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child of the storm

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If you're interested in some short completed pieces of mine beyond my regular RP posts, feel free to rifle through my filing cabinet here.

About me:
  • Birth year 1998
  • Female
  • Canadian RIP
  • Time zone: Atlantic, GMT-4 (one hour ahead of EST)
  • Currently judging your grammar
  • Not usually looking for 1x1s but if you're really jonesing, my PMs are always open
  • Discord Obscene#1925

Most Recent Posts

The concept of rest after the journey from Derdriu was tempting, but there was no rest for the wicked at Garreg Mach - which, in such a holy place, must have meant double for Jorah. Which meant that, after he was done convening with his new contemporaries, he was off to work.

However, he ended up not needing to do much work at all. Jorah was pleased - and surprised - to learn that what he overheard from the girl with the Morfis fruit was true: the monastery had embraced his party, and servants were already buzzing to make it a reality before Jorah even needed to open his mouth. Who knew a bunch of monastery workers were such fans of a good time?

Since the hard work was already done for him, and by some stroke of divine favour he avoided a lecture from Clarissa as well, Jorah had a few spare moments to unpack. He really only opened enough chests to find his lute and his pigment powders, both of which had to be re-packed several times before he left home after his father repeatedly tried and failed to hide them. Jorah was surprised Duke Riegan didn’t just throw the two of them into the harbour, but maybe he feared his son finding a new and even more irritating hobby if he got rid of the ones he already had.

The powders were a particular thorn in the Duke’s side; Jorah had almost certainly overpaid a foreign merchant for them, after learning from Brigid sailors about the use and significance of the many coloured patterns they painted on their faces. He had hardly gone bare-faced since, sticking out like a sore thumb around the Roundtable and, to quote his father, “looking like a saints-damned pagan.” He was usually partial to yellow petals around the eyes to invoke air spirits for luck, but for the party, he chose salmon pink. If he recalled correctly, it would call upon fire spirits for joy and merriment - and failing that, call upon his fellow partygoers as a conversation starter.

He strolled into the party with his lute over his shoulder like a club, pleased as peach to find the place already in full swing. Jorah could hardly claim to have ever thrown a party better: it was fully serviced by the dining hall staff, a band was playing merrily in one corner, and even the professors had deigned to attend. It was a masterpiece, if he did say so himself, and the man responsible should be commended.

“Oskar!” Jorah called over the music, waving down his towering friend by the drinks. “And here I thought all this time cooped up in the mountains would make you lose your touch! I should never have doubted you.” He beamed up at his friend, and cast his eyes over the growing crowd. “How did you manage all this in such a short time?”

Auberon’s disapproval would have been palpable even without a Crest, but the impact was all the harsher on Jorah, albeit not exactly unexpected. But while he tolerated his new colleague’s rebuff with saintly patience, he did take some offense to the suggestion that his party was illicit. Preposterous! The nerve of this guy to even suggest impropriety – without even waiting for the real impropriety to start!

Before he could voice his indignation, a thump and a course of startled yelping sounded from the doorway, revealing a kitchen girl heavily laden with Morfis fruit very nearly bowling over the chilly Blue Lion girl in the breezeway. As if the Goddess Herself was playing stage director, the girl could be heard complaining about the short notice she was given for the party in the Reception Hall – Jorah’s party.

“See?” Jorah skillfully contained his glee, instead cooly and confidently directing Auberon’s attention to the door as if he wasn’t the most surprised out of all of them. “Would they have given me the reception hall if it wasn’t official?”

He shrugged, eager not to hear an answer. “Anyway, it’s up to you if you’d rather keep the future leaders of the Kingdom out of the nations’ first chance to make a good impression, but I know I’ll be sad to see you go,” he conceded suggestively, looking to the Eagle girl for backup.

“What about you, Princess?” he gave her a little push with his Crest to be agreeable, just in case she wasn’t picking up the hint. “Wouldn’t it be a terrible shame for the Alliance and the Empire to get all buddy-buddy tonight without our fine neighbours to the North?”

Despite several attempts to pay closer attention and commit at least her classmates’ names to memory, Lienna’s attention began to fade as introductions wore on. Likely out of habit, the state of her stomach drew much more attention than the other students, especially when most of their titles and places of birth went over her head anyway. But ironically, despite her main focus being whether meals were set by schedule or available on demand, Lienna still had the presence of mind to scoff at a few select introductions – particularly, the nervous ones. Kellen performed as expected, but somehow, the other two made him look good; the Deer girl seemed like she’d crumple under a harsh look, and Lienna didn’t even turn around to look at the last kid to go, so unimpressed was she by his total lack of presence. Was this really the state of the ruling houses of Fódlan? She thought the problem with her landed classmates was going to be too much confidence, not too little. The world they knew was all guarded keeps, warm clothes, and full bellies, so what on earth did they have to be afraid of?

Dismissal couldn’t come soon enough, but Lienna managed to control herself enough not to get caught up in the melee of students rushing for – and then awkwardly shuffling out of – the door all at once. Instead, she got up and hovered near the back while Professor Kalonic began her spiel to the House Leaders, trying to give them as wide a berth as possible. The very last thing she wanted was to catch the eye of that blond Alliance wretch; something told her that her betrothal wouldn’t do much good if his type was ‘moving and breathing,’ and she didn’t want to have to resort to violence on her first day.

