Thursday, June 14, 2012

Choices Chapter Five

(Previous chapters can be found here.)

My tour of the House of the Stag was more enjoyable than I had expected. As with the bathing chambers, Liam was full of little details about the stories behind many of the manor's features. He was clearly proud of his home and its history. His willingness to do so much of the talking allowed me to observe him as well, an opportunity of which I took full advantage. The manor itself was quite elegantly designed. When we had arrived the night before, the lateness of the hour had prevented me from getting a good look, but I had received the vague impression of immensity. Outwardly the pale grey stone building seemed much larger than most noble House seats. If I had thought of it at all, I would have chalked it up to the status that the House of the Stag had enjoyed in Pelos for the last few hundred cycles. In reality, however, it was probably not much larger than the House of Jade, it just appeared so due to its layout. The manor consisted of four wings which made up a large square framing a massive inner "courtyard" roughly the size of the House of Jade's grounds. The courtyard was actually a series of gardens: one containing a maze, another a gazebo, a third benches surrounding an ornate fountain in which turtles and fat goldfish played. The gardens were separated by expansive manicured lawns and something that appeared to be an archery range. There was also an actual courtyard containing the carriage house and a large stone stable. Cobblestone paths wound between all of these areas, and gates were set into the west and east wings of the manor for ingress and egress (for carriages and horseback riders, each gate scaled appropriately). Liam explained that those wings had been built with tunnels running right through them to allow access to the inner courtyard without the need to enter the manor itself. Closely guarded access, of course, as each tunnel ended at another set of gates on the manor's exterior wall.

Like House Prima, each wing of the House of the Stag seemed to serve a particular function. The south wing, which held the manor's primary entrance, also contained its entertaining areas and the library, as well as the private studies of household members who wished to keep one. The north wing housed the living areas of the more influential members of the family, the top two floors holding suites and the first floor occupied by the lavish bathing chambers I had already seen. The west wing's first two floors held the kitchens and dining rooms in a variety of sizes. On the third floor of this wing were the guest chambers. The east wing's first two floors were occupied by the servants' living areas, with the third floor taken up by offices and the living quarters of the least influential family members in residence. Of course residence in the House itself implied a certain level of status within the family. Not even a quarter of the family lived here, instead residing in other smaller estates throughout the Quarter of Houses or in the countryside surrounding Pelos proper. The illness that felled Liam's father had taken a large toll on the Stag, I had learned. Most of those in residence were cousins of Liam's father and their extended families, like Walther and Hensley. Under the courtyard, Liam informed me, were a vast warren of storage rooms and "other spaces." He mentioned that last bit in an offhanded way, but his tone darkened just enough that I thought better of asking for clarification. I did not think I wanted to know for just what those spaces might be used.

As we strolled through one of the gardens of the inner courtyard I glanced up and could see the lines of screened balconies along the north wing's upper floors. I thought mine was the one in the far east corner, though I could not be certain quite yet. Curiously, I turned in a wide circle to see if there were any balconies on the other wings. There appeared to be quite a large open gallery on the third floor of the south wing and a few smaller open balconies along the second floor of that wing as well. By the time that Liam had taken me through most of the building and shown me around the inner courtyard, we found ourselves in danger of running late for lunch with Roslyn, and so I did not receive a tour of the grounds outside of the manor. Most of it was heavily forested, Liam explained to me, ideal for hunting and riding. The estate was on the very northern edge of Pelos' border, so the property was bounded to the north by the massive stone wall that formed the city's barrier. To the east was the Garden Wall that separated the Quarter of Houses from the Quarter of Industry, and the front and eastern edges of the estate were bordered by very closely spaced hedges, over a man and a half tall. The entire thing struck me as amazingly well fortified. Even the leisure areas of the estate were all enclosed so that they could not escape the constant observation of the household. I realized that my new home was in reality a fortress, albeit a very pretty one.


We lunched in one of the smaller private dining rooms, just the three of us (and the kitchen maids serving the meal, of course). Sunlight streaming in through a large window facing the inner courtyard made the room quite bright and pleasant. Roslyn asked after my tour and how I liked my new rooms.

