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Thread: [M] War and Peace ~ Breggo and Hannelorian [IC]

  1. #181
    Little ball of fire
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    Marcus didn’t say anything as he listened to her - most of it was information he had guessed. He had heard whispers of exclusive parties that Duke of Eaves had held for the past years, first with his lovers and then with his wife. He wasn’t surprised Beatrix turned into a monster, killing her husband in cold blood. He was surprised she waited for nearly eight years. His fingers tightened on her shoulder, the anger at her, at her past and at her carelessness coming out for a moment, his eyes focusing on the distance. He knew exactly who he was - there was an inherent understanding between him and Alistair ever since they met. Marcus would do what the young prince and now emperor could not. He would murder, bribe, torture, maime if that meant the safety of the empire and of his friends. His sould and heart were cold except when it came to Quinn. The young woman allowed him to feel human, whole, pure. It was why he could never let her go, why he needed her to leave him. Why he never told her what exactly he had to do over the years.

    He remembered the first day he stepped onto the path of no return, the eyes of a child looking back at him, scared and trusting. The Flight was told to burn the town to the ground, a warning to anyone who dared to challenge them. They had corralled the villagers, burned the buildings and then the final order came from General Vale - leave no one alive. None had moved, none except Marcus who ended that night with his arms elbow deep in blood, the horrified eyes of every victim burned into his mind. It was the first day he had nightmares and it was the last. With years, the faces of all but the boy’s seemed to fade, blurring with all the other victims he had disposed of. It was as though each additional kill was easier as Marcus was less human.

    “Was Lord Eaves your first victim?” Marcus chuckled, his voice cold. “See, I remember mine. He looked an awful lot like your little boy, same innocence in his eyes. I know your informers are sensing the same as mine - something is brewing. Quinn was just the first victim, an unfortunate one for you. Your son could be the next target if Felix hears who was responsible for trapping his dear nephew in such a trap. Would be quite a shame if next time, someone who isn’t as brave and resourceful is caught in the crossfire.”

    “This isn’t a threat, it is a warning,” Marcus strode around the desk, pulling out a sealed parchment, one he had Alistair sign that evening although the Emperor was anything but pleased. “Here is the emperor’s order for the young Duke to be sent to General Vale as his charge - my estate is far from Valadis and with dragons protecting it. Save from a few similar estates, no place is safer. If you do decide to protect the one thing that keeps you human, you will have an excuse to send him there. However, I leave that up to you and your discretion. You tell me to leave the girl alone for her sake but can you do the same for your son?”

    Leaning on the table, his face gained its wolfish expression. “Satisfy my curiosity Beatrix….is your son from your husband?”

  2. #182
    The Grey Lady
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    The girl with wings of wax had flown too close to the sun and now would have to pay the price for her actions. Beatrix's fingers tore at the letter, tearing the seal. She read over it carefully with her eyes wide. "You... what have you done?" The Dowager Duchess turned to stare down the Lord who had left her with precious few options. And no matter what he said he had threatened her, he had threatened her to the place where there was nothing but anger turning into white hot rage burning inside of her.

    "Joshua is my son. MY SON." Beatrix screamed at Marcus as she cast the letter to the ground. "You had the Emperor order my son away from me?! His own mother?!" Beatrix balled her fists and in that moment she felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. She needed to sit, to compose herself. "What assurances can you offer me that your father won't hurt him? Hmm? I have loved him, raised him, kept him safe." Beatrix was finally at a loss, she was defeated. "She is not of your flesh, she is not of your blood. You have not married her, you haven't even indulged in her... and you take my son away from me?" Beatrix looked to the ground, her face slowly softening as she learned to control herself.

    "I wouldn't have let her get hurt, but now you cut me? So very deeply Marcus. I pray you are pleased with yourself. He is innocent, he is a good boy." For the first time in perhaps years or perhaps since the day she birthed Joshua, Beatrix could feel the heated tears slowly streaming down her face. "Gregory was not my first... nor would he be my last... My husband deserved to die and you admitted it yourself." Beatrix leaned back in her chair as she wiped the tears from her face. "My first was a girl... we were young. It was an accident... but you don't forget that."

    Finally Beatrix turned her eyes back to Marcus. "If I don't tell you, you'll have your little diggers find out... so I'll tell you what you want to know." Beatrix had anger in her eyes. A part of her could almost respect him for the game he played. He was smart, savage, he made the right moves. She was angry she hadn't seen it coming. "Maurice Greville." She spoke the name evenly, calmly. "That is Joshua's father. Gregory... for all of his sins he did give me one great gift." Beatrix smirked just then. "Bastard couldn't have children. He would never admit he was the problem. It couldn't be his fault." Beatrix laughed then. "The more time passed and I was without child, the worse it got..." Even the memories did nothing compared to the pain she was feeling in this moment.

