Would you like to meet the Marquise all grown up? Of course you would. Have some inciting incidents, while you’re at it. Oh yeah, and Cor.
The Marquise of Rhounet let her hand drape idly across the railing as she descended the stairs of Portho House. The guests thronging below were chatting merrily in loud, boisterous voices, and their buzzing ebullience raised her spirits. As she reached the end of the stairs she pulled her arms in, murmuring ‘Pardon me’ to several ladies as she passed behind their skirts. Why the current fashion was to emphasize the posterior with ridiculous bustles, she would never know. And why she had allowed Dahlia to put her in such a gown was even more uncertain. She felt as if she might topple over backwards at any moment, but Dahlia pronounced her “Stunning!” when she finished and so she tried not to let her discomfort show.
Unfortunately, making her way through the crowd unseen was not going to happen.
Dahlia’s call from across the hall was loud, too loud to pretend she hadn’t heard. So Typhan turned and looked for her host.
Dahlia stood to the side of a small pack of noblemen, all in various shades of amber and bronze. She had made the theme of this night’s party ‘Autumn Leaves’ and the guests had enthusiastically complied. Her own dress was a deep gold, adorned along the bodice with tiny beaded leaves strategically placed to glint in the light as she moved among the guests. More of the leaf decorations were clipped throughout her tight dark curls, giving the impression of a crown. Ty had to give her credit, her host knew how to draw the eyes of everyone in the room without even saying a word. Dahlia was laughing and sipping a glass of a deep red wine as Typhan approached.
“Marquise! I thought that was you.” Dahlia smiled, reaching her hand to pull Ty closer. “I almost missed introducing you to these fine gentlemen.”
The introductions went ‘round with much bowing and hand-kissing, but the pile of young men seemed to blur together, their names and faces alike in bland nobility. Ty had no taste for the platitudes, but she greeted each with polite gentility.
“Pleased to meet you all.”
Ty signaled one of the butlers as he passed by and took a flute of a light pink wine from his tray. She sipped quietly as Dahlia launched into a bawdy story about one of her old acquaintances, who was very plainly not in attendance. She wondered if this was her host’s normal revenge for a slighted invitation. The circle of young men, hanging on every glittering, sordid word, seemed too young and eager to please for Ty’s taste. It had been three weeks since she arrived in Portho and every week there was at least one new young man the Duchess felt she had to entertain for Typhan’s sake. After the first two, of which one was far too young for her (though rich, Dahlia reminded her), and the other a bit too brash (the epithet ‘Carrot’ was not exactly complimentary for a red-headed woman), she had attempted to dissuade further invitations. But tonight’s dinner was the first of the three-night Harvest festival, and so Typhan suffered the introductions with as much grace as she could manage.
“Now, my dear old friend,” Dalhia had placed her hand on Typhan’s arm, “I have a final guest I’d love to introduce you to.”
With more than a few sighs of regret and polite half-bows their companions took their leave. Typhan followed Dahlia as they walked through the crowd toward the front of the hall.
“Now I know I had told you that he never left the University, but my hermit brother actually agreed to visit me!” Typhan thought that Dahlia’s smile was the first genuine one she’d seen all night. “I was hoping to surprise you. He arrived late last night.”
It took all of Typhan’s composure not to stop in her tracks. She swallowed down her anxiety, feeling it burn in her gut. A surprise indeed. “I’m glad he could make it.” Typhan hoped her words didn’t sound too flat.
Dahlia squeezed Ty’s hand, for once oblivious to her companion’s discomfort. “I am too, very much. It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen him. And it’s been, what, twelve years since you two have seen each other?”
“Closer to fifteen, I think”
Seeing her tight-lipped smile, Dahlia led on without further talk. But as the throng thinned she smiled broadly and stopped, sketching an elaborate curtsy.
“My dear brother! So good of you to grace my halls with your presence!”
Ty stopped just behind her as Dahlia’s skirts spread out in a fan, a beaded spectacle in front of a small group of men.
“And of course, I see you have met my good husband!” Dahlia looked up with a wink.
The Duke of Portho, a sturdy man of forty with a bit of gray in his hair, laughed and held his hand out to his young wife. “My extravagant young Duchess, gentlemen.” He helped her to rise as she took his arm. “We all owe the warmth and hospitality of my home to her meticulous planning. Not to mention the blinding glare of her dress.”
Dahlia laughed and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Why, thank you, dear”
Typhan watched as Dahlia reached out to a younger, dark-skinned man in the group, clasping his hand rightly before pulling him in for a close embrace.
“Ah, Brother! Joking aside, I am glad you could come.” She released him with a smile. “Cor, may I present the Marquise Typhan of Rhounet.”
Typhan curtsied as well, though not as ostentatiously as her companion, and let her hand be kissed. Cor was older, certainly, and taller. His hair was still the same dusty brown, pulled back in a tight twist at his neck in the current Daram style. She was surprised to see how broad-shouldered he had become—his father Larus was tall, but lean. The warm smile he offered with his greeting was jarringly familiar, Ty found herself taken aback by the vision of the young boy she knew suddenly all grown up.
