One minute, I am gasping my orgasm in our retreat home, Malenn, still vigorous despite the gray of his hair, atop climaxing in unison; the next, I find myself – well, us – in a field that is vaguely familiar.  The sun is warm but not hot, the chicory and the clover cavort in the slight breeze.

Malenn’s face turns quizzical.  He kisses me quickly and rolls over, pulling me with him.  We may have been married for over a century at this point – and, yeah, it’s pretty freakin’ weird to think of it that way – but he still whispers “Your weight I can easily bear, love”, knowing how we both prefer to remain joined as long as possible.

We lie quietly for a while until it occurs to me that I can’t hear his heartbeat though my ear lies pressed to his chest and a long-forgotten memory surfaces.


“Hmm?”  He raises his head to look at me.

“I think we just died.”

He doesn’t look as surprised as I feel.  “I believe we did.  Can you think of a better way to pass?”

Well, actually, no, no, I can’t.

Malenn sits up, pulling me astride him.  I’m surprised to see that he looks as young as I remember him from our early days though the scars of later battles remain.  I pull a strand of my hair around quickly – red again.  Cool.

“Shall we investigate?”  He inquires.

“In a bit, maybe.  I want to savor this last physical feeling.”

His arms tighten around me.  “I believe we will not have to give up that feeling, dear heart. T’would not be the Goddess’s care if we could not rejoice in each other.”

I hear a silver tinkling of laughter.

As one, we look to the side, She stands beside us – Her face warm and open, the love therein almost unbearable.   Your physicality is in your very being, young ones.  No, you do not have to give that up. She laughs again, then drifts away.  About halfway across the field, she turns back to add,  Be at peace, my children.  You are together, as I promised.  Explore.  Enjoy.  Be as one until it is time to return to the earth and take up the battle anew.  And, laughing still, she enters the wood.


LOTR:ROTK Soundtrack

23 June Anno 1087 (Y104)

Dear reader,

I regret to inform you that my parents, the Lady Genevieve Margaret Parsons Malenn and the Lord Gerard Sylvanus Guillame Malenn, passed away 6 days ago while vigorously… celebrating… my lady mother’s birth anniversary.  True to form, they passed entwined and with rapture in their faces.  What a blessing from the Goddess!  As it has been many years since my mother made time to make entries into this journal, the last, it appears, regarding my sister’s birth, let me provide a brief recap of the remainder of their long lives.

My sister, Margaret (Molly) Elspeth Parsons Malenn, was quickly followed by myself, William (Will) Guillame Ascher Malenn, and my youngest sister, Janet (JJ) Matria Leonore Malenn.  My half-sister Gwen was thoroughly relieved to be relieved of the duty of heir and married shortly after Molly’s birth.

Molly actually took over my parents’ duties about 20 years ago at age 80 and has rather thought for years that Gwen got the better end of the bargain. Still she sucks it up, as my lady mother would put it, as best she can.  She married the heir to the Mispsi throne at 40 and, though t’was primarily done for political reasons, is fairly happy, I believe.  They have 2 children.

I entered the priesthood and now hold the parish that my parents’ dear friend Mirenla once did.  I have not married – though perhaps I will yet find someone.  I have not given up hope and I find much fulfillment in my work.

JJ inherited my mother’s musical ability.  She learned the piano as a small child and spent most of her younger years Away concertizing.  She married, at 65, a younger man with 3 children.  Since marrying, she has devoted her time to the children.

Merrian remains close with Molly.  She has been married since she was 18 and is blissfully happy still with 6 children.  She plans the bulk of castle events.

‘Lissa, to our great dismay, died at 47 of a tumor in her chest much as her birth mother did.  The grief of losing yet another child nearly incapacitated my own lady mother for some time.  Until her death, ‘Lissa was a law scholar with a quick, dry wit.  We miss her very much still.

My maternal grandmother was killed a few months after Molly’s birth.  She had attempted to escape from the place where she was housed.  It’s my understanding she put a guard in a kill-or-be-killed situation and the guard took the logical option.  Interestingly, when my lady mother went to bury her in her hometown, she came across an older woman who looked strikingly familiar.  The woman stared at her oddly and they struck up a conversation.  As it happened, this woman was my mother’s paternal grandmother come to visit her son’s grave.  The story my lady mother had been told of her paternal grandparents’ hatred for her was yet another lie of her mother’s and my lady grandmother visited with us many times until her death.  I have very fond memories of her visits.

