SUMMARY: Five times Buri gave Thayet a Midwinter gift.

CANON: Song of the Lioness through post-Daughter of the Lioness

PAIRING: Primarily Buri/Thayet, background Buri/Raoul, Thayet/Jon, and in my head but not textually clear Buri/Onua and Raoul/Gary/Cythera (consensual polyamory)

RATING: K

WARNING: Death of a major character who is not Buri or Thayet, peacefully and at a ripe old age.

NOTES: Written for ambyr for fandom_stocking. Many thanks to osprey_archer for betaing, and for helping me figure out how to make the emotional arc work better.


Five Midwinter Gifts

435 HE - Fief Thanhyien, Sarain

It was unusually hot that Midwinter at Thanhyien, and Buri, who had been raised in the north, hardly thought it was a Midwinter at all. It rained lightly in the afternoons, but there was not a hint of snow on the wind, and the rice paddies on the hillsides were still a rich, shocking green. At home there would have been a fire in the chieftain's tent, filling the air with warm smoke, and the women would have danced to the low drone of the horse-head fiddle. But here in the south, the lowlanders did not mark Midwinter.

The princess Thayet told her that it was green all year here; soon it would be the Feast of the River Lady, and there would be a parade and feast in the village. Buri wondered why the lowlanders were always trying to take K'mir pastureland when they had such rich country as this already, but she looked at the princess and saw the jin Wilima bones in the arrogant arch of her nose and the cut of her cheekbones, and did not say it.

She bought Thayet a silk scarf at the market in the village for a Midwinter present, because it was expected, although she had no idea if it was the kind of thing the princess liked. The scarf was a deep crimson the color of Thayet's lips, and the princess smiled and thanked her politely.

Buri's mother had bid her to serve Thayet, for Kalasin's sake, so Buri smiled back and tried to believe that Thayet was not her father's daughter.

436 HE - Rachia, Sarain

"I hate him," Thayet said, her voice low and bitter. She was still wearing the ropes of pearls that the Warlord had given her at the Midwinter feast, and as she reached up to pull them over her head, one of the strings snapped, scattering pearls across the floor.

"Thayet—"

"He wanted a son! I wish to the Goddess he had his son, so perhaps he would not be so eager to marry me to that—that—for the sake of a few fighting men. As if zhir Anduo isn't eyeing the Glass Throne already." Thayet sank down onto the edge of her bed, shaking. "Buri, I can't marry him. You saw him."

Buri had; she had watched Dusan zhir Anduo with Thayet, all perfect sleek courtesy, and she had also seen how the servants flinched away when he walked by. He'd even looked like he wanted to hit Thayet at one point, when she was arguing with him about the new K'mir edicts, and Buri doubted he would hold back once they were married.

And the Warlord was a fool if he thought he'd live a year past the wedding, with a son-in-law like that.

Buri managed to gather up most of the pearls in the skirt of her coat, and she dumped them into a pile next to Thayet. "You won't marry him," she said, kneeling before Thayet and clasping her hands. "I would die first."

Thayet blinked; her eyes were wet, and she looked exhausted. "Buri, I don't—why would you say that? I would never ask it."

"Because you're—" Buri stopped. She had been about to say Kalasin's daughter, but it wasn't true, not anymore. She loved Thayet for her own sake. "Because you are my lady. Thayet jian Wilima, Kalasin's daughter, I place my hands between yours." Buri swallowed, ignoring the nervous flutter in her gut. "I place my hands between yours, and swear my faith and loyalty to you, for life and death, wherever the four winds blow, so may the gods witness it. And I swear it, you will not marry Dusan zhir Anduo, if I have to kill him myself."

Afterwards, she could never remember what Thayet had said in return—the usual words of liege to vassal, likely—but she did remember Thayet's hard, desperate embrace afterwards, as if Buri were the only person in the world she could trust.

By spring, it was true.

440 HE - Corus, Tortall

The tea was a good Udayapur blend, smoky and rich, with an earthy undertone and the faintest hint of pine and jasmine, still in its original brick stamped with the grower's mark. It was the tea Thayet's mother Kalasin had always liked.

