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Month: December 2019

Marches – Chapter 08

Author’s Notes: So, this chapter builds up to the wedding. It introduces more family who may or may not become important later on. It feels a bit sudden and abrupt to me now, but I think part of that is good. Weddings often have people showing up in big numbers, and it is overwhelming. I should concentrate on that a bit more, I think. On that note, I’m re-writing the whole story, so it is hard to see exactly what will stick around. I plan on concentrating on the wedding much more, and parts of this will likely survive. Most likely, I’ll expand on aspects and cut others. Overall, I’d like the wedding to take up more of the story in the next iteration, and parts of this deserve to live on in that version.

Arrivals

When she came in from the snow, that night she found herself more welcomed than expected. She had barely made it back into the manor before she was surrounded by the people she had just left. From a quick embrace from Romi and Cyne to a lecture from Bastien to Ervig showing up a few minutes late with a small search party, everyone had been worried. So, she asked to have paper and ink brought to her, and that night she penned letters to her family. Tienette had only watched for a time, and as the letters were written, the two talked about the decision. She assured the woman that it wasn’t the knife that sealed her decision. She had decided she would go through with it long before – but his actions had made her realize that she felt safer in Milae than she ever had on the Coast. It was decided while working on those letters that the wedding would be on the first full moon of Spring, as was common for the followers of Lune.

She hadn’t been able to pen the letter to her father, though. So, Tienette wrote a letter for him, and the basilisk was as cruel in the letter as her reputation suggested, though she didn’t let Mirabelle read the crueler rebukes of his behavior. She even decided that it would be the messenger that carried his gift who would return her letter to him.

The next morning, the date was announced to the villagers by Ervig and his men, and just like that the village was a buzz. This was something that astonished Mirabelle. In her home, weddings were small affairs, with family and priests. The Astier had invited every single member of their hold, and riders rode out on that first day to all nearby holds as well. The event was a celebration, not just for the nobles, but for the entire hold. It gave the people of the village something to work towards through the winter, and it made it even more challenging for Mirabelle to travel the town – as she often spent time getting well wishes from the townsfolk, and that would inevitably lead to a small crowd of others joining in.

Work in earnest began during the darkest part of winter after the Solstice festivals ended. Tienette and Cyne brought in tailors and got to work on a formal wedding dress for her, and jewelers followed getting her feeling on countless styles of jewels to adorn her. It was overwhelming in a lot of ways and took much more time than she would have expected but it passed the winter quickly. Before she had realized it, the weather began to warm, and the days began to feel longer again.

As spring seemed to be in reach, a messenger arrived with a letter from her sister Roheis. She had happily agreed to come to the village and spend the weeks leading up to the marriage with her sister. She had sent the messenger ahead of her, but it was only a day or two later that a militiaman showed up at the door of the manor, explaining that banners and a small cadre of mounted soldiers had been seen coming down the road.

He described the banner as a blue shield with a gold bend, with a centered white alerion above three crossed spearheads. It was one she recognized immediately.

“Alerion?” Cyne asked as an excited Mirabelle waved for Coralie to bring her a coat and boots.

“It’s a beakless bird, footless bird.” Tienette explained with a slight smile, “Forever cursed to fly, with no hope of rest.”

“Oh,” Cyne spoke with a little bit of disappointment in her voice.

“It isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s a symbol of the Girardine family, a sign of their eternal vigil over the walls of the Tirmont.” Mirabelle spoke from nearby as Coralie helped her wrap a coat around her form and worked to prepare her boots for her.

“Tirmont being the fortress on the border of Ava proper and the Banner lords territories.” Tienette added quietly, “And the sight of a hundred battles. A few fought against Vouivre.”

“So, they were our enemy.”

“Yes, but that was a long time ago. The last skirmish between us was before you were born.” Tienette corrected her daughter thoughtfully.

“Before Sarus was born?” Cyne asked quickly.

“No. We clashed swords against them about fifteen years ago, but it was not a pitched battle. Only a few hundred men.” Tienette admitted with a sigh.

“Any of ours?”

“No, your father wouldn’t commit troops if he didn’t know he could win.”

Mirabelle shook her head and moved finally finished lacing up her boots. Coralie through a quick cloak around her shoulders and stepped up behind her mistress. Bastien busied himself attaching his sword to his belt, but seemed ready to join them as they left. The Lady d’Argent gave a little nod. “I’m going out to meet them.”

“I’d like to come.” Tienette admitted, “But I need to find my face.” She gave a little smile and shook her head. “You go ahead.”

“May I?” Cyne asked. The girl was still young and hadn’t yet received her mask for the masquerade, but in truth, she was only a few years younger than Mirabelle.

Her mother nodded towards Mirabelle, who gave a quick nod without speaking. So, Cyne fell in line with them.

“I’ll watch over her, my lady,” Bastien added quickly. “No need to call in extra guards. I’m sure the Marquis de Tirmont will have more than enough men to keep her safe.”

“Very well,” Tienette spoke softly. “I will meet with you all soon. Enjoy the reunion.”

The small group headed out of the manor and to the streets. Aside from lingering snow in a few shady spots, it did look as if it would soon be spring. Mirabelle almost jogged towards the edge of the village, with the others just trying to keep up with her. When they arrived at those Willow Gates, she found that Ervig and his men had already arrived.

The Captain of the Guard turned towards her and gave a nod, “I see my man found you, my lady.” Ervig added with a quick bow to her. “Oh,” He stammered as he saw Cyne with her, “And I did not expect to see you as well my lady Astier.”

“He did,” Mirabelle answered back, as Cyne gave a soft bow towards the man. D’Argent stepped through the militia to the forefront, crossing to the very front of the village. Cyne joined her, but Bastien and Coralie stood with the militia.

Ervig stepped forward. “Scouts caught their banner about an hour ago. They’re in no rush, but I don’t believe Marquis de Tirmont spared much expense on this trip. It makes my men feel a bit underequipped.”

“Perhaps once I’m your Marquise officially, I can open up trade with them.” She glanced back at the militia, who were dressed in ramshackle chain mail and boiled leather plates, and armed with simple iron spears, daggers, and hunting bows in some cases. They were not professional soldiers, but rather the conscripted or volunteer peasants of the village. She wondered if they were an efficient fighting force in the least, knowing they had none of the training of someone like Bastien. They didn’t speak much more for a time though, just watching the banners grow closer.

