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Ralph Nicholls

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The Awakening
By Ralph Nicholls
Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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The long night of seemingly perpetual dreaming has ended. For some, with much more a sombre note than for others,...

The role of Lady Amber Torens was originally role-played by a woman of my acquaintance named Melissa Aragon I know not whether this too was a pseudonym or her RL name.

Empire of Chaladonia, Aethelmarch, Octasday, 18th of Tarsakh, Year 720 of the Second Era,... The Steward of the House of Diantes was tiredly poring over census notes for the county of Aethelmarch when his seneschal entered the study with two Hospitalers in tow. Ardalio Ghaosio combed his gnarled hand through his thinning salt n' pepper locks and lay aside the vellum scroll. " You bring word,...of whut? " Ghaosio asked Cethshi Sashkyn. Sashkyn turned first to his right and then to his left. "These gentlemen have just come from the Estate infirmary. Lord Tobius hast awakened. " Ghaosio sat bolt upright and stood on legs that immediately threatened to give up on him. He'd been sitting for hours poring over the census taken by the Council of Eldars, men and women who lived on the Diantes Estate and had served the Diantes family for dozens of generations, dating back to the Breaking. " Archelus be praised! When didst this awakening occur; did His Lordship suffer any debilities upon awakening? I hath heard that one often does when awakening from Dark Paralysis. " " This i know, " Cethshi replied hollowly. "These men and i hath come straightway from the infirmary. His Lordship has suffered a stroke. He wast vaery disoriented and partial paralysed on his right side. He,...he seems to hath lost use of his legs; a matter over the which he wast greatly distraught. I know whut a remarkable equestrian he wast when he fell under the influence of Dark Paralysis His sons and i often accompanied him on a direboar hunt. " " Ah, yes,..." Ghaosio rejoined distractedly as he came around the side of the antique oak desk . "His Lordship's children wilt hath be notified of His Lordships awakening,.. as soonest he canst be made presentable. " Lord Tobius' valet hadst been sent to fetch the Estate's tailor; however he wast nae to be found. A tailor and seamstress from the village hath been sent for. Lady Diantes, His Lordship's daughter, wilt need a new wardrobe of dresses in celebration to her father's return to the land of the wakeful. " Cethshi replied. <> Amber looked at the velum and coughed to cover her surprise. A summons from the Master's Keep up on the hill. She hadn't worked for them in decades. She wondered why she was being sent for after all this time. She told the valet to await her return and went into the back of the store where her meager rooms were and fixed her hair and changed into her traveling gown. She grabbed her small bag of pins, measure tape and scrap cloths and came back into the main shop. "I am ready." The valet nodded and held open the door. Turning the OPEN sign to CLOSED in the window, Amber stepped out and followed the messenger. As she had been prepared to walk up to the hill, it hadn't dawned on her that they would not. When the man suddenly opened the door of a carriage, she balked a moment. Surely not! "Mlady, the Lord awaits. You have been summoned and accepted. There is no making him wait." He stood there obediently awaiting but his look beckoned her to hurry. She nodded and stepped up with his help and sat down facing the rear of the carriage. he then entered and closed the door and sat across from her. So it was that Lady Amber Torens, one the Head Seamstress to the House of Diantes, rode once more back up The Hill to aide in whatever manner she would be asked. ** Decades ago, much of the land fell to the coma sleep and some fell to the Bitterwood. The House of Diantes, no longer full of life or balls and no longer needing the woman, had set her up in a small shop in town. She had remained hopeful she would once more serve the House before her death, but she had not expected to wait so long. Several years ago she had been summoned as now, but then had been to fit the Steward with the Mourning clothes as a member of the House fell victim and died in the comalike sleep many had fallen too. She feared now that it was the same. A shroud would be made, not a birthing blanket. A Mourning suit and not a fine wear for a Ball would be seamed, and another of the city's legacy would be sobbed after. Tears filled her eyes as she went up the hill. She wiped them swiftly away