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Nation Building 𝕿𝖎𝖑𝖑 𝕯𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍「𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲」

Sub Genres
Historical, Realistic, Romance
Characters
Here

jones573

black lives matter
Location: Redhill Castle, Royal Apartments
Interacting: Meera and Avery, Avery and Maxwell
Timing: (Time passes w/in post but majority happens the evening of the day after the hunt festival has ended)

She was late, despite her best and most reasonable efforts, given that she could not very well run; what a scandal that would be, to see the Queen hiking up her skirts and running out into the yard. The Archery competition however did not suffer overmuch for it and the festivities continued. On the third day, it had been Lady Veora who had won the prize after all, Meera had never seen her so determined to win; and perhaps that had been in effort to impress a certain Baroness she had danced with the night before? Who could really know but Veora?

Meera was successful in compartmentalizing the earlier fiasco to be dealt with later while she attended to the festivities with vigor, and in avoiding moments alone with the king in the meantime. If it was curious that they never got to go riding like Avery wanted, as she just seemed to be much too occupied, well, she could easily deny that it had been by careful design couldn’t she? She was a Queen, with a Queen’s duties to the… um. To the festival. Which was now… over.

Perhaps late into the third night when she finally went to their room to promptly fall asleep it had not been quite, technically, over. Or the next morning when she woke up late and a little bit hung over, having drunk quite heavily for the closing of the festival and to avoid feeling anything ridiculous like anxiety about sleeping in the same bed with her own husband. Perhaps that morning in particular there was an excuse not to talk very much. A small extension to the festival’s ending. But now it was evening time and Meera was quite sure her relative unease and quiet contemplation had been noticed, or something indeed had been noticed. Her husband was squirming in his seat while she barely touched her food. The diner was getting uncomfortable for her, and it must be for him.

She wanted to go back to when they were having a good time with each other, back to when they were getting close and kissing and beginning to understand one another. That hardly seemed like a thing they could do unless she resolved what was going on in their bedroom however. Or the lack of what was going on. So far her best guess was that he hadn’t wanted to show her his back, that he was self conscious of it, and so he didn’t feel he could be intimate with her without her seeing it. Whatever the reason, they needed to talk about it. To move forward. Without, hopefully, mortifying and insulting any more of his close friends and family. She couldn’t let something like that happen again. The disastrous morning that had been had cost her a few years off of her life, and surely that of her lady’s too.

“I… spoke with Lord Emerson.” Meera began carefully, putting down her fork and giving up on eating, instead reaching for her goblet and taking a gulp of wine. A long gulp.

“Two days ago, in the morning. And I think…” She stared at the stable space between them, seemingly transfixed by the pretty designs in the wood, “I think that I may have upset him a great deal.”

Avery looked up from his picked-over plate, surprised. He had suspected something was bothering her, but he’d no idea what it might be. At first he’d thought it was about the festival- But it had gone quite well, and he’d told her so. Perhaps he should have been more public with his praise? But he had participated in all the ways a king ought to and enjoyed himself, without being overbearing about it- As though he had every confidence in his wife’s ability to entertain their court (which he did) and did not need to coerce anyone into pretending to have fun.

Maybe someone had said or done something that had upset her? He was a little hurt that she hadn’t brought it to his attention, but he supposed he often liked to think on things before he brought them up, so perhaps she was much the same. Which was fine.

It occurred to him that he might also be reading too much into it- That his recent hyperawareness of Meera and her happiness (or lack of) was causing him to second-guess every observation. But he was fairly certain that something had changed. She seemed distracted, and didn’t return his smiles. Or his kisses. When he’d gone to kiss her cheek in greeting before they’d started dinner, she hadn’t even tilted her head to give him better access.

There was of course the possibility that no one was to blame at all. The recent mismatch of her public and private personas reminded him of how Grace behaved during her monthlies- She claimed it became so uncomfortably draining to be nice to courtiers that she wasn’t going to put any effort into being kind to her brother. Avery supposed he should be flattered, then, that Meera considered him someone she did not need to expand effort on.

(He was absolutely not hurt, to think that the casual affection they’d been developing was a performance, the way Grace sometimes laughed at jokes that weren’t all that funny. He’d been the one to start that performance, he’d reminded himself.)

So after all the work he’d put into overthinking her behavior, and his decision to simply ride it out until it passed or she decided to share, it was somewhat of a surprise to hear her bring up Emerson of all people. And that she had upset him, instead of the other way around.

“I’m sure-” - That isn’t the case, was what he had been about to say. He had asked Emerson to be a friend to Meera, and even if he hadn’t, he couldn’t imagine Meera doing something that would really have offended the easy-going redhead.

But he didn’t want to be dismissive of her concerns. And he supposed he might see where she had gotten them.

“Because he did not make many appearances at the celebrations? That is not a reflection on you,” Avery tried to assure her. “Emerson has never cared for hunting, he rarely attends them. And he often finds… Other ways to entertain himself during festivities.”

“No…” Meera looked around, trying to think how to best put it delicately or spare him the details altogether. But then again, if she did spare him the details and swept it under the rug perhaps he wouldn’t take the rest of what she had to say with enough weight, or misunderstand it as something that his friend betrayed his confidence over rather than something his friend saw as necessary. As embarrassing as the fiasco had been, it pointed to a lack of forthcoming that Meera was a bit resentful of.

Bad things were inevitably going to happen when he kept things from her, she needed him to understand that. She also needed him to work with her rather than attempt to manage her, as she suspected he was doing.

He had been expecting to see the bastard lord a bit more on the third day, but it wasn’t worrying that he hadn’t- Avery assumed that whatever Emerson had gotten up to on the second day had proven interesting and enjoyable enough to continue. His guards or his manservant would have reported to Roysa and to Avery if Emerson had gone into town, so Avery was not overly concerned.

“But I will talk to him nonetheless, if you would like,” Avery offered, relieved that whatever was bothering Meera had a clear solution. Patching things up between his friend and his queen was not only a clear solution, but likely an easy one too. “Whatever may have passed- I know you were not malevolent in your intent,” he said kindly. “Emerson will realize that, too.”

“Well, I wasn’t malevolent in my intent no.” She gave a half hearted smile at him, tilting her head and finally looking at him, “But that doesn’t mean that I did not cause him pain… you can have the best of intentions, but still end up causing a lot of pain to someone… Avery.” She said pointedly.

Avery took a sip from his wine. She seemed… Displeased at him? Which seemed wrong, if she was the one who had offended Emerson.

“That is... True,” he allowed with a nod. “I’m sure he will forgive you, though. Can I ask… What is it you discussed, that you think so upset him?”

He was never going to get it was he? Why were men so thick headed? Very well, Meera acquiesced, “We spoke about your supposed affair with him, and I attempted to negotiate terms to live peaceably with your mistress of choice in a vain attempt to save myself from ending up like Queens that have come before me.” She put it bluntly, smiling bitterly.

Avery nearly dropped his cup.

“I’m- I’m not having an affair with Emerson!,” he protested in shock. “I’m not having an affair with anyone! Why would I- Why would you even think that?”

He regretted that as soon as he said it- Half the court had thought it at one point or another, and though those rumors had died down, he supposed spreading them to Meera was too juicy of a prospect to pass up for some courtier or another.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, his hand making an abortive gesture as he drew it into a fist and tapped it on his chin. “People like to gossip, I suppose. But I can assure you- regardless of what you might hear- Emerson and I are extremely platonic.”

Meera blinked and patiently allowed him to sputter and exclaim. Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a long sigh, glancing at the rug as if it held the answer to all their troubles.

“I know better than to pay credence to rumors, and as entertaining as they can be I hadn’t thought anything of that particular one until one of my ladies saw Lord Emerson on top of you in a rather compromising position.” She looked to him once more, “Leading her to believe that you were sleeping with him. All things considered, with my practically throwing myself at you and being rebuffed that very night, what exactly was I supposed to think? I thought you had promised your lover to put off sleeping with your wife or something of the sort.” She heard herself sounding more irritated the more she spoke.

“That doesn’t even-”

“Let me finish.” She held up her hand, stopping Avery from interrupting her.

“So my lady, in tears, had to tell me what she saw, and I thought the worst. It was quite painful you should know, to have to come to terms with that sort of thing when I was becoming very fond of you. It left me feeling like a hopeless fool.” Was her voice getting louder? She didn’t care.

Avery was staring at her, confusion growing to shock.

“And then poor Lord Emerson, who I mortified, had to explain to me about your back. Which is something I am sure you were going to tell me on your own time but now has been made known to me because I wouldn’t take his word for it that you weren’t lovers after all.”

The shock gave way to a flash of anger, and he abruptly got out of his chair.

“All because you won’t communicate with me Avery. You know what is in the contract. You know I am under pressure to produce heirs as soon as possible. If you had just told me that you were uncomfortable or something I wouldn’t have pressed the issue…” She finished, chest tight and flushed, clearly frustrated and venting.

“I was born early,” he snapped, pacing away from her. “Only by a few weeks, but it was enough for accusations to delay my coronation. So you’ll forgive me for not wanting ‘as soon as possible’.”

He could hardly decide what he was most upset about, but that at least he had an easy reply for.

Ah, that made sense, the implication that she could be with child while marrying another.

“Brutus…” She closed her eyes, willing the sting away. It was for appearances sake, and he was smart to do it all things considered.

Avery’s eyes widened. “No! Not- Nothing to do with him! I didn’t think that,” he said hurriedly. “I just don’t want our heirs to encounter any... Difficulties in that regard. With someone else thinking it.”

She nodded, though the sting didn’t go away. It clung to her.

“Instead of an entire fiasco involving my ladies, my chancellor, Lord Emerson, and your closely guarded secret you could have just told me this. As much as it offends me I see it for the smart decision that it is.” Meera replied evenly, tilting her chin up, daring him to disagree with her assessment.

Avery couldn’t think of an immediate reply to that- It wasn’t a secret. (It was.) It was just… Something he didn’t want to discuss or think about or have other people know about. And it was her choice to involve all those people, he thought bitterly.

“You could have just asked,” he pointed out in turn.

“Ask a King who I now think keeps a mistress behind my back?” Meera deadpanned, wondering if he’d thought that one through. “I have no leverage there.”

“But I don’t have a mistress,” Avery tried to protest, though he supposed that was hardly a good point, since she hadn’t known it.

“My next step in that case is an attempt to reach a parley with your mistress, since I very much do not wish to end up like the Last Queen of Ruhar, powerless to do anything but yell at others who do not deserve it because she can not command her husband’s mistress away and can not get him to be faithful. All the while chipping away at her own power and influence. Which is something I can not afford. And given I am called the peacemaker, a celebrated diplomat across the land…” She gave him another pointed look, letting him infer the rest.

“Well, I’m glad my ‘mistress’ was able to clarify things for you,” he said bitterly. “How fortunate he was feeling so honest.”

“You don’t get to blame your ‘mistress’ for not communicating with your wife.” She scoffed, finding her own joke funny and hiding her smirk behind her goblet.

He supposed he didn’t get to credit his mistress for doing the communication then, either.

“Lord Emerson would’ve laughed.” She narrowed her eyes at his expression, sighing and sitting back, wondering if she should just drink until she can’t fuss anymore like yesterday. She drained her cup, how many cups had she had? Was this her third? She couldn’t remember.

“I am not Lord Emerson,” he snarled angrily. “I am King Averett, and if in the future you would like to discuss the details of our physical relationship, you should direct your concerns to me.”

“Oh I don’t think there’s anything to discuss my King.” She drawled slowly, deliberately, standing up to grab the wine pitcher, goblet in hand, and walked out. Making sure to slam the door behind her.

“Wait-,” Avery began to call out, but he didn’t finish. Even if he’d been able to come up with something to say, he doubted she was interested in listening.

Emerson had laughed, when Avery had ranted about the nobles trying to block his succession. ‘If they don’t think you are your father’s son,’ he said dryly, looking idly at the remains of the vase Avery had thrown against the wall. ‘Then they haven’t seen you angry.”

Well, shit.

How had he managed to botch that up so spectacularly? Emerson had been right- Meera had been right, too. He should have talked to her about this before… Well, before it became an issue. But even so- His reasoning had been sound. How had he managed not to express any of it?

He’d gotten so much better at speaking and controlling himself and the conversation since he’d become Elion’s heir and- And as soon as Meera was unhappy, it all went out the window.

He ran through the conversation in his head once, then a second time. He had been… Well, it had been a little unfair of her to spring that all at him, but he had responded like an ass, so.

Maybe if he went into his study, got some ink and wrote things down- And how long would that take? How much longer would he postpone it, if he let himself? It had been more than half a dozen minutes now, and she was probably growing more angry with him. Better to do it now.

His footfalls were heavy on his way upstairs, but their bedroom was empty. He crossed to her solar and knocked on the door.

“May I come in,” he asked quietly. “...I would like to apologize. And explain if you will let me, what little amounts to my thoughts,” he said with a self deprecating smile.

No response came.

“Meera?” He tried a little louder this time, but he was pretty sure the lack of answer wasn’t because she hadn’t heard him.

“Meera, I am sorry,” he said, resting his forehead against the doorframe. “I reacted… Poorly. I was upset, but I should have heard you out. You deserve that.”

She deserved more than that, he knew, but he wasn’t even sure if she was listening.

“I’ll sleep downstairs tonight, all right,” he said. “... We can talk in the morning?”

Again, no answer, though little to his knowledge this time it was because the listener was crying silently, messily. And she didn’t want him to see that, she simply felt too vulnerable for it. So sniffing and drinking more seemed to be the only answer she could give.

Avery sighed and ran a hand over his face, then set off to find a servant.

By the time he returned to the dining room, Maxwell was already clearing the table.

“Ah- Wait,” Avery said, grabbing a plate and filling it with fruit and crackers and other things that would keep if left out, before allowing the manservant to continue.

“I was getting up early to watch the Queensguard practice tomorrow, wasn’t I?”

Maxwell nodded. “And then Lady Roysa was going to join you both for a late breakfast.”

“Cancel breakfast with my aunt,” Avery said. “And tell Captain Harpe I trust her judgement of her team- If she wants my advice on anything, she knows where to find me.”

Maxwell nodded, waiting further instruction or for his King to leave.

Avery frowned, thinking. “Have the kitchens made any sort of dessert with citrus lately? Orange curd maybe?”

Maxwell thought for a moment. “I’m not sure, but I believe I saw some of those lemon cookies, with the blueberries? But I’m sure orange curd could be made if you would like-”

“No, no, that’s fine,” Avery said. He wasn’t actually sure what Meera liked best, but he’d noted that when it came to sweets- and other things- she seemed to go for citrus more often than not. “If you could have a maid fetch some of those cookies, and then bring them and this plate to Her Majesty in an hour or so? And a pitcher of ice water,” he added. Hopefully it might still be cold by the time she drank it.

Maxwell nodded. If he found any of this odd, he did not say so. “Anything else, Your Majesty?”

“Could you get a note to Emerson- Just to say that he was right, but I will be handling it,” Avery said, and Maxwell’s eyebrow rose with the left corner of his lips. “And if we could have a hearty breakfast tomorrow- if there’s anything the cooks have noticed that Her Majesty particularly likes- that would be wonderful,” he added.