Finally, when they were well in view, it took Mirabelle’s breath away. She saw her sister for the first time in nearly a year. Roheis and her Husband were both in ceremonial armor. Shining plates of steel atop blue lamellar. On their hips, long swords and daggers of exquisite craftsmanship stored it well-maintained leather scabbards. His steel spear rose above them both, a personal banderol attached just below the blade and fluttering in the wind. On her horse, she also had a new, fine longbow attached to the saddle – but it was her guard that carried her banderol, the white stag replacing the alerion in the Tirmont arms.

Behind them were arrayed, forty knights or servants. The knights wore fine, shining plate. Each was armed with fine blades and wore long blue capes. Their horses likewise were all masterfully outfitted, with each wearing banded plates of mail over soft leather barding. Even the servants wore armor, though it was mostly shined chain atop leather. It was a display to be sure.

As they got close enough to see Mirabelle, Roheis lost her patience and spurred her horse forward.  It was only a minute before she reached the line, and she quickly swung her leg over her horse’s saddle and dismounted, and then she rushed around to her sister. She locked her in a tight embrace, which while Mirabelle returned, it was clearly one-sided. “You look well, little Belle,”

“Roheis, you look…” Mirabelle finally broke the embrace and pushed away just a bit. “Knightly.”

“I am knightly. It turns out the people of Tirmont need a Marquise who can stand by her husband in a fight. And I always wanted to learn the bow.” She glanced to the side and smiled. “Sir Bastien, Dame Coralie.”

Both gave small bows to her, and to her husband as he caught up to her.

“It is good to see you again, Lady Mirabelle,” Ghislain spoke loudly, his voice carrying over the militia as he sat atop his horse a moment. He let the horse settle. “And to all of you, I am Ghislain Girardine, Marquis de Tirmont.” He announced before he dismounted as well and walked towards the sisters d’Argent.

“And you, Marquis.”

“Please, my lady. To you, I am just Ghislain.” He spoke with a smile.

“Belle, you’re being rude.” Roheis pressed her, physically pushing on her shoulder as she nodded back to the others. “Introduce us.”

“Oh,” Mirabelle turned and found Cyne first. She motioned to her, “This is Lady Cynewise Astier, daughter of Marquis Valamir Astier and Marquise Tienette Astier. Du Nid de Vouivre.” She added.

“Ah, I had heard Lord Sarus had a sister,” Ghislain spoke with a low bow to her. “It is an honor to meet you my lady Cynewise.”

“Cyne is fine.” The young girl added nervously but returned the bow.

“And this,” She motioned to Ervig, “Is Captain Ervig de Milae, who was steward of the village until my arrival, and still acts as Captain of her Guard and leader of the military forces of the city. He also still acts as Steward but likes to claim I am in charge.”

“Belle – don’t editorialize.” Roheis corrected. “You know this is a Wyvern wedding. You will have to introduce every family member and every guest that has not met when they approach you.”

Ghislain shook his head and gave his wife a pat on the back. “Forgive her, Captain Ervig. She is worried her little sister is not prepared for the ceremony.”

“No forgiveness needed, my Lord Tirmont. We hope we have helped prepare her as well.” Ervig spoke with a bow. “To that point, the people of Milae have been blessed to have Lady d’Argent with use. It is an honor to get to greet her family.”

From there, the sisters and their entourage would enter the village. They chatted on all sorts of the minutia of their day to day lives, catching up on mostly small events. IT was nice to catch up. For the past year, both had been settling into new lifestyles, so they had more than enough to talk about for weeks. Tienette greeted them when they returned, speaking on behalf of the family from behind her basilisk mask. She promised that her husband would return soon after but was away collecting his brothers.

Of course, once they were back to the manor they rested for a couple of days, and then again began work on the wedding. Most importantly, perhaps, she had a supportive family member there – but she wished more would come. A few days after they arrived, Romi had ventured into town and was introduced to them, though she had trouble even speaking to Ghislain without turning into a stuttering mess of a girl, with cheeks as red as any flower. But she was an important piece of the puzzle in preparing Mirabelle for the ceremony.

Vouivre weddings were complex. They were parties, with every noble far and wide invited alongside many of the villagers under the care of the families being joined. It was expected that during the wedding, the guests would be greeted by both the Bride and Groom, as their first act as a married couple. Knowing the men and women that were in attendance was paramount, and generally, each offered a gift. So, poor Mirabelle had to learn the names and banners of any that might attend, as well as anything that could help her remember.

“This is impossible.” Mirabelle lamented after she.

“Each guest is going to be wearing their masks. As it is considered a court event, the masquerade must be upheld. But, the Vouivre believes that the bride and groom must prove they can see beyond that. Correctly addressing each guest in attendance will show that you are a true Vouivre bride and can hold your own in their courts.” Roheis rattled off the words as if she had said them more than enough over the past few days. “Every bride does it here.”

“But not every bride is a d’Argent. People are coming from all over the Kingdom.” Mirabelle groaned and laid her head on the table around which they sat.

Roheis sighed and nodded. “We have to keep going. The Vouivre and Ava you have down, and it won’t be a problem.”

“And you’re doing okay with Rane,” Romi said with a little smile.

“You are not doing well with the Banner Lords or Danelan though,” Cynewise added from nearby, flipping through a large tome that listed the banners of the kingdoms.

“Not helping.” Romi scolded quickly.

“We need to know where to concentrate.”

“Girls.” Mirabelle shook her head. “All of you are helping, and none of you are helping so let’s just do the next one.” She said as she sat up and stretched.

“Okay.” Roheis waved at Cyne, who raised the book up and pointed to one of the banners. Her eyes narrowed. “Green shield, black bars.  With a slain manticore in the top right-hand corner. Steel colored manticore, red blade stabbed into it.” She sat back. “That’s a little violent.”

“Wait, manticore. That’s Dunelan. So,” Mirabelle took a breath, “The sword means they kill Danelans. Black bars, green shield…” She shook her head for a moment, “Marquise,” Her face distorted a bit, as she closed one eye and seemed to think, “Marquise Maccul de Rigani?”

