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Translations (3/4)

Title: Calculations
Words: 3686
Challenge: The revisionist challenge!
Notes: And more! I decided that I wouldn't go to bed until I'd finished this. Unfortunately I didn't actually get going on it again until midnight, so I'll probably have to renege on that promise (although, to be honest, how much point is there in going to bed now? It's past dawn)

Part 1 Part 2



Melior, thankfully, was a little more conscious of decorum than his lover, He opened up his own family suite, although Angeline was certain that he wasn't sleeping there. That piece of discretion, however, let her bring them both into the court.

Thosa professed to be a simple soldier, but came back with detailed analyses of the more practical members of the young court, those who generally found Angeline herself frivolous. Melior, much to his bemusement, amassed a collection of broken hearts from the sillier young ladies of the court.

All of them preferred to withdraw to the company of others who knew what news they were waiting for. Even Angeline, who gloried in the dance of courtly manners, grew weary of her masks.

Then, early on one fresh summer's morning, as she gazed out of a window high in the palace, she caught a glimpse of auburn hair and a blue shield in the courtyard below.

She was hurtling through the palace before she could think, her feet barely skimming the steps as threw herself down stairway after stairway. She was gasping for breath by the time she shot out into the courtyard. She caught herself on the archway and stared across the courtyard, heart pounding from the run.

Lovet of Lambert was standing in the middle of the courtyard, talking to one of the ostlers. As she gestured, her shoulders shifted and the hilt of the sword across her back gleamed bluely in the sun.

“Damn,” Angeline muttered and sagged back against the wall, trying to catch her breath. How embarrassing.

Lovet said some last thing to the ostler and swung towards her, steps crisp and swift. She showed no surprise at Angeline's presence.

“Is that the best welcome you've got?” she asked, grey eyes narrow.

Angeline smiled at her apologetically. “You'll get better. Sorry. It is good to see you. Does Thosa know you're here?”

“Not yet,” Lovet said. “Wasn't sure how early I'd get away this morning. Expecting someone else, were you?” She grinned quickly, teeth showing, and Angeline felt her cheeks heat. Bloody Thosa had been gossiping.

She ignored the question. “Glad to have you here. How did you know you were needed?”

Lovet smiled quickly. “Oh, that message the prince sent with Robert called us all in. Thosa passed it on to me and Netta as soon as she got it. Zaniel available?”

“If we can tear him away from planning a messenger system. Give that man a map and he'll run miles.”

Lovet gave a quick bark of laughter. “Keep him busy, that. Word from Robert. Think he'll want to hear that?”

“What?” Angeline said. “Is he all right? What's happened?”

“I'll tell you when we find Zaniel,” Lovet said. “Not worth going through it twice.”

Angeline gawped at her. Surely she wasn't serious?

Lovet tapped her foot against the floor. “Where is he, then? Morning's passing.”

“The prince,” Angeline said in the most languid voice she could summon, “is likely in his map chamber. Pray escort me, sir knight.” She offered her hand with a prim curtsey.

Lovet winced. “Did I deserve that?”

Angeline raised an eyebrow in reply.

Lovet offered her a sheepish grin. “Never was much at mornings.” Then her grin sharpened. “Fair warning, though. Runs in the family.”

Angeline spluttered.

“Where's this maproom, then? Bright idea, that.”

“He's having a lot of those,” Angeline said, leading her deeper into the palace. It was still early enough that many of the corridors were deserted, the light spilling into the white-walled corridors in pale swathes. “I think he would have liked to ride south with the others. It's left him a little restless.”

“Don't blame him,” Lovet said, tossing her head so her long hair whipped around her neck in a dark red fan. “Twould drive me mad to be penned up here with the butterflies.”

“Charmed,” Angeline said dryly.

She got another quick grin. “You don't count. You have a brain. My brother's fine, by the way. Met some action yesterday afternoon, but took nothing worst than bruises.”

Angeline took a shaky breath, swamped with relief. Then she realised what Lovet had said. “Yesterday? They met slavers yesterday? Outside Inode?”

“That's it,” Lovet said, looking amused. “Robert said to tell you that you predicted it to the hour.”

“We have to tell Zaniel,” Angeline breathed, before she picked up her skirts and ran.

Behind her, Lovet grumbled, “Now she moves at a decent speed,” but followed close on her heels.

