Winters at Castle Black
Warnings/notes: snippet-collection, silliness, oocness, possibly AU (does it ever snow in Dragaera in general, and Southmoor in particular?).
For this snippet: spoilers for Orca and before, faintly suggested Norathar/Cawti, Aliera, Morrolan.
Disclaimer: The wondrous world of Dragaera was created by Steven Brust.
written at 20th december 2006, by Misura
It's the winter Aliera will remember as the one when Vlad and Sethra weren't there, and it will only be much later that she'll realize that she might as well have remembered it as the winter that Cawti and little Vlad Norathar came to Castle Black, and wonder at the fact that she doesn't.
Morrolan has arranged for this visit, of course - Morrolan decides who's worthy or interesting enough to invite to Castle Black, and if Aliera sometimes finds fault with Morrolan's choices, then that's just another thing to bring up in their arguments. In the end though, Aliera has to admit that Castle Black is big enough to avoid Morrolan's more tedious and less attractive guests, and that if she were to request of her cousin not to invite a certain person, that he might well heed her request. Morrolan is never annoying her on purpose; that would simply be rude, and Morrolan's never rude.
Typically, Morrolan doesn't inform her of Cawti's visit several weeks in advance, or even over breakfast, when she's sitting to his left, chatting about a book he's read very recently, while she read it several hundreds of years ago, and thus can't remember most of it. He does mention that the Dragon Heir, which is to say Norathar e'Lanya, will be visiting, which is enough to make Aliera completely forget the book, and turn her thoughts to dresses and entertainments instead.
Norathar, rumor has informed her, adamantly refuses to have anything to do with court-fashion, or court-gossip, or anything going on at court, really. While Aliera can understand the dislike for courtiers, she feels that someone who will one day be Empress should take more of an interest in such things.
Morrolan, being male and thus stupid, argues with her in a tone of mild disagreement, indicating he really doesn't have any strong opinions on the subject, but is willing to indulge Aliera. By the time they're sipping their cup of klava, they both lean back, Aliera content with having assured herself her cousin is an ignorant back-country oaf at heart, and Morrolan looking forwards to a meeting with Fentor (or so Aliera presumes at the time) who hasn't argued with him for several centuries now.
Breakfast over and done with, Aliera takes a stroll to the courtyard, which she finds still regrettably white. It's been snowing for three days now, and Morrolan has ordered all duels to be suspended, after a nearly-permanently-fatal one, due to one of the combatants slipping on a patch of snow at a moment that would have been very opportune in a real fight, but not so much in a duel where cuts to the head are strictly forbidden. Aliera thinks Morrolan is being a prick - there's such a thing as teleports, after all, and in the days when she was young, a duel to the death with two survivors was a contradiction in terms, and not something demanded by honor.
She's about to go back inside, to inspect the group of young Dragons who've been giving her puppy-looks during breakfast, to see if perhaps one of them looks like he might actually provide her with some entertainment, when something hits her on her back, something not hard enough to be a rock, or any kind of weapon. She turns, and Cawti's standing there, looking flushed.
Aliera's about to ask if Cawti's seen what hit her when she sees the boy. He's dressed against the cold like there's no such thing as heating spells, wearing a scarf and a thickly padded shirt, and woolen mittens, both of which show traces of snow. He doesn't have Vlad's eyes, or Vlad's face, or Vlad's colour of hair, or anything of Vlad's really. He's entirely his own person.
"We visited Vlad's grandfather last week," Cawti says, instead of 'hello'.
"He was very nice," the boy adds, glaring at Aliera, like he's sure she's not going to be nice at all. "He showed me how to make snowballs."
"I see," Aliera says. Nobody's ever showed her how to make snowballs. She wonders if Morrolan knows, if growing up in the East means he was taught such things. He's too old for it now, of course, as is she. "Do you want to come inside?"
Cawti nods and the boy shakes his head, but follows her anyway, to Lady Teldra, who smiles her welcoming smile, and seems not surprised at all. For the first time, Aliera wonders if that's true, if Morrolan tells his seneschal things he won't tell his cousin.
She walks to her room alone, without having sought out the company of Morrolan's guests, most of whom are still sitting in the Great Hall, talking and laughing, and possibly discussing the weather.
Norathar arrives around noon, too late for lunch, but in perfect time to witness the beginning of the melting of the snow on Castle Black's courtyard. She thanks Morrolan for his invitation, beams at Cawti, bows to Lady Teldra and nods at Aliera. Morrolan assures her he is honored by her visit, Cawti beams back, Lady Teldra inclines her head, and Aliera tries a smile and fails.
After requesting of Norathar to consider his house her own, Morrolan departs, back to his library, probably, to find a spell to keep his courtyard free of snow, or so Aliera hopes. Lady Teldra slips away quietly, politely, back to her place at the door, ready to greet the next guest, leaving Aliera with Norathar and Cawti and the boy who doesn't look like Vlad.
"I missed you," Norathar says, but Cawti's the one who steps forwards and hugs her, wordlessly.
"Don't you have somewhere else to go?" the boy asks Aliera.
"No," Aliera says curtly. All her duels have been canceled, all of Morrolan's male guests are either utter bores or brawn without brains, and Aliera's not familiar enough with the way Morrolan's arranged the books in his library to hunt down the snow-sweeper spell herself. Besides, Morrolan will probably be there, in the library, studying. She'd just get in the way.
She's not much use here either, but at least she's not in the way. Norathar and Cawti hardly seem to even know she's there, still embracing each other - and Aliera becomes aware a bit suddenly and a little surprised that yes, this is an embrace, not just a hug.
"I missed you, too," Cawti says finally, still not moving away. Aliera thinks she might kiss Norathar, or that Norathar might kiss her, like two lovers who have not seen one another for centuries.
"Let's go somewhere where we can have a little privacy," Norathar says, looking at Aliera.
Cawti looks at the boy, who snorts and shrugs. Aliera wonders what Cawti has told him, about Vlad and Norathar and Morrolan and herself, and how much of it he'll tell her, if she asks him politely.
"You stay out of trouble," Norathar tells him, adding, as she turns to Cawti, "Morrolan won't let anything happen to him. He's perfectly safe here."
Cawti nods, glances at Aliera, and frowns. Aliera wants to demand what she's thinking, but Norathar whispers something too low to overhear, making Cawti blush and smile, before asking "My room or yours?", to which Cawti answers "Mine" very quickly. The two of them are gone very soon after that, leaving Aliera in the courtyard with the melting snow and the boy, Cawti's son, and Vlad's.
"Who are you, anyway?" the boy asks.
Aliera considers telling him it's rude to ask for people's names without offering your own, then decides it might be better not to. 'Vlad Norathar' is not a good name for a child whose mother doesn't want to draw too much attention, although Aliera supposes it's as good a name as any for a short-lived Easterner. There's a good chance that he'll be long dead and gone before Norathar becomes Empress, and Vlad might well be dead before anyone will address this boy by his first name.
"My name is Aliera e'Kieron," she tells him.
"Oh," he says, forming the sound with his whole mouth, his eyes staring at her round and wide. "Wow. You're a lot taller than I thought you'd be."
Aliera laughs, and doesn't mind when Morrolan tells her it's going to snow again the next day, over dinner, with Norathar seated to his right, and Cawti next to her, still flushed and beaming.