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  #161  
Old 02-17-2012, 09:06 AM
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I've always liked watching the siblings in this story interact.

I wonder what my siblings and I will be when we're all grown up...
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  #162  
Old 02-26-2012, 01:06 AM
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Two mornings later, Anlaida found Soldor on the western balcony. In the east, the sun was rising; but the land before them here was green and black with shadow. “So—” she said.

“Good morning might be more appropriate,” said Soldor, not looking at her.

She scowled. “I am in private with my brother. It’s appropriate enough.”

He turned around, leaning on the parapet. In the half-light his eyes were like dark holes in his face. But he smiled.

“Do you like Linnerill?” she said. “Now, I mean.”

“I don’t see what liking has to do with—”

“Disliking your wife is a bad idea.”

He sighed. “I don’t dislike her.”

“Does she like you?”

Soldor faced the west again. “That’s beside the point.”

Anlaida leaned on the parapet beside him. “Does she?”

He shrugged abruptly. “Perhaps. I don’t know. She’s not used to talking.”

“But she’s talked to you.”

“Some,” he said. “If you’re so interested in what she thinks, then why don’t you talk with her yourself?”

She lifted her head. “Perhaps I will.”

He looked at her, studying her face. “You should stop with your worrying. You’ll make yourself old, sparrow-foot.”

“I’ll be twenty this summer,” she said, looking down. Directly below them, in the shadowed courtyard, a groomsman shuffled toward the stable.

Soldor fell silent, looking toward the west. “I wish—”

A bird flew past. The groomsman entered the stables.

Anlaida turned to her brother. “You wish what?”

He raised one shoulder in a shrug and did not speak again. She rubbed his arm for a moment, and left.

Soldor spent the requisite amount of time with Lord Denath and his daughter that evening. It was nearing ten of the clock when he entered the sitting room, playing with the leather betrothal strap wound about his palm and wrist. “We’re to wed before I return to the Northland,” he said.

Anlaida dropped her sewing.

Mostaras raised her head. “You’ve made wedding plans, then.”

“At Denath’s house in Salenna.” Soldor backed into a chair and slumped into it. “Two months from today.”

“And the nuptial ceremonies will begin in a month?” she asked.

Soldor rubbed the strap between his left thumb and forefinger. “It’s what we’ve planned. Linnerill and her father will leave in three days to prepare. I plan to follow in a fortnight.”

“With Anlaida and Arran?” Mostaras said.

Soldor hesitated, but said, “They can do as they see fit.”

If Soldor was marrying wrongly, at least his assessment of Anlaida’s attitude toward Lord Denath was accurate. The month of nuptial ceremonies would be enough time spent in the overbearing nobleman’s house.

Bryn, at the game table with Arran, simply nodded. “If we can be of any help, only ask.”

“You’ve done enough,” Soldor said. “No good deed goes unrewarded, and housing Denath is beyond even the realm of good deeds. The barbarians will have you for a stargazer next.”

Arran winced.

“My heart lives with my own people,” Bryn said, setting a piece back on the game board. “And the barbarians have watchers enough.”
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  #163  
Old 02-26-2012, 02:58 AM
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Good morning might be more appropriate,” said Soldor, not looking at her.

She scowled. “I am in private with my brother. It’s appropriate enough.”



Not the most affectionate of sibling relationships, if the brother is prepared to be grumpy just because the sister doesn't say "Good morning."
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  #164  
Old 02-26-2012, 01:24 PM
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I agree with Lossy. It is really interesting to see the siblings interact.
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  #165  
Old 05-25-2012, 10:46 AM
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The fortnight passed quietly. Soldor laughed more than usual. He even laughed when Anlaida informed him that they would come to Salenna later, when Bryn and Mostaras arrived for the nuptial ceremonies.

“His last time for laughing,” Anlaida told Arran bitterly, when they were alone. “He’s spending time with us, and that’s not like him.”

Arran said little, knowing that there was little he could say. He divided his time between Bryn’s library, which was stacked with books that Uliath would never have approved of, and Bryn himself. That usually meant time with Soldor as well. Whether Arran’s half-brother was feeling the pressure of his coming marriage or not, Arran was feeling pressure of a different sort. He had never spent so much time with Soldor in his life. He had never wanted to.

