Lady T'Nal, by Misha

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My new life at the T'Nal's country estate was in a word: odd. There were one hundred and fifty rooms in the estate but very few resided there other than Lord Delrek, Zbinka, myself and about thirty servants including some with families. Lord Delrek T'Nal occupied the main wing of the mansion and remained remarkably aloof, though I know for a fact that he was kept surprisingly well-informed about his daughter's intrigues. Many years before, his outbreaks in the presence of King Dalma and the Council got him thrown out of the court. Lord Delrek had warned that the House was growing too powerful and that such an inequity of power would tear Eltesnia apart. As it turned out, he was right.

Guests were always wandering in and out and Zbinka was insistent that I make a proper impression. To that end, she worked diligently to indoctrinate me to the fine arts of social grace and political intrigue. She liked to flatter me by saying that I had the face and voice for both.

First she busied herself with my appearance and took great delight in filling my wardrobes with the finest and possibly most uncomfortable fashion that her money could buy. When I complained to her she straightened my shirt and told me that there were more important things in life than comfort.

"I don't want to be here," I complained and started biting my fingernails.

Zbinka flashed me a very cold look and I stopped. Then her face immediately warmed again. "You haven't had a chance to appreciate the enormity of the situation and your role in it. I need you to work with me, Misha."

Standing very close to me she scrutinized my every detail. She placed both hands on my face and almost seemed to look though me as though she were an artist looking at a blank canvas. Of course at the time I took her actions for something completely different.

"Could you not do that?" I asked politely.

"I think you need a beard. It would make you look older. More seasoned and steady."

"Excuse me?" I blurted out.

She laughed. "My dear Misha. While I may admire Lev's impeccable taste, you are far too young and head-strong for my liking." Then stepping back she noticed what I was attempting to conceal with my hands. "Perhaps a nice walk across the grounds would do you some good."

While her second objective was originally dining etiquette, she immediately decided that a lesson in self-control was long over due. She told me to meet her outside in the courtyard once I composed myself.

Outside she took me by the arm and began instilling in me the importance of propriety, or at least creating and maintaining the illusion of it. It was a lengthy lecture. Upon its conclusion I muttered, "Looks as though I get neutered after all."

"Misha, you're completely missed my point. Need I start over from the beginning?"

"Please, no," I sighed wondering if Lev was as truly miserable as I.

"Darling, you're just a great big ball of sexual energy and I assure you society will not tolerate that. Not from me and certainly not from a Houseborne."

"I really--"

"I know these people, Misha. A few of them I actually like and respect. But they will use you and cast you aside, and you will only succeed in hampering our cause."

"I have no interest in--"

"You should and you will," she proclaimed.

If Zbinka was adept at anything it was discretion. While we went back to the previously postponed lessons in dining etiquette, then on to dancing and horsemanship, I was never able to determine who exactly she was involved with, from among all of the house guests that spent the night, and it became a strange fascination of mine to figure out.

After a number of months of thinking about not thinking about sex I began having my own discreet encounters with some of the servants. What about Lev, you ask? Did he stay away for that long and became so completely far from my thoughts? No. Quite the contrary. He did visit his new home periodically, but the position had changed him. He was congenial enough with me but would always retire with Lady T'Nal. That wasn't the arrangement I had bargained for at all. Any attempt to confront Lev ended with him telling me that I had no idea what he was going through.

Being so thoroughly distanced from the one person I loved most, I threw my energy into becoming a much better student to my new mentor. Before long I was being led through society on Lady T'Nal's arm and causing every bit the stir for which she prepared me.


As time passed Lord Delrek became more and more reclusive. Since I hadn't known him in any other capacity I could only tell by the effect it had on Zbinka, who was rarely permitted entrance into his wing. Just under the surface of the vivacious, elegant composure with which she beguiled throngs of Eltesnia's elite was a woman terrified and helpless to stop her father's descent into the darkness. It came as little shock to her that he would poison himself; it was the socially acceptable conclusion. But it wasn't acceptable to Zbinka.

While her servants busy themselves with the details of a glorious send off for Lord Delrek T'Nal, Zbinka sat herself down with a bottle of strong drink and asked me to join her. It wasn't the time to object that I was forbidden from touching the stuff, so I agreed and tried to nurse my first glass as long as possible as she laid waste to the rest of the bottle. I had seen her handle much more than that at a party without so much as slurring one word as she debated politics with society's finest. She opened the second bottle and topped off my glass. She didn't want to talk, or to listen. She only wanted something to stop the pain.

We were awoken the next morning by a blinding explosion of light as someone opened the drapes in her bedroom. I remember thinking that servant deserved to be flogged until my eyes focused on the perpetrator. It was Lev.

"Your guests are arriving, Binky," he said calmly as he looked out the window.

I expected him to say something more, but he did not. Carefully averting his eyes from me, he waited patiently for Zbinka to dress so he could be the compassionate, dutiful husband and escort her downstairs.

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