Aster in the Fields of Tryssen

Aotsuki

El cuento épico de las aventuras de Rianna etc., la Princessa del Linaje de Tryssen, prometió en matrimonio por el Príncipe de Fallowshaith.


-3-

"…And worst of all, he's got six children," Catrena said, head in her hands.

"I can deal with the servants and the peasant boys, but six children? Six rich, aristocratic, spoiled children? Dear mother earth, please, no."

Cook patted her sympathetically on the back. "Where did you see them last?"

"Heading towards the garden." She paused for a moment. "That's a good thing."

Cook nodded. "We all know how Siying deals with children like those," she said. "Marde and Cail and Aelfrinn were lucky enough to be born minor nuisances."

--

"Poor Lucky," Siying said sympathetically to the mound of dirt, wiping her forehead with her sleeve.

She had just finished burying Catrena's dog, Lucky, outside of the garden. Siying had an attachment to dogs, so this was an especially sad occasion. "He led a good life. I think."

Just then, six children ran across the grounds, heading towards the garden with obnoxious laughter and high-pitched, shrill giggles and wails.

Siying disappeared momentarily.

The leader of the small pack of wolves was about to run over the mound of dirt, which had a white flower growing on top of it and a small headstone with the word "Lucky" engraved on it set next to the flower, when a tall, ominous silhouette appeared. It brandished a hoe and a spade, one in each hand, and planted them in the ground by the blunt ends. It folded its arms, and white eyes glowed with an eerie luminance.

Storm clouds gathered overhead.

"There once was a boy named Lucky," the silhouette said in a sibilant, fear-instilling voice, and pointed to the headstone.

The six children stopped in their tracks, looking where the finger pointed, and whimpered.

"The boy," the voice continued menacingly, "had six brothers and sisters who all died from the same fate: following the Big Bad Wolf."

The children gasped.

"Lucky left his parents one day and went into the woods, whistling and skipping happily with his lunch pail. Then a wolf came out from the woods and said, 'Little boy, little boy, can I have your lunch pail?' Lucky said it was fine, as long as the wolf left some for him. But the wolf gulped it all down, lunch pail and lunch."

The children gasped again.

"Lucky started to cry, but then the wolf said to follow him to a place where he could get a new lunch. Still wiping his eyes like the silly wuss he was, Lucky followed the wolf to a nearby stream where the Boys-Named-Lucky-Eating Fairy lived."

And they gasped again.

"So Lucky approached the stream, and the wolf laughed, declaring that he was the Big Bad Wolf and he had just doomed Lucky to eternal suffering. Lucky was scared, but as he was a scatterbrained, stupid boy, he didn't understand one word and went to play in the stream."

And… again.

"The Boys-Named-Lucky-Eating Fairy cackled and grabbed his ankles, pulling him down into the river where she proceeded to rip out his—"

More gasps.

"—and his—"

Gasps.

"—and his—"

Gasps.

"—and all of his—"

Gasps.

"—and then—"

Gasps.

"—ending with his eyeballs and toenails. The river ran red with blood."

Gasps.

"And after that," the figure continued ominously, "SHE STOLE HIS LUCKINESS."

The children screamed and fled the scene.

"But he didn't really care after losing all of his vital organs," she added thoughtfully, watching them run off with a kind of evil smile. She uprooted the spade and hoe and went back into the garden, saluting Lucky the Dog's grave.

--

Banholf broke out laughing again for no good reason.

--

Catrena sighed. "It feels like someone nearly walked over my dog's grave," she complained, rubbing her forehead. Cook nodded, then looked out of the window to see six screaming royal toddlers sprinting past it. She rubbed her eyes. They were gone. "Must be the steam from my soup," she concluded. "Lilla, open another window."

--

Ria stood on a balcony high on one of the towers that overlooked the castle grounds.

"It's beautiful."

"It was built as a watchtower," Tobias commented. "But lately we haven't had anything to watch for, so it's fallen into disrepair as of when I was around ten years old."

She nodded silently and leaned on the balcony, looking over the grounds as the wind blew her black and gold hair in whirling patterns. Tobias joined her.

--

It was late in the afternoon when the king snapped.

Literally.

He snapped a quill in half while writing with Ranolf in the room. Although he would have rather snapped the man's spine.

"GOD SO HELP ME, I WILL—"

"No anger, dear," the queen said simply, and jabbed him in the back with her fan.

