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AU dabbles. What might happen if Sumina were born in Zeravell? And a few other things.
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YavannaSumina   1y ago

One could say it started when Sumina was five, and the young Prince of Volaire, Royland, was seven. That was when Royland Vondien and Sumina Liaren first laid eyes on each other. Like all of the highborn children at the time, they were forced to socialize and dance. She giggled at the way the little prince ran around with a careless disregard of the rules, and got into fights with the other boys. She was too shy then to approach him. This was all so new to her.

But things really took off the next year at their second meeting, the second annual ball Sumina attended. The snow colored elf girl technically had noble blood, but was so minor in her home of Zeravell that it wouldn’t have mattered much. Except that at five, her talents were discovered. She and her entire family were brought up from obscurity to one of the most important families in Zeravell. The King of Zeravell extended her and her family every honor and courtesy, including invitations to the annual celebrations held with the royalty and nobility of all nearby nations. She had a great future ahead of her, they were sure. Even more sure after the ball when she was six.

It was held in Zeravell, and the children overheard the adults speaking of several animals being held to show off on the final day before being moved to Zeravell’s menagerie. There had been quite a bit of back and forth about it among the children, with some eagerly insisting on wanting to sneak away and see them early and others afraid and wanting to stay.

In the end several of the children slipped away, including Royland and Sumina. The children managed to open the cage of a tigress and her three cubs. The tigress at first seemed threatened, and some of the children were afraid, but Sumina went forward and soothed the large cat, and then played with her and the cubs, one of which was white. Snow colored like Sumina herself, who had white hair and pale blue eyes.

When the adults arrived the tigress again felt threatened and roared. They feared for the children’s safety. It looked like there would be some bloodbath, a tragedy unfolding before them, but instead it looked like a miracle. Little Sumina calmed the tigress again, and everything ended well, with the children back safe and the tigers in their cage.

For many years after there was talk of how Lady Sumina, the Snow blessed child, had stood and calmed the tigress easily. Royland never quite forgot this moment, and it was still on his mind often in the years that followed. It was the night where he realized she was anything but a normal, boring girl.
Yavanna     1y ago

Sumina was willing to tag along with Royland on his little excursions. They’d go out and get into trouble for sneaking away and finding some mischief. Some of the plans were Royland’s, some were Sumina’s. Royland’s tended towards pranks and mischief, while Sumina’s plans on the whole were more innocent, but could get quite messy.

One of Royland’s schemes was to sneak bugs into people’s rooms, which Sumina objected to the entire time but followed behind him anyway. It wasn’t like he listened to her, but she tried. They got caught, of course, and scolded. Sumina’s brothers beat him up for ‘corrupting’ their baby sister. Sumina ended up healing them all while muttering to herself about ‘Stupid boys’.

Healing was Sumina’s chosen path of magic. In Zeravell magic was not uncommon, most people could use some, with even some humans able to pick up runecrafting. Even among such a magical society Sumina had been picked out as special. She was more powerful than average, and most interestingly she was discovered to have no elemental affinity at age five. That meant unlike others who could only use up to three elements she could freely manipulate all six. She had chosen to learn healing rather than a discipline involved in fighting. She frequently got to practice on her brothers when they got into scrapes with each other, for which they were quite grateful.

Later on after the banquet Sumina asked Royland, looking almost comically wide eyed, if he’d ever put bugs in her bed. When he denied it she smiled and asked if that was because they were friends. A very embarrassed Royland agreed that they were friends, though he didn’t know why the question made him blush so much.
Yavanna     1y ago

One year was more dramatic than usual. When Zeravell’s delegation arrived at the castle in Volaire they learned Prince Vondien was bedridden. Sumina was dismayed to hear he was not accepting any visitors, and would most likely miss the entire event.

That was completely unacceptable to young Sumina. If he was bedridden then she would help him, or at least visit him. She was getting pretty good at the healing she was learning, even if the training itself was sometimes awful. This was the whole reason she studied so hard, to help people who needed it. So at the first opportunity when all the adults were busy she slipped away and carefully made her way to Royland’s room. It didn’t matter what anyone said, she was determined to see him.

It definitely had the air of being the room of someone unwell. But it didn’t smell like sickness. Sumina covered her nose, the too familiar scent of blood hanging heavy around her as she entered. Royland was there, unmoving, laying on his stomach on the bed. Sumina approached cautiously. There were bandages over his back, dark red in places where the blood had soaked through. It painted a terrible picture for her about just how bad the wound was, going from one shoulder down to the opposite hip.

“Royland?” Her voice was soft, as was the hand she placed on his head.

He turned his head to look at her, something that clearly pained him,”Sumina? How…?”

“Shhh. Let me. How did this happen?” He didn’t answer, but Sumina got to work anyway, removing the bandages. She inhaled sharply when she saw how bad it really was.

“That bad?” Royland croaked. He looked… well, pitiful, but Sumina could see the anger in his eyes. The injury made him furious. That or the person who had inflicted it. The wound had nearly broken his body, but his spirit was as strong as ever.

“Not for long. Hold still.” It took her a little while to get the whole, long gash closed properly. Either due to it healing partially on its own or her inexperience it left a pretty nasty looking scar. “Does that feel better? Sorry I couldn’t… do more.”

Royland pushed himself up. Aside from some lingering tenderness the pain was gone. He looked to the young healer with some astonishment,”Yeah. Loads. It’s great. Uh, t-thanks.”

Just like that his ‘punishment’ was over. Sumina was blushing and looking at the fresh bandages set aside for later that wouldn’t be needed now. Really anywhere but at the prince in front of her,”I’m glad. I guess this means you can come to the ball. So um, you should get dressed.”

Then it was Royland’s turn to blush and stammer out that he would, and he’d see her later. She left the room and Royland reached back to feel the new scar on his back. Like the tigers when they were little, she just kept doing amazing things. All while seeming to think nothing of it, like miracles came naturally to her. Maybe they did. Everyone in Zeravell kept saying how she was blessed by the Goddess of Snow, even more than the usual snow colored person.

Harrenhal, and Davin, were furious that Royland hadn’t been made to suffer through the long recovery as they planned, but now that he was well it wasn’t as though he could be prevented from attending. And while they suspected the party responsible, they couldn’t lay a finger on her about it. Zeravell would swiftly come to the girl’s defense, she was only doing her duty as she understood it, training to be a healer. With her elemental affinity and snow coloration she’d already been considered quite blessed, and her decision to become a healer was seen as auspicious. In fact, her healing held some implication of holding the blessing of divine will. To oppose it would invite the wrath of the Followers of the Sky. So they grit their teeth and Royland came to the banquet that very night.

At the banquet Sumina convinced Royland to sneak out after they were supposed to be in bed to go to the kitchen with her. So after dark the two snuck into the kitchens of Volaire castle like a pair of thieves.

They made quite a mess. Sumina had gotten most of her ingredients out but when it came to the flour she had a little trouble. She tried to lift an unusually large bag, and when Royland helped it burst open and covered them both in flour. Sumina had giggled about how his hair looked as white as hers now. She’d really been quite delighted despite the setback.

She had only just started sweeping when a servant had wandered in unable to sleep and looking to make a cup of tea. Instead she found the pair in the kitchen, and started scolding them. She roused others, and they both got a lecture about sneaking around and about appropriate behavior. It didn’t really bother her, she had a lovely memory to look back on, and in fact she snuck to the kitchen the very next night with Royland. Even after just getting in trouble for that same thing he found himself unable to say no when she pleaded for him to please come and taste test her cookies. He didn’t even like cookies particularly, but he found himself sitting in the castle kitchen watching her bake.

She was having fun, which made it worth it to him. She got her slightly misshapen cookies in the oven and sat on the table to talk. They ended up so lost in their conversation that the cookies ended up baking a little too long. Sumina sheepishly offered him the slightly burnt cookies. That worried but hopeful look was impossible to disappoint, so he took the cookies and insisted they were actually pretty good. She knew he was lying, but appreciated it anyway. The tea she made to go with the cookies was much better, and she knew he wasn’t lying about liking that when he complimented it.

The evidence of her baking was impossible to hide despite her attempt at cleaning up. The lecture the next day about ignoring the previous lecture and making a mess in the kitchen again was worth it. That late night cooking adventure and sitting to have tea and talk in the middle of the night was priceless to Sumina. All sorts of things had come up, from their studies to little adventures, to worries about the duties they would each bear in the future. Even as young as she was, much was expected of her as a healer due to the fact that she was seen as divinely blessed, and she expressed her doubts about it all. She didn’t [i feel] particularly divine or anything, though she supposed there wasn’t a way for her to tell the difference. She even learned a little detail about his injury. He didn’t say much, just that it was Davin’s doing. And his training would be hard, but he was determined to be a knight. He didn’t want to be some prince or king sitting around doing nothing. Sumina offered to send him teas that would help him relax or sleep better, and gave encouraging words about his desire to become a knight.

That was the first year Sumina noticed that Royland refused to dance. Well, he accepted only one invitation. When she had shyly asked if he’d dance with her, half sure he’d turn her down too, he’d accepted. Sumina was clearly happy about that during the dance. Sure enough, some weeks later a letter arrived for Royland from Sumina, and it included a little package with tea that was supposed to help with fatigue. It was the first of many care packages of tea and medicine she would send over the years, encouraging him with his training as a knight. Some days the training, and Davin, were so brutal he had little to fall back on at night besides a cup of tea and reading over Sumina’s letters again.

When he’d shared the tea with his three closest friends after a tough beating from Davin they had teased him. They had asked if she was his betrothed, and what else was going on. He insisted they were just friends, and threatened to not let them have any more tea. That had changed their tune a little, and they begged him to let them have some again. They all swore Sumina’s tea worked, so Royland wrote that his friends enjoyed her tea as well, and the next package included quite a bit more of it. In her letter Sumina expressed that she was glad that not only was he enjoying it, but sharing it with friends, and wished them all the best in their training. And then the teasing continued, about how sweet it was for Royland’s future wife to send them tea as well.
Yavanna     1y ago

There was the time Sumina tried to ‘improve’ the garden in Madej. Her conspirators that time included Royland, of course, but also Princess Lily of Madej. They ended up covered in some dirt and had mainly succeeded in making a mess and accidentally growing some weeds to abnormal size using Sumina’s magic. Later that same trip Sumina had yet another idea in the garden.

The Prince of Zeravell was usually only involved in some schemes when they were Sumina’s idea. He’d joined in this time when she insisted all of them should compete in climbing trees, though the garden had yet to fully recover from her earlier attempt at gardening. She’d practiced and said she was getting really good. Princess Lily declined and said she’d watch, as did the young Princes of Zeravell, Sionia. Prince Iolas of Zeravell was originally going to decline, hoping to discourage Sumina from climbing, but when Prince Royland boasted that he would beat all of them Iolas had snapped that he was the best in Zeravell and no one was going to beat him.

It was perhaps the first moment of real rivalry between the two. Because at that moment Sumina wished them both luck, and they exchanged a look. Neither of them wanted to lose with [i her] watching, though the boys would never have said so out loud.

Iolas scrambled up a tree first, determined to get as high as he could. Royland was next. While Iolas had climbed high he hadn’t taken any real risks, but Royland did, determined to win. Sumina gasped at several points, as did Lily. They were nervous watching, and relieved when Royland’s feet touched the ground again. Iolas had a sour look because Royland had beaten him. Then Sumina took her turn, climbed up until she realized she was too short to get as high as the boys had, and then got scared and couldn’t get down.

Iolas and Lily had run for help, leaving Royland to coax Sumina out of the tree. She initially was reluctant to move. “What if I fall?”

She was scared. Royland tried to reassure her,”I’ll catch you. Come on, I’m sure you can get down. You got up alright.”

“... Alright.” Sumina slowly made her way down, until nearly the lowest branch. That was when she slipped and fell. As promised, Royland caught her. They fell in a heap together, and Sumina found herself almost nose to nose with him once she’d gotten over the momentary disorientation. He looked just as surprised as she felt,”Ah… t-thank you.”

Quite embarrassed she climbed off him and thanked him again before going to pick some flowers. Royland went with her, and just had to ask,”You said you were getting better. Do you fall a lot?”

Sumina had to rather sheepishly answer,”Umm, yes. I even broke my arm once. It’s just all my brothers can, so… I want to too.”

“You don’t have to do what they do. You can do your own thing.” Royland’s answer had made her smile. Maybe he was even right. By the time her brothers arrived with the others she was quite happily weaving a flower crown and showing Royland what she was doing. This was something her brothers never bothered to do, which she enjoyed. Besides, they were all fighters of some kind or other and she had her sights set on healing already.
Yavanna     1y ago

When her brothers and Royland met there was often a fight. This time was no different, with them deciding Royland was at least partly to blame for not talking Sumina out of it. Royland had hid behind her, or tried to this time, claiming he hadn’t done anything and the stupid tree climbing wasn’t even his idea. When the flower crown got trampled in the horseplay Sumina had burst into tears, and ran off. Her brothers couldn’t find her, but Royland eventually did, bringing some flowers with him.

It was like she had a little storm cloud over her. Sumina was curled up with her knees against her chest by a wall, and under a bush. The leaves hid her but the branches made for a little hollow space she could occupy. Royland made his way in and offered her the flowers, noting the furious little pout that accompanied her frown,”I promise I won’t step on them. But you have to not cry anymore.”

She looked up at him with a slightly pitiful look and wide eyes he swore looked impossibly big, and impossibly adorable,”Do you mean ever or just today? Because I can’t promise ever.”

It was hard not to laugh at the earnest question. She was still looking at him, and he held the flowers out to her,”Just today is fine.”

The way her eyes lit up and the smile that spread over her face made his own cheeks feel warm despite the coolness of the shade,”Here, go on and take them.”

He was a little embarrassed, but it worked. It cheered her up, and her brothers shot Royland dirty looks when both of them showed up that evening wearing flower crowns Sumina had made. How could he have said no when she’d presented him with one too?

The other boys picked on him a little for it, but Royland gave even more attitude than he got. When Iolas had joined in the teasing Royland went right for what he knew would shut the Prince of Zeravell up,”Would you have turned her down? Maybe I should let her know you wouldn’t appreciate a gift like this from her.”

That got Iolas sputtering that he would accept such a gift,”O-of course I would accept! From Lady Sumina it would be an honor!”

“One she graced me with and not you, it would seem.” As humiliating as it had been initially, Royland was enjoying turning the tables on Iolas. It was worth it to watch the other Prince squirm and backtrack. The fact was that Iolas was jealous.

The rivalry with Prince Iolas only worsened after that year. Having so clearly lost the competition to Royland in more than one sense of it he tried to make it a point of commenting on how close he and Sumina were at every opportunity, trying to make Royland feel jealous instead. Sumina agreed that he was like a [i brother] to her, but that didn’t stop Iolas from boasting, nor from Royland intentionally driving Iolas mad as often as he could. By the end of the festivities that year he’d managed to half convince Iolas that he was actually growing shorter. Something for which Sumina had gently chided Royland for, while trying very hard not to laugh herself because Iolas [i had] looked rather ridiculous trying to wear taller shoes and style his hair to seem taller.

There were rumors circulating already that Royland wasn’t a good dancer. He never seemed interested in dancing with anyone, and Sumina was the only one to coax a dance out of him each year. She didn’t seem to mind dancing with him, but she had a reputation for being sweet and being willing to dance with anyone who asked. She was probably just being nice, they assumed. In truth she thought he was a wonderful dancer and looked forward to their annual dances as much as their little antics year after year. In fact, more and more when they danced she found herself lost in those vibrant blue eyes. Royland found that it was nearly impossible to refuse requests from her, he was as drawn to her as she was to him.
Yavanna     1y ago

Sumina wondered a little if it was her fault. The year Prince Iolas had briefly styled his hair straight up to appear taller she’d made an offhand comment that it reminded her of a chicken. Now it seemed several of the boys had taken to calling him ‘chicken boy’, and the young healer was left to ponder if it was because of what she’d said or if someone had independently come to the same conclusion about the short lived hairstyle.

Iolas wasn’t pleased about it, regardless of how it started. He tried not to react to it, but he’d get red in the face or puff up and insist on not being called that. Sumina soothed his bruised pride as much as she could, insisting that it would pass and they were all just being ridiculous.

Things got worse before they got better. At some point while they were in Volaire Sumina was enjoying some tea with other young ladies when Iolas stormed through, coming in from the gardens in a rage. He was quite a sight and had the ladies all staring with wide eyes as he passed through and disappeared around a corner. He’d dripped a trail of honey and feathers behind him, having apparently been covered with the sticky substance and then feathers thrown on while he’d been shirtless outside.

Some of the boys came in after, one holding Iolas’s missing shirt and sprinting around the corner to catch up. The ones staggering behind, including Royland and his friends, were laughing.

“Did you see Chicken Boy run?” The boys were laughing, and some of the girls were joining in.

Sumina was not amused. She stood up and crossed her arms,”That isn’t funny.”

“Oh come on. It is sort of funny. He looks like a chicken. Like before, you know?” Bernier insisted. He was one of the boys from a minor noble house in Madej, and was constantly looking for approval from the others.

His argument didn’t persuade Sumina in the slightest,”It was a mean prank. You all should be ashamed, ganging up on him like that.” The young healer was looking at their reactions, trying to figure out which one was responsible for the idea of honey and feathers.

It didn’t surprise her when eyes and head subtly shifted to Royland. But there was disappointment in her face when her eyes met his, and that made his smile falter. He’d been laughing with the rest of them, but somehow her disappointment was worse than if she was just angry. Sumina knew Royland and Iolas drove each other mad, and Iolas wasn’t really blameless, but this was too far.

When Sumina turned and marched out of the room, toward where Iolas had disappeared earlier, the room fell silent. She’d made it awkward, and wasn’t even there to enjoy the way the boys all deflated. The girls were watching what the boys would do now. For a moment they were all staring a little dumbfounded by the healer’s abrupt exit. Then Bernier muttered,”Must not like people picking on her future husband.”

If looks could kill Bernier would be dead from the glare Royland was giving. Sensing that the prince was about to lose his temper Walter intervened and tugged Royland back toward the door,”Let’s go back outside. We’re interrupting tea time.”
Yavanna     1y ago

“They are not engaged!” Royland was furious, but thankfully for all involved his three closest friends were the only ones to witness it. They’d gotten him outside, and then easily enough separated from the group to let the prince pace back and forth over a section of the garden around the corner from where the other boys had gone back to sparring. Royland’s sparring partner was the tree, which left him with bloodied knuckles after he’d landed several blows. “Why would anyone think that? Would she really marry [i him]? And why was she so mad? It was a joke! Iolas is an ass.”

Rather unhelpfully Alain interjected,”They’re both Elves. And by all accounts she spends a lot of time in Zeravell’s royal palace. She’s close with him.”

More than one murderous look was directed at Alain. Sirius tried to soothe the raging temper,”Lady Sumina hasn’t shown any interest. They’re just jumping to conclusions. And girls are weird about pranks. And she is a girl.”

“Right. Just baseless assumptions. Besides, Lady Sumina’s always counted Prince Iolas as more of a brother, hasn’t she? That’s why she’s so protective.” Walter was another calming voice, trying to avoid an outburst of the prince’s violent temper.

Royland had resumed his pacing,”I can’t stand him. He [i deserved] that. Why doesn’t she...” Royland trailed off, frustrated, and landed a kick on the tree that was the target of his abuse before turning back toward the castle wall.

The three knights exchanged looks, wondering what to say next. Then Alain shrugged,”She’s being unreasonable. It was just some fun.”

Walter, ever the most sensible of the group, suggested gently,”Maybe you should talk to her. Ask what she thinks. Since it’s bothering you so much.”

“I am not that bothered!” Royland shouted, stopping midway between the wall and a tree he’d been working his way back and forth between. His outburst elicited doubtful looks from his friends. The prince rubbed his temple, realizing his objection was fooling no one. Not even himself. That little disapproving look from the elvish girl had worked its way under his skin. “She was pretty upset.”

Lacking in tact Alain stretched his arms up to stretch out,”Why though? I still think it was hilarious. Looked like a half plucked bird running from the chopping block.”

Sirius smacked Alain in the stomach, and Alain folded over in half holding his stomach and cursing Sirius. Sirius ignored him and looked to Royland more seriously,“Not the point. What if she’s still mad at the ball? What if she won’t dance? Would she do that?”

The silence held a palpable aura of stress. It was a well known fact that Royland never danced with anyone but Sumina. A little less well known was the fact that Royland actually enjoyed the annual tradition and looked forward to it every year.

Alain scratched behind his ear,”Well… dance with someone else. What does it matter anyway? You aren’t betrothed yet. You should enjoy all the ladies lining up for you. Not all of us are so lucky.”

Royland turned his head and resumed his pacing,”No. I won’t. What if she… gets the wrong idea?”

“What idea?” Sirius prompted. The hint of red on Royland’s cheeks and the way he avoided eye contact spoke volumes about his thoughts on the matter.

It was all they got about his thoughts, because he stayed tight lipped about it after that. At that point he just paced back to the wall and kicked it with his boot,”I’m not...” He wasn’t dancing with anyone else, and he wasn’t apologizing either. Iolas could rot in the Abyss for all he cared.
Yavanna     1y ago

It wasn’t hard for Sumina to find him. Royland was right where she expected him, sitting almost hidden in shadows. He’d taken a spot on the ground, against the wall of a balcony. Almost tucked in the corner near the castle wall so he’d be invisible to anyone passing by.

He looked over and Sumina looked away, up at the crescent moon overhead. He stared for a long moment at her while she quite deliberately kept her gaze averted. The young healer looked almost like a spirit in the moonlight, like she might fade at any moment. Still present was a subtle little pout which indicated she was not inclined to speak first, even though she’d sought him out.

The prince let out a sigh. He wouldn’t apologize. Iolas had spent dinner keeping Sumina at his side, practically hiding behind her. All the while giving Royland smug looks when he thought Sumina wasn’t watching. The little snake was rubbing it in that Sumina was spending time with him, but it was because she felt sorry for him. That was all it was, wasn’t it?

Royland wasn’t inclined to speak first either, and so the quiet of the evening settled over them as they both looked to the stars. They didn’t really need to speak though. After several moments Sumina went over to where Royland was and sat down next to him. She didn’t ask, and he didn’t object. He wouldn’t say it, but her presence was a comfort to him. The fact that she had come to him calmed his inner turmoil more than anything else that day.

Her head came to rest on his shoulder and finally she broke the tense silence,”You’ll catch cold out here. You don’t even have a blanket. Come have some tea.”

“Not yet.” She hadn’t immediately chewed him out over his prank on Iolas. Somehow that made him feel more guilty. That disappointed look from earlier seemed like a knife she’d stuck him with earlier and was now slowly twisting. How was it she managed to have that effect on him?

She could sense his discomfort. He was on edge, waiting. Of course it was about Iolas, but what specifically was on his mind? She sat up straighter and looked at him, considering. “Is it because I said he looked like a chicken? Is it my fault?”

“What?” Her question at first didn’t make sense. Then he remembered that when Iolas had styled his hair up when he thought he was getting shorter Sumina had compared it to a chicken while scolding him over it. She thought this was [i her] fault? Now he felt worse about this. She shouldn’t be blaming [i herself] because he and his friends were playing a dumb prank on that stuck up prince. “No. No, it’s not that. It’s just…”

He trailed off, looking at Sumina at first and then away. Iolas always tried to monopolize Sumina, and Royland hated it. But he couldn’t just tell her that. Sumina stared at him for a long moment. It was an awkward silence. Sumina was trying to read him, to figure out what was going on in his head. She could tell this had something to do with her. Iolas had practically said as much earlier while she was trying to help him clean up. She seemed to be at the root of why Royland and Iolas seemed so set on fighting. She was old enough to have some inkling of why that might be, but she certainly didn’t want to ask about it. No, she’d avoid asking and just try to keep some peace between them. She laid her head back on his shoulder,”You’re impossible, Royland. Please don’t do it again. I had to comb his hair, and he was so annoyingly… Nevermind. Anyway, I’m supposed to get a familiar of my own soon. I’ve been wondering what to use for my mark.”

“Huh? Oh.” The change in subject was sudden, but welcome. Somehow it felt like she’d quietly forgiven him for whatever it was she was mad about. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but he was glad things seemed to be back to normal. The tradition she mentioned was one Royland was only vaguely familiar with. His father wasn’t fond of ties with the Elvish kingdom of Zeravell, and saw to it Royland’s education only included the bare minimum deemed necessary for diplomacy. Anything extra he knew generally came from Sumina and her patient explanations of her culture. He [i wanted] to ask what she found annoying about Iolas, but a moment of thought led him to the conclusion that he might not like the questions [i she] might ask in return if he brought the Prince of Zeravell up again. With things more normal between them, he didn’t want to unbalance things and get her frustrated again. Or even worse, have her try and probe into the reasons why Iolas got on his nerves so much. “I thought you would have it figured out by now.”

Sumina made a discontented hum and frowned,”I couldn’t decide. It’s supposed to be a part of me. Something meaningful. But nothing I can think of feels [i right]. Vaeril’s are feathers in the wind, and that suits him and his familiars pretty perfectly. But I don’t know what to expect for me, and everyone is just so worked up about it.” Sumina shifted and looked at Royland, or at least what she could see of him in the moonlight,”I even found out people are taking [i bets] on what I’ll get. Or if I’ll fail.”

“You won’t fail.” Royland sounded confident about it. There was no doubt in his mind that she would continue to amaze people. She’d been doing it since they were both little. “When do you fail at anything?”

“Climbing trees.”

Royland laughed,”Well, you are pretty bad at that. Ow.” She’d dug her elbow into his ribs a little, but not very hard. He was still smiling, and he could just make out the amused twinkle in her eyes,”But this isn’t climbing trees. You’ll be fine.”

“I suppose… but my mark.” Sumina was watching him again with that thoughtful expression. She was looking at him like she might find her answer in him. “Royland, what kind of mark would you get? If you could get one.”

“Me? I don’t know.” He didn’t have a clue. The thought had never occurred to him before since having a familiar was impossible for him. A permanent mark, part of the summoner and the pact with the familiar. Royland gave it some thought for her sake and looked up to the stars. He answered somewhat impulsively,”A star. Maybe. I really don’t know though.”

“A star? Why a star?” Her question was innocent enough, but Royland still hesitated to answer. Sumina seemed to be leaning closer, interested in his answer. Too close, and Royland started to babble in an attempt to fill the space.

“Well, um… Even on a dark night they’re a constant light. Always there when I go looking. The same constellations. They’re comforting like… uh…” The reason stars came to mind wasn’t just because they were outside stargazing. He’d often read, or reread, her letters and looked out at the stars with her letters in hand. She and the stars were both a balm after difficult days. He could look at the night sky from anywhere and find some peace thinking how they were under the same stars. Even on the darkest of nights they shone for him, and even when shrouded or hidden he knew they were there. The stars reminded him of her, and she reminded him of the stars in a way he found completely impossible to articulate even if he wanted to. And staring at her expectant gaze he found his mouth going dry. He couldn’t possibly tell her anything like [i that]. “Uh… I mean, aren’t they… nice?”

Damn it, what was wrong with him? All those lessons, learning how to speak in any situation, to any person, and with [i her] every bit of it vanished from his head as if he’d never learned a thing. Fortunately she didn’t seem to think he was an idiot, or at least she didn’t comment on it. She just smiled and looked up at the night sky,”They are nice. Now, really, we should go inside. I’m cold."
Yavanna     1y ago

The next year Royland was surprised to see a blue star on Sumina’s chest. Seven pointed, and perfectly centered below her collarbone. It looked no larger than her palm, but everyone who hadn’t seen it was commenting on it as she stood greeting everyone arriving in Zeravell, her family standing with the other noble families alongside the royal family. She’d mentioned her new familiar, Albion, in a letter. He was apparently a white, fluffy cat and she loved him to pieces, but she hadn’t mentioned her mark.

A blush and a slightly bashful smile when Sumina looked towards him told Royland all he needed to for the moment, and he felt his own face heating to an impressive red. She’d chosen that mark because of [i him]. Royland wasn’t sure what that meant in her culture, but it felt significant.

He didn’t have long to ponder it, because behind Sumina and her brothers was Iolas, and Royland couldn’t help but laugh. Iolas held his head high and tried to ignore the snickering while formal greetings were exchanged. No one dared say anything openly yet, but he was aware of all the looks directed at him. He was shaved bald, and did not want to talk about it.

Royland only learned what that was about later on, after supper. The courtyard was a cheerfully warm spot in the chilly night, guarded against the cold and dark by several fires and lanterns. As was his habit, he took a walk outside away from the continued mingling and socializing, and as was her habit Sumina joined him. Once the two were out of earshot of those lingering in the lantern lit courtyard he couldn’t contain his curiosity. “What happened to Iolas?”

Sumina covered her mouth with her hand and looked away,”Oh. That. He lost a bet.”

“Really? What kind of bet?” Royland was now intensely curious, and also silently cursing himself for not thinking of doing that himself. He’d have to try and goad Iolas into some ridiculous bet later.

There was a little twinkle of mischief in Sumina’s eyes when she looked back at him, her mouth still covered, though it didn’t entirely hide her smile,”He was betting that my familiar would be at least as large as a hunting dog. Albion is much smaller.”

“I see. Just bad luck?” He was grinning, having already guessed her answer even before she started giggling.

“Not exactly. I deliberately wanted a smaller familiar. Would you like to meet him? Albion.” Then between her and Royland several whisps of black smoke curled around as a little white cat materialized. He was a very fluffy cat, and his snow white fur was only broken up by pale gray patches on his face, ears, paws, and tail. He looked up at Royland with startlingly blue eyes and considered the prince for a moment before meowing.

“[+darkgreen [i From the way you spoke about him I expected… more.]]” The words were not spoken aloud, instead they were only to Sumina. The way a familiar and their summoner could communicate was beyond simple words, a familiar was audible only in that way a voice inside one's own head is heard.

Sumina picked him up and scratched his chin,”Shush. Albion, this is Royland. Royland, this is my familiar, Albion. He’s glad to meet you, really.”

The way the cat stared at him made Royland wonder if it was really true. The cat seemed to be sizing him up in a way that made him uncomfortable. His eyes wandered for what must have been the thousandth time that day to the blue seven pointed star just under her collarbone. Did Albion know? Who knew about his conversation with Sumina? What, exactly, was she trying to communicate by choosing [i that] mark? He couldn’t ask, so he looked away again. Instead he asked something else,”So, when did you learn about that bet?”

“A few days before the ceremony. Here, we better go back, it’s really cold tonight.” They had looped back toward the courtyard, and the warm glow of the lanterns reached them. “How are things going with your training? And… fighting? I know there’s been some. Were you…?” Had he been involved in the battles she’d heard scraps of news about? She knew he had been in the past. His father was still expanding the territory of his kingdom. Something which those in Zeravell muttered about unhappily, but so long as the targets of King Harrenhal Vondien were not in this little loose alliance it was tolerated. As long as Zeravell, Madej, Arouet, and their territories were safe none of them were willing to reprimand Volaire. Especially since Arouet had also been acquiring smaller islands near itself that had previously been independent, or semi-independent.

Royland stopped and looked at her. She seemed to be worried, and he hated to make her worry. “It’s all fine. You know, everyone loves your tea. Walter keeps asking what’s in it, but I don’t have a clue.”

Sumina’s smile was welcome, and he was glad to have sidestepped answering anything specific about fighting. “If he’s curious, he should ask me. I’d be happy to explain. Again.” Sumina bumped her arm against his, laughing,”You really weren’t paying any attention, were you?”

“I was! I just don’t remember which herbs are which…” Truthfully, she’d been much more interesting than the herbs. He didn’t much care about herbs, but he was quite happy to listen to her enthusiastic explanations on what each type did and how she mixed them.

Their conversation was cut short when Tarron brusquely demanded Sumina’s attention,”Mina, [+darkgreen mama] is looking for you. Says Madej’s delegation is arriving tomorrow and she wants help with something girly.” The frown directed at Royland was impossible to miss.

Sumina poked her brother’s forehead in response,”I’ll go help, but don’t forget [+darkgreen papa] asked [i you] to help with the decorations. You still owe me for doing it and not telling him [i I] was the one who did it. [+darkgreen So be nice.]”

Tarron rolled his eyes at her as she walked away. Then he gave Royland another frown,”I can’t say I’m surprised Madej held up their end first. It’s really just a race to the bottom with you Vondiens and Chatilles. At least the Strides can be decent.”

Tarron left without elaborating, leaving Royland wondering what, exactly, he was unaware of this time. His father must have [i again] deigned that some piece of information wasn’t important for Royland to know. Naturally it would have something to do with the Elves, he loathed his son’s interest in the magically inclined people with pointed ears.
Yavanna     1y ago

“What agreement has Madej upheld and we haven’t?” The question was hissed quietly to the elderly King Vondien. His son tried to look demanding and fierce, but as far as the King was concerned the boy was a pale imitation of himself. A little pup pretending to be a grown wolf.

He wasn’t inclined to answer to a yapping whelp. “It isn’t your concern. What you should be concerned about is how much time you’re spending with that Liaren girl. She may prove useful one day, but you’re of an age to find a bride. Chatille has a daughter near your age.”

“Not interested. Tell me about the agreement.”

That stare was that cold, hard, Vondien look he had inherited. It made Davin clench his fist. “You heard His Majesty.”

That harsh look swiveled to him, and Davin met it with a steely look of his own. He was personal guard to the King for longer than the boy had been alive, and had almost been a second father to him, in that both of them had been equally awful to him and quick to dole out punishments. “I deserve to know. Apparently everyone knows but me.”

“You deserve nothing.” The King’s words were harsh. His tone was icy,”You will know what I want you to know. You will do what I want you to do. Including when I tell you to distance yourself from that lowly Liaren girl.”

“An ember’s chance in the Abyss. I’ll spend time with who I want.” Royland turned and left, but that was not the true end of the conversation. That would come later, after the evening’s chitchat was over. In the meantime he had done as he said he would and spent the rest of the evening near Sumina, watching as she showed off a very pleased Albion who enjoyed the attention he received. As for her mark, when anyone asked she only gave variations of the same, vague answer and it made his ears burn. All she’d say was that she thought stars were nice.

Once everyone had wandered toward their rooms it was easy for Davin to catch Royland and hold him back,”Your father is not done speaking with you.” His grip on Royland’s arm was tight, and he forcefully pulled the young prince.

Royland was not a small child anymore, and he pulled back,”I’m done. If all he wants to do is tell me who to spend my time with then I have nothing to say.”

The crack of Davin’s hand against his cheek seemed loud to him, but no one came running. His blood was starting to boil, but he just stared at the knight with that same burning hatred he always had when he was being punished. Harrenhal was walking toward them at a leisurely pace, having sent Davin ahead. “Are you ready to listen now? If you want to be treated like a proper Prince then you must act as though you’re a proper Prince and not just some mongrel here because of my goodness and generosity.”

“Then go on and bring in that proper Prince to replace me. Or am I stuck here because you couldn’t even sire one more bastard?” Royland was defiant and stubborn, traits he’d inherited from his father. Traits that more often than not seemed to stoke the temper of the old King. Royland knew immediately he’d hit a sore spot, he’d overstepped and it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

He hit Royland first with an open palm, and then when Royland just looked back fiercely his cheek was met with a closed fist. Blood spilled from a split lip, and seemed to bring the King back to his senses somewhat. This was not the place for this. “Be more cautious with your words. You need more discipline, boy. Distance yourself from that elvish girl. You’ll thank me for it later.”

The old man shook his hand and motioned for his guard to follow as they left,”Quite a fall you took. Best watch your step.”

Royland was in his room, stewing in his frustration. His friends were all here, but had been kept busy and then had understandably gone to bed long before he had gone to stomp through his room with his fingers pressed to his bleeding lip. How dare they try to dictate who he was friends with? Keep him away from Sumina? Staying away from her was unthinkable. It was impossible.

Sumina was at his door. There was a soft little knock that made him freeze in place and he wondered for a moment if he'd imagined it. He went to the door anyway, and Sumina was standing there with a tray stacked with a teapot, tea cups, and some bowl covered with a towel. The tray was balanced on a stack of folded blankets. “Sumina? What are…?”

“Come have tea with me?” He still looked shocked, so Sumina went on, her cheeks reddening,”I know it’s late, and it’s cold. But I thought it would be nice, and you actually made it in time. But ah, if you’re… tired… What happened? Are you alright?” Her expression had turned to concern, and Royland belatedly covered his lip with his hand, though the bruise forming on his cheek was too large to hide.

“Yeah. I… fell.” He hated to lie, but he didn’t want to tell her the truth either. Davin or his father striking him was a common occurrence, but she didn’t need to know every incident. Very few people knew at all, they assumed the bruises and cuts were from training. Most were, but it had never accounted for all of them. “Let’s go. I’ll get the tray.”

He had averted his gaze and paused a second too long for Sumina to fall for it. She knew him too well. Which also meant she knew he didn’t want to talk about it yet. Her smile was soft, as was the hand she placed on his elbow briefly,”I’m glad you’re here.”

Royland had been furious, a bubbling pot of resentment and anger ready to steam and stew all night. To find some task to throw himself at until the early hours of the morning in some vain attempt to quell his frustration. Nothing would have worked, he had tried it all. Yet she had soothed him so easily. By the time they arrived at the destination she had in mind he was content.

