Thursday, May 17, 2012

Choices Chapter One

My day had not been good. Not even a little bit. So my father's pronouncement at dinner really came as no surprise.

I had spent the entire morning enduring Master Ablard's torturous dance lessons (at my mother's insistence, of course) only to be pronounced "completely hopeless" by the end of the session. Lunch might have provided a brief reprieve had I not managed to somehow dump my entire bowl of soup into my lap. I had hoped to visit the Quarter of Trade in the afternoon. I had received word of the arrival of a ship from Dumais this past week, which meant that I might be able to pick up some new books from Renards' shop. Those hopes were dashed, however, when Mother's assistant swept up to me in the entry hall as I was leaving and announced that my presence was required in my mother's solar immediately.

Mother was not there, but her seamstress was. Louise told me that she needed my measurements for the gown she was making me for next week's Solstice Ball. I reassured her that I have neither gained nor lost any weight since she last measured me, only two moons ago, but she insisted. I might still have made it to Renards' had Louise finished before the messenger arrived. She was about to declare me done, I could see it in her eyes, I swear, when she was handed a note. Her eyes widened in shock and delight as she read it, and when she looked up and began to sweep an assessing gaze over me, I knew I was not in for a treat. Louise informed me that an entirely new wardrobe had been ordered for me. I tried to ask her why  but I couldn't get a word in edgewise as she fired off orders at her staff, babbling happily about the wonders new clothes would do for my figure. What little there is of it. I could feel my eyes narrowing more with every word that came out of that dreadful woman's mouth, but I kept my own shut. It would be unwise to anger the person responsible for what I would spend at least the rest of the year wearing. Mother had drilled that lesson into me quite well.

I escaped, eventually, and was quietly congratulating myself on talking Louise into a few pieces I might actually find comfortable when Mother and Father arrived at dinner. I bowed my head at them each in a show of respect and the servants pulled back our seats at the table. Glad as I was to be off of my aching feet at last, I almost missed the look of smug satisfaction on my mother's face. I risked a glance at my father and realized that he, too, looked quite pleased with himself about something. For the first time since I had learned of it, I began to truly wonder about the new wardrobe mother had ordered for me. Father had spent most of the past cycle worried about the House finances, though I did not know the details beyond that. Such an extravagant expenditure (especially for me) would never have been approved without a very good reason. It suddenly occurred to me what that reason might be. My appetite gone, I folded my hands in my lap and leaned back in my chair, waiting patiently to find out if my assumption was correct. It did not take long.

"Well my child," Father said after he had taken a few bites of his goose, "I have some wonderful news for you!" Mother beamed. Had one not caught the gleeful look of cruel amusement she shot at me, it could have been believed that she was quite happy on my behalf.

Oh this will not be good, I thought to myself. Aloud, I politely replied, "What news might that be, Father?"

"You are to be married at last Laren! It has all been arranged. At next week's Solstice Ball you shall be wed to Liam of the Stag, son and heir to his Head of House. Isn't that delightful?"

Delightful was certainly not the word I would have chosen. It could have been worse, I suppose. Alliance to the House of the Stag would be quite beneficial to the House of Jade. Stag was almost the most powerful House in Pelos. It was not House Prima, but should House of Rivers fall, Stag would take its place with no conflict at all. Of course, all of that counted for nothing for me personally. I had never met Liam of the Stag, nor even seen him. I had no idea to what kind of man I had been promised.

Father was looking at me expectantly. He truly did seem happy at the news. I could even venture to say he appeared relieved. I suspected that there was more going on than I was being told, but that was usually the case. Mother was also looking at me expectantly, although her motives were much easier to determine. I could not force a smile for my father, but I smoothed my features as much as I was able and kept my tone pleasant as I replied.

"This is indeed welcome news, Father," I answered carefully. "I am sure an alliance with the Stag will benefit Jade enormously." The smile vanished from mother's face. She had clearly been expecting more of a reaction from me. An indignant reply, perhaps, or possibly even an out and out refusal to accede. She knew full well my thoughts about arranged matches and had no doubt hoped for a childish outburst. I was no child, however, no matter that she refused to acknowledge the fact. I might not approve of such measures, but I do understand the necessity, as much as it might disgust me. I had long since suspected that such would be my fate. None of the noblemen I had met so far held any interest for me whatsoever. Failing to find a suitable match on my own, that one would be found for me seemed inevitable.

