For mchlmellen, who wanted to know what Charles and Anabella were like when they first met

Charles Dielle, Lord Channing, the only son of the Marquis Dielle was coming to Margate. By all accounts he was handsome, foolhardy, reckless and possibly gay. He spent his time in clubs and taverns drinking and gambling and when he wasn't doing that he was buying anything that could conceivably be called 'art' and shipping it to the family's main estate. They had several. They had vineyards and farms, possibly interest in a mine or two and vast tracts of forest which made them not only one of the oldest, but also one of the wealthiest families in their kingdom. At least, they were wealthy when they were allowed to keep the profits instead of paying extra taxes and fines for having magic in their blood.

Lady Anabella had been looking forward to his visit for some weeks now. Her father, Lord Donghai, the Baron of Margate, had met the young lord on a recent trip inland and been impressed, much to everyone's surprise. He had said that madness was the only way to deal with madness and left it at that, which had only piqued his family's interest even more. By the age of twenty-two Anabella had been to Kahetchka and Briem; she had even been north to Beishuay and seen the icebergs lurking out beyond its famous harbor. She had sailed the Bay of Themis and wondered at the desert forts studding the distant shore before going on to the great Canol River. In short, she had been to most of the places on the continent that sea-going ships could reach. She had never been inland to Fenningale. Even though it was one of her family's major sourced of revenue things had been too chaotic and dangerous for Lord Donghai to allow it. She was looking forward to meeting to a real live Fen.

She was disappointed when she met him.

He could be called handsome but he was short. She had heard that he liked nothing more than to laugh and drink but the man she met was sober, softly spoken and slightly dour looking. She had heard he had not married because he liked men but he told them the heart-wrenching tale of his lost fiancee, a girl he could not even be sure was dead because no one would admit to her ever having been alive.

Anabella had found the reports and tales coming from Fenningale strange and fascinating in a horrible way. She thought it like reading the broadsheets. Only the other month the House of Saivelle had been erased in a single night, all their properties claimed by the crown, their manors reduced to rubble, and every single member of the family and loyal retainer gone, as gone as if they had never existed. Not even bodies were left for their friends to bury. It was understood this resulted from some slight from the Marquis towards the king. He had missed a meeting at Court or made some derisive comment about something in the hearing of an informer. Being a family of mediocre sorceresses, this was enough to condemn them all.

And everyone knew the story of the flight of the Marielles. With only servants' clothes and a few coins in her pockets the Marquise, one of the most powerful sorceresses alive, had carried her daughter across a third of the country and fallen fainting before the Kahetchkan border guards. Who had then had to fight off the Fennish border guards to save her. Her husband had made a daring ride in the opposite direction, drawing the King's secret guard after him and right into the hands of a waiting band of mountain yaksha. The yaksha had eaten so well they had conveyed the Marquis across the Dragon Ranges and down into Briem, where local lords had been so impressed that they had feasted him across the kingdom until he reached Kahetchka. His wife was waiting, having been taken under the King's personal protection, which of course started an international fracas.

Anabella had wanted stories like these. Instead when they had finally convinced their guest to tell them of the horrors of the Internecion he had launched into a dreary narrative of a poor old woman and her grandchildren who she had taken in after their mother disappeared after being accused of being a witch. He told them all about how the grandmother had had to hide in cellars with children when the soldiers came back to make sure none of them had magic either.

"And he found them and moved them to one of his father's estates. And that was it!"

Anabella lay in her lover's arms, listening to the water lap against the side of their small boat and the cries of the gulls. She had gone fishing, with a manservant as was appropriate, and they had even bothered to set a line. The pole leaned against the side, the line dangling into the water with little hope of attracting a fish here in the marshes that edged one of the great river's tributaries. Anabella's family laughed and laughed at her poor fishing but commended her for trying with such determination.

"I had hoped he would be interesting!" she said with a pout.

"Were ye wanting a husband?"

"Of course not! I know Papa will choose one eventually. Someone filthy rich and even more titled than he is."

"What about this man, isn't he a marquis' son?"

