43. There Can Be No Real Objection

Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.

They arrive late on the third night of travel. Cantering through the city gates, Valentine feels as if a holiday is coming to an end. He’s starting to realize that they gray will regard his actions very seriously. He’ll have to account publicly for decisions that seemed personal and inevitable at the time.

“I’ll take you straight to Sieia,” He says to Valykria. “She’ll know what’s best to be done, and she’s the properest chaperone for you in this situation. At least, I think she is. I’m not a good judge, probably,” he adds in a burst of candor. And so he uses his latch key to let them both into Xardic and Sieia’s townhouse, and takes Valykria directly to Sieia’s sitting room.

When they enter, Sieia starts up from her seat by the fire, exclaiming, “Valentine! There you are!” She rushes over and hugs him.

He kisses her cheek and says, “It’s good to see you! I hope all is well here. I’m in a bit of a fix, and I hope you can help. This is the Lady Valykria Amakir. She sought protection from me and Aramil because her family has treated her very badly. I hope she can remain here while we determine what’s to be done.”

Sieia turns to Valykria, takes her hand. “How uncomfortable for you, my dear. We’ll do our best to make you welcome. Your father and brother proceeded you, so we’ve heard their side of the story. I’ll be glad to get the truth from you and Valentine — then we’ll be better prepared to take your part.”

Valykria looks both relieved and shy. “Thank you, ma’am. They were here? What happened?”

Sieia’s eyes are dancing. “They traced Aramil to the city. When they realized you’d continued on with Valentine, this is the next place they tried. We managed to put them off without too much trouble. My husband isn’t easily bullied. Tell me, did you two really go to the Underdark?”

Valentine darts a hard glance at Valykria, but it’s unnecessary. She sticks to the cover story Inglorion provided. “It was quite an adventure. A Drow patrol captured us, but we got lucky. Your brother recognized Valentine and ordered our release before we could come to any harm.”

Sieia shoots an amused look at Valentine. “So that’s how it happened? I’m glad I introduced you two when I had the chance. Now, my dears, I’ll order refreshments for you, and we can put our heads together.” Once she’s given instructions to the footman outside, she says, “Your father and brother were irate, I’m afraid — they demanded your return, and said some hard things about Valentine. Tell me what happened, what your plans are.”

Valentine says, “We took Valykria along with us because she was in clear distress. I didn’t intend to run away with her in the usual sense. She and I have discussed the situation over the last few days, and it’s clear that she can’t go back — they treated her with great cruelty. Sieia, we realized belatedly how our actions would be perceived — that her flight would be considered improper. I adore Valykria, and she’s agreed to marry me as soon as may be arranged. I realize that I might not be an ideal suitor from her family’s perspective. I don’t have an inheritance or title. But the Shelawns are an old, respected family, and I’m a citizen of Liamelia. Valykria is of age. There’s no positive bar to our marriage.”

Sieia nods. “Marriage is the best possible solution. There can be no real objection. After all, you’re —” she breaks off. “You’ll have to talk to Marcus, since he’s the head of the family. I don’t see how he could dislike the connection, though he may not care for the manner in which it was made. It’s far from the worst scandal attached to the Shelawn name. I’ll explain the situation to Xardic when he returns from his club. He’ll be relieved. He took your part, of course, but you know how he is. It made him uncomfortable, poor dear.”

Valentine says, “Thank him on my behalf for running interference. Naturally, if they return I’ll see them myself. I’d relish the opportunity to have a word with one or both of them.”

Sieia looks amused. “Of course, dear. I hope it won’t be necessary. I’ll send them a very proper letter, and that should settle the matter. Any children you have will be Shelawns, thank God.”

Refreshments arrive — bread and butter, cold meat, cakes. Sieia notices that Valentine is picking at his meal and looking tired. She says, “Valentine, why don’t you retire if you’re ready? It will give me and Valykria time to talk. I’ll have a room prepared for her, and I’ll see to her comfort.”

He glances over at Valykria. She seems comfortable with Sieia, so he says, “I will. I’m sure you have things to discuss.” As he’s leaving, he leans over and kisses Valykria on the forehead. “Sleep tight, honey. I’m leaving you in good hands.”

When the door closes behind him, Sieia turns to Valykria. “I’m sorry you’ve had such an difficult time, my dear. Now, I love Valentine like a brother, but if you don’t fancy marrying him — if you have any hesitation at all — we’ll find another solution. I’d hate for you to feel forced into marriage simply for propriety’s sake.”

Valykria looks at her with gratitude, seems almost tongue-tied. “Thank you. You’re very kind. But as far as getting married, it was my idea — I don’t think he realized it would be necessary. He’s been very kind, very chivalrous. And I can’t go back home.”

“I certainly wouldn’t advise it. No woman leaves the protection of her family lightly. I’m sure you had more than enough reason. But are you sure you don’t need time to think? To consider your situation? Marriage is a permanent step — so very grave for both of you.”

“I know, ma’am. Honestly, I think I’ll feel safer after it’s done. I’ve had so much more freedom traveling with Valentine. I can’t explain. I can’t go back there. It was horrible.”

Sieia gives Valykria a considering look. It’s not lost on her that she’s said nothing about love, or about her feelings for Valentine. “You know that he was engaged, and lost his fiancee?”

“Yes, he told me about it. It sounded very sad.”

“The manner and circumstances of her death were tragic. It hit him terribly hard. Honestly, I feared for his reason. You know about his childhood, how he came to be among us?” Valykria nods. “Then you know that he hasn’t had anyone to care for him or show him kindness. Valentine is a very loving creature. He needs someone to care for. I think all good men do.” She’s silent for a moment. Valykria waits for her to continue. “We can arrange for it to be done quickly, if it’s truly what you both want.”

Valykria says, “Thank you, ma’am. I do think it’s the best solution, now that we’ve both had time to become accustomed to the idea.”

Sieia gives instructions to the housekeeper, settles Valykria into a guest bedroom on the second floor. Valykria remains grateful, gracious, and disquietingly opaque.

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