I totally figured out how to do a cool thing. Click on the tab above that says Cousin of the Crown PDF. Sweet, yeah?
27 June, 2011
So, I am sorry for being such a blogging slacker. I promise to do better. :)
“I want to go home.”
“Hhmm?” Terran lifted his head, drowsy and sated. His arm draped over me, holding me in place.
“I want to go home.”
“You are home.” He said, still pleasantly muddled. He always was.
“I want to go to my father’s house.”
Terran yawned widely, putting his head down again. “Alright, if you wish.”
“Can we go? Soon?”
“Of course.” he said, his eyes half-closed. He wasn’t listening. I poked him. He grunted and captured my fingers with his.
I rubbed his palm, feeling the faintest scars still on his skin.
“When you were shipwrecked.”
He opened his eyes and pushed away from the bed, resting on his elbows. He watched my face for a long time. “You wish to know?”
I nodded slowly, suddenly not sure. His eyes were dark again, flat even in the sunlight.
He stared at me, but not seeing me.
“It was mostly bad luck.” He said finally. “There was a storm.”
“I read the letter Dyyfed sent.”
His eyes focused suddenly, glowering down at me. “Who showed you?” He demanded.
I winced. “Gulin.” My voice was very small. I grabbed his shoulders so he couldn’t leap up and go storm at his brother. They’d been at it again today, their anger and resentment flashing out, like steam escaping from a tightly lidded pot.
“He knew, then, about us.” I explained. “He wanted to tell me before…” I swallowed. “Before the king came and asked me to comfort Lahdel.”
Terran grunted, mollified, but only slight just. I rubbed his face, smoothing out his scowl. He smiled suddenly.
“Why can’t I stay angry at you?” He wondered.
I made a pert face and he chuckled. It made my skin tingle.
“The storm?” I prompted gently, after a time.
He sighed, rolling onto his back, staring up at the ceiling.
“The ship was struck by lightning,” he said quietly. “It broke the mainmast and snarled the sails. After that, there was no way to fight it. With the mast in the water, it was only a matter of time before we capsized.
“I got out with a few others, once the ship broke up. There were a few dories on board. We caught one and managed to keep it afloat through the night. The next day was calm, but we had no food or way to catch any. There was no way to tell where we were. So, we made for the nearest shore, which should have been Serica, somewhere, on their eastern coast.”
He rubbed his palms together, like they pained him. “It was hard rowing, between the three of us that were strong enough.”
I snuggled up to him, pressing my face into his chest. His voice was flat, distant. “What happened when you reached land?” I did not want to know about the hours he’d spent slowly starving to death, his blood soaking into the wood of the oars.
“It was wilderness. We were blown further south than I thought, but where? The others turned north, to Dyyfed. I went south.”
“Why?” I demanded, jerking up to look down at him. “You went off alone?”
“Alea,” he chided gently. “I had to come home. To you.”
I shook my head. “You should have gone back to Dyyfed!”
“Alea,” he said again. “I had to. I had to see you.”
“Why do you say things like that?” I stormed at him, crying for no reason I could discover.
“Things that make me love you!”
He smiled. “You’re being a brat.”
He chuckled and pulled me down, shushing me. “Lie still, little songbird, or you won’t hear the rest of the story.”
I sniffed mightily and lay quiet and sullen.
“I was in Serica, but you know they…we are not the best neighbors.”
“Yes.” I pouted, still flustered for no reason.
“I was going to go to the capital and request refuge, help getting home. But…” He swore under his breath, angry with his political enemies. “But they are damned fools. They had word we were shipwrecked off their coast. How, I don’t know, but they were looking for us. For me. And not out of the goodness of their hearts. Some half-cocked scheme about ransoming me or saying I was alive and luring…one of my brothers to go, so they could hold him instead. I don’t know.”
I noticed how he hadn’t said Gulin’s name, but I didn’t comment. He was tight and angry next to me and didn’t need the provocation.
“So, I hid and made my way home myself.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
His smile was fake, forced. “Isn’t that enough? Should I have wrestled bears or been cursed by a witch or something? Sorry to disappoint you, little Alea.”