“Typhan, I’m glad to see you.” He released her hand and bowed.
“I heard you took the Order of the Son, your father must be very proud.”
“Oh proud indeed!” Dahlia interjected. “I’ve never heard him boast more. His only complaint is that his son never visits him.”
Cor accepted the critique with a shrug. “He knows how busy I am, I’m sure he doesn’t mind too much.”
“Well you could go see him, now and then. I’m surprised you don’t look like a ground-mole, holed up in your libraries all the time.”
“I think that was entirely the point, sister. He sent me there to learn, you know.”
Dahlia waved her hand at him, “Oh you know what I mean. You go off to school and leave me to console him, I see how things are.”
With a short clearing of his throat her husband stepped in “My dear, you mustn’t harangue your brother all night. You have many more guests to harass before the night is over.” He gestured with his wine glass at the crowds beyond. “And there’s the midnight dedication.”
“Of course! I concede. You win.” Dahlia leaned against him again. “Corinus I hope you don’t mind if continue to mingle. Please, come find me if you need me.” With a nod from her brother and a smile to Typhan, Dahlia let herself be led away toward another group.
“Your sister has the energy of five women, I think.” Ty murmured, sipping at her near-forgotten drink.
“She always has,” Cor agreed. “My mother used to threaten to send her to the traveling shows; she never shut up.”
Ty laughed, feeling her nerves unwind just a bit. “She’s well-liked, though.”
“Always well-liked,” he agreed. Noting her now empty glass he took it from her and set it down on a passing tray. “Would you like another?” At his gesture a server stepped over and offered another glass.
“No, thank you!” Ty fanned her face. “I’ve had too much already, I rarely drink. I think your sister is a bad influence.” She paused, “Here, walk with me to the courtyard. I could use some fresh air.”
Cor offered her his arm with a nod. Typhan took it carefully and let him lead her out of the main hall and past the open patio doors. They were not the only ones taking the air; they strolled past several couples sitting on stone benches and talking quietly in the dark. The marble-lined pathway led its way through a small garden, winding past a central fountain with a statue of the Lady feeding birds from her hands. Typhan took a seat on the rim of the pool and picked up a small lily floating in the water. She avoided Cor’s eyes, trying to still her heart. Cor remained standing, and they were silent for a time as he watched watched the moon rise over the manor roof.
“It’s surprising how warm it is here, so close to winter.” Ty let her fingers trail across the water of the fountain. “In Rhounet we are already starting to see frost in the mornings, at this time of year.”
“Portho tends to remain mild all winter, so Dahlia tells me.” Corinus said, taking a seat beside her. “It’s the sea breezes, I believe, pulling warm air from the north while the peninsula’s high hills keep it circulating near the coast.” He looked as if he would continue, but stopped suddenly, smiling sheepishly.
He shook his head. “I apologize. I tend to get caught up in academic talk when I’m nervous. I’m sure you aren’t interested in meteorology right now.”
She smiled. “No, it’s alright. I’m just glad I’m not the only one feeling how awkward this is.” She figured it was better just to get it out in the open.
His dark eyes squinted as he made a sour face. “Right? It seems so strange to be sitting night here next to you after all these years.”
She nodded. “Exactly.” She couldn’t help but study his face as he turned it up again to gaze at the moon. The same face she remembered, only a bit sharper in the jaw and cheeks. The last time she saw his face it was on the cusp of manhood, and now here he was. She blinked, realizing she was staring.
“Your sister said you’ve been at the University.” She hoped to draw him out with a safer topic.
“Yes, my father found me a great opportunity there. I’ve been there…what, seven years now?” He looked like he honestly didn’t remember.
Typhan did some quick subtraction. So he must have been about seventeen when he left home, admitted as soon as he reached majority. “Seven years as a student?” She asked, puzzled. From what she knew, most graduated within three or four years.
He laughed, shaking his head. “No, no of course not. After I finished I was offered a place as an adjunct researcher. I’ve been teaching and continuing my studies for the past few years in the Comparative Theology division.”
She nodded that made more sense. “That’s wonderful! I’m sure your father was pleased.”
“Oh, absolutely. He’d much rather a scholar for a son than a soldier. And it suits me far better too.”
“How is your father?” She had seen Larus the last time he had visited Rhounet, but had been almost a year ago. Once Larus and Kiant had enjoyed hunts and feasts, gathering at least several times a year at either man’s estate, but for the past several years their visits had been more infrequent and much more sedate. A symptom of age, she suspected. Her father’s lungs had troubled him more and more each winter. He spent more time indoors and less time traveling, preferring to remain in Rhounet year-round. She suspected it was much the same for Larus.
