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DarkHorse

Prologue: “An unfortunate......arrangement”(Ursa Madeum, Thrace)

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For once she wished she had her late sisters ability to glean the feelings of others. She knew he was hiding things or her sake, and Delaney's answers were - overwhelming. She confirmed what Odeia feared most, she would be out of her element - but Delaney called it a home. So it couldn't be all too bad, could it? 

He called her imp again, the word seemed to be becoming her nickname. Almost like he was giving her a pet name, a familiar word used to express fondness. He couldn't be fond of her could he? No  no - it was far more likely soothe and comfort her rather than an expression of fondness. She was a bit like a skittish horse, easy to spook and likely to bolt. Perhaps she herself would attempt at something light hearted as a gift in return.

"Oh I learned quite a bit about you." She attempted playfulness, "I never knew you felt so strongly about insects...." 

She even let herself smirk for a moment before clearing her throat, "She called it home - I'm finding I have a hard time with that word....I suppose I shall have to survive it in order to understand what she meant.....If your family doesn't hate me, drive me out or try to kill me that's success - right? Honest truth I am more worried about your son - I had a stepmother and I hated her....even if she was just as much a victim as me." 

She stood and stretched, eager to explore somewhere other than the confines of her old home and test these experimental wings her betrothed had given her. 

"Is everything alright?" She asked him, "Do we need to skip our exploration today?" 

In her own way, she was letting him know his smile didn't fool her. She grew up around liars and people that withheld things, smoke and mirrors. It shouldn't comfort her, but it did - it was familiar - being kept in the dark. It seemed different coming from Austere though, like he was doing it to shield her, not use it against her later. That part, terrified her, because she didn't want to trust it. 

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0JTdvJv.pngTheir meal would have to be interrupted, something he hated to do but found it to be necessary.

"Come, let's go," he stood and offered her his arm so they could journey out into the world together.

It became apparent he was not going to allow specific issues to ruin their day for exploration. She wished to gather seeds, and by all the Creators, they will do just that, a day of enjoyment with only a minor stain. Familial issues are not unusual, especially within his pack of wild wolves that now developed a taste for blood. Revenge, while something they wished for and perhaps needed to close the books of the fiery past, was an item Milorian has worked to set aside. The former King was dead, and the Mythal name is restored to its once glory, Milo saw absolutely no reason to chase the weary past when the future is at his eager feet. Austere agreed ... the rest of their siblings had their opinions.

He walked in silence for a time, his right hand casually resting atop her own that was tucked snuggly in the curve of his elbow. Idly he had played with her fingers, his yellow eyes slivered in thought as they stepped through minor crowds and around impediments. 

"Arguments are surrounding Gawyne - our second brother."

What could he say that would not paint his brother as a scoundrel? Austere had to chew on his words for a bit, deciding on whether he should so eagerly spill the truth - his truth or say nothing.

"He is a danger. Five months ago, he returned to the Free Marches and began his tirade of hatred."

And what a tirade it had been! He and Milorian were nearly spitting fire before their mother interrupted the argument. It had been the first time Austere saw his youngest brother wield his power with tactful grace. Milorian accepted his lot in life, but his displeasure was always worn on the sourness that wrinkled his brow and pursed his lips. Wyne had pushed him far enough that the weight of his new responsibilities was dropped. 

"It's worrisome. The loss of Soleil hit him the hardest, and the pain has decayed into a bleeding wound that will only be mended by more blood, more war, and carnage."

He hissed his final words, jaw clenched and anger rising by inches. Peace, damn it, peace! Why is it so hard to obtain, to keep? They need no in-fighting, not when they're so close to finally obtaining all their land and the rights to it. 

"House Uldwar has allowed - in the way of peace offering - two members of its house to ... stay in the Free Marches. A Uldwar daughter and a member of the party that may have been involved in Soleil's death."

Wyne was furious that Milorian would allow such demons to invade their land - again! He threw chairs and broke tables while Milorian yelled and punched walls. They two would have gone to arms if they hadn't been interrupted; so shamefully, Austere had hoped the two would finally go to blows to settle the unpaid debts between them. Could it be a mistake on Milorian's part to want to forgive the Uldwar House? Was there to be undoing in such a kindness? He couldn't be too certain, not when he is so distracted with other things that were more important than Wyne's hurt feelings. 

It also does not help that Ronan is on Wyne's side. 

"Reconciliation is needed. I'm not so blinded by hope that I can't see the disease that is the Uldwar House. Oscar is something that needs to be dealt with, but how can we say it's our right to lay down such a claim? He didn't directly undo our House, but the blood of my wife, our child, Soleil paints his name! Still, we can't be judge, jury, and executioner."