and stared out the window wondering who had passed now. Had the father fainlly succumbed? Or perhaps his daughter had come to contract Bitterwood? She shook her head and stared out the window. Such sad times anymore... ......... such sad times. The valet, Hatusio Umicio, was eager to lend some small degree of comfort to the grieving seamstress. He remembered the woman from when he'd been very young. His father had been Lord Tobius Diantes' personal valet then. Lord Diantes had succumb to Dark Paralysis more than three decades ago and they'd put his body on ice hoping that one day he'd re-awaken. They'd used an ancient technological procedure called "cryogenic freezing". Lady Diantes had held vigilance for almost two full decades afterwards, before she finally fell victim to Dark Paralysis herself. Through the long lonely years she'd impregnated herself through the process of artificial insemination using her husband's seed to help insure the Diantes family line was never without a legal heir and thus didn't die out. She'd so loved her husband and father of her children, that she'd never accepted another suitor. Even her husband's own steward had made romantic overtures towards her, but to no avail. In the end she'd succumb to Dark Paralysis herself and this while she was in her second trimester of her twelfth pregnancy and died having never re-awakened to see her beloved Tobius emerge from the mysterious life-stealing malady. The seamstress was the selfsame woman who'd been called to the keep to tailor an evening gown and funeral shroud for Lady Elaine. No doubt she thought that she was finally being summoned to the keep to fashion some funeral clothes for Lord Tobius or one of the Diantes children. Hatusio decided to shew mercy and try and relieve this grand lady of her sombre delusion. " Thou art nae being summoned to the keep to make funeral clothing this time, faire lady. The Master hast awakened and both he and his children art in need of new wardrobe. Muche more than this i cannae say; but the Master is nae whole,...and he mayst be muche changed than when last you saw him,..." He lives... he is awake... Amber turned to the man and wiped her eyes. "You mean to say the Master be awakened finally?" She smiled as she realized suddenly how much she had feared to lose him too. "Oh, oh, Mlord, that is so very good to hear. I am sure the children will be so glad to have their father back. What with them without their parents all this long time." She couldn't help it. She reached over and patted the man's hands. "You don't know how happy this makes me, Mlord. I have so worried about them all. No word has come at all in near two years and I feared The Hill had gone to eternal sleep, one and all. As to the Master being not himself. I am sure he will be soon. Tis been a hard thing to not only hear you slept your entire life away, but then to wake and hear your soul had faded into death as well while you were gone..." She clucked tsking Fate for her cruelty. "I am surprised he lives still after such news." She sat back silent a moment then nodded her head and smiled to him. "Don't you worry none, now. I will set things to right once more. Fine clothes befitting a fine family, and I will let it be known that the Master was missed by many of us he may not likely remember. I am sure it will help." Nodding once more to herself, she smiled as the rose higher up the hill to the Manor as if she knew exactly what had to be done. She had missed them all so. She had no doubt the children may not remember her, though she had seen every one of them born save the last the Great Lady took with her when she passed. Amber smiled as she saw the house for the first time in many, many years. Whispering softly she smiled. "Yes... good to be home indeed." Hatusio was uncomfortable with being addressed as "'Milord", as he was not a member of the nobility. but he fein would dissuade Lady Amber of the notion, for he was gratified to see how his few simple kind words had help sooth her fears and , indeed, cause her trepidation to fly away like the rising suns expelled dew from the grass. The question remained, though,...How much should she to told the Master had changed,...What would she make of his mysteriously return'ed youth and vigor or his hauntingly pupil-less eyes and strikingly bright silver-white hair. When last Lord Tobius had been beheld by the Head seamstress he'd been a man fast approaching his fifth decade of life. He'd had piercing sapphire blue deep set eyes and thinning and graying ash brown, almost black shoulder lengthed hair and a full handlebar mustache. His not unhandsome face had been marred with care lines and wrinkles and