It’s bitter. Tastes a lot like winter. And will it release me?
Darid 14, 1513
Lianne closed her eyes, breathing in the intoxicating smell of roses in bloom, even though the pavilion overhead kept the worst of the sun off, the warm light was a palpable pressure, like the soft hand of a lover, not the cruel task master that it would be in just a few weeks most likely. It was so rare anymore, with the children grown or very nearly, that she had time to sit in her own garden and host a tea party. It seemed to happen so fast.
Surely just a few days ago her little Vivi, now a bright vivacious young woman, one who would make a wonderful bride for Prince Nathaniel if she would just stop being so stubborn, had been a little girl in a violet and white sprigged dress, begging her to stop her research to play teaparty with her dolls. Or to not go to court so they could pick flowers in the wildflower gardens. If only Lynnette didn’t need her so often! Maybe they could have done that more often.
Still, she’d grown up so well. All of their children had avoided the traps that preyed upon so many of the young nobles she saw at court. And even if there hadn’t been nearly as many tea parties, Vivi still seemed so regal, so grown up, sitting with her little friends holding their own little court of girl-stuff.
“Isn’t that right, Lianne?” Katherine asked leaving Lianne to stumble after the thread of conversation.
“Oh, I am terribly sorry, Katherine, my mind wandered. What were you asking?” Lianne colored slightly under her freckles, a useful trick for added sincerity even if it was rarely genuine any more. She really should be paying attention, it was just that her companions–well. To her right, reorganizing her thoughts like a lecturer reorganizing her notes for another round of pontification, was Katherine Fitz-Chivalry.
How many times had she seen girls just like Katherine at court? So earnestly striving to be liked, to be included. So desperate to prove that they were as good, that they lived up to the titles and the surroundings. Except Katherine lacked that innocence, she was obviously skilled at shilling, at proving that she, too, was the right sort.
To her left with an air of icy indifference to anything and everything, sat Marisol. The baroness of River Sulis, their home away from home at least until Hector sent Squeak somewhere else to attend to some other problem or issue for the kingdom, Marisol was as icily regal as any queen born. Some would think that she thought she was above such silly things as tea parties in the garden, but that just didn’t seem quite right.
Personally, it seemed more to Lianne as if Marisol knew that these were things that she had to do, and so she would to do them. What she was really like, Lianne had no idea, she had never so much as glimpsed behind the icy visor to see the sim looking out from inside.
Behind her, seated in lone solitude was Lord Henry, Katherine’s husband. If Lianne had realized that neither Squeak nor the Baron were going to attend she’d have had Juliana center the table under the pavilion and only put out two tables rather than three. Or at least insisted that the twins go riding after the tea part was over with. It surely made Lianne seem a poor hostess.
It was just that only pregnancy, serious illness, or death ever made one miss one of the parties that she usually co-hosted with Lynnette in the Queen’s gardens. She forgot that here in River Sulis, she was not the Queen’s companion, she was just the baroness of some tiny little holding two shires over.
Also, she should have gotten hold of a second pavilion or at least a sunshade for the girls’ table. Sloppy, Lianne, she chided herself. There was a staff to arrange tables and bespeak sunshades and pavilions at the palace, certainly, but that didn’t excuse her not taking care of such things herself with this party.
Just when she thought of asking Vivi if she might go ask the housemaid to come make the necessary arrangements to the table, the point became moot. Through the front gate marched Squeak, such a silly childhood nickname for such a tall, handsome, quite obviously fully grown man possessing as deep and manly a baritone as surely anyone ever had.
The effect, of course was spoilt just slightly by those hideous robes that he wore. Her Squeak had far better taste than that, but as he was so fond of reminding her, the wardrobe made the man. And the man he was here in River Sulis was silly, a little pompous, and not to be taken at all seriously. Besides, he would also remind her, they were historical, a faithful recreation of the robes famously worn by the first Earl of Sarras.
It was hard to believe that the blood of a man who would commission such a terrible outfit could be running through Marisol, probably the single most tasteful woman that Lianne had ever met, even with all of her years at court.
“Squeak, darling,” Lianne called.
“Don’t worry, my love, I shan’t wear these “awful” clothes in your house or to your party,” He called back with a stunning smile, framed to perfection by his mustache and goatee.
“Merci!” She was rewarded with his rich chuckle at the Gaulish. A few moments later, she heard a groan from near the door. Her eyes flew wide and concern rushed to fill her.
