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Calculations (1/?)

Title: Calculations
Words: 4422
Challenge: The revisionist challenge!
Notes: Yes, this is my original world, polished up significantly. Angeline and Zaniel were the cousins of one of my Mary Sue main characters. Robert is the brother of another. Zaniel is responsible for the original demise of this story - he kept strolling in unannounced, stealing every scene he was in and presenting my heroes with awkward ethical dilemmas. He hasn't changed much - this story wasn't even supposed to be about him ;)
There will probably be two or three parts to this - it keeps growing!
Be warned - clichés and romance!

The sun brushed warmly across the palace gardens, washing every bank of bright flowers with gold. Its touch brought out the sweet scents of the climbing roses that wound around the trellised avenues. The young ladies of the court strolled beneath the roses, by their suitors' sides, armed with stiffened silk fans and parasols. Others gathered on the lawns, their gauzy skirts overlapping like petals as they listened to gaudily dressed bards sing of love and adventure.

Angeline Favelsdaughter ignored them as she hurried across the gardens, her heels crunching on the gravel paths. Several groups waved or called to her, but she merely lifted her hand or flashed a smile in response. Appearances mattered, and she would never let her smile slip, but she couldn't stop to socialise. She was still trying to calculate all the implications of her parents' announcement – if they were serious, all the favours the courtiers here owed her and all the subtle work she had done to win their friendship had been a waste.

If they went through with this, Zaniel would have to find someone new to win the court over. When they were finally beginning to build trust in the regions and with the chivalric lords of the nation, it was galling to lose ground here at court, where the war for influence must be fought. There were others who could take her place, but they didn't have the influence she had already started to build up. Beyond that, of the likely candidates, Sian was too new to the palace and too far from the royal family, although her loyalty was absolute, and Zina was canny and popular enough, but still too likely to put her own interests first.

She paused at the top of a low rise, scanning the lawns below her. She knew her cousin well enough that she would have recognised him by the way he moved, and there was no sign of him here. Annoyed, she gathered her knowledge of him to mind, letting the world fade as she built an awareness of his energy and ambition, the cool dignity he offered strangers and the swift hunger only his friends saw.

In response, she felt a pull sliding through her, making her palms itch and her feet twitch. She followed it over the lawns, towards the small, tangled wood on the riverbank.

The trees clustered close together, branches intertwined. The ground beneath the trees was always soft with leaf mould, and the river gained a red and gold veil every autumn as it passed below the trees on its way down to the capital city and the vast nation beyond.

The king was known to dislike the place, for its disorder.

Which, of course, she reflected wryly, was why Zaniel had demanded it for his birthday gift a few years back. His father was unlikely to follow him there, and so it had become the one place in Chamne where he was already king.

She picked her way along the narrow paths below the trees, welcoming the shade and the green scent of sun-warmed leaves. As she approached the riverbank, she heard the murmur of conversation and had to concentrate to stop her shoulders from sagging. She wanted to talk to Zaniel, not watch him charm another young lord into his circle.

Keeping her voice as steady as she could, she called, “My prince?”

Ahead of her, the branches of a weeping willow parted and she heard Zaniel shout, “Lina! I was about to send word for you!”

She picked her skirts up and stepped primly under the willow.

Zaniel was sprawled on the bank, his feet dangling in the stream. The sunlight winnowed through the willow, casting green lights into his black curls. He turned to smile at Angeline, with the crooked grin he saved for friends rather than the dazzling smile he turned on those he intended to impress.

Angeline shook off the first movements of a sweeping curtsey, reassured that she wasn't before an audience. Then she turned to look at the man who was holding the branches aside for her.

Robert of Lambert bowed his head to her with a quick smile, and let the branches fall gently back into place. “Lady Angeline.”

“Sir Robert,” she said. She didn't know him well, but he and his twin were both part of Zaniel's inner circle, and her other cousin, Jennet, referred to him as the brother she'd wished she had. From what she had seen, he was a steady, quiet man, worthy of Zaniel's trust.

“Forget the formalities,” Zaniel said. “Lina, is it true that Rendine's parents are sending him back to Nanyarm? He's an idiot, but he's loyal and I need him here.”

