(C) Intelligent Systems and Nintendo
The Sprig: Sweet Alyssum
(worth beyond beauty)
It was rare indeed when Louise found herself spending time alone with her dear father. Although theirs was a close family, it was not unusual for her father to be gone during the daylight hours so that he might oversee the matters of the land. It used to be that she would accompany him in order to better understand the various factors that went into maintaining the farmland and the exporting of produce. Although of course her future husband would take control of such matters, she was still the heiress and neither of her parents cared to deprive her of any sort of education. Now that she was thirteen, the thoughts of her parents had turned to making sure she was a marriageable lady, and as a result the trips she had once taken many times a week with her father now dwindled to every so often, provided that her progress in her lessons was more than adequate. Since they would never deprive her of her precious archery lessons, Louise found this to be acceptable--although she still missed those times with her father, never mind that he was always home by dinner.
So it was a treat indeed when she found herself sharing afternoon tea with him out on the veranda; late spring and mid-autumn were the best times of the year in the county of Alloway, located in southwestern Etruria. Her mother was visiting relatives in Aquleia, but as neither her mother nor her mother's city-bound relatives liked each other very much, it was deemed safer by all if as little of fuss as possible was taken about the whole event. Louise used to wonder why her mother, who not only bucked tradition but had knocked it down onto its knees and walked over it by marrying an untitled nobleman when she herself was the only child of a duke and cousin to the king would even bother visiting people she detested, but once Louise began her lessons to become a lady she understood. As a female of noble heritage, she traded her freedom for comfort, assured by all that it was the right and good choice. If she had been meant to wield power she would have been born a man, or at least had some talent at magic so she could be eligible to one day become Mage General of the Kingdom of Etruria, the only generalship granted to either sex.
Louise did not want power, not really, but rather a simple happiness. As happiness to her was to love and be loved, and noblewomen did not marry for such, she found herself being at odds with who she was and what she was meant to do. An identity crisis at thirteen--she sighed to think about it.
"What troubles my little Louise today? You haven't even touched your food."
She started a little, her cheeks warm as she realized that she had drifted off. Unbecoming, her tutor would have said. "Forgive me, Father, I was only admiring the freshness of the scones today," she murmured, giving the raspberry-dotted thing the evil eye. Her tutor had commanded her not three days ago to lose weight before the next dinner with the other nobles of the area; already developing and shorter than the other girls, Louise was at a disadvantage in emulating the newest style: to be Sacaean-slender and tall (the green hair and eyes, though, were thankfully not a requirement).
"Hm." Stroking his short, well-kept beard, her father looked thoughtful. "They are amazingly fresh, are they not? I've always been proud of Ellie's skill with small treats. However, I suspect that was not what caused your rather downtrodden look," he commented, and she could not help the small gasp that escaped her. "I thought as much. Are you already so old that you cannot talk to your father? I promise to keep it a secret from your mother, if it would help." He grinned, and in return she could not help her smile.
"But it's such a silly thing, Father."
"Your mother's father often says the same of me, so I think that would make me even more able to understand."
Louise couldn't deny that; her maternal grandfather was a gruff, begrudgingly-affectionate old man with a distinct distaste of their life 'in the country', as their home was referred to in the capital. "Mm...but I don't find you silly, Father," she said with a wide smile. The look he gave her in return was so fond that she found she no longer had the will to fight. "I suppose I've been wondering...hm, perhaps you might be displeased with me."
He said nothing for a long while, then, in measured tones, "If you've broken something of your mother's again, I suppose I might be disposed towards being a bit unhappy, yes. You know very well how precious your mother thinks those baubles of hers are."
"Um, no, I've not touched Mother's jewelry since...that time." Father and daughter shuddered at the memory-- 'precious' was an understatement. "Rather, I was thinking...that my being a girl was troublesome...in a sense..." Her voice became quieter and quieter as she watched her father's right eyebrow rise higher and higher, a golden arch of confusion. "Perhaps?" she squeaked out after a moment.
"This is where the ruination starts," her father said quietly. "I've noticed the change in you recently, but I thought it not my place to talk of these matters. After all, be it far from me to step in front of what is right and proper." His tone was distinctly bitter, and she flinched inside to hear her kind father speak in such a way. "Come with me, Louise," he stated, rising from his seat and walking towards the fields in long strides. She followed him as quickly as she could without appearing rushed, frantic--it wouldn't do for one such as herself, or so she had been lectured.