Rather than watch that mess unfold, she cast her gaze on the other professor; the tall one who called on the last Eagle to introduce himself. He was the one who said he liked “crest research,” and it only just now occurred to Lienna that she wasn’t really sure what that meant. Of course, she knew what a Crest was, but what was there to research about them? Some people had them, most didn’t, and nobles really highly valued them. Wasn’t that just about it?

The entire idea settled a stone of dread in Lienna’s stomach. Whatever “crest research” was, it didn’t seem good. Suddenly, her desire to leave was even more urgent, and she turned on her heel and made for the door.

Of course, she was barely one step into the courtyard before she was nearly bowled over, something jamming into her side and sending her stumbling.

“Ah!” the assailant yelped, also recovering from the impact. It was a young woman wearing an apron, scrambling to regain her grip of a large wooden bowl she held in both arms. The bowl was piled high with extravagantly colourful things Lienna could only assume were fruits, apparently stacked tall enough to obscure the other girl’s vision.

“Sorry, sorry!” the girl cried, expertly regaining her balance before her precarious tower of fruits collapsed. She leaned far enough to the side for Lienna to see her look of concern. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry I didn’t see you, everything is just chaos today!”

Lienna blinked at the girl, rubbing her arm where the bowl made impact. “Oh, I’m… fine,” she said hesitantly, although she noticed a crack splitting the side of the bowl down to the base. “Um, I don’t think your bowl is, though.”

The aproned girl’s eyes went wide, and she awkwardly turned the bowl in her hands, looking upon the crack with dread. “Oh, drat! This is for the party— I’ll need to go get a new one!”

“That’s all just for a party?” Lienna questioned.

“Yes! In the Reception Hall, after the last bell!” The girl replied hurriedly, “But they only told us an hour ago, and look where that gets us!” She huffed with frustration, but apparently remembered herself when she set her eyes back on Lienna. “Oh boy, but that must have been quite a hit to crack the bowl! Are you sure you’re alright?”

Lienna’s brow furrowed in confusion, but she nodded, dropping her hand as if to sell the idea. “Yes,” she insisted, “I think you guys need stronger bowls.”

“We’ll need a lot more than strong bowls to make a deadline this tight,” the girl sighed, adjusting her grip as she shrugged. “But, with the Goddess’ help, we’ll get it done! It takes more than a little scheduling error to beat the staff of Garreg Mach!” With that, her energy seemed to return to her, and she stepped out around Lienna into the courtyard – now walking sideways, probably to avoid another collision. “Anyway, gotta go! Sorry again!”

As the girl swept off at an impressive speed, Lienna noticed a spot of colour on the paving stones just shy of the courtyard. Despite the kitchen girl’s surprising agility, she lost one fruit in the collision after all. Lienna’s stomach growled at her at the sight of the fruit, and reflexively, she picked it up— it wasn’t until she was halfway to biting the thing that she realized how picking food up off the ground would make her look to anyone who happened to be watching.

Suddenly self-conscious, Lienna straightened like a rod, peering around in what she hoped was a discreet manner to see if anybody was looking. Fortunately, as far as she could tell, people were minding their own business. Still, for good measure, she made a show of dusting the fruit off with one of the tails of her scarf; maybe that way, she’d look less like a hungry savage and more like she just didn’t want to be wasteful.

Her facade didn’t last long, though. She probably ogled the fruit too long, but she couldn’t help it. It was unlike anything she could ever have even dreamt up back in Gautier; about the size of her fist, it was a deep, vibrant pink with soft green spines, a far cry even from the few rare Noa fruits her village might see on a special occasion. Stranger still, when she bit into it, its juices ran clear – lucky, since she didn’t anticipate it squirting onto her collar and running down her hand and onto her sleeve. She was so caught up in her first taste of something from beyond Fódlan’s borders that she forgot all about the handkerchief in her pocket; she licked the juice from her fingers instead, not wanting to waste a drop.

Jorah openly winced when Clarissa kicked him, but even his new bruise couldn’t dampen his spirits – especially because his friend’s simmering anger did wonders to balance out the anxious sea of discomfort lapping at the edges of his psyche, courtesy of all the nervous nellies in the room. Now of course, it wasn’t on purpose; he’d never take advantage of Clarissa like that, he preferred to bother her for his own entertainment. But it was a happy accident all the same.

In contrast to the lacklustre attention he’d been paying for most of the morning, Jorah listened closely to the introductions of his peers, eager to finally drink in some new faces. After Clarissa was Auberon, who reminded Jorah of a stained glass saint, both in form and in manner. But as opposed to the many straight and narrow nobles he could name (his father chief among them) Auberon carried a comforting air of sincerity that endeared him to Jorah more than he’d expect of one of his ilk. In an intriguing contrast, Lienna held herself just as stiffly, if not more so, but a coldness rolled off her that Jorah might have compared to the shrewder Lords of the Roundtable if it wasn’t seasoned so strongly with fear.

Widolaic was much bubblier than she looked like she should have been – Jorah couldn’t tell if he was letting the stories from Adrestia get the better of him or if shifty faces just ran in the the Vestra family – and Kellen’s introduction made Jorah wish he could go again, if only to recover from the secondhand embarrassment the little lordling inspired. Apparently Nathanael took pity on the boy and went next, and Jorah commended him for choking back his simmering disdain for the sake of another.