“You can’t just guess an entire province for a Marquise, Belle.” Roheis sighed.

“I don’t know where Maccul is from, Ile de Morr?”

“Yes! Ile de Morr…”

“Marquise Maccul de l’ile de Morr a Rigani,” Mirabelle raised an eye as if she was done, but held on to the last vowel since she wasn’t sure.

Romi leaned over towards her after a minute and pushed, “The…”

“The…” Mirabelle softly waved a hand, “Hint?”

“No hint. You know this.”

“My lady, they did visit the temple once when you were young.” Bastien spoke up, “You were smitten with their mounts.”

“Bastien!” Roheis raised her hands and barked at him, “How is that not a hint?”

“Marquise de l’Ile de Morr a Rigani, chevalier commandant de l’ordre du pegase!” Mirabelle said with a clap of her hands.

“You are pushing her hard, she needed a hint.” Bastien defended himself, from Roheis who was giving him a disappointed look.

“She could have gotten there,” Roheis spoke softly.

“Wait, you got to see a Pegasus?” Cyne asked quickly.

“Pegasi,” Mirabelle clapped and squirmed happily at the answer and question. “She rode in with twenty knights of the order after some battle, seeking healing and,”

“My lady, just skip to the best part,” Bastien said quickly with a wave of his hand.

“One bit Roheis.”

“You brat!” Roheis kicked at her sister under the table.

“No.” Bastien shook his head and ran a hand across his forehead.

“They let them ride the creatures,” Coralie added from nearby. “When I was brought on, it was all lady Mirabelle would talk about.”

She hadn’t quite finished the sentence when the manor door was pushed open quickly and Ghislain rushed in, warranting a small startled noise from Romi. The group turned to look at him, as he seemed in a bit of a rush. “My ladies, pardon the intrusion.” He gave a bow, “Lady Mirabelle. There are other arrivals. Lady Tienette asks…”

“What banner, Ghis?” Roheis asked.

He looked confused, “It’s the banner…”

“No, describe it.” She interrupted her husband

That only seemed to deepen the confusion on the man’s face. “A gray shield with red orle and a black wyvern holding a knot of willow branches.”

“I know that one,” Mirabelle spoke with a large smirk.

“Me too.” Cynewise teased closing the book and standing up. She seemed a little excited to see her family again.

“Is Sarus with them?” Mirabelle asked quietly.

“No, my Lady. He was sent on to their home, with a couple of the younger children. The rest of the family has come to meet you.” Ghislain nodded. “They should be here in a few minutes.”

“Then we should get ready. We’ll continue this later.” Roheis said softly.

The girls all stood and moved to change into more courtly attire. Then Mirabelle’s eyes turned towards Romi, who stood nervously in her hunter’s cloak. She knew she didn’t have anything more to wear. She glanced at her friend. “Romi, would you like to join us?” She asked quietly.

“I’m unprepared, my lady. I can just take my leave.” She responded quietly, with her head held low.

“Nonsense.” Lady d’Argent said with a smile. “You can borrow one of my dresses if you like.”

It only took a few minutes to change into their attire, with Mirabelle and Roheis in more exquisite wear than the others thanks to their father’s station – and Romi awkwardly pulling at the fancy clothes draped on her, clearly out of her comfort area. Cyne’s dark-colored dress was a stark contrast against the royal blues in the other two women’s choices. Cyne gave a little bow to the others, and she took her leave to join her family before they were formally introduced.

More importantly, given it was a court event, in a way, they all donned their masks. Mirabelle had not worn her mask around the Astier ever, but this was a sort of official event. Coralie handed it over to her – a simple silver cloth mask with steel wire hardening it to hold its most important aspect, the two small stag antlers that rose from the sides. She took a breath and slipped the mask on. She glanced over to her sister, who wore an almost identical mask. Then she glanced at Romi, who had a full-face mask styled after the face of a fox.

After a moment, the door opened again in the main room where they waited, and Ghislain joined them. His mask was more militaristic, befitting his role, with a horsehair flare rolling back across his natural hair, dyed white now in honor of his wife. He gave a smile, “Ladies, are you ready to receive guests?” He asked quickly.

“Yes,” Roheis stated bluntly, pushing Mirabelle to the forefront. She gave her a nudge. “You can do this, consider it a dry run.”

Ghislain stepped back out, and his muffled speech followed. Then the doors opened again, with Marquise Tienette stepping through first, followed by her husband, then three men she didn’t recognize, and another woman. Cyne stepped back in with her family, sticking close to her mother and father.

Mirabelle felt her mind race. She didn’t know who these people were, but they came under the Astier banner. She took a breath and gave a bow, “Marquis and Marquise Astier, welcome back.” She said with a long low bow. She raised back up slowly, giving herself time to look across the other men and women in attendance. Then she smiled. “It is an honor to get to meet more of your family finally. If you will, allow me to introduce my sister,” She waved a hand to her, “Marquise Roheis Girardine de Tirmont.” Her hand then moved over to Romi, “And my closest friend, Lady Romi Cedolin du Rane.”

Romi blushed at the words.

“Lady Cedolin?” One of the men’s voices broke the silence. Mirabelle had expected Valamir to speak, but he hadn’t. Instead, this man spoke. He was an overweight man, a rolling double chin, and the look of sweat on his marred skin. He stood a few inches shorter than Valamir but stepped forward as he spoke. His mask was red wyvern feathers but laced with gold threads. “There is no Lady Cedolin, only Romi Batard.”

“With all due respect,” Mirabelle spoke harshly, raising up and standing defiant, “Lord Vithimiris Astier. I recognize her rightful parentage. You will do the same in my presence.”

There was an uncomfortable pause for a moment in the room. The man stared at her for a moment, a scowl of anger on his lips as he watched her eyes. She didn’t turn away from him, staring. The pause was long enough that she thought to demand an answer, but before she could his scowl disappeared, and his mouth opened to release a belly laugh. “Well done!” He reached up and pulled off his mask and tossed it aside. He opened his arms wide and stepped away from his family and towards her. His demeanor completely changed. Without his mask, his eyes were bright, wide. His smile was as big as any she’d ever seen. The laugh-lines on his eyes and with flushed cheeks were simply disarming. “I am sorry, Lady Romi,” He said walking towards the girl and clapping his hands together. “I want you to know that I believe your claim, and always have. Your cousin should be ashamed. And he is a fool to cast aside such a talented woman.”