They walked out to the point where they could easily see the work that was being done now, as the afternoon sun resolutely began its descent. Land was being tilled, crops for the autumn harvest were being planted, and the ripening early summer crops were being cared for by the tenants of the land. Her father, while born as part of the gentry (although their Etruscan heritage preferred to call a spade a spade and their family part of the petit bourgeoisie), had been bolstered by both his wife's connections and his friendship with the count to be granted a title of his own--esquire, though he had never served in the military. Louise thought that, although he seemed appreciative of the benefits that arose from possessing such a title, he did not like it very much.
"Do you see them work, Louise?" She nodded, though he was looking out at the fields.
"Yes, Father. They work hard, as usual."
"Mm. They do. They know things that any nobleman would consider bothersome."
"Everything has its own place. Apples are to be picked from trees, while potatoes are to be picked from the ground. It would be silly to till the land for apples, as it makes no sense to prepare precious land for something that cannot naturally be found in the ground. Do you see?"
Looking down at her, he smiled in a gentle manner. "Good, good. Honesty will serve you well, no matter what others say." He patted her on the head. "What you don't understand now, and consequently what the entire sphere of nobility will never choose to understand, is that these things are not interchangeable. Apples and potatoes are two different crops and will always stay separate from the other. And so it is with humans."
"Oh," said Louise, who was still confused. Her father seemed to sense this, because he knelt down and looked up at her, his rough hands loosely holding onto her upper arms.
"In other words, my dear, you can only be yourself until the end." She looked down, uncomfortable; his words were far from what her tutors said. "I know you have been told differently, but you must never believe it. What everyone else save myself and your mother will lead you to believe is that you must become everything proper society wants you to be. But does your mother follow these trends?"
Shyly, Louise shook her head. Her mother was everything but what she was expected to be, if the mumblings Louise had heard in proper company were to be believed.
"Of course not. Louise, you must always remember this. What I am about to tell you will lead you to happiness should you follow it." Her father's eyes, pale blue, held hers in a serious gaze for a long moment; in that moment, she felt she would never forget the way he looked right then. "Beauty is as transient as the seasons. You must find within yourself worth beyond beauty."
She stared at him, a strange feeling dawning over her. It felt like the icy touch of fear. "Worth...beyond beauty? But, Father..." She was afraid to say the next words, the truth about her and Etrurian society that she could never breach.
I am but a woman.
"Yes," he said, as if he already knew what was running through her mind like a frightened doe. "It is difficult to believe, considering what your tutors may have told you and your entrances into society. Once you begin in earnest to secure for yourself a husband, it will be all you hear. And perhaps by then, you will have matured to become the perfect woman at the right time and marry far beyond our humble station. But afterwards, when you are no longer perfect, what will you have that is your own?"
Discouraged could not even begin to describe her emotional decline--what did she have, indeed? "My bow?" she returned in a hopeless half-whisper. Inexplicably, her father smiled.
"You will have your skill in archery, yes. That is a start." Standing up, he released her arms to brush dirt from his knees before he offered her his arm with a wink. "You answered very well."
"I did?" she asked as she placed her hand on the crook of his elbow. "Maybe I should learn more things, like cooking."
She could hear the smile in his words as he said, "As you like, Louise." When she looked up at him she saw that his profile was strong, just like her mother's, and she thought that she might like to be just like her parents.
Later, Louise would ponder at length on her father's advice, breaking it down to manageable pieces and consuming it bit by bit until it became her own philosophy. It may have been another hint of her family's eccentricity, their amiable madness that made them the very image of country nobility whenever such a topic was broached among city nobility, but to that sweet child it was nothing less than everything she should and would aspire to as a lady of Etruria. She grasped onto it as easily as she did her own bow, and like her skill in archery it was something to be honed and wielded.
She grasped onto it as tightly as she did her own bow, one year later, before she stepped forward and presented everything she was to the kind-eyed noble who called himself Count Reglay.
The Sapling: Cypress
Pent was waiting for his father to die.
It seemed to come from of nowhere, this sickness that was now grimly marching on through his father's body like an invading army, but Pent supposed that he simply had never noticed the early stages. They were not close, never had been, and now never would. But since this was the man who had sired him, every afternoon Pent would be obligated to take whatever book he was reading and sit at his father's bedside until it was time for dinner. He read quietly, making notes and jotting down annotations as if he were in the castle's library; in front of him his father slept the sleep of the perpetually drugged.
