A Storm of Shadows

A Storm of Shadows
Summary: Finally, the Westmark family are together again — after years apart (for some of them, a lifetime) due to war and danger — and (as with all families), tempers collide, arrows fly, and tears fall. In the end, they all acknowledge the truth… a storm IS coming
Date: 08/06/2013
Related: None
Castor Coriaria Paule Katarina Laurel Alek 

Archery Range, Elkmound Keep
The courtyard of Elkmound Keep - the Shadow Keep - is expansive and beautifully kept. The castle walls rise high on all sides, up into the mist that hangs over the fens like a warm blanket. A flagstone path winds through the yard from the main gate - a great archway with heavily barred doors, portcullis and drawbridge to keep people out - to the double doors that enter the Keep itself. In the centre of the courtyard stands a single willow-tree, set in a circular garden of moist earth, and surrounded by a ring of pale grey stone.

Everything is wrought of pale grey rock, the kind of grey that merges with the mist of the fens as if it were made by the mist itself. At times, the guard-towers atop the walls cannot be seen from below, since they rise up through the fog. The main path is wide enough for horses to easily travel upon it, and it branches into several directions once it reaches the centre-willow. To the left as one enters the yard, lies the gardens. Only a select few blossoms will grow in this fog, and they grow here - beautifully tended.

Upon the other side of the courtyard, the rightward path leads to the stables and kennels - a wide, spacious area with tall stone shelters for many animals. There is a stone well here, and a cleared area for sparring. The path here slides around the Keep to an archery range at the far end of the outer wall. The banners of House Westmark hang down on the inside of the walls, illumined eerily in the mist by torches. The sigil of the House - a gold stag - hangs above the Keep doors.

8th June, 1329

After a day of meetings and speaking with the local lords and ladies on the future plans for Westmark and what's going on with the Barony in light of the invasion, Paule is out in the field behind Keep. He has his bow and is practicing his target shooting on several bails of hay that have dressed up in Taniford colors.

"Your restraint, my love, is admirable," Kat remarks from several paces behind Paule. "I expected these bales to be dressed in Rhaedan colors."

Striking one of the bales in what would be a wounding inury, Paule hears his wife's voice and he looks over his shoulder to cast her a smile, warm and sincere. "Hello, my love." And then her question causes his eyes to narrow. "I am not a traitor to my King, you know this." he points out as he starts to nock a new arrow. "You have brought your bow, I hope?"

"All of our children are here with us. It has been so long since we have been together as a family. I would like for us to have a gathering and dinner. But it seems that well.. it is too late and adulthood has caught in them all, even our youngest." he says, a quiet disappointment in his voice.

Kat holds her bow at her side and makes a small sound, a snort of amusement, "Then I will dress my targets as i see fit, in my head. It is my thought that my cousin need to have his head examined. Fire all his advisors, don his armor again, feel the weight of his sword once more and come stand a post for a few marks. Perhaps if he endured some honest sweat for a change his mind would clear."

She strps forward, reaches on hand for his, "The days of our children being children are come and gone, my love. Soon enough they will wed and be parents, us grandparents," said gently. "I would not be amazed if our Fox upsets natal order and sets her course first."

Squeezing her hand for a moment, Paule blows out a breath through his lips. "Instead his children dalliance with former enemies and we have our.. our.. reluctant allies on our lands instead." he says, finding the kindness word he can find, though it still looks like he just sucked on a lemon.

"And Fox is still two years out from her Becoming." the Baron points out. "And our children will marry in order, even if I have to make sure to slip the wild carrot into Laurel's meals myself so that she does not have a chance to be caught with child. I refuse to be like those in the south where their dalliances have been caught with castle fever and their youngest children have nothing better to do than tumble in the stables and possibly be caught in shame and forced into marriage, like the child of Lohstren with the Auldholme, or the Varghem youth and his cousin."

Kat laughs quietly, amused in a way that perhaps only a mother can be. "We taught them everything they were willing to learn, beloved, now we must stand aside and see them fly."

"It is nice that you can look at this in humour." Paule says, a shake of his head as he withdraws his hand. "Now, are you going to shoot with me or not?" he asks as he turns his attention back to the targets.

<FS3> Katarina rolls Marksmanship: Success.
<FS3> Opposed Roll — Paule=marksmanship Vs Katarina=marksmanship
< Paule: Good Success Katarina: Good Success
< Net Result: DRAW

Katarina draws and sights, taking aim and letting the arrow fly with a casual movement that conveys the sheer amount of time she's spent using bow/arrow in addition to sword and shield. The arrow is lodged in the bale of hay when she's done and she casts a glance sidelong at Paule as she replies, "It's laugh, or try to roll back the sands of time. As we can't to the latter, it's best to do the former."

"I suppose you are perhaps correct, my Katarina." Paule says as he lets his arrow fly, striking the opposite side of the target and raises a daring brow at Katarina with a grin. "And how do you, love, view this current mess our cousin has gotten ourselves into?" he asks curiously. "I find it curious that we need an entire army to hunt down two people and perhaps a few handlers that have no army to speak of?"

Heralding the arrival of the Shadow Baron's son, is Cerberus - who comes bounding around the side of the Keep, just ahead of his master. Castor whistles shrilly and the hound skids to a halt before going near the archery range. When the young lord appears, he's dressed in tunic instead of armour, wearing the colours of his House —

— and carries his bow in his left hand, with his quiver at his hip. "Father — Mother," he says in greetings as he draws near. "You're looking well! Mother, have you done something different with your hair?" As Cerberus returns to his master's side, Cas reaches down to scratch the hound behind the ear.

"I'm willing to entertain the notion that the King has information that we aren't privy to," comes Katarina's rather moderate answer, after all - she's not going to call her cousin a blithering drooling idiot, aloud, at least, "perhaps there's information that lead him to the determination that there is a larger threat than what we're aware of. Perhaps moving this combined army is the right move. Perhaps," and she draws another arrow, fitting it into place, "this will pull his army out of position so that some other force may strike at this ideal moment. Should such a thing happen, would it not behove us to have some of OUR trusted agents in the capital, just in case?" she wonders before she lowers the bow and smiles at the arrival of Cerberus and - of course - Cerberus' human, Castor. "No, but it's kind of you to try to compliment me," she says with a laugh. "Care to join us?"