He hadn't noticed that he had entered his tirade. His voice risen high with hurt and pain, the heavy weight of his losses making his chest laden. The elf had mentioned his other son, Easton's twin, and it was a splash of cold reality that made his skin feel clammy. Noticing he had been squeezing Odelia's poor hand to death, he quickly released it and took a minor step away from her. Shame painted the tips of his ears pink; she did not need this baggage so early in the day.

"I'm sorry, imp. I didn't mean to get so loud," he said, words just fumbling over themselves. Grasping her hands, he pulled her forward and rested his forehead against her's. "Distract me with your flowers, please."

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Eager to spend the afternoon with him, and most certainly happy to be exploring a whole city that was beyond the confines of her prison, Odelia allowed him to tuck her hand into his arm. The sunshine, the sound of people and the stones beneath their feet held no luster in comparison to his gentle exploration of her fingers. The feeling was hypnotizing, such gentleness - something she hadn't felt since her mother died.

Shaking her head out of the dangerous path it was treading she noticed his slightly narrowed eyes as if in thought. His touch suddenly seemed scary, frightening. Was he contemplating how he could break her fingers? Using touch to beguile her then later use it to harm her? Then he spoke, revealing that his thoughts were not on so nearly a frightening path as she thought. He was distracted by pressures from home - something she knew all too well. 

As he continued to speak, he spun a tale of infighting - his voice holding a desperation behind it, an anger - hurt. The volume rose as his grip on her hand went from gentile to firm, then tight. She tried to listen, she did - but it was hard to hear past the terrified beating of her heart. She didn't dare pull her hand away for fear that he was going to break it in anger if she did. She couldn't look away from his anger, her mind burning its image somewhere deep inside so she could never forget and flee at the first sight of it again in the future.

Then just as quickly as his anger built - it vanished in a realization that he was being loud, that he hurt her. The distance between them was welcome as she gulped down the cool air in an attempt to calm her heart - which was determined to break through her chest in an attempt to flee. 

 "I'm sorry, imp. I didn't mean to get so loud," His voice washed over her. 

With a much gentler tug he pulled her closer and put his forehead to hers. Her poor and confused heart beating to a different rhythm from the closeness and his use of his pet name for her. He wanted her to distract him, take his thoughts away from his source of anger - but he wasn't going to do it through drinking or yelling. No - he'd just shown her a man could get angry and he could get loud, but that wouldn't always be followed by aggression. 

Taking in a deep breath, senses flooded with the smell of him from his closeness, she nodded her head. 

"I - I think I can do that." She said shakily, trying to hold back confused tears. 

Taking another deep breath she bravely took his hand in hers. It still pained her and it shook quite violently as she gave it a gentile tug in the direction of a shop that caught her eye. 

Entering in the familiar smell of dirt and earth greeted her, calming her senses even more than they already were. Odelia greeted the keeper and let out a small gasp as she caught sight of what most would see as an insignificant little thing. 

"Do you see this?" She asked Austere excitedly, "This is a rare bog flower." 

The small plant was tiny in comparison to all the larger, more brightly colored buds. Its leaves were greasy looking and atop a very thin stem sat a purple flower. 

"These are an aggressively spreading flower." She said in a hush, "Well known to restore the acidity of the soil, cleanse the water and help all sorts of creatures grow. Just a handful of these can be used to restore acres upon acres of wetlands....." 

Careful not to touch its leaves she quickly asked after the plant and its like. Satisfied with the answers she got, she quickly purchased it before moving on to several other plants - even going so far as to harvest seeds from them rather than take the plant itself. It was clear she was in her element, fear slipped away, timid nature gone, she was simply being - herself.

Finally, her eyes lit on a pink bloom that was creeping its way up a trellis on a vine. 

"That's a creeping widow." She said, "Oil from that plant can kill a man with a drop. Pretty, but deadly. If you see that growing in a mans garden - I don't recommend accepting his dinner invitation." 

She paused, looking up at Austere in a rare moment of genuine joy, "I haven't bored you have I?" 

Edited by DarkHorse

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0JTdvJv.png"Absolutely not! I am delighted you are enjoying yourself and giving me a lesson in all of ... this."

He gave her nose a gentle tap before he pretended to be interested in the plants and flowers inhabiting the shop. The Free Marches are full of glorious greenery such as all this, but he had never been drawn to learn about any of them to a far extent. He can appreciate a pretty flower though and enjoy the way a vine wraps itself around anything within its reach; beyond all that, he would rather chart stars or decipher runes - annoying things, he has been told. Odelia's interest and evident love for the plants did keep him interested enough to listen and enjoy her overall excitement.

