Chapter 93:

Ch 92: Hiccups

I was Born the Unloved Twin

I believe I may have to reassess what I know about the woman I call mother.

Beauty and grace yes, an ideal noblewoman, also yes. The belle of the ball, at every ball. Maria Ventrella is a fair and delicate lady that commands the room with nothing but a flutter of her gazelle length eyelashes.

Yet something tells me that perhaps that the Ventrella's household's unfounded fear of mother isn't so unfounded after all. I don't know if I even want to know.

It's like opening a door in a scary movie. Maybe it's best left alone. Let's think about it at a later time when I've gathered more strength and courage. It can't be all that bad right? My previous knowledge can't be all that wrong. Eh another day, this is a problem for future Rosalia. All is kinda well now right?

In all my years as Rosalia Therese Ventrella, I have never seen my parents argue.

Play fight yes. Suspiciously and grossly flirt, also yes.

Occasionally they get serious over some topic but they don't necessarily argue. If mother is mad then father plays dumb in that overly blunt way of his. If father is mad then...I don't know? Isn't he too busy either running away or fawning after mother? It feels a little one way but it seems to work for them. Has father ever gotten mad at mother?

I'll ruin their marriage with those questions at a later time.

I would assume they have their moments like any other couple. Perhaps away from my young eyes. There's a lot of things they should keep away from my eyes, ew ew ew.

Either way, father does not win on the curious case of the kidnapped poisoned kiddies in the Ventrella nursery sickbay. Mother had somehow taken not only me but the boys hostage. The ultimate grounding called rest and recuperation.

Our prison, not of choice, is the nearly white sick room high up in this nearly unused corner of my home.

It's this very room where I can recall Lilyanne being holed up in throughout her delicate childhood. These clean marbling, the smooth white plaster and warm sandstone. Everything peaceful and minimal, to ease the senses and relax the occupants. I think it could use some houseplants and a lot more pillows but hey that's my personal taste. It's not like I'm ever here.

The view from the windows is lovely, encompassing the southern gardens. Over those garden gates, across the opulent yards, hedges and the outer walls from our home's vantage point, you can make out the road that leads to the sea. In the far off distance, you might be able to see any approaching visitors, if anyone ever came from that way. Anyone but the seaport shipments, so no.

In any other season, the frosted glass doors would open to the Luni marble balcony, where one could enjoy the most refreshing of breeze. It's the most isolated and safeguarded direction of our beautiful home. The strongest walls to surround this not exactly princess tower, located on the 5th floor from the main courtyard.

There is little to no threat from this side, little to no company. It is here where one can enjoy the white peace and quiet needed to heal.

There is no escape.

"I have to go poop now." squeaks the little boy next to me.

There is one escape.

Wait no, I am not falling for this one. There's a lot that both Lukas and I want to grill Amar on but he's only been recently given the ok to be free from Gable's examination. I thought about using Lilyanne's magic treatment here, perhaps give Gable a first-hand view of just what she can do, but magic isn't the answer for everything.

Amar is also very adamant about not getting too much internal treatment. He'll take the bandages, care and something to speed up recovery but no health potions or anything. A lot of head shaking at any silent suggestions of Lilyanne's magic. It's odd seeing him be that stubborn on something but there's been a lot of odd things lately.

The lying for one, though I suppose that has always been there, unnoticed.

I can't talk just yet without sounding like a muppet so I take to threateningly pinching and glaring, or at least as threateningly as I can muster. I'm only three, how scary can I be?

These cheeks are not fun to pinch or stretch out, unfortunately. Nowhere near an acceptable amount of mochi on them.

"I really have to go?" Amar tries with a mumble.


Hmmm well, I can't verify that and you really can't keep kids from the call of nature. Thus I release Amar's pathetic excuse of a cheek to reach over him and smack Lukas awake with a pillow. Normally that's a lot of effort but it's quite easy in our half dozed recovering state. Feverish Lukas is less energetic yet still just as amusing.

"Wafaa wha wab what?!"

I use the pillow to defend against any sudden wild attack of little limbs, but something still smacks at me. More so at Amar, who's placed in the middle. In order to guard even further against escape, which the boy is obviously planning since the beginning, Lukas and I have taken to blocking both sides of the bed. It's genius no? Not the guards stationed outside, or Gable's secret surveillance, or even the threat of my mother's looming presence. Obviously it's Lukas and I in all our squishy that are the most effective safeguards yes.