“He is well, but busy I think. Dahlia talks to him more frequently than I do. She says he and mother have been thinking of taking a trip to visit her here in Portho. They haven’t been back since the wedding.” Cor leaned over with a smile, “Frankly, I think mother just wants a break from the weather.”
Ty laughed. Larus’ home county had more rain per year than any other in the region, especially in the fall. “I bet she does.”
She leaned back against the fountain’s edge, letting her hand trail along the water again. The ball of nerves in her stomach seemed to relax the more time she spent talking. It was idle chatter, no more than pleasantries. But it felt more comfortable to be sitting here with Corinus again than she had expected. He seemed more at ease as well. Maybe it was possible to be friends again, even after all that they had missed. She opened her mouth to speak again, but stopped abruptly as she saw a servant walking briskly towards them, his face grim.
“I’m sorry my Lady, to interrupt your conversation.” The man bowed. “But a message has just arrived, and the runner insisted it was urgent. The servant looked pained as he spoke. “He had ridden his horse nearly ragged.”
Typhan’s stomach leapt again, her nerves jumping back to alertness as she sat forward. “Please, no apologies. Thank you for bringing this to me so quickly.” She took the envelope from him and pried off the wax. It was stamped with the Rhounet seal. She stared at it for a moment, her hands stopping just before opening the folds.
Corinus stood up beside her, nodding to the man. “Absolutely right. Typhan, if you wish I can you alone.”
“No,” she said quickly, “No, please stay.” She gave him a grateful smile and finally opened the message. It was short, but direct.
Marquise, I am sorry to have to send you this news. Your father’s illness has progressed despite my efforts. I would suggest you return as soon as you are able.
Typhan closed her eyes, letting out a breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding. The message was signed P. Drusier. Her father’s physician. He was a stoic man, not at all given to exaggeration. He would never have sent this kind of message unless ….
Dahlia arrived at that moment in a rustle of skirts and beads, slipping expertly through the crowd. “Typhan, dear!” She sat down next to Ty on the fountain’s edge. “I just heard there was a message.”
Typhan kept her eyes on the letter, reading the words again. She felt a lump rise in her throat. Prying herself away from the paper, she looked up to see Corinus and Dahlia still gazing at her, eyes full of concern.
“It’s my father,” she said softly, handing the message to Dahlia. “I must go back to Rhounet as soon as possible.”
Dahlia scanned the letter quickly before grasping one of Ty’s hands in hers. “Of course.” She called over her servant, who had been standing silently by the door after delivering the message. “Have the Marquise’s trunks packed and loaded onto a carriage immediately. Have it hitched and ready to go within the hour.”
“At once, my Lady.” The man bowed and walked away, gesturing to a few other servers as he did.
“Barras will arrange for your transportation.” Dahlia gave Ty’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I can send you with an escort as well, considering the late hour. Merrik perhaps? Or maybe it would be best to send you with two?” She bit her lip idly as she considered.
“Thank you, Dahlia.” Typhan stood, her mind racing. “But you don’t have to do all this.”
“Of course I do,” Dahlia stood as well. “You have enough to think of right now. I’m not a doctor, but I am good at ordering people around. If that’s all I can do to help, then that’s what I’ll do.” She gave Typhan a sympathetic smile.
Ty laughed softly in spite of herself. “Thank you, truly.”
“Now, you go change into better traveling clothes and I’ll make sure Merrik is ready to leave as soon as you are.”
Typhan allowed her friend’s confidence to buoy her as Dahlia lead her back into the manor, barely aware of her surroundings.
“Where is that man?” Dahlia murmured to herself, looking around the hall. After a moment Dahlia stopped, turning to look at Corinus. “Brother!”
Typhan nearly bumped into Dahlia’s voluminous skirts, startled.
Corinus looked confused. “Yes?” He had stopped short behind Typhan.
“You should be her escort, Brother.” Dahlia rushed up to him, her eyes hopeful. “I hadn’t thought of it until just this moment, but you really must go with her.”
“Escort?” He paused, considering. “I don’t want to impose, but if you think it would help you, of course I will.” He turned to Typhan.
She blinked, the numbness she had felt since reading message fading just a bit. Dahlia and Corinus were looking at her, and their dark-eyed expressions were so alike that it would have been comical at any other time. She felt an unexpected surge of gratitude. They were truly sincere, so willing to help her in any way they could. It was all she could do to nod, her eyes welling with tears.
“Yes,” she said. “I think it would help me very much.” She turned around before she lost her composure entirely. They were still at a party, after all. “I’ll be down as soon as I have changed.” Typhan headed back towards the main staircase, pulling her skirts up so that she could move quickly. The crowd parted before her this time, as if sensing her urgency. As she climbed the stairs Ty heard Dahlia’s voice behind her, carried over the crowd.
“Take care of her, Brother.”
Typhan paused as she reached the top, listening for his response. His soft voice just barely reached her.
“I will try.”
Typhan breathed the words in, finding comfort in them. For now, they would serve to carry her.