You Can't Choose Your Family...

[Sarra, Lord Worthington]

With a nod and a promise to meet them at the Tyndar home as soon as possible, Sarra turned her horse towards her own home and urged him forward quickly. As she rode on, the large estate quickly drew nearer. Riding towards the house, she ignored the gardens that usually made her stop and pause, with their large and well tended blooms. The small pond and the shady spot where she loved to read barely got a glance as she quickly hurried up to the house. Apprehension was setting in, but Sarra marched determinedly up to her father's sitting room. She paused for only a second before knocking on his door.
A deep voice called, "Come," and she entered the room. Her father, Lord Worthington, sat behind a large polished desk, looking up from the papers spread before him. His eyes filled with relief, but quickly changed as he leaned back in his chair, looking sternly at Sarra. "Well?"
"Before you say anything, I'm sorry. I know you didn't want me to go along, but I had to. Channi needed help finding Chaer and Sammel, and I wasn't about to let her go looking for them with only a group of unfamiliar guards." Sarra crossed her arms and looked her father square in the eye. "And for what its worth, we found them. They should be at the Tyndar estate by now."
Lord Worthington met his daughter's gaze for a moment, then nodded. "All right, what's past is past. You should not have run off like you did without permission, and more guards for your own safety. But your journey has ended without mishap, and you are back now. I trust this is the end of this now?" he said as he picked up a ledger book and started looking through it.
Sarra stepped forward and rested her hands on the desk, leaning forward slightly. She shook her head, "No, father, this is not the end of it. They are preparing to leave and help those poor people, and I plan on going with them."
Lord Worthington shut the book quickly and started to protest, but Sarra cut him off. "I can't just sit back and wait, knowing what they are trying to do. I love Sammel, and Chaer and Melyda are friends. I will not sit inside quietly when I might be able to help in some small way. Even if they were not involved, there are innocent people who need our help." Sarra looked up knowingly as she said, "Father, you always taught me to follow my instincts and do what I feel is right. And right now everything that I have tells me to go and help Sammel and the others."
With a slight sigh, Lord Worthington pondered deeply for a moment. "Is it that important to you, Sarra?"
Sarra nodded emphatically. "It is."
Lord Worthington sat for a moment, regarding the strong look on his daughter's face. Then he nodded slightly. "All right, Sarra, if that is what you feel you must do. You have my permission and my best wishes that you will all succeed."
Sarra moved around the desk and hugged Lord Worthington, kissing him on the forehead. "Thank you, father?this means a lot to me."
Lord Worthington shakes his head slightly. "Just promise me you will all return as quickly as possible. Not just for your own safety, but if I have to listen to your mother complain about the wedding being postponed?" He winked at Sarra conspiratorially.
Sarra laughed warmly. "Don't worry, Father, we will be back soon, for your sake and for mother's." She hugged him again before leaving the room, feeling immensely relieved. Sarra hurried up to her room, quickly changed into some fresh clothes for traveling and repacked a few clean garments. She left the house and mounted her horse, spurring it towards the Tyndar estate quickly to rejoin the others.
Melyda sent her horse trotting down the road that parallelled the coast, heading somewhat back the way they'd come. Her family's estate lay just inland of Sammel's, with their grand entrances nearly across from each other, but Melyda decided to take a shortcut. So, after riding for a few miles, she suddenly directed the mare into the woods, following what seemed to be a faint deer trail.
The track plunged downhill and wound its way through a tangled, sheltered woodland of oak, maple, bushes, and clinging vines. After about ten minutes of riding, it abruptly exited the woods, entering into expansive pastures and leading, with a bit more clarity than it had shown in the woods, to the main grouping of buildings on the estate--the house, the stable, and other assorted structures. For a moment, Melyda paused, staring at the buildings and fields. Then she kicked the mare into a canter. She didn't dare look around too much, for fear of perhaps losing her purpose.
She pulled up in the stable courtyard with a clatter of hooves. The noise brought out one of the stablehands, and his cry of welcome quickly gathered others around her. She greeted them all, smiling, nodding, answering questions. "It's good to see you. Yes, it's nice to be back. No, I'm not staying. No, I just came to see my brother. Is he in?"
"I believe so, m'lady. The steward should know exactly where he is," said the head stablehand. "I'll just walk your mare for you."
"Thank you," Melyda said, smiling and waving as she dashed in through the courtyard entrance.
Once inside, she headed straight for the steward's office, knowing he'd likely be there at this time of day. Her eyes kept roving around despite herself, spotting occasional changes since she'd left--a new table here, a beautiful vase there. And in the grand hall, a portrait of her half-brother's wife, Janise. 'Very nice,' she thought as she paused to study it. It had evidently been painted when she was just beginning to show her pregnancy, and the artist had managed to capture that wonderful radiance that seemingly all pregnant women had. She glanced at the signature. 'Arthegall. I figured.' She grinned. Only the best for Daavid's wife, though he'd commissioned a struggling apprentice artist for his own portrait--and it showed. He always insisted that he wasn't handsome enough for a better one.
