How Best to Antagonize a Countess [17 Hispis 4261]
Dustweed had, indeed, brewed a big pot of tisane of limegrass and slaenflowers. Zie and Tethezai were curled up together on a couch, touching affectionately now and then. Levande, the countess, sat on a stool, staring darkly into her chalice of tisane, ears flattened. Tethezai tossed bons mots about court matters at her, and she responded awkwardly. If I had to guess which Rassimel was the higher noble, I would have been quite wrong.
Yarwain and Thery were still holding hands as they walked through the door behind me. Levande leapt up and dashed to Thery, and hugged her tightly, crying a bit. After a moment, Thery cried right back.
I had been expecting a vicious encounter, full of harsh, true accusations, and perhaps harsher but less true extrapolations of them, from the Countess, countered by fierce denials and justifications and statements of the supremacy of love and the willingness for sacrifice from Thery. It had not occurred to me that the Countess and Thery loved each other.
(To clarify: I do not know whether or not their love was ever physical or erotic in nature. But in any case they had grown up together, they were roughly of an age and precisely of a species, their families were bound by ties of deep loyalty and friendship. In all ways but blood, they were closer relatives than myself and Hezimikkinen.)
Levande asked and Thery confirmed her condition. As a tactician, I might have recommended that Thery not mention the tenuousness of her pregnancy at that stage -- but I imagine that Levande would know of it from her association with the oa Vinness family.
"What shall we do, Thery?" cried Levande.
Thery's blunt claws drew more blood from Yarwain's hand. "I am very sorry, Levande. I plan to marry Yarwain."
Levande nodded, ears flat to her head. "You shall leave me alone."
"Not alone. My mother and father never intend to move, and my brother will likely prefer to stay at Vellieu as well."
"My mother surely never intended that her liver would fail, Thery. Your brother could be adequate, but he is flighty and theoretical. You are the one I trust best, and always have ... We were everything to each other, once," said Levande.
"That was long ago, Levande; I was not full at the time. Now my child is everything to me, and the father of my child," said Thery.
Levande glanced at me nervously, and nodded. "I suppose it is natural... Thery, we have a contract, do we not? I have used my influence and my wealth to make you a student at Vheshrame Academy, even though I myself had to leave before I was finished. And in exchange..."
"...I owe you thirty years' service. Yes. I could make this or that excuse. Yarwain shall at least pay my tuition: what will be paid, and what has already been paid. But ultimately I am betraying you." Thery managed not to cry until she finished saying that.
"By all rights I should take you to a court of law, Thery, shouldn't I? Not that a judgement against you would be easy to enforce. You could go to Quistma or Chalarre, or to Ulstramme and feed your baby on those legendary figs, and Vheshrame's law would have no easy time touching you. Perhaps my mother could have gotten the Duke to persuade the duke of Ulmarn to do something to you, but I have no such influence. One of your projects after you graduate was to be to figure out how to get me such influence, wasn't it?" said Levande.
Yarwain bared his teeth a fraction. "I am not without influence on in Ulmarn, and my family's title and power is only one step below yours. With all respect, Countess, I shall protect Thery and our child with everything I have. Forgive me, but I cannot do less."
Thery nodded, her ears flat. "Yarwain, no threats just yet, please. Levande, I cannot make matters right. At this point I have fairly few choices in the matter. Yarwain cannot move to Gloun, any more than you could move to Ulmarn. I will not be separated from him, nor from my child. Everything else is secondary." And for Rassimel, most obsessive and focussed of all people, "secondary" might as well mean "irrelevant".
Levande nodded. "I'm not going to do any such thing. I don't know what I am going to do, though." She looked at me nervously. "And your dread secretary there can remember, forever, that I don't want to do anything dishonorable or wicked here. I shan't betray you, Thery, no matter what you're doing to me."
And the room was full of shards of friendship, shards of trust, shards of love.
Jarmiet was going to have quite a job sweeping it up.