he'd had a much furrowed brow. No doubt having so many, many offspring had taken its toll on the once dashing chevalier. But now he was changed! Now he could easily be mistaken for one of his own children. Or even one of his own grandchildren,... " The Master ,...he is more changed than can ever hath been imagined. But tis he, alright. His mourning is quite authentic, to a point. But he is unfamiliar with his surroundings And; of course, to those of his children birthed since he succumb to Dark Paralysis. The lordlings and their sister is equally mystified by the sight and spirit of the one they hath been told is their father. Tis moste probably nae my place to say,...the matter hast nae been made public,...but the House is definitely nae in mourning. " She turned to smile at the man. "No need to worry yourself, none. I am sure no matter what changes have been wrought in the Master, I will know him none the less. And even were he not to know me, tis no matter. I will do as I have been bid to do and make a wardrobe once more befitting he and his." She stared back out the window as the house came into view. She gasped out loud and covered her mouth as if in shock. A tear fell to her cheek as she murmured forgetting there was another nearby. "It has been so long, Mlord... so terribly long..." She, of all his servants, had been closest to him and his wife. She had been like a sister to the Mistress, and friend to the Master. No gossipping abounded when a servant passed the drawing room late at night and found her and the Lord playing a game of chess, or drinking brandy by the fire. No one spoke ill of her shopping with the Lady of the Hill in town as if they were equals. No one whispered of slterior motives when she took the second child to her own home in town when the oldest one came down with the fever of spots. She did all of it out of love. And when the Mistress had passed, she had sat for four days as was fitting, at the side of the Master though she knew he could not mourn for his wife. She had cared and loved him as more than friend and mentor... perhaps more than she had allowed herself to admit. "Oh, Lord Diantes... would you change so much to not remember our shared times together? Will I merely be another confusing face from a past you no longer remember? Oh Gods who hear prayers... listen to mine now. Care he for me or not, at least let him know my face... tis all I ask." She stared at the approaching house hoping her prayer would be heeded. The Diantes Estate was built at the summit of a hill festooned with wildflowers. Below the wildflowers the land had been tilled and planted with wheat and barley and cotton and corn fields. Many of the fields had originally been plowed and cultivated by Diantes hands, but over the years the Diantes had taken in sharecroppers and indentured servants and slowly built a sizeable village at the foot of the hill, starting with a temple built and consecrated to the Mogen David. At one time the doors of the temple had never been locked to prevent anyone who desired to, to enter in Only the Holy of Holies was off limit to the general populace Entering into the Holy of Holies was known to be quite fatal. But that was almost a millennium ago. The townpeople had built a cobblestone road that led from the main street of the village right up to the front gate of Keep Diantes. Other cobblestone streets had been built for the citizenry that lived in the village, but they ended at the village's borders. Only the cobblestone road the lead up to the Keep extended beyond the village. The Keep had once been open to all and sundry. That, too, had changed when Dark Paralysis came over the present and longest lived Diantes. Now, there were armed guards and the fields; for the most part had gone fallow, brightly shining brass and silver fencing which bordered Diantes land had tarnished severely and its ironworks allowed to rust and become dilapidated. The Keep too shewed obvious signs of weathering and neglect. the trees that lined the road had been allowed to grow untrimmed and weeds jutted up in great wildly scattered clumps through the cobblestones. Just like the Head seamstress most of the household staff had been let go after that shoppes and domiciles had been built in the village. But no one prosperred as they had before Dark Paralysis. Uncertain of what else there was to add to what he'd already said, Hatusio Umicio didn't utter another word the rest of the way to the hill's summit.. As the carriage pulled up in front of the manor, Amber sat up and picked her bag up off the floor. She let Hatusio open the door and give her a hand down. His slight bow made her cheeks flush crimson. "No