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V.1.26 (House of Caecilius Iucundus); 4091: Whoever loves, let him flourish. Let him perish who knows not love. Let him perish twice over whoever forbids love.


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While the others sitting at the table were occupied in their own conversations, Vyarin began shoving dry little lumps of bread into his pockets. It was a bad habit that he had never quite outgrown; his younger self did at times get into trouble for it. There was nothing that stirred the blood in his hands quite like the backs of them being rapped fiercely by a thin strand of willow, its fibres pulled taut. However, that never seemed to stop him; just make him a better sneak. Besides, one gets used to the sensation. He never regretted not having the occasional nibble of something when he had time to himself, usually sometime between the noon and evening meals. The Astalian bread was so light and airy, it hardly felt like biting into any substance at all. Best to take a few more rolls, just in case.

However, his dastardly heist was cut short by the sudden arrival of one of the absent princes, the well-built figure of greenish hue. Vyarin had no way of telling whether the sudden interloper had seen him, and was simply pretending not to say anything to avoid a scene. He dropped the lump in his hand, it landing with a soft pat on the tablecloth. The other prince ambled to the table and joined the diners there, making sudden conversation. Yes, the ball. Just one more battle in this grand campaign. Vyarin nodded along, slowly getting to his feet and hoping his pockets didn't protrude too much that the others thought something off.

"Excusing, please," Vyarin said, quiet as he could while still feeling like he could be heard. "I am worrying; I come to here with men. They are of me; I not see all of the night. I go to look; they are not to go away." In his mind, he irked at the half-lie. It was true, he was worried about how his loyal men were faring, but there was far more than that. He made a mental checklist of the tasks ahead. He had to destroy the letter from his father, before any of the local eyes and ears made note of it. He had to find a way to dress up in Astalian manner, to appear at the coming gathering. Most importantly, he had to talk with Annalise the eldest, at least to make his name known in person. He left the dining hall, making proper obeisance to their host the king, but not quite knowing if he appreciated the gesture. There was much to be done indeed.
The morning came to greet his fellow heirs as they entered the dining hall in the minutes following. Vyarin watched them, warily, having realized with his father's most recent letter an unfortunate truth. No matter how amiable their spirits, these other princes were to a certain understanding his enemies. They shared a goal with himself, no doubt at the behest of their own fathers. His visit here has become a game he was in no position to win, where the winner was the most articulate, the most charming, the most able to mask their anger and animosity under a veil of smiles and dancing steps. Vyarin was hardly a shaman; he would no nothing about divination of the future via those esoteric methods, of scattering dust in the air or cutting the guts from livestock. Yet, in his future he could see a very real possibility of returning home in disappointment, of suffering a judgement from his father as cruel as those the elder prince-of-princes was known to inflict upon those who failed him sorely. Vyarin was not ready to lose his other eye.

A sigh, his own, broke him out of his thoughts. How irrational he was sometimes. His own father carving out his eye? It boggles the mind. He is scaring himself with mere stories. Relieved, he broke open the bread laid before him and shoved a sizeable portion of it in his mouth. There seemed to be a lack of meats on the table today. Perhaps the people of this land didn't take meat in the mornings. His eyes met those of the man he suddenly realized was sitting before him. Vyarin gave him a nod in kind, but then felt it was insufficient. He should at least speak a little; if nothing else, than for practice.

"Was much joyous, in the night," he said, low and quiet so as not to disturb the rest of the table. "You was great champion, I think. Many cups to drink." He gave the other prince a nervous smile, perhaps a few molars too wide. "A hunter also? I cannot to drink the . . . the grape-water. Err- the 'wine'. Animal I can defeat many. Animal you have in your homeland? Penguin, bear, coatl also?" Alas, Vyarin only knew the Prozdy names for the creatures of the earth.
Dawn broke, and Vyarin lay awake watching the square of sun descend upon his wall. His eye darted about, catching the corners of the chamber, and in his mind he took stock of the matters ahead of him. Yes, the letter from his father. He had just about forgotten, addled as he was by the early morning. Vyarin scrambled to his feet, and winced as he struck the bedside table with his foot. Would the noise have woken anyone? He can apologize to them later. Carefully, he cracked the seal and unfolded the message. It read as follows.

