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  1. MORNING GLORIES Theodosia Illaena O’Rourke 1826 - 1876 “You have to be strong… You’ll be okay. We’ve gotten this far, hm?” ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 3 1 It started when an arrow soared across the cloudless summer sky, and a scream followed, echoing throughout the ivory capital; the sniper was unseen but the aftermath was oh too evident. A man keeled forward with it lodged between his spine and shoulder blade. Soon, a cacophony of deafening yells and chaos ensued– medics were called, army men paraded about to find the perpetrator. The man was alright, and the nigh assassin had escaped, but the source of that scream– a girl, was not. Her name was Theodosia, aged only five. Haunted and disturbed after her young father’s almost-death, she cried and cried till her eyes were dry. Then, she’d hold her head high and muster a relieved, meager smile in the wake of his survival. He lived, and life went on. That was the day she was reminded of the transience of being; anything could be taken in the blink of an eye. Although she may not have realized it then, the aftermath was oh too evident. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 3 4 “AAAH!” She once shrieked, aged eight. Two figures, masked and foreboding, had entered the Augustine Palace prior and held her mother as a hostage; she and the other noble children were mere helpless witnesses to the horror afar. That is until she was stabbed in the leg, around her calf. She’d be alright, as would her mother, but a limp followed her forever thereafter– as did a cane gripped in her right palm. As did questions about the aforementioned things: irksome questions, and judgemental stares she was never unbeknownst to. So, Theodosia changed; she tripped and stumbled, staggered with little grace, but she gathered her bearings and adopted an almost-normal gait. Similarly, she stifled her Northern accent to take a voice fitting of an Orenian peer. She wasn’t weak; she wasn’t feeble or odd. There was no room to be. No room to be at all. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 6 9 Seven years preceding the world unraveling and her passing, the solemn Countess grew perturbed; those times she wondered what her mother would think of her now. After all, she’d gotten past the age whence her mother had died. And what a strange thing it was, for in her youth she’d sought to divert the blame to her. Theodosia had sworn she would develop to be better, stronger, different. Yet, here she was, with her estranged father’s face, and the worst of each parent. Distant as ever, when had she become so cynical, so cold? It was the curse of her lineage, to transform into husks of bright-eyed adolescents, she figured. She wasn’t sure, though. Psychology had never been her particular forte. Time slipped away too quickly, at this pace, at this point. Just yesterday, she could swear that she was a nomadic teen escaping that drafty estate halfway to nowhere to end up somewhere she knew not. Somewhere unfamiliar, somehow feeling more welcomed than she ever did at home. Though she’d never ever admit it, Theodosia resembled her father in that respect. It was her way of connection, and- “Countess.” A voice called out, abruptly removing her from her absent-minded reverie. A red haired girl sat across, maturing to that of a young woman — maybe seventeen, eighteen now. “Oh, Cass.” She spoke up, clearing her throat. They sat opposite within the exterior greenhouse, light pouring within upon the flowers freely rising in midday’s wake. “What were you saying?” Cassia asked, offering a slight smile. Theodosia reflected it, a bittersweet edge remaining which she couldn’t conceal. “...Botany, the likes,” — “My sister would know it better than me. It’s a nice pastime though, at least when there’s less time to paint. Sadie is at that age.” She mused in part jest, eyeing the blooming morning glories across. Her ward snickered. “Oh, I know. She’s what, two now?” “Almost three.” “My, my…” She trailed off, faintly amused. Silence festered thereafter. Theodosia ruminated. She interrupted the quietude with a casual notion. “You’re lucky.” Cassia frowned. “How so?” “You have a lot of free time. More so than most. Not just your age, just… generally.” “I’d say that’s too much time.” She jested with a half-smile. “And that is a wonderful problem, dear.” “I know… What are those, right there?” The ward diverted the subject, gesturing to the blooming flowers facing them. “Hm,” Theodosia squinted. “Morning glories. Not the most popular flower, but they grow well in the West and I like them quite a lot.” “Why are they… rejected?” “I didn’t say rejected.” She retorted, rising with a quiet huff on the way. “Only that they’re unpopular.” “Sorry, I just assumed–” “It's a valid assumption.” “Would you tell me about them, then?” “They’re not particularly special.” She remarked, withdrawing a pair of scissors from a bag, briskly snipping a flower which had begun to wilt. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 4 2 Beads of sweat lined the Lady’s visage, derived from the heat exuded from a bonfire ablaze which she sat beside. How long had it been? Five hours? Six? She’d lost track hours ago, only that she must wait. Patience and endurance were virtues, after all; waiting brought about better times. "Waiting brought about better times…" Better times… Nothing ever seemed to happen, perhaps she was just asking for heatstroke in the quieter hours of the night. It wasn’t fair. She gazed to her left, toward her best friend. At least he made things a little lovelier, although they spoke little amidst the trial. Ioannes Temesch, Owynist Lector to be. He too stared into the flames, wiping his brows, and she couldn’t help but wonder if she was missing the point somehow. Perhaps he knew, he was really smart. Before she could speak up, the seventh hour had passed, announced by an exuberant Hyspian calling out for “mijo, mija!” Her pensive musings were flushed away with the best drink of water and hardtack she’d ever had. It was ironic, an Adunian on the Path of Owyn against her very own ancestor; she prayed she wasn’t like her forefather Harren even if most treated her in such a way till proven wrong. That Temesch boy didn’t mind, and they were the best of friends. It was only when Du Loc turned so tumultuous and her responsibility turned out to be too much that Theo visited less and less. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ “They don’t bloom for long.” She explained, grasping the flowerbud betwixt her digits and swiveling toward Cassia. “Only for a day, mornings even.” She chuckled. The girl nodded with a smile, quizzical looking. “I suppose that’s why some people don’t like them. They’re short lived, see- this one’s starting to wilt.” She said, gesturing to the flower in hand. “That’s a shame…” “It is. But they’re very pretty living, don’t you think?” She chimed, tucking the flower into Cassia’s jacket akin to a makeshift corsage. “Some deeper meaning in that…” “Probably. Don’t worry about that stuff too much, though. Enjoy the flowers.” She joked, faintly chuckling as she reclined to gingerly sit down beside her. “I won’t. You tell me to be careful though.” Theodosia paused, her smile diminishing momentarily. “That’s a little different, dear.” ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ For survival, we do what we must. A friend had told her, or something like that. Steadfast, she had abided by this rule; strangely enough it often seemed that most disregarded the idea entirely. People disappeared, venturing across Almaris and acting unruly, the world ever enveloped in chaos. Wars sprung up like errant moths drawn to the light, even her very own antagonized uncle had briefly treated her as an enemy, and vice versa. They made no sense; the very world made no sense. She didn’t want that everlasting worry for her children, as hands-off as she was. It was the sole guidance she gave the lot of them: cooping the kids up within the confines of Halstaig. Nevertheless, they found their way as rebellious children do. Everett snuck out from the premises more times than she could count on her hands, and Alexandrina was too outdoorsy to be bound. Was she a bad mother? Was she insane? She’d tried her luck at a family as a wife, as a mother, as a sister, a Countess; some of it hadn’t been her choice at all. Or, was there no point whatsoever; how different would her life vary had she been the second child born? She wondered, notwithstanding the melancholy and doing what she must. Even if that meant neglecting her values or being the “villain,” even if it meant growing into the icy effigy she’d inadvertently become. The alternative was much worse, at least Theodosia covertly hoped. It couldn’t be all for nothing, her mistakes, her clashes, her struggle and strife eternally awaiting a happy ending. Though, those storybook conclusions were all made up for her kids, leaving her unsure. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ Leopold de Ruyter was a man, her husband specifically. It would be plain incorrect to hail the couple as “madly in love,” or romantic platitudes akin to it, but they shared a mutual respect. He wasn’t around often, and just this once… Theodosia was alright with that. Had she wed for the sake of love, perhaps she would very much mind it, but their union could better be described as utter convenience. He was a scholar, she was Countess. She spared no sentimentalism over it. She couldn’t. She was too old for rose tinted romanticism to view the world from. There came a time when the question of children and marriage became a tad too much to bear. She knew how her younger self would judge her now, but couldn’t bring herself to grow too bothered over her state. She was lucky, more so than many— a lady with everything a proper lady ought to desire. And yet, when she stared over the balcony at night like a cliffside overlooking the abyss, a sudden wave of dissatisfaction was