"They are wonderful, my lady, truly." I told her, "I think once I have unpacked completely and added a few finishing touches they will be perfect."

"Call me Roslyn, my dear," she responded kindly. There is no need for such formality between us, especially not in such a private setting. Again, the qualifier of a private setting. Liam had all but told me I was to use the honorific with him in public, I wondered if Roslyn's request was along the same lines. I decided to err on the side of caution until I was told otherwise. "Now, as I understand it, you frequently visit the Quarter of Trade, is that right?"

"Well, yes, I suppose you could say that, although there is really only one shop that I visit regularly." They were both looking at me expectantly and I felt a blush creep up my neck. Realizing that they were waiting for me to elaborate, I continued, "There is a book shop near the south bridge, Renard's. He has a marvelous selection, histories, novels, scholastic treatises..."I drifted off, now blushing fully. Roslyn was nodding thoughtfully, Liam had cocked his head to one side, a considering look on his face.

"I believe your father and Liam both have mentioned to me your love of books. I did not realize your interests ran so broadly, dear."

"I love to read," I said simply. "Anything I haven't yet read is at least worth a look, in my estimation." I shrugged, and looked down at my soup, avoiding their eyes. I might as well let that particular cat out of the bag now, they would find out sooner or later, and this way no one would be surprised when I disappeared for a day or two because I had found the most fascinating collection of Denarian legends.... "I don't mean to say I enjoy everything there is to be read," I added after a moment, feeling a rare need to fill the silence, "but more often than not that is the case."

"There is nothing wrong with a healthy love of learning, Laren," Roslyn said softly after a few moments. I looked up, meeting her eyes. Liam was still giving me that odd look, but he did not seem displeased. "This is rather an excellent turn of events, I must say," she went on, smiling widely. "It will be quite nice to have someone I can converse with about topics more interesting than what the ladies of the high nobility wore to tea last week." Liam made an odd, stifled sound. We both turned to find him struggling not to laugh. Roslyn cocked an eyebrow at him. "Liam dear, are you quite alright?"

"Mother, never in my life have I known you to tolerate discussion of fashion without some ulterior motive," he quipped once he had gotten himself back under control. "You are more than capable of steering a conversation to your preferred topic. Although I am glad you find your new daughter-in-law so interesting. I had been so worried you were hoping I would marry a boring woman."

"It never crossed my mind to think you would end up with a boring wife. Even if I had left you to your own devices, you have always preferred the company of those who can challenge you." She flashed me a smile, "It seems that our dear Laren will be more than up to the task."

"It does appear that way." It was his turn to smile at me. It was not an unfriendly smile, exactly, but it held that air of possessiveness that I was coming to recognize as a definite part of his character. I could have been imagining it, but it seemed to me that it was a smile of satisfaction that a child might wear upon receiving a gift that turned out to be a nifty new toy rather than a practical sweater or gloves.

I continued to watch their byplay curiously and could not help but feel a little lost. It was decidedly odd to be part of the conversation but at the same time not really included in it. It was clear that he was teasing her and just as clear that she was more amused than affronted. I did not think my mother and I had ever had such an exchange, and from their ease with the banter I suspected it might be a rather common occurrence here. I noted that Liam seemed quite comfortable in Roslyn's presence and guessed that they were very close. It was good to see that he could let his guard down and drop the public persona he seemed prone to adopting even in my presence. Hopefully he would be that comfortable around me soon enough. I did not relish the idea of walking on eggshells around him because I could not guess his reaction to any given scenario.

"Getting back to our original topic, however," Roslyn said, reigning in the conversation and turning to me once more, "I make a regular visit to the Quarter of Trade each week. I would be delighted if you would join me. It will give us a chance to get to know one another better. I have been to Renard's and believe it is near a tea shop I rather enjoy, so we can stop in there afterwards. We'll talk about anything other than fashion unless it is unavoidable. How does that sound?"

