A Matter of Blood Pt. 06

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Family Tree – Updated for End of Part 5

* * *

Grandmother (Mother of all Father and Syrlin, other two sisters are his half-sisters) – Deceased, mentioned in passing later because she had some unusual traits.

* * *

Father (Artan) – His relationship will all three of his sisters is pretty good, if sometimes tempestuous. Cares for family but can be ruthless, cold, and cruel. He would never hit women, but has no such compunction about his sons. Missing and presumed dead.

Seigaldia – Mother of Tyr (1st Child) and Adewyn (2nd Child). She’s more or less loyal to her son, but she has equal devotion to her daughter. Wife. Proud and has a temper. In Marche Grodayn.

Bayrd – Brother, Finn’s Uncle. Has no known children. Was not permitted to marry any of his sisters and has many affairs with commoner and lesser noble women. Spymaster for kingdom. Is in obsessive love with Syrlin who he forced into his bed. Presumably a conspirator with Tyr.

Syrlin – Mother of Finn (3rd Child). Made First Wife due to her unquestioned love and loyalty to her brother. Social butterfly, renowned for her beauty and charm. Capable mage. Escaped from Marche Grodayn and is currently with Finn.

Cedyr – Mother of Merwyd (4th Child) and Raisa (5th Child) and source of their red hair. Concubine, not full wife. Raisa’s name is different from the others out of respect for a friend of hers who died. Concubine without full rights of a wife, reason why is not public knowledge. In Marche Grodayn.

*. * *

Tyr – Heir. Unwell.

Adewyn – Ex-wife of Tyr, rejected. Intended Wife of Finn. Very much in love with Finn but will not put up with his shit. Finn loves her and trusts her advice on all military matters. Hell of a temper. Pregnant with Finn’s child.

Finn – Although he’s declared his intent to marry two of his sisters, none of it is official yet. Reputation for sleeping around, although this was during times when Adewyn and/or Merwyd were not with him and before Raisa as of age, so it is somewhat undeserved. Mostly.

Merwyd – Finn’s first head-over-heels love. First Wife of Tyr, had a daughter with him but her name hasn’t come up yet. Finn still loves her but her current feelings are unknown. Presumed in Marche Grodayn.

Raisa – Intended First Wife of Finn. Loyalty and love for him is complete. Finn loves her deeply and is protective of her. She was trained to be a shadow-magic assassin and is smarter than she gives herself credit for.

* * *

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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One Month Later

It took Tyr longer than I expected to figure it out. He thought that he his baggage train had fallen to a raid and that everything would be easily replaced. Never mind that we’d captured months of food, equipment, and many camp followers, including family members of those who marched in his army. Never mind that we’d brought the heir to the Duchy of the Irons over to our side, closing all the passes back to the south to him. His advisors must be begging him to sue for peace by now, but I knew that he would not.

Tyr still outnumbered us in terms of soldiers, but he was in enemy territory with no way home. He could resupply “from the land” as it was known, but I knew from experience that meant raiding the populace, stealing the food that the people needed to live, as well as their wives and daughters. The various highland clans that made up the bulk of the rural commoners were not drilled soldiers, but they were accustomed to their own type of harassing and raiding warfare. Duke Eorvane had kept them well informed as to what was going on, and they had begun their own efforts.

If Tyr didn’t fight us, he would be bled to death by raiders, desertions and hunger. This is why Eorvane and Adewyn were arguing with me that late autumn morning.

“I mean no disrespect, Finn, you know that,” Eorvane said, exasperated with what he certainly saw as a foolish and impatient prince, “I simply hate to see you squander our advantages. We can avoid him, keep him from resupplying, and then defeat or negotiate with him when he is weakened, after or in the winter.”

I sighed.

“I fear that we may delay too long,” I said, cursing my inability to recall the Journey, “Tyr is dangerous and so is his army, but Bayrd is the wild card. We must get to him as soon as possible.”

“It’s like arguing with a block of wood!” Adewyn said, somewhat less diplomatically. Her moods had begun to swing in proportion to the size of the child in her belly. “Eorvane is trying to save you from yourself, you half-wit! If we lose our army, there is no other, and Tyr can siege the north until he wins and your empty head ends up adorning a pike in Marche Grodayn!”