    "We are friends, very good friends. He was always there for me. So I asked him for a favor no one should have to ask. I asked him to give me what my husband could not, but what my husband so desperately wanted." Beatrix rose, straightening out her dress fabric with her palms. "He said yes. So before you think you can blackmail me, Maurice knows. He knows that Joshua is his. And do you know why I did it? Ask yourself." She slowly moved across the room to stand closer to him. "Self preservation. I didn't want a child. I wanted him to suffer the consequences of his life, to live in knowing somewhere that he couldn't do it. I wanted him to suffer no matter how he made me suffer along the way. But I did it...because I knew one day I would have enough and I would kill him."

    Beatrix nodded her head. "Women can't inherit. Not in this Celebrimbor forsaken country... so I had a child, and just my luck it was a boy. And all of that fortune, all of those lands and castles and palaces of the Duchy were in my control. I took that from him. I took that from the Emperor who would have regained everything if he died with no heir and I would have been left on the streets. I pray my thanks every day that... that man couldn't have gotten me pregnant. His child... would be a curse upon us all. But Maurice? That's someone you would want to be a father. We do not love one another. But we do care for one another... and he will be most upset when he learns what you've done. Even if he'll never be allowed to show it."

    Beatrix moved to the room's exist, resting her hand on the handle. "Well played Marcus. I now have to explain to my son why he has to leave... and I have to feel what little left of a heart I have break while his heart shatters." Beatrix opened the door and left the room without further comment.

    --

    Georgiana was tossing and turning in bed. An early night. What else did she have? Saskia had already summoned her to discuss the matter. Told her to end it. She explained she already had to the Princess. Saskia was kind and forgiving, understanding even. Saskia was a good and noble woman but... George was not. Emerging from her bed she left her rooms with his note in hand and quietly made her way into Radisson's apartments. She could see little George curled up by the fire and the sight made her smile. George gracefully stepped forward and leaned down to give the creature a bit of a scratch behind the ears. She'd grown fond of it.

    Looking around Radisson was not yet here, or out and about, or preparing to leave. For a moment she felt sentimental, for another she felt upset. It didn't take long for the woman to remove her clothes save for her slip and to climb into his bed, slipping beneath the covers. It smelled like him. She missed that smell. And distinctly the bed lacked her own smell, evidence of her night or two away from him. Now how long would it be? George wouldn't stop.

    --

    The Princess Royal drew herself into Alistair's apartment. She remained dressed exactly as she had for the day, no tricks. Though in her hand she carried something special. When she caught a glimpse of the man sitting behind his desk she smiled softly and approached him. "I wanted to... say hello..." She commented as she took a seat across from his. "I can't imagine how difficult today has been for you. I'm having a hard time connecting all of it myself, settling with it." Saskia bit her lower lip and rested a bottle upon the table, sliding it over to him.

    "Lysian wine. A gift." Saskia smiled and watched him with something of an understanding gaze. "There's only one region in all of Lys which can grow the grapes for wine. Land which has been in the hands of the same family for many, many centuries. My own." Saskia leaned against the table moving to rest her elbows upon it. "The famous vineyards of Argent. The window each year to make it is quite short. It's rare, a delicacy. Full bodied. I had Alexander's tutor bring me some when he arrived and I've been saving this one for something special." Saskia confessed as she thought quietly to herself. "Today is not a special day. Today is a sad day, so... that calls for something special."

    Saskia rose and moved to the small cabinet which held glasses, grabbing two of them she set one before Alistair and the other at the place where she had been sitting. "Have a drink with me. Talk or don't talk. I'm sorry about today. You did the right thing though... with Quinn, with all of it. You stopped it from progressing any further politically. For us... that's unfortunately what good days look like isn't it?" She was genuine in her question, and genuine in her words for him. Yes, it pained her to know that Quinn had been lashed, but... there was no other way to escape this. Alistair made the right decision.
    Last edited by Hannelorian; 04-15-2024 at 11:35 PM.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  3. #183
    Little ball of fire
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    Marcus leaned back in his chair, his eyes focused on the close door. There was no amusement on his features, only exhaustion. Whatever Duchess of Eaves thought of him, he did believe that something sinister was happening in Valadis right under everyone’s nose including his own and it was only a matter of time before his incompetence or, rather that of his informers, would lead to disaster much worse than lashes. While he had initially proposed his father’s house for Alexander, there was no way to explain why a peasant’s boy would be offered such an honor - not when Westley was twelve when he was given a chance and the Valois bastard was half that. A playmate for a Duke - the playmate - made it all understandable. “Perhaps, one day you may thank me yet, Beatrix.” The imperial minister sighed and poured himself another drink.