As leaders, my parents gradually drew Lakosha forward.  They established a new, semi-representational government about 10 years following the Granary War.  Though not a true democracy, as I understand the term, the establishment of the Citizen Advisors formalized the more casual information gathering process of the past.  The vote of the Citizen Advisors is not binding upon the Lord (now Lady) but is typically followed.  I am still not certain, even after all these years, that the citizens see this as truly necessary but their adoration of my parents has kept it viable.  We hope, certainly, that this loss to all of the Lakosha will not mean the death of my parents’ vision as well.

Our technology has, through a determined effort by many, remained at a similar level.  Away has offered many times to “educate us”.  Lakosha appears to have little interest in changing its ways, whether for ill or for good.  I rather suspect that, while change is inevitable, the pace is slower here than other places and, as my lady mother would say, “this works for me.”

I have been fascinated by reading this first hand account of my parents’ early life together.  It explains much about their relationship that I accepted but did not necessarily understand.  I will be returning this device to the Away liaison and asking them to print the record contained herein for our family archives.

I wish you all the peace of the Goddess and strength of the God as we all move forward without the guiding force of my parents – who truly epitomized the coming together of the deity.  They will be much missed.

Will Malenn

I grimace as my belly tightens again.  It is becoming really painful these days and I have pretty much given up doing much of anything except writing Malenn.  The girls and my friends gather daily in my sitting room to try to distract me for as much of the day as they can spare.  At the moment, however, the girls have gone to bed and everyone seems to be engaged elsewhere so I lever myself out of the chaise and waddle every so slowly down the ballroom.  I haven’t been down here since the attack and, foolishly, rather expect it to still look as it does in my memory.  It doesn’t, of course.  The mess is long since cleaned up.  Or, rather, the mess outside the piano.  No one has bothered – or, more likely, maybe they just didn’t feel comfortable in doing it – to pick the wood out of the strings.

The lid is a mass of jagged edges but I note that the support for the high stick is still in place and carefully prop it up.  I don’t know what is with me tonight but I spend nearly two hours picking every bit and splinter of wood I can out of the strings and hammers, pausing here and there as my belly contracts again.  The pinboard looks whole, the sounding board intact, once I’ve removed as much debris from the inside as possible.  I pull the bench out and slowly open the key lid. I start to reach for the keys several times before finally resolving to just go one at a time to hear the problems.  I am surprised that the lower octaves appear to have remained (relatively) in tune, even the middle section appears mostly alright.  The upper register has snapped several strings but I guess something can be said for Steinway quality that, even there, at least half the notes still sound, albeit discordantly.

I settle for noodling about in the dark notes at the bottom, Lakoshan folk songs vying with an oddly deep version of Beethoven’s 9th, my grandmother’s hymn writ in ultra bass and my high school fight song seeming to be sung by linebackers.

Eventually, I can’t resist the urge to sweep the scraps of wood that cover the floor into a tidier pile and there Mara finds me, fireplace broomlet in hand.  She stares for a minute, then inquires about the tightening.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, “maybe every half hour or so?”

She takes the broomlet away and delivers me to Ellena who explains that I am, apparently, in labor.  Go figure.  This isn’t at all what labor felt like with James but maybe things are different with different children?

As the next tightening, well, I guess it’s a contraction really, passes, Mara returns and I am deposited onto my now towel-lined bed by a couple of (very) sturdy footmen.  And, then, we wait.  And wait.  We time the contractions.  Hey, look at that, I was right – every 30 minutes on the dot.  But they don’t speed up.  Ok, this is boring.

“Can I go back to the piano now?” I plead after a couple of hours.

No dice.  Ellena breaks out the cards.

At midnight, a healer arrives, Mara crashes in the sitting room, and Ellena heads back to her own apartment.

Dum, dum, dum.  Ow.  Dum, dum, dum.  Ow.  Fortunately, with a half hour between contractions, I do manage to fall asleep and, luckily, the contractions aren’t strong enough to wake me.

What does wake me, however, is a very strident, accented voice demanding to see me.  In fact, there’s a series of strident voices outside my door in all sorts of pitches.  Mara appears from The Bathroom.  There’s a look to her face that I haven’t seen before and, at this moment, I am very glad I am not one of her children.

“By your leave, Lady,” she murmurs, not waiting for any such thing before flinging the door open.  “What on the Goddess’s green Earth is going on out here!!”  She’d’ve made a great drill sergeant.  The cacaphony stops almost instantaneously.  “YOU!”  She points, I can’t see to whom, “You will tell me, and tell me now, exactly why the Lady is being disturbed at this hour in her condition.”

I glance at the clock.  It’s about 5 a.m.  No wonder I’m tired.  Ow.

The stammering voice of one of my personal guard emerges as a pitiful squeak.  I debate the wisdom of asking him to speak up so I can hear.  Mara’s demeanor convinces me otherwise.