Romi didn’t know how to respond. She was bright red, a nervous fire in her cheeks. She may have mouthed something quickly, but her voice simply did not fall on anyone’s ears.

“Vithimir, you couldn’t last even until at least one more?” Valamir shook his head. “Why do I let you stay in Ereleiva?”

“Hush, brother. You knew to let me go first was a poor plan.” Vithimiris laughed and looked towards Mirabelle, who was a bit confused. Her eyes showed it. It was much less so than Roheis’, though. She turned to Vithimir who opened his arms to her again. “Welcome to the family. Come come. Give your uncle Vithimir a hug.” He motioned to her.

Though confused, Mirabelle relented and offered an embrace. Before she knew it, she was in a crushing hug.

“We are excited to have you.” He finally released her and slipped around her with one last pat on her shoulders. “Now, Marquise Roheis, the lady who tamed Ghislain.” He spoke as he moved on to his next prey.

Mirabelle had hardly gotten her breath back when the next two approached her. She gave a smile, still sort of collecting herself.

“Forgive him, my lady.” This man was more like Valamir. He was tall, a bit scruffy, with long unkempt hair held back by a ceramic and carved marked mask, sealed with red and stylized to match the others’ feathers.

She nodded at him and responded. “Lord Arimir…” She said with a smile, “There is nothing to forgive.”

“Damn right there isn’t.” Vithimiris broke from his conversation to interject, before falling back into a conversation with Roheis and Ghislain.

“And that would mean that you,” She nodded back to one of the women, also in a ceramic mask, “Are Lady Sunilda.”

“Correct,” The lady said quietly, stepping out from the crowd. She was a petite woman, with short-cropped black hair, and at that moment was clearly pregnant. “You’ll forgive me for not being more involved.”

“Have you enjoyed your stay in Milae so far?” Arimir asked her with a slight bow. “I hope we were able to get the manor to your liking before your arrival.”

“Everything has been wonderful, thank you.” Mirabelle nodded.

“Sunilda and I will be at the top of the hill mostly until the wedding. I hope you understand.”

“I do.”

“After your wedding, we want to get to know you better, though.” He smiled and pulled a small trinket from his jacket. “For you. We were in Cote d’Argent about six months ago. I wanted to make sure to get you something from home.” He offered it over to her.

She smiled and took the small box when offered, bringing it to her. “I’m honored. You didn’t need to.”

“I like to bring my nieces and nephews things from my travels.” He gave a smile and stepped back.

Then the final person stepped forward. He didn’t say anything, though. Mirabelle knew she was out of easy marks. There were only three Astier brothers now. He was an older man, wrinkled skin on the back of his hands and neck giving that away – but he wore a blank mask, just a thin gray cloth. The cloak he wore was as noble as any in attendance but was clearly just a traveling cloak. He was being careful to not show anything under the cloak either. She wasn’t sure who this was. Then she saw it though. Beads peaked out from his cloak, a necklace. She recognized them. Her father wore the same things. “I’m sorry, your reverence. I’ll admit I can’t see your face…”

“Ah, yes…” He said softly, raising a hand to pull off the mask. The voice, though, she recognized, and before he could even reach to the mask the young woman had broken any semblance of courtly ideas and rushed over to him with a tight hug. Roheis likewise had dropped what she had done and rushed over.

“Pepere! I didn’t expect you.” Mirabelle said quickly

“Lady Tienette invited me,” The old man laughed a bit, before wrapping his arms around her for a second, and then offering one over to Roheis, “It is good to see you both well.”

“It is a long trip, you didn’t need to come all of this way for me.” The Lady d’Argent protested with a tighter hug.

“It was a hard trip, yes. But you are worth a thousand.” He was a small man, and age had stolen much of his form and replaced it with a thin wrinkled man, and yet he commanded the room when he spoke. Perhaps it was just the scene, but all eyes were on him. He gave a small nod to his granddaughters and sighed. He gave a quick kiss to the woman’s forehead. “I hear you might need someone to walk with you that day as well. And nothing would make me happier.”

“Of course.” She gave a quick nod, before finally pulling back a bit, and waving to Romi. “Romi, this is Duc Leufroy d’Argent.”

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Marches – Chapter 07

For this week, I am posting Chapter 07 of Marches. This chapter was the one that hooked me and made me, though I’ll admit I am not one hundred percent sure on the why. You might see as you read. This chapter will need a lot of cleaning up and clarification in the rewrites, but the soul of this chapter will remain the same. Little things such as changes to the reasoning she ends up in the snow, the introduction to the chapter, and similar will all be readjusted. But, I do like this chapter, even as it is, flaws and all. So, with that in mind, I hope you enjoy it. And let me know what you think!

Fair winds,

Muselessbard.

A Meeting in the Snow

After Romi’s story and some additional meetings with the Astier family members, Mirabelle’s mind had fallen heavily on the upcoming decisions. She knew that winter was coming and soon enough she would have to make her choice, to pick whether she wanted to go through with this marriage or return home. She felt she didn’t have much of a clue on which direction she truly wished to go. As winter fell upon the village, and the weather turned bitterly cold, she found herself still enjoying her life here. The villagers were incredibly supportive of her, and as the first cold nights fell a great number of them would come to her manor with gifts of warm soups or drinks, freshly woven blankets, or even just simple supplies like firewood. She was incredibly well taken care of, but she felt like a member of the town. That was something she hadn’t felt on the Coast. She had always felt distant as if the people watched her from afar. Here people seemed to genuinely care for her safety. It made her like the idea of staying, at least with the people of the village.

On the night of the first real snow in the region, she found herself entertaining a few guests. She had invited Romi back a few times, and the two had become close rather quickly. The young noblewomen had few things in common in their background, but they were both visitors in this land and that gave them connection beyond the time they had known one another. Tienette and Cynewise had also come to the home and decided to stay after the snow began to set in. The four chatted about nothing. The three youngest carried the conversation, with Tienette often just listening to them chat. They shared warm teas and shared stories of everything they could think of.