    There was still so much to do and the work allowed Marcus’ mind to focus on anything other than what he so badly wanted. He would need to talk to Quinn tonight - he knew the way to her room without anyone else knowing and had done it enough times before. Tomorrow, he would visit the Greville residence and have a conversation with the hier to the dukedom although, he couldn’t hold anything against Beatrix. Begrudgingly, he respected her actions, the lengths to which she had gone to do what had to be done, to protect herself. Perhaps, this was why Carina had blocked the marriage all these years ago, he smirked, because such an ally would make Alistair that much more dangerous. Perhaps, he looked up at the closed door again from his writing, such a union would have made both young people happy…


    Radisson had left to the kitchen, deciding that food was not out of bound of his temporary ‘grounded’ status. Really, he wasn’t sure if Alistair’s reaction amused him or frustrated him - he hadn’t been so grounded since he was sixteen at his father’s estate in the country, chasing girls and terrorizing Maurice. At least, when they had been grounded, it was always together regardless who was right or wrong. At thirty four, it was strange to be back in a situation he was certain he had left behind nearly twenty years ago. The cooks hadn’t complained that he raided the pantry and iceboxes, finding a feast of bread, cheese, salami and grapes. Grabbing a jug of wine, he headed back with his dinner, still trying to shake his own unease. He didn’t mind flying in the morning on a mission away from Valadis - that he would have done it regardless - but was this what his life would be for the next while? Away from court, away from his friends, away from Georgiana?

    Sighing, he pushed the door to his room open rather loudly, moving towards the small sitting room before the bedroom, the kitten stretching on the chair before curling up again. Radisson smirked - over the past couple weeks, the cat had gotten quite accustomed to his new life full of goat milk, meat and ample lounging. He still disappeared time to time but more often than not, the knight found the kitten happily snoring in his rooms. Placing his find on the table, his grey-blue eyes swept the room, landing on the slightly opened door to his room. Frowning, he slowly approached it, pushing it open and leaning against the doorframe, his gaze landing on the person in his bed.

    “Did the princess chew you out for this as well?” he called gently, not sure if she wanted him to disturb her. Perhaps it was a rather silly thought seeing as she in his bed but Radisson no longer knew what to think of anything. “Or was she kinder than my lord?”


    Alistair sighed, watching the girl move around his space with a tired expression. He needed a drink or, more likely, way too many. He felt his reality had cracked - his friends seemed to be betraying him one after the other, each one breaking the pact that they had sworn by for years. How amusing that they always warned Westley not to do anything to jeopordize those around them and now, Radisson and Marcus seemed to have both been laughing at him behind his back. Radisson was always so stoick - Maurice fell in love and out of it but the second son of Duke Greville was always kind, considerate and careful. What had happened in the three weeks that Alistair had been in the South? Was it love, lust or did he, as a leader and friend, missed something else that would force the older warrior to act in such an unexpected way?

    Marcus was another story - in some ways, Alistair was certain he had known for years. Not fully to confront the rogue of anything and perhaps, like anything else Marcus did, he didn’t want to. There was just too much to untangle in the complexities that was Marcus Vale and his relationship with Westley’s sister. Too many taboos, both law and privately imposed that Alistair had hoped it would never come to light, that slowly they would realize their inevitability. Even as he ordered the punishment, looking into Quinn’s eyes, he knew it would not end there. The girl was in love, a love so pure it was terrifying for Alistair to think about. He had seen it in that brief second and now he wished he could forget it. He had been cruel, forcing Marcus to deal with the lashing, to be the one to make the order. Perhaps, it was his way of reminding his spymaster of what could and would keep happening if he didn’t end it. A feeble attempt.

    “I thank you for your gift,” he picked up the bottle, glad to focus on anything else. Looking at the label, he pulled out a thin dagger, opening the cork and pouring it into both glasses. The wine was a beautiful golden color, sweet to the smell and delicate, a touch of honey and tangerines. Bringing his glass to his lips, he paused, sighing. “I wish I could have done more to protect her. She is the closest thing many of us had to a sister."

  4. #184
    The Grey Lady
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    The distant sound of doors opening was enough to stir Georgiana who hadn't quite fallen into slumber. A few moments later there was a familiar voice. Georgiana smiled at his question and pushed herself to a sitting position in the large bed. "The Princess was... gracious. Kind, sympathetic even. Of course she told me to end it." George offered a small sigh. Saskia had been too kind. "I wish she would have just yelled at me... it would make it easier." A gentle honesty, if Saskia had been cruel she could hate the woman for her commands. But no, her kindness and understanding made it impossible to mad at her, no matter what the order given had been.

    "I got your note." George said quietly as she withdrew from the bed and made her way over to Radisson, her arms wrapping around him and head moving to lean on his chest. "I'll mind after Little George." The cat had grown on her, or she had grown on the cat it was hard to tell which. "I'll make sure he doesn't encounter Fenrir. That would end badly." She laughed. Saskia was never seen without that dog, not since the day she was gifted him. And now George had to worry over a cat. "What are we to do?" George asked, she turned her head to look up at him now, her eyes were wide and filled with curiosity and wonder. "You don't want to marry me, Radisson. You... we... have fun... but marriage? You spending the rest of your life attached to me?" She scoffed at the idea, a part of her wondering if she was worthy of such a thing.

    "But I couldn't let you go... not without seeing you." Pushing herself up to the tips of her toes she kissed him gently upon the lips instantly remembering his taste and wanting more, but she pulled back. "We could write to each other." George offered somewhat pathetically. "But can we really just stop? Stop and pretend none of this happened? To pretend that I don't have feelings for you?" George pulled him in closer, tighter.