"My mother has a gigantic garden that no one is allowed to even look at," he said, running the tip of his finger across a leaf of an unruly plant. "She is very protective of her creation and for a fair reason."

Milorian and Odelia will get along well, for he shares her interest. The rest of the Mythal children would instead roll in the mud than learn what it's capable of. 

"Soleil had cut an entire corner of her garden and gave the flowers to Marina - his then love interest, later wife."

The elf paused, his smile peppered with a little bit of sadness as the memories flood him. Talking about the past often shoved him back into those moments; he could hear his mother yelling at Soleil, his brother crumbling and apologizing pitifully to make up for what he thought was a great idea. At the time Milorian was just a tot, hiding behind his mother's legs while looking up at his older brother getting in trouble. The image warms his heart as he forgets his youngest sibling used to be so small, quiet, and timid. So unlike now, where he's tall and sour looking.

Perhaps that is why Austere is annoyed about all the infighting happening amongst brothers. There was a point in their lives when they got along.

"You are clearly knowledgable about plants and flowers, may I ask why? What is the root of your skills?"

 

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Her heart sang a little at the thought of so many others loving plants and how they grew as much as she did. It spoke of a chance, however small, that she may be able to find a place in the Mythal home. Something that made her feel a little strange - and terrified at the same time. When would this dream fall apart into chaos and screaming? When would he discard her and traipse off after another. 

She would exit the shop with him in tow, efficiently sending some people back to the ship they would be taking with her wares. As she exited out of the earthy and muggy room his question caught her off guard. So much so that she tripped a little and had to grab onto his arm to keep from completely falling face first onto the stones, the jerking motion causing her to let out a small gasp. 

It was such a simple question, but it had so much more behind it. The poor Odelia found her head reeling from the swath of emotions that threatened to drown her right there. She couldn’t block them out and she suddenly understood how it was so easy for her mother to fall for her father. He’d charmed her beyond reason and blinded her to everything except what he wanted. But this - this was different - it wasn’t manipulation, it wasn’t deceit - Austere really wanted to know. She had to collect herself for a long time before she could answer. 

She likely looked like she was on the brink of tears, as if he’d done or said something wrong. Though that was not the case, she was merely lost in the dizzying fact that he might - just might - actually be this nice. 

“I um - well - its silly really.” She finally smirked, “My father hates things that grow. He hates them. If they don’t feed cattle or our bellies he sees no purpose for them. So I started a garden.” 

She genuinely looked smug now, one hint at defiance that could live within her. 

“Ever since I was real little I could make things grow.” She explained, “Flowers, plants, trees. Sometimes, if I’m really concentrating, I can borrow energy from one plant and put it into another. It was the only thing I could control. So I started a nice garden with my mother before she got sick. My father set it on fire and nearly burnt the house down too if it weren’t for the staff putting it out. After my mother and my sisters died, I didn’t have anyone to keep me shielded from my father and his new wife. So the only way I could get back at him was to cover his house in the thing he hated most. Flowers. I found all types of plants, and did my best to grow them. He did his best to destroy them.” 

She let out a satisfied sigh, “Really not the most mature way to deal with him - but - what else could I do? He’d beat me or set Rolfe on me if I did anything else.” 

She snapped her mouth shut at the last statement that slipped out. She knew it wasn’t a mystery, he had to have known. But she’d rarely muttered a single word about him beating her. He’d told her not to - especially Austere lest he think her damaged goods. 

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0JTdvJv.pngHe linked their arms again, ensuring that she would not slip or at least not slip by herself. Together they wandered down the busy street, preoccupied with each other and nothing else outside their growing conversation. Austere was enjoying the way she struggles with her emotions; the uncertainty was rather becoming as it exemplified her honesty - something he found to be profound. Odelia hadn't been the first choice for a wife, there had been others, but their attempts at flattery and coyness did little to entertain him. In a moment, such charms would be becoming, but over time, he knew he would not have the patience for it. 

Gratefully, Odelia does not need to charm him nor play games to grab his attention. Being her was simple enough to make him feel comfortable within her presence and soon her entire life. 

"Well considering your upbringing, I would say what you did was mature. Others would have rebelled in more grander ways, like running away to join the pirates or becoming just as destructive as the person keeping them down."

He wondered if his siblings had ever wanted to run away or at least do something different than their predestined path. Milorian never thought he would become Lord of their House, but when the opportunity was presented to him, he took it without complaint. Austere could say he was completely comfortable with who he is and where he is, plus he knew that Milo would trust no one else but Austere to play his second. 

