Emmeline was invited to breakfast with the Lady Delphine de Tierney, who’s seventeen year-old daughter Melisendre had just too arrived. Amelie informed Emmeline that the Lady Delphine was the Margrave’s younger sister. She is married to a knight (Amalric de Tierney) in the service to Adera. They are the only two children that Baron Henri d’Uzec and the Baroness Rianne had before his unfortunate death fifteen years ago. She is first cousin to the Duke Arles of Derrien. She also has a son, Giscard (12) and another son Roland the Younger (10). She was around 38 years old, a full decade younger than her elder brother Roland.
Emmeline thanks Amelie for the information and set about getting ready.
Em decided to take the time to polish her courtly demeanor until it was just so. She wore a pretty court outfit, one that had been given to her by Roland himself. It was attractive without being ostentatious and she knew she filled it out wonderfully. All the activity so soon after giving birth had done her figure good, and she thought she was in very good shape once more, if perhaps her bosoms were a bit larger than before the pregnancy. Aside from her clothes she was fresh and clean with only a modest amount of makeup accenting the natural beauty that was already there. The only illusion she used was to color her hair the same red everyone was used to seeing.
Lady Delphine was of a higher station in general, although within the bounds of Uzec, Emmeline knew she was of equivalent rank to the foreign lady. Still, she wanted to honor her guest. This was Roland’s sister and she wanted to impress. Therefore, when Emmeline entered the room for breakfast and saw Lady Delphine already seated, she smiled, afforded Delphine a polite if quick curtsy, then nodded a greeting to Melisendre.
“Good morning, Lady Delphine. I’m so glad to have a chance to meet you,” she told her guests.
The Lady stood, gave a polite curtsy, saying, “It is pleasing to meet you as well Mademoiselle de Cerisey. My brother the Margrave has written of you and your arrangement with him.” Shesat again and turned to her daughter who remained standing, “This is my husband and I’s daughter, Mademoiselle de Tierney.” The girl Melisendre gave a curtsy and said, “How kind of you to have breakfast with my mother. I am afraid I must excuse myself as my mother wishes me to attend mass with my cousin Ana.” With that she politely left the room.
After girl left, the Lady said, “Please sit. I’ve asked my daughter to leave so we can have a polite conversation, woman to woman.”
Emmeline took a seat and gave Delphine her attention, her expression curious.
“Well there is no kind way to say this, and you have a kindly face so it is so much more difficult, but you must know that you can never marry my brother. You are a hero to these people, along with many others and I certainly acknowledge that. I also know you were liked by my late Great-Uncle. My brother seems to care for you in more that a superficial way. And I suppose that is encouraging. You have their trust and love. You have also made my brother most happy with two children late in life. I thank you for that. But all that aside, you are not of the blood or of the sword – just a talented…concubine, if that. Words and deeds cannot make up for what my brother needs – a mate with a secure pedigree. I apologize if that is harsh. But it is true, and I am not the only one concerned.” she said, sipping some tea. “Surely you must realize your situation?”
“There are many people who tell me what I cannot do,” Emmeline said cheerily. “My line isn’t like yours but I am still descended from one of the original 100 families of Thalassa. I am still a citizen. If my family can be part of the founding of the League then I’m pretty sure I can at least build a life for myself and my family here in the Periphery. And the other part of my line is Danaean — a truly adaptable people.
“The way I see it, Margrave Roland is a Citizen and so am I. He is the father of our children, and I the mother. We love each other. The most important things, therefore, are already settled.”
The Lady nodded, “In that I do not disagree. I am a fairly progressive person. My brother has always had an eye for the ladies. You are easily one of the prettiest. As beautiful as Millicent or Sophie or Lia or Audrey or the many others. It is brother’s vanity to be surrounded by beautiful women. Sadly he is not the most eloquent but somehow successful. But his only love, only true love, was Sophie. And she died. I think you are the first to maybe, perhaps, fill that void. His letter speak very highly of you. Now there are others who do not, others I trust – to a point. Why should I not believe them and their stories of your witchcraft ensourciling my brother? Why, pray tell, should I believe you? You are in the great game now young one, and I am a key ally or deadly enemy. Crumpet?” She handed a plate over to Emmeline.
