Kin

Aug. 3rd, 2013 10:44 am
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[personal profile] deaalmon
Name: Kin
Author: Ashe
Rating: G
Warnings: None.
Word Count: 3447
Fandom: Original
Characters/Pairings: Originals
Summary: Etienne returns home at the behest of his king, to discuss a treaty with the Lord of Charatt Freehold. In the night, the secluded keep is buried in snow.
For: [community profile] trope_bingo "snowed in"

The steep mountain path that led up the incline to the fortress of Charatt was not openly guarded in these tumultuous times only because the mountain itself was nearly impenetrable. It would be nearly impossible a feat to lead an entire army up the steep, treacherous paths; Etienne would not have wanted to try the climb without the hardy mountain pony he'd traded his fine flatlands horse for back in Vristillian. Even with the pony, his bag of supplies was beginning to dwindle. He traveled lightly, used to the long journeys from the University far in the southlands; but Charatt was where he had been born. He had long ago ceased to call the mountain fortress home, but it was still the home of his father and sister. There was a certain amount of determination on his face as the pony climbed ever higher. The pony did not concern himself with the troubles of his rider, and the rider concerned himself less and less with the troubles of the pony.

The letter he'd sent had been brief and to the point. He was not traveling to Charatt for some grand homecoming celebration, and he wasn't returning to reconcile with his father, much as that fact would annoy and anger his sister. He thought of her fondly; she had visited him a handful of times while he was studying at the University, and later elsewhere.

The gates of Charatt opened to admit him into the stronghold. Unlike many other holds in the realm, Charatt had very little in the way of a village surrounding the actual fortress. The great stone building was massive, and the surrounding terrain was largely inhospitable. A few outbuildings that housed the mews and the guardhouse, but the closest village was further down the mountain. He'd stopped, briefly, in Charity on his way up the mountain. He had been recognized there, which had been a strange experience. It had been almost ten years since he'd been back to the mountains; the older woman who ran the inn had explained that his resemblance to his father was too strong to be able to deny the blood link. The people had long wondered if the wayward young lord would ever return to the eyrie, and now, it seems, he had.

He chewed that thought over and over as he dismounted from the pony. Guardsmen had approached at his arrival; the fortress was not closed to outsiders, but because there was no village here, business must be cleared before proceeding into the keep. The great stone beast rose easily a hundred feet into the air above him, the sight slightly awing to one who hadn't seen it in some time. He felt a swell of pride that the fortress had stood proudly here for so long, it had become a symbol to the realm of the strength of the mountain folk, though many would rather forget it existed here.

No one less than the guard captain herself strode across the flagstone courtyard to greet him. Captain Branka seemed to carry herself well, despite having held the post as long as Etienne could remember, at least nineteen years. Captain Branka was not a particularly tall woman, though she was well built across shoulder, with long, strong limbs, and a nose that had clearly been broken at least once. She had the ruddy red-brown hair common to those of mountain ancestry, and the same rich blue eyes, bright and clear like the ice that hung at the very summit of the mountain, the ever-frost that had not melted even in the hottest summers on record.

Etienne was strange because he did not resemble the mountain folk. His mother had been born here, and he carried their blood from her line, but it was from his father that he inherited the long lines, chiseled jaw, and strange brandy brown eyes that glowed almost red in the right light. He was lightly boned, slender and tall, and his skin had too much natural bronze to ever be mistaken for merely sun kissed. Despite his age, already approaching his mid-twenties, he looked young in the face. Some misjudged him on that alone. Those fools frequently lived to regret misjudging him.

"My Lord Etienne, welcome to Charatt." Etienne noted that she did not welcome him home. She was a proud woman, and for him to have turned his back on the people who lived here... well, he had made his choice, and she had made hers. She would not show him any outright rudeness; her family had served Charatt and those who ruled here for generations, and would long after he faded to dust. The air howled with the promise of snow to come, even though the realm was well into spring in the plains. He pulled the thick fur lined cloak closer around him, wondering how long it would take him to grow used to the cold once more. Too long; he would be gone before that happened.