He had admittedly not noted much about her breakfast habits, on account of the fact that he was not very observant until he had finished his own.

“That will be all, I think. Thank you,” Avery told Maxwell, and the servant bowed slightly at the dismissal.

“Have a pleasant night, Your Majesty,” he said, as Avery crossed the dining room to his own study.

Not likely, he thought.
 

The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it

Prince Nuri
“I see you’re wearing a mask, your majesty. I half presumed you’d be hunting the King, with your own bow and arrow.” Came a silken voice, a Lady Magdalene, from Nuri’s right hand side.

“I need not hunt him down my Lady, we run side by side…” He offered his arm without turning to her, so she may walk beside him, “Besides, I am a man, and it’s my understanding the role of the huntress must fall to the ladies of the court during this festival.” His mask was silver, in contrast to his husband's gold. King and Prince. The both of them wolves.

Nuri was aware of what she was doing, it was hard to miss the condescension that they dared sprinkle in their interactions with him. Always when he was alone, never around their Belethan King. Nuri never paid it any heed, letting the barbs clink against his armor. He supposed that they were fishing for his reactions, ways to poke holes in it. They’d get bored of it soon enough, once they figured out that he didn’t much care what they thought about his proclivities.

“Right you are your Majesty, I have to admit, these new games and masks for the festival are a great deal of fun. You’ve breathed new life into our festival.” Lady Magdalene fluttered her eyes about. “These garlands are absolutely divine.”

“I’m happy to bring joy to my subjects, and hopefully can continue to do so. Though I can’t presume to claim credit for all of it. I had the help of certain ladies with a good eye for this sort of thing.” Nuri responded diplomatically. Leading them across the courtyard, towards others playing by some tents.

“Of course, there always seems to be a great lady behind every great man.”

That was so snidely clever of her Nuri had to marvel at it, “Or several, as it were. The Princess Grace was so excited for the festival this year, apparently there was some complaint that previous years had been a bit lackluster. She wanted to bring a bit more joy to it this year.” He parried.

“Wise as she is, we’d be the most joyful if we had some young royals running around the castle soon, if you don’t mind me saying your majesty.” Lady Magdalene boldly proclaimed, it almost made Nuri laugh, all of her other barbs had been so subtle in comparison. He realised readily that she could pivot to mean the Princess and not him if he took offense to her statement.

“I’m sure nothing would make us all more joyful my Lady…” He gave her no confirmation one way or another, and was saved from placating anything more by the approach of Lady Mercy. “... You’ll have to excuse me, I leave you to capable hands.” Nuri passed her off to the group, and turned away to attend to Lady Mercy, who seemed very uncharacteristically serious.

“We have to talk somewhere private, your majesty.” Mercy whispered to him. He nodded and led her away from people, but that didn’t seem to be enough for her and they soon found themselves inside a sitting room instead, where Lord Cromwell met them.

Nuri’s exasperation rose from curiosity to severe suspicion.

code by RI.a
 
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The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it













Lord Emerson & Prince Nuri

Have a confrontation
Prince Nuri
Cromwell paused before he opened the door, breathing in deep, hand on the handle, before sighing heavily. He fixed his gaze on Lord Emerson and took off his mask.

“I took away his sword… but if I tell you to get out then get out.” He warned, before swinging open the door and ushering Lord Emerson in, closing the door behind them both, to hear the sound of pacing in the room. The Prince definitely paced when he was agitated, preceded by throwing things.

Emerson frowned- He was about to point out that he didn’t really take orders from Cromwell, but what the other man had said was so odd that the retort died out in favor of confusion.

“Well it’s about time Cromwell, now get out.” Nuri whirled on them, hands behind his back, which gave Cromwell the suspicion that he might be hiding a knife, but then again Nuri tended to do that with his hands anyway. It made him look like an old school teacher (hypocritical of him he was aware) and was amusing when he wasn’t so angry.

“Mercy come here...” Cromwell mouthed, grabbing for a very frightened looking Lady Mercy and pulling her away towards the door, ushering her out but staying behind.

She didn’t smile at Emerson as she went, which was also unusual. He hadn’t befriended Nuri the way he would have liked yet, but he was pretty sure he’d made a strong ally of the prince’s Theren ladies. At least a friend. Or at least someone who met his eye when they passed.

To be honest Nuri had forgotten she was still in the room and glared after her, she should have left earlier. She didn’t need to be here for this. He shook his head and rolled his eyes, squaring off his shoulders and stepping towards Lord Emerson.

“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?” He demanded.

Emerson frowned at the question, unsure what exactly he was supposed to be answering for. He’d gotten a bit drunk at last night’s feasting, sure, but nowhere near to the point that he didn’t recall the dinner and he was certain he hadn’t acted out of turn. And if he had- Well, Roysa would have been standing at his footboard with a glare almost as fierce as Nuri’s current expression.

“Uh,” he started, trying to rack his mind to think of what might have gone wrong recently, and what it would have to do with him.

“...Has my uncle withdrawn from the grain trade deal? Because I assure you, I had no idea and would have tried to stop him,” Emerson promised. “I don’t know why he would have, but I can talk to my cousins and try to find out more-”

“Trade deal?! I didn’t drag you here in the middle of a festival I’m supposed to be overseeing to talk about a trade deal Emerson I’m talking about the nerve of some bastard upstart securing his position at court by becoming my husband’s mistress. Or were you already?”

Ah. This business again, Emerson thought morosely. He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised- If anything he should only be surprised it hadn’t come up earlier. But last night Nuri had been exposed to more of the court all together than he had since his wedding, so of course they would take their chance to gossip. And Vienna had danced with Lord Cromwell. It had only been a matter of time.

“Belmys,” he said soothingly. “I apologize- Similar rumors have followed me for years, I’m afraid. I regret they are now being used against you as well. But gossip such things can be ignored,” he assured the prince. “Especially if it comes from my cousin,” he said with a somewhat pointed glance in Cromwell’s direction, assuming the source.
Cromwell shook his head at him slightly, from the side, but only because Nuri wasn’t paying attention to him and what he was doing. Locking on Lord Emerson as though he were the only one in the room.

“Don’t you dare call me that, you haven’t the right.” Nuri only became angrier and got in Emerson’s face, “And don’t try to deny it either, you made the mistake of leaving the door to his sitting room open last night during your little tryst, and had I been there I would’ve dragged you out by your ludicrously colored hair and dealt you with you then.”

Wait, what? “This is my natural color,” Emerson said reflexively, trying to catalogue the night prior.

He and Vee had shared a few drinks and toasted to the success of the festival, Vee had tried to persuade him into joining the hunt, Emerson had tried to persuade the King into also skipping the hunt since it was obvious his shoulder was starting to get to him and- And after much badgering, Avery had agreed to a massage.

Emerson’s freckled face went a bit pinker as he considered what that might have looked like- sounded like- to a passerby. It certainly explained why Nuri was so… Adamant in his belief.

“Ah,” Emerson sighed. He could still fix this. Hopefully. “That was- Not what it appeared to be,” he hedged, not keen on divulging information Avery himself was unlikely to have shared.

As Emerson blushed Nuri paled, damning evidence in his eyes. He didn’t know if he wanted to attack Lord Emerson or throw up the contents of his stomach.

“Tell me is cowardice and deceit inherent in a bastard or is that just something you learn along the way.” He seethed, the fists at his side tightening.

Emerson had tried to befriend this prickly young prince, to no avail. Which was fine. They didn’t need to be friends. But Nuri seemed to be determined to make them enemies, and it was quickly exhausting the extra allotment of patience that Emerson had afforded the younger man on Avery’s behalf.

“I have been His Majesty’s friend and ally long before he even knew your name,” Emerson said, a note of obvious irritation tainting his previous patience. “You do not need to paint me as your enemy, just because you are…. Having problems.”

Oh no, this prick, “Know your place kur, you might fancy my husband but it isn’t you he married. I imagine my problem is standing right here before me. Don’t presume I’ll let some upstart outdo me as his rightful husband.” Nuri hissed. It made sense now why Avery hadn’t taken him already, as Nuri’d been waiting patiently for him to do. He’d not jumped at the chance as Brutus had but he’d also been someone kinder, he just assumed he was taking his time. But perhaps Nuri needed to be more forward in his approach, like Lord Emerson was clearly doing.

He wasn’t going to lose to him. On his honor as a Prince of Theren and Beleth.

“His ‘rightful husband’? Is that what you’ve been,” Emerson asked indignantly. “Because as far as I can tell, you’ve been doing an excellent job of avoiding your marriage- Both the man and the responsibilities associated with him,” Emerson accused. “This obsession with who V- who King Averett,” he corrected himself, “Is fucking, seems to avoid the issue of why you aren’t.”

“If some low born whoreish bastard wasn’t busy riding him maybe I’d get a chance to!” He fired back, knowing Lord Emerson’s words rang true, they stung. Of course the truth stung.

“That wasn’t what happened last night-,” Emerson tried to protest.

“One would think you’d be exhausted from all the cavorting you seemingly do with the whole court and castle staff that you’d be too tired but really I applaud your stamina.” He clapped mockingly, smug. “Tell me if you can get to the King to make you his official mistress will your family finally claim you as one of their own? Or are the Fremonts just too embarrassed by your person?”

Emerson’s scowl deepened even further, his green eyes dark. “You don’t know shit about my family, Your Majesty,” he warned. “I’ve earned my king’s trust through challenges you cannot imagine,” he said, holding up his hand to show the debtor and debtee scars carved on the back side. He ranked higher than any extramarital affair. “But I can’t imagine this little tantrum you insist on throwing will earn you anything at all.”

Nuri wanted to cut that hand off, his upper lip curled in hate. But Emerson was all but daring him to strike at him now, go ahead and strike at your husband’s favorite. You’ll never be forgiven, and it left Nuri rigid and glaring and silent.

Cromwell finally stepped in between them, holding an arm out to make the prince back up.

Nuri shoved at Cromwell violently in response and backed away, turning his back to them both.

“It’s time for you to go.” He straightened, nodding at Lord Emerson, satisfied that this wasn’t going to come to blows.

“I agree,” Emerson said sharply, turning on his heels. “Thank you for the… Enlightening conversation,” he said as he let the door shut behind him. His estimation of Nuri was… Greatly reduced.

The sound of a vase hitting something could be heard as he left.
code by @fudgecakez
 
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jones573

black lives matter
Interacting: Emerson, Lord Chancellor Cromwell and Louis
Location: Redhill Castle, Lord Emerson's rooms
Timing: Immediately after last scene - A few hours later



Emerson stalked back through the castle’s halls, grateful for the early hour. He didn’t have the energy to play at his usual demeanor right now for anyone unfortunate enough to run into him.

He was angry- Angry at the petulant prince and his unflappable chancellor, angry at his friend for having been so uncommunicative that the situation had even come up in the first place, and angry at himself.

He wasn’t supposed to be affected by this sort of thing anymore. He wasn’t the boy he’d been when he’d first come to court after his years on the Wider Sea, trading in one set of weapons for another- Knives and swords and fists had been more familiar to him, but secrets and carefully chosen words had come more naturally.

He didn’t care what people thought about his relationship with Vee. He hadn’t in years, he reminded himself. Vee loved him, but not like that, and it was fine. He’d struggled with it for awhile, longer than he’d care to admit. A dimming hope he’d tried futilely to squash, that had flickered on rarer and rarer occasions until eventually it had gone out without his noticing.

He wanted his friend to be happy, or something close to it- And he knew an arranged marriage for the sake of a treaty was hardly the backdrop to lasting happiness, but all the same. Vee liked the prince well enough and wanted them to be successful, and the spoiled brat seemed determined to have it otherwise. And now he wanted to make Emerson the party to blame.

There were enough things in Vee’s life that were Emerson’s fault, he thought bitterly as he let the doors to his quarters slam shut behind him.

“Sir,” Louis said hurriedly, rising from a chair where he’d been perusing an old book. “I assumed you would go directly to the hall for breakfast-”

“I’m not going,” Emerson said shortly.

“But sir-”

“I rarely join hunts as it is, no one will miss me,” he snapped. “You’re dismissed for the day.”

Louis looked surprised, then annoyed. “I do not think that would be appropriate-”

“You were just grousing the other day about how I don’t give you enough time off,” Emerson pointed out shrewdly. “Go visit your cousin in town,” he suggested. “Or- Well. I don’t care. Just leave me alone.”

“You do not get ‘left alone’,” Louis said calmly, and Emerson whirled on him.

“Fine! Send for one of my guards then! Have them stand at my door. Their instructions are to not let anyone in,” he ordered, then considered as he left the sitting room towards his bedroom. “Two guards, so that one of them can go fetch me food if I want it.”

Louis was about to remind him that that was not the role of his guards, but Emerson shut the bedroom door in his face. Louis gave the sigh of the long suffering.

---

Several hours later, Louis knocked rapidly on the door to Emerson’s bedroom.

“Sir? The Lord Chancellor is here to see you,” Louis reported.

“Why are you still here,” Emerson asked, his shouted annoyance muffled by the heavy door. “Have the guards send him away.”

“The guards are not here, because I never summoned them,” Louis said.

They could have been here, of course, if Louis had insisted. But he hadn’t. He didn’t think his cousin would appreciate an unannounced guest, even if it was a festival. And he wanted to keep an eye on Emerson. It hadn’t sounded like anything in the room had been destroyed, and Emerson’s voice still sounded clear and uninhibited by anything other than anger. Though he had great practice at disguising such effects.

“Well, then you send him away,” Emerson snapped.

“I’m afraid he’s very insistent,” Louis said. Which was an understatement.

Cromwell had been patient enough, in his opinion, and Lord Emerson had been given sufficient warning that he was there to see him. So without further ado, he pushed passed Louis, even giving a small ‘pardon’ and pat on the shoulder as the servant really wasn’t to blame for the capricious nature of his ward or Cromwell himself, and left himself in.

“All in all, it was smart of you to dare him to strike at you like that. It left him unable to act. Though I do wonder… if that’s really going to last.” Cromwell strode in, getting right to it as he made his way to the moping and irritated redhead.

“I brought fresh bread and butter. Left it with Louis.” He mentioned offhandedly. “The cooks here really are fantastic.”

Emerson had been laying maudlin on his bed with a flask he’d retrieved from inside a pair of boots he didn’t wear often, having traded his green doublet for a simple black robe he hadn’t bothered to fasten. He sat up and gaped at the intruder. Who really didn’t seem at all apologetic.

Eventually he got over the incredible breach of etiquette, and closed his mouth slightly.

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” Emerson told the older man with some exasperation, having decided why the chancellor had come . “Despite what the prince believes, I’m not trying to undermine him. His little tantrum will stay between us,” he said, raising his hands slightly in a small ‘I surrender’ gesture. “Now go away.”

