Author's note: This is the first in a series of one-shots, most of which take place during the incidents of Crown Duel and Court Duel. I call them "Meetings in the Mist" because they portray events that we read of, or presume to have occurred, but are not actually present at as readers.
They will not go in any particular order, but this one is about Princess Elestra and Prince Alaerec shortly before the last battle of the war.
Years before she had made a legendary ride across Remalna to warn the old king of the pirate threat, crossing the kingdom in two days of torrential rain. Now Princess Elestra traveled in more comfort.
Even so, she thought, climbing out of the carriage with as much grace and dignity as she could muster after the journey from Athanarel, my bones are stiff. She looked quickly around the Renselaeus courtyard, seeing, among the gathered servants and the bustle of arrival, her husband but not her son.
"Welcome home," Alaerec murmured as they embraced. She knew by his body language that he had news for her. After many years together, they no longer needed words to communicate. "Uneventful trip?"
"Relatively so," she agreed. They would say no more until they were behind the safety of closed doors-- the years had taught them that, too.
When the servants had brought hot listerblossom tea, and closed the door behind them, Elestra sank into the comfort of a chair, looking away from her husband as he did the same-- with more grace, she noted wrily. He did not like to have his pain observed, but even when his old wound from a pirate's sabre bothered him, as it almost always did, he moved with more finesse than she. Their son had inherited this trait of his father's, thankfully, rather than his mother's innate clumsiness.
"Danric is not here," Alaerec said, holding a cup of tea out to her, then pouring one for himself. "The Astiars were ambushed on their way back to Tlanth, and he went to meet with them."
Elestra nodded, thankful that the children of her old friend were safe-- for if they were not, Alaerec would not have phrased his statement thus. "And from there?"
"Battle," her husband answered.
Elestra felt a sudden pang in her heart that she would not see Danric again before he rode to what could be his death. She nodded. "Galdran and Debegri are still marching on Tlanth?"
Alaerec nodded. "They're quite furious. And now they have learned of our betrayal. I was glad to see you safe inside the palace gates."
"And our borders?"
"Well-defended by those who did not go with Danric."
Elestra set down her tea-cup. "I gave him our blessing," Alaerec murmured. "He knows your thoughts, and mine, are with him."
She smiled, not surprised that he had been able to read her thoughts so easily. "Thank you," she said, and shook her head. "I wish..."
It was pointless to go on. There were too many regrets, and dwelling on them served no purpose. Regrets for her brother, the murdered Duke of Savona, and his wife; for Ranisia, Countess of Tlanth, another of Galdran's victims; for all the bright nobles who had quietly disappeared over the years. For the war. For not getting to say good-bye.
Alaerec leaned over and took her hand. "So do I," he said quietly. "So do I."
They sat like that for many minutes, drawing strength from the other's presence; then Elestra straightened up and said with a small smile, "I understand you had the pleasure of entertaining the Astiars."
"I did," Alaerec said, giving his wife an astute look. "It was a pleasure."
Elestra relaxed. Her silent question had been silently answered. Alaerec knew she had ordered her driver to travel more slowly than necessary, and knew why, too: to avoid meeting the Astiar children at Renselaeus. She had guessed how her son felt, perhaps even before he had; guessed from the silent worry in his eyes as they plotted to free the Countess. But she had also guessed how the Lady Meliara felt, from what Danric had not said rather than what he had. From the omissions in his tale she drew a picture of the Countess's behavior towards her son, and Elestra remembered the old Count of Tlanth. She had not wanted to find the daughter a copy.
So she relaxed in her chair. "I have never met them," Elestra said. "What are they like?"
"Much like their mother," Alaerec answered, "in appearance and temperament, as well as personality." His eyes narrowed in the amusement. "Meliara, in particular, is very much like her mother."
"How so?" Elestra asked.
Alaerec's merriment grew into a rare smile. "She threw a candlestick at Danric."
"In front of you?" Elestra was astonished.
The prince shook his head. "No. I saw the bruise, and questioned him about it."
"Bruise?" she echoed, raising an eyebrow.
"From catching it," he clarified. Elestra, vividly remembering a similar incident with Ranisia, didn't know whether to be appalled or amused. "As I understand it, Lady Meliara believed us to be holding her brother captive. Danric said she was quite appalled at herself when she found out the truth."
"Ah," Elestra said, nodding. "Have they resolved their differences, then?"
The prince shook his head, and his face became serious. "I told you that the Astiars were ambushed on their way home. Lord Branaric was shot. The note I received from Danric implied that Lady Meliara blamed him for the attack."
"Her brother should be able to convince her otherwise--" Elestra stopped at the look on her husband's fae.
"Meliara escaped the ambush and returned to Tlanth," he said. "Before our ridings arrived. Danric believes her to be planning an attack on Vesingrui."
Revenge was a powerful motivator-- and from everything Elestra had heard, the Countess of Tlanth was impusive, like her mother before her. But Elestra had faith in her son to handle the situation. She only hoped that Meliara was not foolhardy.
"You observed him at the dinner?" she said, meaning their son.
The faint smile returned. "I observed them, yes," Alaerec said.
Elestra felt the corners of her own mouth tugging upwards as she realized what her husband was implying. "I am glad to hear it."
"I also observed that the Countess seems to be unaware of her own emotions," Alaerec cautioned. "Her primary feeling towards him seems to be resentment-- and confusion."
Elestra nodded. "Understandable, given what she has gone through. I hope he can explain in such a way as to resolve things for her."
"You know Danric," Alaerec said.
"Yes, and I also knew Ranisia," she reminded him. He inclined his head in acknowledgement, smiling a little.
Elestra looked at the time-candle. "Have you arranged any sort of message system with him?"
"We agreed that he was to write when he was able," her husband answered, knowing what she was really asking. "Assuming he was able to convince Meliara of his good intentions this morning, they should be returning to her brother."
"And they march?"
"Two days hence."
Elestra laid her hands on the table, looked down at them, looked up at her husband. "We have all three of us faced greater dangers before," he reminded her, "and escaped unscathed."
Yes: and sometimes they had not been so lucky. Alaerec, sensing her thoughts, laid his hand on hers. She moved around the table and sat next to him, and they sat there, talking without words.