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Study this house, Roen said in his silent voice. Study its doors, its rooms, its patterns. The castle will perish as will the tower I built in far-off Terrenus, but this house will last to serve its purpose. 

He went down the stairs, and walked around the house slowly, in and around, laying a hand upon its doorframes and its brass knobs and musing at the paintings in the dining room and the lovely plaster ornament that everywhere decorated its ceilings, while cradling his young son. Yes, a beautiful house, the Outsider thought. He went out into the gardens. He perceived what had been done - what he had done [/i] - a great octagon of a lawn, with an octagon carved in the stone posts that ended the limestone balustrades. And everywhere flagstones at angles, so that one was beset in the moonlight with lines and designs and patterns. 

“Look at the roses in the iron,” said Roen to his son. By this he meant the cast-iron railings. And Philippe looked with his bright green eyes, lines at the angles, echoing the angles of the flags, as well as the roses. They moved on together, father and son. The polyglot house, the beautiful villa with its cast-rion lace and Corinthian columns and Doric and Ionic columns, and the keyhole doorways. An immense swimming pool had been built to the rear of the lawn, and a cabana was built to the south side of the pool so that guests could shower and dress without going into the house. He walked passed the curved Italianate windows on the north side beneath fifteen-foot ceilings, a great trap for light and cool breezes, a citadel against the heat of Orisian summers. Remember these things, Roen thought to his son. For this house will last. 

It was not only for Philippe’s benefit that the Outsider wandered this home, their home, but for his own, too. Remember this place if you would linger or come back; remember its patterns. In the dim world beyond they will shine in your eyes, they will guide you home. This is a house for centuries to come. This is a house worthy of the spirits of the dead; this is a house in which you may safely remain. War or revolution or fire, or the river’s current, will not trouble you. He paused, tilting his head, his dark eyes roaming. “I was held once.. by two patterns. Two simple patterns. A circle, and stones in the form of a cross. Two patterns..,” he trailed off, his eyes distant, his memory far away. 

Philippe fidgeted, and Roen was drawn away from his reverie.

The house, the house; the villa Roen had purchased and refurbished, spending a fortune on new paint, plaster, draperies, and delicate expensive furniture in the art deco style. The double parlor was crowded with potted palms, giving off an clean, earthy scent. A Bozendorfer grand piano had been acquired, though its lineage - and importance - was known only to the Outsider. He had done all that he could to make it a comfortable place to live, not only escape to. In many ways, it reminded him of his villa in the Black City, now long since gone. It was refuge and home in a place he spent more time being, bar none. Taking Philippe to his crib, Roen laid the boy down and breathed out a contented sigh, leaning against the edge. 

It was a strong house, a sturdy one, built in the southern districts of the capital near the waterfront. A modest estate nearly an acre in size, it was private enough to ensure some semblance of quiet, but had neighbors on either side of it that reminded all involved it was not nearly a remote locale. And Roen loved it, suffice to say. Most important, he loved it. Though pride and assertion said the castle was his home, though many would say the Black City and the Lore-Spire were his haunts, this place, this manor and these gardens, they were his to own and his to cherish, and so he did. This would be his home, his and Philippe’s, and Irene, too. The family home. Tucking Philippe in with one of his favorite toys - a stuffed animal, a blue elephant - Roen leaned away and turned, looking around, breathing in the cleanliness of his home, the freshness. 

He had shown it to Gabriela, of course. When it was empty, before he had refurbished it. But it was now, only recently, that it was fit for living. Leaving instructions at the castle that she could find him at his - their - private residence, after spending untold hours waiting for her return, Roen found himself wandering the tidy hallways of the manor, and eventually found his way to the kitchen, with its center marble island loaded with fruits. He sat on it and leaned back, and relaxed on his haunches as the cool, autumn breeze filtered in through the windows, bringing with it the scent of jasmine in from the gardens. A quiet night, a simple one, and one which he indulged in fully. He should have been working, the devil. He should have been preparing things for the Black City, for the Summer Isles, or even his interests beyond. 

But he wasn’t, at least not yet. He was content to sit, and wait for Irene to return, so that they could plan together, or at least plan with a semblance of her input. 

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She didn’t mean to keep the devil waiting. Word of her arrival had undoubtedly reached him by now, and his notable absence made her nervous, more so, the absence of her infant son. Though she carried the title of queen, and enjoyed all the pomp and ceremony that came along with it, everyone who was anyone in Orisia knew the truth -- she was puppet on strings. There was simply no other explanation for how and why the Back Queen’s child and heir had been removed and carried beyond the protective walls of her estate and to that of a common dwelling. Nervously, a servant had informed her of this news shortly upon her reentry into the castle after she had seen to the care of her wounded men and the continued captivity of the craze ranger responsible for all the carnage.


But now it was all said and done, and without further excuses, she had to make way to Roen’s newly acquired villa -- a journey that took her nearly across the city, from the high high foothills where the DuGrace castle sat down, down toward the golden shores of the Atitlan lake. She didn’t bother with bathing or changing. The thought of freshen up was a distant thing when measured against the mounting anxiety she felt in her breast to lay eyes upon Philippe. There was no better bait to draw her out of her safe haven and into the wolves den. And so she arrived, with a small retinue of knights, among them her beloved Quinn -- who seemed uneasy. He looked at her in a way that begged for confirmation of his dire suspicions. She should have expected as much. Although he was a mere mortal man, he was a vessel of great power. It only made sense that he would take notice of the change in her body, subtle as it may be this early in the pregnancy.


A servant let them into the estate -- an older gentleman who appeared utterly unimpressed with the queen’s appearance. His loyalty was to the master of the house, and his loyalty was expressed in the language of his craft. Therefore, he thought the Black Queen lacking in manners for presenting herself in knee high boots that were caked in bloody mud, and torn breeches that stretched and pulled over moonlight thighs. Once upon a time, the sleeves and collar of her blouse had been white, but had since turned into a grayish brown color with placed -- like her right shoulder and left forearm -- that were stained with dry blood. Her hair was disheveled and wild, but at least it didn’t seem to contain any twigs or leaves, those she had managed to brush out on her way here. Still, her braid was nearly undone though the black ribbon, speckled with crimson gems, remained tightly bound to a majority of the gathered tresses.


“The Lord Steward will be with you shortly,” said the old butler, glancing at Gabriela down his hooked nose with that same disapproving regard. It didn’t bother. She remained as gracious as could have been expected, even given her appearance and the current situation back in the castle -- and the heavy weight of what had recently been discovered, the dire failure of her mission into the Ellwood Forest.


“Thank you,” she replied to the man’s back, for he had already turned away and was nearly out of the comfortable sitting room by the time she responded. Two out of the four knights who had come with her exchanged thoughtful looks -- their own displeasure at the lack of respect quite notable. She didn’t notice, and even if she would have, Gabriela couldn’t have cared. Instead, she broke away from the tight formation that had been made around her and sank into one of a few tastefully placed chairs. To her dismay, the chair was firm -- borderline hard as a board -- and just as uncomfortable. She was forced to sit quite straight, when all she really wanted was to slouch down and rest for a bit.


She should have been thinking about how she might deliver the tragic news of the love child she was carrying, but her mind was a blanket of white snow -- barren, cold, and devoid of any semblance of colorful imagination. He would know, just as surely as Quinn knew, and more  importantly -- he would know that it was no true sibling of Philippe's that grew in her womb, but a half brother. His reaction, she could not begin to imagine it -- but there was no sense in hiding from him, or hiding the truth of her transgression.


Roen had Philippe, and come what may, this is exactly where she belonged.


Quinn drew near. She sensed the weight of his gaze but did not meet it. His anxiety was nearly palpable. He did not believe she should be here. Perhaps he feared for her life, or that of her unborn child's. Still, she could not meet the weight of his eyes, the doubt and question that would surely swirl just beneath the surface of what had once upon a time been unparalleled loyalty.


What she had done -- it was unforgivable.


She  had proven herself a common sort of woman.

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