Monday, January 10, 2011

June 30, 1147

Every once in a while, my father sends me to stay at Luperia for about a week or so, just so I can get accustomed to the castle and spend a little more time with my betrothed.

Tonight, Rudolphus retired early--claimed he had a headache, but I think he was just getting tired of me. And really... well, I'm past the point where I can be disappointed. I wasn't expecting that he'd stick around. What seventeen-year-old boy in his right mind would want to waste a whole week talking with an eleven-year-old girl? Maybe he'll be interested in me when I get a little older, but right now, I'm just an annoyance. It's awful, but I've come to terms with it.

Fortunately for me, however, his mother is lovely and doesn't seem to mind keeping me company whenever he makes his escape. We must have talked for a good hour or so tonight--my new niece and nephews, my cousin Tertius's upcoming wedding, how my brother-in-law Arkon has been managing as lord since his father died--even though it was well after dark and the sound of the pouring rain might have been enough to send us both into miserable fits. It was almost a relief that Rudolphus left, really; I hadn't had such a great conversation since Renata got married.

But as the minutes passed, the duchess was beginning to look tired, so I thanked her and told her that she needn't keep herself up just for me. Being a lady, she tried to protest--but also being a lady, I had to insist.

Being a lady is kind of awful sometimes.

So the duchess retired and I was left alone in the entrance hall. I considered moving to a warmer, more comfortable room--I wasn't quite tired--but altogether felt disinclined for some reason. In hindsight, it's a good thing too.

Some minutes after Viridis had left, the heavy front door creaked open a sliver. Startled, I jumped. "Who's there?"

"Is my stepmother gone?"

It was just Severin. I recall rolling my eyes. "Yes, but aren't you supposed to be at your mother's house this week?" I'd been sure of it--I'd even asked my father to make my visit this week because of it.

His head bowed, he slipped inside and closed the door behind him, his land lingering on the doorway as he tried to collect himself. He was soaking and shivering, his breathing rapid and shallow. "She sent me here. Where's my father?"

"He was summoned to the castle this afternoon." I hoisted myself off the couch approached him; if he was asking for his father and trying to avoid his stepmother, something must have been wrong. "What's going on?"

"Is that really any of your--?" I cut him off by pulling on his shoulder, spinning him around to face me. Given the last few times I'd seen him, I should have been expecting what I saw; nonetheless, it caught me off-guard and I recoiled.

Stupid boy never tells me anything. "My God! Why is it that every time I see you, you look like you've been beaten half to death? I'm going to go get Viridis!"

"No!" He gritted his teeth and looked away. "Do you know how long I was out there in the rain, watching you through the window and waiting for her to leave? I don't want to worry her."

Frowning, I pushed back his sodden hair for a better look at his eye--all bruised and puffy and ugly. Severin winced; startled, I pulled back my hand. "Did I hurt you?"

I think I did--but he didn't answer. "Is my father coming back tonight?"

"If he hasn't by now, then probably not."

"Damn!" Severin stomped his boot against the floor, like my nephews do when they're having tantrums. Only this wasn't a tantrum; he wouldn't have been here if it hadn't been something urgent. "If I leave now, do you think I can make it to the castle before he retires?"

What a stupid question. "You'd have to be insane to attempt to try to ride all the way to the castle in this weather."

Severin clasped his hand to his face, only to remove it by instinct when his palm hit his bad eye. "Fuck!"

"I'm sorry." I know it probably sounded meaningless, but it was all I could think to say to him. "Look, if you want to talk about it--"

"I don't."

At his side, his hand balled into a fist as the rest of his body shook--part fearful, part angry, part freezing. "I'm sorry, Princess. I didn't mean to snap at you."

I nodded "I know."

He gave me a brief sort of shadow-smile, his lips barely twitching and his eyes grim as ever. "Sorry to bother you. I should probably go back to my mother's house now."

He turned to leave, but I grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him back--not very ladylike, but I had to do it. "In this rain? Are you mad?"

Severin broke free of my grasp and glanced to the toes of his drenched leather boots. "I rode over here in the rain, didn't I?"

"Yes, and you're an idiot. Look, you've obviously been through a lot today, so why don't you head upstairs and get some sleep?"

"I don't need sleep." He crossed his arms and stared at me, his gaze both stubborn and final. "If my father isn't here, then I need to get home to my mother."

I sent one wary look out the window, then shook my head. "At least wait until the storm lets up; whatever's going on, you're not going to be much use to anyone if your horse slips in the mud and crushes you."

Defeated, he shuffled toward the couch and collapsed; I don't think I've ever seen such a heartbreaking figure, this hollow shell of an idiot boy I thought I knew. I returned to the center of the room and, in my moment of pity, sat down on his lap and hugged him.

He didn't let go for a very long time.