need for formalities between us. We have both been around far too long for that, deary." She looked out over the side of the hill to her little town of Nar'Avice far below. She remembered the view when the fields were full and the shine of the fences looked like facet lines to the gold of the fields of abundance. Sighing she turned back to the man and nodded who took her arm to help her around the carriage and towards the Keep. The Diantes Estates, Aethelmarch County, Barony of Eros, Empire of the Chaladonia, Seeing the carriage's approach, the sentry stood and let himself out of the watchtower's door. He'd been anxiously awaiting the carriage's return, though he hardly knew what all the hubbub was about. For the first time in almost a decade the Keep was showing some signs of activity. Though nothing that even came close to approaching that of the Keep's heyday. The sentry was an old man and remembered the way it was at Keep Diantes before Dark Paralysis had struck down Lord Tobius Diantes. He also remembered Lady Amber Torens and the event that had last brought her up to the summit of the wildflowers strewn hill. But this time Achalio Benesion had been given orders to shew the Head Seamstress into the Keep without delay. Such urgency did not connote another funeral. Quite the opposite, actually. Yet the Mistress was dead and the Master's daughter had received no suitors in well over a year, so the event could not be a birthing. Achalio approached the carriage's passengers and proffered the Lady Torens his arthritic right hand. " So goode of you to come, Lady Torens. I am to summon the butler and shew thee in, straightaway. Else i shouldst certainley love to hear how it hast been with thee. If you wilt stand here but a moment i shalt announce thy arrival; then i wilt raise the portcullis and let you inside to meet your escort. Hatusio Umicio, Lord Ghaosio hast called for thee, also. " Amber smiled as the guard stepped forward. "Lady Torens..." she laughed. "Surely after all this time you will remember and call me Amber, my dear Achalio." She took his hand in hers then patted it with the other. "I think it is time you take us in then. Surely we cannot leave the Master waiting." She waved to the Manor. "Raise away, dear man, raise away." She smiled laughing softly at her old memories. As she approached the entryway, she almost stumbled. The flood of memories of the last time, and the times before, all hit her at once. She smelled baking on Cook's saturday afternoon missions to bake enough to feed the whole village. She heard the laughter of those first little ones as they ran willy nilly thru the Keep and giggled, only to run faster, when their father bellowed from his study for them to stop such nonsense. She put her hand on the guard's arm just as he was about to turn away. "Wait... please. Just one moment." She managed to whisper. As he looked at her with concern she wiped tears from her eyes and patted his hand once more before regaining her composure and standing firmly once more. Nodding to him she smiled as if now everything was all right. Her voice was lower than a moment ago, but there seemed a bit more resolve in it. "It's all right, deary. Go ahead and announce us. I will be all right. It has just been..." she sighed. "It has just been so very, very long..." She clasped her hands before her amd primly awaited protocol to be seen to as it always had been and always should be. Achalio genuflected slightly, snapping the heels of his impeccably spit polished riding boots smartly and returned to the ivy be-decked watchtower. The ivy parted with a faint rustling and Achalio Benesion disappeared from sight. Presently, the portcullis began to rise with a loud rattling of chains and the sound of the pulley wheel grinding and groaning as it ponderously lifted the rusted portcullis aloft. On the other side, previously hidden from Lady Toren's sight stood three men. Two of these men wore threadbare tabards bearing the emblem of the House of Diantes. They stood on either side of the third man who wore an unusually long and curly beard and stood head and shoulders above him. All three stood in shadow. When the portcullis finally stopped rising the man in the middle stepped out of the shadow into the light, while the other two held their ground. " So good of you to hath come, Lady Torens. Looking loverly as ever. " the short one said and walked over to the Head seamtress, extending an inornately hairy hand with wide yellowed fingernails. It wasn't a Human man, after all. But a Buckawn, a beastmen having the head of a small pony with a single vestigal horn growing out of the centre of his high forehead, the upper body of