“Quite true,” Angeline said, fanning her skirts out to settle on a protruding root. “He's been informed that he needs to marry and stay at home until he's produced an heir. His father's cut his allowance to the point where he can't afford to live in the city.”

“Perhaps it was unwise of you to take him gambling so often,” Sir Robert murmured.

Zaniel shot him an irritated glance. “It won his trust, and if you'd made a better suggestion when you were counselling against it, I might have paid you more heed. Who's he marrying, Lina?”

“At the moment,” Angeline said, and was proud that her voice didn't quaver, “Me.”


A few hours later it was beginning to get cold in the shade, and Zaniel was still raging on her behalf. Angeline, who had stopped listening to try to think up some workable strategies, shook her hair back so her fair curls offered some cover to her bare shoulders and said, “No, Zaniel.”

He froze, arching an eyebrow at her.

She folded her arms. “You are not banning this marriage. Nor kidnapping me from the temple. Nor faking my death. Focus on getting Rendine's allowance restored if you want to be useful. If I'm to stay here, I need to be visible and effective.”

“Do you want to marry that lumbering imbecile?” Zaniel demanded.

She shrugged. “I have no reason to refuse the match. I've got no interest elsewhere and he's a suitable alliance. My parents aren't being unreasonable about this, Zan. It's all perfectly normal.”

Zaniel scowled and swung away to stare at the river.

She sighed. “I could probably even be useful out there. You know you need the support of the regional families and we haven't got anyone out in the river villages yet-”

“I want you here!” Zaniel interrupted. “I need someone to write my speeches and charm idiots for me.”

Angeline bit back annoyance. She hadn't tolerated that tone of voice when they were both five. She had no patience for it now, but she was older and more tactful so she left him to sulk.

“You're being very unromantic about this,” Sir Robert said quietly, and she jumped. She'd almost forgotten he was there.

She turned round to face him. “I've never expected romance. There are more important things in my life.”

“Having a purpose doesn't mean you should give up happiness,” he said, his grey eyes serious.

She shrugged, uncomfortable, and decided to turn it back on him. “Sir, your family has long been the shield of the North. That gives you the freedom to be eccentric. For the rest of us, marriage is a matter of stability.”

“For wealth or safety?” he asked, tone soft.

“And for the nation,” she said sharply. “We build connections this way – bind the powerful families together so that we are all committed to one another. This country is big enough to split apart without the systems that bind us.”

“They teach us politics at Frostdyke too,” he murmured, lips twitching. “You don't seem the self-sacrificing type.”

“We cannot all serve our country with sword and shield,” she said lightly. Then she met his eyes and found herself adding, “If I had had the courage and the opportunities I might have chosen Jennet's route too.”

“But you didn't,” he said, and she suddenly wondered if he was drawing her out because she was as mysterious to him as he was to her.

“No,” she said softly. “But my mind and my manners are my sword. Beyond that, we have endured two wars in as many generations. If our population is to recover, it is the ploughshare and the marriage bed that will restore us. If I had been born to a poorer family, I would have been married five years ago. If they can do it, why can't I?”

He studied her for a few moments, face serious. Then he said abruptly, “You look cold.”

Welcoming the change of subject, she said, “It's almost evening. Upon which note, it's the Feast of Flowers tonight and I need to primp for the ball. If we've come to the end of this conversation, I should go.”

“Let me solve your problems first,” Zaniel said, with a dangerously smug note in his voice. “I know precisely what you should do.”

“Oh?” Angeline asked, as Sir Robert said, sounding alarmed, “Zaniel, have you thought it through?”

“You people really need to learn to have faith in me,” Zaniel said reproachfully and then grinned again.

Angeline winced. Whatever it was, it was outrageous enough to have put him in a blithe mood.

“You said that your parents would cease negotiations if they thought you had a romantic interest elsewhere-”

“I am not faking a wild affair with you, Zaniel of Lun!”

He snorted with laughter. “Don't be ridiculous, Lina. No one would believe that. All you need to do is marry Robert.”

“What!” Sir Robert yelped as Angeline cringed.

“Well, flirt with him, at least. Just until we manage to match Rendine up with someone he actually deserves. You'd be wasted on him, Lina.”