"Oh but Fenningale is so far away!" Anabella replied, snuggling a bit closer. "He'd never let me go so far. And it's so dangerous, why this man's whole family might be gone at any time! I heard they killed his mother when he was little as a warning that they should behave themselves."

Strong arms pressed her closer and Anabella closed her eyes, breathing in the sticky smell of the tide lowering, the mud of the marshes, and fresh sweat.

"No wonder he's a sour bastard."

Anabella giggled and squirmed slightly.

"You'd better not let anyone catch you talking about our guests that way!"

He snorted and his hands drifted. Happy to take her mind off the visitor, Anabella moved on to other things.

"I would never propose such a situation if it wasn't necessary, if I hadn't made it as safe as possible. Certain members of the royal guard are open to bribery but I prefer the ones that are uncomfortable with the whole situation. The army is even more open to overlooking things, especially if the inducement is good."

Anabella and her brother Marshal sat behind the curtains lining the upper gallery. Through a gap in the hangings they could peer down at their visitor as he spoke with their father and older brother, Stephan. The fire was low in the fireplace as the night stretched on past its midpoint. The servants had been dismissed for the night and the men below were passing around a bottle of wine Charles Dielle had brought with him.

"You really got your cousins to Kahetchka?" Stephan asked.

He looked like a younger version of their father, broad-shouldered with auburn hair and a piercing stare. He was already a great favorite among Donghai's trading partners and was infrequently at home.

"Once I had them in the right clothes and the correct guards were on patrol it wasn't hard to get them to the border."

"You've been sending most of them over the mountains, haven't you?" Donghai asked as he swirled his wine around in his glass. He looked thoughtful, Anabella thought as she inched forward on her belly to get a better view.

"Yes, so far it's been the easiest way. We have several fiefs along the western road. Of course then they have to get past the mines and over the mountains. The yaksha have been extremely helpful. Not even the Cyneweard will try to detain humans traveling with them."

"But then they try to find out where they picked up humans?" Donghai said.

"They haven't caught us yet. We've had some close calls, but so far it's worked."

"Most shipping containers are too small," Stephan said.

"Wine barrels."

Donghai sat up a little and sipped his wine. The young men both paused at the movement and waited.

"Workers carry the freight on," he said at last. "I doubt many people pay attention to make sure they all come off the ship again. That would work for any men. I'm sure there are things we can construct to look like cloth or boxes of goods. It would be a tight fit but only for a short period."

"What about checking the cargo for import duties?"

"Oh, there won't be any trouble on our side," Donghai said with one his famous belly laughs. "My family is responsible for most of that new palace up in Sea Isle. Have you been introduced at our fine court yet? The Prince is getting old and doddery but he always remembers what's due and to whom."

"If your crews are caught," Charles Dielle started to say.

"It's in your kingdom's best interest not to catch them, my boy. Any army commander with an ounce or two of sense will see that pretty quick. You've those wild men in the mountains and Briem to the southeast. They'd be happy to reclaim their provinces from the last war. Then there's Kahetchka to the southwest. The Sea King knows, the more trouble they have with the Spice Islands, the happier they'd be to expand inland. They made the Marquis de Marielle the Lord High Governor of one of those islands. You know they're itching to get their hands on more sorceresses to keep their colonies in line."

"I know. I've had hints that if I would swear their loyalty oath the king would adopt me. But I'll fight to the last for my country." Charles Dielle's hand tightened around the stem of his wine glass as he looked into the dark red liquid. "Once we were on the forefront of knowledge and learning. We were known around the world for our metalwork, for our inventions. And one man has destroyed it all."

"One man can't do all that," Lord Donghai said slowly. "People have to listen to him and obey him. You can't hold them innocent. Anabella, if you're going to eavesdrop, at least have the decency not to wave the curtains at us," Lord Donghai said without even a glance up at the gallery.

Anabella and Marshal fell backwards in their hurry to get away from their peep hole. Anabella shooed her brother further away before squaring her shoulders and pulling the curtain aside. She stepped up to the ornate railing and leaned over, letting her loose auburn hair stream over her shoulder.

"If you would include me in your conversations I wouldn't have to eavesdrop, Papa."