I scowled at him. “You were gone for so long.” I said, still nettled. What was wrong with me?
“Too long.” He agreed, touching my face. He seemed to think for a moment, gathering himself. “How did you discover…the princess’s pregnancy?”
“She told me. She was ill and not getting better. She confessed.”
Again he was silent for a long time. “Did you think it was mine?”
I hesitated too long.
“Did you?” he demanded, gripping my shoulders.
I cringed away. “Only for an instant.” I mumbled. “I didn’t think her capable, Gulin capable-”
“I don’t want to hear.” He snapped, in the tone he used to command his subjects. I stiffened.
“You asked.” I spat at him.
“You didn’t trust me?”
“Of course I trusted you. But what was I to think? She wouldn’t come right out and say: I betrayed my husband with his brother.”
Terran held me still so I couldn’t get out of bed and storm away.
“I’m sorry.” He said suddenly. “I’m sorry I left you, Alea. I should have stayed.”
All the fight went out of me. He gathered me close and kissed my face.
“Go to sleep.” He said.
“It’s only mid-afternoon!” I protested.
He grinned and I looked away. “I know.” He said. “You’re going to need your rest.”
The nobles came back from their estates, the plague finally releasing its grip on the countryside. The moment I had been dreading was at hand.
The king called a session of the court, a full session, no noble allowed to miss. There were many new faces, wives or husbands dead, their spouse or child standing in for them. A low feeling pressed down on the wide room. It was not helped when Terran came through the doors with me a step behind.
Terran seated me next to him, pausing to kiss my hand. I flushed and dropped my eyes. Gulin came next with Lahdel, ungainly and very, very pregnant.
There was a full minute of silence as the nobles took in the new situation. I wondered how many guessed the truth. Gulin’s stare was sullen and a little defiant. Lahdel stared fixedly at the ground.
I looked to Terran. He looked as he always did. Serious, confidant, unyielding. He played with my fingers, our hands clasped between us.
One man, much braver than I, signaled he would like to be acknowledged. The king waved at him.
“Your majesty,” he said slowly. “It appears to me that princess Lahdel is sitting in the wrong place.”
I almost laughed. That was the blandest way I could imagine to point out that Terran was publicly committing adultery.
The king was flushed, his cheeks a furious red. “My son and the princess have signed a writ of separation. Terran is now married to Lady Alea. Gulin and princess Lahdel are now married, as well.”
I watched every eye in the room look at Terran, then me, Gulin and finally Lahdel’s bulging stomach. I knew they thought Terran and I had been lovers. I knew they thought Gulin and I had been lovers. I knew they thought that I had somehow supplanted Lahdel, though she was pregnant with Terran’s child, and had stolen him from her.
I didn’t care. Terran’s very warm, very strong fingers were twined with mine. I wouldn’t have cared if they accused me of being a witch and demanded my head loped off.
Terran leaned forward. “The child is my brother’s.”
Gulin and Lahdel both flinched. I blushed as the room gaped open-mouthed. I squeezed Terran’s hand reprovingly. He could have been less blunt. He turned to me.
“You have done nothing wrong. I will not have you censured.” He said softly. I think I loved him more in that moment than I had the past year.
One of the ministers had the sense to steer the meeting away from this topic as quickly as possible. He started droning on about grain subsidies. The tension in the room eased, though the nobles’ eyes kept flicking between us, like we might jump up and start screaming at each other.
I want to run when it was over. Instead I stayed sitting, trying to look regal, as the nobles filed out. The king got up and stormed away, as did Gulin, dragging Lahdel behind him. Quickly, Terran and I were alone.
“You have done nothing wrong.” Terran said again, drawing my hand into his lap. He traced my fingers with his, feeling them gently. “You alone are innocent in all this.”
“And you’re not?” I demanded.
He shook his head. “No. Because the only thing that kept me from coming to you was knowing you would be ashamed when I left.”
I shivered. He knew exactly how to make my blood turn to fire in my veins and it was very uncomfortable.
“I have not told you how proud I am of you, Alea.”
“I don’t understand.”