Cromwell quirked a brow, “Well that’s certainly a convenient thing I can tell him to stop him from trying to get rid of you immediately. He’s not immune to the human tendency to do stupid and cruel things when he feels threatened and backed into a corner. And though at a disadvantage currently, I came to warn you that if you continue to let him see you as a threat… well, threats back home just didn’t last very long. Not that, I assure you, I desire to insist upon who you spend your time with… I understand better than most games people like you and I must play.” He alluded to their lowborn beginnings.

Cromwell doubted that Emerson was trying to do anything like undermine the Prince on purpose. He was just everything that was amiable and desirable in a companion, and as such his company was often sought out. It could hardly be called his fault.

Emerson narrowed his eyes at Cromwell. Was he being threatened? He was pretty sure he was.

“You and your prince are not the first to imply I’m only kept around as a convenient ass and pair of pretty lips for His Majesty,” Emerson sneered. Nor even the most dangerous.

“I always assumed you enjoyed the implication. Is that not what you’d prefer I think of you?”

A small crease appeared between Emerson’s eyebrows. Was it? ...He wasn’t sure for a moment, before he remembered that it didn’t matter. He would prefer Cromwell to like him- at least enough to make a possible ally of him- But it didn’t matter why.

“Well, you won’t be the last, either. I’m sure I’ll get over it somehow. I’ll try not to flaunt my ‘relationship’ with the King if it’ll help,” he offered, taking a swig from his flask. “But the Prince is going to have bigger problems than me if he insists on these type of… Overreactions,” he continued. “So. Why are you here instead of teaching him your ‘games’?”

His request for Cromwell to leave had gone completely ignored, and he doubted the man had come all this way to give him some bread. He wanted the Chancellor to get to the point- or the specifics of the threat- and leave him alone already.

Cromwell paused, thinkingly carefully, he tried to soften his tone a bit.

“I confess I’m not artful when it comes to comfort. But I can at least assure you I meant no harm. I don’t work for your Prince. I work for my Queen, so I’m not obligated to interfere as much as you might presume.” He reminded Lord Emerson that Nuri was a Prince of Beleth now, and didn’t hold nearly as much authority over Cromwell as he liked to act like he did.

Emerson snorted. “So if I find you standing at the edge of my bed in the dark of night, I shouldn’t assume you’re here to kill me?,” he said dryly. “Well- Unless you are, I don’t want to see you in my room again. At risk of repeating himself,” he snarled. “Get. Out.”

“Enjoy the bread.” He gave a small bow, seemingly unaffected, and turned away sharply.

He stopped by Louis before he left the room, and whispered something to him before he left.
 

The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it

Prince Nuri
This is easily the most difficult task I’ve ever been given. And I am terribly ashamed to say, I am failing.

I did not know marriage would be so complicated, it had seemed an easy matter when I was engaged to Lord Brutus. I knew what he wanted, what was expected of me, and how to manage his desires. Here, I find myself faced with a man who's rules I do not know and who is not so easily figured out or forward with what he wants. What’s more, there are others
-

Nuri paused in his writing. He debated being so honest in this letter, but if he wanted advice then he’d better be plain about what he was asking advice for.

-there are others that he prefers to my company in bed. I know of at least one other he is very attached to, someone devoted to him and tied to him in something called the unpayable debt. Matching scars on their hands bind them for life in a similar way that marriage binds, those in this unpayable debt are even sworn before their gods by a priest or priestess. Just as I was to the King in a temple.

I can not get rid of this third party, and what’s worse is that he knows I can’t, and lords that fact over me. If I were to send him away or slay him in a duel the King would never forgive me.

So you see my dilemma, mother, I am not sure I have the chance to succeed here in Beleth when there is already somebody by his side. Was it this way when you first arrived in Theren, all those years ago? Did you have to vie for father’s attention with others? We all know he worshipped the ground you walked on but was it always so? You seemed equally in love and took no offense to the many trysts you had to share him with.

This was not so difficult with Brutus, I did not care who he took pleasure in. I don’t know why in this case it is so difficult for me to accept.


A teardrop morphed the ink, and Nuri hurriedly attempted to dab it away and fix the sentence. Frustrated with his own eyes for betraying him. Once he was dry eyed again he continued…

I feel my position here is precarious. Like I’m dancing on the edge of a knife. The courtiers are bold as they are clever in their barbs, and never around the King of course. I need your guidance.

Love,
Prince Nuri


He blew the ink dry in his letter and sealed it in wax, setting it aside to hand over to Cromwell later. He’d get it to Queen Regent Agora’s hands with as few middle men and more surety than any other method letters were normally delivered.

His confrontation with Lord Emerson had been a devastating blow; he wasn’t composed or fit enough to oversee the festival for the rest of the day, and had to give some excuse of being unwell. Which would no doubt lead to rumors and critical judgement about the festival. But it was little use, as Nuri did not possess the flawless demeanor his sister did. Who, even devastated on the inside, could dazzle a room.

Nuri wasn’t dazzling.

And now that he was done being angry he wasn’t even fierce anymore. He was just hopelessly sad. The fight drained out of him as he catastrophized and lamented his predicament. The best he could do was avoid the public eye. Especially since it was likely that Lord Emerson would use this situation to his advantage and divulge everything into his lover’s ear the moment he got the chance.

Drained, tired, and self pitying, Nuri made his bed in his sitting room and decided to sleep there. He could make the excuse that he didn’t want to make the King sick if he was asked. He just… couldn’t stomach sleeping in their bed at the moment. He was disgusted with himself.

If he were the King he’d probably be disgusted with him too.

code by RI.a
 

The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it













King Avarett & Prince Nuri

come to an understanding
Prince Nuri
The festival… went ok. At least in terms of Nuri’s participation on day three of it. Knowing he couldn’t possibly shirk his duties for a second day he fixed his expression and made excuses as to his health. Joining very little in conversation and mostly taking an observational role. His saving grace was the drink and distraction everyone took to, but no doubt his lackluster performance was noticed, and that only set his depressive spiralling further down.

As for now, this afternoon, the day after the festival, Nuri found himself on the training grounds with the soldiers. Facing off Captain Davita, who would’ve been difficult on a good day, and getting his ass thoroughly handed to him.

Damn him, damn him and his handsome, pretty face and the serious furrow of his brow and his warm hands and his stiff, strong shoulders and his hair that’s so nice it makes him jealous. Damn him. He thought as he took a sharp hit to his side and grimaced.

Nuri swept under a blow, grazing Davita’s blade with his own to make a nice shing sound before twirling around going for her feet - then her knees. It was his favorite thing to do. Strike low on people taller than him, as most were. It threw them off, as in swordplay most blows were directed at your top half.

That was Nuri’s philosophy in fighting, to be as difficult and tricky as possible. And don’t get hit. Like just now, ow. Normally he was far better at it.

Mostly, Nuri thought... damn himself for being so easily effected by Lord Emerson and his stupid smug bastard ass. He was distracted today, and mopey, and his lackluster performance was making him get hit, which made him more mopey. And he got the feeling that Captain Davita didn’t much appreciate him being so distracted during a spar, and was hitting extra hard to punish him for it.

It was turning out to be a vicious and bruising cycle. To Nuri’s own shame he realized that he was possessive of his husband. More possessive of him than he’d ever had been with Brutus. Really it shouldn’t be any issue that Avery takes lovers, expected really. Even his father, who worshipped the ground his mother walked on, slept frequently with other women, as he found himself reminding his own mind lately. Nuri had presumed his own marriage would be something like that. It was set up to be something like that with Brutus, and Nuri guarded his heart against expectations of anything different.

Brutus used to joke that he loved Nuri more than Nuri loved him. And Nuri took satisfaction in that ‘joke’ being the truth. Maybe it was punishment for not being Brutus’ one and only, maybe it was his way of dealing with his own distaste towards sharing him? So perhaps the inclination towards possessiveness had always been part of the fabric in how Nuri loved. How ugly, Nuri thought, to have a heart so demanding.

OUCH, and how unfortunate that Captain Davita hit so damn hard. Nuri grunted as his back hit the ground. Taking a moment to huff before getting back up slowly.

Davita frowned at her Prince. Of course she’d heard he’d been feeling unwell, but she’d assumed he wouldn’t come to train with her if he wasn’t up to it.

“You are distracted,” she said simply- The statement was not a judgement, just a fact. “It suits neither of us to train if you cannot give it your full attention.” She sheathed her practice sword. “Enjoy the rest of your day, Your Majesty,” the guard captain said with a curt nod and a bow. It was a polite dismissal, but a dismissal nonetheless.

Nuri inwardly grimaced but did not complain. Fixing his lips in a thin line.

She turned towards her men. “First squad- Sprints,” she ordered. “Third squad, continue swordplay.” The second squad was currently on guard, stationed around the training area and would follow Nuri back to his rooms or his next destination, and fourth had the day off from both guarding and training. “Your Majesty,” she said again, but this time addressed not to Nuri in front of her, but to the King standing along the fence.

Nuri’s eyes widened when he realized who she was speaking to, embarrassed that he’d been observed performing so poorly by his husband, the very person he was moping over.

Avery hadn’t meant to linger out on the grounds, but he’d paused when he’d noticed Nuri sparring with Davita. His pause evolved into him leaning up against the fence, watching with a frown. He’d seen Nuri fight- Both in training and on the road. He was usually better than this.

Avery felt a bit uncomfortable to be caught watching, and he waved awkwardly at his husband.

“I was just- Passing by,” he said to explain his presence as he hopped over the fence and came closer. “I can… Walk with you,” he offered, because he felt weird not doing so. Plus, it would be nice to speak with Nuri- He felt he hadn’t really gotten a chance to check in with the younger man about the festival, or make sure he was feeling better. “If you are heading back to the apartments, we could go through the gardens,” he suggested. He always enjoyed seeing the things the gardeners did to prepare the grounds for the coming winter, and they could ditch their guards within the walls, which he thought Nuri might appreciate.

Nuri considered for a moment, stiff and a little worried. His heart pounding in his chest, he wondered if Lord Emerson had ratted him out after all. He personally wouldn’t have hesitated to do so and scarcely believed Lord Cromwell when he was told Lord Emerson didn’t have intentions of doing so.

But whether he did or didn’t, Nuri wasn’t about to hide from the repercussions. He wouldn’t let Lord’s Emerson’s threat hang over his head a day more.

“I… would like that.” He answered awkwardly, more awkwardly that he’d ever been before with Avery. He dusted himself off and sheathed his practice sword.

“How has your day been?” He attempted to ask candidly.

“Well,” Avery answered, offering Nuri his arm. “I have been receiving many compliments to pass along to you about the festival,” he said. “The masks were a particular highlight, I think- Everyone adored them,” he said with a smile. “I’ve also had inquiries about your health,” he continued. “Are you feeling better?”

Nuri recalled that other times his husband had offered his arm, he more often did not take it. Socially, the offer was towards women and Nuri was no woman, he’d taken offense at first. But since being here he’d seen men walking arm in arm this way. Men who were just drunken friends wandering around, and perhaps this was more of an affection thing than a lady or lord thing. He took it this time, a little thrill of enjoyment at the attention and closeness shivering up his spine. Welcomed to offset an otherwise disappointing few days. Being this close wasn’t so bad.

“I thought I might have ruined things, what with my absence and inattention, but I’m glad the court had their fun regardless. Did the city enjoy the barrels of wine I sent?” He wasn’t popular with the people, and didn’t expect to be, but bribery went a long way towards fixing that and with time and diligence Nuri was certain he’d at least be accepted by them. In particular, he’d had wine and salted game sent to Avery’s mother’s home. It was far, but he hoped it reached them in time. Besides, talk of the kingdom was a good way to avoid getting into the real reason for his absence anyway.

“Very much so, I believe,” Avery said. “Wine is the sort of things that is always enjoyed, I imagine,” he said with a smile. They nodded farewell to their company as they reached the gardens and passed through the gated wall.

The preparations for winter had begun, though not quite yet in earnest. The large potted plants had been moved indoors for the season, and a gardner they passed by was spreading a thin layer of mulch across a bed.

“Some of the trees and bushes get wrapped up in big stretches of burlap canvas,” Avery said, pointing to one such tree that had rope ties holding the burlap in place. “Like blankets to keep them warm while they slumber, my aunt explained. But when I was younger, I thought they should have pillows, too,” he admitted with a grin at the memory. “I asked my brother Novius about it, and we couldn’t figure out where you would put the pillow, and decided the gardeners must not know either!”

Nuri stifled laughter, turning away and suddenly overcome with how…

“That’s adorable.” he huffed out, looking at Avery as though he’d grown a second head.

“It’s hard to imagine you so little and innocent minded. Well, not that hard I suppose. You are surprisingly innocent minded.” Nuri couldn’t count how many times he’d been taken aback by his husband’s genuine goodness.

Avery made a noise of affront, though it was clearly meant in jest. “Lord Emerson has often said the same,” he admitted with an eyeroll.

But just like a threat looming over one’s head tends to do, Nuri was reminded with sudden gloom, of his husband’s attachments and what he wanted to say, his expression fell...

“I…” he looked away and dropped Avery’s arm, folding his own behind his back, “Haven’t… been the most adept or attentive spouse. I apologize for that, I confess I’m a bit lost at times at what I should do or how to act. I’ve only ever been with one person and the two of you are like opposites. I wish I had more experience with this sort of thing. Others make it seem so easy… my mother did it effortlessly.”

Avery frowned slightly. “There is no need to apologize,” he said. “And I do not know your mother, of course but- Even at your earliest memories of her, she had many years practice of marriage and ruling,” he pointed out.

“Just because it seems easy- or even is easy- to someone else, is no reason to think it will always be difficult for us,” he said. He wished Nuri hadn’t dropped his arm, so he could reach over and squeeze his hand without it seeming so odd. “We’ll just have to learn as we go- Together. This is new to me, as well,” he observed, thought it felt as much like a confession as a reminder. “And I am sure there are many areas in which I need improvement.”

It was less new to him than to Nuri surely? Or worse, Nuri thought, perhaps Lord Emerson was truly an exception to the rule and so important to him that he took no other lovers. And Nuri would have to contest with this forever. This was all so much worse than how it was with Brutus… but so be it. Nuri had the disadvantage here but he wasn’t going to shirk away from this challenge.

What would Meera do in this situation? Endlessly sweet as she was?

Nuri leveraged Avery’s shoulder and stood on his toes to give his cheek a kiss, an action which was both impulsive and led to a heavy blush he could feel burning on his scowling face.

The blush was mirrored on Avery’s own face- He could count on one hand the number of times Nuri had initiated affection. It was unexpected, but nice. Not nearly as unexpected as what Nuri said next, though.

“Not as many as me surely, but to begin with I’ll not quarrel with your favorite again. As I did a few days ago, that was why I was ‘unwell’, not for my health as I led everyone else to believe. We had quite a row I’m afraid.” He confessed.

The frown on Avery’s face was one of confusion, but might certainly read as frustration to someone who did not know him well. His favorite? He must mean Emerson, Avery decided after a moment’s consideration. ‘Favored’ was a common, if not entirely accurate, translation for the archaic term for those who had taken the debt.

