Ynaselle sat by the large windows in the front sitting room on a padded bench. Othorion, the youngest of the Blackwell siblings, was to arrive home today, and she wanted to be there to greet him. Ynaselle regretted that it would not be a happy home that he returned to, though.
The sun shone gently on the pavement and kissed flowers into life. Elves preferred to keep their cities alive and floral, so the pavement was only wide enough to let a small cart pass, while stepping stones allowed walkers to pass through the tended meadows. Ynaselle had made certain the townhouse’s window boxes were filled with peach and purple tulips, bright yellow daffodils, and purple, white and yellow crocus with pansies spilling over the lip. The townhouse across the street had chosen bright red poppies instead. Dogwoods, cherry trees, and pear trees blossomed up and down the street. Mountain laurel and forsythia grew clustered together, attended by delphinium, hellebore, and hyacinth. Forget-me-nots sprang up wherever they could, huddling in corners and spreading the intense morning sky blue of Heliohart’s own colors.
Spring was a lovely time to be in Heliohart. It was fresh, filled with sweet flowers, and nearly musical in its peace.
Inside the Blackwell home, though, it was decidedly gray.
Vithian had returned from the sequester the night before, but he had been quiet and sullen at dinner and had retired to his room immediately after. Jaonos hadn’t returned from the club and wasn’t willing to agree to come home even for Othorion. Flinar was pleasant in Ynaselle’s company, but wouldn’t discuss her brothers.
“They’re all just alike,” Ynaselle murmured.
Flinar had been sitting in the study all morning, which sat at the back of the house. It had great windows that looked out on the small garden that her mother had so lovingly grown over the years. If her mother had needed to write letters or read a novel or embroider a cushion or anything that she could do in the study, she would sit back there to look out over her lilies and roses. She had preferred to take her meals out in the garden and even sit out there in the evenings to watch the stars come out. Flinar had taken to watching over the garden, even today, when Othorion was so excitedly expected.
Not in the front room, where they could watch for Othorion together.
Not that her brothers were any better.
Well, Ynaselle considered, perhaps Vithian was better. His room overlooked the street. He would see when Othorion arrived.
A bell chimed, and Ynaselle yanked the curtains back to look. She saw an elf dressed in the white and black, the colors of the navy uniform. She almost called for her father, but stopped herself. Othorion wouldn’t ring the bell, and she could see, he was calling next door. She shut the curtains back. Othorion wasn’t so tall, either.
She sat back down. Then she stood back up. This wouldn’t do. All her male family members sulking while they waited for the only one who seemed to have any sense.
Ynaselle abandoned her post at the front window. She frowned up the stairs as she passed them and didn’t bother knocking at the study door as she entered.
“Is Othorion here?” Flinar asked. He was crumpling his paper together in his rush to stand.
“No, not yet,” Ynaselle said. “Come sit with me and wait for him.”
Flinar lifted his newspaper back in front him, snapping it once or twice in an attempt to unwrinkle it. The print on the front page was smudged now. “Come and get me when he comes, dear.”
“Vithian’s in his room, so you don’t have to worry about him.”
Flinar lowered the page enough to give Ynaselle a piercing glance, but it had been a long time since she was so easily affected by her father’s gaze.
“Jaonos hasn’t been back since the first day, and Vithian doesn’t leave his room. I thought we would be together again in Heliohart, but we might as well return to Pheasant Cross.”
When Flinar didn’t immediately reply, she changed tack. She would have to be direct. “What did you three fight about?”
Flinar sighed and, belaboringly, folded the paper and placed it on the table beside him. “We didn’t fight, child.”
“Jaonos sulks at the club. Vithian sulks in his room-.”
“Sulking hardly befits them.”
“-And you’re sulking back here.”
This time, Flinar raised his eyebrows, and the gaze he gave his daughter was more astounded then hurt.
“Every time you fight with Jaonos or Vithian, Vithian hides away, Jaonos leaves the house, and you bury yourself in reading in the most solitary room. In Pheasant Cross, you would go to the library, Jaonos to the common house, and Vithian would run to the stables, but it’s just the same here.” Ynaselle went to her father’s side and knelt beside his chair, taking his hand. “Tell me what you’ve fought over this time.”
