“I, Tiana of the High Forest, First Daughter of the House of Pendor and daughter of the Lady Sasara, Duchess Pendor, humbly raise my hand in acceptance of your benevolent request. With a warm heart, my ears have received your proposal of marriage with deepest affection. With… with…”
As I bunched up my brow, growing confused, I heard the agitated tapping of Benedetta’s closed fan against her thigh grow slightly louder. I remained in the deep curtsey, with my arm extended as if a phantom Rod were holding it. It was an uncomfortable position.
“Lady Tiana,” she asked with a barely patient tone, “do your ears have a heart? Warm, or otherwise?”
“Huh? Oh.” I blinked as I worked out which line I had messed up
“My legs!” I protested.
“Again, My Lady.”
I groaned, breathed in, squared my shoulders and recited, “I, Tiana of the High Forest, First Daughter of the House of Pendor and daughter of the Lady Sasara, Duchess Pendor, humbly raise my hand in response to your benevolent request. My ears have received your proposal of marriage with deepest affection. With a warm heart, I have pondered them, and in earnest spirit I now reply to you, to offer you my acceptance. Your Highness, let us join our… journeys together.”
“You almost forgot as a word right at the end, didn’t you, My Lady?”
“I finished, didn’t I? Can I please get up now?” I wasn’t too proud to beg at this point. My knees were killing me. And I wanted to protest the sexual innuendo in the last line.
She sighed. “I suppose it’s time to let you rest for the time being. It’s four lines, My Lady.”
“Four long, very embarrassing lines! Do I really have to say that in front of an entire room full of nobility?”
Benedetta’s face grew dark. “At least there will be an entire room of nobility this time! They won’t dare stand up the second prince!”
It was my turn to sigh. Some of the older household staff were seriously fired up over this event. I’m not sure if the “Young Mistress” was their pride or their embarrassment, but either way, for once they could send forth the first daughter of their house with pride.
The majority of the staff didn’t know yet that a second daughter was now on the way– Mother’s pregnancy was only approaching the two month mark– so all their hopes rode on my shoulders. I had been a serious disappointment to them so far.
Benedetta dropped her head in apology. “Forgive me, My Lady. You were only shown this for the first time this morning. You have hardly had a moment to recover from your journey. Please rise and take a break.”
“Raise your head, Benedetta. Please. I do not blame you for being frustrated with the nobility, or with me. I will work hard to present a figure that makes Pendor proud.”
She straightened her back, resuming her dignified pose, and arched an eyebrow with chin raised. “You shall succeed, My Lady. My student could do no less.”
No pressure, I thought, doing my best to keep a wry grin off my face.
The sound of a throat being cleared brought our attention to the door, where my personal maid, Genette, had appeared.
“Young Mistress, you have a caller. Shall I prepare tea in your sitting room or would you prefer to meet with your guest in the receiving room?”
It wasn’t Rod, or she wouldn’t be including something as private as my sitting room as an option. Etiquette for the young, unmarried noble daughter could be very strict in such matters. Sitting room meant it was someone who wasn’t a threat to the ‘Young Mistress’ or her chastity.
Not that I didn’t feel threatened. I could only imagine one person it could be. “Is she alone, or does she have an attendant?”
Genette smiled and nodded. “She is indeed alone, Young Mistress.”
“The sitting room, then. And have the kitchen prepare a light lunch for us. Benedetta, shall we continue this later?”
Benedetta inclined her head. “We shall, indeed, My Lady.”
Phrasing it that way, as a promise rather than an agreement, meant I could count on it. I avoided groaning somehow.
Genette conducted me to the receiving room, where, as expected, my Aunt Elianora sat.
I should explain about her, I suppose. Just like none of my ‘uncles’ are biologically my uncles, Elianora isn’t biologically my aunt. But unlike them, she really is a relative. In fact, I’m her aunt.
That’s right. Not the other way around. But I’m fifteen and she’s over five hundred, so it would be silly for her to call me ‘Aunt Tiana’.
I once had an older brother, my father’s son, who died under mysterious circumstances some three centuries before I was born. Aunt Elianora is his daughter, and she believes, apparently with solid evidence, that my father is her father’s murderer. Considering everything else Duke Egon did, it isn’t surprising that he would kill his own son.
Why didn’t she inherit Pendor? It seems the Privy Council would not turn it over to another vampire after what Egon had done. It’s the same reason they won’t recognize me as an heir. They fear the Pendorians would revolt.
The duke spurned Elianora as an heir because she had tried without success to expose his wrongdoings, beginning with but not limited to my brother’s killing. She lived an obscure life with a threat of assassination hanging over head from then on, until my mother eliminated the threat for her.