Rounding off the group was Adelaide, the third and final House Leader, who felt like what he initially expected from Auberon: superior, calculating, and utterly secure, like a mountain lion sizing up her prey. He’d met many of her ilk before, and had great fun antagonizing them – she’d be no different. Finally, Isolde’s introduction was almost as painful as the waves of anxiety wafting off her like acrid smoke, and Derec was… fine. His little twinge of nervousness was probably attributable to public speaking, but who could blame him? Unlike Jorah, not everyone was a natural entertainer. But he could learn. Starting tonight!

Head back in his party, Jorah was ready to continue his preparations when the uglier Professor Kalonic’s dismissal was rudely circumvented by Professor Tall Guy’s insistence that they missed somebody. Jorah followed his gesture with naked incredulity to find, with some difficulty, a shadow of a boy at the other end of it, rivaling Isolde in insecurity and dread. What a weird kid. He was deeply uninteresting, but because of that, also intriguing – he seemed to blend into the very walls, both visually and emotionally. It took a great effort to pinpoint his aura, and even then, Jorah struggled to tell where his vague discomfort ended and the general vibe of the room began. It reminded Jorah of reading a dry old tome, eyes roving over the same sentence ten times before he finally nodded off at his desk. That was hardly worth keeping him from his party!

Another thing keeping him from his party was Professor Euphemia’s invitation to stay after dismissal, but his chafing under the bonds of House Leadership was considerably soothed by the comeliness of his captor. Out of respect, Jorah paid careful attention to the professor as she delivered her address – and even heard a few of her words, too. Reports, chores, meetings with the other Leaders, it all sounded like stuff that could be half-assed easily enough. Or, more likely, put off until Clarissa finally surrendered to doing it for him. That would be even better – she’d do a better job anyway.

The only question Jorah could come up with was “How do I get more acquainted with Priscilla?” but even he feared the wrath of a jealous Clarissa enough to keep his tongue in his head until the professor departed. But even those few minutes of professionalism wore him ragged, and as soon as Euphemia was gone, he was back to his old self again.

“Galatea, that’s that family that broke off from House Daphnel, right? We’re practically cousins!” he exclaimed by way of greeting, standing on his toes to clap a friendly arm around the shoulders of his taller Blue Lion friend. “So then, cousin, can I count on you to mobilize the Lions at my party this evening? I know our fair companion will do her part to get those inter-house relations rolling.” He punctuated his words with a suggestive wink at the Adrestian princess, but otherwise focused his attention on Abraham. Augustine? Whoever – he’d have time to get to know him at the party.

Lienna had scarcely finished her sentence when another student approached, looking meek and out of place. One look at his kicked-puppy demeanour made Lienna write him off entirely as neither threat nor asset, content to keep her attention on people who might possibly matter until he opened his mouth.

Lienna nearly did a double-take at his casual drop of the name “Fraldarius,” her shock coming out a second time as a raise of her eyebrows. That was Lord Kellen Fraldarius? Her first intuition was right; something bad must have happened in Fraldarius for that pipsqueak to carry the title of Lord. Hells, he could hardly carry the jacket he was wearing. His insecure posture and the poor fit of his uniform only emphasized his diminutive figure, and although he was still taller than Lienna was, he looked more like a lost child than a lordling.

She nodded in acknowledgement of his greeting, but she was a little too much at a loss to come up with a reply before a crowd of new students started filing through the door. Probably for the best; “impressive” wasn’t the word she would have used for Gautier—except maybe that it was impressively cold, dark, and shitty—but whatever term she might have come up with to describe her desolate homeland was probably better left outside of polite company.

Then it was time for introductions. Again. The first one to go did nothing for Lienna’s rapidly souring mood. She’d seen plenty of his type among the Gautier soldiers in Hima, and most likely, her long-disappeared father had probably been one of them: nothing but crude jokes and half-truths, a walking hazard to poor and desperate girls hoping to run away from Hima on somebody’s arm. All they usually ended up with was one less meal in their stores and another mouth to feed growing in their bellies. The way this one carried on, there were probably as many blonde, red-eyed children running around the slums of Leicester as there were fatherless redheads in Hima.

The next girl spoke like a benevolent queen from a storybook, and paired with Auberon’s repeated introduction to match, Lienna was quickly losing interest. Goddess this, Goddess that – did Auberon see the same Kellen she did? And did Clarissa not hear her House Leader just now? If this was the best the Goddess could come up with to safeguard the future of Fódlan, then maybe she’d have been better off seeking a rich husband on some other continent altogether. Then again, that was one point in Gautier’s favour: it was far enough removed from the world that she wouldn’t really notice if the rest of Fódlan went up in flames, and as long as her own bed wasn’t on fire, she wasn’t too concerned about it.

No one from the Empire deigned to speak up yet – maybe they were so accustomed to having their names and titles called out by heralds before them to remember they had to do it themselves – and at the risk of letting this charade run on too long, Lienna opted to go next. Granted, she wasn’t quite sure what to say. The others listed their titles. Should she? Did she have any? And what of likes and dislikes? She had a list of dislikes a mile long, but it had been years since she gave much thought to things she liked—her primary concern had always been things she needed. Ultimately, she’d have preferred to wait until the end, but the pain in her stomach was quickly turning into hunger, and no way was she waiting for Kellen to drum up some courage.

Hasty decision made, she stood as smoothly as she could manage, her posture stiff as she did her best to emulate the form of the others in the room. “I am Lienna Orhneaht, future Countess of Southern Gautier, and also a bearer of the Minor Crest of Gautier,” she began, taking Auberon’s cue to mention her Crest. “I like hearty meals and warm fires, and I dislike the cold. I hope we can all form lasting bonds this year, for the good of Fódlan’s future.”