A weak smile crossed Flinar’s lips, and he touched his daughter’s cheek lovingly. “I don’t believe I’ll ever have to worry about you and Othorion. Your brothers, though.” He sighed again. “I advised them to take their roles more seriously. To apply themselves more wholeheartedly.”
The word ‘scolded’ crossed Ynaselle’s mind, but she didn’t voice it. “I think, perhaps, you are too hard on them.”
Flinar shook his head slightly. He looked away from Ynaselle, toward the chair that her mother had always preferred. The room itself was decorated in Flinar’s tastes, with dark woods and indigos. It was a somber place, calm and dark, except for her mother’s favorite chair. That was a fauteuil chair made of satinwood and upholstered in white and yellow striped fabric. Beside it was a matching stool, that Ynaselle would sit on when she joined her mother in the study. She sat on it now.
“I used to tell your mother that Jaonos and Vithian were devils, but you and Othorion were blessings.” He chuckled under his breath. “And do you know what she would tell me? That it meant they were mine, and you and Othorion were hers.”
Flinar looked once more to the empty chair. She saw the slight lift in his eyebrows, the slight downturn at the corners of his mouth, his eyes shined with tears he had not wept, and Ynaselle squeezed his hand. He took a deep breath and turned back to her.
“Oh, my little Yna,” Flinar said, his voice thick. “I want nothing more for each of you to be happy in your lives. Othorion has made an excellent choice for himself; I know he is happy on the sea. I have no fear for him. But Jaonos and Vithian? Vithian is too – too decisive, too aggressive. Patience makes a priest, circumspection, meditation. Vithian hasn’t the disposition to be a priest.
“And Jaonos,” Flinar chuckled, “Jaonos hasn’t the disposition for anything.”
“Father, that’s not fair!”
“If I could have just left him wealth so that he could while away his life at the club. If I could have left him with no responsibilities no duties, perhaps he could have been happy.” Flinar bowed his head into his hand, rubbing a temple with his thumb. “But, he will be lord, and he will have to serve.”
Ynaselle took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. She loved Jaonos, and she knew that Jaonos would have preferred a life of luxury without any care. To have to serve in court would gall him, but, she also knew that Jaonos loved his family. “Jaonos… wouldn’t want to disappoint us, father. I think, in time, he will not resent the yolk of responsibility. I think he will surprise you.”
“You are so like your mother,” Flinar said. Once more, he touched her cheek. She was surprised to see his smile fade and the sadness return to his face. “What of you, Yna? Will you be happy?”
Ynaselle laughed, uncertain, confused. “Of course I will be happy.”
“I would have liked to see you married already.”
That felt like a slap across the face. She pulled her hands away and stood. She turned toward the door, but she didn’t move to leave. She swallowed and breathed deep, but she couldn’t catch her breath.
“I know why you refused him, Ynasella, and I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t have you marry him. Not now, not with what we know of him.” Flinar stood behind her and squeezed her shoulders. “Forgive me, Yna. I shouldn’t have said such a thing.”
Ynaselle pulled away. She didn’t want him to see her pale cheeks or tears in her eyes. She didn’t want to admit how the memory still hurt her. She was angry at herself, and the pity only made her angrier. So she turned back and smiled as honestly as she could.
“It’s been so long, father. No need to fear.”
They were interrupted by a thundering down the stairs. Ynaselle could just here “Othorion’s home!” A moment later, Vithian threw open the door and leaned in, grasping the doorframe. “What are you two doing?” Vithian cried. “Othorion’s almost at the door.”
Vithian didn’t wait for an answer. He spun, his soutane spinning around after him, and ran back toward the front door. Relieved for the interruption and excited to see her younger brother after such a long time, Ynaselle followed him. She reached the door as Vithian opened it. Othorion was just walking up the steps.
Othorion wore the white and black frock coat, gold braid, and bicorne of the Emperor’s Navy. His dark hair – all the Blackwells had dark hair – was still tie tightly back against the base of his skull. His skin was tanned, but his eyes were still bright and smile still broad. “Did I keep you waiting?”
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