Chapter 1: The Dance Begins
It all began with a letter. A simple little letter, asking for nothing more than temporary lodging and an implied ball or two. But sometimes the simplest things, like a letter, or a dance, can change the course of two people's lives completely.
Whitestone was an apt name for the manor. The de Rolo family had been in possession of it for a number of centuries and, no matter what additions were made to the house, it always remained entirely made of white bricking. The gardens, roofing, and integral architecture changed to fit the fashions of the day, but the white stones remained as steadfast as the de Rolo family itself. There had always been a de Rolo in Whitestone.
Located only an hour's ride away from the city, Whitestone was the perfect place to house visiting dignitaries, to hold informal council meetings, or, most often, to host balls. The ballroom was widely proclaimed to be the best in the Emon vicinity. It was by far the largest, and could accommodate nearly seventy-five people. The very necessary hat, coat, refreshment, and dining rooms that were missing from many of the smaller homes were positioned perfectly in the Whitestone estate: just close enough to the ballroom to allow for easy access, but far enough away to serve as a respite for the tired, injured, or hiding.
Percy often found himself to be one of the hiding. “High society” and “social interaction” weren't really his thing, even though they should have been by blood. Sure, he loved the structure of it and how his place in society afforded him the ability to work the system, but it all bored him to no end. These balls especially. He would rather be in his study, doing something useful with his time. But, in order to keep up appearances, he usually danced the first couple of sets before attending supper.
This rarity assured that he had achieved the title of Highly Desirable Bachelor amongst the ladies. And if you happened to be one of the two women Lord DeRolo had bestowed his presence upon, you had bragging rights for the next fortnight. You had been able to catch the eye of the elusive, handsome, and fabulously wealthy Lord of Emon, and maybe one day you could become the Lady of Emon. That, however, was never quite the case. You see, Lord Percival had once quietly confessed to his sister that he assigned each girl attending the ball a number and then pulled two numbers out of a hat. The corresponding women would be his partners for the night. It was completely random and required no emotional connection on his part, so he had found it to be the perfect system.
That night, as the slight conductor struck up the band, Percival sought out girl number seven, Miss Orianna. He made pleasant small talk while they danced, asking after her father's health and how her sister was adjusting to married life. She happily informed him that her sister was pregnant, and he courageously pretended to care. After the final flourish of the violin, Percival clapped along with everyone else before bowing to his partner, genuinely smiling as he thought about how he only had one more set and a short meal before he could hide away somewhere quiet. As he pulled from his bow, a lonely figure standing far behind his partner caught his eye. Standing by the window, far from the line of women who had just finished dancing, was Miss Vessar, the ambassador's daughter he had met just that morning.
“Miss Orianna,” he began as the people around him began to disperse and find their partners for the next dance, “did you see Miss Vessar on the floor at all? I don't believe she participated.”
Orianna followed Percy's gaze over her shoulder. “Oh, her? No, I don't believe anyone asked her. Haven't you heard what people are saying? No one will get within a foot of the girl, and for good reason.”
Percy sighed. He had in fact heard, and none of it was nice. Word had gotten out about their unorthodox meeting earlier in the day, and someone had started a nasty rumor that Miss Vessar and her brother were not of natural birth. There were other stories about things the twins had done, but they were all too ludicrous to actually be true. He looked down at the piece of paper he held in his hand and the number twenty scrawled across it before making a fist and crumpling it into a ball. It was his duty as host to make everyone feel comfortable and safe in his home, and that included his newest wards. Sometimes the numbers needed to be defied.
“Excuse me,” he said, pushing past his first partner. Anyway, Miss Vessar did look rather striking with her nearly pale skin and dark hair set against the red of the curtains. And there was something remarkably distracting about the blue feather stuck haphazardly into her plait.
That morning, Percy had awaited the arrival of the Vessars in the largest of the manor's drawing rooms. He sat in one of several plush, high-backed chairs. It was a rather grand room, and Percival had always felt uncomfortable spending time in it. He tended to be messy, covered in either grease or ink, and he was often paranoid that he hadn't washed thoroughly enough. He found the room's perfection personally offensive. Everything matched perfectly, with a trademark motif of white and blue running throughout the room. It was all edged in gold, a pompous move on the part of his ancestors as they tried to create the most impressive display as possible. And even though this drawing room hadn't been used in years, not a single one of the room's many trinkets had a speck of dust. It was almost sickening. But when an important ambassador visits, you set aside your personal hangups and pull out all the stops.
“Good morning, Percival.” Percy turned to see his sister standing in the doorway.
“Good morning, Cassandra. How have the preparations been going?'
“Oh, everything's fine. Laina and I have been working around the clock to make everything perfect. It's been some time since we've held a ball, hasn't it?”