    --

    The Princess took the glass into her hands and held it for a moment before taking a sip of the golden liquid. It tasted like home. It reminded her of the days she spent in the vineyard learning all about how to make wine. The feel of the grapes on the vine, being able to know just when they must be harvested. The scent of them as they went through their first pressing. Saskia pulled her legs onto the chair and rested them beneath herself. "There was nothing you could have done." The Princess seemed oddly confident in her response as she watched Alistair take his first taste of this particular wine.

    "I think you of all people should know that you can't stop a determined young lady." Saskia laughed a bit mostly at her own expense. "Just as I pursued you... you could not have stopped her from falling in love with Marcus. You can't protect her from love. No one is safe from love." Saskia took another small drink from the glass before setting it on the table before her. "You know she lied to me? Stuck to her story. Nothing untoward... she would do anything for him. It's been a long time since I've seen a love that strong. But when you feel like that... you don't see reason, or anything else really."

    Saskia was beginning to question what she knew about love, and considered that perhaps she had never been in love in the first place. Perhaps it was all just an elaborate lie or manipulation to make sure she would come willingly to Asterious. "She is young and spent her entire life around all of you. Is it so surprising that she would fall for one of you? And nothing has changed. She is still the closest thing you have to a sister. She's the same woman you knew yesterday." The Princess leaned back and took the glass once more, her gaze shifting between Alistair and the ceiling above. "You did all you could. Just love her, support her. Be there for her Alistair."

    Saskia felt a brief pain wash over her. "You are going to have to make the worst decisions... the ones that hurt the most. But you can't second guess it... and if you really wanted to know what I thought?" Saskia downed the remainder of the glass before setting it back down. "You play tough guy, but you care so deeply about Quinn, about all of those boys. Those boys are going to make mistakes. They will learn from them. Just as I learn from mine. That's... family Alistair. You sin, you forgive. You love hard because that is what it takes. Love will endure the strongest of trials." Saskia loved her family and she had betrayed them, but she knew why, and some day they might understand.

    "Galadh, I sound awful. Preachy Saskia... you get my point." Saskia giggled lightly as she looked at Alistair, she shook her head and sighed. This was perhaps the first time they actually had just spoken to one another. No expectations, just words and wine.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  5. #185
    Little ball of fire
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    Radisson’s arms wrapped around her body, a soft kiss landing on the top of her head as he brought her close, his mind going over their rather whirlwind and quick romance. Did he want to marry her? Truly? He never gave himself the liberty to examine his own feelings on that reality, accepting it as a necessary step to remain true to himself. Seeing as he had let her come to him night and night again, he must have been rather open to the idea else he would have stopped it early on. Perhaps he was simply scared to admit that he was developing feelings for the blonde in his arms and it was easier to hide behind the call of duty.

    “I can’t tell you what we should do,” Radisson responded quietly, taking in her delicate perfume, the same smell that had been aired out over the past few days. “Perhaps, it is a blessing that I will be gone. It will give both of us time to figure this out without the emotions overwhelming us. My proposal still stands - I am not about to withdraw it. However, if you decide you would rather not accept it and are in a position to do so, I will respect your wishes Georgie.”

    “I won’t know where they send me until I leave,” the man sighed, pressing her closer, his heart seeming to squeeze at the thought of going. That in itself was a first. “I can let you know once I get there but it should only be a few weeks. If you need anything, go to Maurice or my father - they will help you.”


    “Perhaps I should have paid more attention to what Marcus was doing,” Alistair mused, looking at the wine in his glass. As soon as the words left his mouth, he made a face of disgust and shuddered. There was a reason the eldest Vale had such a free rein and part of it was due to the sins he took upon himself since that first day. “Or perhaps I felt hurt because no one ever loved me the way Quinn loves him. For Gods above, I don’t even want to know what will happen when Westley finds out. As if there are not enough problems in this stupid land already.”

    With a sigh, the man pushed the wine away, leaning back and running a hand through his hair. His head was pounding and he couldn’t figure out what part of the day left him the most defeated. Had he been to harsh on Radisson? Or Quinn? Too soft on Marcus? Was there anything else he could have done or any way to avoid the outcome? And what was the next problem that they would have to tackle, who would be left hurting? Fuck, he missed the relative simplicity of the battlefield. If only he never had to take up this post, if only…

    “Unfortunately, they do not have time to make mistakes,” the emperor was back, his eyes hardening. “None of us have time or leeway. Not until more of the Throckmortons and Pombals are dead and burried. Each mistake, each weakness no matter how minor - that may be the straw that breaks the peace.”

  6. #186
    The Grey Lady
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    "I'll... have an answer when you return." George said softly her face buried in his chest her arms squeezing him so tightly. "I'm sorry... that you're being sent away because of me." It hadn't occurred to Georgiana previously that she should in fact apologize. Yes, he too was complicit but now he was being punished. Being punished for having feelings... for giving in to those feelings. George separated the two of them and with her hand in his she pulled him back toward the bed and pushed him down upon it's plush surface. She quickly adjusted herself to lay beside him, her head resting once again on his chest. "I lied... Radisson. I lied." George's words were so soft... so tender. "It wasn't just sex..."