Fine we just don't trust this kid alone. It's all good, the adult sized bed is more than big enough, it's far bigger than my own usual bedding. Geez, the past Lilyanne sure must have had a fun time stretching on this giant mattress.

"Lukas it's fine, you can go back to sleep? I can go on my own."

"Go where? No! Where are you going now?"


"But I don't need to poop right now and I eat lots more so if I don't gotta go then you don't gotta go."

"But I gotta go, and Rosa over there won't let me."

Denied. Permissions denied as I make to wack both boys with the spare pillow. They get extra wacks to wake up and shut up respectively.

It's night time now and the usual maids are asleep. With a sleepy but stubborn yawn Lukas grabs Amar like a teddy bear to roll off the bed. It's very cute how they tumble and roll off like one little log. When they plop on the floor, Amar has to direct a sleepy Lukas on how to even get to the closest bathroom.

I love my rich person's house. No chamber pots needed. I love basic indoor plumbing.

It's tempting to just fall back asleep but I settle for snuggling back down in the warm spots in the sheets. The winter night air is still quite cold. It's been a strange couple of days and with my current health scare, it appears that my family's visit to the capital will have to be postponed indefinitely. My greatest hope is that it's canceled altogether. One less year of playing nice with the stupid baby Prince!

There also isn't much anything for me to do up there? Not at my age, I'm a toddler. Mother has social functions to attend and noble relations to maintain while father can 'work' in courts but me? I can't even go off anywhere without maids breathing down my little throat. I rather they leave me on the farms or something. So much work to do there before the next wave of famine. Is it this year? The next coming winter?

Time and memory is hard when the original Rosalia was so young then.

The original huh, what would she think about this mess that I've gathered in those short years. I don't think any toddler has to deal with even a quarter of what I do. So troublesome. At least I'm not sitting around bored. I'll allow myself that much.

I'm half up out of bed again with the loud slam of Lukas meets wall from the other side of where the 'bathroom' is. Muffled childish voices can still be heard this short distance away.

"Lukas...the door is this way?"

"I know!" *smack*

"Here, put me down? Now thiiiissss way."

Finally, in the correct direction and through the door, Lukas charges towards to big bed with a teddy bear Amar flying in his unnaturally strong grip. The night air really is chilly especially when you're barefoot and wearing nothing but a single layer.

Mother ordered it but I'm not sure how the servants managed to wrangle up some nice chemises in the primary schoolers' sizes on such short notice. They're essentially running around in fluttery slightly too long off white dresses tied at the neckline with child sturdy drawstring and ribbons. It's very cute.

As expected of mother's expensive taste. Cuteness shall rule all.

"Cold cold cold" chatters Lukas, throwing Amar up the bed with a little bounce before crawling under the covers himself.

I smack them a distance away with the pillow.

"We washed our hands?" shivers Amar correctly, still looking entirely lost on the situation.

I don't know exactly the whole story with him but if I was in his shoes or well chemise, I probably would be the same. But there's nothing that we as little children can do but stay healthy and out of the way. He's already too involved as a child abuse victim no? With that thought I put down the pillow weapon and instead push a wooden cup of water by the bedside.

It's either take it or keep getting hit in the face with it so Amar has little choice to accept. He tries passing it off to Lukas but is met with a 'no thanks' before the other boy smacks the cup into Amar's mouth, admittedly splashing a bit.

There's too much to think about. Too much going on under the surface of what I know and what I don't know. But it's night time now and I'm only so big and able to do. There's nothing that little children can do for now but to go to sleep.

Lukas stuffs us together with his shivering and it's cold. The puppy pile is too cold right now even with layers of blankets and life is too hard and confusing. So while we still can, let's just all go back to bed.

If Amar wants to stay up wide eyed and confused in the dark, well that's his problem. Lukas is already back to snoozing and soon so will I. My closest sleeping companion is too bony but pillows help, yes lots of soft pillows. Tomorrow we'll eat some of Lukas bacon and another time we'll work whatever this is all out.

Before I really fall asleep I feel it as Amar steals one of my many precious pillows. I'll let it go though. He's got a light case of the hiccups, trying to smother it and keep deathly quiet as not to disturb. Stupid, who gets hiccups in the middle of the night. Must have drunk water too fast. That's the excuse I make up for him.