“Yes, I suppose it has been.”
It would be difficult at first to tell that Percival and Cassandra were siblings. Yes, they did look mildly similar, but even when talking they held each other at a comfortable distance larger than usually not seen in siblings. They actually saw each other quite seldomly. Cassandra was constantly busy running the home, attending to their staff, and making the many social calls necessary for people of their station, while Percival spent most of his time hiding away in his study or testing out his contraptions on the manor's grounds. Yet the keen observer would be able to tell that they shared the same solemn, haggard look to them, as if the de Rolo's had been forced to live too long in too short of a time.
After some a bit of chatting and a deal more silence, Erwen, one of the de Rolo's most trusted servants, entered the room with a curt bow. “My lord, my lady, the Vessar family has arrived.” Percy and Cassandra rose to their feet as Erwen opened the door wide behind him.
Three startlingly similar looking people entered the room. They all had the same sharp facial features, the same intense eyes, the same hair the color of midnight. True, Syldor Vessar's skin was quite a few shades paler than that of his children, but there was no denying that they were of his own blood. They arrived in their traveling clothes, which were, of course, richly made. Percival mentally noted that they weren't as nice as his own.
“Welcome, everyone,” Percy began, extending a hand to Syldor. “I'm Lord Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, but you can call me Percy, and this is my sister Lady Cassandra de Rolo.”
“It's nice to meet you, Lord de Rolo,” Syldor responded, firmly grasping the extended hand. Percy inwardly cringed. Why would no one call him Percy? “Allow me to introduce you to my son and daughter: Vax'ildan and Vex'ahlia.”
Percy held his hand out to Vax'ildan, who completely ignored it and instead gave a slight inclination of his head. He made direct, unwavering eye contact with Percy, who could still feel the cold glare even when he turned to Vex'ahlia. She, contrarily, refused to look up. Percival bowed to the lady and, even when she returned with an obviously forced smile and a fanning out of her powder blue skirts, her eyes remained affixed to the ground. “It's nice to meet you Syldor, Vax'ildan, Miss Vessar.” While Syldor smiled in response, the twins showed no change in expression. Lord de Rolo glanced over at his sister, who responded to his questioning gaze with a shrug. They didn't often come across people with bad manners. How intriguing.
“We hope to make your stay here as comfortable as possible,” Cassandra began. “We have set up the guest wing for you, and you can let any of the servants know if adjustments are to be made. Tonight we will be holding a welcoming ball in your honor, is that alright? I know you must be tired from your travels.”
“Yes, that would be lovely,” Vex'ahlia said with a small nod and polite smile. Vax'ildan remained resolute in his silence. His commitment was almost impressive.
“Wonderful. The entire counsel will be in attendance, as will some other nobles in the area. Dinner will be at—” The sudden, unmistakable sound of raised voices from somewhere within the house made Cassandra falter over her words. And although the sound was muffled by thick carpeting and gilded walls, Percy could have sworn he had heard a dog's bark and the footfalls of large feet. Had one of the hounds gotten loose? He shared a worried glance with his sister.
“I'm sorry, Ambassador, Vax'ildan, Miss Vessar. It seems there's something I need to look after. Cassandra, please continue. I'll see you all at the ball tonight.”
He moved to open the door and the noise grew even more distinct. Thu-thump, thu-thump. Many voices yelling. Thu-thump, thu-thump. Yes, definitely barking. Thu-thump thu-thump. As Percival opened the door he was immediately bowled over by some muddy brown mass. He gave a very un-masculine shriek as he fell to the ground.
He watched as a giant, shaggy, brown dog tore its way through the room.
“Trinket,” Vex'ahlia yelled, “what are you doing here?” At the sound of her voice, the hound, Trinket apparently, let out an excited yelp and made a beeline for Vex'ahlia. He jumped up onto the couch and into her lap, which he was obviously much too large for, and attempted to cover her face in slobbery dog kisses. He wagged his tail so emphatically that his entire body wagged right along with it, down to his shaggy ears flopping back and forth.
“No, not the face darling,” Vex'ahlia said, laughing all the while. Trinket moved to kissing Vaxildan's face. Unlike his sister, seemed to be encouraging the kisses.
The pup obviously deeply loved his mistress, and the same was obviously true for her, as well. His appearance had made an astonishing change in the young woman. Her once steel face had melted into a glistening pool of silver. The pair was all smiles and slobber.
It was at this point that Percy looked down at himself and realized he was covered in mud. In fact, the entire room was now covered in the stuff. It seemed as if the hound had somehow, in his short run around the room, ruined each and every piece of furniture and adornment. There were paw prints on the rug, tail prints on curtains, and splatters on the ancestral portraits.. His trail was painfully trackable across the pale color scheme. Even Vex'ahlia was covered in the filth, though she didn't seem to care as much as one would expect of a well-bred young woman. Percy attempted to wipe himself off as he got to his feet, instead just making the mess even worse. He turned to see a familiar man looming in the doorway.