She nodded to her classmates to conclude her introduction, sitting back down about as smoothly as she stood. Fine, it was the same ‘for the good of the continent’ line everyone else was parroting, but the rest of it was inoffensive enough, and it was more polite than saying ‘I hope to make friends I can count on for favours later.’

Unfortunately, Jorah barely had time to step out into the courtyard and begin his House Leader hunt before he was interrupted by the clanging of a bell. He would have assumed it was a church bell - and thus, safely ignored - if not for the very loud shouting of a blond armoured man and the tide of students receding from the courtyard back into the classrooms. Jorah didn’t really know what a “Rose Unit” was or whether he was part of it, but he saw Professor Euphemia disappear into the Blue Lions classroom, and that was enough information for him.

Jorah seated himself with his housemates and was immediately distracted by the professors - or, at least, two of the professors. Professor Euphemia, of course, was the star of the show, and the rod at her hip had Jorah’s mind going all sorts of places not condoned by the Church, but the green-haired woman up there with her could not be counted out either. Shy maidens were a dime a dozen back in Derdriu, granted, but something about Professor Kaira warranted further investigation, Jorah decided. Particularly, her proximity.

Between his ruminations, Jorah heard at least half of what was said: this was a special unit, they’d be off fighting for the Church, and of course, Fódlan was in existential danger. Now, Jorah was pretty sure Fódlan had been in existential danger ever since he was old enough to be dragged to the Roundtable - or at least, that was the vibe he always got from the Dukes when he went - so the words dribbled off of him like rain on a leaf, the future Archduke much more interested in the swaying of Euphemia’s hips than in securing the future of his country.

Fortunately, the droning didn’t go on too long. Instead, the armoured blond from earlier - evidently the Blue Lions’ professor - established himself as a kindred spirit and started a game of introductions that immediately displeased the angry-looking professor at the desk. The air of whimsical mischief emanating from Professor Michail was plenty to provoke Jorah to similar antics, although his version was decidedly more… performative.

Jorah leapt - literally - at the chance to set the tone, eschewing standing to instead jump onto his seat just as he had for his housemates. “I’d be happy to begin, professor,” he announced proudly as he turned to face the class with a cocky flourish, like a tavern bard drumming up an audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Jorah von Riegan. You may know me by my titles: Heir apparent to the Duchy of Riegan, House Leader of the Golden Deer, or as my father calls me, ‘lecherous rake,’” he offered the class an exaggerated bow. “I like tavern songs in good company and long rides in the woods - and I’m pretty fond of horses as well.” He punctuated that comment with a wink to Professor Kaira before shrugging. “I’m not too fond of bland food or instruments played off-key, but get me into a celebrating mood and there won’t be much you can do to get me out of it. I hope to see you all tonight at the Reception Hall for a proper introduction.”

Impression sufficiently made, Jorah let himself fall back into his seat, leaning back with a self-satisfied grin. His comment took Professor Kaira by surprise, but he was surprised in turn to find hint of coyness in that smile, just begging for further inquiry. Ha! Worth investigating indeed. He'd expected a flush of embarrassment and maybe even indignation, but it turned out he may have been too quick to judge. Either that, or they cut their "shy maidens" from a different cloth in Garreg Mach, which bade all the better for the many churched women that called the Monastery home. Maybe a year in its hallowed halls wouldn't be so bad after all.

If Lienna butchered her first attempt at a noble’s greeting, Auberon didn’t show it; either she properly mimicked the ladies in waiting or he was just too polite to brush her off, either of which worked for her. For now, anyway. In any case, her gamble paid off as the House Leader rattled off the Faerghian nobles in attendance, of which only one name mattered to her: Lord Kellen Fraldarius.

Lienna poorly contained her shock, raising a suspicious brow. What on earth was a Lord doing at the Officer’s Academy? Wouldn’t he be much too old and busy running his territory? Lienna didn’t claim to know anything about how the ruling of noble houses worked, but this didn’t seem right. Or maybe something bad had happened, and the acting head of the family was only a teenager? She really had no way of discerning one way or the other; she barely knew the goings-on of house Gautier, and she lived in their territory all her life.

More immediately concerning was the confirmation that a Fraldarius was in attendance at all, and the fact that she should probably make an effort to get to know him - if he didn’t know of her already. She didn’t need to understand the dynamics of political intrigue to know that having an ally within her new extended family would be hugely important, but it might have helped to know how to go about it.

Could she squeeze more information out of Auberon? He seemed nice enough, if a bit stiff, but she was already looking at him with thinly veiled suspicion. She’d heard plenty about how highborn folk acted, how they never spoke plainly and were always plotting something behind the scenes. Despite having come to Garreg Mach to make powerful friends, it seemed to Lienna that every interaction held just as much opportunity to make powerful enemies, without any way to tell the difference. She couldn’t read the nuances of these people - for all she knew, every smile could conceal a knife behind their backs.

Ugh, her stomach was too sore for this nonsense. Why couldn’t people just say what they meant or shut up?

The tall, red-haired one seemed a little more normal - or rather, a little less noble - by the way he spoke. Lienna was pretty sure he was the simpleton who clapped when Auberon finished his speech, so she was expecting him to trip all over himself trying to appeal to the dear leader when he approached, but it wasn’t so. That was for the best - Lienna wasn’t sure she could stomach any suck-ups.