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Paule=marksmanship Vs Katarina=marksmanship
< Paule: Good Success Katarina: Failure
< Net Result: Paule wins - Solid Victory

Nothing really heralds the arrival of the Knight of Westmark, and perhaps Alek's arrival is even partially masked by the arrival of the every bounding Cerberus and all his energy. But Alek does arrive at the target range, simple bow in hand, for while he much prefers running things through with steel, he is ever dutiful in practicing and seeking improvement all the same. Selecting a target way….over there…in balancing the need to practice and the need not to intrude upon his liege family.

As he nocks another arrow, Paule prepares to fire in time with Katarina again. "Perhaps you are right, Katarina. We should speak with the Hallstrom to see if one of theirs would be willing to join the court. They are bred for such things. Unless you feel that Castor is ready to be presented to the Court as our representative?" And speak of the Kharnas, and there he is. Cerberus gets an affectionate pat from Paule after he fires, and the Baron glances towards his son. "Good afternoon, Castor.." and then there's Alek. "Sir Alek, do feel free to join us. Perhaps Katarina and I can entice you two into a group competition? The two of us against the two of you?" There's a smile at that as he considers.

"It is not His Majesty I am concerned with, Katarina. His daughter is with the Prince that betrayed his own people. His other daughter has forgotten her place and now dalliances with the Duke of Wolveshire and others from the south. Their oldest son has been seen with the Varghem woman. They are all turning their backs on their roots and instead are seeking their mates from the South. If they are so interested in entertaining such ideas, perhaps they should consider moving permanently down there." he says as he is arrow strikes the center of mass.

"Plotting as ever?" Castor asks with a light grin of his parents. Then he glances at his mother and the grin widens. "Glad to! I'd been meaning to say, thanks - for this. A chance to see home again before my training begins." He glances to the side at Alek and lifts a hand.

"Ser Alek! Good to see you again - do you know where the girls are, perchance?" He removes an arrow from his quiver and nocks it to his bow, but without drawing back on the string (yet, anyway). Heading over to his parents' side, he waits.

"Nice shot, my lord," he remarks to his father.

<FS3> Alek rolls Marksmanship: Good Success.

She's been watching her family at the shooting-game for a few minutes now, the sense of being an outsider at this kind of thing not bothering her as much as it usually does. Ranged weapons are the province of her twin — Cricket herself much prefers the personal touch of slipping behind someone and sinking a blade into their neck — but variety makes for an interesting family, right? "Savages," she muses aloud from a distance, folding her arms across her chest and shaking her head, "Savages, the lot of them." Of course, she's taken care to pitch her words low enough so as not to be overheard as she draws nearer, the idea of her father in particular hearing himself called thus not one she relishes. "I see you're all pleasantly engaged," the girl calls once she's close enough not to have to shout, "Family gatherings are so few and far between."

The bow is brought up and an arrow notched, the string drawn back and the arrow is sited down to the target before Alek lets it go. And down the range it flies before hitting the target with a thunk. The result is only glanced towards after Alek has given a bow towards the Baron and family, in hearing his voice spoken. Barely a lift at the corners of his mouth to indicate some satisfaction that he actually hit the darn thing. "If it is what you would wish, my Lord. Though I fear it would be a disadvantage to Lord Castor, my bowmanship has always been my weakest area."

A faint turn of his head goes in the direction of Cricket when her voice is heard before he doe actually smile one of those charmingly pretty smiles to Castor, a flick of hi bow towards his twin, "Lurking as usual, it would appear, my Lord." Though he doe also give a bow of his head to the newly arrived Cricket.

"We'll send a courier," Katarina agrees with a nod toward Paule, "after all, the only way to discern interest in taking up such a post is to raise the question properly," she replies as she casts another thoughtful glance at Castor. "That has to be his decision," she reminds gently, "he wishes to take this season to explore his potential calling to the guardians, and we've agreed to his request for this time to do so. If he chooses to take vows after this interim time, then he will have to give up all that he was born to. Should that be his decision, introducing him to court as our representative only to withdraw him from such a position will make us appear indecisive or, at worst, incapable of reading our own children and their intent." She settles a smile upon Cricket, "We're entertaining ourselves in a fit of projectile weaponry," she remarks, mildly amused, "and plotting, of course. Were you wishing to discuss some engagement plans for yourself, dear?" is wondered, arch amusement in her tone of voice before she levels a calm nod at Alek.

<FS3> Castor rolls Marksmanship: Great Success.

Paule makes a little face at that. "Our children seem to be drawn to the Temple like moths. I am supposed to speak later with Laurel on her thoughts now that she is home." the Baron comments as he glances towards Castor and nods. "Aye. That is the agreement that was made, and I will honor it." he says as he turns and senses the new person as he wraps his daughter up in a hug. "Hello, Cricket." he says and smirks a little. "Forgive my wife. Apparently she is eager for more squalling children in the household. Perhaps I should take her later and see if I can catch her with another child or three so she can feel complete." he teases his wife.

Castor's bow comes up swiftly, his right hand pulling back on the string all in the same motion. He exhales and lets the arrow fly, lowering his bow again and turning to grin at Alek and Cricket. He steps back and turns to his mother.

"Temple or Court, Mother? Aye, it would be difficult to try and do both…" He grins at Cricket.

"Engagement plans… For Cricket? Oh, please plot away!"

"Really, my Lord!" It's not that she's never heard her father be saucy towards her mother, it's that the whole thing is embarrassing. Especially in front of Alek. And what's this nonsense about engagement plans? Cricket colors at the double whammy of salacious chit-chat from Paule and the words of Katarina. "I — what? No, there are no engagement plans," she glowers first at her mother and then at Castor, a meaningful glance ultimately shot Alek's way that the knight would know as her 'Revenge later' look, "By the Four, I'm only glad Fox isn't around to hear all of this nonsense."