“Thank you,” she said dryly.

“Why me?” Sir Robert demanded.

Zaniel shrugged, throwing his hands out. “It's you, me or Gladus, my friend. There's no one else I'd trust in the capital. I would be a ridiculous choice, and Gladus is as good as betrothed. Just flirt and throw in a few romantic gestures. Enough to convince the gossips.”

“I hate this idea,” Angeline said. There was no point in subtle hints when he got into this sort of mood.

Her cousin laughed and held out his hand to help her up. “Back to the palace, Lina. Now, Robert, remember it's the Feast of Flowers. You'll need to send her a spectacular bouquet-”

“The ball starts in two hours,” Angeline protested, brushing dirt off her skirts.

“Hush,” Zaniel said. “I'm telling Robert how to court you. It's my duty as your chaperone.”

Chaperone!” Angeline echoed.

“Of course. It's perfect. I keep you company to prevent gossip from becoming scandal, and it gives us the perfect excuse to spend time conferring. I astound myself sometimes.”

Angeline looked over at Sir Robert, who met her gaze with chagrin.

Well, at least she wasn't the only one who expected this to be a disaster.


Two hours later, she left her own rooms for the main suite she shared with her parents. Suspecting that Zaniel would force poor Sir Robert into some atrociously gaudy bouquet, she had chosen to wear white, though she usually disliked the colour for the air of fragility it bestowed on her delicate features. She didn't care to think of herself as fragile. To counter the colour, she had bound her hair high, only allowing a few careful curls to fall to brush her shoulders, the gold of them striking against the pale shimmer of the silk.

There were two bouquets awaiting her, and her mother was studying them with avid curiosity. One was of pink rosebuds, a perfectly appropriate courting gift. She turned them over gently.

“Nanyarm,” her mother said impatiently. “The other has a note.”

The other bouquet was a bright burst of blue gentians, their bell-like flowers bold and full. She opened the note and read, This strain only grows in the mountains around Lambert. Although they look delicate, they are hardy enough to survive through our harshest winters and their roots are used by our healers. Their strength and virtue outshines even their great beauty. R.

Before she had decided whether to share it, her mother had plucked it from her.

“Lambert,” she said after a moment. “Hmm. Didn't know you were acquainted.”

“He's a friend of the prince's,” Angeline said mildly. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks and was cross with herself. It wasn't as if she didn't receive scores of clever compliments every day.

Of course, those compliments were usually about her eyes. Or her face. Or her hair. Or even, on one mutually mortifying occasion, a drunken sonnet to her breasts.

“They match your eyes,” her mother said, sounding satisfied.

Angeline looked at them again, startled. “So they do,” she said and pulled one out of the bouquet. If Robert of Lambert was going to approach this with style, the least she could do was wear his flowers.


The great ballroom was thronged with courtiers, and the air was perfumed by the flowers every guest wore pinned to their clothes or woven into their hair. Angeline glanced around for her cousin or Sir Robert, but could not see them. Instead she plunged into the crowd, flitting from group to group with smiles and laughter, tucking everything she heard into the back of her mind to be analysed later.

She found her friend Sian near to the doors to the terrace. Sian's red hair was crowned with oak leaves. Although she was smiling, her eyes were red and she sneezed as Angeline approached.

“Are you well?” Angeline asked.

Sian smiled ruefully. “Too many flowers make me ill. I'm afraid that I'm not appreciating this tradition.”

“Hence the oak leaves?”

The other girl reached up to touch her garland, her eyes going soft and dreamy for a moment. “Gladus understands.”

Angeline smiled, shaking her head a little. Sian seemed very happy, but she didn't understand the giddy delight she displayed whenever Gladus walked in. They made each other happy, but there should be more to life than kind gestures. Where was the challenge in starry-eyed devotion?

“Nice flowers,” Sian added, squinting at her blearily. “What's the story?”

That made her laugh. “It's a long and complicated one. We'll go for a ride tomorrow and I'll explain everything.”

“Are we allowed to join you?”

She turned to see Sir Robert and his friend Gladus. Sir Robert bowed to her, so she swept a graceful curtsey in reply, murmuring, “Thank you for the flowers.”