Apparently, when infant Tiana suddenly started trying to get blood while breastfeeding, it set a lot of things in motion.
First was the proceedings to exile Mother and Tiana from Fairie, which in effect also exiled them from their native Relador. (Actually, Mother’s is voluntary, because she wouldn’t abandon her baby. But mine is for as long as the King of Fairie chooses.)
Second was the events in Atius , starting from Mother showing up there demanding that His Majesty sort out her unexpected single motherhood of his duke’s child, and leading to Mother taking over as Duchess Pendor.
And third was the search for a wet nurse. While baby Tiana gradually grew sicker, Mother searched frantically for someone who would agree to give blood as well as milk. Naturally, she turned to the vampire community for help. That led her to Aunt Elianora.
The concept of ‘milk siblings’ doesn’t exist on Huade, because they don’t hire a woman who is already breastfeeding to be a wet nurse. They just hire a willing woman and cast [Heal] on her while she attempts to nurse the baby. The woman begins lactating a little on the first feeding, and is sufficiently feeding the child within a day. So Aunt Elianora could volunteer to feed her baby aunt without having a baby of her own to feed.
Even though an adult vampire can’t get sufficient mana by feeding on a fellow monster (without killing them), a baby vampire is small enough that a vampire mother or wet nurse is perfectly fine.
Not surprisingly, my aunt was willing to come to the aid of the woman who avenged her father and took away the assassination threat. Even if it involved feeding her father’s baby.
One wouldn’t expect, seeing the regal raven-haired woman in a burgundy tea gown who stood as I entered the receiving room, that she had been Tiana’s wet nurse. She looked remarkably well-preserved for five hundred… that’s a joke. She looks thirty at the very oldest, although Tiana once saw her without disguise, and she looked like about twenty. I assume she uses some form of disguise magic to make herself more mature, but it must be a different magic than my mother’s, which requires the light attribute.
“Aunt Elianora, it’s good to see you,” I said with a smile, crossing the room and taking her hands as I reached her.
“Lady Tiana, you’re looking well,” she answered with a slight incline of the head. We exchanged a couple more meaningless pleasantries, as I led her up to my sitting room.
Genette appeared nearly as soon as we sat. I suspect she had started the tea and informed the kitchen as soon as Elianora arrived, before informing me, because the cart she pushed into the room could not possibly have been prepared in the short time since I gave that instruction. She laid out tea sandwiches and plates filled with items that my Robert side thinks of as ‘hors d’oeuvres’ (halved boiled eggs filled with purée, little round crackers with caviar, little pieces of toast spread with paté, and sliced up things resembling spring rolls) and poured our tea.
I sipped the tea, told Genette it was excellent (it was) and then said, “We have some private matters to discuss, so you may withdraw.”
“Certainly, Young Mistress.” She curtseyed and left.
I watched her shut the door without a sound, then turned back to my aunt (niece).
She was pursing her lips slightly, with her eyes still on the closed door. “I had hoped they had begun addressing you as an adult. You are a knight of the realm, now.”
She was annoyed at how Genette had called me ‘young mistress’ instead of ‘my lady’.
“The head maid and the butler do,” I told her. “I imagine the rest will in time.”
My aunt nodded. “It is probably quite difficult for them.”
I tipped my head. “Why? I’ve wondered about it.”
A sculpted eyebrow rose at my words. “The staff here are all Dorians, are they not? The last vampire they referred to as a nobleman was my accursed grandfather.”
I blinked. “Oh. I hadn’t thought about that.”
One time– just once– my mother’s lady’s maid, Terese, had addressed me as ‘My Lady’, in a very formal situation that probably required it, and since then, even she always called me ‘young mistress’. Come to think of it, neither of the two that had switched to ‘my lady’ were mortal. Carson and Benedetta were both Shades. Dark Elementals.
With a self-deprecating smile, I noted, “I suppose they are right to distrust me, though. I’ve pretty much proven I’m a risk to them.”
“Yes, you have,” she stated, without any hesitation. Her visage had become the strict, expressionless stare that had accompanied so many of her lectures and lessons to the young Tiana, after she had transitioned from wet nurse to tutor.
With a nod to myself, I stood, stepped far enough away to be clear of the table, took the skirt of my tea gown in hand and descended into a deep curtsey.
“Aunt Elianora, please accept my deepest apologies for having failed to keep my promise to you.”
She stared down at me, set down her tea cup, stood up and faced me. Then, to my surprise, she did the same, descending into her own curtsey, mirroring my own.
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