Chapter 1: To Let
Professor Besithia, a man of some means, lived in ___shire, in his ancestral home of Magi Manor. He was a single gentleman, but had adopted some children as his own.
His initial conception had been for two youths to infest his home for the sake of convenience: an heir, and a spare.He selected a couple of cousins from aunts who had married suitably. A second son, Calligo Uldor, to be his heir. And a fourth son, Loqi Tummelt, who had been offered freely (and almost eagerly).
Without a wife, when his old spinster aunt had died the care and maintenance of the house had fallen to the eldest. Calligo was of the same mind as the Professor - that their position in life and the dignity of their bloodline entitled them to all the luxuries that could be afforded to them.
Shortly after Calligo took over care of the house, scandal was called down upon the Magi Manor.
During his first (and only) term teaching biology at Zegnautus Unversity, he had become intimate with one of his fellow professors. Vivum Argentum had a lovely daughter, engaged to Baronet Highwind.
He had left the University after his one term, the academic life not agreeing with him.
And ten years later, Lady Ariadne Highwind had come to ___shire with a natural son in tow, having been put out from her husband’s house. She shamed him into taking little Prompto Argentum in as his ward, and giving her a large sum of money to avoid her husband’s retaliation.
Officially, Prompto was an unexpected child of Mrs Agentum shortly before her death. Professor Besithia took him into his care as a favour to the late Professor Argentum, his intimate friend. And the two of them were hardly seen together to avoid the notice that Prompto was the mirror image of Verstael in his youth.
The large sum of money, (which Lady Highwind used to convince her husband he must have read the date of her mother’s death incorrectly, and it can’t have possibly occurred before the birth of her ‘younger brother’) was a dire hit to the finances of the Magi Manor.
Besithia and Calligo ought to have economised. But if Calligo ever knew how, it would certainly still be his choice not to.
Even having the burden upon the household eased by Loqi’s being married off to a gentleman in the adjacent neighbourhood could not do enough to bring them back into their income.
So much so that, upon the two-and-twentieth year of Prompto, they were in such dire straits that Besithia’s lawyer was warning him that he may face municipal measures.
A meeting was held, and in attendance was the lawyer, Besithia, Calligo, Prompto - and Besithia’s close friend and confidante, Lord Ardyn Izunia.
Calculations had been made, suggestions to save costs and reduce expenditures. Some way, any way, to retrench. Ardyn tried to invite the opinion of Prompto - who was somewhat more sensible about the dues owed to them as an old, landed family with dwindling fortune, dubious reputation and no title.
Yet, even the idea of his input was put down. “What could he know?” Calligo hissed distastefully, not even looking at the corner where Prompto was sitting by the open window. “Our finances have been terrible since Father was forced to take him in.”
Prompto, who had opened his mouth to answer, quietly closed it and resumed drinking his tea.
Discussion, dismissal - and Besithia snapped: “to be expected to live in such circumstances! I’d sooner quit Magi Manor entirely than see it reduced to such shameful levels of destitution!”
The lawyer caught the phrase and straightened. “Quit Magi Manor?”
It was decided then, Besithia would leave Magi Manor to somewhere he could live more comfortably within his means.
He wanted to go to Insomnia, but the lawyer knew too well how Besithia spent while in the Capital, and was able to convince him to change his plans to return to Zegnautus. He could even arrange for him to teach for a term at the university, “if you were inclined to honour the students in residence.”
It was Ardyn who suggested what the lawyer daren’t mention: “will you be Renting the manor while you were away?”
That caused Besithia to fly into a rage. But the seed was planted - and some three weeks later, he advised the lawyer that should any suitably respectable person happen to enquire after the manor, he would consent to it being shown.
It was a hot afternoon in the latter half of Summer, when they sat about drinking chilled tea and eating ices, when Prompto heard again more news about the plans.
“Colonel Amicitia and his husband come to view the house tomorrow.”
Prompto heard his teacup clatter into the saucer, as it fell from suddenly numb hands. He hadn’t. No. He must have misheard. Colonel Sitter, or...
“Colonel Amicitia? That name does seem familiar,” Ardyn said conversationally.
“We had an Amicitia visit some half-dozen years ago,” the lawyer answered, “With that Mister Morson when his son was visiting Tennebrae. For the water.”
“Quite,” Besithia said, sounding disinterested. He had no care for the military, thought it rose men above their station when they ought to stay where they had been born.
Prompto set his saucer down on the table, ignoring the glare sent his way from the rattling. Shiva’s breath...
“Is he the same one? I thought him a widower.”
The lawyer hawed, uncertain. So it was Prompto who answered: “it was General Clarus Amicitia who visited previously. The Colonel is likely his son, Gladiolus.”
“Oh, what would you know?” Calligo snapped.
Besithia hushed his heir, and murmured (loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room): “You recall the foolish romance he had.”
Face flushing hot, he turned it to the window as if seeking the breeze.
The discussion continued. It was speculated that if the Colonel liked the house, he could take possession on the Feast of the Leviathan. Besithia could go to Zegnautus and settle his own lease on the feast day, ready to begin the new term on the first of September.
Prompto settled back into his seat, and took up his tea again. In all hopes, the Colonel would hate the place, and then his anxieties would be for nothing.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
On the day the Colonel came to inspect the house, Prompto decided to take his regular visit to Lord Izunia’s house.
Ardyn Izunia had been the kindest to him since his arrival, and Prompto often referred to him as his godfather, though no service had ever been performed to confirm it at the Temple of the Six.
He, too, knew why Prompto would want to avoid meeting their prospective tenants. Besithia and Caligo might make snide comments about his foolish romance, but only Ardyn knew the particulars of that time.
The sad little history was such:
When Mr Morson had come for the waters of Tennebrae for the sake of his son’s health, he had taken a fine cottage on the edge of their neighbourhood. Which meant the family had to attend Saturday Services at their local parish. The sick injured boy was Prompto’s age, and he was invited and encouraged to befriend him. Their friendship quickly grew deeper into young long - and as the young Mr Morson had improved in health, he had began to speak of engagement and marriage.
It was Ardyn that he had admitted this news to, and who had cautioned him against it. For Lord Ardyn Izunia knew who Mr Morson had been before the Annexation into Niflheim. He had not cautioned against their friendship - that could be excused by the folly of his young. But to be married to him, with the circumstances of his birth - that could not be excused.
So Prompto did his best to gently rebuff the overtures he had previously delighted in. And the young Mr Morson had been furious - for the rest of his stay he had not consented to be in his company, and not even make a farewell visit when he left after the Feast of Shiva.
“My only hope,” Prompto confessed softly, “is that his family was oblivious to the events of that Summer as mine are.”
Ardyn hummed over his tea. “We may find it wise to remove you from the neighbourhood. The last thing we need is a scandal on the house amongst everything else at present.”
Prompto did find that a peculiar thought. Because obviously he would be in Zegnautus with the family by the time the Colonel settled at Magi Manor.
He discovered the truth of the matter after dinner when they discussed the outcome of the visit. The Colonel was quite taken with the house, especially the gardens, and had agreed to the offered terms, and would take residence the day after Leviathan’s Feast Day.
Besithia and Caligo would go to Zegnautus at the earliest convenience, to arrange suitable accommodation. Prompto would remain behind to shut up their things and make leave to the neighbourhood.
“...and then Ardyn has agreed to take you, and bring you with him for his annual visit to the Keep after Shiva’s Feast.”
Well. That explained Ardyn’s comment earlier that day. Besithia had probably already spoken to him about handing Prompt off onto his hands - as he had always been wont to do whenever he and Caligo visited Insomnia for their annual Shiva’s Feast trip.
Ardyn’s next visit once again changed the arrangement.
“I visited Loqi just this week past,” he announced. “I am afraid he is in rather poor health.”
Loqi had been married to a genteel family in the next neighbourhood, where he spent his days lazing on a couch and complaining of his ill health. Caligo had been in the habit of offering Prompto as company at the first sign of complaint - to avoid the expectation of having to visit himself.
At Ardyn’s comment, it was mere days before Caligo informed Prompto that he would be visiting their “poor sick brother” from the first day of August.
He just quietly submitted and prepared himself for a tedious Autumn.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
It rained, as it was wont to do that time of year, when Ardyn deposited him upon the garden path to Fennestala Manor. He carried his own trunk up to the door and pulled the bell with a firm hand.
The butler took his coat and hat and swept away his muddy shoes; a valet took away his trunk to be deposited in the guest room. But he was so much so considered family that he was left to himself to wander through the house, and enter any room unannounced as if he were home.
He found Loqi sprawled on a fainting couch in his private sitting room, the curtains drawn over the windows, with a hand draped over his face. “So. You have come at last. I was beginning to think the rain had delayed you.”
“I promised to be here on the first, and here I am.” He rang for tea and opened the windows behind the thick curtains to let in fresh air. He spotted Ravus on the crest of the hill as he did so, a huddle of hunting dogs crowded about his feet.
“Have you taken the tonic for your headache yet?” Prompto asked as he re-emerged into the room.
“I could not stomach it,” Loqi bemoaned.
He hummed in sympathy. The rain had always given his brother a headache. “Well, I’ll make your tea just how you like it and we’ll see how you feel.”
After tea and tonic, Loqi was well enough to sit up and eat a light luncheon. Then so well after that to go to the larger sitting room where the rest of the family was gathered.
Once Loqi was settled with Lady Flauret, to be cossetted by her for as long as she could tolerate, Prompto felt free to sit beside Miss Lunafreya Flauret, his favourite friend. Luna was fond of him too.
(The family had proposed a union, but the two of them had been against it - and hence Loqi had been married to Ravus instead.)