"I would like that very much, Roslyn, thank you."

"Excellent. We will go tomorrow then! I will see to it that you are woken up in plenty of time."

With that, we resumed the meal.


Time passed and I adjusted to life at the House of the Stag. While Liam and Roslyn had an easy enough manner with the household staff when they spoke to them, it was very clear that the hierarchy at the House of the Stag was strictly defined. Servants went out of their way to go about their duties unnoticed, and were plainly used to being ignored when not being addressed directly by a member of the household. I would need to keep myself reminded that here they were not considered almost part of the family, as I had been used to in the House of Jade. Overt familiarity with the servants on my part would likely be frowned upon by Liam at least, and probably Roslyn as well. At the House of Jade I had counted many of the household staff among my friends, but that could not be the case here. I would have to look for new friends elsewhere. I was in many ways less alone here in the Stag than I ever had been in Jade, but as I settled in to my new life most days I felt that rather the opposite was the truth. My elevated social status would see me introduced into new circles soon, I knew. I hoped I might find a confidante among my prospective new acquaintances. I was already beginning to lose hope that Liam might become such a friend to me.

As expected, there were rather more social events than I would have preferred, but I got through them well enough. Alas I never found that confidante I had hoped for, although a few women in my new social circle became more or less familiar and friendly faces to me after the first moon or so. I was pleasantly surprised to run into Sara of the Sun with some regularity, for example. I spent a great deal of time with Roslyn in the course of my training to properly fill the role of the Head's wife once Liam finally took over the position. While I never quite felt completely able to relax into absolute familiarity with her I did enjoy our interactions more than I had ever suspected I would. There was much to admire about her. Not the least of which was the way that she was able to play to her advantage any presumptions people seemed so willing to make about a woman acting as Head of her House. That steel resolve I had noticed upon our first meeting never wavered, but it was more often than not masked by a very light and pleasant tone that often seemed to draw people in, to sway them to accept her suggestions as perfectly reasonable when coming from anyone else they might have been met with serious debate. She was, to be frank, brilliant. I began to understand in part why Liam was so perfectly complacent to let her continue to run the House affairs for as long as she was able and willing.

Little by little my rooms began to feel more like a home to me, becoming more comfortable the more lived in they were. The balcony, however, was my haven. Most of the time I spent alone in my rooms was passed on my balcony. I filled it with potted plants and trees, and moved my writing desk out there, positioning it so that when seated I had the best possible view of the inner courtyard through the open screens. It was not long before a comfortable cushioned wicker chair joined my desk and benches on the balcony, and that quickly became my preferred reading spot. Stand lamps gave me plenty of light even to while away an evening reading outside. I came to the House of the Stag in the early summer, and I did not look forward to the winter, when I would be forced to retreat indoors.

I spent hours at that table, watching and drawing the people and things I saw from my perch. The courtyard was rarely empty, often full of family members making use of the gardens and lawns. People were always coming and going it seemed, and the House guards often used the archery range for bow and firearm training. Upon learning of my talent, Roslyn was quite captivated and often asked to see my most recent productions. Before a moon had passed I had several of my drawings framed and hung upon my walls. I had also drawn pieces specifically for Roslyn and Liam, gifting them shyly to my new family after they had been framed. Roslyn seemed genuinely delighted with her picture, one of colorful birds in flight inspired by my memories of the Solstice Ball, the colors suggesting those of the various Houses that had been in attendance. Liam was much less interested with his own, a drawing of his favorite stallion racing through the woods. To his credit, he was very polite and thankful about the gift, but I could see that it had far less appeal to him than the law book had. He seemed more bemused by my inclination to drawing than anything else, but also more than happy to let me to it.

