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putting the plot bunnies out to pasture
Fanfic: Books of the Raksura 
18th-May-2014 07:37 pm
hands clasped in marble
Also, last year, (sigh, real life got and then remained intense), the wonderful [personal profile] pentapus  also made me a drawing from the Books of the Raksura.

Stone with babies


And here, finally, is the story I wrote for it: 

The Consort Bower of Indigo Cloud
Summary: Before Moon arrived at Indigo Cloud Court, the consort bower had been empty for some years and the court as a whole slowly dying. Something had to change. The three consorts of Indigo Cloud (Stone, Moon, and Ember) had had very different expectations, but the reality surprised each of them.
Available on AO3, FF.net, and below:

The Consort Bower of Indigo Cloud

Expectations
Stone


Stone glared at Pearl. She glared back at him.

He had been avoiding her since her consort had died and she had refused to even look for a replacement. She was even worse now that she had sent the last of the unclaimed consorts away.

On a personal level, he understood her decision. He missed his queen Azure like the other half of his soul and couldn’t imagine accepting another. Plus, being a widowed line-grandfather had been a revelation: he could leave to explore the greater world whenever he wanted to. He reveled in the freedom available to widowed line-grandfathers.

But Pearl was the ruling queen of a dying court. If she didn’t want a consort, that was her decision, but she couldn’t then refuse to lead the court to safety while it lacked a consort. Except apparently she thought she could.

At least half of Stone’s anger was directed at himself, because he had made the exact same mistake as Pearl was, thinking he could leave the court without a consort. A line-grandfather had the freedom to travel away from the court and visit strange lands, but that freedom didn’t just come with age. It was supposed to result from the presence of a younger generation of consorts to take over his responsibilities.

But there were no other consorts here. Instead, the empty consort bower felt like a tomb, empty of life, decorated by the choices of those long gone. Once bright colors were muted with age. The only new items were things he acquired himself on his trips.

He would continue to have responsibilities until the court had a proper first consort and a second consort, too, to support the first. Now though, the consort bower was empty and the court as a whole was dying for that lack.

Stone found that, for all his enjoyment of his independence, he could not ignore the needs of his court any longer.

He glared at his young descendent who was somehow stuck between blindly thinking the situation would fix itself and fatalistically thinking that there was no point in struggling against fate. He found himself snarling, “Pearl, if you won’t lead us away from these cursed lands without a consort to support the court, then I’ll go and acquire a consort. Be prepared to move when I return.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“No, it’s not. But it is what I’ve agreed to.”

He stalked out of the chamber.

He didn’t want to acquire a young consort. He didn’t want one any more than Pearl did. Unfortunately, for the good of the court, they would both have to do things they didn’t want.

A young consort would be delicate and gentle and need to be coddled and protected. Someone would need to keep him company in the consort bower and provide proper chaperonage.  And unless Stone could acquire more than one consort—even more unlikely than Stone acquiring even one—Stone would have to be the chaperone.

He felt like he was marching himself to his doom, actively working to create his prison. He would go out exploring the land one last time, in order to find the person who would keep him confined once more to the court’s consort bower. He snarled to himself and ignored the way the few Arbora in the hallways vanished down crossways to avoid him. After so many years of not even having Azure to curb his impulses, Stone hated that his own sense of responsibility was forcing him to give up his freedom. But he would do it. It was necessary for the survival of the court, so he would do it.

It was just too bad that Pearl refused to. For all their bad luck, at least the court had a sister queen who knew her responsibilities better than the ruling queen did.

Stone managed to get his emotions somewhat under control by the time he reached Jade’s chambers.

He knocked lightly on the door, then entered.

“Stone. How did it go with Pearl?” Jade did not sound optimistic.

“I’m going to find a consort for you.” Stone avoided answering the question directly. His statement was answer enough.

Jade grimaced. She wouldn’t be as troubled by a consort as Stone would be, but she likely had planned to choose her first consort for herself rather than sending Stone begging on her behalf.

Well, it was too bad for both of them. They would do what they must for the court to survive.

“Do you have a consort gift for me to bring or shall I get one from one of the Arbora?”

“If we’re going to do this, then let me do at least something right.” She went to her jewelry box and dug through it a bit before finally pulling out a heavy bracelet of red gold. Her face was expressionless when she handed it to him.