“Well met, Derec,” she replied cordially, borrowing his greeting. If she could go by the lack of titles tacked on to his name - or the deer-in-crosshairs expression written all over his face - it seemed like this one was a commoner like herself. Not that she was about to go advertising that fact. But she did wonder why he would come to Garreg Mach to begin with, and who was paying for it. She knew the Officer’s Academy was technically open to commoners, but even if they had the means to pay for it on their own, she couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to attend. If they didn’t have plans to join the upper class, as she did, what was the appeal? Was he trying to join the army? If the Gautier soldiers who traipsed through Hima were anything to go by, then surely the requirements weren’t that high.

And so, as with Auberon, Lienna was left with more questions than answers, and a healthy dose of suspicion left over for Derec. But now she’d been standing there like an idiot for far too long, and needed to come up with something - or else find a way to politely excuse herself to go nurse her growing stomach ache. Fortunately, although it wasn’t an excuse to leave, she could latch on to something Auberon said, speaking of a Blue Lions victory. She could always get behind winning.

“I think we have an advantage,” she agreed. At least that much made sense to her. “In Gautier, it’s a fight just to get by; if it isn’t just the cold out to get us, it’s wolves or bears or raiders from Sreng.” She crinkled her nose in disgust. “There’s no way a bunch of…” she was about to say ‘pampered brats,’ but she slowly thought better of it, “...students from the South will give a House full of Faerghians any more trouble than we’re already used to.”

By all accounts, Jorah’s first and second acts as House Leader of the Golden Deer were going splendidly. Nobody booed, some people paid attention, and only one person got up and left! The mood in the room wasn’t exactly as awash with excitement as he would have liked, but there was a little bit of intrigue floating around, and he had to assume that the people who left quickest were simply eager to go spread the good news of Garreg Mach’s first proper Alliance bash. As far as Jorah was concerned, no tankards lobbed at his head meant this one was a winner.

Clarissa’s comment earned her a warm smile, especially since she was still raw from the news - and probably would be for some time. “You’re right, I would have,” he admitted readily, tapping his forehead. “But now, I can say it’s an official party.”

Unfortunately, Jorah didn’t get too much time to revel in his flawless exercise of authority. A chill soon crawled up his spine in the form of cool, simmering contempt that swept past like a cold wind. It wasn’t Clarissa; Jorah was intimately familiar with every species of her bad moods, and none of them were so malevolent. Instead, it came from one of his classmates, accompanied by a frigid whisper: "Authority suits you like a cold bath to a cat."

“Ha!” Jorah blurted unexpectedly, the comment clashing so much with the contempt with which it was delivered that it shocked him into laughter. He clapped a jovial hand on the other boy’s back as congratulations for the joke. “I know cats who’d sooner swim to Brigid than me be a House Leader, but hey!” he shrugged, still chuckling, “Some cats like to swim.”

He beamed as he appraised the newcomer: Nathanael Gloucester, son of the late Duke Gloucester, and not a face Jorah ever expected to see at Garreg Mach. Or anywhere, really, after so long cooped up in secret. He’d heard rumours that the boy was reappearing at Roundtable meetings as of late, but Jorah had never substantiated them - he avoided those things with all his might, and when he was there, he didn’t exactly take notes. But he was thrilled to see Nate nonetheless. With the state he’d been in after his father’s murder, the kid had Jorah worried that he’d never be quite right again.

Of course, the sour bent of Nate’s mood indicated that he might not be quite right, but Jorah wouldn’t hold it against him - sometimes he just had that effect on people.

Soon enough, more of his new subjects approached him, and another squirrely feeling threatened to ruin Jorah’s mood. This time, it came in the form of a stomach-churning anxiety that filled the space like a choking fog, thick and oppressive enough to drown out even Oskar’s famously bubbling enthusiasm. Jorah felt like the room was pressing down on him, his every move being scrutinized to the minutest of details - if he didn’t know any better, he’d assume Duke Riegan was standing behind him. Instead, the source was the girl on Oskar’s arm, whom Jorah had noticed before - Isolde Ordelia, daughter of the late Duke Ordelia.

Oh… oh no.

It was only in that moment that Jorah clued in to the reason Nate’s mood might have crashed - it wasn’t him after all, but Isolde. Well, that was unfortunate; he could deal with personally being a buzzkill, but that response from Nate was a little more concerning when it was aimed at such an unimposing girl. He sincerely hoped there wouldn’t be tension between the two of them for too long; certainly Nathanael’s feelings were… complicated, but poor Isolde was simply too cute to stay angry with, especially shrinking behind Oskar, and nothing that happened really had anything to do with her. As far as Jorah was concerned, that whole murder business was a long string of unfortunate events for all involved, and much too depressing to tolerate. Instead, he chose to hold out the optimistic hope that spending a year together would help both of them reconcile and cope with their respective pasts and let them leave Garreg Mach stronger and more compassionate people than they’d come in.

Of course, there was also a chance they’d try to kill each other, so maybe he should watch out for that. Or tell Clarissa to! She was the one with brains for politics, and healing magic if politics failed.

But in any case, that would have to wait: Oskar had a very important question that needed to be addressed. “Alright, if we’re going to be showing these people a sincere Alliance party, then you just tell me where and when so I can tell people.”

Jorah’s grin returned as his friend brought up more pressing matters, all too happy to leave all thoughts of murder and politics behind. “Hm, that would help, wouldn't it?” he replied, stroking his chin as he thought. He hadn’t really taken into account that he didn’t have a clue what sort of amenities the monastery offered, but he wasn’t that concerned; these things usually worked themselves out. But a meeting place would be a good first step - only, where?