Ranolf shrugged. "I don't know what it is about me that ticks you off. Is it the good looks? The charm? The wit?" He raised an eyebrow. "Or, heaven forbid, the—"

Queen Mira snapped her fingers, and two guards automatically rushed over and restrained the king.

"—eyebrows…"

"My apologies," she offered insincerely.

Ranolf nodded in what he thought was a suave fashion. Mira really did try not to cringe, but he didn't notice in his ardent self-absorption. "Why are you with such a loon, anyway?" he said smoothly. "If it were my choice, I would have left him long ago."

The queen strode over to him and bent down to his level. "I am neither male nor stupid. Therefore it has never been, is not, and never will be your choice. Where do you come off insulting the king and queen?"

Ranolf looked affronted. "I'm not—"

"You are dismissed."

Ranolf looked even more affronted.

"You are dismissed NOW, scumling," said the queen, shadow looming over the man.

He scarpered.

--

"Thank goodness he's gone," Catrena sniffed. "What a nuisance."

"There's still the others coming tonight."

"Oh, don't remind me of those ill-begotten things."

"It's true," Cook said, put off.

"Well, I still don't want to hear it."

--

Ria had decided to go for a ride, as Tobias had something to go do. She decided to go apologize to Jupiter for neglecting him for so long, even though it had only been one day since she'd ridden gracefully into the castle at breakneck speeds that would have brutally murdered an amateur equestrian.

"Well, Jupiter, isn't it a nice day out?"

Hmph.

"Oh, come on, you don't have to be so sore about it, silly horse."

I'm not a silly horse.

"Whatever."

I'll throw you.

"You can't throw me."

Want to bet on that?

"You're funny, Jupiter, but no more jokes," Ria told the horse. Jupiter snorted and continued to trot sullenly down the road.

Let me remind you that you only met me about two days ago, young miss.

Fields of golden grain rippled on either side of her as she gracefully rode on into the afternoon.

--

"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…"

"Catrena, calm down!"

"…oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…"

"It's not that big of a deal!"

"…OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD—"

"CATRENA!" Cook clamped her hands down on Catrena's shoulders and pushed her back down into her seat.

"Compose yourself. No use crying over spilled fish guts," she said.

Catrena shook her head, breathing quickly through her nose.

"They've completely wrecked the hall," she said with concerted effort. "The dining hall."

She snapped into angry mode.

"Oh, that Ranolf, I am going to murder him—can I borrow one of your knives for a second, Cook? All right, thank you."

Cook sat there patiently, watching a stew bubble.

"He's gone already," Catrena announced disappointedly, flouncing back into the kitchen and hanging the knife back on the board.

"What a pity," Cook said carefully.

--

Zadok moodily sipped a glass of wine in his dark, dank cellar, plotting. Zadok was not a very bright person; as a cellarmaster, part of his duty was to be dark and gloomy. People often complained at the eccentricness he threw into the mix, but he couldn't help it. It was his nature. Nobody understood him. NOBODY. But he'd show them someday, he would. Especially when he executed the most fearsome of all his plots; releasing—no, no, unleashing sounded more dramatic—unleashing that horror unto the castle, letting it—no, him—letting him get his revenge

There was a rap on the door.

"Zadok, stop plotting in your dark corner and get your drunken, scatterbrained self up here! His Majesty the Prince wants to have a word with you."

Oh dear god what now. He slammed down the cup, and the dark wine sloshed over the rim, spattering watery, potent droplets onto the floor.

"Tell him I'm coming," he snapped at the door.

--

"I know you're plotting evil plots!"

"I am?"

"Don't act innocent, cellarmaster, you've been drinking and your hair is greasy. It's extremely hard to keep up a façade of noncommittal, politically apathetic views when you look like a sleazy beggar that works the stables."

"You're very judgmental, sir."

"I am as judgmental as you are trustworthy."

"Extremely judgmental, then, sir."

"I expressly forbid you to come within any type of direct or indirect contact with him, and if anyone catches you doing so, you'll have more than me to worry about."

"Oh, I'll behave myself, Mister Prince Your Majesty Sir."

"You'd better."

Zadok stuck his tongue out at Tobias's back as the prince walked out of the door.

Banholf whacked him on the head.

"Ow! Where in the blazes did you come from?!"

"Doesn't matter," replied Banholf happily. "Keep doing that and I'll be able to smack you like that all the time. My paradise."

And he vanished.