“She can wait,” Mara orders, “until a more reasonable calling hour.  Then she may request an audience as anyone else does.  And that is that!”  She slams the door.  No small feat considering its weight.  She is still steaming as she turns around.

“Um,” I almost don’t dare speak, “what was all that about?”

Her expression changes immediately.  “Nothing you need worry about, Lady.  How are you feeling?”


She raises an eyebrow.

“I’m fine.”

She makes me stay awake long enough to measure the time between contracts – ooh, look at that, we’re down to 27 minutes – and then orders me back to sleep.  I’m not about to argue with her in this mood so I sleep.

(Sep 23 Y4)

The day really adds little to my wealth of knowledge except this: ‘Quister wives are demanding.  So much so that I actually begin to feel ever so slightly sorry for the Kiester.

Her impatience rouses me again at 8 (still at 27 minutes, btw) and Mara actually allows me to get out of bed and dress to receive her.  Granted, how regal can one feel (despite the circlet and the sword) when one is 10 feet wide but, still, better that than my semi-sheer robe.

Her name, it seems, is Sofia.  She’s gorgeous.  She’s tough.  And she’s in a wicked bad mood.

I quietly send the footman to retrieve ‘Rico from his breakfast and to ask the Guard to bring the Kiester up from Prunella’s as she goes on and on about our lack of hospitality – how dare we imprison her son in some fetid cell and chain her husband.  I let her ramble for a while until (finally!) ‘Rico arrives, Chip Petrus (go figure) right behind him.

“Mama?!”  He gasps.  She turns and cascade of ‘Quister emerges – at first, she clutches him to her and the words croon then, gradually, she turns into my mother.  He straightens rapidly, pulling his clothes to rights and blushing.  His plea is bitten off as she … well, ok, I have no idea what she said but he’s clearly embarrassed.  Ow.

“26 minutes,” Mara murmurs, seeing my face, and makes a note on her chart.

The interruption, though slight, catches Queen Sofia’s ear and she turns to lambaste Mara.  I prop myself to a stand.

“Chip, why don’t you and ‘Rico go to class?” I forestall the incipient tirade.  ‘Rico looks strikingly relieved.  “I know Master Ricard is planning a spelling tournament in French that you won’t want to miss.  I believe the prize is an afternoon off lessons.”

“Mama?  Please may I go?”  ‘Rico asks in desperation.  She nods once but then kneels to hug him tightly.

“Be good,” she says, surprisingly gently.  He flees with Chip before she can change her mind.

“As you can see, Madam, your son is housed as any member of this household and, indeed, other than being constantly attended, accorded all the privileges any of his age would receive here.”  I know my voice sounds stiff but the bitch woke me up at 5 and then again at 8 and I’m in labor, for pete’s sake.  “As to your husband, he has been apprenticed to a seamstress in the local community and should be here directly.  He is guarded, yes, but not chained and, indeed, paid – which is more than I can say for our citizens he was attempting to take as slaves!”

Mara frowns as I ask the footmen to bring breakfast to the sitting room but I refuse to see the Kiester in my bedroom so she’s going to have to deal with it.

The reunion is terse though, apparently, heartfelt and I manage to tolerate his presence (and hers) and still eat.  By the end of the meal, however, Mara has had enough and I am not fool enough to cross her.

“Madam,” I say, gallumphing to my feet, “I believe your husband’s work day has already begun and I’m sure Mrs. Whipscott is relying on his presence.”

Ol’ Sofia starts another tirade but, amazingly, the Kiester cuts her off.  “You will come with me, Sofia, and see what I have created.  Then you will return here.  When I have finished for the day, I will come to visit you and you will tell me how you come to be here.”  He glances at me and I nod slowly.

I am surprised when she acquiesces far more gracefully that I would have expected.  Off he goes with the guardsmen, off she goes with a footman and a guardswoman.  The door hasn’t even latched yet as Mara starts undressing me and I’m back in bed before you can say whatever long flippin’ word you want to.  I swear, I’m as much a prisoner as they are!


“26 minutes.”


Ok, this certainly isn’t like my first labor.  Of course, I’m not starved and nearly dead with bronchitis and pneumonia either.  I suppose that could make a difference.  But this is BORING.

4 p.m.  24 minutes.  Oooh, we’ve advanced a whole 6 minutes since we started counting.  If I were still living in DC, I’d be at work with an OB telling me to call at 5 minutes between.

8 p.m.  23 minutes.

12 p.m.  23 minutes.

(Sep 24 Y4)

Lots more dum, dum, dum, ow.  Both the healer and Mara look a bit concerned that the contractions aren’t progressing more quickly.  The healer comes at me with an enormous crochet hook.  My knees lock together.