The snowstorm had been come on quickly and laid down inches of snow without much warning. It was cold, but the roaring fire stoked by the servants of the manor kept the four comfortable. They expected to be stuck there at least until the sun was high in the sky the next day. So, they would make the best of it. It was hard to think of much better than the warm room, friendly chats and laughter, and safety they enjoyed. Coralie softly played her vielle, giving a light tune to back up the conversation.  All in all, it was a nice night.

As the night began to stretch, though, there came a knock at the door. As late as it was, it was impossible to consider who it may have been. It was Tienette’s guardsman who went to the door and soon returned with a half-frozen rider. Crystals of snow and ice clung to the man’s furred cloak, but the blue colors gave him away immediately. As soon as his eyes fell on Mirabelle, he fell to one knee and lowered his head.

“Lady d’Argent, forgive this messenger his tardiness.” He spoke with a hoarse voice, his throat clearly as dry and frozen as his skin. “Your father bid me bring a message and a gift.” He spoke softly. “He asked I say but one thing. His words, if I may, my lady?” The man stretched out his arms and waited for a response.

Mirabelle was a bit flustered by the sudden entrance, a bit worried as to what it could mean. With the gift, though, it was clearly in relation to her marriage. “Of course, you’ve come all this way.”

“Your father says, he hopes that your choice is clear and that he knows you’ve will have made the right choice for the honor of your family.” He did not raise up or move at all from his lowered position.

“That’s all?” Cynewise spoke quietly, likely meant to go only to her mother, but it was heard by everyone.

Mirabelle just nodded and moved over to the messenger. “And the gift?” She asked.

The messenger pulled a small ash box from one of the satchels hanging from his hip, and without looking to her, he held aloft the gift. She took it and took a breath fighting back a bit of excitement.

She looked down at him and finally let a smile cross her lips, “Thank you, messenger. Coralie will see that you have a warm place to rest, and food and drink.”

“Right this way, sir,” Coralie spoke from the back of the room, having set aside the vielle in the seat she had been sitting in.

The messenger bowed lower, and then raised up. He nodded to Mirabelle, “Mercy, my lady.” He spoke quickly, before stepping away from the girl with a lowered head and moving back and into the home to follow her servant. As he walked, the strange phrasing caught everyone off guard and a few now watched him like hawks, eyes glued to his actions as he moved off towards the dining room with the handmaiden.

Then there was a clattering nearby. All eyes were back on Mirabelle, but she had dropped the gift and without a word darted out of the manor. Most were surprised, and all called after her. She looked like she had seen a ghost, her face pale and a clearly visible quiver in her lips as she fought to get out of the room before anyone could truly see her reaction.

Bastien was up and after her first, racing to the door to follow his ward. He likely would have caught her if a voice had not called for him.

“Sir Bastien,” Marquise Tienette spoke swiftly, “Let her go,”

“No, my lady, I need to…” He had paused to turn, to speak to the Marquise directly, when he saw her.

Tienette stood over the gift that had been dropped to the floor. The box had broken, letting its contents spill to the floor in the center of the room.

Bastien stood with his mouth agape, stunned silence his only response. Tienette just nodded and took a deep breath. She didn’t say anything for a moment, before finally letting out a sighing, “Oh, Mirabelle. I am sorry.” She said as she knelt next to the box and pulled the gift away from it. It was a small black stiletto, only a few inches long. She touched the blade, and her lips twisted to a disappointed snarl.

It had been a blur, but as he followed the path of footprints in the snow and dark, he heard a faint sound – sobbing. He moved towards it, following the path that had been taken by the other as best he could without stumbling. He walked through the brush and snow, and as he came to the edge of a hill he saw her. From the disturbed snow, it looked as if she likely slid down the side of the hill, at least halfway. With no light, she was lucky she wasn’t terribly injured.

“Mademoiselle, are you alright? Are you injured?” Sarus called down to her.

She turned her face up to see who was speaking, but the two had never met. Neither Mirabelle nor Sarus could have recognized one another. She responded, with a bit of a laugh at herself, “I am uninjured.”

Sarus took a breath and nodded. He waved a hand at his bodyguard, who stood down and waited just behind the top of the hill. “I’m coming down anyway.” He said, stepping over onto the slope and slowly but surely sliding down the hill with a torch in hand. As soon as he reached the bottom he moved over to where she sat, nestled near a frozen creek bed and under a young willow tree struggling under the weight of the snow. He knelt next to her, and for the first time, the light fell on her face.

The light fell on pale skin and silver hair, now damp due to the snow that had fallen on her during her hasty escape. He took a breath and offered the torch over to her. “Here, my lady, take the torch. It will help warm you if just a bit.”

“Thank you,” She said softly taking the offered torch and pulling it into her little willow hovel. She felt the fool as she looked at him. “And you are?”

“If I tell you, my lady, you will be upset.” He admitted as he smiled over to her, a nervous smile and one that was clearly unsure how to proceed.

“I am already upset, sir.” She shook her head.

“Fair.” He spoke, “My name is Sarus Astier,”

“No,” She spoke as fast as she moved, trying to back away from him and covering her face. “You can’t see me for another few months, my lord.”

“Lady d’Argent. I will absolutely leave if that is your request.” He said with a nod. “But, I can’t leave you out here in the cold.”

“You’ve already given me a torch, that would be enough.” She protested, still hiding her face.

“At least my cloak as well.”

She didn’t say anything in response for a moment. But she was cold. Freezing, even. It was stupid to run out here alone. She relented and gave a quiet nod.

“Very well,” He felt a bit odd not speaking to her, something easy enough to see from yards away as he fidgeted and almost struggled with the clasp of his cloak. “Is there a reason you ran out here into the dark and snow, my lady?”

“A message from my father.” She spoke, trying to keep her eyes off of him for the time being.

“I suppose the wedding is still on then,” He attempted a joke as he finally reached the clasp and pulled it off. She gave no response. “I’m sorry, that was crass of me. I try to joke when I’m nervous, you see.”

She shook her head. “No, it was fine. I just…” She let her eyes drift over to him for a moment. In the flickering light, she finally saw him for the first time. After years of his name in her head, she had a face. It wasn’t what she expected in the least. His father was somewhat scruffy, a traditional vagabond, his mother was the basilisk. She assumed he would have the same look to him. But he didn’t. He had a surprisingly strong jawline, that same dark hair as his parents but it was cut short and well maintained. His eyes were smaller than she expected, but that may have been from the squinting due to the torchlight. He did have some scruff, but she wasn’t disgusted. She shook her head. “I was still deciding.”