Things were the same at Fennestala, but Prompto listened to Luna as if the news was all afresh:
Loqi was always sick and always complaining about being neglected - mostly by Ravus, but often by them all. (“Not that he makes himself good company when we do wait on him.”) Ravus was always out with the dogs, taking the fresh air as much as avoiding his husband. (“He hates to spend time with Loqi when he’s in his sulks. But if only he would spend some time with Loqi, then he might find his husband’s spirits improve.”) Lady Flauret was busy with her social circle and arranging events for the neighbourhood. (“She’s always looking for company, she’ll be glad you have come, and to have a fresh faces in the neighbourhood when the manor is let.”) Lunafreya had her little engagements but it was easy for Prompto to tell she was lonely and bored: her charities and busywork were not enough to engage her active and lively mind. (“Of course, I have no complaints on my part. Have you seen my embroidered cushions in your new room yet? I made them afresh this Spring.”)
Just as all the news was told, the door opened and two elegant dogs trotted in. One dark as night and named for it, and the other pure as white snow.
“Hello Umbra,” Luna greeted, as the dog settled by her feet with a lazy yawn.
The pale counterpart raced to Prompto’s side and buries her snout in his hands with a pleased whine. “Tiny!” he laughed.
Ravus gave a sharp whistle as he too crossed the threshold. “Pryna,” he barked, disapproving. She settled into an elegant sprawl, but did not move from Prompto’s side. Ravus sighed and settled into an armchair, taking up a newspaper to ignore them all. He had not even looked in Loqi’s direction.
Loqi’s face pinched at that, and he loudly sighed and began to complain. Ravus’s face pinched in irritation and he loudly turned the paper and cleared his throat.
Then it wasn’t long until Loqi was complaining of an ill disposition and making Prompto return with him to his private sitting room.
Luna gave him a soft smile of understanding, and took up her embroidery. He returned with his sulking brother to the darkened sitting room to try and ease his foul mood and the resulting headache.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Loqi, having written down the date, suddenly announced: “Goodness! Today is the day the Amicitias settle at Magi.”
Prompto, who agonised over nothing else since Lady Flauret had ordered the servants to decorate for the feast day, just nodded.
It was always a reminder, when coming to Fennestala, how little the events of Magi Manor mattered to the world outside the walls of the building. At home, it had been nothing else in discussion but the retrenchment, the new home in Zegnautus. Here, it had hardly been mentioned, and not at all cared about.
“I’m glad I didn’t think of it before,” Loqi declared, “it makes me so ill to think about it!”
For his declaration, Loqi continued his day with no such complaints of illness. He even needled Ravus until his husband agreed to drive them over the very next day to make introductions. (Prompto was glad there was no room for him in the chaise carriage. It saved him coming up with some sort of reason to be excused.)
The visit was made. Loqi returned well-pleased with the attention. The Amicitias were the height of fashion, and well-bred, with perfect genteel manners. They had payed him the respect he deserved as the ward of their landlord, and had noticed him in particular upon his arrival.
It didn’t seem to bother him all that much that their family home had been taken over, after all. Despite his earlier comments.
Loqi was too oblivious to be tricked into telling whether the Amicitias had mentioned anything about the Morsons, or their stay a half-dozen years ago in ___shire. Ravus, apparently full up of spending time with Loqi for the day, did not reappear at all that evening.
To Prompto’s anxieties, the visit was returned in prompt fashion - and he hadn’t managed to excuse himself in time to avoid the meeting.
“My father’s youngest ward,” Loqi introduced, “Prompto Argentum.”
He bobbed into a quick bow, trying to study them as subtly as possible.
Both gentleman were tall, though the Colonel even more so than his husband. He was admirably broad, filling out his suit in wide expanse across his shoulders. With long dark hair, pulled back in a tail, and strong dark features. They were marked by two pink scars - war wounds most likely, if not duelling scars - that did not detract from his appearance, but rather gave it a rugged uniqueness.
He could see enough of General Amicitia in his features to confirm the connection.
His husband was elegant and well-bred, with classical features and expensive fashions. “Mr Ignis Amicitia,” as he was introduced.
Ravus spoke with Amicitia, and Loqi listened, rapt - leaving Prompto to entertain the mister.
“It was you, and not Loqi I find, that was acquainted with the family when they stayed here last decade.”
“Oh.” He found it hard to force the words out. “A little. I was too young to have much to do with the General, however.”
Mr Amicita nodded. “I meant the Morsons in particular.”
“Oh well, yes.”
“Mr Morson, the senior, is my godfather. I was away at school during that time, so my knowledge of that time is lacking. Were they well here?”
Prompto felt the anxieties in his chest calm. He didn’t know. At ease, he managed to speak about the neighbourhood and the general events of that time, without any outward hesitation.
As they prepared to leave, the Colonel announced: “We’re expecting a visit soon from Mr Morson, who stayed here some years ago.”
The moment was interrupted by the frantic movements of the servants and the dogs. The Colonel did not finish the thought before they made their goodbyes, and Prompto was left with a queasy feeling in his stomach.
The only peace he could grant himself was to try and convince his thoughts they meant the senior Mr Morson. And not Noctis.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
The Amicitias were regular visitors to the Fenestala family. It seemed like every other day when Prompto was dressing for the day’s engagements that he heard the gig coming up the drive.
It wasn’t entirely surprizing - there were very few families of status between the two neighbourhoods, especially with Ardyn out visiting his noble and political connections.
He grew close with the two of them, though closer to Ignis - as he was quickly invited to call him. They had similar humours, and he was an excellent conversationalist.
And then the pair of them did not appear for a whole week. Ignis had commented in passing at their last visit that they expected Mr Morson soon. Prompto had no choice but to accept that Mr Morson had told them the truth about his history with Noctis, and they no longer wanted anything else to do with them. Or him in particular.
On the second week, after returning from weekly service and settling in to enjoy the day of rest while most of the serveants had their half day, they came again.
Prompto was heading down to Loqi’s sitting room - the incense at temple usually gave him a headache - when he saw the butler walk through the entrance hall. On the way to the family sitting room, with guests in tow: Colonel and Ignis Amicitia and-
He yanked himself back around the corner and pressed against the wall. Trying to calm himself down. Despite what he had tried to tell himself, he hadn’t truly believed it was the senior Mr Morson who would be coming to visit. It might be a shock but it was not a surprise.
Once he had calmed his racing heart, he remembered a letter he owed to Caligo, and retreated quickly to his bedroom.
When he returned to the family sitting room, he was greeted by Loqi announcing: “Now you appear! You’ve just missed the Amicitias, they came to introduce their houseguest.”
Prompto made his apologies and mentioned the letter as his excuse.
Loqi had already lost interest in his response, turning away. “He was such a gentleman! So well-bred, such elegant manners. Handsome too, if you like that sort of countenance...”
Prompto sat beside Lunafreya, and scratched at Pryna’s ears, listening to Loqi go on about Mr Morson as if he was his own acquaintance, and not that of their neighbours.
Luna smiled and touched his hand. “You’ll meet him soon,” she explained gently, as if afraid he felt left out. “Mr Amicitia invited us all to dinner on Wednesday night.”
A queasy feeling sunk into his stomach, even as he smiled and nodded to her.
Wednesday. Only Wednesday and the moment would be over and done with. Then he needed hope any more.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
Prompto had focused all his anxieties upon the upcoming Wednesday evening. So when, on the prior Tuesday, the door of the family sitting room opened to submit guests, he was given a severe shock.
A footman led in Ignis, and following behind him, Mr Noctis Morson. Umbra, who had been calmly laying beside Ravus’s armchair, stood and barked in greeting, even before the footman announced their arrival.
Prompto lowered the book he had been reading to Loqi, suddenly unable to feel his fingers. Or seem to breathe.
The niceties were made, then Ignis came to sit nearby Prompto with warm greeting. Just a moment, and then- “ah, forgive my tardiness. I must make introductions. This is-”
“Mr Morson,” Prompto said, unable to take his eyes away from the bored, polite expression of Noctis Morson. “...we have been acquainted, previously.”
Some surprise crossed Noctis’s features, before his countenance was neatly arranged into the same polite mask. Prompto tried to tell himself it did not hurt, that his heart was not pierced by the indifference.
Ignis was speaking again: “Indeed? Noctis, you had not mentioned you were acquainted with Mr Argentum!”
Something unfathomable set in the gentleman’s eyes, and he inclined his head. “My apologies, I knew not that he was in residence. How do you do?”
Without waiting for the response, he turned to speak directly to Lunafreya.
The cut stung him deeply, but he managed to arrange a smile across his features, for Ignis’s sake. “Still shy to distant acquaintances and friends, I see.”
The laugh was all the agreement he needed, and the confirmation of his implication. Ignis was unaware entirely of their history, knew nothing about the name of Prompto or what it had once meant to his friend, Mr Morson.
Loqi, who turned his attention to Noctis and Lunafreya’s conversation, did not notice enough to care when Prompto closed the book and set it aside. He tried to present his normal self: pleasant and easy. There was no need to give Ignis any concern to ponder over.
The visit was short, though Ignis seemed surprised at his friend’s readiness to leave. But a reminder about a visit owed to another family nearby had him standing and making his goodbyes.
And then they were gone, and Prompto could not even have his moment to ponder his feelings and thoughts: Loqi turned to him immediately and demanded him retake up his place in the book.
Prompto was so consumed by his thoughts and feelings that he was unable to sleep more than a few moments on that Tuesday night. So much so that even Ravus commented how unwell he looked over breakfast the next morning. Suggested even, that he might have come down with an illness and best be excused from dinner at the Amicitias’ the next evening.
He gratefully took the reason to be allowed to stay behind from their attendance. To which Loqi immediately responded: “I do not blame you, Prompto. It is so very difficult to see our family home occupied by such strangers. We shall spare you that feeling for one more occasion.
Embarrassed and ashamed, he said nothing and tried to partake in some of the breakfast fare. He managed only a piece of toast or two, and soon afterwards retreated back to his bedroom.
The same thoughts consumed him as he rested, meaning no additional sleep could be found:
What did Noctis think of him? Did he even? He had been so indifferent... was it genuine, or an act to distance himself from feelings that still lingered. If it were the latter, it must be the betrayal. He was not fool enough to allow himself to believe, even for a moment, that any of the tender feeling that he had cherished over the years would remain in the scorned chest of Noctis Morson.