After a moment, it came to him. “The Reception Hall!” He exclaimed, snapping his fingers. Of course! Surely Garreg Mach had a reception hall, right? Everywhere did! And even if it didn’t, it definitely had someplace that could reasonably be called a reception hall - he’d just have to figure out where it was. “After the last bell. Tell people to bring their dancing shoes!”

Clarissa made the crucial mistake of giving Jorah an inch, from which he fully planned to take a mile. “Your counsel is appreciated and I make no oaths to follow it,” he told her cheerfully, peeling himself away from his adoring subjects as she did the same. Her mood spelled danger, as did the ‘conversation’ she proposed with Nathanael, and Jorah wanted to be as far away as possible when it happened.

Besides, there was party business to attend to. Starting with… oh! Of course! The other House Leaders! They’d be the perfect vehicles to spread the word down through the other two Houses. Goal in mind, Jorah sprung out into the courtyard, on the lookout for anyone who looked a little bigger for their britches than normal.

The journey from Derdriu to Garreg Mach was a lengthy one: with the Oghma mountain range blocking off access from the east, the caravan had go south through Gloucester and across the Great Bridge of Myrddin into Imperial territory, then hang a right at Gronder Field and trek back up north to the mountains. The road was well-traveled, at least, but it was a grueling trip nonetheless, made no easier for the guards accompanying the caravan by the state of their charges.

Jorah von Riegan was in a fantastic mood.

Despite the circumstances surrounding his enrolment at Garreg Mach, the weeks leading up to his departure had been an agony of anticipation, and by the time they finally set out on the road, Jorah felt like he could have sprinted the whole distance himself. Especially with Clarissa by his side, he was even more airy than usual, not a care in the world as the Riegan caravan lumbered down the road, except maybe to urge the driver to go faster. Ever averse to closed spaces and eager to drink in the scenery he hadn’t seen since he was sixteen, Jorah spent as much of the trip as he could riding alongside the caravan on a horse of his own - albeit tethered to the carriage axle. His father must have given the guards a stern talking-to, because no matter how much Jorah bargained and begged and nudged with his Crest, they wouldn’t let him ride freely. They were right to do so, of course, but that didn't make it any less disappointing.

But despite being pulled along like a captive, Jorah’s spirits never dipped. When he wasn’t pushing Clarissa’s buttons, he was strumming the lute his father had weakly tried to hide from him, serenading the company with every tavern dirge and sea shanty he could remember. Sure, he might have been the source of the circles under the eyes of the guards, but he knew from experience he’d test their patience whether he was singing or not, so he considered it a net gain. At least Clarissa admitted his songs were pretty!

The crossing into Imperial territory was particularly exciting, and had Jorah straining on his horse’s tether more than any other leg of the trip. He’d never been to Adrestia, but laying eyes on Gronder Field brought to mind the stories he’d heard from his father’s Academy days of the grand mock battle held there each year. Naturally, Jorah was fascinated by anything that could lift the Duke’s spirits to such heights - even if they did always come crashing down once the story was over - and drank in as many of the sights as he could, eyes glued to the horizon until they finally happened upon the mountain keep at the end of the road: Garreg Mach Monastery itself.

While he wouldn’t pretend to be profoundly struck by the age and holiness of the monastery, he was greatly impressed by its scale; the monastery rose from the Oghma mountains like it grew from the very rock, its own spires jutting into the sky alongside the mountain peaks. The place was lively, too, with a busy village at the base and people and animals all over the place. Despite having heard of its surprising population, Jorah had expected a painfully quiet, boring monastery full of stern, pious monks and impatient nuns. What he got instead felt like a miniature city all its own, vibrant and alive with all sorts of normal people. He’d heard the place described as “Fódlan in a nutshell”; if that was true, he couldn’t wait to explore every inch of it.

The address in the cathedral was novel - Jorah scarcely believed that what he’d been told about a twelve-year-old Archbishop was actually true - but what really caught his attention was the feel of the room. It was totally different from the day-to-day buzz of city crowds; the new students of the Officers’ Academy radiated every emotion from excitement to dread, like a buzzing bell curve of nervous anticipation that had Jorah’s gut all aflutter, practically vibrating in his seat. He wasn’t sure if it was a good feeling or a bad one, but the excitement of feeling something different in a crowd eclipsed any of his borrowed reservations.

Oh, and the classroom! Now there was a place he wouldn’t mind going every morning. True, yes, he had originally planned on shirking his classes as much as he could get away with to explore the monastery and adjacent town, but when Professor Euphemia bounded in all bouncy blonde hair and slender legs and high-heeled shoes, Jorah couldn’t think of a better place to start his day.

“I’ll make sure to take good care of you!”

Ah, Garreg Mach was already exceeding expectations.

“...and the lucky one...is future Duke Jorah Riegan!”

Wait. What?

Jorah blinked, sitting up from leaning his head on his hand and glancing around the room. Okay, he hadn’t really been paying attention to the Professor - not to what she was saying, anyway - did she want him for something? He’d normally be thrilled for a lady like her to call on him, but the very distinct crash he felt in Clarissa’s mood next to him told him that she might have been saying something important. He was left to puzzle over the address and Clarissa’s rapid, concerning decline from anger to melancholy until the papers Professor Euphemia was circulating around the class explained everything.