Eorvane had paled at this latest outburst, no doubt worried at my reaction. He had found himself lately in the unfamiliar role of peacemaker, as Adewyn’s already formidable temper became somewhat canlı bahis şirketleri legendary around the camp. Typically I think I would have argued back, but I had no logic to stand on, only half-remembered figments and hunches. They were right to doubt me. I sighed.

“Very well,” I said, finally giving in to sense, “We’ll march north, as Adewyn suggested, give those highlanders a chance to worry at Tyr’s flanks. In the meantime I still want to be able to march quickly if an opportunity presents itself. And…I need some goddamned understanding of what is happening to the South.”

I regretted my choice of words as Raisa spoke.

“I’m sorry, Finn. I know I’ve failed you. My agents are reporting in, but all of their news is months old. I don’t even know where Merwyd is, or if Bayrd is coming north. There have been no reports of any soldiers moving near or towards the passes, and no military ships have attempted any maneuvers north of the Irons.”

Her eyes had deep circles from the amount of work she was putting in and the worry that had afflicted her. Merwyd was her full sister, and they were close. My constant pestering for news and updates did not help, and I could feel that she was both upset at me and feeling incompetent in her new role as spymaster, which was unfair to her. She did her best with what she had to work with.

“You haven’t failed me, Raisa,” I said, finally thinking before I spoke, “I’m simply being a lout. You can’t find something out that no one knows about. Bayrd was father’s spymaster. He may not be a general, but he knows how to control information and to keep secrets. He…may have chosen to sacrifice Tyr rather than try to get him supplies and reinforcements. It fits what I know of his plans. I know you are doing all you can with regard to Merwyd and troop movements. Instead of pushing harder for more information, look at what we already know and see if there are any patterns that stand out to you or that make no sense. And if you can’t sleep, see the Temple Healers. You’re no use to anyone if you’re too tired and ill to function.”

I could see that Raisa wasn’t entirely happy, but she at least acknowledged my understanding of her difficulties.

“Everyone else knows what to do. We march tomorrow for the Northern forest.”

* * *

We’d marched successfully, resupplying on the way. If things went as expected, we’d winter here while Tyr blundered about. If he was foolish enough to chase us into this territory, we’d have every chance to ambush him, escape, or simply find a defensive holdout before he could get to us. I still felt a gnawing at my gut.

It was early morning, and I was done with sleep. In fact, sleep seemed to have abandoned me entirely. For a man with as many women as I had, I wasn’t getting laid with any regularity either. Raisa had thrown herself into her work and was desperate to prove herself, mother was sick with the illness that was traversing the camp (thankfully simply digestive and not lethal), and Adewyn had made it clear by her sharp words that she wanted to sleep alone for the last week or so, in contrast to her prior near-constant state of arousal.

The skies were grey with high clouds, there was snow on the ground, but not much. The lake where we drew our water wouldn’t freeze over completely for another month or so, but it was beautiful and clear, with fish visible from the shore. I’d decided to walk through the forest surrounding our encampment, hoping that the clear air and the scent of pines would snap me out of my ongoing depression. I seemed to be in a perpetually twisting state of worry, suspended and bound by strings that only I could see and that no-one else believed in.

I found a stump of one of many trees taken for our temporary fortifications and sat on it, heavily. I sighed, looking out at a stream which fell from a cliff high above down to the lake’s surface, perhaps two hundred strides or more.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

I jumped up, startled. I had lost myself in my thoughts, completely unaware of my surroundings. Adewyn stood not ten strides from me. I should have heard the crunching of her steps in the snow, but I had let her sneak up on me.

“Yes,” I said, happy to see her, even if she was almost certainly going to end up arguing with me about something, “Please take my seat.”

She smiled. I was pleased to see her in the furs that I’d gotten her. Her baby bump was quite obvious now, even through her relatively loose clothing, although still fairly small. She sat on the stump and then pulled me down next to her, cuddling into me as I wrapped my arm around her.

“That’s better,” she said, “I missed you these last nights.”

“All you had to do was ask and you know I would have been there.”

She shook her head.

“It’s hard to explain, but…I just felt like I had to be alone. You can be restless when you sleep, and, to be honest…when both of us are in the same bed, we don’t always get a lot of rest. And I’ve canlı kaçak iddaa just been so tired lately, the idea of sex hasn’t appealed.”

I laughed.