Liam spent the night in my rooms more often than not. His ardor was certainly welcome, although I suspected it had more to do with producing an heir as soon as possible than anything else. It was rare that we did not breakfast together in my rooms. Our days, however, were increasingly spent apart between breakfast and dinner. Liam spent most of his time at House Prima, either in the courts or with his mother and the Council of Houses. He lunched at the social clubs with his friends, and sometimes spent the evenings there playing cards. Often he would go hunting, usually in large parties of the other men of his social strata. On other days he would disappear for hours, riding throughout the estate. I had been invited on a few of these outings and had gladly taken the opportunity to spend the time alone with him outside of the bedroom, although Liam often wanted to lie together on those occasions as well.

After three moons Liam was still mostly a puzzle to me. He was attentive enough when we were together, but more inclined to leave me to my own devices. Perhaps Roslyn had known this would be the case and had sought out a wife for her son who was also prone to pass her time on her own. Unless I went out of my way to ask him engaging questions or unless we were in the company of others, usually his mother, Liam seemed perfectly content to pass even our time together in silence. I tried to ask him about his days spent in the courts, but quickly learned this was a point of contention between Liam and his mother. From what I could gather, which was very little, since neither one was overly willing to speak of the matter and I did not want to push either to anger, Liam had wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and practice law. He believed it would not interfere with his responsibilities as heir and had been planning to practice only until Roslyn stepped down as Head of the House. When he had told Roslyn of this ambition, however, she had flatly forbidden it. She did not believe that lawyer was a respectable position for a Head of House (or heir to said House) to hold.

Yet the law seemed to be the only thing that truly fired his passions. Some of our most memorable nights together had occurred after particularly engaging days spent at the courts. Only once did I manage to get him to tell me about the case that had so excited his mind.

"The discourse was so intense, Laren," he told me as we dined that evening. "Not one member of the Council hearing the case could agree on a ruling. They were split almost evenly about which side to take, but every man of them had his own ideas on how the assets should be divided." A small smile played across his lips and his eyes took on a faraway look that told me he was remembering the day's events.

"What was the case about?" I asked, truly curious. Even if I hadn't honestly wanted to know about something that could so impassion him, his assertion that the entire Council had been in disagreement was surprising enough. It was my understanding that their rulings were, for the most part, usually more or less unanimous. This was largely owing to the highly detailed laws that governed Pelos. Legal documentation was extremely precise and left little room for ambiguity. It was almost an art form of its own. Most of the cases heard by the Council were property or land disputes. I couldn't imagine how one could be so divisive.

"There are two plantations outside of Pelos proper," Liam explained, "one belonging to Fields and one to Tulips. They are right next to each other and for the last hundred cycles or so they have been slowly expanding, and many of the members have intermarried." He shook his head ruefully. "I daresay the members of those Houses that live out there have all but merged into a new House all their own."

"It sounds like they've gotten on rather well until now," I said lightly, finishing the last of my meal.

"Until now, yes. But do you remember that storm a few weeks ago?" I nodded, remembering the fierce thunderstorm that had raged for days and had threatened to raise both the Peregrine Lake and the Claret River to flood levels. "It did quite a bit of damage to the land of both Houses," Liam continued, "and felled trees utterly destroyed a home right in the middle of the two properties, killing the entire family within. It was a tragedy for both Houses," he shook his head again, "but now..."

"I take it that Fields and Tulips are contesting who should retain the land worked by that family?" I asked, starting to see where things might have gotten muddied for the Council.

"Exactly!" He jabbed his fork in the air in my direction to punctuate the word. "Each House wanted the whole property or a percentage of the harvest from the land awarded to the other if it was split. It seems they weren't very diligent about keeping their finances separate any more than they were about keeping their children apart. The Council poured over the genealogies and financial records all morning and heard from at least half of each family it seemed. No one could come to agreement on how to split up the property or the income."

"Was the case left unresolved then?" I asked him after he had fallen silent.

"No, actually." He chuckled softly and I felt the now familiar shiver of desire at the sound. "After it became evident just how deadlocked the Council had become, the two Heads went to tea and managed to come to an amicable agreement over how to divide the land and harvest. From what I understand it is a very favorable arrangement for both parties." He sounded a little affronted at that, and it was no wonder. I might not know him as well I would like, but I did know that Liam placed absolute faith in the law and the ability of the courts and Council to resolve any issues that might arise in Pelos. That left me to wonder why he seemed so excited about the whole case overall. I would have expected such an outcome to leave him aggravated and grousing about people wasting the Council's time.