Katarina makes a sound of amusement, the bow still held at her side. "If I really have a driving desire to hear the sound of squabbling and bickering, we could just as easily open a school or take in some wards as anything else," she counters with a sidelong smile aimed at Paule. As to the notion of having more children.. she doesn't comment, only smiles. "I agree, it would," she agrees with another nod - this one aimed at Castor. "Be wary, then, of those who will try to manoeuvre you into positions where your familial ties may be taken advantage of, my son. Even as a Chosen of the Temple, you still have your ties, your connections, and they will still matter."

The color that Cricket turns is treated with amusement, "You know we speak in jest, Cricket, well, mostly," she allows. "You're of age to be considered a suitable match for many of our neighboring houses and any man that you take to husband will join our family," she reminds, "not you joining theirs. Thus and so, it's time to consider drawing up lists of suitable noblemen to consider," a long look is shared with Paule, "and we'll start whittling down the list to a real number of eligible options. It'll take us tome time, of course," by 'some time' she means 'several months', "before we even have you meeting the sons of those nobles we feel will make advantageous allies. But, "and back to Cricket, "you are our daughter and our heir," her tone of voice takes on that layer of adamantine steel, "this is not news. Nor should you react with appalled affront. Death, birth, marriage, children, these things are not abstract concepts, nor is war or battles for succession should something happen to you before you take a husband, happen to US before your match is settled, happen to your siblings, one or all, before these things are determined. We plot," and now a look is sent around, landing upon each and every one of her children - looping Alek into the group - "so that there is no confusion. Your father and I could as easily die tomorrow as thirty years from now."

Standing patiently on, Alek doesn't even blink at the saucy chatter, he has probably heard far worse around the barracks and never mind down at……Suffice to say, he's probably heard worse. And they aren't his parents, this helps in so many ways. A small nod is given to Cricket at her glance, knowing all to well the meaning of it. His ice-blue eyes just giving her that smile in return in that 'Always there as you need' response.

<FS3> Castor rolls Marksmanship: Success.

"Really, there are times where I wonder how you survived your Becoming night, Cricket." Paule says easily as Katarina reminds his oldest of all of the fun that is to be the oldest. His smile is sympathetic, and he adds, "You will be fortunate. Your match will not show up one night with a letter in his hands saying that you are to marry immediately." he points out diplomatically as he and the others are out at the archery range. Some practicing, some not as he just gives a small shake of his head.

Castor nods soberly to his mother. "'Tis my hope that ties with the Temple should work to the advantage of our family — as the advantages of ties with the Royal Court are a given…" He turns around to look at Cricket, and arches an eyebrow. Apparently the idea of an arranged marriage for her is most amusing to the young lord.

"I won't let anyone try to use me against my own, Mother," he reaffirms to Kat as he reaches for another arrow. He draws back on the bowstring and fires - reasonably content with the shot. "Whatever kings or gods they have in their pocket."

A whistle of air is forced from between momentarily gritted teeth as her family members amuse themselves at her expense. That remark of her father's was simply awful. "I see," she replies stiffly, a flat look spared her twin, "While my brother is off playing at being the hero, I'm to give thought to a most… unsavory subject."

Were she any less self-possessed, she'd whine… but Cricket has been brought up to subsume her true feelings and present the world at large with a mask of studied neutrality. She uses this skill now to keep herself from simply walking up to Castor and kicking him in the ass with her boot. Moreover, she manages a pleasant little smile for all assembled. "I will do as I must. I find it curious, however, that there has never been any mention of me caring for our lands as an unmarried adult."

"You can always choose to be an unmarried adult." Paule says simply, casually to his daughter. "But it will not be as Baroness. One of the duties that comes with the land is that you must make sure that your generation will not be the last to rule. That theirs will be continuity for the land and family. That the people will know that you always will be there to take hold and root and continue to bloom and care for them. If you wish to be unmarried, you can step aside and renounce your claim to the family. Then it will fall to Castor to be married and produce heirs. And if not him, than Laurel. And if all three of you resist having a spouse.. then one will be provided for you and you will not have the choice of who fills your womb on your wedding night."

<FS3> Castor rolls Marksmanship: Good Success.

Castor, resisting the urge to smirk at his sisters, returns to his bow-practice and fires off another good shot at the target dummy. So instead, he smirks at the target. The lad glances over at Coriaria, his expression one of pure, brotherly sympathy.

"Marry Alek," he remarks glibly a second later, before beaming brilliantly at his twin.

"Your father and I had no choice in our marriage," Katarina says calmly, her words almost immediately on the heels of Paule's. "My father, your grandsire, handed me my orders - literally, handed me my orders - after I'd returned from dealing with bandits on our borders. I was still having wounds cleaned and hadn't even had a chance to have the wounds dressed properly when I was sent for fitting for new armor, gear and dispatched by nightfall. I had the orders from the king in one hand, the reins in the other, and was furious all the way. Furious that I was being ordered to marry this Baron, who I had never met, nor even HEARD of. But my orders were not something to be disputed nor negotiated over. The king commanded it, and to disobey would have been treason. Worse? it would have shamed my father, my family, and all that we hold dear. Your father and I did as we were commanded."

She pauses to share a long look with Paule, "That we learned to respect each other, fight with each other, and love each other, was years of effort, years of hard work, and we're both stubborn mule headed obstinate obnoxious idiots at least half the time, more so when we're riled to points of incoherent anger. But we learned," and she turns back to their children. "We did as we were bid. We had you," a sweeping look is sent around, "to secure this land, to secure this barony, to secure our place in this kingdom. By the time I was your age," this aimed at Cricket and Castor, "I was having to part with Castor to send him to safety, and having to find creative ways to keep you safe," aimed at Cricket, "while fighting to keep our lands. Do you have any idea how many times you nearly died in your first year? From cold, alone, or lack of shelter, or fire or from the risk of blade or bow? how many times you nearly died because I was carrying you and had to fight with you on my back?" she asks, keeping her words mild but even the carefully mild tone in her voice does not at all mitigate the echo of the anguish, horror and abject fear that only a mother can feel for the child she risked everything to protect, let alone to simply bring into the world.

<FS3> Alek rolls Reaction: Good Success.