Jorah von Riegan - House Leader, Golden Deer

“What?!” Jorah blurted out, clutching the paper closer to his face and reading it over again. Surely this was a mistake. She said Jorah Riegan, and he was Jorah von Riegan, so there must have been another student with a curiously similar name who was chosen for House Leader, right? He looked around the room for anyone who looked like they were thrilled to be in charge, but saw no one. Cichol’s teeth, no wonder Clarissa was pissed!

Jorah could empathize, fuming in his seat with as much potency as a whimsical delight like himself could manage. His dastard father set this up, didn’t he? Ugh, Clarissa was right! Duke Riegan could be dead in the ground and Jorah still wouldn’t be free of his iron clutches! The man probably thought this was brilliant, a great way to whip his son into the leader he always wanted him to be. Just perfect, make him responsible for the students of the Alliance and get an extra set of eyes on him to keep him from slinking out of class. One of those “elegant solutions” Duke Riegan was known for. Absolutely ideal!

Jorah was contemplating methods of shamefully begging Professor Euphemia for reassignment (it would probably be impossible - his father probably dropped a Derdriu galleon full of money into the Archbishop's lap to make this happen - but it might at least be fun trying) when she spirited herself out of his reach, leaving only him and his remaining classmates, some of whom were already - disturbingly - looking to him for guidance.

What a terrible idea.

Clarissa, Goddes shower upon her all gifts and graces, broke the ice for him; an admirable effort, especially considering the dramatic turn her feelings took in the moments after the announcement. That air of subdued acceptance made Jorah sad; he recognized that mood of hers, and he didn’t much like what it usually accompanied. But if she was going to be good enough to take it in stride and set the stage for him, he’d oblige. Until he worked something else out, at least.

Tossing aside Euphemia’s paper dismissively, Jorah rose to his feet next, turning around to face the greater part of the room as he cleared his throat. Just as he did so, he caught a glimpse of a face that surprised him so much it made him choke: the curly blond head of Oskar Goneril was beaming at him from the back, looking very much like he was trying not to laugh as he offered his partner in crime a double thumbs-up. The stupid grin was contagious; Jorah almost burst out laughing himself as soon as he saw it, and as quickly as it had fallen, his mood soared once again. The absolute shitheel, Oskar never told him he was coming.

“Thank you, Clarissa, that’s an excellent idea,” Jorah greeted quickly, half-choked with still barely-contained laughter. He took a deep breath to compose himself before springing up on top of the desk in front of him, introducing himself to his classmates in a manner much more like himself.

“As some of you may have heard, my name is Jorah von Riegan, and while some of you may remember me as heir to the Duchy of Riegan - or more likely as a distraction at the Roundtable - it looks like this year, I’ll be playing the role of your House Leader.” He smiled winsomely at the class, finding to his surprise that he had at least passing familiarity with all of them - especially the poor Ordelia girl, whose presence was almost as much of a shock as his own appointment as Leader.

“As such, my first act under this new mantle of authority is this: you are all hereby ordered to attend a party tonight to kick off the year and hopefully, to get to know each other a bit more intimately.” He flashed a mischievous look at nobody in particular, accompanied by Oskar “oooo”ing immaturely in the back, before pointing toward the door. “My second order is to spread the word about our little get-together to everyone you can find. I want every student at the Officers’ Academy - all three houses - in attendance. Sound good?”

He surveyed the class for approval, objections, or questions, ignoring any of the latter two and taking the former as his cue to end his debut. “Excellent. Dismissed!” He pointed at Oskar. “Except you, Oskar - you’re in detention.”

With that, Jorah nodded to himself and jumped back down to the floor, crossing his arms triumphantly. “Not bad for my first decree, eh?" He asked Clarissa rhetorically, inwardly bracing for whatever indignance would follow, but too proud to shut up. "Maybe authority suits me after all."

For Lienna, the past few weeks had been a torrent of firsts: first time sleeping in a keep, first time eating pork, first time having her hair cut by someone who knew what they were doing, first time having her measurements taken, and more. So much had happened it was hard to believe it was real; in fact, just about the only thing reminding her she wasn't dreaming was the horrible stone in her stomach.

Indeed, among her other ‘firsts’ since finalizing her engagement to Count Francis was a decidedly unpleasant one: her first time riding in a carriage, and consequently, her first realization that she got roadsick. The few hours’ ride from Hima to South Gautier had been awful enough on that rickety fur trader’s cart, but the trip from the Count’s keep to Garreg Mach took days and wasn't any smoother. Lienna had always thought a real carriage would be more comfortable, but the wretched thing pitched and yawed with every bump in the road, the horses stank, and the walls and roof that were supposed to protect her only made her feel like she was suffocating. Her single attempt to ride alongside the carriage on horseback ended before it began when the beast was too spooked to let her mount it, so she'd been doomed to spend the whole trip trying to keep her dinner down.

By the time they finally arrived at Garreg Mach, she was as white as a sheet, trembling, and vowing never again to set foot in a carriage. She’d had the driver stop a ways off from the monastery walls so she could stumble out and finish what the last leg of the trip had started, and spent a good few minutes in the shade of a tree by the roadside, nursing a waterskin and waiting for her head to stop spinning. Her uniform jacket had fallen casualty on the way, not that Lienna missed it; the stiff collar felt like a hand around her neck, and the trim fit of the thing greatly contrasted the ratty furs and smocks she was used to. The shoes were no better with their hard soles and heel, but that couldn’t be helped; commoner or not, even she wasn’t about to stumble into Garreg Mach Monastery with bare feet. At least the skirt was agreeable enough, long enough to reach her ankles and only snug at the waist, and the shirt would probably become a favourite. She’d been apprehensive about the breathable cotton at first, but the loose-fitting sleeves concealed how bony her arms were and now that she was here, she didn't expect the cold to be a problem. If this weather kept up, she could probably stow that jacket away for good.