"Well...that's good for Fields and Tulips, I suppose," I said hesitantly. He chuckled again.

"Indeed. It would have been a frustrating turn of events overall had it not spurred the Council to announce a special session for reviewing the code and determining any new laws or amendments necessary to prevent such a thing from ever happening again." That explained his good mood then. I had learned just how much Liam loved special sessions of the Council and the possibilities of new laws being enacted. "At any rate, I have a feeling that members of Fields and Tulips will find themselves strongly discouraged from marrying each other again for quite some time to come," he finished. After that talk turned to other things and we passed a rather enjoyable evening in each other's company.

As we lay together spent from our exertions later that night, I thought back to his recounting of the day and found myself saddened that he was not allowed to follow his passion. That was my favorite evening spent with Liam, truth be told. It was the most open he had ever been with me, and I felt I finally got a glimpse behind the mask he excelled at wearing. It was a part of himself he would never share with Roslyn, and that made me treasure it all the more. It was for me all alone. I had hopes that I had finally broken through the invisible wall that kept us from growing any closer. The next morning, however, he was gone before I even woke. I didn't see him for another three days and after that night he refused to talk of his visits in the courts with me again.

Less of a mystery to me was Roslyn. As mentioned, I spent much more time in her company than in my husband’s. In addition to my training for my new role in the Stag, she insisted I accompany her on weekly visits to the Quarter of Trade. We did not visit Renard’s shop every week, and I missed my frequent talks with him, but I sensed that Roslyn did not entirely approve of my familiarity with a simple shop owner. She was never rude to those not of noble status, exactly, but she kept her discourse with them brief and to the point. Even the House guards, two of which accompanied us every time we visited the Quarter, were not immune to this treatment. She was slightly warmer toward them, certainly, but she did not address them directly unless she had cause to, and unlike the few guards I remembered from Jade, they did not even make small talk with each other. I found the whole thing rather disconcerting at first, but eventually I got used to their silent watchful presence whenever we left the manor.

She was true to her word about discussing anything other than fashion whenever possible, and I found myself enjoying for the first time in a very long time the presence of a real mother figure in my life. We did have to discuss fashion occasionally, of course. It was unavoidable with the large number of balls and dinner parties and teas we were so frequently expected to attend. I had to be able to properly represent the House at those events, which meant staying on top of the endlessly changing trends. That onerous duty aside, I found I rather enjoyed my new life. Roslyn would have quickly become a true friend to me if she had not been so clearly grooming me to best serve the House of the Stag rather than taking me under her wing purely out of affection. I was grateful it was Roslyn and not someone else, however, because she didn’t seem to want to change me so much as to teach me how to put on the proper persona in public. As long as I was willing to play by the rules and present the right image to the rest of Pelos, she understood and was more than willing to accept that I was who I was.

Even the frequent demand to socialize wasn't as bad as I had feared. Upon finding out that I was a hopeless case when it came to embroidery, Roslyn questioned me closely to try to determine a suitable craft I might take up instead, so that I could appropriately occupy myself during sitting room and tea shop visits. My drawing wouldn't exactly serve me well when I was meant to be conversing with other women, she explained. She eventually suggested that I take up knitting, and though I did so grudgingly, I soon found that I rather enjoyed it.

My skill was negligible to start, but there was something very calming to my nerves about working the needles (blunt enough that I could not prick myself) and producing, if not beautiful, at least very passable garments such as shawls and vests. I am sure my enjoyment of the craft was only aided by the fact that my skill did visibly improve with time. I was also encouraged by knowing that even the most delicate work, if bungled, could simply be pulled apart and redone to my satisfaction. There was something quite reassuring in the knowledge that I could simply keep trying until I got it right. With increased visits to the clubs came a renewed, and perhaps even improved upon, friendship with Sara of the Sun, and she was delighted to learn I had taken up knitting. She had a knack for it and often passed an afternoon in the tea shop giving impromptu lessons to the other patrons.