"That's creepy," Zadok mumbled, shuffling back to his wine cellar lethargically.

--

Ria stopped Jupiter by the side of a creek, where she decided to dismount admire the scenery for a while. Sitting down on the oddly flowery bank, she gazed up at the light blue sky and the white tufts of clouds floating across it.

She fell asleep, and Jupiter nibbled at the grass.

I'd run away, but then there'd be a whole hullaballoo about you if I came back riderless, he said to her unconscious form.

The chirping of a bird echoed across the creek, mingling with the burbling of the clear water in the creek.

--

"Shut up," said Siying to no one in particular.

--

A hawk flew into Ria's room.

Well, well, Hayabusa, Rin meowed.

The hawk simply sniffed in the way hawks do and ruffled its feathers.

I was caught on a detour, if it is any of your business, which it is not.

Of course it isn't, Kuro cackled slyly. Tell us, were you with that lady falcon again? What was her name? Annabella?

Miss Annabella has nothing to do with this, I assure you.

Shiro batted playfully at Hayabusa's tail-feathers. Whatever. We know you're lying. But could you have picked a less important day to go out? The entire Tryssen family was murdered in cold blood by an assassin, you know. The worst you could have done was fly in and drop us a line.

You're too demanding, Hayabusa replied huffily. And I was NOT out with Miss Annabella!

I'm sure, the three cats mewed sarcastically.

Hayabusa, there's something on your leg. Rin clawed at it, but Hayabusa jerked his leg out of her reach.

Ah, right. That's for Miss Ria. I've got to deliver it as soon as possible. I'll see you around, kitlings.

And Hayabusa flapped off into the chalky-blue afternoon sky, until he realized he had no idea where the heck the princess was.

Crap.

--

"Um…"

"Shh! Quiet."

"Banholf…?"

"I just told you to be quiet! GAH! Mimi, where'd you come from?!" Banholf whispered ferociously.

Mimi de Hayes, three years old with pigtails, said nothing and poked her adopted brother in the nose. Hard.

"OW! Foxen, control your sister!"

Foxen de Hayes, four years old, clamped his hand over Mimi's mouth and menaced her pigtail with a pair of scissors, all without changing his bored expression or moving his head.

"Good boy. All right, Remus, you know what to do."

Mercy-Anne de Hayes, four years old, bit Foxen's hand. Said boy continued to stare absent-mindedly into the Great Yonder, blood dripping down his hand.

Remus de Hayes, 5, rolled his eyes and sighed. Taking the cowbell and the stick, he walked out in the middle of the courtyard and began to bang on the cowbell disinterestedly, creating loud noises rivalling Cook's dramatics.

"All right, you two, he's coming over. Got the rope?"

Jemima de Hayes, 6, and Fitzgerald de Hayes, 6, spotted their father, Ranolf de Hayes, 41, running over to Remus and snatching the cowbell away. They leapt out of the bush with savage war cries and sprinted over to their paternal figure much faster than nobility should, and promptly tied Ranolf up with marlinspiking skills that a seasoned sailor would have been envious of.

"Good work, everybody," Banholf called, clapping his hands. "…wait, come over here for a second."

His younger adopted siblings came over to him, raising their eyebrows skeptically.

Banholf took out a long rope and tied them all to a nearby tree, then walked off, whistling.

"Dude, totally not cool," Fitzgerald called after him.

"Whatever, Fitzgerald. Pfft."

--

A little cut-in by the Author here for a few side-comments. As the reader has probably picked up from the story by now, there is a bit of weirdness concerning the de Hayes family that many people have already given up on interpreting because their heads have blown apart from the sheer oddity of it, but I am sure the esteemed reader will be able to pick it up extremely easily.

All right. First of all, Ranolf de Hayes was single. He was single all his life, which was why he was the one that received all of his sister's children when she died fat and happy. He was overjoyed by this and promptly shut himself in his room for a week to sob uncontrollably and question all known higher powers as to why he had been subjected to the destruction of his life so soon.

Secondly, Mimi de Hayes and Foxen de Hayes were not twins. They were not born at the same time, but they are quadruplets, and so we may introduce Mercy-Anne de Hayes and Toad, the family dog. They referred to themselves as quadruplets, especially Toad, but the de Hayes eccentricity complex is well-known among historians, and we may therefore assume that Mimi is, indeed, three, that Foxen is four, and that Mercy-Anne is four and a half.