“If we can break your bag of waters, lady, labor should speed,” the healer says reassuringly.  Uh, yeah, like there’s anything reassuring about a giant crochet hook being shoved up your ying yang.  I mean, hello, the baby’s up there!!

At noon, they give up.  At 7 p.m., they don’t.  This sucks.

“Labor usually does,” Mara says, turning away to ask the footman to have a chambermaid come clean up the resulting mess, “but it leads to babies.  And babies are the Goddess’s assurance that life will go on.”

“I seem to have heard that somewhere before,” I grumble.


“21 minutes.”

Labor does speed up but, for some reason, I’m not mentally ready for it to.  Mara comments to the healer than I’m fighting it, even as I grimace through another contraction.

15 minutes now.  Faster and they’re getting harder too.

I need to hold on, just a little while longer.  Just a little longer.

12 a.m.  10 minutes.

3 a.m. 5 minutes.

This hurts but still I can’t help trying to hold onto this baby.

“The baby needs to come out, Vivi,” Ellena says gently, “It’s not like last time, I promise.  This baby will live.  Didn’t the Goddess promise you?”

“She promises a lot of things,” I gasp, before letting my breath out in a whoosh.

“You need to let the baby be born,” she repeats.

6 a.m.  3 minutes.

At 6:36, as the sun is just starting to creep into the sky, there’s another commotion outside the door.  Mara answers it with a glower but falls back in shock as Malenn stumbles into the room.  He’s barely on his feet, his face gray and covered with a sheen of sweat, but is next to me in no time.  Thank God, thank God, thank God.  My body relaxes.

“Didn’t I promise?” He whispers, gripping my hand tightly as Ellena cedes her place.  In the background, I hear the healer request backup and healing green.  And as he sits, weariness and hope competing in his beloved face, I begin to push in earnest.

I overhear Ellena tell Mara that must have been what I was waiting for.  Maybe so.  All I really know is that I’m ready now.

15 minutes later, with a screech on my part and a prayer on Malenn’s, I deliver our daughter.

“It’s a girl!” Mara declares above the baby’s affronted crying.  There are tears in Malenn’s eyes as he strains to see the wailing child being cleaned and bundled on the far side of the room.

The delivery of the placenta is almost a non-event though Malenn is surprised – and a bit grossed out- I think.  But the bed is cleared of the towels, they wipe me clean, and hand me my daughter to feed.  My baby.  This precious, precious child.  She is as beautiful and as perfect as her brother was.  As the healers strip Malenn and waste no time tucking him up in bed next to us, Ellena guides me in nursing this wonder.

“What names do you give your child?” Mara asks us.  We look at each other.  Honestly, we hadn’t discussed it.  Oops. She tells the footman quietly just to announce that a girlchild is born to the Lord and Lady and all are well.

Malenn’s face is pale on the edges and he winces as he shifts in bed.  The healer is to him in no time asking questions, cleaning, green-gooing and re-bandaging the wound.  I would worry that Malenn let all this be done with no griping except that his attention is almost wholly occupied by the miracle in my arms and his gaze is wholly occupied by the view.

“I confess, dear heart,” he whispers, “I am quite jealous of our daughter.  Months I have been away from you and I come back to find another at your breast…”  He smiles – a soft and cozy featherbed of a smile.

Soon enough for that.  Rest now, all of you.

So we do.

Mara wakes me in the morning with another courier… this one bearing a letter dated the 12th from Mirenla.

My dear Genevieve,
I am heartsick with worry at the arrival last week of the Lord.  Though he survived the journey from the battlefield, he was so weary from the effort that I do not know whether his body can summon enough resources to begin to heal.  This sort of trauma is so difficult.  Our healers are excellent, do not fear on that account; I worry more for his state of mind.  He worries so about you and the baby, the war, your people, that I fear the mental turmoil may prove more deadly than the wound, which is extremely deep and infected despite the healing green.  Jess and I can provide only so much – though Jess can provide a physical link to this realm and I can provide somewhat of a personal connection, neither of us is close enough to really remind him of a reason to stay when he feels he has let everyone down. ~~ I am sorry, my friend; I would not trouble you like this did I not suspect you would prefer the truth, even in your current state, to being placated. ~~ Several of your letters arrived with him and we expect others to be redirected here.  We have been reading them aloud to him in hopes of reminding him of your connection.  I thank the Goddess you are a prolific correspondent!  Please continue to write as you can and send each as a separate letter, rather than saving the expense by putting a week’s worth together.  Write not just the mundane things but anything which will strengthen his connection to this realm: questions, ask for advice, describe your sexual encounters.  Anything, as I said, which will remind him of his unfinished business here and bring him to the realization that he is needed. ~~ Though we get only the most serious of cases, we are very busy with the wounded here but I will write more as I can. ~~ Peace of the Goddess and the strength of the God go with you, my friend.  Mirenla

I don’t know when I start crying but, by the time I get to her closing, the words are swimming.  Despite his promises from last evening, I am so convinced he is going to die… to this life at least.