Sumina led them out into the sprawling gardens. The gardens of the palace of Zeravell were so expansive it made the castle feel almost isolated, though in reality it was at the heart of a thriving city. The primarily Elvish population of the kingdom had a cultural passion for gardening and green spaces that made even their cities feel welcoming and almost wild to Royland. They went past a grove of trees and to an area left flat and grassy. Albion had followed almost soundlessly, but as soon as the blanket was spread out he was quick to hop on to find a comfortable place for himself.

Once the three of them were situated Sumina proudly uncovered the bowl to reveal some very strangely shaped scones. They were quite clearly her handiwork and not something she’d had the cooks whip up for her. Royland took one while she poured the tea and gave her an inquisitive look,”How much trouble are you going to be in?”

“I had permission!” Sumina insisted. She set the teapot down after pouring their cups then looked at him. She made a motion for him to go on and try it,”Well? How is it?”

He smiled at her impatience and took a bite of the treat. Cinnamon, with hints of other things. Spiced, and not too sweet. “It’s good. You’re getting better.” Sweets still weren’t his favorite thing, but seemed to be her favorite thing to make. He always humored her on the rare occasions she managed to sneak one of her cooking attempts to him.

“I’ve been practicing. Not much, but I can usually get a bit of practice whenever I’m home. They don’t mind me using the kitchen there.” She was staring at the cut on his lip. After a moment she made a decision and scooted around the edge of the tray to sit closer and slowly reached out to lay her fingers over the cut and to rest her palm over the bruise,”I hate when they do this to you.”

A handful of Elvish words from her marked the healing of the wounds, though Royland could scarcely hear it over the thundering rush of blood. The beat of his heart was like a massive drum in his chest. Her fingers were soft, and they lingered light as a feather over his lips and cheek. Their eyes met and both of them were frozen. There was something almost electric there, an anticipation, and both unconsciously held their breaths. Albion meowed and Sumina moved her hand back, a blush spreading over her face. She acted as though he hadn’t said anything. There was no way she could tell Royland what her familiar had said, that he’d told her to kiss him already. The moment had been shattered, but her heart was still racing,”They shouldn’t keep hurting you. It isn’t right.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Royland was used to it. He looked away and felt along his lower lip with one finger. He didn’t even feel a scar, though he could almost swear he still felt the warmth from her hand.

“It does matter! I don’t like when you’re hurt. Someone should really tell them off one of these days. I could. I’ll make them stop. I won’t let them hurt you.” She was getting worked up over it. Royland looked back at her and sighed.

Sumina was one of the few who knew how his father treated him behind closed doors. She had kept quiet about it at his request. Besides, even if everyone knew what good would it do? No one would be ready to jump in the middle of a familial dispute and risk delicate political alliances. “It will be fine. You don’t have to.” Royaland assured her and picked up one of the extra folded blankets. He shook it open and then draped it over Sumina, right over her head, and smirked,”You look cold. So, why’d you drag us out here instead of the kitchens anyway?”

“Hey!” Sumina pulled the blanket back, though she kept it loosely around her shoulders. It [i was] cold. She had an unserious pout for him before she explained,”Look up. I wanted you to see.”

And so they both looked up to the sky where the familiar constellations were accompanied by more lights streaking across the sky. “Oh. Wow.” Shooting stars. She had brought him here to show him this. Royland lowered his gaze to her, specifically the star just barely visible. “It… it’s nice. Thanks.”

He was looking up again when she looked at him. “I’m glad you like it.” Sumina liked seeing him when no one else was watching. Among the group he was guarded, polite, stern, and there was a certain coldness. When he was alone with her though he would drop his guard. She could see wonder in his eyes, and he had the most charming smile she’d ever seen. He was softer and kinder when he wasn’t under the watchful eyes of his father. Sumina tossed one side of the blanket over his shoulder, over his chest, and pulled him down,”You’ll hurt your neck. Come here, you look cold now.”

It took a little adjusting, but they laid there side by side under the blanket to watch the stars streak across the sky. Albion wandered to Sumina’s side and laid down,”[+darkgreen [i I see now. This boy is more than he looks. As are you.]]”

Sumina turned her head toward her familiar. Royland’s hand found hers and she paused. Was he worried she’d leave? Sumina settled back and called Albion back. Just a few more minutes would be fine. Sumina squeezed his hand, both of them content to enjoy the moment. She was starting to feel sleepy when Royland roused her and muttered that they shouldn’t sleep out here. They wandered back with Royland dropping Sumina and the supplies off at her room, with him insisting he could find his own way back and teasing that they couldn’t have her falling asleep in a hallway again. A reference to a childhood incident where once she had snuck out for some reason she’d never divulged but gotten lost in an unfamiliar castle and was found the next morning asleep against a wall in a hallway. She had insisted she knew her way around perfectly well now, but did allow him to take her to her room and bid him good night.
Yavanna     1y ago

The next day brought more excitement than Royland had thought. He knew his father would know how his lip healed, so the quiet moodiness while he and Davin were displeased but unable to act was entirely expected. They very well knew Sumina was untouchable, especially here in her home of Zeravell, and the fact that they couldn’t stop her from doing as she pleased always frustrated the old King. Royland also knew the Madeji delegation would arrive today.

The extra people accompanying the usual faces were unexpected. Trailing near the back there was a human woman with an elvish man at her side. She had black hair and big brown eyes, while his hair was a vibrant violet with matching eyes. Just behind them was a teenage girl, elvish in appearance, with black hair and purple eyes. She was introduced as their daughter, Lyrei Valrelei. Lady Valrelei, the human woman, was the heir to an area of Madej which she had been forced out of when she had married an Elf. Her family, the Marsdens, had pushed her away, denying her birthright as the only still living child of the previous Lord. Now under an agreement King Stride had made with Zeravell he had reinstated Lady Valrelei as the Lady of the land and ensured that the young Lyrei would be the next Lady Valrelei. The Marsden family, or what was left of them, were now forced out and at the mercy of the woman they had shunned years ago.

Attending to Lord Valrelei was a man with bright red hair, walking with a noticeable limp. Standing beside him was a teenage boy with the same bright hair. Apparently despite the limp the man was a guard to the couple, while his son was expected to look after Lyrei, and as such they would be accompanying the Valrelei family almost everywhere with the same privileges private guards of any noble house were afforded.

That all was interesting enough to Royland, but none of it really concerned him the same way the younger redhead did. His name was Castien Inakas, and from the moment he saw Sumina he hadn’t taken his eyes off her. Royland did not like the way the boy looked at Sumina. He was so focused on that he didn’t notice the way Lyrei’s attention shifted to him after she learned he was a prince.

Sumina was delighted to see Lily, and just as happy to welcome Lyrei. She didn’t seem to pay much mind to the attention on her from the redhead, for which Royland felt relief in the moment. He went along with Iolas and the other boys to show Castien around, since Sumina and Sionia were entertaining all the ladies arriving from Madej, offering them tea, baths, and a chance to freshen up before the evening.

Naturally Iolas’s shaved head was hard to ignore, but Castien had enough tact to not directly ask Iolas about his lack of hair. What he did was learn the story later from some other boys while Iolas was busy. He also wheedled as much information as he could get about Sumina.

“Lady Sumina is wonderful.” One of the Elvish boys was happy to oblige,”She’s the most talented healer in our generation. Lady Sumina’s clearly been blessed by Arelia. She’s also so kind, and thoughtful, and [i beautiful].”

“Lady Sumina is indeed divinely blessed, a true child of Alethela. She will be the greatest Queen or Divine Nightingale Zeravell has seen. Whichever path she is drawn to, I know it will bring greatness.” Iolas had naturally inserted himself into the conversation. Whenever it concerned Sumina he always seemed interested in the conversations,”It will be an honor for me to witness it at her side.”

“Oh?” Castien had raised his eyebrows,”Then you are her betrothed?”

“Well, not officially yet.” Iolas admitted, looking just a touch sheepish for getting ahead of himself,”Lady Sumina has expressed that she’s not interested in engagement yet. She’s very devoted to her work, which I fully support. It would be a waste for such a talented healer to not use her abilities.”

Castien smirked,”Then [+darkgreen the most beautiful blossom] is still available. I have a chance.”

“Wh-what? I highly doubt Sumina would… She’s far too… I mean, it’s [i practically] arranged… Once we’re older...” Iolas was stuttering.

Royland might have found it more satisfying to see Iolas floundering if Castien didn’t have such a smug look on his face,”But no promises. She’s still unattached, and I intend to pursue her.”

It was impossible for Royland to not snort at that. “You’ll need luck.” He hadn’t really meant to take part in the conversation, the comment had just come out.

Castien was grinning as he walked away, muttering,”Well, when my competition is just a plucked bird…” The redhead thought he had no real competition. If she was so devoted to her work then he would just slip in as the perfect distraction and win her over.
Yavanna     1y ago

Castien scarcely took his eyes from Sumina when she was in the same room as him, and after the meal he wasted little time in going to introduce himself to her. It was clear enough that he had a little more competition than Prince Iolas, but none of them seemed to be a real threat. She didn’t appear to give any of the hopeful suitors any special attention, though Iolas was the biggest threat by virtue of his title and stated desire for her. How many women would turn down the chance to be a Queen? When he reached her he bowed his head, and when he held out his hand for her he brought her hand up to kiss it as soon as she placed her hand in his,”I am delighted to finally speak with you myself. May I have a dance?”

Sumina laughed,”But there’s no music.”

“Ah, but my heart sings to behold your beauty. That is all the music I need.”

“You are quite silly.” Sumina was smiling, her head tilted. She was trying to decide what she thought of him. He was a new face at these gatherings, and she still remembered how nervous she had been the first few times she attended as a child and how invaluable it was to have a friend. She didn’t think she could have gotten so comfortable so quickly without someone like Royland willing to befriend her. She decided she’d do her best to help him and Lyrei feel welcome,”If you like, though I may look as silly as you, dancing to no music.”

“If you notice the lack of music at all, then I’m a poorer dancer than I’d like to think. Here, like this. Just follow my lead. Perhaps you’ll hear the song in my heart as well.” Castien pulled her in and guided her along steps to imaginary music. It got attention, and put a bit of a spotlight on the pair since no one else in the courtyard was dancing.

The healer was giving her dance partner a lopsided smile. The sweet words flowed a little too easily. He was quite comfortable throwing around compliments and affection,”You are a lovely dancer, but I hear no music.”

“Ah, then just a little longer [+darkgreen my sweet flower]. I’m sure you’ll hear it any moment.” Castien insisted, quite pleased to have her all to himself even for a short while, away from any competition.

“You say that to all the ladies, don’t you? I can tell, you know.” Sumina had this knowing look. She’d seen through him, and lying would do him little good.

So he didn’t quite lie. “But I have never meant it more. There is simply something about you.”

More laughter from her,”You are quite the persistent charmer. What am I going to do with you?”

“I have a few ideas…” The redhead offered suggestively, drawing out another round of giggles from the snow blessed healer.

Sumina seemed to be having fun by all appearances, meanwhile Iolas wasn’t the only one with a sour look on his face. Royland was also not pleased to see the redhead making good on his intentions toward Sumina. Sirius nudged the prince’s elbow,”Go on. Just ask her to dance too.”

“Are you stupid? There’s no music. He’ll look like an idiot.” Alain grumbled under his breath.

“That didn’t stop him.” Walter commented. He wasn’t looking at the two dancing, instead he was looking at his friend who was scowling with his arms crossed.

“And she doesn’t seem to mind. So just do it.” Sirius grumbled, almost under his breath.

The prince said nothing. He just switched the target of his glare from the redhead to the old man when he approached, shooing away the other boys with his mere presence. None of the knights Royland had as friends liked to linger whenever the King appeared if they didn’t have to, so they’d bowed and excused themselves, relieved when they were not asked to stay. It left him to deal with his father alone. And Davin, ever at the side of the King he served. Harrenhal put a hand on his son’s shoulder in a mockery of parental affection and Royland pulled himself away. The old King flexed his fingers,”Try to look more pleasant. Arouet’s delegation arrives tomorrow, perhaps the day after. The alliance I am building with them is important.”

“Important enough to share with me? Impressive, since the new nobility in Madej was beneath me.” No one could really hear. They were standing in a corner of the room, away from most of the activity.

Harrenhal gripped Royland’s shoulder again, this time tighter, with a fake smile fixed on his face,”Watch your mouth. That pet elf of yours won’t always be here to patch it up. You want to know about negotiations? Behave like it. Build a rapport with the Princess of Arouet. The future of Volaire will depend on it.”

“Is that so?” Royland tried to move away, but Harrenhal’s grip was like iron. He was strong for a man his age, and Royland could not overpower him without making a scene. He was giving his father a nasty look, irritated with how he talked about Sumina. As if she was below him, or some animal. It took restraint to not start an argument about that, because he knew better than anyone it wouldn’t do any good. His father had no love for Elves. “But do tell, since we’re discussing negotiations. What deal are we biding our time fulfilling that Madej has done their part by installing new nobility?”

The King sneered, his fingers now digging painfully into Royland’s shoulder,”Since you’re so concerned. Elvish nobility in human kingdoms in exchange for favors from Zeravell. King Stride had a convenient little half elf family with a claim he chose. I… am still searching for a suitable appointment and appropriate land.”

“Is that what you’re telling them? Do you intend to hold up your end of the deal at all?” Royland refused to give his father the satisfaction of showing pain at that grip, he just grit his teeth and snapped back. He was curious about the details of this arrangement. For his father and King Chatille to agree to this the favors Zeravell offered would have to be sorely wanted or needed. So what did Zeravell have that his father wanted badly enough to agree to this?

“I said watch your mouth.” Harrenhal snarled, then released him and patted his shoulder, as if their conversation had been friendly. “Remember about Arouet. I’ll deal with Zeravell.”
Yavanna     1y ago

“Damn it. Doesn’t he have anyone else to bother?” Royland muttered to himself. The socializing was dragging on as was traditional. Castien was no longer dancing with Sumina, but he hadn’t left her side. He was doting on her, having brought her a cup of the mild spiced drink served to the delegations to help make the coolness of the evening air more pleasant. It frustrated Royland. What did she see in him that she’d spend the whole evening with him? Was it just because he was new and she was being kind and welcoming?

Castien was keeping her and everyone else gathered around entertained with stories about his life. He had worked in a bakery for a time for his parents, very briefly as he explained baking was not his greatest talent. Up until recently his family, and Lyrei’s, had lived in a small town working to get by. Up until the Marsden titles and lands had been given to the Valrelei branch he had spent his time apprenticing as a merchant since the bakery was not for him. He insisted he was quite good, and would have made a fortune, but duty called and he was here to see to it his friend was safe and happy. He made it all sound quite exciting, and most of the ladies were seemingly quite charmed.

“You’ve known Lady Lyrei a long time then?” Sumina asked. Notably Sumina was interested, but not fawning over him the way some of the ladies were.

“All my life. Our fathers knew each other when they were children. We’ve grown up like two peas in a pod.”

The next question came naturally enough to Sumina,”So, are you two… together?” All of the ladies were listening intently, eyes snapping to Castien. Even if they weren’t personally interested in the charming redhead this would make for juicy gossip.

His laughter was immediate and he shook his head,”No, nothing of the sort. We’re the closest of friends, nothing more.”

“Oh. Have you never considered each other?” Sumina was giving this a lot of thought, and not just about Castien and Lyrei. She and Royland were close, weren’t they? Close friends, certainly. But was there more? Because when Albion had suggested she kiss him Sumina didn’t really [i dislike] the idea. The question was would [i Royland] dislike the idea? She couldn’t just ask him, could she? Had he considered it too? Or was it as Castien and Lyrei were, and he only considered her his good friend?

It was clear enough that she was lost in thought, some train of thought that while he didn’t know the specifics, Castien did know he did not particularly want her mind wandering there because he could tell it wasn’t about him. She’d asked about him, but her mind was on someone else. Castien tilted his head, leaning into Sumina’s personal space until she gave him her full attention, and not an inch farther. It was carefully planned to not make her uncomfortable, but force her attention. As planned Sumina’s eyes met his and he relished the slight surprise on her face as he answered,”No, Lyrei really isn’t my type. She’s lovely, don’t get me wrong. I’ve just never felt that way for her. Not the way I feel about you.”

The laughter his comment elicited from her didn’t discourage him. In fact, Castien smiled as if it was encouraging. Sumina looked around for the others. Where was Royland anyway? She didn’t see him and assumed he must have started on his walk already. “Excuse me.”
Yavanna     1y ago

Royland had gone on his walk, but not as alone as he’d first assumed. He had turned away from the crowd, mostly eager to get away from having to watch Castien falling over himself for Sumina’s attention. What did she find so interesting about him anyway? Having walked off so suddenly he was surprised to not only be followed, but for the voice that called out from just behind him to be distinctly feminine. He paused and turned to see the dark haired half-elf girl from earlier. She was not running to catch up, instead she seemed to be leisurely taking her time to reach him with the expectation that he would stop for her after she called his name.

She wasn’t wrong, and Lyrei held out one of the two drinks she had brought with her to him,”May I join you?”

“If you like.” His answer came off as aloof, and Royland turned away without taking the drink. The two walked in silence for a few moments. The prince was not in a particularly good mood. He was still mulling over what his father had told him, and trying not to obsess over what Sumina was doing right now.

“You’re Royland Vondien, right? There are so many people here it’s hard to keep track of every name.” Lyrei pushed for conversation. The first step was getting him to talk to her.

He wasn’t making it easy. He answered tersely. “I’m accustomed to it. You’ll learn.”

“Ah, and do you have any tips for me?” The fact was Lyrei was not really struggling with names and faces. Despite the smaller town upbringing her mother had always made sure Lyrei was raised as much a proper lady as circumstances allowed. She, and Lyrei’s father, had quickly taken over leadership of their little town thanks to their combined skills in diplomacy, organization, strategy, and a not insignificant amount of charisma. All things they tried to teach their daughter her entire life. No, her feigned struggle was all an excuse to get this Prince to spend a little time with her so she could draw him in.

Royland did pause at that question, standing still to give it a little thought. “Well…”

“There you are.” Sumina was smiling,”And Lady Lyrei. It’s nice to see you again.”

Castien was trailing along behind Sumina, and just as soon as Sumina stopped he draped his arm around her shoulder. “A walk in the moonlight is the perfect end to the evening.” He looked to Lyrei with a knowing smile,”[+darkgreen Two pairs, hm?]”

While Royland didn’t understand the last part Castien’s casual familiarity with Sumina was enough to make him scowl. It relaxed slightly when Sumina brushed Castien’s arm away,”I do enjoy a walk in the evening. I find it helps me relax.”

Royland’s face smoothed over at the touch of Sumina’s hand to his elbow, his frown nearly gone. “You look like you need it.” She looked to the other two and then led Royland down the path,”You can tell me what he said to you later. If you feel like it.”

How did she always know? She was being vague because of the others, but of course she could tell. Royland turned his head away,”Maybe. It isn’t important.”

“If you say so.” Sumina did not sound convinced, she just smiled at him. It was charming and infuriating. As if she could read his mind. “The sky is beautifully clear. Perfect for stargazing.”

“Not nearly as beautiful as you. You outshine all the stars.” Castien had come up on Sumina’s other side and took her hand. Then he brought her hand up to kiss the back of her hand,”As the moon does when it graces the sky. You are breathtaking.”

Sumina gave a half smile that caused the return of Royland’s scowl. Lyrei watched, sipping the drink she had brought for herself. The healer pulled her hand away,”You flirt.” It was accusatory, and yet amused. “Must I beat you back with a broom?”

“I would welcome the chase.” Castien was grinning, not the least bit discouraged.

“Lady Sumina! Lady Sumina!” One of the servants was running toward them. He looked slightly nervous as he bowed his head to Sumina, but kept talking after barely pausing to catch his breath,”I beg your pardon for interrupting. I was told it was urgent and that you were needed right away.”

Suddenly Sumina was much more serious. It was the demeanor of a healer who was now at work. “Of course. Thank you for coming. Please, lead the way.” She took one step then turned to Royland,”You can tell me about those unimportant things later.”

There really wasn’t time for Royland to answer even if he could have thought of something to say. Sumina was gone the next moment, hurrying after the servant with a sense of urgency she rarely possessed.

“Duty calls the Snow Blessed child of Alethela. I do wonder if the rumors are true.” Castien mused, watching Sumina’s retreating figure until she was out of sight.

“What rumors have you heard of her in Madej?” Royland narrowed his eyes at the redhead. He was far too forward with Sumina for Royland’s liking.

Not wanting to be left out of the conversation Lyrei joined in, stepping closer to the Prince. “That the gods favor her, of course. Alethela and Odesis watch over her. She’s to be the next Divine Nightingale.”

Royland’s upper lip twitched slightly. For some reason that idea irritated him. Besides that Sumina had confided in him her own reluctance and how much she felt pressured toward becoming a Nightingale. “Is that so?” It was as polite as he could be, and it was still cold and a little sharp.

Lyrei looked away, unable to maintain eye contact with that intense gaze the Prince possessed. “It’s only what I’ve heard.”

“She’s at least as beautiful as the rumors say.” Castien joined in again, brushing a stray bit of hair from his face,”She’s also supposed to be very talented. Destined for greatness.”

Their eyes met and there was a tense moment before they were interrupted again. “Should’ve come and got us after he left.” Sirius came up grumbling, and eyed Castien. Even he could sense something between the two, but this wasn’t the time to ask. He’d sought out Royland for a reason. “Alain’s started some dumb contest with another guard and Walter is… Well, you better come and see.” There was a half smile of twisted amusement on Sirius’s face that piqued Royland’s curiosity.

“I suppose I better. Good evening, Lady Lyrei. Castien.” Each received a nod from him, with Castien’s noticeably stiffer.

Once he was gone Lyrei looked to Castien and offered him the drink Royland had refused. The redhead took it,”You have your eye on him.”

“And you on Lady Sumina. Planning on running off to become a Paladin? What will I do without you.” She sipped her drink. Her tone wasn’t in any way serious, and Castien scoffed at the joke.

”Perhaps. I might just watch what trouble you get yourself in from the Gilded Palace. You seem to be aiming to become a Queen, so I’m sure I’ll hear news.”

“I did say I was aiming high here.” Lyrei smirked, finishing her drink. "He's a little cold, but I like the look of him."

“Indeed, so you went right for a Prince. We best get back. Your mother will be wondering where you went and I don’t want to get into trouble.”

Lyrei laughed and waved it off, though she did start walking back toward the winding down party,"You won't get into trouble."

"Oh won't I? You didn't hear your father's speech to me. I think he really meant it!"

"Did he threaten to kill you if anything happened to me?"

"Worse! He threatened to cut my beautiful hair!" Castien put the back of his hand to his forehead in feigned distress and Lyrei started laughing.
Yavanna     1y ago

Royland woke in a foul mood and far too tired. He’d half expected Sumina to come again that night once she finished whatever it was she’d been called away for, but the night stretched on with no soft knock at his door. He’d worked himself into some added frustration by almost convincing himself that she might have preferred Castien’s company last night. She’d made a point of wanting to talk to him about his ‘unimportant’ conversation with his father, but had she changed her mind? Or had the redhead been expecting her and diverted her?

He was sulking over breakfast, glaring at his plate as if he’d sooner throw his food than eat it. The other nobility were talking over their meals and making plans for the day. Royland noted Sumina’s absence, and Castien’s presence not far from Lyrei. A glare exchanged between them gave him no additional information.

Guilt and shame took over when Sumina slipped in late with her hair damp and loose. She looked exhausted. Her absentmindedness was plain as day seeing her sprinkle the herbs meant for her toast into her tea. She got a fresh cup only to spill it reaching for the cream. The laughter was quiet, but piercing as she frantically tried to clean the spill, patting her dress as dry as she could. The humans were amused by her clumsiness, but he noticed the Elvish members of the group seemed to be whispering in awe. They weren’t laughing at her, they seemed to be impressed.

Being surrounded by human nobility from Volaire Royland could only watch from afar and wonder what had happened to leave her so befuddled this morning. No one else nearby seemed very interested in Sumina aside from the occasional laughter at her clumsiness, and he was too far to hear what the Elves were whispering about.

It was after that, while Sumina had left to change into something without tea on it, that Royland was able to get near enough to some Elvish nobility to hear them talking.

“Yes, she really does look out of sorts today. I heard she got called away last night.” One of the Elvish ladies was speaking to a boy with some authority, apparently answering some inquiry of his.

“Called away for what?” The noble boy asked.

“Something to do with her being a healer, I think. I hear she’s almost done with her training already. People are already asking for her.”

“She delivered a baby.” The one who interrupted, waltzing over with no small amount of pride was Sumina’s brother, Tarron. The one closest to her in age, only a couple years older. About the same age as Royland, in fact. “Saved mother and child.”

“Oh, Lord Tarron!” The young Lady curtseyed, and Tarron looked so pleased with the attention that Royland just rolled his eyes and walked away. Nothing else useful would be said now, but he had what he needed. Sumina had been hard at work all night long. She had not changed her mind about seeing him, nor did she prefer the company of that insufferable redhead guard. He had been worried over nothing. Not that he’d been worried, Royland told himself he wasn’t worried or bothered, merely curious.
Yavanna     1y ago

Her preference of company was further proven true when Sumina reappeared more put together, and in clean clothes. Most of the young lords and ladies had settled on making themselves at home in one of the conservatories. The glass walls gave a perfect view of the garden itself, and the space had comfortable seating among the many exotic plans sheltered from the winters here. Some sat and played cards, others were made to work on their studies, some entertained themselves with more complex games played with boards or dice. Royland took part in none of it. He remained a little distance away from the main activities, above them in fact.

A spiral staircase wound up to a walkway that allowed access to some higher terraces of more plants and the tops of trees planted below. Royland briefly met the eyes of an Elvish boy up there on the walkway. It was Vaeril, one of Sumina’s brothers. They stared at each other for a moment, and then a red-tailed hawk settled on the railing by Vaeril.

Of Sumina’s four brothers Vaeril was the one Royland fought with the least. Vaeril was less inclined to get into any scuffle at all, in fact. Royland considered him the quiet one, and the least annoying. He looked down, and Royland followed his gaze. Sumina was here now, winding her way through the little cliques. She was searching for someone.

When Castien intercepted her Royland gripped the railing a little tighter. The exchange between the two was brief, but while he couldn’t hear what was said he saw how the redhead fawned over her. He’d tried to take her hand, but Sumina had extracted herself and continued her search. So it wasn’t Castien she was after.

The Prince lost track of Sumina while he watched Castien move on to another group. There he casually took another lady’s hand as he had Sumina’s and kissed the back, by all appearances as flirtatious with this woman as he had been with the healer. Royland huffed.

He couldn’t find Sumina again though, not until she was right by Vaeril. She’d come up another staircase, he supposed. So it was Vaeril she was looking for. Naturally. Royland ignored that tiny bubble of frustration in his chest. He wasn’t disappointed, he told himself. He turned and sat down on one of the stairs. Of course Sumina would want to see her brothers after a long night.

He wasn’t down below, but up here was more likely anyway. Sumina had doubted he would be with the groups down below right now, but maybe he really was and she’d missed him. She only saw Vaeril up here, which didn’t surprise her at all. “[+darkgreen Good morning, Vaeril.]”

“[+darkgreen Good morning to you too. I’m surprised you aren’t asleep, Mina. Have you slept at all?]” Vaeril pet his hawk familiar’s back with two fingers. The hawk half closed his eyes, and Vaeril looked at Sumina out of the corner of his eye. She was dressed, her hair was damp but brushed, and to most people she would seem to have her energy back, but Vaeril knew better. He could see the little bags under her eyes, and he knew where she’d been. There hadn’t been enough time for her to rest properly even if she had laid down at all.

Sumina shook her head and went up to her brother and his familiar. The hawk inched closer to Sumina, holding his head out expectantly for her to pet him, and she obliged,”[+darkgreen No. I’m fine though.]”

“[+darkgreen It was a long night. You shouldn’t neglect your health.]” Vaeril chided gently.

It went ignored by his sister, who just asked the question she’d wanted to ask the moment she saw him,”[+darkgreen Have you seen him? Royland, I mean.]”

With a little nod of his head he indicated the direction he’d seen the prince. His little sister just smiled and started to go that direction along the walkway, but Vaeril called out,”[+darkgreen Mina, you… You shouldn’t spend so much time with him.]”

“[+darkgreen What? Why?]”

“[+darkgreen You’re a young woman now. And he’s… a Vondien.]” Vaeril was trying to phrase it delicately. It still did not go over well.

“[+darkgreen So? I know his family name, Vaeril. And I know how old I am. I’ll spend time with who I like. I’ll see you later.]” She wasn’t interested in hearing any of where that talk was clearly headed. She didn’t want anyone telling her not to spend time with Royland, and she also wasn’t interested in anyone arranging any marriages for her. She also intensely disliked anyone comparing him to his father.
Yavanna     364d ago

He had his back to her when she approached. He turned before she got there, but still looked a little startled to see her smiling down at him. “Finally found you. Move over.”

Royland complied and scooted over a little so Sumina could sit on the step with him, her towards the inner part of the spiral while he sat closer to the outer railing. Sumina tucked her hair behind her ear and then let her hands rest in her lap. Royland was just staring at her. He didn’t speak at first, so she filled the silence,”I meant to find you earlier, but…”

“Yeah.” Royland mumbled. Suddenly he felt so awkward. How had he ever thought she would do anything else? She always spent time with him at these gatherings. “I heard. So you were out all night? What happened?”

The young healer rubbed her hands as though trying to work out an ache in her palms with her thumbs, one hand and then the other, back and forth. The look on her face made him regret asking, it reminded him of a soldier recounting the battlefield, one who did not relish in the thrill and bloodshed. “Well… I… The baby wasn’t… He was stuck, and I had to try to help get things moving. I had to… to…” She looked a little green for a moment,”Well, ah, he’s fine now. I healed the… the uh…” She apparently couldn’t quite spit it out and instead moved on. “But then the mother fainted. The labor took a long time, and I had to watch her for a few hours, trying other things first. Before all that. They made me leave for breakfast, but she should be fine now. They’ll call me if anything happens. I hope… I… I hope I did alright. She wanted me for some reason. I don’t… I…”

The movement of her hands was becoming unbearable so Royland put his hand over hers. She stopped and looked at him. “It’s alright. It sounds like everything is fine now.”

Sumina nodded, holding onto his hand. It was warm and comforting,”I… Right.”

They were both quiet for several moments. Royland rubbed her hand with his thumb, noting the way her shoulders lowered and relaxed when he did. She was tense, and he wanted her to not worry. She seemed so fragile just then.

“I meant to come ask you about what he said to you. It’s still bothering you, isn’t it?” Her voice was soft and she was looking down at their hands. She didn’t need to look up to know he’d tensed at the mention of his father. She could tell he hadn’t slept well either, and assumed that was the reason.

At first Royland clammed up. He didn’t really like talking about his father to anyone, but at the same time he wanted to tell Sumina everything. He let out a sigh before opening up to her,”He made some deal with Zeravell he won’t tell me about. It’s not just him, Lord and Lady Valrelei’s appointment was part of the deal King Stride made, and it sounds like my father and King Chatille are supposed to do something similar. I don’t know what he’s getting in exchange though.”

He left out the part about his father wanting him to cozy up to Arouet’s Princess. It didn’t seem relevant to him that his father was trying to push him towards her. Sumina seemed to have plenty to think about already, so he went quiet, watching as her face twisted in concentration. It was fun to watch at least, he enjoyed seeing that look of intense focus on her face. At the same time he was tempted to distract her, but restrained himself. Finally she spoke,”I can’t think of anything I’ve heard about it. But if it’s a deal with Zeravell… I’ll see what I can find out for you.”

“Thank you.” They shared a smile. Each leaned just a little closer, holding the others hand a little more firmly. A little plot between friends to outwit the adults, the same as always. Or was it still just that? Sumina looked down at their hands again, eyelashes fluttering. Royland leaned in farther,“But Sumina, if you’ve been up all night you should — “

Someone was coming up the stairs. It cut Royland’s thought short and he released Sumina’s hands. They both inched just a little farther away as the other person climbed up and into view. It was Lily coming to find them, and she looked so happy to see them that Sumina smiled,”There you two are! I was hoping we could all go play a game outside.”
Yavanna     361d ago

The pair had agreed to go outside with Lily almost suspiciously quickly, but Lily was oblivious to the hint of embarrassment around the two behind her as they made their way down the stairs. By the time they reached the bottom it had dissipated, and the three wandered together as Lily went from group to group inviting everyone for a game outside. Many politely declined.

Those who accepted were generally from Madej and seeking favor with their princess or from Zeravell and seeking Sumina’s favor, Royland noted. Very few seemed to seek his favor, but he did get his three friends to join, even if he had to almost drag them out.

“You three are coming out with us. Lily wants to play a game.” Royland had simply informed them of what was to happen, his arms crossed.

Lily was busy persuading a nearby group of Madeji nobles to abandon their card game for some fresh air, so she didn’t hear the argument. Sirius and Alain objected almost simultaneously.

“Why do we have to?”

“What’s in it for us?”

Sumina was there, standing behind Royland, and giggled, making the two knights look away ever so slightly ashamed of the outburst. Walter added more politely,”What sort of game?”

“I uh, I didn’t ask.” Royland admitted sheepishly. He’d been in a hurry to accept and not have Lily question what he and Sumina were doing on the staircase. Not that they were doing anything. But still. “Does it matter?”

“Then I ain’t going.” Alain crossed his arms,”Plenty to do in here.”

Sirius snorted,”You weren’t doing anything except staring at women.”

“As if you weren’t looking too.” Alain shot back, making Sirius blush.

Walter looked helplessly at Sumina who was stifling her laughter as she hid behind Royland. “Come on you two, a little fresh air couldn’t hurt.”

“Plenty of air in here.” Alain shot back stubbornly,”You were having fun with us just a moment ago.”

Walter blushed and tried to stammer out a protest but Royland grabbed the front of Alain’s shirt,”I said you’re coming outside. Either a game or a spar, your choice.”

Sumina finally had mercy on them and stepped closer, putting her hands on Royland’s arm. Alain was relieved that his prince relaxed his grip immediately. “No need to fight. I’m sure we’ll make do without them. But.” She turned to the three knights with the sweetest smile,”I’d really like if you joined us.”

That was the moment it was decided. Not a single one could really stand to say no to her. Alain still huffed, but muttered under his breath,”Fine.” Then he brushed Royland’s hand away.

Any further tension was smoothed over when Sumina slipped her hand into the quietly fuming Prince’s now empty fingers,”I wonder what Lily has planned.”

That little yawn she tried to stifle made Royland sigh. He couldn’t stay frustrated anymore, and followed her lead with his knights falling in line behind them. “You should be in bed, Sumina. Regardless of what Lily is planning.”

Everyone had been telling her that. Sumina nudged him with her shoulder as they walked,”I’m fine. You worry too much.”

“If you say so…” His tone indicated that he didn’t really believe her, which got him another bump from her shoulder. He grinned at the way she pouted at him.

Lily had moved on to the next group of Madeji nobles, which included Lyrei. Castien had wandered to his charge’s side. The guard's eyes lit up when he saw Sumina approaching. He brushed several whisps of his burgundy hair from his face and smiled. Royland rolled his eyes.

“Thank you for the invitation, Princess Lily, I…” Lyrei had paused for about half a second as Royland came up behind Lily to stand with the others joining in on the game. Suddenly Lyrei’s answer changed, though most didn’t pick up on it,”I would be delighted to join you.”

With the players all invited the whole group made their way outside. There were quite a few, and Sirius mumbled the question the other knights, Royland, and Sumina were all wondering,”What kind of game are we playing?”

There were too many players for a simple card or board game. Lily looked excited,”Hide and seek, like when we were kids. This might be the last time we all get to play it!” She wasn’t wrong, most of them looked a little self conscious, like they already thought they were too old to be playing,”And since Lady Lyrei hasn’t been able to play with us before I thought it would be a nice way to welcome her. Then she’ll get to talk about playing hide and seek with us.”

It was perhaps childish, but Lyrei looked surprised and touched. This was meant for her? She was glad she hadn’t turned down the invitation now. Despite her overall wariness of the Madeji royal family and nobility after how her parents had been treated she decided Princess Lily was perhaps the exception. She seemed to genuinely want to welcome Lyrei, despite her being a half-elf and her parents only recently appointed a title.

“Who will be it?” One of the noble boys asked the obvious, practical question. He looked to be on the younger side of those gathered and perhaps felt less awkward than most.

“That is a good question. Um.” Lily had not thought this through. “Our new guests shouldn’t be. But perhaps… Oh, I’ll volunteer.” She smiled, pleased with her idea, then covered her eyes with her hands,”Alright now, go and hide, but stay in the gardens! One, two…”

With her counting and no one quite sure what number she’d even decided on there was a bit of a mad scramble to go find a good hiding spot. For a moment they were like little children again, playing as they’d done before.

Sumina released Royland’s hand and ran off, with the three knights taking off as well. Royland was left standing there a moment before he also ran off with the crowd, not sure which way anyone in particular had headed.
Yavanna     354d ago

It wasn’t planned, but there they both were. Sumina had been sitting in a hollow space under some flowering bushes when Royland ducked into the hiding spot. They stared at each other for several long moments. Finally Sumina turned her head away, nose pointed slightly up,”I was here first. We can’t always hide together.”