a Dwarph, and the lower body of a fallow deer-like creature. " I'll return the carriage to the stables, Master Hatusio. Lord Ghaosio is in quite the mood. I shouldnae leave him waiting, o'erlong. I'll return, presently and i canst try and catch thee up on all the major happenings thet hath transpired since last you hadst occasion to visit with us, Lady Torens. And we canst hath; mayhaps, a goblet of elderberry wine and scones. " Amber smiled and shook the slight man's hand. "Marcusio... oh my dear, dear friend. It has been so long." She shook his hand in both of hers and smiled. "I will look forward to it. We have much to catch up on. But you are right..." she released his hand almost reluctantly, "I cannot leave Lord Ghaosio waiting. I am sure he has need of me or he would not have sent for me." She stepped back and smiled as she half bowed to the buckawn. "We will have plenty of time to talk, Marcusio. People are awaking all over. This will be a time to rejoince, make new friends and rekindle the friendships nearly lost. Do not forget your pipes when you come. I have often missed your song. Till we meet again." She turned to the others and nodded as if they had been awaiting on her. "All right then, let us see Lord Ghaosio. We shall not keep him waiting any longer." And she waited to follow whereever they led her. The two men who had accompanied Marcusio to the gate of the keep woodenly moved to flank Lady Torens. One of them proffered the dowager an ingratiating smile that didn't quite reach his dark opaque eyes. If you'll be so goode as to accompany, Corporal Blycius and myself, we'll that you to see Lord Ghaosio. He is moste anxious to see you,.. as is the young Lady Portia, Lord Diantes' daughter. They await our returning with thee in Lord Ghaosio's study. The those guardsmen, whom Lady Torens didn't know; though this was hardly unusual, led Amber across the estates' main courtyard, past the stables, and the servant's living quarters, chapel and guards' station, kennel runs and right up to the steps of the main keep, where they were greeted by the young Lord Aidan Diantes, ninth son of Lord Tobius and Lady Elaine Diantes. The boy is pre-pubescent and strikingly handsome having blackish brown hair dancing sapphire blue eyes a cleft square chin, like his father. He is clad in brown form fitting leather breeches, black riding boots a laced front ruffle sleeved shirt, open almost to his navel belt-baldric and a half cape made of crushed velvet. A cape readily recognizable to Lady Torens as one she herself had designed and sewn many years before for a younger Diantes boy-child " Lady Amber! " the boy exclaims and rushes headlong into the arms of the startled Head Seamtress, completely unmindful of her wooden featured escorts. "It's been so long! Why havenae thee been out to see us?! Father will be soo happy to see you, again. " Amber followed the guards and glanced with childlike wonder at the grounds as they passed everything. It had been many, many years since she had been here. And to think of Lady Portia, Lord Aiden, the others and of course, Lord Ghasio and the Master... She sighed. The fact she had been summoned so swiftly first gave way to anxieties of another death... then to hear the Master was awake rose her hopes to things coming back to some semblence of normalcy again... then to hear how bad off he was, the fact Lord Ghasio was still in keep of the Estate added to her fears and the cream on her tea was the grounds in disarray, stables near empty and the lack of children about seemed to add to her worries. Suddenly it was if she were seeing a young Master Diantes when she glimpsed the near young man on the steps of the Main House. She had to blink twice before she recognized the cape and whispered as is not believing her eyes. "Aiden...?" As the boy exclaimed and rushed into her arms, her eyes welled with tears and she embraced the child as if he were her own. "Oh, Aiden... I am so sorry. Forgive me. Lord Ghasio set me up with a lovely shop in the city fearing there was no reason for me to stay till Lord Diantes awoke. I assumed he meant to send you to other family to be kept and watched after. Oh, Aiden..." She hugged him tightly. "had I known you were here, I would have come back sooner. Can you ever forgive me?" She hugged the oung man then held him at arms' length. "My, my... look how grown you are now. Nearly a man to be sure. And gracious, that would mean Little Lady Portia would be quite the woman." She laughed then and tapped a single finger to the tip of his nose. "Seems I shall have to rethink your outfits as nickers and a tunic won't quite be grown up enough for you now." Looking to the guards