His smile was tight, humorless. “Of course you wouldn’t. Because you are perfect.”
“I am proud of you,” he said slowly. “Because you had every reason to betray your princess. You had every temptation. I know. I tried.”
I gaped at him. “Terran!” I was beginning to feel like a fool, gaping at him with nothing more intelligent to say than his name.
He gripped my hand. “I love you.”
It was silly and impulsive, but I stood and shifted until I could sit in Terran’s lap, wrapping my arms around his neck. He buried his hands in my hair, pressing his face into my neck.
“We can’t go to your father’s house.” He said.
“The borders are still closed.”
I pushed away from him. “You’re lying. Why?”
He winced. “And…your king will not take this arrangement…well.”
I set my teeth. “Then he should be angry at Lahdel. Not me. Not you.”
Terran sighed. “I know.”
“I am going home. You are coming with me.” I glared at him until he nodded. He smiled suddenly.
“I can refuse you nothing.” He said, pulling my head to his. “How do you do it?”
My parents were waiting for us at the dock.
Terran gripped my hand so tightly my fingers went numb as we climbed over the side.
I pressed against him as he stood on the steady wooden planks. He was breathing rapidly.
“We should have gone around.” I told him softly.
“No!” He snapped. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No,” he continued in a calmer tone. “I’ll be fine.”
I turned. My father stood, watching us. Terran gave himself a shake and went to greet him.
“General.” Terran said, nodding.
My father bowed. “Prince Terran.”
“Papa!” I flew at him, cutting into their tense pause, fed up with protocol. He caught me and held me close.
“You were sick?” he asked.
“But now I’m better.” I assured him. “Much better!”
His eyes strayed to Terran again. “I’m glad you’re home.” He said softly.
My mother was crying, holding me close. She paid no attention to Terran at all.
I was too happy to worry or notice the tight looks the two men gave each other on the ride up to my father’s manor house. My mother held one of my hands, Terran the other. I did notice how tense it was. I smiled at him. He smiled back briefly and then turned to look out at the hills.
It wasn’t until later that I cared about his wooden expression. He and my father stood to one side of the large dining hall. My mother and I watched them as they talked. It did not look like it was pleasant. My father grabbed Terran’s arm and Terran smacked it away, glowering.
I went to them.
“Stop it. Now.” I said firmly.
They each glared at me. My father turned back to Terran, his voice rough with anger. “What have you done?” he snarled.
“Papa!” I knew he couldn’t be angry with me. He could only take it out on Terran. “Papa, you know what she did.”
He scowled. “Yes.”
“It was not Terran’s fault.” I insisted. “There is no reason the treaty cannot stand. If anything, Reuss would be the injured party, not the king.”
“No!” I said over him. “I will not have you blaming Terran for his brother’s wrongs!”
My father was silent for a long time. Finally he let out a sigh. “I am having trouble choosing between my love for you, Alea, and my duty to my king.”
I smiled. “Papa, listen to Terran. He can tell you what to do.”
Terran growled. “Now is not the time to joke, Alea.”
My father rubbed his face. “The king does not know, yet. There has been no news coming overland. You should not even be here.”
“I know.” Terran said with a lift of his chin. “But Alea wished it.”
They eyed each other a moment more. I jumped as my father chuckled. “And you could not refuse.” He guessed. Terran smiled thinly.
“Something like that.” He admitted. I made a face at him. He sighed. “General, here is the truth. I love your daughter. I wanted her.” He went a little red here but plowed on bravely, considering my father’s raised eyebrows. He was on dangerous ground. “I honor her and respect her. I did not touch La- the princess.” Terran’s eyes flicked to mine, an apology. I smiled and he relaxed a little.
“I swear it, General. I did not touch the princess or your daughter. Until we were married, that is.”
“It’s true, papa.” I chimed in. “No matter how I tempted him.”
“Alea!” they exclaimed together.
I laughed, jubilant and excited. My joy kept bubbling up, filling the void where my despair and grief had been. “There was no other way, papa. We set things right, giving her to Gulin. It was what needed to happen. They are happy, I suppose. They deserve each other.”