The continued marriage talk that makes his assigned charge ever so happy, does have Alek drifting to stand closer to Cricket, perhaps some silent strength. 'Cause the Guardians know her family is the one thing he really can't protect her from..they'd dice him up in a blink of an eye and serving as the new Light Keeper at Maiden's point would be the least of his worries.

Castor's suggestion does bring about some reaction though, the Knight simply bowing his head to the Lord, "A suggestion that honors me far to greatly, and dishonors your sister, my Lord. She deserves a man of far greater calibre than I could ever hope to reach, even if my station was not as it is. "

Oh, fine. Cricket thinks. If shock value is the way they want to play it, she's more than happy to oblige. "A woman can beget heirs without a husband," Cricket shrugs as her gaze ices over, inspecting her nails for a moment, "In fact, I'd say it provides for more variety than a single man could offer, no?" She knows, of course, that her mother is right — and in private, she would certainly agree with Katarina — but Paule has riled her. There's something about his cold manner and the temper simmering just beneath the surface that makes his eldest child bristle and want to fight him for dominance. Not that she'd ever admit as much. He's done a very good job of raising her. When Alek proclaims himself an unsuitable match, she shrugs again, though half of a cryptic smile can be seen warring for a place on her features.

"Within the first week of your mother's arrival, we had a quiet and fast ceremony to marry,, had to share a tent, and learn all we could about each other as the Corsair Queen challenged my new bride to have a duel to the death with her daughter over my very hand and life." Paule responds as he picks up the story. "It was your mother's idea that we take out both the Queen and Princess, or die trying." he says as the Baron watches the shot of his son and continues. "Your mother's victory was hard fought, and my strike into the back of the Queen was fortunate indeed." The two kids have heard these stories many times before, but then Paule continues. "It was that night as we laid healing that we finally decided it was time to start the process to bring you and Castor into the world. Nor did that stop us from continuing our duties in the depths of an enemy siege. Not only did she have to carry you after, she had to protect her belly many times while carrying you both. The day she gave birth was just after she had assisted in the advance on Sipdon. We were in the very vineyards we now use for the blood wine and mass grave of the Corsairs, she pushed you both out with the assistance of a 12 year old child as her only helper while she scarred my hand with her nails as she pushed you both out." he says simply.

"You should count your blessings and fortunes that you are being allowed to choose your match," and then she just has to say that. "If you have a bastard, you will not ever lead of rule, child." he says simply, quietly. "If you wish to be a prostitute and sell your loins to the highest bidder, there is the Flowering Vine in Sipdon that I will let you spread your legs to whomever offers you a penance of coins." he says simply, coolly. "Perhaps even that Auldholme man, once he tires of his Lohstren brat of a child."

"And all of your children will be known, equally, kingdom wide, as a bastard of Westmark," Katarina says calmly, very simply, after Paule makes his point rather clearly and precisely.

<FS3> Castor rolls Marksmanship: Good Success.

Castor, his bow at his side, walks over to Alek with a hand raised to put it on the knight's shoulder. "Don't do yourself a disservice, brother," he remarks with a grin tossed to the side at Cori. "Fate is a tricksy thing - especially when the Baron and Baroness have it by its curl hairs."

He goes quiet when Paule speaks next.

"I'm curious, Father," he ventures carefully - trying to sound respectful though it makes his face look like a surgeon has pulled all the muscles in all the wrong directions. "Why is it that marriage is such an issue of late - when there are no suitable marks — ah, matches — available? If there are no fish in the sea, why worry about casting our nets? At least until we find another pool with more depth than the offspring of our…" he gestures expansively.


He shrugs and takes another arrow to shoot at the target, this time from an angle. It hits, and the lad grins at his siblings.

Simply standing near Coriaria, holding that bow of his, Alek does give Castor a half smile at the Lord's words, "You are even kind, but it is my place to protect, not marry, your sister." Knowing better than to otherwise wade into the matter that is being tossed around so casually and yet so brutally.

It is Katarina who replies to Castor. "Because every decision that your sister makes, every nobleman that she speaks to, every nobleman that she even nods to, will be considering their chances. Every encounter she has, in the eyes of the kingdom, in the eyes of our neighbors, will be weighed and considered. Every action, every fashion decision, horse ridden, contest competed in, everything will be taken into account. We have no intention of making any decision any time soon. That does not mean, however, that other's are not already considering offers, options and discussing such things," she explains, making it as simple and point blank as possible. "Cricket has time, and a shallow pool — at the moment — to winnow through. Which is why it is imperative to be mindful of the minds of the others that we must, perforce, rub elbows with."

<FS3> Paule rolls Marksmanship: Success.

"You are both of an age now, Castor." Paule tags out with Katarina, letting her deal with petulant daughter and turns his attention to her brother in crime. "Where what you do dictates what will become of you. Why do we speak of matches? At your age, we were already married. My parents were not at my wedding. You will hope to be so fortunate to have freedoms I was not allowed. I love your mother dearly, but it was an affection that took time to develop. She cursed my name as you were both brought into the world. Is that you want from your match Castor?" he asks simply.

"We are not holding either of you at a knife to your throat and demand that you marry this evening and produce a child." he comments as he puts away his bow and takes out his knife and twirls it over knuckles, before he flings into the 'head' of his target and looks back to his son. "Matters of the heart are not ones usually afforded to nobles. Count yourself fortunate that you and your sisters are being afforded the luxury." he says as he turns to go withdraw his blade.

And there it is: Cricket's father manages to up the ante in this little war of words. For a moment she debates simply scorching his ears by way of some terribly filthy reply, relishing the thought of seeing him at a loss. She's nothing if not enterprising, this eldest Westmark child. But then there's the matter of her not wanting to show her hand just yet — let them think they've won, it will make any later victories so much sweeter! — so she merely offers a respectful half-bow to first Katarina and then Paule. "Our parents must always think ahead, brother," Cricket observes to her twin, turning to Castor (and Alek, by extension) so as to speak quietly enough to prevent anyone else from hearing, "As you see, it goes hand in hand with reminding us of what terrible children we are. Why, we're the veritable scourge of their existence, sent from the bowels of the underworld to torment them both in their dotage." She can't keep an entirely straight face while saying this last part, though, and finds a very unladylike snort escaping her. "And so," she pipes up for the benefit of the Baron and Baroness, "I am once again bereft of a reply, for my parents have angled a stake through my mighty logic and deflated the thing. It's all quite tragic."

