The scene of the mighty Judge Magister Gabranth's defeat was a piteous one, and also so uniquely comical it immediately dissolved the cloud of irritation that had settled on Drace for being pulled away from a late evening meal. The conqueror of this ruthless warrior was squirming madly in the arms of one of the House guard and sucking his fist in tearful fury—the fell creature known as Lord Larsa Ferrinas Solidor, age one.

Only long years of practice enabled her to keep the corners of her mouth set in a sour line. "This is why you called me here? Where in the name of the Allfather is his nurse?" she demanded.

"In sickbay, being treated for a concussion. She slipped on a patch of ice while returning from the blessings on the holy mount," he replied.

"Terrible bad fortune for her, but I fail to see what this has to do with me."

"He's been shrieking like this ever since I brought him back to the Levianthan. I thought you might...know what to do with babes."

"Indeed," she said archly, as if by the virtue of her faintly rounded hips she would know, a career soldier who had won admittance to the premier military academy in Archadia at the age of fourteen and never looked back. Whether Gabranth was aware of the impropriety of his question she wasn't sure. The newest Judge was still difficult for her to read; he did not speak nor conduct himself like a man used to palaces. In his past life he was likely a common soldier of one of the little kingdoms Archadia had recently swallowed, judging by his speech and the amusing uncertainty about how to treat lady knights and Judges—hence the foolish question, which nevertheless demanded an answer before she was stricken deaf by its subject.

"I suppose I will have to think of something, since you are frightening him out of whatever short measure of wits he has," she said. At his side, the poor guardsman shrank away from under the barrage of tiny fists that, more often than not, succeeded in connecting to his face.

Gabranth bowed quickly and fled with his aide at his heels. Military men. They could spit in the face of certain death, but present them with a weeping child and their wills turned to jelly. Why someone would want to bring a baby on a warship in the first place was beyond her understanding, but when that someone was the Emperor of all Archadia, it was not wise to question his motives. She pushed up her shirtsleeves, placed her hands on her hips, and began assessing her options. Being deposited on the cold floor of his quarters by the guard did not improve Larsa's mood any, and he was still wailing at full bore. Lungs like that spoke well of his future strength as an orator, but at the moment were beginning to drive her to vexation.

Despite the show of confidence to Gabranth and his attendant, she did not have any firsthand knowledge of small children. She did, however, know very well how to comfort frightened puppies, which are a great deal more mobile (and toothier) than her present charge. Her estate was famed for the quality of its bloodhounds, the care of which she saw to personally whenever she had leave. They couldn't be so different, could they, leaving aside the fact her dogs were probably smarter? And if he bites her…well…she is comforted by the fact Lord Larsa does not have many teeth.

Hungry. He's probably hungry. Scooping him up to balance awkwardly on one hip she pulled open the small icebox set on the countertop, and only her exceptional strength kept him from pitching forward into it when he spotted the bottle of milk inside. She grabbed it and popped it immediately in his mouth…and…blessed silence. That answers that question. She saw his absent nurse do this once at the palace. There's even a gliding chair, now bolted to the floor. Finding a position agreeable to both parties took some time and a few indignant whimpers from Larsa, but finally satisfied with her amateurish performance, he nuzzled against the soft suede of her jerkin and reached up to twine his stubby little fingers around her chain of office. She discovered human babies do a curious thing when they suck, something puppies cannot—look their keeper in the eyes. It's been a long, long time since someone other than another Judge Magister or Gramis himself did that, perhaps frightened of being caught in a lie and devoured. The terrible power she commands has its own rewards, but it was lonely, sometimes. Larsa didn't know enough to fear, and so she he smiled, and he paused in his sucking to smile back.

She would be reluctant to admit this to any of her peers, but his plump face has a certain charm now that it's not quite so red, and the wisps of dark hair tickling her arm are finer than swansdown. Holding him does not stir any vacuous sentimental longing for children of her own, but it does kindle a desire to protect this fragile thing. His three elder brothers were rotted by the foul air and fouler politicking of the capital city, especially Vayne, whose voice had not yet settled comfortably into the baritone range but was nevertheless beginning to display signs of potentially lethal ambition. Larsa was far removed from the throne—the chance he would have to shoulder the weight of the Imperial mantle was hair thin at best. He could afford a touch of gentleness, enough to comfort an aging emperor who would likely see the rest of children at each other's throats before too long. Looking down into his sleepy grey eyes, Drace made a promise to herself, beyond the oaths of loyalty she swore to his father: this one will be different. This one...will not be spoilt.