zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
It was not quite a week before the start of Midwinter festivities when Neal's lovely knight-mistress kicked open his door.

"Up and at 'em, Queenscove," Alanna ordered. "Let's get a move on."

Neal blinked blearily. "Why?"

Alanna's brows snapped together in a terrifyingly familiar glower.

Neal, frantically, threw up his hands. "I just meant, I thought you said you were going to stay here for Midwinter."

Alanna's face smoothed out. "We are. We're just going into Corus. Now come on, Neal. I'll meet you at the stables."

An hour or so later, they pulled up in the courtyard of a very nice townhouse. The door swung open as Alanna dismounted, and an elegant lady Neal recognized as Baroness Eleni walked forward to embrace her daughter-in-law.

"Alanna, you look well," Eleni said. "And this must be your squire."

Neal dismounted and bowed. "Nealan of Queenscove, my lady, but please, call me Neal." He flashed her his most charming smile. Next to him, Alanna snorted.

"So like your father," Eleni said.

Neal … didn't really want to think about that too hard. Alanna, fortunately, came to his rescue.

"Are the children here?"

"MA!" came a bellow from inside the townhouse; too much experience with a little sister caused Neal to duck aside out of the path of not one but two hyperactive blonds who came flying out the door towards Alanna.

Alanna wrapped her twins in a hug, the biggest smile Neal had ever seen on her face. "Aly. Alan. You've been behaving, I hope?"

The two eleven-year-olds nodded. Their grandmother, behind them, smiled and nodded as well at Alanna's glance.

"Good," the Lioness said, clapping each twin on a shoulder. "Where's your brother hiding?"

Aly eyed her twin, who shrugged. "In the library, I think," she said.

"I don't think so," Neal said softly. Alanna looked at him, and he nodded at the open door, where a shy, gawky redhead was peeking around the doorframe.

"Thom," Alanna said. "Come here."

The boy ducked back behind the wall with a nervous glance in Neal's direction. Alanna sighed, exasperated.

"That's Squire Nealan. I wrote to you all back in June that I was taking a squire."

Thom muttered something inaudible. Aly giggled, then subsided at a glare from her mother.

"You know Duke Baird. This is his son."

"My lady?" Neal asked softly. "May I?" At Alanna's questioning frown, he tipped his head at the door.

Alanna's frown cleared. "Don't upset him, okay? I don't want him holing up in his room again."

Neal nodded and, with an apologetic bow to Lady Eleni, walked inside the house.

Thom, taken completely by surprise, squeaked. He stared up at Neal with wide greenish eyes that must have come from his father. Neal, undeterred, bowed.

"My name is Neal," he said. "Your mother talks a lot about you."

"She does?" Thom whispered. He startled as if remembering himself, then bowed. "I'm Thom. Those are Alan and Aly. Don't mind them too much."

Neal grinned. "I won't. I have a little sister."

Thom looked dubious. "There's two of them," he pointed out. "And Ma always says Aly's as bad as three people."

An outraged squawk came from outside.

"That's okay, then. Father always said Jessa was as bad as any four."

Thom ducked his head, but not before Neal saw his shy grin.

"Your mother says you've applied to the University," Neal said. Thom glanced up at him. Neal grinned. "Did you know that I went there for a while?"

"You did?"

"Yup."

Thom, shyly, reached out to grip Neal's hand. "Can you… Can you tell me a bit about it?"

Neal squeezed his hand. "Let's let your ma inside, first." He looked back over his shoulder at his knight-mistress. "We don't want to make her grumpy."

"Ma's always grumpy," Alan grumbled. Alanna mock-glared at her youngest.

"Well done," she whispered as she moved past Neal.

It was later, after dinner, when Eleni shooed her grandchildren into the kitchen and Sir Myles had moved into the lounge, that Alanna took Neal aside.

"This is my Midwinter tradition," she explained. "I'm away from the Swoop a lot, and I usually have to be at the palace for the Midwinter festivities themselves. You've been to them; they're not exactly the place for rambunctious children."