“Severus!” Squeak bellowed, surely it was his voice that shook the leaves above and not an errant breeze.
“Vivi, could you be my best friend and go tell your father that the twins are off riding?” She’d also see that a maid was called to bring Squeak something appropriate to wear. I don’t need his sense of humor getting the better of him and him coming to the teaparty in his hosen–or worse–his braises. Lianne thought to herself.
“Of course, mother.” Vivianne stood up, smoothing her lavender skirts, her curls falling over her shoulders as she pushed her chair up to the table. Lianne was too far away to hear what Caroline said to her, but it would take a far less observant woman not to notice the way Vivianne’s spine stiffened. However hard on the heels of Caroline’s comment, Elizabet turned to Caroline and said something. Caroline gasped, eyes wide.
“Lady Marisol, could you please restrain your daughter? The last time that she took tea with Marianne and Caroline, Caroline cried for twenty minutes over whatever cruel thing that your child said.”
“When your Caroline gains the wits to not insult my daughter and her friends, I am certain my Bet will stop making her cry.” Marisol said, swirling her wine around her glass.
“I am quite certain that Caroline said nothing of insult.” Katherine reared up at the challenge.
“Truly?” Marisol quirked a perfect blonde eyebrow. “The last time that Caroline took tea at our estate, she told Marianne that if she insisted upon gorging herself on sweets at every tea, her girth would increase to the point where no chair would hold her and then your husband would never be able to find Marianne a husband.”
“Well, you must admit, Lady Marisol, that hunting for a spouse is a battleground and that a young lady must use every bit of advantage in battle. It’s just bad policy to gorge oneself on anything, especially sweets.” Katherine pressed her hand to her bosom in affront.
“I took more pastries at tea than the two that Marianne did.” Marisol said cuttingly. “And certainly my own arse has not grown to the proportions that would require it it’s own shire!” Katherine gasped and gaped.
“Ladies, please. There’s no need for profanity or arguments.” Lianne interjected.
“Oh, did I miss profanity. I always miss the fun parties. I only ever show up at the boring ones.” Oh, thank the Lord Wright. Lianne thought to herself as she glanced over her shoulder to see Squeak, now properly attired in an Aubergine suit. He grinned at her and winked.
“It was just a small spat, my lord.” Katherine said, glancing at Marisol and then Lianne.
“And no wonder it’s turning into a romp, those are not tea glasses.” He gesture to the golden goblets on the table.
“We were just having a little Gaulish, as a finisher for the tea.” Lianne offered. Squeak gathered a plate of fruit from the refreshments table and walked over to the pavilion, he dropped a kiss on the top of her head before dropping into the chair next to Henry.
“I do hope you saved me some.” He said. “And I hope that you will forgive my manners as I eat, I worked straight through luncheon, my lord.”
“Oh, not at all, I understand, my lord.” Henry said with his usual easy-going tone.
“Does that fill our requisite my lords for the afternoon, can we just call each other by our Wrightian names rather than being so cursedly proper?” Squeak asked.
“But properness makes the world go round, father.” Charlie said appearing as if conjured out of the hedgemaze. She hadn’t known that the twins were home.
“At least that’s what Brother Dustin is always telling us.” Severus followed. “And you know what they say about broken clocks, after all.”
“Severus!” Lianne scolded, getting to her feet to plant her hands on her hips. “I am quite sure that Brother Dustin is not a broken clock.” Before Severus could come up with whatever his clever retort was, and Lianne was certain he had one, Squeak turned to her.
“While you’re scolding our son, my love, please remind him again why it is not okay to hide my clothing?” Squeak asked with another disarming grin.
“Severus!” Lianne sighed.
“I didn’t!” He protested looking up from the fruit trays, injured look on his face. “I just switched the pots in front of the door.”
“It’s the same thing.” Squeak sniffed.
“Sorry, father.” He said walking around the table, Lianne turned around to see him sliding into her chair. “Severus.”
“You tell me not stand and eat, Mum. It was the only open chair.” He paused for a second and looked toward where his sister sat. His Adam’s apple bobbed for a moment as if he were swallowing heavily.
“Mother, may Elizabet, Marianne, and I be excused? Master Chalmers is going to be giving us a test tomorrow on the story of St. Romeo and St. Juliette and I want to be certain I know everything.” Vivianne asked.