Good night then, hiccups and all.



"What then? He just goes free?"

"Exile is not freedom."

"A free man walks. The best we can do is let him walk?"

"Taking his head does nothing but harms your case. It will hurt you more than them."

"How does it hurt me more if I just cut off his head?"

"Ron. Stop. For Maria and the girls, it will hurt them. In the long run, it hurts your family, it hurts us."

Ronald is not a happy camper, even if Gable speaks in technical truth. They are not his truths. He dislikes getting older and restrained, he disliked playing by rules to a game made up by the weak. He dislikes broken promises and holding back.

The veteran hero feels the call the violence as easily as he breathes. Feels it and can't do a thing in this space, this cage, that feels far too small. But that is what civilization is, a cage, a home. It keeps one warm despite it all. Keeps one safe from the elements, lets children sleep in peace.

The drawing room is not actually so small. A bit cluttered with bookcases and wall mounts, decor and the such, but not small. To a common man, it was enough for him, his family and perhaps a few livestock to cozily fit and live in.

It was nothing compared to the void of the seas or the vast stars the reflected from above. Yet it has a comfortable fire, plush seats and fine wine and boxes of rolled smokes.

Ronald could feel himself grow old, grow soft.

Across the room Gable allows Ronald's son in law's manservant to pour a refill to his horn cup. To the brim. Alfonso was an odd sort of old chap. A man of his caliber could be so much more than a self-proclaimed butler but Ronald understands.

You get old. You get soft. Some day will come where he too will be content to simply watch the young carry on.

It was nowhere near that day, not for him.

"We can't use that." says his son in law solemnly, downing the rest of his glass.

"No," agrees Gable. "We can't. The goal is the keep silent on that matter. No leakage of parentage, the ban is still in effect. "

"Well the Moracz witch and her brother found out just fine, do you suppose they discovered it before or after the blood harvesting? My what an effective ban, it worked on the wrong crowd. How long do you suppose I would have taken to find out if my own child wasn't so delightfully contaminated?" snarked the red head.

When he rolled his eyes that far, he resembled his daughter. Or rather it was Rosalia, small as she was, that was the spitting image of the detached and imperious young lord Ventrella. Maybe not in exact features but Maria seemed to have somehow succeeded in creating a tiny second Frederick. Ronald, of all people, doesn't bother thinking about the how. Some things were better off lets to fate. Some things you could never be drunk enough to figure out.

That's one thing Ronald always liked Freddy on, boy could handle his drink and got even mouthier. Always could tell a man's true self by the kind of drunk he is.

"We can't use it and we keep their mouths shut." repeats Gable, nowhere near as composed as he sounds.

"That can be arranged easily, but you can't punish them with much more. Without that evidence, you can charge him with nothing. If the children refuse to speak up then we have little to back claims against consent. The necromancer is already of adult age and won't make his stake. Meanwhile, my wife has stowed away the quiet young one, destroying evidence on both sides in her wake." Frederick seethed.

The calm expressionless face was off set by the pacing across the room. He talked with his hands, his body, gesturing into the air with his just refilled glass sloshing about. No worries of course, Frederick wouldn't spill a drop.

"We can't afford the reputation. I know you find it foolish, utter nonsense, but if the Ventrella territory is to be left in peace from the melodramatic comedy that is the noble courts or the pursuits of the institutions representing the Holy order, we cannot allow any more unjustifiable executions. The bastard knows it too. Make it bloody, make it cruel, but you can't let those people know. This has already gotten too large. "

"Tell me Freddy. Do they still say the same things?" asked Ronald, relishing in the painful pleasant burn of liquor.

If one couldn't go burning the fields of men, the cabinets his son in law kept for him would have to do. Nothing as good and wasteful as drinking fine spirits when angry. Maybe later he could convince Gable to let him out to hunt. Something, big, roaring and satisfying enough. He can't say he's as easy to please as his gentle only daughter.

"They don't dare."

"Do their woman? Behind their fine doors and under the woven furs bought from us, do they still say I am a barbarian who only knows how to leave destruction? "

"Ron." Gable tries to stop him talking. Fat chance after he got some drink in him,

"Do they still not understand who is it that affords them their winter peace and wine? How keeps the magical spots contained and the worst beasts at bay? Do they not sit upon their fine crapshoots of thrones and all sleep in soft beds without fear?"

"That's absolutely absurd father. The kings and monarchs of lands further than our neighbors' neighbors and beyond the seas all take the knee before you."

"Ah yes the bowing, they sure love doing that. While their queens and consorts laugh like a herd of bottom ring hyenas trying to intimidate a lion. What's the latest thing they're saying about my Maria? I've always been bad at such talks and topics. Did she wear the wrong god damn colored stockings or the improper amount of skirts again and thus suddenly unworthy of her born title? "

"They don't dare." repeated Frederick, his tone getting increasingly frigid, the cold of the void. The same kind of cold that's associated with the dead.

"You can't make them all disappear Freddy boy. Good effort, I appreciate the work you do, how you take care of my little girl. But we have always known the worsts of it. The 'dirty' unknown upstart spawn of a violent barbarian who got lucky. Yet when trouble arises it's to me and my family they come begging to. Bah."

"Ronald, that's enough." glares Gable, he was always the most sensitive about bad talk.

Ronald knows, understands more than he lets on. Not only on himself but whenever it touched on Maria he would get vicious. Even if Ronald cared shit about what they said, he knows how much it hurts others.

"Fools will talk amongst themselves. It comforts them in their own incompetence and lacking." Frederick walks and talks, looking over his piles of papers, oh so messily organized by his man Alfredo.

"Without strength, all they can do is talk. With no offense Freddy, but you're the traitorous Biccheiri boy that broke all that is right and proper to join us. The blacked sheep led away, seduced by all that is Ventrella."

At that his son gives a snort into his drink, nearly choking on it.

"It's a little late to admit that yes I very much was seduced? I've given you your grandchildren... In all my life I've made no vows but you, Maria and our family Lord Father. "

Ronald was more than restless. They all were but him especially. He doesn't do well with playing the games of old money and long inherited power. They had no warriors and no honor.

He may be a scoundrel of a general, a fighter above all else, but a man had his pride and the rulers of this world had none he respected. That's partly why it was just so damn easy to destroy them. Like anything though it was easy to break, and terribly difficult to build.

"So he walks free. To keep my Maria's reputation, the blood-drinking maniacs walk free."

Gable sighs in response, not for the first time and not for the last.

"It's my fault." he starts before Ronald has him cut off just as sudden.

"No it's not."

"Fuck, of course it damn is. I approved of Darius work."

"His past and proposed. He went too far, he went behind our backs."

"We let him play with the dead Ronald! There's a reason why we're heralded as maniacs and now this!"

"Oh everyone uses corpses, they're everywhere! We just have the most accurate and advanced research because we don't hide it. They can call me and my troops what they will but we don't have to smuggle and steal our dead."

With a wave of a gentleman's hand and a silent but swift Alfonso, the rising voices between the two men halt as a scroll unfurls between them.

"Lord Father is correct honorable sir Gable, everyone uses corpses despite their claims of denial. Whether it's legal in their lands or not. Medical research, teaching aids, plain perversion. Even decoration, there's a morbidly fascinating temple to the south that is constructed entirely of human bones. A not so small amount of men use the living as well."

The rules on what is or is not taboo are as ridiculous as it is confusing here. The dead were dead and so long as the corpses weren't straight out looted from their proper graves, Ronald saw no problem. His own memories of another universe was far from perfect but this world was still backward in so many ways and Ronald doubts even 7 lifetimes would be enough to smack them into something that made sense. They used beasts and animal bones, but touch upon the empty shell of man and people got squeamish. As if they weren't fine with ending said men's lives on the battlefield or over petty ego slaps called duels.

"That said- the laws and attitudes of using living or dead is...split to say the least. The only way to keep that brat's story quiet is to silence this case...and that means silencing Darius on the matter." continues Frederick, trying to wrap up.

"He won't let go of his research so easily" agrees Gable with another point, uncomfortable even on the soft leather recliner.

"Neither will the hag Damia. Exile is the most we can reach without further evidence. My darling wife can handle that side on the ladies' functions but it will take time with their distance and the status her late husband affords. Darius however? Even I can't stand for something like a mere exile but there's little we can immediately do in the public eye."