Noting her silence, he looked down with a curious perk to his brow. At first, he didn't understand why she was silent all of a sudden; then it dawned on him. Patting her hand, he guided her to a store he picked out earlier, silencing her worry. Austere may not know the full extent of how badly she was beaten and tortured in her home; he will never see her as damaged goods or less of a person because of her father's faults. He won't make her pay for the man's disgusting behavior, and he will show her that all men are not him, that the elf should not be punished for the habits of another individual. 

"I love chocolate," he said, releasing her arm to wander the candy store. "Anything sour is also a delight."

The store was something from a dream. Moths of various colors flutter about, creating trails of fairy dust to linger in the air wherever they zipped around. Polished counters of wood with carvings depicting stories of fairies, pixies, and other fantastic forest creatures. Rows of various candies for them to pick from were labeled, showing their ingredients that may have been odd to some: bark, sap, flowers. 

"I ate an entire bag of chocolates once that I got so sick, I had to stay in bed for a week. And I'll tell you right now," he points a finger at her, "I'd do it again."

 

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Austere was always surprising to her, the way he merely accepted her as she was. He didn’t poke or prod or question, he simply let her be with her thoughts. Maybe some day he would be privy to her outward bursts of panic. Perhaps someday she would let him know just how unnerving it was to be with someone that wouldn’t beat her - but that would be a long time in coming. Even now she felt her protective shell slipping away from her as she tried to grasp it close and keep herself safe. 

“I love chocolate," The sudden declaration sent her reeling, he wasn’t mad at her? He wasn’t upset that she’d been damaged? Didn’t he know she was willful and stubborn and just bad?! Her brain quickly filed away the likes he listed for her, she wasn’t sure how, but she would make sure he was given chocolate and sour things for every day he was nice to her. It was the best way she could show her appreciation. 

Her train of thought was thoroughly interrupted when her eyes widened as she took in the store. It was magical. Everything about that moment was magical. She couldn’t take in everything and the tiny details all at once. Her hands tightened around Austere’s arm before she looked up at him, clear wonder painted on her face as she studied him. He brought her - here? To somewhere so wonderful? She didn’t imagine he would do it to be mean....he just couldn’t be. 

"I ate an entire bag of chocolates once that I got so sick, I had to stay in bed for a week. And I'll tell you right now," he points a finger at her, "I'd do it again."

As it registered he was telling her about his past she soaked it up. Eyes riveted to his and watching him as she listened, first a smirk, then a dimple, then a full smile cracked out. She began to laugh, covering her mouth with one of her hands to hide it, she failed horribly as her shoulders shook. Just the way he pointed his finger, the seriousness on his face in promising he would gladly do it again. She believed him. 

“I don’t doubt you.” She managed to say, her voice light as she finally lowered her hand, “I don’t doubt you at all!”

Feeling rather light hearted made her brave, it usually did - though she rarely felt it. But in this moment, she thought she could fly away like any one of the pixies floating around. 

“Well -“ She untangled her arm from his and took his hand, “Show me your favorites so I can spoil you on the journey home.” 

She didn’t realize she’d used the word home - referred to where she was going with him home. Perhaps he noticed, but it certainly didn’t occur to Odelia. Either way it spoke to an unhinging of a carefully crafted defense mechanism she’d put up for herself.

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0JTdvJv.png"You already play with my weakness! You are becoming the doting wife; I'll end fat and lazy if you feed me too much."

He playfully rubbed his stomach, picturing how he would look all satisfied with a belly full of sweets. The very picture made him laugh out loud, causing the corners of his eyes to wrinkle and his ears to wiggle some. Laughter is an easy thing for him, just like breathing or walking. Hearing her laughter had lifted a curious weight off his shoulders, taking with it his uncertainty. Throughout the day, they've become somewhat acquainted, and he is comforted to know that Odelia can slowly loosen her grip around the walls she has built over the years. 

Taking her lead, he quickly showed her the best row of candy out of the entire store. An expansive array of chocolates ranging from the most simplistic flavors to some rather wild ones were displayed beautifully before them. 

"This one has a hint of lavender to it and it's possibly my favorite. I had a nanny who made this every year for my birthday, and to my absolute delight, no one liked it as much as I."

The bar of chocolate was sliced into large squares and decorated with lavender petals. He was pushed back into the world of his childhood the instant he smelled lavender and chocolate mingling happily with one another. The nanny in question was long departed, but he could still remember her face and the sound of her voice vividly. 

"White chocolate also has a home in my heart."