Royland glanced back. How much longer was Lily going to even be counting? “No time. Come on, scoot over.”

“Hey! Royland.”

“Shhh.” The Prince had pushed his way into the bushes and taken a spot by Sumina. There was some shifting, more hushing, and then it was quiet.

Sumina dug her elbow just a little into Royland’s side lightly,”We’ll both be found.”

“So? Maybe we won’t. Besides, payback because last time you were the one butting into my hiding place.” Royland leaned back against the thicker trunk of the shrub they were hidden in.

“What? I was not. I don’t think…” Barely a few seconds after that Sumina settled in and laid her head on his shoulder, now more or less content sharing her hiding spot with him. “Fine. Teammates then.”

He looked down at her, taking in that blue star that was set just below her collarbone. It was only about the size of her palm but it was incredibly striking. So far he had yet to see her in anything that actually covered it so it was impossible to ignore. “Sumina…”

She shifted to look up at him, and he lost his nerve to ask. Instead he looked away. The pink flowers above were nice. He couldn’t remember what they were called. “Uh… um, what kind of… of flowers are these?”

“[+darkgreen Camellias].” She answered in Elvish without thinking about it, a slightly dreamy look on her face. “Uh, camellias. They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”

“Uh, yeah.” He didn’t know what else to say. He looked back to her and they both went quiet. They both leaned closer, almost imperceptibly. Whatever Sumina had washed with earlier Royland thought smelled nice. His eyes lowered to her mark and he felt his face going red,”Is that because…?”

It took her a moment to catch on to what he meant. At first she looked confused,”The camellias? Oh.” She looked down and saw the now familiar seven pointed star on her chest. Her cheeks flushed and she buried her face against his shoulder, her hair ticking his nose,”Mhmm. What you said really… Um… I… think stars are nice too.”

At first he didn’t say anything. What did she mean by that? The Prince put his arm around the tired healer against him and mumbled something vaguely affirmative. He sat there pondering what it meant that she’d taken what he said into account when choosing her mark. It felt important, but his generally thorough education left him mostly ignorant of Elvish customs due to his father’s own prejudices. Eventually he noticed her breathing had slowed and he guessed she had fallen asleep. He mumbled, knowing she wouldn’t hear,“It really does… suit you. Perfectly.”

Lily found them like that. Sumina asleep on Royland’s shoulder while he looked up at the camellias through the branches. She peeked under,”Aha, I found you! Oh, is Sumina asleep?”

“Yeah. She was up all night.” Royland answered as quietly as he could. Sumina stirred and he froze.

The Madeji Princess smiled,”We’ll let her rest. But you lose.”

Then she was off to find the others. Royland wasn’t sure how many she’d found or how much longer the game would be, but this wasn’t a bad way to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon.

Those playing the game ended up missing lunch, and at that point someone came to get them all. Those still hiding were rounded up, including the two of them.

It seemed like Vaeril had intentionally sought them out rather than generally rounding up those still hidden. His red tailed hawk had preceded him by a minute, taking up a branch up above in the camellias where he peered down at them. Royland and the bird entered into what could only be called a staring contest, though he wasn’t sure if the familiar was actually competing or just watching him. It annoyed him to have to be the first to look away when Vaeril crouched down and made a ‘tsk’ before asking,”How long has she been asleep?”

“An hour or so. Maybe two.” Royland answered simply, making no move to wake her. Now his staring contest was with the hawk’s summoner, but Vaeril seemed to not notice and after a few moments sighed and rubbed his forehead.

“She’s so stubborn. She should have gone to bed. And I suppose that you two are both here is a coincidence? How is it that even now you two still share hiding spots?” The hawk above squawked and hopped down a little lower. Vaeril laughed,”True. You both won’t fit in them all anymore.”

Royland turned his head away from them all,”It just happened. So why are you here anyway? Is the game over?”

Sumina’s brother nodded,”It is. You all missed a meal.” He smirked slightly at the way the Prince tilted his head, as if to shrug but he was too careful of not disturbing Sumina. “Best get her to bed. I’ll take her. King Vondien was looking for you.”

The scowl that crossed Royland’s face at the mention of his father was momentarily fierce enough to make Vaeril lean back slightly. The Prince’s answer was firm,”No, I’ll take her.”

That cold look was difficult to look at, but Vaeril maintained eye contact for several seconds. He concluded there was little point in arguing, it would only defeat the purpose of letting Sumina rest. “[+darkgreen Which of you is more stubborn?] Fine. I’ll get the doors for you. Tanyl, let them know Sumina is going to bed.”

The hawk took off and Vaeril escorted the Prince inside the castle and to Sumina’s room. Vaeril felt little need to chat and was content to walk silently. He did observe the care with which Royland treated the sleeping lady in his arms. The Prince was mindful of stairs, watched her head at doorways and corners, and overall seemed unhurried. More concerned with not waking Sumina than anything else. Without another word exchanged Vaeril opened the door for the Prince and watched from there as Royland brought Sumina to her bed and laid her down.

At that point she did stir. This far and finally her eyes fluttered open briefly, only for her to close them again as her fingers tightened over his sleeve. Royland froze. He waited several heartbeats until she seemed to relax before pulling the blankets over her. She shifted again, and the slightly panicked look on Royland’s face as he made a soft shushing sound made Vaeril crack a smile.

He didn’t think he’d ever seen this boy quite so gentle before. Royland stroked Sumina’s hair as he extracted his arm from her, and Vaeril just barely managed to see that soft expression on the Prince’s face. After a moment he decided he shouldn’t be too surprised, his baby sister had a way of inspiring that kind of adoration in many people. The Prince of Volaire was not the first, nor would he be the last to look at Sumina with such reverence.

It still somewhat irritated Vaeril as an older brother, so when Royland finally made it to the door Vaeril remarked cooly “You two aren’t children anymore.”

“I know that.” Roylaned shot back, his eyes narrowed, as he walked past Vaeril.

“Do you?” A simple question, but a flicker of anger passed over the Prince’s face. Vaeril quietly closed Sumina’s door and continued as if he hadn’t noticed,”Regardless, I believe you should see what your father wants.”
Yavanna     348d ago

What did his father ever want? Whatever it was this time Royland did know [i he] was not wanted in general. Harrenhal Vondien had desired an heir, a son to carry on his name and legacy. He was given Royland as his only child, and he found Royland lacking in almost every way. So Royland wondered what he would be criticized for this time as he made his way to the old King to find out what it was.

King Vondien was waiting impatiently, looking out a window in the library. Whatever he had just said prompted a response from Davin that Royland barely caught as he approached. “Of course. The boy will learn.”

That sort of talk never boded well. The boy was usually him, and whatever lesson these two came up with was never a good thing. He didn’t let any apprehension show and instead announced his presence with a curt,”Yes?”

The old King turned and looked his son over, his upper lip curled in disgust,”You’re filthy. Get yourself cleaned up, we have received word Arouet’s delegation will arrive by supper. I expect you to properly greet their Princess. Volaire must retain strong ties to Arouet.”

More of this Arouet business. Up until now Royland had little to do with Arouet or their business aside from the most basic of pleasantries. He had no desire to become friendly with the likes of King Chatille. “This isn’t Volaire. My presence is not required.”

Strictly speaking only the host country’s royal family was required to greet new arrivals, per custom. Also per custom many others at least sent someone as a token greeting to be polite. It was not a custom Royland had ever really observed. Why change now? His answer displeased the older men. The King took a step closer,”When I say you are to do something, you will do it. Now go wash up and be ready to greet Arouet’s delegation.”

“You can greet Arouet’s delegation if it means so much to you.” Knowing that he was pushing the limit didn’t stop him from saying it. It didn’t surprise him when his father nodded to Davin and the knight’s fist collided with Royland’s stomach. He doubled over, but fixed a defiant glare on Davin.

“You will greet the delegation. Now go, they may arrive at any time.” A wave of the King’s hand dismissed his son. He turned his back to the Prince and grumbled,”Damn familiars of theirs can be useful at times.” It was not uttered in admiration. Rather annoyance, since while they were clearly useful he deeply resented the fact that it was an advantage Elves had over him.

Royland turned and marched away, his hand going to his stomach only after he turned the corner. Damn them and their stupid plans. He was determined to not go greet the delegation. He couldn’t be forced to, not outside of Volaire. It almost didn’t matter what he did as long as it wasn’t what his father wanted.
Yavanna     338d ago

Royland found his three friends eating in the dining hall along with some of the others who had missed a meal while playing. He came up behind Sirius and Alain. Walter had seen him coming since he was sitting opposite the other two. “Ah, there you are. Come sit down, we’ve got enough for you too.”

Sirius turned his head just in time for Royland to put his hand on it. Alain froze when he felt Royland’s hand on his head as well. The Prince gave them a tight grin that did not set any of them at ease,”Come on you three. It’s a nice day, let’s go spar.”

That’ll show his father. Clean up? He’d sooner roll in the dirt. Greeting delegations was boring anyway.

“Wh-what? But we’re eating. Ow!” Sirius had started to object, but Royland tightened his grip on both of their heads and brought them together. He didn’t really slam their heads together, but steadily increased the pressure.

“A spar and some fresh air will do you good. Besides, looks like you’ve had enough to eat.”

“Let go! We were just outside! What’s gotten in to you!?” Alain was almost shouting, which didn’t make the situation any better.

Walter, who could actually see Royland’s face, cleared his throat. “Will you tell us what’s bothering you?”

The Prince released his friends and huffed,”No.” There was a beat and then he added more quietly,”You know how my father is.”

Suddenly it made sense to them. The three exchanged looks, and then Alain stood,”I’m running once that hardass shows up.” Davin was probably going to be fetching them at some point. Alain may or may not actually run when the time came, but his comment made Royland almost crack a smile.

“We’ll see how fast you run when we’re done.” The Prince was teasing.

Or so Alain hoped anyway,”I’ve been practicing, I think you’ll have a harder time.”

The four of them taunted and trash talked on their way out and to the dirt arena where the guards, soldiers, and boys sparred. For the moment it was empty, which suited Royland just fine. “Come on, Sirius. You first.”

“Me?” Sirius looked slightly horrified, but there was little choice but to go along with it and be thoroughly beat by his Prince. Royland didn’t even seem to break a sweat before having Sirius face down in the dirt.

“What has you so worked up? You’re taking this too seriously.” Alain asked, taking a step back when Royland set his sights on him next.

The Prince raised his sword, angled to point above Alain’s head. He didn’t look ready to answer questions with anything but a few strikes with the blunted blade. Alain was instantly forced on the defensive, barely blocking a few hits, taking one on the shoulder, and then he tried to sweep out Royland’s legs from under him. That got him a pommel to his arm. It went hot with pain and then numb. The next blow he blocked, but it sent his sword clattering to the ground. A swift kick brough Alain to the ground too, seeing nothing but the sky. “You aren’t taking it seriously enough. I know you can do better, Alain.”

Walter was watching in worried anticipation because he’d be next. The Prince was showing a ruthless efficiency that came out when he was frustrated. When that icy gaze turned to him Walter’s stomach dropped and he made one last bid to stave off ending up in the dirt like the others,”Something your father said? I-is he… uh, doing something?”

It did make Royland hesitate, took the edge off his anger for a moment. “When isn’t he? Sword up.” That softening didn’t last long, and Walter was disarmed even quicker than Alain and kicked into the dirt.

It went that way for a little while. Each of the knights collected quite a few bruises while the Prince only collected a fraction of the number. When his three friends teamed up against him they could get in some good hits, or when they fought a bit more desperately.

“Get up. One more round.” Royland tapped Alain’s boot with his. All four of the boys had worked up a sweat and were quite dirty by then, which was more or less Royland’s plan. He was feeling pretty pleased with himself for that, which softened his blows slightly.

Not that his friends were very appreciative of his miniscule amount of mercy. “I think you’ve killed me.”

“Not yet, but if you want me to…”

That got Alain scrambling up, which let him see the people approaching behind Royland. “Uh…” He just pointed, then took a couple of steps back. He did not like the look on King Harrenhal Vondien’s face at all. Or Davin’s. That wasn’t where he ended up staring, forgetting his earlier plan to run. Instead Alain was transfixed by the red lips and golden curls of the young woman accompanying the old men. She was about as pretty as the ladies around here came, plus she’d made an effort to accentuate her natural features with make-up, making it impossible not to stare at cherry red lips. It wasn’t as though he’d never seen her around before, but somehow she’d made herself look just a little more distinct. And alluring.

Royland frowned and then turned around. His father, and Arouet’s royal family. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes and instead gave a stiff bow of his head to acknowledge them,”I see you arrived safely. Welcome.”

His eyes fell on the Princess looking especially beautiful and he looked away. He wasn’t sure how to feel. She was gorgeous, but something about it bothered him. She was staring at him, though he decided not to look back. That idea was shot when she curtsied and spoke, so he had to look again. “A pleasure to see you again. I apologize for interrupting, clearly you’re very busy. What I had heard of your skills were not exaggerated. May I watch?”

Royland was inclined to say no and leave. He’d opened his mouth to say as much when his father interrupted,”Of course. Show us what you’ve been practicing. Your practice is so very important.”

It was a dig at him. The father and son stared at each other for a couple of tense seconds. The old King was as cold and unmoving as an iron bar. How far did Royland want to push his father? As it was things would not be pretty once he was alone. The King’s eyes flicked briefly to his friends behind him. It was a subtle, wordless threat. If Royland disobeyed now it wouldn’t be [i him] bearing the brunt of it. To get his friends out relatively unscathed he’d need to play nice for at least a little while.

He sighed and thumped Alain’s back,”Once more. Like you mean it.”

Both boys were already tired, so their match did not last long. Royland beat Alain more gently this time. He figured it would be over then, but Harrenhal clapped his hands while Alain was getting back up,”It’s no good practicing against someone so exhausted. Davin, give the boy a good practice round.”

“As you wish.” Davin nodded and stepped into the dirt ring. He ignored the disgruntled look the Prince was giving him,”Be ready, Your Highness. Sword up.”
Yavanna     336d ago

Davin went easy on him. The fact that he could tell that the older knight was so unconcerned frustrated Royland. He didn’t enjoy being beaten, but he hated a false victory more. If Davin just handed him an easy win he’d be furious.

When the Prince attacked Davin stepped aside or blocked it easily. Annoyingly easily. The older knight made a clearly telegraphed swing at Royland’s shoulder which the Prince blocked, but it had more force in it than he’d anticipated. It almost threw off his balance but he recovered and tried to swing from lower up toward Davin’s belly.

It missed by a fraction of an inch. At least this wouldn’t be too easy of a win, if the old bastard even let him win. Royland grit his teeth and pushed forward, not letting Davin put more distance between them. The distance would only help Davin, who was still a little taller. Royland made a few more attacks, each were blocked or evaded. Finally Davin started a more aggressive series of attacks.

“You’re slower today.” Davin commented, making a sweep toward Royland’s legs.

“I was just sparring for two hours. What were you doing? Licking my father’s boots?” Royland grunted, stumbling a little despite blocking the blow to his legs. He was wearing out and Davin knew it.

His sneer was ugly, and Royland knew the next blow was going to be hard. “You’ll learn to respect your elders.”

That would have hurt if Royland hadn’t moved out of the way. The sword came down where Royland’s head had been. Even if he’d blocked, the way it impacted the dirt told him he’d probably have ended up on his knees. Instead he’d stepped to the side just enough, and got the opening he’d been waiting for. Davin’s anger and serious underestimation of how much energy Royland actually had left him open. Royland brought his sword down diagonally on Davin’s back and kicked his leg out from under him.

The knight fell face first to the ground. Royland tensed for what would come next, but it wasn’t what he expected. There was clapping and he turned his head to see the lovely Princess enthusiastically clapping, but in a dainty way, her fingers of one hand tapping her palm,”That was splendid.”

Davin got to his feet and seemed ready to attack, but a wave from Harrenhal’s hand called him off. “Very good. Now go get cleaned up.”

Royland just stood there for a moment, watching as Davin went back to Harrenhal’s side. He was panting, waiting to see if something else happened. He half expected Davin to charge at him if he turned his back. It wouldn’t have been the first time, and that memory left a bitter taste only to be softened by the more sweet memory of Sumina tending to the wound.

Neither Davin or Harrenhal made another move. Instead Princess Lenoir walked closer,”I look forward to seeing you this evening.” She waved delicately, her eyelashes fluttering. Royland looked away.

“Sure.” He didn’t know what else to say. So he just left to actually get cleaned up and wait for whatever his father and Davin would do to punish him. While he walked back he muttered to his friends,”We better not be late for dinner.”

All three mumbled agreement, and Walter added,”I think their patience is at the limit.”

“I’m surprised we’re not black and blue already. Something feels… weird about the whole thing.” Sirius looked worried, but none of them had any words of reassurance. They could all sense that something was happening behind a curtain they were being kept away from.

It turned out that wasn’t the last he saw of his father before dinner. While he was finishing getting ready after a much needed bath the King knocked and entered after only a brief pause.

“Count yourself lucky that things worked out in our favor this afternoon.” He was in a foul mood, but that wasn’t unusual. Davin silently shut the door behind them and stood there while the King spoke. If the King was upset, Davin looked furious.

“Our favor? What is it we’re working toward here?” Royland was playing dumb now. He had an inkling that there was some hope of a marriage, one he wasn’t interested in.

The feigned ignorance did not go over well. The Prince was adjusting the cuffs of his sleeves when the old King came over and slapped him. He regained his composure after a moment and did not raise his hand again, instead clenching it at his side,”Do not cost us the alliance with Arouet. We must remain on friendly terms.”

“Is friendship all you have in mind?” His cheek was red and stung, but he didn’t want to show it. He was keeping up the appearance of ignorance. It was better than letting them see the sting of tears in his eyes. He went right back to his sleeves and then his collar with a deep frown. Look irritated rather than hurt.

“Don’t be an idiot. Do not insult Princess Lenoir. You must be on close terms with her for the continued good of Volaire. At least you finally cleaned up.” He didn’t look pleased though. He looked over his son as if he were something a cat had dragged in. “More or less. Wear the green instead. We’ll [i discuss] the matter of your obedience later.”

The ‘discussion’ would have relatively few words. Royland knew that from experience. From that glare Davin had been steadily directing his way Royland guessed it was going to drag on quite a bit. In any case, he had a reprieve for the evening, likely so Arouet’s delegation saw him as presentable. How long would that grace extend? Would they build up a list of grievances with him until this gathering was over?

His father and Davin left without further incident, with Royland left to wonder what was going on with the deal with Zeravell and this pressure for an alliance with Arouet. Were they connected or merely coincidence?

With a huff of irritation directed more towards his frustrations over these alliances than his hair which refused to behave he left the room and slammed the door. Sumina had promised to find out what she could for him, and she would come through. She always managed to somehow.

It was almost too obvious what they were trying to do. While King Vondien and King Chatille sat and lightly discussed matters of no importance they had sat their children next to each other. Royland had stubbornly refused to change into his green shirt, and now he knew why. Princess Lenoir was wearing a lovely emerald colored silk dress. In the fashion of Arouet it had a high collar and long sleeves. White lace delicately accented both the sleeve cuffs and the neck, leaving Royland to wonder how it was the lace that extended a little over her hands stayed so pristine while she ate. Her manners were impeccable, and when Royland refused to engage in some idle chatter about the weather she had effortlessly turned to the lady next to her to prattle on about something or other which Royland had little interest in.

He kept sneaking a look every now and then to where Sumina was seated. She’d been given a place next to Iolas, and she was engaged in conversation with the Prince. What were they talking about? Their conversation was animated and lively. Could it be what Royland had asked about?

He felt a light touch against his sleeve and turned. Princess Lenoir was just barely running her fingers down his sleeve,”Prince Royland, I must say that this color really suits you. It brings out your eyes.”

The smile, the way she leaned just a little closer. She was fishing for a compliment, and he obliged. “... Your dress is lovely.” It wasn’t a lie, it was of the finest silk and detailed with beading that must have cost a fortune along the bodice and at the bottom of the skirt. The dress screamed [i expensive], but without being gaudy.

He left it at that and returned to his meal. He was not interested in more conversation. He wanted the meal to be over and to find out what Sumina was able to learn, though it might be too early for results.
Yavanna     335d ago

Sumina had taken her seat by Iolas. If anyone knew all the details accurately it would be Iolas. She couldn’t exactly go snooping to the King and Queen, but Iolas wouldn’t be a problem. First was the inevitable small talk.

“[+darkgreen You look better, Mina. Do you need anything else? You always work so hard.]” Iolas was more concerned for her than his meal, and leaned closer to the healer in training.

“[+darkgreen I’m doing much better, thank you. A little rest is all I needed. I’m sorry to have missed so much of the afternoon.]” The questions she really wanted to ask were on the tip of her tongue, but she needed to ease into the subject. Then she’d find out what she could to relay back to Royland.

“[+darkgreen Not at all. Only a few games, nothing very important. Arouet’s delegation arrived, but nothing else. You know if you need anything at all…]” He reached over and placed his hand over hers.

“[+darkgreen Arouet? Oh, I…]” Sumina had been about to apologize, but burst into giggles when Sionia, Iolas’s sister, interrupted from his other side.

“[+darkgreen I think she’d be embarrassed to be seen with you. Wait until your hair grows back. Or maybe we could grow some moss. It’ll go with the rocks inside.]” Sionia was giving her brother a sour look, and when he glared she stuck her tongue out at him. “[+darkgreen See? She thinks it’s funny. And you deserve it. I can’t believe you were making bets on her familiar.]”

Iolas was turning red, but Sumina cut off the argument by patting his hand,”[+darkgreeen It’ll grow back. I’m not embarrassed about your hair though.]”

The Prince of Zeravell smiled and gently brushed his fingers along Sumina’s hairline,”[+darkgreen You are truly beautiful, inside and out. Unlike some.]” He tilted his head to look back at his sister.

The Princess shrugged,”[+darkgreen At least I didn’t lose all my hair in a dumb bet. Even Mina thinks the bet was dumb.]”

“[+darkgreen What?]” Iolas snapped his head to Sumina and held her hand in both of his, bringing it closer to his chest. He didn’t have to ask out loud if it was true, and Sumina didn’t answer with words. She looked away, uncomfortable. In truth she’d helped ensure that he lost that bet because she did, in fact, think it was dumb.

While Iolas gaped Sumina extracted her hand,”[+darkgreen Perhaps… you could refrain from betting on me like a racehorse in the future.]”

Sionia snorted, and then started cackling. It got the attention of the King and Queen of Zeravell, who shot their children a disapproving glare. Sionia covered her mouth and quieted down her laughter.

Iolas was sputtering,”[+darkgreen Racehorse? I don’t think of you like that.]” Sumina arched an eyebrow which had Iolas blushing,”[+darkgreen Mina, really. I just… you’re so talented and… I… I uh… I’ll be more mindful.]” Under her unwavering gaze he’d finally cracked and lowered his head.

Sionia was trying not to get another look from her parents for her laughter and had both hands over her mouth.

So much for getting information out of Iolas over dinner. Sumina sighed and took a bite,”[+darkgreen Thank you. I’ll take that as an apology.]”
Yavanna     332d ago

That was it for Iolas, but maybe Sionia would know something. Sumina tried to follow her after dinner to the room where after dinner drinks would be served while games were made available. As usual the adults tended to gather to one side and their children the other. Sionia took out a deck of cards and shuffled them while Sumina stood and tried to ask,”[+darkgreen Sionia, I was wondering, what do you know about —]”

Royland’s timing might have been impeccable, except that he had company. As he stopped to greet her and Sionia Princess Lenoir slipped her arm in his and gave the two a delicate wave. Sumina was at a loss for words. Why was this girl suddenly so familiar with Royland? Lenoir just smiled,”Princess Sionia. Lady Sumina. What a pleasure to see you both. I’m afraid I missed you at the greeting, Lady Sumina. I recall you’re usually in attendance.”

It took Sumina a moment, and then she laced her fingers together in front of her,”I’m afraid I had to rest this afternoon. I had a long night. It’s good to see that you arrived safely.”

“Why, whatever were you doing all night?” An innocent enough question, except Lenoir had already heard the rumor and just wanted to put Sumina on the spot.

That was when Sumina clammed up a little. It was subtle, but she went a little pale. When she didn’t answer after several seconds Sionia provided the basic information,”Sumina was delivering a baby.”

“Oh my. That is quite a night. I had forgotten that you do work like that.” Lenoir smiled sweetly,”Is it an Elvish custom to put titled ladies to work delivering children?”

Sionia bristled a little and put an arm protectively around Sumina’s shoulders,“Sumina happens to be a supremely talented healer. When the Gods grant a gift like hers it is an insult to not use it. Mother and child owe their lives to her. Isn’t that right, Mina?”

“I… um.” Sumina was not inclined to boast in general, and recalling this particular incident was unpleasant for her. She didn’t go into details earlier, but Royland had heard and seen enough to get the idea.

So he stepped in, inching a little closer to Sumina with just a small step forward, aware that Lenoir had his arm so he didn’t move far,”She’s very diligent, it’s an admirable quality. Were you ladies about to play a card game?”

The look Sumina gave him communicated her gratitude at the change in subject. She hadn’t liked the direction it was headed and didn’t want to get into details about last night.

Sionia held up the deck,”Did you want in, Prince Vondien?”

Lenoir touched her cheek with one hand,”That sounds delightful, but I was hoping to play another game. Chess, perhaps.”

“Chess?” Sionia shrugged and put the deck back. “If you like. There are four of us, so a tournament style? The winners play each other.”

“That sounds perfect.” Lenoir agreed. Sumina smiled slightly and nodded, while Royland simply didn’t object and took a seat. The boards were in the middle of being set when they had company.

Iolas had returned, a drink in hand for Sumina which he set in front of her,”What are you playing?”

“Chess. Would you like to join?”

“Mina, that makes it an odd number.” Sionia objected. Iolas narrowed his eyes.

“Then I would gladly join to even things out.” Lyrei volunteered. She nodded to each of the royals present, ending with Royland who she tried to maintain eye contact with.

Just behind her, acting as her shadow, Castien stepped closer,”Then I suppose I will merely observe, unless someone else joins.”

Sumina started to stand,”Oh, then you could have my place if you want to play.”

“No no, I would really enjoy watching.” Castien left his post, gravitating to Sumina. He took her hand and kissed her knuckles,”How could I focus on playing with such a beautiful flower in bloom?”

Sionia rolled her eyes,”Sit down and watch, but don’t distract the players.”

Sumina took her seat again after giving Castien a sweet, but awkward, smile,”So who will play who?”

Sionia looked at the tables. Sumina had taken a seat to lay out pieces, as had Royland and Iolas was in the middle of setting up another board. “With only three games, brackets will be hard. There will be three winners in the second round. Castien, can you find someone else to play against, actually?”

Royland stood up,”I can get someone.”

“Perfect. Castien, set up a board. Let me draw up something for who plays who…” Sionia was taking charge and finding what she needed to draw out a proper tournament bracket for their little impromptu chess tournament.

Sumina watched her and laughed,”Would you want to open entries up to everyone? Make it a real tournament?”

“Mina, really…” The Princess of Zeravell frowned at her tournament brackets, trying to decide who would play who first. She wanted to match by skill, but she didn’t know half the players skill levels and she knew there was a big gap in the levels of the ones she did know. “I’m considering drawing lots here already.”

“I’m serious, it might be fun. And you’re halfway there.” She took a sip of the drink Iolas had brought her. “You’re already drawing a tournament bracket.”

“What would the grand prize be anyway? None of us need or want much.” Sionia objected,”We can’t have a bigger tournament with no prize.”

Lenoir had been listening and walked over to them. She gently adjusted her curls and smiled a little like a cat who had caught a mouse,”Perhaps I can help. I have an idea, if I may.”

Sumina listened while Lenoir and Sionia hashed out the details together. They did get some of her input, but she wasn’t entirely sure about it. Sionia insisted it would add a fun twist so Sumina went along with it.
Yavanna     332d ago

Royland returned with his friends to find a full blown tournament being set up. “What happened?” He looked at the tables being set up, and the paper being affixed up so it could display the names of those entered.

His three friends stayed right behind him, but Alain leaned over,”Does this mean we can go?”

Sumina approached, she’d been looking for him,”We’re having a larger tournament now.” She looked a little sheepish,”Would you all like to enter?”

The healer wasn’t the only one on the lookout for him. Lenoir glided over with a smile and touched his arm,”It will be such fun. We even have a prize.”

“What prize?” Royland asked, while all three of his friends' heads perked up. Now they were interested.

Lenoir guided him over to a table,”We’ve decided that tomorrow we could all take an excursion to those Elvish baths, and the winner will have a special surprise.”

The Prince’s eyebrow raised,”What surprise? I’m not sure I’m interested.”

Lenoir leaned a little closer,”Come now, surely the prize isn’t the point. We’re having fun.”

Sumina, however, crossed her arms and decided to disclose at least some of the surprise,”I’m to make a special tea, there’s to be a massage for those who rank high, things like that.”

“And we’re all to carry a chess piece according to our ranking in the tournament. The ‘King’ of the tournament will be the ‘King’ for the day, and the others defer to him, or her, for the day tomorrow. Or anyone who outranks them. The ranks go King, Queen, Nightingale, Knight, and Castle. Not enough brackets for pawns unless we get a lot more players. Not everyone is eager to join, but it’s enough.” The Princess of Zeravell interrupted, grinning. “Are you all joining? Guards and maids are allowed. We need more people anyway.”

“Count me in!” Alain announced loudly.

Sirius also nodded and said he’d join, as did Walter when Alain elbowed him. It left Royland little choice but to ask who he would face first. Lots were drawn to decide the playing order, with numbers on scraps of paper determining where each person was written on Sionia’s chart.

“Do you play chess much, Your Highness?” Castien leaned over the chessboard. His hair fell forward onto the pieces and he carefully pulled it back.

Royland shrugged,”Some.”

Their match was drawn out, more than most of the others. One of the first matches that ended was the one between Sirius and Sumina. It was a brutal match, their skill levels weren’t anywhere near each other. Iolas and Lily had been the only spectators since their game was over even faster since Lily had quite happily forfeited the match when she was pretty sure she would lose.

Iolas arrived to see Sumina missing almost half her pawns, a Nightingale, both Knights, and a Castle. Her Queen was in danger, and he tried to warn her,”Mina, maybe you should —”

“Shhh. It’s a tournament. You can’t help. I’ve got this.” She had so far only captured one pawn. The little black pawn was sitting lonely on her side of the table. She added another pawn to keep him company, but then her Queen joined most of her other pieces.


“Hush, I don’t need your help.” Sumina continued without Iolas’s advice, and Sirius soon had her in checkmate. He’d realized by her reaction the second time he had her in check, that surprised look and desperate search for the way out, that she was not planning an elaborate strategy. All those moves he’d been desperately looking for a deeper meaning in really were her just not thinking of every possible move, and her not actually noticing the danger her pieces were in. By then it was too late and he secured his victory as quickly as he could to not string her along.

Her heartfelt congratulations crushed him. She’d sighed but then gave him the sweetest smile,”Wow, you’re really very good. I guess I wasn’t much of a challenge, huh?”

The sheepishness, as if [i she] felt bad for him after he’d gone totally overkill to beat her. He felt like he’d crumble into dust. This girl was too sweet to be real. She’d been sending Royland extra tea and medicine for him for years. [i Royland]. The Prince would kill him for being so cruel to her, even unintentionally.

“I, uh… You’re not so… so bad. Pretty good, really. I uh… I should go. I uh…” He left to go look at the brackets. To his horror there was a possibility he’d face Royland next. If he beat Castien. Royland might just knock the pieces down and hit him with the board once he found out about Sumina. It was clear to all of them that the Elvish girl was special to him in some way.

Lily and Sumina both seemed content enough with the loss in the first round and went to watch Royland’s match along with Iolas. Vaeril had beaten a maid of Lenoir’s who only joined because Lenoir insisted she did since they were short one person. Sumina’s brother won a blushing congratulations from the girl he’d beat since her bitterness at being forced to enter and lose right away melted during the match. He had complimented her skills, given her pointers for next time, and said she had real talent. A few added remarks about how lovely she was and that a man would be very lucky to win her heart, and he would simply settle for a chess match, had won her over to the point where she had a little crush on the usually quiet Elvish archer. Walter had also beaten Tarron with little difficulty, but it was drawn out by Tarron just managing to limp along and avoid the actual checkmate for a while.

While the shorter matches were ending, Royland and Castien asked how Sumina and Lily’s games had gone. Lily admitted to a quick forfeit, while Sumina said Sirius had beaten her. That didn’t surprise Royland, but then Lily and Iolas filled in details. How by the end Sirius had captured almost all of Sumina’s pieces while she’d only gotten two of his pawns, and Iolas commenting how it was “Pretty obvious he just crushed her, no mercy. She didn’t stand a chance. Honestly it was hard to watch.”

Which got him an elbow from Sumina,”It wasn’t all that bad.”

“Mina, at the end all you had was a single Nightingale trying to save your King when he got you in checkmate.”

Then Sirius was over watching the match from a little farther away and Royland saw that guilty look on his face. He’d be facing Sirius next, and he usually lost, but maybe… Well, he had to beat Castien first.

The more challenging matches included Lyrei and Alain. It was a match which Lyrei cleanly won, leaving a flustered and impressed Alain staring at the finished game for several minutes trying to work out how he hadn’t seen her trap coming. He wasn’t a strong chess player, but he hadn’t noticed it at all. What he had noticed was the characteristically Elvish low cut of her neckline, especially when she leaned over to move pieces farther over on the board. Was she really that indecisive about moves or was staying leaning over hemming and hawing at pieces a strategy? Aias and Lenoir’s match lasted a little while until she had him in check repeatedly, and while he was on the defensive chased him right into a checkmate. Sionia and Ayre’s lasted for a little while until Sionia won, though she wondered if Ayre had really tried. She knew he was usually a better player than that and suspected he’d lost deliberately because of her status as a Princess.

In the end everyone was watching the endgame of Royland and Castien’s round, which took quite some time. Eventually Castien was struggling along in a situation that was almost unwinnable and Royland eventually had him boxed in. Castien sighed,”I suppose it was over once you took my Queen. You have a very aggressive play style. It’s… invigorating to play against. I must have a rematch.”

Castien’s gaze briefly wandered to Sumina, who had a better seat than anyone else by virtue of losing her own game quickly. Royland looked as well and frowned slightly. Was he trying to impress Sumina? “Sure. When you’re ready to lose again, come find me.”

Castien’s smile was a little tight,”We’ll have to see who emerges victorious.”

Things moved along after that. Lyrei and Vaeril had a drawn out match which ended up with a bit of an audience by the end since Iolas lost to Lenoir without too much hope of victory and Sionia bested Walter in what she assured him was a good game.

Most were interested in watching Lyrei and Vaeril since surprisingly neither had lost a single piece by the time the other matches were done. They were running a little commentary, like Lyrei leaning over on the edge of the table to look at Vaeril over the board. “I was surprised you didn’t take my Knight.”

“You’d have taken my piece. I saw your Castle guarding it.”

“Then take my Castle.”

“I don’t think so. The pawn there is a little too obvious, My Lady.” Vaeril had smiled, while Lyrei laughed. They were pretty evenly matched and both played pretty defensively. They could also tell traps the other laid, and everyone was waiting to see who would lose the first piece. Vaeril seemed completely unfazed by her leaning over the table farther, and so she had eased off on trying to distract him to focus on winning fairly.

It left Royland and Sirius almost alone. All the better for Royland to use the only hope for victory he had. The fact that he could tell Sirius felt horribly guilty over his last victory. It was throwing off his game, and Royland just needed to push to keep him off balance.

“I can’t believe you took advantage of her like that. Hadn’t she been kind to you?” Royland shook his head.

“I-I didn’t! It’s a game. I didn't mean to!” Sirius shot back defensively, but without conviction. He felt bad, and he was glancing from their game to Sumina, who was for the moment watching her brother play, with her other three brothers around her.

“I can’t imagine how she feels after you humiliated her. Do you think she’ll still be upset tomorrow?”

It was working. Royland took one of Sirius’s Castles off the board. Sirius looked surprised, but made a hasty move anyway,”She congratulated me, she seems fine. Lady Sumina isn’t…”

Royland made a noise to indicate he wasn’t convinced and made his move,”She’s probably not angry, but she’s probably disappointed. Why do you think she’s not here? She’s probably avoiding you. Do you think she’ll still want you to have tea? She might send less next time.”

“D-do you think so? How do I… Lady Sumina has always been so good to us. I need to apologize.”

The strategy worked beautifully. Sirius was too distracted worrying about if Sumina would avoid him or end up not sending him tea that Royland managed a win, just barely. Royland wasn’t sure he’d be able to repeat that, but it was the only way to beat Sirius at chess. Play the player and not the game.

Sumina wandered over while they were resetting the board,”Oh, I’m sorry I missed it. Tarron dragged me over to see Vaeril play. He’s the only one of us to still be in the game. Who won?”

“Me.” Royland stood up,”Are they done?”

Iolas, who had followed after Sumina once he noticed her walk away, answered,”Nearly. Better get ready for your next match. Looks like it’ll be against one of them.”