“Ah, yes. Mother said she gave you the option to decide whether or not you wanted to go through with it.” He nodded and offered over his cloak. “Here, wrap up.”  She took the cloak and struggled to wrap it around her shoulders with the torch in hand. He reached over and pulled one side over her shoulder.

“Thank you,” She spoke softly.

“It is my honor, Lady d’Argent.” He replied with a succinct nod. “Once you’re warm, I’ll help you up the hill and we can get you back to the manor.” He paused a moment, “Can I ask which way you are leaning?”

“No.” She said sternly, looking away from him for a moment. She sighed, “I do love Milae, though.”

“They are loveable. But you miss the villages of the Coast and the people there. It must be com-“

“No, there isn’t a village at the Temple,” She interrupted.

“Wait, so just you and your family and servants?”

“Yes. Magi don’t administer to people in social matters. Not like the Astier do.” She said softly. “I’ve enjoyed walking with the people. Days and nights with just parishioners are a bit less engaging.” She paused for a moment, “This isn’t what I imagined as a girl.”

“Yeah. I know the feeling.” Sarus spoke with a nod.

She looked to him for a moment and then paused. “My father sent me a gift.” Her eyes welled up at the words, a little crack of her voice and quiver of her lip as she fought back another wave of sobbing.

“What gift drove you to the woods in the snow?”

“A black stiletto.”

Sarus swallowed and shook his head. He clearly didn’t know how to respond. “So, he said go through with it, or kill yourself?”

She whimpered out a small, “Yes.”

There was a moment they sat in the snow silently before Sarus spoke up again. “I’ll break it off, then, if you want. It saves you from either, and I doubt a little dishonor will sink my standing at this point.” He reached out a hand, “I don’t know you, but you don’t deserve to be forced into a life you hate just to fit the whims of our father’s.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment again before her hand reached up and took his. She shook her head. “No…” She spoke with a little choke, “I think I’ve made my decision. I think I had before tonight…” She said with a nod.

“I guess I’ll find out soon enough on that.” He spoke and stood, “Are you ready to head home?”

She gave a nod and stood with him, stepping back out from under the willow. “I am.” She shook her head a bit. “You weren’t supposed to see me until the wedding.” She added again as they moved towards the hillside and began the trek back up.

“I know. I won’t tell anyone.” He said as a joke.

“I’m sure they’ll find out one way or the next.” She responded, “You wyverns do have a knack for it.”

“True.” He paused to help press her up and over the edge of the hill, letting most of her weight press down onto his arms as she stepped up and across the bank. Then he was surprised as her hand was offered down to him. He gave a small smile and took the offer, and they reached the top. Then, joined by Sarus’ guardsman, they began the walk back to the village.

They didn’t say a word until they almost reached the outskirts when Sarus did finally speak up again. “My lady d’Argent,” He started, quietly and close to her. “I am serious. What your father did, I will never understand. But, if you feel that this is not the path for you, send word to me. I will end it.”

She paused, stopping both in the falling snow. “You are serious aren’t you?” She asked quietly. “I know the culture of the Wyverns, my lord. Do you?”

“I do,”

“So, you’d be willing to dishonor your family, never be allowed to marry, and have to repay my dowry… just to keep me alive.” She spoke plainly.

He never answered verbally. He just nodded. It was enough for her at that moment.

They had stood long enough. “We should get you in soon. I’m afraid this is where we need to part ways though.” Sarus spoke softly. “We can’t be seen together yet.”

“Of course.” She spoke with a smile and a nod, removing his cloak and offering it back to him. “Thank you for finding me, and making sure I was able to return safely.”

He took the cloak and nodded, “It is my honor, Lady d’Argent.” He gave her a low bow and stepped aside.

She then walked back to the manor alone, through the town of Milae. She hadn’t moved more than a hundred meters before one of the townsfolk rushed out of their home to her, with a warm cloak in hand. They draped it over her shoulders and walked with her. Soon enough, a militiaman had met up with them as well – and before she reached the manor it was a small cadre of citizens making sure she reached her home safely.

Before her father had sent her a message, before that hideous gift, if she was honest with herself, she had already made up her mind. Meeting Sarus didn’t change that. This was her duty to her family and his duty to his. If he was a brute she would still have her own name to fall back upon. Her father wanted to force her hand, but in truth, she had always wanted to be away from him. She was just lucky that this village was where she would end up. Milae had become like her home, her people driving her to want nothing more than to stay in the village. As she thought, she realized that wasn’t true. This place had become her home long ago.

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Marches – Chapter 06

Author’s notes – This is another Chapter in Marches that I am not particuarly proud of. Luckily, it isn’t from Mirabelle’s perspective, so it was going to get cut. When it was originally written, I did not have a good grip on who Sarus was, and as the writing went on his character shifted to something a bit different. He is still a wyvern, but his reputation became less of a violent one. The story isn’t necessary to the plot, and I don’t think it added that much. I tried later on to bring this plot back, but am not happy with how that turned out.

That said, I think Mirabelle learning about Sarus before meeting him is very important. This will be rewritten, but more of her finding out about him from the people of the village and the legends, rather than an actual story about him. I think that’ll make the introduction of Sarus more impactful in the following chapters. There isn’t much else to say about this chapter though. Pieces will survive, but it will be better to switch the perspective and change the style of learning about her future husband.

This chapter won’t be in the next draft, but as always I thought it might be a waste to just have it forgotten. I hope you enjoy.

Sarus Astier

Sarus Astier was not the usually young noble in many ways. His father began training him early to help take on court life, and before he was fifteen winters, he was already appearing in court. He had a knack for the art, it seemed. He was not unlike his father in that regard. He had a knack for finding weak points in others. However, he was hot-headed and tended to run his mouth before he had secured his win.

This gave him a bit of a reputation as having quite the bark, but he was often derided as not having much of a bite to his words. He was not a large and imposing man, and despite having raised quite a few objections and argued his points in court with his father, but he was rarely taken seriously. Still, he had become a very common feature of the courts in Vouivre. While at first, he was often alongside his father, he became more and more often seen on his own. His quick objections and unflinching and often open rebukes and arguments earned him a nickname quickly. He was soon known as le Chien, the Hound.