It was a beautiful piece, but more defined by the perfect lines of its molding than by the delicate work more common to consort gifts. It would look like a gift for a specially favored warrior if it hadn’t been for the pattern of springtime flowers etched into it, symbolizing fertility and clearly marking it as intended for a consort. He looked at her questioningly. She answered, her voice as expressionless as her face, “I wanted something worthy to give to my chosen consort when I found one.”

He nodded in understanding. They were both giving up something in this process. He would give up his freedom from the bowers and she was giving up her own dream for a consort strong enough to match this bracelet.

He had probably given her false expectations by being one of the only consorts around. Young consorts weren’t like line-grandfathers. Even most line-grandfathers weren’t like him.

He thought of telling her that any consort who chose to return with him would be more adventurous than most. The truth, though, was that any consort he acquired would be even more fragile than most. Only a consort no established court wanted would be allowed to go to such a troubled court as Indigo Cloud. He could not offer false hopes. He said nothing.

They would both put aside their false expectations and save their court, though. They would do what needed to be done.


*****
Moon

“A consort is a male warrior. A fertile male warrior who can breed with a queen,” Flower explained.

“But I’m not—“ Moon stuttered.

Flower looked at him kindly but insisted, “You are.”

Moon shook his head. “No.”

He wasn’t a consort. He couldn’t be a consort. He wouldn’t be a consort.

He had come into this society already knowing that he would need to avoid the queens. Stone had told him how they were capable of keeping him defenseless and imprisoned.

He knew how to fit into the outskirts of a society and make a place for himself and avoid the people in power. He had lots of practice doing just that. He couldn’t be part of some cloistered center to their society, expected to sleep with some queen, kept bound and defenseless in his groundling form, unable to fly or escape.

These people may be his species, but he didn’t know who they were. He couldn’t rule them and he couldn’t be ruled by them. He just couldn’t.

But… what else could he possibly do? Where else could he go?

He had been thrown out of so many places, and these were his people, whether he knew them or not, whether they wanted him or not.

Even when he ran away from the revelation, there was only so far he could go. He didn’t bother to push it, only going a bit up the river, but staying within easy eyesight. He was out of options, as bound now as he would be once a queen got to him.

“Come back and rest,” Flower tempted him. “And talk to Stone. You’ve come all this way, and you have nothing to lose.”

She spoke more truly than she knew. He didn’t have anything to lose, because he didn’t have anything at all. It still felt like he was giving up when he agreed to stay for even a day longer rather than flying away as fast and as far as he could. 

He would be caught and kept and given to some queen. He could only hope that it was a fate better than being eaten by Tath, as his mother and siblings had been.


*****
Ember

“Please.” Ember whispered to Tempest. “Please. Don’t leave me here.”

He knew he was acting like a baby. He had always known he would go to another court at some point. He had even been looking forward to being claimed by a queen one day. But not here. Not now. “Please!”

He clung to Tempest’s hand and begged because he couldn’t not. He couldn’t stay here in this broken down court with a queen who wouldn’t even look at him. He had grown up knowing that some people, Tempest included, saw him and his clutchmates as a reminder of Fade, the consort who had given her their clutch. But it had never been a bad reminder. Fade was always destined to die young. Ember and his clutchmates were a reminder that Fade had once lived at all.

Now, Tempest planned to leave him in a court as a visible symbol of their missing first consort. He would be the reason why their consort had gone.

“I’m sorry, Ember.” And Tempest really did look sorry. She also looked uncomfortable. “I wish I could find a better court for you, but we’ve harmed this court and need to make up for it.”

“They don’t want me here.”

“They don’t know what they want. The only consort they know is some feral. You will do us and them proud.”

 Ember wasn’t sure if that last was intended as a reassurance or a command.

“And,” Tempest continued, as if offering something he wanted, “you’ll be first consort.” Tempest cupped one of his cheeks in her free hand, and smiled down at him, her smile as soft now as it had been when he was just a fledgling. He had once complained that she didn’t think he was an adult. But now, he just wished she still thought he was too young to go to another court. “Just think how much fun you’ll have decorating the bower, now that you’ll be in control.”

“But Moon isn’t going away permanently. Right?” Ember asked. Shadow certainly hadn’t thought so. Ember didn’t mention Shadow’s advice on how to work with Moon to Tempest.

Tempest snorted dismissively. “How could any queen possibly want a feral back?”