Pent didn't know what he would do if his father woke. And so, he would think years later, it was both necessary and sad that his younger self held onto the hope that he never would.
While the snow fell, Count Reglay stirred.
As calmly as he could, Pent rang for the doctor, who had moved in to oversee his father's sickness. The bell sounded like broken glass, and perhaps that was why Count Reglay opened his eyes. "Father," Pent said, his voice quiet from disuse, "please, go back to sleep."
His father's gaze wavered over to him. There was no recognition in those eyes, and inwardly Pent sighed. He flexed his hand for a moment before carefully laying it upon his father's shoulder. "Father, please. You must rest if you wish to get better."
Dark eyes focused on Pent's face. They looked indignant, all the lines scrunching around them like wrinkled cloth, but there was no other movement on Count Reglay's face. Then, a twitch of his lips. "I..." he breathed.
Frowning, Pent lowered his head to better catch his father's words. "Yes, Father?"
"I am...going to die."
Pent flinched and sat up in his chair, giving his father a stare too surprised to be a glare. He might have said something, but the count had closed his eyes and fallen back into slumber. Just then, the doctor entered the room. "Has something happened?" the doctor inquired.
"He woke up." There was a pause, and then Pent stood. "Is he in any pain, from what you have observed?"
"He complains of it, when he can." The doctor, trained in the arts of the apothecary and not the healing arts of Saint Elimine, pulled out a vial from his coat. "Shall I increase the dosage of sleeping drug? It should give him some comfort."
Glancing down at his father, Pent could not say that he was entirely certain of that; Count Reglay was sleeping, but his chest barely rose. It felt more like looking at a corpse at a wake than a normal person's rest; was that really better than being in pain? Closing his eyes, Pent pinched the bridge of his nose.
He wasn't even sixteen. How could he make these choices when he barely knew what it meant to live?
Finally, he lowered his hand and opened his eyes. "Please do so," he answered, and left the room without a glance back.
Reglay Castle was like a tomb.
Pent walked its halls while catching only the briefest glimpses of the servants. He thought that there had been more of them, but perhaps they had left to work in other households. The steward and the head housemaid had talked to him a couple times when he had first arrived home from Aquleia, but he supposed he had acted too distant and they had decided to follow their own intuition when it came to their jobs. There was no justification for his actions, although everyone else was keen to make them for him. 'Lord Pent is deeply troubled by his father's illness,' or somesuch, he surmised. He wasn't sure how to feel about that.
He wanted to go back to the academy and throw himself into his studies. There was a comfort there that he could not find in the hallowed halls of his childhood home, and he felt more for it than he did here, where everyone called him lord and master. He had been working in courses so advanced that he was the only student in them, assisting researchers in mapping out the intricate framework of anima spells. But once the messenger had come with the news of his father's collapse, everyone at the academy had pulled away from him, as if now that there was a chance he would become the new Count Reglay he would have no more time for them and the mysteries of anima magic.
Walking the empty halls, he reached the foyer and frowned when he realized where he was. As if his face had been grasped by a hand and forced to turn, he gazed at the top of the stairs, where a portrait was placed so that all the attention would be on it. It was a magnificent portrait done by the leading painter of that time, when his mother had still been alive. It was said that he took after her in looks, but he didn't need anyone to tell him what his eyes could see for themselves; she wore her storm cloud-gray hair in the style of the times, in elegant pinned-up twists that left only a few strategic locks to frame her oval face and her eyes shone to match the amethysts in her necklace.
Pent didn't remember her. She had died of some wasting disease when he was young, and he had been sent to one relative after another before finally being placed in school, where he flourished. Occasionally he would visit home, and rarely he would actually see his father. But Count Reglay dutifully paid for his schooling and encouraged his studies in magic by throwing more money around, so he supposed he should be grateful. After all, it wasn't as if it was any different for his peers.
Still though, Pent thought he might like to be a different sort of father.
His father was awake when Pent entered the room a few days later. Mid-winter, the castle was unbearably cold, but his father had tossed aside some of the many layers of blankets that had wrapped him in a cocoon of warmth the last time Pent had seen him.
"Sit," his father said, his voice a mumble of what it once was. Pent did so, feeling strangely agitated about his father's apparent recovery. It seemed that the count was trying to rally his strength, appear like his former self, but Pent could see it for the farce it was and was disturbed by it.
"Father," Pent mumbled, numb with discontent, "you are looking better."
