Chapter 12: Resolve
Weeks later, Leothir sat at the desk in his suite, toying with the quill in his hand while his hungry gaze focused past the large, sunny window. Out in the open field well beyond it, the woman he cherished sat in the grass in her elegant, pooled skirts, bare toes peeking out from beneath the hem and slippers laying discarded by her hip. She was a beauty at the best of times, but never so much so as when she was gilded by the sun and adorned with a loving smile. At the moment, it was aimed at Alensyr and Ala’delar as the boy and the kitten tumbled together, a matched pair of young, sweet beasts playing at being something older and wilder. A druid and his saber, perhaps.
The blood elven mage saw the wistful edge to her expression and wondered, as he so often was left to do, just what she thought about that tinged the edges of her joy with grief. Afraid of the answer, though, he never asked.
His brow furrowed, the golden lordling started when his companion’s voice finally broke through his revery.
“Master Leothir, are you even listening to me?” Baritold sighed in exasperation, a rare and meaningful sign from the devoted majordomo of the house, and his young master winced, forcing his attention back from outside.
“Ah, yes. I heard you.” The young man sighed softly, resigning himself to the needs of the moment. “Whatever mother wishes is fine with me. If she feels the tenant of the western fields is remiss, I’m sure he is.”
The other blood elf nodded, his dark hair swaying around his shoulders. “Very well. I will deliver her notice of eviction this afternoon. If you will only sign it…?”
Leothir looked down at the paper before him, frowning slightly, but he dipped the tip of the quill in the inkwell and scrawled his graceful, if illegible, mark across the line. Baritold waited impatiently as he folded the missive and set his arcane seal across the seam. … but then the young lord hesitated, his hand on the paper, instead of handing it to his mother’s servant.
“Master Leothir?” Baritold asked, holding his hand out. “If I may?”
The mage stared thoughtfully at the page, opening his mouth, but a knock at the study door interrupted whatever response he might give. He looked up with relief at the distraction, calling out, “Come in.”
Relare slid the door open with a smile for his brother, his gaze darting to Baritold for only a moment. “Leo. I’m glad I found you.”
“Then I’m glad to be found, brother,” the older man smirked, tugging the eviction notice back toward himself before he stood. Baritold frowned, but lowered his grasping hand obediently. “Your timing is excellent as always. … well, as often. Sometimes your timing is terrible.”
Relare cleared his throat, scratching at the back of his head as a blush darkened his cheeks. “I already apologized for last evening.”
“Hmph.” Leo snorted, raising a brow. “What does that make, now? Three times? Four? When will you remember to knock, Rel?”
The paladin laughed a little self-consciously and gestured back at the door. “I did just now.”
His brother’s stare was flat. “It’s quite the promising start. But if you keep up this trend of interrupting my flower and I when we are… occupied, I’ll have to start wondering if your real goal is to get peeks at her beauty. Or mine?”
Leo smirked, a dare in his eyes, but Relare answered with an appropriately disgusted snort. “Yours? Leo, we’ve been running together flags-out since we were toddlers. I’ve gotten my fill of your… ‘beauty’. Now hers…? She is a fetching sight…”
The paladin’s grin turned wicked despite his lingering blush as he teased his brother.
Baritold’s black stare darted between them, trying to contain his disapproval in the tight press of his lips as the mage gasped in mostly-mock outrage.
“You, sir, are a knave and a cad!”
The younger sibling managed to maintain his wicked grin for all of two seconds before he came over and smacked his brother in the shoulder, devolving into laughter. “You know that’s not it.”
Leothir rubbed his shoulder, his smirk somewhat twisted by a grimace of pain. “Oh, I know. But you’re still a knave and a cad, brother.”
“True.” Relare raised his hands in surrender as he laughed. “Guilty as charged. However, this knave and cad wants to borrow some of your time, Leo.”
His gilded glance went to Baritold, and he nodded an extremely cool and belated greeting. The majordomo bowed respectfully, though his nose seemed stuck in the air, his lips pinched through the entire motion.
Leothir smiled, oblivious to the hostility percolating into the formerly-lighthearted moment. “My time is yours, Rel. Baritold, if you’ll excuse us?”
The majordomo frowned, not unusual for him, and eyed the signed notice on Leo’s desk. “The paper, my lord?” he reminded, unsubtle.
“Mmmm…” His golden-haired lord rested his eyes on the page for a moment, hesitating before he finally shook his head. “No more business, today, Baritold. This will keep.”
“But, my lor-” The older blood elf caught himself with a little sigh, instead bowing respectfully. “As you wish, my lord. I will inform her ladyship that the matter will be dealt with… later.”
As the man turned and strode from the room, Relare’s eyes narrowed on his back. He waited until the majordomo was far down the hall, the door closed behind him, before he folded his arms across his chest and turned back to his brother with a scowl.
“That bastard’s threats aren’t even thinly veiled.”
Leothir sighed softly and wrinkled his nose, wandering around the desk to lean against it beside his younger sibling. “Yes. I can expect an earful from mother, later, no doubt.”