    For once George allowed herself to just be, and she would fall asleep in the man's arms and leave once he awoke in the morning. They were parted for now, but for now was something she could handle. By the time he returned she would know the truth, if she was with child or not.

    ---

    Saskia couldn't help but chuckle at the mention of Westley before she caught herself and grew more serious. "Westley can be handled. It will be okay. These are problems I can help if you want me to. You have enough on your plate with running the Empire." She wanted to help him, but she could hear the exasperation in his voice, how tired he was. "Alistair... about love." Saskia paused for a moment sighing deeply as she poured herself another smaller glass of wine. "I'm sorry you weren't loved. I'm so sorry that you've had to hurt... that you've had to suffer. I know you never wanted any of this, never asked for it."

    There was something of an understanding her voice. "I wish... I could promise you the world. I wish I could... take the pain away and give you happiness. I wish that I could promise that I'll fall just as in love with you as Quinn does Marcus, or that some day you will come to love me. But I can't. I can't promise you anything like that. I can only promise to do my best to support you. I can only promise that I will be there to warm your bed, to listen to you talk about your day... to smile and put on my best dress to warm and melt any heart who questions who you might be." The Princess stood up and walked to stand behind him her hands resting on his shoulders massaging them. "I will do my very best to give us a chance at genuine happiness and love. And if we fail, we fail. That doesn't change my job."

    Perhaps she felt badly now for what she had done to him. The position she had forced him in. That was beginning to hurt. Knowing his own pain, she had just compounded it all. "And you're right there is no time for mistakes... but these mistakes will not change them as soldiers, as warriors. They are as committed as ever and they will be there. As for Marcus... you would do best not to pay too much attention. He... has to do things that cannot be tied to you, I know that you know that..."

    The Princess stepped aside and reached down to his hand, taking it in hers she pulled him toward the bedroom. "Let's get some sleep... I'd like to sleep here with you." She did not wait to listen to his response but tonight she was not here to seduce him. Instead when he got into bed she lay behind him on her side with her arms wrapped tightly around him, just to hold him there. Just for a little while.
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  7. #187
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    The next week seemed to fly by, the unfortunate incident with Throckmorton and Quinn not forgotten but rather pushed from the forefront of memory as everyone found themselves settling back down into the relative normal life of court. Radisson flew North, carrying a missive to General Vale and sent to coordinate the movements of the Flights stationed there. Emeric was regaining use of his arm, starting to join Alistair and Marcus in their exercises in the morning, otherwise becoming the most recent shadow that stood by the Princess. Unlike Westley with his cheeky personality and forwardness nor Radisson with his calm, powerful demeanor, Emeric was a soft shadow with a kind presence, his voice always slow and kind. He rarely joked but was always ready to provide whatever limited expertise he had for Saskia and her ladies.

    Alistair found himself swamped with work - from meeting with nobles and resolving those issues, listening to complains from the citizens of Valadis, starting to analyze and prepare the spring campaign when it restarted with its generals and seemingly working his way through tons and tons of manuscripts of history, law and past events, he barely had any time to himself. It seemed that he fell asleep and woke up in one instant, never having dreams and always feeling broken. Finally, Alistair had enough - he ordered Marcus to arrange for a royal hunt to be held as soon as the rest of the flight returned, deciding to spend a couple days outside of the capital at Drakarfell and inviting the nobles of the court out for the day. It would mean that men - those who dared to keep up with the Flight - would ride after the game the head huntsman and his hounds found while the ladies and older gentlemen remained on the grounds of the castle, enjoying the day in the gardens and conservatories.

    Marcus had spent the past week working in overtime, throwing himself fully into his job, digging up or trying to find the smallest pieces of information on Felix Throckmorton, his allies, the whispers about Valadis and about the late Duke Eaves. Somehow, he couldn’t get what Beatrix had told him out of his head and try as he might, he knew he wanted to know more. He also paid Maurice a visit although both men found themselves in an awkward meeting, both not sure what to say or how to start. Marcus eventually confessed to his knowledge and proposed the same thing that he offered the dowager duchess for the boy’s protection but the heir to Greville only shook his head. “I may be his father by blood but Beatrix is the only one who can make that choice. I will support her decision.”

    Quinn didn’t let her pain keep her down - swallowing back tears of discomfort and shame, she was back in her usual clothes the next morning, frowning when Mrs. James informed her that the Princess didn’t want to trouble her for a few days. The distance felt like a slap but the blonde only nodded, starting on the tasks assigned to the princess’ maids, picking up a dress to alter and working out her frustrations and emotions on the garment. She didn’t dare go near Marcus’ rooms again though her small balcony doors remained unlocked for him at night and he sneaked in to check in on her, holding her close and silent, rubbing her with a far off look. Quinn never asked him about his troubles - she knew that he wouldn’t tell her even if she did and he would become more brooding. It was something she learned to live with, simply enjoying his strength and protection, her wolf in the night.