“Ah, there you are Grog. Right on time. Vessar family, I would like you to meet Grog, our Master of the Hounds and, really, Anything Heavy.”
Grog loudly cleared his throat.
“Right, I'm sorry. Grog is the Grand Poobah of the Hounds and Anything Heavy.”
“Yes, that's me,” Grog said, beaming. To the unfamiliar eye, Grog would pose quite a formidable figure. He was large and muscular, so much so that he was currently having issues squeezing himself through the door frame. He sported a magnificent beard, balanced out by a bald head covered in tattoos. On a normal day one would see the tattoos adorning his mostly nude body as well, but today they couldn't be made out beneath the large amounts of mud covering Grog's body. This didn't seem so strange to Percy. Grog was often covered in something.
“So please, Grog. Tell us what happened here.”
“Well, you see, I was trying to put this pup away with all of the others and he got away from me. He's a fast little guy.”
“Okay, and why is he covered in mud?”
“Oh, I was making some earlier. He must have rolled around in it.”
“Why were you making mud?”
“I wanted to get the dogs all nice and muddy. It's too easy to wrestle them when they're dry, and you know I like meself a challenge.”
“I am so sorry for this intrusion,” Syldor said. “I will personally replace anything that has been ruined by this animal's unruly behavior. Vex'ahlia,” he turned to his daughter, his tone switching to one of malice, “please take this mutt outside.”
“Come on, Trinket. It's time to go,” Miss Vessar said. She gave the dog, now sitting quietly, a little pat before walking him from the room. Vax'ildan and Grog followed closely behind.
“It's alright, Syldor; we have other drawing rooms. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some work to get done. It was absolutely wonderful to meet you and your family today. I truly welcome you to Whitestone.” He walked away, leaving an angry Syldor, a stunned Cassandra, and a lot of mud in his wake.
Percy barely held himself together long enough to make it to a nearby broom closet, where he laughed harder than he could remember laughing in a very long time.
Just the thought of it brought a smile to his face even now, as he wove his away across the dance floor to ask a young woman to dance.
This chapter took some slogging through! Thank you all so much for your support of chapter one; it really means a lot! I'm super excited for the next chapter, which I think is the real beginning of the story. I hope you're enjoying the new campaign!
Vex'ahlia looked out of the window and into the dark night. Reflected candlelight flickered against the glass, and the air was full of merriment, conversation, and beautiful music, but she paid it all no mind. The party was for her and her brother, but it wasn't really. It never was. It was an excuse for the rich to flirt with the richer while the weird Vessar twins were left to themselves. Vex shuddered at the word choice. They would never be the Vessar twins.
Vax had surely found some dark corner to disappear into, probably just a few feet away from where Vex was standing now. He was never far from her, even when he was chafing against Father's society. She usually quietly observed the party, reading lips and listening in to conversations in order to stay up to date on the local intrigue of the town. She would share the best bits with her Vax later. Tonight, however, her focus was placed elsewhere.
The more time the twins spent with their father, the more they were being forced into “civilized” society, where pet hounds were frowned upon for upper class folks, and young ladies in particular. Trinket hadn't been taking the separation well at all. That morning's incident in the muddy drawing room was not an isolated case, and his escapades had been becoming more and more frequent. Vex expected him to show up any moment now, and her eyes hungrily searched the darkness for him. As if on cue, a brown lump came rocketing into view and made directly for Vex. He pawed and barked at the glass happily.
“Oh,” Vex squealed as she propped open the window. Trinket immediately attempted to jump in, but she held him back carefully, so as not to spoil another dress. “Trinket, this kills me, but you can't come in. You know as well as I do that these people don't like it. It will just make everything harder on all of us.” Vex's tender voice shook as she spoke, and she had to wipe away a tear when Trinket began to whine. She squealed again and reached out of the window to hug him, no longer caring about the state of her dress. Father was rich; he could always afford to buy her another one.
“Hey, dog! Get back here.” Vex looked up and the large man from earlier came lumbering from the direction of the kennels, this time not quite as dirty, but still rather so. “Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know there was a lady present. Bidet,” he said with a small bow that looked ridiculous from somebody of his size.
“I'm happy to see you're keeping a close eye on my dog,” she said.
“I like this little guy,” Grog said with a smile, not quite catching on to Vex's sarcasm as he gave Trinket a quick pet. “He's got a restless spirit, like me.”
Vex smiled. “Yes, he does.”
A beat of silence.
“Can I bring him back to the kennels now? I have some stuff to do.”
