1866-12-31: Brotherly Concerns
Brotherly Concerns
Summary: Duke Darren Haldis interrupts a pleasant morning for his half-brother Raimond Giraldi, to talk business while sparring.
Date: 12/31/1866 IA
Related: Sunsreach Tourney: Bracketed Jousts Night One for why Raimond was recovering for a couple weeks.
Darren  Raimond  Ania  

Warnings: Adult Situations, Non-descriptive nudity, foul language.

Raimond Giraldi stirred as sunlight began to peek through the windows of his room at the Haldis Manse of Sunsreach. With wakefulness came the awareness of the warm body nestled against him. The haze of drowsiness faded quickly with the pleasant memory of the evening past, when Mirza Ania Khare’s visit to “see if he was well” proved to involve a most…thorough…examination. His own movements were enough to rouse her as well, a muffled moan of protest signaling her own journey towards consciousness, before her dark eyes opened, blinking a few times before a languid smile spread across her full lips.

«A pleasant morning to you, Mirza.» Raimond spoke in the Alhazred tongue, knowing it no doubt held an accent to her ears.

«Mmm…so far.» Ania’s smile took on a wry edge as she responded, and she reached up to turn his face towards hers for a lingering kiss. When she broke it, she shifted away from him, pulling the bedsheet along with her as she rose, though it was only with the playful tease of modesty, as while she kept her front covered, she did absolutely nothing to hide the view from behind as she sauntered over behind the nearby privacy screen. The sheet fell away just before she disappeared from view. Another teasing glimpse. A few moments later the splashing of water from the basin that lay beyond could be heard.

«I hope I haven’t kept you too long.» Raimond called out, sitting up slightly on the bed, a hand smoothing back his mussed hair, though in truth the gesture did little to control it. He did note that the room was a touch chilly with the fire in the hearth having gone out. Ah yes…he’d told the servants not to interrupt. Ah well. He could put up with it a few more moments, at least.

«The Shahzahdeh released me for the night. She will not expect to see me before midday at the earliest.» Ania responded behind the screen, «Though she does not know where I am.» An edge of mischief entered the woman’s voice at that. «I do not suspect she would be upset by it. Mirza Demir, though…»

Demir…the rather intense-looking fellow from the Alhazred contingent. Raimond tucked that bit of information away inside his head and laughed a touch, «Well, I cannot fault the man’s taste.»

Laughter was his reply, a throaty, melodic sound before the words came. The rustle of silks underlying the sound of Ania’s voice, «He takes himself too seriously. I see how he looks at me, but he holds no interest. Handsome enough, I suppose…but boring beyond his title and his battles.»

Raimond opened his mouth to ask about the “battles” portion of that statement, but whatever question he had was cut off by the door swinging open and the broad-shouldered frame of his half-brother, the Duke Darren Haldis stepping through.

“Good, you’re awake.” Darren spoke with a smirk, “A few of the servants’ whispers caught up to me, and if you’re well enough to fuck, then you’re well enough to spar. Put some damned clothes on and meet me in the yard. We’ve got business to talk abou-”

It was Darren’s turn to be cut off, his eyes betraying more than a hint of surprise as Ania emerged from behind the screen, clad in her multi-colored silks and having managed to arrange her long, dark hair in some semblance of proper order. She folded her hands before her breast and bowed with her upper body, her eyes casting downwards as she spoke, “Your Grace.” From what he’d seen, the gesture was the Alhazred equivalent of a curtsey.

Darren’s surprise faded, and he glanced briefly at Raimond with an expression that needed no words to convey his amusement, before he looked back to Ania, nodding his head in response, “Milady.” A bit of humor emerged as Darren replied, “I hope my brother’s been properly hospitable.” Cheeky humor, but not the slightest bit of embarrassment from him. Or from her for that matter. Indeed, Raimond was the only one of the three whose cheeks so much as shifted a single shade.

Ania’s head raised as she met the Duke’s gaze unflinching, a generous smile spreading across her face as she nodded, “Oh yes, Your Grace. I have very much enjoyed our…exchange of culture.” Her eyes flicked towards Raimond, then back to Darren, and if any more mischief had been present it would have crossed the line into outright wickedness when she added, “Your Eastfield seems a very interesting place. Perhaps later you might tell me more of it? Ah, but I suppose you would likely be far too busy. Forgive my overeager tongue.”