Mara takes the letter from me, laying it on the nightstand, and puts me back into bed.

“You’ll be staying abed today, Lady,” she says firmly.  “You can do whatever needs doing from here.”

I’d argue with her but my eyes are already closing.

Once I drag my sorry being to awareness again, I spend my day – well, the part of the day between meetings – writing as Mirenla asked.  I’m not exactly feeling like sexual encounters but there are plenty of things I can ask advice about and I do.  I write of my hopes for our baby and what Malenn can teach him or her.  I write of the trying little things that are even more trying when he’s not here to hold me at the end of the day.  I write of all the people who are praying for him and how he must get strong for them.  Mostly, though, I write of how I need him, how I will never be complete without him, that were he to pass I would follow as soon as possible because I can’t face being separated from him.

Mara keeps me in bed 3 more days and, let me tell you, my hand is thoroughly cramped by the end.  I’ve sent out couriers daily who gawk at the amount of paper being handed them.  Not that they argue, mind you. It’s good to be Lady sometimes.


Sep 2 Y4

My mother departed today for Willow Nest, an Alzheimer’s community not far from where she grew up.  I am concerned about the cost but the remainder of my concert income will pay for the first 3 months at least and I guess I’ll try to figure it out then.  They’re aware of her violent tendencies and, apparently, specialize in such cases.  I could not see her to the portal but I went to say goodbye before she left.  She refused to speak with me.

“The only thing she would have to say is negative so I suppose that’s a good thing,” Aleen posits, “but would it have killed her to say a simple goodbye I love you?”

Ashoren raises a lazy eyebrow from across the table; Janet and I both snort.  As I write Malenn before bed, yeah, it probably would have.

I’ve had a couple of short updates from Mirenla, dated the 15th and the 20th, saying that there was little change.  I am desperate to know whether my “visit” on the 26th did any good but I guess I must keep waiting to find out.  At least I have not yet received a death notice.  I hate this communicate-only-by-mail thing!!  How the settlers in the old west did it, I have no idea.

Every night, I’ve prayed to be returned to him, even just for a few minutes.  The Goddess just turns me down – no reason given – and puts me to sleep.  I mean that quite literally by the way;  I could be in full argument one second and fast asleep the next.  Since I *know* I haven’t developed narcolepsy, I can hardly fail to know to whom this is due.

Finally, on the 9th of September, I receive letters from both Will and Mirenla.  Will’s says little beyond that he’s overnighting in Sevnah, that Malenn is holding his own, and that Will departs for the battleground tomorrow.  Mirenla’s, however…

My dear Genevieve,
I hear you joined us last evening through the grace of the Goddess and that the Lord, finally, regained consciousness fully, if but for a few minutes.  We had prayed for such an occurrence and I believe it may have had the effect we’d hoped.  He seems a bit stronger today and his fever has lowered somewhat.  I can offer no guarantees but, Goddess willing, it seems he has made the decision to remain with us.  It is likely to be a long road yet and even I can’t tell whether this is a momentary improvement or a harbinger of true healing.  Keep writing.  Keep him in your prayers, as I am most certain you are already doing, and remember, always, the Goddess does what is best for us.
Peace of the Goddess and strength of the God be with you, my friend.

I spare a few minutes longer out of my meeting with the full board of ministers to send heartfelt thanks for the improvement.

The world around me disappears into a buzz of noise as the others kindly give me space to read.  I note with distraction that my first clue should have been that the paper is of a much rougher weave and a pale blue rather than the smooth cream stock Malenn typically uses.  I have a desperate need to do something yet, of course, what the fuck can I do?  I’m 8 ½ months pregnant – even Sevnah is 2 weeks’ ride and, when I got there, then what?  I’m no healer and I’d just distract them from doing what they needed to do to save his life.  I don’t really notice conversation slowing to a confused halt so wrapped up in my dilemma am I.

The room’s silence draws my head upward from my shaking hands and I realize that everyone is staring at me.  Well, duh, of course they are.  I probably look like the proverbial fucking ghost.

“Malenn,” I begin haltingly, trying to force a sensible explanation over my uncooperative tongue, “Malenn took a bad crossbow bolt to the side.  They’re not sure he’s going to live.  They’re taking him to…”

I am so distracted I have to reread the letter as I can’t remember where they’re taking him.