Lyrei emerged victorious against Vaeril, who was a gracious loser and said she was an excellent player. The next round began, the semi-finals. By now the weaker players had long since been eliminated. Lenoir still didn’t seem to have much difficulty beating Sionia, which left people watching Royland and Lyrei’s match as it shifted into the endgame phase.

“You are quite the strategist, Your Highness.” Lyrei complimented, as a piece of hers was taken. She hadn’t noticed the trap when she’d moved her Nightingale there to take his pawn. Now he was just a little closer to taking her out of the game entirely. Lyrei saw how he looked when she had an excuse to try to look especially alluring, but it didn’t fluster him like it had Alain to see her bent over, cleavage on full display.

Royland set her white Nightingale down on his side of the table,”I’ve had some practice.”

A modest response considering she was just barely keeping herself in the game at times. That shadow of a smile on his face said the modesty was feigned, so she went on with her praise hoping this would be her road into his favor. “I can tell. I really must play you again after this. Castien is my usual opponent.”

“Hm, and do you win often?”

“More often than not.” Lyre answered, cautiously moving a pawn forward.

“I can tell.” Royland smirked, glancing to where Castien was watching. His jaw tightened a little seeing how Castien had weaseled next to Sumina and was leaning over to whisper in her ear. What was he saying to her? He couldn’t get distracted. His attention returned to the game, taking it more seriously. He was not so good that he could afford to lose his focus.

By now several nobles who had been engrossed in other games and rejected the chess tournament had come over to watch the last couple of games. While Lyrei succeeded in drawing him into a couple of traps, she had to admit defeat after the loss of her Queen in a failed trap where she hadn’t realized that piece was vulnerable to his Knight. It left her King running away and eventually with no way out. Rather than looking upset at the loss, she seemed impressed. Alain had patted Royland on the back and congratulated him on getting ‘revenge’ for Alain’s earlier loss to her.

That led to Lyrei walking right up to Alain into his personal space,”I’d be happy for a rematch if you like.”

Alain looked red in the face but waved dismissively,”At chess? I don’t care. So you win at chess, but in a [i real] contest of skill you’d lose.”

“Then I challenge you in this ‘real contest’. Tomorrow evening, you choose the game. If you’re man enough to get revenge for yourself.” Lyrei was almost in Alain’s face. They were both looking a little flustered, on the edge of a full blown argument.

“Fine. I won’t go easy on you because you’re a Lady.” Alain was bristling a little, but Royland put his hand on his friends back to remind him to calm down. What was Alain thinking?

“Good, I’d be disappointed if you did.” Lyrei took a step back and turned to Royland, a little pink in the cheeks. She’d sort of lost her temper for a moment there,”Ahem. You’re invited to join if you like, of course.”

Royland raised both hands,”I’ll merely observe.”

The half-elf gave him a charming smile and traced her finger over his shoulder,”An impartial judge. I look forward to it. Good luck in your next match.”

The final match between Royland and Lenoir had gathered quite the crowd. Both of them were quite skilled and while initially Lenoir had paid Royland several compliments over the game which Royland had politely returned they eventually settled into a serious silence while the contemplated moves and worked through possible moves for themselves and their opponents several steps ahead.

Royland saw an opening and considered it long enough that Lenoir had a coy smile, guessing what he was thinking. When he didn’t take the bait Lenoir commented lightly, but flirtatiously,”You usually go after the Queen quite aggressively.”

Royland hummed vaguely in the affirmative,”But she’s guarded.”

“Is she? You could take her anyway. Isn’t she worth it?” She batted her eyelashes, but he didn’t seem to pick up on the double entendre. Her move took a pawn. The game would likely be decided soon, pieces were leaving the board quickly.

A noncommittal shrug as he made the next move. He was focused on the game, while she was a little more focused on him. That might have been the deciding factor in the game ending in his favor, since they were so evenly matched. Even losing Lenoir seemed pretty pleased by the outcome.

Sionia helped hand out the pieces to everyone who played. Royland was handed a black King and Lenoir the black Queen. Lyrei and Sionia each kept a black Nightingale from the same set, while Sirius and Vaeril were handed the black Knights and Iolas and Walter the white Knights. After that Castles from multiple sets were given with Sumina, Castien, Lily, and and Alain receiving white pieces while Lenoir’s maid, Aias, Ayre, and Tarron took the black pieces. They were all instructed to meet in the entry hall in the morning after breakfast and to bring their chess pieces.
Yavanna     328d ago

After returning to his room Royland was accosted by his father again. This time the old King seemed to be in a relatively pleasant mood, which didn’t actually make Royland feel better. Harrenhal left Davin standing at the door and gripped his son’s shoulder in a mockery of parental affection. It was tight and lacked any warmth, but it also lacked some of the malice often behind the gesture.

“It seems as though Princess Lenoir enjoyed your chess match. Very good. Keep close to her. We rely on Arouet’s friendship, something you must continue. It is good you’re beginning to see that.”

“Fine.” Royland looked away to the table where he’d set the black king chess piece. It was very obviously of Zeravelli design, a stag standing proud with large antlers that seemed to be carved to resemble a tree, complete with a few leaves. It was the work of a master craftsman and carved from a jet. The black stone shone beautifully, polished to perfection. It was the mate of the demure doe that represented the queen of the chessboard, which was now in Lenoir’s possession.

“She might have been more pleased if you’d let her win.” Davin offered unkindly from his post, arms folded. He sneered as he went on,”You’re lucky your antics haven’t annoyed her. If you offend her then what will Volaire do without Arouet’s friendship? You aren’t acting as a Prince, you’re behaving like a child. What, you can’t stand to lose a game even intentionally?”

Royland grit his teeth. Before he could say anything his father’s hand had tightened cruelly, threatening to leave bruises on his shoulder. “Indeed. So from now on no more of this foolishness. You are to take care of her, see she has a good time. She must see you, and Volaire, as friend and ally. Do you understand?”

Royland pulled his shoulder from his father’s harsh grip,”Yes. I understand about Arouet. What of the deal with Zeravell then? What alliances are we building there?”

“I told you, focus on Arouet. I will deal with Zeravell. It is not your concern. I expect to hear that Lenoir had a nice time at those ridiculous baths.”

The visit left Royland in a bad mood. His father still refused to disclose anything about this deal with Zeravell, not even by accident. He pinched the bridge of his nose. His head was starting to ache and he didn’t know how he was going to sleep.
Yavanna     327d ago

There was a knock at his door and he snarled,”What is it now?”

Immediately he regretted it when the door slowly opened and a head of white hair poked in. She looked concerned. “... He’s still being difficult, isn’t he? I’m sorry, I don’t have anything yet. Iolas was being difficult.”

Royland waved his hand and turned away. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ignore the pain working its way deeper into his head,”I’d be surprised if you had much, I only just asked you. So why are you here?”

Sumina slipped in and closed the door behind her. He had his back to her so she couldn’t see his face, but she could read the tension in his shoulders, in his entire posture. She could hear it in his voice. She walked closer and put her hands on his shoulders with gentle pressure urging them down,“Do I need a reason? Silly.”

His only response was a grunt, so she pressed her fingers a little harder and shifted, easily finding where the muscles were pulled tight,”You’re tense. The baths will be nice for that. Put your hand down.”

“Isn’t the massage tomorrow?” Royland mumbled, lowering his hand as instructed. He could feel the tightness in his neck and shoulders melting under her hands. How was it that he felt so calm now, when moments ago he’d been ready to hit the wall and pace around?

“If you’d rather I stop…” He exhaled through his nose and she smiled. She knew what he meant and kept working the knots out. He wouldn’t say he wanted her to continue, but he most certainly didn’t want her to stop. “Have you been before?”

“The Elvish ones? No.” He leaned his head back as her hand moved to his scalp. His headache was washing away. How did she do that?

“You’re in for a treat then. They’re lovely. I came to ask if you needed anything. I mean, everything will be provided but if you had questions… because I can’t recall you going before. Not that [i I] would have been going with you, just… um…” Sumina stopped, her cheeks pink at the way she’d fumbled that. Of course she wouldn’t be bathing with him, but the mental image had popped into her head anyway. Tomorrow she wouldn’t be going with him, so why was she thinking about it?

Royland was stuck in a similar predicament. When she brought it up he couldn’t help but picture her going with him to the baths. His ears were red just thinking it over. Was [i that] was an Elvish bath was like? It sounded delightful and terrifying at the same time. Was that what happened when it wasn’t a group like this with humans?

Sumina mumbled,”Of course we will segregate them for lords and ladies to be partitioned off. So I won’t be… b-but if you were wondering anything. Um, I was… I was going to suggest bringing extra clothes. I like to wear something fresh and clean after rather than what I came wearing.”

“R-right. Thanks.” He was too scared to ask if it was normally segregated like that or not. There was no way it would come out sounding good. “I’ll remember that.”

Royland could still feel her hands on his shoulders. They had stopped working out the tension when she’d gotten flustered, but she hadn’t moved away. They both stood there for a couple of seconds uncertainly before he asked,”Aren’t you tired? You had a long night before.”

“Oh, um, I was actually going to the kitchen and then a walk. I napped so I’m fine for now. Would you like to come? I wanted tea to help with sleep and I could make you some.”

Her offer sounded appealing. Even with his headache forced away he might need help sleeping. He turned around, which made her move her hands back. With her hands still up she met his eyes and he took her hands in his impulsively. Neither of them looked quite sure what to do next, since neither had moved away or showed any inclination to do so. If anything they leaned in just a little closer.

A log popped in the fireplace and broke the spell. Sumina looked away, her cheeks warm and red,”You keep it too warm in here.”

Royland squeezed her hands and released one, taking the other down to his side as he led her to the door,”Then we’ll go for that walk before you overheat. You look like you’re going to faint.”

“I do not.” They had to keep it quiet in the hallway, but she still argued in a hushed tone and bumped him with her shoulder. It just made him chuckle, and she was smiling too. The unasked, and unanswered, question was still hanging over them, but easy enough to ignore for now. They snuck down to the gardens, Royland making the decision to have the walk before the tea. He wanted some fresh air and the advantage of some dim light to collect himself before having to face her properly over a cup of tea.
Yavanna     325d ago

The gardens of Zeravell were famous, and the palace gardens considered among the most beautiful in the world. Even at night they looked magnificent. Once they were on a gravel path Royland ceased taking the lead. Sumina had no destination in mind either, so they wandered hand in hand along the trail, winding under trees and by clusters of flowers that seemed oddly drained of color in the pale light the moon offered.

Neither of them spoke for a little while. They were content to enjoy the peace and quiet side by side and try to unwind. They made their way around a pond, then stopped a little more than halfway around. The moon was reflected on the surface of the water, and the stars mirrored below and above.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Walking in the garden at night is soothing.” Sumina spoke softly, as if she was afraid to shatter the peace that lay over everything like a blanket. It was comfortable, and his hand was warm.

The reflected night sky was beautiful, but it was when Royland turned to look at her that his tongue was suddenly tied. When did she become so breathtakingly lovely? He hadn’t noticed, but now he was struck by the awareness that Sumina was, as Vaeril had said, not a child anymore. He looked at the blue star mark centered under her collarbone.

Sumina turned her head and smiled. He had suddenly looked away as if she’d caught him at something. She leaned closer and laid her head against his shoulder.

Royland stared out at the sky reflected in the lake. “It is. I… I’m glad you brought me.” He’d been in such a bad mood before she arrived. Her presence so often had such a calming effect on him it was almost uncanny, but he craved it.

Sumina started walking again, barely needing to tug his hand for him to follow and fall in step next to her. It didn’t take them long to make the loop around the little pond now that they were walking with purpose to the palace,”It’s nice to see you more relaxed. I’ll make you a nice cup of tea for bed, and then you can keep relaxing at the baths tomorrow. They’re so lovely, like the gardens. In fact, they’re one of my favorite places here. I’m so excited you’ll get to see. Not that I’ll be showing you, but… I… I hope you like it.”

“I’m sure I will if they’re that nice. But if I do that much relaxing, how am I going to even walk with you tomorrow?” Royland teased. He wasn’t really serious, he just liked the way she giggled and she didn’t disappoint.

“I’m sure you’ll find a way, or maybe I’ll let you just relax and go straight to bed.”

They had finally reached the palace and slipped in and down the corridor to the kitchen. Sumina went about lighting the candles with magic, something Royland was mesmerized watching every time. When she was done and went about getting the tea kettle ready and under a cooking fire she’d rekindled the same way he walked over and leaned against the counter,”Then I better not relax too much. If I do, I'll miss out on your evening tea, and then I’ll just be all stressed out again.”

“Silly. You don’t need to do that. Just come have tea if you want. I fail to see how hot water will render you unable to walk down and drink some tea. Unless you don’t want to.” Sumina took down two cups and saucers for tea and set them down on the countertop, then reached up for the herbs and set those down. She’d be making the mix herself, so bustled about and brought over a bowl.

Royland watched her, and while she had her back to him he went over. Her movements slowed and then stopped as she felt him come up closer, and then felt his hand on her hair, pulling it back. It was a helpful gesture. Wasn’t it? But her heart was pounding.

“Of course I want to have tea with you. I… I look forward to it all year.” He half smirked, leaning in closer,”If I have to drag myself down here then so be it.”

“I’ll hold you to it. I expect you here tomorrow.” Sumina hesitated then turned around,”Royland, I… I look forward to seeing you — Oh.”

When she’d turned her hair had slipped from his fingers. As if moving of their own accord his hand had moved to her cheek, and then he leaned in and pressed his lips to her forehead. He stayed there, nose buried in her hair while he tried to will the redness in his face to fade. She smelled so nice.

Sumina was shocked and frozen in place. The affectionate gesture left her happy, but uncertain what to do next. It was the sort of kiss her brothers might give her, but she felt very different about this one. She felt different about him. He wasn’t like a brother to her. So then what was he to her? He wasn’t moving away and what should have probably been a quick peck to her head dragged on, not unpleasantly, but Sumina didn’t know what to do. So she leaned into it and closed her eyes, deciding to enjoy the feeling of closeness.

When he finally did move back from that far too long kiss to her forehead he hadn’t succeeded in completely getting his face back to a normal color. Sumina’s face was flushed and she blinked slowly.

In the silence of the night it was easy to hear the sound of footsteps approaching. They broke away abruptly. Royland took a step back and Sumina turned quickly back to the counter. Their hearts were racing, and both were trying to calm down before the people coming down the hall arrived. There were multiple people. Had they woken some of the servants?
Yavanna     321d ago

“There you are!”

“Shhh. Alain, you’re too loud.” Sirius hushed his friend and went to Royland,”Knew we’d find you here. Lady Sumina.” He nodded in greeting to her. She turned briefly and nodded to them.

The three knights crowded around to look at the kettle. Sumina started measuring out tea leaves and herbs into her bowl,”You act like you’ve all never seen a kettle before. Shoo, yes I’ll make you all a cup.”

Royland crossed his arms,”Is that why you’re here? Begging tea off her?”

Alain snorted and moved back to the opposite counter,”As if you aren’t.” He crossed his arms as well. There was a spark of tension that Walter diffused. Royland seemed prickly for some reason.

“Actually while the tea is wonderful, thank you Lady Sumina, we were looking for you to ask about the baths… Royland, what do we do?” He looked especially nervous. Walter was worried about this bathhouse trip, and couldn’t sleep because of it.

Sirius was busy poking around the cupboards for food to go with the tea and added without looking away from his task,”Do we need to bring towels? Soap?”

Sumina giggled and all the boys turned to her,”Sorry. I can answer, if that’s alright?” Royland gestured with his palm open toward the others, inviting her to go ahead. She continued with her tea while she explained,”You don’t need to bring anything. We have towels, soaps, lotions, ummm… Basically everything. Oh, hang on.” She got distracted by the kettle being ready and got the tea steeping before she finished her explanation,”I do bring some extra clean clothes because I like wearing something new after, but you could always wear what you came in.”

“Sooo we just show up and… That’s all?” Walter still didn’t look convinced.

Patiently Sumina continued,”Exactly. Bring clothes if you like, but we have everything else ready. Unless you have a favorite soap or lotion. Or comb. I mean, not every bathhouse in Zeravell will have everything, but this one is the royal baths and we’re all invited as Princess Sionia’s guests. In public bathhouses you would usually bring your own comb and soaps, but towels are almost always provided if you’re paying any fee.”

Walter was nodding, mentally taking notes. Sumina went to pour the tea, and while she did that he asked another question. “What about… etiquette? We wouldn’t want to offend anyone.”

Royland raised both eyebrows. That was a very good point, and one he hadn’t considered. He wasn’t very familiar with the intricacies of the Elvish culture. It was a glaring blind spot in his otherwise thorough education. Harrenhal distrusted Elves as a rule and due to this he despised their culture. It usually wasn’t a problem, since these annual gatherings were the only time they spent much time around any Elves.

Sumina’s smile was warm as she handed each of them a cup of tea,”I see. You don’t need to worry, we understand our customs may be different. Be gracious and follow Iolas’s lead and you should be fine. Let me see… It’s considered rude to water the plants. Robes should be worn outside of the bath area, and we provide them. You should rinse between tubs. I think that covers most of it.”

They all took a sip of the tea, and Sumina looked over the top of her cup at Royland. What had he meant by the kiss to her forehead? Was he being affectionate like a brother? Royland tried not to blush and instead asked,”Is there a particular reason you mentioned watering the plants? It wouldn’t have occurred to me to try. Personal experience?”

He was teasing her, and Sumina blushed which was exactly what he was aiming for,”I.. I might have tried once. Only once! I was only seven and the flower had wilted.”

“Maybe we should’ve come to Lady Sumina first.” Sirius nudged Royland with his elbow,”She was more helpful.”

Alain rolled his neck, feeling calmer just drinking the tea. He was a firm believer that Sumina’s teas and remedies were magically effective. “Would it have mattered which one we were looking for? We’d find them both anyway.”

The three knights all laughed quietly while their Prince glared. Sumina was blushing harder now. They did spend a lot of time together at these gatherings. But that was fine, wasn’t it? He was her friend. “Well, I’m glad I could help. We should get to bed, I hope you enjoy the tea. Good night.”

With that Sumina was gone and then Royland locked his arm around Sirius’s neck,”You three… This couldn’t have waited until morning?”

Sirius was tapping Royland’s arm a little frantically. He hadn’t tightened yet, but he was rigid and Sirius couldn’t slip away. Walter tapped Royland’s elbow more gently,”We were checking on you too. Something seems… off with your father and Davin. We were worried.”

Royland released Sirius and huffed, taking another drink of the tea and hoping it would have the same calming effect Sumina had on him. It didn’t work, though he was always reminded of her when he had tea,”My father is indeed up to something. Not here. Come to my room, we’ll finish our tea.”

He supposed he should let them in on the most recent developments, and see if they could learn anything from the circles they socialized in without him. It was possible someone would let something slip to one of them when they would be more on guard with Royland.
Yavanna     319d ago

The next morning breakfast went about as quietly as usual. Plans were made for the day, for those that didn’t already have plans. The tournament players already knew what they were doing that day, and each was marked by a chess piece sitting somewhere around their table setting. Some of the ladies were chattering and laughing with each other, promising to wash each other's backs or help with their hair.

They gathered in the entry hall where it became clear that the group had expanded since last night. Quite a few were there that had not obtained chess pieces the night before, mostly eager for the open invitation to the private day at the royal bathhouse of Zeravell. Lenoir was quick to take charge of the situation, asserting herself as the ‘Queen’ for the day.

“I see some new faces have decided to join. Welcome. We were about to go to the bathhouse with Princess Sionia and Prince Iolas. If you’re unfamiliar, some of us played a tournament yesterday and have a rank according to our placement there. For today those with lower ranking chess pieces will defer to those with a higher rank, all in good fun. For those who did not play but would still like to come and participate they may take the rank of pawn for the day. Now, if everyone is here we can follow our gracious hosts.” She motioned to Iolas and Sionia with a perfect, sweet smile.

Sumina had gravitated toward Royland, as was her habit whenever he was around. Her brothers had, of course, followed. “Good morning, Royland. I hope you slept well.”

“Good morning. Decently. And you?” It was hard to be anything but curt and utterly appropriate with all four of Sumina’s brothers standing behind her. Not to mention all of them in the midst of a crowd. That didn’t stop him from offering her his arm, nor did it stop her from taking it. She looked happy, even if her brothers were looking at him less than pleased.

“I slept fine. I see you took my suggestion.” She held up her own bag which had her clothes. His were tightly packed in a bundle under his arm.

They didn’t get longer to talk as they walked with the group. The group had started moving, following Princess Sionia and Prince Iolas who led the way. Lenoir had slipped farther back to where Royland was and to his other side cutting the pleasantries short,”Ah, here you are, my King. For today.” She held up the black doe Queen from the chess set with a smile,”I must say, our match last night was exciting. You kept me on my toes.”

“You’re an excellent player.” A hollow, polite compliment. Exactly what was expected of him. “It was an honor to play against you.”

Lenoir looked over at Sumina on his other side, holding his arm. She gave no outward indication of her displeasure, greeting Sumina as if they were old friends. “Lady Sumina, what a delight to see you. Thank you so much for volunteering to make everyone a special blend of tea to start the day. I’m sure you’ll want to get right to it as soon as we get there, it will be absolutely perfect.”

Sumina agreed,”Of course. And congratulations on placing so well in the tournament. To both of you.”

The royal bathhouse of the Zeravelli royal family was widely considered the most luxurious in all of Zeravell, if not the entire continent. While the royal family had other, smaller bathhouses on their sprawling estate this one was the crown jewel and sat at the very edge of the palace grounds. It was fed by the nearest river with fresh water brought in via part of their aqueduct system. Tall arches and vibrant plantlife were common features of Zeravelli architecture, and this was on par with other high class buildings in that regard. The stonework details included plant carvings and animals, but this building included a waterfall of the redirected water that cascaded down and went under a bridge that led to the small courtyard just outside the entrance.

The entrance faced the city, and the royal siblings had deliberately led the group just out a side gate to come in through this much more impressive front entrance rather than the back, which would have them go along a hallway to the front lobby anyway, but they would miss the bridge and waterfall that way.

It had the desired effect of impressing all the first time visitors to the bathhouse. Even Lenoir couldn’t hide the fact that she found it gorgeous. The bathhouse itself was tall, at least two stories high, and very wide. It was spacious enough for the entire group to be comfortable inside. They all filed into the entryway, which had brightly colored tiles in a flower patterned mosaic on the floor. Once inside only three doors greeted them, with Sionia explaining,”This one on the side will take you back to the palace gardens if you wanted to leave that way. Ladies may bathe on the right and follow me. Gentlemen should follow Iolas to the left.”

Sumina smiled at Royland,”I hope you enjoy it.” Then she was off with the ladies following Sionia. Lenoir waved at him before she also left, and Royland fell in to follow Iolas. Now he was stuck by Sumina’s brothers.

Fortunately they didn’t seem interested in starting a scuffle here. Ayre and Aias completely ignored him and walked ahead, knowing already where they were going. Vaeril just gave him a long look before going after the older two while Tarron openly glared but left without actually saying anything. So that went well, and Royland tried to pay attention as Iolas explained about where to leave their things and where everything was.

Royland fell in with his friends, where he was elbowed while they whispered,”You looked awfully cozy there. A woman on each arm.” Alain started, grinning.

Sirius sighed,”Some get all the luck.”

“Shut up.” Royland grumbled,”Pay attention. You all were so interested last night.”

Walter seemed to be the only one paying close attention to Iolas, so he’d be the one they were asking all day. The bathhouse was as luxurious as promised. After they entered there were spaces honeycombed in the walls for people to place their shoes, and elegant benches provided to allow them all to remove the dirty shoes so as to not trek mud through the rest of the building. Past this room was another room dedicated to storage where clothes were finally removed, and toward the back of this room was an impressive number of robes and towels all neatly folded that they were told were theirs to borrow for the day. Anything used or soiled could be put in laundry carts placed throughout the building. After donning their silk robes, which came in several colors, they finally entered the bath area. It was humid, and at least as exquisite as the exterior of the building. Despite being indoors several plants lined the walls. The windows were frosted glass, letting in light but impossible to see through, and it let the plants thrive well enough. Royland suspected magic also helped them to stay so healthy. There were at least seven tubs that Royland could see, all fed by the elaborate water system that took water from the river. One had a waterfall feeding it, and it seemed the pool it fed was the largest, but that they only had access to half of it. A wooden wall had been put up, apparently dividing the space in half.

It told him that this area was not always separated like this. The waterfall itself was split by this wall. Iolas explained that it was the temperate pool, kept comfortably warm but not especially hot. The others all ranged from one Iolas warned was actually quite cold to others he said were very hot. He offered them the chance to wash, if they liked, indicating a trough on the far side of the room, running almost the full length of the wall. It had water flowing through it entering on one side through a pipe coming from the wall and overflowing when it was full. On either side sloped drains ensured this wouldn’t flood the space. Wooden buckets were stacked at the far end, allowing for the water to be drawn from the trough and poured over the bathers.

Iolas explained that upstairs on the roof Sumina would have tea for them. And that the second floor was where servants were ready to offer massages or food, if it was wanted as well as having a comfortable space to lounge, but a robe would need to be worn as the ladies could relax there too. Alain leaned over and muttered,”Why have we never been here? This is amazing!”

Royland rolled his neck,”My father.”

The fact was that his father’s hatred of Elvish culture meant they were all discouraged from partaking in customs King Harrenhal deemed too ‘Elvish’ for his tastes. It begged the question of why he was relenting now. But a question for another day.
Yavanna     318d ago

While most of the guests got comfortable and started by washing and changing into their robes to have tea on the rooftop Sumina set about making tea. She was given temporary control of the kitchen on the second floor and all the helpers there while she measured out the tea ingredients and set about having it all steeped, poured, and brought upstairs to be served. Up on the roof the plant life was even more abundant and the scent of flowers gave the whole space a calming feeling. Tables, chairs, and even couches for lounging were set up between potted plants. Some in areas shaded by trellises hanging with flowers and others out in the sun. The whole roof was high enough and with high walls that despite being open to the sky above it felt like a private, secluded place. Some of the space was open for more socializing while around the edges were hidden little alcoves for a slightly more private area to relax.

Royland silently marveled over all of this. Nothing like this existed in Volaire. Sumina had been right that it was lovely. So this was her favorite place? He could see why, it was splendid and very relaxing. He took a seat on one of the couches, where four of them were boxed around a table. His three friends kept near and took up spots on the couches to either side while he sat right in the middle of one, as if it were an overly large throne. “Sumina wasn’t kidding when she said it was beautiful.”

Walter agreed with his Prince, looking up at the flowers hanging from the trellis above them,”I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. It’s… magnificent.”

The upper floors were where the separated groups were permitted to mingle. Royland and his friends had foregone bathing until after the promised tea, so were among the first to arrive and stake out a spot. It didn’t take long for Lenoir to arrive, or to find Royland. She walked over and sat next to him in a pink silk robe. His was a dark blue, and as more girls came up he noticed that the robes for the men were generally darker while the women’s were softer shades of the same colors. She smiled sweetly,”It is, isn’t it? I must say, it makes me want something like this in Arouet. Do you think my father will agree?”

Royland just shrugged. He had no idea what King Chatille would or wouldn’t agree to in terms of buildings. Arouet was wealthy enough for something like this in any case, so it wasn’t a matter of cost.

That wasn’t quite the response Lenoir hoped for. She wanted more engagement from him. She leaned back in her seat,”An ocean breeze would be quite refreshing. That’s what this place is missing.” Still no real response other than a vague hum that indicated that diplomatic, noncommittal agreement so common in the nobility she spoke to. “Perhaps I should check on the tea. Once that is out we wanted to arrange the additional prizes for higher ranking players.”

“What rank does one have to be to get that full body massage I heard about?” Lyrei came over and took a seat on the arm of the couch, perched on the edge. By her damp hair it was clear she’d been one of the ones taking the opportunity to bathe while waiting for the tea. She rubbed the back of her neck and shoulder, letting the neckline of her lavender robe slip even more open. While Lenoir’s was kept closed rather modestly, Lyrei had left hers loose enough to border on scandalous, while still technically covering everything. She looked to Royland and sighed,”I feel as though I could really use one after traveling here.”

It was very brief, Royland looked at Lyrei and then quickly looked away. The ladies caught it at least, despite his attempt to cover it with an answer,”I don’t know. I’m not clear on all these prizes.”

“Oh, even though you won? Well, today you’ll get the best of everything, right? Is there anything I can do for you today?” Lyre had leaned over a little when she asked.

Before she could try harder to get his attention Lenoir stood,”I’d like to explain more over tea. Royland, would you come with me to see if Lady Sumina needs help?”

“Uh, sure.” The Prince stood and followed after Lenoir. A maid of hers, the one from the tournament, started to follow as well but Lenoir waved her away.

The questioning look Royland gave required an answer. Why wasn’t she welcoming more help? “Be a dear and make sure there’s a table here for them to put some of the tea and refreshments. We wouldn’t want them to have to stand here holding everything.” Then she headed down the stairs to the second level with Royland just behind. He remembered what his father had said. The alliance with Arouet was important.

The middle floor was no less luxurious than the others. Where the staircase was there were doors to either side as one entered the main space, meant to be private spaces for massages or beauty treatments. The main area was centered upon a pool that was even with the floor. Above the pool, floating in the air and supported by no visible means were little islands made of rock and crystal with moss, flowers, and miniature trees growing on them. Water bubbled from somewhere within and created tiny pools which overflowed and filled the larger pool below, yet the pool below never overflowed and the islands above never ran dry. It was one of the little marvelous tricks of magic that they used to decorate. Such things were maintained by a complex series of runes and magical objects which stored and allowed a controlled release of magic according to the designs of the runes.

They were not common decorations due to the complexity that even a simple magical decoration required, and the maintenance to assure it continued to function. The palace in Zeravell was the only place Royland had ever seen things like this. Around this centerpiece were spaces for sitting to relax or eat, and even farther out to one side was a space that was more suited to napping, where rather than chairs and tables there were large couches, cushions, and blankets. Napping or reading, as evidenced by the bookcases along the wall.

To the other side was a series of rooms with wooden benches along the walls where the temperature was controlled, ranging from cold to quite hot. But it was the far wall that was Lenoir and Royland’s destination, where tucked away behind a door was the kitchen. No one was lingering on this floor, they had either stayed to bathe below or were going up to the roof to gather as instructed. The servants and Sumina were all in the kitchen.

When Royland slowed down to stare at the magnificent fountain, lit from above by glowing, floating crystals, Lenoir moved closer. She ran her hand down his arm,”It has some charm to it, doesn’t it? I was wondering, did you want your massage first or last? As the King for today you do get to decide on things like that. Anything you say goes, at least for quite a few more hours.”

“Ah. I suppose… I hadn’t thought of it.” He looked at her and was caught off guard by her hand trailing down the neckline of her robe. It was pulled modestly shut, but her movement exposed just a little more skin. She stopped and held the fabric as if she might pull it open even farther.

“For instance.” She had this deceptively innocent smile, watching how his eyes followed her hand before coming back to her face. He was a man, afterall. So this was what could get a reaction out of him. “If you wanted you could tell me to change my robe. What color would you like to see me in?”

He didn’t seem to know what to say to that. His face had started to turn red, and Lenoir considered what she might say or do to throw him more off balance before backing off, except the kitchen door opened and out came a tray of teacups and teapots, carried by Sumina herself. Royland jumped a little but hurried to go help the healer with the heavy looking tray,”Sumina, let me.”

“Thank you. I suppose the stairs… I’ll get the towels. I mean napkins. You know, just in case.” She darted into the kitchen and then back out, several servants behind her. She had a large stack of small, folded napkins. They all headed back across the common area and upstairs where more people had gathered and were mulling around in clusters. The tea was laid out on tables Lenoir’s maid had arranged. With the tea there servants started taking it to the guests while Lenoir started to explain about the extras given according to rank.

Castles and below were given no special privileges, aside from Castles being a higher rank for the day than Pawns. Knights were to each receive a shoulder and upper back massage, Nightingales got that plus a hand and foot massage. Only the King and Queen received a full body massage. Everyone would have all the tea and snacks they liked, as long as they deferred to anyone of a higher rank. Lenoir gave suggestions like allowing higher ranks first choice in things, giving up a seat or spot when asked, or bringing them things. “If there’s a question I would be happy to answer since I helped arrange this. And of course Princess Sionia and Prince Iolas are our gracious hosts.”

Lenoir had it wrapped up nicely and stepped away from the place she’d been standing to join the rest of them. Specifically where Royland was sitting. Sumina had taken the spot next to him. Lenoir did not appreciate that.

Sumina was still dressed in her clothes, though she had shed her shoes with everyone else. “You better not relax too much, alright? Even with the massage, though it should be nice.” She was smiling and nudged his arm. “Just not so nice you collapse into a puddle.”

Lenoir gave the sweetest smile she could muster,”Thank you so much for the tea, Lady Sumina. Look at you, you aren’t even ready yet. Why don’t we go and wash and soak a little?”

The white haired healer hesitated,”Oh, I thought I would wait a little. It’s so nice up here, isn’t it?” She looked at Royland. It was pretty clear that she wasn’t here for the weather.

That wouldn’t do for Lenoir. The Princess took Sumina’s hand and pulled her to stand,”But you see, I really would appreciate a little guidance from someone more familiar. You’ll help me, won’t you?”

It was exactly the thing to say to get Sumina to go along with it. Sumina gave a sympathetic smile,”Of course. See you later.”

Lenoir waved in that delicate way she had at Royland,”Indeed, later on we should all get together. Maybe for some cards. Enjoy yourself.” Her attention shifted to Lyrei. “Why don’t you join us? I would love to get to know you.”

There wasn’t a polite way to refuse, not with Lenoir’s rank both in the tournament and outside of it. Lyrei stood and flipped her hair back,”That would be lovely.”

After the ladies left Royland got another cup of tea and sat drinking it. Going downstairs to the water would be good soon, but he wasn’t in any rush. Sirius was the first to comment,”So what is your plan? You’re King for the day with the tournament.”

The Prince shrugged,”I’ll just relax and enjoy the bathhouse. I can see why Sumina likes it.”

Walter nodded and drank more of his tea,”I hope we’ll be able to come back.”

That was a concern. It was likely enough that his father might forbid them to return here. They went quiet, which was when they heard the conversation happening not too far away. Castien had stayed to talk with some of the lords who were explaining things in somewhat hushed tones. Things about Royland specifically.

“You might warn your Lady to stay away. Sure, he is a Prince. Bastard Prince.” Snorted laughter followed.

“There’s a couple reasons we call him that. One is his mother’s a whore.”

“He’s only half noble blood, the rest is trash. And the nobility is still fresh, he isn’t part of an old lineage. Say what you like about the Elves, but these Zeravelli families know the old blood from the new, and their lines go back centuries.”

“He put [i worms] in my bed as a kid.”

“Probably because sleeping with filth runs in the family. Must have been homesick.”

Royland’s hand was shaking. He looked furious. He set his cup down on the table hard and stood up. Without a word he stormed downstairs and his friends followed. His control of his temper was impressive, since the day at the bathhouse wouldn’t end early with Royland getting into a scuffle with the other boys. He’d find another way to try to take out his frustrations that wouldn’t ruin the day for everyone.
Yavanna     312d ago

Sumina and Lyrei were subtly reminded that they were a lower rank than Lenoir through the time the Princess kept them busy with her. It was all done quite politely, but deliberately. Asking them to help with her hair, fetch a towel for her, pour water over her, or bring her soap. It was subtle for the most part, except when she had basically gotten Sumina to give her a scalp massage and complimented her saying she was better at it than most servants and that she must practice. A backhanded compliment, though Sumina didn’t seem bothered by it. Lyrei, however, took issue with the way Lenoir behaved toward them.

When Lenoir finally released them from her clutches and wandered off to find something else to entertain herself with Lyrei scooted closer to Sumina. They were both in a tub of hot water where Lenoir had left them. It was pleasant enough, and with the Princess gone both of them had sunk a little farther into the water, finally more at ease away from the much more demanding girl. Lyrei peeked over at Sumina who was laying her head back against the edge of the tub. “Doesn’t it bother you? The way she talks to us?”

Sumina just shrugged, raising her head back up to give Lyrei her attention,”I suppose she’s just enjoying her tournament ranking. I don’t know her all that well though. You should enjoy the day too. And please, let me know if there’s anything you need. I know it can be difficult when you’re new here.”

This girl was just too kind. Lyrei looked away, up at the waterfall falling into the other pool. “Thank you.” There wasn’t anything else to say. She couldn’t just tell this girl who was willing to help her that she was too nice for her own good.

Lenoir had gone to see if she could find Royland. She had first gone to the roof, but he wasn’t there. Some others were relaxing there, still enjoying tea and conversations, as well as light snacks that had been brought out. There was some sense of satisfaction that the tables she arranged were being used, though it was more akin to a smugness over being right than anything. Next she looked in the only area left that she could check, the middle floor with the grand fountain, which she did not want to admit being jealous of. She didn’t find him near the fountain, or where the lounging area was. She wondered if he had gone to his massage without her, which she pondered interrupting. The idea was amusing, and a little bit exciting, but not necessary because when she peeked into the other rooms with controlled temperatures she found him in the cold one, his head hanging down.