Katarina shares a look with Paule, "Are you feeling particularly dotty today, my love?" is wondered, amusement gleaming in her eyes.

Castor looks over at his father, the humour mostly gone from his features. "I was not trying to complain, Father," he replies matter-of-factly. It's as good an opportunity as any for him to retrieve his arrows - so he does. "If you wish us to marry, we'll marry. We haven't survived this long only to be thwarted by fear of connubial torment."

He pulls his arrows (and for good measure, his mother's as well) from the target dummy and heads back to the firing end of the archery range. "I'm still curious, though. Planning marriages when there are no suitable spouses to be found, is like planning a siege but with no soldiers…" he trails off when Cricket chirps up. "I just mean… don't we have bigger problems? Borders closed, family missing, the world on the brink of a war that makes about as much sense as Taniford poetry…" He grins at Cori, then. "Indeed, it is. Tragic. I would have thought that thinking so far ahead would only serve to make our parents feel older - aren't they already old enough?"

He turns about and his fingers flicker at Cricket: THIS is politics? How very boring. My head hurts.

Ever dutiful, ever loyal Alek does finally find something to say it seems, but it seems to be said in a bare whisper after dropping his head down near Coriaria's to impact whatever words he has found need to speak. Otherwise, keeping from the matter openly so. He hadn't survived so long by speaking or doing things that he shouldn't.

"Clearly her monthly can't be the answer behind all of her problems, Katarina." Paule says, amusement finding his own features at that as he looks towards his son. "And have you not noticed that we have been busy with our own duties.." he glances towards his son and his smile turns dark. "After all, as a member of the Temple, such things should no longer concern you since your concern is to the Temple and considering giving up claim of your title to live amongst those in the service of the Guardians?"

<FS3> Castor rolls Marksmanship: Success.

Castor lifts his chin to his father, then. His expression somewhat… matches the older man's. Only younger and better looking. "Would you give me freedom to make my own choices, and then begrudge me it afterward, My Lord?" he asks in an even tone of voice. "Isn't it our way to strategically place our own in other locations - even the houses of our enemies - so that there is always someone of ours wherever and whenever we need them? You are the one who wrote to the Varghems. You are the one always talking — or threatening — marriage with us. You say: 'You're free to choose!' one moment and then 'You'll go where we put you!' the next? I simply asked why?It is a fair question, My Lord. I'm joining the Temple - so why nag about marriage? There are no suitable daughters - or sons - out there, so why nag about marriage?"

His face clouds with suppressed frustration — well, slightly suppressed. "You give us freedom with one hand, only to berate us for taking it with the other. A horse can't move forward if you're still holding onto the bit, My Lord. Give us your orders and be done with it, Bornas' Balls!"

Angrily, he takes out another arrow and fires it at the target. It hits the dummy, but in the shoulder. The lad scowls.

"Be thankful you were afforded the choice, Lord Castor." Paule says as he sheathes the weapon as he turns to walk off. "As you said, I have much more deeper items to deal with. Tanifords in the neighboring lands. Our own royals abandoning us. The Sollinger navy off our shores. Instead, you get to worry about being a Chosen or Guardians forbid, chasing a skirt or three." he says and shakes his head. "Go on about your duties, child, and allow your parents to continue to shoulder the heavy load. I promised your youngest sister a talk on her decision tonight. And then I have other meetings to attend to. Good evening, all. Katarina, if you wish to join me?"

The flat look moves to her father now, Alek's words of wisdom echoing in her ears. He's right, she shouldn't be rising to the bait — it never ends well — and this isn't a game she can win yet. But then Castor goes and tosses all the cards on the table, drawing a sigh of something between appreciation and exasperation from his twin. She pats the air, trying to urge calm from everyone.

"My brother and I respect all of the sacrifices you and our Lady mother have made on our behalf," she begins, hoping her turn at diplomacy isn't a complete failure, "But you remember being our age, as you so richly illustrated for us earlier. Surely, then, you haven't forgotten what it's like to wish for a true mission in life, a sense of purpose. Castor is merely expressing this sentiment the best way he knows how: bluntly." Cricket pauses for a moment, trying out that neutral look again, "He doesn't mean to be rude, or difficult. Neither of us do. We're simply of an age where always agreeing with our parents isn't the most… natural thing for us." She wants to add "Nor should you desire it," but is smart enough to leave that bit unspoken. "I would ask that you not be angry with us for being two stubborn mules. The trait does have its benefits."

A rather faint nod is all that comes from Alek when his words do seem to have some effect upon Coriaria, one might even say somewhat…positive. Maybe. Falling back into that position and job he does best, looking stoically pretty with sword and the additional bow today, practice having gotten rather sidelined by all rights. Staying on til duty otherwise calls.

Katarina observes Castor's fit of temper with a look in her eyes that is one of mild approval, which is to say - it's the approval that she allows Castor to see, after all, she and Paule had been nudging both children to see where their tempers would lead them. It's Coriaria's answer that has Katarina settling her hand lightly in Paule's as he prepares to depart.

"Indeed, it certainly does," she agrees with her eldest. "And it's good to see that the fine mind that we know lurks behind that rosy hued blush is, indeed, in fine working condition. Temper, my loves, helps fire the blood. Stubbornness keeps you from shivering to death in the cold. Anger? well now, anger is the fuel on which we burn when we have nothing left, no food left in the rations, nothing to catch or kill or put in our bellies because we've gone so long on hard tack and worm riddled bread that we've forgotten the taste of real food and the feel of sun on our faces. be angry," she adds, her tone gentle, "and be determined. Find what you want, and refuse to surrender it, not for us, not for anyone. be true to yourselves, to the responsibilities that are yours, to the people who look to you to lead them, to protect them, to place them first before your own desires. Fight for what you want, what you love, and hold nothing back - or, when age finds you at last, you'll have nothing but regrets to stare down in cold long nights of your elder years."