Soldor packed on his own, at least, and left on a Tuesday morning. He wore a short cloak (another of the latest fashions, according to Denath), which the wind nudged back and forth, like a mother inspecting her child’s travel suit. It was during one such nudge that Arran caught sight of the dagger on Soldor’s belt. It was a small weapon only, but noblemen rarely wore weapons in peacetime.

“A safe journey to you,” Arran said, clasping Soldor’s hand.

Soldor thanked him, patiently bore with the embraces of his sisters, and climbed into the carriage. The axle had been repaired.

Whip in hand, the driver clambered onto his seat. “Up lads!” he cried to the horses. They lunged against their harnesses. The wheels of the carriage lurched, and began to roll.

When the gates shut behind the carriage, Anlaida leaned back against the door. “I wonder what his wedding suits will look like.”

Arran grimaced. “With Denath in charge, I hate to think of it.”

After Anlaida had gone to bed that night, Arran found his way to the balcony, where he stood, looking at the sky. There were no moon or stars that night. The day had been cloudy, and Arran guessed that it was cloudy still, although the sky as dark and smooth as ebon-wood from the South.

“Arran?”

He turned. “I thought you would have gone to bed already.”

Bryn stepped from the darkness of the castle to the darkness of the balcony. “Mostaras sleeps like a warrior—one fighting a battle, that is. After being kicked four times, I decided to wait to sleep until she settled down.”

Arran smiled. “She’s tamer than she used to be. Once, when I was a child, she came into my room after midnight. I thought she was a ghost. She sat down on my bed for five minutes—I was too frightened to move—and then she stood up and walked out. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I heard my stepmother talk about Mostaras’s sleepwalking.”

“Two weeks,” Bryn said, as if from a distant hill. “In two weeks, I suppose—” He leaned against the parapet and looked over it. A torch gleamed in the courtyard, but there was no other light. “Does Denath know of the Northland’s—marriage traditions?”

“It’s a political marriage.” Arran shrugged, a gesture that he knew Bryn could not see.

“Mostaras was glad to leave the Northland,” Bryn said. “I cannot blame her for it.”

“There is more to the land than the baron’s family dramas,” said Arran.

“The nobles see us as foreigners.” Bryn paused for a moment, thinking. “You—they see you more as—”

“As barbarians?” Arran asked, laughing.

“Well—yes.”

Arran smiled. “Given that opinion, I’m guessing that Soldor’s wedding festivities may prove interesting.”

“Having more than two nobles anywhere at a time is always interesting,” Bryn said drily. “I suppose that your people don’t consider themselves barbarians?”

“Northlanders look down on Axelarrain pride, but they have a pride all their own.” Arran shook his head. “They are the hardy ones, the pioneers, the only people brave enough to protect the northern frontiers against the Denna. Those in the south are weak.”

Bryn laughed aloud. “Perhaps not far from the truth. And stubborn, as well.”

“True.”

Below them, the torch flickered in the courtyard, and a guard called out. Arran moved restlessly, and Bryn pulled back from the parapet.

“I may be able to go to bed now without being maimed,” said Bryn. “Good night, Arran.”

Arran saw a vague shadow slip inside, but nothing more. He looked at the sky and turned away.
________________________

It was on a Thursday that they set out for Salenna. “We pass through the Low Provinces,” Bryn said as they left the gates of Creggan Bronn. He and Arran, riding backward, sat across from the two sisters. “But first we cross the Hills of Anaroc. If not for those hills, Iredail would have become like Axelarre long ago.”

One thousand, two hundred twenty-one years ago, to be precise, thought Arran. But time seemed to matter little in Iredail. One thousand years, and still Bryn spoke as if he were the last surviving chieftain of a subjugated territory. Such memories were not kept among the barbarians. It was dishonor to speak of the dead.

The roads were wide for some miles east of Corran, the capital, but soon they narrowed. Arran braced his feet against Anlaida’s bench to keep his seat, and Anlaida clung to Mostaras, who was clutching the window of the carriage.