“I thought I would come get you for your massage.” The Princess closed the door behind her and went up beside him. He was in a bad mood, but that didn’t really deter her. He was known to have a bit of a temper at times.

“Not now. Weren’t you soaking with the ladies?” He refused to look at her. His arms were resting on his legs with his hands hanging down between his knees. Lenoir stepped closer until she was right next to his knee, and then she leaned over.

“I was, but I thought it might be nice if we went together for the massage.” It was murmured quietly, by his ear.

The desired effect was achieved. Alarmed, he turned to face her. His face looked like a tomato. “Wh-what? Why would we?”

With her hand over her mouth and feigned astonishment she leaned back to stand up straight,”Oh my. I hope you didn’t get the wrong idea. I mean at the same time, of course. There are two rooms.”

He looked away and Lenoir allowed herself a small smirk, just for a fraction of a second. She knew how to get him flustered now. “I merely thought it would be entertaining to go in pairs according to rank. Would you prefer to go later?”

“... Yes. Later. Excuse me.” His response was brusque, cold like the room they were in. Royland stood and brushed past Lenoir,”I’d like some air first.” He was still on the verge of losing his temper, hunting down those boys, and making them taste blood for what they’d said about him and his mother.

She noticed that his knuckles were bloody and scratched, and wondered what, or who, had put him in such a mood. She’d just make her attempt later, but in the meantime it was too cold in here for her liking even with him gone.

Sumina finished in the water and made her way back upstairs. She only peeked in to see that Royland wasn’t by the fountain before continuing up to the roof where the open air greeted her. She liked it up here on days like this where the weather was nice. She wasn’t entirely sure if Royland was here but she wandered around the nearly empty seating areas until she found him. He had chosen a fairly isolated spot near a wall. Trellises with vines and white flowers served as walls, blocking the little space and the sofa from view unless they actually walked into the space, which was like a room.

He was glaring at a patch of violets at the edge of a pot of flowers as if the little purple flowers had offended him somehow. They were the unfortunate and woefully inadequate stand ins for the people he was furious at. Sumina sat down next to him and looked him over. She spotted the blood on his hands quickly and shook her head,”You’re supposed to be relaxing just short of being a puddle, not working yourself up. What can I do?”

Royland exhaled through his nose as if that would release some tension, though truthfully some of it had begun to seep out at the sound of her voice,”This isn’t yours to fix.”

A small, indignant sound came from her as she reached over and took his hands,”Don’t be so stubborn. Your hands… What’s bothering you?”

While she examined his hands he shifted to face her. She had this little frown of concern while she gently felt the fingers and hand looking for damage worse than the superficial wounds, then satisfied with that she softly recited the words to mend the skin first on his left hand, then she moved to the right.

The Prince sighed and looked away, directing a fierce look toward the tiny white flowers growing at the trellis behind the sofa. If he didn’t tell her she’d start guessing,”You know what they call me behind my back.”

Sumina held his hand a little tighter. “Who? I’ll… I’ll go chase them down. I’ll get them kicked out.”

“It isn’t your fight.” She was getting worked up over it, and he deflated her notions of running off to find the boys responsible and chase them out of here with a lecture. She did indeed seem to give up the notion at his flat insistence that it wasn’t her fight.

Her hand shifted until her fingers wrapped over his thumb, their palms firmly together. The back of his hand facing her, and the back of her hand facing him. “I suppose. But you know I don’t like when they say that sort of thing. They’re wrong, and you’re… my friend.” She brought his hand up closer to her face. The skin was healed, so it shouldn’t hurt. Sumina still pressed her lips to his knuckles, as if it might help him feel better. Really, she just wanted him to know that she cared.

Royland turned his head to look at her, a blush working its way over his face. Sumina’s cheeks were turning a little pink already, but it deepened in color suddenly when he leaned over and kissed the back of her hand. He was so close. She wasn’t sure his eyes had ever been such an intense blue before. They weren’t kissing, not really. It was only their hands. It was perfectly innocent. And yet it felt so intimate. They lingered, their eyes meeting over their joined hands.

Sumina wondered again if there might be more than friendship between them. It felt as if their hands were in the way. At the same time she was afraid of what would happen if they were moved. Would he kiss her for real?

Just a hair of space she put between her lips and his hand, and then he lowered her hand down with his. Only air was between them. Her heart was pounding and her face was burning. Time seemed to stretch on, but the world went on outside their little bubble. And the world that existed outside of that sphere came crashing in.

“Lady Sumina!”

The interruption made them both move back, desperately looking anywhere but at each other. For a moment their hands remained joined, but then they both let go. Had he been about to kiss her? She dared to look back at him, wanting to know.

“Lady Sumina!”

It sounded urgent. There was that note of panic that told her this was probably [i work]. But really, would he have kissed her? He was being too evasive to tell. He’d turned to look at the potted plants on the other side. The interruption demanded an answer. “Yes? I’m coming.”

Reluctantly Sumina stood, looking over at Royland who now she could tell was still red in the face. But then so was she. “Royland, I…”

“Lady Sumina! There you are! Please hurry, someone fainted.” A lady had followed the sound of Sumina’s voice and came up desperate and worried.

It was, in fact, work. Sumina smiled patiently and put a hand on the girls arm. The girl was older than Sumina, but it was Sumina who seemed more wise and capable. “Take me to them.” One last look at Royland as she started to walk,”I’ll… talk with you later.”
Yavanna     310d ago

One of the human ladies had stayed too long in one of the heated rooms and passed out. Sumina followed the girl who had fetched her down to the middle floor where a crowd had gathered. The lady was regaining consciousness as Sumina approached, but she didn’t look well.

“Move. Let me through.” Sumina was on the younger side of the lords and ladies around her, but not a single one hesitated to get out of her way. She had a commanding presence, when she felt the need to use it. She felt the lady’s face with her hands. “Lay her down. You. Bring me towels. You there, go bring me a pitcher of water and a cup, ask the women in the kitchen.”

Orders were given firmly and calmly. Helping the young lady occupied Sumina for a while. Which left Royland, who had followed along after several moments, to watch from a distance on his own.

He wasn’t on his own for long. Lyrei sauntered up beside him,”Oh my. What happened?”

Royland shrugged,”Someone passed out. Sumina is taking care of it.”

“That’s good that Lady Sumina is taking care of them. She’s really very conscientious, isn’t she?” The girl didn’t shy away from work, or from helping others. “She’s quick to help others.”

“She is. She’s… the kindest person I’ve ever met.” It wasn’t an exaggeration on his part. He couldn’t think of a single person that was as genuinely compassionate as Sumina.

Lyrei watched the Prince out of the corner of her eye. He was fond of that white haired girl. How fond she wasn’t sure, she just knew they had history. But Lyrei had ambitions. The dark haired half elf motioned toward the majestic fountain that was the focal point of the room,”I’ve never seen anything so splendid in my life. Will I be seeing something like that in Volaire next year?”

Royland shook his head,”No, we have nothing like that. It isn’t… to my father’s tastes.” It was the most delicate way to phrase it. She didn’t need his whole family history.

“Then what manner of delights might I expect in Volaire? This is my first time leaving Madej, and next year will be my first time in Volaire.” She put his hand on his arm and moved to stand in front of him,”I hope you’ll be willing to show me around Volaire.”

It was flirtatious, and for just a moment his eyes wandered slightly inappropriately. Then he looked away, back to the crowd watching Sumina work. “Of course.” Her robe was so open it was hard not to look. His irritation made it easier, somewhat, to keep his gaze averted. He was still frustrated about the boys who had made fun of him. And his mother.

They were not going to get away with their insults, he just told himself they weren’t worth messing things up for today. Lyrei noticed the tension and thought for a moment about if she should push harder to get him to pay attention to her or let him be for now. She looked back at the people still here. It wasn’t the best time to push for anything too personal. “Thank you, that is a great comfort to me. I seem to have much to catch up on.”

After Lyrei left Royland went to get something to eat and drink, just staying nearby while Sumina worked to cool down the young lady. He found a nearby table and a chair to make himself comfortable where he could observe Sumina. Ice magic was used to help, but much of it was practical. Cooling the lady down, getting her to drink water. In reality the main part of it didn’t take very long, but Sumina sat with the lady and just talked, checking her every so often and reminding her to drink. The crowd grew bored and dispersed fairly quickly, save for a few concerned enough for the lady to remain.

Eventually Sumina let the lady go, warning her to take it easy and not stay too warm for too long. After that Sumina started to clean up the towels and Royland stood to go help. A streak of red hair beat him to her and scooped up a towel, and one of Sumina’s hands. Royland scowled. Did he [i have] to bare his chest like that? The redhead seemed to have no shame.

“A beauty beyond compare, and compassionate as well. I find myself utterly enchanted by you. I must say I never expected to find such a transcendent vision here, of all places. Please, would you grace me with a few hours of your time? Tomorrow perhaps?”

“I… um, sure.” Sumina answered, entirely unprepared for the compliments and unwilling to simply turn him down. He was new still, and likely felt a little lost.

Royland crossed his arms and stood by Sumina, as if he wanted to block her away from Castien. He stopped short of it, but his body language all pointed to wanting to get in that space between Sumina and Castien rather than settle for standing next to her. Castien looked the moody Prince over. He was definitely in a bad mood, but why? It was a [i bathhouse]. No one should be upset in a bathhouse. “Good day, Your Highness.”

“Do you need help, Sumina?” Castien went entirely ignored. Royland just looked away as if he hadn’t noticed anything and focused on Sumina.

Castien’s jaw tightened. How [i rude]. Sumina pulled her hand from Castien’s and tucked her hair behind her ear. She was looking a little bashful, her cheeks rosy. Her eyes had lit up when she looked at this stuck up Prince. What was between them? This so-called ‘Bastard Prince’ was the real competition for this lady’s heart.

“It’s just some towels, maybe mop up the water. Aren’t you supposed to be relaxing?” Sumina poked his nose with her finger, teasing him a little,”I told you, I’ll make you tea anyway.”

Royland caught her hand before she could pull it back. He considered for a moment what he might do. That slightly startled, expectant look on her face made his heart hammer in his chest. The memory of earlier when they’d kissed each other's hands flashed through his head, paralyzing him. What would she do if he kissed her hand again?

He didn’t get to find out. Castien saw the intensity that they looked at one another with and cleared his throat,”Let’s get these towels away. Tea actually sounds lovely, would you care to join me for a cup?”

Sumina hesitated,”Oh, I…” Her fingers slipped away from Royland’s hand. She was still melting a little at the way he’d looked at her, her face felt so hot. She couldn’t really answer Castien.

“Ah, there you are. Come now, it’s really time you went for your massage.” Lenoir was on her way over,”The servants are waiting on us. We’re the last ones.”

Royland wasn’t really interested in the massage right now. He scowled, walking to toss the damp towels into the bin and mostly ignoring Lenoir. “I’m not interested.”

Undeterred Lenoir walked up behind him,”But it’s your prize. You won.” Her hand found a place on his upper arm to rest.

It wasn’t her that convinced him to go. It was Sumina dropping off her bundle of wet towels and giving him a sweet smile,”Go and relax, I can finish cleaning. I’ll see you later, I want you to go and enjoy yourself.”

So Royland gave in and followed Lenoir to the servants waiting for the massage. As she’d said, they were each taken to their own room. Nothing even potentially inappropriate could happen since they parted ways at the door. Royland had a hard time properly relaxing the entire hour he was in there. Were those boys still talking about him? He hated the idea that they were probably having a great time, laughing. Probably at him.

Not long after he was done everyone was herded along to wash and make it to dinner. After dinner was where things went really wrong. Everyone spread out in the gardens that had been prepared for an evening of socializing. The weather was nice, so the gardens were perfect. Lights were strung from the trees and lined paths to keep people from getting lost.
Yavanna     307d ago

With the weather so nice everyone was taking strolls along paths to explore the many exotic plants of Zeravell. Sumina had come to fight Royland right away. She smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear bashfully. “Good evening. You don’t seem to have enjoyed the bathhouse much. Was it not to your liking?”

Royland rubbed his forehead with his hand, frustrated but not with her,”No, the bathhouse was fine. It’s something else on my mind.”

Sumina nodded,”I see. I still haven’t had a chance to speak with Sionia.”

That wasn’t it, but Royland gave her a small smile. She was trying to help. He didn’t want her to feel like it was her fault, it was those idiots talking about him behind his back. “Thank you. We’ve still got time before the ball.”

“We do, and maybe I can get you back to the bathhouse without these things weighing on your mind.” Her smile was bright enough to make him smile a little more genuinely in return. “I’ll get you to enjoy yourself somehow, Royland Vondien. Even if I have to drag you around until we find something.”

Their little moment didn’t last long. “Lady Sumina!”

Sumina bit her lower lip, helplessly frustrated. She’d been taking on more responsibilities lately, and none of them seemed to care that this was the one time of year when she got to see Royland. She didn’t turn away from Royland to answer, instead both sharing in amused frustration the fact that she was always being called away,”Yes? What is it?”

A maid bowed as she approached, slightly out of breath,”Lady Sumina, your teacher wanted to see you. It’s about the mother and baby, I believe.”

“Oh! Of course, of course. I’ll see you later.” The maid had suddenly gotten Sumina’s full attention and the healer hurried after her.

Royland was on his own again. He couldn’t blame her for rushing off, he guessed this was the same mother and child from before and the child’s birth had caused Sumina some distress. She cared about the outcome. He supposed he’d try to find where his friends had wandered off to. There was no particular direction or purpose to his steps. Once he found them he planned to talk revenge, but the opportunity presented itself before that.

Off the main path and among a grove of trees Royland heard voices and wandered over quietly. The fading light helped conceal him, as well as the trees spaced tastefully and deliberately, but mercifully not evenly. They were not in perfect rows which would have made it harder to hide.

It was the same boys as before. They had again gotten to Castien. The redhead had his arms crossed and stood leaning against a tree. The lights above softly illuminating his vibrant, deep red hair was the only way Royland knew it was him. The guard was turned most of the way away, leaving the rude boys faces exposed to the light for Royland to see. It was impossible to tell what Castien was thinking.

“Good, you should talk with her before she gets closer with him.”

“His whole family is rotten. Not the kind you want to associate with unless you have to. He’ll marry well enough, because they have money and power. But the Vondien men have a temper, and they’re viciously cruel.”

Castien’s voice finally drifted to Royland’s ears as he made his way closer. The guard sounded almost bored. “Oh? Well Lady Sumina doesn’t seem to mind.”

“Pfft, Lady Sumina takes pity on every pathetic thing to come her way.”

“She’s pretty, and kind. Elves all just adore her, far as I can tell. If your Lady is looking to make friends with the Elves, then Lady Sumina is a good way in. She’s probably going to marry that Zeravelli Prince, so the influence is there.”

“She can cling onto trash and they still take her in. Not just that Bastard Prince, but she’s been apprentacing like she’s some common girl.”

“Common or not, she [i is] pretty and has some influence in certain circles. Just try to catch her when she’s away from the filth she likes to be around. Wouldn’t want to get the muck on you.”

Royland’s ears were burning. His blood was boiling. How dare they talk like that? Not just about him, but Sumina as well. The boys seemed oblivious to his approach, they were too busy laughing.

One of them was caught mid sentence, his talking making him the prime target for a fist to the face,”If she picks up enough of a commoner attitude she’ll be easy to — “

Everyone was stunned. Royland grabbed the boy’s shirt and punched him again. When he pulled back his arm for a third one was when the others shook off their surprise. They rushed forward, but Castien had moved and the one nearest to him tripped.

With that one flat on his face it still left two of them to try to separate Royland from their buddy. One grabbed Royland’s fist with both hands while the other tried to pry his fingers off the shirt. What followed was a serious scuffle.

Royland headbutted one, his knee took down another, and he was able to get in another punch despite the flailing arms of the boy he’d launched the attack on. The boys were able to recover, and then it was three on one. They were able to get Royland to let go of their friend and would be sporting the bruises from it, but that wasn’t the end of it. Royland lunged right back in to attack.

Castien had to admit it was pretty vicious. Royland was relentless, and he looked like a demon attacking the boys. As if he really meant to kill them, but he was outnumbered four to one. Castien decided he would stay out of it, mostly. He tripped up the four boys a couple more times from the edges, buying Royland a precious few seconds of breathing room, but in the end it was looking like too much. Castien made the decision to get help to break up the fight before someone died, because all of them were bleeding and bruised, but Royland still looked murderous. The fight wasn’t sputtering out, but growing more desperate.

By the time Castien returned with several other guards Royland had one of the boys in a choke hold and he was going blue. The fight was broken up, and the adults were called in. Castien was called in as a witness. Since he hadn’t been exchanging blows and saw the whole thing he was seen as the most reliable witness.

Since this happened on Zeravelli soil Zeravell could choose the punishment as agreed in the treaties that brought them together for these gatherings. This was despite none of the boys being from Zeravell. Some objected, but the King and Queen of Zeravell were firm in asserting their right to decide how it was handled on their soil. The other monarchs would be affording the same right under the agreement. After some private discussion with Castien it was decided that their bruises were punishment enough, as long as they could avoid fighting for the remaining days of the gathering.

The adults were satisfied with the outcome, but Royland had to know. He pushed away attempts to get him to go rest and grabbed Castien’s arm as he turned to leave. “What did you tell them?”

His mouth was swollen so it came out muffled. Castien looked the Prince up and down,”The truth.”

“What did you say?” He knew Zeravell disliked him. His father was always bordering on rude to the delegations and they were unhappy with his treatment of elves in his kingdom. Sumina had said as much. They should have taken the chance to punish him. Instead they said that while they could not condone the violence his anger was justified. Why would they say that about him?

“Mm. I may have forgotten a few details when I told them how you lost your temper with them when they spoke ill of Lady Sumina. But that is what happened, isn’t it?”

It was impossible to read a face that banged up, but Castien saw something in the Prince’s eyes. The redhead shrugged,”I didn’t like the way they were speaking either.”

“Then you should have said something.”

Castien flashed a hard smile. It was cold, and his eyes flashed with irritation, the gold flecks in the green almost seeming to flicker like embers being fanned. “You may not need to concern yourself with rank much, Your Highness, but some of us do. I am a humble guard and two of those boys are Madeji nobles. If you’ll excuse me, I must attend to my Lady. I do hope you recover quickly.”

With the redhead gone and everyone staring at him from a distance Royland went back to his room. He couldn’t decide how he felt about Castien, but he was exhausted with the adrenaline fading. He wasn’t to have peace just yet. He had closed the door and peeled off his shirt when his father and Davin, ever attached to the monarch’s hip it seemed, barged in after barely a knock and no answer. Why had he not locked the door? Damn it.

Davin shut the door and stood as sentinel, glaring at the Prince. He wanted to say something, but Harrenhal got to say his piece first.

“You stupid boy! A fight on Zeravell’s soil? This could have ruined alliances and agreements!” The back of his hand collided with Royland’s already sore and swollen face. It brought tears to his eyes, but he just kept staring stubbornly at the flood while the King went on,”Delicate arrangements could have all been worthless because of you. All over that impudent girl. I suppose that’s some mercy, they’re so protective over her that they’re willing to overlook this.”

Harrenhal grabbed Royland’s hair to turn his head up. It hurt and Royland forced air in and out through clenched teeth,”Think, boy. The big picture. You should destroy your enemies, but [i never] in a way that leaves you vulnerable. [i You] might have left us vulnerable today, you worthless wretch. You need to stop behaving like a pathetic urchin and like the Prince. I should have taken you earlier. Davin, come show the boy what an urchin deserves. Maybe this time he’ll learn.”

He only released the painful grip on Royland’s hair once Davin had gotten there. Royland watched with gritted teeth while Davin slowly removed his belt. “If you’d behave like a Prince we wouldn’t need to teach you like this.”

Harrenhal stepped to the side, finding a spot to watch. Royland shot him a glare, tinged with fear, but the King responded with a cruel smile,“Indeed. You have too much weakness in you. The only way to purge that is to show you how much it will hurt you to continue with this foolishness. Love and caring for others only gives your enemies something to exploit. That girl is not worth this, is she?”

“Turn around. On your knees.” When Royland didn’t do as Davin instructed, the leather belt made a crack over Royland’s chest. “Have it your way. I’ll get you on your knees one way or another.”

[center [b ~*~*~]]

Searing pain was what greeted Royland in the morning. The early morning light was too bright, it was harsh and unwelcoming. He had never made it to bed. He had collapsed on the floor after the beating and that was where he woke. Everything ached. The idea of getting up and going to breakfast was too much, so he laid there and waited until he gathered enough resolve to even get to his knees. His father usually refrained from physical punishments during these gatherings, but he must have seen his fight with the boys as an easy way to get away with it unnoticed… and the fight had enraged him for some reason.

Sumina had been a little disappointed when Royland did not show up for tea. She’d gotten back after her teacher had her look over the healthy mother and baby. It was part of a routine check, something her teacher claimed she needed to know, but Sumina could tell that it was a way to reassure her that things had turned out alright. There had been a more in depth review session after that, which was why Sumina was back so late to the palace.

Maybe her being late was why Royland wasn’t there. Maybe he assumed she would be busy all night again and so hadn’t come to the kitchens. She told herself that was all, but he didn’t show up for breakfast. Then she started to hear whispers that there had been a fight the night before.

Getting details proved to be difficult. Iolas was evasive. Sionia didn’t seem interested and instead tried to see if Sumina wanted to come with her on an outing. Sumina declined, and kept asking around about what happened after she left last night. It was clear enough it involved Royland, but why was he avoiding everyone today?

Castien was the one to finally give her some answers. “It pains me to see that look upon your lovely face. You will not rest without answers, will you?” The look in her eyes told him what he needed to know. She had a strong will, determination. Castien leaned a little closer. He couldn’t risk anyone but her hearing,”His Highness was indeed in a scuffle. He fought some ill mannered buffons for their insults directed toward him, and you. Since he was attempting to defend your honor, Their Majesties of Zeravell decided to spare anyone further punishment.”

The redhead very lightly touched her temple, brushing her hair back just a bit. His gaze was soft and searching, and his eyes so lovely that Sumina was rooted to the spot for a moment. Castien smiled,”You really are remarkable, aren’t you? A rare flower that blooms once a century.”

He let his fingers trace down her cheek, but she stepped away before they reached her jawline. “Thank you, Castien. I… I’m hardly that special, though. I appreciate you letting me know what happened.”

“Of course.” Castien closed his hand and let it fall to his side. She was captivatingly beautiful, but it was more than her outward appearance. She was genuinely kind. “If you ever need anything at all, please feel free to find me.”

She had some information now, but Royland had yet to arrive, though she noticed a few boys around wearing some bandages and with pretty bad bruises. One had what she strongly suspected was a broken nose. Where was he? Could he be avoiding her deliberately?
Yavanna     306d ago

When he raised his head she barely recognized him for all the bruises. Sumina gasped and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. Royland was sitting in a chair by the desk along the same wall as the door. It was angled toward the door, so she got a good look at the sorry state he was in. His eyes were swollen nearly shut, bruises mottled almost every inch of skin she could see.

Her hand went over her mouth. All of this couldn’t be from a fight. The simple action of sitting up straighter was painful to him. She could tell, and it spurred her on to close the distance. “Royland… Let me.”

Light as a feather she put her hand on his shoulder. He grabbed her hand, hissing through his teeth from the pain that caused. “It’s my punishment, apparently.” It was mumbled bitterly through inflammation and a split lip. The cut opened again, and he tasted fresh blood.

“I don’t care. They can argue with me if they want.” Sumina didn’t waste more time trying to convince him, she started to heal Royland. First his shoulder, the bruises and scrapes faded to scarred but healthy flesh. He got plenty of injuries when she wasn’t there, and they left their mark on him. Where her fingers trailed along his arms the injuries mended, but before she could finish he grabbed tight hold of both of her hands and stood.

“Don’t. It’s not… worth… healing.” His head was swimming. The healing was helping, he was in less pain physically. The beating last night had done more than broken skin and bone. Davin’s words had left their wounds too, and he doubted she could fix those. He didn’t deserve it.

“I’ll decide what’s worth healing.” Sumina pulled her hands away and continued her work. She’d barely started again when he took hold of her hands once more, this time looking up to meet her gaze.

Even with the damage to his face she could see the tortured look in his eyes,”It’s not… You need to go.”

“I’m not leaving, Royland.” Sumina tried to pull her hands away, but he had regained enough grip strength to keep hold of her.

“Sumina, no. I’m not…” He stood and started to drag her toward the door, but she fought back. She squirmed until she got one arm free, but rather than strike him, which he flinched and braced himself for, she wrapped her arm around him.

“Stop it. Let me help. I can’t… I can’t leave you like this. It’s worth it to me. So let me. You’re… you’re my friend. They can punish me instead!” Her half embrace hurt where he hadn’t been healed yet, but that wasn’t why he stopped. It wasn’t why tears were in his eyes.

She cared about [i him]. She cared about him enough to do this even if she might be punished for it, just because she didn’t want him to suffer. He released her hand and embraced her tightly, his face buried in her hair. He couldn’t cry. That would be undignified. It was a close thing, so he couldn’t let her see. He just held her. She was worth it. His father and Davin had tried so hard to prove that she wasn’t worth the pain. But she was.

It was more than the fight that had left him so battered. She knew what the aftermath of a fight looked like on a body. Sumina held him silently. With his bare chest so close she could see the markings. He’d been hit by something that wasn’t a fist. She could guess, but… After several long moments letting him collect himself she asked softly,”What did they hit you with?”

“It doesn’t matter.”


“A belt.” Sumina squeezed him tighter and he winced,”Ow. Careful.”

“Sorry. Let me just…” Sumina loosened her hold on him and looked up. She couldn’t stand to see his face so badly beaten anymore and placed her hands on his cheeks. The healing was like soothing water and Royland closed his eyes, his hands falling to her waist.

Working her fingers gently over soon it was again the face she always looked forward to seeing. She was almost done. With one hand she traced back along his jawline to his ear and the mop of auburn hair, unrelated to the final injury she’d been dancing around. With her other hand she let her fingers spread over his cheek while her thumb rested on his lower lip where it was still split open and bleeding. Even after this was healed she didn’t move her hand away. Her own lip was caught between her teeth. What was she thinking? She was working. He was her [i friend].

He opened his eyes and she froze. While Castien’s eyes had been briefly captivating, Sumina found herself utterly entranced by the blue in front of her. The way he was looking at her left her almost forgetting to breathe. It was so intense, but soft.

Suddenly he pulled her in closer by the waist. The hand that had been by his ear went to his shoulder to brace herself, but then she was acutely aware that he still wasn’t wearing a shirt. It hadn’t really mattered or registered properly when she was more concerned with his wounds. She’d been thinking as a healer, at least at first. Now with most of his injuries healed she wasn’t fully in the headspace of a healer.

Especially with him in that close. His nose was almost touching hers. It felt at least as intimate as that moment with their hands, but this time there was even less between them, just her thumb, and the space seemed to be closing slowly. Her face felt so hot. Did she want to kiss him? What if he was just her friend? But if he was only her friend, would she be leaning in closer too? Would she dare move her thumb away?

“I hope you appreciate the trouble we went through.” Like lightning Alain’s gruff voice shattered that quiet moment and made them move apart in a flash. Sumina’s face was burning. He’d been about to kiss her. Hadn’t he? Her stomach was in fluttering knots.

Sirius froze in place with the tray of food he had brought while Alain held the door for him. Walter had an armful of bandages and remedies which weren’t needed anymore. They were all surprised to see Sumina there, and blushing a brilliant shade of red. Walter was the first to recover, and interrupted Alain’s next question before he’d gotten a word out though he looked like he was about to say something,”Lady Sumina, what a pleasant surprise.”

The dishes rattled as Sirius stumbled to set the tray down,”Y-yes. What he said. I… I got extra muffins.”

“For yourself.” Alain shut the door.

Sirius shushed him. Walter cleared his throat,”I guess I don’t need the bandages.”

All of them were stealing looks at the blushing Prince. Especially when Sumina nodded,”R-right. I’m almost done.”

Sirius scratched behind his ear,”Could… stay for muffins if you want?”

Royland pinched the bridge of his nose. These three idiots had the worst timing. Why had he begged his father to allow him to bring all three? It didn’t seem worth it now. The whole situation now was unbearably awkward. Alain had his arms crossed and mumbled,”Tea would be nice. With the muffins.”

Sumina covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a laugh. Alain was acting like he didn’t care, but he was fishing for a cup of tea. It put her more at ease to see Alain too embarrassed to ask outright for what he wanted. Her shift in mood made the whole room a little brighter and less tense. “I’ll finish here, but I should go. Tell you what, tea and muffins after supper. But you have to be at dinner.” She pointed at Royland.

Their eyes met and for a moment they were both thinking back to before they were interrupted. Royland looked away first though he had noticed the rosiness in her cheeks,”Very well. I’ll be there.”

“Good. Let me see your back.” It was more awkward now with an audience. Royland shot his friends a glare but turned as instructed. Sumina’s hands were gentle over his back. It had borne the worst of Davin’s beating, at least toward the end. Sumina’s brows were drawn together in concern. “This might have gotten infected…” Several places the belt had broken the skin. Sumina closed the wounds with what was now nearly an expert touch. Once finished she traced her fingers along the largest scar there. It ran from his shoulder down to his hip across his back though she actually stopped halfway, right about at his spine.

Royland sucked in air when he felt her fingers along that scar. There was a pause that stretched on silently. Whatever the moment there had been waiting for didn’t happen. It wasn’t meant for an audience, so Sumina withdrew her hands,”There. Let me know if I missed anything. And put on a shirt before dinner.”

The moment Sumina shut the door behind her all three had gathered around their Prince. “What was that we walked in on?” Sirius demanded first.

Alain grabbed Royland by the arm, his question leaving his mouth before Sirius had even finished speaking,”Did you kiss her?”

Sirius gasped,”You did, didn’t you!?”

Alain was almost shaking Royland now,”I knew it!”

“You did not! I was the one telling you he fancied her!” Sirius argued. Their shouting was getting on the Prince’s nerves.

Royland pushed Alain’s hand away,”Shut up. I did not kiss her. You remember what my face looked like an hour ago.”

“Were you going to though?” Walter’s question was pointed, as usual. Royland’s face flushed.

“I don’t know. I never will with you three barging in! Now get out, I’m going to eat and get dressed. Out!” He was practically pushing them out the door. They all objected, but none more piteously than Sirius who uttered just before Royland shoved him into the hall.

“But the muffins!”

“Thank you! Now go!”
Yavanna     301d ago

Whispers followed when Royland emerged, unblemished. He went about finding a book from the library and then planned to find a spot in the garden to read it. Surely no one would object to that. He was still looking for a decent book when Castien approached. He leaned his back against the shelf beside Royland and looked the Prince up and down,”I see you’re looking well, Your Highness.” The redhead nodded and looked away,”Good.”

Royland looked at the guard. Good? So he actually wished him well? That seemed strange to Royland, though he did recall some of the falls the boys took thanks to Castien last night. He didn’t get the chance to question it, because Castien’s charge hadn’t been far behind and joined in between the two,”I’m delighted to see you well. It was dreadful what happened last night.”

Lyrei leaned closer, as if trying to see what book Royland was considering, but very deliberately leaning against his arm,”Reading? Do you have any recommendations?”

“I… um…” Royland leaned back a little. “I’m not sure. Still looking.” Her dress covered her shoulders well enough, but the neckline plunged rather low. He couldn’t help but notice. Lyrei favored the Elvish style of dress. He tried not to look any more than he already had.

“Maybe we can look together.” The half-elf lady leaned farther into Royland’s space under the guise of finding a book on the shelf in front of him. It was making it hard for him to not look at certain places. She pretended not to notice,”I have so much catching up to do.”

The timing was terrible for Lyrei. Just when it looked like she had Royland a little flustered, Lily came around the corner clutching a book,”Oh, I’m so glad I found you. I heard you were hurt. I’m having some trouble though. Father wants me to finish my lessons even though we’re here but I’m having so much trouble. I know you’re good with maps, so could you help me?”

“Sure.” The Princess of Madej received a soft smile from Royland. He thought of her as a little sister, and it was pretty common for her to ask him to help with her lessons. “I have a few things I should probably be working on anyway.”

“Ah, if you’re studying may I join? It could be very educational. I feel as though I’m so far behind.” Lyrei fluttered her eyelashes at Royland, but it was Lily who answered.

“Of course! I want to make sure you feel welcome.” Lily looked so happy to have a little study group as she led the way to a table where her lessons were already stacked,”My tutor left all these here. Do you need to get anything?”

Lyrei tilted her head and smiled,”Yes. I’ll be right back. Thank you, Princess Lillian.”

“Oh please, call me Lily. I’ll be right here waiting.”

As they walked away Lyrei turned back then muttered to Castien,”I expected a den of vipers. It isn’t too far off, and yet I also seem to have discovered a couple of harmless bunnies.”

Castien snorted,”Is that how you see them? Ah, and what will your poor new familiar think…”

Lyrei’s cheeks were pink,”Hush. I don’t think she’s… I mean she’s wonderful, but not strong. And it was on my mind I suppose. That’s all. Because I like her.”

The guard just chuckled more,”I see. So you like these other bunnies? If they are sweet bunnies then what, pray tell, do you think His Highness is? You seem to like him quite well.”

Lyrei pondered it but didn’t answer as she went to fetch her lessons.

While Royland spent a good part of the afternoon helping Lily and Lyrei with their studies Sumina was busy trying to pry what information she could about the mysterious deal. The trouble was Sionia was out and Sumina had declined the invitation earlier. Since Sionia already left it was too late to change her mind. Iolas was apparently also busy now with some sword practice which also occupied Ayre and Tarron. That left Aias and Vaeril available to interrogate.

Sumina thought she might have better luck with Vaeril, so he was the one she went looking for. It wasn’t hard to find him, she knew what trees he liked the most. He liked to sit up in some of the trees and just enjoy the quiet, or looking down at people passing below. His familiars were free to come and go as they pleased and they enjoyed the feel of the wind together. Today it was cloudy, or getting to be with heavy, dark clouds rolling in on the wind, which smelled of rain.

Sumina looked up through the dappled remnants of sunlight of the third tree she tried and finally spotted a familiar figure on the wide branch near the trunk, a little ways up. “[+darkgreen There you are. I’m coming up.]”

Vaeril sighed,”[+darkgreen Mina, wait. I’ll — Mina!]”

Sumina did not wait. She was already trying to scramble up onto the lowest branch. It wasn’t easy and she was bent over it awkwardly. After a brief pause she started to try to get up onto the branch properly.

“[+darkgreen I’ll come down.]” Vaeril offered. He moved his foot, ready to swing down, but his sister objected.

“[+darkgreen No, I’ve got this! Just give me a moment. I wanted to ask you something.]” Sumina resumed her climb. Vaeril wasn’t especially high, but Sumina was not skilled at climbing trees.

Vaeril knew about her pathetic tree climbing skills. “[+darkgreen Is there some reason this conversation can’t happen on the ground?]”

“[+darkgreen I can get up here, it’s fine.]” She was almost there, and rather shakily pulled herself onto a branch nearby and just below Vaeril’s. It was smaller, but she was also smaller than he was. She still didn’t feel particularly secure, but it would have to do. “[+darkgreen There.]”

“[+darkgreen What was so important you needed to climb up here to talk, then? Are you in trouble and hiding, hm?]” He smirked down at her, even more amused when she pouted up at him.

“[+darkgreen Why would I be in trouble?]”

“[+darkgreen Aren’t you usually right about now?]”

“[+darkgreen What is that supposed to mean?]”

Vaeril leaned over and ruffled the top of her head with his fingers affectionately,”[+darkgreen Nothing, nothing. Tell me what’s bothering you. Or we can watch for Tanyl.]”

Sumina’s mouth twisted to one side. He didn’t mean ‘nothing’ by it, but she’d let it slide. She had a question to ask, afterall. “[+darkgreen What do you know about the deal between Zeravell, Madej, Volaire, and Arouet?]”

“[+darkgreen Ah, the one that has the Valralei family taking a noble seat? I’ve heard a little. It was apparently quite the contentious argument last year.]”

Her eyes lit up. So Vaeril [i did] know something. She just had to keep him from seeing just how interested she really was. “[+darkgreen Oh? Then why haven’t I heard anything until now? It was quite shocking for the Valralei family to show up. Exciting, but unexpected. Do you… know what the rest of the arrangement entailed?]”

Vaeril looked down at his baby sister. The way she was looking at him with slightly wide eyes and an expression that screamed fake disinterest wasn’t hard to read. She was utterly transparent, possibly the worst liar that he’d ever seen when it came to almost anything. But there was the singular tell, that little flush in her cheeks, that told him what this was [i really] about. “[+darkgreen How does this tie back to him? Ah, he doesn’t know either. That is surprising. And he asked you?]”

A swat at his boot made him smile. She had suddenly clung to the trunk of the tree. She looked like a nervous cat who realized it had climbed higher than it meant to. Vaeril pulled himself to stand,”[+darkgreen Calm down before you fall. It comes down to smuggling trees. Someone made a blunder and the trees will starve them all if we don’t come and save them. These were our terms. There are a few other details but none of it concerns us. Now come down.]”