“No,” he murmured to himself firmly. He must not allow himself to be so intimate, even within his own mind. Noctis must be called Mr Morson, as expected of a distance acquaintance, of someone who meant less than nothing to the gentleman.
They must have a perpetual estrangement: they must always be distant, with their history they could not be close again. No intimacy of friendship could exist between them now.
His resolutions and revelations were confirmed when he joined the family at breakfast the following morning.
Loqi was all praise for Mr Morson’s manners, how well-bred and genteel he found him. “Not friendly,” he conceded, “too reserved for that. But the utmost of composure and elegance.” Though, he added soon after: “though he is not so kind to you, Prompto.”
“Oh?” He asked, trying not to seem as wounded by that simple comment.
“When you were mentioned, by Ravus, I heard him say: you were so altered he would not have known you again.”
So altered to as not have known him again. The words struck him as firmly as a blow. He had never been handsome. Freckled and heavyset in his youth, it had always been a wonderful thing that Noctis had seen beyond it to admire his heart. Never having grown tall, and remaining as marred by sun spots as ever - despite all kinds of tonics or recommendations Besithia had made through-out the years - he was not handsome now in his adulthood. But had he really grown so old and coarse that he could not be recognised?
No, nonsense. It was a spurn, again. That Mr Morson was so afflicted by the events of the past that he would not consent to be known by him again. Not even in mere acquaintance.
“Well,” Prompto managed to make himself say, “it was a very long time ago, and I am sure he had no significant acquaintance with me.”
Loqi was already ignoring him, demanding a better cut of meat for his breakfast from the waiting footman.
Prompto was otherwise quiet, and hid himself away for one more day. Allowing that long to wallow upon his misery and wounded heart before he must move on, and continue on as he always must.
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven - Part One
Prompto did not enjoy many of the gentlemanly pursuits, and he was no good at horse riding. Ravus had taken Mr Morson shooting that day, so to go himself was not an option.
So, after ensuring Loqi was in good health, he announced he was set on a long walk.
“I am fond of a long walk,” Loqi declared, heavy with the expectation of an invitation to join him.
He paused. “It will be a very log walk.” He might go as far as the little town in ___shire and visit the shops he was fond of. He knew Loqi would be complaining of tiredness before they left the grounds of Fenestala Park.
Loqi’s countenance fixed into an unhappy moue. “Why is everyone assuming that I am not a good walker?”
He sighed. “I would welcome your company, Loqi - if you think you ought to risk the weather.”
Satisfied, more that he had gotten his way than looking forward to the exercise, Loqi stood to quit the room - to change his shoes and don a thick jacket.
Prompto was relieved when Loqi returned with Lunafreya in company. “I thought I might take the air too,” she said calmly.
He could only thank her with a brief tough to her arm. It would not be the solitary walk he had intended - but Luna could at least turn back with Loqi when he began to tire.
The three of them set out, Loqi in soliloquy as they walked out. Beyond the garden gate, they were met by eager barking. Pryna was tucked into his side before he recognised Ravus and Mr Morson returning with their guns.
“How goes your sport?” Luna called, as they came close enough to be heard.
“No luck today - the new pup scared them all off,” Ravus remarked. “Where are you three off to?”
“We’re for a long walk.” Loqi answered, pleased.
The two newcomers looked to each other and agreed they might as well join the walking party, since their sport had been spoiled for the day.
Prompto made no complaint, though his hopes for a solitary walk with his own thoughts to ruminate, was now dashed to pieces.
Lunafreya led the way with Mr Morson at her side, Umbra between them. She told him the details of the wood they walked though, and pointed out the sights. Loqi hung off his husband’s arm and pestered him with a flow of insincere, if constant, complaints. Prompto drifted between the middle of both couples, or on the other side of Loqi to lend an ear to his woes - Pryna faithfully at his side.
They crested a large hill bordering the edge of the family’s property.
Luna and Mr Morson stood atop to admire the view, but when Loqi recognised where they had arrived, he came to an abrupt stop.
“Well!” he declared loudly, “I think we ought to turn back.”
They had come across the border of the property that belonged to some cousins, on the father’s side of Ravus’s family. The Nox family, in much less favourable circumstances than the titled and lofty Flaurets, were still in the good graces of their cousins. Often relying on their charity, and their generosity for entertainment. Loqi had never made his disgust of the family secret, much to the fury of his husband.
Ravus gave him a cool look. “Now that we have come, I ought to pay a visit to my cousin Nox.”
“That is too far a walk, and I am tired.”
Ravus’s expression darkened. “I would bid you come with me. And you might rest for an half hour in their kitchen.”
Loqi screwed up his countenance and turned away. “Walking back up that hill would do worse than any moments rest would do me.” He sat himself down firmly on a hewn tree stump. “I intend to rest here for a moment and then go home, thank you!” he finished sharply.
With a final cool look, Ravus strode off down the hill. Lunafreya sighed and hastened after her brother.
“Cousins,” Loqi explained to Mr Morson - who wore his indifference plain upon his countenance. “Much beneath our social standing. I promise you I have not been into that house more than thrice since my marriage.”
Mr Morson gave him no reply, nor change in his expression, and turned away.
Ashamed of his brother’s poor manners, Prompto turned to inspect the nearby trees for nuts.
Lunafreya returned, face aglow with exercise and smiling prettily. “Around the other side of the crest is a very picturesque view of ___shire. Should we go see it, Mr Morson?”
The two of them left, and Loqi gave a quite put-upon sigh. No doubt feeling himself neglected and ill-used. Prompto returned to his side with a handful of chestnuts in offering - and soothed his brother’s temper.
Chapter 8: Chapter Seven - Part Two
No more than fifteen minutes, and Loqi was complaining once more: “My seat is damp.”
Prompto tried not to sigh too obviously. “Shall we walk?”
“Where has Lunafreya gone?” He complained. “I’m sure she has found a better seat.”
“She was to see the outlook with Mr Morson,” he explained. “You know very well there is no better seat that way.”
“I will not be damp!” Loqi refused. He stood abruptly and strode off along the path to the outlook.
Prompto sighed aloud this time. But he could at least have a few moments of solitude for rumination. No time for any real contemplation, Loqi would be back before long.
To conceal his expression from any arrival, he went back to hunting nuts from the trees.
Noctis had been visiting often at the Manor, there more days and meals amongst the Flaurets than he did with the Amicitias. And, when not at sport with Ravus, found often with Luna, in polite but private conversation.
Prompto had thought at first maybe the attention to her was to avoid being forced to converse with him. But if he could convince himself of it at the beginning, he could not believe it to be truth now.
They like each other, genuinely and kindly.
She much more than him, but Prompto knew him to be shy and reserved. He liked her well enough - and could easily love her. Yet Prompto did not think he loved her yet.
It was hard to bear his presence so often. But one could learn to overcome anything they faced so frequently. The pains of seeing him, of hearing him daily were dulled.
His thoughts were interrupted by voices, as if they were summoned from his thoughts.
“We are as fond of Loqi as to be expected,” Lunafreya was saying, “but his bouts of ill-health and distemper disturb us all, and the peace of the household. Frightens the housemaids terribly at times.”
“I am curious,” came Mr Morson’s voice. Deep and pleasant as it had promised to become in their youth. “I would not think it is a marriage of love, seeing them together now.”
“It was not,” Lunafreya replied softly. “It was I who was to be maried - to Prompto, not Loqi, no need to make such an expression.” She gave an easy laugh.
“Prompto would make a better husband than it appears Loqi makes of Ravus.” There was something unrecognisable in the gentleman’s tone of voice. Prompto wondered a moment if he would feel better or worse understanding his meaning.
“Maybe,” she consented. “But after the contract between our families were made - well. It was decided, privately, between the two of us, that our friendship was best served to be remained as a friendship.”
“And thus Ravus was made to honour the contract.”
“I have often wondered if the happiness of the household would have better served if I had married him.”
They came into view between orange leaves and bare branches, and Prompto found he could not breathe. Noctis’s expression was soft with affection, so different from the usual mask of polite indifference.
“Luna,” he said, intent and sincere, “it is my dearest wish that you will only ever marry for the deepest, truest love.”
Prompto could bear to listen no longer. He turned away and walked back to the stump to sit.
The old proverb proved true then. Those who eavesdrop hear what they deserve. To listen to that conversation would hurt no one else in the world but him - and he was deserving of it two-fold. Simply, for the rudeness of listening to their private conversation at all. But more intricately, for his actions a half-dozen years ago - and how he had broken Mr Morson’s heart, and his trust.
“Very well,” he said quietly, only to himself. “This moment is the last I shall feel sorry for myself.” From the next onward, he would choose instead to be happy for his dear friend Luna, and that of a man he would ever hold dear in his heart.
In the next moment, Loqi returned, and demanded Prompto accompany him home.
Chapter 9: Chapter Eight
Mr Morson disappeared without notice. Prompto wondered if he had gone to seek permission from his father to make a union. Even Ignis thought his departure peculiar.
In his absence, Loqi felt at ease to talk of him freely - and his suspicions.
“He is so very taken with Luna!” he said joyfully to Ravus - who had actually joined them in Loqi’s sitting room in the absence of his sporting companion. “It would be a wonderful match. He had no surname of dignity, and only a humble fortune - but he has such gentlemanly manners. He could live here with us in Fenestala! He makes such a pleasant addition to our household. Don’t you think so, my love?”
Ravus looked up from his plate. “If she likes him, she would to well to make the match.” His lack of enthusiasm was not enough for his husband.
“Any fool could tell she likes him,” Loqi said dismissively. “You agree with me, Prompto.”
It wasn’t a question, but Loqi eyed him until he was obliged to answer. “They seem to be fond of each other, yes.”
“And they would make a good match!” Loqi insisted.
That was harder to agree with, but he did manage to give an honest response: “They would make each other happy, I daresay. Should both families think it suitable, I can imagine no impediment to the union.”
Ravus was giving him an inquisitive look, but didn’t ask any questions. “Our mother would permit it. But no interference, Loqi, you must allow things to grow naturally as they will.”