Fitzgerald de Hayes knew someone in the room was drunk when they named him. Jemima de Hayes argued that someone was drunk when he was concieved, which was a rather low blow for a six-year-old girl even back then. Fitzgerald was the early ancestor of the first counter-culture surfers, but thankfully he never discovered narcotics. However, he did move into taxidermy in his later years, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Jemima de Hayes got married in her later years and moved far, far away from her brother, but that does not matter in the course of this story.

End of the Author's irritating interruptions and excessive use of words with double "r"s.

--

Ria felt something rough nudging her.

"Jupiter, go away, don't do that……"

Whatever, her horse replied. A hawk is here to see you, and he has a message, apparently.

"Oh, a message," she shot back sulkily. "What is it, Hayabusa?"

Nothing, the hawk replied in a snooty tone. He held out the leg with the message tied to it. Here.

Ria opened it with delicate fingers, golden eyes reading the message spread out before her.

"Let it be known that Prince Jeremathy Marten-Anguelin, rightful heir to the throne of Fallowshaith, will bestow his generous presence upon the plentiful nobility at Fallowshaith Castle sometime within the next week, especially his little brother's betrothed, whose family, he has heard, was killed tragically in an assassination. He hopes she is in good health and would love to see the two of them try to get married. Signed, JMA Esq."

She blinked.

"Whaaaaaa?"

--

Tobias frowned. "Who gave you this letter?"

Hayabusa shrieked indignantly. How was I forgotten? It was me, doesn't he know?!

"Then who gave it to you?" Ria asked. Tobias looked at her like she was crazy, talking to herself.

Absolutely no idea, the hawk said snidely.

"Oh, you're a great help."

Glad to be of service.

The prince shook his head. "It doesn't matter now. I'll have to call a meeting… Mother and Father, Henry, the guards, the ladies-in-waiting, Cook, Siying—"

Ria interrupted him. "You never told me about this Jeremathy."

Tobias shook his head. "That's because he's dangerous, he was locked up in a dungeon for six years because—" He abruptly cut himself off.

"Because what?" Ria prompted.

"Never mind, you'll find out eventually, I'll have to get Larsen to ring the bell, although I might as well ring it myself, since it'll take more effort to raise him to his feet because of his sheer weight……"

And with that, he strode out of the room, leaving Ria confused and put off by his attitude.

--

BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG…

"ALL RIGHT, THAT'S QUITE ENOUGH," Tobias bellowed, but the bell drowned him out.

"STOP IT," he screamed again, but as this proved futile, he then decided to knock Larsen unconscious. The bell rang a few more times, and Tobias rubbed his temples. He'd nearly gone deaf.

--

The majority of the staff of Fallowshaith Castle sat in the Meeting Room, named so for its use for holding meetings. The king often preferred to meet over roasted duck in the Dining Hall, but it was his son who was calling the meeting, so no roasted duck, sadly. Tobias shot a glare at his father, who quickly stopped daydreaming before he began salivating over a dinner that was four hours away. That was not befitting a king of whatever little prestige Fallowshaith had, as a sort of small country.

"EEEEEEEEEEKKKKK! GET THAT THING AWAY FROM ME!"

"For the love of—"

"Eugenie, don't make such a fuss."

"IT CARRIES DISEASES WITH IT!"

Nonsense, Hayabusa snorted.

"Sparrathia, control your sister!"

"I'm sorry, but she's—"

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!"

Using that many exclamation points after a capitalized statement or, in this case, exclamation, is considered to be something like magnifying one's voice ten times over and running around the grounds au naturale while waving a banner reading "I WANT TO BE THE VERY BEST THAT NO ONE EVER WAS".

"Sparrathia, send her outside!"

"Sir Banholf, that is completely out of the question!"

"If she cannot control herself in the presence of a mere hawk, she obviously does not need to hear our discussions!"

Huh. Mere hawk, my tailfeathers, sneered Hayabusa.

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEE—"

"Sparrathia—"

"—absolutely out of the question, Sir Banholf—"

I'd like to see him swoop down on his prey from above an entire forest with pinpoint accuracy—

Ria, fed up with the whole argument, smacked her hand down on the table. The contact did not mar her beautiful, flawless skin with the signs of momentarily interrupted blood flow and broken capillaries that usually result from the high-speed collisions of hands and tables. It made an unnaturally loud, quieting noise.

Everyone gawked at her, silent in awe of her wondrous table-slapping skills. The table's feelings were injured and had it been capable of movement it would have been sulking in the corner.