This seemed to bother him at first, and after a few years of court life, it did reach a boiling point. In one instance, another noble of the province goaded the young man into a confrontation. His constant pressing of an issue caused Sarus to lash out – despite the objections of his father. The act was particularly egregious as he had been in court with the Grand Duc de Vouivre, the highest-ranking noble of the province, and a member of the royal family by marriage. He was swiftly humiliated, in such a way that it took his father quite a bit of political capital to even get him safely out of the meeting.

Since then, Sarus had been relegated to local affairs, but he was not content with such things. He studied the man that had humiliated him. As his future wife arrived in Milae, he discovered the man was going to be in court again with the Grand Duc, and Sarus would not miss such an opportunity. And so, he traveled to the city of Iacessa, deep in the mountains of his homeland, with a single goal in mind. It was not a political move, nor something that would gain him any true benefit, but the Hound was on the hunt. The name would stick after this display.

Sarus reached the city of Iacessa early in the morning, just as the sun rose above the horizon. He wore a new mask at this time, a motif of the hound. He traveled with only two attendants, leaving his guards and servants back at his home. The message was clear when the first noblemen spotted him walking the dew-covered streets. He was here for himself.

Shortly after the first-morning meal, the young noble had arrived at the hold of the Comte de Iacessa, where the nobles of the region were meeting. The hold was only accessible by a large carven staircase laid into the mountainside. A large palatial manor was built on a small plateau, which is where the nobles met today. The guards held any who approached at the base of those great stairs. Sarus paused a few paces before reaching that final path. He did not come in under the banner of his house but declared himself as confidently as if he had a thousand men behind him.

“I am Lord Sarus Astier de Nid du Vouivre, known as le Chien by the men of the court. I am a servant of Grand Duc Marcomir Alaric de Nid du Vouivre, and of her Majesty.” He called out to the guards. “I am here to speak with Marquis Teias Valia de Precis.” He stood firm in his location, settling in for a long while. “I will await him here.”

Of course, the guards sent the message, but returned with the simple message of, “His honor Marquis Valia respects your bravery, but asks that you return home.”

To which, Sarus would bark a reply. “The Marquis must face me. By rights, I deserve to meet and speak with him. Should he not, I will remain here throughout the noble’s meet.”

The guards again took the message and returned with yet another reply. “Our master says, then you will wait. It will be a lesson in patience.”

“Please send the following message. So it shall be.” Sarus adjusted, “But I believe the lesson will be for others.”

“You have a lot to learn still, boy.” Was the response the guards brought after that.

“Sir, I humbly request that you refer to me in my official parlance.” The guards were growing tired of this as they jogged back up the stairs to give yet another message to the Marquis.

“Don’t be so quick to judge, little lord, after all, you are but a boy.”

“A boy who understands how to properly address his peers, marquis,” Sarus responded.

Every response, Sarus sent the guards to reply to him. Time and time again, they were bound to interrupt the noble meet to give the message to the Marquis. The other nobles would chuckle as the Marquis was flustered with each and worked to come back with a witty response. Still, it clearly wore on his demeanor. As other nobles argued points on defense and trade, he was distracted and every more and more frustrated. Finally, the Marquis had enough and asked to be excused.

This caused the Grand Duc to become annoyed with the situation himself. He agreed, but due to the situation, he told the Marquis he wanted to see him handle the young noble. So, the nobles took a recess and moved to the stairs.

“I see your patience reached its tipping point, Marquis.” Sarus barked from the bottom of the stairs. “Perhaps a refresher is in order?”

“Listen here, boy. You’ve had enough fun. You are interfering with royal business.” The Marquis shouted back at him.

“I merely meant to respond in a timely fashion to each of your requests. Our last meeting was unfortunate, and I’d like to be sure that we stay on the right foot moving forward.” Sarus smiled, though no one could see it. “Did the guardsmen disturb the meeting unduly?”

“Yes, of course, they did. At your order.”

“I made no such order. Guard’s, did I ask you to interrupt?” The young noble shouted. They shook their heads. He shook his head and motioned towards them.

“Implicit orders are still orders.”

“Yes, you know that very well, Marquis.”

There was a pause as the Marquis seemed a bit bothered by that response.

“While I have you here, I’d like to speak with you at your earliest convenience, Marquis. I will be in town if you would like.” Sarus raised his hands with a quiet bow.

The Marquis said nothing.

“About what?” Another noble asked, “Trying to get your honor back, little hound?”

Sarus shook his head, “No, my lord. I freely admit my mistakes. One of my villagers trades with a small hamlet known as Rianoll. It is in the Marquis’ territory.”

The Marquis’ eyes widened at the name, but he did not respond. Unfortunately, the response did not go without notice by some of the others.

The Grand Duc waved to a nearby attendant and said something, quietly with a displeased scowl crossing his lips.

“I have never heard of such a place.” The noble responded with a little smirk, “Why come all this way for a merchant?”

“In a town as small as Milae, every trade connection matters,” Sarus spoke softly. “I see the Marquis cannot speak about it now. Nothing will change if he takes his time. I can wait for answers. Rianoll isn’t going anywhere.”

“Surely the hound doesn’t come all this way without a purpose. You don’t have a banner with you.” One of the nobles seemed to realize. “You smelled blood, didn’t you? What is it about Rianoll that brings you here.”

“I wouldn’t dare. It is the Marquis’ territory.”

“There is nothing to tell. It is a small hamlet, not even on the maps or on any roads.” The Marquis finally spoke. “I can barely remember it is in my holds. What does it trade? I doubt you need timber.”

“They crafted the most wonderful glass. There was a man there of great talent. My man would bring fresh sands for his art.” Sarus responded.

The Marquis steadied himself and nodded, “Ah yes. I seem to remember some glass trinkets being traded in the towns. Some were sent as tax collection, I believe.”

“Kind of you to accept,” One of the nobles said as he adjusted out of the way of the returning attendant, who handed off a piece of parchment and a pen dripping ink to the Grand Duc, who wrote something down and returned the document down.

“Of course, they hardly grew enough food to support themselves.” The Marquis said softly, brushing a hand along his neck.