"Yes, your marriage will be quite beneficial for our House," my mother quipped. She watched me for a moment to see if I would take her bait, then decided to take another approach. "As well it should. You will finally have the chance to be a useful member of this family, rather than a drain on our resources. We should have married you off years ago. When I was your age you had already seen five cycles!"

I looked to my father, wondering if this would be allowed to continue. He was fond enough of me that she tended not to be so critical in his presence. He seemed oblivious though, lost in thought. Perhaps he was thinking of the standing Jade would gain in the wake of my marriage. Or perhaps he agreed with her. Though he had never said anything to me about my lack of a husband, I know he had long felt that I should already be married and a mother of my own children. Twenty was old enough that society started to wonder just why exactly a woman had yet to marry. Mother was only getting warmed up though I realized.

"It is bad enough that one of your cousins stands as heir to the House, rather than a child of your father's. If your brother had not disregarded the family so, disgracing the House of Jade as he did--"

"Carren, that is enough!" Mention of my brother brought Father out of his reverie. Aaron was fifteen cycles my senior, his mother had been my father's first wife, Varra, and had died when he was young. I had no idea what the details of his "shameful disregard for House and society" (as Mother liked to refer to it) were. He had been disowned and left our home when I was only eight, and as far as I knew he had left Pelos entirely. He and Mother were of an age, actually. She claimed she had never cared for him, of course. Father had forbidden mention of Aaron's name in his presence. I couldn't imagine what would have spurred Mother to even bring him up now.

"Forgive me Garvin," she said softly, placing a hand over one of his. In this, at least, I knew she was sincere. Mother always went out of her way to avoid Father's ire. She must have truly been rattled by my lack of reaction to the news of my impending nuptials. Father's face softened a bit as he looked at her. I could not remember him ever holding a grudge against her for long.

"It will be a very good alliance, everyone in the House of Jade will benefit, Laren," he said finally, returning the discussion to its initial topic. "I am glad you understand that. It should not prove too onerous for you on a personal level, I hope. I understand that young Liam is a very learned man. He is not quite the scholar you are," my mother rolled her eyes at this, turning her face enough so that Father did not see, "but the two of you should share some common ground."

"That is reassuring to know Father, thank you," I replied. I pondered his words. "Young Liam" he had said. That implied that my husband-to-be was still in his prime at least, perhaps no more than forty cycles. It was...comforting to think that I might have even a slim chance at being able to relate to the man I would be tied to for the rest of my life. I did not know how my father had managed to procure a marriage agreement with the House of the Stag--traditionally I thought they tried to maintain their ties with House of Rivers by pairing their heirs at least together. I tried to recall what I knew of the current members of House Prima, but could not think of any women of an age to be married who were not already so. It seemed that Roslyn of the Stag was eager for her son to secure the bloodline's stability. I repressed a sigh. This meant I was going to be expected to bear children soon after the wedding.

Next soon. I gave my father the best smile I could manage and turned to my meal. I was even less hungry than before, if that was possible, but I managed to eat enough to avoid commentary. My father seemed satisfied and talk turned to more trivial things as the meal played out. I do not remember much of the discussion, I answered automatically when an answer was required of me. I could feel my mother watching me the entire time, but could not bring myself to meet her gaze. I knew what I would see there. She was finally getting rid of me, the daughter who had proved disappointing in every way. Avoiding her eyes would only add to her sense of triumph, I knew, but in this at least she won.


When I returned to my rooms that evening I felt myself fighting back tears as I took in the familiar space. I had never truly felt like I belonged to the House of Jade, perhaps, but my life had been a more or less happy one. These rooms were my sanctuary: a small antechamber that I used as a study and to draw, leading into my sleeping chamber with a small washroom tucked away in the corner. These had been my rooms ever since I had been weaned from the nursemaid's breast. My governess had slept in the antechamber when I was still small, in a narrow bed where a small sofa now rested. This place was home. I could not imagine that in a week's time I would leave these rooms behind forever, open for some new member of Jade to make a life inside.

I dashed the tears from my eyes and took a deep breath. The arrangement was made, it was done. After the Solstice Ball I would be wed and I would be gone from this place. In the morning I would begin packing my belongings. I needed to find out how much I would be allowed to take with me and what I would be required to leave behind. I nursed a faint hope that I might be allowed to carry my small library to my new home. There were not many possessions I cherished so much as my books. Providence willing I would be able to take at least my favorites when I left. Of course, that begged the question of which books I would choose, should I have to leave most behind. I stepped over to the shelves that housed my treasures and ran a finger along the spines, the golden honey of my skin a sharp contrast to the leather bindings in the lantern light. I reached a particularly dog-eared tome and paused, my finger hovering over the barely legible title.