"We need him silent," repeats Gable.

"He'd be silent if he were dead" pipes up Ronald, more out of stubbornness than sense.

Gable stuffs his mouth with a handful of grapes all at once. That is not how he likes being fed or comforted, but it keeps his mouth occupied he supposes.

"Let him go." says Frederick, contradicting his entire earlier speech.

That what the boy does when he has a plan, when he's out for the long game. No, not a boy, not for a long time now. The little devil of a boy that would play running and screaming away from his fair and delicate Maria is no more. His child and her husband have long grown up and another generation of problems crop themselves up, with or without Rosalia's strange existence.

Ronald feels himself getting old, is there grey hairs up there on his head yet? Might as well at this rate. Might grow a ridiculously long beard and build a rocking chair to fall asleep on as he goes senile. Great retirement plan.

Gable keeps the grapes going as if he could actually hear the dramatics going on in Ronald's head. He can't but Gable has known Ron too long to not understand what that bored dead fish gaze means. Utter ridiculousness.

"Let him go and give me the time to work in the shadows. Let him go 'home', let us follow him there. There are many ways to kill a man worse than death. Isn't that right Alfonso?" ties up Frederick, elegantly switched his liquors to a sweeter finisher of a nightcap.

He takes the summer saved wine from Alfonso's practically magical hands to pour into Ronald's suddenly empty mug. Huh when did he finish that? That's why he doesn't drink the good stuff when mad, it all just goes down like water. A finisher to the evening then.

Ronald is getting old, leaving matters to his now son rather than taking it into his own. But his methods are not what will work best on this warzone. He is a wise enough general to know where to place his pieces and picks his battles.

"One last thing honorable father...Maria...does she know?"

It's Ronald's turn to sigh and he's going to need another refill because would you look at that, the mug is empty again. Frederick complies, the violet red wine flowing smoothly without a word.

"No. No she doesn't. As always, she knows as much as you know she does."

"Were you ever going to tell Maria? Me? "

"You would have found out eventually Freddy. IF you wanted to, you would have found out far sooner."

"I knew there was a reason I felt such distaste for the brat. Of course. Aishwarya. Of course, her brat would be just as insufferable even without doing a thing."

"I'm sorry Freddy."

"Hmmpf, makes no difference. I won't say a word, not to another soul, not even to my Maria. "

"Frederick...I'm sorry."

His daughter preferred to remember the fallen as they were. An honorable memory befitting of any warrior, for all the fine ribbons and jewels could not dispel his blood and spirit in her veins. But Frederick is not the same. He'd rather look the gruesome truth in the eye, turn it over and analyze every crevice for splatter.

If he wasn't so prideful, if it wasn't so personal, he would ask how she died. The young couple knew of the dead, they know of the missing and death count each year of the inner troops. It was hard not too when Maria was raised there. But they had resolved even before they wed to stop living in the past.

But the past had funny ways of catching up on you. Any man who had the misfortune of living long enough knew that.

"Leave Darius to me, such a fool is too dangerous to leave alive in the same world as my children."

"We wish you didn't have to find out like this Frederick."

Gable took the words right out Ron's mouth, which was a little busy at the moment. Good wine shouldn't be wasted without tasting. There was already too much wasted in life.

"Doesn't matter, as long as Maria doesn't have to know."

The two seated men, getting old and older, look at each other with a held gaze of knowing. That just came with age and experience. By the fire, Alfonso aged face frowned grim, and he shook his head for his master.

"It's not my Maria that we were worried for. She was fond of her yes but, as with many of the old troops...but..."

"I thank you for your concern but there is no need for such heedless condolences. I'm not the one that's dead. That reckless woman. .... always told her so." brushes off Frederick, closing the curtains for the night himself.

Frederick still talks in how he walks, always a little brooding. That much hasn't changed in all these years. Frederick takes a seat across from them, refilling all the cups in the fire toasty room. The wine seemingly never ending. What a fine and soft like it is getting so old

"I'll just think of it as one last prank. Even from beyond the grave. Aishwarya always got me good, I can admit that much. Insufferable. Not even death has stopped her from getting me again."

It's a terrible toast but that's Freddy for you. It was enough to break into a real grin over.

If Freddy drinks a little too fast, Ronald won't mention it. He does too.