"I don't know how you make such beautiful pieces," a young girl of seventeen or so said despairingly one day while Sara tried to show us a technique that would create an extremely open lace-like fabric.

"Now Madge," Sara chided gently, "you need only learn patience." She looked closely at Madge's work and showed her a spot a few rows down from her needles, "See, here is the problem. I believe you miscounted this row and it has thrown your pattern off. Just rip back to that point and be sure to keep track of your stitches." Madge winced at the suggestion and I felt a pang of empathy. Knowing you could always redo what had gone wrong was one thing, actually pulling out the work and doing it was another. Still, she huffed a sigh and began undoing the stitches.

"Mother says I must talk and be social while my hands are busy with the needles," Madge said quietly, looking down at her lap, "but when I talk I lose count. I don't know how you do it." She looked up again and I was surprised that her mildly envious look included me as well as Sara. I looked down at my own work, surprised to see that, while not as intricate as Sara's, it might appear that way to the casual observer. Sara was patting the girl on the arm with an indulgent smile and saying something about practice being the key. I bit my lip, feeling bad for what I felt was undeserved credit.

"I cheat." I blurted out, unable to stop myself. Madge's head snapped in my direction and Sara's eyes widened in surprise. "I mean, well..." I fumbled for a way to explain, all the more quickly to divert the unwelcome wealth of attention being directed at me. "Cheat isn't the right word, really," I continued. "But there are a few simpler patterns that look nice like Sara's," I gestured with my needles in the direction of the other woman's work, almost losing half of my own in the process, "that don't take nearly as many steps." Sara tilted her head in thought and nodded. Encouraged, I went on, "If I know I am going out, I spend an hour or so practicing the pattern at home, getting my hands used to it. That way here I don't have to pay quite as much attention while I am talking," Sara arched an eyebrow at me but thankfully didn't point out how very little of that I actually did. I was getting better at joining conversations. Somewhat. "Also," I added quietly, lowering my voice in a sort of conspiratorial tone, "that way I already have a bit on the needles and it isn't so noticeable if I don't make much progress."

"Oh!" Madge said, smiling at my advice. "That is brilliant, my lady!" I blushed and shook my head slightly, unsure of how to respond.

"That is quite good advice Laren," Sara saved me by stepping in. "It also follows what I was saying, Madge, about practice. Once your hands are used to the movements, you will find the stitches easier wherever you might happen to be working." Madge nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps I should not have started you off with such a fiddly pattern," Sara added, tapping a finger to her lips. "Laren, might you be willing to show Madge the pattern you are using?" I agreed willingly and shifted position to show the girl what I was working on.

Occasionally, I would bump into my parents at parties or dinners. Garrus was often with them, like me settling into a new role and learning the new skills it required of him. My mother was actually much more friendly to me at the functions than she had been in several cycles. Part of it was to keep up appearances, I am sure, and part of it was also that she was extremely satisfied with the rise in prestige that the House of Jade had seen since the alliance with the Stag. It was possible that she missed me, I supposed, just a little. Possible, but I doubt it. Father also continued to be very pleased with the match; Liam had charmed him quite well. He was good at that.

We did encounter the twins from the House of Blades every once in a while, though nowhere near as often. The Blades did not rank as highly within the Council as the Stag, or even as Jade now did, and would not often merit invitations to the same functions attended by my new House. As I grew more comfortable in my position, Liam and I would mingle separately among the crowds at various events. Once, Sebastian came upon me while I was catching a breath of fresh air in our host’s gardens. The look on his face was one I am sure was intended to disarm me and flatter me with its open appreciation, but there was a predatory gleam in his eyes that unnerved me. I managed to make my escape before he reached me, when a gaggle of young girls ran out into the gardens, giggling as they discussed the various young noblemen in attendance. They passed between me and the approaching Sebastian, and I seized the opportunity to slip back into the crowed hall, searching out Liam. When I reached his side he glanced back from where I had come and I knew from his expression that he had seen Sebastian reenter, clearly frustrated. Liam stiffened slightly but when I squeezed his arm reassuringly, he relaxed a bit and kept me close for the rest of the evening. At home that night he took me fiercely, demanding utter submission without saying a thing. He held me possessively all night long, more than once repeating, “Mine.”