Emmeline smiled and took the plate but set it down next to her. She did enjoy the verbal slash and thrust of political dueling. “You can believe my words thus far because I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know well before you entered Uzec. I only confirmed it.
“I know of no magic that could ensorcel a man, force him to love me for months on end while very far away. There are magics to bind a person, magics to curse a person, and magics to force a person to serve. But none of these things are love. The greatest magic can emulate only fleeting passions of such true and honest purity. Anything else is only a hollow shadow of the real thing. So you tell me. Does your brother love me, or is he merely going through the motions of love because he is under some spell? What do you feel in your heart?”
She sipped her tea. “Heart is not the focus of the children of Henri d’Uzec. We are reserved by nature. How I feel is irrelevant, but the optics are that a witch or wizard, barely out of her childhood has become the paramour of a rising lord of a minor, but noble house, bore his children, and is a foreigner as well. There are also rumors you deal in not wizardry, but are in league with dark powers. Specifically a faerie princess. Yet you are seen as a hero to the locals here, with a reputation for kindness, honesty, and even an innocent naivety. The evidence, my dear one, is conflicted.” she said.
“Forgive me, but I must beg to differ. The evidence is as clear as my conscience. My actions speak for themselves. What is in doubt are mere rumors generated by the jealous or the vindictive that are entirely baseless.
“I have risked my life time and again for the people of Uzec, the Calder Valley, the Duchy of Derrien and for Thalassa itself and I will do so gladly for as long as I draw breath. I do it because I love the people. Caring for my people of Cerisey and the Vale, serving this Barony for Baroness Rivanon, and all the people that live here is an extraordinary blessing for someone like me. The only thing I would love to do as much but cannot is to fight along side my Margrave in the war so that I can protect him myself.
“But my lord is gallant perhaps to a fault. He would worry about my safety more than his own to the point of distraction. So I remain here because that’s what is best for him, that’s what he needs of me right now.
“Lady Delphine, I am highly motivated to do what is best for my people, this duchy and for Thalassa. They gave me something I thought I would never have; a real home and a family that extends beyond my two children. Margrave Roland is the king my heart. I would do anything for him. He knows it.
“I would also never ask him to marry beneath his station. If I want marriage, then that’s on me; I know would have to achieve station on my own. Anyway, my station is not important. His is. I think Thalassa needs a strong leaders like him, even if that means I must share him with our country.”
“Young one,” the Lady replied calmly, “none of that really matters. None. What does matter is how you make my brother feel. That is a many-layered object. Being his paramour is one thing. Being someone he is proud of is another. Being useful to his goals is yet another. But being above reproach is the fourth, and I’m afraid you are not. You are his concubine, plain and simple, with all the baggage that entails and all the rumors that go with it, including from the vindictive, the spiteful, and jealous. You, an unlettered and untitled farmer’s daughter and dare I say common entertainer and known witch, have rose to the attention of one of the most eligible men in the central Periphery. By doing that, you made enemies. You cannot win alone against such people. They will twist the knife into my brother’s ego through their husbands to destroy you, whether you have met them, or not. They have already started spreading rumors. You see you are not above reproach. This is a problem. It is possible, since you make my brother happy, I and my friends might be able to help.”
“To help me, you would have to decide whether or not am I what the rumors say — whatever that might be,” Emmeline said. She still wasn’t clear what was in these alleged rumors. Delphine made it sound like there was more than just the baseless claims of enchanting Roland, which were ridiculous since he wasn’t even present. “Have you decided?”
“No. I want to observe you. Get to know you and understand you. Take a measure of who you are.” she replied.
“How would you like to begin?” Emmeline asked. She didn’t keep secrets from Roland anymore, but she was not prepared to share important details with someone she just met, sister of Roland or not.
“I will be here in court. I will watch. That simple. But I have to ask you, who do you want to be Mademoiselle? Is it that you wish to follow your grandmother and go from serial mistress and libertine, to maîtresse-en-titre, to wife, back to libertine? Or do you want to be the best consort and confidant for my brother? As far as I know you are his only paramour – a revelation I find odd. Now, in the court of Adera I have met one of the greatest maîtresse-en-titres there is. She is one of the many ladies-in-waiting to the Regina of Adera and mistress of her husband the Roi. She could be the model you seek. Her name is Lady Alexandrine-Jeanne de la Sénte and she is the Roi’s chief advisor, his lover, and all while being the best friend of the Regina herself.”