The tea came from a new shop in the Lower City. The shop-mistress had been a Saren lowlander with a painful-looking limp, although she was only a little older than Buri. A refugee; and Buri wondered if her limp was from a K'mir sword or arrow, but did not ask. The girl's eyes had widened a little when Buri entered the shop, but she had been polite.

(Before she left, Buri had asked about K'mir appliqued felt saddle-blankets behind the counter, and the woman said they were made by another newcomer to the city, a Raadeh woman who worked at a stable. There were a handful of K'mir refugees in Corus now, drawn westward by Kalasin's daughter. Maybe enough, soon, for the Midwinter dances of Buri's childhood.)

The tea brick had cost half her pay for the month, but Thayet had been moping around the Palace since Roald's birth, and Buri hated to see her smile and glitter, the perfect queen, only to go silent and sad in private. Perhaps something from home would help, a little.

Thayet cried on Buri's shoulder after she unwrapped the tea, and then called a servant for hot water and a tea service.

Jonathan found them sitting in front of the fire, sipping tea and singing the lonely songs of the steppes, but Thayet was smiling through her tears. "Thank you," he told Buri quietly, when she said goodnight and left for her own quarters.

Buri tried not to feel jealous that he was staying.

464 HE - Fief Conté, Tortall

It was a fine winter storm outside, the wind whipping the snow into a sheet of white, so that one could get lost crossing the courtyard, but inside the thick stone walls of the keep it was warm enough. No one had been called out to fight bandits or spidrens, so it was one of the better Midwinters in Tortall that Buri could remember.

"Midwinter luck, Buri." Thayet leaned over and dropped a kiss on Buri's forehead.

Buri swore. "I forgot to get you a present this year," she said, glancing darkly down at little Pathom, dozing quietly against her shoulder at last. "I seem to be forgetting all kinds of things these days."

"You know you don't have to give me anything." Thayet rested a hand on Buri's shoulder. "I had six of my own, you know, and I could hardly keep a thought in my head for months after Roald was born. Anyway, you could let me hold Pathom."

"Are you sure that isn't you giving me a gift?" Buri asked, handing the baby over to Thayet, who cradled him with a practiced expertise that Buri would have envied, if she ever planned to have another one, which she didn't. She was already forty and liked her sleep, so one was shaping up to be quite enough.

"You," Thayet said to Pathom, "take after your mother, lucky boy."

"Hey," Raoul said mildly from over by the fire, glancing up from his book.

"You know your wife is the most beautiful woman in the world," Thayet told him serenely, ignoring Buri's glare and leaning down again to kiss her.

"I can't argue with that," said Raoul, and Buri turned her glare on him.

484 HE - Fief Malorie's Peak, Tortall

Thayet was still as beautiful now as she had been at sixteen; the jin Wilima bones aged well, and her hair was still thick and wavy, although it had gone iron-gray some times ago. Her eyes were still the same bright hazel, her mouth still quick to smile, but as she stared into the dying fire, Thayet was frowning faintly.

She was probably thinking of Jon again; Jon who had died in spring, peacefully in his bed with his family around him. It had been given to him, as the Voice of the Tribes, to see his own death; that was not a burden Buri wanted to bear herself, but she supposed it might have its uses.

"It was good of you and Raoul to invite me here for Midwinter," said Thayet. "You know, you can't spend nearly forty-five years married to someone and not reshape your life to them. I see a tapestry Jon bought, or a cup he used, and I remember him."

"I know," said Buri, but she was not thinking of Raoul, but of fifty years at Thayet's side.

"Oh, I have become an old woman," said Thayet, waving a hand impatiently at the chessboard and sitting up straighter. "Have we time for another game or must you go now?"

"Actually, I was thinking I might stay, if you like. We don't have to play chess."

"I shouldn't take you from your husband, not on this longest night." But Thayet had reached over and clasped Buri's hand, her grip still firm, although the bones felt closer to the surface, her skin delicate.

"Raoul said you would need me more tonight." Buri grinned. "Besides, he won't be alone, either."

Thayet was silent for a long moment, looking at Buri with a little smile. "I think I am not in the mood for chess," she said at last, and stood, pulling Buri to her feet.

And some things were still the same, still as sweet as they had always been.