At another party a few weeks later, Nathaniel was the one to try approaching me. He looked serious as he did so, as if he wished to speak with me about something of great import. This time Liam had been keeping a closer eye on me, he must have seen that the twins were in attendance, and he swooped in like a storm cloud, whisking me off to the dance floor before Nathaniel could get anywhere near me. That evening our coupling was even more intense than after the last incident. We had barely crossed the threshold into my rooms before he had ripped off my gown—tearing it right down the back—and pinned me up against a wall. He didn’t even bother removing my underskirts, just pushing them out of the way and yanking off my breeches, tearing those as well, and slamming into me. Again came the litany of “Mine!” This time it was repeated with every thrust inside me. I bore bruises from that encounter for weeks.

Three moons and two episodes of the closest I had ever seen Liam come to an “outburst,” and I still had no idea what was behind the bad blood between Liam and the twins. After that second run-in, I wondered if maybe Nathaniel hadn’t been about to tell me. I don’t know that it would have mattered if he had. Even if Liam was the one on the “wrong” side of whatever was between them (I could only assume that is what they wanted to convince me of), he was my husband. I had promised him my loyalty and accepted that I would give him my obedience. For everything his family had done for mine, I owed him that much.

For a while I considered asking the servants if they knew the truth of the situation. Servants see much more than their masters realize, I knew, and in a House such as the Stag, where they were all but invisible to the bulk of the household…yes, they likely knew all of the secrets. But actually asking them to tell me would be stepping over a line I wasn’t prepared to cross. I might not agree with the way Roslyn and Liam ignored their servants, but the servants themselves accepted the treatment, and I was still an unknown quantity to them. At the very least to ask would put someone in an awkward position, and there was no way to be sure they would answer, or that word wouldn’t get back to Liam that I had been asking.  

It also crossed my mind that a few discreet inquiries in the social clubs might yield some answers. But again, there was the problem of being new on the scene. I didn’t know who could be trusted to remain discreet about my curiosity. Even Sara only had a glancing acquaintance with Liam's character. It also seemed more likely to invite gossip and speculation than actual fact. No, the only person I could ask without feeling as if I was betraying my husband was Liam himself. All I needed was to find the courage to do so. Easier said than done. My husband might not scare me so much as he had when we first met, but I still sensed the potential for great darkness within him. I had no desire to bring it forth, and even less to be the target at which it was aimed.

As the weather turned cool I spent less time outdoors or on my balcony, and Roslyn took advantage to double down on my training. She decided that I should begin throwing parties of my own. We started with an afternoon tea, inviting many young women of similar standing. It was pleasant enough, despite the stress of Roslyn’s sharp supervision. She declared the event a passing success and almost immediately set about “helping” me to plan our next event, a dinner party for the higher ranking Heads of the Houses. Among the guests for that particular evening was Prime Vinnis, who brought his granddaughter Lorelei, a girl of about fourteen. I was a nervous wreck throughout the entire dinner and could hardly remember a thing about it afterward, but apparently the Prime’s granddaughter enjoyed herself immensely, which made Roslyn quite happy with me. That in turn caused Liam to be quite pleased as well, and he took a rare few days away from his visits to the courts to spend with me.

So the time passed, and my life fell into a routine. I was surprised to realize that despite the less pleasant duties of my new role, I was quite happy after all. The only truly dim spot in those days was that I had yet to find myself with child. Liam, thankfully, did not seem to be particularly concerned about this fact, however, and so even that was not such a bad thing. Winter ended and I looked forward to spring, feeling that life could only continue to improve, and believing that only happy surprises awaited me.

I could not have been more wrong.

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