“They suit you,” he replied, and she was entertained to hear that he couldn't keep the amusement out of his voice either. Perhaps this wasn't such a bad idea – if they could both find humour in the situation, gulling the entire court could be quite fun.

“The dancing is about to start,” Gladus said. “We thought we'd try to get to the floor before the crowd.”

“Excellent idea,” Sian said, tucking her arm through his and shooting Angeline an inquiring look.

When they made their way onto the floor, she discovered that Sir Robert was a competent dancer. She relaxed, confident that her toes were safe, and leant forward to whisper, “Do you think we've caused a scandal yet?”

He laughed quickly. “I thought it was only gossip we wanted. Do you like the flowers? Zaniel wanted me to get something more dramatic.”

“Zaniel has appalling taste,” Angeline said with a shudder. “I prefer these.”

Later, sitting out to catch her breath, she watched him guiding Lady Ninna of Siesal through a pattern dance and tried to decide how she felt about all this. She had no objections to flirting, but she had always been careful to avoid romance. She wasn't comfortable with the idea, even though it was all an act. It wasn't something she needed and it certainly didn't have a place within her own idea of herself.

She had been almost adult when she realised that both of her cousins had found a purpose. Zaniel had looked at the country and seen the beginnings of collapse. He had battled through his own crisis of conscience about whether he could begin to counter a disaster when his father denied it was happening. Jennet had dedicated herself to the sword, to changing and defending the realm. Angeline had not been brought up to any purpose, but she had thrown herself in with them, turning what she had been taught to careful, political ends. She was as indispensable to the coming changes as any of Zaniel's circle, but she had always thought that she could not be free to act among the young court if she was emotionally entangled with any of them.

She had had no practice and now even a false romance was unsettling.

“Lady Angeline?” a hesitant voice said and she shook herself out of her reverie to look up.

Oh, damn.

Rendine of Nanyarm gave her a slow, puzzled smile. “Could have sworn I ordered rosebuds, eh?”

“Oh, you did,” Angeline said hastily. “They were very nice. Very, er, pink.”

“Ah,” Rendine said and gave her gentians another puzzled look.

“How's your mother?” Angeline asked.

Rendine sighed. “Claims she's in poor health again. Not altogether happy with my conduct and such things. Pink rosebuds, you say?”

“Are rosebuds still in fashion?” Zaniel said, slipping past him to hold out his hand to her. “Sorry to break in, Nanyarm, but my cousin owes me this dance.”

Before Rendine could protest, he had whirled Angeline onto the dancefloor. She was about to say something about the pretence, when she realised how tight his fingers were on her sleeve.

“What's happened?” she demanded.

“I received the latest figures on losses along the southern border this afternoon,” he said. “I've just finished going through them. They're even worse than I thought, Lina.”

She felt her own fists clench at that. Bandits and slave traders had been raiding out of the Southern Desert for generations, but anecdotes had suggested the raids had been worsening over the last decade.

“We're riding out tomorrow,” she said, mind whirling. “Bring the figures and we'll all analyse them.”


“So the question,” Zaniel finished, “is whether or not we take this to the council now? Any arguments either way?”

“Thosa and Melior have only covered three of the twelve border sectors,” Sir Robert said at once. “What we've got shows a rise in attacks and we've got anecdotal evidence from further west, but they could claim this was an anomaly.”

“I think we need to take it further anyway,” Angeline said, glancing at him. He was leaning forward, hands resting on his knees as he looked at Zaniel. “At the very least it suggests a need for reinforcement in those sectors, and we can't hold back something this urgent.”

“Has anyone brought it to the council before?” Sian asked, frowning. “Who leads the Borderguard?”

“They're organised by region,” Zaniel said, “and report to their sector general. It's more than possible those generals aren't aware of the whole situation.”

“Can you take this to the council yourself?” Gladus asked.

“I can,” the prince said, “but I'll face some questions about why I've gone over their heads to investigate, and I don't have a voting right on the council.”

“What about your aunt?” Sir Robert asked.

“Out of favour,” Angeline said swiftly, flicking her hand at him. “Although the rest of the council still listen to her, don't they, Zan?”

“If she could pass it through Sir Nuber or Lord Harcar,” Gladus started.