“Alea,” Terran chided, taking my hand.
“What?” I demanded. “Who cares about them?”
“Alea.” He said again, sternly. I pressed my lips together and glared at him.
My father started laughing.
“What?” I snapped, blushing a little.
“Nothing, little songbird,” he said. “That is simply the first time I’ve ever seen you obey a man other than me.”
I went scarlet. I could feel my cheeks burning. “Shut up.” I said crossly. Terran pulled me closer, wrapping his arm around me. He pressed a kiss to my red forehead.
“General, do I have your permission to marry your daughter?”
“Yes,” my father said, still grinning. “My permission and my blessing.”
Terran shook his hand. “Thank you. I will make her happy.”
“You’d better,” the older man answered knowing look. “Trust me, she is like her mother in that respect.”
I jerked free as Terran laughed and marched out, leaving the men laughing behind met. I heard Terran’s steps behind me and broke into a run. He caught me as I went through my bedroom door, whirling me through the air.
21 June, 2011
So, the penultimate chapter. Exciting! Now I have to start thinking of what to do next. Enjoy!
I was aware when Terran got out of bed the next morning. I heard him go to the door and talk with someone there. He came back and dressed, pressing a kiss to my face. I remembered him leaving for a long while and coming back, sitting next to the bed and watching me sleep.
I wasn’t sleeping. It was if my body and my mind had separated, my consciousness watching the world dully as my body lay exhausted and drained. The months, nearly the year since I had first loved him had taken everything from me. Now that I had my every want, my every wish fulfilled, I could do nothing but lie senseless.
Terran stood and leaned over me to shake me gently.
“Alea,” he called, his voice distant. “Alea, you must wake up now.”
I climbed out of the deep, dark place where I had lain motionless for so long. I blinked, my head swimming as I looked up at him and yet down at him, too.
“Alea,” he said, brushing my face with his fingers. “Wake up, my love.”
I gasped, wrenching my thoughts back into my body.
“Terran.” I said.
“Yes,” he smiled at me. “Who else would it be? You are in my bed, as it were.”
I sat up, my head aching. “What time is it?”
“Nearly noon.” He answered, sitting next to me. “How are you feeling?”
“Bad,” I admitted, rubbing my temple. “I’m sore.”
His grin was mischievous. “I am sorry.”
I blushed, pulling the blankets up to my chin. “Not like that,” I spat at him.
He only grinned some more and coaxed me out of the bed.
“We are needed in the city,” he said, growing serious.
I nodded, already weary just thinking of the work I had to do today. “I need to bathe, then I will take you.”
A blushing man had the bathing room prepared and fled at my nod. Terran stayed. I tried not to feel self-conscious. He pulled me to him once I was dressed.
“You are beautiful.” He said. “Never doubt it, Alea.”
I nodded, ducking my eyes. “Thank you, Terran.”
The rest of the day and the next few were mindless blurs of work. Washing linens in scalding water, feeding those too sick to help themselves, checking children for symptoms. Wrapping the bodies of the dead in clean cotton and preparing them for burning.
Terran was welcomed back with tears and grateful prayers. He and Gulin helped their father with the management of the resources.
When Terran went to a neighboring city to oversee the humanitarian operations there, I went with, no matter how Lahdel begged me to stay.
“She is coming with me, your highness.” Terran said firmly. “You have other attendants. Alea is my wife and will stay with me.”
Lahdel gaped at him. I knew Terran didn’t mean to be cruel, but his stern tone pressed her down, miserable. She had never been his wife, not really. He hadn’t wanted her.
“I will be back soon,” I assured her. “You will be well again and you can help with the others.”
She watched us leave with bright eyes, Gulin standing by her, his face stony. He and Terran did not speak unless it was directly related to the crisis.
“Will you not forgive him?” I asked as our carriage drove away.
“No.” Terran said shortly, staring out the window.
“I will not forgive his betrayal, Alea.”
“You did not love her.”
“I know.” He said, soft but still firm. “But what if I had? What if it had been you? It does not matter who it was. It matters that he would dare, even with your princess.”