“You fought with Lord Emerson?,” he clarified, the confused furrow in his brow still present. About what? “I am sorry to hear it affected you so,” he said cautiously, unsure of what follow up questions he was meant to ask. Presumably Nuri would say more if he wanted to share the details?

Gods above and below, he thought with some exasperation, he had specifically instructed Emerson to be kind to Nuri. He and Grace liked his barbed wit and Roysa might tolerate it, but it could certainly come off harsh to someone unused to it. “I may enjoy the cleverness of his tongue, but I can appreciate that he is not always the easiest person to get along with,” he admitted with a sigh. “I shall remind him to watch his words more carefully in the future.”

Nuri patiently waited to be admonished, or… something. But it almost seemed like Avery was going to deny the news, or was only alluding to it lightly. That was right, he’d kept the nature of his relationship with Lord Emerson secret hadn’t he? So it must be his worry now. Or was it that Lord Emerson’s ‘tongue’ was clever with more than words.

Nuri’s cheeks reddened and he looked away, pretending to be interested in the infernal plants. He had that skill too, Brutus had always complimented the way he could… he was getting side tracked.

“They were my words, actually. Though his actions… irritated me, I understand better now and will not make a fuss about it. It isn’t my place, my King.” Was Nuri’s way of casually letting his husband know that he knew, but would not trouble him over it. He smirked and noticed his hand was still on his arm and moved to link it with his once more, drawing them closer.

Avery wasn’t so sure about that- Nuri was royalty, and his husband. If he felt Emerson’s actions were out of line, he could certainly say something. But maybe he felt that because of the debt, it was Avery’s responsibility to do so? That would make sense.

“I understand,” Avery said, though he wasn’t sure he did. “But you are my husband. If you have any further problems, please let me know and I will be sure to speak with him.”

Well and satisfied with that answer, and his place confirmed, Nuri agreed and gave his arm an appreciative squeeze.

Take that! Lord Emerson. Nuri thought.
code by @fudgecakez
 
Last edited:

jones573

black lives matter








































King Averett & Prince Nuri

take two of coming to an understanding
King Averett



Avery woke slowly, a warm weight curled onto his side. It took him a moment to realize it was Nuri, and his lips twitched upwards in a slight smile. It was… Nice.

Nuri tended to keep to his side of the bed, so Avery could only guess the cold had driven him over. The windows and shutters of the bedroom had been shut tightly for sleep since the past week, but Avery supposed the heavier blankets would have to appear in the next few days as well. He thought he could hear maybe a few birds in the distance of the garden, but they were certainly much fewer with every day and if this morning’s dew hadn’t turned to frost, tomorrow’s would.

He laid in bed for a few minutes more, too comfortable to extract himself quite yet when he had nowhere pressing to be. But Nuri made a soft noise, and Avery was reminded that his husband would pull away quickly once he was fully awake, and might well be grumpy at him for the affection. Avery felt they might finally be making progress, and he had no desire to ruin that by making Nuri uncomfortable with unwanted cuddling and the resultant… Situation. So he moved Nuri’s arm as gently as he could, and turned his body towards the edge of the bed.

Nuri, who had woken up a bit earlier and made sure to fall back asleep with an arm slung over his husband’s chest, woke up again. Though this time not nearly as quickly nor gracefully aware as before. His eyes fought him and his voice came out groggy and whiny sounding as his brain slowly realised that his plan was being foiled.

“Mhmphfwait.” He sat up slightly only succeeding in opening his eyes to slits, enough to acquire a death grip on Avery’s shirt and attempt to pull him back.

Avery chuckled a bit, but didn’t go any further. “But if you let me get up, I can go get you more blankets,” he pointed out teasingly. “A fair trade, I think.”

“But you’re so warm.” He complained, rubbing his face on the pillow, which wasn’t all anything like the seductive line that he’d decided on the day before, but it was a pertinent point in his opinion.

“It’s my understanding that blankets are also warm,” Avery said with mock seriousness. “I imagine… Three blankets will more than counteract the loss,” he suggested, wrapping his fingers around Nuri’s to loosen his grip.

Avery’s insistence on leaving irritated something in Nuri, and his mind went to places that were jealousy fueled. These sobering thoughts helped wake him the rest of the way up fairly quickly.

“But if you leave, how am I supposed to take care of your rather consistent morning problem?” Nuri’s voice matched the suggestivity of the phrase, that was more like it, he arm retreated to brush his hair back in order to properly fix his husband with a look.

Avery frowned slightly through his blush. “Um,” he said. He’d known Nuri was probably aware of that, but he’d sort of assumed they had silently agreed not to mention it. Apparently not. “That’s not- That’s not your responsibility to take care of,” he said with as much polite definitiveness as he could muster.

The sting of rejection burned, and Nuri hadn’t actually thought he’d be feeling it when he offered himself so openly. His cheeks burned and his words poured out as he backed up to the other side of the bed.

“Is Lord Emerson’s embrace really so good that you can’t bare to be with anyone else?!” He huffed hotly, exasperated. He really hadn’t been expecting this, thinking, mistakenly apparently, that Avery did consider him his spouse in every way despite his muse on the side.

“Emerson?,” Avery asked in confusion, not following Nuri’s line of thinking.

“Or better yet, is it really just that I’m entirely…” He scowled, his mouth twisting, he couldn’t say it, and instead flung his blanket off and hopped off the bed with a thump, so thoroughly mortified that he didn’t even care that the cold was biting. He welcomed the bite, it hurt the way his entire chest hurt. “Nevermind, just go to your favorite already, do as you will.” He said bitterly as he made to retreat to the wardrobe.

Wait- “Wait,” Avery said, putting the pieces together. Or at least he hoped he was. “I’m sorry- When you say ‘favorite’,” he clarified. “You mean like… You think I’m having sex with Emerson?” He sounded both unsure and dismayed at the idea.

Nuri turned to look over his shoulder in disbelief mixed with disgust.

“Don’t start treating me like I’m stupid now we talked about this yesterday and agreed. I wouldn’t quarrel with your favorite… I just didn’t know you would deign to refuse to so much as use my mouth while you were at it.” He mocked and rolled his eyes, already very tired of this conversation.

Avery’s frown of confusion turned to one of revulsion. “I’m not going to use you, I- I’m not sleeping with Lord Emerson,” he said firmly, deciding it would be best to start there. “Yesterday- I just assumed you had mixed up a term, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were implying… That,” he explained calmly. This was salvageable, right? “It’s been a popular rumor among some of the nobles, I’ll admit, but there isn’t any truth to it,” he said.

Nuri looked at Avery like he was stupid, “You should’ve checked your story with your favorite because he tried denying it to. I might’ve believed him, or you, except that the only reason I had any notion of this at all is because a couple of days ago Lady Mercy saw you two.” He aggressively pointed at Avery, hyper focusing on the important parts of what he said instead of the revulsion.

“You left the fucking door to your study open and apparently Lord Emerson had you moaning. Which I thought was where I had gone wrong, instead of waiting around for you to finally do what you ‘wanted’-” He added air quotes, since it was obvious to him now that his husband had no physical interest in him whatsoever. “You needed a more direct approach, like Lord Emerson, but clearly the problem here has nothing to do with approach and I wish you’d just be plain and honest about that instead of this giant headache and tip toeing around the subject!” Nuri was shouting now, and quite animated.

Avery’s expression had gone considerably darker. “I believe Lady Mercy was mistaken in her interpretation-”

“I don’t need you to lie or treat me like I’m delicate I’m not, for fuck’s sake I’m a man I can take it. Just tell the god damn truth already so we can move on and I can stop acting like a god damn fool already.” He finally stopped, his voice beginning to lose itself and trailing off, that familiar tired and hopeless feeling back in full force. He could handle not being liked, but he wasn’t sure he could handle any more of this guessing game and lying. His hands were shaking.

“I am telling you the godsdamned truth,” Avery snarled. “I’ll admit to ‘moaning’ under Lord Emerson’s hands,” he confessed wryly. “As it had been several weeks since I had had anyone work on my shoulders. ...I tend to get rather tense if I go too long without a massage,” he explained, though he seemed upset by the admission.

Unfortunately, Nuri could only interpret this upsetedness as irritation at having his farce challenged. Because a massage sure as hell didn’t explain how and why their marriage hadn’t been consummated yet. How and why Avery very clearly had no interest in doing so.

“A fucking massage…” He mumbled, rolling his eyes and his whole head while he turned away, quite done listening to these thinly weaved tales. He had to go get dressed anyway, and retreated into their wardrobe. Never mind that he had nowhere to be for the next few hours, he’d find a place. Yes, he had things to do, surely?! There were taxes today, big things going on with taxes, a plan he’d made. He could focus on that.

It was clear that Nuri didn’t believe him, which shouldn’t frustrate Avery as much as it did- Why should Nuri believe him? They’d known each other barely a month, and the explanation did sound like a flimsy excuse. But it was true and it suddenly became very important that Nuri realize that Avery wasn’t lying to him-

He stalked after the younger man before he even realized what he was doing, pulling at the hem of his sleep shirt. It was loose and overlarge, and he pulled it up on the back to his neck but didn’t take it off. “See,” he demanded of Nuri, turning around to speak to the wall so that Nuri could see the exposed shoulder, and the tangle of scars that congregated around it.

With his head tilted down, his hair fell around his face but it didn’t muffle the sharp edge to his words. “It… Acts up occasionally,” he said, which was hardly an adequate way to describe the pain that radiated from the ruined skin. “My physician makes a salve for it- Emerson is one of the few people who knows,” he finished, letting his shirt fall again.

The garment in Nuri’s hand fell to the floor as his brain shut off, and slowly realized his own horrid mistake as he registered what he was seeing. He didn’t know what he’d expected when he heard the footsteps of Avery coming after him. Maybe to be grabbed and shook a little, that was a familiar action, not from Avery but familiar nonetheless.

He hadn’t been expecting to be entirely proven dead wrong. He thinks he would’ve far preferred the rough manhandling.

“You… weren’t lying… Oh shit…” He leaned back, his back hitting a hard surface mercifully. “I almost attacked Lord Emerson, shit.” He closed his eyes and covered them with a shaking palm as he realized the full extent of his jackassery. “And he wouldn’t tell me because… because he’s your friend, and a fucking loyal one at that.” Nuri’s hand dragged down to his mouth as things clicked into place, the interactions he’d had were suddenly flipped on their head. He’d been taking everything wrong.

“I’m not in the habit of being dishonest,” Avery said, turning back around to face Nuri. “I guess I’m just not in the habit of being… Forthcoming, either.”

“No, you’re not.” Nuri deadpanned. “So if you’re not otherwise entangled with Lord Emerson, then why has it been six weeks and this marriage isn’t consummated yet? I thought it was so odd that you were waiting and then it made me nervous how long you were waiting. I almost wished you’d get it over with and then I thought that you were satisfied elsewhere and now… now I don’t know again. I don’t understand. Brutus had me often and I know he was abnormally… abnormal, but you won’t have me at all?” He shrugged, laying out the facts as they were at the moment, deciding to be forthcoming while they were both being honest and raw with each other.

“I’m not really…. Interested in ‘having you’ only for the sake of having you,” Avery said with a wince. He wasn’t going to force Nuri to pretend an interest in his father’s killer just for pleasure. “And I thought it would be… best, to put a slight delay on the birth of any children,” he explained. “My own early arrival put both my mother and myself under undue scrutiny, which I would not want to subject you to.”

Nuri’s eyes widened as it clicked.

“Ah, you mean to say any heirs would need to be legitimate and their legitimacy unquestionable. That makes sense. That’s smart actually.” He had to commend Avery for that one. It was a tactical decision. Especially given that marrying Nuri came through the breaking of a prior engagement.

“I wish you would’ve told me, it’s not as though strategy is beyond me, and as Prince it is my duty to support your reign… I don’t know what you mean ‘having me for the sake of having me’ though.” He rolled his eyes, “I’m not delicate, I’m perfectly used to what men with pricks do, even if I don’t have one.” He flushed and looked away, annoyed at the thought that his husband had been holding back on behalf of delicacy. There were certainly ways for his husband to take care of his pleasure without getting Nuri pregnant.

“I didn’t bring it up because it never seemed relevant,” Avery said after a moment. “You didn’t seem to be… Interested in addressing such things, much less partaking of them.”

“Am I supposed to be? It’s not exactly pleasant you know, I mean…” He looked down at his feet, which suddenly became very interesting, “Sometimes it is, a little, I recall this one thing Cromwell did - never mind. It just isn’t very pleasant getting pinned down and receiving I can assure you.” Nuri insisted, as though it were perfectly normal and understandable to not enjoy the act if you were on the receiving end nearly as much as if you were on the giving end. It was one of those things that made Nuri spitting mad occasionally about the body he was born in but it was little use wishing for things that would never be.

Avery’s face went from uncomfortable at the conversation topic to enraged in a matter of seconds. “What,” he spat. “No- It’s supposed to be pleasant, at the very least not unpleasant,” he said angrily. Admittedly a few of his fumbling attempts at physical intimacy with Gilda had started out a bit uncomfortable and awkward, but he’d known she’d enjoyed herself regardless. “They used to pin you down,” he asked, thinking angrily of Nuri’s past partners, who he’d never given too much thought towards previously. “This Brutus and- Cromwell?”

At first Nuri thought Avery was angry at him but instead he seemed furious at what was an entirely natural thing. Nuri crossed his arms and looked at him as though he’d grown a second head.

“Wh-” Nuri began but lost his words when he saw how angry Avery got.

Avery’s eyes flashed with fury. He should have trusted Emerson’s wariness of the chancellor. “He’ll not hurt you again,” Avery swore. It would probably be detrimental to their country’s fledgling alliance if he had the man’s hands cut off, and he snarled in irritation. “I will have him banished-”

“Cromwell? Cromwell wasn’t even allowed to…” Nuri flushed, interrupting, “I don’t remember most of it anyway Brutus would get us both drunk because I’d argue when he wanted us both at the same time it’s not that big of a deal! Brutus was just a very demanding man that’s all. Stop being mad, especially at Cromwell he was much more rough with him than with me anyway. He was only doing what comes naturally; you don’t need to get all worked up about this!” Nuri felt a sudden surge of protectiveness over Brutus, defending his actions not just to Avery but to himself.

He’d always hated that little dance Brutus would do, acting like none of them knew why he wanted to play drinking games with just the two of them, alone. Cromwell and he weren’t stupid, they knew perfectly well, and somehow Brutus always got his way… It was just his appetite though, it was perfectly natural.

“You. Don’t. Remember,” Avery fumed, enciating each word as he stormed out of the wardrobe and back into the large bedroom, feeling suffocated by the small space. Was there no one in his life he could shield from the cruelty of others?

Nuri paused for a moment, gripping at his arms nervously before tearing after him, skidding to a stop just as he saw Avery.

Avery picked up the nearest item- a vase of dried flowers- and hurled it against the wall. The satisfaction of its shattering lasted only a fleeting moment, and he scrubbed his hand over his face in shame, recalling the trail of broken ceramics his father had always left in his wake.