She turns toward Paule, "We regret nothing," her words still gentle, calmly spoken, but resolute.

"What choice? What freedom?" Castor mutters under his breath as his parents speak of retiring for the night. "For what should I be grateful? The hand that feeds me? or the fist that chokes me if I'm foolish enough to eat? If I'm to be scolded for taking the gift… then it is as insubstantial as the fog around us." He pauses to breathe.

"You did not even answer my question…" He turns his back on his father and locks gaze with his twin. "I should have known better…" Castor grates from between his teeth as he draws closer to Cricket. "I try to be the son he wants, but to do that I must stop being the son he deserves — "

He stops himself, a little too late, to glance back at Katarina. In silence, all he does is nod. With sorrow.

"Castor," Katarina says gently, "your father is telling you that you are free to make your decision as you see fit. He is telling you that you must understand the full impact, the sheer weight, of what this decision will mean for yourself, for your family, for all of us. He is telling you that if you decide to take these vows, that you must decide that for yourself. No other voice, not ours, not Cricket, not anyone, can be the one to cast all the die to fate and see where it settles. If you are set upon this course, at the end of the agreed upon terms," Katarina makes this point again, "then you must never look back, no regrets. That's the freedom we are giving you, but also the knowledge that it will cost you, and the rest of us. Only you can decide. A wife, a family, a place as a leader among our family, a leader that our people will look to. Or a place among the chosen of the guardians, serving the temple. Your father is telling you this, in his way, and I'm telling you the same, in mine."

<FS3> Laurel rolls Stealth: Great Success.

The raised voices and recriminations has kept one who knows the ways of the Westmark family away - though she was to meet her father to talk. Laurel Westmark, barely a day home, is already overwhelmed by the /life/ of her family, and so she has fallen back to an old habit. Just around a corner, she lingers in the alcove where the practice bows are hung. In voluminous white, she has no business remaining unsighted, but she does. Just within earshot, her chin dipped solemnly and sadly to her chest and her lips pursed petulantly.

Only when she hears that her parents are ready to retire does she stir, to peek around the corner.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Paule=perception Vs Laurel=stealth
< Paule: Failure Laurel: Good Success
< Net Result: Laurel wins - Solid Victory

"How long can I expect to be reminded of the cost, Mother?" Castor asks a moment after pausing to consider her words. "Every day from now until I take the Oath? Afterward? Death? What is the point of having freedom if I am not permitted to enjoy the benefit of it — while still appreciating the cost? This freedom is like suffocating between the breasts of a lusty barmaid — you can only enjoy it, if you can breathe"

So the son isn't quite prepared to back off easily, but he does appear to be satisfied now, at least. Without a word, he stalks down the archery range to retrieve his last arrow, and then stalks back — having not noticed the arrival of Laurel at all. His eyes, now, are on his twin — either looking for support, or just conveying his frustration.

"Orion needs his feed. I'll see to the others as well," he mutters before shouldering his bow and walking away.

So angered and frustrated with the older two children, Paule does not notice that his youngest is lurking around at the moment, allowing the youngest Westmark the rare opportunity to sneak up on her father.

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Katarina=perception Vs Laurel=Stealth
< Katarina: Success Laurel: Great Success
< Net Result: Laurel wins - Solid Victory

Between using a proverbial stick to poke at the tempers of her eldest children and trading diplomat vs dungeon master with her husband, Katarina missed the stealthy approach of their youngest and thus is distracted while casting a sidelong look up at Paule to measure his current temper.

Castor passes her without so much of a glance, Cricket at his heels. Laurel watches after them, frowning, then turns towards her parents. Mama was still there, but Laurel needed to explain to Papa… and oh, she does not want to look weak in front of her mother. But what is to be done? The littlest one sighs softly, then approaches, grass folding silently under her bare feet.

It is not so much that she was trying to sneak up on them. But as she gets each step closer and they do not catch her, she instinctively falls into another childhood game - one that she rarely, if even ever, won. Thanks be to obstinate older siblings…

She stops within arm's length of her parents - but carefully folds her hands behind her back, remembering one of her mother's rules. Instead. "I'm sorry I missed the archery practice, Papa."

Startling Paule is never an easy thing, and the slight jump as Laurel suddenly speaks out behind him causes the Baron to subtly move and he gives his youngest child a light pinch on her arm. "Never apologize." he reminds her quietly as he gives her a smile and gives her a hug with one arm. "You still wished to talk to me about your decision?" he asks as he looks towards Katarina, and then back at the kids. Should this be a family talk?

Katarina settles a look that is both surprised and pleased upon Laurel, "You move silently," more approval in her tone of voice. She slides a glance from Laurel to Paule and back as she hugs their youngest before stepping back, knowing better than to crowd Laurel - or any of their children - without just cause.

Laurel crinkles her nose softly at the pinch, but she bobs a acquiescent nod at the instruction. "Never apologise." She repeats. There is no shortage of a proud little smile at the approval, of course, and even moreso at the mutual surprise. If she can sneak up on her parents, there are few others that would catch her, either.

"I do. I… I was hoping perhaps you could show me the new grape varietal?" Laurel shoots her mother an apologetic look, despite the instructions not to do so. "I have not gotten to walk in the vineyards yet, and there is a little sun left."

Picking up on the subtle hint in the voice of his youngest, Paule pauses for a moment and glances towards Katarina. "Love, if you do not mind? Perhaps you can soothe the feathers of our older children?" he suggests, before cupping his wife's cheek and giving her a gentle kiss, before he turns to offer his arm to Laurel. "Shall we?" he asks, ready to lead Laurel off so they can talk in private while the Baroness talks to the other two. ^r

Katarina smiles as she gives Paule's hand a light touch before turning back to her two eldest and surveying first one face then the other. "Well, I believe now is a ideal time to share a drink," she declares with the same soft touch of a smile on her face. "Come," she offers, glancing from one twin to the other, "I'll buy."

Katarina smiles as she gives Paule's hand a light touch before turning back to her two eldest and rests her hands on her hips, surveying the bales of hay with arrows sticking out of them.