"And if you were less silly I would include you," Donghai returned with a shake of his head.

"When have I been silly?"

"Says the girl who spends all her time fishing and sailing and buying new dresses. Tell me the last sensible thing you did, child."

"I hid Marshal before stepping out here."

"Ana!" came the indignant shout from the darkness behind her.

"And now you have revealed him."

"You knew he was there already, Papa."

"Tell me something else."

"I sent Isa and Dominique home early tonight as thanks for their hard work. You know they are the worst gossips in the household. And I told my friends that Lord Channing was here because he was trying to convince you to buy his wine. And that I think he's rather low on money."

The men glanced, almost self-consciously, at the empty wine bottle on the side table.

"As you never told us why he was coming I hardly wanted to say you found him interesting and had invited him to visit."

Lord Donghai nodded to himself and gestured to an open seat by the fire.

Anabella nodded and spun on her heel, saving her squeal of excitement until she reached the dinning room and could stick her tongue out at Marshal. He looked mutinous but it was a rare time when he didn't look ready to rebel over something. She ran down the stairs to the great hall and stopped at the bottom to compose herself before entering the room.

"Lord Channing, I must admit," she said as she took her seat, "I had hoped to find you a rogue and I'm glad that I wasn't completely disappointed."

Charles Dielle appraised her with a cool glance. For a young man not even old enough to marry she thought he had an astounding degree of composure and control. Anabella did not approve.

"Lady Anabella, I think you're too used to novels and storybooks and not accustomed to the real world."

"I've traveled more widely than you, my lord. Seen more of the world."

"But have you ever traveled fearing that one wrong move, one slip of the tongue could cost your entire family their lives? Have you ever gone to sleep in your home wondering if tonight will be the night they come, if tonight you will die?"

"That is the fault of everyone who won't take action. You should kill the king," Anabella replied with an expressive shrug.

It was the sort of gesture that often won her male admirers but it did not seem to be winning over Charles Dielle. He glanced between her brother and her father as if expecting them to laugh or reprove her but they only looked thoughtful.

"Kill the king," he repeated slowly.

"Poison, or a curse that would make it look like a natural death. That would stop all this, wouldn't it?"

The young Lord Channing sighed and sank in his seat, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. Anabella looked to her father and brother for support.

"Wouldn't it?"

"It's not so simple," Donghai replied. "It would probably start a civil war. The border provinces would attempt to succeed. The king's supporters would probably start slaughtering anyone suspected of having magical sympathies while anyone with magical sympathies would attack anyone who worked for the government. The second prince might make an attempt to seize power; Prince Phillip isn't known as an active or forceful man."

"He's decent enough," Charles Dielle offered. "But weak. And afraid."

"And his younger brother is neither of those and happily and actively furthers his father's cause."

Charles Dielle's eyes opened at that and though they fixed on his feet there was such hatred in them that Anabella felt herself draw back in shock. Then the emotion was repressed and the calm, weary facade returned.

"Too active," was all he said.

"You look tired, my boy," Donghai said and he leaned forward to pat the young lord on the knee. "After all your traveling we have kept you up too late. Go to bed and we'll talk more when the sun is out and the birds are singing."

Politely he took his leave and Donghai had his son walk his guest upstairs so Dielle wouldn't get lost in the twisting hallways. Father and daughter were left sitting together for some time as the fire slowly burned itself out behind them.

"You are an anarchist, my dear," he said at length.

"Better anarchy than what they have now," she replied with a flip of her hair and a determined look.

Donghai smiled and shook his head. "You'd be surprised how many people would disagree with you there. They'd much rather sacrifice a few of their neighbors and live in fear of the known threat than face the unknown."

"That's madness!"

"That's the way it is. What do you think of Lord Channing?"

"He's so melancholy!" Anabella exclaimed. "No young man should be so dark and unhappy, and it's like he's always wearing a mask, always double checking every word before he says it."

"He'd make you a fine, sensible husband if things weren't so bad. Might force you to be a bit more sensible yourself."

"Papa! Anyway, I could never be settled so far away from you all! And he doesn't like me."