"If we cannot conduct this meeting in peace, we will not conduct it at all," she said, voice commanding and musical. "Isn't that right, Tobias?"

Tobias flushed red. "Well—I—er—"

"Exactly. Now, Tobias, if you would be so kind?" Pure music.

"I—ah—sure." Flustered, the prince gathered his wits and stood up. Ria sat down with unparalleled grace, smiling beautifully with her crimson lips. Obviously.

Banholf retched violently in the background, interspersing said retching with maniacal, gasping laughter. Cook and Siying didn't say anything. Actions speak louder than words. In this case, their actions were trying very, very earnestly to stop laughing at the pair along with, and maybe at, Banholf. And they spoke very, very loudly.

Tobias muttered a poisonous "Egad", then proceeded to plaster a princely smile on his face. Everyone quieted down, except for the whimpering Sparrathia. And the sound of Hayabusa simmering.

"Now, everyone," he began in a placid tone. "Jeremathy—"

The doors to the conference hall slammed open and a strong voice rang through the room.

"Jeremathy what?"

Everyone could see Tobias mentally sinking down in his chair with a resentful air.

"Hello, brother."

Jeremathy, true heir to the Fallowshaith throne, smiled at his little brother.

"It's so good to see you."

It was a very caustic, very sarcastic smile.

--

"So, brother, what's happened since I've been… away?"

Jeremathy was quite a bit taller than his brother and could thus sling his arm around Tobias and lean on him. Tobias grit his teeth, then smiled up at him.

"Not much. I'm getting married."

"Hmm, to that beautiful gem of a girl, I suppose? Lady Ria Matthinghouste-Tryssen?" He held up his fingers, inspecting his nails.

Tobias blinked. "I thought you said you'd been out of the country for months."

"I wonder why," the elder prince said bitterly. "Yes, I've been out of the country for months, but obviously you know I know the Princess by reputation. Beside the fact that we both know you've been betrothed to her since birth, which was interprovincial news, let alone prevalent in this household, I suppose you read the note she received from my messengers."

"Yes, but I supposed you wouldn't have cared since you'd made an attempt on my life," Tobias snapped. "Do you still wonder why you were banished?"

Jeremathy looked down at him, cold and unforgiving. "My attempt on your life, dearest brother, was perfectly justified after our loving father decided I was unfit to take the throne."

The younger prince shrugged off his brother's arm, voice dangerously close to a snarl. "And that means you had to murder us in our sleep? I can't believe you have the nerve to come back to this place after all these years and still not have any remorse for what you've done."

He crossed his arms with a slow, offended grace. "I can't believe you have the nerve to accost me like this when you would have done the same in my position."

"Murder is not justified within the boundaries of this country, and I am accosting you because you pretend to lay on your niceties to get on my good side and eventually rule the kingdom. And I would not have done the same in your position. You delude yourself into thinking that since we share the same blood, we share the same thought processes, and let me assure you that we do not. I don't even want to be associated with you."

Tobias took several steps forward, then turned around.

"If you try anything here, so help me I will finish the job myself."

"What job, Tobias?" Jeremathy smirked. "What job?"

"Stop being melodramatic and get out of my room, Jeremathy."

"Melodramatic?"

"JUST GET OUT."

--

Banholf was striding resolutely past the stables, intending to get his horse and go for a quick ride through the countryside. Upon opening the stable doors, he proceeded directly to the stablehand's usual post.

They were eating each others' faces.

He backed out of the stable quickly and silently, like Death when he has been frightened severely enough.

By they, he meant Abel the stablehand and the quartermaster's daughter.

He would have to wash his eyes out very soon. As it were, he clapped a hand over his eyes and turned his back to the sight of the two.

"Please return to your duties, Abel," he said loudly. "And Kani, I don't think your father would approve of this relationship."

Kani's high-pitched squeak made him wince.

"Please don't speak of this to my father, Sir Banholf! I—"

"Yes yes fine be on your way please," Banholf said quickly, hand still over his eyes.

Abel bolted out of the stable, blushing furiously, followed quickly by Kani. They split in different directions.

Banholf peeked out from between his fingers. "Is it safe to look yet?"

--

Zadok sat in his cellar, muttering darkly and jangling his keys for ominous effect. His dusty, dark clothing made him look like a sad pile of rags with baleful eyes.

"Wine is important."