“… to Sevnah.  I… If you’ll excuse me.”

Someone extends their hand for the letter as their words return to static and, as I flee the room, I push the rough paper at them, frantic to get away from people to somewhere I can plead for his life in private.  I know, God I know, they worry too – I know I will have to speak to the people about this.  I know that I will have to suck it up and be brave and strong and the leader he expects of me.  And I will.  I promise I will.  But, for now – ah, for now – for now, I need to cry.

I take shelter in the chapel, the sanctuary quiet in its somewhat dusty serenity.  The late afternoon sun illuminates the lower panes of the windows on the west side, the part of the windows that say, unfortunately, such things as “In memory of…” and “Honoring the dearly departed…”.  I don’t bother trying to wedge myself into a pew – I know from our recent worship experiences it’s a tight pinch these days – and kneel in the middle of the aisle instead.  The stone floor bites at my knees but the pain in my heart is so much stronger, I barely notice.

I am still shaking, quiet little quivers that, I’m sure, look like sobbing from behind yet, oddly, the tears I so wish for won’t come.  No release for the wicked, I suppose.

I feel my belly tighten again, the child protesting briefly from inside before being locked down.

In silence, I shake in the middle of the room. I don’t know how long I’ve been here.  The words of the letter run before my eyes like a futuristic powerpoint animation run wild.  “I deeply regret to inform you… not at all assured… someone will write…”

I startle as an arm encircles my shoulder.

“Come on, chica buena.  Time to go.”  Janet’s voice is calm and soothing, nothing of her recriminations of the last few months within it.  “Whether or not he makes it, you’re pregnant and you need to rest.”  She slides her hand under my armpit, encouraging me upward.

“What time is it?” I ask dully as my stiff joints struggle to straighten.

She glances at her watch, the fluorescent glow of the hands visible in the rapidly darkening room.  “About 7.  You’ve been in here a couple hours now and we can’t give you any more space without freaking the staff out.”

The rational part of my brain recognizes the truth in her words, the irrational part wants to say ‘fuck ‘em’.  The rational part wins out… this time at least.

Mara is waiting… as are Will and Septimus and I’ll bet anything Ellena will be along as soon as the kids are in bed.  I debate telling the girls tonight but decide I will let them have a peaceful night and tell them in the morning.  As Mara brushes my hair, Will and Septimus debate their course of action with Commander Smith.  I know that at least one of them, probably both, will need to leave immediately – the group Malenn took south was by far the largest and, despite good commanders, it needs overall leadership.  I wish they’d had the chance to rest, for their sakes.  For my own, I’d wish them out the door immediately.

Mara escorts us all into the sitting room and, to my surprise, pushes a glass of wine into my hand, warning me to drink it slowly.  Janet nods in approval.  Go figure.

The end result of the debate is that Will shall leave tonight with one or two guardsmen to take Malenn’s place as leadership as soon as possible.  They will also send word to Gwen at Talsee. Septimus will leave the day after tomorrow at first light with all but the castle-stationed battalion.  Commander Smith will remain here with the last of the guard, as will I.  I will speak to the community tomorrow morning, after I’ve told the girls.

Will stops to drop a kiss on the top of my head as he leaves to get ready to depart.  I apologize for the lack of respite.  His hand falls to my shoulder.

“It’s my duty, Vivi,” he says simply, “and my privilege and honor.  Be well.”  His hand squeezes gently then he is off to explain his all-too-quick departure to Mida and the trips.

Ellena does appear shortly thereafter.  She has already started the process of planning for Sept’s departure.

“It’s the only logical choice,” she explains after the men are gone, “my only question was which of them would leave tonight.”  Smart woman, Ellena Petrus.

“I feel so badly that they get no rest.”

She shrugs.  “Do we get any?” She asks rhetorically.  “Yes, we sleep in beds each night – to the extent that we sleep – we have regular meals and clean clothes.  But, think about it, we bear both our own normal burdens and those of our husbands.  To be sure, generally, we’re not in immediate danger of being killed… but just because we’re at home doesn’t mean the battle doesn’t come to us.”  She pauses for a moment before adding,  “But I do hope Will takes the opportunity to fuck Mida before he goes or she’ll be insufferable for ages!”


The next morning is overcast.  I speak early – 8 a.m. – to allow citizens and guard to get on with the work of prepping the battalions for such a quick turn around.  Wagons must be checked and repaired, clothes washed as much as possible, swords sharpened, supplies restocked.