“I understand. Mother has prepared me for the many, many different possible issues with a pregnant woman.”

“Oh really?” Adewyn said in mock annoyance, “I’m an ‘issue’ now?”

“Oh no, darling. Truthfully you’ve always been an issue.”

She hit me on the arm lightly and laughed, then grew serious.

“Did she tell you anything about the problems with Pureblood pregnancies?”

“No,” I answered, very interested, “She refused. She told me that was for women only. Although I don’t know how I could possibly support or help you without knowing at least something…”

Adewyn shook her head.

“We keep some things to ourselves for a reason. It is enough for me to know that you are understanding, loving, and concerned for my well being. Everyone has been. Eorvane’s wife has been sending me chocolate candies, which I admit is possibly the greatest bribe I’ve ever received. Your mother has been beyond helpful. And I don’t know what I would have done without Raisa as my confidant and friend.”

“I’m glad you and Raisa are getting along,” I said, “I’ve heard horror stories of Pureblood sisters hating each other. And of course, brothers sometimes stab each other and dive out windows, although that is a bit more extreme.”

“Raisa is afraid of you,” Adewyn said, out of the blue. I was taken aback.

“What?”

“Well, she wouldn’t phrase it that way, and she’d hate for me to be telling you, but yes, she’s afraid.”

“Why? I’d never hurt her.”

“Hmm,” Adewyn said, considering her words carefully, “I agree, and I’ve told her that, but it might be wise for you to chase her down and reassure her. She’s been unable to be as helpful as she’d like as your spy. And after all these years of laying with you, she’s still not pregnant. Pureblood women have been discarded for much less.”

“I’d never discard her. I’ll speak to her, make sure she knows her value to me, beyond spying and carrying children.”

“Good, but…there’s something else that both her and I are afraid of, and we can’t solve on our own,” Adewyn said, and I heard worry creep into her voice, “What are your plans for Merwyd?”

Without any effort on my part, my face dropped into a cold mask of neutrality.

“I’m not sure what you mean. Of course I’d like her with us here instead of Tyr.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Adewyn snapped, then sighed and took a deep breath, “Please don’t lie. Not even if I’m pregnant and you think I’m irrational or need to be protected. Neither I nor Raisa nor your mother are stupid. I mean, what do you intend to do with her and her child if she had any part in your betrayal? Or was complicit somehow, before or afterwards?”

“Gods, Adewyn,” I said, truly feeling resentment towards her despite myself, “You ask for truth but you don’t want it. I already have to kill Tyr, but you know that. If she betrayed me once then she’d do it again, and for all your and Raisa’s assurances that she loves me, I’ve seen little sign of it. She would be a threat to keep around, even imprisoned. And thats to say nothing of the kind of danger her child poses. Any rebellion would revolve around her as the bearer of the ‘rightful lineage’. She’d be made a pawn and then used to make new instruments of rebellion. So you tell me, what does a king, a good king who wants peace, do with a traitor and her spawn?”

Adewyn grew pale as I spoke. I thought she was angry, but it seems that she was just horrified. How she thought things could be different, I don’t know.

“Her name is Gwyn.”

“What?” I said, genuinely confused.

“‘Merwyd’s spawn,’ as you called her. Her name is Gwyn. She’s almost five. She’s quiet and wise, always listening. She loves fry-bread as much as I do, and she very much enjoys walks in the forest. She knows the names of many bugs and birds and plants. She understands how to create both light and fire already, and her teachers think that she’s gifted.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“If you’re going to murder a child, then have the fucking courage to admit that she is a child. Not a threat. Not some monstrous spawn. She chose neither her mother nor her father. You pretend to be a good man who understands the plight of women, but as soon as one poses even a possible danger you threaten to kill her and her child, as if they were nothing but rabid animals.”

I stood up, my voice raised, my heart racing. These were things that kept me up at night. How the fuck could Adewyn not know this?

“What the fuck would you have me do? How many times must I be betrayed before I am allowed to think of myself and those I love? Perhaps I could poison the blade for her this time and make sure that I die properly? Gods, you fucking think you have answers but you haven’t even considered the question. What happens if Tyr kills me? What happens both of us die? Truly? If canlı kaçak bahis I’m gone and Tyr’s gone that means one of you lucky sisters gets to be the pawn of whoever strives for the crown. And make no mistake, even if you somehow seize control of your own destiny, one of you will doubtless end up the killer of another or your niece or nephew. You won’t want it, but it’s defending your child, isn’t it? If it came down to our child or Merwyd’s, can you honestly tell me that you wouldn’t do exactly what I’m suggesting?”