Nuri flinched, somehow feeling that this was punishment for him and his own actions, that he deserved that vase hitting the wall. After all, hadn’t he gotten Avery angry? Hadn’t Nuri done the same when he was angry not two days ago?

“He was doing what came ‘naturally’ to a bully,” Avery allowed in disgust. “He should never have treated you in such a way. I am sorry to hear you have had such… Unpleasant experiences,” he said, the angry set of his shoulders giving way to something more defeated.

“Brutus wasn’t…” Nuri began, “He told me it was just natural…” The word ‘natural’ suddenly felt very unnatural as he said it. It was Brutus who’d had told him that what he was doing was fine and normal, and Nuri had believed him, had wanted to find a way to please him. Had even felt proud that he could deal with a level of pain in the beginning. And hadn’t Brutus always commended him for it? Nuri absolutely preened under his praise.

Even though what he was doing hurt in more ways than one. Hurt until it didn’t and he was just numbly indifferent to it.

He stared ahead listlessly, thinking back, had he been taken advantage of that whole time? And the worst part of it was that in the back of Nuri’s mind he knew something was wrong, but he was too eager to please and too undeserving of anything different to change anything.

“No I… He...” Nuri weakly attempted to come up with another excuse. He moved to the bed and plopped down onto it, tired of standing and feeling that he’d aged a thousand years in the span of a single morning.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have lost my temper,” Avery said as he crossed the room to kneel at Nuri’s side. You and your righteous anger, he reminded himself with Emerson’s words. “It isn’t your fault,” he said firmly, reaching out to cup the side of Nuri’s face. But he had barely stroked his thumb from the younger man’s ear and down towards his jaw when he snatched his hand away.

Nuri didn’t know him and Nuri didn’t like him. Avery had no right to comfort him, he reminded himself.

Instead he took one of Nuri’s listless hands as loosely as he could- If Nuri wanted fingers to squeeze they would be there, but he could easily draw away.

“I shouldn’t- These were your experiences, not mine. Your judgements have more value,” he told Nuri as evenly as possible. He didn’t think he was misunderstanding, but Avery knew he tended to react… Strongly. And assume the worst.

“But it sounds like… Even if you were fine with what happened, you took no enjoyment from it. And perhaps even disliked it,” he continued cautiously, hoping he was not speaking out of turn. “I have no intention for our own intimacy- obligated as it may be- to mimic that pattern.”

The numbness, so familiar a feeling, washed over Nuri and it took him a minute to realize that he had wants but few thoughts at the moment. He could barely think. He gently stroked at the fingers holding his and wished for that comfort back.

“Can we just… I’m so tired all over again. Can we go back under the covers and just sleep a little more… you don’t have to…” He didn’t want to bother Avery with his own feelings but he just liked and appreciated the way his hands made him feel warm. Gave life back to his listless nerves. He just wanted to sleep next to that warmth for a little bit.

“Of course,” Avery said hurriedly. “Of course, Belmys. Whatever you want.” He breathed the words against Nuri’s hand, having brought the younger man’s fingers to his lips. “Give me a moment,” he instructed, rising to his feet and towards the door.

“Gregor,” he called into the hall, and the burly manservant appeared a moment later. “Lady Roysa will handle the morning schedule, at her discretion,” he instructed. “We will take breakfast in our room. Not immediately- An hour and a half,” he decided. That should be enough time for a nice nap, Avery thought and if it wasn’t- Well, they could always have more food brought up. “I will ring for you if anything else is needed,” he said, and Gregor bowed his head at the spoken and unspoken commands. Their Majesties were not to be disturbed.

Back inside the room, Avery tilted the shutters on the eastern windows so lines of sunlight slanted across the floor, illuminating the room more without making it intolerably bright. He pulled the first blanket from the chest, and frowned at it. It was large and thick, colored black with gold embroidery along the edges. He dug further and found a smaller blanket in light blue, enough to wrap cozily around one person and still have a little extra.

“Here,” he said, bringing it over and draping it across Nuri. “So you can stay warm like a tree in winter,” he suggested with a slight smile, trying to recapture some of the lightness from the day before. “This time I think I can even figure out what end the pillow goes on,” he joked.

Nuri, who had by this time gotten back into bed, snorted out a puff of air that served as a sound of amusement. The extra layer doing its job of collecting more warmth and adding more comfortable weight, so his body loosened up from it scrunched up rigidness and spread out slowly. His limbs stretched their creaking muscles as he nestled in, eyes closing and a long yawn following as
he felt the bed shift, Avery joining beneath the covers.

He glanced over and caught sight of a small tendril of scarring that reached out from under the collar of his shirt as Avery maneuvered himself. He waited patiently until Avery was settled to ask.

“Is that why you’re careful not to dress in front of me? You don’t like people seeing your back.” He said softly, as though it were a secret. It was. It was Avery’s secret.

Avery looked up at the canopy of the bed, unsure of what to say.

“.... I’m not ashamed of my scars,” Avery said eventually. “But it’s… Easier, if people don’t know about them. Especially when I was more active in the field- You don’t want to advertise a weakness.”

And he didn’t like talking about how he got them.

“I understand.” Nuri nodded, his eyes drooping. He understood hiding weaknesses, the world was a cruel place sometimes, a lot of the time really. But at least right now, he was in good company.

Avery rolled onto his side so he could watch Nuri’s face slip towards slumber. Tentatively, he slipped his arm from beneath the covers and laid it out between them.

Nuri’s fingers found his and loosely entangled themselves there. Neither said a word.



code by @fudgecakez
 
Last edited:

The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it

Lord Chancellor Cromwell
Cromwell stacked away his papers, setting his notes inside his binder now that Prince Nuri had everything he needed and they’d triple checked the numbers. Honestly, this was a considerably light task and his work here in Beleth had overall been lighter than he’d presumed it’d be. And told the Prince as much.

“And yet you still find a way to work too much.” Nuri huffed.

“I don’t know, recently I’ve found a relaxing diversion.” He defended himself, recalling the third day of the festival, after the ball, when he went back to his room and found temptation himself had followed him there. Lord Emerson had felt the need to apologize for his surly temper earlier, and Cromwell was quite receptive to it. They had a diverting and pleasant talk afterwards, and Lord Emerson found out that Cromwell’s vocabulary included some very filthy words.

He straightened up, “Will that be all?”

Prince Nuri paused, looking out of a window pensively, he was far more subdued today then he had been previously, Cromwell wondered what could have happened to prompt this change in mood. He’d been absent from his duties all morning, shut in his chambers with the King. Cromwell could not for the life of him tell if this was a good thing or not, the situation unclear.

“Brutus wasn’t a good person. Was he.” He finally voiced.

Cromwell frowned, and considered his words carefully, the two of them might have a large difference in station between them but this they had in common; Lord Brutus of House Virgina had misused them both. Cromwell had come to terms with this fact and hardened himself to it a long time ago, Prince Nuri it appeared, was only just.

“No. He was not.” Cromwell’s voice sounded more strained than he’d meant it to.

“He hurt you didn’t he.”

“...He did.”

“He had this way of getting things that he wanted from you, and making you think you were obligated to do as he wanted.” Prince Nuri was still staring listlessly out of the window, his expression even stonier than Cromwell’s own. It always worried him when the Prince was like this, though he’d only seen it a handful of times. It was as though he went somewhere else entirely and was no longer in the room.

“He was a very selfish man, yes.” Cromwell agreed.

“My husband is a hundred times the better man.” Nuri nodded, seemingly coming back.

“Are you happy with him?”

“I like him. He treats me… kindly. Like I’m important to him, like my comfort is important to him.” Nuri flushed a little and looked at his hands, messing with them and smiling lightly.

Cromwell couldn’t help the smile coming to his face. This was a highly unexpected turn of events. Whatever had happened this morning, despite the past couple of days, must have been affirming for the royal marriage. King Averett was the far better man in his opinion, honorable to a foolish degree, and just the sort of person to value the second heir that was important enough to be raised to great responsibility but not valuable enough to ever warrant priority from anyone in his life. Prince Nuri had always been in an odd and difficult position, but it appeared that now he’d have an opportunity to grow into his own, if he didn’t get in his own way that is.

“You should toss Lord Brutus from your heart and mind my Prince, I did, and I’ve felt much lighter ever since.” It hadn’t always been so, he used to hold resentment towards Prince Nuri for taking his lover from him. But once he realized who was actually to blame for the change in heart and how freeing it was to be out of Lord Brutus’s demanding grip he’d begun feeling sympathy for the Prince. Who was even less experienced than he and more malleable to Brutus’s domineering will. And worse yet, desperate for love in a way that Cromwell himself simply was not. All of which probably played a factor in Brutus’s interest in him.

“Like you tossed him out of the castle?” Nuri smirked.

“Like I tossed him out of the castle.” Lord Cromwell bowed.

code by RI.a
 

The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it























King Avery & Prince Nuri & Lady Roysa & Chancellor Cromwell
Go Over A Tax Proposal With Minister Brennan
Prince Nuri
The previous duke of Pendaire was a fairly unremarkable man, perhaps in his sixties. Older than Lady Roysa, but not so old that anyone worried he might not be qualified for his current position. Not that anyone would voice such a concern to Lord Brennan's face.

He was the sort of man who had probably been handsome and fit in his youth, and still retained some of it. His shoulders and neck were straight-backed and still muscular, though his middle had grown enough through the decades to spill over his belt. His hair had retreated from the top of his head and only grew in a gray curve between his ears, and though the skin under his eyes had sagged, his strong jaw was still prominent above the emerging double chin.

The trade minister dressed in well made clothes, tunics and doublets that kept up with fashion but never set it. Several rings adorned the fingers trailing along the lines of Prince Nuri's proposal. One was particularly large, set with a blue stone and engraved with the dolphin seal of his family.

When he finished his perusal, he set the papers back down on the table and pushed his half-moon spectacles back up the ridge of his long nose.

"You know, you do not need my approval to enact this," he told Avery and Nuri, and the advisor that flanked that each of them.

The corner of Roysa's lip twitched from where she stood by the window, watching the sky. There would be snow tonight.

Cromwell stood much closer, in his typical looming manner, in his typical stony expression. You’d never guess he was pleased.

Strictly speaking, there were very few things for which the King needed explicit approval from a minister. But with a majority vote, the ministers could overrule a monarch's decision. And if a minister was respected in their field, and their expertise trusted by more than just the royal they served, their blessing usually made things much smoother.

This effect was mitigated, of course, if the minister was seen as an inept yea-man. But Minister Brennan was certainly not.

Which was all the better in Nuri’s opinion, though it certainly raised the stakes in some ways, once met those stakes were as good as cleared.

He had stepped down as Duke of Pendaire a few years ago, when King Elion has asked him to fill the position of Minister of Trade. No one was particularly surprised that he had given up his title- He had never married, and had no children. His sister and her children had been named as his heirs for decades, and everyone knew his sights were set higher than just one duchy. What he now lacked in formal title, he more than made up for in power and reach.

"Just because your approval is not needed, does not mean your input is not valued," Roysa said, turning back to the table. She and Brennan had fought often enough on trade matters to know that, despite their disagreements, he did actually have some brains.

“It serves the Kingdom very little to enact proposals that would be shot down by its ministers Lord Brennan.” Or rather, Nuri thought, it served the crown very little. Details, details...

“Do you predict as it stands now that there would be objections to it? And if so what kind?” Nuri folded his hands in his lap and leaned forward, giving the minister his full and undivided attention. He was very good at that, looking at people as though they were the only one in the room, his sharp smile making people feel as though they were in on his private joke. However serious the topic.

“Oh, I imagine there will be many objections to it,” Brennan said mildly, and Avery steeled himself.

If he was being honest, he didn’t much care for Brennan, but that had little to do with the man’s service as a minister and far more to do with his past- and occasionally recurring- relationship with Emerson. Emerson had laughed at Avery’s concerns when he’d first voiced them, told him that Prince or no, he didn’t get to dictate who Emerson spent time with, and worn the blue gemmed hair pins and sapphire rings to dinner for a straight week to annoy Avery.

Even though Brennan had been Minister of Trade for the duration of Avery’s rule and Avery knew him from sitting in on Elion’s council meetings, they didn’t really interact that much. Brennan tended to take his concerns directly to Roysa, as she had held the role prior to his appointment, and if Brennan was prone to throwing fits when he didn’t get his way- like a certain Minister of War- it wasn’t something Roysa had ever told him about. Avery very much hoped he wasn’t about to see such a side from the older man now.

“But none that are... Actionable, by the nobles who will raise them,” Brennan continued, and Avery felt a bit relieved. “You have very cleverly- and somewhat dangerously- allied yourself with the common people against their nobility,” Brennan pointed out. “If the people of Moise want to know why the people of Icolta have lower taxes than themselves,” he suggested as a hypothetical.

“The fault will be on their baron, for not accepting this deal. There are many lords and ladies who will not appreciate you putting them in this position,” he warned. “It may engender poor sentiments in the long run.”

“On the contrary my Lord, I am only doing my best to ensure that since trade has opened with Theren, money from people high and low is freed up and encouraged to be spent. We would all benefit in the long run from that. There is more money to be made through trade than through taxes.” Nuri lied easily, buttering the truth with honeyed promises. They weren’t entirely lies, he did have a point, but the purpose of this proposal was as the intelligent minister had pointed out.

If the nobles were busy appeasing their peasantry they were both doing as they should and had less freedom to be busy antagonizing the crown.

Brennan gave a bemused sigh at this explanation, obviously not entirely believing it or that Nuri believed it either. He carried on regardless.

“But you might be able to temper those sentiments if you are willing to be a bit flexible,” he advised. “This is a bit vague on some of the particulars,” he said gesturing with the document in front of him.

“It’s a first draft,” Avery said defensively and the corner of Brennan’s mouth rose incrementally.

“It’s not a bad thing,” he clarified. “Would you be willing to negotiate the finer details with the interested nobles on an individual basis?”

“Of course. I would encourage it.” Nuri smiled a toothy grin. Having the nobles vying for favors and better deals and asking the crown for things was another way to keep nobility in check. It was as his mother had always said ‘keep them beholden to you, nothing is more dangerous than nobility becoming too independent minded.’ And one thing Nuri had definitely observed about Belethan nobility was their prideful and high minded independence.

It was no wonder there were so many assassination plots here.

Brennan nodded. “Do you plan for it to be a direct ratio? They lower their land tax one percent, we lower ours one percent?,” he asked. “There should be a limit,” he advised.

Ah, here’s the real tricky part. Nuri had no idea what he could get away with here. This was his first time working with Lord Brennan. Asking the Lord to support a limit too low may undercut the effectiveness of the proposal here, too much would prove unacceptable.

According to the crown’s own books they certainly couldn’t go higher than fifty, that number was ludicrous and the crown did need a steady influx of funds to work with. Not scraps. Nuri would look incompetent if he went with the highest possible number. There was little else Nuri hated than looking incompetent.

“I was thinking twenty percent.” Nuri said cooly, leaning in further and beginning the negotiations by swinging reasonably high, his fingers playing with each other.