"War threatens to return to the League," the message begins, without introduction or address. "Vyatka Prince of Vadai holds in his dungeon three spies resistant to torture. Suspicions say they come from Gilthan. Grazodon Prince of Perozord also reports raids coming from bandits of particular discipline and equipment. Your marriage has become more important than even before, as our retaliation would require an overwhelming force we do not possess. The heir to Astalia is Annalise of the clan Altera, distinct in her pale face and hair." By sun and moon, what a fool Vyarin had been! He nearly crushed the letter in his hand how frustrated with himself he was. She was the one princess he could not recall conversing with, not through the course of the entire night previous. He read on.

"To ensure our will is made known, I have sent your uncle Tellos Prince of Logon in command of his entire retinue to follow in your travelling path. I trust him to arrange everything goes to our favour. He will arrive in three days." Oh no. This was bad. Vyarin threw the letter on the table and sat down on the bed to think. Though Prozdy held the power, there was no denying Logon's near-comparable might. The two worked closely in their youth, his father and his uncle, expanding the sphere of the clan Kremazov; violently and remorselessly until near half the principalities in the League had some tie of blood to that name. If Tellos was being sent to Astalia, it could only mean that his father meant to declare an ultimatum. Few paths forward now will not end in blood. Quickly, Vyarin had to destroy the message! He crumpled up the letter and stuffed it in a pocket. There must be one firepit in this palace somewhere. Truly, this has become a predicament, having to keep this secret from a host who has thus far been nothing but generous. Vyarin stood up, before awkwardly sitting back down and opening up his phrasebook to review his studies. He can't be making a mistake that could cost Prozdy with his tongue.

Eventually, he made it out of the room and through the labyrinthine halls to arrive in the dining hall, where platters had been laid out for the morning. The princesses were present, as was their father, but he was the first of the suitors. He gave each of them a nod.

"I-Is good day," he said, in thickly accented Astalian. "Is my pleasure . . . to join in this morning."
I applied to this rp 8 months ago. My life has changed too much to join this rp now. Apologies.
"I understand now," Vyarin said, nodding his head. This one had a wit about her, he thought, that she could tell what he needed to know even without him having to ask. Perhaps she was the eldest? Were it so, he would have to get into her good graces now. Continue to nod along now, and be agreeable. Although, now that he considered it, perhaps it said more of his habit than hers. Although he appeared to stroke his chin, it was more like he was touching his face. He was an open book, no doubt about it. She could read his thoughts like a malevolent forest witch from the bard's tales. Though perhaps if he took her to wife, she could teach him how it is done? How delightful it would be to tell one's thoughts from their visage alone! Yet, all was not well, he considered. It was the battle instinct that tugged at the back of his eye in a sharp report. This woman had no interest in his benefit. Yet, he wondered, once the alliance is formed, did that truly matter so much?

So lost in thought was he that he barely caught the tail end of her question. She had a way of speaking, they all did here in Astalia. Bard's speech, it was known at home. It was well of them to accommodate for his language, true, but their perception of Prozdy was simply woefully out of date. He paused, searching his mind. Yes, the question. He remembered now. The truth was, he had grown strangely quickly to adapt. The ebb and flow of the pain was unpredictable, almost as the flow of a conversation. However, he was not about to reveal his suspicions to her.

". . . It is mostly gone," he answered, looking anywhere but in her eyes. "I feel as healthy as before I lost it."

Over time, the revelry wound down. Many cups of rotted grape were eagerly devoured by the seven strangers, so much so that nobody particularly cared to decide between them a 'winner'. Vyarin suspected that was the point. They enjoy it so that any excuse may be made to imbibe. What a peculiar habit of these far-easterners, that what in one hand paralyzes the living mind of a warrior is on the other to their delight. Excuses were made in the late night, and Vyarin was eventually escorted under watchful eye of the castle guardsmen to a chamber set aside for him. His own men were nowhere to be seen, which worried him greatly. Should they not have objected to their prince of princes being escorted by any other than them? His mind instantly went to the worst possibilities. There had to be trouble afoot, he was certain of it. His men knew better than to quarrel; perhaps it was the fault of a local? He wondered this, as his shaman meekly entered his room bearing another missive from his father. He accepted it without a word, and she disappeared as she came. Vyarin set the letter aside; he could just as easily read it tomorrow. Today, there was work to be done. Serious work.