Ember knew that tone. Tempest knew best and nothing Ember could say would change that. But no matter what Tempest said, Ember thought rather rebelliously, he didn’t want to replace the consort that he’d seen so briefly. That consort scared him, no matter that Shadow had told him he needn’t fear the other consort. Moon looked half-feral and angry enough to attack a queen, and Jade had looked like she wanted him anyway.

Tempest carefully disengaged his hold from her, although she continued to hold his hands for a bit longer. “You will be fine. I know this is hard, but it’s part of growing up. Fade was a wonderful consort, and you will not disgrace his memory by being anything less.”

Faced with those declarations, Ember couldn’t even whisper his pleas anymore. He looked down submissively. He would try.

Later, alone in the consort bower, he tried to reassure himself with remembering what Shadow had told him. Jade would get Moon back before she would even consider taking a second consort. And once Moon was back, he would need help in being a first consort to the court. Ember understood how to maintain a consort bower and, as second consort, he could provide advice and assistance. Back in Emerald Twilight, it had seemed like a challenge. Here in Indigo Court, in consort bowers that hadn’t been used in generations, it seemed impossible.

As he sat alone in the consort bower, trying not to cry after watching Tempest fly away, he couldn’t help shivering with unhappiness. He had never felt so alone. But that didn’t matter, he told himself. He would try not to cry, and he would try to do Emerald Twilight proud.


The Reality

Ember

Feeling all happy after leaving Pearl’s chambers—Pearl, his queen! His magnificent, beautiful, kind, patient, powerful queen! Who had claimed him!—Ember settled down to wait in the little-used consort bower.

Moon always stopped by the consort bower at least once a day but didn’t tend to stay long, and Ember wanted to talk to him. The bower was mostly used as storage space. Ember liked staying with Pearl, but he still missed having a proper consort bower. So he thought, maybe, he could ask Moon about doing something, making the space into a real consort bower. 

When Moon finally appeared, to change his clothes, probably, Ember approached the first consort somewhat cautiously. “Moon?”

Shadow had assured him that he didn’t need to be afraid of Moon, and Moon had always been nice to him, but he was still intimidating. Moon looked pretty scary, and he had been scary when he’d said that Shadow barely knew him.

Moon stopped at Ember’s greeting, such as it was, but didn’t say anything in response. He just waited. He was apparently relaxed and at ease, standing in the center of the consort bower. He also looked ready for a fight, but Moon always looked ready for a fight. Even when he was relaxed, he looked like he could spring without notice. Like he was waiting to be ambushed. With the scars on his skin, it was clear that at least a couple of times he had been.

Standing in front of the other consort, Ember wasn’t sure what to say. How could he talk to this man about something as trivial as decorations? “Um…”

Moon studied him with narrowed eyes, then asked in his abrupt way, “Are you okay? Did something happen?”

“Oh, no. Nothing happened. I’m okay.”

“Pearl is treating you well? And the warriors?”

Ember wasn’t quite sure what to make of the fact that Moon checked first to see if his queen was treating Ember well. Of course Pearl was treating him well. And if she hadn’t been, a consort wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. At least most consorts wouldn’t be. Ember sometimes thought that maybe Moon would try to fight Pearl directly if Ember ever said he needed that protection.

“Pearl is wonderful,” he assured the other consort.  He had heard stories about what Pearl had been like before she had claimed him, but it was hard to believe them, even when she told the stories herself. She was so kind and patient with him.

“And the warriors? Or the Arbora?” Moon always sounded somewhat suspicious. It was hard to tell when he really was suspicious and when he was just asking.

“Everyone has been very nice.” Ember blushed a bit, “I think they appreciate how Pearl has changed.” Moon actually smirked a bit at that. Ember could feel his blush deepen. “I was, I was just wondering if it would be alright for me to ask the Abora to make us a, a tapestry for the consort bowers.”

Moon looked at him blankly. Ember rushed on to explain. “Just the wall there is really empty.” The whole consort bowers were pretty empty, but that one wall was clearly intended to be a display wall. “Normal, well, most consort bowers have decorations that tell the, the story of the court. And, and so much has happened, with the Fell attack and taking in the Sky Copper royal clutch and traveling to the new court by skyships and then fighting off the Fell at Opal Night...” Ember took a breath. Moon was still staring at him.

“And, and, I know that normally the first consort would request these things, but, um, Shadow said that maybe you didn’t know about some of these Raksura customs.” That last statement finished as barely a whisper. Shadow had actually been a lot more factual about Moon’s complete lack of knowledge. But this was Moon. Moon who went out and fought the Fell and returned with royal clutches and great stories and more scars than any other consort Ember had ever heard of. This was Moon who did whatever he wanted and didn’t even obey the line-grandfather. Who was Ember to try to tell him what to do with the bower?

Just as he was preparing to slink away, though, maybe return to hide in Pearl’s bower for a bit, Moon said, “shouldn’t that make five wall hangings?”

“What?”

“The first Fell attack on Indigo Cloud.” Moon raised one finger. “The Fell attack on Sky Copper.” He raised another. “The journey to the new court. The rescue of the Seed. The attack on Opal Night. Or,” Moon looked uncertainly at his hand with all five fingers extended, “do all of those events get told in one tapestry?” Moon looked at him and waited for an answer.

“Um,” Ember said. “Whatever you like?”

“What is traditional?”

“Well, they would normally each get their own tapestry? Maybe? But they all happened so quickly? So maybe you just want one?”

Shadow just made those decisions and would not have taken direction well from anyone other than his queen. The bowers were a physical reflection of the first consort’s position: the stories of his lineage, the skills of his Arbora, along with his own personal sense of style. But here was Moon asking Ember for direction.

“We’ll ask the Arbora.” Moon shrugged. “They’ll be the ones making it or them.”

“Oh. Yes.” That… made sense. Although mostly Shadow had just decided what he wanted and told the Arbora to go about making it, whatever it took. But that concluded that conversation. Ember wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say anything else. Should he thank Moon or say goodbye or what?

But rather than going off and doing whatever he had been planning on doing with his day, Moon looked around the bower carefully and then turned to look at Ember again. “What else is missing here?”

“What?”

“When we have other consorts come to visit us, what else will they see missing? These rooms need to look right, so that no one else will think we’re lesser.”

Ember could feel his eyes widening. Moon knew? Before Ember had been sent to Indigo Cloud, Shadow had taken him aside and told him, “You don’t need to be afraid of Moon. But you will need to be careful. He will be first consort, but he doesn’t have the training or knowledge. It will be your duty to show him how a proper consort bower should be maintained.”

“Um,” Ember said.

Moon didn’t say anything, just watched him.

“It, it needs to be, to be rich. It’s okay that there aren’t pillows and rugs and decorations everywhere, but it should look… wealthy. Consorts are treasures and the bowers are supposed to reflect that.”

“Hmm.” Moon did not look particularly happy with that description, but then shrugged off his thoughts and looked around, inspecting the room anew. Ember looked around, too. The bower was still fairly empty, with a wide open floor space that made it look more like warriors bower than a consorts bower—there was space to fight. Moon looked somewhat disconcerted. “Pillows and rugs. Okay. Fern is designing some wooden statues decorated with amber. Maybe we can ask for a couple in here as well as in the entrance hall. And Shimmer is working with glass. Maybe something to hang from the ceiling?”

“That would look pretty,” Ember agreed.

“But would it look like a proper bower?” Moon stared at him once more. He had a blank look that somehow demanded truth. Ember was more comfortable giving support rather than truth.

“Oh yes,” Ember assured him. In truth, Ember wasn’t sure what it would look like.  But if the Arbora were making it, it would surely look pretty. And glass hanging from the ceiling would certainly be impressive, which is what a consort bower needed to be.

“Okay. Let’s go and find Fern and Shimmer and whoever they suggest for tapestries and anyone else they think should be included in this. And Bitter and Thorn, too, so they know what to expect as consorts when they grow up.”

“Right now?” Ember asked. He couldn’t help himself. He knew Moon liked to just do something once he had decided that something needed doing, but it almost always caught Ember off guard.

“Did you have something else you need to do today?” Moon asked. He even asked like it was a serious question rather than a first consort wondering why a second consort isn’t doing as instructed. He asked like Ember might have something else to do and that would be okay.

“No. And I, I would like to be involved in the discussion.” He really would. He knew what a consort bower was supposed to look like, but it was the first consort who made the decisions.

“Of course,” Moon looked surprised, as if it hadn’t occurred to him that Ember wouldn’t be helping to make decisions. It probably hadn’t.

Ember couldn’t resist reaching out and giving Moon a quick hug. “Thank you.”

Moon looked horribly awkward. “What for?”

“For making me feel safe here. And like I can ask you for things.”

Moon blinked. “You’re… welcome? I need you to suggest things like this, or else I won’t know what to do.”

Moon still didn’t really get it, but Ember didn’t think he could ever explain. Moon looked scary and tough and like he would fight a queen to protect Ember, but he still let Ember make suggestions.

“I’m just really glad I came to this court.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here, too.” Moon continued to sound awkward, and Ember couldn’t suppress the smile that prompted. He wasn’t at all surprised when Moon cut short any further verbal interaction for something more action oriented. “Come on, let’s go see the Arbora.”


*****
Moon

“Uh, Chime? What are you doing?” Moon stood in the center of the consort bower looking up at the warrior who had once been a mentor. Many of the Raksura thought that Chime’s transition made him more than a bit peculiar, but this was the first time that Moon had to wonder.

Chime appeared to be crawling around the ceiling with a paintbrush. This, after it had taken Moon entirely too long to convince him that he was even allowed to come sleep with Moon in the consort bower.

Chime scowled down at Moon. “These wings are horribly awkward and in the way. It’s going to take me forever to do this.”

“Okay. But what are you doing?”

“I’m writing the history of the court on the ceiling.”

Moon took a moment to consider that. Upon consideration, it did look sort of like that was what Chime was doing. On the one hand, none of the other bowers that Moon had ever seen had text written on any of their ceilings or even walls. On the other hand, this meant that Moon would have access to text that he could practice reading on, without having to borrow a book from someone or explain why he wanted one.

So, overall, he was rather pleased with the addition. And yet, “Why?”

Chime finally dropped down from the ceiling, and changed to his groundling form. It really was awkward to stay in Aeriat form for so long without actively using ones wings. Chime was back to glaring at Moon.

“Because you made an open request to the Arbora to decorate the consort bower and even the warriors are contributing with the fanciest furs they can find. Everyone else has something they can add. Everyone else is putting their touch, their creation in here. Even if I’m not a mentor anymore, I still know all the stories and I have beautiful handwriting.”

“Oh.” Moon couldn’t help but smile. He looked around the consort bower. It was looking as lavish as any of the other consort bowers that Moon had ever seen. Maybe a little bit more eclectic than any of the others, but Moon liked it.

Normally, he found himself uncomfortable around extreme shows of wealth, but Ember had a point when he said the bower had been too bare. Moon hadn’t looked forward to making them fancier, even if it was necessary for the good of the court. But now, he found it liked it. He could name the artist who had made every piece of artwork, and could tell the stories that they represented. It made him feel like he really had been accepted as part of the court. Like he was wanted here by more than just Stone and Jade.

When he and Ember had first approached Gold about making the consort bower fancier, she had been delighted. She had immediately claimed one whole wall of the bower as hers. After she’d gotten his agreement on that, she’d been very helpful with identifying all the different artisan specialties the court contained and organizing the workflow. Organizing the workflow had been really helpful because it turned out that everyone wanted to contribute something.

Gold herself, along with her student Merry, were carefully piecing together a massive mosaic of precious stones, illustrating the genealogy of the court. Moon spent hours with them as they was working, asking about the stories that went with each name and face. Once Chime had discovered that Moon was learning court history from Gold and Merry, and he and Heart had started showing up to argue over the details. Ember mostly stayed in the shadows during those times, able to listen without being drawn in. Stone alternated between being completely absent and arguing just as vociferously as Gold or Chime for his version of events. 

One of the other walls already displayed a great tapestry along with space for two more, and there were actually six more in the works. Moon had been called in to arbitrate among the Arbora about who got to claim which adventures to commemorate in a tapestry. Ember had been no help at all for that arbitration, but merely looked to Moon to make a decision. Stone had actively laughed at him. The first tapestry to be completed had been made cooperatively by Gift, Needle and Dream. As the others got completed, they would be rotated through displays in the consort bower and displays in the entranceway or the hallway connecting the two.

Rill had made a net of gold and amber that Moon was apparently supposed to wear. It was so elaborate and so delicate that Moon couldn’t really imagine ever wearing it. So he’d had it hung in front of a window so that it caught the light. Rill had immediately made a matching ensemble out of silver and pearls to be hung across from the gold and amber one. And Moon’s decision to display these rather than wear them had immediately inspired the Arbora to create a whole set of designs for jewelry that didn’t even have the pretense of being wearable.

Stone had grumbled about being pestered by Dash to fly out to Kish and bring back a sack of amber. He had grumbled about it both before and after going on the trip and coming back with huge loads of amber, which now created falls of sunlight in the doorways to each of the individual chambers in the consort bower.

“Yes: oh,” Chime interrupted Moon’s pleased musings, with a growl. “And I am going to get my work in here before you run out of space entirely.”

Moon grinned back in pleasure at Chime’s scowl. “Excellent. You will always have a place in here.”

He grinned all the more at Chime’s pleased blush.

“Well, good.”


*****
Stone

“Moon,” Stone said, pausing in the doorway to the chamber, “your bower is ridiculous.”

“What? It’s nice. And I like it,” Moon defended. “And Chime and Ember both say it will impress visitors.”

Stone looked around, in part to look for what had changed recently and in part to allow his eyes to adjust. The place really was the most ludicrously lavish thing that Stone had ever seen. The bower looked less like rooms decorated with art and more like a large collage of live-in artwork. It still exuded a sense of warmth and home… once one got over the first shock of it. He literally could not think of any space less like the old tomb-like consort bowers from before the move.

The original addition of the tapestries and a few choice pieces of art, along with Moon and Ember’s own piles of jewels had, at first, made the bower look like a consort bower was supposed to look: a lived-in and respected part of the court. However, it hadn’t stopped there:  Each time Stone returned from some trip, the bower seemed to have acquired a few extra items carefully fitted into a space that he would have previously assumed had no extra space left.

The Arbora tried their best to keep control over the work so that the colors and designs generally worked well together, but the sheer number of overlapping patterns sometimes made his eyes struggle for accurate depth perception. This time, the floor had somehow acquired decorative tiles, barely visible in the spaces between the rugs.

The only visual still point in the room was Moon himself, in his plain dark clothing.

Stone found it amusing that Moon still hadn’t realized why the Arbora had stopped nagging him to wear fancier clothing and jewelry. In this rich, complex environment, all eyes were drawn towards the first consort in his stark simplicity.

“I like it, too!” Thorn piped up from where he had been hidden in a pile of pillows. Each of the pillows, if Stone was guessing correctly, had been made by a different student artisan. Thorn, Stone noted, was apparently working on his reading lesson with Moon’s assistance.

Stone didn’t even raise an eyebrow at that. It had taken him too long to realize that of course Moon wouldn’t be able to read Raksuran text, but since Moon had never told him, Stone wasn’t going to mention it. If Moon wanted to learn with the assistance of a fledgling consort, then that was his decision to make.

Moon really did an extraordinary job of appearing capable of anything and everything even when he didn’t have a clue.

“I like it, as well,” Stone agreed. “It’s still ludicrous.”

That he liked the bowers that Moon had created didn’t make them any less ludicrous but it certainly made Stone a great deal less likely to comment on how different this bower was from any others. Stone suspected that Ember had made the same decision.

Most consort bowers had storage rooms in which they kept excess decorations. They carefully rotated out the central pieces that were intended to display the wealth and skill of the court. Moon, however, had looked horrified at the thought of hiding away gifts like that. He had agreed, after checking that the Arbora craftsmen wouldn’t be offended, that some of the pieces could be rotated through being displayed in other parts of the court.

Even beyond the fact that they were layered in rich decorations, the consort bower was supposed to be entirely segregated from the rest of the court. Young consorts still in the nursery were not supposed to lounge around in the adult consort bower. Nor were the Arbora, artisans or not, supposed to spend hours upon end creating artwork directly onto the walls, ceilings, and even floor.

Every member of the court was aware that these rooms were a place of refuge for the consorts and would leave immediately if any of the consorts appeared to want solitude. Even if they didn’t allow etiquette to demand as much, Moon had only had to demonstrate once that he was capable of bodily throwing a warrior out of the bower if they overstayed their welcome. Moon was more like an old line-grandfather himself than like a fragile young consort. Nonetheless, every member of the court had, at one time or another, managed to find some excuse to visit the bower and most of them had left behind some piece of artwork, both to show their appreciation and to entreat that they be remembered.

And Moon did remember them. He could and would tell the name, caste and story of the creator of each piece in the bower. It was probably a reaction to so many years as a solitary, but Moon liked having physical evidence of the people around him.

“How was your trip? I’m glad you’re back.”

“My trip was good, but I too am glad to be back.”

As much as he might occasionally badger Moon about tendency to argue with Stone rather than obey, Stone missed Moon when visiting other courts.

Other courts were always very respectful to line-grandfathers, catering to their every demand. Having an old line-grandfather present, even a visiting one, was an honor for a court. Line-grandfathers were a representation of a successful court: personifying history and fertility and stability. They demonstrated the strong bloodlines of a court.

The honor, though, was more in the retelling to other courts than in the experience of dealing with a line-grandfather in person. Line-grandfathers, after all, were highly ranked and highly experienced and young consorts were expected to both obey their commands and listen respectfully to their advice. Line-grandfathers also tended to be extremely opinionated, with lots of orders and lots of advice. No matter how honored a court may be by a visiting line-grandfather, it was an honor that the younger consorts (as Stone remembered from his own days of youth, before Azure had claimed him) generally preferred to do without.

Moon didn’t seem to mind, though. Moon also didn’t appear to feel any particular need to obey Stone just because he was a line-grandfather. Or to be polite, for that matter. Or even, Stone thought, as Ember and two young warriors came bouncing into the bower, create a setting in which the other consorts were strictly and formally polite in his presence.

Ember barely paused to nod a greeting at Stone before turning to Moon. “Moon! We got it! Well, Coil did, but Fair and I helped!”

Ember clearly expected Moon to be the one in control of behavior in the bower and Stone found that he was happy with that. Moon saw nothing wrong with casual behavior or rough clothing that spoke more of warriors going hunting than a young consort with his guards.

“Congratulations. Has Bone seen it yet?”

“We took it to him first! He says it’s beautiful and he’s going to show me how to cure the pelt.”

“Bone has high standards and that is a useful skill to learn. We’ll all appreciate the warmth when winter comes.” Moon spoke in his practical manner. Ember beamed with pleasure.

For all that Ember was the claimed consort of Pearl, Indigo Cloud’s ruling queen, he still looked to Stone like he should be in the nursery. Ember so clearly wanted Moon’s approval. And he was going out of his way to learn skills that no other court would have even allowed a consort to learn in order to impress Moon.

While Ember still seemed like little more than a fledgling to Stone’s eyes, he wasn’t the shy, pampered child that had first arrived in court. He may live in a less restrictive environment than ever, given Moon’s lack of interest in strict hierarchies, but he also worked harder and learned more practical skills following Moon’s example than Stone would have imagined possible.

As Ember and the warriors bounced off again to pester Bone, Stone looked inquiringly at Moon.

“Some of the hunters said they’d seen a creature with a thick, patterned pelt they wanted, but it outran them. Ember said that he would like to try hunting it.”

“He did, did he?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm. And what did you say before he said that?”

“I said I would try to get it later, if it didn’t get too far away, but I’d already promised my day to the nursery.”

Stone smiled in satisfaction: he had thought Moon must have approved the activity in some way before Ember had volunteered to do it. Moon looked suspicious, but didn’t try to question Stone.

Moon didn’t give orders any more than he followed orders. But somehow he still managed to make his will felt.

This really was the most ridiculous consort bower, a combination of the most impractical of decorations turning it into a giant jewelbox and the most practical of skills bringing the entire court together for both survival and celebration. This consort bower was the central heart of the court, through which both people and artwork flowed.

It was a good place to call home.



Expectations/Reality, Redux

Frost


Frost stood imperiously before the line-grandfather to give her command. “You are going to find me my consort.”

“Oh, am I?”

“Yes.” She glared at him. He was not reacting the way he was supposed to. “Yes, you are. And he’s going to be like Moon.”

“A consort like Moon will be hard to find.”

“I know! But,” she acknowledged, although somewhat grudgingly, “I have decided that I won’t challenge Jade for him, after all.” She sniffed.

“That’s good of you.” Stone spoke solemnly but Frost glared at him suspiciously. He shouldn’t mock her. She was a queen! The only daughter queen of Indigo Cloud and she was making a major concession for the peace of the court. He should appreciate her sacrifice.

Also, she’d had to corner him for this discussion when he was visiting her clutchmates and sitting down. She still had to look up to stare him in the eye, but it was only a few inches and she was growing fast!

But she needed a consort to be a sister queen, and she didn’t want any of the consorts like they had had at Sky Copper. She wanted a consort like Moon. Moon fought Fell and rescued clutches and was also beautiful and tough and was willing to teach her how to hunt even though everyone else said she was too young. She was not too young. Moon understand that. Moon understood her and it just wasn’t fair that Jade had already claimed him.

But Moon had spoken to her about how life wasn’t always fair and it was important to get along with the other queens of the court. After all, she would need to set a good example for the younger daughter queens from his future clutches.

 Moon’s clutches would also have consorts and she would definitely claim one of his consorts, but she didn’t want to wait for one of them to grow up. She wanted a consort now so she could be a sister queen rather than just a daughter queen.

“You need to find me a consort, because all the consorts who visit are boring.”

Stone raised an eyebrow. “Boring? You don’t think maybe they’re just a bit overwhelmed?”

Frost snorted. She had heard the Arbora talking whenever Indigo Cloud had visiting consorts. The Arbora had running bets on how long a visiting consort would just stare silently from the doorway of the consort bower when they first entered and what their first words would be once they could speak again.

“Of course, they’re overwhelmed. That’s what makes them boring.”

“Hmm.” Stone sounded more dubious than convinced. “The consort bower used to be quite different from what it's like now,” Stone told her.

“Of course. That was before Moon came.”

Stone sighed like she was messing up a lesson, but she wasn’t! She knew her history.

“Even Moon would have been overwhelmed the first time he saw the bowers if they had looked like they do now. In fact,” Stone continued, sounding like he was talking to himself rather than to her, “I rather expect if the bowers had looked like that, he really would have run away that first night.”

“He would not!” Frost had to defend the first consort of Indigo Court even if he wasn’t her consort. “Moon never runs away. Not from anything! That’s why you brought him here. You knew he was perfect. And Ember knew it too, even when he first arrived. He was all sad that Moon had to go. He visited the nursery and told us that when he first arrived, before Pearl had even claimed him. And then after Moon returned, he was all happy and working with the Arbora and learning to hunt with the warriors!”

“I think you’re overlooking Pearl’s contribution to Ember’s happiness,” Stone spoke rather dryly.

Frost sniffed. That wasn’t the point. “The point is that I need a consort like Moon, and you are going to find one for me.”

Stone did not lose the dry quality in his voice when he said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Frost sniffed again but decided it was probably best to accept his statement as made. She gave as stately a nod as she could before walking, in a properly queenly fashion, out of the nursery before any of the teachers saw her, and then ran the rest of the way to consort bower to tell Moon and Ember that her consort-to-be would need his own space soon.








Ten turns later…

Stone wasn’t sure what his expression looked like, but he sure felt appalled. “She once asked me to find her a consort like you, Moon. And she picked Diamond?”

Diamond of Ghost Mist came from excellent bloodlines and was well known as being the most gorgeous consort anyone had ever seen. He was also well known as having the sharpest tongue of any consort. Rumor had it that the falling out between Rose Charm and Ghost Mist that had raised tensions all along the coast had been his responsibilities. Stone had actually been present when Diamond had made Ivory of Opal Night cry. Stone didn’t care much for Ivory, but Diamond had been more than cutting in his disdainful rejection of her.

“Apparently Diamond insulted Indigo Cloud and needed to put taught a lesson.” Moon stated.

Stone shot him a look and growled. “And claiming Diamond as her first consort is teaching him a lesson how?”

Moon shrugged. He had been first consort of Indigo Cloud for more than ten turns. And yet, Moon still acted like he found Raksura culture incomprehensibly crazy. He always acted like he was just learning some new aspect of the culture whenever Frost or any of the other fledglings did something ludicrous.

Stone growled again.

Moon kept a bland expression. “Ember did assure me that the bower would teach Diamond a lesson.”

Stone was virtually sure that Moon was playing up his outsider status in this case. Moon had visited plenty of other courts by now and knew perfectly well that the consort bower of Indigo Cloud was outrageously, extravagantly ornamented. And seeing the expressions on visiting consorts’ faces when they first saw the bower was amusing. Even Diamond looked daunted.

The consort bower was rich with stories and personalities as well as with jewels and fabrics and furs. This consort bower spoke of a court that loved their consorts. This wasn’t just dutiful love directed towards a position of power. This was the devotion of a people to the individuals who held the court together.

Stone thought that perhaps Frost was right: that Diamond needed this lesson. Needed to live somewhere where he couldn’t push everyone away. A place where the love was intrusive and demanding and sometimes too much to take but always there and dependable. This bower wasn’t a treasury intended to hold the wealth of the court, but a temple in which to honor its heart.

Diamond had been raised knowing that he was the most valuable of treasures. He likely hadn’t even known that he could be anything more than that. Indigo Cloud and Frost and Moon would be good for him.

But still… Diamond? Really?
 

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