Relare pressed his lips into a tight line, looking down at the paper laying quiet and sad against the wood. “What is it that she wants from you?”
“She wants to evict the Skyclimbers from the farmstead on the western quarter,” the mage answered softly, his frown matching Rel’s as he also stared at the paper. “Apparently, their yields have been low… or something. I barely know.”
The paladin thoughtfully pulled the sealed paper into his hands, turning it over and over. “Leo, what you’re talking about is upending the lives of a family that has served on our land since father’s days. He took them in a century ago, when their family fortunes fell out from under them. Don’t you think you should at least look into it personally before you toss them out?”
Nodding, his brother took the paper from him when he offered it, staring at it with similarly thoughtful eyes. His glance went with longing back out the large window to where Rhoelyn now stood with Alensyr in her arms, laughing at something he said as he gestured wildly with his round little arms.
“Leo…” Relare warned him softly, recognizing the urge to flee in the reluctant heir to the title’s demeanor. “We owe them this. Let’s go together.”
The mage sighed, tearing his eyes away from the scene and back to the reality of his responsibilities. “Of course, Relare. You’re quite right, as usual. Now, why don’t you tell me why you were looking for me while we go get the hawkstriders?”
“She wanted to send the family packing without realizing that their low yields were because the patron has been ill for months without proper attention.”
Rhoelyn frowned slightly, her brows furrowing as she cuddled closer against her mate’s side, watching the troubled expression he aimed at the chamber’s ceiling. Her hand resting idly over his heart could feel its pounding through his chest, and she gently soothed her fingers along his pale skin.
“That cannot be allowed to continue, surely,” the priestess offered.
“No, certainly not.” Leothir sighed, his free hand toying idly with the end of her hair as he fretted. “I fear Baritold or someone in the overseer’s staff is feeding her misinformation, my flower. Had she known, surely she would have sent a healer to him ages ago.”
The priestess had no intention of voicing her doubts on that, instead offering, “I can visit them tomorrow, if you wish it, my dawn. I will see that he is made well, again.”
With a tender smile, he kissed the top of her head. “That would be a relief. I know I can trust you to care for him properly, my beautiful flower. Thank you.
“Relare thinks Mother is already overtaxed trying to run the estate and the title, and the stress wears on her. She did look tired over dinner, the other evening.”
She felt his distress as a quiver under her touch, even before his beautiful, luminous green eyes slid down to look at her, filled with worry and reluctance and a troubled uncertainty that the little healer disliked. Rhoelyn levered up onto her elbow, leaning over him to give him a gentle kiss and lifting her free hand to soothe along his cheek.
“You are concerned for your mother as well as your charges, ilais’surfal. If she is too burdened, then not only she but those under her would suffer for it.” The beautiful night elf paused to peer down at his beloved face, her hair dripping towards his cheek. “You and your brother are already pondering a solution, my dawn. I see how much you dislike it in these tight lines around your eyes.”
Rhoelyn’s smile was tender and a bit worried in itself as she soothed her fingers over the tense skin at the corner of his eye, relishing the way her touch had him smiling in return, his eyes slipping closed. His hand at the small of her back pressed her tighter against him, a fond little hug of sorts.
“As always, you see through me, my darling.” The blood elf rested his head back as her featherlight touch turned to a gentle massage around his temples and forehead. He kept his eyes closed as he explained, “I am the Lord, Heir of the Duskfall house and of age to take my seat. I haven’t. My passions have never been bookkeeping and meal-planning and … all that goes along with the title. I want to travel. I want adventure. I want… anyone else to do all the fel-damned paperwork.”
He chuckled and opened his eyes, reaching up a hand to draw it slowly, tenderly along her slender arm. “Really, my flower. Anyone…”
The priestess laughed softly and shifted to change the weight on her arm, feeling the thin strap of her sleeping gown slip off of her shoulder. “Oh, Leothir…”
“I know. I am ridiculous.” The golden mage kissed her sweetly before he sobered. “But I could take my seat and free mother from the responsibilities of the title. She had no choice when my father died during the Scourge invasion, but I have a choice. And until now, I fear it has been a very selfishly made one.”
“You are considering asking her to step down from her position of power…” Rhoelyn’s eyes widened as she asked the hushed question, her touch slipping to his toned shoulder before her fingers tensed against his skin. “My dawn, y… y-you and your brother surely realize that she is not likely to thank you for this step, even if you do it with her wellbeing in mind. She uses the title to protect her sons. She may resist handing it over.”
Leothir sighed and looked back up at the night-dark bedroom ceiling as he nodded. “Yes. Relare expressed the same concern. He had some ideas about how best to ensure that she still feels loved and relevant despite the change. Mother is far from her dotage, and I wouldn’t want her to feel ousted instead of relieved.”