"No," Neal murmured, remembering how many mishaps there had been with nothing but sedate adults.

"And, well." Alanna fidgeted uncomfortably. "You've met Thom."

"He's going to have an interesting time of it at University," Neal said. He remembered what his classmates had been like; he doubted Thom's yearmates would be any less boisterous.

Alanna squeezed his arm. "Talk to him? Later?" she asked, worry in her eyes.

Neal bowed. "Of course, my lady."

Alanna swatted him, relieved. "Enough of that."

"Ma! You're supposed to be in the lounge!" Aly hollered, outraged.

Laughing, Alanna dragged Neal down the hall. Neal resisted.

"I can go upstairs," he said at her look.

Alanna snorted. "Don't be ridiculous, Queenscove. I didn't drag you down here just to let you hole up like Thom."

"But-"

"You're my squire, now. That makes you honorary family." She shoved him into a chair. Myles covered a laugh with a cough.

Neal accepted a sugared Midwinter bun from a shy Thom and smiled. He'd always wanted a large family.
zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
It was early April, and the spring rains battering Corus were enough to drive everyone inside.

Almost everyone.

A door opened, then shut.

A disbelieving voice: "Surely you didn't go running in this."

"It's just a little rain."

"It's a spring thunderstorm, and you go running on the wall. I'm surprised you didn't slip and crack your fool head open." The words were shockingly casual.

A snort. "I am not that stupid, Your Grace," Lord Wyldon said, and the scritch of his pen across some document or another ceased. "Why are you here, anyway?"

Silence.

"You can never just give me a straight answer, can you?" the training master snapped, exasperated already. "At least your scapegrace son, for all his flaws, is terrifyingly direct."

"Oh?" Baird asked, quiet amusement lacing his voice. A rapid tattoo, fingers against a chair back. "What has Neal been up to this time?"

A sigh. "What hasn't he been up to? Your son is a menace."

Baird laughed.

This time, the irritated tapping of a finger on wood came from Wyldon.

Baird managed, barely, to get his laughter under control. "I'm sorry, it's just-" he chuckled again, "Neal's being much better behaved than I anticipated, actually."

In the silence that followed, one could almost hear the blink.

"Wyldon, I got urgent letters from the masters at the University every week detailing his misadventures. At least here he hasn't rigged anything to explode, yet."

"Mithros, Baird, don't give him ideas. . ."

A chuckle. "I wouldn't." A pause. "He doesn't really need them."

Wyldon groaned.

The silence stretched out again.

Finally, Wyldon sighed and shifted. "Don't think I didn't notice you avoided my question. Again."

Baird remained silent.

Another huffed sigh. "Fine."

The scrape of a chair, the slow, deliberate footsteps of the training master, a muffled curse from Baird as he was pulled unceremoniously forward, the indefinable but unmistakable sounds of a kiss.

"Do you always have to look so damnably smug?" Wyldon snapped breathlessly, after a moment.

Baird's response was entirely nonverbal.

"I hope you locked the door," Wyldon muttered.

"Don't I always?" Baird replied, mild-but-wicked amusement lacing his words. "I am not one to forget the details."

"No," Wyldon said softly, voice husky. "You never do."

***

Somewhere else in the palace, in a room in the pages' wing that was suddenly not far enough away from anywhere, Neal let the small eavesdropping spell he'd picked up at the University die.

There, you pretty much had to spy on the masters, unless you wanted to get a nasty surprise in class later. Here, this, like so much else, seemed to be the precise inverse - you got the nasty surprise by spying in the first place.

Suddenly very glad he'd never told his father about that spell, Neal threw himself into his bookwork.

He'd think about it later. Or never. Never worked, too.

(But the memory persistently bubbled at the back of his brain, and in time, in a weird way, he got used to it.)

(He never noticed his father watching him with quiet amusement in his eyes. Or the way Lord Wyldon watched Baird, his own eyes full of resigned suspicion.)

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zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (Default)
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October 2013

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