Sarus smiled a bit wider. Some of the nobles too had picked up on that particular word. The Grand Duc shook his head and handed the paperback.

“Sarus,” The Duc shouted. “Whatever you needed, wouldn’t have been easier to go to the village?”

“Yes, your grace. Except there were no maps I could find with adequate directions.” He responded. “So, I had the merchant take me.”

The Marquis stumbled back for a moment, his façade shifting quickly as he realized what was about to happen. He quickly interrupted. “Fine, Sarus, I’ll speak to you – let’s not waste any more of the meet’s time.”

“So, you don’t want them to know the village was a smoldering ruin?” Sarus barked up at him. “That the people tried to claw their way out of the shrine you boarded up?”

The Marquis stood as still as stone.

“Or maybe that it was over a stupid mistake. What exactly happened? Did she rebuff your advances? Maybe the glassmaker messed up a project?”

“None of this is true. This is just a thinly veiled attempt to damage my honor because I humiliated you. Admit it, boy.”

“No. This is because men under your house banner burned women and children alive.” Sarus shouted up at him. “I’ll admit, I stumbled on it because I wanted to find your dark little secret. I assumed you would have some hidden thing. Some pathetic perversion I could press you on that would make you snap, and everyone could see the petulant coward that was left when you broke.” He gave a nod. “I thought my father’s tactics would be more than enough. And let’s face it, you would have given me anything to have your little secret stay secret wouldn’t you?”

The nobles stepped away from the man, as he looked around for some semblance of support.

“I did keep one thing from my father’s teaching, though.” Sarus stepped forward. “I know the real secret. I know why you burned those people alive – why their screams haunt your every night’s sleep.” The hound pulled a scroll from his cloak and held it. He took a long breath. “And while these men are disgusted with your actions. You know what is in here – written for the Grand Duc to bring down your punishment.”

“You have nothing. This is all a farce.” The Marquis shouted, throwing his arms down quickly. “You besmirch my honor and try to bring ruin to my name. You accuse me of heresy and stand there like some savior. I will cut you down where you stand and bring an end to this charade.”

“I accept,” Sarus spoke simply, offering the parchment to one of his. “Swords – and if you want me silenced, I suggest you choose now as the time.”

“Then now it shall be.” The Marquis turned towards a guard. “Your sword.”

As the guard unhooked and handed over a sword, another noble spoke up to the Grand Duc, begging. “Stop them. There is no point to this bloodshed.”

“There is a point.” The Grand Duc said quickly. “Our people are bound by honor, and one of these men speaks the truth, and that will only be revealed as one of them lays bloodied on the ground. The duel has been called. We cannot stop it. To the death, with swords. As was spoken by the duelists.”

“Yes, but if…”

The nobles stopped speaking as the Grand Duc just raised a hand, “Just witness.”

The Marquis stepped down the stairs and drew the guardsman’s blade, tossing aside the scabbard as Sarus’ bodyguard offered over his own drawn blade to his master. The young noble just stood calmly waiting though, the broadsword held lightly in his left hand.

The Marquis reached the bottom of the stairs and shook his head. He raised the blade and gripped to the hilt tight with both hands. Sarus took a breath but didn’t seem to enter any sort of duelist’s stance. For a moment they just stared at one another before the Marquis rushed at the young noble. The young man was quick, though, and he ducked out of the way of the first swing. He brought the sword up to block the Marquis’ next strike, and then it was over. The hound’s blade slid along the Marquis’, and a finely timed twist pierced the long sword blade deep into his shoulder.

The Marquis screamed and dropped his blade as the arm went limp, and blood began to seep through his clothes and down the arm. He fell to his knees, and he shook his head. “How did you…?”

“You think everyone is lower than you. You attack from a high point, and when you miss, you strike low.” Sarus answered. “Your debates mirror your swordsmanship. Just like your pathetic little plots.”

“You don’t have anything.”

“Actually,” Sarus smiled, “You are right. I don’t.” He wanted to laugh for a moment and then shook his head. “You see, I sent my evidence ahead of me, but not just to the Grand Duc.” He whispered. “You’ve made more enemies than you know.”

“Sarus, the duel was to the death.” The Grand Duc bellowed. “Finish him.”

“With all due respect, your grace, I cannot do that,” Sarus replied, slashing his blade through the air to fling the blood from the tip. “While it brings me no great pleasure to let him live, I am to be married in a few months.”

“And why would that stop you?” The Grand Duc barked, an impressive and powerful voice for such a shriveled old man.

“I am marrying a daughter of Lune. While the Seas and Moon have no strict rules about honorable killings, they do have a ritual peace during the lunar year leading up to a union.” Sarus spoke with a slight bow. “I ask that you let him live, and face the pain brought to him by his action in a hamlet who believed him their protector.”

The Grand Duc was visibly displeased with that answer and shook his head wide. “Fine. I know who it is you marry, and I’d rather not order you to do something that may upset her father.” He waved at a guard, “Take the marquis, throw him in the dungeons. We’ll let him die there or string him up like the common bandit he is.” The guards snapped to the job given them, and the Grand Duc turned to the nobles. “We have a meet to finish. Back to the work.” The old man turned and gave a wave of his hand. He paused for a moment and turned back to Sarus. “Astier, do not let yourself forget where your loyalties lie. I’ll deal with Precis, but you press my patience and I will deal with you as well. Do you understand.”

“I will remember, your grace.” Sarus ended with a quiet bow.

Then the Marquis was dragged away, and Sarus gathered his things and left it at that. There was a change from the name le Chien after this event. He was no longer about his bark, but about the hunt and from then on he’d be known as Le Limier, the bloodhound. Now, it spoke to his hunt and the man’s unyielding drive to finish whatever had been started. His humiliation due to his quick actions was rapidly forgotten, and the rumors spread even before he was able to return home from that expedition. Most importantly, there was a distinction between the man and his father now.

For a long time, he was just a shadow of his father – and everyone expected him to work in much the same way. He had turned his father’s talent into something else though. Valamir had learned how to find weaknesses and exploit them. He had inherited that, for sure, but with much more of his mother’s aggressive stance. His father was an opportunist, but Sarus was a hunter – and once the hound smelled blood, he would seek it until he had the source squarely in his sights.

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