    The day the Imperial Flight returned to Drakarfell and rode into Valadis came at last - and with the dragons returning home, the city celebrated the start of winter season. Around the huge streets that opened up into markets and stalls, small lanterns seemed to appear as if overnight, illuminating the wooden structures where vendors started to sell mulled wine, spiced cakes and taffy, children running around with glee and men and women mingling in the darkening evenings, music echoing through the different districts, each one unique and beautiful to represent the origin of the citizens that lived there. Syrenian, Lysian, Asterian and many more songs and stories seemed to flow into the dark night sky, saturating the stars with the past.

    Unfortunately, in Caelum Fortis, the men of the Flight were greeted first in a much more formal setting - try as he might to forgo the pomp and circumstance of emperors past, Alistair knew he could not simply hide away the crown jewels that were the heroes of the Southern campaign. Sitting on his throne, dressed in his usual simple style, the young emperor waited with the court as the doors slowly opened to reveal four figures striding forward. Liam was the first to approach - although many assumed that Alistair was the captain of the Flight and, at least on paper he was, Liam Rhydderch was the true captain. He earned that title and skyrocketed to lieutenant general all for the right merit while the emperor gained his title in part due to his position. Liam never held any disdain for his friend and Alistair knew that the Earl of Cliffhaven would lead the campaign and the dragon knights in his place.

    Julius Corleone followed with his usual swashbuckler charm, his chocolate hair tied back into a small cue at the base of his head and his eyes seemingly shining like the sea in the summer. As he passed a few ladies, he winked, the girls blushing and fanning themselves. Beside him, Westley elbowed his friend although his own expression was much the same. Often, they were two peas in a pod, living life as though they had nothing to lose. Unlike Westley, Corleone came from the Western Isles, a small earldome on the rocks. His parents had passed away soon after the birth of their last child, little Julietta, leaving Julius’ eldest brother Francesco to take up the reins with his uncle Baron Alfonso acting as chaperone and regent. Alfonso, having no children of his own, loved his nephews and niece but he didn’t have a great knack for finances or governing. By the time Francesco gained full control, the small dukedom was broke which led Julius to join the dragon knights and make his own way in life.

    Darius was last - a Vale legacy, he didn’t bother to flaunt his status around like his friends, instead acting more like a sheepdog, herding them along towards the thrones and the nobility standing. He had a lot of Marcus’ features but where the spymaster was roguish, sharp and dangerous, Darius was kinder, a soft wind that could, with enough force, turn into a hurricane. He had a shaggier appearance and wore his feelings seemingly on his sleeve. And while Marcus Vale seemed to scare most women at court even as they dreamed of him at night, Darius had his own appeal.

    “Valadis welcomes its heroes from the Southern Flight,” Alistair’s voice rang as soon as the four came to stand before him, bowing as required by etiquette. “Liutenant General Rhydderch, it has come to my attention that we managed to secure more of the borderlands under our control before the storm hit and effectively ended the autumn campaign. Well done.”

    “I serve Asterious and my emperor,” Liam bowed sharply, his pale eyes meeting Alistair’s without giving anything away.

    “And Asterious will remember it,” Alistair promised before turning to the rest of his friends. “Nor will it forget the brave men protecting it from the conglomerate, those who sacrifice much more than we can express in battles and in the borderlands. The empire will continue to push back the enemies that threaten our peace. I thank you, dragon knights, for ensuring that our enemies remember that Asterious has teeth.”

    “Long live Asterious!” the men echoed in unison. It had always been drilled into them since they were young recruits that emperors may rise and fall but the Empire would remain. The dragon knights never served the man, they served the people of Asterious. A man could die, he could make mistakes and lead the Flights astray but the empire, the lands they loved and were born on - they were theirs to protect.

    “I would like to present to you,” Alistair paused, his eyes sweeping the full hall of the courtroom. “All of you, lords and ladies of Asterious, officially, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal Saskia, my bride and your future empress. A date for the royal marriage will be set shortly and you may be sure that her royal highness and myself will be pleased to see all of you in attendance.”

    “Long live the princess royal!” Liam was the first to salute, the rest of the men loyal to Alistair echoing the call and the noblemen forced to second. “Long live the emperor!”

  8. #188
    The Grey Lady
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    The week had been terribly busy and left little time for personal affairs. Saskia was in regular meetings, every last detail of the Imperial wedding, the first in over 40 years, was the event of the decade. When she was not involved in that, she was being instructed on each member of the Flight, to know their faces and their roles. She needed to be prepared for their return home. Further there was the matter of organizing the festivities in the city, and at the Palace. It kept her plate full even without the social engagements she attended to. Saskia was in the public eye and the curiosity around her was growing, she was like tantalizing treat, something new and unusual, something to be understood, unravelled.

    While Quinn was put of commission for a few days to heal, a gesture Saskia should have known would have been misunderstood, when was eventually returned to her service. The Princess never again mentioned anything about Marcus and her. She knew better than to ask questions at this point. Perhaps her business was a blessing. Saskia had yet to realize that the days to her time of the month were coming to a close. She had pushed the thought from her mind and set about her work. Occasionally she would avail herself of the Emperor's company in private. If anything they were at least learning to understand little things about one another. Things were slow going but strikingly positive.