Melyda arrived outside the steward's office. The door was ajar, and she peeked around it to see him hard at work with a number of ledgers. "If you're wondering where the money went, just look at that portrait of Janise," she said.
The steward's head shot up, and a wide smile graced his wrinkled face. "Melyda!" He shot his spare form out of his chair and came to greet her, giving her a quick hug before looking at her from arm's length. "You're looking well! I do hope this will be a long visit. I'll have your old room made up for you."
"Sorry, Norinen," Melyda forestalled him with a rueful smile. "This is just a flying visit. I must be at Tyndar House for dinner. I just came to see my brother. Is he in?"
"Aye, lass, he's in the library. Do let me announce you," he said with an anticipatory grin. Melyda nodded and followed him out of the room. "How's Janise? Did the birth go all right?" she asked.
"It went fine," Norinin answered. "A beautiful, healthy girl. They named her after your mother."
Melyda laughed. "Oh, I'll bet my sisters were well-pleased with that."
"Well, their faces weren't exactly what one would expect at a naming," he replied mildly. Norinen had made it a strict policy over the years to maintain careful neutrality toward the older girls, even when they weren't around. Though he wasn't above a bit of gentle teasing of the other two children of his late lord--as now, when he cautioned Melyda to silence and rapped at the door of the library.
"Come in," came a muffled voice. Norinen opened the door and stepped inside. "Your sister is here to see you, m'lord," he said in a bland tone.
"Only one? That's a first," came the caustic reply from the bent head of Daavid. "Well, show her to the east parlor, and I'll--" At that point, he glanced up and saw Melyda entering behind Norinen. "Lyda!" He leaped around the desk and caught her up in a great bear hug. "It's wonderful to see you! I do hope you're here for a nice, long visit?"
"I'm afraid not, Daavid," she replied. "I just needed to talk to you. I--*we*--need your help."
"Have a seat," he said, gesturing to the well-worn chairs by the fireplace. "We? I hope it's not about Sammel and Sarra."
"Oh, no," she said as she settled down into the seat she'd always thought of as hers, on the left-hand side. "They've got that well-sorted, and I couldn't be happier. It's about something else."
"Norinen, please bring us some wine. You know which one," Daavid said. Then he sat down in the other chair and leaned forward, ready to listen.
Melyda detailed the news Channi had brought to them in Montfort. Daavid was shocked and sympathetic, slowly sipping the wine Norinen had brought in halfway through her recitation--one of the wines Melyda's mother had bottled years ago. "Of course I'll help," he said when she'd finished. "What do you need? Money? Men?"
"Neither, actually," Melyda replied. "Sammel prefers to keep as much of this on himself as he can--and I guess I can't really blame him. But we did think of something you could help us with.
"Sammel, Sarra, and I discussed things privately once or twice on the trip back here. We agreed that we need more information about the situation within that kingdom--Fallino. We also figured that, at the least, it wouldn't be politic to go chasing and fighting pirates without at least letting their king know what we're doing and why." She grinned as Daavid nodded with a grin of his own. "So someone's going to have to travel inland, probably to the capital, Fallistra.
"However, we thought that it might be best to travel incognito--to have some other purpose in going there. Just in case there's trouble. A trading delegation would be perfect--not a large one, just something to sound out possibilities for relations.
"There are only three of us, though, who might have the authority for something like this. Sammel would, but he's not about to give up going to see Chaer's people. Sarra might, but she's not going to leave Sammel. So...that leaves me. But, as I'm not actually Lady or heir of any lordship, I'd have to be a liason for someone..."
"For me," Daavid said. "It's no problem, Melyda. As a matter of fact, it's a good idea. We have had dealings with the Fallinians, but always through two or three third parties. A more direct relationship would be an asset. And you're certainly knowledgeable enough about trade matters to pull it off--even if you're not as passionate about it as Sarra."
Melyda chuckled. "Thank you, Daavid. This means a lot to us."
"I know. I'll have Norinen draw up the proper papers and authorization. Call for them whenever you're ready. After all, you've got to come by just long enough to see Janise and Britta."
"Yes, where are they? I was wondering."
"They're at her parent's house for a few days. You know how grandparents can be--so anxious to dote on them any chance they get. And--"
At that moment, there came a knock at the door. Nornien opened it at Daavid's invitation. "Your sisters are here, m'lord." Through the open door, they could just hear two strident voices.
Daavid shot a rueful glance at Melyda. "I'm having a dinner party, and I figured letting her stay with her parents would spare her the bother of all that."
"I should leave, then--and spare us both bother as well." She got up, but paused as the voices grew noticably louder. "Too late," she said with a sigh.
"Ah, well," replied Daavid. Then, with a mischevious grin, he continued. "I could do with a little pre-dinner entertainment."
Melyda stuck her tongue out at her half-brother, then composed her features as her two half-sisters walked in.
Aethra stomped in angrily, side by side with her sister, Arbis. Her garishly elaborate skirt swayed as she walked into the room, animatedly gesturing at her sister as she whined, "Daavid! Arbis says that you plan on seating us at the opposite end of the table from Lord and Lady Padriol. That simply will *not* do! We must be closer, rather than away with the riffraff..."
Her words broke off as she looked over and spied Melyda standing nearby. Aethra's lips curled upwards into a smirk as she looked Melyda over carefully, taking note of the dust and dishevelled look of travel. "And speaking of riffraff, look who has returned. How grand, is it not, Arbis?" she asked without even attempting to veil the sarcasm.
Arbis, a few minutes older and an inch or two shorter than Aethra, looked at Melyda with undisguised hostility. "I suppose you've come to ask for more of our father's money?" she said, with a hard edge to her voice.
Melyda rolled her eyes. 'They haven't changed a bit,' she thought trenchantly. But, although she'd never admit it to her brother, she rather enjoyed the occasional verbal sparring with her sisters; it was so easy sometimes to get their goat. 'And far be it from me to deprive Daavid of his entertainment,' she thought with a secret smile.
So, instead of shutting down the conversation, she replied, "Not at all. In fact, I did quite well at Montfort's Festival. I'd still be there if Sammel and Chaer didn't need my help. Oh, and I met such *fascinating* people-- Karyn Silversheen, the Chief Bard of Montfort...Elwynn Evindem, sorceress and Chief Businessperson of the Bard's Hall...Queen Sindella of Havenwood..." She caught Daavid's not-quite-hidden smile at her very unsubtle name- dropping.
"How....quaint," Aethra muttered vehemously, looking positively green. "So, you left all that in order to come back here and be the little do-gooder? I suppose you had best be on your way; the household has *far* too many things to worry about than your little journey, with this dinner party and all," she added with a smirk.
"Not really," Daavid replied mildly. "My staff is fully capable of handling the preparations themselves." He couldn't resist that little dig; he knew all about the problems his sisters had in keeping servants on their staff--their shrewishness was enough to drive anyone away. "Besides, it's been so long since Melyda left--it's nice to see the whole family together again." Daavid barely contained his laughter as the three women turned the exact same look on him, a look that clearly stated, "You have *got* to be kidding!"
"Your staff *should* be capable, considering how you overpay them, Daavid," sniffed Arbis. "And why is it that you only talk about family unity when Melyda is here? We are more your sisters than she is."
"Now, now, Arbis," Daavid chided. "She is our father's daughter--and more like him than any of us are. Besides, affection should count as much as blood for family ties--and in that department, Melyda, at least, is definitely a sister of mine."
Arbis stared at Daavid, open-mouthed. "Well!" she cried shrilly. "I may have always suspected that you loved Melyda more than us, but it is in *very* poor taste to say so! If she's such a sister to you, then why don't you give *your* inheritance to the halfling brat, instead of ours?"
"Because I, for one, obey the inheritance laws," Daavid replied sternly, with a steely look in his eye.
Daavid hadn't meant to let this carry quite so far when it had started, but his sisters' continual harping about Melyda's half-bloodedness--an argument they had used to try to cheat her of her inheritance--was especially irritating to him.
Melyda, sensing that things were definitely taking a turn for the ugly, decided it was time to go. "Well, lovely as this reunion is, I really should be going. I promised to be back at the Tyndar estate in time for dinner." She hugged Daavid and nodded neutrally at her sisters. "I'll drop by again tomorrow morning, Daavid, to pick up those papers. Oh, and do you happen to still have any of the clothing I left here? I'll likely be needing some."
"We have some," he replied. "I'm sure we can roust it out. And if you need more, buy it in town. You can put it on my account," he added with a twinkle in his eye.
"Until tomorrow, then," she said as she edged toward the door, hoping to escape any parting shots from Arbis or Aethra.
She glared towards Melyda as she moved towards the door. "We'll be holding our breaths 'til then, I'm sure." But before Melyda was even out the door, Aethra turned her attention back to her brother.
"Daaaavid! You said we could never use your account when out shopping, even when it was an emergency! Like that time I saw the most daarling hat, with feathers draped all around...."
'So much for homesickness,' Melyda thought with a wry grin as she slipped away. As she gave Norinen a parting hand clasp, she said softly, "You'd better give Daavid the rest of that wine bottle--I think he's going to need it."
Norinen nodded impassively, but with a twinkle in his eye. Melyda made her way back to the stable entrance, where she found her horse waiting. With a wave to the waiting stablehands, she sent the mare trotting down the main path, as that was the fastest way to the Tyndar estate. At the main entrance, she saw the open carriage of Lord and Lady Padriol. She passed them with a wave and a grin; that one glimpse would probably comprise a lot of dinner conversation, further infuriating her sisters. She was ready, though, to enter into the planning phase of the expedition to Chaer's people.

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