*


The next day, with the council still locked in their chamber, it began to rain, a soft drizzle which beaded the flowers and cooled the air. Angeline opened her windows to it, letting the soft sigh of it against her terrace calm all their nerves.

Lovet spent much of the morning eyeing it resentfully, one foot resting on the low windowsill as she gazed out at the palace rooftops. Thosa sat with her, talking sometimes to Melior and the others and sometimes just to Lovet, slipping into the ancient language they had inherited with their swords. Angeline, like most noble children, had studied the antique poets, but she could not translate swiftly enough to understand the guttural, musical flow of the spoken language.

“Sounds pretty, doesn't it?” Sian said to her softly. “I wonder what they're talking about.”

“Gossip, probably,” Angeline said lightly. “Or travel stories.”

Sian sighed and folded her arms onto the back of Angeline's chair. “I feel frightfully soft and feeble.”

Angeline smiled at her. She understood. The Thraci still made her feel awkward sometimes, when she stood beside their lean, battle-trained sense of purpose. Nonetheless, she believed it when she said, “They could no more twist a ballroom to their ends than you or I could besiege a castle. We all have our own purpose and all we should do is to fulfil it to the hilt.”

Sian smiled. “Yet you choose a martial image to define what we do.”

“I blame Zaniel,” Angeline said promptly. “It worked for everything when we were three. It should work now. Shall I order more tea?”

Thosa lifted her head. “I don't suppose there's any chance of coffee? The borderguard live off the damn stuff and I'm addicted now.”

Angeline laughed and reached out to ring for a maid. “I'll see what the kitchens can do.”

Before she could, the door snapped open and Zaniel stalked in.

Angeline knew she wasn't the only one in the room turning towards him, or the only one suddenly alert for trouble.

“We're mobilising,” he said, his voice clear. “The army goes south.”

Thosa drew her breath in sharply and grabbed for Melior's sleeve, her green eyes wide. Melior pulled her close, dropping his face against her shoulder. Angeline caught a glimpse of the tears in his eyes.

“Is it war?” Lovet asked harshly, one hand on Thosa's shoulder and the other on her sword hilt.

Zaniel's lips narrowed. Then he said, “Yes.”

Angeline shuddered, despite herself.

Then, above them, bells began to toll, their deep chimes shaking the floor. Lovet looked up, her lips parting, but Angeline could not hear her words. Instead the sound of the bells filled her ears as the city temples began to pick up the tolling, sending the signal out across the country. When at last the palace bells grew quiet, the carillion continued to spread across the city and out into the countryside. She could imagine it spreading across the hills and woods like a rippling wave, every watch tower and temple ringing out the call to arms, until the roads filled with marching soldiers and the south learnt that relief was coming.

She had heard it before, when the north was invaded. This time, she had caused it, and, although it had been a clean and needful thing on paper, all she could think of was Robert on some sand-wracked battleline, the Thraci plunging into a storm of swords, Gladus and Melior bleeding and broken under a blazing sun.

*


The next day found the rest of Zaniel's circle busy with their own concerns or preparations. Angeline, who had slept poorly, gathered up the bundle of handwritten notes Lovet had brought back from the mountains, and set herself the task of processing and analysing them.

After a few hours her head was aching and she was considering handing them back to Lovet with a demand that she rewrite the bloody things in something more readable than the smeared, spidery scrawl that currently criss-crossed the pages.

She put her pen down with a sigh and shook out her fingers.

There was a sound from the doorway, a faint scruff of shoes on stone followed by a quiet knock.

Rendine of Nanyarm was standing in her doorway, looking faintly abashed. Angeline hurriedly shuffled the papers into a discreet pile with a blank page on top and said, “My lord?”

“Ah,” Rendine said. “Wanted a word with you, Lady Angeline. If you have a moment to spare, that is.”

Damn. She was beginning to hope he had forgotten this ridiculous courtship.

Biting back a sigh, she waved him towards a seat against the far wall. He could hardly murmur sweet nothings with a rug and a desk between them. He ambled in that direction, but didn't sit down.

With the world going to war around her, she couldn't quite keep up the social mask. Impatient, she lifted an eyebrow and waited.

He smiled at her sheepishly. “I've not done well with this courtship, eh?”

Angeline managed not to splutter, but she couldn't help staring.