    Beatrix had quiet meetings with Maurice after Marcus had done his digging. The two politely agreed that for the sake of the boy he would sent to the Vale estate. Maurice left the decision to her and she made it. It was easier if she viewed it as an order, rather than having to accept she would voluntarily surrender her son... she only prayed he could be safe, that he would be safe. He had taken the news hard, Beatrix was a mother whose heart was broken and aching. She avoided Marcus and when they were together she said precious little though she seemed to always be watching him. Always a subtle smirk on her face. He out played her, and that was intriguing. Too bad, she thought, about his love for the girl, it seemed like such a waste.

    Georgiana found her nights spent with the Princess in games of cards, talk of plans and thoughts of the future. She would return to her rooms and find Little George waiting for her. She was coming to love the thing, though perhaps now it was merely a substitute for what she had lost. There wasn't an hour that went by where George didn't think of Radisson, where she didn't wonder what he was doing, what kind of punishment errand that he had been forced to embark upon. Where would it end? But George did not cry, she carried on and let no one see that she was in pain. That was George's talent, a face of stone, everyone saw what she wanted them to.

    Charlotte spent all of her time during that week shadowing Saskia and assisting with planning the events for the return of the Flight. Slowly but surely she was gaining her stability and her confidence. Now she could even return a sarcastic quip from Beatrix. She was becoming someone, or at least someone more than what she had been. A proper lady, but like something of Saskia's personal assistant. She attended to all of the woman's affairs that could not be entrusted to anyone else. She found time to spend each day with Emeric, even if it was just for a few minutes. She would inquire about his healing and he would inquire about the business of courtly life. It was an amicable friendship.

    Finally it was time, as word had come of the immediate arrival of the Flight to Valadis the city celebrated. The Palace watched on and waited with baited breath as the group drew ever closer to her gates. The splendor of the Throne room was impressive. Gold and Obsidian, lava rock forged by the dragon's themselves. Harsh metallic tones, a true feeling of Asterious and its history. The Princess Royal stood off to the side near Alistair, but far enough was appropriate. After all until she held the title she was forbidden from sitting in the chair to the right of her future husband. How many times had she stood beside her father's throne?

    It was pomp and circumstance at its best. Saskia cast her eyes upon each of the men, she whispered their names silently as she did. If she had not been nervous before she was now. The Emperor's closest confidants who she had not met, and here they were standing before her and placing their judgment upon her. She made a concerted effort to form no opinion until she had spoken to them. They were handsome, every last one. They looked strong, but their eyes hid their true suffering even if they were not aware of it or conscious really.

    Saskia bowed her head deeply to the men showing her respect. Beatrix held in a chuckle as she looked at them all. Some she hadn't seen in years. Others she knew by their fathers or some such. The world of nobility was small even smaller when one accounted for those of the flight who did not fit into that precious small circle. "Long live the Princess Royal" Beatrix chanted after the men had, as was the custom. These things required repeating, often and loudly. Such a pointless display, but she supposed it must have been comforting for Saskia to see the display of loyalty. Similarly when they cheered for their Emperor she repeated the notion. She rolled her eyes as the women of court practically fainted at seeing the men. Such objects of affection and desire were they. Beatrix, frankly, didn't understand it.

    "I am pleased and honored to be in your presence. All of you serve the Empire with honor, bravery and dignity. Your efforts on the front are tremendous and worthy of praise. I can only hope to serve the Empire and the Emperor with as much passion as you do. I humble myself before you, before His Imperial Majesty and offer my sincerest appreciation of your warm welcome." Saskia was ever the statesman, ever the diplomat.

    "Please, join us in the gardens for light refreshments and a well deserved drink. I promise it shan't be too painful." Saskia smiled as she motioned toward one of the doors. These receptions were the sort of thing she was used to, she was comfortable in these spaces. There everyone could spread out and begin to socialize. The men would be adored by the women and could regale them all with their tales from the front either real or imagined. Saskia remained largely by Alistair's side, hanging off of his arm as they both greeted each and every member of court as they approached. She seemed to be so effortless, she could recall names and details about their families. She knew just who to ask after, what hobby to comment upon. At the very least, it saved Alistair from doing most of the talking. Saskia was always there to cut off those who lingered too long or seemed too interested.

    "Lord Rhydderch" Saskia said softly as the man approached. "I have been eager to meet you." Saskia bowed her head once more though not as deeply as she had before. "My ladies and of course the Emperor have told me much of you and your achievements. You must be very proud." He was a well decorated man, and seemed largely to keep to himself, something which Alistair most certainly enjoyed about him. He was the one to run the Flight while the Emperor sat in Valadis. Marcus had his tasks. The organization of power was all becoming very clear.

    Beatrix naturally had made her way to Marcus stopping before him with two glasses of champagne, to which she handed him one and then pointed her head in Westley's direction. "What do you think he'll do when he finds out?" She teased him, once again resting a hand on his chest. "I can't wait. I do hope I'm there for the fall out and if not... well, my birds do love to sing a sweet song to me." There was a chuckle as she clinked her glass against his and made her to another to speak to.