“Yes, yes. Of course.” Satisfied, Loqi needed no more input from them. He sat and continued to discuss how well he thought the match would be.
After twelve days, Mr Morson returned, more lively than before. Prompto almost expected the engagement to be announced at dinner.
But instead, the gentleman gave the excuse of his absence:
“An old acquaintance of my father’s has taken a house at Altissia - a half-day’sride from here. I was visiting, and left so quickly I could not send word.”
“Altissia. I hear it is quite handsome this time of year,” Ravus commented.
“Too cold for the tourists,” Prompto agreed. “It would be quite peaceful.”
Luna gave a soft sigh. “You’re so lucky, I’ve always wanted to see Altissia. I hear that it is so picturesque and romantic.”
“I’m return after Saturday service,” Mr Morson offered, “I’ll bring you a postcard of the place.”
She smiled with a charming blush. “I would be ever so grateful.”
The conversation continued about Altissia and the seaside throughout dinner and in the drawing room after.
At cards, Ravus sat back with a decided look. “I have made up my mind - if you would have us Mr Morson, I am resolute to come with you to Altissia. All of us, it would be such a treat for you to see it in person, Luna.”
Her smile lit the room. “Oh! Thank you, Ravus!”
He smiled calmly and nodded back to her. To Prompto, he said: “I’ll write to Lord Izunia and advise him you will be delayed in taking you from us for a few extra days.”
He blinked in surprise. “You mean to take me with you?”
Ravus chuckled. “Of course. One last treat before we are to give you back to Besithia.”
“Well... it is very picturesque,” he said, pleased.
“It is decided then,” Mr Morson said. “We shall all go together.
“Go where?” Loqi asked, as he returned with a cup of tea.
“I do not like the seaside,” he said, then sipped his tea.
The mood was so well, they only gave him fond looks before speaking on.
Chapter 10: Chapter Nine
Lady Flauret decided not to go with them, due to some engagements within the neighbourhood in the coming week, and planning the upcoming Feast of Shiva.
So it was the younger members of the house who departed after breakfast on Sunday. Ravus sat up to drive the barouche himself, while Noctis rode ahead on horeseback. Lunafreya sat up on the seat beside her brother to be treated to the sights as they travelled. Loqi and Prompto were in the box, sitting forward - Loqi had complained that he hated the barouche and would rather have taken the gig, but within the first half-hour was asleep against Prompto’s shoulder.
He enjoyed the shifting landscape, with delight. Since arriving at ___shire, he had never left any further than Fenestala Manor in the neighbourhood besides. Too young to remember much else before, every sight was a fresh delight.
They arrived at Altissia as the evening was growing, and after checking in at the hotel, universally decided to take a walk along the nearby esplanade. Even Loqi, who still claimed to hate the seaside to anyone who would listen, agreed - “I’ve been so cramped in the carriage all day, a walk would do me well. Lend me your arm, dear.”
Mr Morson had headed off quickly, and as they walked along the paved road alongside the ocean, suddenly reappeared with three companions.
Introductions were quickly made. Captain Ostium, a large man who relied heavily on his walking stick due to an injury in service. Captain Altius, an independent woman with charming manners. And finally, Captain Ulric, a tall and intimidating man who seemed a little silenced by the events of his service.
The group turned to walk alongside them, and their final destination was adjusted to be the trio’s seaside cottage.
Prompto found himself, by match of gait and the division of the others, walking alongside Captain Ulric. Used to the soliloquies of Besithia’s other wards, he was never one much to tolerate silence. So Prompto filled the silence himself, speaking of the sights and explaining how this was his first trip to the seaside.
He had assumed Captain Ulric was not really listening, but was surprised to receive a polite question to encourage more speech when he drifted to a natural pause. Pleased, he continued to speak as they walked on.
When arriving at the cottage - small and humble but clearly tended well and made homely by the small group - Prompto found himself invited to sit beside Captain Ulric by the fire with a gesture.
It was him who spoke this time, murmuring in a gentle voice about his home in Galahd. His deep, charming voice painted a picture of the strange place - Prompto could almost see it in his mind as he listened.
Loqi eventually called their group to order, announcing that they had ordered dinner to be served back at the hotel. He was even so gracious to invite the three to join them for cards and supper.
As they walked back, Prompto was surprised to find Mr Morson in step beside him. The two of them had been polite but distant - always finding whatever excuse to never be in private conversation together. (Even so far as Mr Morson to sit and read a newspaper when the two of them were in the sitting room alone together while waiting for Ravus.)
“You did a kind thing today,” Mr Morson said, his voice low and intimate.
“Sir?” He replied, uncertainly.
“Speaking with Ulric,” he clarified. “Ever since the death of his sister, he has been laid very low. Even Captain Altius remarked that she had never seen him speak so long since the event.”
He lowered his head calmly, feeling his cheeks heat. “Oh. I didn’t know.” He probably would have acted the same, had he known. Yet, he hadn’t. “I suppose...” He paused. “That I am glad I could be of some use then.”
Mr Morson was quiet for a long moment. When he spoke again, his voice was cool. “You needn’t be of use Prompto.”
His breath caught in his chest, and he darted a look at Mr Morson’s face. It was stony and reserved. He quickly looked away again. Noctis had never said his given name, in all the weeks he had been visiting at Fenestala. He daren’t name his reaction to hearing it again.
“I like to be of use,” he commented, not looking up from the ground.
Mr Morson did not respond to that. But continued to walk by his side regardless. After some time, he spoke again: “I still wanted to thank you. For speaking with Nyx. And to pass on his friends’ too. They say it was a joy to see him so lively again, since his loss.”
He nodded. “It was no chore to do so.”
They were quiet again, and when they reached the hotel, Mr Morson returned to his usual place at Lunafreya’s side.
Chapter 11: Chapter Ten
After breakfast, Prompto excused himself from the group, and headed back up to his room to change and gather his things. Upon the stairs, he almost ran into a well-dressed woman. He bowed and touched his head, in lieu of taking off his hat, and let her pass. He was aware of her gaze on him as she passed by, and subtly studied her before she turned around the bend of the staircase.
She was beautiful, with silvery blonde hair arranged in the latest fashions, dressed in mourning. Her features were somehow familiar to him, but he could not pick where he might know them from.
Shaking off his thoughts, he headed into his room and collected his sketchbook and charcoals. He hadn’t sketched in some time, with a lack of new subjects, but here he could not help but start again.
He settled on a seat along the esplanade, sitting calm and quiet as he did a few practice sketches and began to draw the broken arch over the water across from him. He was totally absorbed, and did not notice he was being called until he felt a hand on his arm - thankfully stilling his hand so he didn’t ruin his sketch.
“Oh, Luna,” he said with a faint smile. “I did not hear you, apologies.”
She was smiling sweetly. “You were absorbed, no need for apologies.” Behind her, he noticed the trio of captains and Mr Morson. “We were just walking by on a stroll.”
He bowed his head politely to them all. “The weather is pleasant for your walk.”
“Would you join us?” Captain Altius asked politely.
“Ah... I should like to finish my sketch first. Another time, of course.”
She smiled and nodded.
Captain Ostium declared he would sit with Mr Argentum until they turned back and rejoin them there. Prompto invited him to sit beside him, though promised to be very poor company. He smiled jovially, “to rest my leg in some good company would be well enough.”
The other three walked on, and Prompto continued his sketch. The captain was quiet and patient with him, but once he finished, eagerly took the opportunity to speak: “Mr Morson noted that he passed on your thanks for your attentions to Nyx?”
Nyx was the given name of Captain Ulric, he recalled.
“Yes, he gave your gratitude - though I must insist them unnecessary. I was happy to do it, and unaware of the [importance] of my actions.” He answered.
“You may think them unnecessary, but we all consider it otherwise.” From his pocket, he took out a miniature enclosed in a beautiful silver locket. Opening it, he revealed a beautiful young girl, who he could trace the resemblance to Captain Ulric. “This was Miss Ulric,” he murmured. “Selena. She was the brightest, most lively girl you could ever have imagined.”
“She was very beautiful,” he said softly.
“That too,” he agreed. “Nyx was as close to her as any siblings in the world. He had tried to save her, but was unsuccessful. He has barely spoken since then. But last night... and today too. I’ve heard him speak more than I have in years. So you do have our gratitude, no matter how little you value it.”
His breath caught at that. “I value it,” he insisted, “only that I do not know that I am worthy of it.”
“You are, Mr Argentum, I promise you that.” They were quiet for a moment, then commented: “I think that lady admires you, my friend. She has been watching you this whole time.”
“Hm?” He glanced up to see where the captain was looking. And there he spotted the lady in question: the very same one he had come upon on the stairs. He didn’t know why the thought of her admiring him seemed to sit so uncomfortably. “We came across each other at the hotel, she probably thinks I’m quite rude for almost running in to her.”
Captain Ostium hummed, but Prompto got the feeling he did not agree with him.
Within the next moment, the others returned from their walk, and Prompto joined them to return to the hotel together.
Chapter 12: Chapter Eleven - Part One
At breakfast on the final day of their visit, Prompto sat between Mr Morson and Loqi. Mr Morson was yawning, barely awake, between sips of his tea. Ravus was up by the window, watching the traffic on the Esplanade.
A servant waiting the table was fixed with his question: “That’s a fine carriage. I don’t recognise the arms. Do you recall who might be checking out today?”
“I daresay that would be Lady Highwind, sir,” he answered. “Is the driver in mourning?”
Prompto could feel every muscle in his body tense up. Lady Highwind!
He darted a quick look at Loqi, who met his eyes. Then immediately looked away and snapped: “where is my toast? Ravus, sit down, your tea is going cold!”
Ravus rolled his eyes and took his seat, speaking about their plans for the final day instead. Prompto relaxed, grateful the moment had passed.
Lady Highwind. Six, no wonder she was so familiar! He hadn’t recognised his sister directly - she’d been all of five years old when he’d been handed off to Besithia. And the way she had watched him. She must at least suspect, if not already know who he was.
He excused himself to dress - and tried to tell himself he couldn’t feel Mr Morson’s eyes on him as he left.
Sketchbook in hand, he headed out to wait for the others.
Captain Ulric and Altius arrived first - Ostium would meet them further along the walk, due to his leg.
Soon the others joined them, and they set of for the sea wall for the day’s walk.
Prompto found himself walking alongside Captain Ulric. “Are those your sketches, Mr Argentum?”
He agreed they were, and when Nyx asked to see them - he agreed, but cautioned: “You will find little but the sights you see every day. I have had few subjects to occupy my pages in these years past.”
“I should still like to see how your eye does. What is local to me is fresh to you, and together we can see it all anew.”
His cheeks felt warm - but he hoped the brisk wind and the exercise could excuse it.
Captain Ulric started at the latest sketch - the pier and some handsome cliffs behind - and worked backward.
He lingered on the last - a portrait of Luna busy at work on her embroidery.
And, as if his attention required explanation, Ulric pronounced: “this is your only portrait. I am studying the difference in your technique and styles.”
He smiled. “I’ve never before or since had a live subject so patient, or gentle,” he answered. “Architecture does not fidget.”
Ulric laughed, fastened the book closed with its ribbon and gave it back: “And Fenestala is in ___shire, have I heard?”
“Tennebrae, the neighbourhood adjacent,” he corrected, smiling.
“It looks to be very picturesque, by your hand,” Ulric continued. “Perhaps one day I might go to see the sights penned in your book.”
He smiled. “You should find a ready host in the Flaurets, I daresay. And Ravus would give you some sport.”
Ulric smiled and looked on ahead.
Up ahead, the front of the group had reached the stairs back up to the Esplanade. Ravus held Loqi’s arm and walked him up, the latter complaining that the stairs were covered in algae and too slippery to be safe.
Shaking their heads at one another in amusement, Ostium and Altius quickened up the stairs with ease.
As Prompto and Ulric reached the steps, it was Luna’s turn to go up. She glanced at Mr Morson, but didn’t take his arm when offered. She hurried up the stairs and slipped.
Time seemed to halve as he watched. Luna’s delicate shoe slipped on a patch of algae on the stairs and she began to fall. Her temple struck against the first stair and her limp form slid down the dozen steps, rolling to lay deathly still on the path at his feet.
Chapter 13: Chapter Eleven - Part Two
Loqi’s loud, panicked screaming broke the sudden silence that fell. It snapped Prompto out of his shock, and he knelt quickly beside Luna. Ravus tried to shush his husband, and Prompto carefully eased Luna’s head and neck up to rest on his knee.
“Get me Loqi’s salts,” he commanded, “don’t jostle her, keep her still. Give her air!”
People moved to his commands. At a whiff of the salts, Lunafreya’s eyes fluttered open, pupils mismatched, darted around, then slipped closed again. But at least she had woken.
“What can we do?” Mr Morson asked, his voice pitched in panic.
“A doctor! And a stretcher! We must get her indoors, and keep her neck still!”
Mr Morson headed to the stairs but wavered.
A thought occurred to Prompto. “Ulric!” he corrected. “Captain Ulric! He will go get the doctor, he knows where one can be found!”
The Captain nodded and raced up the stairs, careful to avoid the step she had slipped upon.
Captain Altius had summoned some strong men and a stretcher. “Come. Our house is closer than the hotel and has no stairs. Bring her there. She can be placed in my bed.”
The men rushed her off, holding her steady. Prompto hurried after them, aware of Altius beside him, and knowing the others were coming slowly behind.
He was there in time to be present when Ulric returned with the doctor. He sat aside and watched as she was looked over and diagnosed.
He sat by to follow the doctor’s instructions for keeping her comfortable while they left to inform the rest of the family about her condition.
No injury to the neck, but a concussion, and they would not know the state of her mind until she woke and could be spoken to. Prompto was a little relieved, but still anxious. The wait was torture, for her to wake and the full diagnosis given.
Once she was comfortable, and Altius settled to watch her and call in case she woke.
He came into the sitting room, in the middle of a conversation.
“...ought to return to Fenestala, inform Lady Flauret. Take home some of the party too. Loqi, I think - he will be too... distressed to be of any use in the sick room.”
Ravus nodded to Mr Morson in agreement. “I cannot go. She is my sister, I must stay with her.”
Mr Morson nodded. “I think to Prompto must remain. He was the only one of us sensible enough to act at the event. He is by far the best person to take care of her.”
“Prompto!” Loqi wailed. “My poor sister! Lunafreya!”
His call drew their attention to him, and he came to sit by his brother to try and calm him.
Mr Morson stepped forward. “Prompto, you must stay. You will be the best option to look after Lunafreya.”
He nodded numbly. “I should like to stay.”
“I will take Loqi home, and inform Lady Flauret about the events. Ravus will stay here.”
“Take me home!” Loqi protested, his voice shrill and panicked. “No! I will not be separated from Ravus.”
“Loqi, please,” Ravus said, his voice tired.
“And to make Prompto stay in my place! When he is nothing to Luna! I am her brother in law!” he continued. “No! It is far too cruel, far too cruel.”
Ravus looked pained by the protest, but could not argue further with that. He turned to Ostium, who was sat nearby.
“There is room enough for some of you,” the captain answered. “It shall be a tight fit, but if we sling up a hammock or two, you needn’t keep your room at the hotel...”
Prompto looked around the little cottage. No, there was not room enough for the three of them - or more, once Mr Morson returned to tend to his sweetheart.
“I will instruct Loqi on how to tend to her, as per the doctor’s instructions,” he offered, though it hurt to say it. He wished more than anything to stay and nurse Luna to health. “He often suffered from headaches at home, he will know how to keep the room and how to soothe her.”
Mr Morson looked pained. Turned away.
“I can go by coach,” he murmured to Ravus. “Only the barest minimum need me spent for my convenience.”
“Nonsense. Mr Morson will drive you home - he is to go back to inform mother, anyway.”
He bowed his head. “Whatever serves best.”
He left his sketchbook with Captain Ulric, that she might have a little keepsake to know he was thinking of her in her illness.
He carried his own things to the barouche, and sat quietly as Mr Morson nudged the horses as fast as they could go. He couldn’t enjoy the landscape as it blurred past, his mind on the sickbed and Luna injured, possibly never to regain his senses.
Some miles down the road, Mr Morson spoke. “I should have...” He trailed off. “I should have made her take my arm.”
Prompto just shook his head. “You offered it, and she did not take it. There is no point in placing the blame where it need not rest.”
“Oh, six,” Mr Morson breathed, his voice tight with pained thoughts. And he did not speak again for the rest of the journey.
Chapter 14: Part Two: Chapter Twelve
Prompto gave a heavy, resigned sigh as Ardyn’s coach drove through the gates of Zegnatus. He supposed… it may be nice to have young company again. Even if that company was Caligo.
In the day following his return from Altissia, he encouraged Lady Flauret to go herself to Luna’s side, and to take with her the old governess who was experienced in nursing unwell children. She set out the very next day and Prompto spent the last few days of his stay in Tennebrae alone in the large manor. .
When Ardyn had collected him and taken him back to ___shire, there was little company there too. Ardyn was always off busy, doing who knew what. Once or twice, the Amicitias came to visit – but could only visit when Ardyn was home, and didn’t seem to be very fond of the lordship.
Prompto told them both the events of Altissia, though he was sure they had heard most of it from Mr Morson. He learned from them that the gentleman had only stayed overnight with them at
And then, after a cold and cheerless Feast of Shiva, Ardyn delivered Prompto to Besithia in Zegnautus. He pretended to sleep the whole journey, so as to avoid yet another conversation of how much he would like it here, and how many things there were to do.
At the very least, he could have some new subjects to sketch. The buildings in Zegnautus were severe and displeasing to the eye, but that – as he told himself firmly – would be a challenge. For he’d never drawn anything like it.
He pretended to be asleep to avoid having to speak to Ardyn as they travelled most of the way, but when they woke, Ardyn made sure to knock on the carriage and wake him to call him to look as they travelled in.
Six, the buildings were so… ugly. He sighed and tried to concentrate on the turns to know his way home, but was more than lost before long. Even in Altissia, they had stayed mostly in their quarter. But this place was large and twisted and uniform and so ugly.
He closed the window shut and waited for the carriage to come to a stop. It did, nearly an hour later, and he was handed out by an unfamiliar footman, with the Besithia crest pinned on his lapel.
“Mister Argentum, sir. Pleased to greet you. The professor has requested your presence immediately upon your arrival.”
How peculiar. He bowed to Ardyn, gave his thanks, and promised him a visit upon his first leisure. To which Ardyn only gave a queer smile and said he would send the carriage at a word.
Then Prompto allowed himself to be escorted inside, and was completely unsurprised when he was left alone in a small tearoom for near on an hour. Requested his presence immediately, so they had said.
It was Caligo who arrived first, and looked unpleasantly surprised to see him there. “Oh. You. I suppose Lord Izunia dropped you off?”
“As expected. He should have come in, mind you. But I suppose he wanted to settle in to his own abode. Did you call for tea?”
“I didn’t presume to-”
“Of course not.” He went over to ring a bell to summon a maid and then sat himself down upon the loveseat.
“Caligo. The Professor said he wished to see me when I arrived. Do you know where he went?” He pressed.
“Oh. That. No, he doesn’t need to speak with you. He simply wanted you inside the house before you could be spotted. The Argentums are known in this Town, Prompto. You can hardly be seen without!”
Prompto was quiet. Shocked and still, but somehow unsurprised. “You mean to say that I shall be confined to the house for our entire stay?” He asked.
“Must you be so droll? You may have visits out to Lord Izunia’s, so long as you go in the closed carriage. But you cannot go about at your own leisure. What if you were to be seen?”
“I would have rather stayed in ___shire,” he murmured, resigned.
“Yes, we all would have. Go fetch the maid and ask for my tea will you? Then I suppose she can show you to your bedroom.”
Chapter 15: Chapter Thirteen
Prompto became a writer of letters.
There was barely anything else to do after all. Besithia and Caligo felt it beneath their station to entertain at home, and Ardyn was always too busy to spare the carriage for him more than once a week. And he was never one to read books. There was only so long he could spend playing on their tiny billiards table, and at solitaire.
So: he wrote letters. Loqi was the only one who really replied often, or who had the time to spare, he supposed. He received news, at least, and the familiar snippets of life at Fennestala he had grown accustomed to.
Loqi himself seemed in much higher spirits, and with a more positive disposition on his life than he had ever acquired. He had proved Useful, which he had never been before in his life – tending to Lunafreya all through her illness at Altissia, and still yet carefully tending to her on her return home to Fennestala after Shiva’s Feast day.
Luna was recovered, bodily at least. But her personality had been altered in a way that might remain for the rest of her life.
She could no longer spend all her time on her quiet indoor pursuits as she once did. Sitting shut up within the house and working on busywork quickly caused an acute headache.
So she and Loqi often took walks about the grounds of Fennestala, and Ravus often joined them. With someone else to worry about, rather than his own imaginary complaints, Ravus had become fond of the new side of his husband he saw.
If the sun was too hot, Loqi tended to her in his sitting room. It had been equipped for the comfort of one ridden by headache — and he knew well how to tend to another, having so much personal experience himself. He knew when to administer a powder from the apothecary, or when she simply needed water and fresh air. Knew when to push her to be active or when to let her be quiet on the chaise.
Prompto was so pleased for them, and their improvements. Though it made him long deeply to return to their little domestic. But with Lunafreya for company, Loqi spared no thought for desiring his brother. What little hints Prompto dared to pen had went unacknowledged. Yet he couldn’t resent it, when both persons he was so fond of found much contentment in each other.
It was after Ramuh’s day, and nearing Springtime, when he received the first fresh news of the friends they had made at Altissia.
From previous letters he knew that Ravus had extended an invitation for the captains to visit, which had been enthusiastically seconded by Lady Flauret. But they had postponed any visit, for the weather made travel unbearable on Captain Ostium’s war wound. Nothing else had been given since then, except that Mr Morson had stayed in Altissia with his friends rather than return to Fennestala at Ravus’s explicit invitation.
A rather thicker than usual letter arrived for Prompto, and he read it with curiosity. The first part was the usual responses, progress of Lunafreya’s health and the comings and goings of the Manor.
But then, a second part:
I kept this letter open that I might let you know the safe arrival of our Altissian friends. And have I news for you, Prompto!
Yesterday afternoon, Captain Ostium and Altius arrived. We expected some excuse for Captain Ulric’s absence — that his disposition or mark from the war prevented him from travelling at this time.
But you cannot guess at the truth! I shall tell you because you have absolutely no way of knowing what I am to write now. Do ensure you are sitting, Prompto, else the news may shock you into it!
There was one very simple reason that Captain Ulric did not attend. And it is nothing less than his being in LOVE with Lunafreya! He sent his friends with a letter begging Mother’s permission for her hand in marriage, and would not come until he had received a positive response!
(A promise had all been prearranged between them, back in Altissia. She was very sly not to let a single hint slip!)
Mother of course sent her blessing post-haste and we expect Captain Ulric tomorrow first thing. What speed the young in love have!
Write again soon,
Chapter 16: Chapter Fourteen
Prompto wrote Luna a long letter of congratulations, and a reply to Loqi of decent length for the letter he received. Then at the end of the day, he headed downstairs to put it to the post.
“A card arrived for you, Mister Argentum,” a servant announced as he came by. She gave him a sweet smile.
He blinked. “A card?”
“A calling card, sir, yes.”
That was even more surprising. “Thank you.” He headed to the hall table after his letters were put in. It was a card, though they were usually left for Besithia or Caligo. But when he saw the name, he realised with a soft smile.
It was from Mister Ignis Amicitia, written in a neat little hand, with an address on the back. He smiled, delighted. He had never received a card of his own before.
He headed up to the sitting room so he could write a quick note in answer. Caligo and Besithia looked up when he came in, over tea. “Why did you bring my card up?” Caligo asked irritably. The two of them liked to display them proudly for anyone else who came in.
“It’s for me,” Prompto answered quietly, as he went to his little writing table in the corner.
“For you?” Caligo sneered, as if it was unbelievable. “Who knows you to call on?”
“Mr Amicitia,” he answered. “We became acquainted when I was visiting Loqi.”
“Our tenant? Mr Amicitia?” Besithia asked. “He has come to Zegnautus?”
“It would seem so. I was to write a letter in response.”
“You can’t write a letter in response to a card!” Caligo protested, as if it was the most offensive thing he could have suggested.
“...what am I suppose to do?” He answered, agitated.
“You have to return the visit and leave a calling card!” Caligo snapped, as if the answer was obvious.
“Well, can I go call on him then?” He asked, in a rather pointed question.
Caligo’s cheeks flushed with anger and he looked away sharply. “Of course not!”
“Then I shall send a note. It would be worse than not acknowledging the card at all, would it not?” He asked.
Caligo gaped at him angrily, then turned a gaze on Besithia. As if commanding him to do something!
Besithia merely looked disinterested. “I suppose there is no real matter in slighting someone so low beneath our station. They are our tenants after all.”
That was as close to permission as he was going to get, though he hated to think that Ignis may think Prompto was snubbing him. So in his letter, he noted that he was at this time indisposed, but wanted to acknowledge his card at the first possible convenience. And had they heard the news about Lady Lunafreya and Captain Ulric?
It was hard not to pen the question that knotted tightly in his chest. The question that Loqi would never think to answer, and he could not possibly ask of Lunafreya.
What of Mister Morson?
Had they not been all but engaged last Autumn? Was he slighted? Did he resent his friend, was he impugned by the Flaurets? Was he sad?
But no, that he could not pen to Ignis in return for a simple calling card. Maybe, in time, after a communication or two confirming the news and expression all the joy, he could hint towards it, and maybe Ignis could answer.
It was his only hope for learning whether Mr Morson was nursing a wounded heart.
Chapter 17: Chapter Fifteen
Prompto was coming down the stairs to enquire from the footman if there had been any letters for him, and was surprised to see Mr Ignis Amicitia, and the colonel, themselves standing in the entrance hall, still in their hats and coats.
“Mr Argentum does not accept guests,” the butler was trying to insist - inevitably at Besithia’s orders.
“He mentioned he was indisposed, but we shall be quick. Only we have some delightful news to share with him.” Ignis sounded polite as always, but there was something unbending as steel under his voice.
“Hojo,” Prompto called, using the butler’s name. “It’s alright. I’m out of bed. I’ll show them to the sitting room.”
The butler looked agitated but, knowing he could not turn them out now, gave a little bow. He collected their coats and hats, then let Prompto lead them to the sitting room. Once enclosed in the doors, Prompto embraced his friend, and warmly shook the Colonel’s hand.
“What a delightful surprise!” he said, his countenance a wild smile he could not suppress. “I have not had company in an age.”
The couple exchanged glances, of some secret wedded meaning, no doubt, but sat at Prompto’s invitation. He rang the bell for tea, two firm tugs as Caligo gave. He could be excused asking them directly, with having guests. He was somewhat certain anyway, though he may get a word from Besithia about it.
“You have been unwell?” Ignis pressed. “You mentioned that you were too indisposed, and the butler did not want to let us in.”
“The city life does not agree with me,” he answered, though did not let them press any further than that. “What brings you here? Summers in ___shire are always a delight.”
“We were invited by General Amicitia,” Ignis answered, as the colonel seemed to occupy himself with perusing the room about them. “Are you recovered?”
“Pardon?” Recovered from what?
“Your illness. You have been indisposed, from the city air?” Ignis prompted.
“I feel well enough today,” he answered, as indirectly as he could hope to without worrying his friend.
“You do seem much paler than when we saw you last,” the colonel grumbled.
“We shall not think of it,” Prompto suggested, and to direct the conversation in hopes of not returning to the topic, he said: “but you told the butler you had news! You must tell me!”
Ignis smiled. “Of course. You may have been told, I was unsure of the content of your brother’s letter we delivered on our way. Lady Lunafreya has become engaged!”
His smile was wide, and genuine. “I was! Oh what wonderful news!” The moment lingered, and he inhaled before daring to press close towards his real question: “though I must admit, the fiancé was a surprise.”
Ignis nodded. “Indeed! We were all amongst ourselves convinced that Mr Morson would propose - we wondered, in fact, whatever he was waiting for. Then, of course, she was injured and we knew he must wait for her health to recover. He withdrew to let her rest, but it seems in the meantime, that the handsome young captain stole away her heart.”
He laughed. But when it drifted away, he dared to press a step closer. “And Mister Morson? I should hope...” He hesitated, then spoke instead: “I should hope he would not find himself ill-used by her change in heart.”
“He shows not a sign of it,” Ignis explained. “Indeed, he was the very person who delivered the news to us. We were able to visit and make our congratulations before we had to leave for Zegnautus. Your brother sends his love, and of course the lengthy letter we offered to deliver for you. He seems in better health these weeks.”
Ignis began to speak of all their other mutual acquaintances in the area, and Prompto could not ask any further on the topic he truly wished to discuss.
Mr Morson was not slighted, but was he sad? Resigned? Did he look well? Showed no sign of resentment or ill disposition for the news?
Though reluctant, Colonel Amicitia did remind his husband that they were engaged to tea with their father that afternoon and it was quite a distance.
Ignis left, but with an insistence that he would have Prompto to dinner one evening soon.
Prompto could only say it would depend on if he was indisposed, but that he would very much like to come.
Chapter 18: Chapter Sixteen, Part One
At dinner, some weeks later, Prompto announced quietly: “I have received another invitation to dine, from the Amicitias. For this Wednesday.”
Besithia merely grunted in irritation and resumed his portion of meat.
“You wish me to write that I am indisposed again?” He asked, stomach sinking with disappointment. He so wanted to visit with Ignis, to see something other than this house, the inside of Ardyn’s carriage, or his godfather’s drawing room.
“Yes,” Besithia grunted as he reached for his wine glass.
“That may be unwise,” Caligo commented. He did not shrink from his uncle’s icy gaze. “I was expected to speak with Mr Amicitia at the concert yesterday evening. He mentioned he was ‘dreadfully’ concerned about Prompto, and that we ought to consult another physician about his health if it was continuing this long.”
“What do I care?” Besithia snapped.
“Others were there to hear. People may talk if he continues to question me.”
That, at least, seemed to hook the elder’s attention. His lips furrowed down in a deep frown, and he glared blearily at Prompto across the table - who immediately lowered his eyes to his own plate.
“I suppose the Amicitias cannot have anyone important in their acquaintance,” Caligo continued. “If Prompto was sent in a closed carriage, Izunia may very well lend his, and not permitted to stop elsewhere...”
“Send a note to Amicitia,” Besithia instructed Prompto coldly. “Wednesday will be suitable. Need I warn you the importance of holding your tongue?”
“No, sir,” Prompto answered quietly. Trying to hide the joy in his chest. Was this truly happening? Was he to be permitted to attend an evening with his friends?
“And only if Lord Izunia can spare his carriage. We are retrenching, we cannot possibly hire a hackney to take you to that neighbourhood.”
“I am to visit him tomorrow, I will ask him then!” Prompto said eagerly.
Besithia squinted at him, as if he was displeased at Prompto’s eagerness. Then went back to his wine. “Who has invited us to dine this week?”
Prompto could hardly contain his joy as the days approached. Wednesday evening came and, at the time instructed on Ignis’s letter, he lighted Ardyn’s carriage in all his joy.
Zegnautus was a very ugly city. At the time of evening, with the streetlamps lit, Prompto had been permitted to have the carriage curtains open and he had seen the journey.
The neighbourhood in which the Amicitias resided was a little nicer than the one in which they did. The architecture had more of a modern influence, and did not seem so severe or unwelcoming.
Dressed in his finest, he ascended the stairs to the front door and gave the little brass knocker a few firm taps.
It opened, and a finely dressed butler let him inside, bowing and greeting him by name. His hat and coat were taken, and then he was led through the house towards the drawing room where everyone was gathered.
He looked around, fascinated. While Besithia’s residence in ____ Street was decorated as severely as the architecture without, the interior of the Amicitia’s was its natural complement. While still masculine, the furnishings were in warm colours and welcoming shapes. The rooms were lit in a warm yellow glow, and everywhere seemed to welcome rather than impose.
He may very well faint from how it felt to be somewhere so fresh!
As the butler announced him, he was greeted warmly by Ignis. He smiled, thanked him, and came when invited to sit beside him on the chaise.
And there, he found himself face-to-face with Mr Morson.
Chapter 19: Chapter Sixteen, Part Two
Mr Regis Morson, still sturdy and strong-looking for his age - though with the familiar decorated cane resting by his side - smiled to see him. His hair and beard had silvered, and there were more lines and furrows about his face, but his spirit seemed unchanged.
“Mr Argentum,” he greeted. “It has been an age, come, let me look at you. You have grown up!”
Prompto came and shook his hand, firm though he felt ever so intimidated. “How do you do, sir?”
The smile he received in return was warm. “I have naught to complain about, my boy. Ignis tells me that you have been unwell?”
“Regis,” Ignis said, with some surprise. “You are well-acquainted with Prompto?”
“Well-acquainted? This lad was all but family during our stay in ___shire!” The senior Mr Morson laughed. “Though you do not seem so well as you were then, Prompto. Quite thin and pale.”
“I’ve been indisposed,” he murmured.
“My apologies,” Ignis said carefully, “Noctis led me to believe that the acquaintance was quite a distant one.”
“I was never on close terms with the other occupants of Magi Manor. But with little Prompto.”
Ignis and the colonel exchanged looks. Prompto felt anxiety squirm in his stomach at that. He suspected there would be an interrogation coming his way soon.
Instead, he focused on Mr Morson. “You may perhaps recall Lunafreya Flauret?” He pressed.
And with her to speak of - her injury, and her engagement - they had conversation to fill all before they moved into the dining room.
Over the courses, they discussed Zegnautus. What they had done so far in their visit, and what they had planned for the next engagements.
Mr Morson did ask then how Prompto found the city, and whether he preferred to theatre to the concerts? And had he visited the university?
He was awkward as he tried to explain: “I have been indisposed since my arrival,” he answered, “and have not the opportunity to enjoy the entertainments.” And to try and head the concerns about his health, commented: “my guardian lives in such a different part of the city, I’m sure I couldn’t advise on the entertainments in your neighbourhood.”
The city’s geography became the next topic - Mr Morson did ask which neighbourhood his residence was, but it was Ignis who answered for him. Happily, since Prompto could not accurately say.
Mr Morson noted that they were apart, there, from the university, and “does the Professor not find it too long to travel for his lectures?”
Flushed, Prompto explained that he was not teaching, and that he had come to the city for his own amusements. With the knowledge that the Professor was letting his house out, Mr Morson seemed to connect that it was for the sake of money.
Kindly, he did not mention it, and instead spoke of more engagements until it was time to withdraw after dinner.
Prompto went with Ignis to the drawing room for tea, while the others went to smoke and drink port.
He was surprised that Ignis did not immediately question him about his acquaintance with the Morsons, and instead went to the piano and offered to accompany him for a few songs.
Chapter 20: Chapter Seventeen
Mr Morson arrived for a visit with Professor Besithia, and the two of them shut up in his office for an hour. After Mr Morson left, Prompto was called up.
Somewhat ill at ease, Prompto stood across from Besithia’s desk and waited to be told the reason for his summons.
Besithia did not speak for a long moment, glaring out the door as if still towards Mr Morson after his exit. Then he switched his glare to Prompto instead. “You are permitted to visit the Amicitias and Morsons at your leisure.”
Prompto silently watched him for a long moment, then added carefully: “Sir?”
“Just those! And if you bring scandal down on this place there will be hell to pay.” Without further clarification, he turned his back and stared pointedly at the bookshelves behind him until Prompto took the hint and left the room.
After that, Prompto found himself invited, almost daily, to visit with or attend somewhere with the Amicitias. He accompanied them to the sights they had mentioned visiting, and even attended the theatre with them one evening.
While attending a public meeting hall with them, he found himself suddenly come upon by Lady Aranea Highwind.
She embraced him, cried, “my dear uncle!” and kissed his cheeks.
Startled, he could only stand still until she pulled back and gave him a charming smile. But there was something sharp in her eyes. “I am glad to see you in such improved health. These are your friends?”
He was social graced enough to know that was a subtle quest for introduction. “Aranea, these are my friends. Mr and Colonel Scientia. Gentlemen, this is my... niece, Lady Aranea Highwind.”
They bowed, and she offered her hand with a smile. “How do you do?”
Somewhat awkward, they made polite niceties, until she invited Prompto to walk with her around the room. When they were walking, her grip became tight on his arm, nails digging in. She hissed her address to him and demanded that he would visit tomorrow.
Making sure his smile stayed fixed, he hushed back: “I will have to ask the professor’s permission.”
“You tell him you must attend, or I will tell every person who will listen the truth about your circumstances.”
He nodded. “That should convince him.”
She eyed him, then was all smiles as she discussed with him, loudly, all about her recent engagements. They parted when they rounded back to the Amicitias and she drifted out of the public hall entirely.
“Your niece seems like a very well-to-do gentlewoman,” the colonel commented, watching her as she departed.
“Indeed, she is.”
“Absolutely not!” Besithia hissed, glaring at Prompto. “Why would you even think-”
“She made threats,” Prompto interrupted. “About revealing the truth.”
Besithia’s face grew splotchy with anger, and he spent a few moments working his jaw. Then he gave a curt nod. “Very well. You must attend then.”
“Sir... what do you think she wants?”
“To threaten you for going out in public,” Besithia snapped. Then worked his jaw a little while longer. “There are rumours. That Mr Argentum, the heir, is unwell. There may be legalities.”
He felt the blood draining from his face, and a slight dizziness overcome his mind. “My uncle is ill?”
Besithia gave him an icy look. “He is not your uncle. You are a bastard, and you were cast off. And if you ever so much as speak a hint that you are anything different than Professor Argentum’s son, you will be forced out of my home too!”
Prompto, feeling cold and withdrawn, gave a bow of assent. “Yes, sir. I shall attend Lady Highwind and submit to what she asks of me.”
“Very good. Get out of my sight.”
Quiet, Prompto turned and left the room, quietly closed the door of the office behind him. Perhaps it was time for him to become indisposed again.
Chapter 21: Chapter Eighteen
The Highwind home was large and ornate. It oozed luxury and superiority. Prompto felt dirty even stepping inside it. He was taken to a drawing room. There stood Lady Highwind, in all her imposing glory, and beside her sat a lawyer.
“This is him?” The lawyer asked, without ceremony.
“It is.” She answered imperiously.
“Hm.” The lawyer turned back to his paperwork.
Prompto shifted, but didn’t dare move to sit down. “I do not know why I have been summoned-” He began.
“Don’t you?” She snapped.
Daunted, he still yet continued: “but I assure you that I intend to comply with whatever you would have of me.”
Her gaze was then suspicious. “So you say.” She turned to the lawyer. “You are sure?”
“The late Professor Argentum’s will was binding,” the lawyer answered seriously. “The estate must be passed to the male bloodline. If your uncle’s child is born female...”
Aranea interrupted him with a sharp sniff of distaste. “And my uncle’s will?”
“Cannot supercede it,” the lawyer answered. “And there is doubt that he can be considered of sound mind when it was written.”
She gave a sharp exhale of anger and turned to Prompto. “So the Argentum estate would go to this bastard?”
Under that declaration, Prompto could only let out an uncertain: “What?”
Her eyes narrowed at him in distaste. “You, the shame of my mother, whose very existence killed my grandmother from scandal, would be the master of the estate of a man who you were not even son of!”
“But...” He was overwhelmed by the news. “I’m only a bastard, I cannot be legally entitled...”