I had to smile. True to his word, he never spoke Lahdel’s name. “I would never have betrayed you.” I said.
He turned to look at me, surprised. “I know.” He lifted my hand and kissed my palm. I turned his hand over in mine, tracing the scar along his own palm.
“Did it hurt?” I asked.
“Not as much as the thought of you with him.” He said after a long moment of silence.
“Why did you speak to me the next day?”
“I did?” he frowned.
“I asked if you thought I was frightening or handsome.”
His fingers clenched around mine.
I went on. “Why did you always ask me to sing? To dance? Even when we knew we could never be alone, you kept seeking me out.”
“I couldn’t let you go.” He admitted. “It was the only way I could have you. That I could touch you. And…I was testing myself.”
“Why?” I demanded. “Tormenting, is more like it.”
“I had to see if I would break, if I would do what Gulin did.” He dropped his eyes. “I wanted to.”
“Me, too.” I said. “Does that mean we are wicked? That our thoughts betray our true intentions?”
“I cannot help what I dream.” Terran said, more to himself than me.
“What did you dream?” I asked, tense. He looked up to me again.
“You will despise me.”
“I dreamed of killing her.” I said flatly. “And of having you.”
He flinched, telling me I was not alone. “I…sometimes, I…” He shuddered and wouldn’t say anymore for a long while.
The smell of pyres welcomed us to the city. No cheers for Terran’s return, but they were grateful. They were just too tired and sick to do anything but survive.
I watched Terran closely for signs of the infection himself. He refused to rest, working sometimes for two full days without sleep. He would fall asleep where he stood, me herding him to a bed, snuggling down to rest a few hours.
We helped in the fields. I truly was a brown as common laborer now. I rolled up my skirts and sleeves, working until my hands bled and calloused over. Terran kissed each place the hoe or plow had cut me every morning. They never hurt.
Shouts roused us from a fitful sleep. Terran sat up, glaring at the door.
“What?” he snarled. The door flew open and a guardsman rushed in.
“Your highness, Lady Alea,” he panted. “Riot. At the granaries!”
Terran was out of bed and dressing in an instant.
“Stay here,” he commanded me. I ignored him, pulling on a pair of loose trousers and boots and running in his wake. He pulled me to his horse and we thundered down the road.
A low mumble was all I heard at first, then the pounding of feet and shouting. Terran and the guardsmen formed a wedge and plowed through the milling crowd until they broke through. Guardsmen with drawn weapons held the mob at bay, protecting the precious food supply inside the graneries.
Terran jumped down, glowering at the crowd.
“What is the meaning of this!” His voice crackled through the air, echoing back harshly. The front rows eased back, astonished to find themselves confronted with their crown prince and heir. He continued, seething with rage. “What do you here?”
The crowd shifted, restless, sullen shouts of defiance from far in the shadows.
“You want the grain?” Terran demanded. “What will you do with it? Eat it? Spoil it? Sell it to one another, grasping and greedy for gold? Gold that will be worthless when you’re dead from fever. You there!” He pointed at a man cowering in the front row.
“What good will gold and grain do you when your child is vomiting blood?” Terran’s monologue sliced ruthlessly through the crowd, silencing them. “And when you’ve killed the guardsmen doing their duty, what next? You’ll turn on each other? On the few doctors and nurses still able to treat you? But don’t worry, you’ll die with a full belly. And you can watch from hell as your women and children starve this winter, blood pouring from their eyes as the fever takes them down one by one.”
He jumped up the steps, throwing the doors open wide.
“You want the grain? Take it! Come on, take it! You want gold?” He dug a hand in his pocket and flung the coins there out over the crowd. I heard them hit the ground, ringing. “How is this going to help heal your families? You have enough to eat. You have enough gold and possessions. Go home, you sneaking, cowardly dogs, and do what you should be doing! Helping us! Helping me. Make your choice! Take it or go!”
I waited, holding my breath. Terran stood alone between the guards and the mob. They could take him down, trample him before I could get to his side.
One of the men in front took a step back, half turning away. Suddenly, they were all turning, running back, dropping torches and fleeing into the darkness.