Thoughtlessly, he reaches forward and thumbs a piece of Odelia's hair while he speaks. "My mother would dip fruit in white chocolate as a special treat. I suppose I can thank her for my sweet tooth if I'm to be honest. I don't think I've ever seen my father eat sweet things like candies or even fruits."

Releasing her hair, he shifts to another row that sparkled and smelled divine. Austere felt like a child again, curious and filled to the brim with wonderment towards the many sweets presented to him. Milorian has given everyone the impression that all Mythals are soured face and quietly rude, thus making Austere the complete contradiction to such opinions. He wore his smile with complete ease and allowed himself to enjoy the moment being shared with his bride. Being her partner meant he needn't hide behind airs of propriety.

"Fairy glass," he says while pointing to a bin freckled with colors. "It's very sour and comes in all kinds of flavors. I fed Milorian so much fairy glass, we blame his sour face because of it."

He snickered at a memory, a moment he will share with her another time. "Do you like candy, Odelia?"

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Odelia’s breath caught as Austere’s hand reached forward and he played with a strand of her hair. So caught up was she in his stories that she’d lost track of where they were for a moment. The simple affectionate touch caught her off guard and her heart flew into her throat, butterflies threatened to take over her belly. How could he be so unaware of what he did to her?! She blushed at the open display of affection and lost track of what he was saying for a moment as he spoke to her. Her eyes were riveted on his, soaking up the gentile and sweet touch. Something she hadn’t had in so very long.

The touch was all to brief and he moved on, she with him. Odelia grieved the loss of contact for a moment and  imagined she would do just about anything to have it again. But for now she would simply have to bask in the curious playfulness he exuded, pointing out this and that. She made a mental note to go back and get a little of all the ones he said were his favorites. Surely getting him those things would make him happy? He’d already called her a doting wife - something that made her feel quite warm inside. Odelia would tuck away every little tidbit he shared with her, right down to him feeding his brother the sour candy and it making his face sour. 

"Do you like candy, Odelia?" He’d asked her. 

She blinked in a way she thought must make her look quite stupid. She’d been so mesmerized by his enthusiasm and excitement that she’d gotten lost in it, a dreamy smile on her face. 

“Me?” She recovered herself, “Well - I.... yes, yes I do.....I did....I - I don’t know.....” 

It was embarrassing really, it had been so long, so long since she and her twin pilfered sweets that her mother baked. When they died....no one had the heart to bake anymore and her father hated treats. Odelia bit her lip and looked down for a moment, she didn’t want to ruin this golden moment....not with him.....no not with Austere. She wanted to see him smile like this all the time. Maybe some day she would be able to revisit the happy times when her mother was alive, but right now they were just too painful. 

“It’s been a very very long time since I’ve had any.” She revealed, then decided an attempt at humor would fit best, “I mean - you met my father....He probably had too much fairy glass too as a kid!” 

She would grab his hand and tug him towards the counters where he pointed out his favorites, the warmth of his hand in hers felt so nice. It was like being touched by the sun after freezing outside in the snow. 

“If I am going to make you fat and lazy by being a doting wife -“ She said a little breathlessly, “Then you can make me just as fat and lazy and spoil me too! We can even get some fairy glass and torment your brother together.” 

She intended just that, if he got so excited over sweet things, she would let him help her rediscover them. So she ordered as much of it as she could, a little of this a little of that. Being sure to get extra of his two favorites. She didn’t know how to make such things so she would simply have to learn - if the cooks would tolerate her in the kitchens long enough to do so. 

“I don’t really know how to make those treats.....but I’m sure I could learn how to. I mean if it makes him happy - its worth aggravating the cook right?” Odelia didn’t realize she was speaking her thoughts aloud, she picked at a string on her sleeve, “Its ok if I can’t do it.... I’ll probably be terrible at it.....I’m sure there are other ways to make him happy......” 

She paused mid thought, realizing she was speaking aloud. Her cheeks reddened significantly and she dropped his hand as if it burned her, she paid the man behind the counter and gathered the various bags needed to carry all the treats. She hesitated for a moment, should she just run back to the inn? Ohhhh how she wanted to merely bury her head and hide for at least a century. Odelia could feel her cheeks burning in embarrassment. Should she say something? What could she say? She’d just been talking to herself - aloud - where he could hear it - about him! It was a habit of hers, she typically spoke aloud when problem solving. A sign of intelligence some said - her step mother told her it was annoying and unbecoming. Suddenly the room simply felt too small and warm for her, while it was a fantastical place, she simply couldn’t stay in that small space with Austere looking at her like she’d gone insane. At least that’s what she thought he was looking at her like - she wouldn’t look up at him. 

“I’m sorry!” She squealed, darting out of the shop with alarming speed. 

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