Roysa visibly tensed, feeling serious regret that she had trusted Avery when he’d said he and Nuri were ready for this meeting. She’d had similar questions to what Brennan was asking, and she wouldn’t have let the young couple into the room if she known this was how they were going to answer.

Or how Nuri was going to answer at least. Based on the slight furrow of her nephew’s brow, he hadn’t anticipated that either.

“And I was thinking you might have had a decent proposal here,” Brennan said, not bothering to hide his surprise or dislike of the idea.

“It’s just an upper limit, not what we’d expect them to go for-,” Avery started, though he also thought it too high. But if it was important to Nuri, he could keep his criticisms to their private conversations.

Nuri tried to stifle his smirk, this was more or less the reaction he wanted from the rest of the nobility. He needed them to feel a sense of urgency and panic, they needed to start competing with one another instead of feeling so comfortable in their spots.

“And it leads directly into my next concern,” Brennan continued, as though the King hadn’t spoken. “What will you do when the crown needs money? We are still paying off a war. Financially, we are more stable than under your late father,” he said, uninterested in softening his thoughts on the previous king’s spending or taxing habits. “But we do have expenses. As do the nobles. And unexpected costs, too. If an irrigation channel in Fremont fails- They will have less money to repair it. They will claim their fields serve all the country, on our tables and through our trading, and ask for money from the crown. And the crown will have less money with which to support them.”

“And we would simply give it without stipulation? Without so much as a glance at their books? Curious considering Fremont’s taxes to the crown have been supposedly steeply cut and they’ve been the very recent beneficiaries of a very generous and inflated sale to Theren, not only in terms of crop but in lumber. Not to mention I’d be severely disappointed in them if all they did with all of that extra profit was sit on it instead of multiplying it.”

Brennan looked angry, then annoyed.

“Which brings me to another concern about the crown’s only income relying on taxes it receives when it could be maximizing profits in other industrious ways. But I’m sure that’s a conversation for another meeting.

Now you can be shocked all you like at the steep number I’ve asked for as a cap but I’ve actually been calculating expenses these past few weeks and numbers man to numbers man... I could ask for higher my lord, but I ask for you to put your vocal support behind…” Nuri leaned back and considered momentarily.

Seventeen.” He shaved off a few percentages, expecting Lord Brennan to start taking this negotiation seriously.

“No,” Brennan said flatly. “I can’t imagine any of the families going for anything above ten percent. And I do not appreciate the suggestion that I do not carefully audit the records of Fremont- Or any of the families. Lady Roysa can attest that I was crucial in proving that Fremont grain merchants were intentionally tampering with the market only a few years ago,” he said, irked to have to provide his credentials.

Roysa nodded in confirmation of this, as it was certainly true. In reality, it had been Emerson’s information that had been the most useful in untangling that convoluted plot, but that particular detail was known only by Roysa and Emerson- And of course, likely suspected by the Duke of Fremont.

Nuri had to do his utmost not to outwardly groan at the direction this was taking, this was hardly anything to do with Lord Brennan’s credibility. But he was going to go on about it anyway…

“And it was through my efforts that King Elion was able to pass laws imposing stricter regulations and higher fines for nobles who might ‘miscalculate’ their income,” he continued, and Avery echoed his aunt’s nod.

Nuri was about to attempt to soothe Lord Brennan’s ego over when his husband stepped in, and did the job better.

“You have been an excellent ally and advisor to the crown and to this family,” Avery said, trying to soothe the minister’s ruffled feathers. “And I have always appreciated your frankness. So. Why do you feel that setting an upper limit of seventeen percent is unreasonable, especially if most of the families wouldn’t go that far? Could we really not afford even one or two of the nobles doing so?”

Brennan steepled his hands and leaned forward. “My concerns about what the crown can afford financially are secondary to what my concerns about the crown can afford… personally. You specifically, Prince Nuri,” he said, addressing the younger man. “If you offer this deal with the stipulation that it cannot exceed a seventeen percent cut, when almost none of your nobles would ever concede to dropping taxes on their common people by that much…. I worry you are going to look foolish. Like you do not understand this country, or its people.”

“I need enough cushion for them to negotiate down from, and I expect most of them will fall somewhere around the 9 to 12 percent range. I also need the number to be high enough to shock them into wanting to negotiate a better deal than the others. With the implications being that those quickest to come to the table will receive better outcomes.” Nuri hadn’t wanted to be so honest with the Minister, but everything so far was indicating that he was a frank man.

He decided to deliberately ignore the pang of offense he felt at Lord Brennan’s words in favor of pressing on calmly.

“Fifteen percent, be reasonable Minister, the numbers check out. And perhaps if things don’t go well, as you’ve ingeniously pointed out Lord Brennan we have my being a foreigner who foolishly doesn’t know anything about the country or its people to blame and fall back on if things don’t turn out how I’ve predicted. I am the perfect scapegoat, as I could care less what people think of me so long as they take the bai-proposal.” Nuri cleared his throat and folded his hands.

Roysa was glaring, not at Nuri, but at her nephew. If he was aware of it, he ignored it.

“And as you said- They aren’t likely to take it that far,” Avery pointed out. “The few regions who would be willing to cut taxes on their common folk by fifteen percent… Well, I think the crown’s treasury wouldn’t be much poorer if we collected fifteen percent less from Trisvona.”

Brennan made a thoughtful noise that might have been assent. “I would also suggest a limit on the duration of this arrangement,” he said, apparently satisfied with a fifteen percent and ready to move on. “If the deal they agree to locks the rate at which they can tax and the rate at which they will be taxed for say, three years, that stability might be an incentive. And the prospect that it may not be renewed at the end of that period if the crown does not like the effects, will encourage the nobles to make sure their common folk are actually benefiting from the arrangement.”

This suggestion also does the work of continuing the necessity for the nobles to continue to curry favor and negotiate with the crown, which would increase with more poking and prodding from Nuri’s various ideas. Nuri decided he quite liked this Minister, best one he’s met so far.

“That’s a sensible and wise suggestion Minister Brennan, it’s precisely the kind of thing we need.” Nuri grinned and adjusted, leaning back in and looking from Avery to the Minister.

“Are we to take this to mean you will back the proposal?”

“I will be involved in any final negotiations with the interested nobility,” Brennan said with a nod, which Avery had already assumed. He wasn’t about to sign off on a tax cut for anyone without having his Trade Minister, his aunt, and at least a few other people look over it quite carefully. But he supposed Brennan wanted to make sure Nuri knew. “Announcements of court are scheduled in a few days time, I believe- I suggest you include this proposal with them. And then prepare for a lot of traffic through your doors,” he advised.

“Sounds like a plan in motion.” Nuri clapped his hands together in victory, unaware of the ever looming disapproval of the Lady Roysa behind him…
code by @fudgecakez
 

The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it























Prince Nuri & Lady Roysa
argue while King Avery tries to pretend he's part of the furniture
Prince Nuri
Nuri waited until Lord Brennan arose from his seat and left to heave a sigh of relief.

“I didn’t even have to dangle giving Pendaire the first go as bribe to get him to accept fifteen. That went better than expected, and thank the spirits he didn’t just roll over and give me twenty could you imagine. That man doesn’t know how to barter but we arrived at an agreeable end anyhow.” The Prince relaxed his shoulders and leaned over towards Avery.

“I did get a good laugh at your faces though.” He mischievously quipped.

“I’m glad to provide amusement,” Avery said, also relieved to have cleared this first hurdle.

“I think it went about as well as it could have,” Roysa agreed with a nod. “Though I would appreciate some warning in the future, if you plan to propose so radically reducing the crown’s income,” she said dryly.

“I’ll keep that in mind, but again I don’t expect anyone to accept the fifteen. In fact the whole proposal’s biggest purpose would be failing if they did.”

Roysa’s eyebrow rose incrementally.

“Indeed. We need them to bite, start playing your game rather than theirs.” Cromwell folded his arms, no longer standing so straight but leaning on one foot rather than the other, he was quite tired.

“I was under the impression the proposal’s purpose was stimulating economic growth among the common folk,” Roysa said evenly.

“It shall! The peasantry will be singing my King’s praises for his generosity and industry…” Nuri reached over and tweaked his husband’s chin, his King.

Avery looked surprised at the gesture and ducked his head, blushing slightly.

“...But mostly it’ll help stem this abominable independence your nobles have. Honestly it’s a wonder you haven’t dealt with more insurrection. With this they’re more inclined to scramble to curry favor with the crown and plot against each other rather than with each other.” He eyed Lady Roysa, noting how strangely enough, she didn’t seem pleased by the idea.

“Oh, they plot against each other plenty, don’t you worry,” Avery said with a sigh, shuffling his papers together.

“You are setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect subservience from Beleth nobility,” Roysa cautioned slowly. “This ‘independence’ you find so abhorrent is a long tradition in our culture, and I would advise you not to go about repeating that sentiment you just so freely shared.”

Was that pride Nuri detected in Lady Roysa’s tone? As if the foreigner had just insulted her people’s ways and she must defend them. To be fair he was criticizing them, but for very good reason.

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire. I’ll find ways to make them bend. We can’t keep up this tradition of assassins and kidnappers, I refuse to bring heirs into this world, only to suffer their loss at the hands of an unruly court.” He stated pointedly.

“Lord Chancellor,” Roysa said coolly. “Thank you for your assistance in today’s meeting. As the conversation seems to have drifted to matters exclusively regarding Beleth, your assistance is no longer needed.”

She nodded towards the door, in case the dismissal was not clear enough.

Cromwell bowed wordlessly and retrieved his binder, exiting as directed.

“King Elion and his family died at the hands of foreign agitators,” Roysa said icily, and Avery winced.

“Aunt-,” he began, but she pressed on.

“It is possible, to earn the respect of the families,” she said. “And I intend to do everything in my power to ensure you will do so. But please understand- Trying to limit the nobility, expecting them to grovel instead of bow…. Take that too far and then you will see what insurrection in Beleth really looks like,” she warned.

“Tch- You prideful Belethans, thinking that having to answer to your King first is some kind of groveling instead of your duty as honored subjects. Are all of your egos so inflated that you’re still too deluded to understand that it couldn’t have been Theren that assassinated your late King, even if we ignored that Theren honor doesn’t condone assassins or their uses King Elion was negotiating a marriage between my husband and my sister. And those negotiations were going well.” Nuri crossed his arms and stood, clearly challenging Lady Roysa’s assessment, though made uncomfortable at the reveal of that last bit of information. It was a strange thought now where it hadn’t been then, his husband marrying his sister…

Roysa rolled her eyes in either disbelief, annoyance, or some combination of the two.

“I’m Belethan now, if Theren were responsible for that I would take no issue in admitting it. I don’t begrudge what enemies do between lines but Theren and Beleth were not positioned as enemies at that time. Meera, my mother, and even my father were interested in peace. I wasn’t.” He shrugged, taking little shame in the admission.

“Nuri,” Avery said gently. “Initially…. We suspected it might be a frame job. We did investigate. Quite thoroughly,” he admitted. He remembered the sleepless nights after Elion had died, as they desperately chased any lead they could find. “For longer than many found appropriate.”

He hadn’t wanted to go to war in his brother’s name. But he also couldn’t let a king’s death go unanswered. “All of the evidence led back to the Theren throne, even when we tried to take it elsewhere.”

“It couldn’t have been the crown.” Nuri scrowled and insisted to Avery. The only person who’d have dared was his mother or Cromwell, and it had taken their combined efforts to convince father. It made little sense to go through all that trouble only to turn around and foil your own plans. And he had personally heard mother wish many times that she’d actually been responsible for the assassination, at least then father’s death would have made diplomatic sense.

Sometimes, Avery still wondered- As Nuri said, it was out of character for a Theren noble to use a knife for hire. And the timing was odd. And convenient. But. He couldn’t stay awake rethinking every decision he’d made since the first night he’d learned his brother had been killed.

If it had been a frame up job, it had been a very good one indeed.

“You weren’t interested in peace,” Roysa repeated with shocked annoyance, ruining whatever soft tone Avery had been trying to set. “How good to know! You claim you are Belethan now, but you still think as a Theren! That weakening those whose support you will rely on will make you strong,” she said, shaking her head.

“Avery,” she scolded her nephew. “You disappoint me,” she said, and he looked up in surprise at the abdomishment. “Why does your husband not understand our culture? Have you neglected to tell him how Belmys became king- Not through any edict of the Goddess, but through the actions and will of men?”

“I’m afraid we do not have an abundance of time to devote to story-telling,” Avery tried to point out, and Roysa pursed her lips.

“Well, you are certainly not doing anything of note with your nights,” she observed shrewdly.

“We do plenty, dear aunt, not that it would be much use if I produced an heir in the environment we have now. For if you had forgotten the assassination of King Elion is not the most recent incident. If whomever is angry that I’m here now isn’t found, they aren’t going to show mercy to any children of mine, they certainly didn’t to our King.” Nuri’s tone became angrier, embarrassed that she’d dare admonish what his husband and he did in private. Which had admittedly only amounted to a few heated stolen kisses. Avery was very red.

“I believe your Lord Chancellor is responsible for that investigation,” Roysa returned. “You are welcome to assign someone else to it, if you feel he is not doing an adequate job-”

When he has determined who is responsible, they will face justice for their crime against you and our country,” Avery cut in, his voice even and steady even if his cheeks were still quite pink.

“I will not pretend there is no danger in being a royal of Beleth,” Avery admitted to Nuri with a sigh. “But I cannot assure you that having more docile nobles would lessen that danger- We are a large country, with many resources. While our internal allies may not be the kind you are comfortable with, our external foes are…. More dangerous.”

Pests in your home could cause their share of trouble, but it was the predators beyond that were the bigger threat.

This wasn’t nearly as comforting to Prince Nuri as Avery might presume.

Roysa pinched her nose, annoyed the conversation had gotten so far away from her.

“What I intended to convey was that our people- common and nobles alike- tend to have a strong regional pride. If you wish to see that as an obstacle, I cannot change your mind,” she said sourly. “But please, at least, do not go announcing your intentions that the families should be forced to bend to you- Your position is still precarious enough as it is, without saying things that will quickly earn you unnecessary detractors.

“You take me for a simpleton Lady Roysa. I’ll prove you wrong on that account.” Nuri huffed, ignoring Avery’s attempt at calming the situation. He was aware that it was most likely that he and Lady Roysa weren’t communicating very well and misunderstanding each other, but he was also starting to second guess his own already approved proposal. It wasn’t a bad proposal was it? And did Lady Roysa really think him so dim?

“I said I’d see Princess Graceling this morning. I’d better go.” He sighed and decided to end this meeting, making for the door but stopping himself before he left in a total huff and turning around. He gave the nod that was appropriate to Lady Roysa’s station, thinking that at least he should maintain her and his dignity, as despite their differences, he still needed to respect her, and left.

Roysa frowned after the prince.

“What a temper-”

“As if you had nothing to do with it?”

Roysa frowned at her nephew. “I am only trying to help-”

“I know,” Avery allowed. “But your advice often comes across as criticism, especially to those who are unused to it. And as you said- His situation is still precarious. You cannot fault him for being defensive.”