"Captain Branka." he inclined his head in respect. "I trust my letter gave ample warning of my arrival?" He hadn't been sure. Couriers could not travel well in winter and even during early spring when floods tended to keep the roads muddy and impassable, especially this far north, this far into the mountains. Her body language was subtle, but he could sense something there, something about what he said annoyed her. He could only wonder what that was.

"The courier arrived three days ago. Your sister is much looking forward to your visit. The Lady Kestrelle rode out this morning with the huntsman, and is due back before nightfall." There was concern in her voice, then. The oncoming storm, or general concern for his sister's welfare? It wasn't unusual for Kestrelle to hunt; she had been taught to ride, to hunt, to kill for the stewpot. He had, as well, by their mother. Thoughts of his mother were generally painful, but they were inevitable in this place. He had not been back since her death. He had accompanied her body to the burial mound where she would be laid to rest for the rest of eternity, so that her soul might travel on the hall of warriors where it belonged, but he had never returned to Charatt.

"And my father? Where is he?" he asked. If Kestrelle was out of the keep entirely, it would be the best time to speak to his father, plead his case, and get the most important and painful part of his visit done. He could be ready to leave again by morning, or at least the day after. He didn't want to be in Charatt longer than he needed to be; he would not have come back at all, save his king had asked him to. That was the sticking point.

Charatt's proper name was Charatt Freehold, and for that reason, he had been chosen to come. The king who ruled in the kingdom of Tyrendon was a young man now that his father was dead and the crowning had taken place. Etienne had met the newly crowned king, Baldr, when they were both young men. They were shield-brothers, cut of the same cloth. Baldr would not have sent him, save on a mission of great import. After all, the young king could not risk his own life traveling so far, to a place that might hold dangers unknown.

"As I count you as my kinsman, Etienne, I ask this of you. Travel to Charatt Freehold and speak to your father. He is my mother's brother, I wish no ill will towards him. Tell him that. Please."

It was an honorable request, and a noble one. Etienne respected Baldr for the gesture, made against the will of his many advisors. Raul of Charatt Freehold was a proud man, but he was not a fool. A king's pardon could not be something he would ignore.

"My lord?" The impatient tone in the guard's captain's voice drove Etienne out of his own mind. Startled slightly, and wondering if the fatigue was worse than he expected, he looked at her. She gave him an odd expression, some combination of pity and disgust. "I said that your father is embroiled in his affairs until dinner. He will meet with you then. Your chambers have been made ready for your arrival. You will likely wish to wash and rest." Nothing in her tone could be pinpointed, of course, but Etienne knew when he was not wanted.

He turned to enter the keep. A hundred or more individuals called the keep home. It had been the home of the Sentinels for longer than Etienne could place; when Charatt had originally won it's freedom from the sovereignty of the rulers of Tyrendon, it had passed through the hands of many men and women. Eventually the group known as the Sentinels had taken it over. Today, the leader of those men and women was Raul of Charatt. Etienne's father. Etienne did not wish to meet with anyone until he'd had time to rest, but the halls were usually quite busy. He stood in the entrance hall for only a moment, his saddlebacks slung over his shoulder, before he decided the easiest thing to do would be what he'd always done as a child. He stepped into the servant's staircase and made his way through the largely quiet passages, only twice startling maids when he came upon them. He could only guess that his chambers meant the ones he'd inhabited as a child here, and when he opened the door he was proven correct. He didn't know what to make of it that the rooms hadn't been repurposed in some way, but he was relieved that they were clean, and blissfully clear of personal effects. He stripped out of layers and layers of travel clothes, stopping only to hang the fur lined cloak up in the wardrobe. Clothes hung there, a guess at a man's size, but he found they would likely be too short in the limb for him. He was taller by nature than most men of mountain descent, so that little surprised him.