The cheeky little minx, Raimond thought, albeit with no small degree of admiration, and it was his turn to be amused. Certainly, there had been no assurances or expectation that their liaison carried a promise of exclusivity. Still, the outright brazen flirting had the desired effect, as Darren was momentarily silent, and when he glanced towards his half-brother in mild bewilderment, Raimond simply smirked ruefully and shrugged.

After a moment, Darren recovered well enough, chuckling softly before responding, “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but it’s an intriguing offer regardless, Milady.” He stepped aside to cease blocking the doorway, and added, “Feel free to avail yourself of our hospitality a bit more and take some refreshment before you depart, but I fear I have to steal my brother from you for now.” A grin appeared as he added, “I’ll try to leave him in good enough condition for more…exchange of cultures…later.”

“How very thoughtful of you, Your Grace.” Ania’s dark eyes turned towards Raimond, and her lips briefly quirked in an expression that was far more sardonic than the pleasantly polite smile she had been wearing for Darren. “Until later, Ra- Lord Raimond.” And with that, she moved past Darren, lifting her eyes to meet his for but a moment when she was closest to him, and then stepped into the hall. A few steps later she was joined by one of her own servants, who had been waiting patiently.

Darren’s brows lifted when he turned his gaze back to Raimond, who finally clambered out of bed and at least managed to pull on a pair of smallclothes, “One help you, Rai…that woman is trouble.” It wasn’t really an admonishment, or if it was, only the mildest variety, instead the words carried considerable humor…if a touch exasperated.

“Oh she certainly is. The very best kind, at that.” Raimond moved behind the screen now, mostly just to splash some water on his face and smooth back his hair once more. A proper bath could wait until after sparring. “Don’t worry…neither of us have any illusions. It’s a pleasant enough diversion for us both, I think…but nothing more.”

“Good.” Darren said, a bit more seriously. He looked as though he were about to say more, but whatever it was, he apparently decided it could wait, “I’ll see you in the Yard in a few minutes.” And with that, Darren turned and headed back out.

Raimond found himself in the courtyard of the Manse just a short while later, just outside the fenced-off square that had been erected as an impromptu sparring squre. A squire helped him into the brigandine armor he usually wore for sparring. Across the square, Darren was just finishing getting properly suited himself, and soon plucked up one of the customized training blades he used, designed to mimic the heft and form of the Haldis’ Sidhe-Steel blade.

Raimond moved to the nearby weapon rack, taking up a training sword and a shield. He loosened up with a few swings and the rolling of neck and shoulders while Darren did the same. Then, a few minutes later, Darren gave him a questioning look, and Raimond nodded, and the sparring began….

To the surprise of absolutely no-one, Darren dominated the early goings. It’d been a couple of weeks since Raimond had been able to seriously practice after the Tourney. However, as the moments ticked by, muscles loosened and well-trained reflexes were re-ignited, and soon the bruises from Darren’s heavy practice blade were coming less frequently, though occasionally they still managed to sneak past Raimond’s defenses. Raimond was still having a hard time landing any solid strikes on his half-brother though.

“Come on, Rai…you’re never going to be a Circuit Champion if you fight like this!” Darren urged, “Don’t tell me that Alhazredi beauty managed to quench all the fire in your belly!” He laughed, swinging an overhead strike down towards Raimond.

Raimond sidestepped, and extended his shield arm to push Darren’s blade out of alignment and force an opening on the side, which he capitalized with a hard strike to the Duke’s ribs. Darren grunted and stepped back, nodding, but Raimond spoke first, “I’m not even sure I’m going to compete next year.”

“Why the hell not?” Darren asked even as he lunged forward again, Raimond’s shield deflected the first strike, the flat of his blade the second, and he sidestepped again, moving away from a third strike. Another flurry followed, but this time when Raimond tried to dodge, he was caught in the shoulder. Darren stepped back and pointed his blade at him, “Don’t keep dodging in the same direction. You know that.”

“Because I’m not convinced some of those competitors weren’t actually trying to kill me.” Raimond replied, grunting at the bruise to his shoulder, but keeping his shield and blade up as they disengaged a moment, before stepping forward to begin another exchange of strikes and parries, this one inconclusive.