“I suppose the roads improve after a few miles?” Anlaida shouted over the rumbling of carriage over stone and into ditch.

“Improve?” Bryn laughed at her. “Do you think we want Axelarrain coming to Creggan Bronn any more than necessary? These roads ensure that their visits are necessary.”

Arran looked out the window to his right. Before them, green hills rose abruptly from earth to sky, one behind another. “Is there a pass through the mountains?” he called to Brynn.

“A narrow one,” Bryn said, gripping the edge of his seat. “It won’t be visible until we’re nearly in it. The Axelarrans call it Udroth’s Way, but to us, it is the Benoduin.”

Arran braced his feet, gripped the window with both hands, and wished for a horse, or even his own two legs.

“If the roads from the north were this bad,” gasped Mostaras, “I would never have married him.”

“Oh, we like Northland folk,” Bryn laughed. “They aren’t busybodies, and the women toughen us up by kicking us in the middle of the night.” Then the carriage hit a particularly deep rut, and his teeth clacked together, hard. He grimaced.

Mostaras laughed at him. “That’s what you get.” But then the carriage turned up, abruptly, and she lost her balance, landing against Anlaida, who tumbled from her seat and landed atop Arran’s legs. Arran began to slide from his seat, but Bryn grabbed his shirt and held him back.

Anlaida looked up from the floor, where she and Mostaras were tangled in each other’s skirts. “Might I suggest a little less talk and a little more hanging on for dear life?”

Sighing audibly, Bryn offered his hand to her. “You may.”
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  #166  
Old 05-25-2012, 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Glenburne View Post
“Improve?” Bryn laughed at her. “Do you think we want Axelarrain coming to Creggan Bronn any more than necessary? These roads ensure that their visits are necessary.”
That's an interesting way of doing things.
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  #167  
Old 05-28-2012, 09:11 PM
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Oooh, update!

Liked it, as always. I'm curious to see what the wedding would be like.
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  #168  
Old 06-01-2012, 11:00 AM
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Riding through Ulraine, Arran found, was far different than traveling in Iredail. It was a flat green country, and on either side of the road were square plots of newly turned earth. Sometimes they passed a woman dragging a donkey, or a man shouldering a load of wood.

“It’s so—tame,” Anlaida said, looking through the carriage window. She had never visited Ulraine before. “Like the rest of Axelarre, I suppose.”

“Tame isn’t the word I would use.” Bryn looked toward Mostaras for a moment. “Nothing’s truly tame,” he added. “That’s the danger of Axelarre. Their wildness is hidden deep, and many of them deny it is there at all.”

“Even Ulraine is less tame than it looks,” said Mostaras. “Ulraine borders the Southern Downs. I’m told the tribes from the Downs even trade in Ulraine from time to time. At times they are seen in Palladrim, as well.”

“Do they visit Salenna?” Arran asked. “It borders on the Downs.”

Bryn shrugged. “I’m told Lord Denath won’t allow it. Calls them heathen and refuses to permit them within his borders.” He laughed then. “He’s do the same with me, but that Iredail has a place on the Council of Nobles. The tribes are our cousins.”

Arran knew the story—how the Cian had been living in Orrinshad for over a thousand years when herding tribes from the south came and settled the country, from the forests of the west to the hills of Anaroc in Iredail. He turned his face to the window and watched the countryside pass.

In a few days, they reached Palladrim, to the east. It was a province much like Ulraine, but it was larger and more heavily peopled in the north. Villages, like brown chickens, seemed to have waddled everywhere—by the road, between woods and fields, and in the creases of the land. And, like chickens, most of the villagers spent their days scratching the land for corn. Already the corn crop was planted, and in places small green shoots poked through the earth.

“Lord Baroth struggles to feed them,” Mostaras said quietly, seeing Anlaida’s astonishment at the number of villages. “The land on which they live is rich, but not rich enough to provide for them all. Trade from the south brings wealth, but he uses most of it to buy food from Ulraine.”