He washed in the adjoining bathing chamber, steaming hot water brought in by a fresh faced maid who gave him a strangely searching look, and he pulled on a dressing gown to fall into bed for a few hours. He was woken hours later by an older maid who told him he had thirty minutes until dinner, and it would not be held for him. She left, and he dressed in an outfit laid out for him. His own clothes, both those from the saddlebags and those he'd left strewn on the floors, were gone, hopefully to be washed and mended and not taken entirely. Still, the clothes left for him fit better than those from the wardrobe. He pulled on a pair of his own boots and then made his way towards the dining hall.

He didn't make it there. A brief yell and then he found himself wrapped in small, deceptively strong arms. A flash of that ruddy red-brown hair that he didn't possess, but reminded him of their mother. His sister, Kestrelle. She hugged all of the breath out of him, and then pulled away. It had been almost two years since he'd seen her, and she'd finally finished that transition from girl to woman. She was nineteen years old now, and a woman to be sure. Her fine boned face was nearly a reflection of his, and her brandy brown eyes that were nearly red, but she had the tumbles of ruddy hair and a complexion somewhere between his and the pale alabaster of the mountain folks. She may be dressed like a real lady in a gown of green that complemented those womanly curves, but that was muscle in those strong forearms. Under that skirt were legs used to riding, climbing, fighting. She was no wilting flower, even if she could pretend well enough.

"Kestrelle," There was, perhaps for the first time since he'd begun the climb up the mountain, real warmth in his voice. Despite everything that had driven him from Charatt as a youth, he still loved and adored his sister. They maintained a closeness that few would ever guess at, considering the sheer distance between them, and he considered her the only real family he had left. Until now. "How are you? I heard you'd been out hunting."

She had a ready grin on her face. Cocky wasn't the right term for her, that implied she wasn't as good as she thought she was, but she was certainly bold and had few qualms about anything. "Caught a few hares, but the real prize is the caribou. We're going to eat well tonight. It's too early in the season for much in the way of fresh vegetables, but I believe that the cook even broke out the last jar of preserved apples for you." She slid her arm through his, and pulled him along with her. She had the confident air of their mother about her, everyone had always said she was like Rohesia reborn. Kestrelle disliked the comparison; she would rather be herself than anyone else come again. "You look like hell, Etienne." she said it with affection, though, and he could tell she'd missed him. "Come on, papa's waiting."

The bone of contention between them, always, was their father.

She led the way into the great hall. Several fireplaces lit and warmed the room, kept comfortable even in the depths of winter. That was real stained glass in the walls. Now, into evening, the glass looked dull and dark. When the sun was first setting in the evening, though, it would illuminate the great bird with rising wings, turning the room into a riot of color and warmth. Etienne had spent hours as a child putting name to those dozens of colors. This room had always held warmth and laughter. His mother had been a riotous woman, demanding music and laughter fills these halls during her life. He'd heard her death had silenced the music, stilled the laughter.

There at the head of the room stood the lord of this keep, the Wolf himself. Raul had his back to the door, his shoulders set, his hand wrapped around a goblet. He was alone. The room was hardly occupied. A handful of the other Sentinels sat along the great table, on benches. No one seemed to take note of him, or if they did, they hid it well enough. He recognized a hand signal his sister used at least once, and he was reminded that she had embraced this life, that she was a Sentinel herself. The men and women at those tables respected her, acknowledged her. She was the favorite to succeed their father as head of the Sentinels, and she would inherit Charatt Freehold as well.

He wasn't jealous, but neither was he pleased, by that thought. Perhaps that would all change today, too. He had yet to tell her that she'd been invited to the court of the newly crowned king. It was an honor that he doubted she would be able to refuse.

The siblings matched their steps easily enough. It had been a game as children, and now it came naturally to them as adults. She led him all the way to the head of the table, but she kept him by her side when he would have been seated. No, she wouldn't let that happen, not when he hadn't even spoken to their father yet.

"Papa," Kestrelle said. Her voice may have prompted Raul to turn, but Etienne would have bet that the man knew the moment his children had entered the room. Raul was more than he seemed, after all. He turned, and he looked at them. Raul looked to Kestrelle first, but he saw her frequently, and if they shared a moment of mirth, Etienne couldn't bring himself to be jealous. Kestrelle abandoned his arm, though, and stepped slightly aside, as if to give Raul a better look at the man he'd sired. Those eyes, even more red in this light than Etienne remembered, they searched over every inch of the boy. Legs, torso, arms, hands, then finally his face.

When Raul spoke, the accent of his own youth was apparent. Their bloodline on that side did not come from the mountains where Charatt had been built, it was from the swamps in the far west of Tyrendon. He still carried that accent in his speech, the rolling vowels and smooth consonants that was so foreign in this land, where dialect was more guttural and spoken deeper in the throat. Etienne himself had trained to attain the scholar's inflection, while Kestrelle spoke a combination of several.

"I thought you would fill out my clothes well enough." Etienne realized with a start that he was wearing his father's pants and tunic. They were of a size; someone, likely that maid who'd drawn his bath, had watched him close enough to recognize that. "The violet and gray suit you." The colors of the Sentinels. Etienne had once been training to become one, himself, before he'd left this life behind for good.

The comment piqued his temper. "It doesn't." he retorted. His father's easy expression closed. Had that been a flicker of pain? Disappointment? Etienne couldn't bring himself to care. He had not spoken to this man in person in more than ten years. He hadn't written to him, save his last letter, in more than four. He was letting old regrets taint his mission here, and that just wouldn't do. He steeled his expression and tried for calm clarity. "I'm sorry. Should we eat? I wouldn't want to insult the cook's meal." His tone was, at best, neutral, but Raul agreed and the three of them took their seat.

It was only then that Etienne realized that the object of his mission was absent from the meal. So wrapped up in his own emotions and fears, he'd missed her entirely. Looking about, he finally turned to address Raul. It would be rude to ask anyone but the girl's guardian about her presence. "Where is Heldeir?"

Raul looked over the rim of his goblet with a raised eyebrow. "She is not in residence at this time." he said with the same kind of measured neutrality that Etienne had been hoping for moment's ago.

"Heldeir was worried you wouldn't want to see her, considering how you've become her kinsman's buddy." Kestrelle said with a wickedly sweet acidic tone. Etienne shot her a questioning look, and she shrugged. "Even here, she faces a lot of danger." If there was one thing in this world that Kestrelle was fiercely protective of, it was their cousin, Heldeir. Heldeir, the king's own half-sister. Heldeir, the bastard daughter of the greatest traitors Tyrendon had ever known.

And his father and sister thought he was the one to be concerned about.

"I would love to see my cousin." he said with great neutrality. They didn't need to know why he'd truly come.

The meal was not as strained or awkward as he might have thought it would be, but it was still early when they parted ways. Etienne was grateful to retire to his own chambers, though he found himself staring around the room, trying to find something there that would ease a trouble mind. Not finding anything, he eventually undressed and threw himself across the bed. Sleep was a fickle mistress, but she did not elude him overlong.

When he woke, it was to a tap on his door. He had a dressing gown thrown on before he answered it. His sister stood there, dressed in leathers, with a smirk on her face.

"You court pansies are late risers, I see." she had a hand on her hip. "I'm taking a few of the men out to scout the trails, but we're fairly sure we're effectively snowed in." He blinked, a little bleary eyed. He'd grown up here, he knew how treacherous the mountain could be, but the snow hadn't seemed that bad yesterday.

"Are you sure?"

She gave him a look that made him feel like a foolish child. "I thought I'd take you with me, but if you'd rather go back to bed. Need your beauty rest?" She was teasing him. His younger sister was questioning his abilities. He glared at her.

"Give me ten minutes to dress and I'll be ready."

She gave him an impudent little smirk. "If you're not in the great hall in seven, we're leaving without you."
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