She eventually felt well enough to stand again, but her stomach was reluctant to settle, and she’d be damned if she met her new classmates and professors holding her belly like a woman with child. The solution was found in a gift from her new fiancé: a long, deep brown sash, made of fabric that shone in the light and thin enough to see through. The gift perplexed Lienna; she didn’t understand why the Count bothered trying to woo her when their engagement was already finalized, and the sash itself would be useless against the cold, thin as it was. But as it turned out, it could serve a purpose: she wrapped it tightly around her abdomen, binding her belly from waist to ribs, and tied it off to the side in a limp bow. If nothing else, it might stop her stomach from quivering.

Not that it didn’t try. Lienna hadn’t been to church in years, but even she felt the weight of history and piety when she set foot in the cathedral. It wasn’t like she remembered the church back home; the church in Hima had been a second home for her until her grandmother fell ill, but every step here felt like an unwelcome intrusion on holy ground, the eyes of the saints heavy and judgemental when she passed under them. It was so bizarre and uncomfortable that it even distracted her from the unbelievable scale of the place, and when the young Archbishop’s speech finally concluded, she was one of the first ones out.

Luckily, that strangeness seemed to end at the threshold of the cathedral. She was able to relax a little once she got to the Blue Lions classroom, discomfort nudged aside by awe that Garreg Mach managed to transform even something as humble as a classroom into the stuff of fairy tales. The stained glass windows were unlike anything Lienna had ever seen, casting a rainbow of light across the ancient masonry; she couldn’t imagine the price of the books lining the walls, bound in leather and etched in gold, far finer than any she’d seen at the church back home; hells, even the tables and chairs were crafted with skill beyond anything Lienna had ever hoped to lay eyes on. It took a conscious effort not to drop her jaw at every new furnishing or artifact that caught her eye; while commoners were present at the Academy, she didn’t want to advertise her status just yet by openly ogling the furniture.

The cavalier professor clashed with the focused atmosphere of the room, but he was brief enough; he simply introduced himself and the House Leader before scurrying out the door. Said House Leader was somewhat less charismatic, quick to take Michail’s place at the front and launch into a stiff-yet-flowery introduction about securing the Kingdom’s future. Lienna looked on with lidded eyes, waiting to be dismissed; the boy carried himself like a storybook general and spoke like a priest, and despite her new station in life, Lienna had a knee-jerk impatience for the highborn and the holier-than-thou that already coloured her opinion of the House Leader. Of course, to give him the slimmest benefit of the doubt, it was also possible that the twist in her stomach when he spoke was just a remnant from the carriage ride.

She knew it would probably be prudent to get on good terms with His Excellency Heir Apparent Auberon von House Leader at some point. Lienna recognized the name “Galatea”, but not its origin; she could infer from the boy’s attitude and his appointment to House Leader that it was probably one of Faerghus’ noble families, but she couldn’t think of anything about them save a vague, sourceless familiarity with the name itself. The only Faerghian noble family she knew other than Gautier and Blaiddyd was Fraldarius, the name of the family territory bordering Gautier to the South. From her seat, she squinted at the chalkboard, searching for the name. From the brief review Hima’s priest had given her, she recalled that Houses Gautier and Fraldarius often intermarried; if a Fraldarius was attending, there was a chance they were a relative of her fiancé, or some other relation who could otherwise be useful to her in the future.

Unfortunately, the professor’s chickenscratch was nigh-incomprehensible, and while Lienna thought she saw a surname that started with ‘F’, she couldn't make out the rest. Ugh, and they chose this guy as their professor? She'd have thought such a lofty institution would at least have chosen someone who could write. She suppressed a groan; the prospect of asking around for names and titles made her head spin, and introducing herself to everyone like a child appealed to her no better. Dammit, why couldn't things ever be easy?

Fine; she supposed her crash course in high society started now. Rising from her seat as smoothly as she could manage, Lienna did her best to stand up straight and made her way to the front of the room under the pretense of looking at the board. Should she curtsy? No, no - Auberon was set to be a Count and she a Countess, so they should be on equal footing… probably. She decided against it; if she was going to err, she’d rather come off as rude than groveling, and the curtsy she'd practiced exactly once wasn't exactly up to snuff anyway. Instead, she offered the House Leader one of those barely-there noblewoman smiles the handmaidens at Francis’ keep kept giving her and introduced herself.

“A pleasure to meet you, Auberon,” she greeted, trying to mimic that nice-but-distant tone she had grown accustomed to from the ladies of Francis’ household. Polite, but not too invested; from her short time in the keep, it seemed to her that the role of a highborn woman was to like everything and everyone a little but to like nothing a lot. “I'm Lienna Orhneaht, betrothed to Count Francis Gautier. I look forward to the coming year with you and the rest of the Blue Lions. Is anyone you know attending this year?”

Lienna hoped the question didn't out her too quickly. Surely highborn kids had cousins all over the place, and many of them went to the Officer’s Academy, right? There were probably lots of students who knew each other, especially within the same House.

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