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Chapter Four: Heart of Gold
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2011 11:41 pm    Post subject: Chapter Four: Heart of Gold  

Thank you for the sticky Tika, and now for all of you here is the next chapter. Enjoy.
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Chapter Four: Heart of Gold

This was not the grand return to the court of Leyond she'd envisioned. Tessa had planned on stunning the court, becoming the focus of all the gossip, commanding their attention and becoming the social 'sun' around which they all turned. Instead, the topic on everyone's lips seemed to be the recent death of the elderly court mage, Master Rofello. The poor old man's heart had exploded during a recent crafting session although what he could have possibly been crafting that would have caused that kind of strain nobody could agree upon.

For the past three years, since the White Lung had carried off her father and sister, Tessa had lived outside of Leyond's borders, in the land of her mother's birth. Her estate there was famous for it's cider and under Tessa's careful management production had steadily increased each year. And in Falverald, as long as you were staying within the boundaries of the law and pulling your own weight in the world, nobody cared what your personal life was like. Not so here in Leyond as her mother had warned her numerous times.

In Leyond it was all about your birth, about your gender, about who you knew not what you could do. Tessa had resolved she'd change that. She would rule Leyond under the model of Falverald and she would make it successful. Afterall, she had her whole life to devote to doing so. And she wouldn't let anyone get in her way.

When the fanfare began to blow, then they noticed her. Heads turned, jaws dropped, and finally she got the entrance to court she'd imagined. She was rather...radical. The current court fashion for ladies were huge ornate hairstyles that must have weighed ten pounds or more, dresses that were nothing but piles and piles of laces and flounces and ruffles. High stiff collars, patterned lace over the neckline, dragging sleeves, and delicate heels. Very pretty...very useless.

Tessa's hair was pulled back into a neat braid, her long bangs cut so that they would swoop down on either side of her face, accentuating it. The silk of her dress was fitted, but not to the point she couldn't breath, the sleeves tight against her arms so they couldn't catch, and the skirt hung in many folds. When she turned it would flair out, the many panels of material whirling like a colored wind around her legs in their supple leather boots. She wore a sword at one hip and had at least three knives in 'discreet' places about her person. As well as the flask that was currently strapped to her thigh.

The whispers started isolated...then spread like wildfire. She could hardly contain her grin as she walked up the aisle and curtsied in front of her Grandfather. "Astor Tormarch, King of Leyond and Duke of Eresinne, I bring greetings to you from the Golden Hall in Falverald."

King Astor regarded her from his throne, she could feel his eyes upon her, and the silence stretched. Just when Tessa figured her knees would crack and her legs would give out from holding this stupid posture, her Grandfather spoke.

"Well you have certainly changed since last I saw you Granddaughter. Be welcome in Eresinne, be welcome in my court. Now, if you'll excuse me, today is the day that I sit and listen to the grievances of the People. Tonight, perhaps, you'll join me in the Blue study for a little...family get together. Until then, Granddaughter..."

Tessa knew a dismissal when she heard one and as she stood, she noted the changes in the man she'd once called Grandpapa. He'd...frozen, that was as close as she could describe it. She remembered some warmth about him, a softness that showed only in those moments when he thought nobody was looking. Moments from childhood when he'd pause a moment to put her on his knee and listen to a child's chatter. That had changed. Sometime in the past three years, the man she'd been expecting to deal with had been replaced by...this statue. And that called for a change of plans.

She mingled in the court for a few moments, shaking plump and pasty hands belonging to nervous, fawning nobles. It made her sick, the whole thing. She truly had grown too used to Falverald. Once she might have been impressed by the pomp of it all, once she might have been one of those fashion plate ladies, looking for a husband that would do nothing more than keep them in style. Now she was glad she made them nervous. The pigs, swilling off the efforts of the honest. They would grovel for scraps before she was done.

She was waiting for only one thing before she excused herself. Before she'd left, her mother had entrusted her with a spell-sealed letter and told her to ensure that it was given to King Astor and King Astor alone. Her mother didn't hint as to the contents of the letter and warned her daughter that it was of vital importance to her bid for the throne that Astor see it. And so now she waited while her Steward stood in line with the line of common folk, waited until he handed it directly to Astor. Waited until Astor had broken the seal and read the script, thanking the man.

