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A Lucky Escape (2/3): The Good of the Hold

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 24th November 2020

Characters: Tarani, Tarlon, Giltran, Celanika
Description: Tarani pleads with her family to reconsider the match with Lord Rorrigraf
Location: Sunstone Seahold
Date: month 5, day 24 of Turn 10
Notes: Mentioned: Asaile, Bryvin


Tarani had always been fearless. She wasn't afraid of storms, or Thread,
or her uncle's guard canines, or riding at racing speed. As a child
she'd explored all the darkest passages and creepiest cellars in Flint
Hills Hold, and when the tunnelsnake had got into the ladies' rooms, and
all the other girls had screamed and climbed up on the furniture, she
had been the one to kill it with the fire-poker.

But she was afraid of the dark, pitiless eyes of Lord Rorrigraf.

She could feel them on her as she walked away. If he kept up that
insolent stare, it would ruin her evening. So instead of rejoining her
friends, who were likely all gossiping about their encounter anyway, she
slipped through the crowd and approached her parents. She'd tell them
what had happened, be reassured, and then if he bothered her again she
would laugh in his face.

They were standing a little apart from the crowd of guests assembling by
the dance floor, their heads close together, deep in discussion. As she
approached, they both looked up, and there was something about them that
gave her pause, though she couldn't quite place it. Only later did she
realise that the look of envy, of the new Lady Holder and her family,
was gone from their faces.

As if they'd won a greater prize.

"Tarani." Her mother pursed her lips, her gaze immediately drawn to the
flaw in the girl's appearance. "Where are your shoes?"

They were out on the balcony with that awful man, and Tarani was not
going to go back for them. "Mama, it's not important. Listen, I was just
with my friends, and a man came up to us. He said he was the Lord of
Beryl Peak and..."

Her voice trailed off as she looked from one to the other. Her mother
was giving her father a significant look, and he was avoiding her gaze
and fidgeting with the cuff on his tunic. Tarani felt as though the
ground had shifted under her feet, like the tremors that sometimes
rocked the hills of her home, leaving you with nothing firm to hold onto.

"Daughter, we have some good news." Tarlon couldn't quite meet her eyes.
"Lord Rorrigraf has asked for your hand in marriage. You're going to be
Lady Holder of Beryl Peak. The wedding will be in three months' time."

"Papa! No!" Tarani stared at him in utter dismay. A chill sensation
wormed its way into her heart. That awful man...

"It's a very good match," he went on. "Beryl Peak is one of the most
prosperous Holds in the South, and it lies right on our best trade route
to the sea. If he gave our family favourable tariffs on our goods, think
what it would do for us."

"But - " How could she explain, so that they'd understand? She thought
of his eyes on her, predatory, as if she'd been his possession already,
and shuddered. "He's ancient. It's not appropriate. Look over there at
Lady Asaile. She's my age, and he's her grandfather."

"Tarani, don't be so silly. He's hardly decrepit," her mother said.
"There aren't so many eligible men of his rank, not now Lord Bryvin is
married." Her tone made it very clear what a disappointment that had
been. "And he has no heirs. You will be the mother of the next Lord."

The girl visibly flinched. "No, Mama. I can't. It's not just his age, he
was - " She couldn't put it into words, the feeling of being a small,
helpless animal in the claws of a feline. She wasn't used to being
helpless. "He was impolite. He treated me as if I was no more than a
brood mare he was planning to buy."

"Powerful men can be like that," her father said, weakly.

"Uncle isn't," Tarani said, lifting her chin stubbornly.

"I'm not what?" The warm, jovial voice of Lord Giltran sent a wave of
relief flowing through his niece. Her father might be eyeing the rewards
and her mother anxious to see her in a prestigious marriage, but her
beloved uncle would understand.

"Not the kind of person who'd make me marry a detestable man," she said
quickly, trying to keep on the right side of plaintive, since she knew
he hated whining.

He laughed. "Detestable man, eh? What have you two been up to? Marrying
off my favourite niece?"

"We have made a match for Tarani, as it happens," Ceranika said coolly.
"A most favourable one. A Lord Holder."

"Oho? And which of my fellow Lords is so detestable?" He grinned, then
faltered, his brow creasing as no-one seemed to want to speak. "Well?
Out with it."

Her father winced. "Lord Rorrigraf, brother."

"What?" Giltran's expression went from jovial to appalled in an instant,
and he muttered a string of vicious curses under his breath. "Tarlon,
you blasted idiot! What were you thinking? I need an alliance with
Rorrigraf like I need a hole in the roof for Thread to slide in. Man's a
snake. I wouldn't trust him with a mongrel pup, let alone a daughter."