Terran spoke with the guards once the streets were empty. I sat shivering, the reins loose in my hands.
I started, looking down at Terran. He mounted, settling down behind me. He wrapped an arm around my waist and clucked to the horse, leading it back to our room in one of the manor houses.
We passed into a deeper shadow and Terran stopped. He dropped his head to my shoulder, squeezing me tight.
“You were magnificent.” I whispered. He was shaking, reaction to the stress. I kicked the horse and it went automatically. I gently took the reins from him and led it back to the house.
None of the citizens would meet Terran’s eyes for days after that. Before we moved onto the next city, he spoke a few moments with the minister in charge. The man shook Terran’s hand, bowing repeatedly.
“What did you tell him?” I asked as Terran climbed into the carriage.
Terran only shrugged and settled back, his eyes closed.
The next weeks were the same. As the sickness swept through the cities, moving out from the capital, we followed it. It surged a few times, then died away. Fewer and fewer were infected, then hardly any died. Then only the weakest were sick and they recovered quickly.
I stared at the border. A line of soldiers from the other side stood a half mile back from the actual gate, bows strung and ready to shoot anyone who tried to break through. Bodies littered the ground, in various states of decay.
I clenched my fists.
“Cowards!” I screamed at them. “Filthy cowards! See if we come to your aid when you need it most!”
I picked a rock off the ground and hurled it. It bounced, coming to rest about half way across the no-man’s land.
Terran closed his hand around my arm when I made to throw another.
“Come.” He said. “We need to return to my father.”
I went, crying brokenly.
The king was not pleased to see me. Now that the crisis was eased, he could absorb the full import of Terran’s actions.
“You have broken the treaty.” He snapped at his son.
“Yes.” Terran said evenly, not budging an inch. “But there is no way to annul either marriage now. Gulin knew the princess even before I left. That ended our marriage. What they were planning to tell you, I do not know. Probably that it was mine, as they have pretended until now.”
“No.” Terran snarled. “No. No. No.”
I sat trying to be invisible as they stormed at each other. Terran finally lost his temper and marched out, dragging me along with him.
The queen was a little more understanding. She had known that something was wrong between Lahdel and her eldest son, just not what.
“If you will be happy,” she said, sounding insultingly doubtful. I bristled. I knew well enough my blood was not as noble as Lahdel’s, that I was not as pretty and brown and haggard besides. I did not need her to tell me.
Especially because Lahdel was as beautiful as ever. She was healthy again, strong. She had stayed the palace, for fear of a relapse risking her child, even though the plague had been wiped out in the palace city since spring, everyone susceptible to it dead or recovered. Her child was the child of a prince. The wrong prince, but still royal.
“How dull it has been without you.” She exclaimed when I walked in to see her. “How tired you look! And look at your hands! You’re as brown as a field-worker!”
She looked up at me with her perfect smile, her perfect white cheeks and her perfect deep blue eyes sparkling, sharing our old private joke. The last of my jealousy flashed, making my vision red.
My hand burned as it smacked her cheek, snapping her head around. She clapped her hand to it, gaping at me, tears already spilling. I turned and left. Gulin could comfort her; that was what he was best at.
Terran was delegating out food stores when I found him. He looked at my face and nodded to his assistants. “Leave us.” They hurried out, muttering over their orders.
“What is it?” Terran asked.
I went to him and pressed against him. “I hate Lahdel!”
He stroked my hair. “No, you don’t.”
“You were best friends, my dearest. Closer than sisters.”
“Not anymore! The selfish brat! I hate her!”
Terran held me close as I cried.
“What did the princess say?” he asked.
“She said I was brown and coarse!”
“You are.” He grabbed my hand before I could slap him, too. He kissed it. “I would not have you any other way.” He turned it over and kissed my palm, my wrist. “And after a winter nestled in my bed, you will be as soft and fair as spring time. Just in time to go out and soak up as much sun as you want, all over again.”
I had to smile; he was being ridiculous. “I cannot spend an entire winter in your bed.”
His eyes flashed, a look I knew well. “Want to bet, my dearest?”