an invisible piano in the air. Another sense opened to him as if he was for the first time in his life seeing detail or color. He felt, somewhat with his mind and yet too with his whole body, a connection with Lady Elizabeth. He felt her heart, her breath, her life, and how to aid or end those things. It felt too intimate, and he almost broke the connection, but a hand on his shoulder steadied him. Concentrating Wolfram narrowed the feeling to the parts of her body that were ill.

“It feels like death,” he said. “Like Lady Mora, but not the same. This illness wants to kill her. But would that not leave it without a host and therefore be its own death?”

“There are many illnesses that kill. It does not have a reasoning.”

***

After trying to understand the spirits of the illness and failing, Pierre and Wolfram retired to the duc’s large suite to wait until the local physician came. The boy held a whispered conversation with his lord’s familiar, and Pierre sat shuffling a deck of cards.

“Will my hair turn grey, like His Grace’s?” Wolfram asked. He tried to pull down a lock of his own black hair to see if any of the color had changed.

“Probably a little,” Pluta said, licking her paw and cleaning her fur. There was still some blood between her digits. “And you’ll have a headache tomorrow too. But it should not be too bad yet.”

“I can withstand a headache.” If it meant being able to bring back the girl he loved he would gladly deal with pain.

It did not take long for a servant to announce the doctor’s arrival.

“Have him brought here,” Pierre said, pocketing his toy. A few moments later there was another knock, and the door opened.

“Your Grace?” a doctor greeted them upon entering the room.

The duc stood and crossed the room to shake his hand, a gesture of equality from physician to physician.

“My beloved is ill,” Pierre began without further introduction. “A harsh cough that leads to bleeding, though whether from the lungs or throat I am not certain. She runs a fever and is weak and pale. She is asleep at the moment though if you need to examine her she may be woken.”

The doctor nodded, looking grave. “There is no need, Your Grace. I have seen the illness. It is rarer here than in the south of Piques, but it is slowly spreading north. I know of no name for it, but I can describe what is happening. It is an illness that can lay dormant in a human person for many months if not years. I speculate there are many infected among us, we are merely not ill. When it becomes active there is bleeding, as you have seen, weakness and degeneration until death if it is not stopped.”

“And what causes it to become active?”

“The presence of death,” the doctor replied. Pierre remained composed, but Wolfram coughed to hide his intake of breath. The doctor did not pay him any attention.

“How is this treated?” the duc continued.

“I have medicines to treat the cough, the tearing, and to keep down the fever—but these only treat the symptoms and not the illness. The afflicted must be surrounded by life. It is early spring—if she has just become ill then perhaps it will not be for long. By autumn I hope to have a better cure in mind. I can come by soon again to see her when she is awake.”

“Thank you. If you could show me the medicines that will help and provide me with enough doses until we reach Spadille I would be most grateful. How much will it be? And if you need any aid to find this cure, financial or otherwise, then I will provide it.”

“For you and your beloved, My Grace, there is no charge. I may take you up on the offer for research patronage though.”

They shook hands once more, and the doctor left.

***

Pierre sat by her bed again that evening, reading through letters that she had sent him. They had held a correspondence for a time while he had gone to University, but he was ashamed to admit that she wrote him far more often than he replied. There were a few letters in the box that he had not even opened though he had certainly planned to read them upon getting them.

He slid a finger under the wax seal and opened one of the forgotten letters. It was short, just a note to ask how he was doing now that her brother had returned home and he still stayed. He did not even remember getting it.

“I was well,” he replied to her now. “Glad that Piers had passed his exams and could return early to his family. I helped him with those, I’m sure he told you. He begged me to study with him so he could learn quicker and get home to Eglė. Then I needed to continue my own studies. So as you guessed, I was busy.” They had taken many of the same courses, but Pierre had not been content with just being a doctor. He had decided to become a surgeon, learn more invasive techniques, and to know more about the human body. He also needed to finish Mora’s lessons.

He went to his own room once night set, asking Pluta to wake him every other hour so he could check on Lizzy. A nurse was staying by her side at all times that he was away, but he needed to see for himself how she was doing. He checked her temperature throughout the night and woke her up once so that she could drink a tea to bring down her fever. Her coughing increased, as did the amount of blood that was left after it, but the last couple of hours before dawn she seemed to improve and then become stable.

***
~ Dvoday, 30th of Prima, 11831 ~

In the morning Elizabeth said that she was feeling better and he need not hover. Pierre was torn between staying with her, and possibly making her worse because of his magic, and staying away when there were things only he would know about her. Not due to any recent long term intimacy, but the cræft that he suspected made her ill might be the only thing that could help her.

In the end there was business to attend to, and the decision was made for him. Though they had not planned for a stay in this town along their way, the foster son of the roi, and future duc of Piques, was there and that came with expectations. He ordered several to attend to her and made certain that the bells that chimed for maids and nurses were in order. Wolfram was given a specific set of orders to check the microanimalia after meals if she slept and to monitor her humors.

“I love you,” he whispered into her ear before he left. She was again asleep, and he could not tell if she heard, but he wanted to say the words. It was the first time he said them aloud to her.

The day was long. He met the maior and thanked him for the extended welcome. As a new medical graduate he also went to oversee the small local hospital and staff. There he met again with the doctor that had promised to see Elizabeth later, making proper introductions this time (his name was Hervé Yannick), and scheduling another visit for the next day.

By the time he returned to the inn it was late, and the nurse assured him Elizabeth was better than this morning. Wishing to see her, but almost certain now that his presence was not helping her, he only paused by her door to whisper good night on the way to his room.

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