"What was I supposed to do? He asked for Tarani."

"He was very complimentary about her," her mother put in, glaring at her
brother-in-law.

"Make up an excuse! Tell him the girl was promised to another. Shards
and shells, do I have to do your thinking for you on top of everything
else? Sometimes I wonder I don't have to wipe your arse for you, too!"
He scrubbed at his thinning hair with one hand. "Shit. I'm on a knife's
edge with the shrivelled old watchwher as it is. He claims there's
bandits hiding out in our hills and raiding his lands, as if it's my
bloody fault he's made more folk Holdless than the rest of the Southern
Lords put together. And if he decides to cut off our river traders...
Bastard's been looking for an excuse to cripple us for Turns."

"Brother! Moderate your language," Ceranika hissed, seeing a few
disapproving looks coming their way.

"Ugh. What a flaming heap of... a mess." Lord Giltran heaved a sigh.

"Uncle?" Tarani asked. She'd been encouraged at first, but there was a
defeated note in his voice. Her uncle had always been fearless, like
her. "You can get us out of this. Can't you?"

The look he gave her was one she'd never seen before in him. It was
weariness, and frustration...and pity. The cold claws of fear grasped at
her heart again.

"No, Uncle, no, I can't. Please!"

"Oh, shells, youngling, I'm sorry." He shook his head. "I don't know
what I can do. A promise has been made, and I'd insult him if I broke
it. He'd be within his rights to retaliate. I could see my holders lose
their livelihoods, or pressed into giving their allegiance to him
instead of me." He glared at Tarlon. "This is why you ask your Lord
Holder before you start making marriage contracts with his relatives.
There's more at stake than being able to boast about her rank to the
other half-wits!" He spat in disgust. "Get out of my sight and let me
talk to my niece. I'll deal with you when we get back to Flint Hills."

Tarani's parents retreated, her father with a cowed look and her mother
with a sniff. Giltran closed his eyes briefly, then took Tarani's arm
and led her away from the group of interested eavesdroppers who'd been
inching closer.

"I truly am sorry. This isn't what I would have chosen for you. Bryvin's
a crafty son of a wherry, but he's much the better man." He sighed,
wearily. "You remember what I told you, before you left for Sunstone?"

"Duty first," Tarani said, tonelessly. It was real. They were going to
let it happen.

"You're a clever lass," her uncle said, as if trying to convince
himself. "Don't believe all I said about him, I'm just a grumpy old man
with a sour temper. You'll be twisting the old serpent around your
little finger by Turn's End."

If she was going to do that, she hadn't made a good start. Tarani tried
to smile, but her face wouldn't seem to work that way. "Y - yes, Uncle.
I'll try." She wished now that she hadn't made fun of Oufelle, when
she'd had that tantrum over her betrothal to an old man. She felt like
doing the same. If only she'd thought it would do any good.

"And I'll deal with the negotiations from now on, and make sure he pays
through the nose. Shells, he can't have that many Turns left in him,
anyway." Giltran glanced doubtfully across the room at the Lord Holder
of Beryl Peak. "Look, I tell you what. When he dies, I'll make sure
you're free to marry any man you choose. Anyone, drudge or Lord."

"Really?" It was hard to see even a faint hope in that, with the dark,
gaping void of the marriage before her, but she bowed her head, all the
same. "Promise?"

"On my honour." He wondered for a moment if he was perhaps making a
mistake, but though he was loath to admit it, Rorrigraf likely had at
least another ten Turns in him. Tarani was no fool, and by that time
she'd have the maturity to make a good choice. "There now, the marriage
can't happen at once, surely. You'll stay here at Sunstone with your
friends for a while yet."

"Three months." Tarani glanced over her shoulder and caught sight of the
man, watching them. There was no mistaking the triumphant smirk on his
face, and she felt hot anger rise in her, pushing aside the dread for a
moment. How dare he?

Giltran winced. "Well, then." The music came to an end and there was a
scattering of applause from the dance floor. "Go on now, or you'll
disappoint all the young lads on your dance card."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Uncle. I don't feel well. I think I'd
better go and lie down." The reality of it was beginning to sink in. She
felt the old Lord's hand again, gripping hers, talking of sons. Shells,
what if he asked her to dance? She couldn't bear it. She wanted to be
alone, and to cry.

The Lord Holder of Flint Hills watched her go, cursing his brother and
sister-in-law all over again. For all his promises and his encouraging
words, he thought he knew exactly why the man had chosen a bright,
spirited girl for his new wife and it sickened him. He wished he knew
what to tell her. Sometimes, the choices you had to make for the good of
the Hold were the hardest of all.

Last updated on the December 2nd 2020


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