who stood to either side as if quite uneasy and bored, she linked arms with Aiden. "Will you be so kind as to help an old seamstress to see a friend. Seems I have kept Lord Ghasio waiting QUITE long enough now." She winked and held her elbow for him to take. The boy grinned broadly, causing dimples to stand out starkly, on either cheek and his piercing eyes to glint with mischief. "Awww; artus nae sooo old, Lady Amber! Mama alway said the two of thee couldst hath been sisters. Papa hast awakened from that bad old Dark Paralysis, now, and is sorely in need of new clothes---so Lord Hatusio hast told me. " the boy added with a conspiratorial dip in the pitch of his voice. "We ALL need new clothes---one tires of wearing hand-me-down's; y'knows,...Portia; especially will be glad to hath new clothes to wear. She's got bubbies, now. Oh, but thou didst ; prob'bly, already guessed that. She wears Mama's clothes, sometimes. Though it makes her sad ta do so. She's MUCH older, now. And VERY bossy!" The young lordling took Lady amber's proferred arm and they start to enter into the keep, when in a blur of motion a small furred creature rushes to the boy from behind and leaps atop his shoulder. A black and white cat with impossibly wide whiskers and an imperious expression etched on its feline face. " Hermione; how many times i gotta tell ya---" the boy addresses the animal with mock severity as it moves across his shoulders and pushes its tail in the boy's glowing face. Amber laughed. The children had grown but some things, like sibling rivalries and suches, never did. "I will take care of you all, as I always have. I promise. I shall see to it that none of you have need of hand me downs nor the aching memories you bear with castoffs. There now, that's a good lad. Let's get going now." She patted his arm and was heading up the steps with him when the minx of a cat bounded up between them and landed to perch on the shoulder of the young boy. Laughing she reached a small hand up to stroke its beautiful fur. "Such a love, to have stayed here all this time. You are good to them little minx." She smiled and nodded. "Now, Aiden, we cannot keep him waiting any longer. Take me to Lord Ghasio please." Then in a softer voice so the gaurds still behind them would not here, she smiled and winked, "For if we don't, I think perhaps our guards may draw steel upon us..." She laughed softly at the old joke she used to keep the children in line on more than one occassion when they still believed the guards truly answered her beck and call. As the cat stretched itself across the boy's shoulders and hung one paw down to his chest and played with the the free-hanging lacing of his shirt Lord Aiden Diantes cast a sidelong glance at the two guardsmen and scowled. "Awww; they don't affright me! I've been practicing with Malcolm and Eric and Jeremy. We're " coming along " with our fencing lessons. Master Andre says he's seldom taught suche " unruly brats " as we. Papa will sort him out now he's awakened. You'll see. " The guardsmen fail to respond at all to the boy's brashness. It is obvious they are accustomed to such anti-social behavior. The boy led Lady Torens through a dimly lit narrow foyer lined with unhealthy-looking potted plants and suits of antique armour. The air inside was musty smelling and dust raised in small clouds showing it had seen proper dusting and ventilation in a good long while. Dust covered, the armour still reflected the quartet's distorted images back at Amber as she passed them. The empty eye-slits seemed to regard her accusingly, though the matronly woman had had nothing to do with the mansion's upkeep. This was the precinct of the maids and butlers and groundskeepers. It was painstakingly obvious that they'd not been vigilant about their work, what with their Master having been in a predisposed state of being for more than a decade. The foyer opened into a large chamber with a high vaulted ceiling. The House of Diantes more closely resembled a museum than a family's home. And it was distressingly un-used, like a mausoleum to the undying patriarch of the house, who laid abed in a deep, deep coma, while the fruits of his loins and trophies of his past glories slowly; ever so slowly, faded into obscurity. Little regarded by those who lived in the sprawling mansion, and even less looked upon by visitors to the Diantes' home. Much of the furnishings , paintings and tapestries had been blanketed to keep dust and sunlight alike off of it all. Faint traces in the dust covered floor marked where rich, luxurious carpeting once lay. Candles flickered casting eerie shadows on the walls showing the blank spots where other paintings