View Full Version : Under the Cover of Darkness (4.22.1008) (Chris)
03-19-2011, 01:50 AM
Melari bit her lip, turning the tapestry over in her hands. It was very small, barely ten inches tall and roughly seven across, but the detail was intricate and there was no mistaking the picture. A golden-haired lady smiled in a bower of flowers and leaves, birds perching behind her head and a fawn curled up at her feet. It was meant to be Lady Odelia, someone Mel had not known personally but had learned enough about to want to immortalize. By all accounts Odelia had been a beautiful woman, devoted to the man she was to marry, and for some reason she had suffered a death that nobody deserved. Mel hadn't known Lord Christopher personally either, but at the news her heart had grieved for him. At times of such horror it was hard to know what to say, and certainly words rarely did much good. Melari's grief vented itself in the creation of an image of Odelia as her life should have been -- joyous, peaceful, beautiful. One the last thread was tied and she'd regarded the finished piece Mel thought perhaps it was also a portrait of how she was. She did believe in an afterlife, and she did believe that after death people got what they deserved, so it stood to reason that this murdered Lady had found some form of peace.
It had to be true. The other reality was just too cruel.
The question now was whether or not to deliver it. Melari rather wanted to give her work to the grand lord who was staying in Denra, but perhaps the pretty image would backfire and make him sad, or even angry. That would be terrible. The girl had no desire either resurrect old pain, nor to endanger her cousin's house, but it seemed a shame to waste such a work of love...
At length she decided that the only thing to do was to sneak the gift into Lord Christopher's belongings, where he wouldn't find it until much later. That way he wouldn't know where it had come from, and then no one could get in trouble if it turned out he was displeased. Mel tucked the little weaving under her arm and slipped out of her room, padding along in bare feet until she found the guard's entrance to the guest of honor's room. There weren't any guards; the other door was hidden by a tapestry that moved aside if you knew where the fourth nail was hidden. Melari's fingers found it buried in the center of a flower and carefully pried it out, lifting the bottom corner of the weaving and pressing the wall on the other side. It moved for her, revealing a short and pitch-black passage.
The lady swallowed, nerves coming in full-force as she was shut into the darkness, but she groped her way forward to the far wall. At length she found the catch, and with the lightest of touches the painting slid away. The room was empty, and Melari couldn't help the sigh of relief as she stepped out into the open. Of course that probably wouldn't last too long; she had to get going...
Mel scurried over to the bed, surmising that what luggage the province lord possessed would probably be stored close by. She was right. The bundles and bags were tucked away in a corner; a little too far from the passage for comfort but what could be done? Lady Forthwind tiptoed around the bed and pulled the nearest sack towards her, rummaging around to check that this was in fact Lord Mallory's luggage and not the Lady's. The figure in the tapestry was wearing her house colors and Mel had taken pains to include both the Lennox and Mallory crests in the border so no one could mistake who exactly the weaving portrayed...but if it ended up with Lady Mallory, well, that could be awkward.
It was too dark to see very well, and Melari frowned as she held the bag up to the light.
03-19-2011, 02:05 AM
“See that we are prepared to leave in the morning,” Christopher said to one of their numerous attendant. He walked along the corridor with his hand gripping his son’s. He would not have normally brought Anthony considering the whole point of this voyage, but he would have gotten no sleep if his son was in Orqua while he was well over a day away. He went first into the room where his son would be sleeping, helping him to bed and tucking him in as he normally did. Anthony seemed much happier these days, perhaps feeling as if things were coming back to the way they’d been, blissfully ignorant of the war that waged outside castle walls. Christopher smiled and kissed his forehead and then turned to go to his own chambers.
He stopped before grasping the handle of the door, remembering he’d left his book on the table. He wanted to read some before going to bed, and besides, he did not think Rosalie was sleeping just yet. Probably mingling and enjoying herself as she ought to. Still, he always woke up when she came to bed after he did, so he would just wait for her. Tucking the book under his arm, he grabbed the nearest candle so that he could light the other lanterns in the room and then pushed the door open.
“Oh!” he said, the warm glow of the fire casting a dim light on the young girl he’d met earlier that day. “Lady Melari? What are you…? Is everything all right?” he asked, seeing instantly that she was standing in front of his trunk of belongings. What she was doing, he had no idea, but he did not think anything malicious, surely. The girl looked jumpy enough as it was. “Is there something you needed?”
03-19-2011, 02:11 AM
Mel didn't scream, but she easily jumped a foot in the air. The girl whirled guiltily, leaping back from Christopher's things as though she'd been burned. "...Please don't blame Fabian."
It was the first thing that came to mind, panic taking over to make her babble. "He doesn't know I'm here; he doesn't know about any of this. I mean, I just..."
He was going to be so angry. Mel squeezed her eyes shut so she wouldn't have to see and stuck out a trembling hand, the little tapestry clenched in her fingers. "I wanted to put this somewhere you wouldn't see so you couldn't know where it came from. I'm sorry."
03-19-2011, 02:29 AM
Christopher was confused, but mostly startled… and somewhat amused. That he would not deny. “Blame Fabian?” he began, walking in, careful not to close the door so as not to compromise her further. Not that anybody would dare question him, but that was not the point. Last thing he needed was for his wife to wander in and accuse him of having an affair. Well, Rosalie would probably not so much accuse him as punch him in the face and call him a cad, but that was the same thing, really.
“Slow down, dear,” he said, afraid the girl would keel over if she didn’t calm herself. “You’re not in trouble. Just, tell me what you were doing? There’s no harm done.”
His eyes went to her hand, and then to whatever it was that she was holding. She seemed to think it would somehow offend him judging by the look on her face. He stepped closer to take it and held it out to see what was depicted and he froze. His smile fell, his eyes softened, and his brows creased only slightly. Closing his honey-brown eyes, he bit his lip and clutched the tapestry closer. “Why?” he asked. “If you had done that, I would not have been able to thank you. It is…” He opened his eyes to look at it again. “It is wonderful, dear. Thank you.”
03-19-2011, 02:54 AM
This man was really kind.
Mel dared to open her eyes at the softness in his voice, her surprise evident as she locked her hands behind her back and traced a pattern on the floor with her toe. "Well, I didn't think you'd thank me. I thought maybe you'd find it impertinent, or malicious...or else that it would make you hurt more. I didn't want that."
She inched cautiously closer to him. "I don't know. If someone I didn't know gave something like this to me, with my mother and father on it, I thought I might not be happy about it. But...but I had to make it, when I heard. Because it was wrong and I wanted to try to make her right. Does that make sense?"
Melari dared to touch her finger to the fabric, pointing out a butterfly hidden in a spray of roses. "If I remember Mother and Father slaughtered like they were, the ones who murdered them win. They get not only their lives but their memories, and that just isn't right. The memory of Lady Odelia should be this."
03-19-2011, 03:16 AM
He studied the design closer, looking at the butterfly as she pointed it out. “Come,” he said, offering his hand to her. They would go out to the sitting room where he felt it more proper. Leading her there, he ushered her to a seat and then went to open the door, informing his guards that he had a guest and to leave it open for propriety’s sake. Turning back, he sat in a chair across from her and set the tapestry on his knee.
“You are right,” he said to her, his voice gentle. “This is how Odelia should be remembered. Did you know her?” he asked. It was possible that they’d met. She’d been the daughter of Lord Lennox, after all.
“How rude of me… is there something I can get you? Water, tea?”
He sobered as she spoke of her mother and father, having remembered them that day… “You are a very wise woman, Lady Melari. Yours is a wisdom it takes years for many men to learn. I have only recently come to see that truth, myself. How old did you say you were?” he asked, trying to remember if it’d been mentioned in previous conversations.
03-19-2011, 03:27 AM
The girl blushed to touch Lord Mallory's hand, but she let him lead her to the sitting room. She sat, properly, crossing her ankles and folding her hands in her lap despite her bare feet and messy hair. It wasn't every day one spoke privately with a province Lord.
At Christopher's question Mel shook her head, regret showing in her eyes. "Not well, my lord. I'd seen her; I could recognize her face and possibly her voice but we never spoke about anything really important. I watched her though; I admired her. I regret that now."
Melari looked at him, her mouth lighting with a sudden smile. "How rude of you, my lord? I'm the one who was in your room without permission and rummaging through your things."
She laughed, softly, obviously a little embarrassed. "A cup of water would be very kind, thank you."
Lady Forthwind turned rosy again at being called a wise woman, and this time the flush stayed. She wasn't sure if it was more strange to be referred to as a woman or wise; neither seemed to fit her very well at all but even so it was a compliment of the kind Melari wasn't used to hearing. "My sister and I turned seventeen exactly seven days ago, my lord."
03-19-2011, 03:42 AM
It was almost disappointing to hear that she hadn’t known her. But he continued to smile. “She was one to be admired. Odelia was… Well, she was an incredible woman with an incredible heart and spirit. She loved this province, the people… I regret so many things, but the biggest regret is knowing that this province will not know just how much she loved them, how much she could have done for them.”
He laughed at that. “How did you get in here anyway?” he asked, looking back at his door. The main door was guarded and they hadn’t mentioned her before.
He rose from his chair to go to where the pitcher was set. It was amazing how convenient everything seemed these days. Pouring her a glass of water, he handed it to her and took his seat once again. “It was no trouble.”
He chuckled at how she blushed, and said, “Ah, so wise beyond your years then.” Clearing his throat he said in a lower voice, “By the way, I am truly sorry about your parents, my lady. If there is anything I can do…?”
03-19-2011, 04:34 AM
Melari returned the smile, her eyes brightening as Lord Mallory spoke. When he was done she considered a moment, thoughtful, then leaned forward and touched her hand to his. "You know it." The words were simple. "And now you've told me, so I know it. Lady Odelia is still there, somewhere; her love and devotion still exist. Maybe she can plant it in the hearts of those who still live and guide us to a better future."
The maid released him, chuckling a little at his question. "The painting, Lord Mallory. It slides open and there's a passage beyond that takes you into another corridor -- the tapestry is nailed to the wall there so you have to know where the nail is to find the door. If you're ever in a bind here and the door's been blocked, use the painting."
She sipped at the water, quickly growing serious again. "...It's all right." It wasn't, really, but neither had Jarred and Kathleen's deaths been even remotely Lord Mallory's fault. "I'm sorry about Lady Odelia."
Mel stared at the water in her hands, brow furrowing. "Well....we can't bring back the dead. But..."
After a long silence she lifted her head to look at him, blue eyes soft with emotion. "You can unite Svavel again, so no one else has to know that someone they love has died at the hands of their own countrymen. And you could let me help how I may."
03-22-2011, 04:59 PM
She spoke of Odelia was one with faith might, and he tried his hardest to keep his opinions on that to himself. He would never begrudge somebody for believing… Only begrudge them when their beliefs infringed on somebody else. “It is my hope,” he said. “She taught me a lot about myself… And it is with the memory of her that I will unite the province. I owe it to her, to her father, to our people.” He smiled to her then and said, “To you. I think you and everybody else your age deserves to live in a land free of war and turmoil.”
Christopher was… stunned. It made him wonder how many secret passages the Castle Vis Virestes had. Knowing the Lorterrans, probably a few dozen. He’d have to see about feeling around for those. “Well, I suppose I thank you then for not coming when I or my lady were sleeping. Though, I am sure she could probably sleep through a hurricane, I’m quite a light sleeper myself,” he said, teasing Rosalie even in her absence. He smiled fondly as he thought of her and wondered once again where she was.
He nodded solemnly, his eyes studying her for a bit. “No, we can’t,” he said, his voice slow.
Her expression made him pause, and his brown eyes locked with hers as she spoke. “That is the plan, my lady. And it is my wish that Lord Forthwind will aid me in my endeavor.” He smiled at her again, the cogs turning in his head. “I appreciate your willingness to help, my lady. And I shall think on the offer, you may depend upon it.” And he thought rather quickly of how to seal it. It was just a matter of bringing it to Lord Fabian.
03-24-2011, 11:45 PM
"Thank you." Again, Melari's voice was gentle. "But you owe it to yourself as well. You have a beautiful Lady, and children." At least one child; Mel actually wasn't entirely sure how many there were. But that wasn't the point. She wondered for a moment how old Lord Mallory was; although he was so much larger and stronger he didn't look old at all. She guessed at most there was a difference of fifteen years. "But you had a lot of responsibility given to you very suddenly; for the most part I think you're doing well."
At his thanks for not coming while they were sleeping, Lady Forthwind gave a sheepish laugh. "Oh, no, I could never. I wouldn't want to risk frightening Lady Mallory, even if she sleeps like a rock." She swirled the water in her cup, an anxious little motion that complemented the worried furrow on her brow. "I really didn't mean any offense, but I was frightened. I thought, maybe..."
She retreated into a hesitant little whisper. "Well, I didn't want House Forthwind to end the same as the Mar-Stellars." It was something she couldn't understand, and still didn't. How could this smiling man who called her 'dear' have put people to death that way? An entire family, for one, and then with torture...it didn't make sense.
But his eyes were on her once more, and she had to lift her head to meet the brown gaze. It was such a strange feeling, to be looking the Province Lord of all Svavel right in the eyes -- because looking into someone's eyes was often also looking into their heart. Christopher was earnest and serious and kind, and Mel wondered what he saw in her. "I'm certain Lord Fabian will do his best, my lord. He still suffers the loss of his wife but he does have a good heart; he wouldn't refuse you whatever help you asked. None of us would."
03-25-2011, 03:15 AM
Christopher smiled as she complimented his family. There were so few compliments that could endear him as much as that. “Just the one,” he said beaming proudly. “But he has been a delight in every way. I could think of nothing else that has made me more proud than being his father.” His smile grew as she continued and he went on, “It is not something I am unused to. For a good deal of my life, I studied to be a maester. I was a third son. Being lord was for my eldest brother, Jason. I never expected to be bannerlord, much less province lord. But, I do love this land, I love the people. I do my best for them. And thank you, dear. It is a comfort to hear that.”
His eyes warmed. “I do not know if frightened would be the correct word,” he said. “Well, perhaps when you get down to it… But I do so pity any person who gets the jump on my lady. She’s got a mean left hook,” he joked. He shook his head, leaning forward, attempting to get a word in. There was no offense, no reason to be frightened, but she trailed off and he stopped, curious now…
Now his eyes widened slightly, almost unnoticeably. “House Forthwind is in no danger of that,” he assured her. “House Mar-Stellar committed treason against the King of Forsilvra, having been fully committed to not only taking over this province by eliminating House Lennox but also by taking part in a plot to assassinate the king. The entire family was involved in Sando-Lat’s meticulous schemes.” And it didn’t help their case that they’d long since warred with the Mallory family having stolen a few of their horses to cash in on the provincial decree. “They brought their fate upon themselves. Sneaking into my room to give me a gift is not treason, dear.”
It pleased him to hear her say such things. Either she was a clever little diplomat, or she was charming to a fault. “I am certain of that as well. I have deep respect for House Forthwind.”
03-25-2011, 03:55 AM
The maid's smile grew wider and brighter when Mallory spoke about his son, and by the time he was finished her eyes were sparkling. Melari was not an ambitious soul. The greatest happiness she could imagine for herself was a loving husband and babes of her own, all living together in a peaceful land. It sounded much like paradise. "Your son is lucky to have such a father; your pride in him is as it should be." She colored, shy. "I hope someday I can have that same happiness. And..." The faintest of frowns. "That my cousin will stop running from his own children, at least from Alys. She's such a darling girl."
Melari wouldn't speak of Arthur without being prodded, but she did give Christopher a reassuring smile. "I'm glad. I thought maybe you could use a little comfort. Most people can."
She tilted her head at his explanation about the Mar-Stellars, listening carefully although she didn't seem entirely convinced. But because he was kind and kept calling her 'dear', Mel ventured another, hesitant comment. "I understand about treason, my lord, but in truth that's...that's not the only reason." She bit her lip. "How..." Even more slowly. "Well, how the Lady's murderers were executed."
Melari regretted it the moment it came out, and she swiftly ducked her head. "Forgive me, my Lord, that was too bold. I'm just weak -- I can't bear it when people are hurt."
03-25-2011, 04:08 AM
Christopher leaned back again and said with confidence, “I believe that it is a good dream to have. I think you will one day make a wonderful mother. My own was very dear to me. Still is, as a matter of fact. I have held no greater respect for any that I did for her.” It was because of her, not Kaedori faith, that he viewed women as equals, not as lesser. He frowned at her last comment, though. “What do you mean by that?” he asked.