"The Noble Hound," I read aloud, a smile instantly filling my face. Most of the childhood stories that had once filled these shelves had long since made their way to the actual House library, available to be borrowed by any of the family or staff who wished such entertainment. A few had remained firmly ensconced in my collection, however, and this one was the best loved. It was a silly story, a bit of a morality tale, but it had never ceased to make me giggle or to cheer me up when I found myself in a foul mood. I pulled the book from its shelf and stepped over to my sofa, settling in to read it once more. I could use a good laugh on this night, of all nights. I found myself longing for the comfort of the familiar words. As I read, my thoughts began to wander a bit, and I couldn't help but picture children at my feet, enjoying the tale as much as I. Perhaps...I thought, looking up from my book, perhaps this marriage will not be so bad after all...and with that thought I resumed reading.


The next day was mine. I had no appointments or lessons on my calendar. More than anything I wanted to venture into the Quarter of Trade and make my way to Renard's, but I it seemed like a foolish idea when I did not yet know the fate of the books already in my possession. Instead, I made my way to my father's office. I wondered if I was imagining that the servants and staff were viewing me differently today, or if they truly were. Many seemed excited about the news of the forthcoming wedding, though from a few I thought I detected hints of concern or even pity. I tried not to let it affect my mood. I had accepted Father's decision, after all. Perhaps I was as eager to leave Jade as Mother was to be rid of me.

I remember when I was very small thinking that Mother must be the kindest woman in the whole world. How much she must have dreamed of a little girl of her own! She was sweet and loving to me and I could never comprehend why my brother always seemed so grumpy in her presence, nor why the bulk of the household seemed to steer clear of her. As I got older, however, and began to develop my own interests, the disapproval from Mother began. Instead of fashion and dancing and parties I was interested in books and art. I wanted to know how things worked, how pieces fit together. I wanted to observe the world and then illustrate those things that stood out as particularly beautiful to me. She tried to redirect my interests, of course, to channel them into more "acceptable" areas. If I enjoyed reading, why not poetry or love stories? But there was no meat in the words she asked me to digest and I returned to much more interesting topics. If I wished to express my creativity, why not take up embroidery? It is such a lady-like skill, she had encouraged me. I really did try, but the needlework eluded me. I pricked my fingers so often that any piece I worked upon became too bloodstained to salvage, more often than not.

When I wanted to learn to ride, she hugged me with joy. Here at last was something we could have in common! But she was once more disappointed when I refused to learn the side-saddle technique. It did not matter to her that very few of even the noblewomen ride that way anymore, it was her preferred method and I would have none of it. That was all that she saw. I knew she enjoyed going to the theater, so I hoped that might be a passion we could share. But it quickly became apparent to both of us that while Mother enjoyed operas and ballets I was much more interested in satires and plays. I do think she tried, at first, to accept that I was so very different from her. But when I came into my womanhood she could bear no more. As soon as my courses began she started the hunt for my husband. I was dressed up, my face painted, and my hair pinned to perfection, and sent to party after party in an attempt to properly introduce me to society. She lamented how long my figure was taking to "bloom," and redoubled her efforts to make me enticing to prospective matches.

As I turned down the corridor to Father's office, I caught my reflection in a mirrored panel on the wall. Eight years later and I still have yet to "bloom." I am curvier than the average boy, but not by much. I barely have any hips to speak of, and my waistline is more of a suggestion. Just taller than Mother, I am able to look most men in the eyes. With my lean frame it makes me look quite slight. I think she's accepted that I will never have her curves, and I know she resents it. I think this hurts me more than anything else--the one thing that most turned her away from me is something over which I have no control whatsoever. Perhaps it was that realization that spurred me to give up even trying to impress men at social events. I remember the fight Mother and I had when she discovered that I had stopped attending the socializing portion of any given party. I would go, and make small talk with my companions at dinner, and once the meal was cleared I would sneak away and find a quiet corner or library in which to read or draw until the carriages arrived to take everyone home again. Mother was furious when she learned of it, but I have rarely been forced to endure those events since then. That was three years ago and there has been nothing but ice and venom between us since.