and tapestries had once hung but had been removed for reasons Lady Amber could only guess at. And the smell of myrrh was cloyingly thick in the entry hall. The sounds of the quartet's fall falls on the flagstones were almost alarming in the way they echoed, reminding Amber, painfully, of the way this same hall had once rang with the clacking of wooden practice swords and the excited shouts and laughing of children engaging in mock battles at the feet of the pedestals on which stood Lord Diantes' amazingly lifelike statuary. Amber could recall that even the decidedly tomboy-ish Portia Diantes had gallivanted through the mansion wearing an over-sized riding cloak and a pair of her father's much worn riding boots astride her own gaily painted hobby horse and calling out in challenge to her brothers as she gamely chased them about. Lord Ghaosio straightened his surcoat and belt-baldric as he heard the footfalls echoing from the entry hall to-wards the library, where he'd been diligently perusing the census logs and calculating the amount of health he could accumulate; secretly, for the Church of the Mogen David if he were to increase the Nar'Avice villagers' land taxes by the amount he'd discussed with the forest felldragon, obstensibly to keep the monstrous beast from terrorizing the villagers of Nar'Avice and to convince it to forage for food in the wilder regions of the Eros Barony. Many of the villagers had once been farmers, millers and carpenters and other artisans before the coming of the felldragon; which the battle seasoned Lord Tobius Diantes and his knights was not available to engage in battle since he'd fallen victim to Dark Paralysis. While exceedingly helpful to-wards the villagers and generous to a fault (he'd postponed the paying of land taxes for one year following the catastrophic passing of Lady Elaine Diantes, as a sort of memorial to the grand lady, who had been loved and venerated by the vast majority of Nar'Avice's citizenry) Lord Ghaosio was not the soldier and diplomat the Justiciar had been. Neither was he the skilled equestrian Tobius Diantes had been before suffering a severe stroke at the news of his beloved Lady Elaine's untimely demise. It near tore Amber's heart to see her beloved Keep, practically her second home, in such a disarray. She made a mental note to ask Lord Ghaosio about seeing if some of the ladies in the village could come help turn out the house once more to get it back into shape, dusted and fit for the Master once more. As they approached the Lord's receiving room, she smiled at Aiden's comments. "You should mind your manners, little one. I am going to see to it that not just your clothing is readjusted but your backsides as well if your brothers and sister are like you in regards to such things." She smiled at him. "I am well aware how much older you are and how much taller, Aiden." She paused to turn and face him as her face turned somber. "But there is more to being a man of the Estate than merely being 'unafraid' of guards and allowing your behaviors to go unpunished merely because your FATHER will see the ones imposing punishments are 'seen too'. You remember that." She reached up to strike the cat once more before gently coaxing it to leap from his shoulder and scamper off, albeit with a meow of discontent. "Now, be a gentleman and show me to Lord Ghasio." She smiled and held her elbow for his once more. Aiden was turning into a fine man and would lead the Estate in his Father's stead one day. In the time between, he had to learn tollerance and humility. And if she had her way, things would get back on track and the children would learn more than that. She laughed and winked once more to let him know she was not scolding and let him lead her to Ghasio. As she saw the Lord in the doorway she smiled and released Aiden's arm reaching a small hand towards the man. "Lord Ghaosio! It has been far too long. It is good to see you and I am pleased it is no the drab funeral garb I will be outfitting you all with this time. How have you been?" Ardalio Ghaosio smiled broadly, so that dimples; not unlike the boy Aiden's, creased his face. And his close set brown eyes shone with apparent gladness. "Lady Amber! Tis so goode of you to return to Keep Diantes and avail us all of your exquisite artistry and irreplaceable companionship, again. I hadst thought; mayhaps, you'd forgotten all about your goode friend, Ardalio. Your shoppe; it hast proven a profitable enterprise for you? And your cottage; it is as loverly as the home you made of this place for Lady Elaine? His Lordship's children hath missed you sorely, also. An i wouldst hath faire sent them to be with relatives; but Lady