unshakeable. Of failure, and every other bad thing in between. Where would she be were it not for her luck? What had she truly achieved? What of everything she’d not yet done, and wouldn’t do? Would anyone remember her name or wonder about her well-being after she died? Was she any more than a title mentioned in a brief tabloid? Had she failed? Was she a failure? It was her fault. It had to be. Her decisions, her idle idealism awaiting foolhardy hopes. A foolish woman with foolish children, only known by her title and home. Theodosia crumpled to the ground, overcome by smothered grief as she wept over her many errors and her family estranged ‘till her eyes were surely dry. It got to be lonely, bearing the weight of it all without aid. There was no comfort in the depths of the night, and no meager smile to wake with either. None of it wasn't fair. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ “Countess,” A voice which she recollected called once more, ringing in her ears like tinnitus. Cassia Daphnia: her ward, such a sweet girl, cheerful too. More than Theodosia was,, with unwavering diligence and kindness. She was her firstborn, hidden from the wider world since she could recall; that could be why she was so sweet. She favored her, admittedly. “What happened to my mother?” She asked the very last question that the Countess had hoped to hear. Theodosia faltered, clutching her teacup within her interlaced palm. She swallowed a lump which had formed in her throat, stricken with a sense of unease she couldn’t quite conceal. “I don’t know.” She replied, coming off harsher than intended. “Matilda went off with my father.” “She- what?” “I thought you would’ve figured it out by now.” “She… hasn’t written.” She sighed. “Patience is-” What was she saying? “She’s not your mother, Cass.” She muttered thereby. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 7 3 Theodosia loved her children, she just didn’t want to see them. They were reminders of her shortcomings, and the state of things. Of course, that wasn’t their fault; they were just kids after all. She prayed they’d have a little more time to be just that: just kids. She never did. At every turn, her interests were cut short. Who else would bother to gather the pieces? It was the O’Rourke’s against the wider world, at times. Then, as the family began to splinter whilst she clung to the remains, it was just her. She knew that when her mother left her to her own devices, even after she'd sobbed and nearly perished. There was no point for resentment anymore, not when she'd been taught that what she wanted had to be done alone. Leopold was gone; Michael was gone; Woodes was gone; Iduna was gone; Alexander was gone. Even her anchor, Uncle Auden, was dying and she knew it. Then again, she was dying too. Her vices in youth had caught up. Escapism's consequences loomed over her very face, having once extended solace from countless regrets and brooding. Even if she was clean from cigarette smoke and drugs, the damage was done. Each day, it grew harder and harder to maintain her stalwart demeanor. After all, she desperately sought to never miss a thing, even when deep down, undoubtedly, she’d die before her children got to be adults, and die before Cassia would forgive her. She dreamt that Everett would never feel this lonesome or troubled. Alexandrina would never be plagued with worries. Sadie would triumph past her naivete and shyness, at least one day — some day. She dreamt they’d be different from her. They’d be tight knit, and they’d have each other: that they would be free, and capable, that they would be liberated from the weight of things, that they’d never wait so long for things which never came. It was all the Countess could do, dream. For others, even after she’d been left in the ruin of all things long ago. If only she wasn’t so moody nowadays, maybe she could give better guidance than, “Don’t worry.” If the world could stay still for awhile, she'd be okay. If she couldn’t do that, she could be proactive, or maybe try. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 3 1 ”Little one.” A gruff voice called above the bustle of Old Providence. The green eyed girl turned; she wasn’t quite an heiress then. Her grandmother was still alive, and that humble Providence home hadn’t been taken by flames of arson just yet. Trauma hadn’t settled in. “Ave!” She exclaimed, a guileless grin across her face. She’d just won tic-tac-toe against a new friend. Things were pretty good. The source of the holler was none other than Woodes O’Rourke. He was a tall man, and his appearance matched his attitude. Despite his age, his visage was aged by an unruly beard and countless bar fights. He bore a cane, then. He knelt down to meet her eye level. People offered them odd looks from the sidewalk. “Take this, alright?” He said, extending it to her with a certain poise and formality. “Why?” She asked, like the child she was. Woodes snickered. “It's an heirloom. Your great grandfathers. Great man, you might live to his legacy one day.” “Mhm…” “Keep it with your soul, yeah? Might just need it someday.” “Okay!” She assured with a prompt bob of her head; the cane was twice her height and more of a staff but she managed. Woodes gave a rare smile and stood up, towering over her. He turned off, waving as he went. Perhaps if she were older, she’d have noticed his empty pockets and missing weaponry. She could have offered a proper goodbye, had she known that was the last she’d see her uncle. She went on her way with her braids flopping against the wind. That was before it mattered; that was before she cared or even noticed at all. Instead, she carried that cane; Theodosia carried that burden like everybody else. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 7 5 Theodosia heard of her newfound position on the Council of State when she sought to import pineapples to sell at the reopened Paddy’s Pint. She might have been a highborn housewife and failed artist, but she’d be damned if she didn’t have a pineapple. It was a novel thing, but she’d lived life straight. If this was an adventure, so be it. Her inclination came from her dim subconscious, but that was irrelevant. She’d been a mediocre Lady Vicar, and a mediocre Countess. She presumed she’d be a mediocre stateswoman. Justice this, justice that. Most of it was gobbledygook to her; she wanted a pineapple. She wanted to be happy, but found herself very tired. The cough was worse too. Things were better, but she felt worse. Bleak. She covered it up, for others sake. Being a burden was the worst fate, and her prerogative had to be some kind of justice in an unjust world. It was on a normal night which she manifested this, after bidding Sadie a sweet goodnight in the maid’s stead for once. “Alexandrina,” she beckoned her daughter’s attention, inviting herself to a seat opposite from the young teenager’s bed. Alex resembled her great grandmother more than either of her absent parents. “What is it?” She asked, pushing herself up from the mattress to sit upright. “There’s… a talk I ought to have with you, that neither my mother or father really did with me.” Theo began, offering a bittersweet smile to alleviate the newfound awkwardness. “Oh- uh, okay.” “Don’t worry.” She laughed, then. “I hated these dramatics when I was young too.” Alex frowned, puzzled. “You are… gonna face a lot when you’re older. Already. There’s a lot of hardship in this world, and a lot of beauty.” Theodosia mused with melancholic eyes, swallowing the lump which had formed in her throat. “I won’t be here for all of that, and there won’t be someone to catch you all the time either. You’re going to have to look over your family one day, but know that they love you too. And it’s okay to fall sometimes. It's okay to be hurt, as long as you pick yourself up. No matter what, I’m on your team. You’re already getting it… looking after Sadie.” She laughed, looking away, enveloped in a brief reverie. She’d made the same mistakes her mother had, and her mother’s mother. It might have been too little, too late, but it was all Theodosia had left to give: a last hurrah. Had she more time to waste, she could amend her wrongs with Cassia and raise Alex right; she could see Sadie grow up. Alas, perhaps some things were destined to be missed; true closure eluded her. “Seize the day, alright? Time is precious for human beings. We don’t get all that much of it.” She chuckled, fiddling with her hands in her lap. “I love you, and you’re growing up to be better than I ever could. Cassia is there, so is Everett. Don’t forget about you.” Theodosia concluded her spiel with a sigh, shifting to be a little more upright. It was rare: her vulnerability, that is. Alexandrina frowned, appearing familiar to her namesake. Theodosia wondered whether her mother felt this way, fostering her late brother to health when his illness was imminently fatal. She was just waiting, when both parties already knew how it ended. To her surprise, Alex drew forward to her mother’s lap. They embraced, and she spoke. “I love you too, mam. I’ll be sure to do that… look after me, everyone, and- and seize the day.” She reassured. Glossy eyed, she gave the best response she knew. “Good, you’re strong. I know you can take on this world. And, I-I’m sorry if I haven’t always done well by my own advice.” “You’re strong, mam. I guess that’s where I get it from.” The Countess smiled, clambering to her feet from the sofa. The evidence of her brooding was bygone, extending half hearted comfort where she could. “O’Rourke’s aren’t quitters, love.” She pondered, standing still like a thoughtful effigy in the door frame. “Goodnight.” She turned, shutting the door and pacing down the hall. Unseen to a soul, she silently wept. With much left to do, and much unfulfilled, there was nothing to be done. Powerlessness was her greatest fear, and it taunted her that night and the following days. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ 1 8 7 6 Promises were broken; relationships were rekindled; friends were made and lost. Things always went wrong. Faced with the fleeting grandiosity of a mediocre life lived, Theodosia wondered what she’d missed. When she was a child, she swore she would never grow to be an irrelevant wife. Here she lay, gazing toward the blank ceiling anyway. She wasn’t a great artist, nor a particularly notable politician. That didn’t really matter though. Whatever she sought, she stayed unhappy. Even after Auden had narrowly survived a grim situation, and she carried on amidst it all, she felt a gaping void in her chest she could not shake. It was her unspoken grief, in pursuit of so-called strength. Where was Eloise? She was so very guileless, in spite of her loss. That horrible man she’d almost married; what happened to him? Questions all unanswered, now (more so than ever) was the instant to take a gambit. It may have been too late to amend her heartache and lamenting, but something subconscious urged her. Theodosia gave brief goodbyes to Calahan, her children and the tenants, then there was the quiet Sadie. Together, they wrote a letter. “I’m going to go out. I need to meet with a friend and tend to some things, okay?” She said, bittersweet. “Okay.” Sadie nodded. “C-Come back to… tuck me in.” “I will.” She promised; she could hold on long enough for that. “Be good, will you?” “I will." Then, Theodosia had gone. She ventured from Halstaig to the cold reaches of the Kingdom. Everything had shifted, but the plains had not. They were bewitching, gorgeous. She discovered respite in the unknown, as if she was a girl once more. But, she had a purpose. Her oldest friend wished to confide. She could hold up a promise there, at least. She reflected if she was as sure as she thought on what he longed to say. She would never truly know, because she had never acknowledged it — too late, now. She loved him, just not in the way he suggested. How she missed the days of her early adolescence alongside the Lectors nevertheless. Her steed carried her forward notwithstanding her decaying health. They passed the capital and Cathalon but she was not found with Ioannes or a pineapple. She didn’t find Eloise either, nor that De Ruyter she’d decidedly married. She prayed they would forgive her, as well as her father, children and kin. That lone steed found its way back without a living equestrian to follow. The paranoid Countess was dead. ━━━━━━༻❁༺━━━━━━ B E Y O N D The bureaucracy mattered not, nor did the countless titles or so-called power hitherto, nor did the sympathy towards Owyn and the seven-year patience she held, nor did her desire to be so different from her predecessors. She was the same, albeit naive at times: not a prophet, nor a deviation from the general norm. Surely, her wariness kept her from either. Calahan takes care of the kids, or so he had promised as much. Perhaps they’ll visit Elias, for he is their kin from a generation foregone. Eloise returns one day, and the levy will likely be dispersed without Nikolaus. Auden sorts the books and Sadie assists. Cassia grows melancholy. Everett is left with a rather intricate old cane. The family is a little closer, and things are a little better — pretty good, for now. Theodosia is not there. Some will say she made it, others condemn her running away. She’d consider it honorable, to escape a slower end, pitiable. Perhaps had they known, the prior farewells would differ. She arrived at the other side with open arms; she endured. Happy endings are for kids, and ennui plagues adults. Pictures are produced of a brighter world to reflect one back, but she never had time to really paint much. Somewhere, now, she is happy and free. At least, she is on standby wistfully no longer. That is her justice. And at home, a quiet ember dances from inside Erin Hall’s rebuilt hearth. LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF THEODOSIA ILLAENA O’ROURKE I, Theodosia O’Rourke, Countess Halstaig, and resident of Halstaig declare this as my Last Will. All wills heretofore are null, whether influenced by myself or associate partisans (jointly or severally.) I hereby declare Calahan O’Rourke as the executor of my will, and valid regent in my absence. To Sadie Cristonia O’Rourke, my heiress, I leave my garments and emerald tiara. To Alexandrina O’Rourke, I leave the rest of my jewels and green sash. To Everett O’Rourke, I leave my steed and Kaedrini Rose Cane. May you bear both well. To Auden O’Rourke, I leave the establishment of Paddy’s Pint and responsibility alongside it, bound to Helena Avenue 8 within Vienne. I hope it will continue to bring closeness to the family as a whole, and bring about prosperity. To Cassia Daphnia Erinsehn, my eldest, I leave any works of art (drawings, paintings, et cetera) I have produced and my unused dagger Custodia. Cremate my corpse if it is attained. Put me in that blue dress with the yellow floral skirt. Signed, TRH Countess Halstaig Theodosia Illaena Anastasia Anne Clover Vasa Cassia Lucia Emma O’Rourke
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