“I am your brother’s maîtresse-en-titre because that’s what he needs me to be. I’m not a libertine — I haven’t the means, friends, money or inclination to engage in that lifestyle.
“Nor do I understand what you mean by “serial mistress”. Do you mean a woman of ill repute or loose morals? Margrave Roland is my only lover, and since I am his only lover as well, I do my very best to never bore him.
“My preference is to be his wife. But for that, I need a title. Short of that, I will be his mistress if that’s the only way we can be together.”
“Good. That is where we will start. You are his dedicated mistress. Beyond your duty of conversation, friendship, and ‘companionship’, what duties do you perform for the Barony and the attached March? What has he asked of you?” she said calmly.
“My duties? Household of course with ladies in waiting, I manage my own fief in his name, act as the kind face and voice to his people. He’s asked me to advise his daughter, the Baroness, and while she has been called to Thalassa she has asked me to manage the barony with the Seneshal. She has also given me some specific duties as well.
“But as far as what else he has asked of me, I helped recruit young warriors to fill out the ranks of his new army, mentored his daughter in how to reach out to common folk for a year — and I was grateful to learn much from her as well, and most importantly, I bore him twins.
“Do you wish to know of the times I have taken to the battlefield to fight for him and our people? I wanted fight at his side but I was pregnant with our children when he went to war. I would go now, but that is not his wish.”
“It is not proper for a Lady to fight on the battlefield, especially when they are a mother. But you are one of the rare breed they call adventurers. Some are sellswords, some are explorers, some are looters, and some seek adventure for the mystery or the power. Which are you?” she asked.
“None of those. I did one expedition for the Library with my cousin and the Sister of Aarith. So that would be for knowledge. I shall not shock you with the details, but now for me it requires a higher ideal. When I take to the battlefield, it’s to defend lives or rescue loved ones. When I must leave Uzec it’s to help someone in dire need and because my cousin Wizard Elemix, my friend Sister Typhon Ne and I are the only ones available with the skills required to accomplish the task.
“Which by the way explains why we are almost always near to broke, come to think of it. We make friends more than we make money, and I’m good with that.” Emmeline considered. “Actually it’s more me that’s making the friends more often than not. But still. We do it because we try to do the right thing, not for money, glory or thrill.”
“I will be here in court. I will watch. That simple.” she said. “I will then judge for myself. Deeds my young one, matter.”
Emmeline smiled. “Yes, they do.”
“Good. Here is what I’ve observed in the short time we’ve spoken. You have a natural poise I admire young one. My brother wrote me about it three years ago. You are strong. I like that. You are also willing to speak your mind, which my brother no doubt admires and others will consider uppity. I do not. You also speak of him not in the familiar, which is appropriate. In my opinion you need to balance your poise, grace, and feminine lady-like qualities with your strength, resolve, and courtly guile. My mother taught me much, my uncle much more, and my mentor, the Lady Sylvia de l’Adera taught me more still. For thirty years I have played this game. You have three. We both love the Margrave and desire his happiness. If hurt him or embarrass him, I will destroy you completely and utterly. If you do live up to what he sees in you, you could have a mentor and friend. That is of course your choice.”
“That’s fair, Lady Delphine. I admire your dedication to the Margrave.”
“Now what do you know of my brother’s pain? What he has endured?”
“I can’t truly know because my lord is a private man when it comes to those things. I know of the loss of Baroness Rivanon’s mother and I know it affected him deeply, but I only know that second hand. I know that his second wife forced him to choose between his daughter and herself. She was unwise to come between a man and the daughter he loves by the woman he also loved deeply. But he has never spoken of the incident to me directly. Again I only know second hand,” Emmeline said. “I… think it is because he doesn’t want me to feel like he is comparing me with other women in his life. He has always been so respectful of me. Better, I know, than I deserve. It makes me want to deserve that respect. But at the same time I think it keeps him from talking to me about certain things that happened long before I came to live here.”
“He was somewhat brash and impulsive in his youth,” she said. “A jouster, knight, and adventurer – in the military at least.”