Portia wouldnae be parted from her Father; and her Mother's gravesite is never neglected, unlike the rest of the outer estate i fear to admit. And just as dear Portia wouldst nae be parted from Father and Mother, so the four youngest surviving boys wouldst nae be parted from her. I fear that divers affairs-of-state hath borne me away from Aethelmarch, often, whilst you were away; and usually i hadst a special envoy from the Baron come and fetch me and wast un-able to come and share even the smallest of accords with thee; for the which i am moste hardily soary,... I sent for thee, as the Master hast; at long last awakened from Dark Paralysis, only just this day,...He cannae wear his old clothes,...from before,...And Lady Portia; the Gods bless her, canst nae longer wear her own clothes comfortably and she grieves anew each time she gives in and tries to wear one of Lady Elaine's gowns. Indeed,...even i hath need of new clothes. As Lord Ardalio's delicately sculptured and manicured hands touched Lady Amber's she could plainly see tears of unmitigated joy and release shining wetly on his handsome if somewhat haggard face. Amber was so caught offguard by the man's emotional outburst and show of affection, as well as admission of weakness in the watching of the children and caring of the Keep, that she immediately forgave him all the slights she had passed and heard of on her way in. Catching his hands in hers she patted them affectionately. "Now, now, dear friend. Amber is here and will once more help set this place to rights. Indeed you need clothes as I will not have the Master think I had been shirking my duties." She winked to reassure him her kind words were not meant as afront. "And as to Keep and Kin within, I will send word to Marylynn in the village to gather the ladies and we shall turn out this Manor in the way it was in the beginning. I am sure Jefferson and the boys can come clean the grounds and set the plants to right once more as well." Letting go of his hands she smiled and stepped back glancing around. "Now.. with house and hearth soon set to rights, oh yes, ned to get Abigaile to grab that young girl who used to help in the kitchen as well. She is unwed I hear and helps those who need it." She laughed winking once more. "And seems to me, Cook will need that help once more and the girl IS familiar with the larder. Speaking of which, will you be so kind as to see who in staff can supply me with lists to send to the Village for? That's a dear." Soon she was rattling off orders and commands to guards and the small staff still in residence as if she had never left. Often in the past, as dear friend to the Lady Elaine, she had seen to the running of the Keep in the Lady's absence. As it occured to her now, the Lady was still absent, at least in body, and therefore, things need be seen too. The guards and staff, hearing such orders would look to the man who had spoken little and had always overseen the estate but Amber gave them no chance to get permission. "On with you now! Do you think the Master wishes to waken after all this time to sheet covered objects and a dusty larder? Shoo now and see to those things. And remember, this is the Diantes' Estate... let us make it so everyone remembers who they are." And hour later everyone was running around with errands and orders. Portia had been sent for and Aiden was happily running to fetch her glad to be the one as messanger for the absent girl for once, instead the reverse as was oft the case when they were younger. Turning back to Ghasio now at his desk once more she smiled. "I think the FIRST order of business for YOU my dear friend, Ardalio, is that we may have a bite to eat. Something tells me you have NOT done so, at least not properly, in some time. Come, I am sure Cook has something in the kitchen we may fetch without disruption. Then you can tell me how the Master has fallen into such a state that no one will speak directly of it and I get the feeling it is not good." She frowned slightly and her face once more seemed the old careworn featured sculpture of age she had been upon arriving, instead of the almost youthful look she had had but moments ago when giving orders and feeling useful once more. She wore her worry like a cowl... no hidden smiles of feigning, no glisten tears of falsehood, and no drama like so many young people. She was simply worried for the man who had loved a woman she had called sister. And it pained her to think of him awakening after all this time, only to be ill once more. She held out her hand, beckoning to Ghaosio, seeking his arm to lead her to sustenance and answers.  

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