Naturally she returns /just/ in time to see her father solicitously taking her sister's arm.


It's not without the urge to scowl that Cricket trudges back towards her mother, having left Castor to care for the horses and generally stay out of sight of their parents. She /knows/ her jealousy is silly, but it can't quite be helped; after having her ears half-burned by paternal displeasure, the sight of her younger sister being received with such gentleness is somewhat irritating. "I see Fox can do no wrong," the girl grumps to herself, tugging at her dark braid, "Really. Hrmph." Before she arrives where her mother stands, however, she manages to wrest back control from her darker emotions and eases herself into a more pleasant mien. "Well, Mother. I suppose we should all get together more often. There are such… delights to be had, are there not?"

"So many family conversations are made better, or worse, with the application of alcohol," comes Katarina's philosophical reply. "Your sister has a decision to make as well," she adds in a quiet aside to Cricket. "One that weighs rather heavily upon her, I think. I also think that she fears we are going to object to whatever her decision is that she's come to," is added. She glances again to Coriaria, "Are we that impossible or fearsome to speak to?" she wonders, studying her eldest.

Castor, arriving with his twin, says nothing for now. He looks like there's a dark storm-cloud around his head, but at least he is silent. He has his bow in hand already as if planning to go back to shooting. There's no point, he finger-signs to Cricket. We were sired by a mule, and twice as stubborn.

He nods to Laurel at least, with a look for his mother that should suggest: why does SHE get the happy conversation?

"Thank you, Mama." Laurel does her best to smooth out the relief that threatened to show in her blue eyes. She delicately rests her hand on her father's arm; at his side, especially, she looks as if she did not age a day that she was gone. What small stature that was promised by genetics was writ in bone by the fever, and it is only because the Westmarks expect as much from their daughters as their son that she is not in any way truly frail and cushion-bound.

"I took the time to read of the of the cross-breed you made, with our Blood Wine grape with the Rhaedan black…" It is filler conversation, though of course, she does care about the grapes, as well. She's just too young to hide the distraction and the weight of that decision fully.

Paule nods slowly while listening to his daughter as they walk. "I suppose that I should have at least tried, but I think that the purity of the blood vines should not be disturbed." he comments as he reaches over and pats his youngest daughter's hand as they step in amongst the rows of vines. "I plan on having a new vintage to present to the Temple soon, as they have requested something different for their ceremonies." he comments as they walk, opening up the segue to allow Laurel to speak her mind.

"No." At first, a single word to quell her mother's worry. Then, after a frown tugs her brows together, she reconsiders this taciturn approach. It might seem rude, after all. "We are not — well, /I/ am not — afraid to speak to you or Father. Far from it. I value your advice and your sense of history, and scope. I only wish…" She drifts off for a moment, her glance moving to where Laurel and Paule stand engaged in conversation, "… I only wish that you didn't think Cas and I were ungrateful. Or intractable. We're not."

And leave it to her twin to choose this moment in which to materialize — his sense of timing is impeccable. Tell me about it, she silently replies, But Mother listens, even if HE does not. "We live in… well, sometimes at least… in awe of all you have built together, and are anxious to repay you for all the effort you've invested into our lives. But we each must repay you in our own way, Mother."

Katarina studies Castor in silence while Cricket speaks, even moving to — if they'll allow — stand between her children and rest one hand lightly on each arm nearest her. "You know, it's not about repaying anything. All we have ever wanted is that you have more choices, more freedom, more.. life than we had at your age. All any parent wants, loves, is to see their children health, hale, to see you stride further, reach farther, than either of us. It's not about power. It's about dreams. we had to fight every day, every inch, and we fought so that you two could choose to do something else, so that your children could dream to be something else. We fight, loves, so that you can be care takers of our lands, so that your children can be artists perhaps and their children sailors I suppose, if they so wish. Your father lost so much," she reminds gently, "his childhood was harsh, and he feared that he would pass along the hard lessons of his childhood when we were first parents. We had to give up so much," and gives Castor's arm a gentle squeeze, "and you, both, had to give up so much. We listen," whether she can read their language or not, "even if you don't think that we do. And we didn't 'invest', my loves, we simply.. did what we could to keep you fed and warm and teach you to not eat with your mouths open, elbows on the table or slurp your soup."

"The horses are fed, watered and groomed," Castor pipes up. It is naught but an excuse to speak, even if he does take some pride in the care of the family's steeds. "Orion has thrown a shoe," he adds with a curl of his lip. "Looks like I'm here until a blacksmith can repair it."

He glances at Cori and nods, apparently agreeing with what she has said. Then his attention turns to their mother.

"For ten years my only dream was to return home, Mother. I'm home now. Aside from wanting to see our family rise out of the fog, so to speak, I need to find my own dreams — whatever, wherever they are. If this is the gift we have, then why are we reminded so often of its cost? It sours the wine before it touches my tongue."

"I'm glad of it. The Rhaedan black is hardy, but too sour." Laurel's nostrils flare as they enter the vineyard, the heady scent of tilled earth and fresh grapes and leaf rolling over her like a heavy, comforting blanket. Her toes curl in the dirt, and her hand tightens on her father's, and she is happy to feel the lightness of childhood start to lift her spirit.

But the mention of the Temple - so casual, so calculated - is like a winter's chill through the quilt. The littlest one dips her chin down for a moment, staring at her toes, before lofting it again stubbornly. "It a fine gift as they re-open the Temple in our lands." They. "The Temple has treated me well, Papa. There are good people, doing good, needful, honorable work. I have learned a lot."