The rest seemed to come out in a blur. One moment she was speaking of Fia and Debiel’s execution, the next apologizing up and down. “Here’s my little comfort to you, my lady. You do not have to fear my anger. You speak honestly and openly, and I appreciate that. As for your weakness… it is not a weakness at all. Enjoying pain in others is not a strength… And those who delight in suffering are the sort of people who have no business holding a blade.”
How to explain the rest? He looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “I believe there are many in Svavel currently that would do much to harm me and my family. Debiel was an example of such. He murdered my wife, an innocent woman who had barely turned seventeen. In an instant, he robbed a life, stole her dreams, stole her chance of having a family, of being a mother… I needed to show that there would be no kindness or mercy to any who hurt my family. I need to protect my House and my province lest the next assassin be after me or worst… my son. It was extreme what I did, but perhaps any who thought to cause harm to my own will see that and think twice. It is a sad truth to where I sit now, my lady. In desperate times, I must sometimes make decisions that others cannot bear.”
He moved to the edge of his chair to catch her gaze. “I admire your heart, my lady. Yours is a kindness and compassionate soul… It is more of a comfort to see that than anything else.”
03-25-2011, 04:27 AM
Melari was silent when he'd finished. She looked at her hands for a long moment, pondering Christopher's every word before lifting her gaze. Lady Forthwind met his eyes again, this time with gratitude and understanding. For a time she said nothing at all, because she didn't know what to say, but after the silence had stretched into tension she rose. Mel moved just three steps forward, then she was before him and there was nowhere else to go. The girl simply bent and pressed a penitent kiss to his cheek. "I'm sorry I thought so badly of you."
Melari retreated back to her chair. "You're just what Svavel needs now -- I would never have guessed a province Lord to be so kind. Or your lovely lady." She smiled. "She gave me the friendliest look this evening when I was falling all over myself trying to get you settled. I don't think I shall ever forget it."
On to lighter topics, and she was glad. "I think your mother must be very proud. I -- " She paused, then suddenly her eyes flashed with a sudden thought. "Lord Mallory, once everything is better again, do you think Svavel might have a school for girls?" ^^
03-31-2011, 03:01 AM
Her words surprised him. She had thought badly of him? Well, given the nature of the conversation, he could not say that he much blamed her. All she had known of him, it seemed, was his cruelty… What he could do when crossed. And if that was all there’d been to him, he would not begrudge any for thinking badly of him. After all, is that not why people were wary about Victor Castell? Christopher was sure there were many facets to that man of many complexes… But all Christopher knew… Well, one could never know until it was staring you in the face sometimes. “I’m sorry that I put you in the position to think badly.”
He did not move as she kissed his cheek. It was not proper to be sure but he would not scold her for it. It was just an innocent kiss to the cheek. Somewhat sweet. He glossed over her compliment to him. He had always had difficulty accepting them, but he had no trouble thinking highly of his wife. “Lady Mallory is truly a remarkable woman,” he said to her. “It is a sad truth that so few of us come to know love in our lifetime. I have come to know it twice. I am counting my blessings every day for her.”
Christopher’s smile grew, her words warming him in a way few things could. And then she posed her question and he was taken aback. “I… I suppose it would not be out of the question,” he said.
04-13-2011, 08:32 PM
The young lady smiled when Christopher spoke of Lady Mallory and love, a new, soft shyness creeping into her expression. "You are very fortunate, my lord, and I think also your lady wife. I admit my greatest hope for myself is to love and be loved. Maybe not to be in love; I know I have a duty to form alliances and if it could help with peace at all I would try to be brave. But I think I could learn to love a husband who was kind and careful of me. That's all I hope for and I know I'm not alone." Melari plucked at her dress. "Some maidens might be content to marry into power and wealth, but not all. I daresay maybe we aren't right in looking at marriage as a strictly economic thing. How are kings and rulers supposed to run peaceful kingdoms if they don't understand the selfless compassion necessary in love? It's no wonder the world is such a mess."
She smiled, then lifted her face to his with once-more serious eyes. "Thank you for considering it, my lord. I know women are only meant to have children, but I don't believe people realize that the word 'only' doesn't belong there. I firmly. firmly. believe that women would do great things for their country and husbands and children, if only they were allowed to become great. Maybe we can't ever be equal to men, but surely we can be better than we are."
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