“Oh, of course!” Vex said, tearing herself away from petting Trinket. Grog hooked a leash to the dog and started leading him away. “Be careful, and make sure you give him warm milk before bed,” Vex'ahlia yelled after them, “It always puts him right to sleep.” She watched as they disappeared from view before closing the window and leaning her forehead against it. If she was being completely honest with herself, the separation was starting to get to her, too.
“Would you like to dance, Miss Vessar?”
Vex whipped around and found herself face to face with the master of the house, Lord de Rolo. She let out a small yelp of surprise and made to back away before realizing that she had nowhere to go.
“Oh, I'm sorry to have startled you,” he said before taking a large step backwards. “I just noticed no one had asked you to dance, and this is your party, after all. You should be joining in on the festivities.”
“How long have you been standing there?”
“Not long at all.”
Vex studied the young man before her. He seemed to be like any other noble attending a ball. His clothing was well-tailored and impeccably clean, from his high-waisted pantalons to the stiff, frilly-collared white shirt emerging from his blue waistcoat. Although, she had to admit he wasn't the worst to look at.
Vex gave a curtsy and a small smile. She didn't entirely want to say yes, but wasn't really in a position to turn down someone of noble blood. Lord de Rolo offered a hand and she gingerly took it as he led her to the dance floor. A group of couples began leisurely assembling into two parallel lines, one for the men and one for the women. Because of the Lord de Rolo's high ranking and status as Lord of the house, Vex found herself being brought towards the front of her line. They would not be the head couple, thank God, so she didn't need to worry about leading the group, but she was disconcerted nonetheless.
Her father had often said how important it was for a young woman to be able dance. Young men should know too, of course, but for them it wasn't quite mandatory. You see, it was improper for young women and young men to be left alone. The closest they could come to it was dancing, when you shared a mostly uninterrupted fifteen minutes together. Men could ask any young woman of his pleasing to dance with him (or, later on in the relationship, to walk with him or marry him). They were able to openly and bluntly show their attraction, while women only had dancing in their arsenal. Only through honeyed words and impeccable steps could they hope to secure a mate. Vex, however, was seldom asked to dance (and largely didn't care to be) so she wasn't very good at it. Plus no one could stop Vex from breaking those rules if she wanted to. She had her own ways of showing her attraction, most of them carried over from her old life with Mother.
Funnily enough, the only times she had been asked to dance were because of her father. Young dignitaries would pursue her as a way to jump start their careers, older nobles pursued her as a way of getting into her father's good graces, and lower-class men attempted to woo her in order to get to her father's money. Lord de Rolo surely must have invited her to dance for one of these reasons, but Vex'ahlia didn't care to figure out which one. She would quietly suffer through fifteen minutes of him talking about himself while she focused on not seeming a fool with her clumsy feet.
Once all of the couples were in place, the short conductor struck up the band. A jaunty mix of violin and piano music filled the air as Vex concentrated on watching Cassandra as she led the dance in front of her. Left foot, right foot, cross. Front foot, back foot, cross. Turn to your partner, grab hands, weave. Switch partners, weave. Switch back.
“Is your brother here tonight? I don't think I've seen him at all,” Percy asked, interrupting Vex's focus. She tripped a little, but quickly caught herself.
“Yes, he is. My guess is he's hidden behind the curtains of the window I was standing at. He doesn't like dances much,” she replied. Sure enough, as she spun in place she caught a flash of black behind red out of the corner of her eye. He could be so predictable sometimes.
“To be completely honest, I don't like dances much either. They can grow to be so boring,” Percy said.
Vex raised a questioning eyebrow. “Then why are you here?”
Percy sighed. “As a man of noble birth, I have certain duties. They may not always be fun, and I may not always want to do them, but done they must be,” he said. Vex inwardly rolled her eyes. Another rich man complaining about how hard his life was. How she wished they could all step into her own small slippers one day and see how the other half lived.
At this point, Cassandra and her blonde partner began to lead the dancers into a circle, blending the group into one line alternating female, male, female, male. Great. Traveling steps. They were Vex's favorite. These were the steps that had begun the dance, but bigger and faster now. She could feel herself losing control as the satin of her shoes slipped on the tile floor. She would've fallen directly on her backside if it wasn't for Percy, who caught and righted her again with a small nod of his head. The circle split off into smaller groups of eight or so people, again organized into two rows, to allow more space for partner work.
“I like him, by the way,” Percy said.
“You like who?” Vex asked, confused. Was he talking about Vax? Usually she caught herself before she faded too far away from whatever her dance partner was saying. She didn't like to be rude.
“Oh, I'm sorry; I was following an inner train of thought. What I meant was I like your dog—Trinket, I think you called him? He's fantastically entertaining.”
Vex smirked. “So you were standing by that window much longer than 'not long at all'.”