Those words seemed to do something to the count's veneer of strength, for he seemed to deflate. Pent's eyes widened with surprise and fear--what was happening? He rang for the doctor over and over again until all he could hear was the bell, a death toll for his father. The doctor rushed in. "What is happening?" he exclaimed. "Is he--"
"Leave!" his father shouted, upper body up and his arms as leverage as he put everything he had into that single word, before he collapsed onto the bed and began to convulse. Pent leapt up from his seat, then froze--what was he supposed to do? As the doctor surged forward and tried to hold his father down, struggling to fill him up with more medicine so his father could sleep the rest of his life away, Pent could only watch in horror.
He wanted to run. Run out of the room, out of the castle, out of the county of Reglay and the kingdom entirely. He had never felt so keenly that he needed to leave and never come back. He didn't want to deal with this, never thought he would be watching his father die without dignity before his eyes just months before his sixteenth birthday--what was he supposed to do!
Clenching his jaw, Pent stood and turned his head away as the doctor grasped his father's face and forced the contents of one of those vials into the count's mouth. Moments later, his father seemed to calm, then his body slackened. "It is done," the doctor said, and Pent could detect a mocking tone towards him, as if the doctor viewed him as a coward for not...for not doing what, exactly? Restraining his lord father?
The doctor left, and a maid briskly walked in, probably to straighten up his father. "Stop," Pent said.
"Please leave," he said. "I will take care of him."
"But milord, I--"
Pent turned to her and tried to smile. "Please."
Maybe she saw something in his expression that he didn't know how to articulate, because he soon heard her quiet footfalls as she left the room. Turning to Count Reglay, Pent leaned in to rearrange the blankets around his body. His father's mouth was open, saliva streaking the corners of his lips. Suddenly shamed, Pent closed his father's mouth and took out his handkerchief to make the count look more dignified. Presentable.
He wanted to laugh at that thought. Then, he wanted to cry. This wasn't that stern, proper Count Reglay that watched over everything that was his in that exacting, precise manner, as if everything could be calculated to the coin. This wasn't that distant man who had sired him, the man who had given him everything he could ever want except a reason other than the proper relation to call him father. This was a sick man who still couldn't find the same release of death as his wife had found ten years ago.
Slumping down in his chair, Pent closed his eyes and pretended that the reason why his eyes throbbed with raw heat was because of eyestrain.
It was the month of light, the first month of the new year, when his father awoke for the last time. Pent was reading, undisturbed by the chill seeping into the room. He sat in his father's room all the time now, not just for that restricted time between afternoon tea and dinner, and read as much as he could. It was no longer his studies that he focused on, but various ordinances and letters that needed to be settled. Since there was no hope of his father's recovery, it was up to him now to fulfill the role of Count Reglay--though he fully intended to continue his studies as a mage and as a man who loved magic. His sixteenth birthday was next month, and already he had heard mutterings over a celebration, though he hoped not.
His father groaned.
Immediately, Pent put aside the documents he had been perusing and leaned towards his father, grasping one frail, bony hand. He had been feeling a bad omen as of late, and now when he glimpsed his father's face he knew it was time.
His father opened his eyes.
Hazy-eyed from a mixture of pain and the medicinal creations used to suppress said pain, his father seemed to glance at some point beyond Pent's shoulder. It was by coincidence that their eyes would meet now, as his father surrendered himself to God's hands, and when they did he saw his father's eyes widen as if the elder man was seeing him for the first time. Perhaps, Pent thought, he was. "You are my son," his father ventured.
"Yes," answered Pent. His hand was squeezed; it felt as if that same hand grasped his heart when he witnessed the smile lingering upon his father's face.
"I am pleased," said his father, and then he died.
The Bouquet series was originally posted to my LJ as junk fic--short stories that I would write and post as they came to mind, with little in the way of proofreading. I was using them to boost my confidence in my writing, which worked to some extent. While the stories included more than Pent/Louise, the stories that I will posting on FFN will exclusively be Pent/Louise because, hey, why not? I have a two-part story to clean up first, so that will be posted in time. The overall series summary will change with each post.
The individual titles, and indeed the entire premise of this series, is influenced by Victorian flower language. The site I used is in my profile.
While I greatly appreciate any interest in Legion of Honor, I'm sorry to say that I can't tell you when the serial will be continued, or even when the next chapter will be up.
And yeah, romance-centered. I'm a little ashamed, but I'll get over it.