    The Princess Syrenia all the while wasted no time, she appeared behind Westley as he spoke to his friends or acquaintances and she leaned in to whisper "Boo!" With a puff of air at the end just to irritate him by striking against his ear. "I hope you missed me. I know I missed you. I haven't been able to scare anyone quite like you... it really was beginning to put a damper on my mood."
    Thanks to Hayabusa/Ryoku for the set.

  9. #189
    Little ball of fire
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    Liam shot a dry, curious glance in Alistair's direction before giving a curt, military bow before the Princess Royal, bending to kiss her hand in perfect etiquette. “I am honored to make your acquaintance, your highness. Or rather, to make it again - I do believe we met however briefly at one of your first visits to Valadis. You may not remember as you were quite young, around eleven on that visit but I was here with my parents presenting my sister Aofie to court. I do hope you are settling well.”

    “As for pride,” Liam's lips got a small smile, “You flatter me. The praise - all of it - belongs to the man who continue to serve on the Southern border. I am merely blessed by Calembribor to be trusted by them to lead them to victory, no more. I try to stay away from pride as that is one of man's greatest downfalls. It is dangerous to start thinking one is above the rest.”

    “Has the war made you philosophical, Cliffhaven?” Alistair raised an eyebrow at the blonde. Side by side, the two men could have been two sides of the same coin. Both tall with broad shoulders and reserved manners, they seemed to be night and day - Alistair with his dark blue eyes and black hair, Liam with his sandy locks and ice-blue gaze.

    “My first day back to civilization tends to do that, your majesty,” Liam responded. “I also find philosophy to be the quickest way to deter unwanted female attention, present company excluded.”

    “Earl of Cliffhaven,” Alistair ignored Liam's slightly pained expression at the title, turning to Saskia. “has a peculiar sense of humour. He also dislikes anyone referring to him by his new title even though it has been a few years.”

    “It was a title that belonged to my father and in some ways, I have lost him too early,” Liam shrugged with one shoulder. “I still expect to see him behind me whenever someone addresses me with his title.”

    “Earl of Cliffhaven,” As though on cue, Felix Throckmorton appeared behind the man, bowing to the royal couple. “I beg pardon, your majesty and your royal highness, I have a bone to pick with the Earl about, ah, a certain marriage proposal. Or rather the refusal of it.”

    “Whatever you have to say, milord Throckmorton, I do not think it requires secrecy,” Liam responded with little emotion. Alistair frowned, looking at the pair, the older man frowning darkly. “If you are talking about Eleanor's refusal-”

    “That is precisely what I want to discuss! A refusal by some girl who is soon to be past marrying age - you should be ashamed Earl, letting your sister run wild as though she was some commoner. Your father would not have stood for this!”

    “My father had more time to engage in correspondence and would have made Eleanor's refusal kinder,” Liam conceded as Alistair bit back the smallest of smirks. “I apologize that I do not have his way with words.”

    “The late Earl of Cliffhaven had more control over his daughters - he would have seen a successful merger of houses when he saw one. I see you struggle to keep just one girl from throwing away her future,” Throckmorton shot back before smirking. “Or maybe there is something that the world needs to know about your sister? Some secret that prevents her from accepting my nephew and coming to court?”

    “I should call you out for such an offense to my name and my sister's reputation,” Liam's cold tone was chilling like ice. “However, it is in bad taste to do so before our hosts. We're done here.”

    “We'll see,” Felix smiled with satisfaction before giving a slight bow to the imperial couple. “Excuse me, I have some friends to greet.”




    Marcus followed Beatrix's gaze, his eyes narrowing slightly. The woman wanted blood to spill and, try to avoid it as he might, he had a bad premonition that her desire would come to pass. Westley Falconer had always been quick to emotion and he never could stomach what Marcus was forced to do - if Liam Rhydderch was the true hero among them, Marcus was the proverbial devil. In a strange way, it was why the group was so tight-knit with the younger men all wanting to follow in the older blonde's footsteps yet none understood Marcus Vale the same way as Liam. And while the older men knew exactly what needed to happen, Westley was ready to fight with all evil even if he deemed it to be one of their own.

    “If there is to be a show, I'll send you front row tickets,” Marcus promised darkly, watching the young woman walk away and letting her have a moment of triumph. He had yet to hear her final decision in regards to the young Duke and now that he knew the truth, he could see Maurice in small gestures of the boy, the same way Sebastian appeared in Alexander. It was laughable, really - the nursery of the empire, the cradle of the future was full of bastards. At least he did not have to worry about someone claiming one of them was a Vale - for the past few years, he had not strayed even if he did not allow Quinn to seduce him fully. Darius seemed content to find only those women who would protect themselves from any unwanted children or, as much as Marcus frowned upon it, women who could pass them off as their own much as Beatrix had.

    Looking at Westley now, surrounded by ladies of the court, smiling and laughing, he couldn't help a slight sigh. Perhaps it was good that the truth was coming out into the light - it seemed that the amount of people in the know had grown beyond his control especially as most were those he could not remove nor silence. It would be better to clear the air. Westley would hate him after it, if he did not now, but at least there would be no more lies.

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