The kal’dorei couldn’t keep the worry from her expression, so she slipped down to lay her cheek against his warm, soft skin and hide her face from his view. She was silent for a long moment, wrestling with an odd combination of apprehension and relief, before she finally said, “Lady Emeria has two loving, sweet sons, ilais’surfal. And your brother is a wise counsel. They both care for you and protect you in their own ways, and it warms my heart to see their love for you. And yours for them.”
She felt the sting of tender tears behind her eyes as she nuzzled his skin, remembering a feverish reflection on family from weeks ago and tightening her arm around him, pressing closer to her lover’s side. There was venom in his mother, but the priestess prayed that it would not be brought out into the open with this move. She laid her faith in Relare’s guidance and in the true love she believed underpinned every harsh thing Emeria did for her sons.
“Mine for you shows as well, I hope,” Leo’s warm words tugged her from her momentary reverie, and his soft hand drifted tenderly along her shoulder, exploring the place where her sleeping gown’s strap had escaped down her arm. His other arm wrapped more completely around her, holding her close as he turned his head and laid a kiss against her crown.“The plan is months long. Relare and I have laid it out in great detail, and it must work around all our efforts at Swelltide.”
Leothir shifted and pressed her gently to her back, taking his turn to brace himself on an arm and look down at her as he spoke. “I have quite the trouble imagining taking this step without you by my side, my flower. My beauty. My refuge. You will be my lady, Rhoelyn.”
Rhoelyn nodded, reaching up to brush his long, golden hair back and tuck a lock behind his ear. “You always have my support, Leothir. We are… w-we are together in this life path.”
The blood elf smiled warmly down at her, running his fingers along her pale, violet cheek and tracing the scrolling tattoos that bracketed her right eye. There were words that he didn’t dare say behind his touch, desires that seemed too impossible to voice. But his thoughts were on the ways they were together, the bonds they carefully spoke around, and he imagined their future. After the war.
“Yes,” was all he said, his voice tender. “We are together in this life, Rhoelyn.”
Her brow furrowed over her adoring gaze as she said, “The time is coming closer and closer when you both must go in earnest, is it not? I have noticed how Relare’s meetings are more frequent, his associates more excited. He seems so much more driven than he once was.”
“My clever flower…” The mage smiled and leaned down to claim a lingering kiss before he answered fully. “You’re quite right; Swelltide is on the cusp of setting up the primary camp along the shores of Shadowmoon Valley. The last of the draenei strongholds along the way are being mopped up as we speak. Relare is up to the tips of his ears in last-minute plans and changes, scout reports and terrain maps. I’m afraid that soon we’ll leave for the first tour.”
There was fear in the way her fingers clenched against the covers at his waist, fear and worry for him and for herself. She tried, but she knew that she failed to conceal it on her face when he freed one hand to soothe the pads of his fingers along her furrowed brow, his emerald eyes gentling tenderly.
“Don’t make that face, Rhoelyn. I’ll come back when I can, and you’ll be safe here with mother and Baritold and the rest of the staff. You’ll have the others for company, and little Alen and his new kitten minion to keep you more than busy.”
Leothir grinned, trying to soften his lover’s worry with humor, but it didn’t keep her from biting her lip with ill-concealed anxiety before she muttered, “Still. I will… I will be forlorn without you here, my dawn.”
The mage leaned down over his lovely priestess with adoring sympathy, giving her a tender kiss that was nothing but undemanding comfort. She sighed and closed her eyes, resting her hand on his toned arm as he pressed his forehead to hers and whispered against her lips, “And I will be forlorn without you there, my flower. If everything goes well, Swelltide will be fast and decisive, and when I return, the war will be won.”
Tears threatened once more at that, and Rhoelyn reached up to wrap her hands around the nape of Leo’s neck, tugging his lips back to hers. The words she couldn’t say, the wish that the Alliance not emerge the victors in that awful war, couldn’t escape past the love she bore for far too many of her peoples’ enemies. They met in her heart with the same violent clash as the Alliance and Sunbane troops that she imagined in her mind’s eye, fear filling her at the thought of the blood and death that she knew lay on that battlefield. Fear that blossomed to panic as she imagined either of the two beloved brothers or her own feral twin amidst the chaos.
Rhoelyn pulled away from a kiss that grew desperate and hungry long enough to whisper, “Erais-forath-tor es’thora, ilais’surfal? Thaias?”
Leothir smiled gently and brushed her hair back from her forehead. “I swear it, my flower. I’ll return to you safely… and often.”
The priestess nodded, struggling with the tears that pressed against the backs of her eyes as she held the blood elven mage to her in the dark. She was his lover, his mate – but his slave as well in the eyes of the world around them, and it left her helpless to do anything but watch and endure and love him from her gilded cage. Even while he went off to war with her people. Even while he unknowingly went to war with his mother.
As Leo bent over her, his golden hair tumbling around their shoulders, and claimed her kiss once more, Rhoelyn squeezed her eyes shut and focused on his comfort and warmth instead of the burning, golden certainty that crystallized, unwanted, at the back of her mind: for all his optimism, Swelltide would go far afield of what everyone expected. And everything would change.