Gratefully, I manage to stay strong through my speech.  Genny Malenn is put safely away.  I can’t afford to be her today.  The Lady Genevieve Margaret Parsons Malenn, Crown Consort of Lakosha, is who they need, who I need.  They need the symbols – uniform, armor, sword, and circlet – and, somehow, those symbols bear me up as well, convincing me of my role.  As the crowd departs quietly to their necessary tasks and I walk slowly back to the castle for breakfast, Genny threatens to come out for a minute but I ruthlessly lock her back in, promising her tonight instead.

The remainder of the day passes normally.  Meetings with advisors, a luncheon for the new ambassador from Kanda who joined us recently, more meetings, playtime with the girls, then a dinner meeting with the leadership of the troops that depart in the morning.

The girls took the news relatively calmly.  I strongly suspect ‘Lissa will cry herself to sleep tonight however.  Hell, I strongly suspect I will cry myself to sleep tonight, I guess I can’t begrudge her the same.  Merrian remained upbeat, sure that the Goddess wouldn’t take another papa away from her.  I hope she’s right.

‘Lissa does, in fact, knock on my door about 11 p.m., tear-stained face blotchy and red.  I tuck her in bed with me and try to shutter my own tears until after she is finally soundly asleep.  I had meant to try to get the Goddess to talk to me tonight but I find I am just too spent.  Tomorrow is also a day.

I hoist my ass out of bed wicked early to see the Guard off at sunrise.  It doesn’t take long and I’m back before ‘Lissa wakes enough to realize I was gone.  I let her tag along after me for most of the day.  Tomorrow is soon enough to go back to classes.

The days go by in tedium.  Not that I’m not busy – I’m frantically busy.  Just because I’m personally imitating Stretch Armstrong doesn’t mean the nation’s needs grind to a halt.  Meetings abound.  How Malenn stands this on a regular basis, I have no idea.  The girls adjust to the worry as we all wait to hear further.

A courier finally arrives on the 26th, apologizing for the delay in delivery (apparently a lamed horse and difficulty finding another).  Malenn lived still when they reached Kanda, tenaciously clinging to the status quo though showing no apparent improvement.  The missive from Healer Barelle is brief but promises longer correspondence from Mirenla shortly.

“Well,” I whisper, “that’s something at least.”

It’s nearly 1 a.m. and the room is quiet as the door closes behind the courier.  I draw the drapes open, letting the moonlight pour into the room.  I kneel in the silver streams and let the tears spill over my cheeks as the mantra I speak spills over my lips.  “Let him live, let him live, let him live.”

I hear no words in reply, no indication that She hears me at all, until, finally, a familiar hand rests in the center of my back.

Go to bed, Genevieve.  It is late and you need to sleep.

Let him live.  Let him live.  Let him live.

Hush now, She encourages as I slide between the sheets.  Focus.

Let him live.  Let him live.  Let him live.

No, child.  Focus on him, not me.  He needs you tonight.

Suddenly, the room shifts, the outlines around me are at once unknown and disconcertingly familiar.

Many quiet rooms look similar.

I glance down.  But for an odd flush in his cheeks, he is far too pale, deep circles under his eyes.  He is nude except for the bandaged wound and healing assistants are massaging him with the same ointment I recall from my days in the quiet rooms.  I focus on trying to settle onto the platform next to him.

Can they see me?

Indeed.  Pay attention.

I look up and one is extending her pot of ointment to me.  I take it and the assistants leave the room.  Hesitantly, I dip my hand into the jar, letting the slightly oily substance settle onto my fingertips before reaching for him.  I mimic their movements, tender circles soothing the fevered skin.  I let the hypnotic motions soothe me, as well, grateful for the opportunity – however weird – to be with him.  Almost unconsciously, my fingers glide over his face, gently stroking the cheekbones, the eyelids, the temples.  As I move down his jawline, his eyes drift open, settling on my face.

I almost can’t make out my name as he whispers.

“Hush, love,” I plead quietly.  “Rest.  I can’t stay long before She returns me.”

I lean over him to run my fingers over his ears and down his neck.  The babe protests the shift, nudging Malenn in the process.  A wisp of a smile crosses his face and one hand lifts wearily to stroke my belly.

“Well?”  He questions, a minimum of breath behind the word.

I nod and press his hand against me as the child moves again.

“Strong, Mara says, and healthy.  You, on the other hand…”

He grimaces and I resume my anointing, working across his shoulders.

“Hurts.  Dying.”

My hand stills and I can’t stop the tears that resume.  “Don’t leave me.  Please don’t leave me.”  Out pours a tumult of words; the pleas that have been stored for the last week come rolling out, all the worry, the desperation, the overwhelming need and love.  I’m actually not sure to whom the words are addressed – whether to him or to Her – but I suppose it doesn’t really matter in the end.