Then she excused herself, allowing her Steward to lead her to the rooms that had been prepared for them. She was tired after the long barge journey and the short overland ride to the palace. And she had to freshen up before the family reunion. Unlike the other claimants, her Uncle's bastard boys, Tessa knew this place. She knew the White Palace and the town of Eresinne well enough. She'd spent half her life here, summers mostly, wintering in the Golden Hall in Falverald.

She might have forgotten a few of the corridors, but her walk with her Steward refreshed her memory. Memories...she had plenty of this place, and the few noticeable changes in this place only sorrowed her. The softness was gone, the laughter. The palace had become the bastion of a harsh old man, a man who'd lost too much. Idly she wondered what would have happened had her mother not taken her away. If she'd stayed, could she have prevented any of this? Could she have given her Grandpapa reason to be happy?

The thoughts weighed on her all day as she wrote in her journal, notes of things to do that she couldn't forget. Business she wanted to take care of while she was here, like getting a stand of Northern Gold apples. She wanted to take the strain home and see how their cider would improve in Falverald's markets. Perhaps start a small commodity group. They weighed on her as she bathed and dressed for the evening and were especially weighing when the page appeared to lead her to the blue study. But she knew what her course of action was. It was one she'd planned on the long trip and she wouldn't fail to execute now.

Walking into the room, she was abruptly deserted by the page who retreated from the room, leaving her with it's three other occupants. She brusquely strode in, smile on her face as she laughed into the silence. "So quiet, so gloomy, how this place has died in my absence. But just look at the three of you, I suppose you're all my cousins...well then...let's be about it. You see, the way I look at it is this...you're all bastards. The only reason your claims are even being considered is because Leyond is a bit touchy about the subject of a Queen's rule. So, as much as I dislike the idea of marrying a close relation, I'm fairly certain that's the easiest way to resolve this."

She paused in front of her first cousin, a young man with bright hair, a ruddy hue, like sky stained by sunsets she'd seen. He blushed under her gaze and she laughed at him. "You're just a child! Oh you're cute but there's no way I'd ever pick you." She patted him on the head, ruffling his hair, and moved on to the next.

The hair stood up on the back of her neck as she examined this one. His skin was slightly darker than hers, it had a hue closer to pale leather than her own honey color. His black hair was curly, sleeked back into neat ringlets, and those dark eyes of his seared right through her. He was a calculating one wasn't he? Still, his eyebrows were level with her nose. "You've got looks that would make some of the ladies I know just absolutely swoon but that sour expression of yours, it doesn't do them credit. And besides, you're short. No offense, but I've always had a thing for tall men."

Which left her with the last person in the room. She nearly cracked her neck looking up at him, a slow smile creeping across her face. "Now you're something. You see, I hated my Uncle, he was such an awful man. He scared the wits out of my sister and I more times than I could count. On him, those features were evil, sinister...on you they're chiseled. Hell man, you look like someone carved you out of a block of marble. And you've got an ass I could bounce a gold piece off of. So I guess I'll-"

"You're a vulgar woman aren't you?"

She blinked at his words, her mouth closing mid sentence as she continued to stare up at him. "You have a problem with a woman who speaks her mind?"

"No. I honor and admire the women who speak their minds. But you're not speaking your mind, not unless your mind holds the same contents as a chamber pot. You open your mouth only to spill filth out of it. So close it, sit down, and perhaps show a little wisdom."

Nobody in her life had ever spoken to Tessa like that and a high color had risen in her cheeks. "Now listen here! Men speak like that all the time! If you don't think I hear them, comparing women like me to cattle and items, you're an absolute daft fool!"

"So you repeat their mistake? Does that suddenly make it alright? To snub a person for their age, their height, to treat them as an item...it's wrong for a man to do so but perfectly acceptable for a women? You are a woman who wants to change what is seen as the standard, no? Well if you mean to do so then you must first level your expectations. Is that not the way of Falverald? It is about what a person can do, can accomplish with will and drive. Not about the reproductive organs they were born with or the social level they were born into. If you want equality, your standards should be equal."

She just stared upward at the giant, brushing a strand of her nut brown hair out of her eyes. She felt...like a child again. For once the brash attitude that had shocked so many into silence had backfired on her and she was left standing for a moment, staring up at this...barbarian. The sound of tired laughter turned her head in time to see her Grandfather take a seat in the chair behind the great desk that took up one corner of the room.