“Or my father,” Robert said simply, sitting up. “The army love him – it would be quite plausible for him to claim he'd been contacted directly.”

“Would he do that for us?” Zaniel asked.

Sir Robert's face tightened. “I lost two uncles to slavers. He'll do it.”

“And we'll then continue to pass any further reports to him,” Angeline said, nodding. “So, any other business to discuss?”

Sian shrugged. “I picked up a lot of court gossip last night, but I'd like to compare with you before we start to analyse it. Dinner tonight?”

Angeline nodded and Sian added cheerfully, “And you gentlemen are invited to join us later. We may as well keep feeding the gossips.”

Sir Robert groaned, lying back on the thick grass. “It's all for a good cause. Just keep reminding me of that.”

“You should be grateful for the chance to court me,” Angeline said, with an exaggerated sniff, looking down at him from the tree stump she was sitting on.

He opened his eyes and grinned at her lazily. “You are of course the light of my life and the greatest joy of my existence, but I could do without the gossips.”

Gladus laughed and stood up. “If we're planning to linger here, I'd like to have a look at that waterfall.”

“I'll join you,” Sian said quickly, jumping up.

Angeline watched them go and then said, “Do you think we should ask them for a detailed description of the, ah, waterfall when they get back.”

“That's too cruel,” Sir Robert said. “Where is your kindness, lady?”

“I left it in the schoolroom with my hair ribbons and toys,” she said. “Have you not yet left behind childish things, Sir Robert?”

He clapped a hand to his chest, wincing. “A cut, lady, a cut. Zaniel, your cousin has set me down.”

“Now that one's open to misinterpretation,” Angeline said and glanced to her cousin. He usually enjoyed banter.

He was standing on the edge of the rocky cliff where the stream tumbled down towards the river, framed by the trees. His face was bleak and his blue eyes were fixed on something distant.

Angeline left her tree stump to go to his side and saw a flash of auburn hair as Sir Robert did the same. The breeze was stronger here, so she grabbed a branch to keep her balance. Only then did she look out across the wooded valley.

The palace shone under the afternoon sun, its towers and arched roofs gleaming elegantly. Beyond it, the brown smudge of the city spread out along the river banks.

“I'm a bad son,” Zaniel said softly, “but I have no choice. Every generation brings us a little closer to collapse. We've been a peaceful kingdom for a thousand years. I can't stand by and let that die. There's so much we need to do.”

Angeline put her hand on his shoulder and found Sir Robert's fingers tangling with hers.

“If only he'd listen!” Zaniel burst out. He didn't say more, but they all knew the implications. King Rarnum didn't know about their activities, but he was suspicious of his son. None of them wanted to reach the point where they had to move against the king, but they all knew they had already started down that path.

Zaniel slipped an arm around each of their waists and pulled them close. “Stand by me.”

“Always,” Angeline said, and was comforted to hear Sir Robert say the same word on the same breath.


The evening had been both pleasant and profitable. Angeline was beginning to feel a substantial amount of pride in the files she and Sian were keeping on the rest of the court, and the light meal had been perfect for the warm dusk.

Zaniel had insisted on hosting, as his suite had both a terrace and wide gardens. Now they sat outside as the evening descended. Angeline watched Gladus and Sian drift across the garden, heads close, and took another sip of her wine, feeling strangely wistful. It must be strange to be in love.

“I wish the man would screw his courage to the sticking place and ask,” Zaniel said impatiently, from his perch on the edge of the terrace. “It's easier to do something magnificent for a summer wedding.”

“I shall advise her to hold out until midwinter,” Angeline said, exchanging a smile with Sir Robert. “Let them manage their own romance, Zan.”

He flashed her a smile. “Where's the fun in that, Lina?”

“Incorrigible,” Sir Robert muttered. “Was he this insufferable as a child?”

“Even worse,” Angeline said. “He had a habit of indulging in screaming tantrums.”

“This expression on my face right now,” Zaniel said loftily, “is absolute disdain.”

“See how he fails to deny the charge,” Angeline said and swung to her feet. “Another bottle, gentlemen?”

Zaniel raised his near-empty glass in a toast. “I knew I liked you for more than your pretty face, sweet coz.”