“My mother's idea, really,” he said vaguely. “Might have worked, eh, but I reckon neither of us have much heart for it.”

“Rendine,” Angeline said in frustration. Did he have a point?

“I'm riding south,” he said and she felt her shoulders tighten. She was pretty certain he wasn't about to throw a proposal at her, but you never knew with idiots.

“To war?”

“Been offered a garrison. So I reckoned I'd better make my apologies. I've no need for a wife now I've got something meaningful to do with my life.”

For a moment she was almost insulted. Then she thought again and the laughter came bubbling out of her. “I wish you well. Where are they sending you? Have you spoken to Thosa or Melior? They probably know more about the situation down there than anyone else at court.”

His sheepish smile brightened into something cheerful and genuine. “I'll speak to them. Heading down to Chetbar.”

“Out east?” she asked, imagining the map of the south. She didn't have anyone down there. “Do write with all your news.”

“I'll do my best,” he said cheerfully. “Always was better with a sword than a pen, though.”

Angeline laughed lightly. “I'd still be interested to hear from you. When do you ride out?”

“Tomorrow. Just came by to say my piece and wish you happy.” He began to shuffle back towards the door. “Good man, Lambert. You'd be hard pressed to do better.”

Angeline opened her mouth to deny it, but decided it wasn't worth the lie. Instead, she lifted her hand in farewell and went back to her papers with a lighter spirit.

After half an hour, she realised that Rendine had just removed the main pretext for Robert's courtship. After a few moments, she decided that she really didn't need to share the conversation with anyone else. Let the court remain deceived.

*


There was a ball that night. Angeline had been expecting it to be subdued, on the eve of war, but she found herself more and more bewildered as the night went on. Everyone seemed a little wilder than usual; the music a little faster and the smiles and laughter a little sharper.

Zaniel was as bad as any of them, whirling her around the floor with his eyes aglitter. As they swung away from the musicians, he bent his head down to say, “I've asked my father to let me go south. He won't give me an answer.”

“Why do you want to?” Angeline asked, feeling her fingers tightening in worry. Was everyone she loved going to ride away to war?

“I need to be there,” he said fiercely. “And the army needs to see me there. If it's safe enough for me, it's easier for them to believe in victory.”

“And if it's not safe enough for you?”

“It's all the more important that they should think it is.”

“I'm sure that makes sense to you,” Angeline muttered, “but I can't help thinking you just want some excitement.”

“That too,” Zaniel said blithely, “but it does serve a purpose. I'm about to swing us right.”

“The dance should take us left!” Angeline protested as she twisted her feet round in reply.

He grinned at her. “But I've got a good reason for it.”

She rolled her eyes but let him dance them across the pattern. The mood tonight was wild enough that others let them through with nothing more than laughter.

Then a merry voice said, “So you did see us! Lina, I'm afraid I'm cutting in.”

Zaniel released her with a broad grin and Angeline stepped back in time to see her cousin Jennet nip into her place in a whirl of brown curls and aubergine silk, her smile matching Zaniel's perfectly.

“Charmed,” she said to their backs, and Jennet waved at her cheerily as Zaniel swept her back into the dance, talking more eagerly.

“Isn't it good to know our company's valued?” a wry voice said behind her, and Angeline turned to find a lone man standing in the middle of the dance floor. Guessing him to be Jennet's original dance partner, she offered her hand in sympathy.

“I swear they grow more alike by the day.”

“Sea save us,” he said, with a quick, lop-sided smile. “Pavon of Loffel, at your service, my lady.”

“Excellent,” Angeline said, taking his hand. “Since my cousins have set the example, dance with me, do. We have, in a manner of speaking, been long-acquainted.”

“Lady Angeline, I presume?” he asked, moving them back onto the floor. He was a competent dancer, though a little over-careful. Angeline, who had always found his reports detailed, cautious and legible and was thereby already inclined to like the man, gave him a friendly smile.

“Zaniel will be glad to see you when he gets his manners back,” she assured him. “With you two here, it's only Robert we're missing.”

Sir Pavon nodded. “And Lovet seems able to speak with him over any distance, so there's no real reason for him to be excluded.”

“Oh, really?” said Angeline, who hadn't known that.

“I take it she didn't share that little gift?” he murmured. “Sometimes I'm not sure whether they keep secrets for fun or whether they forget the rest of us have limits.”

“I no longer speculate,” Angeline said loftily. “I merely take revenge on Jennet as I deem necessary.”

Sir Pavon laughed. “I remember the glitter-filled letter.”

“I hope you didn't open it,” Angeline said. “I admit I didn't consider that until after I'd sent it.”

He chuckled, and she thought he was relaxing into the dance a little more. “No, I was safe. Jennet sparkled for days, though.”

“You've just vastly improved my week,” she told him. “However can I repay you?”

“Consider it done,” he murmured, casting a glance across the room. “Jennet's been treading on my toes all evening.”

“In that case,” Angeline said, noting the sudden flicker of emotion on his face, “I shall refrain from filling Zaniel's bed with custard. He's got what he deserves.”

Sir Pavon turned back to her with an easy smile, and they chatted until the music ended. At that point, Angeline dragged him across the room to where Thosa and Lovet were already scanning the crowd. Melior reached out to clap Sir Pavon on the shoulder, drawing him into the group, and Angeline stepped away in time to see Jennet come dashing out of the crowd, reaching out for her swordsisters.

Zaniel strolled after her, looking more cheerful than he had for days. He bent down to Angeline to murmur, “Has Pavon started steaming at the ears yet? It's always such fun to pretend to flirt with Netta when he's around.”

Zaniel,” Angeline said austerely, and wished Robert was back for more than herself. He did seem to be able to shame Zaniel into behaving himself.

“He's too polite for anyone's good.”

Angeline grabbed his elbow and dragged him away from the rest. “His life, his problem. Stop stirring, Zaniel!”

His smile faded into a scowl. “I need something meaningful to do, Lina. Meddling's petty, but it's better than doing nothing.”

She caught the echo of Rendine's words earlier in the day and sighed. Perhaps it would be best for them all if they let Zaniel take the risk and focus all his energy on the war. However, she doubted that the king would let him that far off his leash.

In the meantime, she could try to keep the peace amongst his allies, at least. Tucking her arm through his, she asked, “How much of that good wine have you got left?”

“Plenty,” Zaniel said, turning towards her with his brows quirked. “Why?”

She shrugged elegantly. “Oh, I merely thought that with Jennet newly arrived, no one could fault us all for abandoning the dance for a small welcome party of our own.”

“Best of cousins!” Zaniel said, his mood visibly swinging up again.

“I heard that!” Jennet complained, laughing, and Angeline smirked at her cheerfully.

*


Later, when Zaniel's wine was considerably depleted, and they were all a little muzzy, caught between good companionship and war-worry, Jennet and Angeline wandered along Zaniel's terrace.

“How are you?” Angeline asked her cousin, trying for seriousness. “Really?”

Jennet sighed, but didn't say anything. The moonlight and the faint purple glow from the hilt of her sword cast odd shadows on her face, and Angeline thought she simultaneously looked old beyond her years and as young as the child she had been once, running scandalously wild through the palace with Zaniel and herself.

“Netta,” Angeline said gently. “There are things you don't put in your reports.”

Jennet shook herself slightly and stepped off the terrace onto the damp lawn. Looking back at Angeline, she said precisely, “People fall into three groups, regardless of their birth or age. When they see the sword, some think me vulgar, some think me mad and the rest think me a legend made flesh, with no need for human conversation or human sympathy. I could love the country up there, Lina, truly, all the fens and canals, but it's lonely.”

“You're based at Loffel, though, aren't you?” Angeline asked, puzzled. “You have Pavon.”

There was a long silence, and Angeline could hear their dresses brushing against the bushes, sending gathered rain scattering behind them. Back in Zaniel's rooms, the others were talking, soft and indistinct.

Jennet said quietly, “Pavon's in love with me, and sometimes- sometimes that makes it harder to talk to him.”

“Because you don't return his feelings?” Angeline prompted, though she was almost certain that was not the problem.

Jennet laughed, a light, humourless sound. “I'm Zaniel's heir and he's a baronet from the far north-west. I don't give a lark's arsefeathers for that, but there are people in court who would care, and Zaniel needs their favour.”

“The things we do for him,” Angeline said softly, and Jennet snorted.

For a while they kept walking, brushing against night-furled flowers that gave off flares of scent at their touch. Angeline, trying to think her way out of this one, said, “You're already scandalous. You could get away with an affair. Thosa is.”