The knowledge that I was leaving was making me reflect on these things, I suppose. Perhaps I could have tried harder to get along with Mother, I could have smiled and pretended to enjoy her pastimes and interests. It might have soothed the rift, though I can't imagine I would have been able to live with myself. Dishonesty to oneself has always struck me as the gravest sin one can commit. Mother certainly could have tried to be more understanding of who I grew to be, when it comes down to it. She made our differences about her, acted as if I was different on purpose to hurt her somehow. Father has never denied he finds me peculiar. His "odd little duckling" he calls me. Still, he has always accepted me for who I am. No, I might not be blameless in the rift between my mother and I, but she bears most of the responsibility for our sour relationship.
I reached the door to Father's office and stopped, taking a moment to compose myself. That the door was closed indicated he was likely in a meeting. I debated on whether or not to knock and interrupt him when the door opened, taking the choice away. A man I recognized from the bank was exiting and Father was sorting through some freshly signed documents on his desk. The banker gave me a polite smile as he passed.

"Congratulations, young lady," he said with a small nod.

"Thank you, sir." I responded automatically, but he was already halfway down the hall. I wondered that my marriage was such news that a banker would already know if it, but was not given the chance to linger over the thought.

"Laren! Come in my dear. To what do I owe this visit?" Father gestured me in and I shut the door behind me. My query didn't particularly require privacy, but I would be lying to deny that a few minutes of time alone with my father were a rare treat. He blotted the documents, I noticed several official seals on them, and thought I caught a glimpse of the seal for the House of the Stag before he placed them in a leather folder and tucked it away in his desk. My brow furrowed slightly. Perhaps Jade was going to benefit in more ways than social standing from all of this.

"Good morning Father. I won't keep you too long, I promise. I just had a few questions for you about--"

"Ah, yes, I am sure! Please, please, sit down dear. I will answer whatever questions you might have."

"Thank you, Father. You said that the wedding will happen at the Solstice Ball itself?" He nodded, beaming, and I continued. "May I assume I will not be returning here, then, after the ball, but will instead go with..." my husband, I could not quite bring myself to say it aloud yet, "...Liam to the House of the Stag?" Father rested his elbows on his desk, placing his palms together and resting his chin on his fingertips. He cocked his head to one side, thinking.

"I suppose that will be the case, now that you ask," he answered. It seemed he hadn't quite thought that far ahead yet. Or had left those arrangements to Mother to be made. If that was the case she would definitely be in favor of me leaving with Liam straight after the ball, I knew.
"Then I will need to have my things ready to be sent there by the day of the ball, I suppose." When he nodded once more, I pressed on, getting to the real matter. "What of my belongings may I take with me, Father?" I was not sure he would be able to answer, if he had not yet thought on the actual process of me leaving his house. He answered readily enough, however.

"I know your mother has already arranged for a new wardrobe for your wedding gift from us, that will be delivered straight to the House of the Stag once Louise has finished them, so you do not need to worry about packing your clothing. Carren will see to the disposal of your old clothes. Though if there are any pieces you particularly care for, you can certainly take those with you." Well that explains that. If Father had told Mother to come up with a wedding gift for me, she would of course go with clothing. It was a traditional gift and sure to be something to annoy me. I was almost impressed in spite of myself.

"I was thinking more along the lines of my books and other things, Father." I prompted him. I thought I saw the ghost of a smile cross his face. Had he been teasing me?

"Ah. Well, as I understand it, most of those were gifts to you or purchased with your own pocket money, were they not?" It was my turn to nod and he smiled again, this time it remained in place. "Whatever books and knickknacks from your rooms you wish to take with you, my daughter, feel free to do so. Perhaps some familiar items will help you to feel more comfortable in your new home." I must have been holding in my breath, and his smile widened when I let it out. "Just leave the tapestries and furnishings and I am sure there will be no objections. There is plenty of space at the House of the Stag for you to fill, I am sure." I blinked. He was teasing me again. I hadn't seen him in such a jovial mood in longer than I cared to admit. Jade must have come out very well from the arrangement indeed.

"I will have some trunks sent to your rooms this evening so that you may begin packing, if you wish."

"Thank you Father." I rose to leave, bowing my head to him before I turned toward the door.

"Have you no other questions for me, Laren?" I stopped with my hand on the doorknob. I longed to ask him more about my husband-to-be, but I could not let him see my fear. I refused to ruin his happiness at this event.

"No Father," I answered, turning my head enough to look at him. It was easy enough to smile in answer to his own. "For now I have no more questions. Good day." I opened the door and left quickly, before he could see my smile fade. Speaking with him had made me realize that I was woefully ignorant of what was really going on. Since he had told me of the arrangement, I had not even considered trying to get out of it, but I now knew that I must also be sure not to jeopardize this match. I needed to know the details of the marriage agreement, and I could think of only one person to go to for answers.

This is not going to be pleasant.

My decision made, I turned left at the next intersection of corridors and began the walk to my mother's parlor.


"Come in." Mother's tone was light and calm. From the sound of it she was in as good a mood as Father. I hoped so, at least. I entered the parlor and found her in the window seat, a piece of embroidery in her lap. It was an intricate picture, cherry blossoms in bloom, almost as realistic as a painting. For a swift moment I felt a pang of regret that I had never been able to learn that art from her. Still, my pencils served me well enough.

"Laren?" She sounded surprised, but not annoyed. It was as good an opening as I was likely to receive.

"Mother, good morning." I closed the door and took a seat in the chair nearest to the window. I sat still for a moment, trying to decide how to phrase my request. In the end I decided to be blunt. Mother was a master at evasiveness, it was true, but she had never shown me the insult of being dishonest with me. I have always known exactly where I stand with her. "I wish to know the details of my marriage arrangement." Her eyebrows shot up sharply and she sat up a bit straighter. Guessing what she was thinking, I spoke quickly to forestall an objection. "I have no intention of trying to get out of the match, Mother. I promise you that. I will go through with it. seems that Jade has been on even more precarious ground than I have realized. I can see that this is important to Father and you. To all of the family." Mother pursed her lips and set her embroidery aside. She did not speak but I could see that something in my words struck home with her. "If I am to ensure that I do not endanger the deal, Mother, I need to know exactly how treacherous is the ground upon which I tread."

"Well," she said at last. "I am surprised you came to me for the information you seek, although I suppose we both know your father would want to protect you as much as possible from the harsh reality. He has already been doing so for quite some time." She stopped and looked at me once more. It was a hard look, and one I had seen her give others, but had never received myself. I held myself perfectly still, afraid even to blink lest she find some reason to refuse my request. After a few moments she seemed to come to a decision. "Very well then. I will tell you. You are more than old enough to understand what is truly at stake here. I suppose you suspect a little already or you would not have so calmly accepted the arrangement. Are you aware of the upheaval in Denara?"

"I...know that there has been much trouble there since the last Magnate died," I responded, wondering what bearing Pelos' northern neighbor could have on our family.

"That would be putting it mildly, but yes. It has been over a cycle and a new Magnate has still not been named. No one can agree upon who is best suited to fill the role." I shuddered at the thought. I knew that Denara's government was not like our own, but to have no designated chain of succession in the event of a catastrophe? It was unthinkable. Every noble House in Pelos knew its place in line for House Prima, and every member of each House knew his or her rank within that House. Should the entirety of Pelos' nobility be by some disaster obliterated, the governor of the Quarter of Trade would step in, and so on. If the nobility and the Quarter of Trade should fall. Well, then Pelos would be too far gone to save. Denara had lost only one man. How had his replacement not been immediate?

"Because of this, trade with Denara has been unreliable at best, nonexistent at worst." She looked out the window, but I do not think she saw the garden before her. Her gaze seemed aimed at something far away. I wanted to ask why this would matter, but I sensed she would tell me, and so I stayed quiet and shortly she resumed her lecture. "House of Jade only controls the trade of a very small quantity of physical goods. Most of our wealth comes from facilitating the transport of goods, largely between Denara and Dumais." I thought over this information. 

Dumais was our neighbor to the east, and Pelos was the only reliable route between the two city-states. It made sense that Pelos would want to control the trade traffic. I had just never realized that it was my family who did so. My lessons about our family had never included our business--that was all handled by managers and accountants as far as I was aware. I was treated to lessons on lineage and politics, although now that I thought about it, that business likely played a large part in politics. I wondered why the thought had never occurred to me. I should have taken more of an interest.

"So...if our wealth comes from trade, but the trade has dried up..." I said, trying to put the pieces in place.

"Exactly," Mother replied. "Denara hardly has anything to ship, and when they do, they can scarcely afford to pay the full prices. Your father, of course, is not the kind of man to take advantage of those in need, and so he has been offering a discounted rate," this last held a note of bitterness. I guessed that the topic had come up between them more than once. "No one from Denara is buying anything from Dumais these days either. When the drop in income started to dip into our savings, your father took out a loan--a very sizable loan--to cover expenses. Everyone anticipated that the situation in Denara would be resolved quickly enough and trade would once more resume. But it hasn't, and your father has still not been able to pay back the loan."