Palladrim was a friendly enough land. Used to unusual travelers who came on Palath’s Road from the Downs, or the White Lands beyond, a carriage from Iredail was a cause for interest, not scorn. As they crossed the border into Salenna, the attitude of the people changed noticeably. Custom dictated that traveling lords be given lodging in private homes, particularly when women were included in their party. But the reeve of Joris explained that his wife was ill—had a terrible cold—and that he could not receive guests. And apparently no one else in the town had a house large enough. The four travelers ended up at the inn, which was not only cramped and loud, but also filthy.

“Give me a dugout any day,” Arran muttered, scowling at the brown stains on his pillow.

Bryn, who was sharing the room, looked over at the sound. “What?”

“Nothing,” said Arran.

By sundown the next evening they were nearing Mithras, the capital, and Bryn asked the driver to continue on. “Liefer not spend gold on an inn, as nice as the rooms are,” he said.

Anlaida grimaced.

As the last blue of twilight faded to darkness, the carriage rattled up a drive of broken white shell and stopped at the walls of a large castle, red beneath the light of the torches. A single guard slouched at the gate. “Name and number,” he said, sounding bored.

The greeting was not exactly appropriate, and their driver snapped as much at the guard. “Lord Bryn of Iredail is inside, and his wife, and her sister and brother, all kin of Baron Soldor who’s being married. Now open the gate!”

The guard called out to his companions behind the gate, still yawning. Arran guessed that the carriage had roused him from a comfortable half-sleep. But however slow, the oaken gates were raised, and the carriage rumbled through.

Arran looked back. “He’s not expecting to fight anyone, I assume.”

Bryn shook his head. “Denath built this place when he was a young man, for comfort. Its gates are sturdy enough, even if the guards are inattentive, but its walls are weak. Also there isn’t enough storage space to withstand a siege. Denath claims that Denaton is no threat—”

“But he’s on the border!” Anlaida cried.

The carriage reached the step of Denath’s castle, and one of the grooms heaved the door open. “Ladies?” he said, and helped Anlaida and Mostaras to the ground. Bryn and Arran climbed down in time to face the yawning steward, who had come onto the front step. Light spilled around him, leaving his face in shadow.

“Bryn of Iredail?” he asked. His voice was high, and almost shrill. “Mostaras of Iredail? Anlaida of the North, and Arran….”

Even in the darkness, Arran could see the steward’s nose wrinkle.

“Arran of the Barbarians,” the man finished.

Now it was Arran’s nose that began to wrinkle. Soldor had not made out the guest list, and Arran had not realized that his adventure, or misadventure as it might be, was known outside of the Northland and Iredail.

“Correct, but I believe your lord may have made a clerical error in creating the guest list,” Bryn said quietly. “The last name should properly be—” He looked to Mostaras for help.

“Arran Crow is the name among our own people,” she said. “But Arran of the North would be equally appropriate.”

“Duly noted,” muttered the steward, scrawling on the book he held. “Come this way, please.”
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  #169  
Old 06-02-2012, 04:09 PM
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“Nothing’s truly tame,” he added. “That’s the danger of Axelarre. Their wildness is hidden deep, and many of them deny it is there at all.”


“Arran of the Barbarians,” the man finished.
Kind of like the Hobbits.

Ooh. What a way to be known.
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  #170  
Old 06-08-2012, 09:24 AM
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They walked after the steward, passing through a hall paneled in a rich red wood that Arran did not recognize. Great paintings hung on the walls—paintings of Salennan lords in festal dress. He had expected paintings of battles, or at the least of hunters. Those were the sort of tapestries that hung at Jadoth Rock, and the tapestries of Creggan Bronn were similar. But clearly Denath had his own ideas about arraying his castle.

Yet this is no castle, Arran thought, looking at the paneled walls and tiled floors. This is a palace, for a man who is neither prince nor king.

Bryn and Mostaras were given a room in the eastern wing of Denath’s dwelling, where they would see the sun rise, and Anlaida was given the room next to them. But the steward led Arran to a western room paneled with the grey oak of Iredail.

I suppose it was meant as an insult, Arran guessed as the steward left him. But not to me.

He lay down on the bed and slept.
................................

Arran woke late. He was weary from the traveling of the past few days, and at dawn the western wing of Denath was covered in shadow. The sound of curled horns squeaking on the lawn was what eventually roused him. He stretched, realizing that he had fallen asleep without even pulling back the bedclothes. His trousers were badly wrinkled.