“You came out on the bad end of a few strikes. It happens in tourneys, but it’s rarely malicious. Thaddeus Greycen may be a joyless, sour-faced son of a bitch, but he’s no murderer. If the Greycens wanted you dead they’d have tasked some fourth cousin of a vassal Lord to do the job…not their heir. You’ve been in Pacitta too long, it makes you jumpy.” Darren admonished, tagging Raimond on the thigh on the next volley as the clatter of wooden blades and shields filled the air.

Raimond hobbled back, and began circling Darren, not stepping in immediately, nor even when Darren presented a too-obvious opening. He could swear he even heard a bit of a laugh under Darren’s breath when he didn’t go for it.

“Sometimes,” Raimond commented, finally lunging, but instead of lashing out with the blade, crashing into Darren with his shield forward, pushing him off balance for a quick pair of strikes: One to the midsection and another to the shoulder. “I don’t think you’re jumpy enough.”

“Better…” Darren murmured, wincing under his helmet at the two shocks of pain from Raimond’s strikes. He laughed, though, at his younger half-brother’s words, “Bah. Say what you will about us Rivanans, but when we kill each other, we do it face-to-face.”

You do it face-to-face. And it gets you i-…” Raimond cut off his words, gritting his teeth. Not that he would’ve had much chance to finish the statement properly, as Darren’s next downward swing almost took the large blade to the dirt, but the larger, stronger Duke quickly shifted his grip and smacked Raimond across the chin of his helm with the pommel of the blade, then flicked it around, practically seeming as light as a feather in his hands before the horizontal strike that followed clattered against the side of his helmet, sending Raimond staggering to the side a couple of steps before he tripped over his own two feet and fell to the ground in a clatter. Still, he blinked the stars out of his eyes and started to get to his feet almost immediately, but not before Darren reached down a hand to help him up. “Agh…you never beat up Leander this badly.” Raimond cast an accusatory look towards Darren at that.

“Leander’s head is probably aching twice as badly from any beating I’d give him due to whatever he imbibed last night.” Darren replied, giving no sign that the match was immediately going to continue. He nodded, “Good. If you can take that hit and still get up, then it looks like your thick skull has properly healed.”

My thick skull?” Raimond protested, albeit with a smirk.

“It runs in the family, I guess.” Darren chuckled, moving to take off his helm, though his expression grew more contemplative, “I’m harder on you because more is riding on you, Rai. I know you don’t need to be reminded of that, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be tested. And yes, I know I rush in blindly at times…blame my father for that. But that’s part of why I keep you and Mother around. Even if I end up ignoring both your advice about half the time.”

“Half might be an exaggeration.” Raimond noted, snickering softly, “But a quarter, at least. Maybe a third.”

“Regardless.” Darren shook his head, clearly veering the conversation towards more weighty topics, “It wasn’t just to see how you were healed that I brought you out here today. Mother told me she gave you permission to largely see to your own marriage arrangements, and you do need to marry sooner rather than later. So I want to know where your thoughts are on the matter.”

“She did.” Raimond nods, “And I’ve been considering who to approach.” A brief pause passed before Raimond added, “Honestly. It’s not something I’m trying to dodge.”

“So who’s on your list of people to consider?” Darren moved over towards where a bowl of clean, cool water rested, along with two cups. He took off his helmet and set it aside. He plucked up one and dipped it in the bowl, gulping it down while Raimond answered.

“I was considering approaching the Moreno. They’re in a similar set of circumstances and could make for an alliance both here in Rivana and in Pacitta. But I think it may be better to pursue a match with Lydia or Leander where the Moreno are concerned. I don’t think Mother or I trust them well enough to put them one knife in the back away from running the Giraldi Trading Company.” It was unusual to have this degree of candor with anyone but his Mother, but Darren was family and liege.

“Sound reasoning.” Darren didn’t know all the particulars of the Giraldis’ Pacitta dealings (and preferred it that way), but he knew enough to understand Miranda and Raimond’s concerns. “Who else?”

“I’d considered the Farrant. They have an old name that could lend a bit of ah…permanency to our own elevation, but I think Lord Eduard has a lot of work to do to get his house in order before he can give too much thought to which remaining relatives he marries out.” Raimond grimaced, “I wouldn’t want to be saddled with a Thorn cast-off that’s as likely to slit my throat in my sleep.”

“No, you wouldn’t” Darren grimaced, and Raimond gave him an abashed, apologetic look. Darren simply shook his head and prodded, “Who else?”