From his satchel, he pulled his phrasebook of all the known realms of Sahas. He had thought he had studied it thoroughly when he had left home. Frustrated, he flipped through the book, sullenly repeating the lines again and again.

"I know this!" he groaned, finding only familiar pages. "I know this for certain!" Tired, he set the book down, and stumbled into the bed, peeling back the old bandages and tossing them on the ground. He dare not think what lie beneath it, as he wrapped a fresh coat of linen about his head. At last, done with the day as far as he was concerned, he lay back and dreamed dreams in Astalian.
Vyarin gratefully takes one of the silver cups, looking down into the well to see for himself. This did not look particularly different from the profaned drink of the gold cup, but an experimental sip told him that it was well and safe enough. Opposed to the chokingly bitter sample before, this was mild, sweet but with a spicy aftertaste. How did they manage that, he wondered? Did they crush apples into a chalice, and sprinkle in a dash of ground peppers? What an amazing culinary tradition this land of Astalia kept. His mind came alive with the most absurd things being served on a platter. Goat's livers covered in honey? Fresh honeygrass mixed in with fried horseflies? Entire frogs, stuffed full with stalks of raw grain? He was certainly willing to give them a try.

"Let us go forth to glory," he sarcastically muttered in Prozdy, finally building up the courage to take a full swig from the spiced drink. It was a common phrase spoken before the consumption of a dinner. No man of the League would dare speak in the night preceding a battle. The various principalities that dotted the land were all unique in their own customs, but they all shared that much. The drink was strong with spice, so much so that he could feel particles of it scratch at his throat as it went down. It was powerful and uplifting, like the drink was made of fire, like it could fill him up with a fire's fury and he could raise fortresses with his own hands. Only guiltily afterwards did he realize he had taken the entire chalice in a single gulp, and was greedily eyeing another one. How unseemly of him, he thought to himself, pulling out a chair and joining the other heirlings as they gathered about the table, servants already melting away as they left behind them plates of resplendent, though disappointingly mundane-looking food.

The other seven chatted eagerly amongst themselves, all they who were fluent in Astalian. Vyarin felt a frustration bordering on anger bubble up inside him. So long as he sat here, he was deaf in all the ways that matter. He imagined it to be not much different from wading into battle missing an arm. Perhaps he could pick up a word that appeared frequently enough. 'Wine, wine,' they said. That Astalian word appeared frequently, but he could not even begin to wonder what it could translate to. Was it marriage? That was their purpose coming here, after all. Perhaps they were speaking of arranging matches between themselves. Was it war? There are hushed mentions of a brewing war, greater than any skirmish between princes Vyarin would ever have seen, between this land and the great northern realm. He could not see any sign of worry on any other faces; they are mighty and stoic, these fellow heirlings, brave in the face of threat. What could this 'wine' possibly be?
The Court of Flowers was well named, Vyarin thought, as he lumbered into the moderately sized meeting hall, adorned with flowers hanging from baskets all along the walls and peeking up from long vases an entire two thirds his own height. Heads of red and gold, violet, white, even pale blue clear as the sky bowed in solemnity as the shamans do. If they had arms, perhaps they would be raised above their heads as well, until the lack of blood left them white and hard as the branches of trees. Perhaps these flowers as well were of a mystical nature? Many things were in this land of the southeast, far from the natural ebbing of the spirits. They weave the world with their 'sorcery', raising large works of stone tall as mountains such as the building within which he stood right now. Recalling his amazement as he passed under the gates, he recalled how the entire estate seemed to grow out of the ground. What a marvel it was! He imagined taking some of this sorcery home with him, and transforming the entire cityscape with its power. Would they remember him as Vyarin 'the Magnificent' for his effort?

The others had arrived first, sharing conversation amongst themselves sat about a table. Golden chalices were displayed in some of their hands, filled with a dark liquid that looked unlike any juice he had ever had or seen. Some turned to meet his new, sprightlier acquaintance as she bounded in, which inevitably led their gaze towards himself. Whether they were looking or not, Vyarin gave a small and curt nod to the six others, then ambled over to a corner of the table and swiped one of the chalices, lifting the contents to his nose and sniffing. That's when he realized what it was.