There was no knock at his door. Arran guessed that, in the midst of the wedding festivities, no one would care if he spent the entire day in bed. He had attended a few weddings as a boy, but they had been long ago, when his mother was alive. They had spent their time with her elderly relatives, talking. An old man—Bryn’s father, Arran guessed, or an uncle—told stories of Faddan, of Aurah Adair, and of the stars.

A few times he had played with the other children, but only a few had seemed enjoyable company to him then. He rolled from the bed and went to the window. The curtains had been thrown back, and he sat on the sill, looking out over the wide green yard within Denath’s walls. The horns still squeaked somewhere on the lawn. Curled horns were the delight of most Axelarrain, but it took great skill to play them well. Clearly whatever minstrels Denath had found lacked skill, and perhaps common sense. Everyone could hear how the horns squeaked—a poor sound, even coming from players who did not know their instruments well.

Arran drew the curtains shut, as if to block the sound, and turned to his bags, which he guessed had been placed inside the room after he had fallen into sleep. He pulled out a tunic and trousers, knowing that they would seem plain in Denath’s house, and put them on. Bryn, at least, was unlikely to be better dressed than he.

But Bryn was not to be found when Arran stepped out onto the lawn, and Anlaida stood with a circle of young women, laughing. He did not remember any adult etiquette, having had no need to know it in his boyhood, and could not recall whether the Axelarrain would expect him to introduce himself or to be introduced by a companion. So he leaned against the stone wall of Denath’s house, wincing at the horns, and wishing that he was with Ronag in the North.

The musicians laid down their horns, took up viols, and began a new song, measured and solemn without sorrow. They knew the viols better than they had the horns, for which Arran was thankful. His only regret was that they had chosen to do their horn playing in the morning.

He could not see Soldor, but he did recognize Corath of Valessa standing with a group of nobles, a cup in his hand. Arran did not recognize the others—yet another fruit of festivities spent closeted with elderly relatives. But the stories had been bread and meat to him in those days. And if not for the tale of Cordal Naevan, he might never have fled from Jadoth.

“Arran Crow, you rascal!” A hand suddenly slapped him on the shoulder.

Arran coughed, blinked, and turned to find Lirath of Nolarim standing at his side, grinning widely. “Lirath? I didn’t know you were here.”

“Of course not,” Lirath said. He was a slim young man of eighteen, as fair as Arran was dark, and one of the few that Arran had played with at the noble weddings of his childhood. “You’ve been huddled in a corner since you came out the door. I got tired of waiting for you to see me, so I came over.”

Arran flushed. “I’ve forgotten all my etiquette. Or more probably I didn’t have any from the first. Anyway I wasn’t sure whether—”

Lirath was looking at him in wonder. “Then it’s true, the talk among the nobles,” he said softly. “That you went to the barbarians after your mother died.”

Arran’s cheeks again burned. “They’re more civilized than some others I could name.”

Lirath raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Remember, Arran, Norarim is in the Midlands. To us all Northlanders are barbarians. So you can live however you want—in burrows or ditches or—”

“Dugouts,” Arran corrected. But he loosened his shoulders and leaned against the wall more easily.

“Or those,” Lirath agreed cheerfully. “And it makes no difference. At least you haven’t married two wives, so you’re a step ahead, even if you did sit on the ground and eat soup with your fingers.”

Arran shook his head. “Incorrigible as ever, I see.”

Lirath looked hurt. “If I changed, you would be as stiff as a board, and they’d mistake you for a statue and put you in the garden. Anyway,” he added, “most of the Axelarrain think socially unacceptable adventures are normal behavior for a Northlander, so they won’t care.”

Arran looked across the green to where Denath stood in his red coat, bellowing what he evidently thought a very intelligent commentary on life. “I think that one of the Axelarrain cares,” he said.

“Denath?” Lirath asked. “Oh, well—” He shrugged. “Denath is a special case.”

Arran watched as Denath swung a meaty hand to make some point and nearly bloodied the nose of the noble beside him. “Yes,” Arran said. “I would say that he is.”
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