Percy laughed. “Perhaps.”
The conversation halted for a moment while the dancers briefly exchanged partners. When she returned, Percy thought Miss Vessar's eyes looked a bit brighter, and her forced smile a touch more genuine.
“I'm sorry about this morning.” Vex said. “Trinket is usually much better behaved than that, I swear.”
Percival smiled. “Honestly, I don't mind it at all. This house is far too clean as it is. I'm sure the maids will be happy that they actually have something to do. Your arrival has brought more excitement than we have seen here in a very long time.”
“You are too kind, Lord de Rolo,” Vex said, smiling. She wasn't used to someone of her father's class treating her with...friendliness? Good will?
Percy felt his face warming up. He usually wouldn't speak so candidly, but it was quite nice to be able to.
The dance had reached an especially difficult part, where the couples would walk hand-in-hand up the aisle of the other couples, break off, and then weave back into their lines. Percy could tell that Vex was concentrating hard on her steps. Even so, she soon tripped. He caught her by the arm. “Careful, Miss Vessar,” he cautioned. She visually flinched, and he immediately went into panic mode. Too candid. Definitely too candid.
“Please don't call me that,” she said, “I prefer to go by Miss Vex'ahlia, or Vex if we're close,” she said.
“Then you can call me Percy,” he replied.
Vex laughed. “That is never going to happen, darling,” she said with a shake of her head.
Percy sighed. “Alright then, Miss Vex it is.”
“You think we're close?” Vex asked with a raised eyebrow.
Percy took her hand and she walked in a small circle around him.“I believe right now I'm holding your hand. We are, in fact, remarkably close.”
“Alright, Lord Percival.”
With a trill of the violins and a final wave of the conductor's hand, the song (and set) was over. Percy had known the conductor, Scanlan Shorthalt, for quite a few years. He was present at every one of Cassandra's balls, playing in the band at first until working his way up to his current position. Sometimes Percy would venture down from his study and rejoin the parties much later in the night to find that Scanlan had moved from conducting to partaking in the festivities himself. He was a great favorite among all who attended, and charmed everyone with his humor, stories, and general aura of charisma. Percy couldn't quite figure out how he thought about Scanlan, but even he had to admit the man was entertaining. Scanlan was in his element during both the raucous late-night portion of the festivities as he laughed, drank, and chatted up young women, and times like now, when people were showering him with applause.
“Thank you, thank you. I know, with my amount of talent and good looks, I must be an inspiration to you all,” he said as he took multiple flourishing bows. “The party will now be breaking for dinner, but while I have your attention I just wanted to remind everyone that you can feel free to come up and request a specific song or dance whenever you would like. I don't bite, I promise,” he said, before quickly adding under his breath, “Unless you're into that.” Percy thought he was the only one to hear him, but when he side-glanced at Vex he could see her trying to suppress a laugh.
Scanlan was known to have seduced a multitude of young women, but no one really held it against him. The women, on the other hand, were often ruined by it. There was a rumor going around that he had actually sired a daughter.
As the dancers began to disperse, Vex turned to Percy. “I'm sorry I'm such a terrible dancer,” she said with a shake of her head. “I don't really get that much practice.”
“Oh it isn't your fault at all,” he responded. “When it comes to this sort of thing you're only as good as your partner, and I am truly an awful dancer. We could really both use a little more practice. Maybe after dinner we could dance another set?”
“We won't be here after dinner,” came a voice from behind Percy. He looked over his shoulder to find Vax'ildan, Vex's brother. He hadn't heard him walk up. “We never stay past dinner.”
“But perhaps you would like to go for a walk tomorrow, Lord Percival,” Vex asked. She looked past Percy's shoulder to make eye contact with her brother. “My brother and I would love to get to know our hosts a bit better. Wouldn't we, Brother?”
Vax threw a confused look at his sister, but responded with “Yes, of course,” nonetheless.
Percy smiled. “Well, I believe my sister will be tired from the night's festivities, but I might know a fourth person I could bring along instead.”
“Perfect. I'll see you after breakfast then. Goodnight.”
“Yes, I will see you both in the morning. Goodnight.”
Percy watched as Vex moved off to join the women, and could feel Vax walking away behind him. She made her way to the back of Cassandra's line, and knew Vax would be heading towards the end of the one Percy would be leading. The severe difference in rank between him and the twins would keep them from even seeing each other during dinner, when he would most likely be sitting next to the same boring rich people he sat next to at every ball. Yet, all the same, as he led his line to the dining room he felt something odd turning in his chest, and for the third time that day, he smiled.
A quick lesson in English Country Dance and Regency etiquette for you all! If you had trouble picturing the dancing, there's a fantastic scene in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice that shows it perfectly. I took a class in it once and it's tons of fun. Also, a quick heads up that the chapters may start coming a bit more slowly. Thank you all for the support thus far!!