“Of course, Vivi, study hard.” Squeak said turning in his chair.
“Thanks, daddy.” She blew him a kiss as she headed for the mouth of hedge maze. Lianne stifled a sigh, she couldn’t remember the last time that Vivianne had been that affectionate toward her. She reserved much more of her regard for her father and her brothers, especially Leo.
“Thank you, Lady Finessa. The tea was wonderful.” Marianne said with a curtsy.
“You’re quite welcome, Marianne.” Lianne said with a nod.
“Yes, thank you, Lady Finessa.” Elizabet said, her blue-gray eyes sparkling. “I especially enjoyed the pastries.” Marisol actually chuckled, it was a rich sound that was all too infrequent.
Vivianne’s leaving had left Caroline in lone splendor at the girls’ table and that wouldn’t do, she’d spent too much of this tea lost in thought, not attending to her guests’ needs. She slipped into the chair that Marianne had vacated. “I’m not keeping you from studying, I hope?”
“No,” Caroline said. Well, that was one conversation starter that had lead nowhere fast.
“Your sister is such a lovely girl.” Lianne tried again. Caroline glanced at the tree with a slightly sour look on her face.
“I think Julia will be prettier when she grows up.” Caroline told her. This was going to be like extracting water from a stone. “Have you heard from Leo? Is he enjoying Camford?” There that was something that they could talk about.
“What are those two girls doing?” Lianne could hear the scowl in Katherine’s voice from where she sat.
“Playin’ it looks like, Lady Henry.” Severus told her. “That’s what they were doing when we came in, playing solider it looked like.”
“Soldier!” Katherine gasped. “I knew nothing good would come from letting Julia spend time with that girl.”
“Pray recall, Lady Henry,” Marisol interjected with what Lianne imagined was the cold certainty of a hunting knife being plunged into flesh. “That that girl is my kin. My cousin’s daughter.”
“Second cousin.” Katherine corrected. Lianne saw Henry cringe.
“Aye. Second cousin, still puts us at closer relation than you have to those Reman families you like to remind us you’re related to.” Marisol’s tone was growing icier by the moment. Lianne wracked her brain to think of some way to defuse the situation, she certainly had never intended for this party to stop the two ladies from talking to each other, which had happened before. Especially because it made Vivi so miserable.
“Henry, I’ll tell you, I don’t like the look of that cloud, d’you?” Squeak interjected loudly enough that they could all hear him.
“It could be nothing, but it could mean rain.” Henry agreed. “Perhaps I should gather my daughters and head on back home before we find out.”
“Aye.” Squeak said, standing up from his chair and offering the other man a firm handshake. “Charlie, could you please go find Marianne for us.” Severus turned in his chair as if he was going to say something then turned back toward the table and popped a grape in his mouth without a word. Charlie stood up and ran off in the direction of the house.
“Well, if we’re going to use inclement weather as a reason to break up the party, perhaps Lyssa, Bet and I should take our leave of you as well.” Marisol smiled tightly. Goodbyes were said without incident and finally, when all of the the guests had disappeared through the wrought iron gate.
“Those two.” Squeak expelled his breath in a sigh.
“Aye.” Lianne agreed.
“You two are braver than I am. I’d be afraid to have dinner with Lady Henry and the baroness in the baron’s dining hall.” Severus said.
“Why so?” Squeak asked, sounding honestly puzzled.
“The baron has all those weapons and suits of armor in there. I’d be too afraid that they’d pull something off the wall, suit up and use them on each other.” Lianne offered a polite twitter of laughter that paled next to Squeaks heartier guffaw.
“Well, it’s probably a good thing that Caroline is intended for Leo then.” Squeak said. “And that I don’t see the baron or baroness pursuing the idea of the Fitz-Chivalry’s Edmund for Elizabet.”
“Yeah, that’d be a bad idea.” Severus seconded as Vivianne sat down at the table next to him, her face as blank as a just washed slate. “I don’t think that Edmund could handle a girl like Elizabet. I’m not sure there is a man who can handle a girl like Elizabet.”
“What, you’re not up to the task?” Charlie asked, sitting down himself to finish the rest of his plate. Something, again, passed over Severus’ face. It was so peculiar how she could read almost any courtier with consummate ease, but her own children were often completely incomprehensible to her.
“Nope. After all, our mama only raised one fool, and that’s you.”