It was forbidden, he knew. The shamans said again and again, for as long as he could hear them. That which is rotted has been given to the spirits, and is beyond its time for the world of men. This was Essence of the Rotted Grape! He could have stumbled at the noxious odour. Did they not realize that by its imbibing they become cursed? Surely they must know better, he thought, glancing at the faces of these merrymakers. Mayhaps it would not be so bad, that they would enjoy it and fear naught. Things were different here, after all, in these lands of magic and mystery. If he were to one day take charge of their armies, he must then learn to live as they live, and if that meant drinking this product of rot, then he could do so without too much concern. The spirits would understand, he concluded, as he lifted the chalice again to his lips and sipped of the fluid. It was a mistake, in the end. Gasping and reeling, he sat the cup down with a too-loud clang. It tasted as foul as it smelled, too bitter and thick and somehow wrong on a level fundamental to his soul. He felt dirty, the dregs that remain swilling under his tongue. He leaned on the wall, whispering curses the sky in Prozdy, hoping nobody paid too much mind to his outburst.
Vyarin could only watch dumbly as the smaller figure before him continued to speak, getting progressively louder as she continued, as if addressing the audience of a music hall or the troops before a battle. With his limited Astalian, he could only conclude that she seemed upset about something, or at the very least concerned. Was it something he said? The fool Vyarin, perhaps he should have studied more about the culture of the realm that may one day belong to his progeny. However, the more he thought about it, the less sense it made. Did she find something objectionable . . . regarding the way he asked about her sword? It made no sense to him, but the more he considered the possibility, the guiltier he felt. Mayhaps he had said the wrong thing after all.

Well, he needn't think of that longer, because after a moment's silence between them, the princess spoke again, this time in Prozdy. What a relief that was, that she didn't seem nearly so angry at him after a pause.

"I am . . . to see- er, to find . . ." he began in Astalian, trailing off and not knowing how to continue. It seemed only good manners, at least that's how he understood it, even if he spoke painfully slowly and was no doubt losing the meaning of some matters in translation. "The . . . Chamber? Of . . . erm . . ." he scratched the back of his head, looking down and away. He had thought out what to say so thoroughly, and now that he needed it, everything was gone.

"Is interesting." Nevermind then. Curiosity, he must admit, had gotten the better of him, and he wasn't about to come up with anything better to say. He strode purposefully to the rack that the princess stood by, and pulled from it one of their curious long-swords. The hilt was massive, longer than some daggers, obviously meant for two hands to grasp. "I am not see. In life, I am not see." He could not imagine the metalwork necessary to make something like this. Would it not snap halfway up, from the strain of maintaining its own form? Perhaps he should steal it when nobody is looking, and bring it home with him. This would be quite a curiosity for both his father and his advisors, that is beyond doubt. "You knowing this, yes? What is . . . how is . . . ?" he asked.
Finding this 'Court of Flowers' was easier in Vyarin's mind than it was quickly turning out to be. The palace was tall, imposing even on the inside, intricately decorated down to the smallest corner. In his lone eye, the world within seemed stretched upwards uncannily, like cowhide in a tannery. Windows stood the height of two of himself, but barely the width of three-quarters himself, packed closely together in organized regiments one after the other. The effect was exacerbated by the figure of the doorways that line the halls and the various items of furnishing and decoration, all built conversely too small for him. He had to duck down to enter into giant spaces. It was a fever dream to navigate, like something out of the maddest stories his carers would tell to him.

In the end, Vyarin decided the best path forward was tried and true methodology. It was simple, once he thought back on it. He will simply start entering doors and offshoots until he reached the Court of Flowers. There were only so many places a courtyard fit for a party could be; he will doubtless stumble onto it long before it ended. So, alone and armed with his conviction, he began his search . . . and immediately rammed headlong into a particularly thin candle sconce. Rubbing his temple and glowering, he righted the object, looking around for any sign of disturbed castellans, which there fortunately were none. He will keep a hand to the wall at all times.