The next morning found Vex and Vax sitting quietly in an annex of Whitestone manor. It was a covered porch furnished with tables and armchairs, presumably used for entertaining guests on warm summer nights, but today it served as an meeting place. Vex scratched at the bonnet ribbon tied around her neck. As much as she enjoyed walks, she couldn't wait to be back inside and free of her many accessories. Glancing over at Vax, it was obvious he was in agreement. He had already removed his gloves.
To be completely honest, Vex wasn't entirely sure why she had invited Lord de Rolo for a walk last night. It was an impulsive move, something that had just felt right in the moment. He seemed so friendly, and he seemed to like Trinket, but now her old worries were resurfacing. Vex didn't like to admit it, but her reputation mattered to her more than she let on, and she couldn't risk disgracing herself in front of someone of such noble standing. That didn't even factor in whoever Percival would be bringing along with them. She said a silent mental apology to Vax, who hated putting on the show as much as she hated wanting to.
“Good morning Vax'ildan, Miss Vex'ahlia,” Percival said, entering the annex. He was dressed much more casually today, but still looked perfect. “I would like to introduce you to Miss Jane Keyleth.”
A girl just a year or two younger than Vex and Vax walked in behind him, a giant, excited smile on her face.
Miss Keyleth was the most peculiar girl Vex had seen in quite some time. She had vibrant red hair swinging loose down to her-mid back, styled quite unlike what was “proper” for a young women. She wasn't wearing a bonnet either, but instead adorned her hair with a circlet of some foreign make. Her clothing seemed foreign as well, flowing silks in reds and golds much brighter than the pale clothing worn by those in the Tal'Dorei area. They looked quite expensive, clashing oddly with the casual way Miss Keyleth held herself.
“Hi! I visit a lot,” she said with a vigorous wave.
Vex immediately felt her worries be put at ease.
“It's nice to meet you, Miss Keyleth,” Vex said with a curtsy.
“Keyleth is the heir to the Ashari Trading Company,” Percy said, “and she's a bit of an ambassador herself.”
“I don't have any brothers or anything, so my father sends me to Emon a lot to mediate between the company's branches. It's kind of weird that I'm the only girl, but I think I'm an okay mediator. Well, I did until a few days ago when I saw some letters that said some people didn't think so, so now I'm visiting on a little vacation to make myself feel better.” Keyleth turned to Percival. “Percy, am I oversharing again?”
“Screw those people,” Vax said, not giving him a chance to answer. “I bet you're wonderful.”
“Aw, thanks! See Percy, someone thinks I'm wonderful.”
Now, Vex knew her brother extremely well. They had been the only steadfast in each others' lives for the last twenty-three years, experiencing the same joys, the same sorrows and pains. So with a single glance, she could already tell that he felt something for this girl. It was extremely subtle but it was most definitely there, in the way his eyes lingered on her, in the way he leaned slightly in her direction, in the way he jumped to her defense so quickly, ignoring her obviously high stature. She could be wrong, of course, but she rarely was when it came to Vax just as he rarely was when it came to her. But they were in other people's company, so she let the moment pass. There would be time to talk later.
“Vex, Percy told me you have a dog. Could I meet him,” Keyleth asked.
“Yes, if that's alright with Lord Percival, of course.”
“Oh yes, I held every belief that you would want to bring him along. Now let's be off; I have an activity planned.”
The group made a quick stop at the kennels, one in a series of buildings set back near the treeline of the estate's hunting grounds. A servant had brought Trinket here when they first arrived, so Vex was anxious to see the living conditions. It was loud but spacious, and Trinket seemed to be getting along well with the hunters. He tended to do well with other dogs, and had even been found attempting to steal treats with another pack before. Keyleth excitedly pet Trinket once Vex brought him out, and dragged the hem of her dress through the mud in the process. Even Percival bent down to play with him a bit. He chuckled when Trinket knocked off his glasses while licking his face.
While Vex was fetching Trinket, she overheard Keyleth having a brief conversation with the Master—no, Grand Poobah was it?—of the hounds, Grog. It seemed as if she was planning work in the Whitestone gardens, and would require his help with carting around the plants and compost. Odd. Visitors, especially those of a higher class, didn't often work for the estates they stayed in. Hell, most nobles wouldn't work on their own estates. The more Vex learned about this girl, the more she was beginning to like her.
Trinket happily trotted behind the group as they passed through a field and over the quaint lake that marked the beginning of the gardens. It really was a picturesque estate. The winding, cobblestone paths were bordered on both sides by shrubbery and mixed wildflowers, with the occasional ivy-covered trellis passing overhead. It was all made to look natural, but Vex spent most of her time walking through gardens with Vax (whether they were being ostracized by their hosts or avoiding their father) and she knew this style took many hours of labor. Rich people were strange like that, throwing away far too much money to make their gardens look like the wilderness.