“I would love to hear some of his stories. How does one become an adventurer as member of the military? Did he have a special position?” Emmeline wondered.
“No. Brother was, and is, a cavalryman at heart, like Lord Arles and Lord Hugo. He would be sent on ranging missions, scouting missions, or investigations that more often than not gave him opportunities for adventure. He was not a sellsword; however.” she answered.
“I would expect not,” Emmeline said with a smile. “Were you and he close growing up?”
“He was ten years my senior. With father fighting the Boneface, Clawrakers, and the others, brother was an only child for many years. For father, war was all.” she said. “That said, he was my hero back then. We women of House d’Uzec are a vengeful type and he was mine. I certainly did not care for Sophia at first, the woman he brought back from his time in the Legion. She was aloof, arrogant, and absolutely perfect. She could do no wrong. Father adored her, Brother loved her, and even I eventually warmed to her. The Baroness takes after some of her father, but it was mostly Sophia. A spitting image, save for her eyes. She has her father’s eyes. He was devastated when she passed, twice.” she said. “Perhaps I should not share this.”
“I think I need to hear it. I won’t trouble the Margrave over it, I promise that. I just want to understand him,” Em said.
“Dear brother has lost every woman he has cared about. So, he is reluctant to form deeper attachments. Marriage, as we discussed earlier, is a political tool only. He has been betrothed three times, married twice, and had a score or more companions, some which he wanted to marry, but was forbidden. But he has only a few people he trusts. It would not surprise me if he thought you would leave when the time comes. That is why I would hold you to account if you hurt him after continuing to be his companion and the mother of his children.”
“I sometimes must perform certain tasks for the wizards guild, our allies, and the like. It can take me far from home, though I always discuss it with the Margrave. And they are never menial things that can be undertaken by others. Is this a mark against me in your eyes?”
“I do not believe it is good for your children, no.” she said. “The danger you engage in also puts others at risk emotionally. People who care for you. In a way this is no different than the Margrave of course.”
“True, though I don’t seek it,” she said. “It feels like I’m often simply swept up in events.”
The Lady nodded, “The Baroness Sophia-Maria was too ‘swept up in events’. It was a different time, a peaceful time between wars and tension. Today is not that time. If you are to go galavanting around, and my brother allows or even encourages this, then you need to make sure the education of your children is paramount. You won’t be here to be their mother-figure, just as my brother will be a distant father figure. You need surrogates. Reliable ones.”
Emmeline nodded slowly. She was there with them often in a dream, but it wasn’t the same. “Yes. I know. If I’m not home enough there will be a lot of things I need to make up for. I’ve been thinking about their care and education, as well.”
Lady Dephine then said, “You are very capable in many things, but do you know how to raise a noble son and a noble daughter? Tell me, how were you raised on Thalassa?”
“I was born there, but by the time I was seven I was traveling the Periphery with my grandfather. He was a well known bard that was well versed in most strata of society. They won’t be doing that, obviously. Instead, I intended to ask the Margrave or perhaps the Baroness for suggestions, since they would know tutors her far better than I.”
“What they need is a governess, and then, when the time is right, fostering to another family you wish to build an alliance with. The Baroness’ fostering never occurred as planned as you know. She ended up being educated by her mother’s family on Thalassa.” she said. “I could help you there.”
“I’ve been very much enjoying my time with them since I got back. It’s hard to think about sending them away right now, but I know I would appreciate any advice you might have about their future,” Em said.
“Very well. It is time I got back to my daughter, but should you wish it, I can do my best to elevate you to nobility in manner and in knowledge. You take to manners well and are a talent like many a good courtesan. If you allow it, I can remove the rough edges your youth imposed on you and your Thalassan upbriging did not teach you. I am aware of your sometimes lessons from my niece and from your Grandmother, but to be truthful, you need to be better than ‘well’. You must be exquisite. If you allow it, I will help you, and I shall watch while doing so. Do you agree?”
Emmeline briefly bowed her head in gratitude to Delphine. “Yes and thank you very much, Lady Delphine. I would like that.”
“Very well. Now, my daughter is learning how to use a Viol. I hear you are quite talented in that area as a minstrel. Would you be willing to lend an ear to her performance?” the Lady asked.
“I’d love to,” Emmeline said with a wide smile.