“Thosa always gets away with more than me,” Jennet said wryly. “She looks too honest. Besides, it wouldn't be enough. I don't want a scandalous affair, Lina. I want to marry him.”

“That poses somewhat more of a challenge,” Angeline said and Jennet laughed properly.

“Don't drive yourself mad with it. I think of it like this. Together we'd be stronger and kinder. As it is, I'm just a little flightier and a little crueller than I could be.”

“That helps?” Angeline said before she could stop herself.

“Mmm. Actually, let's talk about your love life. It sounds more entertaining than mine.”

“I'm sure the communication spells in those swords were meant for tactical purposes,” Angeline grumbled, “not daily gossip sessions.”

“Going to bet on that?”

“Er, no.”

“Wise choice. We've got the original owners' diaries. So, you and our Robert?”

“I don't see how he's yours,” Angeline said, feeling the night air suddenly sting her warm cheeks.

She caught a quick flash of Jennet's smile in the dark. “For an only child, I've acquired a strange number of brothers. Tell.”

“Every time I think of him I smile,” Angeline said and then added hastily, to sound less of a fool, “And all the work we do, all this careful planning and manipulation and scheming, works better when we work together. It's – I think of us all and you three are out there, acting for Zaniel where he cannot go. And Sian and Zina are our eyes at court and the boys stand guard around us, but Robert and I – we're the shoulders Zaniel stands on to lift him above the rest.”

“The body politic as a troupe of acrobats,” Jennet murmured and then squeaked when Angeline smacked her arm.

“I just wish-” she started.

“What?” Jennet said, turning towards her.

Angeline sighed and turned to look back into Zaniel's rooms. “I hope he gets back before Zaniel does anything rash. I don't think I can stop him alone.”

“You've got us,” Jennet said immediately. “And he's not that stupid.”

“He's in a cage,” Angeline said, watching him pace across the window, gesturing widely. “That could make anyone stupid.”

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
shanra
Jul. 14th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC)
“Fair warning, though. Runs in the family.” <- *splutters* Lovet is lovely. XD

“Now she moves at a decent speed, <- Yup, I love Lovet. ^-^

Apologies, me dear, for being utterly useless at the moment. Suffice to say that I quite enjoyed the lull in things, and yet the lull is not at all boring. Just different. A quieter sort of action, more passive and waiting. I quite liked the soft, silky feel of this.

And... That's as good as my commenting skills are likely to get tonight. o_O *huggles* But was lovely. And Robert's all right! (Don't go killing him off in the fourth part! Please. I shall strop if you do.)
rosiphelee
Jul. 14th, 2007 07:33 pm (UTC)
She's fun. It took me ages to get back into the rhythm of their interaction. It's always fun having a grump on the cast.

I'm glad you enjoyed this. I hadn't intended to have so many characters show up, but it's all woven together somehow. I've been enjoying the chance to write about the quieter characters.

XD I had five generations of this lot plotted out. I can promise you he'll be fine.
saiena
Jul. 26th, 2007 10:02 am (UTC)
'Lark's arsefeather'? Now that's one I've never heard before XD

Nice twist and turn of the tension here, though the arrival of several characters had me trying to remember who was already who from the last section. But I got it all cleared up in the end.

I like how you've made it all nice and complicated, especially in the love lives. Proper court politics. And the gossiping swords ^_^ That makes such a great image, probably not the one you're going for, but still...

Poor Zaniel. So frustrating not being able to actually do anything.

Vastly enjoying this, so I'm going to read the end now! *scampers*
rosiphelee
Jul. 28th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, damn, I think I was intending to change that one to something a wee bit more courtly.

I wasn't intending to bring in all of the original main characters, but once Thosa arrived it didn't seem fair to leave the others out.

By the time I gave up on this, I was heading more and more towards a look at conflicting loyalties and the emotional cost of honour. I enjoyed finally getting to explore that a little with this piece.

Those swords were the most ridiculous plot device I had. I didn't even have any kryptonite around to turn them back into ordinary lumps of metal.

Poor Zan. Chivalry and kingship clash in so many interesting ways.

Thanks :) I'm glad it entertained you.
(Deleted comment)
rosiphelee
Jul. 31st, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks :) This is the saggy middle bit, so I indulged myself by bringing in far too many of the original cast.

Thanks for the comment, m'dear :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )