The party belowstairs was audible even where he stood, the small chamber ensemble’s music carrying along with the guests’ voices. They spoke, laughed, were enjoying themselves, and that was as it should be. His mother’s parties were invariably successful, all of those attending finding themselves enjoying themselves with good music, good food, and good company. He resented none of it. She did have a knack for these celebrations and he was glad she had the opportunity to exercise her abilities, but there were some things he preferred to do alone.
He was thankful that the darkened library offered him solace. The room smelled like books and leather, its dark wood warm and comfortable. There was a carafe of brandy on the sideboard and the snifter he’d poured himself weighed comfortably in his hand. It wasn’t that he wanted to lose his senses to alcohol as much as he wanted the warmth and calm that the liquor could bring. With footsteps easily masked by the sounds below, he crossed the room, a gloved hand raised to brush the curtain aside, revealing the view he’d come for.
Standing there at the window, he looked over the lawns, seeing them silvered with frost. The sky above was clear, the moon and stars making the most of their freedom to cast shadows of trees and make the skim of ice sparkle with every faint breeze. It was a perfectly average Vendesian winter night as he’d seen many times before. The only difference was that while he’d gazed over the sight moments ago, at forty-two years of age, he was now forty-three.
With a slow sip of brandy, Kithaniel considered congratulating himself for surviving yet another year but he couldn’t. Each year that passed, he became more and more aware that his father couldn’t live forever. Unlike his mother, Christharen Martinson was no long-lived, possibly immortal, elf. He was nearing eighty, and for a human, that was an admirable age. To hear him talk, though, it was nothing remarkable. Only the effects of the clear airs of the sea as he had spent so much of his life on his ships.
Though so much of the nobility resented the merchanting class, Christharen had proven the nation’s most profitable importer. With his shrewd business skills, he procured fine cloth that Vendesey simply couldn’t produce, spices that grew in warmer climes, and even minerals and ore that the archipelago lacked.
Kithaniel had loved sailing and working on his father’s ships, but only when his mother didn’t have something much more important to teach him. As such, he had learned much of the nobility. His mother had been born to the nobility, after all, and she had been determined to raise her son as a paragon of class. Under her, he had learned the management of an estate, the art of conversation, how to dance, how to smile, how to dress, and at her utmost insistance, how to play both piano and harpsichord.
That would be expected of him, he knew, once he returned downstairs. Marinale was in attendance and her voice had become something of a sensation among the upper crust. The promise of her singing had drawn a few more visitors than they could’ve counted on otherwise. And while he would gladly play for the attendees downstairs, for the moment, his solitude felt like a pure necessity.
His father’s import business would soon go into the hands of one of the employees that had been loyal to him for years and, unlike Kithaniel, had a true mind for the business. And though none could know precisely when, Eir Martinson would eventually expire. Liaosa, his mother, would return to her father’s home until she decided to remarry - that conclusion was foregone. But what, Kithaniel couldn’t help but wonder, would become of him.
He knew his mother’s answer, and it was one he didn’t at all want to face. He would have to choose and marry an heiress. Then he could manage her inheritance and give her the life she had become accustomed to under her father’s care. Attend her estates in the country, make certain the workers of the land were contented and well-cared-for, that her houses remained in good condition and were upkept, and that she would ever and always have money for new dresses as the fashions changed. He would prove quite the exemplary husband. His mother had made certain of that. He had no vices. He cared nothing for smoking, very little for drinking except as the occasional relaxant. He gambled very little as people so seldom enjoyed gambling with someone who knew where every card lay in the deck. And he never took more than a moderate portion at the dinner table.
Yet the last thing Kithaniel wanted was marriage. None knew that, of course. He would disappoint his mother terribly to tell her that all of her training had resulted in a son who wanted to spend his life alone, minding his own business and letting others tend to themselves. The times he had loved most were those spent in university, where he could indulge himself in his studies with very little distraction. Of course, that was a failing that his mother had already sighed over. While most spent their time in university learning to use their magical ability to the best that they possibly could, every method of testing had proven Kithaniel’s magical talent to be nonexistent.
Between his lack of magic and his lack of aptitude at his father’s business, Kithaniel’s only option was a marriage he didn’t want, unless some venue presented itself from a quarter that none of them had expected. And despite himself, and despite his forty-three years of experience, he found himself hoping for exactly that.
With a final drink from his snifter, he placed it aside, glanced at the window pane at an angle to check his own reflection before turning to rejoin his own birthday celebration. His freedom would soon be at an end, and it was time to face that reality. This upcoming year would be decisive. He could have it no other way. His life was waiting for his decision, and he had only twelve months to decide.