suppliance for a winter's eve

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by templemarker

Notes: Phedre/Joscelin, for thermidor in Yuletide 2008. Read it there.


It has been some years since Imriel and Sidonie were married, and while time has not healed all the wounds rent by the madness brought upon them by pride, malice, and envy, it has served to bring some measure of peace to a country in great need of it.

The well-loved house in the City of Elua is quiet for the winter, all of its residents unusually absent in the season when so many flock in search of entertainment and company. In contrast to high city walls and the ever-present comfort of cityfolk around, the manor at Montreve is warm and cosy, friends and family in and out as they will. The winter gardens are popular with those who visit, and the steward’s children and grandchildren delight in the thick, beautiful carpet of snow that appeared just in time for the Longest Night.

Phedre runs her fingers through the warm water of her bath, sighing pleasantly and sinking deeper in. This is the first year in so many she would not spend in the company of the Royal Family, and perhaps Favrielle no Eglantine was the most upset at her absence. No costumes or elaborate gowns for her this year; and for once Phedre was grateful for it. She loved the pomp and finery, enjoyed the parties and the majesty of it all, but this year, this time, she could think of nothing more appealing than spending the Longest Night in the company of her dear friends and family.

Joscelin pretended not to be thrilled by the idea, but Phedre had read him too well for too long; he was tiring of the City’s pace. They had forgone so many summers and holidays at Montreve in favor of repairing the damage done in all corners of the kingdom, and aiding Imriel in organizing his own affairs, which had languished in disinterest for so long. It was tedious, time-consuming work, and Phedre could see that Joscelin was exhausted of it; she wondered what was reflected in her own face, and thus, gently, had suggested the return home.

The Verreuil clan had come in boisterous force, bringing dogs and babies and laughter with them. The din was well worth it, and Phedre had watched with fondness as the lines in Joscelin’s face, deeper every year, receded in favor of smiles and laughter of his own.

This and more runs through Phedre’s mind as she readies herself for the Longest Night, a simple horizon-blue gown and dappled-gold mask her only concession to the pageantry of the occasion. All the manor is given to revelry this evening, and even now she can hear the joyous thrum of the musicians who’ve come to play echoing down the corridors. They are students from a nearby university, eager to test their trade on a willing audience. Joscelin chose them himself, marveling at the construction of the percussionist’s drums with a child’s enthusiasm. She hadn’t the heart or the inclination to say no.

The door to the bath-chamber opens and Phedre closes her eyes, bowing her neck so that a few wet tangles of her hair are accentuated against creamy skin. She hears footsteps pad closer, and is rewarded for her efforts by an intake of breath, sharp and thrilling. She doesn’t move, doesn’t swallow, as fingers caress her throat, as a hard comes to rest on the column of it. She hears a pulse-beat thunder in her ears, and the hand tightens slightly, just enough to coax a small moan from her lips.

Joscelin’s hand delves further, beneath the water, until the shock of his calluses against the sensitive curve of her skin breaks open her eyes.

“Hello, love,” Joscelin says warmly, amused. “Enjoying your bath, I see?”

“Enjoying this more,” she says languidly, turning to raise her mouth for a kiss and sloshing some water over the sides. She gets her kiss, even as his boots become damp.

They part, and Phedre strains forward; she has not had to resist Joscelin for so many years now, and has forgotten how to do it. She misses it not at all. Joscelin just laughs, a little, running a finger along the slope of her brow. “I will be going into the garden, soon. Do you know, half the manor guard want to join me in vigil this year? I had to make some excuse about protecting the partygoers being more important to keep them all from freezing to death, and still two or three of them intend to stay the night.”

Phedre curls her fingers around the edge of the ceramic to lift herself up, and Joscelin collects the warmed linen to wrap her in, not sparing a welcome hand along her back. “They admire you so, Joscelin, it’s a miracle you can get them to carry a sword at all and not go around waving daggers on horseback.”

He tugs her close, heedless of the fat drops of water clinging to her skin, and she takes in the heat he radiates as if it was the water she just left. They exist for a long moment as if they are the only people in the world, a moment cut short by Phedre’s maid, the young Augustine, coming in to see if Phedre needed aught.

Joscelin only laughs at the interruption, and Phedre thinks wistfully that she would spend a thousand winters away from her beautiful City if it meant she could hear that sound every day. He kisses her once more, until her toes curl in the plush fabric on her floor, and says his goodbyes for the evening.

Phedre watches as he goes, the fine form of him still the sound and call to her heart-strings, steadfast after all these years. She fingers the fine fabric of her gown, made begrudgingly by Favrielle who would not hear of Phedre wearing something from her wardrobe, even if she would not be showing it off to the City at large. It will be a lovely Longest Night, she decides; even if her beautiful foster son is not there, she will enjoy it nonetheless, for this as much as anywhere is her home and her hearth.


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