“[+darkgreen Tree smuggling? What trees? What are the other details?]” Sumina tried to stand, wobbling on the branch as she did so. Initially Vaeril was quiet and just watched his hawk familiar land on a branch in front of him.

“[+darkgreen You’ll hear as a healer probably, but we won’t allow…]” Vaeril sighed. “[+darkgreen But you aren’t asking for yourself, are you? Matters of governance and treaties have never interested you before.]”

“[+darkgreen Well… well, like you said. I’m not a child anymore. What about a healer? Why not me?]”

Vaeril leaned his head back against the trunk of the tree. Why had he said anything? She was persistent. “[+darkgreen It doesn't concern you. Another healer will take the tasks. But a healer is wanted, and will be provided while we help with the trees and confiscate any related samples. We’re also making a decent amount of money selling them food in the meantime. That’s most of it.]”

The information she was after, finally. “[+darkgreen So what kinds of trees were stolen?]”

Vaeril snorted while Tanyl squawked in something like laughter as well. “[+darkgreen That is [i really] none of your concern. Now let’s head in before it rains.]”

Sumina pouted as she watched her brother effortlessly climb down the tree. “[+darkgreen How about I decide if it’s my concern or not?]”

“[+darkgreen Nope, that isn’t going to work, Mina. It really isn’t something you need to worry about. Just be nice to the new nobility.]”

“[+darkgreen ... Fine, help me down.]” Sumina was still pouting and Vaeril couldn’t help but laugh as he helped his sister to the ground. The clouds were blocking most of the sunlight and it was looking like quite the storm. She knew she wasn’t getting any additional information from Vaeril, but it would be a start.

Vaeril put a hand on her shoulder but Sumina stepped back,”[+darkgreen Thank you. I’ll be in shortly, I just want to get some flowers first.]”

“[+darkgreen I could help.]” He offered, but Sumina shook her head and ran off saying it shouldn’t take long. She didn’t want him following her.
Yavanna     298d ago

Flowers weren’t her real goal. She picked a few on her way because flowers really did help her feel better when a storm came, but she was headed for the royal greenhouses with the idea of searching their records for anything that might indicate the theft of any particularly special variety of tree. She planned to be there and back before the storm hit.

The logbook was open in front of her, the desk lit only by a single candle. Normally the tree nursery was bathed in sunlight, the glass panels that made up the walls and roof allowing it all in. The clouds above were the reason it was so dark. They were why she felt so rushed. Why had she thought this was a good idea?

Well, any actual records of tree smuggling would be legal documents she had no easy access to, and that was if it was even a matter of public record. If they were uncertain of the culprits it might be lost in royal reports she had even less access to. The only thing she could think of was to see if any particularly valuable or unusual species of trees were suddenly requested and moved. It had seemed simple enough, but the logbook was unbearably dull. She also didn’t know enough to actually pick out any strange orders that could signal anything unusual. She might have something if she knew what time period she was looking at for information, but all she knew was that it was argued about last year so it was before that. Sumina just didn’t know how far back to look.

Zeravell was proud of their agriculture too. They grew many types of plants, and experimented to produce even more. What kind had even been taken? There were too many kinds of trees, and each kind had various subtypes. Some were decorative, some practical for food or medicine, some for building, and still others had great magical uses. Each kind that passed through this nursery was carefully documented in meticulous, incredibly dull fashion. The Elvish rune writing went page after page on what plants were growing, how well they were doing, when to transplant them, and where they ultimately ended up. A rumble of thunder snapped her out of her search. She looked up, staring at the gray sky nervously. There was probably still time to head back, wasn’t there? Even if she hadn’t found what she was looking for.

Sumina looked in the direction of the castle. The windows were lit but small like stars in the distance. The greenhouse was not close to the palace, and she could only see the upper floors. Several trees, bushes, flowerbeds, and a fountain were between her and the nearest entrance. One drop of rain and then another made a wet tap up above her.

There wasn’t time to debate it. Sumina stood up from the wooden table, ready to leave the ledger and run for it. Who cared if someone noticed it out of place? But just as she blew the candle out the rain became a deafening patter against the glass, which was immediately followed by a bright flash and the crack of lightning. The young healer yelped and ducked down to take shelter under the table. She felt horribly exposed in the glass building. The wind started to howl and she could see and hear all the rain. Even under the table there was no hiding from the thunder and lightning, it was almost as bad as being outside in it, but just barely better than actually having to run outside and make it to the castle. Maybe the storm would be over soon. She tried to convince herself it would be, but the light flashed again followed by a boom that made her flinch.

It was around the time the rain started that Lenoir visited the little study group. “Quite diligent with our studies, I see.” The Princess stepped in just beside Royland’s chair, placing herself between Royland and Lyrei. She touched the map of Madej lightly, tracing a river to the large lake,”Now, where is it that your family sits? You’re so new I just haven’t memorized it yet.”

Lenoir turned to Lyrei with a smile, but Lyrei knew a jab when she heard one. It was subtle enough that she couldn’t say anything, except to answer the question. “Right here. By the southern mountains, just a little east of Koron’s Peak.”

“Oh my, I imagine it’s so quaint and picturesque there. It must be very quiet.” A veiled insult. It was framed as a compliment, but she was saying the land was boring and not worth much. Lyrei bristled a little, but Lenoir moved on before Lyrei could actually respond,”It will be a little while before we’re all in Madej, though. Next year is Volaire, isn’t it? I’m looking forward to it.” She fixed a sweet smile on Royland and touched his shoulder,”I believe I heard there were some additions made to the castle. You must show me around, Prince Royland.”

One of the obligations of hosting. Being the tour guide for visiting royalty and nobility. It was not his favorite thing to do, so his answer was short and polite,”Of course, Princess Lenoir.”

His heart wasn’t in it, and that fact bothered Lenoir. Only a little, because she intended to get more interesting reactions out of him. She just couldn’t right now with so many people around. She would get her chance though. “May I join you?”

Lily lifted her head from the table,”You can tomorrow, if you like. I’m really quite done with it today.” She tugged on Royland’s sleeve,”Brotheeer, how do you do it? My head feels like mush.”

Royland chuckled,”Practice. I’ll help you tomorrow too.”

Lenoir’s eyebrows raised ever so slightly. While Lily got a laugh out of him, it also indicated a lack of interest in pursuing him. Lily was no obstacle that way, but might still be a thorn in her side. “I can help tomorrow as well. Though I’m sure Prince Royland will be more help. He is quite clever.” She still had her hand on Royland’s shoulder, almost posessively.

“What did you do with Mina?” Though he’d be reluctant to call it salvation at any other time, the sound of Sumina’s brother’s voice was a welcome distraction from their study arrangements. Tarron was the one asking, but Royland turned to see all four of them approaching.

[i Great]. When all four of them ganged up on him it usually meant a scuffle. The Prince stood,”Nothing. I’ve just been studying here.”

Vaeril, from the back of the little group, sounded surprised,”You mean she isn’t with you?”

The atmosphere was suddenly tense. The storm was now raging outside. Royland stood from the table,”I haven’t seen her for hours.”

Ayre was frowning,”We can’t find her anywhere. She’s not in her room.”

Lenoir made a small sound of indifference,”She likely found some corner to sit in. Why does it matter?”

Royland felt a small surge of anger but Aias answered first, his voice with a slightly caustic edge to it,”Mina is frightened of storms. She would be in her room if she weren’t here with us all.”

“We need to find her! Where did she run off to?” Tarron was worked up, and already rushing off to search the palace room by room until he found her.

The other three had a little more sense and stood there thinking. Castien was also on edge and put his hand on Lyrei’s upper arm. They exchanged a look and Lyrei cleared her throat,”If you’re all so concerned we should find her.”

Lenoir suppressed a sigh. This was not how she wanted the evening to go. Royland was giving it some thought and decided to ask,”Who saw her last? Any hint to where she might have gone?”

Ayre and Aias said they hadn’t seen her since she peeked in on sparring. Royland admitted he hadn’t seen her since she healed him. Thus Vaeril was the last in the group to speak to her. “She went to pick flowers, but she should have gotten back. It… [+darkgreen Shit.]” He put his hand to his forehead,”If she’s not here in the library somewhere she’ll be in a greenhouse. For trees.”

Curse words were mumbled in Elvish from the remaining brothers. The greenhouse was a terrible place to be in a storm. Vaeril started toward the door,”I’ll go get her.”

Royland wasn’t going to be left behind. “I’ll help.”

Aias motioned vaguely toward the library as a whole,”She could be in some corner here, or arrive while you’re gone. We’ll cover this area, just in case.”

Not everyone here knew just how terrified she was of storms. She put on a brave face, but it was an intense fear. Her brothers knew, and she had confided in Royland, though he had yet to see her caught out in one unprepared before. Any previous storms had always had her inside and distracted well before it started. He had seen her tension, the way she flinched when the sounds of the storm were audible. He knew she had a genuine fear that she didn’t often speak of.

Sumina was shaking and considering maybe just making a run for it anyway when the door opened. Sumina whimpered and covered her head. Tears stained her cheeks. It was so hot and humid in here, and then that burst of cold air from outside sent her shivering. “She’s here.”

It was Vaeril’s voice. Sumina dared to peek out from under the table. There was Vaeril by the door, his long hair tied back and dripping wet. But she didn’t rush to him. The next flash and boom had her scrambling out and throwing herself right into Royland’s arms. He only looked startled for a moment before he just held her tightly, letting her sob on his shoulder. “[+darkgreen I thought I’d be back. It wasn’t supposed to take so long. I wanted — I’m so sorry — I didn't think anyone — You came. Royland, I was —]” She was babbling in Elvish and yelped when another flash of lighting lit up the sky.

Vaeril watched it all, his back to the storm. She had been faced with a choice between Vaeril or Royland, her own brother or this Prince, and she had chosen the Prince. She could have just as easily run into Vaeril’s embrace, but it was the Prince of Volaire she clung to, her face buried against his chest. Vaeril looked at the human his sister was so fond of. Sumina was hyperventilating, still mumbling less and less coherently in Elvish that she was sorry. The troublemaking Prince just held her, his hand in her hair. He shushed her gently and told her it was fine, that she was safe now. Vaeril watched with a neutral expression, the only outward indication of his surprise at seeing this side of the Prince was a tilt of his head to one side.

A bolt of lightning briefly sundered the clouds and the dark, the sound that followed drowned out Sumina’s frightened whimpers except to the man closest to her. His palm went over one of her ears while he held the other against his chest,”It’s alright. I’ve got you. Let’s get you back inside. Hold my hand and we’ll run. Are you ready?”

It took her a couple of seconds before she nodded. She still looked terrified. When Royland took her hand she squeezed it tight. Vaeril offered his hand as well and she held on just as tight to him. With her safely between them they made a break for it. The greenhouse door was shut and then they ran past trees and the fountain. The men were already soaked, but before long so was Sumina. She yelped when there was another flash of lightning that sounded like it was right over her. It didn’t stop her, she only stopped once they were inside.

She had almost run right into the door before Vaeril had yanked it open. She went in first, stumbling, and then almost collapsed. Royland didn’t let her fall, he pulled her into a tight embrace while she stood there breathing heavily, almost sobbing. Vaeril shut the door against the cold and rain. “You’re safe now, Mina. Let’s get you dry clothes.” He eyed Royland as he continued, meeting those usually hard blue eyes. Now they seemed hardened in a different way. He recognized that look, it was a feeling familiar to him. Protectiveness.

Vaeril put his hand on Sumina’s head,”Tanyl will bring the others. Let’s get you to your room.” She was clinging too tightly to the Prince for Vaeril to imagine she would let him go. At the same time, Vaeril didn’t want to leave her, so the red tailed hawk was called and sent flying through the castle to find the others.

On the way up to her room Sumina calmed considerably. She was no longer on the verge of panic, instead just tense as the wind howled and flinched whenever there was a flash or sound. She was holding Royland’s hand so tight it hurt a little, but he didn’t say anything. Vaeril opened the door for her,”Mina, you should change into something dry. We’ll be right back. We can’t all stay in wet clothes all night.”

She was looking at them a little wide eyed. She didn’t really want them to go, but she knew Vaeril had a point. “... Alright.” She agreed and went to change. That left Vaeril with Royland as they both walked toward their respective rooms.

Vaeril was silent. He might have said something, but he was still mulling over the simple but notable fact that Sumina had run to Royland instead of him. And that the Prince was unusually gentle with her.
Yavanna     296d ago

When they gathered back at Sumina’s room Ayre and Aias had arrived already and were sitting with Sumina by the fireplace. It was about ready to turn into an argument when Royland and Vaeril entered together, having run into each other in the hallway.

“[+darkgreen I’m fine. I told you. I don’t need you all to —]” the rumble from outside made her stop, tense. Royland didn’t understand what she said, but he understood her tone.

Vaeril frowned,”We’ll stay with you. It’s about time for dinner. Do you want to go down or shall we bring something up?”

Sumina stood up from where she was by the fire. Her hair was hanging loose and damp over her shoulders, unbrushed, but she looked determined. “I can go downstairs just fine.”

She was stubborn, but they could all see how tightly wound she was. The storm raging outside made her nervous. It was like she was waiting for something terrible to happen. She went on ahead, and only then did Royland finally dare to ask her brothers,”Is there some reason she’s so afraid of storms?”

Ayre shook his head. He and Aias were the oldest so they answered. Ayre started,”She’s always been scared. As a baby she cried, but when she got older she’d hide.”

His twin continued,”Mina has tried to get over it, but she’s always been terrified. Some say it’s because she’s Snow Blessed. She knows the storms are Vydis raging against Alethela. That she senses something we can’t.”

Royland snorted,”Ridiculous.”

Vaeril smacked the back of Royland’s head with an open palm which got a sharp look from the Prince but Vaeril went on as if he hadn’t noticed,”Whatever the reason, she is afraid. And if anyone tries to drag her out into the storm against her will again, they will answer to us.”

“Wait, again?” Royland hadn’t heard about this. Sumina had never mentioned being dragged out into a storm. All three of the brothers were suddenly more somber. Their expressions matched, and it was something dark and unforgiving. There was the sense that Royland had stumbled on a sensitive topic, but the brothers were being remarkably open with him.

Ayre was the one to tell the story, his voice soft to avoid being overheard by his sister up ahead of them,”She was very small. Her abilities had been discovered recently. A man came from the Temple of the Sky nearby to see her for himself, he made a huge fuss over her. That she was destined for greatness and glory. A storm came in and he stayed the night, our parents weren’t going to send him out in that weather. When he saw Mina afraid and hiding he thought she was being ridiculous, a girl as special as her had nothing to fear. Our parents told him to drop it, she was just a little girl. But he didn’t, he waited until after dinner to drag her outside when everyone was busy. We heard her crying and screaming, even over the storm. She bit him, scratched at him, but it wasn’t until she froze his arm in a block of ice that she managed to get free. He’d left bruises on her arms. His hand was saved. Father was going to leave it, let him lose it to frostbite for what he’d done, except Mina was worried sick that she might have done the miserable bastard permanent harm. Word reached his superiors about what he’d done to her and he was stripped of his position. If I’d have been a little older he really would have lost that hand.”

It wasn’t just a story, it was a kind of warning in the way Ayre was looking at Royland. There was an implication that if anyone hurt his sister he would be willing to maim them, and Royland believed that. The brothers had always been quick to come to her defense. But he felt the same. Hearing the story stoked anger in him,”Only his hand?”

That protectiveness toward Sumina. Vaeril thought back. Had he always been so fierce defending Sumina or was this something new? The Prince had certainly always led her into trouble, that was for sure. Vaeril decided to let one piece of information drop to see what reaction the Prince would have,”So you see she’s really quite terrified. And yet here she was, out in a storm tonight. Because of you.” Royland looked surprised, which told Vaeril what he needed to know. “So you didn’t know. I suppose we can’t really blame you. Here, let’s eat.” They had arrived in the dining hall, so the time for talking was at an end, but Royland was irritated about dropping the topic then. Why had she been out in the storm for his sake?

Dinner was a quiet affair. The patter of rain accompanied the clinking of dishes and small talk, periodically lightning drowned everything out for a moment, and Royland was still aware of the whispers about him ‘evading punishment’. Everyone seemed to be taking the storm in stride, except Sumina. She was putting on as calm a face as she could muster, but whenever the thunder or lightning roared she would tense up. Sionia was chatting animatedly with her about the shopping trip, but it wasn’t quite enough to relax the healer.

As everyone filed into a sitting room for the evening socializing, Iolas stopped Royland, grabbing his arm. The Prince of Zeravell, still bald from the loss of the bet, sneered,”Did you go running to Sumina to escape punishment? They’ve been talking about what to do about you.”

“What are you talking about?” Royland pulled his arm away, barely restraining the impulse to hit that smug face. His patience was wearing thin. It ended up not intensifying when Sumina came between them. She took Royland’s hand and held it like a vise. The smile she gave them was a little strained.

“There you are. I was hoping we might play a game. I promised muffins and tea, didn’t I?” It was hard for Royland to stay irritated when she looked at him like that.

“Sure.” What else could he say? He’d ask her later what she’d been doing out there and if it really had anything to do with him. First was deciding on a game and helping her relax during the storm.

Sumina went to the cabinet where games were neatly stored or displayed for times just like this. She immediately picked out an Elvish board game involving dice and intricately carved pieces that went along spaces on a beautifully painted board meant to resemble a forest. Royland shook his head,”I thought we could play chess.” He pulled a board down,”I never got to play you in the tournament.”

Shaking her head, Sumina took the board from him and reached up to put it back,”I’ve had enough of chess for the week.”

“Have you?” He pulled the board back down, only for her to try to grab it. They both held onto it, him wanting to keep it down and her wanting it put away. “You didn’t play much in the tournament. I think you have one more game in you. We could wager something.”

Royland was smirking while her cheeks turned pink. It was working, she didn’t seem to be thinking about the storm at all. “Wager what? I don’t want another big tournament.”

“I don’t know. You think of something. What do you want?” He was just trying to keep her talking and from remembering the weather. Had someone really dragged her outside in a storm when she was a little girl?

“What I… want? I… I ah…” He was staring at her, and the board was still held firmly between them. His eyes were such a captivating blue. What did she want? From [i him], specifically? The rumble from the sky outside made her jump and release the chessboard,”Oh. Um. I… m-maybe we can play something else. Cards, if you want.”

She was tense again, trying not to show it but undeniably anxious about the weather. Royland gave in and put the board back,”We can play that one you picked, but I don’t know the rules.”

“It’s really simple. I think you’ll like it.” Sumina had perked up again. It’d be worth playing whatever game it was to keep her mind off the storm. They wouldn’t be getting to the game right away though.

“Prince Vondien.” They both turned when they heard his official title. It was the King of Zeravell himself. The golden haired elf had his arms crossed and a stern expression on his face. King Aithlin Iliven looked to Sumina and his expression softened,”Little Lady Sumina. I suppose you should be present. Follow me.”
Yavanna     294d ago

He led the pair out of the main room, down the hall, and into a smaller room where several guards were waiting. It was much more private, but the storm was more audible in the quieter space. The King spoke once a guard shut the door behind them all,”I’ll get to the point. The injuries were meant to be a punishment for the fight. I know you meant well, Sumina, but a serious fight is unacceptable and must bear consequences. There has been some debate, and some leaned heavily on lashes — “

“No.” Sumina moved herself between Royland and the King. “I mean, ah, with all due respect [+darkgreen uncle], ah, Your Majesty.” She was fumbling her words pretty badly, and Royland put his hand on her shoulder. He applied light pressure to get her to move, but she didn’t budge and kept on, her words rushed,”But no. I won’t let you hurt him. I healed him. Punish me instead, but don’t hurt him. I won’t let you.” She was shaking her head. Thunder rumbled and she looked close to tears,”You can’t.”

It was a mixture of pity and confusion carved on his face. “We wouldn’t dream of harming you, Sumina. Prince Vondien must face the consequences of fighting. You did nothing wrong, you meant well and didn’t understand.”

Sumina shook her head again. Royland whispered in her ear,”Sumina, stop. It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine. And I understood. I knew what I was doing. If you’re going to punish anyone for this it should be me. I healed him and I’ll do it again.”

The King seemed to give it some thought and asked slowly,”You would bear the punishment in his stead? Even were it fifty lashes? A night in the dungeons?” Sumina just nodded. The King asked again, softly,”A night like tonight, alone in the dungeon?”

She looked pale and terrified. Sumina answered before Royland could stop her. “I’ll do it. Whatever it is.”

“Sumina, no. You can’t. I won’t let you.” Royland put his hands on both of her shoulders as he moved in front of her, facing her. She wouldn’t look at him. He was bordering on panic because he could not accept the idea that she might be hurt over this. Over [i him].

“I hope you realize what you’re doing. Take her.” The guards who had been waiting at the edge of the room all stepped forward at the King’s order. They went for Sumina, but Royland moved her behind him, shielding her. The panic was building. He could not let anything happen to her.

“Don’t you touch her. I’ll go.” He almost growled the words, and looked ready to fight them all singlehanded. They’d have to incapacitate him before he’d let them touch a hair on her head. He counted six guards here. They might be able to take him down, but he’d make them pay dearly for coming after Sumina.

Sumina was holding his shirt, the fabric bunched up in her fists at his shoulder blades,”Royland, stop. I said I’d go. It’s fine.”

“She did agree. This is Zeravell’s case to decide.” King Aithlin was calm. Royland was not, and bristled, ready to go down fighting every guard in the palace if he had to. There was a fire in his eyes, a fighting spirit. The King waved his hand and the guards stopped,”I can see you won’t back down. While I am not entirely satisfied, I will allow the matter to drop. Perhaps I took this a little far. Sumina?” He tilted his head at Sumina, who was trembling like a leaf.

Royland had looked furious until the King uttered Sumina’s name. He turned and she finally released his shirt, only to bury her face against his chest. The Prince just held her tightly. He was still so tightly wound, having been ready for a fight. The King offered an apologetic smile,”I had to see your character for myself, Prince Vondien. I’m sorry to have distressed you, Child of Alethela. I would never truly hurt you, my dear sweet child. If this is genuinely your will, then I will accept it. I would like to speak more with each of you, but not now. I’ll leave this room to you and send your brothers in. You don’t seem quite up for dealing with a crowd.”

Sumina mumbled,”Walter, Alain, and Sirius too. Royland’s guards. I promised. We’d have muffins and tea.”

The King looked amused,”You promised? Well, that settles it, I’ll send them in as well. You’ve always been one to keep your word, and I shall not force you to break it on account of my little test.”

Once she heard the door close Sumina peeked around to see if they were alone. While she looked to one side and then the other Royland sighed,”That was reckless. You shouldn’t go around doing things like that.”

He was frowning, but she could tell by his eyes that he was really worried. She made an attempt at a smile, but it was too tinged by fear to look genuine. “Why? I couldn’t let them hurt you.”

“And I was supposed to let them hurt you? Think, Sumina.” He sounded frustrated. Part of him itched for the fight that had been avoided, even as he was relieved it wasn’t necessary.

Some of that yearning for the thrill of the fight faded when he felt her hand against his cheek. While he was often looking for an excuse to fight, he wanted her safe above that. Safe right here with him. Sumina rubbed her thumb over his cheek,”I’m sorry. It’s fine though. Muffins and tea and games.”

“Mm, with your brothers. I think they’d have killed me if King Aithlin had punished you. We’d both have been in so much trouble tonight.” He found himself able to smile as he teased her. “And no muffins.”

“Trouble never stopped you before. Vaeril was telling me it’s about time I got into some trouble with you anyway.” Royland’s eyebrows quirked in an amused way with a silent question and she laughed,”Of course he didn’t say it like that. And you don’t even like muffins that much, Sirius would be the one disappointed.”

“We could disappoint him. What sort of trouble would you like to get into?” He was smirking in that mischievous way that Sumina loved. In his eyes she could see the wheels turning, churning out ideas. There were butterflies in her stomach. “I could think of some uses for itching powder if you’d make some.”

“Nooo, not again. That was too mean.” Sumina protested, but she looked happy.

Royland pulled her in a little closer. He was feeling calmer with her there, but she was blushing. “Too mean? Nah, not at all. But if you don’t want to help with that maybe we can go steal people’s sheets. We’ll hang them up on the balconies. Harmless, see? Just annoying.”

“Ah… maybe… But it’ll be the servants having to remake all the beds in the middle of the night.” She had a point, and Royland shook his head.

“I thought you were looking for trouble. We could freeze their pillows. Maybe the whole bed.”

He could tell she was about to protest against that idea too, but the storm outside rumbled too loudly to ignore. She tensed in his arms and looked toward the window. He put his hand on her cheek and turned her head back to face him,”Look here. It’s fine, Sumina. Just stay right here with me.” He leaned in closer and the room felt warm to her,”We have some beds to go freeze.” Then he pressed his lips to her forehead.

Except she was the one frozen. The indignant way she’d usually say his name that he expected to hear didn’t come, but the door opened instead. “I knew you wouldn’t let us down, Lady Sumina!” Sirius was already excited, running right in. Then he stopped and the other two guards entered in just enough time to see Royland move back from Sumina’s head, but she had hold of his shirt again and he couldn’t step away.

Alain elbowed Walter, but Walter just opened his eyes wide in anticipation of whatever Alain was about to say and rushed to fumble out something less awkward,”Ah, Lady Sumina. Your brothers said they’d be along in a moment. Just getting… things. Um, King Aithlin said you wanted to see us?”

The way these three were looking at him. Walter seemed embarrassed more than anything, meanwhile Alain and Sirius were both grinning to different degrees. He was regretting not letting them know of Sumina’s intense fear of storms, because she was clinging onto him like a frightened cat and it looked a little like something else. Especially when she put her head on his chest. The red his cheeks and ears were turning wasn’t helping the impression they were no doubt getting, or that his arms had settled back around her with nowhere else to go.

Sumina spoke softly, enough that all three of the young knights had to come in closer,”Yes. I promised tea and muffins, didn’t I? So we could have those and play a game, maybe.”

A flash of lightning and she flinched in anticipation of the sound that inevitably followed. Understanding dawned on their faces when they saw her shut her eyes tight. She was afraid of the storm. Walter was the first to think of something to do and got the other two to join in clumsily setting up a place to play the games. They tried counting chairs as they dragged them to a table, remembered Sumina’s brothers were coming, and realized they didn’t have a table big enough to fit that many chairs. It was a scramble then to figure something else out that left Royland amused watching them. He whispered to Sumina,”I think if that had been your brothers they’d have killed me.”

“No, I don’t think so.” Sumina whispered back, watching the boys trying to fit round tables together to make a larger table. It wasn’t working. Royland’s look communicated his disbelief of her statement and she went on,”I mean, we could explain. They know about storms… That’s all. You were helping me feel better because we’re friends. Right?”

“... Right.” Royland mumbled the word and held her a little tighter. They’d always been friends, hadn’t they?
Yavanna     288d ago

When the tables wouldn’t go together right, they tried briefly to turn the chairs into a table. It took entirely too long to realize the backs of the chairs made that impossible. Sumina was giggling while they puzzled over it and put the chairs back. She finally had some mercy on them. “Get the low table and steal the cushions from the soft chairs. We’ll sit on the floor, it’ll be fun.”

They’d almost set it up when Sumina’s brothers all entered. Tarron was the one forced to carry a bulky load of blankets which he dropped the moment he saw Sumina nestled comfortably in Royland’s arms. “[+darkgreen Mina! Where have you been? Why are you with him?]” An accusatory finger pointed at Royland got the point across well enough that Royland just fixed Tarron with a cool stare and posessively put a hand on Sumina’s head.

It made all four of the brothers bristle. In the past Royland would have stuck his tongue out at them, and he was sorely tempted to. Sumina tensing up in his arms at the low, drawn out rumble from outside was enough to distract him, and thankfully also her brothers. Vaeril was carrying the tray with pots of hot water, covered in quilted fabric to keep them warm longer, and teacups. Aias had the muffins all piled on an identical silver tray, while Ayre carried in the games. He’d brought the board game Sumina had picked out earlier along with a deck of cards. Ayre was the one to speak up,”Ignore Tarron, where are we putting all this? Mina wanted to play a game, didn’t she?”

There was some general commotion while the table was arranged. Her brothers tried to subtly get her to sit between them, two on each side, but she wouldn’t let them get between her and Royland, and the Prince wasn’t going to let that happen either. Sirius had slipped in to get some muffins as soon as he could so he had claimed the spot next to Royland. Then continuing around the circle was Alain, Walter, Ayre, Aias, Tarron, and then Vaeril who had squeezed himself between Sumina and Tarron to cut off any fight between the two. The choice of game wasn’t argued over much. Sumina wanted the board game. Alain had objected that “No no no, not a kids game. It looks dumb, we should play cards instead. Now that’s a proper — “

Royland’s foot impacted his shin painfully under the table. Royland played it off by shifting his position, as if his leg had fallen asleep. But Sumina was looking crestfallen and Royland was glaring daggers. “Uh, actually. I thought this was a [i different] game. This one looks loads better. How do we play?”

It was not subtle at all and Sirius almost choked on a muffin laughing. Alain was saved by Tarron, who rolled his eyes,”Why is it always this game?”

Vaeril didn’t even look at Tarron,”Because Mina likes it.” The board was laid out in the middle of the table and Vaeril quickly snatched up all the little pieces meant to represent players on the board. He slid one to Tarron next to him,”You can be the boar.”

“What? Come on, I don’t want the boar!”

“Tough.” Vaeril wouldn’t budge, and he had all the pieces.

The small figures were carved and painted in beautiful detail and looked almost lifelike. A small white bunny was given to Sumina, while Royland was given the gray wolf. Vaeril took complete control of handing them out, and distributed the bear to Alain, the squirrel to Sirius, the raccoon to Walter, the majestic antlered deer went to Ayre, a snake to Aias, and Vaeril kept the owl for himself. There were a few other pieces, but they were set aside. Aias had raised an eyebrow when given the snake after his twin got a deer, but Vaeril had just smirked and shrugged.

The dice were slid over to where Sumina was sitting. She placed her bunny at the starting point, which was on the outside edge. “So the rules are simple. We roll the dice — “ The sound of the storm made her pause. Royland put his hand over hers and she continued,”And the number determines how many spaces we move.”

The board indeed had a number of spaces, each marked with various symbols. There were a few places where one could choose a path, a space that was marked with elvish runes that looked like the start but the bars and locks painted on it indicated it was not good news. The goal seemed to be a beautifully painted tree in the middle of the board. A small meadow of flowers in front of it seemed to mark the finish. Sumina finished her simplified explanation,“We try to avoid traps and find helpful things and make it to the magical tree. We’ll explain what each symbol means more as we go, but chains are very bad, they send you to the cage. You also get sent to the cage if you run into hunting traps three times. Those are these little nets. This potion lets you move forward an extra three spaces, but this one makes you move back seven.”

“Youngest goes first, and that’s Mina.” Ayre declared,”Then around the table.”

“Which direction?” Walter asked.

Vaeril was the one to supply the answer,”To the left, usually. So His Highness next.”

Dice were rolled, the creatures moved along the painted forest, and everyone enjoyed the tea and muffins. Sumina was more relaxed some of the time, but when the storm invaded the space and made its presence felt she would tense up or go quiet. It was hard for most of them to watch, but she’d go right back to the game when it was over, or her other pastime of teasing her brothers. Or them teasing her.

She rolled well and her little bunny ended up ahead. Tarron tossed a piece of his muffin at her,”You’re cheating again. You can’t possibly roll that good all the time.”

Sumina looked offended,”I do not cheat! You’re just a sore loser, Tarron.”

That was when Sumina leaned over, touched his teacup, and froze the tea solid. She stuck her tongue out at him. “Mina!” Tarron looked furious. Royland laughed, and Tarron started to lunge before Vaeril knocked him flat on his back in a quick move that seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Don’t pick fights, Tarron. Royland, it’s your turn.” Vaeril calmly sipped his tea while the Prince took his turn. Sumina settled against Royland, laying her head against his shoulder.

“Royland rolled well too. Are you going to accuse him of cheating?”

“Mina.” Ayre said her name in a warning tone. As the eldest he sought to keep the others in line, and they had guests. It wouldn’t do for them to squabble any more than they already had.

Sumina sighed, then a sound from outside made her sit up straighter. The Prince of Volaire just put his arm around her and pulled her back against him. Aias was frowning from across the table. “Mina, let us give you something to help you sleep through the storm. We brought some things.”

“No. I’m fine.” She was being stubborn and pouted,”I want to play.”

“And after?” Vaeril asked. She didn’t answer and he briefly met Royland’s gaze. He wondered… “You usually take something. Royland, don’t you think she should take something to help her sleep? Or she’ll be up until the storm is over.”

Why was Vaeril asking [i him]? Royland frowned and looked at Sumina. She seemed fine, until a low rumble made her tense slightly. It was subtle enough that the others might not have noticed that one, but maybe Vaeril was right and she wouldn’t be able to sleep until the storm was over. “Maybe you should take something, Sumina. We can keep playing too.”

A moment of hesitation, and then Sumina mumbled,”I suppose.”

Vaeril didn’t say anything, not now. Tarron started to but Vaeril elbowed him,”We’ll put it in your tea. Drink it when you like.” Vaeril pushed her tea over to Aias who added the medicine. While Alain took his turn Sirius eyed the muffins. Royland shook his head and Sirius gave the mostly empty plate a forlorn look.

It took another couple of turns before Sumina finally started sipping her tea. She gave in when lightning flashed outside. It might help her relax. She’d almost jumped and figured maybe they were right. She just really wanted to enjoy the game with them all.

It was her turn soon, and then it went around the table again. Alain was bemoaning his poor luck, while Walter comforted him saying he wasn’t doing much better. By the time it was her turn again Royland had to prod her. She thought she’d just blinked when it was Ayre’s turn. “What… Which one was that? In my tea?”

Aias took a drink of his own tea,”Scholar’s Bane. It’s very effective.”

Sumina made a soft sound of dissatisfaction and had to force her eyes open again. “[+darkgreen That’s overkill.] It’s stronger than I need.”

“Is it? You swear by the stuff for treating people.” Aias responded a little smugly. “You’re too stubborn for anything else to work anyway.”

“How much did you give her?” Ayre frowned a little. Sumina’s eyes had drifted closed again and her head was drooping down. She wasn’t going to be able to stay awake too much longer.

“A large but suitable dose. I’m not an idiot, but I did want to knock her out fast. She was out there in this weather, she needs rest.”

Sumina rubbed her eyes and shook her head,”I’m fine.”

Vaeril took one of the blankets that had been brought that no one had claimed yet and draped it over her,”You would say that in any case. Just get some rest.”

With another sound to indicate her irritation she laid against Royland,”You’re all mean.”

Her turn was rolled this time, but she was out by the time her turn came again. The general consensus was to end the game there and get Sumina to bed. Reluctantly Royland let her brothers take her, though part of him wanted to take her himself. They’d have insisted on coming with him and it would have been a huge hassle, he’d just find her in the morning. It still left him scowling. He got up to go to bed himself, but Sirius stopped him. “What’s wrong?”

“Who said anything was wrong?” Royland snapped. His tone gave away the fact that something was, in fact, wrong.

“Your face. You started sulking as soon as they left with her. What happened?” Sirius had spent the most time with Royland. He could read his expressions best. He knew something must have happened recently.

The Prince pinched the bridge of his nose,”Nothing.”

“We know she didn’t dump you, you two were all cuddled up. Bleh.” Alain made a face.

“Dump? Excuse me?” Royland was glaring with an intensity that made Alain shrink a little.

Walter cleared his throat,”What he [i means] is something felt, ah, off tonight. King Iliven sent us here himself. Lady Sumina seemed erm, afraid of something? Was it just the storm?”

The last thing he wanted to do now was answer questions. He was feeling so agitated now. Why did having her away bother him so much? “We all talked. Sumina is petrified of storms.”

“Didn’t someone say she’d been out there earlier though?” The question was sensible, but Royland didn’t want to answer Sirius. Not in depth, not now.

“She was. I’m going to bed, I’ll explain later. Once I know what she was doing.” Royland shut the door behind him, harder than he meant to.

The three others looked at each other, then Sirius slid the plate of leftover muffins closer. Walter tapped his fingers against the table and muttered,”Something is definitely going on.”

“Yeah, he likes her. Duh.” Muffled by a mouthful of muffins Sirius was barely understandable.

Smacking his hand on the table Alain snorted and went to the door,”Can’t be all. This is different. King Iliven is involved.”

“We’ll have to wait and see then. Let’s try to get some sleep.” Walter smiled in a way that indicated disapproval and moved the muffins away from Sirius,”You’ve had what, half a dozen? If you’re sluggish in the morning because of it, Davin is going to make you eat dirt.”
Yavanna     283d ago

It wasn’t until after breakfast that Sumina was able to find Royland and get close enough to talk to him. The storm had cleared, leaving a few clouds scattered in the sky. The gardens looked a little brighter, and some were eager to get some fresh air and enjoy that clear air the rain left. Sumina had pulled Royland to the side though, not far from the dining hall. By now she’d managed to have some conversation with Sionia about it all, and gleaned more information than Vaeril was willing to share with her.

