Ynaselle and Othorion sat together on the chaise, together creating a cloud of anxiety. Ynaselle clutched a handkerchief in one hand and clasped Othorion’s knee with the other. Othorion picked at his gloves, working them off and then pulling them back on. Periodically, he’d touch Ynaselle’s hand, offer a nervous smile, and then go back to picking that the fingers of his gloves. Vithian stood oddly stoic at the window, saying nothing. For the first time in Vithian’s life, he was silent.
Jaonos would have welcomed his prattle. It would have covered up the sound of Myrdin and Ulesse’s footsteps in Flinar’s bedroom. Jaonos heard the occasional snippet of muffled voices that floated down the stairs, but he couldn’t make out the words. He glared at Vithian, a headache starting at his temples. He purposefully unclenched his teeth, then unconsciously clenched them again.
Jaonos shifted uncomfortably in his chair, leaning closer in his chair so he could hear what was being said better. Ynaselle caught his gaze for a moment, but Jaonos scowled and looked away, resenting the concern in her eyes.
They all held their breath as they heard the upstairs door open and shut again. It had done so several times as Myrdin and Ulesse entered and exited the room, but this time, the sound of footsteps descending the stairs filled the void. When Myrdin appeared in the doorway, he wore a weary smile.
None of the siblings voiced their questions. Each watched Myrdin, unmoving, anticipating, fearing the worst.
Myrdin took a deep breath and stepped into the room. “Fear not, it’s nothing too serious,” Myrdin began, and Jaonos heard each of his siblings let go of their breath. Jaonos sat back in his chair, still wary.
“Your father had a fainting spell. When he fell, he struck his head. He’ll have a bit of a knot for a while, but he’ll recover,” Myrdin continued.
“Will he be all right?” Othorion asked. He had finally stopped picking at his gloves, but he held his right glove in his left gloved hand, squeezing tightly enough to crack the leather.
“He ought not go out for the next few days, I think. He’s still recovering from his illness this past winter. He overexerted himself with his visits to Court and the ball last night. A few days of peace and quiet will see him well again.”
“Should we go back to Pheasant’s Cross?” Ynaselle asked. Her voice was thin and tense, as if she were still a child. She always sounded like a child when she was frightened.
Jaonos frowned when he saw Myrdin bite the inside of his lip. It was a habit Jaonos had noticed many times in the past. He did it unconsciously when he was nervous or uncertain. Or when he was lying.
“No,” Myrdin said after a short hesitation. “Not yet. He’s not well enough to travel yet. Besides, I still think being the such a, shall we say, familiar place as Blackwell, well, I don’t think that will help his recovery, either. No, it’s best he stays here, in Heliohart, for now.
“Besides, I’ll be by every day. And Ulesse is an excellent nurse. He’ll be up and about before you know it.”
Othorion and Ynaselle murmured their relief, but Jaonos had noticed that hesitation and he had seen Myrdin’s nervous tick, and he was certain there was more that he needed to know. He watched Myrdin with a suspicious scowl, and when their gaze met, Myrdin looked away.
“May we go see him?” Vithian asked from behind Jaonos, causing him to jump. He had forgotten Vithian was still behind him.
“Of course,” Myrdin said, motioning toward the stairs. “He’s breakfasting now. I’m sure he’ll want to tell you all that you’re worrying yourselves too much.”
Vithian and Othorion hurried up the stairs. Ynaselle paused long enough to thank Myrdin before following them. Only Jaonos remained, and he continued to scowl at Myrdin.
This time when their gaze met, Myrdin didn’t look away, but he allowed his professional mask to fall away. There wasn’t weary but patient professional interest anymore. Now there was genuine concern.
“Jaonos,” Myrdin began, but said nothing else. Instead, he held his hands in front of him, as if he were offering up something that he had no words for.
“What aren’t you telling us, Myrdin?” Jaonos asked. He hadn’t meant his tone to be as harsh as it was, but he made no attempt to soften the effect.
Myrdin winced and took a seat in front of Jaonos. He scrubbed his face with his hands and sighed deeply. “He’s more ill than I thought. This past winter, well, it was just mourning. Your mother had passed away, it was only natural that he would be weaker for it.
“Now, I fear, it’s much worse than that.”
Jaonos leaned forward and beckoned Myrdin closer. “Tell me, Myrdin.”
Myrdin took Jaonos’s hand, turned it over, traced his long, pale fingers over Jaonos’s palm. “It’s his heart, Jaonos. His heart is so much weaker than it was. Your father’s health has never been particularly vigorous. Perhaps if I had pushed you all to come to Heliohart for the winter, it might have been better, but…”
“But?” Jaonos pushed. He reached toward Myrdin with his other hand, his fingertips gently tracing the plane of Myrdin’s cheek. He knew Myrdin loved Flinar as his own family. He could see a dark cloud over Myrdin’s gold eyes, a sense of failure.
Myrdin took another deep breath and shook his head. He was clearly struggling. “He could rally. He could live for many more years to come, but he’s never going to be truly well again. Your mother’s death has just taken too great a toll on his health. However,” he continued before Jaonos could ask, “I’m not certain he will rally.”
“What should we do?”
“Keep him comfortable. Avoid putting too much stress on him. Allow him to convalesce without interference.” Myrdin closed his eyes briefly and once more bit the inside of his lip. “I’ve done everything I can to help him recover, but he’s… simply never going to be as well as he was when your mother was alive.”
Jaonos felt something harden in his stomach. There was more Myrdin wasn’t telling him, and this time, Jaonos was afraid of what it might be. Normally, he would leave it at that. Normally, he would do whatever he could to avoid discomfort. Normally, he would squeeze Myrdin’s hand, smile obliviously, and go to his father’s room and tease him for fainting until Ynaselle shooed him away.
Jaonos fought that urge. Instead, he said, “I think you’re trying very gently to prepare for-“ there wasn’t a good euphemism for his father’s death, but he couldn’t bring himself to actually speak the words lest he invite it. Instead, he said, “-for taking over as Lord Blackwell.”
This time, Myrdin kissed Jaonos’s palm and when he met Jaonos’s gaze, his expression was filled with sympathy. “It is something you will need to prepare for. And, I fear, sooner rather than later.”
There were words Jaonos wanted to say. Both he and Myrdin knew what was at stake when Jaonos became Lord Blackwell. They both knew the expectations that would fall on Jaonos’s shoulders, and what would be expected of his marriage. Jaonos knew that Myrdin wanted to marry, and he hoped that Myrdin understood why he was so reticent. It had been a discussion Myrdin had tried to have, but Jaonos had always, he now realized, avoided having.
For a moment, Jaonos thought of explaining himself, of confessing that while he loved Myrdin, he couldn’t marry him. If Jaonos didn’t take a woman as his spouse, then Ynaselle would have to be his Lady of the Chamber and bare children for him, and he couldn’t bring himself to trap his sister like that. Myrdin had to know that that would have to happen. Perhaps, Jaonos thought, that was why Myrdin never pushed too hard.
A sudden rush of guilt at his own selfishness pierced into Jaonos’s heart, and he pulled away. His father was very ill, dying perhaps. Jaonos, perhaps for the first time, realized how selfish he had always been.
Jaonos stood. He leaned over Myrdin and gave him a cavalier smile. He tilted Myrdin’s chin up and kissed him before saying, “Myrdin, you think too little of your healing ability.”
He couldn’t say anything else, lest he betray his own feelings, so he simply walked upstairs to join his siblings, leaving Myrdin alone in the sitting room.
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