She pauses, turning towards her father. The grapevines loom over her head; even almost an adult, she could easily lose herself in the vines. "You wanted to know what I wished to do, last night. I do not want to be a burden to you and Mama and Cricket." She draws in a breath, heavy. "If it is what is best for the family…"

Laurel's words bring the Baron pause. Normally Paule is so stoic and upright, but when it comes to his youngest, it's different. It just is. He knows that Coriaria and Castor are strong enough. But when it comes to his winter Fox…

"We are afraid," Katarina says softly, simply, "that war will take you from us. That famine or sickness or just ill luck will take you from us. We are afraid, my son, we are afraid nearly all the time. It doesn't make us live our lives any less. We can't be afraid of the fear, it's simply part of what we do, we dress, we move about, we do what we do, and the fear that lives in us for each of you is just part of breathing, it's part of living. If you think your father doesn't listen, that he is harsh on you, that he speaks to drive you to quarrelsome rebuttal, imagine having your own son some day. From your first breath, your first steps, the first time you rode a horse or fell out of a tree. We are both so proud and so .. balanced on the edge of fear that you'll hurt yourself. Yet knowing that we can't rush in and try to make everything better. we can't cripple you by making your life easy, if we always step in, you will never know your own strength. We know you are strong," she turns to Cricket, "both of you are the best of us. All of you," and she means Fox as well, "are the best of us. You are the best, absolute best, that we could ever do in our lives. We are so proud we could burst. That doesn't mean we don't worry or fret or want to smack you all upside the head, repeatedly, from time to time. save for the fact that your skulls are made of granite, courtesy of your father of course."

Laurel's words bring the Baron pause. Normally Paule is so stoic and upright, but when it comes to his youngest, it's different. It just is. He knows that Coriaria and Castor are strong enough. But when it comes to his winter Fox… it's just different. "There's a storm coming." Literally and figuratively. Paule seems to be able to sense the change in the weather as he kneels down to be closer to his daughter's height. "Your mother and I are so very proud of all three of you. And we can sense the fear and worry. You're all headstrong and ready to rush headlong into everything - it is much like when your mother first arrived at my encampment and demanded that I marry her on the spot or risk facing her wrath. She can be rash with her decisions at times. We all face it all with our hearts first, and sometimes with our brains second. We're all guilty of it at times, especially your mother." he says with a small laugh.

"But never, ever, have you, your brother, or your sister been a burden to me." the Baron says firmly, his hands settling on the frail shoulders of his youngest daughter. "Everything we did, from sending your brother off to keeping you with Cricket, to letting you go to the Temple, was done only out of love and the chance to give you a flavor of life outside of these walls. Never ever to send you away. All three of you are loved and cherished by us. And that includes your twin as well. It hurt your mother so much to lose Lili. I miss her terribly too. But that does not mean we do not love you less. If it were on me, I'd keep all three of you home and safe. There's much turmoil to come, and I fear that we are fracturing and that we will forget that we are family first." he admits as he moves to stand up and gives his youngest a fierce embrace. "Come home to us, Laurel." he says finally. "We want you here. Cricket, your mother and I, even Castor.. we want you home." he whispers underneath his breath.

Castor is… dumbfounded.

Just… dumbfounded.

From the look on his face, he had half expected the Baron's face to crack and peel away to reveal another person underneath, so surprised is he at this… revelation he has overheard. "I — well… I can't leave now anyway," he remarks lamely (although the tension is gone from his face). His eyes narrow a moment later and he peers at his father.

"What are you planning, Father?" he asks abruptly, calling out to him. It is not as if he does not believe the Baron, but has already moved past the 'moment' and is concentrating on something else the Baron said. "The world's distracted with war. Some of our own are… 'indentured guests'. If you want us here… then you're planning something from here." He suddenly grins.

"Please tell me you didn't swap out Orion's good shoe for a bent one just to keep me here?" His grin turns wolfish, even if his eyes are still curious.

The littlest one's blue eyes go wide and, at the mention of her lost twin, start to gleam with tears. But there is something new. That stubbornness that drove her chin up is backed up by a resolute set to her jaw. And the tears do not fall. "It is just, historically, the fate of the youngest - to be sent to the Temple, or to be married off and sent away to the first bidder…" Yes, she had read too many things at too young an age, and history is never kind to the youngest noble. Her bottom lip finally trembles, a fact thankfully hidden in the sudden, fierce hug. There she hides the shudder of a sob, too. "If I can come home to you - to the whole family - then of course I will. I want nothing better. But I want to be useful."

Her mother's touch is reassuring and goes a ways towards soothing her eldest child's nerves. Still, there's something in her eyes that betrays a certain reluctance to accept Katarina's words at face value. "Father is a hardened sort," the girl shrugs, "I don't expect his praise or his approval. Nor would I be induced to curry favor with him on any account. He is who he is, just as you are who you are." The toe of her left boot traces an absent pattern in the dirt, her regard dropping to survey the result of her handiwork for a moment. "I understand full well that you wish us only the best, Mother. I know it with the same certainty that I know the sun will rise tomorrow, or that I will be a day older when I wake up. Your care has done that for me — has taught me that you would gladly lay down your life for any of us." Cricket's gaze finally rises to settle on her mother's features. "And I know you worry." She presses her lips together for a moment, considering how best to express herself. "I only wish you to realize that not everything I do is a reflection on the values you've taught me." Paule's gooey displays of emotion don't go unnoticed — actually they're a little unnerving — what can he be planning to unleash upon them all by way of recompense for being made to appear vulnerable? "Well, since it seems that everyone is prepared to let bygones be bygones, I suppose I should simply be quiet."

"Laurel, my dear fox." Paule says calmly as he leads his youngest to the other siblings and his wife. "We want you all home. And you will be useful. We will need all the help we can get the next few weeks." he says as he hears Castor. "And there is no bribe that can be offered that I'd accept for your hand at the moment, little fox. You are not even of age yet." he points out as he hands off Laurel to Castor and Coriaria, but not before kissing his youngest daughter on the crown of her head, Cori on her temple, and Castor gets a clasp on his shoulder, before he takes his wife's hand on his own to lead her away.

"Me? Plan something?" The Baron's smile is thin and private. "I never do anything without a reason. But sometimes, I want some time with my family," he comments. And while that is true, those closest to him know something's up.

"We should be prepared for anything outside of our walls, do you not think?" he asks as he walks away with Katarina. "Sleep well, children."

Storm… Castor signs to his twin. The silent kind. Arrows in the sky and hidden blades in the dark. A Westmark storm… He glances at his parents as they leave and then back to Cricket.

The Temple may have to wait, he adds a bit later, his expression grim. The lad takes a breath and glances away toward the walls surrounding the Keep.

"We're going to war."

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