Royland went along with her willingly, and both of them looked up and down the hallway to ensure no one was lingering to listen. Most had already filed out of the dining hall and to somewhere else, scattering. Satisfied that they were alone, Sumina dove in,”I found out about the deal. Most of it, anyway. Apparently it’s suspected that the Kings may have something to do with some trees that were stolen a few years ago. No one can prove it though so that’s all just rumors. Apparently even [i we] only keep maybe a dozen because they grow so aggressively, and we always pair them with this parasitic vine to keep them under control. Um.” She hesitated before stepping a little closer and continued a little quieter,”We keep half the trees in one location and half in another because there are ‘male’ trees and ‘female’ trees, and they need to cross pollinate to make more trees. No one can prove the Kings did steal them, but Sionia said it’s suspicious. Especially since the trees are um, a key ingredient in some very powerful ah…”

Sumina was blushing and suddenly clammed up. Royland tilted his head and took her hand in his,”What are they used for?” There were several things his father wanted. If these could be used for war then it could spell disaster for the territories they had an eye on conquering. Already their conquests were brutal, his father didn’t need more weapons.

That was not it, and Sumina blurted it out softly,”Fertility potions. Apparently when used properly it’s incredibly effective. But ah, very few people know how to make it or what the other ingredients are. A-anyway, the trees are aggressively growing all over Madej, Arouet, and Volaire. In exchange for us getting rid of the invasive trees and helping restore farmland Zeravell demanded Elvish representation in the nobility of the other nations. Since you know, some of our noble houses have at least a little human ancestry. But that wasn’t all. In negotiations last year Sionia said they got some additional terms ironed out and agreed on. Any material from the trees is to be given to Zeravell, and additional Temples of the Sky will be opened in time. They’ve also requested the services of a healer to attend to them and see that they’re in good health. But Zeravell says they won’t do anything until the nobility is appointed. So. That’s what I found out.”

She’d delivered it all in a rush and Royland stood there silently for several long seconds digesting the information. [i Fertility potions]? It was ridiculous, and yet also something all three of the Kings might do. Each had only managed to produce a single heir that was still living at this point, and desired another. Chatille and Stride wanted a male heir, only having a single daughter each, and Royland’s own father saw him as a disappointment. A chance at a more suitable heir, or the threat of one to wave at Royland, would probably make Harrenhal’s decade. It would take some powerful potion for the old man to have any hope of it, considering his luck so far.

“Thank you, Sumina.” He squeezed her hand,”I don’t know if I’d find out anything about this without your help. But was this why you were out in the greenhouse?” The young lady nodded bashfully. Royland sighed,”You don’t need to go so far. I’d be fine even if you hadn’t learned anything.”

“But I wanted to. And now you know what the deal is. Though I doubt I’ll be able to learn anything else, like what your father will do about it. No one seems to know what the Kings are planning, really. And no one can prove they were involved with anything.”

“What am I going to do with you? You’re so reckless.” The Prince sounded a little exasperated, but amused and smirked slightly as he leaned forward until his forehead was against hers.

“As if you have room to talk. Beds to freeze?” She was smirking as well, eyes bright with happiness and a hint of mischief. They were so close. Just friends, right? His nose touched hers, and she realized she was leaning closer, so she suddenly moved back. She tried not to act as flustered as she felt. Of course he wouldn’t kiss her, they were friends. Very close friends.

Royland took her other hand in his. There was something else on his mind besides whatever trouble they could find today. “Last night. Sumina… Did you mean that?” That she would actually be willing to suffer for his sake was something he had trouble wrapping his head around. But she confirmed it with a nod and a tightened grip on his hands.

Before either of them could say more Lily had started to run down the hall toward them. “Royland! Oh, and Sumina too.” The younger Princess grabbed them each by the arm, seemingly oblivious to the hands clasped together which released at her touch,”You promised to help me study today too. My tutor said if I didn’t finish it she’d tell my father to give me even more lessons! So many I won’t be able to play outside!”

Royland looked amused. The tutor knew how to motivate her. “Alright, alright.”

Lily turned to Sumina, barely pausing,”Would you like to join too? I think a bunch of us are.”

“Sure.” Sumina did have some lessons she was behind on. She was always studying, but her studies as a healer sometimes overshadowed other things.

Books were gathered and a large table in the library was taken over by the study party that included Royland, Lily, Lyrei, Sumina, and Lenoir. It really was focused on their studies, Sumina and Lily both actually needed Royland’s help with various subjects. Both girls were not as great with geography as their tutors expected. While Sumina did well in math Lily needed help with that too. While Lyrei and Lenoir did attempt to get Royland to help them it was clear enough that the other two had genuine difficulty with their work. It wasn’t exactly the romantic time either Lyrei or Lenoir had envisioned, cozy in a corner with Royland’s undivided attention.

It was after they stopped to eat something that Royland was approached by King Illiven. The golden haired Elf motioned for the Prince to come closer. The King held himself with a seemingly effortless dignity. “Young Prince Vondien. I wanted to speak with you about yesterday’s events. It seems our young Lady Sumina holds you in high regard. Come, walk with me.”

The gardens were a common place to go and have a conversation while walking. His father did warn him that with Elves about anything that needed to be said privately should be said while moving. Any animals too interested in following were not to be trusted. Was that why King Illiven had them taking a stroll? Royland kept his mouth shut, waiting for the King to say something. They passed under some trees shading the cobblestone path.

“How do you regard the young Lady? She is rather special, isn’t she?” Aithlin watched the Prince’s reaction from the corner of his eye, trying to judge what his real feelings were. “Might you be seeking to exploit the power she will doubtless wield in the future? Take advantage of her kindness?”

Royland bristled,”What? She’s my [i friend], I wouldn’t. And I won’t let anyone else take advantage of her either. She’s…” The Prince turned away. He’d lost the grip on his temper at the suggestion that he might be exploiting Sumina. He would never. He’d go after anyone who dared. She was, without exaggeration, the best and kindest person he knew. “She’s my friend.”

“Hm.” The King gave a thoughtful hum. “You are not what I expected. In any case, do continue to be a steadfast friend, but do not interfere with her destiny. Her future will be bright. It will be here, in Zeravell, one way or another. She will be Divine Nightingale, if she desires it. Let us go back, I would like to speak with Sumina now. Do not worry, I will be brief and you may continue to study. She really has been neglecting her geography.”

Royland was frowning when he returned, and watched Aithlin with that same frown as he beckoned Sumina and led her off to the gardens for her talk. What was he trying to do anyway? It was such a short conversation and Royland was trying to figure out what Aithlin meant. Was he seriously just trying to figure out if Royland genuinely cared about Sumina? Of course he did! But maybe Aithlin was cautious, it sounded as though lots of people pretended to be Sumina’s friends but had other motives. And Sumina was naive enough to fall for it.

Sumina followed the King out into the garden. It was a lovely day, it almost seemed a shame to be stuck studying indoors. Except indoors with Royland’s help she was getting through a lot of work. Sumina didn’t wait for Aithlin to start talking, she started first. “[+darkgreen Uncle, I saw you with Royland. You aren’t still thinking about punishing him, are you?]”

The King laughed and put his hand on top of Sumina’s head,”[+darkgreen No, child. The young Prince Vondien is safe under your fierce watch. I did want to ask you, however, why you are so fiercely protective of him. He is a foreign Prince. Surely it’s none of your concern what fate befalls him.]”

Right away it was clear he had offended her. Sumina sighed dramatically and crossed her arms,”[+darkgreen I say it [i is] my concern.]”

“[+darkgreen Sumina, Zeravell is your concern. The people here love you, they need you. But, perhaps your friendship with the young Prince could bring Volaire closer in time. It might counterbalance other influences. In any case, I should thank him for finally getting you to catch up on your geography. Don’t neglect the history, and I am aware you have been skipping riding, dance, and music far too often the past few months.]” As the King went on his smile grew while Sumina’s face turned pink.

“[+darkgreen I… Fine, maybe he can help tutor me.]”

“[+darkgreen There we have it, that can be his punishment then. I’ll go tell him.]” The King was already on his way back to the palace, taking long strides but managing to not look rushed.

A stark contrast to Sumina who lifted the long skirt of her dress so she could run after him,”[+darkgreen Uncle, wait! You wouldn’t! Don’t tell him that, Tutoring me isn’t a punishment anyway!]”

“[+darkgreen Some of your tutors beg to differ.]” The King called back to her, but did not stop to let her get ahead and went inside and to the library where the study group was gathering again.
Yavanna     280d ago

The time for the next ball, this time in Volaire, was drawing near. Before any of the guests arrived Royland had his first of three surprises. Some weeks before the meeting there was a small wedding he was forced to attend where he was shocked to find one of the Lords that governed lands in the southern part of Volaire was marrying a young, pretty Elvish girl. She was a handful of years older than Royland while her new husband was about twice her age.

They, and the other nobility of Volaire, were all there for the wedding and stayed since the gathering was soon. It was convenient to do so, so he watched the Elvish girl shyly try to get accustomed to her new position. He interacted with her a few times and she seemed nice enough. So this was how his father intended to fulfill his part of the bargain with Zeravell. Marry one of his lords off to an Elvish girl, make her young and pretty to get the lord to agree easily.

His second surprise was that King Chatille and his delegation arrived quite early, and with their own new Elvish noble to fulfill the terms of the deal. This girl was half elf, and seemed quite stuck up and pleased with her new status. It probably helped that her husband was closer to her age, being only a few years older.

During the almost week that it was only the Arouet delegation there Lenoir insisted on spending time with Royland. He had initially tried to politely dodge her, but he’d gotten a stern and painful reprimand. The future of Volaire, he was told, depended on the continued growth of the friendship with Arouet. He had to spend time with her, he had little choice. He really would rather have done anything else.

The third surprise came with the final delegation to arrive. The Madeji delegation had arrived a couple of days before and Zeravell was the last to show up. Royland was required to attend the formal welcome as every royal or noble coming in from Zeravell came in. It was stupid, a glorified hello that seemed pointless. He noticed Iolas had his hair back. It was still short but didn’t look ridiculous. He couldn’t resist. “Your hair is growing out so well, I’m sure you’ll have it in order soon.”

False concern, which he knew was not something that could be argued against opening even if it was obviously an insult. Iolas narrowed his eyes, but managed a strained “Thank you.” before moving on.

He turned his head to the next greeting, Princess Sionia, but saw Sumina out of the corner of his eye. There wasn’t any way he could possibly look away. His breath caught in his throat and Sirius had to nudge him to continue his welcome to Sionia, but his mind and heart were racing. Had she always looked like [i that]? She was taller, her figure was… It was her turn and briefly his eyes wandered over curves that hadn’t been there last year. He was pretty sure they hadn’t. Something in her face was different too, it had matured somewhat, losing some of that girlish fullness in the cheeks and looking more like a young woman. She’d gotten taller, but not nearly as much as he had sprouted up in the months they’d been apart. He couldn’t help but just stand there dumbfounded while his face and ears turned red.

She was staring up at him and her cheeks were going pink. Neither of them moved until Sirius nudged him again, harder. Royland released a breath he’d been holding. “W-welcome to Volaire, Lady — Um, Sumina.”

The default greeting, or part of it, was about all his brain could grasp for at the moment. She wasn’t just pretty. She was stunning. She’d always been kind of adorable. Sweet and charming. Her smile had always made him feel warm and content. This time when she smiled bashfully at him it felt a little different. The contentment was still there, but now it was tinged with a want he couldn’t pin down at the moment, and it was too late to explore once she made her greeting and left. “It’s good to see you too, Royland. I’ll see you later.”

Sirius again had to nudge him to continue the greetings. The rest passed by in something of a blur. He wanted to see her again, but by the time greetings were done the Zeravell delegation were all off to their rooms to freshen up before the afternoon and evening of relaxed socializing. Lenoir was walking toward him. He needed to get [i out]. He grabbed Sirius by the arm,”You. Spar. Now.”

It was, he discovered, one of the surefire ways to keep Lenoir at any sort of distance consistently. She might watch, but she wasn’t stupid enough to get within the reach of a sword being swung. Sirius shot the other two a pleading look, and Walter and Alain followed along so Sirius wouldn’t be at the mercy of the Prince alone.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

“But I thought you said really pretty girls can’t be trusted.” Alain frowned, holding his sword at the ready for another round. “And Lady Sumina is — “

Alain had to duck to avoid that swing as he backed up. Even when they were talking Royland could be a formidable opponent. The Prince insisted in almost a hiss,”She doesn’t count!”

“But… She is pretty. You were staring.” Sirius pointed out, safe on the sidelines for now.

“She’s the most beau — I mean, I know she’s a girl and she’s… She just doesn’t count, alright? She’s [i Sumina]. You know. With her it’s different.” Royland had lowered his sword. He was frowning.

“Different how?” Walter prodded gently. That made Royland blush.

“The pretty girls are up to something. Sumina is…” The Prince’s face was turning red. What did he think about Sumina? She was the kindest person he knew. And she genuinely cared about him. She was willing to suffer for his sake. He couldn’t put it into words. He motioned for Walter to step in,”Shut up. Let’s just spar.”

Lenoir was still watching and he wasn’t ready to go face her yet. What he wanted was a chance to talk with Sumina.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

When had he gotten so tall? Sumina settled into her room, laying out some of the things she packed neatly for later. She took some time to brush her hair and put it up into a loose bun. It wasn’t especially fancy, but it would be nice. She wondered what Royland might think. The way he’d looked at her earlier seemed different. He was nervous. And she still had butterflies in her stomach from that intent gaze of his. She was eager to see him again, but there wasn’t a need to rush, was there?

Sumina considered her reflection. She wasn’t vain, she didn’t normally pay much attention to her appearance as long as she was clean and appropriately dressed for the occasion. Usually it was someone else fussing at her to dress up more, do more with her hair, her make up, or to wear jewelry. So why was she considering it now? It was silly. Royland wouldn’t care. He was her friend. And she didn’t care either, did she?

Her face was red when she left her room in more of a hurry than she’d meant to. No dressing up, it was just a simple afternoon catching up with everyone. The bun was practical, it was a warm sunny day. That was all. What did it matter what he thought about her hair?

With nice weather like this it wasn’t surprising to find everyone outside, including Royland. It also wasn’t surprising to see him sparring, so she just went over to wait until he was done. She wasn’t really interested in watching though, so she found a nearby place full of flowers blooming and started to pick and weave them together.

She’d been working at it for a few minutes when Castien approached. Lyrei had gone to watch the sparring, and Castien had gravitated to Sumina. He leaned over and picked a flower to present to her. It was a deep, beautiful shade of purple and almost as big as her palm,”It is not nearly as lovely as you, but would you accept and allow this blossom to bask in your beauty?”

“Ah, Castien. It’s nice to see you again. How have you been?”

“Far better now that I am with you again.” Castien sat by her and worked the flower into her hair so it would sit nicely on the side of her head. “I swear you look more alluring each time I lay eyes on you.”

Sumina met his eyes. He let his hands rest on her cheeks. His eyes were very lovely up close. They were green, but at this distance she could see the little flecks of gold that seemed to shine in the sunlight. He was a [i very] handsome man and her face feld hot. She turned away abruptly to get back to working on her flower coronet,”Thank you. For the flower. How is Lady Lyrei? I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Ah, My Lady went to watch the spar. She should be right…” Castien looked over to where Lenoir was still standing, then paused as he scanned the sidelines. No Lyrei. He wasn’t alarmed yet, but he stood up,”I better go see where she… Oh. I ought to go.”
Yavanna     279d ago

Sumina looked up from her nearly finished crown of flowers to see what Castien was staring at, and then got up to go over as well. Lyrei was in the arena facing off against Alain. She’d disarmed him, knocked him on his back, and won by the time Castien ran up to ask her what on earth she’d been thinking. The knights were all staring at her as she whipped her long ponytail back,”I asked if I could join and [i he]” She pointed an accusatory finger at Alain,”said sparring wasn’t for girls so naturally I had to show him that I’m not an ordinary girl.”

Alain’s face was bright red as he scrambled up to his feet. “I was going easy on you!”

“Didn’t look that way from my perspective.” Lyrei handed the sword to Castien and crossed her arms.

Alain mirrored her and stepped closer,”Of course I’d pull my punches for a lady! You’re out of your mind if you think I wouldn’t win in a fair fight.”

“Just admit that I won fair and square.” Lyrei poked his chest with her finger. As far as they were concerned the rest of the group wasn’t here. It was just the electrically intense looks they were giving each other.

At least until Royland stepped in and broke it up,”Come on, it doesn’t matter.”

“Rematch. Any time. Any game.” Lyrei challenged.

“Fine.” Alain accepted.

Royland just put his hand over his forehead. Sumina was sort of smiling as she stepped around the two quarreling to drop the ring of colorful wildflowers on Royland’s head. He looked up, bemused, and then at her. Her stomach fluttered,”For you. Do you like it? I was going to add more so it would be fuller, but — “

“Um, uh, no. I mean yes. It’s fine.” He hadn’t actually gotten a good look at it, just vaguely registering the ring of wildflowers in her hand earlier, and now they were on his head and he didn’t dare try to remove them. She was looking up at him first expectantly, and then with a relieved smile. He couldn’t bear the idea of rejecting the flowers. Somehow even now she could easily twist him into wearing these silly things.

“I’m glad.” There was a moment where they just looked at each other. There it was, that feeling of wanting something. Was it just because they missed each other and wanted to be around each other again?

Everyone was there watching them. Castien cleared his throat and took Sumina’s hand in his, bringing it up to kiss the back. Then he flipped her hand and pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist,”Your work with flowers is almost as beautiful as you. Might I be blessed with blossoms from your hands as well?”

“I, um…” Sumina hesitated, blushing more when the redhead kissed her wrist again, this time a little higher. “Ah, well, I…”

He wasn’t the only potential suitor. Royland was scowling but Iolas had come down by now and found them. “Sumina! Here you are.” He didn’t like Castien’s advances any more than Royland did. He put an arm posessively around her waist,”I was looking for you. I wondered if we might go together to catch up with everyone.”

Royland [i might] have tried to get involved, if only to tell the others to back off because Sumina looked uncomfortable, but Lyrei had slipped next to him. She ran her hand down his arm slowly,”What did you think of my fighting? Do you like a woman who can defend herself?”

“Huh? Oh.” Royland was trying to think of what to say, but he just stared at Iolas’s hand just above Sumina’s hip. All he could think was that he wanted Castien and Iolas to get their hands off Sumina, or he’d cut them off.

So he didn’t notice Lenoir until she had her arms wrapped around his other arm,”I think you always fight splendidly, My Prince. It seems that you’re quite fond of keeping your skills as sharp as a finely honed blade.”

The tension between all those vying for attention from one person or another had Royland’s three friends all take a step back, anticipating what might happen. Sure enough Iolas pulled Sumina against him when she just stuttered something that sounded like she was thinking of declining and laughed,”But why not? We are to be married.” Then the tension boiled over. Jaws dropped, and Castien considered raising the sword Lyrei had given him. Royland thought his heart had stopped. [i Married?]

Instead of going to the sword Castien asked in a tone that bordered on caustic, as much as he thought he could get away with,”Has the Lady accepted a proposal?”

“Not yet. But obviously that’s a formality.” Iolas was dismissive. “Who else would be suitable for her?”

“Excuse me?” Sumina found her voice, and elbowed Iolas in the ribs,”I haven’t agreed to [i anything].”

“A duel then.” Castien released Sumina’s hand.

“For marriage? Ridiculous.” Iolas scoffed.

Sumina actually agreed and indignantly backed up,”It is ridiculous. I don’t want you fighting like… like…”

Before Sumina could find the right words Lenoir had an idea and suggested it was a delicate smugness that only certain noble ladies could pull off without seeming silly, and she didn’t sound silly,”A duel might be ridiculous, but if we hold something of a tournament I think it would be grand. It will be like the chess tournament last year. Of course only the men will be fighting.”

“What are we to do then?” Lyrei didn’t sound pleased with the idea of passively sitting by while the men fought.

Sumina didn’t look pleased either, but Lenoir went on, stepping closer to Lyrei, and conveniently placing herself between Royland and Sumina,”We’ll play our own little game as we watch. Each of us can give a single favor.” Lenoir held up her index finger,”Then the men may choose a woman to accompany him to the feast, according to rank and only from among the women who gave favors to him. Unless he has none, then he may choose from the women who were rejected already. The champion and his choice will be King and Queen of the feast.”

Lyrei was interested now. A contest not of strength but instead beauty and charm. Or sex appeal. “Now that could be fun. Tomorrow then?”

Sumina’s face was turning red. [i She] did not particularly like tournaments. “Wait a moment. Why don’t we do chess again?”

But Castien and Iolas were looking at each other. The way Lenoir had phrased it made it appealing. Both replied that they were in for the tournament. Not willing to be upstaged, left out, or to let them get their filthy hands on Sumina, Royland entered not only himself but his three friends without bothering to ask them.

From there word spread like wildfire and there was no stopping it. Arrangements for the feast were being made and the list of participants for the tournament were growing, along with the number of women who were sitting to embroider favors or just sit and gossip if they had theirs ready. The last chance for a stop to it was the adults, and Sumina half hoped that King Vondien would put a stop to it, but he seemed pleased with it and gave it his blessing. Since it was his castle it was his call, according to the agreements, so the tournament would go on tomorrow.
Yavanna     277d ago

Somehow Sumina had found herself sitting with an embroidery hoop with the other ladies. All of the Elvish ladies seemed delighted at the idea when Lenoir had suggested it to them, so how could Sumina object?

While she knew how to embroider quite well she wasn’t sure what was supposed to go on the handkerchief in the human traditions until Princess Lenoir laughed in a decidedly unkind way at the flowers Sumina was stitching,”Are you making a favor or a gift for a little girl? Everyone knows a lady stitches her own family crest on a handkerchief given as a favor.”

Sumina blushed,”Ah. Well, the flowers… I thought it would be nice. This one means luck…”

The girls near Lenoir giggled, and the Princess added haughtily,”It isn’t traditional. But do what you like, I’m sure whatever Elvish boy you’re giving it to won’t notice anyway. Iolas, wasn’t it? Or do you prefer redheads?” Then quieter, mostly to her own friends,”He’ll be too busy looking at her cleavage to see the handkerchief. Do you see the way she dresses? All those Elvish girls are the same.”

Fortunately Sumina didn’t quite catch the last part, but Princess Lily did from her spot behind Lenoir. Sumina’s head was hanging as she looked at her handkerchief with concern. Would he like it? In truth she wasn’t very interested in this tournament. She was getting dragged along by the other young women’s enthusiasm, and a part of her that didn’t want to disappoint everyone by not participating. Lily didn’t confront Lenoir about her comment, she was far too shy to cause a scene, but she did move over to sit with Sumina,”It looks lovely. You’re really good at this. You know, we usually put our initials too. Here, like this.”

Lily showed her own embroidered design, which succeeded in cheering Sumina up. “Thank you, Lily. Does everyone really do this for tournaments?”

“They’re a bigger deal for knights and lower noble houses. That's their courtship, ours are usually arranged. They have those, and we have the ball. So I haven’t done this before.” As princesses she and Lenoir were expected to marry for political alliances. They only ever attended to watch as members of the royal family, and not to look for husbands. “Do you have anything like that?”

“Well, there are tournaments for the Paladins, but we don’t do things like this for it. They don’t compete looking for handkerchiefs. They aim to win a laurel. The winner each year gets to keep it until the next tournament, and it’s a great honor. There are three laurels, one given to the best swordsman, the best archer, and the best mage. For luck we throw flower petals into the arena when our favored competitors enter. It’s mainly done to earn favor with the Gods. Alethela and Odesis look favorably on honorable competitions.”

“Oh, so that’s why the flowers. Maybe an Elvish boy would prefer the flowers then.” Lily smiled, trying to be helpful.

Sumina just looked at her needlework and tried not to seem too embarrassed,”I might not be giving it to an Elvish boy…” Maybe. The more she thought about it the more sure she was about who she wanted to give it to. There wasn’t really anyone else she could consider.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

That evening after all the bustle over the sudden tournament and embroidering until her fingers were sore she tossed and turned in bed unable to sleep. She’d barely seen Royland except in passing, though she’d caught him looking at her a few times, and been a little embarrassed to be caught staring more than once. Everyone seemed to have something to do for the tournament, the feast, or both. Discussions over what foods should be cooked, what music was to be played, how many seats were needed, who would participate, and gossip over who might go with who dominated the entire rest of the day.

It made it impossible to sleep. Would Royland like the flowers she’d embroidered at first? Would he even want to ask her to go with him, or might she be better off asking someone else? He was her friend. Just her friend, right? So maybe he wanted to attend with someone else? But she didn’t want him to go with anyone else. He only ever danced with her anyway.

These thoughts kept her from sleep so she finally tossed away the covers and slipped out of her room in her nightgown. Just a quick trip to the kitchen, a nice cup of the right kind of tea, and maybe she could sleep. She doubted anyone else would be up this late, but she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep. Sumina tried to keep quiet as she went, but she missed a step on the way down the stairs, dropped her candle, tried to catch it, but then it fell with a clatter down when she burned herself grabbing at the part that was still on fire. The side of her hand under her little finger was red and sore, and it extended over her palm and the inside of her fingers where they were starting to think about blistering. She stood frozen in the darkness for several seconds clutching her hand. It [i hurt], but she didn’t want to wake anyone. She’d heal it while the tea kettle heated up.

It sounded clear, or at least no one rushed out demanding to know what the sound was, so she crept the rest of the way down the stairs and felt around with her good hand to pick up her candle and the little holder for it. With that recovered she lit it and continued unaware that someone was now following. It wasn’t until after she had safely set the candle down on the counter that they announced their presence.

“Pretty sure I know you can do better sneaking around at night.” Royland walked closer, but froze in place when she jumped and turned around.

“Royland! What are you doing here?” Her face felt hot and she turned to start the kettle for tea. “You can’t sleep either?”

He shook his head and took a step forward and set his own candle on the counter next to hers. The nightgowns he’d previously seen when they were both small were nothing like this one. This was silk and lace, and he hadn’t been prepared for the low, open neckline. It looked like one wrong move might send it falling off one shoulder, and in fact when she reached for the teacups it did slip down askew. She did not move to fix it. That simple fact kept him from noticing the way she only used one hand.

His ears had to be going red now. “I, uh. You know. I thought I heard…”

Sumina looked over at him bashfully and ran her fingers down a long stand of her hair. It was loose, and about as messy as could be expected after tossing and turning. Royland gulped silently as she mumbled,”Ah, so you heard. I sort of tripped. I didn’t mean to bother anyone. But I… I am glad you’re here. I haven’t gotten to see you all day. I mean, I have, obviously, but I mean like this.” Her face felt hot and she went on,”Not in our pajamas. You’re dressed anyway. I just meant alone. I… I missed you, Royland.”

She looked so earnest that he didn’t know what to say at first. Finally when the silence stretched on long enough that her eyebrows started to crease in concern he fumbled out what he’d been trying to find a better way of saying,”I missed you too, Sumina. So much.”

There were delicate things left unsaid between them. She had never really explained the meaning of that star mark that his eyes were drawn to as he moved closer. Nor had either of them delved too deeply into last years incident with King Aithlin. He didn’t ask about any of those things. Instead just a deceptively simple,”How have you been? You…”

‘You’ve grown’ might have been appropriate, but it really didn’t cover it at all. She’d grown up. She was breathtaking. He couldn’t say any of that. Instead he let it hang in the air, and Sumina answered the question he’d asked. “Well enough. How have you been though? Any particular reason you can’t sleep?”

Royland shook his head. “Just the usual. Since we’re up though we could have some fun. I was thinking of a shim under one leg of the dining tables. Make them wobble at breakfast.”

Sumina laughed, one hand over her mouth, which was when Royland saw the burn. “Royland, I only just got here. Ah.” He had reached for and taken her hand, looking at the blotch of red skin. It wasn’t especially bad, as far as she was concerned. It seemed to bother him though.

“I didn’t realize. Doesn’t it hurt?” Royland was frowning. Sumina nodded, then with her free hand touched her own palm and the burns faded. He didn’t let go and instead kissed the heel of her palm.

Her face was burning now, and the butterflies in her stomach were going wild. His hand was so warm and she could feel his breath against her hand. It was similar to what Castien had done earlier, but with Royland it felt more intimate and electrifying. She let the tips of her fingers brush against his cheek. He was more than a friend to her. He was her best friend, but maybe more than that even.

The way she moved closer with a burning intensity in her eyes begged him to do it again. He obliged and rested his lips against the inside of her wrist. When he didn’t move she inched closer again. Finally he murmured against her wrist a simple question. “Better?”

His face was red, and she was sure hers was just as vibrantly blushing. She nodded and caught her lower lip between her teeth. Had he ever looked at her quite that way before? She didn’t think he had. It was more than butterflies that look stirred up. It was a warmth deep down. Did he really feel that way about her?

The whistling of the kettle startled her and she jumped, whipping her head around to look. He didn’t let go right away, he squeezed her hand before releasing her to pour the water. What had he been doing? Royland watched her silently for a few seconds. “Tea, and then the shims.”

Sumina shook her head,”Not tonight. Mmm, tomorrow night. After the feast. I’m not dressed for it.”

“Who would be watching?” He would, and probably more eagerly than would be appropriate.

Sumina twisted her shoulders shyly and then adjusted the neckline of her nightgown to sit evenly,”This isn’t practical for climbing under tables. Here, drink your tea. Then get some sleep.”
Yavanna     277d ago

The tournament was due to start any time, and the ladies were in groups chattering near the arena. Lenoir stood up and clapped delicately and called for attention while she explained the rules.

“We will watch the men fight. It’s all one on one fights. Give your single favor at any point you like to the man of your choice. At the end the men will choose from among the favors the lady that will accompany them to tonight’s feast. The champion chooses first, and he and his lady will be King and Queen for the evening. From there they choose according to their ranking in the tournament. Anyone may participate, titled or not. And now we begin!”

Sumina took at sea and found herself between Lyrei and Lily. Sumina looked from one to the other and fidgeted with her favor,”So we give them right away?”

Lyrei looked at Sumina and then back to where the men were being sorted to determine the fighting order,“No. Almost no one gives a favor in the first rounds unless they’re already married to a fighter or at least engaged. After that, it’s almost a sort of… game. As Princess Lenoir said yesterday. It’s a little hard to explain. See, the men want as many favors as possible, but not all of them are equal. There are always particular women each man has his eye on, and the men really want [i those] favors. If you’re not one of the women being fiercely competed for it looks better to give your favor earlier, show support to a particular man you like, especially if he’s likely to lose. But no one wants to be the first to hand over a favor, so you want to wait as long as possible.”

Lyrei was from a lower noble house in a kingdom where the nobility were entirely human except for her. She was therefore well versed on some of the nuances, and knew something like this was a way she might find or court with a future husband. This was a golden opportunity for her, and she was ready. She was dressed ready too with a scandalously low plunge showing plenty of cleavage and a slit up her skirt to show off a long leg.

“Why doesn’t anyone want to be the first?” Sumina’s question was innocent enough. If you knew who you wanted to give your favor to, then why wait? With all this explanation Sumina’s stomach was in knots. She didn’t want to embarrass herself. She was trying not to think too hard about last night. The way Royland had been looking at her before the kettle was done. She couldn’t imagine giving this to anyone else, but handing it to him publicly with all this fighting seemed terrifying.

Lily hummed,”Well, it looks bad. It makes you look… desperate. So wait as long as you feel like you can. Oh, and a man [i can’t] reject a favor, it’s bad luck, so whoever you give it to has to take it.”

Lenoir had wandered over and fanned herself slowly with a delicate fan of lace with a tassel hanging off the end. She was covered head to toe in some very fine dress, but Sumina thought it looked a little hot. It wasn’t even an especially hot day, but somehow the high collars all the women from Arouet wore just made Sumina feel like it must be hot to wear. Sumina was dressed in more typical Elvish style with a swooping neckline and bared shoulders, the sleeves not extending far or covering her arms much. Her skirt was even shorter than usual this time, at least in the front where it only brushed her knees, while the back trailed down to her ankles. Arouet’s Princess was looking her up and down, silently criticizing her outfit,”That’s not all. In order of ranking each man will choose a woman from those whose favors he received to attend the party with, the couples will sit and dance together. Once we get to the boys with no favors they can choose any woman not already picked. Be careful not to look too desperate with your favor. You already sort of look the part and I would [i hate] for you to embarrass yourself.”

“Oh.” Sumina didn’t really respond to the insult, which just frustrated Lenoir further. This was all so different for Sumina. The whole ritual of it was unfamiliar. Still, she knew who she wanted to dance with at the party… but she didn’t want to look desperate, not after what Lenoir said. There wasn’t much concern about him losing early on anyway. Lenoir just turned and walked off, unhappy at not getting a rise out of her rival.

“Did you see her dress? She’s screaming for attention. Trying to keep all the men for herself. Don’t let her give her favor, she might steal your man with it.” Lenoir whispered to her friends so the word would spread. Really, she was scheming to use this as a chance to force a dance with the difficult to pin down Prince Vondien. He was handsome, titled, a skilled fighter, intelligent, and quite simply a perfect prince even with his attitude. He just needed to come around to the idea that Lenoir was the perfect Princess for him.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

Sumina knew she shouldn’t part with her handkerchief right away, so when the men gathered in the arena she stayed in her seat. But when was the right time? It was so foreign to her. With all the men gathered it would normally be a time everyone was throwing petals. But this was Arouet, not Zeravell. Sumina looked around, and everyone was seated, their attention on the fighters. Sumina looked back at the men and her eyes met Royland’s briefly. He looked away, seemingly intent on the tournament. Brackets were decided, and the man overseeing the match, some knight she didn’t recognize, sent all but two men away to wait.

Sumina fidgeted with her handkerchief. She never did much like these tournaments, despite having to attend the ones in Zeravell. In fact, she often found some excuse and slipped away, usually to tend to injured fighters. No one in Zeravell stopped her, and the competitors seemed to take it as an honor to have her tending to them as a healer. For this, it felt different, like she shouldn’t leave. The two men walked by where she and the other ladies sat. Some waved with their handkerchiefs, but none made it into the waiting hands of the men.

Their fight was over quickly. One much more skilled, or lucky, than the other. The second dragged on a little, though Sumina didn’t watch most of it. Her gaze was diverted elsewhere. Royland entered the arena. He looked so serious, and didn’t even look at her. No handkerchief had gone out yet, so Sumina held hers tighter, remembering the advice given. She didn’t want to embarrass herself or Royland.

He won, as she expected. But it was still hard to watch. Sumina managed to make it through the first round with all the fighters, squirming in her seat as matches went on back to back. She excused herself after the first fight of the second. Tarron had been in that one, and rather aggressively took down a boy that only barely made it past the first round. Some of the ladies were concerned, while Lenoir and her group laughed a little, and taunted her by asking if it was boring.

The reality was that she couldn’t stomach people getting hurt, and it was increasingly obvious that a fair few of these young men were doing this trying to get [i her] favor. Mostly Elvish, but even a few of the humans seemed interested. There were long looks, and one bold enough to ask directly if she might wish him luck. She couldn’t stand it. Sumina made her way around to where the competitors were waiting between bouts. She was too nervous to approach directly, but stood a little ways off, hiding behind a tree. She’d be here in case anyone did get hurt, but she needed a break from watching the fighting.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

Royland knew a lot of them were soft, and it would be easy to win the tournament. Almost too easy, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. Iolas was boasting about how he was going to win, so even if Royland had considered dropping out he wouldn’t give up the chance to show up Iolas. Zeravell’s Prince heard something about the winners choosing ladies to dance with, and insisted that he’d choose Sumina when he won. That was enough to secure Royland’s [i enthusiastic] participation, he’d wipe the smug look off the other prince’s face. And there was an unspoken, burning desire to ensure Iolas would not steal that particular dance with Sumina.

Only he found out that a few of the Elvish boys were not bad fighters. Sumina’s brothers were strong, he knew that from little scraps with them before, but Iolas hadn’t been skipping his training. All of them were progressing as easily as Royland himself. So there would be a challenge in this after all. Even so, Royland did not intend to be beaten. He was fierce in the arena, never going easy on his opponents.

So he didn’t need the encouragement Davin gave him, which consisted of threatening to beat him senseless if he embarrassed them by losing. Davin had pulled him aside before his first round to issue threats on Harrenhal’s behalf telling Royland he had better win, and when he did he was expected to choose Princess Lenoir as his Queen for the evening. The consequences for failing to fulfil that request were unnamed, but not hard to guess. Likely another beating.

What did it matter? Royland wasn’t terribly interested in the favors from the ladies watching. And yet once the first girl gave hers, each round he found himself with at least one. An Elvish girl had been the first to give hers, to an Elvish boy that lost that very round. Then they started coming in. Several ladies with sights set on him from minor houses. Lily ended up giving him her favor, but at the time she’d also called him ‘brother’ so it felt more like she was trying to avoid giving it to anyone else. Then there was Lenoir, who was definitely showing interest when she gave him her handkerchief. She had tried to lean over and kiss his cheek, like some of the other ladies had done when giving their favors. Unlike the other young men who were pleased with the kisses he had dodged the attempt, and avoided a red lipstick mark on his face by hurrying to his fight. But Sumina was notably absent from the stands. Where had she gone?

It was impossible for him to think much of the favors when he was still thinking back to last night. He hadn’t kissed her, but he’d wanted to. He’d wanted to do and say so much more, to put his arm around her waist like Iolas had done and tell her how much he hated when the other boys put their hands on her. Instead he’d chickened out after the kettle’s shrill call and meekly agreed to meet for pranks after the feast. The feast he was having trouble caring about.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

“What are you doing here?”

Sumina jumped. She’d been hiding behind the tree so long that she thought she ought to go back, the tournament had to almost be over. No one had been seriously hurt, to her relief. No one had found her either. Well, until now. Somehow Royland Vondien always found her hiding spots. Sumina turned to find him standing uncomfortably close by, and she took half a step back and bumped her arm against the tree.

“Nothing! Getting some air.” A flimsy excuse, which he picked apart right away.

“The whole event is outdoors. Plenty of air.” It had always been easy to see through her attempts at deception. She was too honest.

“Well, I…” That half step away was half taken back. He looked dirty, disheveled, and she could smell the sweat. And yet, his gaze was as captivating as ever, maybe more than she’d ever found it. Because really, there was only one young man she could think of that she’d want to give a handkerchief like this to. She held it just a little tighter, her hand at her side. “I just wanted to, ah…”

Her tiny step only accounted for some of the distance closed between them, because Royland found himself leaning in closer. His head cocked to one side,”Don’t like the tournament? You’ve missed most of it.”

How did he guess? It wasn’t too hard, she’d missed most of the fights. She’d expressed to him before her lack of enthusiasm for the tournaments in Zeravell. Of course he knew. Sumina shook her head, and Royland started to laugh. She looked confused. She was clueless that [i she] was one of the women most discussed back here, and her missing presence and favor one of the most sought after. Most of the ladies standing out there watching would kill for that kind of attention. And here she was hiding from them, admitting she didn’t even like the tournament.

“It’s a bit dumb, isn’t it?” Royland asked, running one hand through his hair which was more of a mess than usual. “All of this over a dance and dinner. I’ll win, of course, but I don’t want the silly dance. I might skip the whole party. It’ll be boring anyway. Just not ask anyone.”

He’d said it without thinking, and right away realized he’d made a mistake. Sumina’s face turned red and she looked away. The handkerchief was clenched tightly in her hand. The party after this was the only part of all this she was actually looking forward to. She’d hoped he’d want to go with her, to dance with her. The way he’d looked at her made her think… If he hadn’t realized she was upset before, he would have figured it out when she shoved the handkerchief at his chest,”Royland Vondien, you… you… Agh. Even if you don’t want it, just...”

With a sound of clear frustration Sumina walked off, leaving a bewildered prince to consider the handkerchief, and what he’d done to frustrate her. It took him a second, but he realized that she’d given him her favor. Did that mean she wanted to go to the celebration? With him? A blush crept over his face. They danced every year, and yet this seemed different somehow. Everyone would be paired off, mostly couples, and she had given her favor to [i him]. And she was mad at him. What was he supposed to do now?

“Vondien! You’re up!”
Yavanna     273d ago

Sumina returned, and quietly took her seat. It wasn’t obvious at first, but Lenoir and several other ladies had moved in to form something of a wall to try and prevent Sumina from being able to easily reach the front. It didn’t matter anymore, Sumina no longer had her handkerchief, though no one knew it yet except for the man she’d given it to.

Not that he even [i wanted] it. She’d basically wasted her favor, which was essentially her invitation to the feast afterwards. Most would be attending as couples, chosen by this ridiculous ritual. Sumina sat stewing in her frustration, barely watching the last few fights. Royland wouldn’t attend, or he’d go alone. What did that mean for her?

Maybe she could just leave and not attend the dinner either. She could make up some excuse and sneak a meal out of the kitchen. It was a little harder in Volaire than home in Zeravell but she could manage. She had just about resolved to do just that when she realized they were nearing the final fight and she was curious about who had made it this far.

She stood up to look at who was fighting but found her way blocked. She’d duck around one lady only to find another in her way. She couldn’t see what was happening now that she actually came back and cared to watch. What was going on? Lenoir sauntered over,”Why don’t you just sit down. I’m sure someone can explain what’s going on. You look a little tired. Were you up delivering babies last night?”

Sumina frowned slightly but gave up and sat down anyway. It wasn’t like she really cared anyway. Mildly curious about who Royland was fighting at best. Not that she was wondering what he thought about her favor.

The tournament was finally over and unsurprisingly Royland was declared the winner. Sumina had entirely missed the drawn out fight between him and Iolas, which had ended with Iolas limping to the medical tent where Sumina’s teacher was waiting to heal the injuries. Royland had started out a little distracted, looking toward the stands, but the fight was over once Iolas tauntingly asked what Royland was doing and insisting he didn’t care because one way or another he’d be attending with Sumina since they were to be married. The idea of Iolas marrying Sumina had put Royland in the right frame of mind to beat Iolas soundly and viciously.

It was probably for the best that Sumina hadn’t seen, though that wasn’t why the ladies from Arouet were blocking her. Finally Sumina was allowed to stand closer to watch as the men were all lined up by rank to applause from the crowd for their performance. Sumina’s stomach was twisting. She considered leaving. Royland wasn’t going to choose her.

Except he walked forward and held up the handkerchief with the little good luck flowers she’d sewn the day before. There was a collective gasp from some of the ladies but Sumina barely noticed. She met Royland’s eyes and a blush spread over her cheeks. Neither of them noticed the flash of pure hatred that Lenoir directed at Sumina. Almost as quickly Lenoir reigned it in.

Royland moved the handkerchief up in front of his face and raised an eyebrow. Lily moved closer and whispered,”You have to say yes.”

“Yes. Yes, of course I… Um.” Royland held his hand out the moment she answered, beckoning her to come down and join him. Sumina turned and started toward the stairs to go meet him.

At the exit Lenoir was waiting and asked nonchalantly,”When did you give him your favor? I didn’t see.”

“Oh. Um. Earlier?” It wasn’t much of an answer, but Lenoir had already figured it out. It was sometime when she’d been gone from the viewing box. Lenoir went back to where her friends were watching while Sumina descended the couple of steps to the ground and hurried to where Royland was waiting.

“The little tart snuck it when we weren’t looking. We won’t let her get away with it.” Lenoir Chatille was not going to give up her Prince without a fight. As far as she was concerned Sumina was now her enemy. Even if the little Elvish girl gave up now it wouldn’t matter. For this humiliation Lenoir wanted her to suffer anyway.

Sumina took Royland’s outstretched hand. She looked happy, but while he led her toward the side to wait for the other men to make their choice she asked him softly so no one else heard,”I thought you might not go.”

He desperately hoped he wouldn’t look as awkward as he felt when she asked that. He stumbled, tripping over his own feet, and held the handkerchief she’d made close to his face,”Eh, uh… Well, I got an invitation I couldn’t refuse.”

He squeezed her hand and looked up to where his father was sitting. Harrenhal Vondien looked furious. His eyes were icy, and Royland tightened his hold on Sumina’s hand. There would be some price to pay for choosing Sumina over Lenoir after being explicitly told to pick the Princess. But Sumina was worth it.
Yavanna     271d ago

This wasn’t the end of it. Lenoir centered herself at the ladies viewing box and clapped for attention. A hush fell over the crowd after several seconds. She waited until it was quiet before she spoke, loud and clear as a bell,”I don’t recall Lady Sumina giving Prince Vondien her favor. Did anyone witness it? Anyone?” A brief pause for effect. The crowd murmured softly. No one had seen, of course, because it hadn’t happened in front of them. “A favor must be a public declaration. Therefore unfortunately Lady Sumina must be disqualified.”

She said it with a smile right at Sumina. The Elvish girl deflated a little at his side and Royland bristled. Sumina’s hand had gone limp like she wanted to let go but he held on tightly,”She is not. I’ll go to the feast with her.”

“She didn’t follow tradition. She wasn’t even in attendance for most of the tournament. I’m afraid that’s how it must be. But, as we’re in Volare it is King Vondien’s decision.” Lenoir motioned gracefully with a hand and inclination of her head to where Harrenhal was seated.

The old King walked up to the railing and glared down,”Come up here.”

That didn’t bode well, not with the cold stare that held so much wrath and malice aimed at him, and then Sumina. On the way he whispered to Sumina “Whatever happens, it’s alright. I’ll see you tonight.”

Harrenhal was waiting with Davin there, sneering. “You ignored my warnings.”

Harrenhal looked coldly at Sumina. It didn’t take him long, his mind was made up before she arrived,”She’s disqualified. Take her away.”

“Royland, I — “ Before she could say anything else Davin put his hand on her shoulder.

It all happened quickly after that. Royland grabbed Davin’s wrist and moved his hand away. The back of Davin’s other hand hit Royland’s cheek. But then Sumina had grabbed hold of Davin’s arm, the one he’d hit Royland with. She was looking at him wide eyed but determined. Harrenhal’s voice broke the fight up before it could escalate. “Enough! I said she was disqualified. Now go. Royland, stay.”

Sumina let go of Davin then looked at Royland. He silently urged her to leave, and she reluctantly walked down the stairs. Davin started to follow but she waved him away,”I know the way.” She didn’t want to let them hurt him. Not because he chose her. But he had chosen her. He didn’t have to, but he had. Sumina waited nearby, not eager to go back and let Lenoir gloat.

Harrenhal’s lip curled in fury and disgust,”You were to choose Princess Lenoir, not some girl that’s barely above a commoner. And an [i elf] at that. Get out there and ask Princess Lenoir to the feast. We can still salvage this and remain on good terms with Arouet.”

“I made my choice.” Royland clenched his fists tight, digging the nails into his palms. It was to keep from trembling, to keep from showing any fear. The pain helped him focus.

His resolve slipped with the deceptively soft words Harrenhal uttered next. They seeped down into his chest like tendrils of ice water,”You will go with Lenoir, because now I know how to hurt that elvish pet of yours. And there won’t be a single thing Zeravell can do to stop me.”

“You’re bluffing.” It had always been some comfort to know that whatever happened Sumina was safe from his father. Zeravell would never let him lay a finger on her. That fact had often frustrated the King. It terrified Royland to think that his father might actually be able to harm her.

“Then do as you like, but you will have to live with the consequences. I’ll break you of this weakness, boy.”

[center [b ~*~*~]]

It wasn’t fair. Sumina looked at him so sweetly. “It’s alright. I’ll see you tonight.” Her words had meant to comfort him, but it wasn’t alright. He had asked [i her] to the feast.

Royland pulled out the favor she had given him. “Maybe they’ll… let you ask someone else.” Damn it, he didn’t want to get rid of it. He held it tightly. He wanted to stand his ground, but he couldn’t take the chance that his father wasn’t bluffing.

With a soft smile she shook her head and stood on her toes. Her lips just touched his cheek before she moved back,”It’s yours. I’ll see you tonight for the tables.”

His ears were burning. How could she be alright with this? Did she not intend to go at all? Royland watched her return to the ladies box and touched his cheek with the handkerchief she’d left him. She’d kissed his cheek.She’d kissed his cheek. Should he have done the same? Did that mean she…? But he didn’t want to get distracted by girls. Sumina wasn’t just a girl though. It was all so stupid. He tucked away her favor. This whole thing was frustrating. He [i had] to ask Lenoir even though he had no desire to go anymore.

The crowd seemed to approve more when he named Lenoir as his Queen for the feast. She was beaming, waving to the crowd. She basked in the attention, the glory of it. His father nodded in approval. The approval made Royland furious.

Iolas had come in second and for his pick he wanted to insist on Sumina. He didn’t care that she’d been disqualified. There was some debate on whether it would be allowed or not. The tide started to turn against Iolas, but then Lenoir spoke up,”Perhaps he should be allowed to take her. Aren’t they supposed to be married?”

An innocent question, which made Royland’s jaw tighten. Sumina also looked a little like she’d taken a bite out of a lemon, but Iolas looked quite pleased. As did Lenoir with Sumina lined up beside her and Royland, but paired up with Iolas. Sumina hadn’t seen a polite way to decline, so there she was. Now she was dreading the feast about as much as the tournament that had just finished.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

There was scarcely time to get ready for the feast once the tournament was over, so everyone went their separate ways to clean up and get dressed. Sumina considered feigning illness to get out of going, but her mother and several ladies were all so eager to help her get ready. It was like a party, all the ladies gathered to dress and help each other with hair, make up, and any last minute details or choices on accessories.

Sumina was glad to help the others, but less eager for herself. That didn’t stop them from doting on her. They insisted she needed to look like a Princess since she was going with a Prince. It was just the [i wrong] Prince. She sat still while they braided her hair, allowing them to place tiny, jeweled flowers into the half up braid while the rest of her hair was left loose. A soft, pink color was chosen for her lips.

It was very different from Lenoir. The men had finished dressing and gathered well before the women. While getting ready, bathing and dressing, he’d grumbled quietly about how things had gone. He wanted their opinion on if his father was bluffing or not, but they had no idea either. Sirius was in a mood, sighing and quiet. Alain was the one to almost mockingly explain that the girl Sirius had an eye on hadn’t given him any favors. Walter had to admit to getting none himself, and Alain shut up with Sirius pointed out bitterly that Alain hadn’t received any either.

They had dates though, as Walter pointed out. Since participation was open to anyone quite a few guards and maids had entered as well, and when all was said and done there were ladies that had agreed to go with them. Sirius still said it wasn’t the girl he’d hoped, so he was a little disappointed. All of them were quiet waiting for the women.

Several trickled in, and eventually all the young knights were off with the girls they had asked, and Royland was waiting for Lenoir. While he waited Iolas came over, walking as if it was casual. “I know you were just trying to show me up. But I can’t figure out how you got her favor. Did she drop it?”

Royland grit his teeth. As much as he enjoyed showing up the other Prince, that wasn’t why he asked Sumina. “Ask her if you want to know so badly.” He wouldn’t give him an answer. Let him wonder.

Lenoir made her entrance once the hall was decently full, and people made soft sounds of admiration. Royland’s attention was immediately drawn to the bright red her lips were painted, which was the desired effect. The dress was as modest as any of Arouet design, but featured extra lace. Roylanted noted several jewels glinting in the light as she came up to him. “My King, at least for this evening. You look dashing.”

His hair was slicked back, he’d gotten out one of his nicer shirts, but some other lords were still dressed more elaborately and colorfully. Royland was never one for particularly flashy fashion, even at events like these where dressing up was expected. He had manners at least though, and bowed,”You look… beautiful. Princess Lenoir.”

It wasn’t a lie. She was gorgeous. Any man would be delighted to be standing here with her, except him. She was too pretty, too charming. She wound her arm around his and batted her eyelashes at him,”I’m your Queen, aren’t I? At least tonight. Here, we should take our seats, almost everyone is here.”

Almost everyone. Sumina was out in the hall with Lily still. The younger Princess had become quite distressed when the jeweled ornamental flower had fallen from her hair. Sumina had picked it up and helped to put it back in place,”Here we go. I’ve got it, no need to worry.”

Her tone was calming, soothing. Lily’s tears dried up as she babbled,”Father got it for me so I wanted to wear it, but it’s so heavy. Thank you ever so much. You’re always so nice. Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. Now go on. Turn around. Ah, perfect. That should hold, at least for a while. Come back if you need me to fix it again.” It seemed like Lily’s father was always giving her something gold and impractical to wear for formal occasions. Lily entered next, drawing some attention. Lenoir seemed satisfied that everyone was there and moved toward her seat. Royland’s guards had wandered back closer to him, and saw on his face the moment Sumina entered, then turned to look themselves to figure out why their Prince had stopped breathing.

“Damn.” Alain muttered. It earned him an elbow from the lady with him. But he couldn’t help it. She was beautiful in a low scoop necked dress in a soft lavender. The skirt itself was shorter in the front and longer in the back, and rather impressively was styled to look just like hanging wisteria, complete with embroidered vines just above the flower bunches.

“What a very [i Elvish] style of dress.” Lenoir commented. She envied that style of dress deeply, but her father would never allow it.

Royland ignored her. His face was turning red and he couldn’t take his eyes off of Sumina. She looked stunning. He remembered to breathe, and air hissed through his teeth, when Iolas went up to Sumina and took her hand. That was right. Iolas was the one accompanying her. Not him. Damn his father to the endless Abyss. He was just bluffing, wasn’t he? Could he take that chance?

“You’re staring.” Sirius muttered under his breath. Royland almost jumped.

“He’s drooling, more like.” Alain mumbled.

“No, he’s glowering now. Iolas is there, see?” Walter added helpfully. The other two nodded.

“Shut up.” Royland whispered. But he still hadn’t looked away. He was looking at the flower pattern of the dress hem. Not her legs. Not entirely her legs, anyway.

“Face it, she’s the most beautiful woman here.” Alain glanced to Lenoir, who may or may not have been in earshot. He couldn’t tell just based on the pout on her face. His date for the night crossed her arms and looked away. “T-to him, I mean?”

Walter cleared his throat. “We better sit down. And Royland, if what you told us could be true, be careful.”
Yavanna     270d ago

The King and Queen of the feast got a table to themselves, set apart from the others. All the participants, paired off, were seated at long tables laid out in front of the head table. For this evening, at least, all the adults were permissive enough to allow themselves to all be seated around the edge of the room. Only for the one night. The reasoning being that they were learning to engage in contests among each other in an appropriate way and that should be encouraged over firstfights.

From the vantage point of the seat of honor Royland had to watch Iolas doting on Sumina. The way her cheeks would flush and she’d turn away when he’d catch her watching him for too. Long. Lenoir was quite good at trying to demand his attention with small talk. Compliments about his performance in the tournament, discussion about the weather, and how nice it would be to dance together after they were all done eating. The idea of that just about killed his appetite.

Sumina had kissed his cheek, and now he was supposed to dance with Lenoir. What was she going to think? He silently cursed himself for not kissing her on the cheek back then. It might have helped. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t. He wasn’t sure. His head was starting to hurt.

For Sumina the feast was uncomfortable. The seating arrangement was different. It didn’t bother her to be next to different people, or to talk and socialize with them. Her gaze kept drifting to the head table, and [i that] was what bothered her. Royland seated up there next to Lenoir. Princess Lenoir touching his arm and leaning over. She swore Lenoir was looking at her too at times with a haughty smile.

Sumina was looking forward to the end of the meal and going to dance. Royland always danced with her, and she was looking forward to that. She couldn't get to him as the crowd moved into the ballroom. He was trapped farther ahead with Lenoir and his father.

Royland was uncomfortable with his father being so close. He had been under the impression that the feast was primarily for the fighters in the tournament. “Royland. Before you dance with Princess Lenoir we will make the announcement. This is the perfect opportunity for a public announcement of your engagement, I had been intending to wait for the ball but Princess Lenoir convinced me that this is an opportune moment.”

“What!?” He had to have heard wrong. [i Engagement?] To [i Lenoir Chatille]? Royland looked over at the girl next to him. She smiled sweetly. “Engaged? Wait.”

It was all far to sudden. His mind was reeling, flashing back to Sumina. The kiss on his cheek. Damn it, this was all a trap! Wasn’t it? Him being forced to attend this with Lenoir. How far back had the planning gone? Lenoir pressed herself against him, her head delicately resting on his arm,”Isn’t it exciting? It’s too perfect with us the King and Queen of the tournament feast. It’s as if it’s fate.”

Fate? Fate hadn’t intervened in this matter. It had been Lenoir and Harrenhal pulling the strings to make this happen. He was a fucking puppet. Being used and manipulated. He fixed the dirtiest look he could muster at his father,”I won’t be a part of this.”

He started to pull his arm away from Lenoir, scowling at her as well. But she looked up at him with such a pitiful, pleading expression that he hesitated. “But Prince Royland, I had only hoped that… that we might get to know one another. Our kingdoms are such friends. A marriage alliance is sensible, but please won’t you give me the chance to at least be your friend?”

It was the right thing to tug at his heartstrings, and more importantly his sense of duty. He could at least try to be her friend. “Fine. But I won’t — ”

His attempt to protest the engagement went completely ignored. His father called for attention and all Royland could do was stand there, deaf to the polite applause and congratulations. There was one point he was obsessed with, and yet he looked everywhere but there. He couldn’t stand to look at Sumina’s face, though he saw her out of the corner of his eye. Then he saw his father, walking to her. The old King beckoned her, and she followed. What was he doing? It gave him a sinking feeling, deep in his stomach which knotted itself into dread. What was his father doing, and was he bluffing about hurting her?

“Royland. It’s time for us to dance.”

“Huh? Oh.” He looked at Lenoir. Red lips and fluttering eyelashes. She took his hand in hers, and seemed as sweet as sugar. Still, he couldn’t. Where was Sumina? His father had returned but she wasn’t anywhere he could see. “I need a moment.”

He left Lenoir standing on the dance floor as he made his way out the door he’d seen his father lure Sumina out of earlier. Where was she? He had to know if she was safe. It was stupid, surely. Zeravell would never let his father harm her. Right?

[center [b ~*~*~]]

King Harrenhal Vondien approached Sumina in the aftermath of Royland’s engagement announcement. The news had shocked her, but more than that it felt like her chest had been scooped out and dumped on the ground, left hollow and aching. He was engaged. She should congratulate him. She wanted to scream.

Harrenhal had never made a point of talking to her unless it was required for diplomatic reasons  in all the years she’d known him. But here he was, leaning over her and ushering her off to the side. She followed warily, aware that he was taking her away from the crowd and out toward the gardens. What did he want to say that he didn’t want overheard?

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed. You’ve been digging your claws into my son. It won’t work with him. Find some other target. We all know you barely qualify to be here, you’re just fishing for a husband to marry up in life. But you’re completely unsuitable for my son. He’s royalty. He’s a Vondien. You… are barely above a commoner.” He sneered,”And those hideous ears. As if my son would sink so low as to marry someone as unworthy as [i you]. You’re a frivolous distraction. Nothing more. An elf could never be suitable for any Vondien, especially not one so lowborn. Now he will marry someone worthwhile.”

The old King was staring down at her coldly. With her back to the wall and the hatred in his face undisguised she was actually afraid. He wasn’t pretending to be polite to her now. Here was the man she’d caught glimpses of in the cracks of his mask before, the one who was so ruthless to his own son that he was responsible for so many scars. For that anger and fear she saw in Royland’s face, the way he flinched and felt undeserving of love or affection. This was the man who’d done that. This was the most he’d ever said to her, and she could feel tears welling up in her eyes. He seemed to draw some satisfaction from that. “Good, you seem to understand how unsuitable you really are. Now keep your filthy hands off my son, leave him to a wife that’s worthy of the title.”

For several moments after he left she stood there in shock. It felt like she’d just been stabbed in the heart, but when she put her hands to her chest there was no wound. She was being warned to stay away from him. Unworthy. Unsuitable. Because she was an elf. Because she was not born the daughter of a King.

A tear spilled over, leaving a streak down her cheek. And then another. She couldn’t stay here and make a scene if someone found her this close to the door. Sumina turned and ran deeper into the garden. The tears were flowing freely now in the night air as she ran. There was no particular destination in mind, but of course she would end up [i here].

The place where wisteria climbed the walls separating the castle grounds from the city. It grew almost unchecked in this little corner of the garden by one of the side gates, the flowers dripping from the walls and nearby trees. She leaned against the wall, almost wishing she could melt into it. It was a good hiding place with her wisteria inspired dress. That was why she had this dress made. She loved these wisteria in Volaire. That wasn’t what she really loved about Volaire though.
Yavanna     269d ago

Royland stepped outside. She wasn’t in sight, so he kept walking. His father hadn’t been gone long, so he couldn’t have taken her far. But she could have kept going. She had places she liked here, places she might go to if she was upset. Who wouldn’t be upset speaking privately with Harrenhal Vondien?

The sound of her sobbing led him right to her once he’d gotten close enough. He was almost ready to give up because she was hidden so well among the wisteria in the dark, but there she was, flowers draped over her and helping to hide her from sight. He brushed some aside to get a better look at her face,”Hey. There you are. What’s wrong?”

When she saw him she turned away. She was pulling at her ears, tugging them down as if she wanted to tear them off. When Royland saw he put his hands over hers to stop her, which worked,”Don’t… What happened?”

Sumina turned her gaze to him. She looked so miserable, and started sobbing harder. “I can’t. I can’t.” She repeated it over and over. She couldn’t stay away from him. She had hoped that he might feel the same. He did only ever dance with her, but then here he was engaged to someone else. But how was she supposed to keep away from him like his father wanted?

“Can’t what? Sumina… Sumina, what’s wrong? Is it the… the…” Damn it, he couldn’t even say it. The engagement had been sprung on him as well. It was distressing how upset she was. He’d seen her cry before, but never this heart wrenchingly. “Sumina, talk to me. Please.”

“Do you hate me?” Her question came out of nowhere to him, and his answer was swift.

“No, of course I don’t hate you. Why would you think that?” What on earth had happened? What had his father [i said] to put her in this state?

There was a pause and Sumina leaned against him. She seemed to be calming down. Her grip on her ears loosened, so he pulled her hands away, then wiped her cheek with his fingers. He wanted to wipe all the tears away, but her cheeks were so damp from all that sobbing. Finally Sumina spoke, mumbling a little,”Your father. He told me I… should stay away from you. Said I was… unsuitable. For you. Because I… I… I’m an elf. And not… my family isn’t very…”

His father said all [i that]? Royland’s jaw clenched and he pulled her against him,”Nonsense. Why would I care that you’re an elf?”

She looked up at him. His eyes were so much softer and kinder than Harrenhal’s, the similarities were only superficial. People talked about him looking just like his father, but she never quite saw them as so strikingly similar. Related, obviously, but very different people. Royland was thoughtful, and he cared deeply about things. He was a passionate, somewhat impish, but kindhearted young man.

He thought she looked beautiful. She was, without a doubt or any exaggeration, the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen. Everything about her was delicate and feminine, but more than that there was her smile which brightened any room she was in, the gentle way she spoke and carried herself, her earnestness, honesty, and how well she listened. Then there were her eyes, like the stars. No, more beautiful than stars. How could anyone think someone so lovely, so sweet, was unsuitable?

It wasn’t as though he thought it through. Royland moved almost on instinct. His fingers hooked under her chin to tilt her head and he leaned closer. Their lips met, and he hoped she wouldn’t pull away. Sumina didn’t, she was shocked for a second. But then she leaned in, pressing her lips more firmly against his. All at once the awful storm churning in her was swept away. The sweet smell of the wisteria enveloped them. It was the sweetest she’d ever smelled it.

“Would I do that with an unsuitable woman?” He asked when he pulled back. She somehow looked even more beautiful now. She looked happy. He was relieved that she wasn’t offended.

Sumina [i was] happy. He had kissed her. He had actually kissed her. “Royland… I…”

“Say my name again.” He had leaned in closer again, stopping just short of another kiss. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing you say it. That… that thing… with the R. It’s… I’ve always thought it was cute. So… So you know. I don’t mind that you’re an Elf. It’s…”

What was he trying to say? It seemed awkward to him, but Sumina smiled,”Royland. Very well, my Royland.” Her lips met his again and he eased her back against the wall, into the wisteria. How could anyone but her be suitable for him?

His fingers brushed along her shoulder, moving aside the petals draped there. For a moment he considered what it might be like to move the fabric wisteria petals of her skirt hem from her legs. He restrained himself from letting his hands wander too freely. “My father can announce whatever he likes, but he can’t make me marry her. I won’t say those vows to her.”

There really wasn’t a question. There never had been. Sumina was the one he wanted, maybe the one he had always wanted. “Then who do you intend those vows for?” She was being coy with him, teasing but sweet.

“There is this one woman.” He could play at that game too. Just when he had moved in closer for another kiss they both heard the sound of footsteps not far away, and then her name being called.

Sumina put her head down on his shoulder and answered quite reluctantly,”I’m here.”
Yavanna     264d ago

It was her brothers, because of course they would come looking for her when she didn’t return right away. Iolas had come with them too. Sumina released Royland and stepped to the side slightly. He wanted to keep hold of her, but he did let go. Her brothers had completely ruined the moment. Royland could scarcely believe what he’d done now. She kissed him back. Just like that. They’d practically agreed to get [i married]. His heart was pounding so loud it seemed like everyone would be able to hear it and tell what had happened. He moved back from her, and the group came into view. It was probably for the best that her brothers didn’t pick up on what had just happened, and Iolas seemed oblivious to it as he went right up to her and took her hands. Royland clenched his fist to keep from smacking Iolas away. He turned to the four protective brothers walking in closer. They’d have been beside themselves hearing that [i anyone] had kissed their ‘baby’ sister.

“Mina? Ah. Prince Vondien.” Iolas nodded to Royland then went back to Sumina,”The dancing is about to start and I was worried about you. Everyone is looking for you as well, Prince Vondien. And congratulations.”

Royland’s lip twitched. Sumina looked down at the ground. “I, um. I needed some air.”

She had after the announcement and King Vondien’s words. She pulled her hands free from Iolas,”I’ll be back after I finish my walk.”

“I could walk with you.” Iolas offered eagerly.

“Ah, Royland was actually accompanying me. We’ll be fine, just a moment longer. I was going to get some of this wisteria. For my hair.” She was trying so hard to think on her feet and get some excuse that would make them all leave.

It wasn’t working. Iolas looked to Royland with renewed interest. “Of course. I could help. Prince Vondien, shouldn’t you be at your own engagement party?”

Behind the men Lenoir was approaching. Vaeril shrugged, looking from the Prince to his sister,”I’m sure His Highness was worried about her, as we were. He’s always been such a good friend to her.”

A friend. Sumina and Royland exchanged a slightly bashful look with each other. More than friends. But neither volunteered any information. Lenoir waved daintily,”Ah, there you are, darling. You left so suddenly. Is everything alright?”

It seemed that there was no getting out of returning to the feast right away. After the men humored Sumina getting some wisteria to affix to the hack of her head where the flowers would cascade down with her hair they all returned as a group. Royland thought she looked even prettier with the actual wisteria in her hair, and hoped she might still have them in her hair later.

The dance with Lenoir seemed unavoidable. Royland feigned a headache, which wasn’t hard to do. He had them often enough. It barely got him out of dancing, but he had to sit around for a while before he could finally leave.

Sumina had to dance with Iolas, and then several others including Castien took the chance to ask her to dance. Royland’s frown wasn’t fake, and he left in a grumpy mood. He wanted to be able to dance with Sumina, but that would mean he was well enough to dance with Lenoir. As forced as it was, how would Sumina take that after [i years] where she was the only girl he had danced with?

For some time he paced in his room. He had kissed her. He wanted to do it again, and was anxious to get to the kitchen and meet her. Would she come? He hadn’t confirmed it with her since the kiss, and perhaps she would be too tired to stay up that late. Was she upset seeing Lenoir hanging onto him the rest of the evening.

His fears were unfounded. He crept into the kitchen and found her busy getting things set up for tea for two. She was still wearing the dress, and the wisteria was cascading from her hair. She turned around and smiled,”I was worried you wouldn’t come. Here, the tea will be done soon.”

Royland moved in closer, right away cupping her cheek with one hand,”And miss this? Nothing could keep me away.”

Blushing, Sumina started to turn away,”What about your head? I made something for it.”

“I don’t need it.” The Prince pulled her in closer by the waist and tilted her head back for a kiss, one he’d been thinking about since they had been interrupted,”I need this.”

“Royland…” It almost sounded like she was protesting. Except she was winding her fingers in his hair, and showed no intention of stopping him other than mumbling excuses when their lips parted,”I thought you had a headache.”

“At the thought of dancing with Lenoir, maybe.” She still smelled of wisteria. If he had liked wisteria well enough before, now he found it enchanting. It was inextricably tied to Sumina now.

It wasn’t as though she’d ever doubted that they were close, but now it was as if he wasn’t holding back anything anymore. After a lingering kiss Sumina prompted softly,"You were going to tell me about this woman you had in mind to say vows to."

Royland smirked slightly in a way that made Sumina smile, her heart fluttering. "This woman is the most beautiful I've ever seen. She's kind, more compassionate than anyone I have ever met. She does crazy, sometimes stupid things."

His hand on her back pulled her closer, stopping just short of another kiss to huskily say,”And the craziest thing about her is that she seems to care about me.”

“Not true. It’s not crazy. And Royland, I have always —”


“What’d you — Oh.” Alain had been in the lead and stopped in the doorway when he saw them, which made the others run into him. Sirius stared for a moment around Alain after stopping short of asking what he’d stopped for.

Royland’s face turned a little red and he let go of Sumina. It was a bit late, it was pretty clear what they’d been doing. Especially with Sumina blushing deeply and fumbling to get back to making the tea. The glare Royland fixed on them said it all, and Sirius stammered out an answer to the wordless fury directed at them. “Ah, we were hoping for some tea. Lady Sumina is usually making tea at night so… um…”

It was looking like this cup of tea was going to get them killed, but Sumina answered, sounding a little flustered,”Tea. Right. Just a moment.” And then the thing to calm Royland’s frustration and save the young knight’s skins. She took Royland’s hand in hers briefly and squeezed it, getting him to look at her for a moment to see the soft smile and the look in her eyes. Affection and longing.

Then she was back to the tea and he was left staring at three embarrassed idiots. Alain just looked away, Walter was hidden behind Alain, but Sirius was the one to whisper to Royland when he came over,”You kissed her, didn’t you?”

“Shut up.” Royland mumbled, but his face was turning red.

Walter peeked around at Royland and asked quietly,”And what about Lenoir?”

“What about her?” The Prince asked defensively, glancing to Sumina who was still busy with the tea. She looked gorgeous, the wisteria both real and fake swaying with her movements.

“You’re engaged to her, aren’t you?”

“I don’t care.” Royland had no intention of marrying anyone else. He brushed off Walter’s next concerned question before he could ask with a wave and went to Sumina. His fingers brushed aside her hair and the petals in it,”We could leave them to tea and get started on those shims first.”

Her cheeks were flushed when she looked back at him,"Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Royland grumbled slightly, eyes shifting momentarily to his friends. “We’ll have tea after.” He took her hand and led her away,”You three behave. We’ll be back.”

“I don’t think we’re the ones that need to be told to behave…” Alain mumbled, but he was already on his way to sniff the tea and help himself to some.

Walter watched with some apprehension as Royland left and then Alain poured the tea,”I do wonder what he plans to do about his engagement.”

Alain shrugged,”Break it off?”

“He can’t, dummy.” Sirius looked annoyed as he opened the cupboards searching for a snack. “Only the King can do that.”

“Then this looks like trouble.” Walter mused. He adored Lady Sumina, but getting involved with one woman while being betrothed to another was inviting trouble.

“Maybe. But we all know he’s fancied Lady Sumina for… for forever. You really think he’ll marry Princess Lenoir even if His Majesty insists?”

Alain smirked,”Sounds like we’re making a bet.”

“Wait a minute, that’s not what I said.” Sirius objected.

“I see how it is. Scared to lose money. You aren’t certain.”

“Hang on, I’m not… Maybe a small bet.” Sirius mumbled, thinking it over.

[center [b ~*~*~]]

A prank like this was harmless, and exactly the kind Sumina enjoyed to participate in. The shim didn’t need to be anything specific, just something that could fit under a table leg. So they gathered what was handy and got to work. Royland would lift the tables and Sumina would climb under and place the object.

“You were in a hurry to get away. Any reason in particular? There, this one is ready.” Sumina asked from under the table.

Royland poked his head down. She was laying on her stomach to get things in the right place. “Yes. I have a reason.” He didn’t let her get up, but instead climbed down under the table with her.

She looked a little surprised, and bashful as he slid next to her. “Oh? Why? And you know, this isn’t the most practical thing to be climbing under here in.”

That slightly devious little smirk of his made her squirm a little. She started to move to get out from under the table, but his hand at her waist made her stop. “I like this dress. I’m glad you wore it. And I just want you to myself for now.”

Sumina shifted a little, and placed her palm against his chest,”Oh? Well, I’ll have you know I wore this because I feel as though a certain someone still owes me a dance. If he’s willing.”

“A dance? There’s no music. Here, let’s get the next table.” Royland leaned in for a quick kiss before they both climbed out from under the table.

Sumina crawled out, and then back under the next table,”There doesn’t have to be music. It would be nice.”

Royland hemmed and hawed a little,”I’m not sure. Wouldn’t it be strange?”

“No more strange than practicing. And…” Sumina climbed out and stood up,”You’re a wonderful dancer.”

The way she smiled and stepped in closer, hopeful. How on earth was he supposed to refuse? “I, uh. Maybe… maybe just for a minute.”

Sumina’s smile was brilliant and warming like the sun. He was pretty sure his heart was about to melt as he took her hand in his and placed the other at her waist. She really was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

There was no music, so Royland just tried to keep the timing in his head as he led her in a basic dance. One foot, then the other. She was so graceful, their movements fluid and perfectly in sync. Even when Royland started to slow down. There was no music telling him that he was going too slow, no other dancers to bump into. Just Sumina, slowing at the same pace he was.

She didn’t seem to mind that the dance was very short, and he took it as another opportunity to kiss her. Neither of them was sure how long they stood there in each other's arms, exchanging soft kisses and affection. Long enough that Sumina figured their tea would be cold when she insisted they should get back to it. The three young knights had enough sense to not go find them and were instead still waiting in the kitchen.

After Sumina left for bed Royland made his friends swear to secrecy before they all went to bed too. He could not have his father finding out about this before he could think of a surefire way to keep Sumina out of harm's way and break off his engagement to Lenoir.


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