"Until now," I said, understanding at last. "The House of the Stag agreed to pay off Father's loan in exchange for the marriage."

"The amount of the loan and then some," Mother added, smiling cynically. "It would not do for the House of the Stag to ally itself to a House in low standing. You are not the only thing we are trading," she continued, "Roslyn of the Stag has sunk her claws into our business as well. Once trade with Denara does recover she will receive a hefty percentage of our profits. Your Father has also agreed to support her in any motions she puts before the other Houses going forward."

I was stunned. It was so much to give in return for the repayment of the loan. Father had bargained away not only his daughter, but also his voice with the Houses. I wondered why Roslyn of the Stag even needed Father's support, since her House was traditionally so strongly allied with the House of Rivers, but clearly she must. Otherwise she would not have paid so dearly to buy her son a bride from another House. At the very least it meant that Father's support still clearly had weight with the other Houses if Roslyn thought the match worthy. He could only look to gain influence from the new connection. I could not remember many topics on which Jade had come down on the opposite side of the Stag in any case. It was enough to explain his cheerfulness, I suppose. Jade's position among the Houses had been assured by the agreement, and with his debts paid off and then some, he would be freed of much of the financial stress from the last cycle. The train of thought reminded me of something Mother had said the previous evening.

"You said last night that one of my cousins stands as heir to Father's seat. Has he decided on his successor then?" I knew it was a risky topic to bring up, but she seemed to be in an obliging enough mood I hoped she might be willing to give just a little bit more. Mother's lips pursed again and her eyes narrowed, but she did not rage at me. She did vent a breath of exasperation before answering, of course. She had to display her disapproval somehow. I bit back a smile. Her annoyance was familiar enough to be almost welcome.

"He has. Your uncle Tenon's eldest son Garrus will assume the seat after your Father. He has a firm enough grasp on House interests and the fact that he has been working under Tenon as an accountant gives Garvin confidence that he will be able to steer us through our current financial troubles. He also has two sons of his own already," I received a pointed look at this, "and so the line will be secure as soon as he is confirmed heir."

"Well that is good news!" I exclaimed. I was relieved on Father's behalf. I had long been wondering who he would name heir in his place since my brother was disowned. It could never have been me. Under Pelos' laws a woman could only be made Head of her House at the death of her husband, and only if she had already born him a son who was too young to assume the duties himself. There were those in Pelos who considered those laws unjust, but efforts to challenge them had never proven successful.

"Is it?" Mother asked sharply, surprising me. I would have thought she would be relieved to have the matter settled as well. Her next words made clear her question. "Had you found a husband and married when you should have, Laren, you would have children of your own by now as well. The line of succession would have fallen to them without question. Your father held out hope for cycles that you would still give him a grandson to name heir."

"I...suppose you are right in that, Mother." I conceded the point, but I could not help adding, "But think on it like this, had I already been married, the arrangement with House of the Stag could not have happened, and Jade would still be in financial crisis, would it not?"

"Perhaps," she said, after a moment's thought. "Even if you had children, they would still only be a few cycles old now, nowhere ready to begin training for the position of heir. Garrus is more than ready and has already proven himself quite a capable leader. A man your father's age should not have to be constantly worried about what will happen to the House after..." she trailed off, and there was genuine concern in her voice. Whatever other faults my mother had, she truly loved my father. Deeply, passionately, and jealously, yes, but love him she did. It surprised many people to realize that fact. He is twice her age and though such matches are common enough among the Houses in Pelos, I very much doubt many of them are ever more than political or business arrangements. But Mother was aware that she would likely outlive Father, and it was not a topic she liked to think on.

"At any rate," she had turned to the window again. I was surprised to find the sun almost at its zenith. Where had the morning gone? "Garrus will be named heir officially at the ball next week. It will be a blessed evening for the House of Jade. Now, if you'll excuse me, Laren, I find I have grown tired of this discussion." It was a clear dismissal.

Well enough. I had the information I had come for. I only hoped that it was enough to put me on firm footing when I joined the House of the Stag. I bowed my head to my mother, though she pointedly did not look back at me, and I left her alone with her thoughts and her embroidery. There was much yet to be done.

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