Path after path, road after road, a few minutes began to stretch to near the majority of an hour. Most of the rooms he came across were as strange themselves as devoid of flowers. Some were bare of all things, blocked off by a simplistic looking door, awaiting a renovation that may take centuries to come. Others were perhaps bedchambers, but so clean that it was most like prepared for some guest that will never arrive, as evidenced by the thin sheen of dust upon the desks and sheets. Good luck was on Vyarin's side, for he did not stumble upon any spaces already occupied, and quite unfriendly to his sudden intrusion. Yet, as his ears picked up the faint sounds of some commotion, he concluded that was not to be for long. Instinctively, he felt relieved at the presence of a resident of some sort. He could ask their guide towards this elusive Court. Then, he stopped short, realizing the fault in that reasoning. It would entail him having to communicate his own desire, as well as understand their response all in Astalian. Holding a hand to his forehead, he rehearsed some crude phrases to himself.

"Excuse . . . where . . . the Chamber of the . . . the Primrose? The Chamber of the Primrose . . . is . . . to be? Excuse, where the Chamber of the Primrose . . . is to be . . ." He nodded, and raised himself to full height, striding purposefully in.

He didn't know what to expect from this next room, but that was not it. A lone girl, one of the four daughters in fact, armed with a sword far larger than his own, dancing about and striking at invisible foes. Vyarin could only watch for a few moments, observing the movements closely. They were precise, swift, she is obviously familiar with their use. Was it their way, in this strange land, to arm and train women as one would do for the men?

"Excuse," he finally said, breaking the silence. He pointed to the sword, the one so great it must be wielded in two hands. "Apology. Is . . . interest. Very interest." A heavy silence fell on the room, absent of the clatter of shoes on polished wood.
There was a lot to consider for Vyarin, as he is led along another great hallway by his retinue. His eyes narrowed unjustifiably at the paintings arranged along the wall. Those women, the daughters, had made something of an impression on him. He thought back to earlier in the day, how two of them had approached the assembly of princes. Each was flanked by a man, a loyal guard most likely. They were as the new moon and the full, the two of them. Was it a ploy of some sort? He had seen such a plot before, observing as his father and his uncle would question defectors. Yet all that was years ago, and Vyarin's memory of that now has faded near enough that he cannot recall for the life of him any particulars. He scratched his chin, where the scruff was just beginning to return. Focus, now, was key; it was of paramount importance that he take note of all that occurs within these walls.

The first had introduced herself as Sulhana, before the entire hall. She then approached Vyarin first, her loyal man in tow, and spoke to him, venom in her throat. As she stepped forward, he and his men stepped back. Vyarin looked into her eyes but for a split second, and looked away. Her gaze could only be surpassed in its strength by his own father. He had spent enough time with his father to know; the older man was never shy to display his anger, and very quickly do all who counsel him learn to recognize when they are being spat at. So too was the case with this Sulhana, who although of shorter stature and more slender form, spoke down to Vyarin in the nature of a host to their unwanted guest. Her guard translated, his mastery of the Prozdy speech impeccable, but overly literal, and the language of Astalia did not map perfectly to that of Prozdy, it must be admitted. Vyarin found the man curious, in a way. Did his ancestry stem from the League? Had he served under a prince within? As Sulhana finished, Vyarin gave a nod to her, and another to her translator, and they moved on to the next prince.

The second daughter was the true surprise. Rather than making use of a translator, she spoke to him directly, calling him by the traditional manner and offering to him a gift. The jewel was magnificent, larger than his own thumb by at least twice, cut with obvious masterwork. Vyarin reached out with his hands and took the box.

"I receive this . . . err . . . in your honour," he had said. Poetics did not come naturally to him. Yet, she had made the effort to speak to him as the nomad-chiefs did, so he felt he ought respond in kind. He didn't dare try the same in Astalian; that sounded a path towards disaster.

The crowd, with time, began to depart. Vyarin took one last look at the other princes, then at his own retinue. The loyal men returned his look with their own, some of them quizzical, most of them tired. After a brief silence, one of them approached, and whispered.

"Your orders, superior?"

"Go into the town and collect the rest. We were promised food and shelter, let them feed and shelter us. If any of them managed to get themselves into trouble . . ." Vyarin thumbed the little jewel in his hand. ". . . Pay off their grievances. We have excess coins; not steel." As for him, well . . . the Court of Flowers awaits.
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