She cut him off with an angry “hah!” and gestured to the lawyer. “Do you think I would have bothered to acknowledge your existence if it were otherwise? Our grandfather bound the estate to bloodline. Not legitimacy.”
“My lady,” the lawyer said, low with warning.
She took a deep breath and reassembled her countenance into something more calm. “Morally, rightfully, you have no claim. But legally,” she pursed her lips.
“Very well. So.” He looked at the lawyer, a little helplessly. “How do I...” He paused delicately, “prevent that?”
The lawyer looked surprised. “Your pardon?”
“Is there a contract I can sign, or some way I can void my eligibility?” He pressed.
The lawyer looked confused a moment. Then, a little reserved, “Mr Argentum, I feel obligated to let you know that you stand to inherit an estate not only of considerable size, but of a considerable fortune. Amounting to an income of nearly a thousand gil per annum.”
That was... confronting. He shook his head. “Lady Highwind is right. I have no moral claim to it. I could not, in good conscience, take something that belongs to another.”
She narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously, then turned to the lawyer. “Can you find something?”
“If we have Mr Argentum’s full co-operation, I may be able to find some precedent for-”
“See to it,” Lady Highwind said dismissively. “Mr Argentum, may I show you out?”
Turned out so soon? He bowed his assent. “Attend to me at Number X on ____ Street. I will sign what papers are necessary,” he informed the lawyer. Then he turned to leave the room.
Despite the Lady’s offer, she did not show him out of the room. She simply glared at his back as he exiled himself.
“What,” Professor Besithia demanded as he was removing his own coat, “did the Lady Highwind want?”
“It was as you predicted,” Prompto answered, “to threaten me about becoming too public.”
He stared at the young ward with hard eyes. “And the rumours of Mr Argentum’s illness?”
“It was mentioned a little,” he said, “insofar as to make it clear that Mr Argentum has a will in place to cut me out. A bastard is entitled to nothing after all.”
The eager greed in Besithia’s eyes dimmed somewhat, and he gave a cool nod. “Very well.” He gave him a sneer. “I hope you know not to expect not a penny from me. You ought to endear yourself to Caligo, for he may not be disposed to care for you in your old age.”
“Perhaps I ought to learn a trade.”
Besithia looked disgusted. “Absolutely not! A ward of mine, to be forced to go into a profession! Would you have my reputation shamed so dreadfully?”
Prompto raised his eyes to his father, as he so rarely dared to do. “Then what, pray tell, is left to do with me?”
Thin-skinned cheeks became splotchy and red. “You’d best retire to your room!” he said, his voice dangerous and threatening.
He bowed his assent. “Should Mr Amicitia call for me, please leave instructions with the servants to advise him that I have taken to my room with indisposition.”
Chapter 22: Chapter Nineteen
Ignis was fussing. Pressing a hand to Prompto’s forehead and inspecting his eyes. “You sure you are well, Prompto?” He pressed.
Prompto laughed and tried to push his hands away. “I am, you have my word,” he insisted. “It was a simple headache, nothing more.” He almost added that it was a family trait, and referred to Loqi. But he cut himself short. After all, he wasn’t meant to be related to Loqi.
Ignis sat back with a slight frown. “Very well. What did the apothecary mention?”
“He gave me draughts,” Prompto answered. “And suggested fresh air. Daily walks.” Or so the apothecary back home had, when he became ill.
Ignis nodded, and gave a sly sort of smile. “Then go fetch your coat, Prompto. Let us take a turn around the streets.”
Mr Amicitia would not be put off. So up Prompto went, to change his shoes for something more sturdy to walk in and a hat. His coat was taken from the coatroom and the two of them headed out together.
They were walking pleasantly along, then the skies opened. A heavy rain began falling, and the two of them quickly stepped into a little cafe on the corner.
“We may as well sit and wait out the rain,” Ignis announced. “I will order a drink, find us a seat.”
It was crowded, with the location and the rain. He made a quick circuit, and spotted a small seat for two or three over by the other street entrance. He made for it - but as he stepped up the door opened and a gentleman was suddenly before him.
They crashed, and he immediately began to bow and make quick apologies. But he suddenly froze up when he heard a familiar voice saying his name.
Startled, his eyes went up to the younger Mr Morson’s face. “Mr Noctis...” he breathed, feeling like it took the rest of his air.
A gentle hand steadied his stance, then immediately darted away. They stood awkwardly a moment, then he spoke cautiously: “you have come to visit your father?” He asked.
Mr Noctis was just as awkward. He shifted stance between feet, then answered, almost too quickly to be natural: “I have only just arrived today.”
He nodded. “Of course.” There was another long awkward pause. “Did you... travel well?”
Mr Noctis looked genuinely pained at the question.
They were saved the awkwardness of the conversation by Ignis’s return, carefully balancing a delicate coffee cup of ebony-dark drink. “Why, Noctis. What a surprise to see you out and about so early.”
Mr Noctis just gave him an irritable look and escorted them both to the table Prompto had scouted earlier.
The conversation was stilted, with Ignis far too amused and filling the gaps where necessary.
A hush washed over the cafe suddenly. A servant with a familiar crest approached their table. He held out a letter, with the same crest on a wax seal.
He took it with shaky hands. “Thank you.”
The letter was from Lady Highwind. Short, and direct: “Mr Argentum has been placed in hospice.”
A hand on his arm. At first he thought it was Ignis, but then he realised the gentleman’s voice was coming from the other side of the hand. “Pardon?”
“Prompto? Are you well?”
“I’ve... received some bad news. About my brother.” He stood, and felt the other hand fall away. “I... My apologies. I must return home at once.”
He looked to the servant. “Tell her ladyship I will be available at her first convenience.”
The servant bowed and, that being apparently what he was waiting for, headed out.
“We’ll borrow an umbrella and accompany you home.”
“No... no it is all well. I bid you, finish your drinks. I’ll write later.” And on that note, he fled as soon as he could.
Chapter 23: Chapter Twenty
Lady Highwind sent a hackney for him. Professor Besithia pressed him for answers, but he gave none, much to his guardian’s fury.
He was anxious the whole journey, and shaky on his legs as a footman all but dragged him into the building. It was not the Highwind manor, but a smaller building. Close to the University, he realised: this was the Argentum home.
Lady Highwind was laying back on a chaise. Sitting nearby, comfortably in the loveseat, was a stranger. But with the roundness of her condition, he had to guess it was Mrs Argentum.
Lady Highwind looked at him in distaste, but Mrs Argentum gave him a weary smile. “You must be Prompto.”
He nodded and bowed. At her gesture, he took a seat.
He knew not what they were waiting for, but eventually the lawyer arrived and Lady Highwind deigned to rouse herself. “I pray that you have good news.”
“Not as much as you would wish, my lady.” The lawyer sighed. “The physician will not swear to his cognisance while signing the will. Professor Argentum’s stands.”
Mrs Argentum, worried, placed a hand upon her middle. “So if I do not give him a boy...?”
“Then the will instructs Mr Prompto inherits the full estate,” the lawyer declared solemnly.
“Then you must be kind to us, Mr Prompto, for I have no family to take care of me.”
“Be quiet, Cynthia,” Lady Highwind commanded. “Well, what precedent have you found against him?”
“Very little,” he answered reluctantly. “Our histories are all engineered towards maintaining the entail on a male heir.”
“There must be something we can do,” she insisted impatiently. “Could we have him declared mentally unfit to inherit?”
Prompto was quiet when he did speak: “If... if I was to inherit,” he said softly, “I am sound of mind, am I not? Could I simply dispense the estate upon whomever I wish?”
Lady Aranea had a countenance as furious as any scorned goddess in the old mythology. “You dare-”
“If I were to decide,” he said, interrupting her, “to gift it to my newborn niece, perhaps? With Mrs Argentum as the executor, until she could come of age.”
The lawyer was quiet. “The estate could not be passed in its entirety,” he amended, “but the titles and investments, the deeds to this property, and the majority of the monetary estate could be. The ancestral home, in Argentorum. That can only be handed over as the estate.”
Prompto was quiet. “And, of course, I could invite my dear sister in law Cynthia to reside in the estate, if she so pleased.”
“As would be your right as landowner.” He turned to Lady Highwind. “It is sound.”
She looked angrily. “And you expect me to believe that you will do so once you have your filthy claws in-”
“Aranea,” Mrs Argentum interrupted softly. “You needn’t be so unkind. Mr Prompto is the second son, after all. He has right to his ancestral home.”
It was then, he realised, that her kindness was misplaced. She did not know that he was a bastard, the shame of the family. Cynthia believed, as the general public was made to, that he was the second son of the late Professor Argentum, and not his natural grandchild.
He turned his face away. “How very kind, ma’am. But I have my own little corner of society and I intend to keep it. I cannot even begin to fathom how I would behave with a fortune and estate of my own.” He looked to Lady Highwind, “if the lawyer could draw up some kind of contract? That I do so swear upon inheritance to dispense what I am able onto my brother’s widow and heiress. Society may whisper, of course, but it may be publicly known my eccentricities and preference of a private lifestyle.”
She regarded him coolly. Then looked to the lawyer, who simply nodded. She did so in return, and settled back upon the chaise.
“My brother... he is...?”
Mrs Argentum pressed a hand to herself again. “The nurses at the hospice think it may only be a week or two.” She did not, it seemed, feel terribly upset about that fact. (Though she must be twenty years younger than him at least, and he suspected love had not een .)
He darted a glance at her stomach, then at the lawyer in furrowed confusion.
“The estate will remain in trust until the heir is born, and the line of inheritance clear,” the Lawyer clarified.
He relaxed, if only a little. He did not think, with the little he understood of women, that Mrs Argentum would be lying in already.
Paperwork was discussed, and the lawyer promised to draw up the proposed contract before he parted. Lady Highwind left the room directly.
Mrs Argentum gave him a sad smile. “ ‘Tis a shame these circumstances are what has brought us together,” she said, “I have always been curious to meet you.”
“My thanks, Mrs Arg-”
“Oh dear, no. We are family! I simply insist upon you calling me Cindy.”