Eventually they made it to a small clearing where Percival had supposedly arranged a mystery activity. The small, grassy area was surrounded on all sides by neatly cut hedges, and there in the middle, shining in the sunlight like gleaming jewels, were four targets, a handful of bows, and quivers full of arrows. Vex's face lit up.
“I thought we could do some archery today. Walking can get to be a bit of a bore after awhile,” Percy said. He looked to Vex. “Does that suit you?”
Vax laughed. “Oh, that will more than suit us,” he said, clapping his sister on the shoulder. She positively ran to the nearby bows. It had been some time since she had last held one, and the weight of it nice in her hand. It just felt...right, like her hand was molded for this exact purpose.
Vax grabbed a second bow and offered it to Keyleth. “Miss Keyleth, would you like one?”
“Oh, no thank you. I just like to watch.” She sat down on a bench right at the edge of the clearing. A waiting servant had brought over a parasol, but she quickly waved him away. Trinket curled up at her feet.
“Lord Percival, would you like one,” Vex asked.
“That's alright, I'm not the best archer.” He produced a pistol from a small rucksack he had been holding. “I prefer guns.”
Vex raised an eyebrow. “Won't that destroy the targets?”
With a smug smile, Percy turned the target closest to him around to reveal a solid metal backing. “No, I made sure of that.”
“You've thought of everything, haven't you?”
“Yes, well, all men have their hobbies. Mine just happen to be shooting and tinkering.”
“My brother's is throwing knives.”
From seemingly out of nowhere, Vax produced three knives and plunged them into the target, keeping eye contact with Percival the entire time. “Remember that,” he said.
Vex had to laugh at the expression on Percy's face.“Don't mind Vax; he's harmless. Now let's get started, shall we?” She slung a quiver over her shoulder and took her place in front of the targets.
On one side of her, Vax started throwing his knives in quick succession. As she expected each found their mark, with one even hitting the bullseye. “Show off,” she said. He stuck his tongue out in response.
On her other side Percival took his turn. He stood with one arm straight out, a steely expression on his face as he fired the gun. She was surprised to see all three shots land within the target's inner rings. Impressive. She golf-clapped for him and he gave a small bow.
Now it was her turn. Right. She notched an arrow and pulled back on the bow, carefully, but at the last second the wood slipped against her glove. The arrow went wide, sailing right over the target. She notched another arrow, but as she pulled back it caught the lip of her bonnet. The arrow fired wildly, and ended up just nipping the board's edge. With a huff she ripped the bonnet off and threw it on the ground in total disregard, followed quickly by her gloves. She took a deep breath then fired her next three arrows, one right after another. All three landed in the bullseye.
“That's how it's done boys,” she smirked. When she turned around, Percy was staring at her. “What is it, Lord Percival? Are you jealous?” She winked at him.
“No, no, I just—,” he cleared his throat, “I didn't know how you good you are at archery, that's all.”
“Great job Vex!” Keyleth said, clapping. “Where did you learn how to shoot?”
“Oh, I've been doing it since I was a little girl.” She looked to her brother and they shared a sad smile. “I wish I could do it more, but I'm not often invited on the hunts. But it's alright, I'm not a big fan of killing animals if I don't have to, anyway.”
“You know what,” Percy said, “I might have a brilliant idea. I'll need the night to prepare, but how about we meet again tomorrow? By the kennels?”
“Alright,” Vex said.
“Fantastic.” He smiled “Good day, everyone. And please, enjoy the gardens.” He turned to leave without another word.
“Oh! I can give you both a grand tour,” Keyleth said. “We'll start with the lilacs; they're my favorites. They're actually just starting to bloom, so you'll get a great...”
As Vex watched Percival's leaving back, she felt...something. She wasn't quite sure what. It wasn't the trepidation of that morning, but something new, something exciting, something wonderful and terrifying all at once.
My professors would be proud that I worked in the picturesque here. Also how perfect is it that archery was actually really common during the regency era? I hope you're all enjoying the fic!!
Percy made his way to the kennel the next morning with a spring in his step and a large bag by his side. He had spent the whole night preparing for today, and was excited to show the fruits of his labor to Vex'ahlia. He hoped they were to her liking. It had been some time since he last showed his creations to someone and, as much of a genius as he knew he was, an invention's first public test-run was always a bit nerve-wracking.
Keyleth and the twins were already there when Percy arrived. They had Trinket with them as well, bounding around the field in circles as he chased after butterflies.
“Good morning everyone,” Percy said as he neared the group. Curiously enough, Vax didn't seem dressed for the hunt. He was in normal (albeit a bit darker than what was currently in fashion) walking clothes.