"I'm sure he's not used to seeing a lady so carefree and outspoken, Anabella. He could get used to it."

"Not him!" she cried and that ended their evaluation of their visitor.

Lord Donghai insisted on introducing Charles Dielle at court. A few days later they were on Donghai's yacht, headed up the coast. Maureit is a small princedom, covering the breaker islands along most of the coast and reaching inland over the sandy, pine forests maybe a hundred miles, usually less, south of Kahetchka. But they had enough forests to build their ships and river deltas that led to major cities. Invaders had occasionally managed to take the mainland but no one had ever managed to pry the islands from their control. There were too many expanses of marsh with hidden channels, too many little inlets and no space for a pitched battle. Sea Island was the capital city and one of the major ports, though Margate was now the largest city.

The palace was a long building facing the ocean. The ground floor was lined with heavy, squared doorways which were designed to withstand flooding. The grace was reserved for the first floor where sweeping arches topped elegant columns whose tops were scalloped like shells. Charles thought he could even see sea horses and merpeople in the carving along the railings. For this whole structure merely supported the roof of the wide balcony that commanded a view of the harbor and behind the arches huge glass windows led into what must have been a state room. The young Dielle thought there must be an equally grand facade on the other side of the building, surely not everyone approached the palace by boat. But then again he could not be quite sure. There were liveried footmen waiting by the spotless dock with sunshades and polite greetings.

They were shown immediately inside, entering under the dark arches of the ground floor into a nearly subterranean chamber that was somehow cool and dark and smelled of sea salt. It was elegant in spite of the dimness, and perhaps because of it, there was nothing so refreshing after spending a few hours in the blazing sun. They followed their escort across this space and through a wide set of doors. The stairway beyond was wide and squat; Charles might not have found it elegant, but it was imposing. It went up to a landing and split, turning them so they faced back towards the water as they ascended. Then there was light; walking up those steps was to be suddenly blinded by the afternoon sunlight. The otheres were prepared for it, but Charles was not, he nearly stumbled, squinting against the light but Lady Anabella beside him caught his arm and pulled him along.

"Papa loves this staircase," she whispered as they neared the top. "He suggested it to the architect, who was nearly foaming with joy at the idea."

Dielle thought this vulgar but the Maureitans had different ideas of what was vulgar. They were an emotional, outspoken people and he admired them while also being gently repulsed by their candid way of talking.

They reached the top of the stairs and though the light was still shining directly into their eyes, by turning his head Charles Dielle could glimpse things, like the pure white marble of the floor, the soaring columns supporting the roof, the vastness of the space that made you feel as if you were stepping into the open air suddenly. The prince was seated on the other end of the room on a throne positioned between two of the windows. You had to shield your eyes to look at him properly, only then could you see that he was an old man, thin with age. It was theater, spectacle, of a kind Dielle hated but found himself admiring.

He was dragged forward and introduced. Beside him Anabella curtsied and bobbed and smiled sweet nothings to everyone's distraction. If the prince had any curiosity as to why this foreigner was being presented to him to was eclipsed by his interest in the girl. She laughed and joked and batted eyelashes without shame and they spent half an hour listening to a conversation between the prince, Donghai and the girl. Even though she was older, he thought of her as a girl.

The young Dielle could not quite understand the display. He might have thought himself grown and wise beyond his years but he still had much to learn when it came to politics. He had never been to court, the only nobles he consorted with were the reckless, drunken and generally harmless ones, and he cultivated alliances so secret they could only be of limited use. He was shocked when Donghai clapped him on the shoulder as they were leaving and said:

"Now your ambassador will know we are interested in the state of the Dielle vineyards. I've promised the prince the first cask, so you'll have to make sure it's a superb one. Now to go down to Lady Ventnor's for tea. We want the gossip getting around that you're a charming young scallywag. We'll have you Anabella's beau in no time and then you'll visit as often as you need without all that hassle at the border. It should also make it easier for your luggage to get through."

It was all a gimmick, a ploy, politics. Charles and Anabella had no idea that in a little over three years they would actually be married.

Anabella when she was happy was sort of mind-boggling to write. It's also quite clear where Marie gets it.