By the end of my little rant I was shouting, red in the face, enraged to even be having this discussion, with her, of all people. Someone I trusted. Maybe I was wrong to have done so. I was ready to fight, to yell, to tell this woman I loved, the mother of my child, to get from my sight. Thankfully, today, she was the better person.

“Peace, love,” was all Adewyn said, holding out her hands, which I took “Let there be peace between us. I don’t want this fight. Please don’t hate me. I…I just want you to think about it, rather than just assume and accept that you must do the ruthless thing. That’s what father often did, and he would tell you that he had no other choice. Maybe he’s right, but please, just consider everything. Consider all of your options, and see things from Merwyd’s perspective. That’s all I’m asking. Even…even if she’s already dead, you’ll never forgive her or move past this if you don’t. And I think if you killed a child, you’d end up killing yourself. You aren’t father. You are a better man, unless you choose not to be.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, much more softly, “This has been on my mind for a long time. There’s no…fuck…no ans…”

Adewyn looked at me, confused at first as my words stuttered and stopped, then worried.

I was suddenly no longer angry, but I couldn’t slow down my breathing. This awful thought had been weighing on me for so long, truly since I heard that Merwyd was pregnant. I wanted desperately to believe that she was innocent of any knowledge of my betrayal, that she had been forced under threat of murder to lay with Tyr and bear his child. Because I did not want to kill her. I did not want to kill her child, or Tyr’s child, or any child, for that matter. I just wanted to live and be left alone. But I wasn’t allowed, so I had to take the throne, and think of everyone’s children. Why couldn’t she see that? Why could no one see the awful things that you had to think about? Tyr didn’t think of them, he just did what he wished. Bayrd thought of them but didn’t care, he just took what he wanted. Why couldn’t I be like them? Why couldn’t I just make this easy? Oh fuck I didn’t want this. I never wanted this. Any of it. I just wanted peace. I just wanted Merwyd happy and Gwyn alive and playing and my own child safe. Would my own child even live to be born? Would they survive to speak? To grow to adulthood? Would they be stabbed by Gwyn or someone working for her?

“You’re scaring me, love,” Adewyn said with true fear in her voice, “What’s wrong?”

I wanted to tell her all of this, but I couldn’t make my mouth form words. My vision collapsed to a tunnel, and then disappeared. I felt sick. I fell. I felt nothing.

* * *

“He just collapsed,” Adewyn said, in the distance, “We were talking…oh gods no we weren’t. We were arguing. I was trying to get him to understand something, and we got heated. And he just stopped in the middle of a sentence. He looked so afraid and cornered, and then he fell over. I’ve never seen him like that.”

“What on earth were you talking about?” mother said, upset and afraid.

“Merwyd…and Gwyn. I just wanted him to think…” Adewyn sounded unsure of herself now, as if she had made a grave mistake.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” mother said, truly angry now. “Now isn’t the time for him to think about that.”

“Yes it is,” Raisa said, softly and…gods, so sadly, Why was my little sister so sad?

“He has to think about it now,” Raisa went on, “Because if he doesn’t, then he’s going to make a decision whether he wants to or not. Will he be angry when he sees my sister and niece? Afraid? Will he have Tyr’s blood on his hands? Aunt Syrlin, I trust you and I love your son. I love him so much. But imagine what this would do to him. Imagine what father would do if he felt you had betrayed him and that Finn wasn’t his. Imagine if he killed you, his favorite, his true love, and your child. Do you think he would be well afterwards? Do you think that would make him a better man? A better king? Would his other lovers ever look at him the same or trust him again? No. Finn has to think about this now. He’s put it off long enough and it is causing him harm. So we need to help him deal with this, even if it means making a decision for him. Let me do it. I know what has to be done.”

I faded out.

* * *

I woke in my own tent, not long after. I felt rested and safe. I felt better.

“The healers say that there is nothing wrong with your body, but your soul is torn in two over a decision that you can’t make. I don’t think either of us need to be told what that refers to.” Raisa said. She was sitting next to me on the bed, her legs drawn up underneath her.

“Were you keeping watch over me?”

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