When she came back onto the terrace, Zaniel had sprawled out across her chair, his eyes shut. She rolled her eyes at him and sat down beside Sir Robert, refilling both their glasses. He smiled at her, his eyes seeming dark in the dusk.

“I've always loved summer at court,” she said. If she was to fake this romance successfully, she would need to talk to the man. “The weather and the festivals mesh together into one long dance.”

“I've been enjoying it,” he said. “It's very different from the summers I knew as a child.”

“Tell me about them,” Angeline said impulsively and curled her feet under her legs as he began to describe his childhood in the mountains. It sounded lonely, but he spoke of it with love, the high skies and soaring cliffs, the lakes and rivers and the garrison that patrolled them, searching out smugglers and outlaws.

She tried to give him a picture of her own childhood in return, of summers at court and winters at her father's house on the banks of the sleepy River Milival, which ran through the farming heart of Chamne.

She didn't even notice that Gladus and Sian had left until Zaniel came back from seeing them off. He smirked as he topped off his glass and murmured, “Having fun?”

Angeline felt her eyes narrow as she looked at him. He'd better not be doing what she suspected he was. Wasn't covertly running the country enough for him?

“Zaniel,” Sir Robert said warningly.

Zaniel shot them both a blithe smile and lifted his glass. “To romance. Gladus and Sian's, that is.”

She was probably long past the age when it was appropriate to put slugs in his bed.

Part two...



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 24th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
Oooh... That was lovely, me dear. Utterly lovely. ^-^ (Love the ending line, bless Angeline.)

I really enjoyed the focus on the politics (you make it seem easy, you know) and courtship in this. It was a lovely touch and the subtlety of it was wonderful. I can quite see how this is turning into a multiparter. And, I have to say, glad of it. Obviously, you're the only one who knows just what the original version was like, but I'd say it's polished up brilliantly. Very, very nice.

I'm afraid I'm not the most comment-y person right now. But just to let you know I didn't spot anything and I really enjoyed this. ^-^
Jun. 26th, 2007 11:05 am (UTC)
Thank you :) I've been having such fun with this.

I was just beginning to get embroiled in the politics of this world when I abandoned it, and I've always wanted to go back and play again.

If you like, I'll put a couple of paragraphs of Angeline's first appearance up at some point. It's bad. Very bad. ~_^

Thanks for commenting, m'dear. I'm glad you enjoyed it, despite it's silliness.
Jun. 27th, 2007 08:39 am (UTC)
Jennet, eh? XD

I loved this - all those court politics and intrigue. Lovely, lovely. So much fun. Especially like the hints of sweeping scope you put in here. And also Zaniel's dilemma. Talk about reluctant rebellion by stealth *wince*

Zaniel would never be allowed to chaperone them! Prince or not, he's another man. The talk would be worse XD

“This expression on my face right now,” Zaniel said loftily, “is absolute disdain.” -- I can see how he became a scene-stealer. Angeline and Robert are so serious, whereas the others are too in love. He adds both the humour and the angst. Perfect ^_^

Ah, the things we wrote when we were young... *bundles Ima and old characters back in the cupboard*

*scampers for part two*
Jun. 28th, 2007 11:31 am (UTC)
Sssh. I had a pseudonym!

I had a lot of fun with this. Zaniel's dilemma was where I got stuck when I was orginally writing this - I couldn't process the sudden moral complexity. Now it would be my starting point ^_^

Um *thinks* He's her cousin? A brother would be okay, wouldn't he, and he's the closest she's got. Zaniel's making most of this up on the fly, anyway.

Zaniel is fun. He's the first link in a chain of outrageous characters which eventually led to Nimbus :)

Go on. I dare you. It's fun ^-^ This has been such fun to write - I haven't had to worry about future plot or consequences at all. There's no pressure.

Thanks for commenting, m'dear.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 31st, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks :) Sometimes it's fun just to write something completely silly.

I think if you're going to write something political it has to matter passionately to the characters. If they don't care, why should the reader. Their political actions should impact on their lives and their choices.

I'm thinking about starting a general discussion post, not just about this challenge, but about the specific challenges and rewards of working in a long-existing universe.

Thanks for the comment, m'dear :)

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )