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Chapter Eleven.
rowan tree
crossheart_hall
Crossheart Hall
by Matt and Teresa Doyle



Chapter Eleven


"Rubbish!" Mavignel snapped, and shut the door with a dramatic flick of his wrist. Seeing the surprised hurt on Tress' face, he relented a little. "It's not that bad a room, objectively, as rooms go. But it wouldn't do for either of us. We're not trying to hide in an oversized broom closet, my son, we are making our mark, our very first statement as new lords in the manor. It won't do to have a room a whit less grand than we deserve. This is a fine test of discretion and judgment, a chance to make a first definitive impression." He glanced up and down the hallway, making certain it was empty save for them, and pitched his voice lower. "Besides, it's in far too convenient a location. Being so close to everyone else will make it much harder to sneak out of our rooms tonight, and every time we risk it hereafter."

He watched the other boy's expressions chase one another across his face, first surprise, then nervousness, then a strange, reluctant eagerness, all of them transparent and vulnerable. Mavignel had no gift for mind magic, but thus far, at least, he'd never needed it to understand perfectly whatever Tresselion was thinking.

"Are you sure -" the other boy began, and before he could continue Mavignel's hands were raised placatingly.

"I'm absolutely sure. We need to be free to sneak out, especially tonight, for three reasons. First: because we need to go back to that charming room we spent most of the afternoon in and find out just why and how we were trapped in there, so that Young Lord Overcompensation can't do it to us again. Second: because you know as well as I do that our oh-so-sensible sister is going to do a lot of nighttime wandering and snooping. I'm not about to be left out, and besides, someone needs to be there to get her out of trouble. Third: tomorrow, Lord Valexius is going to tell us what the rules of the house are. Tonight, we don't know, and have the perfect freedom to protest, if we're caught, that we had no notion we were doing anything wrong, no matter what it is we're doing. Well. Within reason."

As he spoke, Mavignel proceeded rapidly down the hall, sweeping open one door after another, frowning at the insides of every unobjectionable but unremarkable room, closing the door behind him, and moving on. This stretch of the second floor was empty, and the halls were filled with unused bedchambers - enough that he found himself imagining already what Crossheart Hall must be like during the midst of the Season, filled to capacity. In little less than half a year, he thought, he wouldn't have to imagine. He could see it for himself, every feast, every party, every dance, and not a one of them that he wouldn't be invited to.

"Cori and I are both out of clothing," Tress said conversationally. "It's so strange, being in this position. I have no idea what to do. Send them to the housekeeper? Put in orders for more clothing? Order a bloody tailor?" He snorted unconvincingly and shook his head. "All these little things, you know, that just never occurred to me I'd have to figure out." He brightened. "I suppose Cori can just ask Jura in the morning."

Mavignel smiled, somewhat despite himself. Tress' uncertainty was endearing, in a funny way - it was clear that he had never spent days fantasizing about what life could have been like if he'd been a recognized heir. The idea of a tailor seemed to appall the boy, whereas he himself couldn't think of anything more exciting than having clothes made especially for him, fitted to him. Shops had always displeased him for this reason - because he had imagined the what if, and exactly how it would be.

Then again, he had packed enough clothing to last a while. Perhaps Lady Shadowcross - or Lord Valexius - or whoever would supervise the purchases would deem that he didn't need anything new, and reserve the tailor for his infinitely less fashionable siblings. He briefly considered burning his clothes to forestall this fate, but the thought made him feel preemptively naked, and he reluctantly emerged from his thoughts.

"As much as I'm convinced she was meant as a snub, I'm glad Jura's the one they sent us," he said. "She might be the only one in this house I would trust not to be spying on us for Inarios."

Tress grinned. "You really don't like that boy, do you?" he asked amusedly. Mavignel straightened, narrowing his eyebrows.

"I generally tend to have that reaction to people who try to lock me up," he said, "and make me late for dinner."

"I suppose," Tress said. "I just don't share your enthusiasm for revenge on the Countess' son, especially since Cori said the adoption's not official for a couple more weeks."

"He'll never know it was us," Mav scoffed.

"Right," the other boy said, pinching his spectacles more tightly onto his nose. "Just like we have no idea it was him. It's a small household, at least during this season, and we're the only new element. If things start happening to him, you think he'd hesitate to go running to his mother? Or Valexius?" He sighed. "Although I don't suppose Valexius would do much - he's been Inarios' tutor for years, and knows well enough what he's capable of."

"Right," he said encouragingly. "Everyone else in the house also must know that Inarios did it - and so if we didn't revenge, we'd seem weak. Lose our dignity. That's not the kind of reception we want."

"You've thought an awful lot more than I have about what we want," Tress mumbled. Mavignel looked at him and saw the defeat in his face, the resignation, and softened again.

"Look," he said, "I've had a lot more time to think about it. I mean, you had a life before all this - a life you were happy in, I think. I've had years to think about what it would be like if something like this happened." He grimaced. The truth was that his imaginings had usually involved his mother seeing his merit, deciding to acknowledge him. He would have ascended so quickly in her favor, overtaking her other children with his grace and easiness of manner, and...

Now Tress was eyeing him with pity, which was even worse. He refocused his attention on the interior of the rooms whose doors he was now flinging open and closed with alarming speed and perhaps a bit more volume than was necessary, although there was no one around. "And it paid off, didn't it?" he asked, forcing himself to return to the present. "Here we are. Clearly we've been doing something right. To be chosen." He thought of his half-siblings, the family he hadn’t chosen, and fought to keep a sneer off his face. As if I'd've wanted to share a manor with them, he thought.

There was a beat of silence in between one breath and the next, a natural pause in the conversation that was unnaturally prolonged as Mavignel opened the next door, and stared into what was unmistakably his bedchamber.

The dark-paneled wood of the walls was traced and embellished with the shine of gold - not simply golden paint but true gilding, a paper-thin layer of gold leaf inlaid in elaborate scrollwork. Every inch of the floor had rich crimson carpeting laid over it, spiraling knotwork patterns twisting around pictures of griffons and wyverns and many other creatures that defied description. The lines of the furniture had similar baroque flourishes in their woodwork, tasseled velvet cushions, and every altogether unnecessary flair that could be fit into it. The bed in the room's center was a massive, canopied thing, heaped with pillows and layered with silk sheets and blankets pretty enough to pass as tapestries if they were hung on the wall. Perhaps best of all, the back wall of the room was crowded by the massive wardrobe set beside the bed, vaulted and massive enough to practically be classified as architecture.

Mavignel swore in admiration. He knew the room for what it was instantly - a suite made fit for royalty, meant to hold them if anyone with a crown on their head ever deigned to visit. He paused for a moment in silence, weighing his impudence against his prudence, his audacity against his humility.

As usual, the virtues lost. The Regent and the Crown Prince were all that remained of the Royal Family after the plague had finished with them, and their appearance on the doorstep was beyond unlikely. The Prince was a toddler, after all, and still sickly from his brush with the plague, and the Lord Regent was an unpopular man who dared not desert the capitol for more than a handful of days lest he find it in revolution upon his return. This room would never be occupied, never be used.

Unless he took it.

"Mine!" he caroled, flinging his arms out and skyward in triumph, and laughed at the stupefaction on Tresselion's face.

He wasn't certain which of them was older, but of the two, he was definitely the big brother. Tress was out of his depth, socially, as cautious and clueless as Corialuna was impetuous and ingenuous. For all that he hadn't chosen them as family, Mavignel was determined to keep them, even if it drove him mad - and to enjoy being first among them in the process. All of which meant that Tresselion needed... gentle guidance.

"Now for you," he said authoritatively, turning back to the other boy. "This may be the only room in Crossheart Hall truly fit for a king, but there's got to be a room nearby - this corridor is the diplomatic quarters, I'll wager - a room nearby that's meant to hold a Duke."

"I'm not a Duke," Tresselion protested, and held up his hands to forestall Mavignel's impending interruption. As it was an echo of the very same gesture Mavignel had used a few minutes ago, he decided to be flattered by it, and bit his tongue considerately.

"I do want a room nearby, but not one where... where I'd be afraid to scuff the finish on the furniture, Mav. I want a room that I can feel comfortable in. Like the Countess said to us... I want to be at home here."

Mavignel sighed, and silently, conceded the justice of his newfound brother's argument. "All right," he said. "Go on then. Let me know when you've found somewhere to settle. I have to go and get my trunks sent in and unpacked, in any case. As soon as it's quiet again, though..."

"Yes," Tresselion said, and rolled his eyes. "Yes, I know. I'm never, ever going to get a full night's sleep with you around."

"Sleep is boring," Mavignel said firmly, ushering him out, and then turned again to regard the splendor of his bedroom.








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