"I do not believe I have ever before in my life seen you speechless Tessa. But Alasdair has that effect upon people." The aging king of Leyond pulled out the note that Tessa's mother had sent to him, spreading it on the desk in front of him. "In any case, your generous idea of a 'political marriage' is no longer an option."

"What do you mean? I realize that marriage between first cousins is close for comfort, I'm not entirely fond of the idea, but it would certainly solve several problems that may arise and-"

Astor cut her off, staring bluntly at her. "Marriage between first cousins is not optimal, but it is legal...whereas the marriage of a brother and sister is not. Or in this case, a half brother and sister. So I'm afraid that despite all the good and saintly intentions of that heart of gold of yours, it's just not possible." For a long time nobody spoke, Tessa just as silent as the others, until Astor chose to break that silence.

"According to this letter your mother sent, she was afraid you'd put political marriage forth as an option. So she has decided to reveal what must have been a burdensome secret. Apparently...my youngest son was unable to preform on his wedding night. A shame but I had suspected for some time that Darald was...lacking. Somehow, someway, he managed to persuade his elder brother to stand in for him. Just for the sake of consummation, to prevent the scandal and shame that would have followed. You, and your sister, were the fruit of that union. In short, Darald was never your father...Caur was. And thus, none of these young men are eligible for marriage."

Tessa stood for a moment before she found her voice. "Oh hells..." it was a weak sort of mutter, her hands fishing in a pocket of her doublet for the silver flask she always carried. After three long swallows of the rich, fiery liquid inside it, she felt far better fortified to take the news. Alasdair's large and steadying hand on her shoulder was also helpful. "So...where does that leave me? The bastard child of adultery. I suppose I owe each of you an apology for earlier?"

Astor waved a hand for silence, stopping whatever the her three half-brothers might have said and bringing the silence down in the room again. The hard old man stared at each of them in turn, his gaze a heavy and uncomfortable weight for the duration it rested upon her.

"What it means is that you are all equal in my consideration, as you were before. Each of you has just as much a claim on the throne and Alasdair shut your mouth, I'm tired of hearing how much you don't want it. The wants and needs of each of you are not even remotely going to be considered in my decision. I will watch, I will observe, and when I am sure...I will make my choice. Now, to aid in that choice, I have decided that when spring arrives I will hold a Grand Progress. You four will accompany me, you will see the length and breadth of this land. Until that time, none of you will leave Eresinne."

By the way Alasdair's grip tightened abruptly on her shoulder, painfully, before it was removed Tessa could tell that the giant behind her did not take that news at all well. But for herself, she was rather elated. Her estate back home would run itself just well, she'd have to give it up anyway were she chosen heir. And she wanted to see Leyond, see how the country fared. After all, she might indeed gain the throne only to inherit a famine starved and desperate land. Not exactly the kind of land that any kind of reforms would take hold in.

"But...what do you want from us in the meantime?" That question came from the flame haired youth, the youngest of them who looked both frightened and exhilarated by the prospect of seeing the entire country.

Astor smiled thinly. "I want you to survive Lukan...my court can be a dangerous place. I want you to thrive, to take initiative, to show me what would make you a king over your brothers and sister. That's for all of you...I want to see initiative...and if I don't, I'll simply execute you. That will certainly narrow my choices now won't it? Ah, here's our meal..."

Somehow, as the succulent food was brought in, Tessa wasn't sure she had an appetite. How was she supposed to show royal drive and initiative in a place that constricted her actions simply because of her gender? This was going to be far more difficult than originally planned...
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So, the four royal siblings have been told that they have until spring to show their 'initiative' to be king...and they must do it without leaving the city. If they don't, their lives are forfeit. What might their reactions be...and who's do you want to see first?
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A strange decision I know, but vitally important. I hope you enjoyed!
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Shillelagh



Joined: 11 Mar 2010
Posts: 398
Location: Kansas

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 12:05 am    Post subject:  

Huh. Tessa's a bit more devious and cunning than I'd expected from someone with an idyllic childhood, but I'm a sucker for blunt people. Yet another interesting character, and another solid chapter.

Well, I'm not really sure what Tessa or Lukan would do, so in my mind that rules them out as DP candidates.