“You know what would secure his position- It’s been long enough that rumors would have little hold-”

“I know,” Avery said sharply. “We’re… Working on it,” he said, his cheeks a bit pink. He was far less red than he had been when the subject had been discussed in front of Nuri.

“You can tell me, if you are experiencing any… Problems,” Roysa prompted. “Or if it embarasses you, at least discuss it with your physician. I know your husband is not entirely… What you expected, and if you are struggling in that regard-”

“Enough,” Avery said angrily. “You are out of line,” he said coolly. “To speak of my husband and our relationship in such a way. I tell you this as your family, and your King.”

Roysa ducked her head. “Of course,” she demured. If there was a hint of a smile on her lips, Avery did not see it from where he was gathering his papers. “I’ll see myself out,” she said with a slight bow. “Good day, Your Majesty.”
code by @fudgecakez
 

The Witch Son

and a swift justice to those that got away with it


Lord Emerson & Chancellor Cromwell

discuss beauty tips
Lord Chancellor Cromwell
Cromwell was intruding, it was a family matter they now had to discuss and Cromwell certainly didn’t think he deserved to have to sit around and listen to Nuri put his foot in his mouth and then try to wiggle out of it with an angry Lady Roysa. Who’s professionalism he appreciated but stern temperament he did not. Was there anyone’s temperament he did truly appreciate? He felt he knew too much about people to ever really like them, or perhaps his mood was just sour right now because he was tired.

It was probably because he was tired.

Eager to rectify that Cromwell promptly took Lady Roysa’s queue to leave and bowed out. Finding himself an intruder once more upon another scene in the antechamber; Lord Brennan at much more ease and laughing at something a lounging redhead was saying to him.

At Cromwell’s intrusion he stiffened and nodded at him, excusing himself and mentioning something about dinner as he made to leave.

“I look forward to it,” Emerson called after Brennan as the minister exited the royal apartments.

The redhead in question was lounging on a plush armchair in the antechamber, a slim tome in one hand with which to entertain himself while he waited for the King. Two guards stood stone faced and silent at the door to the King’s sitting room, and a few other members of the Kingsguard and the Prince’s guard sat in the far corner of the room on much simpler furniture, playing a game of dice.

Emerson didn’t usually have a formal spot on Avery’s calendar, and he supposed this was the danger of sulking about in your rooms and avoiding people (or at least one specific person, and any who they might be near) for a week- Your friend got worried and invited you to go out riding and you couldn’t refuse, because your friend was the king.

Or perhaps- more likely- your friend’s aunt suggested he invite you to go out riding on a timetable that would conveniently place you in proximity to the Minister of Trade.

He should probably mention to Roysa that he did not appreciate this, as he had been lying when he’d told Lord Brennan- He wasn’t really looking forward to it.

The grin he’d levelled at the minister fell as the door to the antechamber shut, and Emerson picked up his book to return to his reading- Or he would have.

“Lord Chancellor Cromwell,” he greeted with a tight smile and a small nod. Great. He’d been planning on avoiding the man until he could decide what to do about him, and now here he was. “Good morning.”

He opened his book again, assuming Cromwell had places to be and would be on his way in short order.

Cromwell grunted in reply and plopped down on a loveseat opposite him, staring off at the door Lord Brennan left through, a smirk slowly creeping upon on his mouth as he thought more and more of the situation.

He should’ve just left, he mused as a small puff of air left his nose, his version of outward amusement. But something about the rather uncharacteristically cold greeting from Lord Emerson annoyed Lord Cromwell, and he felt like being a little bit cruel in return. It certainly wasn’t Emerson’s fault that he’d chosen to stay in his office at even more ungodly hours than he usually kept, but he’d certainly been the reason. And hadn’t he pleased him well enough during the festival? Cromwell’d certainly presumed so given the noises he’d made Lord Emerson make and how many times he…

Well, maybe the old man had experience on him or perhaps it was just a combination of familiarity and history between them, but something competitive in Cromwell thought meanly that Lord Brennan didn’t have the stamina to please Lord Emerson. He wanted another go at the task, but he’d throw himself off of a cliff before he’d voice such a thing. If Lord Emerson truly hadn’t enjoyed himself then who was Cromwell to ask for a second go?

Emerson was really trying to ignore the man, but he was making it rather hard to do so. Sitting there and smirking and breathing and whatnot.

“It was a funny meeting, then?,” he asked of Cromwell’s laugh, before he realized he was doing so.

“You seem rather stiff for someone who has dinner with Lord Brennan to look forward to.” Cromwell ignored the inquiry about the meeting, crossing his legs and opening his messy binder, as he might as well attempt to organize it and look busy. He attempted to wipe the amusement off of his face, but was so far only succeeding in hiding his growing smirk with his hand.

Emerson blinked slowly, turning his head a bit to look at Cromwell better. He looked like he wasn’t sleeping the best.

“...I have a few days to make sure I’m plenty relaxed by then,” he told Cromwell flatly. “You look like you could use some relaxation yourself,” he pointed out. “Been pulling late nights in service to the Crown?”

That wiped the smirk off his face pretty well, “I didn’t think it was that obvious…” Cromwell shifted and sighed, glancing at the door to where no doubt arguing was going on.

“I’m very observant,” Emerson shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable to realize he was familiar enough with Cromwell’s face to notice subtle changes. “Hold ice slivers against your undereyes in the morning,” he suggested. “Or a cold spoon.”

“A cold spoon? Is that why the ladies do it?” He had observed Lady Nyme doing that before, and she’d looked ridiculous, but apparently there was a method to the madness.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter however, my job doesn’t require me to look well rested. So long as the work is done.” He was much more talkative than usual, and suddenly keenly aware of that fact. Altogether he’d probably said more than Lord Emerson had, and for some reason he found that embarrassing. He stopped himself from saying anything else.

“It’s been my understanding that the work is never done,” Emerson pointed out. “And when you look well-rested, you give the impression that you are more formidable than your work, and not the other way around,” he advised. “So. Stop staying up so late.”

Cromwell looked to Lord Emerson, surprised. “Do you prefer when I look more formidable?” He blurted out without thinking, but wasted little time in regretting, instead smirking. He doubted Lord Emerson would be worrying over his health like this if he knew that Cromwell only buried himself in his work in the hopes he’d visit him again. As per usual, Cromwell’s intentions were far from noble.

Emerson laughed.

“‘Formidable?’ Is that what you hope you usually look like?”

“So I’m told.” He answered easily, is that not what they whispered about him? Lord Chancellor the many headed snake, chop one off and another will appear in its place. Lord Chancellor the crow, looming over the court like a changing wind, promising stormy clouds. Lord Chancellor of the shadows, he hears your whispers and your secrets. Already he’d increased the number of spies in Beleth tenfold. Where there’d been sparse opportunity for information before the treaty there was now ample opportunity, especially with him physically here.

“Sour, miserable, irritable, lonely, I could go on,” Emerson suggested with a hint of a grin, forgetting he was annoyed at Cromwell in favor of the chance to rib the older man a bit. “Like you get all your quills from ravens who roost outside your windows to provide you with ambience and whatever you think passes for conversation. Honestly, I might find you scarier when I think you’re tired,” he teased. “If only because I dread to imagine what schemes you’ve been staying up to plan.”

Cromwell chuckled lightly, Lord Emerson’s cutting commentary flayed him open but somehow remained charming all the same. He could probably listen to him describe his poor opinion of him in a melodramatic way for hours.

They were interrupted however, by a Prince Nuri barging in and quickly making his way past them, without so much as a greeting or sideway glance. Cromwell watched his supposed excuse for being there leave with a hint of disappointment.

“I concede, ravens are messy, and not nearly as good company as foxes might be.” He said, stony expression back on as he stood up, “Lord Emerson.” He bowed, and left, giving him one last intense glance to hold his eyes before he turned away.
code by @fudgecakez
 

jones573

black lives matter
Post Order Edits/Clarity:

Main character change to Nuri takes effect in Post #53, which would go after Post #43 in the ret-conned storyline.

Post #49 (with presumed retcons) takes place the evening after Nuri's confrontation with Emerson and Emerson and Cromwell's subsequent conversation in Post #55.

Post #50 (with presumed retcons) takes a few place after those events, presumably around the same time as Post #57, or perhaps a bit earlier.
 
Last edited:

jones573

black lives matter


























Sparring Practice

Training Yard, Redhill
Prince Nuri & Princess Grace


By the time Nuri had changed into training clothes his temper had cooled into disappointment, mostly in himself. Why was it that everything he said always seemed to be wrong? Meera enchanted people with every word, and mother ensnared them, but he always seemed to be putting his foot in his mouth. It worked out well for him sometimes, or maybe it was that he was clever enough that his conversational skills mattered very little and he succeeded despite them. He knew not. But it certainly made his life more difficult as of recent.

Things were much more simple and worked out in his favor more often when he wasn’t the consort of a monarch. All these eyes on him. All of these pressures and expectations. No wonder Meera was always thought to be better suited for the position, she thrived in these elements and he was struggling. Even when he got a win he was still struggling. It was barely a season into his marriage no less!

He twirled his practice sword artfully, using the curved Theren blade today, as he came upon Grace, finding a grin came easily at seeing her. Soon after meeting his young sister by marriage Nuri had learned that she was being tutored in swordsmanship and had offered his company and expertise. In particular he was eager to show her a thing or two about fighting dirty with your opponent. Something her instructor eagerly participated in, as apparently Avery cared little if his sister fought honorably so long as she was alive at the end of it. The extent of his husband’s paranoia involving the safety of his loved ones was an ever present bitter sweetness.

Grace and he had fallen into a routine, and often talked privately during these times. He appreciated her advice a great deal, and found she was more insightful than she seemed. Grace was also very talented at making a person have a good time, even if their morning thus far had royally sucked.

“Have your warrior face on today Princess?” He called, already feeling better.

“Prince Nuri!,” Grace exclaimed excitedly, looking over her shoulder towards her brother in law, at the same time as her instructor gave a bow and said “Your Majesty.”

Their combined movements meant that the paintbrush- tied to the end of Grace’s sword, which was held out to the full reach of her arm, which was draped at several points with strips of heavy cloth with lead weights tied to their ends- moved along the piece of burlap the old man had been holding out. He made a noise of triumphant exclamation.

“At least ten laps worth,” Pol said of the long black streak, with what might have been a wicked gleam in his eyes.

“But you moved the parchment!,” Grace said, askance.

“And you should have moved with it!,” he said in his heavy accent, with the gusto of a man who was both annoyed at his student for disappointing him, and looking forward to punishing said student. For each unit of measurement the brush strayed from its starting point, additional exercises were demanded.

Grace supposed she should be grateful it was only running today, and let out a long sigh.

“You keep His Majesty waiting,” Pol accused irritably, gesturing between Grace and Nuri and clapping one hand against his thigh to indicate she should hurry. “Your practice sword, where is it?”

“Oh, are we sparring today,” Grace asked Nuri with a tone of excitement, though her brow soon furrowed. “But I’ve already been out here for hours, I’m tired,” she told her teacher in confusion.

“You sweat a little and think that means no more?,” Pol scoffed. “I will tell those who mean you harm- ‘No, no, only attack when Princess is well rested, when she has eaten, when she is comfortable-” For such a stoic seeming man, he did an excellent job of contorting both his face and voice in mockery and Grace might have laughed if the mockery did not involve her.

Luckily Nuri was free to snort at her expense.

“Yes, Master Pol,” she relented quickly, having discarded the weights and the genuine sword for something with a dulled edge instead. Turned away from the old man, she contorted her own face into one of long-suffering exasperation to give Nuri an indication of how her morning had gone.

“I can’t imagine Vee having been a particularly mouthy boy,” she whispered to her brother in law as they made their way towards the center of the sparring ring. “But he must have talked back to Pol an awful lot, and now the old man takes out his revenge through me,” she joked.

Avery had reassured his sister that his weapons instructor had always been ‘a bit of a character’ and his demeanor was unchanged since Avery’s time as his student… Though he had recently admitted that perhaps the man was slightly more crotchety in his older age.

“Who else is going to ensure that your character develops a distinguished air through hardship and toil Grace.” Nuri said seriously, disguising his free hand reaching up behind her head and roughly mussing up her hair, “The rest of us spoil you far too much!” He gave the sword at her side a harsh clang as he twirled away sharply while she recovered. Trying to rile her up with his challenging smirk, daring her to get revenge.

Grace sighed, having jumped at the sudden attack. “The rest of you lot having been toiling since childhood,” she pointed out, drawing her wooden sword. “I only started in the last year!”

She had improved greatly in that time period, but it didn’t really feel that way from her perspective.

Nuri was personally of the opinion that she’d prove herself to be a talent.

“What are your opponent’s advantages?,” shouted Pol.

“He hasn’t been doing agility and strength training exercises all morning?”

“She has a point.” Nuri shrugged, amusedly taking her side.

Pol looked unimpressed by this answer.

“Uh- More experienced,” she said, which was true of most of her opponents. “Longer limbs, so wider steps and further sword reach,” she added, which was again true of most of her opponents. At least with Nuri it wasn’t quite so great a gap.

“And your advantages?”

Grace paused a little too long. Against Pol or the guards, she was at least a smaller target, and sometimes even a faster one.

“Correct,” roared Pol, shaking an emphatic finger. “You have none!” He sat on a rickety wooden stool and steepled his fingers to watch, and no doubt create an impressive list of things to offer critique on later.

With her practice sword now drawn, Grace gestured it in Nuri’s direction with a grin. “Well! C’mon then- Teach me about distinguished airs!”

Nuri understood why Grace’s lessons focused on her using a sword ill suited to her but that didn’t stop it from bothering him. She wasn’t being trained for battle, she was being trained for survival, which meant using common broadswords and the like, the kind her guard would use.

“Your sword is longer and heavier than mine. Use it to keep me at a distance from you-“ Nuri began trading blows with her at a challenging but not impossible pace.

She blocked them each in turn, though her reactions were always a hair too exuberant and not the tight control of someone who knew exactly where the other blade was going to meet theirs.

“If you swing for my feet you can cripple me and prevent me from getting close enough for my blade to reach you!” He advised, parrying and giving a sharp twirl to suddenly find himself nose to nose with his little sister, blade resting on her shoulder.

Grace grumbled to have been caught off guard, though there was no malice in it.

“I have to work to get close to you with this particular blade, so make me work for it.”

Grace considered Nuri’s unusual weapon as she darted back, trying to look at it with Avery’s eyes instead of her own. She didn’t trip over her own feet while skittering away, and if someone had been looking very closely, they might have seen an imperceptible nod of approval from Pol.

The next time Nuri swung at her, she tried for strength in her block instead of speed, using her sword’s larger size to push back at the prince’s. He didn’t stumble back with the force of it or anything dramatic, but she thought she’d maybe gained a half second or two more to retreat between attacks that she’d hadn’t been getting before.

She sprinted away suddenly and ducked to the left behind a hay bale, hoping Nuri would follow- But maybe in just a moment, after she caught her breath, her fingers clutching the side of the bale.