Shaking fingertips graze my cheek, catching my attention through my verbal torrent.  “Hush, love,” he echoes my words from earlier.  “Never leave you.”

It takes several moments of hiccupping for me to regain control.

“Won’t go,” he repeats, eyes drifting closed, falling asleep on a whispered promise to be home in time for the baby’s birth.

I don’t notice the healing assistants return until one extends her hand for the ointment pot I still clutch.

It’s time to go.

I feel myself being drawn away.

Wait!  Please?

The tug fades, allowing me just time to kiss him softly, before I find myself back in our bed in Castleton.

My chant resumes.

“Let him live.  Let him live.  Let him live.”

“One Trust”, The Last Goodnight

Letters (9)

29 July

Honored Lady ~

I deeply regret to inform you that the Lord was gravely injured during a battle this noon – a chance bolt found the seam in his armor on his right torso.  To compound the matter, he overcompensated – probably due to exhaustion as we had been actively fighting for nearly 24 hours and, unlike the remainder of the guardsmen, he refused rest, insisting he could not while others fought in his place – and fell, not away from the injury but directly upon it, thrusting the bolt deeper into his side.

The Lord is somewhat alert from time to time and desires that I remind you the Goddess has promised you many years yet.  I feel I must warn you this is by no means assured, no matter the Goddess’s promises.  He is to be transported as soon as possible to Sevnah for better healer care than we can provide on a battlefield.  Someone will write more as soon as possible.

Respectfully yours,
Alexander Barelle, Healer

And, indeed, Will and Septimus and their troops arrived this afternoon, somewhat less in numbers but not as bad as we had feared.  As I’d surmised in my letter to Malenn last week, the work they’d done prior to coming back to Castleton paid off in spades.  Will says the hardest part of their job was ferreting out the small bands of ‘Quisters now in hiding.  Few of their ships were left and even fewer of their leadership.  None, to my regret, accepted the notion of surrender.  Who knows, in 10 years, we may still find one or two still hiding out, as steadfast as the Japanese soldier in refusing to accept defeat.

They intend to rest here for a few days, then head southward to meet up with Malenn.  I am happy they were able to accomplish so much with so low a death toll – ok, it’s not low to me (5%, with 15% wounded), but low in comparison to the full on battles with these idiots.  Fortunately, the mortality rate among our citizens has been very low indeed though the infrastructure has suffered as citizens burnt buildings and bridges, etc. to hobble the enemy.

“Reconstruction is already underway in most of the communities we’ve passed through,” Will says around a mouthful as we all gather for a combination late lunch/early dinner.  Though this is by far the most ‘normal’ dinner table conversation we’ve had in a month of Sundays, I can’t help but glance at the empty chair at the opposite end of the table periodically.  I stifle my sigh reasonably well.  Not that anyone else would notice anyway.  Mida and Ellena are, rightly so, wrapped up in their husbands’ presences, Mrs. Darcy is thrilled her son has returned safely (and is, I highly suspect, plotting her escape before I change my mind about her leaving).  Janet, who might have noticed, is on duty tonight and Aleen is seated at the far end of the table.

I check back in briefly.  The conversation is circling on what’s been going on here.  The guys are surprised to hear about the Queen ‘Quister’s supposedly impending visit.

“When did her letter arrive?”  Septimus asks.

I figure I ought to make an effort to join in the discussion.  “Mid-June,” I reply, “just before my birthday, I think – maybe the 12th or 13th?”

The other women nod.

“I would have expected another letter by now or that she would have shown up,” I add, “Not that we’ve decided at all what to do with her.  Malenn’s asked that we keep her and the kid here and we’ll figure it out after the war is over.”

Will’s lower jaw cocks to the side as he thinks.  “Is he suggesting citizenship?”

I shrug.  “It appears to hinge on her husband’s attitude.  He might ship them off to Ol’ Queen Mispsi, assuming she’s willing to take them.  I have the letter if you’d like to see it tomorrow.”

Conversation moves on to the progress (such as it is) the Kiester is making and I zone out a bit again.

It doesn’t help matters, I reflect, that no letters have come from Malenn, or anyone in his battalions, since his letter of July 19th (which I received August 8th).  I have read (and re-read) his letter so many times, I’m sure the paper would have fallen apart except for the oppressive humidity which has kept the fibers flexible.  It’s now, what, the 19th?  So, I should’ve gotten at least one since then, maybe 2.

My worrying is interrupted – I hate when that happens – by a footman and, in his wake, a courier.  Thank the Goddess!

I don’t bother to excuse myself so eager am I to read my letter.  The assembly laughs but seems to understand.