Jeremathy sighed, folding his arms. "Yes, I understand, but I—"

"You just can't up and use it for whatever you like, you know."

"Well, that's wonderful and all, but—"

"Not everyone is privileged enough to have wine in their cellars, you know."

"Look, how long has this stuff been in here?!"

Zadok shrugged. "Couple hundred years, I reckon. We've only put a bung in two casks since I took over."

"And when was that?"

"A while."

"How long is a while?"

"Put a bung it it, will you," Zadok snapped, standing up and shuffling over between two precariously tall and sagging shelves. "This job requires precision."

The ex-prince threw his hands in the air and stood up as well. "Fine. I was looking for a shady-looking accomplice for proper effect, but I can pull off the job myself just amazingly."

Zadok snorted. "You just don't get evil plans of the same quality anymore."

Jeremathy slammed the door behind him. Zadok caught a falling cask and glared at the oak paneling.

"No manners these days, either," he muttered darkly.

--

"I've got all the schematics and thing prepared, and you'll be the last person they'd suspect! It's perfect! I'm running out of options, lady!"

Siying menaced Jeremathy with a pitchfork. "You'd better rethink those statements."

--

Dinner that night was an awkward affair. Thunder rumbled outside, and the hall was occasionally lit by flashes of lightning as the rain poured down in torrents, battering at the high glass windows. Hundreds of candles in chandeliers and in sconces illuminated the great stone hall with flickering yellow light.

King Orthel and Queen Mira were blissfully consuming their dinner. Ria was eating gracefully next to Tobias when, rendering all of Tobias's efforts useless, the double doors flew open and revealed who else but Jeremathy, cape billowing behind him in a nonexistent wind.

"Hello again, Mother, Father," he called across the long table, slipping into the oddly vacant seat of Lord Ranolf Reis de Hayes (who was probably still tied up on the grounds). "What's been happening since my absence?"

Mira took a sudden interest in her food, lips forced into a severe, straight line, a vein pulsing in her forehead.

Orthel choked on his drink and sprayed it across the dais. "GET OFF OF THESE GROUNDS ALREADY!" he roared, face crimson with fury. Mira made no attempt to stop him, merely poking a fork into her meal.

Jeremathy smirked. "Now, Father, that's no way to treat your son after a long absence."

Orthel spluttered for a few moments. Ria placed her fork down beautifully, gorgeous golden eyes narrowing with aesthetic discernment as she looked Jeremathy over. His face was narrower than Tobias's, features more severe, his hair darker and tied back like a peasant's, paler and taller. There was some sort of hatred restrained in the tension of his frame.

Jemima de Hayes snorted from the Lords' Table (the de Hayes siblings had long cut themselves loose from the tree). "How can anyone put their fork down beautifully?"

"Shut up," said Fitzgerald, flicking a spoonful of soup at her. Cook, who was overseeing the serving of all this wonderful food, smacked him on the back of his head with a dishrag.

"Don't play with your food."

The King had finished spluttering by now and was calling for the guards, who looked kind of divided over whether to drag Jeremathy out or not. After all, he was a noble, even if he was a banished one, and they usually trusted the Queen's judgment over the King's, because she was more stable. But Mira's advice was not forthcoming, and they shifted uneasily, armor clanking.

Jeremathy leaned back in his chair, as far as it is possible to lean back in a rigid wooden chair. "Looks like I'm going to be staying for a while, my dear parents," he said, grinning unpleasantly and showing wickedly sharp, white teeth.

Tobias was pointedly ignoring the whole situation and took a sip from his goblet. Banholf coughed, feeling out of place in the family dispute. His younger siblings were too caught up in their own dispute to notice the one going on around them that had caused several lords and ladies to quietly leave the dining room.

"You," Orthel raged, unable to form coherent sentences. "You—banished—not permissible—death—!"

"Calm down, Father. You look like you're going to have a stroke."

"YOU—TELLING ME TO CALM DOWN—!"

"Yes, please do, dear," Mira said through gritted teeth. "We'll deal with this later. The evening meal is not to be used to settle such disputes. Now, sit down, and try to finish your food."

"But Mira—"

"No buts, dear." She stamped on his toe underneath the table. Orthel stifled a yelp and sat down violently, attacking his food with an earnest viciousness that only comes from being angry at another person and only being able to take it out on your supper.

Jeremathy folded his arms smugly.

Cook folded her arms. "I didn't make food for fifty-one," she complained. "If he stays, he's cooking for himself."