“Good! But careful hiding behind hay Princess, much harder to avoid or block blind stabbing…” he straightened up and sauntered over, giving her time and letting his voice trail off, disappearing from view on the right should she peak out, and sneaking around silently to try and get the jump on her.

With her fist clutching a heaping of hay, Grace waited with bated breath for Nuri to round the corner, visualizing the way her feet and hands would move as she recalled the many times she had practiced such a maneuver.

She realized her mistake too late too correct it- She’d been thinking of her environment as the layout of the castle, that hiding behind the bale was like turning the corner at the end of a long hall and waiting for her opponent to catch up to her. But there were no stone walls here to prevent shortcuts, and nothing to stop her opponent from just going the other way around.

Luckily, she realized her mistake soon enough to at least react to it, and she whirled to her left just as Nuri came around the corner. She screeched at him, somewhat surprised to see him there and also a bit indignant that he would ruin her plan, and stepped forward before he could. She threw the hay at his eyes, and brought her own sword down hard against the outside of his right knee.

The satisfactory glee Nuri got from Grace’s screeching was short lived as he found himself having to spit hay out of his mouth and hop around from his smarting knee.

Which was all the same given the sharp jab he delivered to her middle as she’d turned around, he found his glee returning though as they quickly got back to trading blows.

This is why he loved sparring with Grace, it was a lot of fun.

“On your left!” He deliberately struck right, “On your right!” He deliberately struck left, playing more mind games with her, she was much less distracted by his trickery this time around.

“Your feet!” He struck at her shoulder.

“You- Are- Being- Very- Rude,” Grace grunted between blows. Keep your eyes on your opponent’s arms and feet, not your ears on their words. Pol had scolded her many times for conversing during sparring, and letting herself get distracted. She did tend to be easily distracted-

She broke into a grin after a dodging turn had allowed her look to their side, and see who had come down from the castle to watch them practice. “Vee! He’s being rude to me,” she shouted in jesting indignation.

A sharp barb of anxiety struck him harder than Grace’s next blow came down upon him, punishment for falling for her own fiendishly clever distraction ploy. [/i]There was no Avery[/i], much to Nuri’s relief and disappointment all at once.

“You scoundrel!” Nuri’s voice raised a good few octaves as he blushed furiously, indignant and embarrassed. Grace grinned widely, forgetting to continue to press the advantage she had won.

He got back at her by locking her sword over her head in an upswing in an attempt to kick her feet out from under her, a move he also frequently liked to pull with Grace and inevitably turned into a who-can-stomp-on-whose-feet-successfully match. Which just looked like a bunch of giggling and grumbling and dancing around until Master Pol told them to knock it off.

“VeEeEeE hE’s bEiNg RuDe tO mE.” He mocked back at her as he tried to stomp on the royal toes.

“Enough,” barked Pol, having gotten tired of the hay bale blocking his line of sight and suspecting the two’s fighting may have gotten derailed. He looked displeased to be proven right. “I will have you drilling position exercises if you cannot be trusted to spar with composure!”

“Sorry master Pol, my fault.” Nuri huffed before sighing and directing them back towards the open space.

Grace straightened and returned to a defensive pose, her face looking completely calm and innocent.

He considered her for a moment before dropping into a low stance and getting serious, it was time to up the ante on technique. His next blows were not so kind or considerate as they had been earlier in their spar, and Grace had to respond in kind.

Coding notes: Changes made to font size and color

code by @fudgecakez
 

jones573

black lives matter











































A Relaxing Respite

The Hot Springs, Redhill
Prince Nuri & Princess Grace


“I can’t believe Vee hasn’t taken you down here,” Grace exclaimed as they descended the winding stone steps carved into lower levels of the castle. “Wait, no- I can totally believe it,” Grace amended. “He doesn’t actually take much time to relax, does he,” she sighed. “Most people don’t usually use the springs until after the Huntress’ festival,” she explained. “But you can come down whenever you like! We have our own set of pools,” she said.

Nuri looked around with the care he afforded any new terrain, it felt odd, going into a part of the castle he’d never been in before just when he’d thought he’d become familiar with it.

The stairs ended in a circular room, illuminated by a shaft of light from far, far above. “Those are the pools for the other nobles,” Grace said, gesturing to the left and leading Nuri to the right instead. It led into a dark hallway, illuminated by braziers on the wall. Their guards stayed behind in the circular room.

“Is it considered inappropriate for us to use those?” He asked, not knowing the etiquette of such matters in Beleth.

“Of course! You can use either,” Grace explained. “But the private ones are more… Well, private. And you can bring people to these ones, too- I’ll bring my friends sometimes. But if there’s a party down here or I’ve come with a big group, we use the public ones.”

That was good to know, thought Nuri, that Beleth’s culture was not wholly different in this matter to Theren’s.

The hall wasn’t long, and ended in an oblong cave. There were multiple pools of various sizes, steam rising off their surfaces. On the far end, there was a thick door built into the rock, slightly hidden from view. On the end they had entered, there were alcoves carved into the cave wall, each covered in a curtain.

Grace ducked behind one, stripping off her training clothes and reaching into the carved shelves of the alcoves to grab a thin linen robe.

Nuri stepped into one himself, less sure as he observed everything and scrunched his nose at the smell. He reached for the linen robe on the shelves and smelled then linen, expecting it to smell of sulfur like the water, but a freshened lavender smell pleasantly greeted him instead.

“Lavender, thank goodness, I’m still not used to the smell of the water here. I suppose that’s why so much perfume is put into the bath water…” He mused aloud as he undressed, thinking back to the smell of salt in the air, a smell he found he deeply missed. “I’m starting to feel like Meera, she always had things like orange slices and flower petals put in her baths.”

He carefully unwrapped the thin cloth that helped flatten his chest, flexing his torso by raising his arms over his head and relaxing. There wasn’t much to flatten, but he still insisted upon doing it as it bothered him. It only became an issue of comfort when physical activity was involved, he was long used to it by now though.

Grace laughed. “I hardly notice it anymore,” she admitted as she emerged, “But yes- Lots of options down here!” Along the side of each pool was a row of small containers, labeled as different scents. “I usually go for eucalyptus,” she said. “But I’m fine to try something new if you like! Or we can use separate pools, and each do our own,” she offered. Most of the small pools were clumped together with only thin walls of rock separating them, allowing individuals to enjoy their own water while still being within talking distance. “Don’t worry about how much you dump in- It gets strained out with nets after we leave,” she said.

Nuri sifted through the scents but only to find the rose one and point it out, “Oh no I’m not Meera Princess, if I were her she’d insist upon rose, would have nothing else. A lady must have her signature scent you know.” He imitated her voice poorly by raising his own and rolling his eyes, opening the cap of the rose scent just to smell it and remember her before putting it back.

The way Grace guided him in these matters was similarly polite and accommodating to how he’d imagine Meera would’ve been to a new comer. A real lady’s manners, the kind that came from being raised a Princess.

“Whichever you like is good with me, I trust your tastes better than mine in such pursuits. If I had my way my doublets would still be plain.” He stepped in after her.

“Eucalyptus it is,” Grace declared, pouring out a generous amount of the oil and the small leaves mixed in with it. “I like to imagine it helps with the muscle stiffness, in addition to smelling nice,” she said, sitting down on the stone bench carved into the pool and leaning back, her robe billowing out a bit in the water before stilling. “Which I surely need after I was so cruelly beaten about today!”

That earned her a splash in the face.

“Bruises today save you cuts tomorrow.” He repeated master Pol, who had a point.

Grace rolled her eyes an impressive rotation and sighed, sinking further into the water and stretching her legs out to wiggle her toes.

“When Vee said he wanted me to learn to defend myself, I was determined I would make an adventure out of it,” she said. The alternative to enjoying it was remembering why it was necessary- The days between Elion’s death and Avery’s return from the summer palace, when every noise and dark corner had held danger, even with her full guard escorting her between the throne room where she’d made her stone-faced announcements, and her quarters where she’d wept into her aunt’s lap.

“My friends and I were going to make a game of it,” she continued, but her friends had attended fewer and fewer lessons as the months went on, and she couldn’t really blame them. “But I think Master Pol is thus far winning,” she grumbled. “Vee should order him to take embroidery lessons from me,” she groused, pleased at the image of the old instructor stabbing himself with a needle.

Nuri snorted, “Revenge of the accutest kind.” He refrained from letting her mind wander to getting revenge on him, as he didn’t hardly remember a thing about embroidery. Having stopped lessons of that nature when he was young.

“Speaking of dark matters like revenge… I’m pretty sure I’ve earned Lady Roysa’s ire.” He heaved out a sigh, letting his head fall back lazily as he slumped against the carved stone.

“Everything was going so well this morning, Minister Brennan is going to back my tax proposal, but… Besides the obvious benefits of the proposal I had meant it as a way to engage the nobles further. To get them to curry favor from the crown and negotiate better rates for themselves in exchange for key things we want. A court engaged and competing with each other is a safer and more secure court for the crown. Nobles are less likely to speak against you if they’re trying to curry favor you know. But Lady Roysa took this as an insult to regional pride when I told her I thought the nobles were far too independent minded. Telling me I don’t understand Beleth’s people.”

Grace beamed to hear this, as though such bickering were a positive sign.

“I’ve not been here long so I suppose that’s a fair assessment, but I still disagree at the state of the nobility from what I’ve seen thus far. And then she got angry when the topic turned to the negotiations between my parents and the late King. I was honest with her and told her there was no possible way anyone in my family could have done what they’re accused of. As I was the only one not in favor of peace with Beleth, and besides, assassins are not the Theren Warrior way. Maybe my mother could have done such a thing, being from Ruhar, but she too was in favor of peace and convinced my father to her side. Much to my chagrin at the time.”

He tried to be as vague as possible while still allowing her to understand what had transpired, not wanting to upset her around the subject of her late brother.

Grace’s grin had fallen, and she shifted uncomfortably.

“... I think,” Grace said cautiously, “That the matter of Elion’s death is not something you and Roysa are likely to ever agree on. She has drawn her conclusions based on the evidence that was collected in the aftermath and she- and Avery, and most of the court and the common folk,” Grace warned, “Found that evidence strong enough to overrule what is known of Theren culture and custom. Unless you have discovered something previously unknown, you are just fighting a pointless, tiring struggle.”

“That’s wise council.” Nuri peaked over at her, “If only I’d been so wise at the time. Now I think I’ve given her and Avery to think poorly of me. More than usual anyway.”

“They don’t think poorly of you,” Grace said immediately. “Or well- Avery certainly doesn’t. And I rather doubt Roysa does,” she amended with a slight smile. “When Roysa seemed upset with you- Was it similar to ‘dear child, please do refrain from speaking in front of company’,” she intoned piously in an excellent imitation of her aunt. “Or more of a ‘I must urge you to reconsider the wisdom of vocalizing such notions’?,” she asked. She was either very good at imitations, or had a particular wealth of practice with this one in particular.

Nuri straightened, his brow furrowing, he couldn’t tell which. Ah wait, he snapped his fingers, “She did specifically say something along the lines of the latter. I thought at the time she must think me stupid for even considering indulging anyone outside of present company would be appropriate.”

“Roysa rarely offers actual criticism to people she dislikes,” Grace said with a small smile. “Or to those she thinks to be a hopeless cause. If she tells you she believes you were wrong, it’s because she believes you can do better. If she tells you what she thinks you should have done instead, it’s because she’s trying to help you achieve that better. It’s not the most conventional way to show affection,” Grace allowed with a shrug. “But she’s never been much for tight embraces.”

“She gives her time and criticism to those she’s invested in…” Nuri parroted back, thinking, he’d have to not be so defensive in that case. If her criticism would come often and with the intention of helping. That’d be an adjustment for him, as he smarted every time his mother criticized him. Lady Roysa was not his mother, and he’d have to keep that in mind.

“Ugh and then she got on my case about… about the heir problem.” Nuri shifted uncomfortably, thinking the heat in his cheeks must be from the steaming pool.

“Oh?,” she asked. Grace’s face was already pink from the water, so if she was embarrassed by the mention of her brother’s intimate life- or surprised to hear it was ‘a problem’- she didn’t show it.

“Frankly I quite like that Avery and I are going slow, so she and the rest of the kingdom are just going to have to wait. I expected him to be much worse than this but he’s… very sweet to me. I want to be sweet to him back. You know, court him properly. Is there anything in particular you know your brother loves?” Nuri quickly found a productive direction the subject could take instead of talking about his embarrassing feelings.

“He’s the most irritatingly practical man I’ve ever known,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “I wish I could blame it on his coronation, but he’s been like that for awhile. You know he used to be the one to take me down here, when we were young?,” she said with a pout. “I don’t even bother suggesting it anymore.”

Nuri scoffed, mayhaps he could suggest to Avery later that they all three of them should relax in these baths more often. The waters were quite pleasant once you got the smells.

She hummed, considering Nuri’s question as her hand trailed circles on the surface of the pool.

“He’s partial to almonds, and sweets that use them for flavoring,” she said. “He likes being outside- I’d think he’d spend all day tramping about the grounds and sleep there too, if he could. As it is, he can usually only get Em to go walking the trails with him, through either a great deal of coercion or an offer of abundant alcohol. Though I might be more inclined to join if he had a more reasonable idea of what constitutes a ‘walk’, rather than a ‘climb’,” she sighed.

A vague idea started to form in Nuri’s head.

Grace enjoyed the time she spent with her brother, riding their horses about their home, enjoying the fresh air and the occasional picnic. But she wasn’t going to spend half an hour or more, hiking up a nearly vertical path, no matter how spectacular he promised the view to be.

“He and Gilda mostly wrote letters to each other,” she revealed. “I think he liked being able to… Take his time, with his words. And she would illustrate hers, sometimes- Drawings and little sketches, of life in Merid.”

“Oh. I think I would find it pretty embarrassing if Avery found out that I’d sketched his likeness more than once…” He confessed.

The grin that spread across Grace’s face was wide with delight, and a hint of mischief.

“Really,” she exclaimed. “I did not realize you were an artist! You’ll have to show me sometime- Or him,” she teased. She contemplated Nuri’s quandary a bit more.

Nuri grimaced.

“I used to think he didn’t like surprises,” she said. “But that’s not quite true- He just doesn’t like being put on the spot, for words or some specific reaction. Emerson seems to be the most successful at finding things he’ll like, I’m sure he’d be happy to help you,” she suggested.

His grimace deepened. Even if Lord Emerson were so inclined Nuri'd rather cut his hand off than ask him for help.

“But I’m sure he would be happy enough to spend time with you,” she said, with a secretive smile that she didn’t manage to hide very well at all. “Like our aunt, he is not always the most effusive with his emotions,” she admitted. “But I think he does like you rather a lot.”

“Well…” He began contemplatively, “I’ve never been allowed to show off what I can do in the arts, so maybe now that there's no Meera to defer to, I can do as I please and see if he appreciates what I can do.” He thought out loud, comfortable enough around Grace to be more honest than he tended to be with anyone. Save Avery.

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Grace told him with a smile, sinking further under the water as they enjoyed their respite from the morning’s activities. An excellent idea indeed.

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