Vex, on the other hand, looked overly prepared. She was in a hunting dress, and her hair had been braided and left hanging, as opposed to the way women usually wore their it with all of the complicated twists and curls that Percy could never comprehend. Along with a bow and a quiver of arrows, she had a large, lumpy rucksack slung across her back.
Keyleth just looked happy to be there.
“Are we ready to set off,” Percy asked.
“In just a moment,” Vax replied. He gave a quick whistle and Trinket ran over, leaving the butterfly to flutter in peace. “I'm not the biggest hunter,” he said, exchanging a glance with his sister, “and neither is Trinket. Miss Keyleth, would you like to join me and Trinket for a walk in the gardens I would love to see more of what you've been growing.”
“That actually sounds really nice,” she replied with a smile. “But who would be our chaperon?”
Vax looked to Percy. He knew it would be in his best interests (and, of course, Keyleth's) to find them a chaperon. A quick glance down the alley of buildings—the kennels, stables, and a chicken coop—didn't reveal anyone, but Percy thought he heard a hearty laugh and the tinkling of bells coming from somewhere nearby. Perfect.
“Gilmore, is that you I hear,” he said. Sure enough, a familiar man appeared from the nearby stable with a huge smile on his face. He was of a darker complexion, and every inch of him was adorned with something or other. There were rings on each of his fingers, bells tied in his thick black beard and hair, and necklaces around his neck, as well as his ostentatious, bright purple tailcoat. If there was one thing to be said about Gilmore, it's that he wasn't subtle.
“Percival! How wonderful to see you,” he said, striding over and planting a kiss on each of Percy's cheeks before doing the same to Keyleth. “And you too, Miss Keyleth.”
“I didn't know you'd be visiting today,” Percy said. Shaun Gilmore was a more recent acquaintance of Percy's. He came from new money, a successful business he had opened in the Emon area. He often visited for balls but, from the little bit Percy had seen, oddly never seemed to dance. It was rare to find him on the estate otherwise.
“Yes, well, Cassandra and I have some gossip to catch up on,” he said. He looked over the rest of the party before his eyes landed firmly on Vax. “Now, who's this,” he asked.
“These twins are Vax'ildan and Vex'ahlia, visiting while their father—Ambassador Vessar— takes care of some business in Emon. Vax, Miss Vex, this is Mr. Shaun Gilmore.”
“It's so nice to meet you,” he said, offering a hand to Vax.
Vax shook it. “It's wonderful to meet you, too, Mr. Gilmore. Would you like to join Miss Keyleth and I for a walk around the gardens?”
“I would absolutely love to. And please, call me Shaun. Percy, could you give Cassandra my apologies?”
With Gilmore on one of his arms and Keyleth on the other, Vax made to walk away. “Wait,” Keyleth said. “Don't Percy and Vex need a chaperon?”
“Oh, don't worry about us, darling,” Vex said with a wink, prompting a giggle from Keyleth. “We'll be alright.”
“Okay, enjoy your hunt.” The trio walked away with Trinket, leaving just Vex and Percy alone together.
Percy gestured towards the stables. “Shall we be off” Percy asked.
“There's actually just one more thing I need to do,” Vex said. “Turn around.”
Percival raised an eyebrow but obeyed, turning towards the estate while Vex disappeared into the woods behind him. After a great deal of rustling, he heard her reemerge.
“Alright, you can look now.”
The sight that met Percy's eyes a moment later left him speechless. Vex was no longer wearing her dress. Instead, she had donned the hunting garments usually worn by men: black leather boots extending up to the knee, tan breeches, and a dark, double-breasted tail coat.
He had never seen a woman in pants before. Everything seemed to hug Vex's body. He was able to make out the exact shape of her legs. She seemed to go on forever, curving more and more along the way up from her calves, to her thighs, to her hips, and everything up from there...
He felt himself blush. He cleared his throat loudly.
Vex sighed. “Come on, Lord Percival, pull yourself together. It's the same as if my brother were to wear these clothes.”
“I can assure you it's not.”
“Well, I can't very well shoot an arrow while sitting side straddle, can I?” She had a point there. It was hard enough to shoot from horseback while sitting normally. Plus, he didn't really want to complain about this.
“No, of course not. Shall we?”
Vex smiled, threw her bag (now undoubtedly holding her dress) over her shoulder, and made her way towards the stables, leaving Percy behind to marvel at how lucky he was to have someone in his life this strange, this beautiful, this cool, as brief as their time together may be.
He took a deep breath and followed Vex, knowing he would never be ready for whatever she would throw at him next.
Sorry this took so long! I'm working on a separate, non-fic writing project right now, so the time between chapters might be a bit longer. I hope you're all enjoying it!!