If we choose Khafi, I expect that he would continue to be ruthless and underhanded in his approach, so that's always an easy option. It has the bonus of further fleshing out the plot point of the mage(s) he eliminated.

I'm also a big fan of Alasdair, who would no doubt be furiously working on a way to head back home to his wife before Spring. He'll stay noble and righteous, but he's not above using magic to achieve his goals, nor will he abstain from any chance to use others' embarrassment as a weapon for good. He's done that to pretty much everyone at least once by this point in the story, it seems.
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Lilith



Joined: 10 Feb 2007
Posts: 1597
Location: Happily curled up in a Daemon's lap

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 2:06 am    Post subject:  

Tessa, overall, is going to have to watch her mouth and refrain from sticking it up her nose like we just saw. Also, perhaps she should speak with the local agriculture enthusiasts, or whatever you call them, about her theory on the Northern apples and get to know most of them.

Lukan,... he's quite adorable, but I just can't see him gaining it over his two brothers and sister who are all older and obviously, already trained to handle the running of a country. So maybe he should just try and prove to them and everyone else, he is NOT a child?

Khafi... Khafi, Khafi....I would surmise that Khafi would continue eliminating the people who oppose him, but not touching his family.. for the time being.

Alasdair. I adore him, but maybe he should just suck it up already and send for his wife? A slow progress, I don't doubt, but if she's careful, she could make it before their child comes? Being a family man would no doubt impress the fact he himself already has a wife, and an heir should he be chosen.

Another wonderful chapter Rai. I really enjoy reading these, ... although Tess really does have a mouth on her she should clean up if she expects to rule.
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Lost Omega



Joined: 18 Dec 2010
Posts: 88
Location: West Haven, CT

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 6:09 am    Post subject:  

Hm... This is a tough one... Maybe Alisdair should spend some time wandering around the city, "reconnaisance", if you will, and find a way to escape before an heir is chosen.

Khafi should send someone to keep tabs on Alisdair. He's a much bigger threat than all the other candidates despite his wishes to leave.

The only course I see Tessa taking is trying to suck up to her grandfather. Share memories; compliment his attire; remark how big his teeth are; I don't know.

Lukan... Right... I don't know... Try to prove his adulthood? He's just a kid... He's not that much of a threat... yet.

All in all, great chapter Rai. I want MORE!
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Muaddib



Joined: 31 Dec 2004
Posts: 1765

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 6:50 am    Post subject:  

Once again, I love the way you write and as Thunderbird mentioned earlier, I'm very jealous of your skill. :)


I liked the way Alisdair put Tessa in her place. It's hard not to like his character. I'd like to see a chapter focusing on him next. He's obviously least bothered with trying to impress his grandfather. But he decides to use his time in the capital to right everyday wrongs and make the lives of citizens a little better.
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Andolyn



Joined: 18 Apr 2011
Posts: 852
Location: sitting barefoot in a tree in the beautiful land of Ardara, writing my tales...

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 6:30 pm    Post subject:  

well, now...there's a curveball! i'm going to have to go with the earlier suggestions on what to do. i do love the story! it's all unfolding quite nicely. i'm with Lilith the most. i think Alasdair should bring his wife. =)
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Kalanna Rai



Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 8:06 pm    Post subject:  

The poll is up, there's voting to be had. No matter which is chosen, big revelations in the next chapter.

On a side note, I'd like to thank you all for excellent suggestions. Each neatly ties into a subplot that I had in mind but needed an opening for.
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Lilith



Joined: 10 Feb 2007
Posts: 1597
Location: Happily curled up in a Daemon's lap

Posted: Sat Sep 10, 2011 4:55 am    Post subject:  

Voted and winning. :)
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Muaddib



Joined: 31 Dec 2004
Posts: 1765

Posted: Sat Sep 10, 2011 5:23 am    Post subject:  

Quote: Voted and winning. Smile

Winning like Charlie Sheen?
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Thunderbird



Joined: 13 Sep 2009
Posts: 2139
Location: Rising from the ashes

Posted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 12:59 pm    Post subject:  

I'm not saying much more than 'this continues to give a donkey the boot!'

The way your characters are delivered gives me the sense that they are very real and existing in a very real if not fantasy world. This being the most difficult impression to deliver in a fantasy setting, you're doing outstanding all around. Just amazing stuff here!
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