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Birthright

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When Marian and Lucivar had first discussed having children, they had always referred to it that way: as children, plural. Lucivar's youth had been a troubled one, with the only constant in his life his brother, Daemon, and Marian knew without asking that he wanted his children to have siblings, so that they might never grow up in loneliness and isolation, the way he had.

Marian could have told him that brothers and sisters were no guarantee of a family, but she didn't mind. She wanted a big family too, for reasons that were much less complicated than her husband's: She had a lot of love to go around.

Several months after Daemonar was born, they both, without a word to each other and yet in perfect agreement nonetheless, began taking the contraceptive brew again. Just temporary, they thought. Until things get settled down again.

Things still hadn't settled down in the weeks prior to Daemonar's Birthright Ceremony, and Marian and Lucivar still hadn't stopped the brew. They would, they knew. Someday. Eventually. When things were quieter.

*

Everyone had always commented on Daemonar's striking resemblance to his father. The boy had the violent temper and fierce, protective nature of a Warlord Prince, as well as the roughness characteristic of all Eyrien males. He also had the stubbornness Marian maintained was unique to his father. The Eyrien community and the rest of Ebon Rih often said they could see little of the mother in him, that the SaDiablo-Yaslana bloodline had bred true. They meant it as a compliment. Well, mostly.

Marian just smiled. She knew better. Daemonar, for all his temper, all his fierce, loving bluster and male strength, was her son, even more than Lucivar's. She'd seen it when he was little, when he was always so careful with the caterpillars and ladybugs that made their way into her garden. She saw it now in his Craft lessons, when he responded to the illusion spells his older friends worked so hard on with "Well, that's great, but what does it do? She saw it in the way he was incapable of holding a grudge, how he would pound savagely on one of the other boys from the village for some perceived offense, but ten minutes later be walking arm-in-arm with them, ready to start some new adventure.

He was her son. Her boy. Her little Warlord Prince--and if someone had told Marian, years ago, that she would give birth to a Warlord Prince, her reaction would have been stunned disbelief and horror.

Her boy who would soon have his Jewels.

Jaenelle had tested him, of course. Had reached inside her son's mind, so gently and deftly he didn't even notice, to see how dark his power ran. Lucivar had been eager to know, but Marian, feeling some superstitious dread that perhaps it might influence the outcome of the ceremony negatively, had asked her to keep the knowledge to herself. Lucivar had given her a strange look, but agreed readily enough. "It doesn't matter, anyway," he'd pointed out. "A Warlord Prince is still a Warlord Prince, whether he wears the White or the Black."

"And he's still our terror of a boy, no matter his caste," said Marian, who had never quite forgotten the sting of being valued less than her sisters because of the skills and talents she had been born with.

"That he is," said Jaenelle, who seemed satisfied with their decision not to know. "Anyway, I have to go. There's some formal thing tonight, and Daemon will get snarly if I don't dress up." She made a face.

"Better you than me," said Lucivar, who did not miss that part of his court days, and avoided such `formal things' at all costs as Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih. Jaenelle kissed first him and then Marian on the cheek, and then turned to go.

"Wait, Jaenelle," said Marian before she could stop herself. She waited for the woman she regarded as closer than a sister to turn back to face them before taking a deep breath. "We...we won't...have to be ashamed of him, will we? I mean, it doesn't matter to me what Jewels he wears, of course it doesn't, but...he won't..." She trailed off. He won't be at a disadvantage because of me. Because I diluted his father's bloodline, like Luthvian said. She had thought she had gotten over that years ago and dismissed it as nonsense. She, Lucivar, and Daemonar were happy, after all. But the Birthright Ceremony brought up old wounds and old anxieties.

For a moment, she thought she saw a glimpse of something like rage in Jaenelle's eyes, and she felt Lucivar stiffen beside her. But then her eyes softened, and Marian saw Jaenelle's grief, her understanding, and her love.

It was Witch who answered them. "No," she said. "No, you will never have to be ashamed of your son."

*

Lucivar was tense.

Not that this was an irregular occurrence; as a matter of fact it happened very often. But he snapped at her and fussed with an alarming degree of venom, and in the middle of the preparations, he stalked out to do weapons drill. For the second time that day.

Marian supposed she should have noticed it before; she was usually quite adept at heading off the worst of the emotional storms of both husband and son. But she had been a little preoccupied herself, what with her only son about to receive his Jewels and be acknowledged formally as one of the Blood. So she had thrown herself into the preparations for the huge party that was to follow the ceremony, and hadn't noticed that her husband was about to crack.

Worried and close to fuming, Marian followed her husband outside, where he was attacking a practice dummy viciously. "Lucivar," she said. "Lucivar, what is it?"

He ignored her. It was five hours until the ceremony was to be performed at sundown. Marian did not need this right now. "Lucivar, this is to be a joyful celebration, so whatever is bothering you can wait."

It was a mistake. Her husband whipped around, rage that was getting colder and colder by the second filling his eyes. Marian felt a stab of fear, but her first thought was, If he goes cold and ruins our son's Birthright Ceremony, Ebon-gray Warlord Prince or no, I will kill him.

"Lucivar, it's me," she said, taking his hand. "It's me. Your Marian. What is it, love?"

Her touch seemed to steady him. His breathing slowed, his muscles relaxed. "Marian," he said, as if he had found her. "Marian."

"What is it, Lucivar?"

"It's nothing...I mean, I...it's just...nothing. I had best go get ready, see if Daemonar needs anything."

"Lucivar." And then she realized what must be bothering him. She wasn't the only one for whom the Birthright Ceremony would bring up old wounds. "Lucivar, you idiot. "

"What?"

"How could you possibly think I would or could deny you your son?" Marian felt a stab of hurt, tried to suppress it. "Lucivar..."

"I don't think you would!" Lucivar yelled. Yelling was good. Yelling was better than cold rage. "It's just...if you did, there wouldn't be a damn thing I could do about it!"

"But I'm not going to, so there's no point in being frightened of that. Lucivar, you are a wonderful father, and you're the one I love. I choose you, have chosen you, forever. Nothing will ever change that."

She knew what he needed. She kissed him, soft and gentle, and fell into his arms, letting him claim her once more with his touch, with his mouth. Letting him claim this life they'd built together, and the son they had raised.

"I never thought I could have this," he said. "Never thought I could have anything half so wonderful as you, you and him..."

"Well, you do," she said. "Forever. So enjoy it and stop thinking about the past. It's over."

The rage was gone from him. He gave her a slow grin. "You think I could enjoy you before we have to dress up?"

Several objections came to Marian. Daemonar was in the house. She still hadn't dusted the furniture. She wanted to make muffins. They could slip away from the party later. Then she looked at her husband again.

"Come inside, love."

*

Marian disliked being the centre of attention. She much preferred to be moving around in the background, making everything run smoothly, vital but largely unnoticed. But this part of the ceremony was all about her. Every eye was on her, and Marian, as usual, wanted to sink into the ground. Daemonar, of course, loved being the centre of attention. Before they had come to the ceremony, he'd bowed to her, and insisted on escorting her to the altar on his arm. He'd also called them Mother and Father, instead of his usual Mama and Papa, because, as he said, he was "almost a man now." Marian and Lucivar had managed not to laugh.

"This child, my son, was begotten by none other than my husband, the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih, Lucivar Yaslana. Let everyone know that he is his son, and none other."

She saw her husband relax. Finally publicly acknowledged as Daemonar's father--as if there was ever any doubt, when a woman was married it was a formality--he was allowed to come stand with them on the altar for the revealing of Daemonar's Jewel.

Marian hadn't realized she wasn't breathing until she let it out. The few seconds necessary for the Jewel to appear on the altar were an eternity for her. What if they were wrong about him and he wasn't a Warlord Prince and he had no Jewel and it was all her fault, her fault for marrying above herself and ruining her son's chances?

Daemonar saw the Jewel first. "Mama1" he cried. "Mama, Papa, look!"

Marian looked.

"Mama, I have a Purple Dusk, just like you!"

"So you do," she said. "So you do."

Daemonar was beaming. Marian felt a stab of disappointment--it should be darker, Lucivar's son should be darker--but then she saw her husband's proud smile, saw everyone cheering for her boy. Her son's Jewels were the least important part of him. And Lucivar certainly didn't seem disappointed.

She hugged her son. "I'm so proud of you," she said. "My son."

"Mama, can I ride the Purple Dusk wind with you? Together?"

"You can," she said. "Tomorrow."

She put one arm around her son and another around her husband, and together they walked to the celebration, into their future.