Jan. 22nd, 2011

zodiacal_light: Humour: Because angst is not jolly. (humor)
When the imperious Duchess of Naxen was on the warpath, everyone got out of her way.

Roanna stopped by a page, who was quaking in his boots, and asked, "Have you seen my husband, by chance?" She gave the page a gentle smile. He shook harder. Nervous young things, these pages, she thought.

"Um, your grace, his grace is, um…" The page gave her an awkward bow and flapped his arm in the direction of the hallway.

Roanna's eyes narrowed. "He's hiding in his office, isn't he?"

The page frantically nodded.

"Ah." She gave the boy a couple coppers for his trouble, and he skittered off nervously.

She might have to have a talk with haMinch. These pages really were far too skittish.

Later, though. First she had a husband to accost.

"Gareth!" she snapped as she slammed open the door to his office.

Her husband jumped, upsetting his ink bottle. "What?" he snapped in reply, trying frantically to mop up the mess.

"It's Midwinter, and where do I find you?" Roanna tapped the doorframe. Gareth tried not to flinch. "Locked in your office going over-" she flipped an un-ink-soaked page upside down "-grain reports. In case you haven't noticed, dearest, you're not prime minister anymore."

"If I were locked in my office, you wouldn't have been able to get in, would you?" Gareth muttered.

"Don't be cheeky, Gareth; of course I could have." Roanna smiled. "Not everything they teach at convent is utterly useless."

Gareth mumbled something undoubtedly uncomplimentary under his breath, then glared at his wife. Roanna, unrepentant, grinned down at him and spun, dramatically throwing her arms wide.

"It's Midwinter. The season of love, and joy, and family. So tell me, husband dear, why you are hiding in your office?" She threw her head back, dramatically, and caught sight of a bit of greenery on the ceiling.

Gareth chuckled. "I wondered when you'd notice that," he said, limping around the desk. He tugged his wife's chin down, and laughed again; Roanna was gaping at him in an entirely unladylike manner.

"It's not easy to surprise you, you know," he breathed, leaning closer.

Roanna stared at him, stared back at the mistletoe, stared at him again, and then laughed just like she had as a young girl fresh from convent.

"You silly man," she said, and yanked her husband the last short distance forward for a kiss.

The season of love and joy, indeed.
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.

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