“Well, I had entertained the thought of wooing the Lady Tiadora Gerrell.” Raimond admitted, removing his helm and taking a cup of water for himself, “After all, her family’s lost some of their luster, she’s the youngest sister, and perhaps we-”

“No.” Darren said, flatly.

“What? Why not?” Raimond replied, canting his head at Darren, “Everything I hear tells me she’s a pleasant lady. It’d be a prestigious match for us. We can give them inroads into Pacitta that would fit nicely with what I’ve gleaned of the Duke’s plans.”

“And an insult to them. Regardless of what Ranulf and Alyanna did, there’s no way in a thousand hells that Symon Gerrell is going to marry his sister to an upjumped Lord. No matter how pretty he or his words are.” Darren smirked at Raimond, “I know it’s your nature…and mother’s…to reach for the sun in all things, but in that case it’d only get you burned.” Darren shrugged, “Besides, you don’t really know the Duke’s plans, and the Gerrells do well enough in Pacitta already. Don’t even make any inquiries. At best you’d embarrass yourself and at worst you’d insult the Gerrells needlessly.” He leaned up against the fence that marked off the sparring square and again prodded, “Who else?”

“Well, that’s it so far,” Raimond answered, frowning. He’d always felt like he had the right mix of charm, intelligence, and drive to overcome any challenge. He didn’t like being told something was impossible, but…if it were anyone but Darren, or his mother, he’d likely have ignored them, but it was Darren. That meant his words had more weight, for reasons of both blood and fealty.

“All right. Because you’re my brother and I give a damn about you, I’m going to give you some advice.” Darren reached over and clapped Raimond’s shoulder, “You don’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel, but consider letting your search include those closer to home. I know you and Mother tend to always be looking outward, but you need some support from your neighbors to secure your position rather than concentrating on finding alliances outside Eastfield.”

“Marry someone from Eastfield?” Raimond looked at Darren incredulously, “Darren, they hate us there. Randall and Sybilla have practically the whole of the duchy ready to raid Watch Hill with torches and pitchforks.”

“They don’t all hate you.” Darren snorted, shaking his head before offering, “Why don’t you talk to Jonn Haver?”

Raimond quirked a skeptical brow at Darren once more, his voice going flat, “Darren…Jonn’s children are…children.”

“There’s more to House Haver than just Jonn and his immediate family, Rai.” Darren looked at his half-brother intently now, “I know you want something prestigious or powerful or something of that sort, but you should be thinking more towards securing the line rather than establishing some grand Merchant Dynasty with one marriage. Besides, Jonn is a Baron…even if it’s not an immediate family member, it’ll still be marrying up, and he likes you. I’m sure he’d find you someone agreeable and useful.”

“And probably eight feet tall and able to break me like a twig.” Raimond retorted, but there was more humor than bite to the comment. The Haver weren’t exactly known for being delicate flowers. Not that he necessarily wanted one, but still….

“Well, someone’s got to keep you in line. I can’t always be around to do it. Besides…you’ll have big, strong sons then. And daughters.” Darren’s cheeky grin returned as he reclaimed his helm and slipped it back on, moving back towards the sparring square, “How about this: If I take this round…you talk to Jonn Haver.”

“What if I take this round?” Raimond queried, taking up his own helm and re-fastening it onto his noggin.

“Don’t worry, you won’t. But if you do…then I’ll just order you to do it instead of asking you.” Darren grinned a bit, giving Raimond a salute. “I’d prefer it not come to that, though.” He paused, frowning a moment, “The truth is, Raimond, I’ve got a Duchy where less than half the vassals I have follow me out of loyalty rather than obligation. I’d like to see stronger ties among those that are truly in my camp. I know people think I’m blind to Randall’s envy, but I’m not, and it’s high time I started taking steps to make clear that I’m the Duke, regardless of how anyone feels about it, and if they can’t handle that truth, they can go fuck themselves.”

“Well that’s hardly fair.” Raimond grimaced as to Darren’s terms, moving to his own position and saluting him in kind. He too paused as Darren expounded on his reasoning, and sighed, nodding, “I’ll talk to Jonn. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to beat your ass.” He lifted the blade and shield once more, and charged towards the Bastard Duke.

“Good man.” Darren grinned behind his helmet, and with a roar, moved to meet the charge….


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